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.

Chapter Seventeen: Fun, Fit and Funky

Much of our time is taken up playing what I call the Why-Lympics. Anyone with a three year old will be familiar with this sport. The child must master a steely determination to drill to the very bottom of any issue with a single word- ‘why?’ (or sometimes, ‘but why?’)- repeated over and over until the parent is stumped.

To win gold, the parent must never say ‘I don’t know’, ‘just because’ or ‘because I say so’. I make it my personal challenge always to provide an answer to the incessant Whys. Not because of any high-faluting ideals about always dignifying a child’s questions with a valid response (‘why is it my bottom?’ being an example of a question that doesn’t command much dignity); no, because I am as stubborn as my three year old and want to have the last word.

Sometimes I reply with something stupid, either because I don’t know the answer, or more likely, to amuse myself. I emerged from the bedroom at Leila’s bathtime the other evening wearing gym kit, and she of course said ‘why have you got changed?’

‘Because I’m going to an exercise class’ (incidentally, it was called Armegeddon, is a boot camp dreamed up by the devil’s minions, and yes I did say ‘Armageddon outta here’ at one point)

‘Why are you going to an exercise class?’

Here comes the stupid answer: ‘Because I want to be fun fit and funky’

This time I had won the Why-Lympics, because she did not ask why I want to be fun fit and funky. It was a hollow victory, however, as she did burst into floods of tears. She sat in the bath and roared ‘BUT I WANT YOU TO BE MUMMY!’

This ego-bruising response confirmed why I have decided to start exercising again. Not because I want to be fun fit and funky exactly; but, five months post partum, I’d love to feel less faded, flabby and frazzled. It’s time that the Why-Lympics ceased to be my only workout. I want to start feeling like I’m in my own skin again- as I recall, this does start to happen eventually, and I’d like that eventually to be now-ish. At the risk of sounding like A Mum, I don’t want Mummy to be the person who is so far from fun fit and funky that it reduces my child to tears (look I know she didn’t have a clue what I was on about, and was just crying because I was being weird… But it’s, like, the symbolism)It’s hard to explain to a three year old why that is- though she’ll certainly ask, given the chance- but I know that the results will benefit her and Asher as well as me.

Chapter Fifteen: I’m Still Tiny

Leila seems to be having a bit of a delayed reaction to the arrival of her baby brother, or maybe it’s a timely reaction to the new, louder, more awake version of her baby brother, who takes up more of my time and attention.

Her discombobulation manifests itself in an added dose of threenager fierceness, and in an uncharacteristic clinginess to me. ‘I need you’ she says, ‘I want to be WITH you, be WITH me mummy’. And, this morning, as she clutched me so tightly, it’s like she wanted to be inside my skin again: ‘I’m still tiny. I’m still so small’.

It also manifests itself in the classic Leila (the original early bird) stunt of waking up before dawn, and bouncing in and out of her bedroom like a jack-in-the-box. Though she did have the courtesy to knock insistently on our door at 6am this morning, instead of appearing ghost-like by our bed breathing ‘Daddy’ into the darkness in alarming fashion, as she has done before.

So come 1pm today we knew, even if she didn’t agree, that she needed a nap. Leila’s afternoon nap has been undergoing a slow and tortured demise, like a fish on land that keeps flapping into life before giving up completely. Some days she will, many she won’t, some days she actually asks for one. Today she was not asking, and she was not napping. I bundled Asher into his pram in the porch and left him to squawk his way into sleep (poor second child) and went to relieve G who had been trying to get Leila to nap for longer than is good for anyone’s sanity.

Overcome with tiredness myself- before Asher, I had all but forgotten the crushing, bruising fatigue that comes with having a young baby- I did something that Leila and I have never done. I lay down with her for a nap. Unlike her brother, she has never been one for co-sleeping, even when we’ve tried it in desperation during dodgy sleep patches (one memorable night sticks out, near Christmas 2011, of Leila aged nearly two chirrupping ‘ingle bells, ingle bells’ at 1am, sitting bolt upright between us in bed). But today I squashed myself onto her toddler bed, and put my arms around her. I tried to emulate a relaxation session such as you do at the end of a yoga class or similar, as I know G has used this technique to help her nap before.

‘Feel your eyes get heavy…’, I murmured, feeling my eyes get heavy. ‘Let your face relax’, as I dribbled onto her forehead. At first she thrashed about and made irritating kissy sounds with her mouth. Then she turned onto her side facing me and said quietly ‘no talking, while we have our nap’ and within seconds she was asleep, my lips pressed to her head, her breath in warm gusts on my neck.

It was unfamiliar and lovely, to have my little livewire sleeping in my arms. Her face in repose looked just as it did when she was a baby. I started to drift off myself, but toddler beds are a bit cramped for grown-up legs, plus I am a terrible napper- worse than Leila- so after a while I started to extricate myself as silently as possible: unsmooshing my face from her forehead, gently lifting my arm from her body, unfolding myself from around her. It brought to mind those baby days with her, when after shushing her to sleep in her cot, I’d curse the pop of a kneecap as I stood up, or the deafening swish of denim as I crept from the room.

As I tried to lift my head from the pillow, something kept me there. As well as the sweet, grassy Leila-smell of her head, it was something more physical: her fingers curled into my hair, grasping. Just like her brother does. Just as she did as a baby. I couldn’t bear to uncurl her fingers just yet, so I watched her sleeping a little longer.

She’s still tiny. She’s still so small.

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She loves him really

Chapter Two: Chapter Two*

When out and about with the children, the odd old lady/shopkeeper/drunk will chuckle ‘you’ve got your hands full’. Admittedly,  with Leila in the buggy and Asher in the sling, I do look a bit child-laden.

Depending on the day I have two (internal; outwardly I just mumble agreement awkwardly) responses.

The first is to scoff, hey it’s no big deal actually, having two children. Almost everyone who has one, has  another. Some birth two AT THE SAME TIME. Some have three, four children- more! THEY have their hands full, not I. I have two hands. I have two eyes with which to shoot dagger-like glares of wrath at errant toddlers. Two is a breeze. Two schmoo.

Alternatively it makes me want to cry, to blurt a shoutily sarcastic ‘you don’t say!’ because, yes, I do have my hands full actually, thanks for pointing it out!’  and run to the loo, slightly encumbered by baby in sling, to weep. On these days, two is hard.

There is no middle ground, it seems. I am either bossing it, loving it, drinking in every blissful moment. Or, all three of us are crying, and I’m listening keenly for G’s key in the lock like some valium-sodden 50s housewife. So if I tell you it’s hard one day, and you hear me saying it’s a doddle the next, I’m not lying on either day. It is both of these things. It’s s the Good, the Bad and the Crazy round here.

The Good is when me and Leila are sitting on the sofa feeding our babies (well, she is ‘feeding’ her ‘baby’) and she turns to me and says ‘oh, Other-Woman, this big baby is giving me grief! Shall we have a cup of tea?’ and then busies around with her tiny teaset while Asher grins up at me; the Good is when, both of them pink from a shared bath, she kisses a fat cheek and says spontaneously  ‘night night, Asher, I love you’. And, actually, dozens of moments each day.

The Bad is any time we try to leave the house, basically. It’s a mess. A mess of scarves and hats and a baby who is ROARING and a toddler who is alternately stiff as a plank and floppy as jelly in her efforts to prevent me putting her coat on. Or when we all need feeding, and two of us are shouting about it, and I know that the third one of us probably isn’t going to eat. Guess which one.

The Crazy is the rear passenger door of the car freezing shut so I have to virtually fling Asher’s car seat from the front seat into the back, while Leila sheds her mittens and chirps ‘ooh, ice’,’ as she runs her fingers over a dirty frozen puddle. The Crazy is Leila marching up and down the living room unravelling a roll of kitchen roll as she goes, knowing full well that I am pinned to the sofa by Mr. Greedy Guzzleton and only have the questionable power of the dagger-like glares of wrath at my disposal.

Thankfully, the Good dominates, the Bad is fleeting, and the Crazy makes for some good stories. And the Good, oh, it is so very very good, that I want to urge everyone who has a toddler to go ahead and have a newborn too. At least, I do today. Ask me again tomorrow and who knows what my response will be.

 

*See what I did there?