Self Isolating – Days 7 and 8

As the week has gone on, it’s been harder and harder to get the kids up in the mornings. They are understandably exhausted from their long days of sitting, eating, arguing and avoiding things.

My husband has started to bring the puppy in to say good morning, which wakes them up really quickly and which everybody loves, including the dog. Except for yesterday morning, when my husband was holding him and he turned his body at just the wrong moment. The result was that my youngest daughter yawned sleepily, opened her eyes and found herself staring not at a warm and furry face, but at the business end of a black Labrador. To be fair, what she saw was furry. And probably warm. It’s just that the dangling was a mild surprise, and there were a few less teeth.

Rude awakenings aside, the kids are finding new ways to keep themselves busy. My teenager has created a YouTube channel aimed at helping kids stay healthy during a lock-down. This is of course a wonderful idea, although I do have to take issue with a few things:

1) she is piously telling the world to eat healthily to boost the immune system, even though she took 45 minutes to eat her chicken casserole the night before, because she first had to pick out all the vegetables.

2) she is extolling the virtues of fresh air and exercise, when the closest she’s come to either of those things in a week is standing in the doorway last night clapping all the front-line workers.

3) thanks to autocorrect, she is now instructing everyone in times of heightened anxiety, to ‘breathe in slowly and deadly’.

Still at least it whiled away a few hours for her, and freed me up to help my youngest with her education. We watched a video on the internet on how sequencing works in Maths. It was such a helpful video because by the end of it, we both realised that neither of us will ever understand how sequencing works in Maths and are now free to find something else to do.

So I taught her how to write ‘boobs’ on the calculator. Their minds are like sponges you know.

Bring on Bedtime!

Self-Isolating Days 5 and 6

We are getting into the swing of things now. During the day, the kids are stoically working their way through their online schoolwork, cleverly breaking the heavy load down into manageable 15 second chunks.

That way, they can still fit in their truly compulsory tasks of asking for food every two minutes, wondering what the time is, and writing today’s list of all the things that are unfair. I then mark them on their spelling and punctuation, insisting that when declaring how much I suck, exclamation marks must be used.

Maths is also going really well. They are now able to use percentages very effectively as a means of grading how mean I am being on any given day.

So far my most heinous daily crimes appear to be asking them to get up, asking them to wash, and offering them fruit as snacks, which is apparently tantamount to forcing them eat gruel.

In desperation, I printed out a load of recipes and internet advice from child experts on how to sneak fruit and veg into their diet so they ‘won’t even know it’s there’. It turns out they do know. They know instantly and loudly. So I am trialling a new system of telling them that if they don’t eat it, they won’t be allowed screen-time later on. So far I have a 100% success rate and the printed recipes are now in the toilet roll cupboard for when the panic-buyers force us into a needs-must situation.

Speaking of which, one of the things we are doing in the midst of all the madness, is trying to toilet train our puppy. He’s pretty much got it now, but at 11pm we need him to do his thing so that he doesn’t wake us up at 3am.

The trouble is he’s very sleepy at that time and doesn’t want to go despite constant cajoling, bribes of treats, trying to make a game of it, you name it. It was when I walked in to find my husband calmly explaining to him how important it was for him to help us out with this, we were all doing our bit for the family and this was his opportunity to take one for the team, that I realised the cracks were beginning to show.

Thankfully, we found the answer a couple of nights ago. All we have to do is stand in the garden in the dark and freezing cold, pointing our phone torches at ourselves, and MIME doing a poo for him. Hey presto! Instant results. And yes I do mean the dog.

The fact that my husband chooses to add sound effects to his amateur dramatics is something that I’m trying very hard not to think about. That, and how we are going to explain this to the neighbours.

All I can say is Bring on Bedtime!

Self Isolating – Days 3 and 4

Over the weekend my daughter managed to trip over some nearby air, fall onto her shoulder and whack her head on the hard ground. I moved towards her on full Mummy alert, ready with cuddles and soothing words. 

I had entirely forgotten that ever since she was a toddler, her standard injury procedure has been to run. More accurately, sprint. As far away as possible in as short as possible a time, preferably with arms flailing and screaming loud enough for even the kindest neighbour to consider picking up the phone to call social services. 

However, being stuck at home made this latest attack on Usain Bolt’s record somewhat trickier for her, so she was forced to settle for running round in circles in a small room (I should add that no similar adjustment was made to the noise levels). 

Unfortunately our 12 week old puppy immediately deemed this to be the Best Game Ever. I spent the next ten minutes frantically trying to grab an over-excited Labrador who had succeeded in morphing into what I can only describe as a buttered snake, whilst attempting to simultaneously offer calm and nurse-like reassurances to the wild bull masquerading as my child.

Exhaustion finally kicked in, at least for the humans involved, and we were able to proceed to injury stage 2, consisting of clutching the afflicted area whilst bravely agreeing that yes, chocolate might help. 

In fairness to her, she actually still can’t raise her arm past shoulder level without a lot of pain. Although if they offered qualifications in milking it, we’d be proudly cheering her on as she accepted her postgraduate certificate. 

Three times I had to remind her that she didn’t need help to brush her teeth, straighten her duvet or bring her plate out to the kitchen because thanks to the wonder of nature, she HAS ANOTHER ARM. 

At least we had Mothers’ Day to make things special for a while. Important pronouncements were made at the start of the day to inform me that for the entire day, there would be absolutely no sibling arguing so that I could have ‘a day off’ from dealing with it. 

This immediately led to an argument about which one of them normally causes me the most amount of stress, which I resolved in the traditional manner of a) assuring them it was both equally and b) threatening to go and have Mothers’ Day somewhere on my own. 

Luckily (and disturbingly) it didn’t occur to either of them that this would have been impossible and we were able to start again. 

They were both very sweet and gave me some very thoughtful gifts. My teenager sewed me a special ‘stress worm’ made out of a sock. She said I should squeeze it whenever I feel things are getting too much. It’s been 24 hours and I think I’m wearing a hole in it. 

They made beautiful cards and wrote me poems and songs and I felt extremely lucky. And that’s despite the description that I was ‘a diamond in the rough’ and my personal favourite, ‘prettier than a sheep’. My husband said comfortingly that maybe she thinks sheep are really attractive. This is now on my worry list. That, and the fact that he asked me at 10:30am if I wanted a glass of wine.

Naturally I was horrified, said no immediately and vehemently. And then went to get the gin. 

Bring on Bedtime!

Self Isolating – Day 2

Day 2 was spent deepening my already pretty deep respect for teachers. Although to be fair I’m pretty sure that most teachers when showing a 10 year old how to round to one decimal place, are not having to first wait for the dog to finish licking their student’s foot.

I used the waiting time to check on my 13 year old. I approached her room with a certain amount of trepidation. This was validated when I found her attending her online French lesson from underneath her desk, where she had constructed a shelter for the sodding cat, complete with half her carefully-ironed-by-me wardrobe as ‘bedding’.

She had also taken his food and water bowls. The fact that I had spent 35 minutes the previous evening looking for them (convinced I had put them out earlier in the day), and trying my best not to add ‘early-onset dementia’ to my ever-increasing fear list, was apparently of no consequence to her.

Meanwhile my husband was working very hard from home in what is, essentially, the cupboard under the stairs. He says he’s like Harry Potter but without the scar. In the interests of realism though, the scar could be arranged.

At lunchtime they were happily if not quietly entertaining themselves by making ‘L’ for ‘Loser’ signs out of their sandwich crusts and holding them up to their foreheads whenever the other one supposedly said something mean, which was approximately every tenth of a second. I asked if they behaved like this at school and they looked at me in horror and said of course not, but it was different at home because I didn’t count. So I spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the warmth of my children’s obvious love and respect for me.

Finally, just before bed, my youngest cheerfully suggested a trip to the cinema this weekend. After being reminded of the facts, she got upset and declared Coronavirus to be ‘a big chubby bum hole with poo in it’. At least, I think she meant the virus – my husband had just walked past, and if the cap fits…

Bring on Bedtime!

Self Isolating – Day 1

So while we are all living through this nightmare, I’m going to try to pull out the funny in our day-to-day existence, in case it might help someone to smile for 5 seconds which is better than no smile at all, right?

I would like to preface this by saying I do not take this situation lightly in any way. Like the rest of the world, I have very close family members in the at-risk group, and I’m in that group myself. I know it’s serious, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need to laugh as well.

DAY 1 FROM HOME

In the morning, I decided I would put my own accelerating terror to one side and try to explain to the kids what life is going to be like over the next few months and how we can deal with it in the best way. The conversation had gone exceptionally well in my head, and had ended in a group hug and cries of ‘all we need is each other!’

In reality, there was less ‘warm glow of solidarity’ and more ‘raging fire of teenage hormones’. As soon as I got to the part about all helping each other to get things done around the house, my 13 year old entered into Level 3 meltdown without even the courtesy of a red flashing warning light in her eyes. After she had shouted that I must be so happy now because all I had ever wanted was to turn her into my own personal slave, she declared her intention of leaving home.

When the impossibility of this was mildly pointed out, she announced she was going to live in the garden. So I gave her some poo bags and thanked her for offering to clear up after the dog.

By lunchtime, if one of them was breathing too loudly or entering into some other equally criminal behaviour, the other would threaten to cough on their food. A pretty watery threat in my opinion, given the fact that they have both demonstrated Swiss-cheese like abilities to remember ANY hygiene rules in the last couple of weeks.

I spent the rest of the day multi-tasking. By which I mean reading the news, alternating between panic and optimism, diffusing child-related bombs whilst wondering with swear words whether patience is actually that much of a virtue, and maybe doing a bit of work with the remaining minutes.

At 6pm, I absentmindedly called out to ask if they would both like Coronavirus for tea. Nobody seemed keen.

So a pretty average day. Let’s see what day 2 brings and as always, Bring on Bedtime!

Talking is Overrated

When your children are born, you can’t wait to hear them speak.  You hang on every sound they make, from that little gulping breath when they’re drinking their milk, to the squeals of laughter when you pull a funny face (try that with a teenager by the way, it’s even more fun, but in a very different ‘you must have a death wish’ kind of way).  You wonder which one of their babbling noises will turn into a proper word.  And then finally their first word is out!  And then their second, then their twentieth.  And it’s at around that point, that you realise they are never ever going to shut up.  Ever.

It’s all really cute when they’re still in the ‘pointing at random objects and naming them in a surprised tone of voice’ phase.  But the minute they learn how to ask a question, you are basically doomed.  Nobody tells you that the ‘but why?’ questions kick in way earlier than you were led to believe.  They also don’t tell you that you will spend the next two years of your life attempting to explain the meaning of all things that have ever existed, to a tiny, relentless and often angry philosopher, whose bum you also have to wipe.

Of course, there is an end in sight.  Although don’t be fooled into thinking that once they stop with all the questioning, life will be simpler.  Because next, you have to navigate through the stormy waters of ‘public announcements at full volume’.  Just off the top of my head, my kids have done the following:

  • Informed me loudly and urgently about the presence of ninjas in the restaurant (it was three ladies wearing burqas)
  • Helpfully pointed out in the supermarket queue that I have a bum on my chest (my cleavage)
  • Asked me in the very quiet doctor’s waiting room what do I think the Queen calls her vagina? And then entirely by themselves, reached the conclusion that ‘she’s posh, so she probably calls it her front-bottom’.

And these are just the ones I haven’t blocked from my memory. 

Eventually though, their days at school help to channel all that energy and all the thoughts and ideas churning around their little minds are put to better use.  And that’s when you get to sit through all the ‘plays’.

‘Great news!’ they say enthusiastically ‘we’re going to do a play for you!’.  ‘Wonderful!’ you lie, as you watch the day you thought you were going to have, getting its coat on and saying it’s goodbyes.  It’s a trade-off really, because while the kids are off writing, rehearsing and arguing over their magnum opus, you get an hour’s peace in which to drink wine.  But the flip-side is that eventually, they will be ready for the performance to begin.  For the first time.  It will, of course, be restarted at least thirty times, whenever one of them decides that the other one has said something wrong, done something wrong, looked the wrong way, or simply existed wrongly.

The last play we were treated to, was a nativity.  The cat narrowly escaped a role as the donkey, ‘Mary’ arrived at the inn and confidently said ‘I’ll have my starter first, then my main course please’ and it all ended in a harrowing graphic display of childbirth when Mary gave birth to what turned out to be a football.  Naturally and predictably, it all dissolved into tears and violence after Joseph kicked ‘Jesus’ across the room and declared a goal.

Still, it’s worth knowing that all this talking stuff is fairly survivable as long as you follow these golden rules:

  1. Don’t let them stay the night in your bed.  The very first time I allowed this with my youngest, I was looking forward to it.  I thought I was in for a night of cuddles and bonding.  What I was actually in for, was a night of inane chit-chat, sleep deprivation and the early stages of bleeding ears.  Begging was futile.  She finally stopped talking around the time the birds began to wake up.  I think they sensed all the way from their nests that the very essence of my soul was ebbing away.  I should have known though – this was the child who carried on talking whilst under the water in the swimming pool.  Why let a lack of oxygen get in the way of a good story?
  • The words ‘Mummy, can I tell you about my dream last night?’ are a red alert. This is not a drill. Under no circumstances should you agree to this, because there is only so much glaze your eyes can take.  My oldest had it down to a fine art.  She even reached the stage where after describing her dreams in microscopic detail for 90 minutes, there would be an actual quiz at the end to check we’d been listening.
  • The words ‘Because I said so’ were put together in that order for a reason.  Use them.

Naturally though, I’d go through every single moment again because all the time they are talking, there’s the chance that I might hear those four magical words that make my heart full.  ‘I love you Mummy’.

Well, that and ‘I’m going to bed’.

Bring on Bedtime! (and have a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year!)

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!’