When these life updates (and indeed my children) were still in their early infancy, I regularly used to jinx myself by writing prematurely about them passing certain milestones. Not the starting walking, starting talking sorts of milestones, but the ones that make your life as a parent easier: the sleeping through the night, potty-training sorts of milestones. No sooner would I have written about “turning a corner” with the sleep deprivation or “successfully mastering” getting a toddler to the toilet on time for a wee (“no more peeling down sodden trousers, which seem to stick to wet legs like glue”) then the kids would almost gleefully do a total u-turn and start pooing behind the sofa or waking up at hourly intervals throughout the night.
(Actually neither of them ever did a poo where a poo should not have been, for which I am eternally grateful.)
Anyway, I jinxed myself again this week by drafting this post and joyfully announcing that my youngest turning four seems to have worked a charm on him in terms of sleep and temperament:
“No longer does it require” (I typed) “the skills of an FBI negotiator to get him into the bedroom in the evening and we have managed to reduce the seven or eight bedtime stories he requires to be read to him in order to calm down enough to actually sleep to a more comfortable three. The best thing, though, is that he has stopped being woken in the morning by the intense need to use the toilet. (Lucky him! Wish I could say the same for myself.) For the past year, at least, we have been woken early by the faint sounds of him calling out, always the same song: “I need a weeeeee weeeeee.” Inexplicably, he says this in a broad West Midlands accent, but that is a whole other story. But it has been our alarm call for longer than we can remember and now, all of a sudden, it has stopped.”
So after drafting that little passage, recording for posterity that lovely nugget of memory, what do you think happened? I’ll tell you. On the first night post-draft, he woke up while the owls were still hooting. He then climbed into our bed – this has never happened – and proceeded to spit-whisper things into our ears until six-thirty, at which point he started a brand new song:
“I’m huuuuuuungry! I want breakfast! I’m huuuuuuuuuungry!”
On the second night post-boast, which was last night, he decided to have an almighty breakdown right before bedtime, getting so cross about a Transformers video that he turned puce, and then got up at 5.45am, which is why I am sitting in the kitchen editing this post at 6.35am. (Managed to lie in bed in a semi-doze for a while, boy clamped around me like a koala.)
The funny thing is, however, that the next part of my draft included the following:
“But I will miss, in a strange way, that first light call of I need a weeee weeee. Especially said in that mystery accent, for which we have absolutely no explanation for. With every passing milestone, I realise that I’m needed a bit less – or at least I’m needed in a different way.”
HA. HA. HA. How weird we are, as a species. We look back on the “baby years” and think we miss them, but we forget about the absolute torture that is sleep deprivation. We’re told by others “not to wish time to go faster” or “wait until they’ve left home, then you’ll realise that you should have appreciated each moment more!” but those people in turn have mainly remembered the highlights and not the feeling of relentless exhaustion. We’re programmed to remember the best bits in order, I expect, to survive. So that elders can look wisely down on the younger generation and say, with complete credibility, “oh you’ll be great – the baby years are just the best. How wonderful.”
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that the baby years aren’t the best, or great, or an absolute gift. Just that there are really shitty bits and it’s fine to mention them. I feel as though when you write anything online now, about anything at all, there needs to be this huge disclaimer to make sure everyone knows that you are above all grateful and thankful. Anything that could remotely be considered a moan is met with derision from the Gratitude Police who don’t seem to realise that there is a joy in reading about things you relate to, whether it’s an article about those annoying people who cut their nails on the train or a silly Instagram post about someone’s kids smearing poo on a freshly-decorated wall.
“Why did you even have kids if them smearing poo on the wall annoys you? Some people would kill to have the opportunity to have children and let them smear poo on the wall.”
“You should feel lucky you’re even on a train! How dare you complain about inconsiderate commuters when so many don’t have a job to commute to? Absolutely tone deaf.”
You can see this sort of comment all the time online now, beneath Instagram posts, on newspaper articles. It’s as though some people have totally lost all grip on any sort of humour, satire, tongue-in-cheek-ness or even just the ability to recognise that you can share an observation, or a part of your life, without it needing calibrating or putting into some kind of hierarchy of perceived suffering level. If you’re writing about how you bought a pack of Jammy Dodgers, waited all day for a chance to eat them alone and then opened them to find they were mouldy, you don’t need to be told how lucky you are to even be able to buy Jammy Dodgers in the first place.
My arthritis makes my arms ache from the moment I wake up until halfway through the night. Comments: “Well, be grateful you even have an arm!” Louise78_Unicorn
We were hijacked on flight 653 to Hamburg and I thought I’d never see my family again… Comments: “So not only is this Times journalist able to take a (probably #gifted!) flight, when the rest of us are unable to travel, he now expects sympathy for an event he escaped from unscathed. Millions don’t.”
When did we lose our nose for nuance, our deftness at sniffing out context and our basic skill for reading something in the way it was intended? Why can’t people just have a moan about trivial things, like Jammy Dodgers, or even non-trivial things, like tiredness or illness or the stress of home-schooling, without it having to be subjected to a comparison contest? It’s not Top Trumps! Top Trumps, The Misery Edition.
Parenting is a particularly tricky one to write about because we are expected to love our children unconditionally, which we do, but many seem to think that this also equates to having to love everything they do unconditionally. I love my kids so much that it makes me clench my jaw and sometimes I think I’ve broken a molar; but do I love it when they are both whining when I’m on a conference call, working on me in a sort of emotional pincer-move so that I agree to let them play a game on the iPad? No. My annoyance doesn’t diminish my love for my children and it seems strange that it always feels necessary to pre-empt any kind of “real life” observation with a whole stream of background and fact to give it context. Surely it’s evident from the style and the tone of the writing?
Well. That went off on a tangent. It’s because I have time to spare – I’m writing this in the early morning rather than at five minutes to midnight. See what absolute masterpieces I produce when I get a bit of time to do things? (Disclaimer: irony.)
I feel as though this month’s update wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the fact that the Lockdown of Horrors (because this one has surely been the grimmest one to date?) is about to become a lot less stressful for those with school age kids. A few more days and they are back in the classroom. It almost seems like an alien concept, now – I don’t even know whether my kids have shoes that fit. They live in wellies or mismatched socks.
And there are whole swathes of ancient manuscript I could write about life in lockdown with two small children but for some reason it doesn’t interest me. Writing it, I mean. I think I’ve been on complete autopilot for the past two months and I’m neither proud or ashamed of the way we’ve made our way through the schools closure – I was a rubbish homeschool teacher, so we did pretty badly at that, and I didn’t organise any of the “fun activities” I saw other people doing online, like mud kitchens or garden obstacle courses or crafting or making puppets out of toilet roll holders. But on the other hand everyone got fed and to bed on time and went on a daily walk and did a bit of reading and had an afternoon movie session (slept through most of them, with my head nodding forward like a nonagenarian) and still cheered when it was the weekend and had a cake on Fairy Cake Friday and pancakes on a Saturday.
Both children have grown by what looks like about half a foot since Christmas and they are still smiling, so I doubt that they will even remember the era they fondly know as “the germs”. They’ve each only ever had two full terms at school or nursery (Autumn term 2019 and 2020!) and so really they don’t know any better, I suppose.
I was thinking about this the other day, how Mr AMR and I were so totally bowled over in that first term in late 2019, when one had started school and the other had started nursery, and we had the entire day to ourselves. I just kept pottering around, muttering “I can just get on with my work now. I could just work! Or lie down. I could lie down now and nobody could stop me! Or I could work. Or both.”
Which is exactly what I’m going to do when the schools go back next week. I’m going to mutter-potter and do a lot of work from a lying down position. Good for getting ideas and planning them out, I find. If you don’t fall asleep…
The three year-old is now suddenly four, which means that he can, by no stretch of the imagination, be considered a baby. Me miserum! No more babies. Actually, me not miserum at all, because I’m quite sure that another baby would definitely be the end of me. I love my children beyond the point of all reason but the various lockdowns and ensuing periods of intense familial chaos have purged me of any and all remaining broodiness. I fully appreciate my own babies and can absolutely see why people keep on producing beautiful little additions, but I could not handle any more responsibilities. The dead houseplants are a constant reminder of how you can only divide yourself so many ways – the cat has started to chatter to himself in the mirror for company and I haven’t checked in on some of my friends in months. Another baby would have to be raised by wolves. Or the dog.
So adamant are we that another baby is not on the cards, we have started to practice an extreme version of the withdrawal method: withdrawing before sex proper has even started. And despite knowing my cycle inside-out, I’ve decided that no days are “safe” days – all must be treated as though I have the world’s flirtiest, most sperm-receptive ovum that’s just bust out of ovary jail and is looking for a good time. I’ve even looked into heavy-duty prophylactics, too, the sort the thickness of a lorry tyre. A wall, however, is an even better barrier. A stud wall will do, it doesn’t have to be a structural one – I’m not mad! – just so long as it kills any passion and makes penetration impractical.
I’m joking, obviously. Sex is now one of the few permittable leisure activities and if energy levels allow, after the daily five mile walk and the Key Stage 1 phonics and the many Zoom calls apologising for missed deadlines, it’s a great thing to do in our spare time, which is between the hours of 7.45pm and 9.55pm.
God! I honestly just thought that Santa’s sleigh was about to land in my garden – I could hear bells jingling and the sound of dozens of hooves! (Though why hooves would make a sound in the air I’m not sure.) Alas, it was just Mr AMR mashing potatoes below me for the children’s dinner. Sausage and mash for them – we, the adult faction, have Hello Fresh tonight. This is our third week using this particular food ingredient delivery service and I’m going to do a review video on Instagram soon. I thought that an honest, straight-talking review could be a good thing, as it’s sort of a strange concept to get your head around. Or I found it a strange concept at any rate! I think we have Thai-Style Pork Bowl this evening, which sounds intriguing – cue lots of tiny sachets to squeeze into the pan – and maybe a Cadbury’s Creme Egg afterwards because it’s Grand Designs night.
(Little insight into our rock ‘n roll lifestyle, there.)
I’ve gone off piste: it’s my second baby’s fourth birthday, which means the baby years are well and truly over. It’s amazing how you forget each stage (one of the reasons I’ve kept up with this monthly life update, so that I can always refer back to it) and how the growing up happens so subtly and gradually, a little every day, that you only really notice it when you a) have to buy new clothes for them and b) get those iPhone photo “memories” sent through on your notifications screen. What the hell are they all about, eh? On the one hand: cute. On the other: creepy! A computer has pulled out a load of photos from your albums, based either on date, location or facial recognition, and then it has put them into a slideshow and chosen a (usually tear-jerking) royalty-free tune to play as a soundtrack whilst you digest it all and exclaim “that was three years ago? It can’t be true!”
The Apple iMemory iCreepy service-nobody-asked-for doesn’t work perfectly every time, I have to say: the other day I had a slideshow that played romantic music whilst two dozen photos of a window-fitter I’ve only met once gently transitioned across my screen. There he was holding an A4 sheet of paper to show scale for a timber-look cottage window; here he reached into his toolbox for a tape measure. The climax shot was one of him leaning out of an open window, mainly to demonstrate the casement openings, but Apple’s algorithm apparently thought it was some sort of Romeo and Juliet situation.
My second baby is four though! If you fancy reading my birth story for Baby 2 then it’s here – you can also scroll back through all of my monthly diary entries, if you fancy, they are here. I can remember the birth in full technicolor, still, Morphine dreams included, whereas Mr AMR remembers nothing.
He did a fine job on the Transformers cake though (tenuous link, there!) cutting about ten thousand pieces of a Decepticon’s headpiece out of ready-to-roll fondant icing and laying them atop my freshly-baked sponge. (Not a euphemism.) I honestly thought that us making a celebration cake together would be one of those awful, marriage-defining events, like when you have to go to IKEA to buy furnishings for your first flat, or you go abroad together pre-sat-nav era and have to navigate to some godforsaken place that’s set into the side of a canyon with no habitation around it for at least four kilometres.
To be honest, I’m being silly – it would take more than a cake to wear us down. We once accidentally drove up a dry riverbed in Spain after being awake for thirty-six hours, in a hire car with less legroom than an old red telephone box, and I insisted it was a road for at least ten minutes until the riverbed narrowed in a deep ravine and there was no way to turn around. We had to reverse, painfully, in the midday heat. It was excruciating. You know when someone is so cross that you constantly feel you might laugh? Everything is suddenly hilarious. I’ve never been so desperate to speak – I knew I shouldn’t, but I just had this overwhelming urge to say something and break the silence.
“Isn’t it weird how the view is identical through the front and back windows?” I think I said. Boulders to the front, boulders to the back, a couple of dangerously fresh landslides, dried-up tree trunks, the odd skeleton of a goat that had no doubt died of thirst or frustration at the fact it thought it was meandering down the small road to Castellfollit de la Roca when it was actually following a river. (Why would you draw a map with roads in dark blue and rivers in medium?)
So yes the cake has been a success. And now I’m waiting to see whether “four” means more sleeping in past 5.50am. He lulls us into a false sense of security with a 7.30am wakeup call and on those days, emboldened by a good sleep, we decide to stay awake until – gasp! – 11pm. Maybe we indulge in some Bridgerton-esque sex, mentally, through the stud wall which takes us to midnight and you can guarantee that the next morning will be a 6am-er.
I had so much more to say in this life update: stuff about lockdown, stuff about moving (we’ve taken on a big renovation project in the most incredible location, see video here, there will be a proper update when I’m on top of my work again), stuff about homeschooling, stuff about missing parents. (As in missing them, not that they are missing.) I seem to have gone off on a silly tangent about sex and babies which was completely unintentional but perhaps it’s just more…fun…than stating all kinds of obvious about lockdown.
Of course if this was a private diary I would probably just have scrawled I am losing my MIND in my own blood, but I think the effect would be lost in translation once typed out on a MacBook Pro…
And so here we are, thrown back into the deep pit of lockdown confusion. Each of us with a different and unique inconvenience or disaster: some have lost jobs, some are caring for the sick or elderly, many are suffering with their mental health, lots are working in risky situations or working when they shouldn’t be working. Some people are incredibly bored, others can’t find enough hours in the day to get everything done, there are people who have found their lives largely unaffected and those who have welcomed the changes, others who have refused to make any changes whatsoever…
(A few have “all the time in the world” and are learning how to cross-stitch, speak Cantonese and correctly prune Bonsai trees but we shall ignore them for now.)
My own personal Mastermind specialist subject (Lockdown Edition) is “working from home with two very young kids”, a specialist subject shared by many and only truly understood by those with first hand experience. It’s like being in a high-energy high-stakes gameshow, let’s say Crystal Maze, but a gameshow that never ends. There’s Richard O’Brien standing at the door playing the flute as you try to conduct a crucial work call and wipe a child’s bottom at the same time, he’s constantly telling you that you’re running out of time and that the door’s going to lock and you’ll be trapped in the room…the door’s already locked Richard!
I learnt from Lockdown version 1.0 that to survive being trapped with small children 24/7 you need to consciously kiss any kind of freedom goodbye. And try be OK with that. You have to wipe all plans for any kind of personal development or achievement, even if the height of your ambition is “trying to find some new recipes so that the family can get more nutrients into their diet”.
You have to learn to function on a reduced service – essential tasks only – and not be frustrated if you can’t fit any of the other stuff in. Like sleep. Reading. Leaving the house for exercise. Talking to an adult human that isn’t sick of talking to you.
And that’s just about doable, but bloody hell it’s tiring. Bone-deep exhausting, in fact, and the sort of mentally draining trial of endurance that makes you want to drag yourself up into a tree and hide there for an indefinite period of time.
But anyway, you plough on as best you can through the exhaustion fug, until you see annoying comments underneath online articles saying things like:
“why have kids if you don’t want to look after them?”
“erm, how did these people who are desperate for schools to open not know having kids would be hard?”
and then, the inspiration for this post, one that sent me cross-eyed with incredulity:
“all these parents whining about being stuck with their kids: what do they think people did in the olden days?”
Ah, the olden days. What did people do with their kids in the olden days, “Ducati821”? Enlighten me. Just the fact that you’ve managed to squeeze the entire history of humankind pre-2020 into one easy category suggests to me that you won’t have properly thought this one through.
Is it “the olden days” of the eighties, for example, which I have firsthand experience of? Because I can tell you that we used to spend most of the day playing on bits of old carpet, sliding down an embankment that ran alongside a busy road. We stayed out for hours. In fact, most kids I know who were brought up in the eighties barely saw their parents in daylight hours, unless it was for a quick lunch.
And speak to Mr AMR, brought up in the seventies, who used to play on the motorway with his siblings and walk himself to school. (The way he tells it he was frying his own cooked breakfast at three and chainsawing trees down by the age of six, but I suspect he is prone to exaggeration when it comes to childhood memories.)
How olden days shall we go, Ducati821, because I think you’ll find that the further back you delve, the less time parents probably spent with their kids. In centuries past, if you were rich then you didn’t look after your own offspring at all – poor parents sent theirs out to work as soon as they could convincingly wield a set of dangerous-looking tools. And if the kids weren’t working, they were running about the manure-strewn streets getting kicked in the head by a horse, or shot through the thorax with an errant arrow or enslaved by an evil Sheriff.
Basically, children have for the most part either gone to school or they’ve been put to work, depending on historic era and/or socioeconomic circumstances. Very rarely do people voluntarily decide to spend every single waking hour with their progeny once they have graduated from nappies.
Look at my parents’ generation – their parents used to boot them out of the door at about six in the morning with a heel of granary bread and an apple. And they used to get into all sorts of mischief finding horrendously dangerous places to amuse themselves. Marshes. Train tracks. Quarries.
The parents knew that the kids were up to no good but they kicked them out for the whole day anyway. They basically had the option of swimming in an old, deep sinkhole, swinging from rusty, broken scaffolding or shooting at tin cans with the rifles their dads had brought back from the war. The safest playtime activity was probably having picnics in the scary wood where the “strange man liked to watch them”.
“Will you be away and out of my hair Liam and don’t be getting sucked into that bog like wee Patrick and little Malachy before him and Jerry before him and all of those other poor boys who keep getting sucked into the bog I should probably tell you not to go and play in.”
I digress: my point is that spending all day and every day with your kids is quite wearying. 100% of the time is…a lot of time. No relationship is designed to be that relentless, even if the other person is Tom Hardy. (Ha! Had to get him in somewhere.) You can see why women with many, many children (my granny had eight, that wasn’t unusual or even notable) got the eldest to look after the youngest and then sat there chain-smoking roll-ups and staring forlornly at the mangle.
Tell me, as a sort of sociological/historical factfinding experiment: how much time did you spend with your parents when you were young? Did they constantly play with you, sit and watch films with you, make dens and forts with you, or did you get sent out into the garden/street with your siblings and the boy from Number 9 who was eight years old and owned a replica Rambo knife? (Complete with sewing kit in the handle.) Comment below, please, and update me on your lockdown status: Bored, Surviving or End of Tether.
Just wondering if anyone can help me out with this email I’ve just had – I’ve obviously managed to get myself into a bit of a pickle. Not for the first time, I should add. Every time I sift through my junk mail I’m being blackmailed for one thing or another!
“In case you didn’t get the last email. Pay attention now.
You have used Zoom recently. And I have very unfortunate news for you.
I’ll give you some background on what happened.
There was a zero day security vulnerability on Zoom app, that allowed me a full time access to your camera and some other metadata on your account.
Basically, you were hacked.
And as you can imagine in your worst dreams, I have made a footage with you as a main actor.
Where you work on yourself (perform sex act to be clear). Having fun is ok with me, but is not ok with your reputation.
Please dont blame me or yourself for this. You couldn’t know that the camera was working.
I’m sure you don’t want to be the next Jeffrey Toobin and get embarrassed in front of all your friends, family and colleagues.
You should get this very clear, I will send this video to all your contacts if I dont get paid.
Are you wondering how I got your contacts and emails? Through the same exploit, zoom app allowed me to extract all sensitive info from your device.
So here is what we will do. You pay me $2000 in bitcoin, and nothing of this will happen. You have 2 days to make the payment.
After I get the money, I will delete the footage and information about you. The amount is not negotiable.
Send 0.11 Bitcoin (less than 2k USD at the current exchange rate) to my wallet.
Having trouble with buying bitcoin? Just google on how to buy it, it’s very easy to use and anonymous.
P.S. Don’t try to report this to the police, I use TOR and bitcoin can’t be traced. Do not email me back. If you do something stupid, I will distribute the video.
Good luck. Don’t stress.”
This isn’t my first time at this particular rodeo, people (you can read about my other alarming experience with a potential sex tape scandal here) but the whole thing is still slightly confusing. Because I can’t actually remember performing a sex act on myself during the last Zoom conference I participated in, but then I can’t even remember where the charger for my iPhone is or what it was like to sleep in past 6.30am and so it’s perfectly possible I did something disgusting and depraved without even realising.
Although, come to think of it, my last Zoom call was at the weekend, on my 40th (happy birthday to me, thank you thank you) and involved eight of my family members, wearing silly hats and playing a game of Mind Meld. So it’s unlikely I managed to fit in a session of self-pleasure – or, as it’s so practically put in the email, find time to “work on myself”. (“And BACK and FORTH and BACK and FORTH and BRING ON PHASE TWO!”)
Regardless, this anonymous, dastardly blackmailer (probably on the FBI’s most wanted list) has evidence of my sex act and my reputation is at stake. Anon is going to make footage with me as the main actor which could quite possibly destroy my impeccable public image. (Or catapult me to fame, just like Hilton, Kardashian et al.)
What to do, what to do? Can I take the risk that my public image may be left in tatters, or could it be great for A Model Recommends to get a new, main-actor-in-sex-footage lease of life? Now I’m forty, perhaps it’s time for a change of direction!
But there are many questions that need to be answered before I can make a considered, sensible decision.
Firstly: if I am the main actor, who are the others? My supporting cast? I’d like some say in it. I mean are we talking Olivia Coleman? Tom Cruise? Danny Dyer? Which level of stardom are we plumping for here? And how are they to be introduced to this Zoom orgy – will we all be on green screens with the same background and sort of patched together in a skilful silky montage of sex acts or will there be a degree of CGI involved?
And do you think it would be acceptable for me to make some requests as to how this footage is going to pan out? Ultimately I wouldn’t mind directing it. Perhaps we could reenact that scene in Taboo where Tom Hardy tries to copulate aggressively with his sister (it’s sexier than it sounds, you had to be there). I don’t like too much unnecessary sex talk, which probably wouldn’t make for the most engaging dirty movie, but I’m sure Tom’s actions would speak louder than words! He only has about five lines to say in Taboo anyway (you can read my post about that here) so you’d hope he’d be big on action.
Actually, this whole sex-tape idea isn’t turning out too badly. I don’t know why I was even (un)worried. Anyone fancy a copy? It’s already going to all of my contacts, which means that all of the people with obscure names like “Lisa Shelves Woking” and “Javid Sports (Knees)” and “Michael Windows Remember Call” will be getting a thrill!
(Does anyone else use the first name/last name/company entry fields as a sort of temporary notebook? I know that Mr AMR does. He has no actual full names in his contacts, just first names and then two clues as to who the person is. It helps him remember. His lists look like this:
First name: JAMES
Last name: PRO LIGHTING
Company: REDDISH HAIR LOW VOICE
I have contacts from around fifteen years ago and I have absolutely no idea who the people are. The only time I even realise I have them stored in is when I use my car phone thing, where you say “dial whoever” and it phones them from your iPhone. Except it never actually phones the right person.
“Dial Jim Fenning.”
“Dialling Jennifer Hemling.”
“Dialling Peter Manning.”
“DIAL JIM FENNING!”
So yes, a lot of mystery people will be getting my explicit green-screened tryst-with-self, co-starring Tom Hardy. Because I’m definitely not going to give into demands and pay those 2000 bit coins, even if I knew how to pay something in bit coins. Even if it means that – should things go tits up – I might be, as anon warns, “the next Jeffrey Toobin”.
The thing about Jeffrey Toobin is (pencils and notebooks at the ready!) that he most definitely knew he was performing a sex act upon his own person (little Jeff, let’s call it) in front of his laptop. Even if you think the camera off, it’s just a crazy thing to do. Personally, I think if you have a penchant for fiddling then it would be wise to make some sort of makeshift camera lens cover for your laptop. A piece of masking tape would do it and isn’t too technically challenging.
We have a masking tape cover over the camera lens on our Peloton exercise bike and we don’t even perform sex acts when we’re on that. I just don’t want people accidentally seeing my sweating, gurning face as I pedal like a maniac to nineties R&B. I cannot for the life of me fathom why anyone would want others to see them as they sweat away on an exercise bike, but the camera is there, nevertheless, for those who want it.
Thinking about this camera cover thing some more (quiet news day here!): shouldn’t the laptop itself come with a lens flap? Like those glasses that have the flip-down shades, you could have a little lever that covers the camera. The online equivalent of a condom. Because as we all know from our teens and trying not to get accidentally up the duff/landed with an itchy STD, nothing beats a physical barrier! It’s all very well having a little light on the lid that tells you whether the camera is on or off, but do you really trust it? It’s like trusting John from lower sixth to pull out. Computers would have no moral qualms about overshooting the mark, so to speak.
God I don’t know what’s happening with this life update. I was going to write about the cost of organic kids’ snacks (which I don’t buy because they’re more expensive per gram than, I don’t know, white truffle) but here I am thinking about flaps and Jeffrey Toobin and laptop modifications.
By the time there’s a next (hopefully more sensible) life update we’ll have had Christmas and I’m planning a lengthy festive break – three, perhaps even four weeks! – so I’m not sure whether it’ll be published on time. The thing about taking a break is that if you even have one smallish thing to do, that’s related in some way to all of your other work, you’ll just end up working. “I’ll pop on quickly and write my life update” will become “I’ll draft that piece on best acid exfoliants” and then “I’ll just make a quick Instagram video to go with it” and then the holiday will be no more.
So I’m warning you in advance. There will be other posts before Christmas, but when the Out of Office sign goes up and the camera flap goes down (lol!) I’m kicking back and seeing 2020 off in a totally relaxed, non-work-mode manner. In the words of the infamous Zoom Sex Tape Blackmailer: “Good luck. Don’t stress.”
[Photo credit: if you know who took this then please tell me because it was a long time ago. Obviously. I don’t look like this in a negligée now. I don’t think I even own one.]
Who knew so many of you waited for the third of the month with such a sense of delight and anticipation? I have say that I’m deeply flattered by the messages and emails I’ve had asking where an earth the monthly update has gone (I always publish on the 3rd, without fail) and it just goes to reinforce my notion that one day in the future my online journal will become a very important historical primary source.
Students at the Virtual University of Barcelona will be there, plugged into their VR headsets, watching a CGI version of Ruth Crilly as she reads out her diary entries. Hopefully they won’t CGI a reenactment of me almost impaling myself on a shower attachment (see here) but I suppose I won’t have any control over it and if it’s far enough in the future I’ll be dead anyway and won’t care.
So it’s with this sense of duty to future generations that I force a November Life Update out of my hardened, dried-out brain: I really can think of nothing worse than sitting down to write at this particular moment. I’m just absolutely fried. And I did, in fact, start writing this month’s update on time, but in the final few hours on the night of the third, when usually I would be at my desk wondering why on earth I leave everything to the last minute, typing furiously on my laptop, I wasn’t even at home.
I was, Dear Readers, doing the equivalent of an Iron Man competition (but more stressful), wearing a maxi-dress, tights, cashmere jumper and a parka designed to withstand arctic conditions. I have never been so sweaty in my life. It didn’t help that I was performing this act of extreme fitness inside, or that I was carrying a fifteen kilo (living) package on my front. The world’s heaviest koala.
Down the hospital corridors I ran, desperately asking all those I passed by for directions to unit B24 – “where’s B24? I cannae carry on!”, staggering under the weight of my child and blinded by the sweat that was running into my eyes. The corridors were endless, my knees began to buckle – by the time I reached unit B24 I must have looked like someone who had just completed one of those horrendous fake SAS training courses.
“Take her,” I wheezed, “take…the child.”
So anyway, that’s why I couldn’t finish my life update in time. A purple rash, an evening of tests, a late arrival back to the manor. Please don’t be concerned by the hospital visit: all is, thank God, well. A dramatic temporary condition but not one that tends to be serious or pose a long-term problem. Saying that, it has been incredibly stressful – there’s nothing like the feeling of dread when your child is ill. Even a fever and a cold sets me on edge, so rash + blood tests + swellings + whatever else sent my mind into total overdrive. I felt as though I wanted to be sedated for a month or so, until she was better, but of course that wouldn’t be a practical option would it? You have to front these things out. I’m becoming convinced that parenthood forces you to mine into previously un-mined depths of bravery – you have to be brave and you have to be stoic, because you can’t let the little ones see that you’re scared.
Phew. What a ride it is.
The part of my life update that I started writing (pasted below) is actually quite bizarrely prophetic: I was feeling a strong sense of unease as we were going into second lockdown that week and much of that unease was because Mr AMR and I had both had some health scares within our families. So it seems mad that I was writing this at about two in the afternoon, and then by four I was in the local A&E and by seven I was at the big hospital in Bath! Seems only fitting that you read it, really, so here it is. And I promise to deliver the next update on time…
“As we head into another national lockdown in the UK, I can’t help feeling a slight sense of panic. Some non-Covid-related health incidents in our extended family this year have really drummed home the importance of being able to spend time with – and support – the people you love, but at the same time keep them protected and shielded as much as possible too. It’s the sort of deep-set anxiety that makes you want to retreat into your shell, like a tortoise, because on top of worrying about people you love there’s also the very real, very devastating economic fallout to process and the fact that the world is becoming a very different, completely unfamiliar place.
It’s a lot to soak up and it’s not something that I really feel comfortable writing about, even after months and months of constant discussion and deliberation. The subject is just too…big. I think that there’s enormous pressure online to dissect and debate, to come up with a cuttingly sharp political meme or an acerbic tweet, but most people are just trying to get through the week.
And so instead of thinking about the pandemic, I’m trying to recreate Farrah Fawcett hair flicks with my old heated rollers. It’s work-related, so I don’t feel that it’s too frivolous, but even if it is a silly thing to be doing as the country folds in on itself you can rest assured that I’m being suitably punished. So far I’ve scorched six out of ten fingers, two so seriously that I fear I may have lost my fingerprints.
Perhaps that’s a good thing – I could go and commit some two-fingered burglaries! Watch out museums. I’ve never understood why they used to try and remove their own fingerprints in films – why not just wear gloves? You can get some excellent tight-fitting gloves, I can’t imagine that there would be too much compromise to fingertip agility. Although they used to say that about ultra-thin condoms, didn’t they, in our younger years? “Featherlite for her pleasure!” Or was it “Ribbed for her pleasure”? I don’t know which women they used to test the pleasure-rating of those condoms but they must have been really easily pleased.”
A giant white moth just flew at my window as I started to type this life update, and I’m not sure what sort of omen that represents. I almost had a heart attack when its huge wings hit the glass and was forced to immediately raid my desk drawers for something edible to calm my nerves. Unfortunately I had already eaten the vulva-shaped lollipop that a feminine hygiene brand had so kindly sent to me last month (an honest-to-God, true-to-life replica of a full-sized vulva in pink chocolate, folds and all) and so the cupboard was bare, so to speak.
Who sends a lollipop that’s an artful replica of a (hairless) vulva, you might ask? Well, let me tell you that it’s not the first one I’ve had posted through the letterbox. And it’s not top of my list of things I particularly want to eat, but when the sugar craving hits (usually at around 3pm) then you can’t be too picky about these things. The chocolate was actually quite delicious – it reminded me of the little pink mice you used to get at the sweet shop, back in the Victorian times when sweete shoppes still existed.
Bloody hell, the moth is still at it! Flying at my window panes as though it’s possessed – it’s hurtling backwards and forwards as though it’s lashed to the business end of an invisible battering ram.
It’s difficult to stay focused under these conditions – I simply can’t work like this! – but I have to admit that I’m not entirely in the best frame of mind anyway to write this life update tonight. Long-term readers will know that I haveto publish my life update on the third of every month (it has become almost a superstition – I once wrote it blind drunk at five minutes to midnight, you can trawl through them all here and guess which one) but I’m struggling to get my words down tonight.
And it’s not that nothing has happened in the last month, it’s more that everything has happened. It’s all change. A new business venture that involves coastal paths and cosy fires, a huge new life plan and a fitness regime that I’ve been surprisingly good at throwing myself into.
(In fact it’s not even a regime – I just bought one of those Peloton bikes and, despite hating almost all forms of physical activity*, can’t stop going on it. The classes are gruelling but make me smile like a total fool – must be the endorphins. I’ve never once enjoyed having to move my body at more than a walking pace yet here I am wearing padded lycra cycling shorts listening to 90s Garage and pedalling so hard that I get black spots in front of my eyes.
*I hate almost all forms of physical activity and cannot understand people who take up sports as a hobby. Ditto those who go on holiday and then book in for daily sessions of scuba diving or dune-surfing or whatever it is people like to do. How is that even a holiday? Lying down is a holiday! Reading a Kindle through one squinted eye because it’s so bright but you can’t read with your sunglasses on is a holiday. Falling asleep on a sunlounger after a heavy rosé-fuelled lunch and waking up six hours later with sunstroke and mild cystitis…is a holiday. Sort of.)
Anyway, the Peloton (fancy exercise bike with a huge screen that immerses you in very dynamic live-streamed spin classes) is about the only thing I can talk about at the moment. My mind is absolutely buzzing with new things, new horizons and exciting changes but it’s too soon to go there and report on it all. One of my projects is a little bit of a content goldmine, come to think of it – I could film and serialise the whole thing and I think it would be so interesting, like Homes Under The Hammer crossed with a very low-key version of Grand Designs! Does that sound like something you’d watch? A no holds barred account of a total house renovation? (Albeit a very tiny one?)
Let me know in the comments. I’ll consider this my litmus test.
In this month’s family developments we have: both kids in school/pre-school, which gives a clear four-ish hours a day to work, but somehow results in less actual work being done than during lockdown when I had only a meagre forty-ish minutes a day to work. Where on earth does the time go? I go to do a twenty minute Peloton class and suddenly an hour and a half has gone by – answering the door to the postman seems to use up the best part of ten minutes. I try to steer clear of social media, because that seems to be a black hole of time-swallowing proportions and I limit myself to two toilet trips per workday, because otherwise I find myself automatically having a quick scroll through Instagram. God forbid I stop to have lunch.
So I have more time, now, but in an unexpected and weird turn of events, I also have less. I end up doing nearly all of my most important work between 2.30pm and 3, typing frantically like one of those geeks in the movies when they’re trying to hack into an evil warlord’s computer to prevent a missile from blowing up the entire east coast of America and they’ve only got twenty seconds to go. I spend that half an hour working so intensively that I’m surprised I don’t self-combust – it’s like making a carthorse suddenly do a steeplechase after it’s spent the day plodding about the farmyard sniffing the fence panels and hoofing the mud.
And the few hours between school and bedtime seem to be so much harder than when it was the long, full days during lockdown and the summer holidays – what’s up with that? Again, is it that you’ve been blobbing about all day in near-silence and then suddenly you’re expected to perform the roles of FBI negotiator, short-order chef, butler, fashion stylist and driver all at the same time?
Whatever, it’s all very brilliant and intense and I definitely know that I’m alive – the moments of sheer elation and the times of absolute rock-bottom morale that define parenthood continue to delight and torment. What an incredible journey it is – and each phase is so short-lived, I can now barely remember a time when my kids couldn’t talk. Their baby photos are starting to seem almost alien, as though they are photos of entirely different people, and I’m just about to collect up and pass along all of their plastic bowls and plates and funny short-handled cutlery. They’ve decided that they are too grown-up for unbreakable stuff and that they’d like a stab at the Burleigh collection.
(Joke, like I’d even risk it! They’re using circa 2005 IKEA plates that are chipped and that have so many knife scores in them they look like little faded treasure maps. I knew that Mr AMR’s hoarding tendencies would pay off one day.)
I have to go, this moth is frantic and to be quite honest it’s unnerving. I’ve started thinking that it’s someone trapped in a moth’s body, or something worse, like an angry shrunken angel, and once I get a spooky thought like that into my head I have to go and hide under the covers. White moths always remind me of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations; I imagine they have withered old ladies faces superimposed on their tiny hairy heads…
Crikey. If there’s anyone else out there who’s been trying and failing to do the whole work-life-balance thing over the summer holidays, can they please make themselves known? That’s right, hold your hands up high: I need to do a full and accurate head count here. The more people the merrier. Anything to make me feel less bad about myself – less like a neurotic malfunctioning android. And more….well. More like a human.
Yes, I’ve reached Basil Fawlty levels of stress and irritation and I’m not afraid to admit it – I feel as though I’m hanging on to my sanity by my fingernails and that normal life, if anything could be called normal these days, will be forever beyond my grasp. The many, many months of the “new routine” (ie trying to keep work going whilst also becoming a very shit version of a primary school and pre-school) have taken their toll.
I adore my kids. Obviously. They’re funny, they’re cute, they’re close enough in age that they play together for hours, they get excited about tiny things like going to a cafe or getting one of those extortionate magazines from the supermarket, the ones with useless plastic tat sellotaped to the front and a pull-out page of crap stickers. They give the best cuddles, the slimiest kisses that you have to surreptitiously wipe away when they’ve finished, they put their shoes on the wrong feet and they have tiny high voices that make them sound like they’ve been playing with helium balloons.
I love them unconditionally, which isn’t anything remarkable for a parent, but I feel it has to be said nevertheless, because it’s always a touchy subject when you talk about having to work or simply needing time to yourself. Never mind the fact that bills need to be paid, or that you need a little respite just to be. In this case both, although it’s definitely the work element for me that tends to send my stress levels soaring.
The worrying thing about how difficult it is to work through the summer holidays is this: the summer holidays happen every year! Six weeks! At least with lockdown you could console yourself that they were unprecedented times, everyone was in the same boat: there’s nothing unprecedented about the six week holidays. Suddenly you’re plunged from a relatively acceptable work-life situation (six-ish hours a day, five days a week in which to work or catch up on sleep or go to the toilet unaccompanied) into what can only be described as a childcare abyss. It’s like falling off the edge of a life cliff that you simply weren’t prepared for!
One week you’re calmly typing away on your laptop, getting on with your work from about ten until two, maybe with a cup of tea or even a lunchtime sandwich, radio playing downstairs and perhaps a little twenty minute power nap at your desk to look forward to; the next you can’t even find your laptop because the Barbies are using it as their drive-thru cinema.
Trying to work from home is the absolute singular worst thing you can do with children around. They sense it when you try to work. They sniff it out. You can be at your computer watching stupid kitten videos and they won’t disturb you for a full forty minutes, but open a desperately important Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (still can’t read or edit them and I’ve been trying since 1994) and they will be mountain-climbing your back within twenty-five seconds.
“Can I do some typing?”
“What does this button do?”
“Why doesn’t the screen work when I press it?”
“Play Optimus Prime!”
If you’re working from home then good luck trying to switch into professional-person work-mode when a small person is having a poo in the bathroom next door to your office. If you’re trying to conduct a Zoom meeting then pat yourself on the back if you manage to get through it without having to mute yourself to shout at one or more kids to stop them from eating plaster of Paris or snipping at the leaves of the houseplants with the fabric scissors. (“It’s a haircut.”)
The only way I can work from home is to shut off all noise and distraction, which means either wearing earplugs and locking the door in the daytime (and obviously having someone to supervise the kids!) or shifting the working day into the evening and forgoing any sort of relaxation or Netflix binge.
But none of this is particularly a bad thing – at least not for me. I have to say (ooh, big reveal) that the last few months have taught me to do something I’ve never managed to do successfully before, and that is to completely detach myself from work for longish periods of time. Consecutive days. A whole week, even. It’s a revelation. You immerse yourself fully into domestic life and suddenly everything slows down – you still fill the day with chores and looking after other people, but you’re just a bit more present when you do it. Rather than frantically going from task to task and seeing the day as some sort of giant, tickable to-do list, you just sort of deal with things as they are presented to you. When I try to do too much at once, every element of the day becomes a challenge – breakfast, getting dressed, answering the doorbell, but when I allow myself to just chill out (which doesn’t come naturally, I’ll admit) everything is suddenly a little bit easier. And a bit more fun.
So to cut a long story short, I’ve been really trying hard to be less rigid about what I need to get done on the work front. Or actually, that’s not accurate: I’ve been trying hard to be less rigid about when I get things done. This, I think, is going to have to be my mantra each and every school holiday from now on; go easy, set the bar reasonably low and be flexible with timings.
And with that pearl of wisdom to myself, I’m going to bed. It’s a quarter to eleven and I’ve already had my sleepy tea, which I have to say doesn’t do my writing any favours. It makes me quite soporific and my brain goes spongey and refuses to think of anything witty to say. I also know that the kids will be up at 6am – although they have started to do this amazing thing where they sneak off and play together for an hour before they wake us up. How incredible is that? The only thing is that they quite like to do a jumping game for the aforementioned hour and the room is directly above us, so the light in the ceiling shakes and all the glass bits jangle and it sounds like the entire roof is going to fall down on our heads.
Nothing like being woken up by what you initially think might be a serious earthquake. Keeps you on your toes. Who needs relaxation anyway?
I had to pull a whole live tick out of my child’s face last week and I’ll be having nightmares for months. In fact if you have a phobia of insecty things, or if the idea of minor medical procedures being performed by a non-professional makes you edgy, then it’s probably best to skip this life update because things are going to get graphic.
I was actually going to write about our holiday to Cornwall for this life update, but reading about people’s non-exotic holidays is never that interesting, is it? They’re always a bit samey, because we all know what a grey day on a windy beach is like and that holidays with young kids are harder work than being at actual work and we’ve all nearly had to do a wee in an empty water bottle when we’ve been stuck in a traffic jam.
The same experiences are regurgitated, family after family – you could almost create a Great British Staycation clichés bingo card! “The weather was a mixed bag but it was nice to have some rainy indoors days, just to feel as though you didn’t have to be enjoying the outside.” Stamp the card. “When it was hot it felt just like abroad, didn’t it Brian?” Stamp. “Who needs Gran Canaria when the sun at home shines like this?” Stamp. “This ice-cream is the best I’ve tasted.” Stamp. “Why did they make the roads so narrow?” Stamp. “Why doesn’t he BLOODY WELL REVERSE INTO THE PASSING SPACE? THERE’S NOWHERE FOR US TO GO, MATE. THE TRAFFIC’S BACKED UP BEHIND US. NO YOU GO BACK – YOU – GO – BACK. BACKWARDS!”
I’ll tell you what wouldn’t be on your average staycation cliché bingo card, though, and that would be this: waking up to find that your five year-old daughter has what looks like an old Coco Pop stuck to her face, trying to pull the Coco Pop off, unsuccessfully, then realising that the Coco Pop has tiny black legs.
Classic holiday happenings.
Honestly, it was like something from Alien II. Once I’d retrieved my glasses so that I could actually see properly, and shone the torch from my iPhone at the side of her head, I could see that my little girl didn’t have old cereal stuck to the side of her face at all; it was the back end of a well-fed tick.
Dear God I almost fainted from sheer, unadulterated disgust. The engorged body, the teeny legs…and the worst thing was this: that I could see its body and I could see its legs…but where was the head?
INSIDE HER FACE, THAT’S WHERE! If you don’t believe me then Google “ticks”. They bury their head parts into the flesh and the body stays outside. It’s like something from a horror movie. The ticks hide in long grass and ferns and undergrowth, which is basically where my kids are magnetically drawn to because they are attracted to anything dirty or dangerous, and then they (the ticks, not my kids) attach themselves to passing fleshy hosts and burrow their horrible little heads into the skin.
Oh, how my hands trembled as I fetched my tweezers. (Yes, I took tweezers on holiday: chin hairs don’t rest just because you do!) The feel of the little hard, crunchy body as I worked the tweezer blades towards my daughter’s soft, perfect skin, trying to unearth as much of the tick’s head as I could before carefully pulling the whole thing out.
Not to blow my own trumpet too much, but I was actually rather good at tick extraction. After getting over the initial fright, after recovering from the shock of there being an alien parasite feeding off my child’s face, I came over all practical, a bit like Doc Martin overcoming his blood phobia in times of great need, and basically I saved the day.
Once the tick was out, I wanted to smash it with a large stone on the beach to make sure that it was properly dead. But the kids wouldn’t let me – they are still at the stage where they see no difference between a fly and a kitten, a biting ant and a llama – and so I preserved it, at their request, within a folded piece of sellotape.
I wanted to explain to them that the sellotape method was a far crueller death. To be slowly suffocated inside your transparent plastic tomb, with four huge giants watching on…the stone on the beach would have been a blessing by comparison. I could almost see the regret on the tick’s face. His legs stuck fast in the sticky glue, his body quarter-filled with blood – he wouldn’t even die on a full stomach.
“What do you want for your last meal, Tick?”
“Ah, what a question, what a question. How many courses?”
“One course. This is death row, Tick, not Claridges.”
“In that case, I’d like a full body’s worth of child blood. And then if it pleases His Honour, a quick and dignified death. Perhaps a singular hammer blow? A brick thrown atop my prone body?”
“I’ll see what I can do, Tick. Most likely you’ll get a few hours of quality blood-feeding before you’re rudely plucked off. And I can’t guarantee you any dignity – sometimes it’s a drowning in a teacup, other times it’s death by starvation on a petri dish, watched by many through the lens of a microscope.”
“Well,” says Tick, “we must endure, we must endure. Such is the life I signed up for! Now could I trouble you for a change of the chamber pot?”
Anyway, tick removed, children calmed, we left the tick, which looked as though it had been accidentally run through the world’s smallest laminating machine, next to the kettle in our rented holiday flat. And forgot to take it away with us. So that’ll be a nice surprise for the next paying guests, a dead tick in a piece of sellotape. We also lost the window-opening key, which means they’ll absolutely bake in there, especially if there’s a heatwave, but at least they can spend some of their sweaty time examining a real-life miniature vampire, entombed in his see-through casket.
Disclaimer, because obviously this story involves a child and everyone gets incredibly hot under the collar when it comes to small people: yes I researched how to remove the tick properly, yes I washed the tweezers before I plucked my chin hairs the next day, yes I know to keep an eye out for signs of Lyme disease. Actually that last one is quite serious, but thankfully rare, so I’ll be vigilant but not obsessive and I don’t need any scary anecdotal material, thanks ever so!
The rest of the holiday was quite uneventful, other than the dog nearly killing himself by eating a stomachful of sand (emergency vet trip, almost the same cost as the entire holiday) and the five year-old (again) nearly standing on a jellyfish. Throw in the dog projectile vomming on a moody neighbour’s doormat, the three year-old refusing to sleep and me forgetting to buy any food and overall it was a pretty fine time.
I am writing this whilst leaning back – reasonably heavily – on my cat cushion. Not a feather-stuffed, velvet-covered cat cushion, mind: it’s a real life cat cushion. Living and breathing. Slightly more supportive than an inanimate one, if you must know. And the constant, heavy purring is incredibly relaxing – those vibrations, along with his occasional squirmy rearranging of the limbs, provide a sort of low-key massage chair effect.
Not at all like one of those massage chairs that you get at some hairdressing salons or nail bars. Where on earth do they get those monstrosities from? I don’t think I’ve ever felt safe in one, let alone relaxed. The clanky rollers that move up and down beneath the pleather surface, the “fingers” that knead at your shoulders…it’s like being massaged by Edward Scissorhands, except that he’s doing it crouching on your back wearing rollerskates.
Anyway, I don’t know why the cat has suddenly taken to squeezing himself behind me as I sit at my desk – it’s as though he’s developed some sort of squashing fetish. The more I lean back, the more he loves it. It’s all very odd and I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with it, despite the fact that it feels really nice. I just worry about his little bones, or that he might suffocate. But still, he jumps in and crawls into the space behind my back and then pokes at me with his paws until I lean back and exert some pressure…
I’ve been at my desk a lot. I know you probably think I’ve been off having a lovely old time, but I have been working. Just not online. No checking Instagram every ten minutes, no Twitter notifications or Youtube alerts: just good old-fashioned typing away on Microsoft Word, typing like it’s 1999.
I say “working” but I use that word loosely because my brain is still very firmly in lockdown mode, despite the country starting to open back up for business. My brain just won’t seem to exit itself from the emergency energy saving programme it entered back in March; whenever something pressing needs to be done, it replies telepathically with oh, don’t worry about it. Life’s too short. There are bigger fish to fry. And other clichés. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
That last one wasn’t really relevant but it’s always been a favourite. Mainly because I don’t fully understand it. Why would you want to gather moss? It always sounds a bit like some stuffy aunt saying to you, when you’re young and all you want to do is go to Bali and get shitfaced on a beach with semi-naked hot guys wearing shark-tooth pendants, “oh, all of that gadding about! You’ll never be able to collect a load of rubbish porcelain dolls and put them in a dusty glass-fronted cabinet in your lounge if you carry on travelling to exotic places! Where’s your ambition, girl? A rolling stone gathers no moss! Don’t you want to stay in one place and know the same set of thirty-three people for your entire life? How will you ever know Maureen from number sixty-four’s business if you keep up this relentless penchant for discovering the wider world?”
I had some notes on what the kids have been up to, because this is supposed to be a life update. They have been making little things from modelling clay (an elephant, a toadstool garden, pictured above – guess who actually made them both? Thank you, yes, I know they are brilliant), making dens around the garden, populating the dens with every single toy they can find and then leaving them out overnight to go soggy and finally, bringing stuff inside that should be outside. Leaves. Stones. Snails, dead or alive.
I feel as though this is a very particular parenting era that we are experiencing right now, with its own set of rules and quirks. It changes every week, but I think I could sum up the current era (daughter: just turned five, son: three and a half) with the following headings: inflexibility, warm hands and continuing exhaustion.
Inflexibility. There is suddenly a real lack of wriggle room when it comes to negotiations. I find it so frustrating, trying to get two small, loud people to do stuff they don’t want to do that I frequently resort to a) making threats I later don’t have the energy to uphold (“I will take all of the toys from your bedroom and put them in a bin bag if you don’t stop whacking her with the space robot!”) and b) telling minor fibs. Usually my little lies involve something being closed or something needing batteries. “Can we watch the iPad?” “No, it needs batteries.” “Can you make us a den in the living room?” “No, the living room’s…closed.”
Warm hands. I’m trying to appreciate the feeling of small, warm hands in mine. Because my daughter is now almost as tall as me, seemingly, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pick her up. She’s just suddenly quite long and unwieldy. It’s like trying to walk along carrying an olive tree, or, I don’t know, a small hat stand. A clothes airer. Everything’s angular, rangy. Limbtastic. And so I know that soon I’ll be weeping over that poem – how does it go?
One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down
And never pick them up that way again
(If you ever want to have a maudlin old weep then read the whole thing – it’s called The Last Time. In fact I’ll type it out below for you. Hankies at the ready.)
So yes, even though she’s still grabbing my face for kisses, and the three year-old still likes to be picked up and carried now and then, and both of them still curl their little warm hands into my palm when we walk along, I know that they are growing up faster than I can process and that I must remember every tiny detail. Perfectly round tummies sticking out of the gap between outgrown pyjama tops and bottoms, messy, sweaty night-hair, tiny arms that seem as fragile as bird bones when you rub them with sunscreen, mispronounced words (favourite of the week is Trinoceros, which I personally think is an excellent replacement for Triceratops), the instantly-recognisable little call of “Mummy? Mummy?” from up the stairs, the spilt drinks and dropped food, the theme tune to World Kitchen on CBeebies (every day at noon on lockdown, the soundtrack to our luncheons), the very particular bedtime routines…
Continuing Exhaustion. My final defining characteristic of this particular life era: ongoing, relentless exhaustion. Sometimes I try to look back on the baby years and work out whether they were blissfully relaxing in comparison, or horrendously tiring. Maybe as things get easier, and you get more sleep, you become spoilt and you think you’re more tired, but on the other hand, babies are pretty low-maintenance in comparison to small children. You feed them, you change their nappies, you (eventually) get them to sleep, but for the majority of the day you can manage to do stuff like make a cup of tea, fold some laundry, write a few emails, and you can do it all whilst the baby stares at a shadow on the wall and catches invisible butterflies and drools on itself. Not possible with kids. Maybe things change, but at the moment, 5+3, there’s a window of approximately eight minutes when they will quietly and enjoyably play and then all hell breaks loose. And if hell isn’t breaking loose then someone is asking a question, repeatedly, with exactly the same intonation and rhythm, over and over again until someone answers, and quite often it’s not even a question it’s just a statement phrased like a question, which is irritating and incorrect at the best of times but when it’s on robotic repeat for over thirty seconds it’s easy just to absolutely lose your mind:
“Mummy he put lego in my ear? Mummy? He put lego in my ear? Mummy he put lego in my ear? Mummy? Mummy he put lego in my ear?”
But then in the quiet moments, you miss that incessant background noise, it’s as though all of the life has been sucked out of the room. The sound of a dripping tap is suddenly mournful, rain upon the window panes just feels a bit empty. You sip on your tea/read your paper/pick dirt from under your nails with a butter knife/insert any other enjoyable activity, and the silence is almost deafening. And you think to yourself, ah, isn’t it lovely to have a house filled with kids’ noises, and then one of them comes in and clangs a metal spoon along the radiator and you almost self-combust with the ferocity of your conflicted emotions.
I’ll leave you on that deep and uncharacteristically profound note. Oh and here’s the poem:
The Last Time (author unknown)
From the moment you hold your baby in your arms you will never be the same
You might long for the person you were before
When you had freedom and time
And nothing in particular to worry about
You will know tiredness like you never knew it before
Days will run into days that are exactly the same
Full of feedings and burping
Nappy changes and crying
Whining and fighting
Naps or a lack of naps
It might seem like a never-ending cycle
But don’t forget…
There is a last time for everything
There will come a time when you will feed your baby for the very last time
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child
One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down
And never pick them up that way again
You will scrub their hair in the bath for one last time
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone
They will hold your hand to cross the road
Then will never reach for it again
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles
And it will be the last night you ever wake to this
One afternoon you will sing “the wheels on the bus” and do all the actions
Then never sing them that song again
They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate
The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone
You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face
They will run to you with arms raised for the very last time.
The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realize.
So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.
I’ve been dithering over whether or not to post a life update this month; it seems almost flippant to talk about mundane, everyday events when such momentous things are happening in the wider world.
I don’t know whether anyone really needs to hear about how my three year-old is now “dry at night” but still quite enjoys doing a leisurely poo on the lawn. Or how my nearly-five-year-old told me the story of Peter Pan and said that there was a crocodile who swallowed Captain Hook’s “cock”.
On one hand, I know that the goings-on in my little sphere are completely irrelevant and insignificant, but on the other hand those tiny events are my entire world. Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally and utterly aware of what’s happening outside – I’m absorbed in it, completely, to the point where I often can’t sleep. The brutal murder of George Floyd, the rallies and protests, the anger and fear and passion, the chaos of a global pandemic, the outrage and the lies and the constant streams of stats that make no sense, it all flies around my head constantly, as I’m sure it does for most of you reading.
So yes. Huge world events and teeny home ones. But I have written this update every month for five years now and have never missed the correct day. Granted, I always leave it until the last minute and so never have enough time to write everything I want to say, but I’m honestly happy if I manage to jot down a few pertinent observations. My daughter building a slug home, for example, and crying when the slug ran away. (Ran! Haha. Sprinted. Honestly, the poor slug must have thought he’d entered some kind of nightmarish torture garden with both kids looming over him and dangling bits of cabbage and trying to get him to climb into the toadstool house.)
Or the snail she named “Fragile”. Or the little note she wrote me after the slug had left home saying
“Sad slug gon. Angelica.”
Oh, sidenote: I don’t want to be one of those madly annoying mums who show off about their kids, but I am clueless as to what my daughter should be able to do at almost-five. I was just taken aback that she suddenly started writing stuff, with no help, considering the fact that we have done a grand total of TWO HOURS homeschooling in the whole lockdown period. Do small kids just learn…telepathically? Because I have willed her to learn something, anything, so maybe that worked…
Or does it count that you spell things out to them when you read? Because I’ve done that a bit, but honestly not much. I’m so confused as to how she’s suddenly had this leap in knowledge when the most she’s allowed me to “teach” her is that a) not all men with beards are called Mr Twit b) pavements in America are called “sidewalks” and c) you can’t go around corners on a wordsearch.
Things I’ve taught my three year-old, who is a completely different kettle of fish to his sister and quite literally will not listen to instructions: a) don’t drink water from the end of a hose pipe b) don’t drink water from the dog’s bowl and c) don’t drink water from the shower drain. Oh wait! d) don’t drink water from the bit of drainpipe that’s been left next to the back door.
You’d think he’d been raised by alleycats! He loves toiletting al fresco, eats with his face in the bowl and loves nothing more than a curl up and a head stroke.
On that note, I’ve done enough historical data entry for this month – I have the hormonal headache to end all hormonal headaches and so must to bed. As someone in the tudor times would have said. Possibly before doing a dump in a porcelain bowl, throwing it out of the window and then clambering onto a mite-infested mattress. Until next time…