A Tale of Two Weeks

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After nearly 9 years of parenting, you would think I would be used to the rollercoaster-style ups and downs. Well, if anything was still needed to bring those highs and lows home to me, the last two weeks have done just that.

Week 1 sucked. Chicken Pox struck T, the last of the three to come down with it. Not only was he grotty and miserable but we were in much dreaded quarantine. Given that quarantine with a preschooler is one of my least favourite things, I think I handled the news pretty well. I didn’t cry and wail. I simply stocked up on wine, gritted my teeth and hoped for a speedy week.

img_1807Trying to balance the needs of a spotty, bored child with working was, unsurprisingly, rather stressful. I spent a lot of time jumping on and off conference calls whenever T’s little voice piped up mid important conversation about income streams. The rest of the time was spent feeling guilty that I was failing both as an employee and a mother. Double whammy guilt. My favourite. I had to take some time off in the end to prevent meltdown and, once I’d admitted defeat, I felt a lot better. After all, spotty 3-year olds really don’t make the best work-mates.

I also had to call in lots of favours to get the other two kids where they needed to be in the busy week before Half Term. It was a juggling act, trying to make sure everything still happened as it should for them without being able to leave the house much. Thanks to all the lovely local friends who did their bit. I owe you.

On top of illness, it was just one of those weeks. Nothing seemed to go right. The usually entirely reliable car developed a rattle which ended up costing us nearly £300. And even when T was back on his feet and we could escape the confines of the house again, the world seemed against us.

img_1803I had a big worry going on all week too over H’s tutor. He really struggles with numbers and he has been to tutors on and off for several years but, for one reason or another, we have never found the right one for Maths. I had just about reached the point of wondering if it was worth continuing with the current tutor, which started me off worrying about it all again and whether we are doing the right thing to help support him. I am always so torn between wanting to do all we can to help H to keep up in class and wanting to take the pressure off – remembering that he is still only a little boy and that the last thing he wants is to be spending his weekend crunching numbers after a tiring week at school.

It is so tough to know what to do for the best. The curriculum is so damn hard these days, I worry a lot about H keeping on top of it. I want him to succeed but I also want him to be happy and have a stress-free childhood. Sometimes, those things seem entirely incompatible.

Having lots of time at home with Pox Boy and a head full of little worries is a bad combination. I stewed, big time. I finished the week exhausted, having had far too many alcohol units (every night is wine night on quarantine week) and with a head full of stresses, blown up out of all proportion.

The week ended in suitably disastrous style at the final school pick up on Friday afternoon. T was out of quarantine but still utterly foul. He had a killer meltdown over wanting someone else’s water bottle in the playground. Whilst I was doing my best to pretend the screaming monster was nothing to do with me, M came out of class and promptly fell backwards into the mud. Before I’d managed to brush her down, H came out in floods of tears over a lost book. T managed to keep up his screaming throughout our hunt around the classroom for said book and the entire walk home. Smiling kids and Mums exchanged “Happy Half Term” farewells, while I dragged my screaming/sobbing/mud covered brood home and opened yet more wine. Such fun!

Thankfully, I had a night away at my best mate’s 40th on the Saturday, which involved a good deal of booze (yes, more) and so much living room dancing that my feet hurt the next day. The best possible Pox Week antidote I could have wished for.

img_1800So begins Week 2. The Pox was a distant memory (apart from the crusty spots, mostly hanging out in T’s mass of blonde fluffy hair) and my husband had the week booked off work for Half Term. I came to a decision to cancel the tutor and give us all a break from it for a month or two, which took the pressure off me and H and was a good start to the week. And I asked for an unplanned day off work, to make the most of our week together.

Two consecutive weeks could not be more different if they tried. Week 2 has been a total delight. It has been filled to the brim with family time and fun.

We’ve been for pub lunches where nobody lost their shit or embarrassed us. We had our best family cinema trip yet, to see The Lego Batman Movie. Even T managed to sit still (sometimes on his own seat and sometimes on my lap) for almost the entire film, only asking five minutes from the end if we could go home.

img_1801We made a rare trip to London, to the Natural History Museum. We didn’t take the pushchair and T coped amazingly well with all the walking. The older two got so much out of the experience that I’m already planning our next London trip, to the Science Museum next time. H said it was an “utterly awesome” day and both the older two have been talking about it ever since. You can’t ask for a lot more than that out of a day trip. The journey home on a massively overcrowded and delayed train was no kind of fun but the kids were so well behaved in challenging circumstances that we were complimented on how good they were, which made me feel pretty proud of them all, especially little T, who was exhausted by the time we got home.

I’ve done my usual thing of overdoing it, stuffing our week so full that we are all more shattered after Half Term than we were before it. But it has been bloody brilliant and I don’t regret it at all. More than anything else, it has reminded me that, when you remove the outside stress – work, school, tutors, clubs – from the equation, we are a very happy little family unit these days. It is the external stuff that causes the stress for the most part, not problems from within. That definitely hasn’t always been the case, which makes me feel even more grateful to know that, as a unit, we are pretty sorted these days and very good mates. Yes, we can drive each other mad and we all need time out, but together we mostly rock. And that makes me really happy.

Next week it is back to work and back to school. We can’t live in this happy little bubble of day trips and eating out forever. We’d be broke within a month for one thing. Plus, we all need to get stuff done, be that earning a crust or learning our times tables.

The return to the school run and manic push and pull between work, home, school and other activities doesn’t fill me with joy but I go back to it with a sense that we have all recharged and reminded ourselves that we have each other, and that what we have is pretty special. The trick it to keep that in mind as we get bogged down in all the external stuff again. Our little unit rocks. We just need more weeks like Week 2 to help us remember that.

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The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

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