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.

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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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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.

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Saturation Point

imageAs I packed the older two kids off to school this morning I felt that usual mixture of sadness and relief that I always get after the holidays. But I also felt a little background niggle of feeling slightly guilty that I was sending them back to the classroom far more exhausted than they were at the end of term. I’m pretty sure the point of school holidays is to give everyone a rest but we’ve never quite managed to achieve that in this house.

As per usual, we’ve had a very busy break, filled with family and friends, Easter antics, a trip to Dorset and an 8th birthday for my eldest. We’ve hunted eggs, dug forts on the beach, visited zoos and farms and basically been busy every single day. We’ve all loved it but it is hardly a surprise that the kids were yawning on their way to school this morning.

imageI know how they feel. It has been a fantastic holiday but I’ve been looking forward to the relative peace and quiet of today for a while now. Today it is just me and T, trundling along together. It is a blessed relief from the mayhem and I can tell that T agrees. He was in the best mood that he has been in for ages this morning, full of smiles and happy babbling. I think he was delighted to have me back to himself for a few hours and, more importantly, to have time to sit on the floor and play to his heart’s content, without being dragged off for yet more Organised Fun. Two year olds don’t always deal so well with Organised Fun and I think he was sick to the back teeth of being carted from pillar to post at the expense of time alone with his beloved trains. His mood went to shit this afternoon by the way, but we’ll gloss over that.

I have to admit that can see T’s point and I’ve been feeling the strain myself this last couple of days, with the end of the holidays in sight. I’ve basically reached kid saturation point. No matter how amazing the break was, there is no question that it was exhausting, especially when trying to meet the needs of three little ones. I’ve been drowning in demanding kids and high-pitched nagging voices for longer than I’d like and certainly longer than I deal well with. I lost my cool badly on Sunday morning when I was trying to tidy the house and the nagging reached a peak. There was screaming. It wasn’t pretty. A sure sign that I need to step away from the small people for a while.

imageI’m used to having two kid-free days a week while I work but, with time off for our holiday, I’ve not had a child-free moment for nearly two weeks now. I know that is par for the course for many stay-at-home Mums with pre-schoolers – and I salute you if you are one of them – but it simply doesn’t suit me. I’ve tried it and it nearly did me in. I quickly worked out that I’m not designed to be a full-time stay-at-home Mum. I love my kids deeply and I generally thrive on the mayhem – why would I have gone in for three of them otherwise? But I’ve learnt that over-exposure to them without a break leads to screaming meltdowns all round and bad parenting misery. The constant moaning, the bickering and the endless questions really start to get to me over time. I am just so in demand that I feel they are chipping away at me slowly and, if I don’t escape for a short while, there will soon be nothing left but a pile of bones and twitching nerves.

When I reach saturation point, I can hear a voice in my head screaming for time off. By time off, I don’t mean sitting about watching This Morning and eating ginger nuts. I’m actually not that good at sitting about and relaxing. Time off when saturation point is hit is basically anything else. Seriously, ANYTHING other than being surround by kids. A trip to the dump, bombing round the supermarket, hell, even a visit to the dentist. All beat being with my own offspring. This is why work is my salvation.

imageI am in serious need of a work day right now, to be sat at my desk, focusing on grown-up tasks, without small voices getting at me endlessly. Without the luxury of being able to afford much child-free time besides when I am working, having my job is the reason I can cope with three kids nagging me the rest of the time. For two days a week, the cacophony stops for a few blessed hours. Yes, OK, so I am busy working hard on those days which brings its own stresses, but it is a different kind of pressure and a welcome change that keeps me sane. Working tomorrow is going to be bliss.

All parents cope differently with school holidays and there is no right or wrong. Whether you love them or loath them, holidays can be bloody hard work. There is the work/childcare juggle for some and the endless days to fill for others. They are nothing like a break for parents and far from relaxing, no matter what your circumstances or your outlook. So I think we all deserve a pat on the back for getting through them once again.

So, to all the parents out there who have just sent their kids back to school, I say well done. To the ones who are sad and miss their kids already and the ones who couldn’t wait to push them out the door. To the rest of you who are somewhere in between, like me. You all did a bloody good job. Whether you were jet-setting round Europe or wracking your brains every morning to think of something to do, whether each day was a joy or a trial, I say well bloody done to you.

You did it. We did it. Go us.

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Big: for the Crazy and the Brave

Big is beautiful, right? Well, with three kids in the mix, we are a ‘big’ family, by most standards. And it may be beautiful but it is also many other things – some wonderful, some not to much.

Standard perception of family size is that one kid is small, two is normal and three plus is big. That is just how people see it. As one of four kids myself, three doesn’t seem so huge but it is certainly a hefty step up from two and no mistake.

I began to realise when pregnant with my third that I was doing something considered to be somewhat out of the ordinary. I lost count of the number of times friends and even total strangers looked at me with my huge bump and two small kids in tow and became wide-eyed in amazement that I had actually chosen to have three. I’ve been asked numerous times if it was a mistake. Once reassured that no, it was very much deliberate, they look baffled and call me either “brave” or “crazy”, depending on how polite they are being. It is always “brave” or “crazy”. Those are the standard labels for Mums of three, it seems.

imageThis mixture of bewilderment and pity continued once baby three arrived and I am still regularly told how nuts I must be to have chosen to have a big family. Yes, it is hard work but I am utterly delighted by my little brood and wouldn’t change my set up for all the tea in China (and I drink a lot of tea). I don’t go around telling people how damn conventional they are for having two kids, do I? But the world has always liked to loudly voice its opinions on other people’s choices and I’m used to being considered to be a bit loopy for mine. I don’t think it ever occurs to people that their throw away “you must be crazy” is just one of several I’ve heard this week. And all for having one small, extra person in your house.

Not that I mind really. And they might have a point. There are few logical reasons for making the jump from two to three and I’m certainly not playing down the challenges I face. It is a whirlwind: I had no idea how much one extra person would turn our world upside down. That leap from ‘normal’ to big is vast and I feel like I am permanently on fast-forward these days.

Having number three means more of so many things, both good and bad, but it means far, far less of one crucial thing: time. The loss of free time seems disproportionate. One more person takes you from pretty busy to utterly frantic. The juggle of dividing my time between each child, husband, work, housework and everything between has become insanely difficult. The first thing to go is, of course, time for myself. And with that goes a good chunk of my ability to keep things together. Cue far more regular ups and downs and Mummy’s head exploding.

I was asked not long ago by a woman trying for her third what I thought was the bigger jump: from one to two or from two to three? I think I may have spat my tea out laughing. Do the maths, girl. What do you think?

imageWhat we have more of these days is pretty much everything apart from time. Oh, and money of course. We have five different tubes of toothpaste in the bathroom, for various ages and tooth concerns. We consume about 20 pints of milk a week. We buy industrial sized packets of fish fingers. I dread to think how many thousands of pounds we have spent over the last 7.5 years of continuous nappy use.

We also have more noise. Again, the increase seems disproportionate, but I think this is because third kids are notoriously loud. Let’s face it, they kinda have to be. I took T to his two-year check with the Health Visitor this week and she said “My goodness, I can see communication isn’t an issue” before we’d even made it through the door of her office. He literally never shuts up, he just gets louder and louder depending on how many other noises he is competing with.

We have more fighting, yelling and whining too. Peace is in very short supply. But we also have more giggles, more wonderful cuddles and more happy mayhem, which I just love. Peace and quiet is overrated.

But just this week, as I was attempting to manage the three of them in a café after school, a woman looked at me with pity in her eyes and said “Are they all yours? You are brave.” And it got me thinking. Maybe I am. And maybe I’m a bit crazy too. But maybe that is OK, or even a good thing.

imageSo, if the world thinks of us parents of three as crazy and brave anyway, I suggest we own it. There are worse things to be and I think a mixture of bravery and craziness is actually pretty helpful when raising kids. I think everyone should be a bit brave and a bit crazy from time to time, so maybe we are setting a good example, one that says you should go for what you want in life, even if it seems a bit mad and is going to be so hard that there are times when you can do nothing but cry, when you think you will never get through it.

And the more kids I’ve had, the braver I have become, more confident in my own decisions. I think some of that extra courage has rubbed off. Looking back, I was a typical first-time Mum all those years ago, anxious about my every move. My first-born is nervous and lacking in confidence even now and I wonder if I’d been more self-assured whether he might have picked some of that up and taken it on. By comparison, my second has confidence by the bucket-load. Perhaps she watched my confident air with her and adopted it as her own.

And as for the third, well, he is a lion, small only in stature. He gives as good as he gets and almost nothing scares him (apart from hand dryers – that really is the only thing I’ve found to phase him). This little dot squares up and takes me on when I tell him off in a way the other two never had the balls to do. He is a force to be reckoned with, both brave and crazy in equal measure. It could be a total coincidence of course, that my younger kids are more confident, but I somehow doubt it.

I have some amazing friends who are Mums of three. I value them so very much because they entirely get it. They get me. They know the challenges of a big family and can help me to find a way through. And we can look back together on our two-child lives and laugh at how busy we thought we were. They are all a bit brave and a bit crazy too, and I adore them for it. They are my kindred spirits. I am proud to number myself amongst them.

So, the next time someone looks at me and my brood and says how crazy and brave they think I am, I hope I will take a moment of that all too precious time to smile and say “Thank you”.

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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.