Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Mother Of All Tantrums

I spent a lovely hour with my children this morning. We went to the Country Club for a swim. The 2 year old spent most of his time leaping into the water. The further under the water he went the more he smiled. My girl swam on her front and back like a proud fish. After the week I have had it was bliss.

After swimming we managed a shower, all in one cubicle, with no shoving and pushing. We even managed to get dressed. It was quite a civilised affair and was going so well that I decided to dry my hair whilst the children munched on their Quavers.

It started like any other tantrum. He was sat next to his 4 year old sister chomping and comparing crisp sizes. I was drying my hair. The next time I turned to look he was lying on the floor screaming “BIG ONE, BIG ONE”. By the time I got over to him he was bright red and inconsolable. And so it went … I had half my hair dry – the other sopping wet. Abandoning any idea that I may look fairly normal I started to pack up the rest of our things. The other three women looked on in various states of undress offering their support of eyes rolling “poor love”, “he looks tired” and “I have one like that at home”. I wanted to reply “He is not a poor love, nor is he tired and I wish I had left him at home. Now stop standing there flashing your beaver at me and get dressed”.

I tried to speak to the 2 year old but he was not open for a mother to son tête-à-tête, instead he continued to scream in a pitch that reverberates through your head and makes your ears bleed.

To stop him from damaging his head on the floor whilst thrashing I placed him in the playpen which only enhanced his distress. Shoving wet things into our bags as quickly as possible I grabbed him and we exited the changing room at speed.

My thought was this … in the corridor outside the changing room alone I could calmly talk him down from his tantrum whilst putting his shoes on, we would then exit the country club smiling like the families you see on the covers of parenting magazines. It was not to be.

I felt like a member of MI5 in the programme Spooks. I mapped out all available exits in my head and chose my route. The 2 year old was missing his shoes but I didn’t care. The poor 4 year old desperately trying to tell me something was drowned out by his screeching and me shouting “I cannot hear you, your brother is screaming”, to which she would reply “Pardon?” and then she would try again.

The foyer of the club was my next obstacle. Usually empty it was full of silent people who all stared at me over the tops of their newspapers. I bundled my son under my arm who was flapping about like a epileptic octopus. I was also carrying two bags, two pairs of inflated armbands and dragging the 4 year old who was still, despite my shouts, trying to tell me something.

As we burst out of the doors into the car park which was also unusually busy all I could see was the car ahead. I had tunnel vision, I needed to get to that car and quick. Groups of golfers who had just finished their rounds stopped speaking and stared in horror as their quiet country retreat was filled with shrieks that you would normally associate with someone being stabbed through the heart with a fork.

I folded him into his car seat, child origami is an art, and shut the door. During the 5 minute journey home I turned the Disney CD right up trying to drown him out. The 4 year old was sniffling. I couldn’t work out whether it was her brother’s noise or having to listen to ‘The Bear Necessities’ at full blast which was distressing her more.

We reached home and I ran like an athlete approaching the finishing line through our front door, grasping the 2 year old who is normally a pale child. He was vine ripened tomato red and sweating.

I sank onto the sofa and released him. He chose that moment to decide that in the confines of our own home he could not embarrass me further and stopped. His cries were replaced by the slow sniffing of a child who has screamed constantly for over half an hour and needs to regulate his breathing. He cuddled up to me briefly and then went about his business as if nothing had happened. I on the other hand was sat there looking like one half of my head had just stepped out of a salon and the other still sopping wet. My ears were ringing and I felt like sticking my head in the oven and turning it on.

The 4 year old taking full advantage of the sudden silence said “Mummy, I was trying to tell you that he ate his big one, but you just wouldn’t listen”.

All I can now think is that the 2 year old who is currently obsessed with big Vs tiny found the biggest Quaver his eyes had ever seen and then felt bereaved upon eating it. Whatever it was it was sheer bloody hell on earth for exactly 35 minutes and I still don’t know where his shoes are.

Monday, 25 August 2008

The Children She Never Knew She Had

Sat at some traffic lights. The 4 year old points at the Mazda MX5 2 seater next to us and the young woman in the drivers seat and says “Where do her children sit?”

I say “Maybe she doesn’t have any children.”

She says “Yes. Maybe they died”.

I look at the young woman who probably hasn’t even thought about having children yet. Then I look at the man in front of us on a motorbike and am glad when the lights change and he roars off giving the 4 year old no time to kill off his family.

There’s A Hole in My Boat & I Need to Stay Afloat

The day started like most, the 2 year old beating his door with a police car, me tripping over a stray Duplo brick, Rice Crispie banter over breakfast followed by some teeth brushing arguments.

I then had to follow my husband in our people carrier to the garage (the brake pads had been reduced to nothing so on pressing the brake a loud scraping noise would screech from the car). I had been assured by the man at the garage it would be OK to drive with caution. I took this to mean drive with caution or die hideously. The fear as I drove the 10 miles to the garage must have been etched on my face. People commuting to work in the other direction must have only seen the whites of my eyes as I hoped I would not die and listened to the grating of metal on metal and my heart thumping in my chest. I was overjoyed to arrive at my destination, almost skipping to the service desk to deliver the key. I had to loosen my knuckles which looked as though they were still firmly clutching the steering wheel.

With a sigh of relief I got into my husband’s car and we journeyed back home. Unfortunately the children by this point had had enough of ‘spot the motorbike’, ‘pull faces at each other’ and my favourite ‘who can be quiet the longest?’. They were in full whine and bicker mode. At times I would have happily stuck my head out of the window in the driving rain and risked beheading by bus to avoid issuing yet another warning. When we arrived home my heart was still thumping.

The 2 year old went out to play on his new bike and the 4 year old went off to potter. The recipe for a quiet life, or it was supposed to be. The wailing commenced … the 2 year old had fallen off his bike and given himself a huge gash along the back of his head. Concussion watch ensued.

Within half an hour my sister’s neighbour called to say that her burglar alarm was going off and she’d given him the wrong key (she is on holiday, I have the other key). I received the news from my employer telling me I was being made redundant. Then the garage called to say that the MOT would cost £430.

My husband held his head in his hands. The rain persistently bucketed down. I braved lunch through a veil of tears.

The 4 year old seeing that something was obviously wrong decided to intervene “Why did the chicken cross the road Mummy?” she asked. “To go to the jumper shop of course”. She told me to laugh. I did, but probably not as much as she would have liked.

I tried to pull myself together. I decided the best option was to leave the house with the dogs, the children and some wellies. It started well. The sun started shining (but only because the 4 year old had been crossing her fingers, apparently), the 2 year old jumped in puddles which took him up to his thighs and the 4 year old sang. Life started to feel better. Then the 4 year old tripped over her brother and cracked her head and elbow on a rock. As I walked home carrying the wailing 4 year old I gave full custody of 1 dog on a leash to the 2 year old. Covered in the 4 year olds blood, dragging the other dog, listening to crying and the 4 year old berate the 2 year old for tripping her up I wept some more. Then the 2 year old fell, grazing a knee.

Bedtime couldn't have come quick enough.

Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully I will not weep, the 2 year old will wear a bicycle helmet, the 4 year old will tell bad chicken jokes and protect her elbows with bubble wrap, the car will be returned and my husband will not hold his head in his hands. I will still be unemployed but trying to find the silver lining.

I am usually a fairly chipper person. I can smile through adversity. Today I buckled under the stress of a particularly bad year. A huge family crisis added to a series of smaller unfortunate incidences over the past 6 months has pushed me over the edge. I am in freefall.

Two steps forward, six steps back. I will spend the night staring at the clock thinking surely tomorrow can be better, can’t it?

My heart is still pounding through my chest.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Beards, Berets & Small Stools

When I was pregnant for the first time with the now 4 year old I bought a book by Dr Miriam Stoppard. I found the book both useful and amusing. It had a lovely up to date cover, but it’s innards were of the 1970’s. The men in the photos sported bushy beards, polo necks and flares, the women didn’t fare much better, they were all naked and giving the men a run for their money in their downstairs beard department. It was apparently the ‘updated’ version in everything but photographs. Not a Brazilian in sight.

In first pregnancy enthusiasm I read the book cover to cover. When I had finished 2 things stuck out.

The first was pregnancy fashion. I’ve always found pregnancy fashion bemusing, although it does seem to have improved over the years. Wearing a smock has moved on to wearing a trendy smock. Dr Miriam suggested that comfortable clothes were always a necessity – feeling like I had eaten an elephant I couldn’t agree more. At one point the book discussed taking attention away from your bump by wearing a beret at a jaunty angle. Now I would have said that anyone who wears a beret (jaunty angle or not) is going to bring attention to the beret and only the beret. Remember Lucinda Ledgerwood from The Apprentice? She was talked about for weeks as ‘the one with the beret’. I did not wear a beret.

The second thing which made alarm bells ring in my head was the sentence ‘when you are giving birth you may pass a small stool’. It was enough that I would be legs akimbo in front of a complete stranger, albeit a trained midwife, but then to open my bowels? It was not on my agenda. All dignity would then be on the bus to ‘Nevertobeseenagain’.

I was utterly obsessed with passing a small stool, it was more terrifying than the birth itself. I considered fasting for the final month of pregnancy just in case but the need to eat my bodyweight in cake each week was far greater than my fear.

So, when 8 months pregnant I went to the Baby Show at the NEC with my dear friend Mary I was delighted to discover a Dr Miriam Stoppard stand. Mary was also pregnant so I felt I had to share with her the full horror of crapping without control during birth. The stand was manned by a couple of very smiley ladies and was festooned with pictures of Dr Miriam herself all big hair and cheesy grins. I found the book and showed my friend the beret tip. We laughed. I then brought to her attention the small stool extract which I read aloud in mock horror. ‘Miriam says you may pass a small stool’, we fell apart.

Wiping my tears I turned around to find Dr Miriam herself stood behind me talking to another ‘customer’ with what can only be described as a disapproving look on her not so smiley anymore face … and big hair. We left swiftly.

I discovered a few months later that if I were to have passed a small stool I would not have noticed nor cared and that I would have happily worn a beret during birth if it had detracted from the pain and my nether regions.

Perhaps if I’d had a beret and a small stool combination I could have caught the latter in the former and no one would have noticed!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

I am a Beijing Olympics Pervert

I’m not really into sport. I find the rules of sport difficult to compute. I’ve asked enough stupid questions about football to know when to give up.

My husband will watch any sport going. His top three are golf, football and cricket, not necessarily in that order. In the absence of those he is a sport floozy. He probably draws the line at ice skating, but it’s not a very thick line. We caught a glimpse of women’s beach volley ball this week, my husband is now an enthusiast. Nothing to do with their very microscopic, tight shorts though …

My attention was grabbed yesterday by the synchronised men’s diving at the Beijing Olympics. What a joy to behold; VERY tight Speedos. The 4 year old thought it was ‘boring’. One of the divers blew a kiss at the camera, she said to me “Do you know him Mummy?” I blew him a kiss back.

Today I discovered men’s swimming. The men with their big triangular frames packed tightly into full lycra body stockings. The only downside being the swim caps – it’s not an attractive look, but then I wasn’t looking at their heads. As they filmed along the start line, some were jiggling their man boobs and splashing their nether regions with water. I was captivated. I still don’t know why they needed to splash their man bits. Was it a demonstration of masculinity, a bit of a ‘man show’ – to put off the other swimmers or was it to shrink their appendage; further adding to ergo dynamics?

I have finally found some enthusiasm for sport. I even understand the rules – 1) If you splash your nether regions with water you will go faster and 2) If you wear really small Speedos no one will care if you make a gigantic splash.

I wonder what qualifications I need to become a judge?

Monday, 11 August 2008

English Cheddar, Diect Coke & Meatloaf

When the 4 year old was born I worked from home as a childminder. It suited me as I wanted to be at home with her. When I became heavily pregnant with the two year old I had to let my childminding children go. I said goodbye to the mute boy who only ate bananas, the five year old who knew the names of every English Cheddar, the four year old who tripped over every two minutes, the three year old who only ever asked why? and a six year old who knew every ‘Boogie Beebies’ move.

I had to temp for my former employer before giving birth. We travelled round nurseries looking for suitable care for my precious one year old. I’m not sure if it was pregnancy hormones or they were all crap but I found it really difficult to find somewhere that was up to standard. My friend the Christian Teacher & Mother of 3 sat me down, gave me a Diet Coke and some advice. She told me “You’re looking for a 100% all rounder with the credentials of Mary Poppins. Even you don’t offer your child that sort of care. Lower your standards”. So I did.

We found a lovely nursery. The first time we left her there I walked away listening to her wail. I sat in the car and wept. Every time I dropped her off or picked her up she would wail. I was being punished for abandoning my child. The girls at nursery would reassure me that the wailing stopped when I was out of view. I had been a childminder, I knew the drill. Children would punish their parents and then spend the rest of the day happily playing and laughing until they heard the parent approaching again and would immediately start bawling. I rang the nursery every day for the first two weeks. The Manager, who must have thought I was a whack job, humoured me. On one occasion I sat in her office and wept that I was worried my daughter wasn’t settling in; again she humoured me. It took 2 months for me to get over my separation anxiety and then I gave birth to my beautiful bouncing boy.

At the same time we moved house. The nursery was too far away for my daughter to stay so I investigated other forms of childcare and came up with the idea of a part time nanny. Someone who would come to us and look after our children in the familiar surroundings of our home. We interviewed three. The first was a bit rough, had a child who looked like he ate lard by the bucketful and no transport. The second was a hardcore Meatloaf fan. Her love for the Loaf was so strong she had given birth and attended a Meatloaf concert in the same day and in that order. Despite this she had a great CV and we all got on well; we offered her the position. It wasn’t to be. She confessed to being pregnant and unable to commit to anything after the birth (but we would have to pay her maternity leave and find alternative childcare). To be honest I was tempted to go with it, after all her dedication was such that she would have probably birthed the baby in a Wacky Warehouse ball pool, nipped to the park, whipped up tea and put the children to bed all before cutting the umbilical cord.

The next one was our last hope. She had an excellent track record, had worked with twins, triplets and a variety of other formations and seemed chatty. We took her on. It slowly transpired that she couldn’t have children of her own and had ‘hormonal problems’. The 4 year old’s face would drop when I told her the nanny was coming, the tears would fall and like clockwork just as the nanny walked through the door the 4 year old would shout “But I don’t like her, please don’t leave me here” and I would have to peel her fingers from my leg and run. I felt terrible for the nanny who hadn’t actually done anything wrong and terrible for the 4 year old who just didn’t get on with her new carer. The 2 year old wasn’t concerned, he was being fed regularly – his needs were being met. I felt joy when 3 months later she handed her notice in. She’d been offered a full time post elsewhere. My joy departed when I realised she had handed her notice in the day our contract expired with the agency – therefore no replacement would be offered and our fee was being spent on new handbags in Selfridges by the agency owners. We were stuffed. The husband decided now was the time to state that he had never really liked her and had a bad feeling about her from the start. That information would have probably been better shared before we offered her the position.

Unwilling to repeat the experience we decided to go down the local childminder route. I felt confident that I would single out out the rubbish ones and find the right one. I dismissed the harsh faced chain smoker, the woman with a cinema screen and 4 children sat 2 inches from it like zombies, the non driver whose idea of fun was walking 10 miles in fat sideways rain to do her daily shopping. Then I stumbled across my saviour. She is the reason I can go to work without a thought for my children. She cares for them as if they were her own but is firm and fair. She can stop bad behaviour with just a look and has taught them manners which leave me both dumfounded and ashamed!

These days my only worry is to remember to ask the 4 year old if I can leave the table when I’ve finished eating … and I can still make her squirm by mentioning the ex Nanny’s name.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

A Mum Shaped Hole

Would she think they look like me?

Would she admire my handsome boy all snails, scooters and bold adventure?

Would she smile at my beautiful girl all bossy and hands on hips smelling of apples and wilful charm?

Would her heart melt when they called her name?

Would she be my shoulder to cry on when life is tough?

Would we laugh so hard that tears would fall?

I wish they had known her, and I for longer

I wish she was here

I miss my mum.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Jack Sparrow Eat Your Heart Out

The 2 year old who has no prior knowledge of sword fights has begun picking up long objects; a ruler, kitchen roll tube or stick and brandishing them making swishing noises acting like a pirate aboard the Black Pearl. Either this is an inherent part of my boy’s nature or he’s been watching Pirates of the Caribbean on his own.

Whichever it is, the 4 year old is at the receiving end of most of his ‘swishes’. She will only take so much before she thrashes him with her fairy wand.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sleep Fairy

One day I will be able to write a blog without mentioning sleep … or lack of.

When the children are in bed it is my time, my time to sit down, to have a glass of wine and expel sigh of relief. It’s my time to decide, based on the day’s events, whether I should receive an award for ‘Mother of The Day’ or if I should try again harder tomorrow and hope social services haven’t been informed about my poor performance.

Since we returned from camping the situation has become dire. The 4 year old goes to bed without a hitch then spends the following 2 hours thinking of reasons why she shouldn’t remain there. She sits at the top of the stairs and explains that it’s too noisy outside, she just can’t sleep, the label in her pyjamas is itchy, she’s too hot or cold, the graze on her leg from 3 weeks ago is keeping her awake, to name a few.

In desperation I summoned the Sleep Fairy. She arrived the following day, fluttering her wings and waving her magical wand, leaving a trail of sparkly sleep dust. The Sleep Fairy’s job is simple; she flies into the rooms of 4 year old girls who have stayed in their bed all night and leaves a small token of her appreciation. We had a big discussion about what the sleep fairy would expect from the 4 year old. The 4 year old asked sensible questions about the Sleep Fairy’s route into the house when the windows were shut to which I replied ‘Magic’, my standard reply to anything that I can’t fathom.

She’s been here a week and her generosity has known no bounds. The 4 year old is not only rich in sleep, but gifts too, which she presents proudly to us when she wakes.

However, it seems that after a week of good behaviour the sleep fairy has decided that her services are no longer required. In truth – the gift box is empty, Tesco haven’t made their weekly delivery … and to be honest, I forgot. My options were slim. She was going to be fobbed off with her own toys or a packet of tuna pasta bake.

Last night in place of the usual gift was a letter which read;

‘Thank you for being such a clever girl and staying in bed.
You no longer need me, but I will be watching over you.

Well done.
Love The Sleep Fairy xx’

It turns out this wasn’t on the 4 year olds agenda because when I read the note to her she looked solemn and it wasn’t a big shock when I sat down tonight and heard a little voice say ‘Mummy, I’m hot and I can’t sleep’.

I am going to have to sell my soul to the Sleep Fairy.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Toddler Tourette’s

There is a point in every parent’s life when they realise that their child’s speech is improving. Mumbles become clearer words and they find it easier to communicate their needs.

I reached this point when the 4 year old was 2.

We were getting ready to go out and she was struggling to put her shoes on. I was busy stuffing the baby into his car seat and suddenly heard ‘fookinell’ fall out of the 2 year olds mouth. As I was wondering if I’d heard right I heard it again.

My life flashed before me and a memory of a road rage incident came flooding back. An elderly man had stepped out in front of the car causing me to perform an emergency brake and almost bring my lunch back up. The force made the 2 year old hurl her raisins in the air which was an ordeal in itself. My response had been “F*cking hell you stupid old bugger” as he stumbled off.

I have been known to swear, but nearly almost never in front of the children and usually at my husband. I remembered a Supernanny moment ‘Ignore the swearing, attention will make it worse’. So I ignored the toddler tourette’s.

With relief we continued without incident until we were in the changing rooms at the swimming pool. The 2 year old couldn’t get her costume back in her bag. ‘Fookinell’ she said and carried on tugging at the bag and shoving at the wet costume. I felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights and thrust her out of the door.

Purchasing a gag wasn’t an option so I rode it out with a red face. We had a ’fookinell’ outside pre-school in the presence of parents and play leader alike, a ‘fookinell’ in front of the neighbours and 2 further ‘fookinells’ in the supermarket. People always looked at her, then back at me, puzzled. As if they weren’t quite sure if they’d heard right … and if they had why was I not washing her mouth out with soap and water.

I remember feeling a little proud that at least she was using her new phrase in context and not just punctuating her sentences willy nilly with it. It lasted 2 weeks before she moved onto something more acceptable. The only positive during those 2 weeks was that he never added the “stupid old bugger” on the end.

Bag Of Sleep?

I am a grown woman and I have to confess … I used a potty this week. I was camping, and had woken from my uncomfortable airbed slumber with a bladder the size of a space hopper. Not wanting to walk to the toilet for fear of bearded sheep farming rapists I had to squat in the ‘foyer’ of our tent. The dog looked on in disgust.

Camping is not conducive for sleep. In the dead of night you can hear every conversation, snore and fart across the campsite. You are never alone, it is like being in a bedroom with 100 other people. The snoring was entertaining for the first 10 minutes but became irritating after the third hour, especially when multiple snoring created one long uninterrupted snore.

When I did sleep I would wake in a panic when the slightest movement would make the airbed tilt to one side. Lack of movement in a sleeping bag doesn’t help, especially when your preferred sleeping method is ‘over active starfish’. I only had to roll over to witness my husband in his newly purchased ‘mummy’ sleeping bag. He looked like he’d been vacuum packed and would need the help of a physiotherapist and some lubricant to get moving again in the morning.

All of this seemed irrelevant by 05.41 each morning when the 2 year old came bounding out of his pod like a schizophrenic kangaroo on Christmas morning. I became irrational, threatening him with all sorts of beastly things ‘get back into bed or I will burn all your toys on the camp fire’, ‘go back to sleep or we will go home right now and leave you here’, ‘go back to bed or I will beat you with a tent pole’. I imagined Supernanny’s harsh bespectacled face peering through the tent flap and in her monotone Dick Van Dyke voice saying “Laura, what are you doin? Neffer freaten anyfing you can’t foller frough”. She may well be a behavioural specialist but she’s left a trail of children up and down the country unable to enunciate the ‘th’ sound. At this point I pulled myself together and took the 2 year old on a ‘bear hunt’ in the woods surreptitiously hopeful that a great grizzly would leap out of the bushes and eat him so I could go back to my ‘restricted starfish’ slumber.

Every time we camp we buy a new piece of camping kit. Next time I think I’ll spare the dog’s shame and buy some adult nappies and if anyone has invented a soundproof, blackout tent cover I’d be very interested to hear from them.