Brave Faces

Today was a big day. I have had preschool children in my life for 9 and a half years. That is almost a quarter of my time in this earth. Today was the last day. On Monday, my baby starts school.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this. Part of me – a pretty big part, I have to admit – is utterly delighted. It’s a moment that, in dark times past, I’ve dreamt of as a shining beacon of hope. There were times when it felt impossibly far away, when I was buried alive in small, smelly, noisy babies. Work was my only respite.

But, the closer I’ve got to the light at the end of the tunnel, the easier live has become. Preschool with a handful of babies and toddlers is a whole different ball game to having one happy, easygoing 3-year old padding through the week with you: more of a tiny, fun companion than a trial. The last year of being home with my little T has been a pleasure for both of us. Sure, I’ve still had next to no time to myself or to get things done, but he has been fun to hang out with and we pleased ourselves from 9 til 3 on our days together.

Today was our last day of preschool chillin’. We popped to soft play with his best mate, who is also, thankfully, joining him in his class on Monday. We had lunch out then headed back to his mate’s house for a cuppa and to play trains before the school run. A great last day, to round off a brilliant year.

After the long summer, Monday is nearly here. The school uniform is ready, the new shoes are waiting to be filled with little feet. The home visit from his new teacher was very successful, with T chatting away confidently. Much as I was worried at the beginning of the summer that my only-just-4-year old (who loves to be babied) wouldn’t be ready, this week has made me think he just might be. He is counting the sleeps and excited to be joining his big brother and sister at school. It is just as it should be.

So, I’m getting what I’ve dreamed of, and my baby boy is growing in confidence every day and excited about his new challenge.

But….

Monday will be the end of an era. A quarter of my life, my entire parenting experience, has involved having at least one little one at home. What does parenting look like on the other side of that? Does it feel like a hole has opened up somewhere, like something has gone missing? There will be many times when I don’t have a small voice to listen out for, when I can sit and have a cup of tea in an empty house. Will that feel liberating or like something has dropped out of my world? Will I feel like I’m less needed? Just less, somehow?

The shockwaves of the end of the preschool era are really only just beginning to hit me. I always thought I’d bounce out of the playground on that first Monday morning with a skip in my step. But as I’m typing this I’m welling up thinking about it. How can something you have been waiting for for so long also be something that brings a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes?

I don’t crave babies. I never have, if I’m honest. Give me a 3 or 4-year old over a baby any day. I don’t want to go back to any past stage. Why would I when this one is so wonderful and relatively easy? But could I just freeze this moment in time for a short while, please?

Next year, my little brood will turn 10, 7 and 5. When did time start going so fast? They are growing so tall so quickly. Facebook keeps reminding me how they looked 1, 2, 3 years ago and it is beginning to get alarming. A ‘9 years ago today’ post popped up this morning with my now lanky eldest dressed as a baby bear. 9 years!? How is that possible when I remember that moment like it was yesterday?

Our summer holiday in Norfolk this year was amazing. It was so chilled and full of fun. And yes, actually relaxing for my husband and I. I can safely say that it is first family holiday since having children that we adults have come back feeling like we actually had a holiday, rather than just same shit, different location. It was incredible and it will only get better as T gets bigger and more able. No, I definitely don’t want to go back.

The only way is up. And up means the next big thing, which is school. I will have all 3 kids in one school for 2 whole years before H moves up, which will be amazing. This is the sweet spot. We have 3 kids who are now low maintenance and still love family fun as they haven’t hit teenage grumps yet. This is the bit I always meant when I wanted a big family. We need to lap this stuff up.

But….

If I’m loving the Now, why do I feel such a sense of impending loss?

For the last decade of my life I have defined myself as ‘Mummy’. It was a change so hard to face at the beginning, leaving my carefree life behind, that I almost lost myself in it at times. I’m reaching a stage when I can begin to reclaim some of who I was and, whilst that is exciting, it is also terrifying. Does that person even exist any more? How do I get back there? Or has that ship sailed? Do I have to start again and reinvent myself in a life where there will be small pockets of air in which I can begin to be Me again?

When I’m welling up, is it worry about my confident little lad that is getting to me, or is it a fear of being left as an empty shell? My life has been so crammed full of small people for so long. What’s left when you take them away, if only for a few hours a day? Is there anything left of Me to reclaim?

But I know in the light of day that these nighttime worries are all far too dramatic. I’ve always been there underneath it all and I’ve been slowly emerging and remembering who I am for some years, as the drudgery of babies falls away. I finally have a chance to lap up that childfree time that I’ve craved for so long. I am not who I was before this journey began. But that’s OK. I am something new and I’m looking forward to getting to know what that is.

Monday is going to be a big day for both me an T. Change can be a scary thing.  But I know it’s what we both need, and I think we are both ready for it. It is time to learn and grow and change. Time to come out from hiding behind Mummy. For both of us.

It’s a whole new world, kid. Brave faces on. Here we go.

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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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Nativity Tales

Last week was a double whammy of nativity action here. We had a dancing shepherd on Tuesday and a bewildered king on Wednesday. Both were very sweet and made me want to cry. Just as it should be.

These were my seventh and eighth nativities staring my little ones and each one has been memorable. Not always for the right reasons. In fact, our nativity journey got off to a very shaky start indeed.

 

1. The Reluctant Shepherd

img_1764Our H was 3 and he wasn’t the confident, bubbly 3-year old his younger siblings were to become. He was a creature of habit, totally thrown by change and new situations. He wasn’t yet remotely into dressing up and had no interest in performing.

Basically, it would have been hard to dream up a more alien and upsetting thing to do to him than dress him up as a shepherd, drop him off at a hall he didn’t know with nursery staff on a non-nursery day and expect him to walk past his Mum, up onto a brightly lit stage to sing carols.

He sobbed while I tried to extract myself from him at the drop off and didn’t even make it onto the stage before being handed over in floods. The entire nativity was spent with him curled up on my lap, burying his face in my jumper.

I relayed this story to H this week as I thought it might amuse him, 5 years down the line. He thought about it, looked a little sad and said in his wonderfullly old-fashioned way, “Well, I’m a bit disappointed in myself to be honest”. I explained that he was only 3, that his reaction was completely understandable.

But at the time, I have to admit, I was disappointed too. A few nativities in, I wouldn’t have minded at all. But this was my first time and it was sad and pretty traumatic. Not what I had hoped for at all.

 

2. The Weepy Sheep

img_1765H’s second nativity, in his first year at school, was a bit more successful. He made it onto the stage for a start, which was progress. He looked completely bewildered as one of a handful of sheep but he vaguely sang when he was supposed to and stood up and sat down at the right times. More to the point, he was utterly adorable and I got my nativity warm glow. A year later than hoped, but it was worth the wait. What is it about seeing your little one on stage doing a Christmas show that makes you weep like a baby?

It all went beautifully, until the very end when our dear little sheep realised that he was going to have to go back to the classroom, rather than come home with his Mum and grandparents. He left the hall with
his bottom lip well and truly quivering and me wanting to run after him, scoop him up and carry him off for a cuddle.

 

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3. Safety in Numbers

Third time round for H and I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have worried. He had got the measure of this shit now and, whilst not exactly relishing it, he endured brilliantly. His entire class were cast as angels and I think he was glad to be lost in the chorus. He wore his tinsel trimmed t-shirt with style and looked utterly gorgeous.

The only thing that stopped me sobbing like a baby was having T, an actual baby, strapped to my front. I was a bit preoccupied trying to keep my little bundle quiet as he waved his arms and legs about and cooed at the lights.

 

 

4. Voice of an Angel

img_1763This is when shit got real, friends. M, my confident little performer, took to the stage in full angel garb for her first nativity, aged 3, and absolutely shone. All she had to do was stand on the stage and sing but she did it with such gusto that the lady running the nursery asked her if she would like to do an impromptu solo into the mic.

Well, you don’t have to ask M twice. She sang Away in a Manger, all on her own, in the most angelic voice you can imagine. Cried? I nearly flooded the bloody hall. I had other parents coming up to me to congratulate me on my adorable, talented daughter.

I feel this may be our nativity zenith. It’s gonna be hard to top.

 

img_17585. All Hail the King

Forth and final nativity for H and he bloody NAILED it! As one of the big kids in Year 2 he had a speaking part, a king, and not only was he great but he also kept the other two kings in line, telling them when to sit down and nudging them when they forgot their lines. I have never been more proud of my handsome little lad.

You see, it’s all very well to steal the show as a precocious angel when you are a natural on stage. But my H is most definitely not a natural. He doesn’t love the limelight. It’s just not his bag. Three nativities of sweat and tears led us up to this point. And man, it was beautiful.

Before you ask, yep, I cried. A lot.

 

img_17626. Heavenly Knickers

M’s second time around, an angel again, was very sweet but my overriding memory of this one will always be her sitting legs akimbo on stage, costume hooked up round her waist, flashing her angelic pink pants to the entire audience for the majority of the show.

 

img_17597. The Over-Enthusiastic Shepherd

As a lowly Year 1, M’s entire class took the junior parts this year. You should have heard her incredulously telling me that, not only was she not an angel this time but she had to be either an innkeeper or a shepherd and that she was only on stage for one measly song! Outraged.

Despite her disappointment, M made a fantastic shepherd. Her role involved some hammy snoring and lots of dancing, which she was delighted by. I also finally got to put a tea towel on the head of one of my kids for a nativity too, which felt like a rite of passage.

 

8. The King of Confusion

So now we come to T. I have to admit that when I saw he had been cast as a king for his first nativity – a fairly pivotal role – my heart sank. I was convinced that my non-conformist would not play ball in the least and would leave me cringing in embarrassment at the back of the hall while he did his own thing.

To avoid this, I spent weeks explaining what a nativity was: that he would wear an outfit, go up on stage and sing songs. Not only did T never seem to take this in, no matter how often I said it, but he went out of his way to change the subject, as if he was in denial about the whole process. I wasn’t confident.

img_1761One of the kings was off sick so the 2 wise men headed down the aisle to applause. If one of the nursery staff hadn’t been holding his hand to guide him, T would have veered left and come to sit on my lap. But he reluctantly plodded on up the steps, sat down and even sang some of the songs, although he drew the line at doing the actions.

Then came his big moment: time to give his gift to Baby Jesus. Well, being a 3-year old kid from a non-religious family, he didn’t have a frickin clue who Baby Jesus was. He carried his little gold box across the stage, wandering aimlessly past the crib in confusion. When he finally understood what was being asked of him, he dropped the box on the baby’s head and legged it back to his seat.

Afterwards, T refused point blank to talk about it again. Although my funny little boy did seem quite pleased with all the praise.

 

Its been quite a ride so far. Who knew how much nativities can make you cry? But also so many smiles and memories made. We have another 4 nativities to go by my estimation. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Happy Christmas. X

Pack Up Your Pumpkins


img_1658Today felt a bit sad. Nothing terrible has happened. I just feel a bit like a deflated balloon. It may be Halloween today but we’ve been Halloweening all week and today the fun was over. Back to school and back to a reality that looks a bit stressful and unappealing at times.

Half term was really good, so much so that my usually school-crazy M was in floods of tears at drop off this morning. She said she was going to miss me and didn’t want to go back. It was a shock as she has always adored school and skipped in. Handing her over sobbing was just horrible. I guess it means I totally nailed the half term fun but it upset me seeing her like that and I feel like I’ve been in a bit of an emotional fog all day as a result. She was totally fine of course and the school called me not half an hour into the day to tell me so, but it knocked me off-balance.

My husband is currently away and I have been solo parenting for a week, with another four days to go, which may have been another reason for this morning’s upset. Having him away at half term isn’t ideal but we’ve packed the time with fun and really had a fantastic – if far too short – break from the school routine. I have to admit though that I’ve really noticed how much he does to keep the house clean.

img_1679My man is a bit of a clean freak and he drives me a bit nuts with his daily dusting of the TV stand and wiping the floor but, man, have I missed that this week! The dust and dirty mitt marks multiply so much faster than I realised without my personal cleaner quietly getting on with it and keeping things in check before I even notice them. I’ve missed his company too, obviously, not just the cleaning. Not being able to have a laugh and a moan about my day with him in the evening can be hard. Especially since there have been a few stressful things going on in the background of late.

There has been a lot happening with work, which has had me rushed off my feet trying to cram bits and pieces in around the kids. My usually sacred evenings after all three are tucked up in bed have been filled with laptops and paperwork. It has thrown my zen right off kilter without having that down time, I can tell you.

Now, as a rule, I thrive on busy. It suits my character. Sitting on my arse being unproductive isn’t really my thing. But the balance really has been tipped a tad too far the last couple of weeks. There is nothing really awful going on. It is all fine, there is just so much of it at once. I’ve felt a bit weighted down by it all.

But that negative feeling has been held at bay by the hectic nature and pure fun of half term, with our Halloween sleepovers, spooky trails, lunches out and day trips. It has been so crazy busy and so full of laughs and joy that I’ve been quite happy to bury all the worries under heaps of pumpkins and spiders.

img_1667Today, with my little M in tears at the school gate, what I really wanted to do was join her and have a weep. I said all the usual parenting stuff that you are supposed to say, about what a great day she would have, how the time would fly and how she would be home before she knew it. But, as we sat on that bench and had a cuddle while she cried, what I really wanted to say was that I totally agreed with her, that the reality of back to school, back to dealing with all tricky stuff that we have been covering with Halloween fun, actually really sucks. I wanted to cry along with her and agree that life was unfair and sometimes all you want to do is go back home, curl up and have a good long sob. I felt terrible because I couldn’t make that happen for her and I had to push her up the stairs and into school. She needed a duvet day and I couldn’t let her have one.

All is totally fine now in my M’s generally happy little world, which is usually so full of joy and sparkles. She was raving about her day when I picked her up, beaming at me as she ran down the steps. She was smothered in paint from making fireworks pictures, which she told me all about, and which has nicely hyped her up for the next event to look forward to: Bonfire Night.

There is a lot to do. Always. Yes, it might be a bit more stressful and busy than normal right now but I’m going to try to follow M’s example and just get on with it whilst looking ahead to the next fun thing. M and I are going to bury our worries under fireworks. And after that, I guess we’ll just start stuffing them under tinsel.

Luckily, M’s worries are very few. Which is just as it should be for a five-year old. Mine are tad bigger and a hell of a lot busier. But everything is more bearable with a few sparkles sprinkled on top and with plenty in the diary to look forward to. And with three smiley little faces around you.

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The Winds of Change

imageBack to school is over. We are well into our first half term now. I’ve watched all the little Reception kids starting school over the last couple of weeks and I’ve felt a weird mixture of emotions.

Partly, I feel somewhat abandoned and a bit jealous as I’ve watched friends wave their last babies off and begin a life of relative freedom. I’ve also felt great anticipation. We’re next. So begins my final year with a pre-schooler at home. Before long we’ll receive our letter about application to school for our little Baby T. I’m yet to decide whether I feel jubilant and free at the light at the end of the tunnel or scared and nervous about the end of an era.

By the time T starts school – as the baby of the pack at the tender age of just four and one month – I will have had at least one small person at home with me for nine and a half years. In that time, my life has changed beyond measure. I’m not sure who that young, carefree person was. It can’t have been me, can it? Beyond a vague physical similarity (getting more vague by the day), I can find little to connect us. How did she fill her time? Where was her career heading? What were her goals and ambitions? All of that is long since buried under piles of kids.

OK, so I know the kids all being at school isn’t going to propel me back to those days of childless liberty. I’ll be tied to the school run, same as I am now. But something fundamental is changing and I can hear a strangely familiar but long forgotten voice calling me. It isn’t freedom exactly. It is a memory of life beyond small people.

So, this time next year, I’ll have all three at school. That sounds pretty exciting, right? I will have more time, more freedom to do something more productive with my life beyond childcare, perhaps revisit that dusty old career, which has been floating along quietly in second gear for years.

Exciting, perhaps, but also faintly terrifying. Kids may be a hinderance to achievement but they are also a convenient excuse for failing to reach your ambitions. That can be handy to hide behind when you feel entirely out of the loop with the world outside your own little bubble. When the kids have released you to a certain extent – for six hours a day at least – it is only your own apathy stopping you from doing all those things you always said you’d do if you didn’t have kids tying you down, right? The pressure to fulfil on those airy promises to yourself suddenly comes into play.

imagePlus, I’m turning forty next year, which doesn’t help with all this soul searching crap. I’m not particularly fussed about it, to be honest. It is only a number and a good excuse for a party but, it is also a time to reflect, whether you like it or not. This landmark coming along at the same time as my baby heads off to school feels like a bit of a double whammy for messing with my head.

I’m getting way ahead of myself, I do know that. I’ve still got a whole year at home with the Terrible T-Monster. Some days that feels like it is going to be a lifetime. Others, I can’t bear to imagine the end.

I spoke to a friend today whose little one started school this month and she said how lonely she feels home alone without him. After three kids and over nine years, I don’t think I will feel that way, but I’m really not certain. And I feel the need to insure against it by lining up busy things to fill the void. I have become a mayhem addict. I thrive on it. I fill every gap. What happens when those gaps get too big to fill?

You see, much as I moan about them and much as they drive me insane, I have loved the hectic nature of life with pre-schoolers. And I know I will miss it. I will also rejoice that it has ended. It will be a painful, delightful, terrible and wonderful time. I will embrace it with open arms and I will cry buckets. I already want to cry at the thought of it, even as I wish it away.

We’re still potty training here (yes, still) and as I dealt with another pair of shit-filled pants in the park today, September 2017 couldn’t come soon enough. Even when each day feels like a lifetime, I know I will look back this time next year and wonder where the time went. It is a slippery little sucker, that Time.

imageBut enough of this navel gazing nonsense. Back to the reality of life. My eldest has taken to chewing his school shirts and has destroyed two in the three weeks since school started. M has turned into a screaming banshee as she adapts to the big step up from Reception to Year 1 and is utterly exhausted. And T? Well, T shits himself daily. So, there is plenty of reality to keep me busy and away from too much reflection about my final year with a pre-schooler.

So, as this era slowly draws to a close, I guess I should try to ‘enjoy every moment’ as people tend to say to Mum’s of young kids – generally people who have either never had their own kids or have conveniently forgotten how shit so much of parenting can be. All I can promise to do is enjoy as much as I can, do my best not to wish it away and then try not regret it passing when it has gone.

And to try to promise not to pressure myself with my own expectations. Maybe it will be time for a change soon, when the era finally does end and change blows in. But maybe that change should just be watching daytime TV and drinking tea in peace – at least in the short term.

Yep, the winds of change are beginning to blow but only as a whisper for now. Plenty of time to see which way they are blowing. Only Time, that slippery old bastard, will tell.

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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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Party Panics

imageI may be nearly 8 years into parenthood but I have to admit that, up until now, I’ve been a party avoider. Sure, my kids have had birthday parties but I’ve run like hell from the the whole invite-the-whole-class-to-a-hall thing. The very idea has made my blood run cold. I know that makes me sound like a bit of a party wimp but I do have good reason. My eldest and parties simply don’t mix.

Kids in their first year at school have the world’s best social life. Pretty much every one of those 30 children has a party and everyone gets invited. When those invites started rolling in for my first it was a bit of a shock. There was hardly a weekend when there wasn’t a party.

Luckily, the invites tail off in Year 1 but I didn’t realise that at the time and was a bit scared. You see, parties were not easy with our H. He couldn’t really cope with them at all. He has always been pretty anxious and the noise of 30 odd 4-year olds running amok in a echoing hall was just too much for him.

So, just don’t go, right? Well, that was the tricky bit. H was desperate to go and I was desperate for him to fit in. So we sucked it down for a while. And boy, did it suck?

We attended quite a few parties with him clinging to me, refusing to get off my lap, not even wanting the party tea. I had to deal with screaming panics over burst balloons and once had to leave after just five minutes because of a bout of intense balloon popping. He was also very wary of the kids’ entertainers and was known to cry desperately when watching Punch and Judy or even magicians if something popped up quickly and made him jump. It was, to put it mildly, a tad challenging – although he always said what fun he’d had afterwards, which I never understood.

After a while I simply hid party invites from H when they came home in his bag and sent an RSVP to say we were busy. If he spotted the invite before I got to it, I claimed we already had plans. Anything to avoid the misery.

So, holding a party for H when his own 5th birthday rolled round was not an option. Besides, not only would I have had H’s extreme anxiety to deal with but I also had a toddler in tow and was six months pregnant. So you can see why I decided against it.

imageWe avoided parties for a year or so and when H’s 6th birthday came round we found he’d calmed down enough to do smaller gatherings (without balloons) so we threw him a pizza-making party at the local Italian restaurant, which was a hit. By the time he was 7, he was a bit beyond the big party age. So, hall parties neatly side-stepped. Phew!

H can do parties now but he still looks like a fish out of water much of the time. It can be OK but it can also be a total disaster and is completely unpredictable, so he keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Then along came M, my confident little social butterfly. She absolutely loves parties. She has attended all of the ones thrown by her classmates so far this year and not only lets me dump her and run but she actively wants me to leave so she can get on with it without Mummy cramping her style.

M’s lovely little best mate is just two weeks younger than her and equally sociable, so holding a party for the two of them together seemed like a perfect fit. I won’t deny that I was still a bit anxious about it but sharing it between us two Mums reassured me a bit. We decided to hire a dance entertainer for our pop-crazy little girls. It would be a walk in the park, right? Besides, it is only two hours of our lives. How bad could it be?

The day before the party, I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t sleep very well. I used to work in event management, for God’s sake. How the hell could a party for 30 small kids be keeping me awake at night?! But there were just so many things that I could see going wrong, and they were all out of my control.

imageMy biggest worry was how my boys were going to behave. I dreaded things going bad for H and him kicking off while I was up to my eyes in yelling kids and party bags. And then there was Baby T, who is 2 so is basically a marauding mini-monster and a total loose canon.

It didn’t start brilliantly. The guy in charge of the hall forgot to let us in and our already tight half-hour set-up time was suddenly reduced to 20 minutes. As a result we were up against it and frantically blowing up balloons to hang up when the first kids arrived. Said kids commandeered the loose balloons while I was busy checking them in on my list and, inevitably, some popped while they were kicked about (OK, I bought cheap balloons so I guess I had it coming). One popped right next to H, who stood in the middle of the hall – towering above the other kids – looking a picture of misery. I clocked that he was doing the lip and I broke out in a cold sweat. Big fat tears were forming and he was on he verge of completely losing it in a loud, embarrassing and very public way.

It is always hit and miss whether you can pull it back when H gets like that and you have to decide whether to go hard or soft. I made a quick decision to skip the sympathetic good cop and go in like nails. A quick firm warning in his ear, followed by swiftly depositing him with my best mate at the edge of the room to calm him down and the disaster was averted. I have never been more relieved, or more glad to have backup.

There were a couple more hairy moments (we all totally forgot to cut the cake for the party bags until the very last moment, which led to a frantic, giggling cake chain-gang in the kitchen) but it went really well in all. My husband was basically on T duty throughout and my cheeky little youngest was pretty good, so long as the party food kept flowing in his direction. Even H pulled it back admirably in the end and I was proud of both of them.

So, it was a success and we all survived. I still don’t think I could do it alone and I’m eternally grateful to my friend for sharing the burden with me. And our beautiful bestie birthday girls had a perfect pop-tastic day and were full of smiles, which made it all so worth it.

Happy Birthday, dear little party girls. I think I can say, from the safe distance of a couple of days, that it was a genuine pleasure and worth all the boy-induced worry to see your funky dance moves and your happy little faces.

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