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Before we had children I had absolutely no inkling of what it was like. No insight or empathy whatsoever. Never even thought about it. Hadn’t grown up with lots of rugrats around so was not at all in tune. And when the first one arrived boy was it a shock. I did not experience the overhwelming rush of maternal instinct as he appeared, I went in to clinical overdrive and assisted the obstetrician by opening the sutures for him as he was sewing me up after the forceps .

When the kids were small we had three under 4 and it was full on. Relentless stuff, but it gave me an incredible respect for single parents. How do they do it? I have absolutely no idea. I was always so pleased when my husband came home to share the responsibility. And do all the stuff that he did. And he was great with them. And because I was around during the days, when he was around they wanted him not me. I wasn’t hurt by this at all. I loved it. Other Mums would be concerned that I felt unloved.  Or jealous that they preferred their Dad to me.  Until they said it, it hadn’t even  occurred to me to see it in that light. I was  too busy relishing the freedom it gave me.  It meant if they had an option as to which parent to go to, they would choose him rather than me and that gave me some space. And the best thing was when we went out as a  family they all clamoured to sit on his knee or hold his hand rather than mine, leaving me free to mingle, chat, refill my wine glass and generally have a grownup time.

two way adoration

And one of the girls loved her Dad so much that she became extremely possessive of him and jealous of me.  She would flirt like mad with her Dad. And I mean serious flirting. The coy looks,  the fluttering eyelashes, the throwing her arms round him, leaning in to him, draping herself around him, stroking him and looking adoringly in to his eyes. I don’t know where she picked it up from because I am completely non-tactile. And she hadn’t seen TV at this stage. So it must be an innate behaviour. But if you’d seen her aged two or three, you could have thought she was extremely precocious.

If her Dad and I embraced she would squeeze herself between us and push me away. We found it amusing and would sometimes do it deliberately to watch her muscle herself inbetween our legs to break us apart.  But she went to another level one morning when I was still in bed and he brought me a cup of coffee. She followed him in to the bedroom and stood between us at the bedside. Me lying at one side of the bed, her standing next to me and hubby beyond her. Hubby bent over her to kiss me whereupon she immediately slapped me. Hard. Presumably in a jealous rage and unable to articulate her feelings. We were somewhat stunned. And she was mortified that she was told off for hitting.

unconditional love

We were worried this devotion to her father was going too far, especially as my aunt, a reknowned child psychiatrist, was coming to visit  and we were worried she would think something very untoward was going on. I knew I had always been a ‘Daddy’s girl’  but as far as I’m aware I didn’t take it out directly on my mother. I remember tearing at my father’s face in anger when he returned from work having left the house the previous morning without saying goodbye to me. He had picked me up as I raced down the stairs to meet him and I had ripped his forehead. Blood everywhere. He did well not to just drop me. I am reliving that emotion as I type I can remember it so vividly. So, I was aware of Daddy worship. But our daughter’s seemed extreme even by my standards.

In fact, having my father’s sister visit us was opportune and reassuring.  She explained about children of this age discovering their gender identity and where they fit in the world. She was testing out her power, place and role, and our response to make it clear we both loved her but that she  couldn’t come between us allowed her to understand her boundaries. But basically she was practising her heterosexuality.

And having been there at the beginning, I don’t envy any woman who comes between our daughter and her man.

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Parental damage

July 8, 2012

I’ve never said I was the best Mum in the world.  One has to know one’s limitations so I’ve always tried to be good enough, not perfect. To keep them safe, happy and independent.  But unfortunately I haven’t always managed that and have in fact ended up making things worse rather than better. But I like to think of it all as character building stuff. One has to take a positive out of a situation.

So I give you my

Top Ten Physical  Traumas I Put Our Children Through

  1. Small baby in classic pram. I need to post letter. Letterbox on other side of road so I decided to simply run across the road myself, leaving pram where it is with baby inside it. Shoot across road and turn round to see pram rolling off pavement between two parked cars and  in to road. Pavement so high that in fact pram cannot simply roll down on to road but upends itself and tips baby out on to road. By some miracle no car comes , but baby somewhat gravel-beaten by the experience.
  2. Trying to get baby to settle back down in the cot, I picked him up to bring him towards me only to drop him back in to the cot, smashing his front tooth out on the way. Tears and blood everywhere, and no sign of the tooth. He’s crying so hard I fear he may have inhaled it with the initial sharp intake of breath. Luckily it turns up about six feet away on the floor having been avulsed with force, so at least I know he isn’t going to choke on it.
  3. Visiting Nanny we leave 15 month old in cot for nap upstairs. Baby cries and cries but we ignore as are toddler taming. Crying apparently stops after about half an hour. Two hours later we think she has had an incredible nap and go up to wake her. Walk in to bedroom to see baby with feet on floor  and body wedged beween base of cot and rails.  The whole base has somehow tipped up in the frame and she has slipped through, now wedged fast. She is still silently sobbing. Exhausted.She had given up hope of attracting our attention. The guilt for this one was enormous.
  4. Hire a drug dealing nanny
  5. Hire a nanny who is so disorganised and incapable it takes our 5 year old to tell her where to get off the tube. Every single time she takes the children swimming she loses at least one costume. Luckily never a child.
  6. Six year old viewing our new house and I forget to mention that workmen have the floorboards up in the hallway. She rushes in only to disappear down in to the foundations under the house.
  7. Playing with friends in the garden whilst I try to get on with something, child hurts foot. I dismiss injury and tell to jump up and get on with it. Toe confirmed broken later.
  8. At holiday villa with pool. I am reading book, totally absorbed. Smallest falls in deep end. With no armbands or swimming ability. Luckily her sister (aged about 6) dives in and rescues her.
  9. Meeting children from school I bring snack. And offer a pecan muffin to a small friend. “Doesn’t Anna have a nut allergy?” pipes up our 5 year old.  I grab the muffin too late. She has already bitten in to it. The lips are swelling and the eyes watering. She survives.
  10. We have old Merc estate with rear facing seats in the boot. Our youngest always opts to use them. I am picking the three children up from friend’s house who has had them after school whilst I go to work. Am in hurry to get home after long day. Children climb in car and I drive off. It is only when son shouts that I realise I have driven off with the boot wide open and whilst youngest is still trying to climb in. Thus my accelerating away has thrown her out of the car and on to the road behind me. Yet I am oblivious . She is sobbing in the road but surprisingly nothing broken. Even at the time I found this somewhat amusing. That’s bad isn’t it?

After I had written the Top Ten Things  I Didn’t Know Until I Was a Parent (in the post ‘And suddenly you’re a parent’),  I remembered another.  Peer pressure by proxy. Worrying that your child is not doing all the right things at the right stage. It was acute with the first, because that’s the one you learn on, whereas with subsequent ones there was a realisation that actually there isn’t a tick box of specific tasks by specific dates –  it’s all fairly movable. Plus we were so knackered by the time we had three under four that we didn’t know what any of them were meant to be doing or not.

I caveat this post with the fact that we were lucky in that there was no real worry that there were serious developmental difficulties. What I am talking about here are the stupid anxieties induced by seeing the achievements of other children and believing they reflect badly on yours for not doing the same. I hasten to add my husband was not remotely afflicted by this. Only me.

Mealtimes

The first time I felt it was when I went to visit the friend who had had their daughter the day before our son was born.  I was poleaxed by the fact that her eight month old was eating by herself using a spoon.  Our boy would grab a spoon if you loaded it for him, but by no means was he independently eating. It was as likely to go on the floor or in his ear as in his mouth. If you let him have the spoon he would use it as a drum stick, sending porridge flying round the kitchen as he banged happily in to the bowl.  I came home from that visit with the first pangs of parental peer pressure by proxy. Although, it wasn’t really peer pressure as my friend had not been gloating or insinuating our son was slow. It was just how I felt. And a bit jealous.Then everyone else’s babies started crawling. Ours didn’t. Just sat. And lay down. No crawling. No standing. No pulling up on furniture. Made it simpler for me as I knew he’d still be where I left him if I popped to the loo or went out of the room for whatever reason. He would flap his arms up and down and bounce on the spot to the Neighbours’ theme as I had become addicted to it whilst breast feeding him so I think it was a Pavlovian response to the music. But apart from that no attempt to move.

Pulling up and holding on. But not yet walking.

For his first birthday we bought him a wooden push along trolley and he dutifully pulled himself up to standing using it. But then flopped down. But he could at least pull himself to standing with something to help him.  By now he would bounce along on his bottom if he wanted to get from A to B. But usually he wasn’t inclined, and would happily sit and play for hours with his toys in exactly the same spot.When he still wasn’t crawling  or walking by the time number two arrived it made it easier for me, although there was some relief when he did eventually start moving. He bypassed the crawling stage and went straight to walking at about 17 months. Fairly late, but got there eventually. Of course, as ever with these scenarios it is easy to overlook the positive things he was able to do and simply focus on the negatives. In fact he had great linguistic capabilities and could comprehend completely what we would say to him by about 10 months. And he was brilliant with his sister when she arrived not long after he turned one.

But of course it was at school where the intense comparisons started. With little girls leaving nursery aged 3 and 4, clutching their armfuls of paintings with their names scrawled at the bottom, I would search for any crayon capability. Any drawing. Any painting. Any writing. Any artwork at all. There was none forthcoming.

All he did was run about outside, sometimes wearing a Batman cape,  sometimes play Lego or Playmobil. No real interest in reading, although we tried and he loved his Dad’s storytelling. But no interest at all in writing or drawing. I did get a bit worried, but I was confident he was bright enough from the converstaions we would have and that he could do basic mental arithmetic with me when we went shopping.

Then he went in to Reception Year. Just four years old and at school all day. At the end of the year the young teacher told us that she thought he may have learning difficulties. She wasn’t sure.  He was in the bottom 25% of the class academically.   I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it, but she was insistent. He could only read a few simple words, and not that well, he couldn’t write , she wasn’t sure he understood what was going on.  I was taken aback.  I could not believe she thought our boy was not the brightest thing known to man.

So I did what any mother would do – I went and told on the teacher to her boss who happened to be his old Nursery teacher and  about to retire. I was near to tears. Bizarre really that I should take any notice of a wet behind the ears newly qualified teacher.

First day at School

The old and wise teacher  was 100% reassuring and explained he couldn’t develop everything at once – things just had to take their turn. So he had been busy developing physical and creative skills with the games he played, building  and mathematical skills with his Lego , linguistic skills with his conversation etc etc. But he wasn’t yet ready to develop the literacy. Reading and writing would come to him when he was ready. She was absolutely sure he was bright as a button. I had been too in my heart, but needed the external expert validation somehow.And sure enough his reading suddenly took off in Year Two and he has never looked back. A faster and more avid reader I have never met.

And I would love to meet that stupid Reception teacher (she left the following year) to tell her how utterly wrong she was for writing him off. And to push his English  Masters degree in in her face and say “Bottom 25% academically? I don’t fucking think so.”

The best ever Christmas present. Aged Four. In Reception Year at School.

In many ways I think I am more bloke than woman. I don’t like massages, I am not touchy-feely, I am not sentimental, I forget important dates, I am not bothered by Valentine’s Day, I am not a good housekeeper, I have no joy when someone gives me a recipe book, I am not very sympathetic,  I rarely want to talk something over. However, I think there are other, fundamental differences between males and females generally that make me realise I am not trapped in the wrong body!

Top Ten Things That Make Men Different

  1. Blokes don’t have hidden agendas
  2. Blokes do not agonise about things
  3. Blokes see things in black and white
  4. Blokes do not worry about saying no to a friend
  5. Blokes do not take offence easily
  6. Blokes are not impressed by make up
  7. Blokes think their own bodies are basically OK
  8. Blokes are less concerned about looks than availability
  9. Blokes think asking for help is a sign of weakness
  10. Blokes never think your bum looks big in this. They just want a shag.

Learning from mistakes is less painful if they are someone else’s

We played a game a few weeks ago that asks you to guess your fellow players’ responses. Apart from guessing my families answers incorrectly more often than not, one of my questions got me thinking. It asked which of the following statements do you wish you’d known when you were younger, but the three statements were not actually things that I had only learned with age – I felt they were things I’d grasped early on. But it did set me thinking about my

Top Ten Things I wish I’d Known When I Was Young

  1. Youth makes you beautiful. You will realise this only when you look back twenty years later and wish you still looked like that.
  2. Never worry about being overdressed. Wear whatever you choose with joy.
  3. Enjoy the different things you can do with your hair whilst you have it and the looks to get away with it.
  4. It is always easy to find excuses not to do things, but it will be what you don’t do that you regret rather than what you do.
  5. You don’t have to get married to buy a nice dress and have a big party
  6. There is a difference between being respected and being liked. You do not have to be liked by everybody at work.
  7. Very few decisions are actually irreversible.
  8. Don’t put yourself so far out for someone that you will resent them for it
  9. If your friends don’t like your partner, there’s probably a valid reason
  10. It is OK to say no. It is OK to say yes. Just make sure you are clear what the question is.

Growing up we seemed to be the last family to get colour and were only reluctantly ever allowed to watch the commercial channel. Like mother like daughter, our children were not allowed to watch the TV (apart from rugby with Dad!) until I bought an NSPCC video with lots of 5 or 10 minute stories on it. The older one was probably 3 at the time and we always watched the NSPCC video together. As they grew up of course they started watching TV – I think it was Sunday mornings – Power Rangers, Thunderbirds. But it was never used as a childminder until we hired the Kiwi nanny who turned out to be doped off her face. I came in from work to find all three plugged in and her reading a magazine. Compeletely unfazed she asked how my day had been. And this despite my specifically saying I didn’t want them watching telly, I wanted her to play with them and take them out. She lasted a few days. I was in denial at first. As she was a Kiwi I had stereotypically assumed she had get up and go and was self starting. Her drug dealing boyfriend wasnt pleased when we sacked her.  But I digress.

I couldn’t bear them watching Keenan and Kell and other American shite as it appeared to glorify stupidity and laziness despite them assuring me it was just funny. I was wary of the Simpsons, but loved it when I actually bothered to watch it. Teaching sex ed to 10 year olds made me realise the power of the soaps. These kids were watching them without any parental input so could see the 13 year old have the baby and evertything be ok, watch the rape scene and not understand that was not ok……….

But the strength of TV with the teens was finding a neutral territory we could talk about that didn’t mean every conversation was a negative one about tidying their room, washing up, not going out or dressing appropriately. We could watch some pap together and I could try to wind my neck in and hear why they liked it/didn’t like that girl/ thought that was stupid etc, whilst also having a view. ANTM was a good one for the girls. Jackass a fantastic introduction from our son.  Like football is for most boys and men, there is X factor and BGT that we can access and discuss on a level playing field.

memories of shopping trips past are etched on my brain. What should be a fun enjoyable time ends up being a stressful experience with someone storming off, another sulking and me trying to work out how to tell someone something really does them no favours whilst trying to maintain their self esteem. It’s never easy. Especially when ‘everyone wears these’. Everyone doesn’t of course, but the desire to fit in can be strong when one is trying to work out one’s place in the world. Luckily all that is behind us  and Top Shop Oxford Circus held no real fears. Until the youngest (19) suddenly felt sick. She went outside for air whilst we paid and we found a wine bar for lunch. One vomit and half a steak sandwich later she felt better. Then threw up on the pavement but kept walking. Honestly, didn’t miss a step. Amazing. Stoic to the max.

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