Brave Faces

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

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

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

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

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

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

But….

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

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

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

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

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

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

But….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Things We Didn’t Know We’d Miss

I’ve not had the best week so far. And it appears to only be Wednesday. I mean, WTAF? Surely it should have been Friday days ago.

It’s the last few weeks of term, which is always ridiculously hectic, and there is other stuff going on to generally make life pretty full-on and stressy. Plus, it was my big birthday the other week and it turns out 40 is actually a thing, rather than just a party. Who knew? And now that party is over. Boo! So, lots of good reasons to be generally a bit frowny and cross.

When things are busy and stressful, it is hard not to pick up on the little things that bug you. And this evening on the walk home from after-school club pick-up, it all crystallised and I briefly lost my shit. All three kids took it in turns to stop immediately in front of me on my walk home for no apparent reason and with no warning, leaving my to swerve dramatically to avoid hitting them. This is clearly not unusual. Kids make a habit of it. But it was a final straw moment and I yelled at them.

All three looked up at my with their big, beautiful bambi eyes in a mildly perplexed way. I mean, they weren’t really doing anything that wrong. Mummy was clearly just having a bit of a moment. But oh, to be able to just walk in a straight line without weaving around small people, at my own pace, without boring myself stupid with the sound of my own voice telling them to mind other people and keep moving!

That is one of those things you just never even think about, pre-kids, isn’t it? You take it as a God-given right to be able to walk down the street in a straight line, ignorant in your young and free way that such a thing a kiddy slalom even exists.

Lots of these little things that we say goodbye to with the arrival of kids are well documented. Going to the loo in peace, never being able to drink a warm cup of tea, etc. But most of them are related to very small kids. Well, we’re not in that place any more and many of those temporary problems have disappeared but some of those little luxuries are showing absolutely no sign of coming back, sadly.

Cooking, for example. Remember when you only cooked what you fancied eating when you fancied it? It could even be fun, somewhat unbelievably. A whole Saturday afternoon could be dedicated to choosing a recipe, shopping for the finest ingredients you could afford and then lovingly preparing it over a glass of wine or four. I was never a chef (far from it) but it was kinda fun and relaxing. Romantic even. Pah!

These days? I loathe it. Some days, I can spend half the day in the kitchen. Packed lunches and breakfast in the morning, lunch and prep for the grown-up’s dinner in the middle of the day, over-boiling veg and flinging beige, breaded things into the oven at tea time (taking into account this week’s likes/dislikes x3 and providing three variations of the same meal). And then yet more cooking after the kids are in bed. Add in hiding in the kitchen and drinking wine on bad days (like now) and that’s a hell of a lot of kitchen time.

And then there is the cleaning up after food. I made the mistake of cooking rice for the kids for tea today. I mean, seriously, given the week I’m having, what the hell was I thinking? Utter carnage. Rice grains everywhere. And you can’t hoover the little fuckers up without smearing them all over the floor so you end up crawling about on hands and knees picking each grain up individually, kneeling on one and despositing flat rice grain gunk onto your trousers. I tried hoovering up over-cooked broccoli today. I don’t recommend it.

So, walking and cooking with kids both suck. What about something even easier, like thinking? Surely kids can’t ruin that can they? Wrong! They make it almost bloody impossible to think or concentrate, even when they are not physically present.

Now I know this is entirely my fault for having three kids, but life can be somewhat busy in this household. Try to do anything that you need to focus on for five minutes and you can guarantee you will be interrupted by at least one small voice, more often than not by multiple voices rowing about something utterly pointless. There is no such thing as thinking time in my life any more. All day long, I have little voices to contend with and when they are finally in bed I am so tired I’m incapable to clear thought.

But even worse than that, there is just soooo much to remember for them all that I find it impossible to switch off the organising bit of my brain even when they are not around. There is a little voice in my head, like a chattering monkey, reminding me that I have to pack the ballet bag, buy more Cheerios, pay the swimming fees, donate something for the school summer fair, etc, etc, etc. It never ends. Once you feel vaguely on top of the list, another load of demands come home, another essential item runs out or a totally unexpected problem rears up. It’s like plate spinning. It’s totally exhausting and mostly thankless.

And woe betide you if you drop a fucking plate! The stick I get for forgetting to pack a snack or to buy more bagels is ridiculously disproportionate in a way that only a mob of under tens can be over nothing at all. How dare I forget that this week you don’t like Mini Cheddars?! Poor, deprived kids.

Can you remember sitting and thinking about just one thing? It was bloody amazing. Only it wasn’t at the time. We had no idea it was a luxury, that it would one day flit away and we’d miss it like crazy.

But enough of this poor little me shit. I am very aware that what I get in exchange for these little luxuries is worth it a billion times over. And most of it is nothing a vat of wine or two can’t numb. I’m just moaning because it has been a crap week. And cos I’m allowed. We all are, no matter how much we love our kids. It’s moan or nervous breakdown. I know which one I prefer.

My pack of irritating little brats are simultaneously a beyond adorable bundle of unlimited love and wonder. Such is the paradox of parenting.

Who needs to think anyway, right? It’s totally overrated.

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!

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.

The Winds of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

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.

image

Getting Active

imageI’ve never been a sporty person. I did quite a bit as a kid but only because it was fun. As I got older and busier, exercise and I fell out of company.

I have to admit now, I’ve done next to no exercise since having kids. And not a great deal before that. So, that is well over eight years of doing very little. Although running around after three kids does tend to mean I don’t do a lot of sitting around.

After all that time, I have finally started moving a bit more. Mostly jumping about the living room and a bit of swimming. I am horribly unfit but I’ve already noticed a bit of a difference in fitness in just a few weeks, which is really pleasing. As in, I no longer feel like I’m going to die five minutes in.

The thing about making time for exercise is that you know it makes you feel better (although not always at the time) but getting into the habit of it when all your energy has been sapped by kids is the hardest thing. Having been in a state of permanent exhaustion for years, with broken nights and horribly early mornings, I simply had nothing left to give. Plus, the idea of dragging myself out to a class in the evening, when all I wanted to do was collapse and savour my couple of child-free hours? Well, I simply couldn’t contemplate it.

Before you say anything and tell me how you were out at buggy fit with your three-month old and back to pre-baby weight by six months in, yes, I know it can be done. I am well aware there are Mums out there who put me entirely to shame. I’ve always been cowed by all the bouncy Mums on the school run, in their skin-tight leggings and shiny trainers. I have felt intimidated by their smug fitness for years. Admittedly, most of the exercise-ready Mums don’t have preschoolers kicking off under their arm as they try to extricate themselves from the school playground. Even so, I have always quietly hoped that some of them put on their Lycra just to look impressive, before going home to eat biscuits and watch This Morning. But I doubt it.

I did try to join their ranks a few times over the last couple of years (although without the Lycra). I could only imagine getting fit by going along to a class, with a teacher to help motivate me through my sleep deprived exhaustion. But finding a class at the right time, on the rare occasions that I did have a couple of hours off, was near impossible. And the cost of a class plus childcare for a couple of kids was astronomical. So I gave up.

imageI do have to admit that I gave up pretty easily. I know that if I had been serious about it I could have made it work with an evening or weekend class or two. But I was simply defeated by it before I even began, utterly embarrassed by my own pathetically poor level of fitness, by my ‘mummy tummy’ (a term I hate), wobbly bits and awkwardness. My body image perception was at rock bottom and the thought of tackling what seemed like an impossible task was simply too much for me.

But a few things have changed since then:

A) I am getting sleep. I cannot overstate the importance of this in my ability to do stuff. I feel about 10 years younger than I did this time last year. It is epically awesome and the key factor in making my sudden exercise plan work.

B) The kids are older. Old enough to tolerate being told that Mummy is going to leap about and Zumba her way around the living room for 45 minutes and that they can either join in or get on with something else. (Sadly, the something else is usually squabbling or moaning, but hey, at least I can keep bouncing through that, with the odd yell at them thrown in).

C) I’ve finally worked out that I don’t need to feel jealous of my husband legging it out for a run at the worst point on Sunday afternoon, when the kids are at each other’s throats and my head is close to exploding. I can do the same and go for a swim. An hour of kid-free time by stealth, and he can’t possibly complain, because I am bettering myself, right?

D) I am older. As I creep closer to 40, I suddenly seem to care a bit less about what people think of me and I’m also cutting myself a bit more slack. So what if I have the dreaded ‘mummy tummy’? I’ve had three kids. That’s what happens. So what if I am unfit and not remotely ‘beach body ready’? I am finally doing something to make some small, realistic changes. That should be enough for now. It is certainly a lot better than doing nothing.

So, because of the above and also because some switch seems to have been flicked in my brain, exercise suddenly seems not only possible but also desirable and fun. Yes, fun. Get me! Exercise-phobic for years and now I am actually enjoying it and thinking about when I can fit in my next session.

Yesterday was the first time that I noticed that I was a little less out of breath after my swim. I needed shorter pauses between lengths. And it was the first time after exercise that I didn’t have a thumping headache. Today, I played football in the park with my eldest boy and felt full of energy, rather than giving up after five minutes, feeling breathless and useless.

My long neglected body is an old crock that has been abandoned for years and it has a lot of ground to make up. These are baby steps but, my God, it feels good to know I’ve made any kind of steps at all. I’m not after massive weight loss or extreme fitness. I won’t be training for a marathon any time soon. I just want to feel better. And I already do, even if most of it is psychological.

It was quite a revelation to work out that you don’t need any gear or a class to start making those baby steps in the right direction. I don’t even own a pair of trainers yet. I just bounce about with bare feet to crappy Zumba videos on YouTube. The adverts are actually a welcome breaks; a breather for a bit of wheezing and a swig of water.

So, who knows how long it will last, but something has shifted a bit. Yes, I have even less time now, with another thing to fit into my day (one of the many reasons I’ve been a bit quieter on the blog recently) but it is entirely worth it. I honestly couldn’t imagine ever enjoying exercise again just a few months ago.

Things have come together for me on this, thanks in no small part to a few fellow Mums who I have chatted to and who made me see things in a different light. Thanks to them – and to a few subtle and not so subtle changes in my life and in my head – I think I can see ahead to being a little bit fitter, a little more energetic and, hopefully, a little bit healthier.

Thank you ladies. You know who you are.

image