The Most Magical of Numbers

img_1741I bloody adore having a 3-year old. Yep, I really do. And the stupid thing is that, third time round, I’ve only just realised how great 3 can be.

Through the toughest of times with three kids all pretty close in age, I dreamed of the day when my youngest would turn 3. It was my target, my light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. I felt that, if I could just make it that far, it would all slot into place. What I didn’t know was just how well it would work. It seems that 3 really is the magic number I had dreamed of. I’m delighted to have been proved right for once.

You see, having a 3-year old when you also have a small baby latched on to you or kicking off is far from fun. In fact it royally sucks. 3-year old kids and babies are, unfortunately, two of the most incompatible things there are. With a first child, you can immerse yourself in their needs. Your world can revolve around their schedule and, whilst that can drag you down at times, the moment you have more than one you realise what an utter godsend that single focus was. Introduce another baby – and then another if you are stupid like me – and you are playing a whole different game, one where meeting the needs of one often means doing so at the expense of another. More than one kid to focus on basically means that things will never be the same again.

img_1752Your baby has to grow up fast when they are no longer the youngest. They have to share you and you are horribly torn between them and the newcomer. It can be a stressful and upsetting time for everyone involved. Getting you and however many kids are you trolling about with through the day is a major achievement in itself. There is certainly no time to smell the roses. Besides which, you are usually too bloody knackered to even notice there are any roses. Which basically means you miss a lot of the loveliness a 3-year old has to offer. It is an utterly adorable age it transpires, but I was never capable of seeing it before, so buried was I in baby.

Having a 3-year old without a baby in your arms is a wholely different experience. It is lighter, both physically (no massive bags of nappies and baby stuff) and mentally (no utter exhaustion and living on an emotional knife edge). My little boy is my sole focus for much of the time now and it is just wonderful. He is such a strong character, a funny, clever and unique little man who I actively enjoy hanging out with. He has his moments of course, as all 3-year olds do, but he is well beyond the entirely unreasonable phase of the terrible twos and can be coaxed out of most strops. Rare is the blind rage meltdown.

Friends with bigger age gaps or just one child have often said how much they like this age but I could never see it. It was such hard work with the first two and my memories of it are a blur of stress and sleep deprivation. But now I finally get it. And they were right. 3 can be really wonderful.

img_1751Having this particular 3-year old is especially good. No terrible threes here. T is an utterly gorgeous bundle of blonde fluff and cuddly round edges. He is sassy and pushes the boundaries but he does it with a cheeky smile. And, as I am no longer torn in twenty directions at the same time, I am far more patient with him. It is such a privilege to be able to spend this time with him without another kid coming up behind, draining my energy and my patience.  I can see him clearly for what he is, not just what he needs from me. And we can suit ourselves, without an annoying, bawling hanger-on dictating to us.

It also feels much more physically close this time round. Cuddles can be on demand, not awkwardly over a feeding baby’s head or on hold until I can put the baby down without it screaming blue murder. T is a naturally demonstrative lad and he is lucky enough to have cuddles on tap. One of the many advantages of being the baby of the family.

img_1737Another advantage is how very loved he is by his older siblings. They are protective, kind and utterly indulgent of him most of the time. They bicker but both the older ones are mostly very accommodating of his funny ways. He has been raised in the mob and nurtured by gentle siblings. Being third, with a second child buffer zone, he has never been exposed to that full-on jealously when a previously only child meets their first sibling. M was in the middle and has always had to share everything so she was nothing but kindness to her baby brother from day one. He honestly doesn’t know how lucky he is to have never known any different. And it makes him a happy, self-assured young man, surrounded by love and far more patient and confident parents than H and M had in their threenage years.

Enjoying this last year of a preschooler makes me deeply happy. And optimistic for the future of our little family unit too. I’ve not yet reached a milestone when I have wished myself back a phase. I don’t
want to do the baby bit again. I don’t want to do toddlers or teething, the heart-in-your-mouth clumsiness of first steps or the tantrums of the twos. Things are easier now, at long last, more balanced and less stressful as we are stepping away for the deeply physically draining stage into something new. Something exciting. Challenging, sure, in different ways. But moving forwards and changing in a great way.

Don’t quote me on this as I may well find I want these days back after T starts school next year and I’m left with a T-shaped hole in my days. But I don’t think I will. At least not for long. I am all about looking forward right now, not back. The future looks good and so does the present.

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And talking of looking forward, I have a feeling this may be our best Christmas yet as a fivesome. T gets it this year and is very excited. He isn’t quite there as he still wants to open more than one advent calendar window per day and is convinced Christmas is tomorrow pretty much every evening. But he gets the concept now. And he loves it. He gazes in wonder at crappy Christmas trees in the supermarket and loudly shouts “Mummy! A Christmas doughnut!” whenever he spots a wreath. The pretty basic lights in town fill him with utter joy.

This will also be the first Christmas since we finally got some sleep. I have very happy memories of previous years but all through a cloud of exhaustion. It’s gonna be just joyous having a few festive drinks knowing that we won’t be up at the crack of dawn or several times during the night. Bring that the hell on.

I’m feeling pretty full of love for my festive little brood right now. I’m really enjoying all three of them and their crazy Christmas hype as it builds. And I think so much of that is down to not having a baby any more. The fog has lifted and behind it are three little beaming faces, all still believers, their eyes wide in wonder. If that’s not what it should all be about then I don’t know what is.

Yes, 3 kids aged 3 and up is as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Who needs babies when you have all that?

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Just Add Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scream O’Clock

imageMy little T has a very special way of waking up. A special way of waking the whole house up, in fact. No getting up and playing happily in his room for him. Not even any sneaking out in the middle of the night or creeping into our room. Instead he treats us to an ear-piercing scream alarm every morning.

I know that night walking shenanigans can be very annoying, as can little, cold feet in your bed, kicking you in the ribs in the small hours. But I would give almost anything for a bit of early morning creeping and snuggling if it meant an end to the blood-curdling, tortured shrieks that we are treated to daily.

T is two years and a few months old now and has been in a big-boy bed for quite a while, so it is well within his power to climb out when he wakes. He has a room full of toys and books he could entertain himself with, or he could walk out of the open door and come to find us. But he hasn’t quite grasped any of that yet. As soon as he wakes, he screams blue murder, as if he has been stung by a wasp.

This beautiful noise kicks in the minute T wakes each day, at any time from 5am. Every single frickin’ day. It also happens when he wakes from his afternoon nap. I’m not talking a bit of tired, grumpy grizzling. My boy means business and he really goes for it.

Being woken at 5-something is always painful but being woken by a screaming banshee is particularly demoralising. He shuts up the minute I pick up his ever-increasing bulk and either bundle him into my bed for half an hour of fidgeting, or lug him downstairs for his milk. But it is such a horrible way to welcome the day and it is beginning to take it’s toll on both me and my man. Not to mention the poor neighbours.

imageT is generally pretty cheerful during waking hours so this morning scream-fest is rather puzzling. The other two certainly didn’t do it at this age, but T is determined to be a mould-breaker, keeping his poor, tired parents on the back foot. Why would a smiley kid who loves his bed and gets happily tucked in at sleep time suddenly wake and feel the need to bellow like his world has fallen apart?

I’ve been unsure where to go with it, how to try to break the habit before it breaks us. Two-and-a-half isn’t that far away now. Reasoning has kicked in over many things, and yet still the horrendous mornings go on, our ears ringing with his screams. We are just desperate to make it stop.

T has an incredibly good understanding of so many things now. He listens and communicates brilliantly. He grasps meaning and reasoning. Much as I love the recent developments in his ability to understand and communicate, it has made the morning screaming even more irritating somehow. I blunder into his room half-asleep at 5:30am and look down at my son in his bed – his face beetroot red from the yelling, arms up begging me for a carry – and I can’t help feeling really, really pissed off with him.

After all, we’ve had months on end of this. And I can’t believe that a clever little communicator like him doesn’t understand when I tell him not to scream every morning. There is no way he can honestly feel that distraught to be alone when he wakes, when he knows for a fact that I am just across the landing.

I can have little chats with T these days, to relay instructions and explain good behaviour versus bad. He sits there and nods and I absolutely know that he gets it. When M throws a flid and gets banished to her room, T says “nor-tee, go a bed-oom”. When he gets given a time out himself and I tell him off he says “nor-tee, no more skeeming”, to show that he knows screaming his tiny face off isn’t acceptable behaviour.  See? He bloody gets it! Yet still it continues. Every fucking morning.

I’ve been trying a new tactic this last week or so. T is a total cuddle-monkey and loves nothing better than to be wrapped around my neck like a scarf, squeezing the life out of me. He seems to equate screaming in the morning with getting picked up and being carried downstairs. So I thought I’d attempt to wean him off being scooped up, encouraging him to get up by himself. I’m trying to force a new morning pattern onto him that is a bit less hideous. We’ve been getting desperate so it seemed worth a try, although I didn’t hold out much hope.

I think the cuddle factor is a major part of the problem, if I’m honest. With my previous toddlers, I had a good incentive to phase out the endless carrying as I was pretty heavily pregnant by the time they were T’s age. There has been no such pressure this time and T, by far my most cuddly of tots, has taken full advantage of the fact. Not only does this play havoc with my back but it allows T to keep behaving like a baby, always begging for carries, refusing to do things for himself. In some things he is fiercely independent, but why walk when you can simultaneously have a bear hug and be airlifted from place to place?

Well, no more. For the last week, I’ve been making my cuddle monster get out of bed by himself when the scream-up begins and either leading him into my room for cuddles in bed or making him walk downstairs. And if he won’t do it himself, he has to stay there.

imageThere has been a hell of a lot of resistance to this new routine, waking the whole house up as he loudly complains. But this morning was a bit of a breakthrough. The minute the screaming began, I got up, stood in my bedroom doorway and called him to me, telling him to get out of bed and join me. And he only bloody did it. He shut up immediately, rolled out of bed, toddled over and clambered into bed with me. Not only that but he then fell asleep in my arms until 7am! OK, so I didn’t sleep again but at least I was still warm in bed, not sat downstairs, too tired to focus, trying to keep an exhausted toddler from waking up the whole house.

My husband was sleeping downstairs last night after a bout of insomnia. He woke at 7:15am to the sound of me and the boys having breakfast (M is the only sensible sleeper in the house and was still tucked up in bed). Bleary eyed, the old man stumbled out of his pit saying “What the hell is going on?” He was genuinely deeply confused to be rising so late. It is so very long since he had a night where he wasn’t ripped from sleep by wailing that he was totally disorientated. We were all running late as a result, without that extra couple of hours to get ourselves ready, but it was a small price to pay. T also refused his afternoon nap as he wasn’t totally exhausted for once, but I can live with that in exchange for brighter mornings.

I dare say this morning was a one off but I’m hoping it means some sort of progress because I’m not sure how much longer we can all cope with the the daily scream-fest. If nothing changes, the only other option is investing in some expensive earplugs and soundproofing T’s room with old egg boxes.

We’ll be eating a lot of omelettes this week, just in case.

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Changing Times

imageThe clocks have gone back. This used to mean an extra hour in bed. It was a small but gratefully received consolation for the start of the long winter darkness. Now it just means small body clocks being screwed up and hideous o’clock becoming even more hideous o’clock.

Baby T appears to be aware of some sort of clock related shenanigans but has got it somewhat arse-about-face. For the last fortnight he has been waking up earlier each day. This is far from good news, given the hour we just gained. He had a few weeks of waking at 6:30am, or even a heavenly 7am once or twice. But that is a distant memory now, sadly. It has been creeping earlier and earlier and this morning was just after 5am. Although that is actually 4am now, of course. Horrible beyond measure.

Sleep and lack thereof is something I just don’t think you ever get used to. I’m 7.5 years into my parenting journey and yes, it is obviously a lot better now than it was with tiny babies, but it still sucks to be woken painfully early day after day. It is also cumulative exhaustion that hurts now. The relentlessness of being yanked from sleep every day for years on end wears away at you.

imageI think my husband and I have sort of sheen of perma-tiredness written all over our faces. The skin around our eyes screams exhaustion. I am certain we have aged disproportionately in the last seven years. Sleep deprivation will do that to you, it seems.

I saw a friend last night with just two months to go to the birth of her first baby. I found myself being jealous of her, so fresh and at the beginning of that amazing journey. When you are pregnant, especially for the first time, your body becomes something incredibly special, something beyond what it has ever been before. You are a goddess, creator of life, cherished and treated with great care. Once the baby arrives and your body goes through the trauma of birth, it falls rapidly from being so revered and becomes a general punchbag, physically abused by your baby, mentally abused by you for all it’s sudden failings and sags. Never again will it reach such a pinnacle. It’s finest moment is passed and with that comes a sort of loss.

I am 38. Not old by many standards, but my body has been through the mill a bit and I am dog tired. That tiredness eats away at me. Even after a good sleep I can’t seem to shake it. It is more than tiredness. It is like a cloak with lead weights sewn into the hem. I’m not sure I’m even talking about sleep any more. I think there may be more to it than that. I feel life weary and much older than my years.

Each morning we are wrenched out of dream state by the ear-piercing screams of our youngest. Why he cannot simply wake and play in his room or even get up to come and find us is beyond me. No, it has to be deafening screams and crying big fat tears of abandonment. Every morning begins this way.

Then, some time later, he falls asleep pretty much anywhere he can: on my bed, on the rug, even on cold tiles once. Because he is utterly shattered. Because, much as he denies it at the crack of dawn, he needs more sleep. I know how he feels. But by the time he is kipping down somewhere cosy, the day has begun and there are two others to get breakfast for and prepare for the day ahead. Tired mornings lead to challenging days as he does nothing but moan, dictating the tone of the day and singlehandedly ruining our family time.

As with all these things, this too shall pass. I know that, of course, although it is hard to remember it at 4am. And it is my own stupid fault for having three kids, prolonging the sleep deprivation phase to fill the best part of a decade.

When you are a parent with kids that don’t sleep beautifully from 6 weeks old, as some angel kids seem to do, it is hard to imagine having a sleeper. The law of averages would suggest I’d get at least one good’un but no, they have all been pretty rubbish when it comes to sleep. I am so jealous of people whose kids love bed. So different is it from our experience that I almost think they must be making it up. Your two year old sleeps from 6pm until 8am with a two hour nap every day you say? Oh do shut up. You are obviously making it up to make me feel worse.

Tonight we will be enduring a later bedtime, through moans and tears of exhaustion – probably from me and T. I’m not sure how late we will be able to push it though. He is utterly shattered, obviously, and his bedtime body clock is very finely tuned to kick in bang on 7pm.

I need to get better at going to bed early again. But I resent losing out on my precious kid-free time by going to bed at 9pm. It is the only time of the day that I am not in demand, not being got at and climbed over. So I drag it out, going to bed far later than I know I should. It is my small act of rebellion which hurts me in the morning but feels empowering at the time.

The sun was shining this morning. Winter sun has a beauty about it that summer in all it’s glory cannot rival. And my lovely husband let me go back to bed when the scream alarm clock went off. So despite the clock change, this morning was good. So why don’t I feel rested? I wonder if I’m capable of feeling rested any more. I have adopted the habit of exhaustion.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that loss of sleep may be the peg I am hanging a deeper feeling of loss on. I have lost something of myself, something more precious than sleep but something illusive, without name. It was lost a long time ago but I’ve only just noticed it is missing because my goals have changed with the time. For the first time in many years, my goal is not another baby. So what is it? I have become little more than my relentless day job: a Mum of three, manically running from place to place, worn out and worn down. There is nothing new coming, just more of the same.

I may not be able to shake the perpetual tiredness until I find something else to be too, something to fire me again, to make me something more than I have become. It may be time to try to find a way to break the exhaustion habit.

I think it is time for a change.

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The Little Things That Kill

imageAs a parent, I am used to putting up with a lot of shit, both literally and metaphorically. I’m naturally a pretty patient person and I manage to let most of the multiple annoyances that accompany having three young kids wash over me. But every now and then one little thing will break through my outer layer of “yeah, whatever” and seems to pierce my brain like a drill. It could be a particularly annoying toy, a much repeated phrase or a behaviour pattern. Once the bloody thing works it’s way into the ‘unbearably annoying things’ pool, it sends me fair mad.

I’m not at my best right now, to say the least. We have been up 5am most days with Terrible T for months on end, and often in the night too. The constant relentlessness of that exhaustion is having an impact on my patience levels and there are a few little irritations that have been becoming more and more unbearable of late. 

We’ve all been there with the noisy toys, right? Most of the time, I can pretty much blank most of them out. My husband sometimes winces when T races in and out over our new wooden floors with his push along monkey, which relentlessly whacks the floor with each step, but I don’t even notice that one. Even the incredibly loud Buzz Lightyear bellowing about going to Infinity and Beyond every time anyone so much as walks past the toy box doesn’t really bother me.

But that fucking Grandpa Pig and this little train that goes Choo Choo Choo, well I would sooner chop his porky head off with a carving knife than have to listen to Peppa et al cheerfully singing at top volume about him one more time.

Like the majority of the most irritating toys, Grandpa Pig’s Train was a gift (thanks Mum) and it doesn’t have a volume switch. It plays a variety of annoying noises but one in six is the train song and it is horrifically loud and absolutely infuriating. Unfortunately, T loves the damn thing. I keep wondering whether sabotage would be acceptable. Could I drop it in the sink by mistake perhaps? Or accidentally file it in the charity collection bag? But then I look at my baby’s big blue eyes and feel massive preemptive guilt and bottle out.

But it isn’t just the toy from hell that is getting to me right now. One issue that is driving me mental is spit related behaviour from my disgusting little girl. M is four now but she still puts everything in her mouth. She is forever sucking her sleeves, collars and soft toys. But worse, much worse, is the hair sucking. She has hair long enough to stuff in her mouth and she sucks handfuls of the stuff. I tie it back as much as I can to stop her but when it is loose she can’t seem to stop herself, despite my constant reprimands. It hangs in wet, spitty rats’ tails, tangled and smelling of drool.

I am so at the end of my tether with the hair sucking, I cannot tell you. I’m used to the disgusting ways of little people but the hair sucking feels like a new low, somehow. I physically recoil from touching her spit soaked locks. I have no idea why I feel so repulsed by it when I am constantly mopping spit off the baby’s face and dealing with considerably worse bodily fluids the live long day. Perhaps it is because she is four now and really should know better; perhaps it is just the texture and faint aroma that comes from her spitty hair. Who knows, but it is driving me to distraction and I am seriously considering drastic action.

imageSo, it looks like my girl will be having a neat little bob next time she has her hair cut. It is either that or I blow a gasket. It has to be just short enough to be out of reach of her mouth. Part of me is sad at the thought of chopping off her lovely hair but the repulsed part of me is delighted and knows that her ‘lovely’ hair is never really allowed to be lovely, as it is always tangled with flob. Besides, she’d look super cute with pretty much any cut so would probably look great.

And the final thing that is driving me totally nuts is H’s obsession with his tablet, primarily with sodding Angry Birds. He is a total tech fiend, like his father. He would be on it 24/7 if I let him (which I don’t). There really is nothing that isn’t deeply annoying about this obsession. When he is playing it, he is totally engrossed, head down, deaf to all other things, with the irritating little tune piping gently around the house. When I ask him to stop, all hell breaks loose and we have moans, even tears sometimes. Between Bird sessions he spends his time asking me when he can play it again and losing his soft toy birds around the house endlessly. And perhaps worse than all of this is his insistence that he tells me all about it.

“I’ve just done this one amazing level Mum where Red smashed this pig and he few right up in the air and it was awesome”.

To which I reply “I don’t give a flying pig’s ass about fucking Angry Birds and I want you to shut up about it forever more or my head is going to explode, OK?”

imageOf course I don’t. But I want to. I feign interest and smile. It isn’t actually the Birds that I hate, to be fair. It could any of H’s intense obsessions which come and go and that I have to hear about in minute detail. I know this is a bad one and I should encourage all communication but it is so mind numbing, hearing about what each of the bird’s special powers are, that I can sometimes hardly stand it. How can a kid who gives such endless detail about a computer game have nothing for me after school beyond “Yeah, it was alright. Can’t remember”?

Sometimes (now) life can feel like it is made of nothing but these small irritations that fester and combine to make one big screaming ball of head fuck. Dried up lidless felt tips, our possessive toaster that burns everything to a crisp, H’s terrible aim in the bathroom, Mr Tumble. I could go on.

But I think I’d probably be a lot less mad at these little things if I could only get a good night’s sleep and drag myself out of bad after sunrise. Even being woken up by a cheerful little babble rather than an ear-piercing scream would be a huge improvement.

I know I’m not as tired now as I have been in the past. It isn’t even really about the level of tiredness at this stage. It is about the fact that we are still doing this, still subject the to hideous demands of a bad sleeping early riser.

Before you say it, I know it will get better. I have done this twice before, after all. I just wish it would get better a bit bloody quicker. I am sick of being a zombie and sick of dealing with a overtired, grumpy toddler.

T is two now so I am still stupidly optimistic that it might improve any day now. Perhaps then I won’t feel like a rage monster over these little things. And I won’t have to send Grandpa Pig to slaughter.

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Expectations: Keeping It Real

imageThere is something to be said for having low expectations when it comes to family holidays with young children. After all, when you are going self catering – which we are – it is always simply same shit, different location. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or hasn’t tried it.

So, it pays for me to remind myself, on the eve of our forthcoming holiday, that the next week is going to be a million miles away from anything I would have classed as a holiday before having a family. In fact, if someone had told my pre-kid self exactly what my ‘fun’ summer holiday with children would look like in future, I would probably have laughed in their faces and told them I’d rather stay at home.

We are all set to embark upon British Summer holiday ‘fun’. The car is packed high and the expectations are low, perhaps at their lowest ebb ever.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that this holiday is going to be the worst yet or even that I’m not looking forward to it. I really am and the kids are beyond excited. I’m just saying that I am feeling pleasingly realistic this time.

It might be that I am simply an old hand with disappointing holidays now but this year really does seem to have the perfect recipe to be disappointing on a grand scale. And I am breezily walking into it with eyes wide open.

Perhaps the primary reason that I am refusing to expect great things this time is the recent and pretty disasterous weekend we had in July (see Relaxing Weekend Away?), which served as a timely reminder of the reality of holidays with kids.

But that isn’t the only thing that is keeping my expectations in check this year. We’ve always holidayed in the UK since having kids but we usually go somewhere with a few extra facilities to keep everyone entertained. A play barn or a shared swimming pool. Anything to keep the little blighters busy. This year we made the decision – which now seems completely insane, by the way – to save a couple of hundred quid and go for a standard cottage. No frills. Just the five of us in a house in a quiet Somerset village.  What were we thinking?!

Then there is the good old British weather. The five day forecast shows black clouds and rain every day. I’m not a sun worshipper and I’m not asking for a heatwave but a few rain-free days might have been nice. At least there are plenty of caves in Cheddar that we can spend our many rainy days hiding out in.

imageThe final nail in the expectations coffin came last night. Baby T has a raging temperature and is ill and miserable. He was up crying half the night and when he wasn’t crying he was in bed with me, fidgeting, snoring and kicking me in the ribs, with my husband banished to the sofa. Nice timing, eh? T is drugged up to the max and spent the majority of the day watching Hey Duggee from my lap or wandering around listlessly and moaning.

So, I’ve packed extra Calpol and we are all set to leave tomorrow morning, to travel through an apparent monsoon for several hours.

OK, I know it all sounds pretty bleak but I’m not feeling down about it at all. I actually think these pathetic expectations are going to work to my advantage. You see, I’m ready for it to be really hard work. I’m expecting to be up half the night, to be sharing a bed with a squirmy, ill toddler and to be up at the crack of dawn in a house I don’t know, trying to keep him happy and quiet while everyone else sleeps. I know the kids are going to get bored in the no frills cottage and moan about the rain. I’m even fully expecting my exhausted husband to go into a grump over it all.

But I am not down about it. I’m stupidly chipper. If I assume all of the above is going to happen, the good moments will be a bonus. There is a lot to be said for low expectations because they are almost certain to be exceeded. Going into it being blindly positive, with everything that is stacked up against us, would be setting myself up for a fall. Much better to aim low and be pleasantly surprised, I reckon.

I love our family holidays and I honestly believe that memories made on holiday are rivalled by no other. What we have to do is expect the crap, deal with it with a smile (where possible) and then look forward to the little gems thrown into the mix – the moments we will remember through the exhaustion. Sometimes the disasters are the things you remember best, and look back on with a real belly laugh.

Wish me luck. I expect bits of it will be bloody awful. But I have packed plenty of wine which is sure to help, and I think I’ve also packed exactly the right attitude this time.

It’s gonna be shit.  We’re gonna love it.

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Relaxing Weekend Away?

imageWe went away for a lovely family holiday last weekend, spending quality time together and relaxing. At least that was the plan. You see, my foolish, ever-hopeful brain chose to forget how fraught holidays with young kids can be. It sold me the dream of a family-friendly hotel where my husband and I could kick back, read the paper and drink beer while the kids happily frolicked on the lawn. The reality, as you can probably guess, couldn’t quite live up to that. In fact, it was about a million miles away from that at times.

It didn’t start well. The journey to the Cotswolds that should have taken us two and a half hours ended up going on for six hours of endless traffic jams and an exploding tyre.

After about four hours of travel pain, we hear the ominous whump whump whump of a tyre flapping about and exchange a look of something close to despair. My husband artfully limps us across three hectic lanes to the hard shoulder and squeezes out of the car, past oncoming juggernauts, to investigate.

I join him outside the car and we peer at the shredded tyre together and then look blankly at each other for what feels like a good month as we try to steel ourselves to deal with this. We have a spare, but it was in the boot under all our holiday bags, pushchair, etc. Plus, changing a tyre inches from a motorway doesn’t exactly seem like a wise choice.

OK, so we call our breakdown cover and get someone to rescue us, right? Easy, if we had the phone number with us – which we don’t – and if we could remember who we have insurance and breakdown cover with – which we can’t. My husband finally reckons he can remember who we need to contact, so I start making the call and get put on hold. And on hold is where I stay for the duration of the following trauma, phone balanced on my shoulder, hideous music being piped into my ear,

I climb back into the car to explain what is going on to the older two kids (T is sucking Batman’s cape and looks far from interested). No sooner have I said “flat tyre” than H totally loses it. In his stressed out little head, this means we are stuck for good. He is screaming and crying as we both try in vain to calm him down.

Just then we notice that we are about 200 yards inside the free recovery zone for the roadworks we’ve just driven though. Yes! We are saved, we just have to wait.

imageAnd we don’t have to wait long either as an oil-covered guardian angel called Rich arrives within five minutes. H is still sobbing uncontrollably in the back as Rich explains through the window what he is going to do, namely get us all out, get the car onto the truck, stick us all in said truck and take us to the next service station, where we can call for breakdown recovery (which I am still on hold for).

We are all under instructions to get out on the passenger side and cross the safety barrier, trudge along to the truck and wait there for Rich while he loads up the car.

The baby isn’t as freaked out as H but he knows something is afoot and decides that his best course of action is to turn into a small clingy monkey and attach himself to me as if his life depended on it. Just giving him to Daddy while I climb over the barrier causes him to go beetroot red from yelling his head off, only to revert to complete silence again when handed back.

We are all finally out and over the barrier, where we are faced with a stinging nettle strewn walk of some 20 feet to the truck. It is hot, we’ve got bare legs. I’ve got a monkey clinging to me and a phone latched to my head. My husband is talking to Rich and I have a frightened looking four year old and a crying seven year old beside me. And we’re all standing in a nettle patch. When he gets back, my husband picks up M but, with arms full of kids already, we can’t carry H too. So, I walk ahead, treading down the nettles as best I can to clear a path for him, getting stung to buggery as I go. H is also getting stung, poor soul, and is crying even more now.

It is difficult to explain the sinking feeling you get when you know you have no choice but to walk through nettles in flip flops. It’s not something I wish to relive.

imageRich struggles to get the car onto the truck for a while but eventually manages it and comes back to help us all in. The kids are scared and confused but the baby suddenly comes into his own, loudly shouting ‘guck’ in delight at getting to ride in a boiling hot, stinky old breakdown truck.

Five minutes later and we are at the service station, filling in paperwork with Rich. Then, hallelujah, the phone is finally answered! I give the operator our car details and breath a sigh of relief. Until I’m told that our cover expired in 2011. Yes, I know, we are idiots.

Rich polishes his halo with a oily rag and says he’ll take us to a nearby garage, who fit us with a new tyre, while we feed the kids tasteless cakes in the shitty petrol station cafe (where M throws an entire bottle of water all over me and T, who is still clinging to me).

Six hours after setting off, we arrive at the hotel. We are all knackered and stressed and the first thing we do is have a beer, which helps quite a bit.

But, even travel trauma aside, the stay wasn’t quite what I’d hoped, in my unrealistic brain. It was far from ‘family friendly’. No sitting sipping beer while the kids played in the garden for us. The garden opened onto a busy road with no gate to stop rampaging toddlers. The toy box in the lounge was full of broken crap you wouldn’t give to a charity shop. Our room was OK but the curtains fell down immediately that we got there, with some poor barman charged with sticking them back up with sticky tape. There was just too much wrong.

imageWe definitely had some special moments and two brilliant day trips. The kids had a fantastic time, once they had recovered from the tyre incident, and we both had a giggle in the evenings, especially on the night of the ropey local music act.

But relaxing, it was not. With three kids sharing a room, the sleep was pretty dire and we got back home utterly exhausted and shadows of our pre-holiday selves, desperate for our own bed.

So, what is the lesson from this slightly disappointing weekend? It is one I never seem to learn: not to expect too much from holidays with young kids. That road only leads to disappointment. To remember that it is always still same shit, different location, no matter how lovely the location is.

Holidays with kids can be brilliant and I wouldn’t be without them for the world. They are something to be cherished, to count the sleeps to. They are the stuff that my own best childhood memories are made of. But I do wish I wasn’t always surprised and disappointed when they aren’t as perfect as I’d like, when we get next to no sleep, when the real holiday doesn’t live up to the holiday in my head. We’ve got a week away at the end of August, so I’ll see if I have learnt to follow my own advice by then.

Oh, and the other lesson? Join the AA (we now have).

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