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:
- Ask what’s for pudding
- Get told off for eating with their fingers
- Argue about which of them was speaking while the other one interrupted
- 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
- Get told off for talking with their mouth full
- 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’
- Get told off for eating with their fingers
- 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
- 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!’