Mother (Almost Never) Knows Best: May 2018

Friday, 25 May 2018

Another Brick in the Wall: My Relationship with Nursery

I have a love/hate relationship with my children's nursery. This involves me swinging from intense periods of frustration when empty threats of pulling the offspring from the environment in which they are settled are thrown in the direction of a husband whom I know won't hold me to it, to periods of enormous appreciation for all that they do to mould my children into polite members of society whilst maintain their individuality.

Nursery: helps that it is a beautiful building

I have a somewhat chequered past with the nursery due to an incident when I may have struggled to mask my disappointment (read "hulked out") at an aspect of their care provision having arrived to collect my hyperactive 18month old, who was in the process of dropping her nap, and been informed that she had had a "really good sleep" that day. Curious, I enquired what constitutes a "good sleep" in their eyes only to be told that she had been allowed to doze for over 3 hours. "Why?" I asked utterly incredulous. "Because it's Friday." They replied.

Hulked Out

Now, when solo parenting a routinely poor sleeper for the weekend after a busy working week, being given the news that your day has just been extended by a solid 3 hours is something of a disappointment. I may have let on that I wasn't best pleased and despite being 3 room changes and 3 years down the line I am fully aware that my reputation as a "difficult parent" within the nursery precedes me.

However, since learning of my daughter's brief foray into the world of bullies and having to report it to those in charge I have discovered a new found respect for the teaching staff in the pre-school. Whilst there may be instances of laziness peppered throughout the nursery there are also some truly gifted educators with whom I am loathe to part from, never mind my daughter.

Her time at preschool is coming to an end

On learning of her struggle to understand why her beloved best friend would utter such callous and cruel comments leaving her insecure and lacking in confidence and sense of self, her teacher formulated a plan to both buoy her up quietly and consistently while showing the other child that she was not the top dog without obvious penalising her. There were open conversation between the three of them where feelings were openly discussed and apologies invited, circle time where the class would discuss their unique differences and close observation during periods of free play. However, the latest and potentially most lucrative part of the plan involved bestowing the lead role in the pre-school production to my daughter. A play which conveniently weaves a tale conveying the sentiment that size is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and that even the smallest of bodies can house the greatest of spirits and the strongest of wills.

Making Julia Donaldson proud

This particular act has gone a long way to restoring her, previously robust, self esteem and ensured that she enter her school environment happy and confident, safe in the knowledge that she really is pretty awesome. 

Friday, 18 May 2018

Enter Sandman: The Nighttime Negotiation

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, following an Oscar worthy performance of surprise when the allotted bed time hour rolls around, a toddler will resolutely refuse to go to sleep on those evenings on which you need them to most. These evenings include, but are not limited to:

1. When you have cobbled together enough energy and enthusiasm for a rare night out and have promised the rather shell shocked looking babysitter that the children will be asleep for the duration.

2. Following a particularly hard day at the office (be it actual, home or metaphorical); when you have expended every last ounce of patience placating Nora the office nag/Nigel from accounts/Ned the tyrannical toddler.

3. When you have any form of urgent, non toddler friendly activity to undertake e.g. the home hair dye when you are less roots and more bad ombre, any computer based activity (see bill paying, blogging, on line shopping, etc.), long overdue marital relations (oh it feels good to laugh.)

These are the evenings on which the toddler will take it upon themselves to inhabit the role of cocaine addled Wall Street banker circa 1985. Their meticulously choreographed bedtime revolt will undoubtedly follow five similar stages to those of grief:

Stage One: Denial
At the mere mention of bed the toddler will instantly find great interest in a previously ignored plaything, probably previously relegated to the bottom of the over filled toy box which they will undoubtedly need to violently ransack to locate afore mentioned object. This toy shall utterly consume them to the point that they will be unable to hear repeated requests to brush their teeth, use the potty or stop torturing the family pet.

"Bedtime you say? We're off..."

Stage Two: Anger
At the point in which you need to step in and physically extricate them from the situation, proffer the toothpaste laden brush towards their person and plop them on the urine receptacle they shall mount one of two responses:
(1)   Writhe around like a fish on dry land until you are forced to put them down for fear of dropping them (which would only serve to delay bed time further – eyes on the prize, people.)
(2)   Full body plank with such rigidity that you fear rigor mortis has set in.

He is a wily character...

Stage Three: Bargaining
If your toddler has mastered the art of verbal communication they will likely attempt to play on your emotions, weakened by the day’s events and guilt for your unfettered joy at the potential of parting with your beloved offspring, you will likely be wholly susceptible to their doe eyes, petted lips and pleads for “just one more stowy” (knowing full well that they can pronounce the ‘r’s’ with aplomb when they are demanding rice cakes, raisins and Raa Raa the Reprehensible Lion.) Should your toddler be yet to vocalise they will employ their inner thespian, using the body as a tool to pluck at your heart strings. There will be clammy hands thrown around the neck, deep and desperate cuddles that make you feel indispensable; the absolute definition of their continued wellbeing. You will be convinced that a few minutes more body contact will eventually result in a bedtime without reproach. You will be wrong though.  

Just 5 more minutes....

Stage Four: Depression
The tears will flow. And flow. Then they will ebb, and you may even get hopeful, but then they will flow. You shall wait outside the door listening to their anguished cries citing your failure to love them as the reason that they can no longer go on. You will feel bad.

You will feel (and potentially look) bad

Stage Five: Acceptance
The good news is that no child has actually stayed up all night (don’t quote me on that) and they will eventually tire themselves out and have to submit to slumber. There is, however, the distinct possibility that by the time this happens you will have missed the event you were meant to be attending, witnessed your babysitter running for the hills with arms flailing or fallen asleep yourself.

   ...and relax

Sorry about that.  

3 Little Buttons
Motherhood The Real Deal

Monday, 14 May 2018

Don't Look Back in Anger: Reprimanding the Toddler

Recently I have come to realise that I had no plan as to how I was going to reprimand my offspring. I feel like, at the grand age of 4 and 2, this should have come up earlier but behaviour has never really been an issue. The big one routinely toes the line, keen to impress any potential figure of authority and the youngest is, quite frankly, so close to criminality that I could imprison him and he would stealthily manage to con his way out of the slammer with a petted bottom lip and a well timed "sowwy"; so I often give up and just resort to physically extricating him from the situation. He's a lost cause anyway.

However, The Big One has started questioning my authority of late. Whilst I am delighted that she is saving up all of her worst behaviour for me and not terrorising those who aren't conditioned to love her by the virtue of genes, it is becoming a little wearing. At 4 years old her opinion of me shifts from celestial being to intolerable oaf. I thought I had 5 more years of utter adoration at least but, alas, no. I have had the eye rolls, the sighs and, possibly worst of all, the pointedly and laboriously annunciated repetition of demands should I be so foolish as to not catch her request the first time. Intermittently a joy to be around.

Not best pleased

The only thing is I wish we had agreed a plan of action regarding appropriate remonstration before it got to this point. Where do you start? What is the best approach? And why is this not covered in NCT? Not that I went, but that is beside the point. I have never read a parenting book (not going to lie, I find them pretty dull) and I dare not run the gauntlet of the Mumsnet forum for advice (those ladies can be terrifying) so the only reference point I have is my own childhood. Whilst I have great parents (who clearly moulded some rather stellar children) and I would happily emulate their behaviour, the problem is that I don't have many useful memories from my time as a toddler. 

So I have had to go it alone, groping around in the darkness of this parenting quandary until I navigate my own path. This has led to a number of poorly judged techniques being implemented to date; there has been the shouting, the banishing to the bedroom, the guilt tripping (not proud) and finally "the look", a glower to send icy chills through the heart of the recipient. Yet nothing seems to penetrate the impervious shield that The Big One seems to radiate at the times of her transgressions. 

Her face is an open book...

The most annoying part is The Husband seems to maintain a cool detachment in the situation. He assesses the behaviour, remembers that she is, in fact, four years old and has no ulterior motive and acts accordingly. He speaks calmly, explains the error of her ways and moves on, treating her as before. Meanwhile I am consumed with anger in the aftermath. Why is she doing this? Who is she learning this behaviour from? Where has my little girl gone? How can she be so disrespectful? I stomp about, bang doors and emit an cool, icy demeanor that Elsa would be proud of. 

I am such a child. 

I can grumpy with the best of them...

3 Little Buttons
Mum Muddling Through

Friday, 11 May 2018

Please Forgive Me: Parental Shortcomings

As you may have gathered, I have no qualms about admitting that this parenting gig is hard work. It's definitely the toughest job I have ever had and I had a brief foray into the world of pint pulling in the outskirts of Glasgow. Now I won't bore you with qualifying this statement with disclosures on how much I love my children, how I would never change the way my life has panned out and how the two spirited imps merely need to proffer their snot covered pursed lips in my general direction to make me forget my shortcomings as a parent but there are definitely points punctuating the lone parenting days or the long drawn out, sleepless nights when I struggle. 

Snot covered kisses are the best

Parenting is relentless. There is never a moment after becoming a parent when you are not responsible for another person. From before conception the health of that zygote is in your hands/womb. Sure, you may wrangle a few hours here and there to try and recapture the essence of the pre-parenthood you but the chances are it dispersed into the ether a long time ago and those hours will now be spent ruminating on how your toddler really has mastered the use of the portable toilet (most of the time) or is so clever for knowing all the lyrics to some inane Disney song that they have demanded be played on repeat for the past 72 hours causing you to question just how far into your ear canal you would need to push a cotton bud to relieve your suffering. You may even be lucky enough to manage a whole overnight stay away from the offspring if you have a very kind or susceptible relative but chances are you will either feel guilty for being quite so eager to skip out the front door, unencumbered by the weight of a nappy bag and escape the confines of the family home or for agreeing to sacrifice someone else's night of delicious slumber to secure your own. 

Parents gone wild

Then there is the alcohol. Parents with a green card for the evening never fail to partake in a frenzied imbibing of alcohol; forgetting that the last time their evening involved more than two glasses of Chenin Blanc was the time that got them into this situation but that the last time they didn't need to go home to toddlers. Toddlers who have musical instruments and aren't afraid to use them.

So. Loud.

So yes, parenting is hard and in many (many) ways I know that I am missing the mark but I am trying to be ok with that because here's the thing; we are all just "faking it 'till we make it" and no one really knows the best way to do it. Do we follow the rule book prescribed by Dr. Spock and the other parenting gurus or do we adopt the mantra of "happy parent, happy children"? 

Must do better

Things I could definitely do better include (but are not limited to):

  1. Spending less time on my phone, desperately seeking out adult interaction of any kind, when lone parenting for longer than two hours (alright, one hour.)
  2. Embrace role play more remembering that they will not want to play with me forever and soon I shall be relegated from favourite person to jailer.
  3. Attempt to create a variety of tasty homemade meals to delight the senses; impressing the importance of a varied diet upon my 4 year old, rather than rotating the five "safe options" to avoid civil war at the dinner table.
  4. Ditch the bottle, and by that I mean my 2 year old's dependency on his "milkit" not my dependency on the grape juice come a Friday evening. That stays. For all our sakes. 
Embracing the role play

While I work on these goals, I must remind myself that no one is really getting it right all the time and yes, some are definitely hitting the mark more often than I am and some, perhaps, are not but we will all most probably (definitely) scar our children in some way by something that we do or don't do, say or overlook saying but as long as it's not the way they define their childhood then I think their memoirs will be kind to us: 

"Good old mum, always tried her best but her commitment to role play was shocking!"

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Driving With The Brakes On: Having to Say Goodbye

On the 2nd of May we lost a member of the family and I was unexpectedly heartbroken. Whilst you may think me callous to question my degree of mourning when a member of family passes, I should point out that this particular member of the family was mechanic in nature. I lost my first car. 

At the grand age of 33, I had to part with the car I had had for 13 years and his name was Bartleby. Yes, that is right, I named him. He had one original panel (I'm not that good a driver) but he was in essence, the same; the ever constant in a life that had changed beyond recognition.
The only photo I have of my beloved car.
Excuse the hat.

He was gifted to me on the Christmas of 2004 when I was a medical student about to embark on the clinical element of my training. A time when I would be expected to move from the safety of the small town of St. Andrews to the bustling metropolis of Manchester and transport myself between various district hospitals and suburban GP practices. 

My parents were particularly cruel in their gifting and left me to open a single calendar whilst my brothers unwrapped gift upon gift under the glow of the Christmas lights. Within the calendar they had pierced the cellophane to insert the insurance documents which would reveal my substantial and unprecedented gift were I astute enough to open it. 

I wasn't. 

I waited.

And waited.

Eventually my mother asked me if i had inspected the many depictions of Audrey Hepburn to which I feigned interest and tore the cellophane off allowing the papers to flop onto my lap. I was ecstatic. As a "home girl" I was terrified at the prospect of leaving my family and Scotland, where I had lived since the age of 5, to venture south of the border with only my friends upon whom to rely. This mode of transport was a life line; an escape route in times of trouble and, boy, did he live up to the promise.

At two months old, Bartleby saved a life. It's a story that is not mine to tell but believe me when I say that, without him, I do not know how things would have panned out and I am forever grateful that I need never know. 

When in Manchester he ferried me from placement to placement and took me home when I needed. If you have ever wondered, a 175mile journey on the M6 in a 1.2litre Fiat Punto is less than fun unless you install your own personal karaoke booth. I would recommend Power Ballads and anguished facial expressions to maximise enjoyment. I would not recommend taking your eyes off the speedometre on the downhill as that is where he comes into his own and the Cumbrian police make an awful lot of money out of you for that. 

Whilst a student we, being Bartleby and I, crashed. I was pulling out from a minor to a major road and there was a blind corner. Sure enough, a boy racer tore into the side of me and I emerged unscathed in body but broken in spirit. A kind man in a three quarter length black woollen coat saw the incident and crossed the road to check I was ok, stopping the boy racer mid tirade and holding me while I wept snot riddled tears into his beautiful jacket until my boyfriend arrived. 

At 3 years old he saw me graduate...

When I moved to London for two years, he came with me (the car, not the stranger). He helped me move in with my then boyfriend with all the optimism of a fledgling adult. He then helped me move out of the flat and relationship with my then boyfriend (now husband- long story for those not in the know) having discovered that adulting is hard. He moved me to back to the North West when I bought a house and tried to forge a career in doctoring and shuttled me up and down from Edinburgh as I tried to maintain a relationship with the previous boyfriend who had been reinstated. 

From the age of 4 through 7 he ferried me between hospital jobs...

He moved North with us when we got engaged and continued in his role as karaoke booth and conveyance (but mostly karaoke booth). He saw me change career (which, having carried me through multiple breakdowns following the days of doctoring, he was very glad of) and embark on motherhood. He ferried me from appointment to appointment and held me while I cried about the baby I was going to lose, but then didn't. 

At 7 he saw us get married...

He watched as I cruelly exchanged him for my husband's car after my babies were born and we needed 5 door access. He took my husband to work and transported him from home visit to home visit, witnessing too many ambulances and untimely deaths as is the GP life in the deprived areas of Scotland. 

He worked hard. He was a hard working car and a true member of the family. He lived through so much with us and without him so many things might have been different.

At 11 he saw us become a family of 4...

Whilst I have written this about the car, I really write it for my parents. They gave me that car and without the car so many things may not have been. In all honesty, I may have not married the man I did, I may not have had the relationship with my grandmother that I enjoyed, I may not have had the friends I do now and I may not have felt the freedom to chose a career that made me happy. I know it was a tough decision, as with three children I was the only one to be gifted a car but I treasured that car and all the freedom it gave me; for 13 glorious years. 

R.I.P. Bartleby, we really loved you. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

I Ain't Missing You At All: The Day I Lost My Child

I never thought that I would be one of those parents. When other parents confessed that it had happened to them, I would always say that it could easily happen to me but I never actually believed it. Despite uttering all the right things, tilting my head at just the right angle to denote heart felt empathy and oozing compassion in the tone of my voice, I never truly considered that it might really happen to me.

Well today it did.

Today, I lost my child.

And the very, very worst thing about it was: I didn't even notice.

I had been out running errands in town on a solo parenting day and we had been having the best time. We don't often go into town as a trio because, let's face it, shopping with children is a nightmare. A vaccine to the thrill of retail therapy. If you suffer with the incurable habit of shopping take some children with you, it is an experience akin to having an incredibly heavy night imbibing [insert liquor of your choice here]; someone will be forcing you to do it and living through the consequences leaves you broken, bereft and never wanting to drink that particular tipple again. Well that is shopping with toddlers. Heaven forbid you had to cope with the aftermath of the former whilst doing the latter. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Shopping with Toddlers

This day, however, we had to throw caution to the wind as life admin was calling and it can only be postponed for so long. You may recall from my earlier posts that I lack the ability to "adult"? Well, I currently have a bank card which went through the tumble dryer 3 weeks ago so now resembles Flat Stanley with a severe stomach ache. Happily it still taps meaning I can spend liberally provided it's less than £30 in any one shop with a contactless pay terminal. Whilst this is great for the family economy drive it is becoming more than just a little infuriating. To cancel it would mean losing the tapping ability until a new one arrived so I defer but today, today was the day and I was going to go old school and ask a real life bank teller to hand me some cold hard cash while they were at it. So with that, and a series of other really unexciting tasks that i shall not bore you with (and that no teenager considers when they spout blind fury about not yet having come of age) we were committed.

My kids though, my kids were brilliant. We were a team; the three musketeers, all in it together. I was a shepherd with her flock. There was no great rush, I was merely herding my charges towards our destination at a leisurely pace. They were both on great form, delighting in the company of the kindly tram conductor who issued pretend tickets and bestowed upon them the great responsibility of opening the door when we pulled in to each stop. They were beside themselves with joy. They held hands and waved at passers by as they ambled along the pedastrianised streets whilst I brought up the rear (and the pram). It was delightful. The sun was shining and we were blessed in our mundanity.


We were accomplishing some of the more tedious tasks when my phone started to ring; with eyes still firmly glued on my offspring I answered and relayed to them the news that their beloved grandmother was minutes away. The whoops; the excitement! My two year old led the charge towards the door telling all in sundry that he was off to see his "Moomie" and I was close behind; a mere fingertip away whilst holding hands with the eldest as she gabbled about everything she had to tell her.

When my mother arrived we immediately had to divide and conquer as the excitement of having her favourite person within touching distance had had the predictable effect on the toddler's bladder. So whilst I took the eldest down several escalators into the bowels of the department store in search of a urination receptacle, my mother wrestled with an overenthusiastic toddler who was attempting to lick all the make up from her face. We each had our challenges.

Having emptied the toddler bladder and discussed everything from volcanos and evolution to school and fashion we regrouped at ladies wear. I briefly mentioned a need to purchase swimwear for our upcoming holiday and lifted a couple off the rail for half hearted inspection. The thing is, I could see him. I saw him at my mum's feet. He was there. I knew he was.

Going incognito

A split second later, a lovely lady with a kind face touched my arm and told me that my son was wandering around the shop floor. I shook my head. No, she must be mistaken. That cannot be my son. He is right there. As I turned to gesture back towards my mum's feet, I caught a glimpse of a small boy clutching the hand of another shop assistant looking uncertain and a little confused. It was my son. He wasn't with me. He was with her.

I pushed past, picked him up and held him to me. My thoughts ricocheted from sheer relief for a panic that I never had the chance to experience to incandescent rage that he had walked away from me. My daughter would never have done that. My daughter's nervous temperament means she fears her own shadow when cast in the wrong light. She never strays beyond where she can see me and she will check, regularly and often that I am nearby. I wasn't prepared. I had always thought it was something in my parenting prowess that had made her that way and therefore he would be the same but he is so far from being the same that I struggle to comprehend it at times. How could he walk away?

Easily distracted this one

The tears rose and the panic lodged despite the fact that the threat had passed. How could I not have known? How could I have let this happen? Why hadn't I locked him into the pram and ignored his protestations? He would have been safe. Mightily (and audibly) disgruntled but safe. It was because I was being selfish; I was looking at something for myself and distracted by adult conversation. I was too lenient when it came to locking him down. I should have known. I should have done better.

I had to get them home. Home and safe.

So we left. I carried him the entire mile and a half home, refusing to put him down or let him out of my embrace. He had rallied entirely but I was in need of reassurance. I had to feel his warm skin against my cheek and heaviness in my arms to dispel the sick feeling lodged in my chest. I was playing out the worst outcomes in my head whilst equally being unable to consider them in their entirety.

To the ladies of Marks & Spencer's I thank you. I thank you for delighting in my children when we initially navigated our way through your busy store and for waving back and asking them questions while we waited for the lift. I thank you for seeing him, reassuring him and bringing him back to me. Thank you for saying "these things happen" and "it doesn't matter because he is safe now". I thank you for not judging me as harshly as I judge myself.

Needless to say I do not have any plans to go shopping again anytime soon and I still have that bloody bank card.

Bloody bank card

Lucy At Home

Everything Changes: Working Out the "Working Mother" Bit

It's been a big week this week and, no, we haven't sold our house. In fact, it is no longer even on the market which was both a hea...