(Picture from http://www.practicingparents.com)
Just as the geese had flown South in a V, my hubby was drawn back to Scotland to play in the snow. Winter: and I am in sole charge of two kids.
Today there was a moment when Toddler was painting and Tiddler was asleep.
I decided to make coffee so I filled the kettle.
While I was waiting for the water to boil, I washed some baby bottles.
Then I looked around for other things to wash – there wasn’t much left except a cup on the surface with something in the bottom.
I’d stuck it in the water before I realised that it had been my clean mug, all ready with instant granules and milk, for coffee…..
No matter. Fresh mug. Fresh coffee. Fresh milk. Topped it up from the kettle…..
….Stone cold. I’d never switched the damned kettle on in the first place. And now we were running out of milk….
I have an excuse. What with one little voice or the other, I hadn’t had two hours of sleep together overnight. It was a shock for me: Toddler had slept through until the last few weeks.
I switched the kettle on, thinking that the third mug should be OK, but….
Hello, TIddler. Yowch! – Duplo. Kills when you stand on it with bare feet. To say I haven’t seen Duplo for twenty years or more, it is suddenly everywhere: I can’t remember how the world looks without Duplo littering it. Underwear drawers; pillowcases; work-bag; car; bed; fridge. Most of all, the carpet. Under my unsuspecting bare feet.
Got Tiddler. Back to the kitchen – then put the other foot straight into a soggy chunk of banana that had clearly been dropped from a high chair. Vocalised; hopped round a bit.
‘Mummy hopping,’ said Toddler from the corner, ‘And Toddler made a mess!’
She wasn’t kidding. She belonged in a What-a-Mess book. And I guess I should have thought to tape newspaper over the wallpaper before I put a brush in her hand.
‘Oh, I said faintly. ‘I’d forgotten you were painting……’
* * *
Looking after children is not actually that difficult. There is no deeper technical skill required than operating a washing machine. There is no deeper thought required than the ability to pretend that a plastic bucket is a ship, or the empathy to hug through a tantrum.
But the trouble is that it’s relentless. One of the best pro-evoluntionary arguments I know is that if we’d been designed, kids would have an off-switch. They don’t. They want to be awake, all the time; they want to be naked when it’s cold enough to need three jumpers; they want food unless it’s in front of them; they need but hate their nappies changed; they want to read books; they need…. they want….. they don’t want…. never the same thing for both of them at once (unless it is not to go to bed), and never the same thing that you are prioritising. Even if you walk downstairs at their request, they’ll immediately see you’ve got your arms full of washing and want to be carried instead.
Washing is the least of it: my house is just one huge collection of undone jobs: I don’t understand how I have so much free time and yet acheive so little. Even getting out of the house can take two hours (and I try to do it every morning; if I stay in and look at the mess, I go crazy. I wait until they are in bed to do the chores).
Toddlers have no sense of logic or team-play: there is no reasoning. ‘But I want to pour water on the floor – look Mummy! Splashes!’ is perfectly good enough, and if they aren’t granted permission they just say it more loudly and frantically until they are in meltdown. Sure, the Toddler books say that you should explain gently why this isn’t a good idea and, when they look upset, say ‘You’re feeling disappointed, aren’t you….?’ But I’ve been trying to get that line in for weeks, and she just says ‘No! No! NO!’ over the top of it. I’m not sure that the Toddler books were written by mortals.
Ceebeebies is a Godsend as regards getting things done, but I ration my use of that lest it should make their eyes square (and let me tell you, there are times when the clock gets slower and slower as it approaches Ceebeebies O’clock).
So how do I get through the days? Well, I try to remember that although days are long, time is short and one day I will be nostalgic about this time.
But mostly I rely on my incredibly kind friends. The ones who come here and talk to me, or talk to the kids while I clean the kitchen, or descend in an evening with a meal and lively company. Sometimes someone will stand poised to catch the kids if they fall off the climbing wall (or start to run where they’re not supposed to), which leaves me free to climb a problem of my own. Once or thrice, a lovely person has even stayed with them and let me go out for a run (it’s funny, but I don’t fucking hate running any more….).
* * *
Morrisons, last Friday. A young, compact woman too fashionable to be me, with long black hair, long black lashes, eyes that flashed. She strode through the shop on a mission: even the most stubborn of old ladies with massive trollies moved out of her way.
She was carrying a beautiful, oversized Toddler on one slender hip, like Victoria Beckham. Unlike Harper Beckham (who is probably a glove puppet), this one had a botchy face, legs that kicked and was emitting a high-pitched sort of a yowl. And the woman had lost it, too:
‘I’ve just about ‘ad enough of you! I want to buy one – ONE – meal for tonight, it was gonna take five minutes, and you ‘ave to start this. I can’t think over you, luv. I can’t hear myself….What the fuck do I need to do, to….’
By this time, the whole shop was watching. And this being South Yorkshire, they were commenting too. ‘orrible that,’ said a man, who probably hadn’t looked after a child in his life, ‘It’s not the kid’s fault she’s ‘avin’ a bad day is it?’
He had a point there: it wasn’t. Twenty or so women practised their deadliest evil eye.
‘She just wants a bitta attention,’ one near me said. I wondered if it was Vicky Beckham she was referring to or the Toddler. At my most desperate, as a parent, I definately have to remind myself which one of us is two years old.
“Mrs. Beckham” heard her, as had been intended. Her eyes flashed towards the speaker, but that lady was shuffling away already. So she started staring out members of the crowd insead, as though just daring them to make a comment on her obviously obnoxious parenting.
I never could resist the chance to make a social faux pas.
I met her eyes.
Well, to all she knew, I might have been supernanny’s twin sister. Tiddler and Toddler might have been swinging their legs in their trolley, giggling away, because they were perfect children. But no: if they were looking happy, it was because I had just finished bribing them with grapes I was yet to pay for.
‘Yes?’ She said.
I did my best sympathetic look. ‘Hard going, isn’t it? Mine screamed so loud I nearly got thrown off a tram the other day.’
The woman grinned and rolled her eyes.
‘D’you know….’ she said, and shook her head. There was a pause. The woman indicated the disapproving crowd, who were suddenly looking the other way.
The kid had stopped screaming. In the silence I felt awkward.
‘Little nightmares, aren’t they.’ I muttered.
‘Love ’em really though, don’t we?’ and she rearranged the kid in her arms and planted a kiss in the blonde hair.