Things We Didn’t Know We’d Miss

I’ve not had the best week so far. And it appears to only be Wednesday. I mean, WTAF? Surely it should have been Friday days ago.

It’s the last few weeks of term, which is always ridiculously hectic, and there is other stuff going on to generally make life pretty full-on and stressy. Plus, it was my big birthday the other week and it turns out 40 is actually a thing, rather than just a party. Who knew? And now that party is over. Boo! So, lots of good reasons to be generally a bit frowny and cross.

When things are busy and stressful, it is hard not to pick up on the little things that bug you. And this evening on the walk home from after-school club pick-up, it all crystallised and I briefly lost my shit. All three kids took it in turns to stop immediately in front of me on my walk home for no apparent reason and with no warning, leaving my to swerve dramatically to avoid hitting them. This is clearly not unusual. Kids make a habit of it. But it was a final straw moment and I yelled at them.

All three looked up at my with their big, beautiful bambi eyes in a mildly perplexed way. I mean, they weren’t really doing anything that wrong. Mummy was clearly just having a bit of a moment. But oh, to be able to just walk in a straight line without weaving around small people, at my own pace, without boring myself stupid with the sound of my own voice telling them to mind other people and keep moving!

That is one of those things you just never even think about, pre-kids, isn’t it? You take it as a God-given right to be able to walk down the street in a straight line, ignorant in your young and free way that such a thing a kiddy slalom even exists.

Lots of these little things that we say goodbye to with the arrival of kids are well documented. Going to the loo in peace, never being able to drink a warm cup of tea, etc. But most of them are related to very small kids. Well, we’re not in that place any more and many of those temporary problems have disappeared but some of those little luxuries are showing absolutely no sign of coming back, sadly.

Cooking, for example. Remember when you only cooked what you fancied eating when you fancied it? It could even be fun, somewhat unbelievably. A whole Saturday afternoon could be dedicated to choosing a recipe, shopping for the finest ingredients you could afford and then lovingly preparing it over a glass of wine or four. I was never a chef (far from it) but it was kinda fun and relaxing. Romantic even. Pah!

These days? I loathe it. Some days, I can spend half the day in the kitchen. Packed lunches and breakfast in the morning, lunch and prep for the grown-up’s dinner in the middle of the day, over-boiling veg and flinging beige, breaded things into the oven at tea time (taking into account this week’s likes/dislikes x3 and providing three variations of the same meal). And then yet more cooking after the kids are in bed. Add in hiding in the kitchen and drinking wine on bad days (like now) and that’s a hell of a lot of kitchen time.

And then there is the cleaning up after food. I made the mistake of cooking rice for the kids for tea today. I mean, seriously, given the week I’m having, what the hell was I thinking? Utter carnage. Rice grains everywhere. And you can’t hoover the little fuckers up without smearing them all over the floor so you end up crawling about on hands and knees picking each grain up individually, kneeling on one and despositing flat rice grain gunk onto your trousers. I tried hoovering up over-cooked broccoli today. I don’t recommend it.

So, walking and cooking with kids both suck. What about something even easier, like thinking? Surely kids can’t ruin that can they? Wrong! They make it almost bloody impossible to think or concentrate, even when they are not physically present.

Now I know this is entirely my fault for having three kids, but life can be somewhat busy in this household. Try to do anything that you need to focus on for five minutes and you can guarantee you will be interrupted by at least one small voice, more often than not by multiple voices rowing about something utterly pointless. There is no such thing as thinking time in my life any more. All day long, I have little voices to contend with and when they are finally in bed I am so tired I’m incapable to clear thought.

But even worse than that, there is just soooo much to remember for them all that I find it impossible to switch off the organising bit of my brain even when they are not around. There is a little voice in my head, like a chattering monkey, reminding me that I have to pack the ballet bag, buy more Cheerios, pay the swimming fees, donate something for the school summer fair, etc, etc, etc. It never ends. Once you feel vaguely on top of the list, another load of demands come home, another essential item runs out or a totally unexpected problem rears up. It’s like plate spinning. It’s totally exhausting and mostly thankless.

And woe betide you if you drop a fucking plate! The stick I get for forgetting to pack a snack or to buy more bagels is ridiculously disproportionate in a way that only a mob of under tens can be over nothing at all. How dare I forget that this week you don’t like Mini Cheddars?! Poor, deprived kids.

Can you remember sitting and thinking about just one thing? It was bloody amazing. Only it wasn’t at the time. We had no idea it was a luxury, that it would one day flit away and we’d miss it like crazy.

But enough of this poor little me shit. I am very aware that what I get in exchange for these little luxuries is worth it a billion times over. And most of it is nothing a vat of wine or two can’t numb. I’m just moaning because it has been a crap week. And cos I’m allowed. We all are, no matter how much we love our kids. It’s moan or nervous breakdown. I know which one I prefer.

My pack of irritating little brats are simultaneously a beyond adorable bundle of unlimited love and wonder. Such is the paradox of parenting.

Who needs to think anyway, right? It’s totally overrated.

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Escaping to Remember

imageWe’ve just got back from an incredibly rare weekend away. Well, I say rare. It is actually the first time since we’ve had kids that we have had two nights in a row away together as a couple. So that is just over 8 years.

Some people I say this to look at me in disbelief, as if as we are insane to have never done it before. I know lots of couples frequently hand their kids over to relatives or friends. But I’ve just never really felt I could do it. It isn’t that they are terrible kids by any measure but circumstances and sheer numbers have made me feel very guilty about even considering palming them off.

We have done one night away together. Once. And we’ve both have the odd night away alone from time to time. But it just isn’t that easy to escape together. Even before we had so many kids, it has always felt impossible. Our first was a tyrant as a baby. He honestly couldn’t have been left with anyone, not if we cared about them surviving the experience. Hell, we could barely handle him ourselves. Although still the king of tantrums, he had calmed down a bit by the age of 4. But by then we had a 1-year old that was utterly obsessed with me. Handing over our tantrum-filled eldest and Mummy-obsessed girl while we went swanning off felt like a cruel joke to play on any grandparent.

And then, of course, there were three. Any potential babysitters became outnumbered. Asking anyone to look after three kids, one of which was a babe in arms, just wasn’t an option. I’m probably a victim of my own very active parental guilt but I couldn’t even bring myself to ask.

imageBut, with the youngest now fast approaching his 3rd birthday, we are finally at a point where we no longer have a baby for the very first time. Having three kids pretty close together, we have always had a very little one, but that is slowly shifting. The mix is getting easier. The eldest is pretty laid back these days and, if he does have a strop, he can be easily placated with tech. The middle one is a very good girl, especially for other people, and can be incredibly helpful. And the toddler? Well, he is still a bloody-minded menace who poos in his pants daily. But he is a charming little menace and can wrap his grandparents round his finger with a well-timed, cheeky smile.

A few months ago I had a moment of realisation that asking their grandparents to take the kids for a whole weekend could finally be coming up on possible. I’d sort of forgotten the fact that kids gradually get easier as they grow and it took me by surprise that my wish for some couple time and the hope that it might be possible had, at long last, started to override my never-ending mother’s guilt and fear of imposing too much. So, when a friend told me about her plans to have a weekend away with her husband, it got me thinking and, for the first time, it seemed like it was something that we could maybe consider.

Don’t misunderstand me. My parents are amazing and probably would have agreed to take any number of kids from us at any point. It was me that wouldn’t have dreamt of asking them until recently. Because I don’t want to cause them too much exhaustion and trouble. Because they have done their time with four kids of their own.

imageSo, I reached the point where asking didn’t seem like such a horrendous imposition. And we did it. And it was bloody brilliant. We remembered what it was like to lie about and do very little – something I admit to being rubbish at before kids but find I can adapt to very rapidly these days. With the weight of the responsibility of kids removed from our shoulders, we found ourselves behaving like a new couple again, giggling and finding ourselves far too funny. In short, we remembered what we were like before. And it was good.

Anyone that has kids to cement their relationship is setting themselves up for disaster. Having a baby is the biggest pressure you can ever put on a couple. Having three has proved to treble it in our case. We were utterly solid before having babies but, during the last eight years, we have been shaken to our very foundations at times.

I never really talk about my relationship with my husband on here because that isn’t what this blog is about, and it is too personal. Suffice to say that there were times I didn’t think we’d survive. We are in a good place these days, as the kids are getting older and the slog is slightly less hard, but the stress has been immeasurable at times.

This weekend has reminded us both that – before our three kids, before the marriage and the mortgage, the swimming fees and the school runs and, crucially, before the exhaustion – we were the very best of mates. We still are. But it tends to be buried and forgotten under the pressures of daily life.

Being the grown-ups in this family, we always come last. We put the needs of our kids first and the needs of ourselves and each other way, way down the list. And then we resent the other one, who we perceive to be having the easier ride. We lash out at the only other person in this family that it is acceptable to lash out at. The one you love enough to have gone on this crazy ride with in the first place.

We are back home now from our wonderful weekend and I still have the floaty, floppy feeling of someone who has been hanging out in bars and spas. And we are both still in it together, laughing conspiratorially at the mishaps, rather than scowling and withdrawing into ourselves a little more with each unreasonable demand from the herd.

I am under no illusion – the floaty feeling will drift off soon – probably round about the third poo-in-pants of the day from the toddler. But I’m hoping to hold onto some of it. Because it is good to be reminded who we are, beyond the roles we have to play. To remember that we chose each other for this crazy journey for a very good reason. That we are still more than just parents and providers. That we can be more than that together. And when we do, it still rocks.

So thank you to my wonderful parents for giving us this time off together. It was very precious indeed. The kids had a riot and I hope they didn’t wear you out too much.

And, since it seems to have worked so well, we might just have to ask you again one day…

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Patience

imageI think patience is probably one of the most important qualities to have as a parent. Especially a parent of toddlers but so far – for everything up to eight and probably beyond – you need buckets of it. The more kids you have, the more you need.

So it is a tricky thing when your patience decides to up and leave you for a fortnight. I am generally a pretty patient person but every now and then my patience decides to bugger off on holiday and suddenly everything the little gits do drives me to distraction and makes me want to scream right in their faces. So I finally cracked and did just that this morning. Not something I’m proud of but, hey, sometimes something has to give.

I may be wrong but I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that my patience levels have fallen through the floor since we started potty training. It is no understatement to say that I loathe potty training. I hate potties. I hate the endless washing of smelly, wet pants. I hate dragging a confrontational and reluctant kid to the loo every half hour and I hate that it doesn’t seem to make any difference as he still wets himself. And don’t even get me started on dealing with number twos.

T made a really good start with potty training two weeks ago. He nailed holding it in between loo trips and, despite the initial flurry of puddles, he got the basic concept pretty quickly. OK, so he refused to poo at all for a few days but it was a small price to pay. Two weeks on, we have just had a first poo on target (after binning a lot of pairs of cheap pants) but the novelty of weeing in the loo has worn off now so, if anything, the number of puddles is actually increasing. We got through 4 pairs of pants – my entire stash – on one morning in the park on Friday. He ending up having to wear a borrowed pair of his little mate’s frilly knickers.

The endless trial of going cold turkey on nappies has played havoc with my usually pretty plentiful pool of patience. I know how you are supposed to react when dealing with potty training accidents. The sweet smile, the encouraging words, blah blah blah. But I find myself running out of platitudes by the 6th accident of the day. The kind words become a little more sharp, the tone of voice a little more clipped. You would think third time round I would have this nailed, right? Sadly not.

Both boys have also been ill recently and are currently on antibiotics, with eight doses between them a day. I’ve had to cancel lovely plans left, right and centre, in favour of spending days stuck at home with my grumpy, ill kids.

imageSo, with circumstances seriously depleting the shrinking patience pot, not only am I not dealing well with the accidents but I am also far less tolerant of pretty much every annoying thing that my kids do. The bickering between the younger two is sapping my brain. If I have to listen to one more moany report about their mini bust-ups, my head is going to explode.

So, this morning, as I say, the patience pool finally ran dry and I snapped. T has been incredibly confrontational recently with tantrums a plenty. He started making a fuss at toddler music – something he does pretty often to be honest – but today I seriously lost my cool with him. He was refusing to put his enormous toy car into my bag until after the class and started crying and moaning. This ramped up and ended in me carrying him out to the car under my arm.

I was just about holding it together at this point but I could feel the red mist descending. I gave him several ‘last’ chances before strapping him into the car to drive home. He suddenly realised that I wasn’t joking and he was about to miss out on his beloved music group so he stepped it up some more, going for the most extreme ear-piercing shrieks he could muster.

So, I screamed in his face. Not at point blank range at least, but in the style of a demented banshee. Yes, very grown up and mature, I know, but the last fragile thread holding my cool in place finally snapped.

Well, he shut up at that. He looked utterly shocked to be honest. Who can blame him? The moment I did it I felt really guilty. Yes, I guess it had the desired effect as he said sorry, put the car in the bag and was incredibly well behaved when we finally made it back into the room. But scaring my children into submission isn’t exactly a parenting route I want to go down.

imageOur screaming match seems to at least have reset the pair of us. T has been a dream today, compared to his usual foul-tempered self. And there is nothing like a good dollop of guilt to replenish your patience pool. I won’t be adopting screaming hysterically as a new parenting method but I also won’t be berating myself too badly for it either. Sometimes you lose your shit in life. To be honest, it is a small miracle it doesn’t happen more often around here.

I spent some time with a newborn baby recently and he is just adorable in a way that only a tiny newborn can be. After seeing him, returning to my galumphing brood of big kids – that answer back, argue and generally annoy the hell out of me – it was hard not to hark back to those early days when the worst they did was do an explosive poo or bite your nipple. But such is the reality of parenting. You don’t really get a baby, you get an-annoying-little-git-in-waiting. Although you don’t know it at the time, thankfully.

But these three are MY annoying little gits and I would lay down my life for any one of them. Teaching them and keeping them in line as they grow feels almost impossible at times. Their ability to eat away at my patience and my resolve to keep my cool is quite remarkable. So every now and then something goes pop. Usually a blood vessel in my eye from the intense screaming.

Praise be to the Mums and Dads out there who never lose their shit, who never give in to the red mist and scream so loud that they hurt their throats. They are bloody amazing. If they even exist, that is. And I do not count myself amoungst them. If you do, then you are a far better person than I.

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January

imageWe’re coming up to halfway through January now and, despite my best efforts, it seems the first month and I are getting along no better than we usually do. Relations between us are frosty. But it isn’t really frost that is the problem. It is the endless rain.

Sunshine has been in very short supply this Winter. I can count on one hand the number of crisp, clear mornings of wonderful Winter sunshine that we’ve had. Most days have been grey and wet. Not only does that have a negative effect on the old mental state but it also means more days faced with that awful dilemma: stay home or face something hideous like soft play.

Last Sunday we opted for staying at home. Big mistake. But I was hungover and it was raining so it seemed worth a shot. The kids started off behaving OK, well all apart from the toddler that is, but he never behaves so that is nothing new. Things started going downhill with the older two by about 11am. There were endless unreasonable demands, bickering over next to nothing and lots of noise of the very moany variety.

Three kids on a hangover is grim at the best of times and Sunday certainly wasn’t the best from any point of view. It was one of those clock-watching days, working out how many hours had to be endured before bedtime, which came early in the end as we had really lost our shit by then.

We did manage to get outside for a while when the clouds parted for half an hour after lunch, to give the kids a chance to practice on their new bikes. It didn’t go well. H was in a flat panic about falling off, M was moaning about being too cold to hold the handlebars. T is going through a particularly challenging phase – his reign of toddler terror is peaking – so he threw a flid and point-blank refused to leave the house at all. He then spent the majority of the afternoon watching Thomas the Tank Engine and scowling. If we dared to to suggest an alternative activity he went beetroot and howled.

M rallied after a while and started doing pretty well on her bike but H became a ball of anxiety, as he often does, and started crying and wailing. It was lucky it started raining again really, so that we could escape the frustration of it all. I know there is a lot to be said for sensitivity but there are times when I wish our kids would just bloody man up a bit.

Rain or no rain, January can be a total bastard. It isn’t helping my healthy eating and drinking plans. It started brilliantly and I did really well last week. Lots of fresh vegetables and no alcohol from Monday to Thursday. I was getting ready to dig out and polish my halo. But Friday came round and the wine flowed. Sadly, it didn’t stop flowing until Sunday. And with wine, you obviously need all manner of snacks, especially when you go out and get so drunk on Saturday night that you find yourself having slowly collapsed in a small heap on the floor of the pub, after losing balance while looking for your lost cardigan. Classy. Well, Dry January is for losers anyway, right?

Still, I’m not going to let my health plan failure worry me too much. Sure, I still need to get back to some sort of pre-Christmas level but, with January still here for another couple of weeks, I may be up against it and life is too short to beat myself up for minor failings.  The kids are still making it to school on time looking vaguely reasonable most days. They are all fed and relatively clean. As long as I am getting the basics done, that is enough of an achievement in itself for January. Hitting the other goals may have to wait until a little later in the year.

imageSince it isn’t possible to hibernate in January, it is best to attempt to use this month productively. It is good for planning, after the mayhem of Christmas. I’ve been planning fun things like crazy and filling up the diary beautifully, to avoid a repeat of our hideous Sunday. And, very excitingly, my best mate and I have just booked a holiday for the Easter break. Four kids and us in a cottage in Dorset for a week. No husbands. We are planning to rock the lesbian couple look with our four feral offspring. My mob all know and love her and her little girl so much that it will be like she is the second parent to them for the week. We both have free rein to tell each other’s kids off and treat them as our own, so there is no trouble on that score. It is going to be ace.

My birthday party planning is coming on apace too, with invites out for M’s dance-based party next month. She is completely in love with pop so she is going to adore it. I’ve even booked H’s April party. I’m on fire, birthday-wise, which is pleasing.

To be honest, I know I’m being pretty unfair to poor old January. The trouble I have with January isn’t January’s fault at all. It is mine. It is my habit of sinking, especially in mid-winter. Of being dragged down by something as daft as the weather and the short days. It is my failure to adapt quickly enough to the reality of Winter without Christmas sparkles. Experience tells me I’ll get there, it just takes me a little longer than most people.

This crazy wet and warm winter weather does at least have the advantage of bringing on all the Spring flowers, which are popping up everywhere, bringing hope and expectation with them. Snowdrops, daffs, primroses and even crocuses are poking up all over, whispering of the coming of Spring.

Once January has turned into February, what is it that changes anyway? Nothing in real terms. But something changes in me as we creep towards the end of Winter and lighter, brighter times. February feels much more friendly, much more bearable.

I think January and I are just going to have to agree to remain uneasy companions. We may never be buddies. But we can live with each other for a short while. We have to for another two weeks, until February makes that light at the end of the tunnel look a little brighter.

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Festive Fun and Fuckwittery

imageChristmas is coming. And bloody hell, it is coming fast this year, in the style of a runaway Polar Express. Of course when you have young kids, you are doomed to suffer Christmas as a topic of conversation from roughly August, and festive songs will be repeated until your ears bleed from early November. Such is life. But the last couple of weeks have raced by and suddenly here we are, with just one week to go until the end of term and in full-blown merry meltdown.

This time of year is always a mixture of two extremes, of the fun and hard slog. Tinsel tipped tantrums abound.

But I am a creature of alarmingly short memory and I always forget to expect the festive fuckwittery you cannot escape with young, overexcited kids. A few weeks back I had forgotten it so entirely that I declared to my best mate “I really love Christmas!” at which point she spat out her tea laughing at me. She reminded me that I actually get super stressed and end up saying how glad I am to get back to normal when it is all over. I didn’t protest. She has known me for years and was, of course, completely right.

Now, I am absolutely not a bah-humbug type. And I really do love Christmas. But the problem is that the Christmas in my head rarely manages to materialise. It often is all the lovely things you want it to be, but the real version has a large dollop of stress, exhaustion and anticlimax thrown into the mix.

imageThe run up to the festivities is always my favourite bit: all that wonderful expectation. The kids’ eyes are bright with utter joy at even a few crappy lights at the garden centre. They visit Santa and are full of wonder. How can you not love that? We’ve seen FC in his grotto twice this year (both of the men in red looked totally different but this wasn’t questioned, thankfully). All three kids asked him for entirely left-field requests, not even close to what was on their Christmas lists, so I dare say Santa had to do a bit of manic online Amazon ordering the next day. But, that aside, both grotto experiences were a big success.

Despite such heart-warming stuff, the pre-Christmas build up has its challenges. There is the constant battle to keep a lid on your kids’ emotional state: they become more manic and hyper as December progresses until they reach a state of frenzy. Then there are all the presents to buy and wrap, accompanied by the annual worry about not getting enough and disappointing the kids versus getting too much and spoiling them. It’s a fine line and I never seem to get it right.

imageA lot of the ‘lovely’ pre-Christmas traditions can go either way too. We decorate the tree as a family and that could mean either a delightful family bonding session or (more usually) a rather fraught afternoon of over-excited squabbles, ending in at least one kid going ballistic in a fireball of overstimulated rage, while the little one undoes all your good work and quietly unpicks the tree. Festive fuckwittery at its zenith.

School is a very exciting place for kids at this time of year, but for us weary grown-ups it feels like a whirlwind of things to remember. Christmas jumper days, nativity costumes, donations for this and that. There is no more manic time in the school year, and all at a time when you are stupidly preoccupied with all your own Christmas preparations and getting hammered at your work Christmas do.

So, you make it through the school festive gauntlet and reach the end of term. Yippee! Mince pies and mulled wine are dished out and you swerve home from school, slightly squiffy but delighted to be free of the school run for a whole two weeks.

Those last few days, when school is out and you wait for Christmas, are just brilliant. Everyone is happy. Yes, this is also a time with very high fuckwittery potential, with the kids at their festive peak and liable to explode in a puff of glitter, snot and tears at any moment, but it is mostly just really good fun. A big family love-in. And Christmas Eve is simply the best day of the year. Even before kids, there was nothing quite like it for me. Our annual Christmas Eve booze up in the pubs of my home town was bloody brilliant. Everyone back home for Christmas and smiling, full of genuine festive joy.

Christmas Eve is a bit different these days and this year it will involve my husband swearing quietly as he tries to construct two bikes, while I sneak in and out of bedrooms and drink port.

Christmas morning is amazing too. That look on the kids’ faces when they open the toy they have been dreaming about is priceless. It is only when all the gifts are open and you are knee-deep in ripped wrapping paper that it all starts going downhill.

I don’t think it matters what they got, even if all their Christmas wishes came true, the realisation hits the kids that, after all those months of excitement and build up, Christmas Day itself is then just a day. Yes, there are new toys and a nice lunch (which they mostly refuse to eat) but they remember how tired they are and they realise the presents have stopped coming and that great day, so full of promise, is just a nice family day after all.

In the eyes of a kid, Christmas is the most magical thing ever. They dream about it for weeks on end. Nothing can live up to that level of expectation, not even the greatest Christmas Day ever. The excitement of the stuffed stocking wins hands down over the little pile of opened gifts.

For years, we have rushed about all Christmas, spending the big day with one set of parents and Boxing Day with another set, with frantic packing and a sleepover or two thrown in. The kids open their gifts on Christmas morning and are then whisked away from them all for two or three days. By day two at the very latest, festive fuckwittery reigns supreme, with utter exhaustion written over the faces of the whole family, as we whirl around in a steep downward post-Christmas spiral.

imageThis year, after an 11th hour decision, we are spending Christmas Day at home, joined by my in-laws. I’m a bit apprehensive, having never hosted Christmas before: this year the pressure is on me to try to meet those impossible expectations. But I’m also really excited to be able to tell the kids that they can sit about in their PJs all morning, eating chocolate and playing with their toys. No packing, no long car journeys. It is going to be ace. Plus my husband and I can both hit the wine while we cook, so everyone’s a winner.

But don’t worry, I’m not going to go all soppy on you and declare that this is going to be the best Christmas ever. I’m not a realist by nature but kids have helped me with that. I know what to expect: we have three kids of seven and under. It is going to be mayhem and there are going to be lots of exhausted meltdowns. But I have a wonderful little family and I aim to enjoy it, despite the bad bits. Besides, the bad bits make for the best festive stories to relay in years to come. I also have wine, and the perfect excuse to buy plenty more. Well, you have to as hosts, right?

Happy Christmas.

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Big: for the Crazy and the Brave

Big is beautiful, right? Well, with three kids in the mix, we are a ‘big’ family, by most standards. And it may be beautiful but it is also many other things – some wonderful, some not to much.

Standard perception of family size is that one kid is small, two is normal and three plus is big. That is just how people see it. As one of four kids myself, three doesn’t seem so huge but it is certainly a hefty step up from two and no mistake.

I began to realise when pregnant with my third that I was doing something considered to be somewhat out of the ordinary. I lost count of the number of times friends and even total strangers looked at me with my huge bump and two small kids in tow and became wide-eyed in amazement that I had actually chosen to have three. I’ve been asked numerous times if it was a mistake. Once reassured that no, it was very much deliberate, they look baffled and call me either “brave” or “crazy”, depending on how polite they are being. It is always “brave” or “crazy”. Those are the standard labels for Mums of three, it seems.

imageThis mixture of bewilderment and pity continued once baby three arrived and I am still regularly told how nuts I must be to have chosen to have a big family. Yes, it is hard work but I am utterly delighted by my little brood and wouldn’t change my set up for all the tea in China (and I drink a lot of tea). I don’t go around telling people how damn conventional they are for having two kids, do I? But the world has always liked to loudly voice its opinions on other people’s choices and I’m used to being considered to be a bit loopy for mine. I don’t think it ever occurs to people that their throw away “you must be crazy” is just one of several I’ve heard this week. And all for having one small, extra person in your house.

Not that I mind really. And they might have a point. There are few logical reasons for making the jump from two to three and I’m certainly not playing down the challenges I face. It is a whirlwind: I had no idea how much one extra person would turn our world upside down. That leap from ‘normal’ to big is vast and I feel like I am permanently on fast-forward these days.

Having number three means more of so many things, both good and bad, but it means far, far less of one crucial thing: time. The loss of free time seems disproportionate. One more person takes you from pretty busy to utterly frantic. The juggle of dividing my time between each child, husband, work, housework and everything between has become insanely difficult. The first thing to go is, of course, time for myself. And with that goes a good chunk of my ability to keep things together. Cue far more regular ups and downs and Mummy’s head exploding.

I was asked not long ago by a woman trying for her third what I thought was the bigger jump: from one to two or from two to three? I think I may have spat my tea out laughing. Do the maths, girl. What do you think?

imageWhat we have more of these days is pretty much everything apart from time. Oh, and money of course. We have five different tubes of toothpaste in the bathroom, for various ages and tooth concerns. We consume about 20 pints of milk a week. We buy industrial sized packets of fish fingers. I dread to think how many thousands of pounds we have spent over the last 7.5 years of continuous nappy use.

We also have more noise. Again, the increase seems disproportionate, but I think this is because third kids are notoriously loud. Let’s face it, they kinda have to be. I took T to his two-year check with the Health Visitor this week and she said “My goodness, I can see communication isn’t an issue” before we’d even made it through the door of her office. He literally never shuts up, he just gets louder and louder depending on how many other noises he is competing with.

We have more fighting, yelling and whining too. Peace is in very short supply. But we also have more giggles, more wonderful cuddles and more happy mayhem, which I just love. Peace and quiet is overrated.

But just this week, as I was attempting to manage the three of them in a café after school, a woman looked at me with pity in her eyes and said “Are they all yours? You are brave.” And it got me thinking. Maybe I am. And maybe I’m a bit crazy too. But maybe that is OK, or even a good thing.

imageSo, if the world thinks of us parents of three as crazy and brave anyway, I suggest we own it. There are worse things to be and I think a mixture of bravery and craziness is actually pretty helpful when raising kids. I think everyone should be a bit brave and a bit crazy from time to time, so maybe we are setting a good example, one that says you should go for what you want in life, even if it seems a bit mad and is going to be so hard that there are times when you can do nothing but cry, when you think you will never get through it.

And the more kids I’ve had, the braver I have become, more confident in my own decisions. I think some of that extra courage has rubbed off. Looking back, I was a typical first-time Mum all those years ago, anxious about my every move. My first-born is nervous and lacking in confidence even now and I wonder if I’d been more self-assured whether he might have picked some of that up and taken it on. By comparison, my second has confidence by the bucket-load. Perhaps she watched my confident air with her and adopted it as her own.

And as for the third, well, he is a lion, small only in stature. He gives as good as he gets and almost nothing scares him (apart from hand dryers – that really is the only thing I’ve found to phase him). This little dot squares up and takes me on when I tell him off in a way the other two never had the balls to do. He is a force to be reckoned with, both brave and crazy in equal measure. It could be a total coincidence of course, that my younger kids are more confident, but I somehow doubt it.

I have some amazing friends who are Mums of three. I value them so very much because they entirely get it. They get me. They know the challenges of a big family and can help me to find a way through. And we can look back together on our two-child lives and laugh at how busy we thought we were. They are all a bit brave and a bit crazy too, and I adore them for it. They are my kindred spirits. I am proud to number myself amongst them.

So, the next time someone looks at me and my brood and says how crazy and brave they think I am, I hope I will take a moment of that all too precious time to smile and say “Thank you”.

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Answering Back

imageWhen I was a kid, it was pretty standard to be told not to answer back by a grown-up. It was also standard to giggle and ignore it. It is one of those reprimands, rolled out often and listened to almost never.  I don’t think I even really knew what it meant when a dinner lady said “don’t answer back” to me when I was a little dot. I was a pretty good kid so I can’t imagine I had said anything particularly awful but she was a miserable old bag and I think I was probably just being too perky and smart, so she said it to make me be quiet.

I think lots of adults tell kids not to answer back just to shut them up, not because they are being naughty or mean. For that reason, I didn’t want to use that phrase myself as a parent. It is just one of those trite lines that has lost all meaning from over-use by generations of parents. Old fashioned and empty.

Well, this week I said it. With very good reason, I must confess, as my seven-year old boy is being a right lippy little git. But I said it nonetheless. So it seems I am not so much turning into my Mother (who never used that phrase, as far as I can remember) but into the miserable old dinner lady with the too-bright lipstick on her mealy, downturned mouth.

H has been really pushing it recently. Asked how his day was, he tuts and sighs, casts his eyes up and mutters something angry under his breath. I have been doing my best to ask nicely and keep my cool, to coax him into a more receptive state of mind, but he seems to ramp up the pre-teen stroppiness even more when I am polite and gentle with him. I’m sure it is classic boundary pushing but it is getting a little testing.

The most annoying thing about the lip is that he seems to reserve it for his siblings and me. Daddy gets away scot-free. I’m not sure how as he has never been particularly authoritarian, but Daddy commands a respect from my eldest that I find somewhat baffling. If I threaten to tell Daddy about bad behaviour, it can send H into total misery, begging me not to tarnish his good name in the eyes the Great Dad.

I comfort myself with the fact that the little two couldn’t give a rat’s ass about upsetting Daddy. They would laugh in my face if I said “wait till your Father gets home”. But H is a total Daddy worshipper, with the result that his stroppiness mostly heads in my general direction.

I know it’s just a phase and, for the most part, I can gently tell H off and work on him to get him out of his funk. But it depends entirely on the day I’ve had as to my level of patience with it. Last week was a good one for my two-year old, so I was feeling less stressed and the strops from H were easier to dilute and deal with. This week, not so much.

Terrible T has been monumentally monstrous this week. OK, so he has a cold but, man, he has been awful. He has kicked and screamed his way through the week so far, throwing tantrum after tantrum. By the time H and M come home from school, the patience pot is pretty much empty.

So, when H decided to use that voice after school yesterday, to tut, kick the sofa and rant in response to a pretty basic request from me, I didn’t handle it as well as I would have liked. Not only was he told not to “answer back” and to “wait til I tell Daddy”, but it ended with both of us screaming at each other and him being banished to his bedroom. Not our finest hour.

imageThe problem with having multiple kids is that they work in a kind of tag team, wearing you down one at a time throughout the day until you are at your wit’s end and completely out of patience. They aren’t experienced enough to realise when it would be wise to step back and give you five minutes to take some deep breaths and reset. They go on and on until you hit breaking point and end up losing it in the style of a wailing banshee.

It is all horribly unfair on the kid that carries that final back-breaking straw, of course. If you must yell, you should really be yelling at all of them, or at least the one who gave you most shit during the day. But it doesn’t work like that. The one that pushes you over the edge gets it in the neck.

And I’m afraid to say that the answering back is often the final straw for me. I find it disproportionately irritating. On paper, being a bit lippy isn’t as bad as screaming tantrums, right? But it is just so infuriating to be tutted at and spoken to as if I have just crawled out from under a rock, just for asking him to put his socks in the washing basket. That rudeness gets me to angry far quicker than any of T’s worst toddler meltdowns.

H is a good kid really. He is just having a stroppy phase. It may well be a long phase that lasts until his early 20s but I am still choosing to think about it as a phase, for sanity’s sake. He is always very apologetic after driving me into a total meltdown too. Doesn’t stop him doing it again, of course, but at least he does say sorry.

I was moaning to my husband about it the other night and he said he would have a word with our boy, to try to get him to buck up and be polite. He took H to one side and before he had even started getting to the point, H collapsed into a ball of tears, spit and snot, saying how bad he had been, how sorry he was and how he didn’t deserve any presents from Father Christmas. It was deeply melodramatic, ending with sworn oaths to be nice, stop moaning at his siblings and be polite to Mummy.

Did it last? Of course not. What do you do with the sinner who repents endlessly but carries on regardless?

Tonight I am drinking a very large glass of wine to help me wash away a day of tantrums, misery, moaning and back-chat. Half a bottle of Sauvignon tends to improve my mood and makes the bedtime routine go with a pleasantly hazy swing.

When the kids are in bed I will drink more wine, whilst I try to think of a better way of saying “don’t answer back”, one that doesn’t make me sound like a miserable, old dinner lady.

Oh, I’ve got it! How about “Shut the fuck up”? Too much?

I’ll keep working on it.

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