Bath time: I'll just sit here and smoke

At bath time and in the morning, when they are getting dressed, there is sometimes shouting. I usually have to ask them to do something a minimum of four times, with increasing volume, before it might happen.

This evening I snapped, as after countless attempts to extract them from the bath they were still absorbed in their own world of flooding my ground floor and comparing wounds (microscopic cuts). Once out, BUB.1 and BUB.2 then proceeded to shake themselves like two hairy dogs, sending water flying everywhere. I shouted. It was a longer than normal shout, because halfway through my reprimand I warmed to my subject and continued longer than necessary. It felt good. I needed it.

They both know that when I shout a) I mean it and b) I still love them dearly because 90% of the time I start laughing halfway through or they do. But when I’d finished, there was silence. Punctuated only, after a few seconds, by BUB.2 sitting himself naked on the landing, and saying: “Well I’m just going to sit here and smoke” as he lit an imaginary cigarette and started puffing nonchalantly on it.

He’s just turned five. We don’t smoke. No one he knows smokes. I don’t know where he has seen anyone smoking. It must be something he got from school, perhaps?

But it sums up parenthood to me.

1) One of them will always stop you dead in your tracks and make you laugh (when you should probably cry) and 2) Once they unfurl themselves from fluffy toddlerhood and become a fully fledged child, you no longer control them and you no longer control their sense of humour.

And in the middle of a raucous, stressful bath time, that is the BEST feeling in the world. These, not the triumphs at Sports Day or the glowing school report, are the parenting moments that speak the loudest to me.

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Everything is perfect

Children aren’t looking around wondering why Clara is fluent in French or Luke plays junior badminton or Minnie has stronger collection of googly eyes and fuzzy pipe cleaners in her craft drawer.

I saw one of those “quotes of the day” on Facebook the other day that read: “When I’m with Mummy everything is perfect.” I groaned and probably made a gagging face.

I must have had five or six conversations this week, with different Mums, about feeling guilty about not “doing enough” with their second, third or in one case, fifth child. We have access to millions of things our own parents didn’t: toddler groups, soft play, messy play, swimming, kids mornings at the cinema, craft ideas on Pinterest, baby music classes, sensory classes, sign language for babies, football for toddlers, rugby for toddlers, oh I could go on for eternity.

But the result of these wonderful itineraries are the perfect images of childhood and parenting that we see on social media, and the horrible feeling that everyone else is stimulating their child so much more than we are because we’re knee deep in laundry (literally) or trying to sort the bathroom cabinet out or matching up tupperware lids or bagging up old clothes or rearranging the toy storage or rustling up food and snacks fifteen times a day or looking for lost keys.

All I could think about was that silly Facebook quote and how suddenly it made sense. I think the little ones just want us to step away from Facebook and Pinterest, put our phones down* and smile happily into their little faces as they find a bug on the floor or they master a new karate chop on their brother.

I have touched on this before in my post “Lazy Pig”. But as half term looms, and my only solid plan is to visit Poundland for party supplies for BUB.2’s fifth birthday party next weekend (I dream big), I am going to remember that silly little Facebook quote and try to hold on to the fact that children aren’t looking around wondering why Clara is fluent in French or Luke plays junior badminton or Minnie has stronger collection of googly eyes and fuzzy pipe cleaners in her craft drawer.

They’re just looking at Mummy looking at her phone and wishing she was looking at them.

*Without my phone I would go mad, MAD, I tell you. I just should probably hold onto it for dear life a little less.

We’re all picking up the same sh*t

Parents who stay at home aren’t a blubbery, economically-useless void. A parent at home undertakes a series of daily tasks THAT SOMEONE HAS TO DO.

imageWhy do we keep talking about non-working mothers? They are like unicorns, they do not exist. If there was such a thing as a non-working mother, “working” mothers wouldn’t have to pay someone to do their (non) job in order for them to go to work. They’d just leave the kids on the shelf at home.

This (non) job in question has an economic value which you can find out by typing the word “childcare” into Google, followed by your local area. This job only has an economic value if the person doing the job is a relative stranger to the child. That’s not to say it’s a highly-regarded career choice, when of course it should be. But the point is, it’s the SAME job, no matter who is doing it. The only difference is, one person gets a detailed job description, a salary and holidays. The other doesn’t.

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Parents who stay at home aren’t a blubbery, economically useless void. A parent at home undertakes a series of daily tasks THAT SOMEONE HAS TO DO. That parent can either go to work and get paid to do something else while they pay someone to look after their child or they can look after their child themselves. Often this depends on their individual financial and personal needs and desires, as it should. We are all different.

One of the daily tasks in childcare happens to be love. The rest, the stuff that takes up 99% of their waking time, are routine, sometimes laborious, often sticky tasks that keep a child alive and healthy. Yes, I check Facebook. Occasionally I get half an hour to write or pay my bills online or eat my lunch sitting down. Every now and then I meet some friends for lunch, which we spend cajoling, feeding, cleaning and running after our children that we can’t just leave at home to do their own beans on toast.

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Every minute of the day is spent working, whether it’s with a smile on my face or sitting rocking in a corner. This day starts at 6.30am (on a good day) and ends around 9pm (on a good day) giving me approximately an hour to myself before I need to go to bed.

Small children don’t cook their own meals, fetch their own things, go to the toilet alone, shop for food and clothes, amuse themselves, clean themselves, wash themselves, fetch their own toys, put their toys away, clean spaghetti from the walls, take themselves out and about, socialise with other humans, take themselves to bed or learn to do ANY of those things by themselves. They don’t get it instantly. They learn with the intensive help of one or more able adults over the course of a few years. Not just by watching, but by having it done for them, day in day out, and then by being shown how to do it themselves. This is a full time job, for a parent or for a childcare professional. It is truly exhausting. But all that really matters is that it’s done with care and love and that can happen at home or in a childcare setting.

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What lucky, lucky children they are in our part of the world, having food, water, warmth, toys and love. So why do I keep reading articles bickering over who is doing it? We’re all picking up the same sh*t here. Someone is doing it and, by and large, we get a generation of functioning human beings at the end of it. That’s all that matters.

Why is it only considered a job if these tasks are performed by a stranger rather than a parent, or more specifically, a mother? You don’t hear many stay-at-home-Dads referred to as non-working fathers. They are demi-gods who have sacrificed much and are rushed off their feet.

Which is what I consider every non-working AND working mother I know to be.

We're all picking up the same sh*t

Parents who stay at home aren’t a blubbery, economically-useless void. A parent at home undertakes a series of daily tasks THAT SOMEONE HAS TO DO.

image

Why do we keep talking about non-working mothers? They are like unicorns, they do not exist. If there was such a thing as a non-working mother, “working” mothers wouldn’t have to pay someone to do their (non) job in order for them to go to work. They’d just leave the kids on the shelf at home.

This (non) job in question has an economic value which you can find out by typing the word “childcare” into Google, followed by your local area. This job only has an economic value if the person doing the job is a relative stranger to the child. That’s not to say it’s a highly-regarded career choice, when of course it should be. But the point is, it’s the SAME job, no matter who is doing it. The only difference is, one person gets a detailed job description, a salary and holidays. The other doesn’t.

image

Parents who stay at home aren’t a blubbery, economically useless void. A parent at home undertakes a series of daily tasks THAT SOMEONE HAS TO DO. That parent can either go to work and get paid to do something else while they pay someone to look after their child or they can look after their child themselves. Often this depends on their individual financial and personal needs and desires, as it should. We are all different.

One of the daily tasks in childcare happens to be love. The rest, the stuff that takes up 99% of their waking time, are routine, sometimes laborious, often sticky tasks that keep a child alive and healthy. Yes, I check Facebook. Occasionally I get half an hour to write or pay my bills online or eat my lunch sitting down. Every now and then I meet some friends for lunch, which we spend cajoling, feeding, cleaning and running after our children that we can’t just leave at home to do their own beans on toast.

image

Every minute of the day is spent working, whether it’s with a smile on my face or sitting rocking in a corner. This day starts at 6.30am (on a good day) and ends around 9pm (on a good day) giving me approximately an hour to myself before I need to go to bed.

Small children don’t cook their own meals, fetch their own things, go to the toilet alone, shop for food and clothes, amuse themselves, clean themselves, wash themselves, fetch their own toys, put their toys away, clean spaghetti from the walls, take themselves out and about, socialise with other humans, take themselves to bed or learn to do ANY of those things by themselves. They don’t get it instantly. They learn with the intensive help of one or more able adults over the course of a few years. Not just by watching, but by having it done for them, day in day out, and then by being shown how to do it themselves. This is a full time job, for a parent or for a childcare professional. It is truly exhausting. But all that really matters is that it’s done with care and love and that can happen at home or in a childcare setting.

image

What lucky, lucky children they are in our part of the world, having food, water, warmth, toys and love. So why do I keep reading articles bickering over who is doing it? We’re all picking up the same sh*t here. Someone is doing it and, by and large, we get a generation of functioning human beings at the end of it. That’s all that matters.

Why is it only considered a job if these tasks are performed by a stranger rather than a parent, or more specifically, a mother? You don’t hear many stay-at-home-Dads referred to as non-working fathers. They are demi-gods who have sacrificed much and are rushed off their feet.

Which is what I consider every non-working AND working mother I know to be.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

The one that got away

Caroline was an absolute tonic who reminded me of a female Keith Chegwin. The smiley bits, not the revealing-his-bollocks-on-TV bits. She physically looked like the love-child of two of my best friends, so when she sidled up to me and asked to swap numbers, I was hopeful that I would no longer have to sit at red plastic tables and feed my child uncooked jacket potato and hard grated cheese in order to be social.

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Trying to make new friends as a Mum of small children is all about eyes across a crowded room, chemistry, a stolen conversation, a lightning strike. It’s as hard as trying to find the love of your life and it’s almost as painful. No, that’s a lie; it’s nowhere near as painful. But it can smart.

I know I’ve got myself to blame for moving so often. This particular incident happened in my last hometown, where I went on to make a couple of good friends. And for a bit of context, life in the world of toddler groups can be excruciatingly lonely. Designed to put you in touch with people in the same boat, they can make you feel very much all at sea.

Having moved so much, I don’t have the benefit of a ready-made NCT Group, or friends I see regularly. So, aside from occasional catch-ups with old friends who live far and wide, my social interactions are mainly with complete strangers. In the daytime. Punctuated by vomiting and/or poo smells.

My days are spent saying things like “You definitely get the best-dressed award for her outfit” while pointing at a child in a red beret, red patent shoes and a red handbag, or “Mmm a cup of tea, isn’t it just nice to sit down?” or “My son has that coat!” …do friendships get built on such things? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I won’t name real names, but let’s call her Caroline. We met at a stupendously awful Netmums gathering in a sweaty soft play centre café. Both realising we were at least a decade older than any of the other women (overheard: “I didn’t really get along with the other group I used to go to, they were all settled down and married.”), we gravitated towards each other.

Caroline was an absolute tonic who reminded me of a female Keith Chegwin. The smiley bits, not the revealing-his-bollocks-on-TV bits (no one else remember that?). She physically looked like the love-child of two of my best friends, so when she sidled up to me and asked to swap numbers, I was hopeful that I would no longer have to sit at red plastic tables and feed my child uncooked jacket potato and hard grated cheese in order to be social.

I was about to have BUB.2 at the time so it was weeks before I got to see her but when I did she didn’t disappoint. This chuckling creature appeared at my front door with a huge bunch of flowers, some chocolate for BUB.1 and a gift for BUB.2. We sat on my sunlit terrace eating still-warm cookies, laughing like drains, swapping boob stories as if we’d known each other years. I felt pampered, wooed, almost cherished. As she wafted out of my front door, clutching a soiled nappy and a giggling baby, she invited me for lunch at hers the following week.

A second date!  And to hers, where she had made a delicious but lightly-dressed salad in view of our post-baby bellies. She had me in stitches telling me about the swingers who used to live in her house and the strange late night phone calls they still received. We took an afternoon stroll around her neighbourhood, laughing about shared disasters, shared insecurities, past heartaches, matters not discussed at toddler group encounters. She offered to lend me her Bumbo.

I never saw her again.

She had told me she was returning to work and return she must have and with it, the world of soft play and Bumbos was left behind. We exchanged a few texts arranging to meet up on a Friday, the day she got to spend with her daughter and didn’t have to rush off to Watford Hospital to deal with managers and meetings and admin and real shit, but they petered out.

I imagine if I had one day a week with my one year old baby, I’d want to spend it with my baby and not with a stranger I had met just weeks ago too. And like every disappointment, it gives hope that there are others out there like you. You just have to keep looking.

What makes your shoulders droop?

I have always had to stifle a yawn when someone begins a sentence with: “The exchange rate means you’ll only get, what? How many to the pound?” I’m gone.

IMG_4583I have always had to stifle a yawn when someone begins a sentence with: “The exchange rate means you’ll only get, what? How many to the pound?”  I’m gone.

The list of questions that make my eyes glaze over has increased exponentially since becoming a mother. My shoulders now droop whenever I hear any of the following at the opening of a conversation:

“You’ve got to think about schools..have you thought about schools?….” (especially when spoken at approximately 15 weeks gestation)

“Does he sleep through the night?” (especially when the answer is “no” because baby is one week old and would starve if he did)

“Do you miss work?” (especially at the very moment I am trying to wipe toothpaste from my jeans, porridge from my hair and sweat from my brow while carrying 30 kilos of human flesh and metal)

There are about 168 more. I will be listing these in a separate compendium.

What makes your shoulders droop?

SAHM. WTF?

With their litany of engorged bosoms, sexless rows and vomit-splattered shoulders, I envisaged it would be like root canal and a career in mining combined. But worse. But oddly, it isn’t.

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“I admire you being a stay at home mum” a friend said, the other day. I looked behind me. Oh, me? It never, ever occurred to me until that day that that’s what I am. It wasn’t really a choice. It just happened. It’s the strangest thing, but for someone who always wanted a good job, to travel, to never, ever be tied down to 2.4 children in the suburbs, I am a stay at home mum at the moment (in a city not the suburbs but that might all change).

When I got pregnant with BUB.1 I was working as a editor on a magazine. Willy Wonka and I were already set to travel to Australia for 18 months, a place I had lived for the best part of my early thirties.  I had, through hard work,  secured myself Australian residency during that time and another year there would see me entitled to apply for citizenship, an opportunity I knew I had to take.

So on our first date I told Willy Wonka of my plans and a year later we were pregnant and booking tickets. I left my job when I was three months pregnant and flew when I was four. As a result, I never had maternity pay or a boss ringing me to ask when I was coming back.

When BUB.1 was 12 month old, as planned we moved back to the UK to be close to our families, and within a month I was pregnant with BUB.2  so there was never an opportunity to even think about returning to full time work. I wonder what I would have decided if there was?

I am fortunate that we have made choices which mean although it’s a squeeze each month, we manage. I know that for a lot of people it isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. I feel very fortunate that I have been allowed to wallow in motherhood full time until now, however challenging it can be (said through gritted teeth with spaghetti dangling from my hair).

I’m not alone either. The mums in my ante natal group in Australia were all professional women,  but none were prepared for how happy that first year made them. One of the mums at BUB.1’s preschool worked in the theatre and says she spent years justifying not going back to a very anti social job. People would ask her what made her give up such an artistic career for full time motherhood, some of her ex colleagues cautiously asking if perhaps her husband prefers her not to work.

WHAT?

Can’t we just enjoy being mums for a while without being made to feel like there’s a problem?

At the time of starting this blog, my youngest is sixteen months old and at the moment he is used to me and needs me. But we are evolving. He is currently being settled into a childminder for a six-hour stint once a week, during which time I hope to continue with some freelance writing.

If you’d have told me I’d be a stay at home mum ten years ago I would have rolled my eyes at you. But I didn’t know that a) you don’t stay at home, you go out, or you go mad and b) the mum bit is SO much fun.

My admiration goes to those mums who work and deal with everything early motherhood entails. But then again, when I hear of friends enjoying lunch in a quiet restaurant or reading the newspaper on the train, I admit I want to gouge my eyeballs out with a toddler-sized fork.