Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Parenting Experience: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED

Sometimes I feel that parenting is a bit like one of those games like WoW or D&D, because a lot of the time it's random chance. You roll the right number or meet the right player (I once had a boyfriend who was OBSESSED with WoW, but I actually still don't really understand it, so forgive me if this analogy sucks/is inaccurate) or you... Well, sometimes you don't. The thing about parenting experience is that it's fluid, which is not to say that it's smooth and pleasing to the eye, but that rather like water, if there is a gap or a crack it will find its way through and leave you feeling drained and like you don't know what the fuck to do now.

So today I'm going to share some parenting level-ups and experience points with you, because maybe it'll make us all feel a little better about the bad days.

Sleeping through the night: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED

For one glorious week. Under-eye bags are diminishing, elixir of life is returning, you're about to attend your coronation as the monarch of parenting... Oh wait... Is that?... Yeah. It's still the middle of the night and the baby is definitely NOT still asleep. FFS.

The struggle. The tears. The unadulterated anguish. And then... POP. It's all over. But don't get excited; you've got 19 more to go. Time to restock the Calpol and grit your own 32 pearly whites.

Unswaddling: LEVEL UP
After an hour of watching your baby struggle on the video monitor, they've finally passed out sprawled awkwardly across the cot with their arms flung wide. Quite why this is such a pivotal parenting moment is beyond me, but the joy of it is almost unrivalled. Y'know, except for the nagging worry that they might wake up at any moment and beg you through the medium of screaming to be bound back into the swaddle again. They stayed asleep? LEVEL UP, MAMA.

That's 10 points for every food offered that doesn't end up in your hair. Or theirs. Or the cat's. Another 10 points if you remain calm in the face of an upside-down-bowl-on-the-carpet incident. More experience points are on offer for the discovery of successful distraction techniques when trying to feed a teething/tired/sick baby. And if you don't cry the first time your baby spits out the food they loved last week which you have lovingly steamed, blended and stored shitloads of in a huge Tupperware container ... Well, then you're a Weaning Warlock.

You've just stepped in your third puddle of pee of the day and you're pretty sure there's a poo somewhere around here too. What do you do? Sigh and locate the poo whilst mopping up the pee, say "never mind; it's just an accident" and kit your child out with new pants and a subtle reminder of where the potty is and how to use it? +5 Experience points for you. First pee in the potty earns you a level up, as does the first poo. And on the glorious day when puddles and secret poos become a thing of the past: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. I bet you feel like a parenting
paragon, don't you? As well you should.

A screaming toddler is a force to be reckoned with at the best of times. In the middle of a busy supermarket it's just about the Worst Thing Ever. To be honest, I don't think there's a wrong or right way to deal with a public tantrum. I've tried most things, like getting down to my child's level and talking calmly to him about why he is unhappy. I've also tried ignoring him and walking slowly away in the hope that he will get up and follow me. Bribery has even been attempted once or twice, as has the threat of not buying him the magazine I promised I would at the end of the trip. It depends what kind of mood he's in. If he's tired, NOTHING works. I've always wanted to be one of those mothers who has The Answer to diffusing every tantrum... But I'm not. If you are, LEVEL UP for you. I'll be down here building up my experience points.

Disapproval from older generation: EXPERIENCE POINTS/NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
You're out in public with your baby/child, minding your own business and trying to get on with your day. You hear an older person make a rude comment about your parenting style/child's behaviour. How do you respond? This tends to be very heavily dependent on your level of sleep-deprivation. The worse it is, the more likely you are to explode or cry. Or both simultaneously. Since it's generally a comment such as "children in my day were seen and not heard/didn't have dummies/never cried in public", you can actually just fucking ignore it. This happened to me at a funeral tea earlier this year when an elderly and distant relative made an observation about "young mothers these days sticking dummies in their babies mouths the minute they make a noise" while watching me try to comfort a tired and refluxing Baby Taylor with his dummy. In hindsight I wish I'd asked her to repeat herself, since she wasn't actually talking to me directly, and then questioned her about why she felt that it was her place to comment. I didn't. Experience points for me. Not giving a shit what anybody else thinks about how you parent your children? NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. You know what? You can get a LEVEL UP for that too. You deserve it.

The thing about parenting is that no matter how you handle any given situation, you will probably always wonder if you could have handled it better. Some evenings I will sit on the sofa after the kids have gone to bed and go over every little thing I think I did wrong with them that day, but being a parent is a live-action experience; it’s happening right now and you have to think on your feet. It’s hard work and it’s exhausting and, no matter what anybody says to the contrary, there is absolutely no way that you can “cherish every second of it”. For every moment with my kids that I wish I could bottle, there’s another one that I just want to forget about. I suppose the only take-home message I have for any parent is this: We’re all at the rookie stage in one way or another and we are all just doing the best we can. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to love them and be there for them. Everything else you do, you do because of that.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Things Mothers Don't Have Time To Do

Things you have no time to do once you have children.

Wash your hair
Before I had children, I washed my hair every day. Now I wash it when I'm going to work, which is usually twice a week. The other days I use half a can of dry shampoo and a hair bobble. And now, because it's getting colder, I can add a hat to my repertoire of things-to-stop-people-noticing-that-I-never-wash-my-hair. Hurray for Autumn! 

Get engrossed in a good book
First of all, finding the time to get engrossed in anything when you have children happens about as often as a blue moon. And even when the stars do align, it's never actually that simple. For example, as soon as I sit down with a book and start getting into it, one of two things happens: Either the napping baby wakes up, woebegone by the tragedy of being completely unable to find the bunny snuggle he so desperately needs to sleep (despite the fact that said bunny is actually tied to the strap of his sleeping bag and two millimetres away from his face) OR I wake up an hour later with a stiff neck and my book on the floor, by which time the baby needs to be woken from his nap.

As a mother - and I'm sure the same is true for many fathers too - you don't so much sleep as fall unconscious. But it's the kind of unconscious that becomes instant, wide-awake alertness at the smallest sound from your offspring. And once the wide-awake alertness has happened, the unconsciousness is suddenly hard to find. Also, you probably have at least one child trying to get into your bed by this point, which renders sleep completely impossible anyway.

Have sex
Let's be honest here, when you're sleep deprived and lying horizontally in a bed, you're almost never going to pick sex over sleep. And if you do pick sex, your other half probably knows it's mostly just to get him to shut up and go away, or it's a guilty pity shag because you feel a bit sorry for him. Lovely.

Give a shit about your house
I used to clean my house religiously. I would just about come out in hives if it wasn't clean. Now I manage to hoover, mop and keep the bathrooms clean. Most weeks you could write in the dust - but please don't - and I hardly ever get around to putting my own laundry away. Don't even get me started on the endless fucking washing.

Take a long, indulgent bubble bath
I used to love soaking in the bath. I've probably spent weeks of my life just lying in hot, soapy water if you add it all up. Never happens now. Now I plan to have a long, indulgent bath... And then I spend five minutes hastily scrubbing myself down before dragging myself up the stairs and into bed. Because otherwise my husband would probably come home at 11:30pm and find that I had fallen asleep and drowned.

Go shopping
I'm not talking food shopping, because we have overcome the issue of dragging bored children to the supermarket by having our groceries delivered. I'm talking about when you need some new shoes or jeans and you have something specific in mind (or can only shop within certain ranges because you're an unorthodox size), and you won't be satisfied until you find that specific thing. I once tried to take Toddler Taylor with me when I went shopping for a new coat. He was bored after 10 minutes and it was only by sheer good fortune that I stumbled across exactly what I was looking for fairly quickly. Otherwise? Not advisable. Stick to online shopping.  

I'm sure you can all think of many more examples - and please leave them in the comments/tweet me if you can -, but these are the ones that spring immediately to mind for me. The thing is, I actually have no fucking idea what I used to do with my time before I had children, although I know exactly what I would do with it now!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Dear Husband

Dear Husband,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six and a half years since we met. Sometimes I think about that and I’m not quite sure where the time has gone. I look back at the photographs of us from our first Christmas together and I can hardly believe that the people in those pictures are us. We look so young. We were so young. But I remember those days like they were yesterday, even though it is hard to place the people we are now in the life we had back then.

I remember how we were always walking, endlessly circling the streets around our town, deconstructing our lives and our feelings and the simple facts of our days. I think most of what we learned about each other in those early months was learned upon those walks. We liked to drive over to York and walk around there too, then we would stop by the cinema on the way home and watch a movie together.

I remember the night you cooked vegetable lasagne for me in my kitchen, how we lay on the kitchen floor together and I knew I loved you. I knew it in such a way that it wasn’t a feeling, but a fact. Irrevocable. Unchangeable. Solid and dependable. It’s funny how I didn’t know that you were what I was looking for before that night, how I’d thought that we would have something short and fun, but never imagined us in the place we find ourselves now. That night it felt like something I should have known all along.

I remember how sometimes, on our days off together, we would just lie in bed all day, then in the evening we would get up and go wander around the aisles in the supermarket trying to find something we both wanted for dinner. More often than not, we ended up getting take-out instead.

I remember the first home we bought, the endless search through flats and houses and how nothing ever felt quite right until we stood in a ripped out kitchen together and something finally fell into place. Our situation there wasn’t always great, but we had each other and that somehow made everything okay. We told ourselves over and over that it was only temporary, just a footing on the ladder that would lead us to the home we would stay in forever.

I remember handing you a tiny ginger kitten and watching a part of you that I’d never seen before come out. You were like a child on Christmas morning. You’d always told me that you hated cats, but that was the first time you’d ever really been so close to one and I watched you fall in love with him in seconds. Within a month of bringing that kitten and his brother home, you were making friends with every cat on the street and I knew that you were IT.

I remember the night you asked me to marry you, how I knew it was coming because you couldn’t sit still and your sentences were left half-finished. You were skittish and unpredictable, like a firework in an overturned milk bottle. Then I remember the crippling nerves of our wedding day and the giddy excitement of becoming your wife. I remember how everybody else disappeared as I promised my future to you. There were only 40 people in the room with us, but there could have been 4000 and I wouldn’t have cared right then. You anchored me to that moment with nothing but your hand holding mine.

I remember the moment the world turned upside down, and now I look back I can really see how scared we both were behind the excitement and the exhilaration of knowing that we were going to be parents. But you were right there when I needed you, and you made me anything I asked for on the rare occasions that I actually felt up to eating in the first few months. I remember one night all I wanted was a baked potato with butter, so you made one for me and you pulled such a sad face when I came back from the bathroom ten seconds after finishing it looking miserable and shaking my head.

I remember our second search for a home and the many disappointments we had to face along the way. I particularly remember that one house, the house we both loved, the house we could see ourselves living in before we even stepped through the door. There was so much space, so many rooms that went on forever, such a place to grow a family. I know we both felt like we couldn’t possibly belong somewhere like that. We ignored so many things about that house because it was The Dream. The hole in the top floor bedroom ceiling – a sure sign that something was amiss with the roof -; the weird bath; the fact that we would need to buy a new oven with next to no money; how close it was to the road; the lack of parking... But when it came down to it, we knew that enough about it wasn’t right that even when the vendors came back to us after rejecting our offers twice, we somehow knew we’d done the right thing in walking away. But I still think about that house sometimes when I feel like we’re all falling over each other here, and I know that you do too.

I remember us painting this house together, talking for hours about what our lives would be like here, trying to imagine what our baby boy would look like and gazing out over the overgrown jungle of a back garden while we pictured summer days playing football and splashing in a paddling pool with him. And I know that I would have been so much more scared during my first labour if you hadn’t been there. I remember telling you at one point that I didn’t want you to be around for the birth because I couldn’t bear the idea of you seeing me like that, but I know that I only got through it because you were there and when I sobbed that I couldn’t do it anymore, you held my hand and you told me that I could. You were so calm and you made me believe that I was strong and brave and could do anything.

I feel like so much of who we were has gotten lost over the last three and a half years. Or maybe not so much lost as buried, because now our world is so much bigger than just the two of us. But sometimes I forget that you still need me. You still need me to be on your side, to have your back and be the person that I always was for you. So I want you to know that I remember us. I remember the little things and the big things and the million tiny moments that have led us here, and I am grateful for you. I’m grateful that you know me well enough to understand that I’m a bit fucked up sometimes and that it’s not your fault. I can’t imagine feeling so right with anyone but you; you are everything I never knew I always wanted, and I don’t even care how cliché that sounds. I want you to know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without you and that I love you.

I just love you.