Chapter Twenty: Nobody said it was easy/ Nobody said that it would be so hard

I haven’t posted lately, not because I don’t have time- no, I have approximately three hours between the kids’ bedtime and my bedtime in which I could try to string together a sentence or ten. Unless the baby is awake and making that gringey ‘mhmhmhmgmgggg, ehhhhhggh’ sound he has taken to of an evening.

I haven’t posted because I don’t have much to say right now other than ‘woah. This is hard work’, and that’s not exactly riveting reading. I never really got it before, the ‘parenting is the hardest job in the world’ line. And I still think it’s the wrong way to put it- because a) plainly there are harder jobs. I wouldn’t fancy Barack Obama’s job much, for example and 2) it’s just a really annoying condescending parent thing to say, up there with ‘you don’t know what tiredness is til you have kids’.

But it is HARD. At the moment, on maternity leave with a 7 month old and a 3 year old at home with me full time (Leila no longer goes to a childminder two days a week, and boy, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone), I have to say that I have never worked so hard.

The sheer logistics and physical graft are pretty mind-boggling. From the moment G deposits them with me when he leaves for work at 7.30am, the needs and demands are rapid-fire and relentless. We have beautiful times as we go, laughs and some lulls when we meet with friends or go to a group. But soon enough it’s BAM changing him BAM-BAM feeding him, feeding her BAM cleaning up BAM settling him for a nap BAM calming her from a strop BAM resettling him from his stupidly short nap, BAM to infinity. For hours without let-up. It’s like trying to juggle jellies on a treadmill which is going faster and faster. Suffice to say, it’s a culture shock going from one to two kids, just as having my first baby was a culture shock. A good measure of this is how many cups of tea are left to go cold.

But the logistics aren’t the hardest thing. The hardest thing is how much it matters, how much they matter, and how much it matters to me that their memories of their mother from early childhood are warm and happy and light, and how they should be. That’s what I wrestle with, and would do whether I had one or two or six children, I think. I am desperate to do right by them- better than right.

And yet I have and do tut ‘whatever’ to her, and walk away when she is throwing a strop. And I have and do swear under my breath when he just. will. not. go. to. sleep. I get fed up and shouty, and once or twice have burst into tears in front of them, which I assume without having read the books is a huge no- no. If there were video cameras rigged up in my house, I know that at times I’d have to watch the footage through my fingers, because I’d cringe at what I saw.

Every day I say to myself, today is the day I do not shout at Leila at all, that I discipline calmly and firmly like Supernanny (‘this is unasseptable behaviour’). Today is the day that I think breezily ‘he can just nap later on’. Some days- the days when the children seem to have made a pact to break me- the effort to be this mother has me physically sweating and holding back tears. And most days, by the end of the day, I do shout at Leila. Then I feel awful and smother her in cuddles, and then I feel more awful that they might find me unpredictable and not know whether to expect Cross Mummy or Lovely Mummy from one day or moment to the next. When you’re one of two people on whom their happiness pretty much depends, and around whom their world revolves, and when you find them so precious that a dimple in the silken cushion of an elbow makes you cry, being the parent you want to be is a pretty high bar.

I’m not too worried by whether society thinks I am A Good Mother. I am, for example, at ease with my choices about going out to work, or putting the telly on for Leila (again). I’m not concerned about being seen as some all-singing, all-baking Super Mum. That’s just nonsense. The baking means nothing; I do the sodding baking. What means something is whether I get snappy and controlling over how much flour is staying in the bowl and how much is being sprayed over every single object in the kitchen.

No, I care what THEY think, what THEY feel, or will feel, when they think about their mum. I want that feeling to be magic. Trying to be the person that will conjure up those feelings, when right now they are so demanding in completely different ways, so totally unaware that I am a human being too- one who might also feel like doing the loose-limbed Tantrum Flop, or making the mmmmhgmhg noise, but can’t, because she has to be the adult- that’s the hardest work of all for me.