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.

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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The Measure of Success

imageToday we did something I’ve been wanting to be able do for years: we went to the cinema as a family. All five of us. It was T’s first time and I had no idea how well he would cope with the dark and the whole sitting still for a couple of hours thing. He rarely sits to watch more than a couple of Chuggington episodes at home. However, I do know how much he loves popcorn, so I was quietly optimistic.

T turns three at the end of the month, something I’ve been looking ahead to pretty much since the day he was born. It is a landmark age that I stuck a pin in and said to myself – and to my long-suffering husband, who I had to talk into having a third kid at all – that by this time, things would be very much easier. We would be able to do things like go bowling and on trips to the cinema. Dinner out would be a breeze and we could even leave the house without a buggy and a changing bag (still working on that last one). Oh, just think of the freedom and joy of it all!

“Just wait till he turns three! Think how easy our lives will be!” is something I often sang, somewhat manically, in a frantic attempt to convince the fella, and myself, that all would be fine and dandy just around the corner. This mantra was to be heard regularly during our darker times. I spouted it almost daily when we hit our lowest ebb, with three kids aged five and under and next to no sleep. I feel slightly wobbly thinking about that time actually. So, let’s move on.

Well, the corner has arrived and here we are, about to go around it. And is everything so much easier and carefree? Sort of, yes. I think I can safely say it is the easiest it has been since number three joined the gang. But still harder than two, without a doubt. There is definitely something in the old adage, usually said by annoying smart-arses, that we were supposed to only have two kids because we only have two hands to hold onto them with. With three, one is always a loose canon. I like to think this is character building for them, to build their independence. It can also be plain terrifying as a parent in a busy car park. But I digress.

I decided that we really ought to put this whole turning the corner thing to the test. So, I declared that we should go to the cinema, as a family, just to prove to ourselves that we now can. This suggestion was met with a raised eyebrow and a deep breath from my husband, but swiftly followed by wary agreement, so I think he did pretty well at hiding the fear.

imageWe picked one of those Sunday morning cheap tickets things which got all five of us in for under a tenner. Best not to spend much when we had no idea whether T would sit through it or not. We watched Zootropolis. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend it, for both kids and adults. It is great story and very funny. The references to Breaking Bad made me snort with laughter. And I found myself lusting after an animated fox. Is that wrong? Well, it isn’t the first time. I had the hots for Disney’s Robin Hood as a kid. But moving on….

We got there and collected tickets, popcorn and booster seats for the little two. You know what I said about having one loose canon kid when you have three of them? Well, at the cinema, when you have to carry a changing bag, booster seats and three bags of popcorn between two of you, all kids become loose canons. They were marauding about at high speed in their excitement, running under people’s legs and disappearing behind the popcorn counter. As if we weren’t making enough to of a spectacle of ourselves at this point, a little yelling from me in a vain attempt to bring them to heel pretty much guaranteed that I grabbed the attention of the entire foyer.

Then we had the escalator to negotiate. This is where their small town upbringing shows. An escalator is big news for country kids. The older two seemed to need to psych themselves up before attempting it, in the style of competitors in Gladiators running up the travelator. They both gripped the handrail for dear life but managed it without assistant. But the bub was entirely thrown by it. I managed to wedge one of the booster seats under my chin so that I could hold his hand while he lept on like a frightened gazelle. He then stuffed his little frowning face into my leg for the duration, only emerging again when prompted to leap off the other end.

We made it into Screen 14, found our seats and H promptly threw half a bag of popcorn all over himself and the floor. Standard. The contents of the remaining two bags were divvied up and we all settled down to watch. T loved the ads and trailers but had a bit of a wobble when the surround sound boom went off and the lights went dark. He rallied quickly though and stuffed his little face with popcorn throughout the film. He laughed at the funny bits and jumped at the (mildly) scary bits without losing his shit. He did develop ants in his pants for the last half hour and ended up squirming about on my lap but, as a first effort for a not-quite-three-year-old, it was pretty impressive.

We bundled out, the older two high on sugar and buzzing, chattering away about the film. T was pretty happy too but mostly talked about not wanting to use the wobbly stairs (escalator) again on the way out. We took the regular stairs down, which he approved of.

imageBack in the car, everyone was sharing their best bits of the film but T was unusually quiet. “Did you have fun at the cinema T?” we asked. He furrowed his little brow, thought about it and said a firm “No”. When quizzed, he insisted he didn’t like the film. He didn’t like the big television. He didn’t like the animals on screen. He did, however, concede to liking the popcorn.

So, just as I was thinking what a success the morning had been, T quite firmly disagreed with me. Despite looking perfectly happy throughout, he insists he didn’t enjoy it at all. Perhaps my measure of success is slightly out of whack with his. Or perhaps he just knows we want him to say he enjoyed it, so is being a bloody-minded little git. I suspect the latter.

Regardless of how well T thinks it went, we did it. And four out of five of us at least had a good time. That said, I don’t think I’ll be attempting it without another adult yet. That might be a bridge too far just now. And bowling may be more of a four-year-old thing, after all.

Bring on the little changes though, I say. Our world is changing, one tiny step at a time, as we leave the baby days behind. And I for one am more than ready for that.

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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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My Funny Girl At Five

imageTomorrow M turns five. A landmark age and no mistake. Five is a stepping stone from dependant pre-schooler to fully-fledged little person, and my girl is well on her way.

In some respects I can’t believe M is only just five. She can be very grown up and mature for such a little dot. Mind you, she has always been ahead of the game in mental and emotional development. She was talking in sentences by 18 months and has hardly paused for breath since, constantly challenging my weary brain with her lateral thinking and intense questions.

If M doesn’t know how something works, she does her best to think around the problem. She comes up with weird and wonderful solutions but they always have a hefty dose of logic and clever thinking thrown in. If bees make honey, then surely flies must make jam, right? And if squirrels hide their acorns for the winter, where else could they possibly hide them but up their bottoms, to be laid like eggs when needed? After all, they don’t have any pockets.

She comes out with the most delightful phrases and ideas. These little glimpses into the workings of her dear little head have me in stitches and melt my heart in equal measure. But with such an active brain come some very challenging questions. I found myself having to give her a rudimentary explanation of how a baby gets into a lady’s tummy when she was just two, after a barrage of questions, facing her puzzled and dissatisfied little face when given half information. For now she is content with eggs and seeds but I can see her brain working on the next question. H, three years her senior, still hasn’t even enquired.

imageOne of M’s favourite books is called Evolution, a delightful, kid-friendly picture book about the earth and how we came to be here. It was a panic purchase after months of questions about who the first ever person was. I once spent an hour-long car journey struggling to explain how we evolved from monkeys in terms that a three-year old could comprehend. She went quiet for a moment, thought hard and then said “Hold on, are you saying monkeys turn into babies?!” The book has helped a lot with that one.

But the questions never end, from the easy ones to the impossible. She asks things I’ve never even contemplated. It can be exhausting and we were both delighted when school started and her world widened to include more adults that she can quiz. She is now driving both me and her teacher crazy, and I have someone to defer to if I can’t work out how to explain something. “Why don’t you ask Mrs X, tomorrow?”

M is changing so fast now, it is hard to keep up. The start of school was only a few short months ago but in that time she has smoothly shifted gear, moving from the small circle of her family to being a fully fledged member of the school community. She has a social network to be proud of and embraces every aspect of school life. She is a natural and has never looked back, lapping up each new experience.

imageAway from her best behaviour at school, my girl is certainly no angel. She is raucous and bawdy. Her toilet humour repertoire far outstrips that of her big brother, who she regularly has in stitches with her endless stream of bum, poo, willy and wee jokes. After an overheard throw-away remark about girls’ play dates being less noisy than boys’ (it is easy to forget that her little ears never miss a thing) she recently announced “Girls are quieter than boys, aren’t they Mummy?” and I nearly choked on my tea laughing. Our girl is the noisiest of our three by a county mile. She even beats her stroppy little brother. Her voice booms out like a klaxon. She may like princesses and all things pink when the mood takes her but meek and retiring she ain’t. She is fierce, loud and wonderfully forthright. She is a force to be reckoned with and sharp as a tack, running rings around us already.

Whilst she knows how to play beautifully with both her brothers, M has an uncanny knack of winding them up. With H, she knows exactly how to needle him for the most extreme reaction. Easily done with my melodramatic eldest but she has mastered the art beautifully. With the little one, she likes nothing better than to gee him up into a wild frenzy, making him more and more manic and running him up and down the hall. He adores it – and hero worships her – but it is extremely loud and always ends with him smacking into a doorframe or face-planting.

Looking at my little girl today, I saw just how much she has changed in the last year. Gone are the baby chubby cheeks and sticky-out toddler tummy. She is a leggy beanpole now and graceful, in a funny sort of way. She has always been our accident prone one, tripping up dramatically several times a day until relatively recently. Her knees were permanently pulverised and she has been to A&E twice after nasty mishaps, so I never thought I’d see her as graceful. And she still is clumsy really, but she reminds me of a baby deer now. Not quite in control of her rangy limbs yet, but with promise that she will be soon. And when she is, it is going to be quite something.

For all this change and growth, my little girl is still my baby. She bear hugs me as often as she possibly can and I can’t sit down without her clambering onto my lap, wrestling with the little one for prime position. She still misses me when she goes to school and that sometimes makes her sad, although she gets over it fast enough when she sees all her friends tumbling into the playground.

She has always made it clear that Mummy is everything in her eyes and was inseparable from me for the first couple of years. And much as new things have come into her world, she hasn’t lost that attachment yet. It doesn’t even seem to be remotely diluted, for which I am very grateful.

Like all good birthdays, M is celebrating hers for about 10 days, with various gatherings and parties, and she is buzzing with wide-eyed excitement. It is going to be a blast.

So, Happy Birthday, my dear little M. I am very proud of who you are becoming and I could not love you more.

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Just Add Sleep

I’ve been writing this blog for a whole year now (thanks for sticking with me!) and much of that time has been spent moaning about lack of sleep, for which I can only apologise. Well, I am hoping that particular subject may be something I can move on from soon. You see, we have had a bit of a breakthrough.

Sleep here has been a painful topic of late (see Scream O’Clock). Well, it has been painful for about 8 years actually. However, over the last month or so, we’ve actually been sleeping. I mean all three kids going to bed at a reasonable hour and rising at 7am or later. Yes, even our sleep resistant, early-rising Baby T has started to tow the line.

imageI don’t know exactly what triggered the change as we’ve tried a lot of things but I suspect it is simply that he has reached an age where waking up alone in bed is no longer scary and he finally really understands what his sleep training clock is all about.

It is also down to the fact that something snapped in me a few weeks back, after yet another 5am start and exhausting day. I decided some serious action was needed and it was time to be Nails Mummy. Don’t laugh. I can do that when I have to. I decreed a major early-rising crack-down for all three of them. It was a few weeks before Christmas, always a good time for bribery, so I said that they could all open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve, on the condition that they didn’t get out of bed before 7am at all for the next few weeks. Even one early start would be a fail. See? Nails.

To be honest, this crack-down was aimed entirely at my eldest, H. T had no clue what I was going on about and M rarely wakes before 7am anyway. H, however, has been getting up at 6am or earlier for as long as I can remember. He noisily goes for a wee, turning on the bathroom light and whirring extractor-fan, banging a few doors, before he trundles up and down stairs a couple of times to get things he has forgotten and then switches on the TV or tablet and entertains himself. So if our early-rising two-year-old wasn’t already awake and downstairs with one of us, he sure as hell was after all that.

Now I don’t know why I never considered this before but it finally occurred to me that if I stopped H getting up so early, he might not wake his little brother up. So I cracked down hard on H and, guess what? Things changed. Almost overnight. No more toddler screaming at 5am. T now gets out of bed when his clock changes at 7am and politely knocks on his bedroom door until we come and open it for him. The change could not be more dramatic.

As I said, I think some of this is down to T being a bit more grown up, but making H stay in bed has definitely helped a lot. And an added bonus is that H, who almost never wants to sit and read a book by himself, is waking up at 6 or 6:30 and quietly reading until 7am. Double-bloody-whammy of utter brilliance.

imageOK, so I know it sounds really bleedin’ obvious that stopping H’s early rising will help the baby sleep in, but there is something about prolonged sleep deprivation that simply saps all common sense out of your brain. It may be obvious to you but I was wading through the hell of it and had literally no idea what to try next. If one of those hideous Super Nanny types came into my house with her camera crew, she would have come up with that solution in five minutes and you would have all been sitting in front of your TVs nodding and agreeing with her, wondering why I had been so daft as to not consider that myself. Well, I was in the shit up to my eyeballs, and I couldn’t see over it. I was beyond being able to see solutions.

But we do have a solution at long last, it seems. I’m not going to be stupid enough to claim to have nailed it. We all know that things can change. But I am quietly hopeful. It is, after all, about time we had a break in the sleep department.

And oh, what a change it has made! My husband and I feel like we have rediscovered our inner kid. We found ourselves giggling and getting on like a house on fire this Christmas, like we did before we had kids, before lack of sleep turned us into zombies. Our relationship has become a little more fun again. We’ve feel like proper mates, partners in the crazy world of childrearing, rather than feeling like shift workers, taking it in turns to deal with horrible o’clock starts and moany, tired kids. It is so much easier to laugh off kid misdemeanours when you are not so tired that you want to cry.

So, after nearly 8 years, we are finally getting some sleep. And while it has done some amazing things to our world, I still seem to feel more tired than I’d hoped, which is a bit disappointing. I still have bags under my eyes and I still feel like I’ve been run over by a bus when T starts his morning knocking to drag me out of my cocoon. What is that all about? I’m getting more sleep than I have done in years but I’m still tired? Seriously? I really don’t get it. Maybe my body is still catching up on all the years of going without and I’ll wake up one day next month as fresh as a daisy and raring to go. I can but hope. Or maybe I just got old over the last 8 years and can’t take the pace of life any more. Maybe all that exhaustion has taken it’s toll permanently and this is just the new normal for me. Only time will tell.

The only downside of T sleeping better is that afternoon naps are well and truly a thing of the past. He clearly isn’t really ready to drop them entirely and he does a lot of falling asleep in random places at really inconvenient times, often waking up in a terrible mood. And no nap means no afternoon hour off, of course, but I’ll take it. It is worth it.

So, hopefully this is going to be the last update from me about sleep or lack thereof. At least for now. I intend to enjoy our new family sleep pattern for as long as it lasts. The world is a slightly brighter place. And considerably less blurry.

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