“I will absolutely, 100% not be one of those parents who goes overboard on birthday parties. A bit of cake and a few games at home is more than enough.” – Me, 2012.
At our first son’s first birthday we had the obligatory gathering of family, friends and people we barely knew who happened to live close and also have babies, but after that we reverted to the low key celebrations I always knew we would – a trip to the park and a slice of cake with a few close friends.
Pre-parenthood I had no idea that birthday parties had become such big business.
In the last year and a half we’ve been to pool parties, park parties, soft play parties, house parties (no, sadly, not those house parties). We’ve seen a host of invitations from ones grabbed from the counter at Clinton’s to personalised lanyards which make it look like you’re a VIP at Glastonbury. The party bags and sweets my son has come home with have often put the actual birthday gift he took to shame and I remain amazed at the array of talented drama students and wannabe comedians paying their dues as party entertainers.
I can only be thankful that my son is shy and has only a handful of good friends, or I imagine my every weekend would be spent feeling exhausted, overawed and inadequate (of course, that’s most weekends anyway when you’re a mum).
I have fond memories of childhood birthdays. Being summer born has the advantage that all that was needed for a good party was a sunny day, a barbeque and a speaker pointed out of a window. Our organised entertainment rarely stretched beyond a game of pass the parcel or musical statues, always carefully rigged by my mum in favour of whichever child she deemed had the fewest friends.
Yet as much as I vowed I would maintain this level of simplicity, I can’t help but bow to the pressure. What was going to be a party with 4 or 5 guests, has already spread to 15+. What was supposed to be a simple invite quickly became a labour of love. I’ve spent the last hour scouring eBay and Amazon for themed party treats and have continued party planning long after both my sons have lost interest.
I am saved in only one way. Having carefully spent many years passing on my love of books – particularly the genius of Roald Dahl – in just over a weeks’ time I will be opening the doors to bemused parents dressed as Miss Trunchbull, serving Mrs Twit’s wormy spaghetti and sugaring the kids up with Wonka’s finest fizzy lifting drinks.
Plus, if there was ever an excuse for shoving a ‘Frobscottle’ label over a bottle of prosecco and drinking during the day, surely this is it!
Yesterday I had one of those major landmark parenting moments. It wasn’t a birth, the start of school or a graduation. It wasn’t one you’d take pictures of and boast about on Facebook.
But it was a landmark. The kind of thing I think every parent has to go through.
Yesterday I had to stand in the supermarket aisle and shout at my wayward children who had just nearly rammed the trolley into an innocent bystander. The kind of shouting where everyone looks at you, embarrassed for you. Shameful.
The whole trip was ill fated. The kids were tired and bored. I was tired and bored. We had loads to buy and, thanks to a recent reorganisation, I spent a lot of time wandering around passive-aggressively muttering things like ‘stupid bloody supermarket, cheese is dairy, why the hell isn’t it in the dairy aisle? Would that make too much bloody sense?!’
After numerous warnings, one full on shouting fit and subsequent extravagant efforts to show the world what a great parent I was by making the rest of the trip one fun game, we finally left.
‘Never again. Back to online shopping!’ I mumbled as we reached the car.
But as we drove off, I got to thinking. When I was 4 my mum was a single mum of 3 children under the age of 9. She worked, didn’t drive and there was no such thing as online shopping (even now she wouldn’t dare use it after she once accidentally completed a whole online shop only to realise she’d only actually managed to order one block of cheese…!) How the hell did she do it every week? I don’t remember tantrums in the aisles or moaning on the walk home, but we must have gone to the shops because we definitely always had food!
Thinking it through made me realise that it isn’t the big things we do as parents that matter, it’s the little everyday things – just muddling through, making sure the kids are okay and keeping things ticking over.
I always thought my mum was amazing, but I never appreciated how hard she must have worked just to raise us. All the little things I have no recollection of which must have been so difficult – like dragging 3 kids round the supermarket! I’m just embarrassed it’s taken me so long to realise.
So the next time my own monsters whinge about wanting chocolate cheerios (no chocolate at breakfast is the one battle I’m still winning!) I’ll try to remember that in 30 years time they’ll hopefully be faced with their own screamingg little brat and will finally be grateful for what I’m doing.
Thanks mum – and sorry I didn’t say it sooner.
This is Jeffrey.
Jeffrey once got left in a café in Hackney; my husband had to leg it back sharpish when we realised he was missing only 5 minutes from home. Jeffrey came with us to Barcelona; after the Hackney café incident though, he wasn’t trusted to leave the apartment so didn’t really see the sights. Jeffrey was once the cause of the most traumatic bedtime in memory, when his owner – our eldest son – snuck him into the bath when we weren’t looking, not realising monkeys take a lot longer to dry than people and therefore couldn’t accompany him to bed.
Jeffrey is part of our family.
This is Sleepy Bunny.
Sleepy Bunny is disgusting – a constant bundle of smeared snot and spit, chewed and sucked on continuously and inexplicably all day by our youngest. Sleepy bunny is also a saviour; when all else fails, ‘do you want bunny?’ is sometimes the only thing to stem the tears. Sleepy Bunny is also my nemesis; I can often be found running around the house at 2am muttering ‘where the f***is Sleepy Bunny’ when we have forgotten to put him in the cot at bedtime. Sleepy Bunny is an enigma; no one has the faintest idea where he came from!
Sleepy Bunny is part of our family.
(Had I known this at the start, I would have given him a better name.)
The attachment a young child has to their soft toy is a strange and beautiful thing. A source of comfort, a confidante and an early friend, the soft toy is a staple of any kid’s life.
But soft toys are slowly destroying my sanity.
I blame Toy Story.
Every time I tidy up, ramming seemingly endless toys into which ever bag, box or tub has most room (I’ll sort it all out one day, I promise), the shiny plastic eyes of a fluffy owl seem to gleam up at me, begging me not to leave them stuck underneath that stupid phone on a string, it’s sharp plastic edges sticking into its fuzzy little wings.
Last week, we had a mini-clear out; my son chose a few toys he never played with and agreed to give them to charity. As I placed the bag at the end of our driveway for collection, an elephant’s trunk reached out to me. ‘I’m sorry Nellie’, I whispered (yes really!), ‘but no one plays with you here anymore. Maybe you can find a new child to play with, someone who really appreciates you’. I hoped this was the case, and she wouldn’t be left on a shelf, gathering dust for ever more.
And on rare occasions when Sleepy Bunny isn’t being used as a chew toy, I find him/her (can an animal which is half blanket have a gender?!) unceremoniously abandoned in a corner of the room. ‘Don’t worry’, I want to say, ‘He still really loves you. He’s just busy trying to figure out how to break into the snack drawer’.
I blame Toy Story because, with alarming regularity, I imagine the boys’ toys springing to life the moment I leave the room. I imagine them crawling desperately out of the crush of the toy box. ‘When the hell is she going to sort us all out?’ they wheeze. ‘There’s a soft toy bag upstairs, why aren’t we all in that? Why do I always end up with the double decker bus on my head?!’ I imagine them comparing their days, those who haven’t been played with in months quietly sobbing into their cotton padded sleeves when they hear of the fun Tom the Triceratops and Eddie Dinosaur had in the garden today.
But most of all, I think about Jeffrey. Poor Jeffrey. Once so loved, but now so often rejected. I imagine the silent hurt he feels every time I say to my eldest, ‘Do you want to cuddle up with Jeffrey?’, and he cheerfully replies ‘No thanks’ as he turns to gaze adoringly at his Spiderman posters, or switches on the torch to look at his Horrible Science book under the duvet.
I imagine Jeffrey’s heart breaking as he realises: ‘He’s growing up. He doesn’t need me anymore’.
I’m sorry Jeffrey. I know how you feel. I really do.
If ever there was a convincing argument against evolution, it’s babies.
For years now, the majority of us have gladly accepted the genius of Charles Darwin’s theories, merrily accepting the idea of survival of the fittest and gradual adaptation of each species to their environment. We consider ourselves, humans, the most successful of all, with only the Creationists and a few other mad conspiracy theorists daring to contradict the father of evolution.
Yet, all anyone needed to do to undermine Darwin’s genius was shove him in a room with a baby for a few months. He, presumably, was too busy conducting actual scientific research to deal with nappies and weaning, but had he had the time, surely he would have realised his theories had no basis in reality.
For a start, let’s take sleep. If ever there is a time in the human life cycle where sleep is crucial, it is in those first few years; years of huge physical, emotional and mental development, all requiring large amounts of sleep. If evolution was true, surely human infants would have evolved to be able to…well…sleep! How can a species which has the capacity to build cities, create the internet, produce Shakespeare, not evolve in a way which allows a baby who needs to sleep to go the **** to sleep?! Did Darwin ever spend endless hours in the midst of the night, pacing back and forth, bleary-eyed whispering ‘it’s ok, I’m here, go to sleep, please go to sleep, pleeeeeeeease go to sleep!!!’, or arguing with a toddler who screams ‘but I’m NOT tiiiiired’, while sprawled across the floor, yawning and rubbing their eyes so much you think they may actually rub them out? I think not, or surely it would have blown a substantial hole in his theory that animals adapt to meet their own basic needs.
Unconvinced? Let’s consider teething. When all the other bones and vital organs have developed in the womb, teeth are left to the outside world. Perhaps this is deliberate? It allows for easier suckling in the early days (Ha! We’ll come to that later). Yet how can a system of development which causes infinite amounts of pain to a child be a result of millions of years of careful natural development? Aside from the total bewilderment of a poor, miserable child who cannot possibly comprehend what is happening to them, it once again brings us back to sleep, or rather the lack thereof. Screaming baby = no sleep for anyone = bad backs and grumpiness for the parents = miserable family = very poor design.
Finally, let’s look at movement. Ever watched a nature documentary where a baby giraffe is born? We might coo and aww, giggling slightly as it tries to stand and inevitably stumbles over its newborn, gangly and cumbersome limbs. ‘Aww bless, it can’t stand up’. Erm, yes it can! It might be wobbly, but 2 minutes out of the womb and it’s already on the move. Give it a few days and it’ll be walking miles to find food and water. Our lazy offspring laze around, crying for attention, and half of them can’t even eat properly when a nipple full of milk is shoved right into their open gobs. How is that the result of years of careful natural selection? Is that really the best we can do? If humans have truly evolved to be so successful over the years, surely they should be born, jump onto their feet and head straight to the fruit bowl to help themselves to a banana before coming over to snuggle up with a calm, contented and rested parent.
Sorry Darwin, I’ve always believed you, but I can’t ignore the evidence of my own experience. If babies were designed, the poor designer who presented them to the boss would be promptly kicked out of the board room: “Come back when you’ve figured out how to stop it defecating everywhere, and, for God’s Sake, surely the sound department can come up with something that doesn’t grate quite so much on the ears!”.
Self help books are big business. Key among this genre are books about the power of positive thinking. Apparently all you need to do is believe in what you want and it will happen.
Having had only about 3 hours sleep in total and driven largely by coffee, I’m struggling with this, but watching my 3 year old in action over the last few weeks, I reckon I might have the basis for the next best seller.
The pre-schooler’s guide to the power of positive thinking.
Step 1. Know your goals.
They might seem unimportant, silly, even downright ridiculous to others, but you must be certain of what you want to achieve. If you want to wear shorts on a snowy day, insist on it. People might tell you it’s stupid and potentially even dangerous, but don’t listen to them. Once you’ve chosen a goal you must stick with it at all costs (even if that cost happens to be a week in bed with the flu).
2. Believe in your goals.
At times people will try to sway your from your goals, telling you they are unfeasible, impossible even. They may even try to bamboozle you with ‘facts’ and ‘the truth’. Never sway. If you believe it enough, it will become true.
Below is a real life example of step 2 in action.
Christmas Eve. A cold day. A family on the way home after a trip out for hot chocolate. A tired child.
“Come on. Let’s go home.”
“No. I want to go that way.”
“We don’t live that way. We need to go up this hill.”
“But I want to go down the hill.”
“But we live up the hill.”
“No we don’t”
“Yes we do!”
“No we dooooooooon’t! We live dooooooown the hiiiiiiiill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Child promptly sits down, crying and refuses to move.
See how effective it is. Sod the truth. Believe whatever happens to be convenient to your wishes at the time!
Step 3: Visualise your success
As you have seen, real life can get in the way of your goals. Sometimes it is better to imagine what you want.
Want to a play game? More importantly, do you want to win? Play the real game and there’s always a risk you won’t. Avoid this downfall by playing an imaginary version instead. Ensure you are the only one who can see the ‘imaginary board’, make your own imaginary rules and you’re guaranteed to always reign victorious!
Step 4: Invest all your energy in what you want.
At times, even when you have followed steps 1-3 people will stand in your way. In these moments, a full on screaming tantrum is your only option. Whatever you do, don’t hold back.
Step 5: Enjoy the little victories
Unfortunately, sometimes not even the most positive thinking can overcome pesky things like facts, physics, geography and grown ups. In these moments of defeat, enjoy the fact that a well employed step 4 tantrum may at least result in you being given a biscuit or plonked in front of the telly just to shut you up.
“Why did we have another one? Why did we think we needed two? It was going so well with one!”
Such are the desperate cries in our household at moments when the children have decided to tag team their night time neediness.
It’s a good question. We were set with one. We had it covered. We outnumbered him. We could tag team parent, each of us got at least one lie in on a weekend and it was fairly easy to find a babysitter for just one child, especially one who you could just read a story and send to bed with no crying.
Now most tasks are twice as difficult. Bedtime is an organised chaos of synchronised reading and feeding, there is always at least one point in the day when one child is being ignored almost to the point of neglect and our nightly conversation is now a bet as to who will wake up first/most/in the most confusing and annoying manner.
Put it like that, why would anyone have a second?
Well, we’ve got two now and I kind of love them both so, time to focus on the positives.
1. You’ve got a built in play mate.
“Can you just keep brother company for 5 minutes while I do this?” Such a handy and surprisingly effective phrase! Voila. Both children entertained with no input from me. Only for a maximum of five minutes and I’m sure the novelty of this won’t last for the older one, but still, works for now! Plus, one day in the future there’ll be two of them to go on the swing and that will save both my dignity and a whole load of knee and thigh pain.
2. Practice makes perfect.
I remember once asking my mum for money for a night out when I was a teenager. She said no. I pointed out that she had given my older brother money for nights out. It wasn’t fair! “That’s because he was my first. I made all my mistakes on him. I know better now.” How wise you are mum! The joy of having a second baby is I can now do, panic free, all the things I was crap at the first time round (feeding, changing, pushing the buggy, knowing all the words to wind the bobbin up). And if I can’t do them, I at least care less.
3. Who needs sleep?
I remember having a new baby to be the most horrendously traumatic experience. It was like my body shut down. I just could not live on so little sleep. 3 years later and it appears my body has learned to cope. 4 whole hours uninterrupted sleep? I could rule the bloody world on that!
4. It’s all relative
3 years ago a whole day in the house by myself with the baby was a true test of wills. Likely by 3pm I’d be calling my husband desperate for conversation, and by 5pm I’d be literally pacing the floor, counting the seconds until he got home to relieve me.
These days, a whole day with only one child is like a spa treatment! You mean I can sit on the sofa, have a cuddle and watch something that isn’t CBeebies? Result!!! I might even get round to washing up.
5. It’s just so bloody cute.
Look at them. How could you ever regret that?