Curses for your worst enemy

May you be the sort of person who forgets to shop online until your cupboards are bare.

May you find yourself here, frequently, despairingly, with sad sense of the justness of fate.

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May you be forced to wrestle your youngest and sweet-talk your eldest into the trolley every time, and those times many.

May they squabble and shriek the whole way round.

May your distraction be such that you buy the half-fat sausages.

May your trolley always be full when your eldest announces the need to relieve his waters.

May you pack and pay like a woman gone mad.

May the disabled toilet always be occupied and disgusting.

May you spend a full fifteen minutes in deathly fear that your offspring will pee on your groceries.

As the door opens and the occupant waltzes out, may your boy turn to you and say, in tones of impeccable surprise,

‘oh, do you need the toilet Mama? I don’t’.

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Live a little

Come and sit by me, I want a chat.

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I feel two-dimensional, often, as the mother of two toddlers.

And I need a better way of categorising them than that, for a start. ‘Two toddlers’ is too brief to convey the sweat and tears and bruises and seesawing emotions. It says nothing about the early mornings, disturbed nights, battleground mealtimes, or constant anticipating and managing of their shifting moods.

It doesn’t talk about how they’re both toddlers, but at different stages with entirely different needs, and yet all of those needs are relentless and all the time, every minute that they’re awake.

It doesn’t get across the joy of it, either – the absolute heart-hurting beauty of their expansion and questioning and love. What a privilege it is to watch. How often I fall short of the trust they place in me, because they have to, because I make everything they know.

It consumes me. I never wanted to be consumed.

Over the summer I started getting twitchy about how much time Tim was spending on his bike. We have always encouraged each other to pursue our own interests: the ones that we fell in love with in the first place, that make us well-rounded people. But I was irritated by his ‘time off’ not because he wasn’t allowed it, but because I couldn’t think of anything I could do for myself in turn. I asked myself what my hobbies were, and came up with a buzzing blank. All of my thinking, writing, talking: all of it, about these boys.

Let me say that I know this time is short, and I will miss it when it’s gone.

Let me say that I believe creating and moulding this family will be the most important thing I will ever do.

Let me say that, despite all that, because of all that, I need to show them that I am their mother with my whole person. There are depths beyond the business of their immediate care. There are places I find joy that no one else can touch. They need to see it. If I do not start by showing them that women are three-dimensional, complex and interesting, how will they believe it of the women they will meet later?

I was revolving this around late one night, yearning for something I couldn’t put into words. What is it? I thought. What is it I want?

The answer came, eventually.

I want a richer life.

***

I’ve had that in my head as summer has deepened into autumn. A richer life. Not a different one, and not a busier one, but one with better things in it. More little things that make me happy. More balance. More connections. More attention to my spirit. If the canvas of my day felt like mostly pastel watercolour, I wanted oils. Have you ever seen a Van Gogh close up? The brush strokes are tiny, but every one of them is richly coloured and meaningfully placed. It’s one of the reasons I love him so much.

Um, I’m getting carried away.

I think it’s worth a shot, though, so I’ve been trying hard to put little dots of richness into my everyday. Here are some of the ideas I’ve been trying out:

– spending more time outdoors, in nature

– expressing appreciation to friends

– starting a book club

– choosing our family activities more carefully, so we’re outside/interacting/seeing new things/performing service

– exercising a couple of times a week (WHAT, I KNOW)

– using the fancy pottery and napkins at dinner

– having flowers on the table

– making my phone harder to reach from bed

– buying the good ice cream

– resurrecting old interests in art, history, music, theatre, and making dates to enjoy them

Not all of them at once. I’m not looking to be more stressed, just better balanced. I am in here somewhere, and so are you. So I am choosing little things, richly coloured, meaningfully placed. To help me feel like I can stand out on the canvas. Life in oils.

I think I’m starting to feel better.

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So tell me, because I need solidarity: have you ever caught yourself being COMPLETELY wrapped up in what you do for your kids? And what weird and wonderful interests do you have (or once have) that make you yourself? I can name the wigs in any episode of Alias you care to mention, and could tell you some things about the Tudor court that would make your hair curl.

We have a TV for the first time in seven years…but what on earth do we do with it?

Super good at proper screen distance.

Super good at maintaining proper screen distance.

I have had a very important evening. Mostly I have been Nodding Wisely While Tim Adjusts the TV Bracket. I am taking this task very seriously, because I have it on good authority that wonky TV brackets are the woooorst. And I have never had to think about TV brackets before, because we have never had a TV.

Ok, not never. We had a TV at home, growing up, and loved it like a fifth sibling. I know the Postman dance from SMTV Live, and on Thursdays I had special permission to stay up late so I could record episodes of Buffy onto VHS tapes, which we then watched until they were glitchy.

Tim really did never have a TV at home, a circumstance which has resulted in him knowing everything about everything, being able to play the drums in this incredibly hot fashion, and many exchanges like this:

Me: HAHAHA REMEMBER THAT EPISODE OF THUNDERCATS WHEN –

Tim: no

Me: oh, right.

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Lolololol

Anyway, by the time we got married I hadn’t had a TV since university, and so we just never bothered. We had a projector, lots of movies, and more catch-up TV than you could shake a stick at, and this made up for not being able to watch Embarrassing Bodies exactly when it aired. Once babies arrived, we had to work a bit harder to find programmes they might like – trying things out on iPlayer rather than stumbling across them by accident – but as baby problems go, that one rated way below keeping Henry in vests that didn’t smell of sick.

This house doesn’t have room for a projector, so for the first time in seven years, we have a TV, and a bracket, and CBeebies, and everything.

Kitted. Out.

But what is this thing called CBeebies? Why is it full of grown-ass people trying to show the camera every last one of their teeth? Why do they all talk like they’ve got an excited weasel bouncing on their diaphragms? What in the actual heck is going on with Grandpa in my Pocket?

There’s this thing called Swashbuckle, and I can’t decide whether I’m excited that the two lead pirate characters are both women, because women can run pirate crews and nick off with jewels too, yay, equality, or appalled at that hideously perky thing they’re all doing with their faces.

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oh my goodness STOP IT

The boys are enthralled, obviously. All this gurning is like toddler crack, and who am I to deny them a bit of harmless swashbuckling? I do, though, want some proper screen rules in place now that we need them. There’s a lot of good onscreen – not least an unlimited supply of Thundercats jokes – but I want them to use it, not have it use them.

At the moment they watch about an hour of TV while I make dinner – though that doesn’t include the emergency Sarah & Duck I put on for Teddy when he doesn’t want to nap, or the 5am Small Potatoes when he decides he’s had enough of sleeping, or the afternoons where I’ve got so behind we binge on Pixar instead of going to the park. I have a rule that we don’t watch anything that makes me feel ill (GRANDPA IN MY LUNATIC POCKET). I have another rule that there are no rules at all when anyone is cutting teeth or (when this was relevant) growing a foetus.

As with most things, I am tweaking and refashioning as we go, trying new strategies, keeping the ones that feel right and trying not to feel like I’m making things up as I go along. As with most things, this is not true.

What are the screen time rules in your house? Can your kids watch TV without having a gale-force meltdown when it’s time to turn it off? And can you get through Swashbuckle without wanting to throw up a bit in your mouth? 

PS, Sarah & Duck is gorgeous. Sarah & Duck can stay on this TV all day long if it wants. Do not mess with Sarah & Duck. 

Deathly Hallows (Eve)

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I’m not sure I can pinpoint when Halloween became a thing over here. We’ve always had trick-or-treaters at our house, but fifteen years ago they were hopeful teenagers wearing bin bags (and, in proper and respectful tribute to their dressing-up efforts, we gave them either a) 10p, b) a slice of bread, or c) the cold shoulder). Now the supermarkets have whole aisles devoted to blood-stained scythes, and our neighbour wished us ‘happy Halloween!’ when we passed her in the street. She’s middle-aged with no little kids, and it might be the first time we’ve spoken to her. Granted, we were wearing Harry Potter costumes at the time. But still. We’re into Halloween now! It’s a thing!

I don’t like the blood stains. But I do rather like the rest of it.

Costumes, though. Suddenly I need to think of two, and can’t get away with skeleton babygros or Spiderman pyjamas. I am not crafty and – sorry – can’t be bothered to get involved with needle and thread. Thankfully Henry requested a crocodile costume, and his father is the sort to say ‘hmm, I think I can do that’ and have a full-sized crocodile head made of cardboard on the kitchen floor when you get home.

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So, some green poster paint and white wood primer later (only the best materials in this house), and put together with green pyjama bottoms and a green t-shirt we’d found in the morning, Henry Rex was good to go. For Teddy I found a baby sailor suit at the bottom of his drawer, and for a while wondered whether Victorian Infant Triumphantly Surviving Cholera would be an acceptable entry. Thankfully we decided he looked a bit like a clown, and ran with that instead. Face paint and stripy tights, with helium balloons tied to his toddlebike, and this boy was ready to rock.

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Tim and I went as Harry and Hermione. I have a couple of sets of swishy robes left over from university (I will tell the indignant story about how we had to wear robes and a velvet tie to our exams some other time). And the tumbleweed hair I’m sporting at the moment kind of demands nothing else. Did you know Tim has a scar on his forehead in the exact place Harry has his? Tim’s might even have been put there by prophecy and a Dark Lord, I dunno. He says it was some French cellar steps, but we know the truth.

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I spent the afternoon making a cake for one of the costume prizes, tripping over small children demanding to lick out bowls, and having a nervous breakdown. Then it was costume time. And we ran into a bit of a disaster with the face paint. After all that grimacing at the fake blood in Tesco, it turns out that clown makeup + Teddy’s dribble = zombie clown with bloodstained bib. We were responsible for the tiny blonde boy staggering around the church hall looking like he’d eaten all his friends. And Halloween laughed and belly-laughed, because Halloween is a sucker for irony.

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By the way, the post-Halloween sugar crash? Something akin to rubbing sherbet all over a toddler’s face and sending him running face-first into a wall. By the next morning Henry was curled up on a bookshelf pretending to be a parcel. Do they make hallucinogenic Skittles, now? Because if so, count me in.

Three breakfasts

Friday

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Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: [brushes hair]
[wangs Henry’s shoes over shoulder]
[scrubs at Teddy’s teeth]
[whips open pushchair]
No time no time no time
[door slam]

Saturday

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Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: Ooh, yes please. Toast and a hot drink?
Thanks. I’ll eat it while I’m drying my hair.
[puts plate within easy reach]
What, Teddy? I’m just – just give me a – whattttt?
Come up here, then.
No, that’s my toast.
Alright, just a bit.
Noooo, you got jam on the carpet? Come here. It’s alright. Let’s get a wipe.
[puts uneaten toast on a high shelf, remembers it when running out of the door half an hour later]
Damn.

Sunday

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Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: Ooh, yes please. Toast and a hot drink?
Yes, Hen, I can find your carriage.
Teddy, lovey, can we read this book once I’ve finished – ok. Quick then.
You need a wee? Good boy, let’s GO GO GO.
Well done. Let me finish my breakfast, and then I’ll go run your bath.
Are you being kind? HENRY GILES. ARE YOU BEING KIND.
What’s our rule, mm? If Teddy is crying, he…doesn’t like it. That’s right. Now do you have something to say?
Sorry for what?
Ok, great. Let me go and finish my…
[swigs cold hot chocolate]
Damn.

Notes from the trenches: 5

I love reading these ‘Twenty-Six Text Messages You Must See Before You Die’ listicles. And one of the reasons I love them is that they’re proof that people actually send normal text messages to their friends and significant others. They organise social events and discuss dinner. They flirt. They do not, as a general rule, give an hourly account of the bodily waste they’ve come up against lately.

You know whose text messages do? Mine. Poor Tim. AND POOR ME, READERS. POOR ME.

(Just kidding. I laughed my little head off reading this evidence of my strange, frantic, toddler-driven life, and I think I’ll laugh more once this phase is done.)

10 April

Wee in library toilet! *thumbs up*
Poo in library pants! *thumbs down*

It’s like Gladiator, but with faeces.

30 April

So Hen found your Reece’s lip balm and has been sneakily licking it all morning. I’ve been saying ‘DON’T lick daddy’s lip balm!’ a lot.

Just now I asked him what he was doing, and he said what sounded like ‘I licking daddy’s bum’. Let’s hope that one doesn’t go public.

9 May

I forrealz just cooked a tea towel along with my chips.

14 May

Me: ‘I need to get ready, Henry. You’ll have to wait till Daddy gets home to ask him.’
[Henry presses the iPad button for Siri.]
Henry: ‘HELLO. HELLO. I NEED TO SPEAK TO TIMOTHY.’

15 May

From the bedroom, quite distinctly: ‘oh, CWAP’. Whoops.

13 June

Talking to Hen about senses.
‘What do we use for listening?’
‘Headphones.’
‘No, ears. Ears are for listening. What’s your nose for?’
‘Teddy pressing.’
‘Smelling, actually. What do we use for looking?’
‘The iPad.’
‘Your eyes. What are your feet for?’
‘Shoes and socks.’

New concepts 🙂

17 June

Even in a fictional Game of Thrones universe generated by a computer algorithm, I am not cool.
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21 June

Just poked my head around the door and saw Henry dragging Teds down the stairs by the foot. So I dropped my phone on our hard floor and ran.
Downside: poor phone. It’s ok, but it was lucky.
Upside: definitive proof that I love my children more than my phone.

23 June

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I’m now letting him eat from my Muller Corner using his hands. Hashtag desperation.

26 June

From nowhere, today: ‘Hey mama, bees don’t have willies’ –?!

30 June

Forgot to tell you Teds pulled the ladder down on top of himself this morning – and it was by the stairs, so he fell backwards DOWN THE STAIRS with the ladder on top of him. Heart attack city.

Yikes. Is he ok?

Amazingly, yes. Hard as nails, this boy.

2 July

Just banged my head on the corner of the car boot so hard I am literally strapping the boys in with tears streaming down my face.

Why can’t I just be a suffragette and have Mary Poppins be brilliant with my children?

5 July

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This guy woke up at 5.45am: bought 20 more mins with a bottle, and 20 more with him trashing our room.

He’s just got to Only Sitting On Your Face Will Please Me stage.

16 July

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‘Do a wee, ball! Time for you to do a wee!’

[puts on deep voice for ball] ‘No wees coming, thank you.’

17 July

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He made it to the top. *horror face*

– He is his brother’s brother.

19 July (6pm, FYI)

I’m coming home! Via Tesco.

– How soon is too soon to put Teddy to bed? He seems like he’s nearing the end of his tether.

-You are a wonder woman.

– In case you didn’t know.

23 July

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Found an empty bottle, pulled down your shirt, got himself settled.

24 July

‘Whass Teddy doin’?’
‘I don’t know, what is he doing?’
‘I sink he’s pretending to be a sea cow.’

30 July

‘Where on earth did that water come from?’ I said, watching Teddy splash in a puddle on the floor. ‘Seriously, there are no bottles nearby…and it’s not sick…’

Wee. He’d made a splash-pad out of his own wee.

From now on I will only be accepting emails addressed to ‘Rachel The Virgin Jeffcoat, Mother of Winter’, in case you were wondering why yours keep bouncing.

(You can see previous Notes from the Trenches here, here, here and here – and the quote formatting with this blog style is pretty gross, but I don’t have time to fix it now, so let’s all just agree to not mind.)

In which I am not a bronze god

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At some point along the way, I’ve turned into a person who can leave the house having forgotten to brush her teeth. And not just once, often. If it makes you feel any better, I’m never any less disgusted when I remember. It doesn’t make me feel much better, though.

Today was an accidental dirty-teeth day. which should have told me something. The weather is good at the moment – lovely, in fact; a generosity of sunshine and clear April skies – so I decided to drive down to Winchester: Tim was working just a few miles down the road, so I thought we could take some sandwiches and have a nice walk, then meet up with him after work.

I was halfway up a ramp in a multi-storey car  park, making an especially tight turn, when my power steering died. Let me tell you, until you’ve had to wrench a full car up a hill, back into reverse because you can’t turn fast enough, then forward again juuuust managing to miss the parked cars and all of this using only your own puny arms, you do not know the meaning of panic sweat. There were cars queuing behind me, Tim wasn’t answering his phone, I was blocking several people in, and both the boys were grumpy. And then my phone was about to die. Thankfully a beautiful hairy man helped me get the car into a space, for which good deed he has earned his place in Paradise. Then I got through to Tim, who came and wrestled my car out of the car park so the AA could come get it, leaving me his in return.

When I make grand, impulsive plans and they end up causing a lot of bother, I feel so foolish. Babies are a juggling act, a plate spinner of enormous proportions, and every time I feel like I’m getting the hang of it I get conked on the head. But if there were ever a city to heal a battered day, it’s Winchester in the sun. That cathedral is something else. There are so many lovely little alleyways and intriguing shops. Today there was a market, and we admired cheeses and gaping fish with great enthusiasm.

If you follow the path alongside the cathedral, under a series of archways, you eventually end up at a little square pond, where a great bearded bronze someone glowers over the proceedings (Jesus? Hercules?). It’s so quiet and forgotten-about back there, it feels like another world. Henry had just fallen over his own feet – a particular talent – so to distract him from crying I told him that the pond was magical. We picked two shiny brown leaves and dropped them into the water.

‘Now you have to make a wish’, I told him. ‘Let’s wish for… a milkshake’. (Priorities.)

He didn’t say anything, but looked down at his floating leaf, absorbed.

‘What will you wish for?’ I asked.

‘Stars’, he said.

We bought milkshakes from Shakeaway, later. Some wishes I can grant, but I am puny-armed and only human. If you ever happen to be in Winchester, and follow a little path behind the cathedral to find a square pond and a bronze god, do ask him how he’s getting on with Henry’s stars.

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Hey, if you have a spare clicking finger and a mild fondness for this blog, perhaps you wouldn’t mind voting for me in the MAD Blog Award finals? You can find me under Best Baby Blog. Voting closes soon! Thank you so much!

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