Club Membership Expired

So here we are, June 2017. I am on the cusp of a landmark birthday, crossing the threshold from my 30s to the big 4-0 in a couple of weeks. I am in the final stretch of having my last preschooler at home before the summer holidays. And then he joins the big kids. After more than 9 years of parenting – always with at least one home with me during the day – having all three off and out from 9 to 3 five days a week is going to be a massive adjustment.

I feel like I’m on the very edge of a big change and the fact it has come along just as I tip over into my 40s makes it seem even bigger. It’s just a number, I know, but maybe – just maybe – this one feels a bit more like growing up. I’m leaving two clubs I’ve been part of for a very long time: the 30-something Club and the Parents of Preschoolers Club. I’m gonna be ticking the 40+ box on forms from now on, for fuck’s sake!

But the club I feel most unsettled about leaving is the Preschool Club. Despite the hard work, it’s a comfortable place to be. Club members can exchange sympathetic glances as we pass one another with a screaming kid under one arm. I’ve joined other clubs as I go through life (the School Mum Club, the Sitting-on-the-edge-at-swimming-and-moaning-about-the-heat Club, the Music Group Club, etc, etc) but I’ve always been in the Preschool gang. I’ve laughed along with the Mummy Bloggers and seen myself in their tales of woe and stress. They’ve been so familiar and pertinent to my life.

But I’ve found myself wandering away from those blogs now. Because my daily life with one preschooler – who is out of nappies, pretty self sufficient and generally great fun to be around – is no longer reflected in them. Without realising it was happening, I’ve drifted out of the mayhem. I give the same sympathetic glances to Mums with screaming babies before realising I’m no longer one of them. My membership has expired. I’m somewhere else now. Although I’m not quite sure where yet.

Where does that leave me? And where does that leave this blog, which I’ve also found it hard to return to of late. I’m no longer writing about what drove me to write in the first place. My kids are older and I cannot betray confidences by sharing things they wouldn’t share themselves. So, where does it go from here? Perhaps it doesn’t and maybe that’s OK. Or maybe it evolves into something else. Who knows?

I can see on paper how appealing it is to be out of the shit and moving on. It really is. And I know deep down that I am definitely done with preschoolers, with the bloody hard work of it all. But as the day approaches, my funny little blonde bombshell seems to be less trouble and more adorable by the day – which is very inconvenient of him. It makes September feel just a little too close, especially since he is still only a very babyish 3, turning 4 at the end of July. He just doesn’t seem remotely ready to don a school uniform and work out how to write his name. He simply isn’t interested. He’d rather be playing in the paddling pool or racing cars up the hall. I can see his point.

With the first two, I was pretty happy when school started. After all, I had 2 preschoolers each time and cutting down that workload was something to aim for. H was a right handful and handing him over to be someone else’s problem for 6 hours a day was amazing, although the screaming at drop off every day was less fun. M was so keen to start school when her time came around that I made her a wall chart just to stop her asking me every day how long she had to wait. How can you be sad to wave your child off when you know it is what they want more than anything else in the world?

But this time it feels like neither of us is quite ready. It is the last time. There is no going back. But if I’m not ready after 9 years, will I ever be? Perhaps my sense of not being ready is just a fear of the unknown. What is parenting like on the other side of preschool? I worry about justifying having some time to myself at long last, between work days. I’ve been so busy for so long that I’ve forgotten the art of doing things by and for myself. Will I rediscover that art, around all the domestic stuff I’ll finally have a bit of time for? And if I do, will I be able to take advantage of it without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else?

A good step is to make the next few weeks about me. If you can’t drag your 40th on for a good month, you’re not dong it right. There are drinks and lunches and spas planned. It’s gonna be ALL about me! And hopefully I’ll be able to hang onto some of that when September rolls round and claw back some of the many layers of me that preschoolers have stripped away. Operation reclaim.

I spent pretty much all of my 30s up to my ears in nappies and utterly exhausted. I’m hoping the 40s will be a bit more balanced. More fun, less stress, more sleep, less weeping into my tea/wine. Time for my poor long suffering husband and I to remember what it feels like to be Us. The preschool years can be beyond brutal and that is something I must remember as I wave them goodbye.

Can I and should I also say goodbye to writing this blog? I’m not sure. Not yet, I don’t think. It has been amazing therapy, a salvation in the madness. But times have changed and I don’t know quite what it will be as I move forward. I’ll spend some time working that out as I sip my birthday prosecco and wave goodbye to the 30s and the baby years.

So, to my dear old familiar Preschool Club: I’ll miss you deeply. I really will. And I’ll try not to rose tint you as I slowly inch away. You have given me some incredible memories and been the hardest years of my life. You have changed me beyond measure. Thank you for making me feel one the gang. Without that, I’m not certain I would have made it through.

But time waits for no Mum. Onwards and upwards we go. I am hoping the 40s club will welcome me with open arms. Time to stock pile the prosecco and put on your party pants, 40s gang. Here I come!

The Unbearable Dullness of Parenting

OK, so that is a really negative title and I need to explain myself before I start moaning. So here goes…..

I utterly adore my kids. Raising them is by far the most rewarding experience of my life. They are amazing little people and I wouldn’t be without them for anything in the world. In fact, they are my world. None of this should prevent me from saying the following:

It is a fact that parenting is unutterably boring at times. At many, many times, repeating off into the past and into the future as far as the eye can see – like standing between two mirrors of excruciating mundanity and seeing the same expression of mind-numbing boredom repeated on my face for years and years.

Lets go back to where the boredom really hits you. Right back to the beginning. As a pregnant first time Mum, you have a lot of worries. Ludicrously, many of them centre around getting the baby out. Yeah, like that is the biggest issue you are going to face in the next 30 years (let’s not kid ourselves we stop parenting when they hit 18). You also worry about how you will cope, lack of sleep, change in lifestyle – all very worthy things to worry about. But I bet boredom isn’t in the top three concerns for many of us. It should be.

When you go from being an independent, working woman with a great job, a husband you truly share domestic duties with and the ability to go out wherever and whenever you want with nothing but your keys and wallet in hand, then the change to being tied to a mini person 24/7 is very painful indeed. The physical stuff is what preoccupies you at first but after a very short time it is the mental stuff. At least it was with me. Being stuck at home with a baby who gives very little back (other than endless screaming in the case of my first mini monster) is soul destroying. The constant feeding, the lack of sleep all takes it’s toll but the loneliness is not something I was remotely prepared for.

I needed adult company so badly, to alleviate the boredom. I did all the baby groups to find friends but mostly it was a painful experience on far too little sleep. I did make some great friends and we helped each other through, and my Mum came over every week too, but even they could only plug so much of the yawning void that was my day, from hideous o’clock to collapsing into to bed as soon as the baby was down. My necessarily early bedtimes meant I couldn’t even get much adult contact from my husband. He came home, we stuffed down food as we got the baby to bed and then I passed out.

After just a few months in my new life I found myself going out of my way to engage the woman at Co-op in mundane conversation, just to have another adult to talk to. Bleak times.

I don’t think anything prepares you for that feeling of isolation, of being one-to-one with your baby, feeling lost and inadequate and, above all, alone. And feeling terrible guilt for being bored by this little miracle that you have produced. Being scared to say it is boring because that means you have somehow failed to ‘get’ it. That to admit the boredom in the face of smiling peers who appear on the surface to be loving every moment, makes you an absolute failure.

Things improved dramatically after that first year but I had to wait until the onset of school to really feel I’d arrived and shaken off the lonely. The playground brings more friends than you can shake a stick at and I have met some absolute gems. We are all in the same boat and, at 4-5 years in, no one is pretending any more. We all know how ball-achingly dull it can be and we help each other through that, mostly with a shared love of wine. I don’t feel alone in it any more, which is a wonderful thing. Far more wonderful than I could have imagined before kids.

But your kids getting older certainly doesn’t make much of looking after them any less dull. Providing them with food has always been one of my lest favourite things. From the early days of mush and messy teatimes that lasted a lifetime, to today with my 9, 6 and 3 year olds, who collectively will eat just one meal that they all like without variations. It drive me insane.

I am not a natural in the kitchen but I’ve tried all the homemade, slaved over meals which invariably end up in the bin. After 9 years of struggle, I have come up with a formula that I can live with. Basically, spend as little time and effort on a vaguely healthy meal as is humanly possible, so you don’t want to cry when they turn their noses up and say “That’s disgusting!” 2 out of 3 in this house are beyond fussy and I’ve found that sticking to what we know and not making anything that I’ve sweated over makes for happier kids and happier me. That said, cooking the same 6 meals over and over and over again makes me want to violently throw plastic bowls around the kitchen (something I am a tad prone to doing – it is more socially acceptable than screaming in your kids’ tiny faces). Turns out even plastic can smash if you throw it hard enough. Who knew?

On the rare mornings that I get a lie in and listen to the noise of breakfast preparation downstairs I am unbearably happy and grateful, just for being let off that daily task of the breakfast production line and dishwasher empty. At that moment, it feels like the greatest gift my husband could bestow. How sad is that?

Bizarrely, my preschooler eats everything I’ve ever offered him apart from olives and smoked salmon. I have treated him exactly the same as the other two, he just isn’t a dick about food. This has the benefit at least of letting me off the guilt of having created terrible eaters. I didn’t create them. They just are.

I think most of the boredom these days stems from the endless repetition of the daily slog: meals, packed lunches, washing, the school run. It never ends. It is never ‘done’. It is hard to find any sense of accomplishment on a hamster wheel.

And one of the most boring things of all is the sound of my own voice.   “Could you do your teeth? Put your pants on. Stop climbing on the sofa. Can you please just be nice to each other for five minutes? Put your shoes on. Have you been to the loo?” Shut up woman!! No wonder they ignore you, you never stop saying the same old crap all day long!

Getting three kids up and out of the house for the morning school run  sometimes seems like a microcosm of all the mundanity rolled into one. I provide food, clean, and tell the middle one to get dressed about 10 times before she is even close. There are so many repeated tasks to do and things to remember that it would make you weep if you wrote them all down. It takes so long to get out the door that I get started on it a full 10 minutes before we are actually supposed to leave. And all to the unending soundtrack of my voice on repeat. I look forward to them all being at school in September just so that I can shut the fuck up for an hour after drop off, to make up for the constant morning nagging.

But it is good to remember that it isn’t really my kids that I find boring. They have their moments and there are times I’d kill for them to be off playing nicely without climbing all over me, asking complicated questions that make my tired brain hurt or upsetting each other. But they are generally pretty ace. It is all the shit I have to do for them and the process of getting them from place to place that is really boring. And yes, I know that is all part of parenting. But it – like the loneliness – is a part we don’t talk about much. And by pretending we love every moment, we are doing ourselves and each other a disservice. Honestly talking about the good and the bad is always the way forward.

It is OK to find this shit boring. It is boring. It is also OK to alleviate that boredom by having long What’s App chats and large glasses of wine. It doesn’t mean we love our kids any less if we have a moan about the fact we find it really, really boring having to extricate their pants from their inside-out trousers when we do the washing.

My Crew

I’ve recently been watching Mutiny, a reality TV show on Channel 4 recreating Captain Bligh’s 4,000 mile trip in a small sailing boat. My husband loves that kind of shit. Much as I’d never choose to watch it myself, it is weirdly addictive. Seeing how this collection of completely different strangers struggle to adapt to the challenge together is fascinating.

It’s been a pretty full-on week here. Although I seem to say that every week so I think I have to admit it is just a full-on life.  This week is perhaps a bit more crazy than usual as my husband is away and, with Mutiny on my mind, I keep thinking of my little crew here and how we navigate the world together. OK, so we are far from strangers, but our characters are all very different. The challenge of working each of the three kids out emotionally, fulfilling their physical needs and just getting shit done in limited time is never-ending. I feel a bit like Mutiny’s long suffering Captain, just trying to steer the bloody boat through storms with a motley crew that sometimes seem to be doing their utmost to capsize it.

Unlike on Mutiny, our little boat is pretty happy on the whole but the sea can be brutal and we sometime bob around so violently that we all cling together for dear life.

With my husband away, my First Mate is H. H is my worrier. Life is a scary place for him. He worries about pirates and sharks. He is scared of blood and easily stressed. As First Mates go, he isn’t that well equipt to handle the pressure.

Being embarrassed is becoming one of his major worries, a sign of the approaching pre-teenage years, perhaps. Unfortunately, Mums and younger siblings were designed to embarrass and annoy. The little two know exactly how to push his very sensitive buttons and send him spinning off into a freak out over next to nothing.

That said, he is a kind, gentle and unique little man. If the boat was operated by computer, we’d never need to worry about getting lost as he is already a tech whizz. He is as honest as the day is long and follows the rules to the letter. What more could you ask for in a First Mate? Perhaps a few less freak-outs to stop the boat tipping violently would be nice. And a few less grumpy grunts when given instructions.

Next comes M, the Engineer. My little scientist and all round clever clogs. OK, so she does a fair bit of undermining and generally goading the First Mate – and she never, ever shuts up – but she is generally the most helpful member of the crew. Always willing to muck in and help (even when you’d much rather she didn’t), the Engineer takes after the Captain and is an optimist. The glass is half full with this one, always. Life is fun, even when stuck in a rocking boat with a hole in the bottom.

She asks constant questions about the direction we are heading in, how the compass works, which way the earth is spinning and how to navigate by the stars. She giggles and chatters her way across the ocean. She has her foot stamping moments and there are times when she gets weepy and no-one is sure why, including her. But she is a top notch Engineer and keeps the crew entertained with both her singing and her endless supply of fart jokes.

M is also a pleaser and would rather make the rest of the crew happy than satisfy herself. I love that in her and I know it well as that is how I operate. We make a good pair, M and I, and I’d be lost in an Ocean of Boy without her smiles.

Then we come to the Deckhand, young Master T. Where to start with this one? He is both wonderful and terrible, full of emotion and energy. He is great company half of the time and an absolute menace for the other half. He hasn’t been well this week so not at his best but, even at the best of times, he has his big brother’s flare for melodrama, his big sister’s chatter and energy and his very own total disregard for rules. As a member of the crew, he is worse than useless. He is lazy and refuses to do anything if he can wait for someone else to do it for him. Like a typical baby of the bunch, he knows he can get away with murder and frequently does. He is a cheeky, moody whirlwind. And crap at swabbing decks.

Much as I lump myself in with the glass half full brigade, I have to admit that this Captain can feel a bit stressed out by the crew at times. Not only am I trying to keep the boat from capsizing but also to keep it moving in roughly the right direction. As I attempt to contend with my collection of  madcap and maddening kids, it sometimes just takes too  much out of me. I finish the day utterly exhausted. There is no such thing as ‘me time’ most days and, even when there is, I’m often too knackered to use it to do the things I enjoy, the things that help me restore my sense of myself.

The tide rolls on. There is no time for navel gazing. But I am hopeful that, come September, when the tempestuous Deckhand heads off to school, I maybe – just maybe – might reclaim some of myself. I’ll have done 9.5 years of preschoolers by the then. Nearly a decade, a good quarter of my life! That is insane to think of and surely beats Bligh’s 4,000 odd miles at sea, hands down.

I think this Captain deserves a bit of a time out, although I don’t think I’ll know what to do with myself to begin with. They’ll still be work, school, mayhem galore, but there will also be a few precious kid-free hours once or twice a week when I can get off the boat and just chill on the beach. Or just get shit done without having kids hanging off me.

I reckon I should get some sort of long service medal come September, don’t you? Or perhaps a promotion. I think I’d suit an Admiral’s hat.

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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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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Dropping the Ball

imageThe last couple of weeks have been a bit of a rollercoaster. But not the fun kind. The kind you have bad dreams about not being able to get off while it veers dangerously on two wheels round tight bends. It has all felt rather stressful and incredibly busy. Life with three kids is never quiet, I know, and I don’t think it has actually been any more hectic than usual of late, but I’ve been struggling to keep up more than I normally do because things have been a bit full on and emotional just outside of my little family unit.

As a result, I have been always just behind the curve. Like I’m running to keep up with my life, with my kids, and never quite making it. I’m not on top of things and I breathe a sign of relief when by some small miracle I manage to get everyone where they are supposed to be, on time, with everything they are supposed to have.

This is what happens when your mind isn’t fully on the job – the job being parenthood. It is only when other stuff gets in the way and makes you drop some of the balls you are juggling that you realise how many sodding balls there are.

imageWhen things are running well, when I am in the flow, getting things done throughout the week feels almost like a ballet, moving swiftly and precisely from one thing to the next in a pleasing and smooth motion, just about hitting the right timings. Work, school, clubs – they all slot together. It can be exhausting but I can do it and do it well. The flow of washing from basket to machine to cupboard is a satisfying cycle, with clothes flitting around almost by themselves, it is so swiftly slotted into the gaps of the day. The kids are shepherded from one place to another, from one meal to another, and it all feels natural and right at the very best of times. Not always, mind, but when I am on top of things, it works. It is multitasking at its best and I am bloody good at it.

As long as I don’t stop. Don’t ever bloody stop. Not to reconsider a small parenting choice.  Not to ponder a possible alternative agenda for the day. Not to be distracted by things going on elsewhere that suck your attention and emotion. If you stop, if you drop just one ball, the chain reaction it sets off is a total disaster. Once you drop the first ball, you realise how precarious the others are. Your flow is fucked. Your natural smooth progress through the week falls apart the moment you look at it and realise just how many bloody things are involved. And once you start analysing it, seeing that each of those tiny things you have to achieve and maintain add up into one massive and never-ending  list, you are doomed.

And then, when you are looking at all the balls on the floor, bouncing off in all directions and rolling under the sofa, you suddenly find you have absolutely no idea which one to pick up first.  The kids, sensing that your mind is in turmoil, go nuts and draw on the walls or climb the curtains while you are distracted. They step up the naughty behaviour because they know you won’t notice. Because they are a bunch of chancers and arseholes. The little one has ramped things up to such a level this week that he seems to think climbing on tables and creating chaos is actually expected of him these days.

imageSo, for some reason, I chose this time, when my brain is addled mush and the balls are all goners, to start potty training the toddler. Possible not my greatest decision but, in for a penny and all that, so we are now full speed ahead. How bad can it be? I’ve always done it with a small baby latched onto my boob in the past so this time should be a piece of piss by comparison, right? Well, there is certainly a good deal of piss involved anyway.

After a couple of days of mixing it up with pants and pull-ups, we’ve gone cold turkey and it is pants all the way. I figured that, since I am in a mess anyway, I may as well throw myself in deeper. Besides, after 8 years, the nirvana of a nappy-free world is calling me and I simply couldn’t resist. Plus the pressing need to wash small, wee-soaked pants has at least put me back on track with the washing mountain.

I won’t say I’d forgotten how hideous potty training is. I really haven’t. It will be etched on my memory forever. But I had forgotten how boring it is. All those endless trips to the loo, all that wee mopping. And worse. What I had hoped is that, third time round, I would know exactly what I was doing and T would nail it in 24 hours.  He is doing pretty well, at least on the wee front, but it is still wearing. And messy.

As with all things, T is doing it his own way, not following the same pattern as his older siblings. I really must learn to remember that T is so much his own man, that when presented with two options, he will always surprise me by taking a third path that I didn’t even know was there.

I’m hopeful that by this time next week I’ll have my mojo back, that the juggle will be back at full, seamless speed. And that my clever little T will have sussed out the whole pants things and be happily toddling to and from the loo. We are bypassing the evil potty. It is too gross for words and neither of us is keen.

So, until things are back to full throttle round here, T and I will both have to roll about in our own mess for a while. But I’m hoping neither of us is going to let it get us down too much.

After all, shit happens, right?

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