kill kill kill 006Top Ten Things I Didn’t Know Until I Was A Parent

  1. Despite incredibly busy hospital dotcoring jobs working over 100 hour weeks, I didn’t know what tired was until I’d had continuous months of broken nights with babies
  2. I didn’t know what responsibility was until I had to care for someone helpless 24/7
  3. I didn’t know the sheer force and volume that breast fed baby shit can be generated at until I was cleaning up the back of his head after a particularly explosive episode.
  4. I didn’t realise how little I knew about parenting and how easy it had been to criticise others until I had to do it for myself.
  5. I didn’t know how to appreciate a night out properly until I couldn’t have them
  6. I didn’t appreciate what I put my parents through until someone did the same to me
  7. I didn’t realise toddlers really would pick up dog shit and try to eat it
  8. I didn’t realise that when the milk ‘came in’ it would feel like someone had pushed hot boulders down my bra.
  9. I didn’t know what peer pressure was until I worried whether our toddler should be writing and drawing like everyone else’s three year olds seemed to be
  10. I didn’t know what sheer joy having children could be.

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.


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.

Labour itself came as a bit of a surprise. Well, to be frank so did the conception. After an operation for a twisted ovary I’d been told it was unlikely I’d conceive without assistance (medical assistance I mean – obviously I wasn’t expecting an immaculate conception) so we threw caution to the wind and bingo I was pregnant the next month. And technically married to someone else, but that’s another story. I will never forget sitting in the bathroom seeing that little blue line appear. Holy fuck. Wasn’t expecting that.

I’d always said I would give up smoking if I were pregnant. I loved it so much I could never give it up just for me, but realised I couldn’t inflict it on an unborn baby. But driving to work that morning I had half a cigarette. I felt so guilty smoking once I knew I was pregnant I didn’t tell anyone until years later. Ridiculous really as up to that point I’d been smoking 20 a day -including the 6 weeks when I hadn’t realised I was up the duff.

Pregnancy wasn’t my favourite time; an old heart problem woke up and I had fortnightly visits to the hospital. One of my best friends was due two days after me and she rang to say she’d had her baby early. I was livid. Jealous. Pissed off. And assumed that meant for sure I was going to be two weeks late. But that evening, sitting on the settee doing the Sunday Times crossword there was an almightly pop as my waters broke. He wasn’t due for another two days and I hadn’t even packed a bag. We had no baby clothes or anything. My husband couldn’t drive and the hospital was down in South London as we’d only moved to Ealing two weeks earlier. An ambulance would only have taken us to the closest unit and I certainly didn’t want that. So despite having been drinking brandy and not having passed a test, the father-to-be got in to the driving seat of my company XR3i to take me to St George’s. It wasn’t the most relaxing of journeys but we got there.

15 hours and about 300 contractions later I would have rammed the ‘beautiful object to focus on’ down the birthing guru Shelia Kitzinger’s throat if she’d been there. I was offered an epidural and would have happily plunged the needle in to my own back if I could. I’d done it enough times for other people in the past. The anaesthetist did his stuff and the bliss was indescribable. Contractions without the pain. 22 hours in to hard labour the baby went in to distress so all systems go to get him out pronto. The room filled with doctors; some for the birth, some for the baby, some for my heart. One high forceps delivery later a very blue baby arrived with the cord round his neck. No rush of maternal instinct from me – I just wanted the paediatricians to rescucitate him. Meanwhile I opened the sutures for the obtetrician sewing me up. They offered to take him to the nursery overnight (those were the days!) and I willingly said yes. I just wanted to sleep. Well, the first thing I wanted was a diet coke and some toast. Which I then threw up. The husband was despatched to get ‘some of those gro-bag things’ for the baby to wear and had to make his way home on public transport as he had no qualified driver to sit with him in the car.

Parenting did not come naturally to me. Or at least not the parenting of small babies. It was just terrifying. Well, the first one at least. I had no idea. At all. I didn’t enjoy those first weeks and months. Too much responsibility. No let up. No chance to send it back from whence it came. How on earth do single parents do it? Luckily my husband was easy with babies and he saw us through those broken nights and screaming days.When baby cried and I had fed, changed and tried to put him down to no avail, I too would be in tears. I don’t know how my husband coped. I didnt. I couldn’t get up and dressed and out of the house before 2pm. Every time I tried to do anything the baby would want feeding. Or changing. If husband was 5 minutes late getting home I had panic attacks that he was under a tube somewhere and I would be left with this baby to look after alone. The very thought filled me with fear and dread.

a natural

So I give you my

Top Ten Things I Didn’t Know Until I Was A Parent

  1. Despite incredibly busy hospital dotcoring jobs working over 100 hour weeks, I didn’t know what tired was until I’d had continuous months of broken nights
  2. I didn’t know what responsibility was until I had to care for someone helpless 24/7
  3. I didn’t know the sheer force and volume that breast fed baby shit can be generated at until I was cleaning up the back of his head after a particularly explosive episode.
  4. I didn’t realise how little I knew about parenting and how easy it had been to criticise others until I had to do it for myself.
  5. I didn’t know how to appreciate a night out properly until I couldn’t have them
  6. I didnt appreciate what I put my parents through until someone did the same to me
  7. I didn’t realise toddlers really would pick up dog shit and try to eat it
  8. I didn’t realise I would be able to walk out of the house and leave the front door wide open as I would get so distracted by the children.
  9. I didn’t know how badly run a meeting could be until I joined the PTA
  10. I hadn’t anticpated spending an entire boiling hot summer’s day at Disneyland dressed only in a zipped up cagoule and a pair of underpants as I’d had to remove all other clothing and dig a cagoule out of the boot because a child vomited all over me as we pulled up in the car.

Having three children under 4 hadn’t been part of the orignal plan. Well, to be honest there wasn’t exactly a plan but that’s a story for another day.

When the children were small I stayed at home and started doing occassional freelancing. But still from home. Whilst they slept. Then we got a childminder one day a week, but basically I was the ever present presence in their wee lives. And we would all look forward to Dad coming home –  sometimes we would drive to meet him from the tube to speed him back to us more quickly, and also as a distraction for half an hour  when things were starting to go pear shaped because it was the end of the day and someone would be getting fractious and grizzly. Usually me.

And so it was that he routinely bathed them and religiously read them stories every night when he was home in time. Which was most nights in those days.  And the children adored him reading to them. When I did it, it was one short book each and absolute refusal to read Rupert the Bear or Thomas the Tank as they were so tedious. Dad on the other hand would regale them with as many stories as they wanted.

And the one they liked best was a Sainsbury’s own picture book called Harry goes to Hospital. Harry was a hippo who worked on a building site and had to go to hospital. Dad made up his own version to tell the story depicted in the pictures and the children just loved it. The hilarity when Harry swallowed a brick! The screams as the nurse told him his feet smelled. It was a joy to hear from downstairs in the kitchen where I would be clearing up the children’s tea or somesuch simple stress-free task.

Eventually it would go quiet and I’d wait for him to come downstairs so we could eat, but sometimes I’d have to go up and find out what was happening only to discover Dad fast asleep sitting on the floor, leaning against one of the beds and all three bubs completely crashed out. Bliss.

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