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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Banished Blues

img_1776Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve always been a bit shit at January. I view it with a kind of dread, like a blot on the horizon, forever lingering in the shadows of the joy and fun of Christmas. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been a bit ridiculous about it over the years. I’ve been known to start feeling the January Blues creeping into my life before we’ve even finished Boxing Day.

It isn’t just a parenting thing, finding life harder with small kids in tow during the long winter months. I’ve hated it with a passion all my adult life. In my pre-kid days, I had a fantastic job in events which was manically busy in January and February. I bloody loved it! I never had time to slip into the January Blues. I was rushed off my feet and, by the time things started to calm down at the end of February, Spring was just round the corner and the crocuses were popping up all over.

Kids came along. The job was utterly incompatible with a family and it had to go. Back came the winter misery but this time it was worse. When my challenging first baby arrived, we had several winters of extreme snow, too deep to wheel a pushchair through and, with ungritted country roads, driving was often out too. Being housebound for days on end with a foul-tempered small boy did nothing for my anti-January mood.

So, my January misery became even more of a ‘thing’. It was set in concrete, like a slab of annual doom. It got easier after those first few years but the blues just sort of stuck. I’d moan about it ages in advance, tarnishing the fun of December with the background dread of it all.

img_1774We had a fantastic family Christmas this year – our best yet in fact. It’s amazing what a difference it makes not having a baby in the mix. It was brilliant fun and we were all on such a festive high that you would think I’d be prime for a fall from a great height into winter blues. And, true to form, I could feel it sneaking in. I actually felt that slight falling feeling in the pit of my stomach on Christmas morning. The kids had only just opened their presents from Father Christmas and the doom came knocking on the door. That’s when I made a decision to say Fuck You January Blues! How dare it attempt to get in before we’ve even opened the festive bubbles?!

I have always loved the run up to Christmas more than the day itself, with the expectation and excitement. It is all just so full of joy and wonder. And yes, that bit is over after the big man in red has been and gone. But getting the January Blues whilst doing your teeth on Christmas morning really does take the piss.

About a year ago I was having a bit of a moan to my Dad about how much I hate January and I remember his response clearly. My Dad is a wonderful father but he isn’t much of a one for liberally imparting words of wisdom or advice. So when he does, you sort of have to listen. He said ” You really are ridiculous about January, you know. It is just another month like any other”. That’s pretty much all he said. But I listened and knew he was right. And I made a bit of a promise to myself to try harder next year.

So it was more than a bit disappointing to feel the pit forming in my stomach at 10am on Christmas Day. I looked at my scruffy, sleep deprived reflection (H was up for hours with all the excitement) and I said to myself “No, this isn’t going to happen this year”. Just like that. Years of being at the mercy of a month I have imbibed with doom, shut down in the blink of an eye.

And OK, I know it is only 10th January but it is actually bloody working. I dismissed the pit of doom on Christmas morning and the bastard thing hasn’t come back.

We had a hysterically funny New Year’s Eve with our lovely neighbours (much dancing and belting out Whitney as I vaguely recall) before entering the Blues danger-zone: taking down the decorations, back to school, back to work, etc, etc. I’m delighted to report, I’ve nailed it so far. Taking the tree down was fine because oh, look at all the lovely space we have again! T was very sad about it going and snuck off with a reindeer Christmas decoration, which I let him have to soften the blow. But I was totally fine.

Back to school was a little harder as I miss my little monkeys and never relish the return of the school run but even that was OK. I’m not enjoying the early starts again but we have fun things planned in the diary for the coming weeks and Spring isn’t that far off, so what is there is to miserable about really?

I’ve had a couple of slips in my new found January Zen, the most notable being on Saturday when both H and I ended up in tears after a particularly bloody awful homework session. But after a long chat with a good friend, I have a bit of a plan of how to tackle some of the school issues we are coming up against, so I feel more in control again.

img_1775Like anything in life, if you can find a way to remove the emotion to a certain extent – something I’ll freely admit I’m not always that great at – it all just becomes a series of things to try in order to come up with a solution. The emotion makes a few school hiccups into an insurmountable mountain. It makes a return to routine and shorter days a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth at the unfairness of the turn of the seasons. None of this is helpful.

I’m never gonna be one of those smug people who can take decisions based upon emotion-free clear thinking. That just isn’t who I am or who I’d want to be. I’m ruled by my feelings and I admit they can get out of control at times but I wouldn’t change it. I will always wend my way through life, making decisions based on feelings, with a bit of logic and detachment thrown in where I can. My heart is king – my head accepts it takes second place. I hope that makes me a good Mum/friend/wife/sister/daughter. And I fill my life with similar people.

But it pays to have a few key people around you to ground you with sensible, emotion-free advice. Like my husband. And my Dad. They see the problems H has at school for what they are: tiny hiccups in the grand scale of a childhood, of a life. They see that January is just the start of the year, not a harbinger of doom.

All that grand ‘this is how I am’ crap aside, I’m at last beginning to see that there is no point in adding emotional shit when it is pointless, like the January Blues. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s all just a bit too much drama for it’s own sake, something I excel at. As Dad rightly said, it is just another month. Shut up and deal with it, one little thing at a time.

Plan future fun, laugh, see friends, cosy up under blankets. Crucially, don’t do anything stupid like Dry January or kick off a major diet. Don’t put the pressure on. It really isn’t the time. If you treat January right, maybe the cantankerous old git of a month will soften and be a bit of a laugh after all.

See Dad, I’m learning.

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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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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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