Why I am lucky to have ‘That Child’

HariboI remember many an evening spent in restaurants rolling my eyes at wayward children. I recall huffing at rustling sweetie wrappers at the cinema. In hindsight, I can see I was a frosty cow to all families that may have crossed my path anywhere my childless self was trying to have a good time.

I suppose that’s what you call karma. I am now mother to ‘that child’ you know, that child who finds the flip up cinema chairs fascinating and can’t leave them alone, who rustles countless bags of popcorn and gives away vital plot information. Who will be asking for a wee or more sweets when there is an important bit of dialogue.  She’s the child standing on the chair in the restaurant or scampering under your feet to view the ice cream. She’ll drop forty forks, wear the napkin on her head and probably make up a loud and raucous ditty about poo.

Until I had Harriet I really thought you could control your children. That wild behaviour could easily be nipped in the bud, but I’ve tried everything, reasoning, no deserts, shouting, evil stares, even eviler stares complete with brow furrow. Nothing works, and now I realise why. Harriet is a little person. She has her own personality that cannot be controlled by me and quite rightly so. I have my personality and no one can change me, good lord people have tried. So why should I expect to have the divine skill to change someone else’s…no matter how young.

Originally this was going to be a very different blog, a moan if you will about trying to control my mini firework, but then friends made me realise how lucky I am to have such a bright and sparky girl.

Harriet is a tiny bundle of energy. I dare not give her a blue slushy and I honestly believe if she even got a whiff of a can of Monster she would create so much energy that a nuclear reaction would occur and that would be the end of the world.

She is exuberant, joyful, adventurous, fearless and she never ever tires. What she lacks in stature she makes up for in pure spirit. This is a truly wonderful thing to see, but she is exhausting and exasperating. When she is doing a bare bottomed ‘wiggly bum dance’ on your bed at 6am or dangling perilously upside down from a tree that’s a fair run away, it takes all the energy I have to keep up. Since having Harry I’ve aged approximately 497 years.

Going out for meals is difficult. Harriet can barely sit still. Crayons won’t hold her attention for long and I’ve had to get over my deep rooted disappointment of her not colouring in the lines. She gives no shits about the lines…lines are meant to be coloured over, who has time for that?! She’ll want to explore the toilets, comment loudly on the other diners and basically avoid eating anything you have paid for.

Recently after an exhausting evening of trying to control her I wearily asked, ‘Harriet, why can’t you behave, why can you not sit like the other girls? I was embarrassed’. She simply looked at me, the only time she had been still and serious all night and said unapologetically ‘That’s just the way I am, Mummy. I can’t help it. I am just so EXCITED!!!!’ and with that I realised she was right. Harriet is being herself. She doesn’t care that she’s not like the other girls, she doesn’t care if frosty childless couples are tutting. She – just – doesn’t- care, and actually that’s great. She spent the tram trip home swinging on poles and trying to hit the stop button, still being herself.

How I’d like to go out and not once think about what anyone else thought of me. That kind of mental freedom must make you exuberant.

She wakes up nearly every morning and announces ‘I am SOOO excited’ I ask her what about and the reasons vary ‘It’s my birthday soon’ (it’s in three months) ‘I saw a butterfly’ ‘These pyjamas are purple!!!’ The most mundane things can be amazing to her. She’s been looking forward to a weekend away at Centre Parcs for months and her excitement is literally fizzing like a well shaken can. When we get there she may have to be let out of the car slowly so she doesn’t ricochet all over the park.

How wonderful must it be to be that excited about life? Even when I do have something to get excited about it gets tainted. When I wake up on the day we are going on holiday, my first emotion isn’t excitement, its worry ‘did I pack the sun cream, is my passport in date, who’s feeding the cat’ Oh to be like Harriet and just enjoy the day. I envy her.

Even though Harriet steals my energy, tires me out and embarrasses me daily. I love her just the way she is and I need to learn from her because who has the better outlook on life. The optimistic, go getter afraid of nothing who finds the world a glorious place full of endless possibilities, or the careful worrier who stops herself from fear of failure.

Who knew my best teacher would be a four year old girl. And if you ever see her around cover your can of Monster, one whiff and it’s the end of life as we know it.

When I Grow Up

meMany years ago when I was in sixth form, I proclaimed that I was going to get a really good job, save up and then retire when I turned 40. I would spend the rest of my life on cruises, living in my mansion and tending to countless ponies. I now laugh at my naivety and youthful optimism. Good job I didn’t opt for a career in soothsaying, I think I’d get my crystal ball revoked.

Truth is I’ve just turned 39 and I have an awful lot to catch up on if I want this to happen. Really I need a miracle, or a lottery win, which in itself would be a miracle as I don’t play it.

Over twenty years have passed since I sat in that shabby common room full of arrogance and aspirations. I thought that when I left school the ‘grown up’ fairy would come and sprinkle some kind of magic dust over me, meaning I’d wake up all adult and know what I was doing ………I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and I feel no more adult now than I did when I was twelve. The last t-shirt I bought had pink unicorns on it and I own more pairs of cartoon pants than is really acceptable for a grown woman of my age.

I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want any old job, I didn’t want children ‘children make you old and poor’ I’d scoff. Well, at least I got one prediction right.

When I was young I was a pampered princess. I’m an only child and I had never been told no. I thought the world was going to be an opportunist place full of yes. It’s not. I applied for countless jobs and I got back countless rejections. This combined with a spot of unrequited love and a rising panic of having no idea what I was doing, and I broke down. My anxiety and depression got so bad, I barely left the house. When I did, the world would swirl around me and almost knock me off my feet, my chest would tighten and I thought I might die. During this time I started a degree at college. Not my best idea. My deep-set feelings of inadequacy paired with a massive fear of failure meant I lasted a year before walking out in the middle of a first year exam. I drifted from job to job. Mostly I‘d end up leaving for the same reasons, scared they’d figure out I was no good. Scared they’d realise I was only faking being a grown up. I worked in shops, banks, travel agencies, sex shops, call centres, offices, holiday camps…seventeen jobs in total. Some good, some bloody awful.

When David and I got together and bought a house, he had to deal with a lot of shit. He was pivotal in the return of my good mental health. Not that I still don’t struggle on occasions, but thanks to David I’m fully functioning and here, because I’m not sure I would be if it wasn’t for his help early on.

Approaching forty is making me feel old and a little inadequate. As John Lennon once said ‘Life is something that happens when you’re busy making other plans’ and I’m not sure how I’ve ended up here.

Don’t get me wrong. Life is pretty good now. Not anything like I expected.

My daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me and I am grateful to David that he begged to have a child, until I finally relented in my mid-thirties. I was scared to have a child, because it signifies being responsible for another person. A very adult thing indeed. I was scared that I’d be trapped. Another wise friend shouted at me ‘What are you going to do if you don’t have a child, run off to New York and become a Burlesque dancer?’ and although for a moment the sound of that attracted me no end. I realised I would be very happy staying here, raising a family.

I thought I’d grow up when I had a baby, but I didn’t. I’m going to be gutted when Harriet doesn’t want to go and see the Meerkats anymore and Horrible Histories is probably my very favourite T.V programme.

I’ve been working in a library for eight years now, quadruple anywhere I’ve worked before and although it would be easy to regret many decisions, I can’t regret a single one because they led me to where I am now. I have fabulous friends, a nice job, some great ‘when I worked at’ anecdotes, a wonderful husband and the best person in the whole wide world ever as my daughter. I’m happy with the idea that I’m not going to grow up. I’m not even going to try. I’m still going to demand birthday cake and parties, I’m going to put my hair in bunches and I’m going to join in when party dances are on. I’m going to stop pressuring myself to decide what I’m going to be when I grow up because, this is adulthood and it’s time I enjoyed it.

The Trip of a Lifetime….The Guilt Trip

tents

I’ve always been a pretty anxious person. I feel responsible for everyone and everything around me. Adding a child to that equation was only ever going to make this trait worse. Parenting is one massive guilt trip and it’s a ride you can’t stop and get off.

A friend once said to me ‘The thing you are least prepared for when you become a parent is the overwhelming wave of guilt’ and you know what? She is right.

Daily I am consumed with guilt. I cannot get it right. My brain is a big bully and it’s not relenting.

My daughter is happy and content, she literally sparkles with joy and enthusiasm. Before I start wallowing and doubting myself, I’ll say it now. I do a good job.

Everything I do makes me contradict myself. I work part time, within school hours. I attend the vast majority of school crap you have to go to, and I’m always there to pick Harriet up and drop her off. When I can’t attend an assembly or the mother’s day lunch, I feel I shouldn’t work at all, that I am not there showing support for my daughter, that I somehow must love her less, because I’ve not gone to eat shitty Shepherd’s pie with her on miniscule seats or I missed the dire rendition of ‘Cauliflowers fluffy’ in assembly. However when I receive my wage slip at the end of the month, I feel bad because I don’t earn more. I really need to contribute more to the household finances, why should that role lie squarely on my husband’s shoulders. Why aren’t I out there forging some sort of mythical career?

When I pick Harriet up from school and I take her dancing or I paint with her or we go to the park. It means I only have time to do a ‘quick tea’ you know something beige and oven-y. Then I fret I’m not feeding her properly. She’ll probably get scurvy or rickets from eating these waffles, she’s doomed to a life of high cholesterol because of that fish finger. I see dust building on the sideboard, I should be at home cleaning, and rats may take over soon. That thin sheen of dust is a slippery slope. On the other hand, If I go home and start a delicious meal of organic goodness from scratch, or Mr Sheen to within an inch of my life, the guilt creeps in because Harriet is there entranced by Cbeebies whilst I heartlessly ignore her. She’ll think that Rebecca woman is her mum!

I try and try to be the perfect mother, when of course there is no such thing. I spread myself so thinly that I’m turning into some cheap margarine.

Twice weekly I go to dance lessons. I love dancing and it makes me happy, but this couple of hours a week makes me want to explain myself to people. ‘It’s not that I don’t love my child, I just want a couple of hours to myself’ and of course I do, everyone does! The internal dialogues I’ve had with myself about this is ridiculous. I am allowed a life. I just don’t feel like I deserve it.

The guilt that you give birth to about nine months before your child arrives seems to last with you through everything, and is sometimes just enough to stop you getting a good night’s sleep. My brain likes to nudge me awake in the wee hours, just to remind me of a time I could have said or done something differently.

One thing that is great about motherhood. Is that you meet other mums you can use as a sounding board. When my guilt was giving me a thrashing for going away overnight, I knew exactly who to message to fight that guilt away and talk me into going. Thank you those people, you are ace. I had a great time.

 

No one else is judging me as harshly as I am. In fact I’m not looking at other parents and questioning the way they do it. Do I raise my eyebrow when I see a toddler supping a can of Fanta? Yes! But I’m not about to call social services on the woman.

I don’t need to give other mothers a break. I need to give myself a break. Now I’d better stop writing as my guilt is bubbling and I need to pay more attention to my child.

Welcome to the Sticky World of Soft Play

ball pool

I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to soft play areas. I know exactly where this aversion comes from. It’s the kind of thing that sticks in your mind. About twenty years ago I worked for Haven Holidays. Soft play was still pretty unheard of, but being a campsite that primarily caters for kids, they had a shiny new one installed. Unfortunately it didn’t stay shiny and new for long. One drizzly morning, a toddler waded into the pristine ball pool, took off their nappy and did a crafty poo. Unbeknown to anyone they waddled their way back to their parents and the pool was left, still looking perfect without any sign of what lurked beneath. Ten minutes later the ugly truth was revealed when a girl in her summer finery leapt with pure reckless abandon into the cesspit in disguise. A hefty dry cleaning bill and lots of calming frenzied parents later, the ball pool was cleaned and sanitised by hand (not by me I’m glad to say) but the image of my gagging colleague cleaning those filthy spheres has always stuck with me.

When I became pregnant I naively declared I would not be taking my child to any soft play area, no way. Dirty, sticky places full of germs and jam and snot. There were plenty of other ways to entertain a child. They didn’t exist in my day and I had no intentions of entering one now. Of course I was a fool, because you quickly realise that in this day and age soft play is an unavoidable evil. New mum friends start to suggest you meet for coffee in these inanely named brightly coloured crack houses for kids, ‘Hey Lets meet at Jungle Chimps at ten,’ and you do. Baby groups meet up there, Jo Jingles, Moo Music, Bongo Bongo and the like. After the session you can play for free and you do. It’s a squishy trap set up from the word go.

The places sell sugar and colour laden food. Blue slushies (blue, blue, I tell Ya!), Lollies, sweeties, massive milkshakes and candyfloss. They play Euro pop, or worse, discoed up kids tv theme tunes. They are decorated in eye stingingly, headache inducing primary and day glo colours. Slightly cross eyed Disney princesses stare at you from the walls, something about the way they look looks like they’re begging to leave too. Add into the mix 50+ under 6’s, super exited at the prospect of being able to jump and climb and bounce and they get whipped into an absolute frenzy. The result is pure madness. Banshees the lot of them wailing and whooping, expelling their E numbers as fast as they can consume them. Whoever invented this concept was an evil genius. Whoever decided to cram them full of pay extra games and air hockey and rides and those stupid impenetrable ball present things are even eviler geniusues (geniui, geniuen???). Because your child will always want to go on the stuff that’s not in with the price.

Like every parent I am now a bit of a soft play connoisseur. I can relay the different types of establishment you will come across. I can tell you which toilets definitely require shoes being put back on and where the hot dogs may cause your child to have the shits. I really should write some kind of soft play Michelin guide. Here is my synopsis:

Establishment A. The half arsed attempt.

Normally found at petting zoos or in old closed down pubs. Ripped sticky apparatus, suspicious stains and a carpet that is so embedded in biscuit crumbs that it looks like the base to some kind of sinister cheesecake. These are last resort kind of places like when it starts raining when you’re feeding the goats at shitty kids farm or when you’re still watching Cbeebies in the afternoon and it’s starting to repeat itself and you may just have to hunt Mister Tumble down and throttle him with his stupid bow tie if you don’t get out the house.

They serve awful food like those plastic cheese squares on toast and the staff look like they want to disappear into the biscuit crumb base that is the floor and cease to be. Your child may present you with a random plaster they found near the monkey bars or become friends with a child who looks like they want to hurt you. You don’t hang around in these places. As soon as it dries up or you know Pointless is coming on the telly you’re outta there.

 

Establishment B. The Ivy equivalent.

Super high tech, super clean and super massive. These places are in aircraft hangers. There’s a high probability you won’t see your child again until they hit puberty (and then they can be found in the ‘gaming’ section). If you stay still for too long you will be vacuumed up and you can tell the staff are ‘professionals’ oh yes, they have their level two childcare and embroided shirts. The problem with these centres are that the frapamochachino costs £8 and the brie and tomato bagel is going to require a short term loan. Sometimes there is a waiting list to get in and you have to reserve tables. Grown-ups have to pay too and the ‘look I’m only going to sit there and use your Wi-Fi’ argument won’t cut it.

I’m not joking it is like getting in to the bloody Ivy. They’ll be introducing a black sock only dress code soon.

 

 

 

Establishment C. Your bog standard party – rama screechathon.

This one isn’t too pricey and it’s spotless. The food is good and you don’t need to fit your child with a tracking device to find them. However the Goldilocks effect of this place means it is the ideal place to host a child’s party. Take the afore mentioned e-numbers, music and bright colours and multiply it with the excitement of a birthday and you have a riot on your hands. These places should come with ear defenders and there will definitely be tears before bedtime. They will probably be yours.

This takes me to another thing. Soft play parties. When you child starts school and has to invite the entire bleedin’ class to their party, soft play centres become a go to place. They provide food, they clean up, you don’t have to do anything yourself. Lazy but perfect.

It does mean when you attend these parties that you have to make polite conversation with the other parents having to contend with the spongey hades. There’s nothing wrong with the parents of other children, but two hour polite conversation can become terribly tedious. You end up discussing your child’s shoe size, the inclement weather and the contentious issue of world book day costumes. Soft play should serve adults gin, at least that way we’d make friends as quickly as the kids do and the singing of ‘Happy birthday dear neerr nerr’ (because who can seriously remember these kids names) would be sang with much more gusto.

I can sort of see the light at the end of the soft play tunnel now. My daughter no longer drags me along the icky sticky maze and I’m allowed to sit down and bankrupt myself by purchasing a coffee and cake. I’m hoping a couple more years and I’ll never have to go to one again. The initial memory never fades after all.

 

The Car of the Parent.

Back in the 90’s I drove really cool cars. My first car, an original Austin Mini was brilliant. I couldn’t take it out when it rained, as the first puddle would make it splutter and cut out. If it was too sunny the poor chap would overheat and emit a plume of steam. I could basically only drive it on pretty fine days…not too hot, not too cold. I loved it. The boot fitted a bag the size worthy of Ryanair hand luggage and the back seats? Ha ha ha! What back seats?!….back seats didn’t matter. In the words of the Supergrass song playing on my stereo ‘We are young, we run free’. In those days, cars signified freedom and joy. Two more Mini’s followed, then a series of nippy two doors, with sun roofs, tiny boots and immaculate upholstery.

Then I became pregnant.

Before we had bought a vest, a cot, or a cuddly toy, I was down at the local car supermarket looking for a more ‘suitable’ vehicle. There I was in my mid-thirties, buying my first sensible car. A five door, with a hatchback and a boot I could wrestle a pram into, something that was Iso-fix friendly, cheap to run and safe. Good God it was boring.

Cars when you have a child become something very different. No longer are they a joyous symbol of freedom and disposable income, but a drab taxi built for ferrying your most important person around.

When your child is a baby, the car gets thrown up on, shat in and covered in snot…basically bodily fluids stain the back of your car, impregnating the upholstery with suspicious smells that will linger as long as the vehicle is with you… (‘Remember that trip to the seaside in 2014 dear?’ ‘Of course I do, I can still smell the candyfloss infused vomit’).

We are scarred with the memories of that stage where children learn to straighten themselves with titanium strength so you can’t get them in the car seat. Stiff as a board, wailing at the horror of the three-point harness. We all quickly learn how to do the parental karate chop to get the buggers to bend in half. Last week I passed a mum losing her shit at a screaming toddler that was doing just this ‘Just sit in your bloody seat!!!!’ she yelled desperately. Before Harriet I’d have tutted and shook my head at this outburst. Now I give a small smile and a nod of solidarity. We’ve all been there lady and I feel your pain.

Then there’s the trippy ‘I spy’ stage. Many a long car journey playing a game only the tiny dictator in the back understands. ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with blue’ after a good while naming blue things to an increasingly irate daughter she’d shout superiorly ‘It’s umbrella’ (no umbrella’s around) eh?? How do you win??

My Daughter is now four and at school. I see a long line of drab parent’s taxi’s lined up on the streets. All five door, big booted monstrosities. All spilling empty cartons and stray shoes when the back door opens. No one wants these cars, we need them. I bet Kia are pissing themselves at us.

My car is now akin to a skip. The boot is full of sand and soil, from scooters and buckets and spades that have nowhere else to live, as our garage is equally full of kiddy crap. Random socks and odd mittens carpet the floor, intermingled with bows, bobbles and sparkly clips making it look like a fairy threw up in there. There are enough sticks to start a decent sized campfire and patches of brown goo that I can only assume were once food stick to the door handle and seatbelts.

My car is gross. I don’t want to be in it. Lifts are offered with a tetanus shot and a written apology on what the passenger may catch.

My Supergrass CD has long been replaced with the Moana soundtrack, and even when Harriet is safely in school I can be seen driving with the window down blasting out ‘You’re welcome’ singing merrily along. I feel super cool, onlookers seem to disagree.

I’m about ready for a new car. I’m sure mine will sell really quickly with all its dents from doors being flung open in reckless abandon and funky stale banana smell. I keep checking auto trader drooling over shiny red roadsters and speedy super minis. At what age is it appropriate to have children scramble into the back and whine about limited leg room?