Motherhood – The Dream vs The Reality

Before I had kids, I would occasionally think about what motherhood would be like. In my daydreams I would be happily sitting on the bed reading to the children, or gently stroking their hair until they fell asleep. Or we might be tickling and play-fighting. Either way, I would generally be being wholesome and maternal in some amazing way.

Then they were born, and the reality proved somewhat different. Don’t get me wrong, I did do all the things I had imagined, it’s just that they were done in a slightly less ‘glowing’ way.

I read to my girls every night but rather than it being a peaceful, almost magical event, it was more an exercise in restraint. If we were lucky, we would pause just thirty or forty times while they finished their under-the-duvet kicking fight, or got over their snorting hysterics (caused by my telling them that the little girl in The Enchanted Wood was called ‘Fannie’), or while they demanded to know who farted. Sherlock Holmes would have been horrified by the methods employed to solve that particular mystery.

I also stroked their hair while they fell asleep. I just didn’t know I’d be trapped in the room for several hours afterwards, unable to sneak out because they always woke up just as I’d got one foot out of the door. Cursing myself for not having my phone on me, I had two choices: I could try to count the decorative stars that we’d lovingly stuck to the ceiling (and which scared them senseless for some unfathomable reason, but try as we might, we couldn’t get the bloody things off), or I could stare into space and think of wine.

I would eventually wake up at around 2am, nose flat against the cold wall, covered with nothing but the surrounding air because my daughter had apparently morphed into a six-foot starfish, requiring the entire duvet to keep her warm.

On the rare occasions that I did make it downstairs and maybe even switched on the TV, I had less than ten minutes before one of them called out that they were thirsty/hungry/feeling sick/scared of whatever tv programme or book they were laughing at two hours previously.

Supernanny would have urged me to gently lead them back to bed without saying a single word. I quickly learned that after you’ve heaved an angry, determined child back to bed for the seventy-fifth time, a word will be spoken. Several, in fact. They will be words describing the heinous consequences that the child will experience if they so much as poke one toe out of the duvet for the rest of the night.

I lived out the play-fighting and the tickling dream too, which was a lot of fun until they try to tickle you back and you realise how incredible it is that such tiny hands can inflict such pain. But they get hugely offended if you say ‘ow’, so you suddenly develop acting abilities that hitherto only the likes of Meryl Streep could claim to have. In other words, you laugh hysterically while they jab you repeatedly and agonisingly in the ribs. Still, it’s all great practice for when you attend your first school recorder performance. Your ears may be bleeding but Oscars could be awarded for the expression of delight on your face.

As for eating, don’t get me started. As they get older, dinner time is supposed to be the focal point of the evening, where the entire family gathers round to break bread and warmly share stories about the day, bonding further as mutual laughter pulls us closer together.

The reality is that the kids will finally settle at the table on the fourth attempt, having been sent back to wash their hands, get rid of the slime they’ve made that always seems to be surgically attached to their hands, change out of their uniform, and to do something with the contents of their nose ‘and no I DON’T mean wipe it on your clothes’. Once at the table (did I say table? I meant trough), the pattern is always the same. They will:

  1. Ask what’s for pudding
  2. Get told off for eating with their fingers
  3. Argue about which of them was speaking while the other one interrupted
  4. Moan that they don’t like whichever vegetable they’ve been given that they had enthused about the day before. If you question it, they will say it was the other child that had liked it
  5. Get told off for talking with their mouth full
  6. Tell you about their day. By which I mean tell you they did English and Maths and had fish fingers for lunch. If pressed, they will elaborate further by telling you they did ‘stuff’
  7. Get told off for eating with their fingers
  8. Begin a long and rambling story about a terrible argument they had with another child at school, and just at the point where you’re starting to think they are either being bullied or being the bully, they announce they are now best friends, complete with special nicknames and handshakes
  9. Get told off for eating with their fingers and talking with their mouth full whilst asking what’s for pudding

So, bedtimes, play times and meal times have all been challenging in their own special ways, but nothing will ever beat tidying up as a sure-fire way to send you to an early grave.

I start off by giving gentle, but frequent reminders that bedrooms need to be kept tidy and their things need to be put away. Once the debris has reached crisis point, I give them an hour on Saturday morning to get their rooms straight. When I go up after two hours, they are either standing in a sea of crap, still vaguely waving around the first thing they picked up, or else they are deeply engrossed in a game involving a toy that had been missing for weeks but was today discovered under the bed, wedged between an old banana skin and a rock-hard piece of toast.

Warnings are then issued. At which point they assure me that they had simply ‘forgotten’ they had to tidy, and I am overreacting. They are given another hour. And on it goes, until it’s Sunday afternoon and the end of my tether has not only been reached, it’s been overtaken by several miles.

In my pre-motherhood scenarios, I suppose I thought tidying up would resemble that scene in Mary Poppins. Maybe minus the magic, but we would sing and laugh and have such fun that the little darlings wouldn’t even realise they were working. Not once did I picture storming into my child’s room, threatening to burn it to the ground. Or walking from surface to surface, sweeping piles of belongings into black bags to the wailing tune of ‘Mummy, NO!’ And yet here we are.

Despite all of this and even though I’ve recently discovered my first grey EYEBROW hair, the blame for which I’m placing firmly at my kids’ doorstep, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t miss a single minute of it. And I can equally as confidently say, ‘Bring on Bedtime!’

End of Term

A few weeks before the end of term we had a shoe-related incident. We were in the supermarket when a short summer storm hit heavily. After we’d done our shopping and waded through the small lake that was once the car park, we were soaked. Since the sun was out again by the time we got home, I cleverly put all our shoes out on the doorstep to dry. Less cleverly, I immediately forgot we even owned shoes and left them out there all night long.

The next morning after 10 minutes of shouting at the kids about why in the sodding hell do they never put anything away and where were their shoes THIS time, my memory returned, and I looked outside to see their school shoes in pieces across the lawn, courtesy of the neighbourhood foxes. My sandals on the other hand were perfectly intact, still side-by-side on the doorstep, apparently deemed not good enough to eat.  I was mildly offended. And forced to send the kids in wearing trainers.

After this, I began counting down to the end of term and to the beacon of light and hope (and sleep) that is the summer holidays.  Well, to be honest I began the countdown on day one of the summer term, but we had now got to the last few weeks, that long and drawn-out time when nobody wants to be there, least of all the poor teachers.  When the parents are worn out from a year’s worth of ironing all the ultimate non-iron shirts, searching for anything resembling a lid for the water bottle you only bought last week but is already decorating the school grounds, fishing rotten fruit out of school bags because apparently it was only in there in order to have a short holiday from the fruit bowl for a few weeks, supervising homework and inwardly raging because somehow Maths has changed and ok, you used to be pretty rubbish at it but now even your 8 year old understands more than you.  Since when does Maths contain ‘sentences’ and wtf is a number line anyway?

Not to mention the day you had to somehow fashion an authentic laurel wreath out of a packet of basil and some dental floss because you only found out about Roman Day the night before, or when it was 8am and you were frantically spraying Febreze on the contents of the laundry basket because you’d just been told it’s pyjama day and everything was caked in filth.  And despite what they said, wearing their fur-lined, long-sleeved onesie in 26 degree heat was not ‘problem solved’.

Then there is the bi-weekly ‘hunt the jumper’ game we all take part in.  The rules are that you have to brave all the lost property bins around the school, knowing you’ll never quite recover from the devil’s stench that is a term’s worth of sweaty P.E. kits at the bottom of a giant, airless bucket.  Following that, you tear the school apart brick by brick and eventually find the offending item screwed up at the bottom of their school bag and curse first yourself, then them, for believing it when they said it definitely wasn’t there.

And of course, there’s sports day which is basically centred around three things you have to ignore;

  1. the blistering heat.
  2. the look of thunder on your child’s face when you cheer their name and therefore reveal yourself to be related to them.
  3. the teacher’s eye so they don’t mistakenly think you are willing (let alone able) to take part in the parents’ race.

After a year of all that and more, everyone has reached the same stage of exhaustion. It becomes normal procedure to greet other parents in the playground by smiling in a tense kind of way and saying jovially but with a hidden desperation ‘only 3 more weeks to go!’ People are so fed up that they can’t even be bothered to make up a decent lie as to why they’re signing their kids in late.  Everyone knows you’re supposed to write ‘traffic’ in the late book.  Even if you walk to school.  But as soon as July hits you start seeing the odd ‘alarm didn’t go off’ creeping in, and by the last fortnight all pretence has gone out of the window to be replaced with ‘wouldn’t get out of bed’.

And just when sibling violence levels have reached Def Con One and you’re halfway through researching good but distant boarding schools, it’s here! The last day of term! And for me, even though it couldn’t have come soon enough I still managed to sob my heart out during my eldest daughter’s last ever primary school assembly despite promising her I wouldn’t.

So the holidays are upon us at last, and I spent a blissful few days basking in the joy of not having to cajole/threaten/lever anyone out of bed and trying not to faint at signs of actual friendship between my girls. I started planning fun yet educational days out for us all, and even thought for a few precious moments that they might be a success. Basically, I began to relax. This lasted 7 days.

After that, with a renewed energy that we all know follows a week off, the arguing recommenced.  At breakfast, elder child kicked younger child because apparently younger punched her first, at which point younger piped up with ‘I didn’t!  I only tried to,’ and then couldn’t understand why she wasn’t off the hook. By lunchtime, the crime in question was ‘she was in my room’ and the punishment was severe. By teatime one of them had apparently looked at the other one for too long, which had nearly caused a fatal accident and I was berating myself for declaring weekdays ‘electronics-free time’.  What on earth was I thinking?  So I got the calendar out and am now counting down the days until school starts. Some people are never satisfied.

But if I can’t have September yet, then at least Bring on Bedtime!

Shopping

A few years ago, my youngest went through a stage of pretending to be a dog. I thought it was sweet at first. I humoured her, pretending her dinner was dog food, asking to shake her ‘paw’ etc. Then it came back to bite me on the arse when we were in the middle of the shopping centre and she insisted on crawling in and out of shops on all fours and barking. I had to shout ‘WALK ON YOUR HIND LEGS’ just to get her to stand up. Unsurprisingly we got a few odd looks, and I was tempted to claim that actually this was all perfectly normal because we were raising her not so much without gender, as without species.

This is not the first time my children have embarrassed me whilst shopping. There was the time that my then toddler was in her pushchair and wanted out. She was struggling with the straps, and then grabbed hold of a passer-by’s arm and pleaded ‘help me lady, please help, I need to go home’, making me look at best heartless and at worst, a kidnapper.

Fast forward a few years and the same child saw a woman across the Tesco car park who looked a bit like me. She made an instant bee-line for this complete stranger calling out to her ‘you’re my mummy, wait for me mummy!’ Wtf? It turned out she’d recently seen the film Tangled and so naturally assumed that I was an evil witch who had stolen her as a baby but that she’d finally spotted the real deal. I’m sure it happens to everyone.

However, they’re a bit older now and I can tell you that shopping has finally become an easier experience. If easy means soul-destroying. Food shopping is by far the worst. Within seconds of arrival at the supermarket, World War Three becomes an alarming possibility as the kids fight it out over the trolley. There’s no point in me suggesting they both push it, because that just means watching them turn purple with the effort of inflicting as much damage as possible using only their elbows. I could tell them to take it in turns, but then I’d have to walk round the entire supermarket counting to 60 on a loop and forgetting what I came in for just so that they have equal trolley time.

It’s therefore a given that after a few hissed threats, I will step in and say ‘I’M pushing it’. That doesn’t work either though, because as soon as I turn my back to pick up the first item, one of them will decide that carrying food is merely a trolley’s secondary use, and it can be much better employed as a giant roller skate. I always hear the crash before I see it.

And what visit to the supermarket is complete without Finger Russian Roulette? Will they get it stuck in one of the airholes in some plastic packaging and rip the entire thing open in an attempt to break free? Plunge it into a random piece of fruit? Poke their sibling in the eye? The possibilities are endless.

At some point, usually when I’ve just finished ordering one of them to get out from behind the loo rolls because a) she’ll break the shelf and b) I will kill her, I spot the Best Mother In The World. She is walking beside her three immaculate and perfectly behaved children, teaching them about food groups whilst simultaneously getting them to practise Maths by working out the total cost of 3 packets of quinoa. My kids on the other hand will be smeared in the remains of the Nobbly Bobbly ice cream I had to bribe them with and arguing over who can stick their finger furthest up their nose without making it bleed. ‘Never mind’ I tell myself through gritted teeth, my kids have spirit, personality, they will forge their own paths, be individuals etc. etc. The fact that the aforementioned spirit is currently making my ears bleed, is neither here nor there.

By the time we actually make it to the tills, I don’t even care that they’ve disappeared into the photo booth and will only come out on the 28th request, because I’m too preoccupied thinking about the sweet release of death.

Once home, I resolve to only do online shopping from now on. Then when one of them gets the urge to ask in ringing tones why that man is wearing a dress, or whether I’ve just farted, we’ll be in the comfort of our own home. But then I remember that the last time I did that, I forgot to complete the order and Mr Tesco showed up with just a bag of apples and charged me a fiver for the privilege.

At least I can take solace in the fact that these experiences are precisely why wine was invented.

And in the meantime, Bring on Bedtime!

Swimming Lessons

Tuesdays are a black mark in the weekly calendar as far as I’m concerned.  Tuesday is Swimming Day.

I always thought that teaching children to swim would be a bit like a montage in a film.  I pictured scenes of laughter and splashing, gentle encouragement when the child falters, and finally, with the Chariots of Fire theme tune playing stirringly in the background, huge celebrations and air-punching when she finally manages her first width.  Job done.

The reality is somewhat different.  I realised that of course I can’t teach my kids to swim.  For a start I can only do breast stroke.  I have also carefully cultivated my own unique style involving my head and face remaining out of the water at all times. Works for me, but apparently they teach them differently these days.

We therefore signed them up for group lessons at the local pool.  The companies that run these lessons actually have two main areas of expertise.  1. Teaching kids to swim. 2. Making the process last until the child is 35 years old or your bank account is empty, whichever comes first.

So every Tuesday we all troop into the changing rooms with the usual sense of dread.  I have become proficient in the art of hopelessly digging around for the locker change I carefully took out of my purse earlier, whilst calling out ‘What are you DOING in there?’, ‘Unless you’re actually throwing up, you’re getting in that pool’ and my personal favourite ‘Yes I will make you go in naked.  Look for it again’.

Then it’s lesson time and I get to sit and relax in my jeans and jumper in the subtropical climate of the spectator area.  During the lesson my time can be broken down as follows:  3% watching actual swimming, 7% entertaining my older daughter whose lesson doesn’t start for another half an hour, 10% waving and nodding encouragingly at my younger daughter in the pool, and 80% trying to find a suitable mime for ‘For God’s sake pay attention to the bloody teacher will you?’

When the lessons are over, it’s time for them to get dry and dressed. Or rather, wave a towel about in the air in front of their body, then pull a dry school dress up a wet body inch by painful inch, until they are bright red in the face and don’t even have the strength to tell me I’m the worst mother in the world because I won’t let them have anything from the vending machine.

Finally, with or without knickers, we all make our way back to the car.  But I have to remember that one day it will all be worth it.  One day they will be accomplished swimmers.  One day, I will be able to take them ‘fun swimming’ and actually get to sit in the café with the other grown-ups, while they spend 90 minutes pushing each other in.  Which of course is the whole point.