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!

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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.

Air Pockets

img_1733I woke up feeling lighter today. I’m not sure why. And I don’t think I’d even noticed how heavy I have felt of late – how dragging myself around had become so hard – until something lifted and I found myself in this air pocket. It is a happy place to be and feels like a long lost friend. Like I’m back.

The last few weeks have been hard. There is a lot going on. As I said in my last post, it has been crazy busy and we’ve had our moments of upset but then it is always busy at this time of year and mostly I’ve held it together pretty well. But something changed. The world became a scarier place. It made things feel bigger than I could handle and I allowed myself to be dragged down by the undertow.

It is the most manic time at school, with endless requests for input and money. Christmas looms large and with it the pressure to make it as it as magical as it can be for my kids. There have also been personal things happening but it was the huge world-changing troubles which have added to the weight the most, until I’ve felt almost too heavy to get up in the mornings, unable to see beyond it.

Only now, after the sound and fury of it all, when I’ve given up railing against it, do I let go, become limp. And so I find myself floating back up to the surface, gently washing up on a beach, like driftwood.

It was a funny one this time. Often I see them in technicolor, those spots on the horizon, but this time it crashed like a wave, out of clear blue skies. Perhaps not entirely clear blue but I was wearing some great Supermum-holding-my-shit-well-and-truly-together tinted glasses so I didn’t notice the wisps of trouble in my periferal vision.

The catalyst was my husband coming back from the best part of two weeks away. Not him going away. That bit was strangely easier because I was in full-on Coping Mode while he was gone. Solo parenting, managing some major things and holding at bay some huge background issues beyond my little family unit. But those things were dragging on relentlessly all that time, gnawing away and undermining my foundations like woodworm.

img_1732Daddy’s return date was on the wall; the promise of him coming home, of joyous reunions and easier times, was the focus as a little unit of four throughout half term and beyond. Like all days of great expectation, the reality couldn’t deliver on it’s promise. It wasn’t his fault. He had no idea all my badly balanced eggs were in his cold-filled, jet-lagged basket and the relief just wasn’t enough. I was waiting for the dam to break and I got a pathetic little trickle. And then Trump won. That’s when I really lost my shit.

The things I was able to shrug off became monumental. I sat in the car and sobbed for a world heading for political disaster. I hid in the kitchen in the dark, avoiding my children who seemed bent on being impossible, their moans and squabbles switching from background noise to an assault on my barely there cool. I cried for myself, my family and a world full of problems that felt too big to solve.

So, what changed this morning? Where did the clouds go? That’s the odd thing because I don’t think they went anywhere. They are still right there, bang in my line of sight, but I’m in this little air pocket now where I can see them but I can’t feel them. And it feels good. It’s like watching a car crash on film, as opposed to being in the car. It looks the same but it doesn’t hurt. The world is still relentlessly shifting to the right, with so many people dismissing this disaster as normal. Crisises continue around me which I am unable to help. But now I float through it serenely.

The kids are back to being merely kids: annoying and adorable and equal measure but not about to tip me over into oblivion. They can hang out in my happy air pocket too if they like, as long they don’t get too irritating. The air pocket is ace. I hope it lasts.

I need to get better at making my own air pockets in a challenging and upsetting world, rather than waiting for them to materialise. The world situation is utterly shit but I can’t fix that. There are many things closer to home that I would love to fix too but they may as well be distant political catastrophies half-way round the world for all the good I can do to help fix them. I’m not good at helpless. But I need to get better at it. At least better at focusing on the things I can mend, rather than being pulled down by the ones that I can’t. Being in the mire is not a good place to be and not fair on my family either. With it comes more guilt than I’m comfortable with.

img_1728And as for the treadmill, the weekly cycle of work and school that often leaves no room to pause for breath, well I can only do what I can do. And all that should be a piece of cake anyway from inside this bubble, with other worries kept at bay. Besides, here comes the Christmas hype. With three already glitter-covered, overexcited kids in the mix, I have to just let that one roll me along. And I love it, once the organising is done, so am ready for those tiny voices singing endless rounds of Jingle Bells. Let’s decorate the air pocket with some tinsel and see if we can’t hide that car crash on the outside behind it for a while.

My wonderful Mum has been a calm voice in the storm. As she reminded me, she lived through the Cold War, wondering if the world was about to be blown to pieces at any second. But she is still here. All this too shall pass. The big and the small. There is always cause for hope.

For now, I am mainly going to hope for a calmer few weeks, at least inside my head. That I can manage to stay inside the air pocket, looking out but not being pulled into it all. It is time for a news blackout and to do what I can but not to mourn for what I can’t.

And I hope that our small world continues to be bright, despite the darkness outside.

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Favourites

imageMy kids adore both their parents. Of course they do. But, if I am being totally honest, and if push came to shove, I know they’d pick me. At least the younger two would. It has levelled out now with the eldest, who was a Mummy’s boy too but is now pretty even-handed with his affections.

Being the favourite can be wonderful. I’ve never had a kid who prefers Daddy over me and I’m pretty glad as I think I’d be more than a little offended if, having slaved away with the little brats all day, they only had eyes for their old man. It can be utterly bewitching when they are little and they cuddle you in a way that makes you feel like you are their entire world. Not a lot compares to that, to be honest.

But there are downsides. And they are plentiful. My middle one, M, took it to extremes when she was a toddler, to the extent that you would be forgiven for thinking she actually hated her Dad for the best part of her first two years. She used to cry when he came into the room and shy away from him when he talked to her. She would scream “No Daddy!” if he dared to attempt to pick her up or give her a hug. Not only was that pretty miserable for my husband but it was also grim for me as she wouldn’t let him do anything for her at all.

imageThose days are far behind us now that she is five but she still very obviously shows preferential treatment for me. She adores her Dad and laughs and plays with him but she is very demonstrative and those cuddles and “I love yous” are mostly directed at me. If prompted, she throws Daddy and bone, saying “Of course, I love Daddy too”, usually whilst sitting on my lap with her arms wrapped around my neck. The three year old is also all about Mummy and I literally cannot sit down without the two of them attaching themselves to me.

Being treated as the favourite by two out of three makes me feel a weird mixture of things. I feel sorry and guilty about my poor husband being second best. He adores his kids and works so hard for them that it seems horribly unfair. But, at the same time, I am also grateful that it isn’t the other way round, that I’m not the one being shunted into second place. I revel in being their number one. Part of me laps it up and I cling onto it, in case it suddenly disappears and I am left bereft.

But I also feel beaten down by it and jealous of my husband’s relative freedom. All that adoration, being the preference for everything – from cuddles in front of the tele to getting them the million things a day they want – is downright draining. They ask me all their endless questions. They will walk past their Father to ask me what he is doing rather than direct the question at him. I am their font of all things and I’m decidedly not up to the job of idol. My husband can sit on the sofa and read a paper. I am mobbed the moment I attempt to do the same.

Noone likes to think about the possibility that their kids love one parent more than another. And it may well be that mine don’t really, not deep down, that they just need their Mum more that this young age.

Favouritism in a family is a topic that society doesn’t like to dwell on. As parents, we know we are supposed to say that we do not have a favourite child but I know a few parents who clearly do, even if they don’t admit as much. I guess we’d all like to hope that the same rule applies to how kids see their parents, holding them in equal esteem.  Although, in reality, we know that not everyone cherishes both parents evenly as adults, so why should they do so as kids?

imageIf my little two follow their big brother, they will begin to be less obsessed with me and more fair in the way their share the love around when they get a bit older. Time will tell. The way they mob me tends to mean H gets left out a bit, which I also worry about. He is happy to be with either parent, which means he ends up with Daddy more often than not, as the other two cling onto me. The last thing I want is for him to feel left out, to think he is not as loved.

Whilst the kids may have a favourite parent, I decidedly do not have a favourite kid, which I am still little surprised by. I didn’t really believe it was possible to love them all equally until I experienced it. H was a little harder to love when he first arrived as he was a horrendous baby. I adored him despite it but, when pregnant with my second, I was worried I would love her more, because she was not such a pain in the arse. And also because she was a much wanted girl. Along she came and she was easier than her brother but I found, to my surprise, that I didn’t love her more. I adored them both equally, despite my fears.

And then again, when number three was on his way, I feared I might just be out of love, that there wasn’t enough left in the pot for another one. But it didn’t work out that way. The capacity to love is endless, it seems, and I adore all three of them, equally but in different ways. No favourites here.

That said, I do like to amuse myself with Daily Favourites, a little game I play in my head every evening. It depends on how well they each behave as to who gets the title. I don’t share the winner with them, I hasten to add. Daily Favourites is for my amusement only. It is just so satisfying to relieve the frustrations of the day by deciding who the winner is and, more importantly, who is the loser. There is something so taboo about having a favourite kid that it cheers me up, in a sort of rebellious way, to use the label of favourite so flippantly.

Today’s favourite was H. He was no trouble at all and did minimum moaning. T was the overall loser but it was a close run thing with his big sister.  Somehow, demoting the little terrors from the favourite spot, if only in my head, is deeply satisfying. And the fact that it is officially not allowed, makes it even more enjoyable.

If you have more than one kid, I suggest you try it. Having a temporary favourite is quite liberating: a cheeky side-stepping of the no favourites rule. Daily Favourites is a great game and wonderful stress relief. Kid been an arsehole all day? Call them the loser in your head and you immediately feel much better. Give it a go.

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Escaping to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time Out: a Blessing or a Curse?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had an unusual amount of time out away from the kids. Things just worked out that way and, after months with no breaks, I’ve had back-to-back weekends where kid-free time has been on offer in abundance.

Time out is always appreciated and the last two weekends have been really brilliant but, as if often the case, I felt a bit grumpy afterwards. I get disappointed when I don’t feel rested and full of the joys of life with a young family after a break. I always expect to have a warm glow, to feel much more at ease with my manic life for having had some time away from it all. But it never quite works out that way.

Last weekend contained far too much alcohol, as child-free times tend to do. It is a well-known fact that, once off the leash, us parents go a bit crazy, trying to cram all the fun we used to spread evenly over a month into one hectic day. The hangover the morning after could have been worse but, when I think about it, I really shouldn’t be surprised when I don’t feel refreshed and rejuvenated after these rare treat days.

But the exhaustion and hangover aren’t really the problem. The problem is tasting freedom for a few glorious hours and then having it snatched away again. And oh it tastes soooo sweet while it lasts.

imageDon’t get me wrong: I adore my kids and indeed my life. When I return to the fold I am reminded of just how much I love them. It washes over me like a wave. Getting back on Sunday night after a whole day away, to find my three beautiful babies sleeping peacefully was a moment of deep appreciation for the blessings in my life. I always feel that intense rush of love for them when I come home, even after just a few hours of separation.

But, life being what it is, that glow is pretty short-lived. The usual early start and a couple of tantrums later and the glow is already a hell of a lot dimmer. By lunchtime, it is a distant memory. Kids have no respect for glow. For them, it is just another day, another flip-out over nothing, another screaming row with their siblings.

So, after a blessed escape – so full of fun and empty of small snotty noses and nagging voices – I can’t help feeling a bit down for a few days. On Monday and Tuesday I was grumpy without really knowing why. When the realisation hit, as it did this morning, I felt a bit better about it all, because I remembered that this is just what happens. It is the standard low, after the high, and it will pass as soon as the weekend is slightly more distant in my mind.

I feel guilty about wishing my kids’ young years away sometimes, about wanting more escape time from my lovely little family. I feel especially guilty in the light of such tragedy in the news of late, of young lives cut short, of families destroyed. I know how incredibly lucky I am. But I can’t help feeling rather trapped in it all sometimes.

In a strange way, I think having the odd day or night away is counterproductive. After all, before the last couple of weekends, I had months on end with no time off and I was fine. Yes, I was looking forward to the break but you get into a kind of rhythm with it all when no escape is in sight. You just carry on and get into the relentless roll of life with young kids. When you don’t get a taste of what you are missing, you don’t think about it so much.

So, back into the pattern of family life I roll. This week we’ve already seen a heady mix of extreme tantrums, explosive nappies, early starts and terrible nights. The kids seem to have bickered more than usual and the four-year-old has really been tapping her inner diva. But that’s all just standard in a house stuffed full of kids.

imageAnd there have been wonderful moments in there too. There have been new words spoken, giggly bouncy castle chases and some incredible cuddles. And it is only Wednesday.

And so it rolls on, with the three of them pushing me to my limits – both high and low – on a daily basis. Their needs and their energy roll like a steamroller overs any grumps or glows I may be feeling. The relentless rhythm doesn’t give a shit about moments of reflection, neither the good nor the bad.

So, much as I love the time out, maybe it’s easier to stick with the roll. It pulls you along. Interrupting it necessitates a rather painful jump-start. But Sunday was so much fun that it was worth the pain of the days after. And there is really no sense in giving up on time out just because it makes you sad when it is over.

I think I just have to remember to anticipate the low. I have to learn to roll with it a bit better, rather than being steamrollered.