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Ready for bathtime

Ready for bathtime

In the last couple of posts I have related how I traumatised the girls at various points by my less than perfect parenting. But of course the eldest didn’t get off scott-free by any means. In fact he bore the brunt of it as I learnt, slowly and painfully, what it meant to be a parent.

I went through the Top Ten Physical Traumas I put the children through here , and my tipping him out of the pram and dropping him so he knocked a tooth out are already listed. But one that isn’t in the previous post probably shows me in an even worse light, but unfortunately it shines a ray of truth on what it can be like with two under two. There is just over a year between the first two and so once the newborn could sit up by herself, bathtime was much easier as I plonked them in together. They both enjoyed the water so it was not a tearful or difficult time usually.

The airing cupboard was in the hallway outside the bathroom and one evening I had got eldest out of the bath and wrapped in towel and realised I didn’t have a towel for darling daughter. So I popped out of the bathroom for one second your Honour. The airing cupboard was literally opposite the bathroom door. But as soon as my second foot had left the lino the son slammed the door and locked it. It was one of those locks that has a thumb dent in it that you just slide across. I didn’t know he knew how to do it. And sure enough he couldn’t undo it.

Trying not to panic, I asked him if his sister was alright.  He could barely talk, was only just walking and his sister is six months old sitting in a bath of water. This was a nightmare. He just couldn’t open the lock. My biggest fear was his sister drowning. All it would take would be an overbalancing and that could be it. So I asked him to pull the plug out of the bath. I could hear his sister gurgling  and splashing so all was well as far as I could tell. And good lad that he was he pulled out the plug. I heard the water going down the plughole and hoped to God he hadn’t put the plug back in before it had drained completely.

But he couldn’t unlock the door. I couldn’t break in from outside as partly I was terrified of knocking the lad out on the other side and i could hear they were both OK so didn’t feel the need for ultimate heroics. But I couldn’t leave the hallway to go and get help as that would have meant leaving the children. And of course there were no mobile phones back in the day.

The baby was probably cold but at least she wouldn’t drown in an empty bath. Luckily it was not long before Superhero Dad came home and he did force the door open (relatively easily as I remember) and all was well with the world. Hubby disarmed that lock and put one up high out of reach of small fingers so that it couldn’t happen again. Not that I would have been stupid enough to make the same mistake twice.

But really that wasn’t just me traumatising him. He had a part to play in it by locking the door. And to be honest it was more my angst than his as he was seemingly  oblivious.

But there was another bathtime that left him scarred for life. Again with his baby sister and they are happily playing when suddenly a huge turd emerges from the deep and floats on to the surface next to him. He jumped up yelling and pointing  “Georgina! Poo!” as it moved towards him like a monster. She was smiling with that satisfaction a good dump brings.

It took him a long time to trust her in the bath again.

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No harm done

No harm done

Every Friday our kids would go round to their best friends’ house after school and their Mum would childmind them. It was ideal for me knowing they were in safe, capable and loving hands whilst I went to work. And every evening I would knock on the door and be greeted with a swift rum and coke and likely have to be entertained by some dance or show or whatever that they had been rehearsing for hours beforehand. It was usually just the girls but occasionally the boys would join in too.

It was a lovely era where the kids were all at primary school, all being fed around the kitchen table and I just waltzed in and would have a chat with my mate and a drink until it was time to take them home. As it was every time I did it, i would pile them all in the old Merc estate and drive off. The car was great. It had been our next door neighbours’ and hubby bought it for me as a birthday present. It had about 200K on the clock and went like a dream. And it had little seats in the boot you could put up to make it a seven-seater. Perfect when each of your kids wants to bring along a mate. But of course not needed when it was just me and the three. But they loved them as they sat staring out at the traffic behind.

Anyway, one Friday I called round to Coldershaw road as usual and after another blistering showstopper, hurried the kids out to get home. I think I may have been going out later or have people coming round so was in a bit of a hurry. The kids were probably aged about 5.  7 and 9 and well able to get themselves in the car. The doors slammed and I drove off. Only to hear the two eldest shouting “Mum, Mum, stop! Natalie’s not in!”.  I couldn’t compute. I’d heard the doors shut. How could she not be in? But sure enough, I looked in my rear view mirror and there was my baby, thrown out on to the road as I had driven off. She’d been climbing in through the boot and was  about to sit down and pull the boot down on herself when I’d accelerated away. Whereupon she’d gone flying out backwards.

Luckily she wasn’t hurt, Only shocked and completely incredulous at my negligence. They still remind me of it to this day.

You can only do your best and I have no delusions that I was the best mother. There were numerous failings. There still are. But I was good enough. And that’s all I needed to be. I tried. I got it wrong sometimes. Got it right sometimes. I meant well, even if the results weren’t always what one might have hoped. But I have never been one to beat myself up over my inadequacies. Life’s too short.

We had three children under four and life was a bit of a blur for a few years. But it was with much anticipation we bundled them all in to the car and set off for a villa in France. Accompanied by my parents who were coming along for the ride and as live in babysitters for a couple of evenings over the fortnight. Or that was the plan at least.

We got the ferry across and drove to Hotel des Bains in a tiny village called St Jean le Thomas in northern France. We had chosen it without the benefits of google but on the basis of the old style yellow Auberge and Logis guides that hubby would assiduously study. The hotel was small and family-friendly and had a swimming pool so the kids disembarked and splashed around straight away. Ah bliss, this is the life.

Our rooms were across the narrow road from the main hotel in a converted coach house kind of thing – the kids all sharing one large room with its own ensuite and us next door.

They would probably have been two, four and five. We got them ready for bed and read stories, and left them happily reading or playing in their beds. Hubby went up about 15 minutes later to switch the light out and they were all fine. The two big ones reading and the baby talking to herself. He locked the door behind him so that they couldn’t inadvertently wander out on to the road, and no one could wander in and he returned to our restaurant table which was literally fifty feet from their bedroom door. Probably less distance than there was if we had been sitting in the garden at home and they had been in their own beds.

I went up about 30 minutes after that and was faced by complete mayhem. I could hardly get in through the door for a sobbing, inconsolable middle daughter who was terrified beyond words or reason because it was dark and she couldn’t open the door. We’d thought locking the door was the safest option but it had utterly terrified her. It took me over an hour to calm her down with stories and stroking and staying in the room. Every time I tried to leave when I thought she’d drifted off the wailing would start again so I gave up and plonked myself on the floor after I’d sorted the other two out.

The five year old boy was oblivious – bouncing on his bed, unperturbed by his sister’s wailing . And he was happy enough to get back in to bed as directed. The two year old was not in the bedroom. The son told me she was in the bathroom. I found her in the ensuite happily drinking from the bidet. She thought it was great – a personal toddler-sized water fountain and she was completely soaked from head to toe. But smiling at least.

once we got to the villa

once we got to the villa

We have three grown up children, which I find hard to believe as I am still in my late 20s in my head. And as any parent knows, having children is a life-changing event. One you can’t get your head round till it happens. But I have enjoyed parenthood more and more the older they have got. Or perhaps it’s more to do with the fact that I got older too, and perhaps a bit less of a control freak. No, actually thinking about it I am just as much a control freak now as I always was. Perhaps they are just not as needy……….

Obviously there have been lots of times when it hasn’t all been sweetness and light. I’ve made bad decisions, been completely unreasonable, been inconsistent, done a lot of shouting, and even resorted to physical violence. But I still don’t think I’ve been a bad parent over all. Certainly not a perfect parent, but I never expected to be. I just wanted to be good enough. So over the years the children have taught me many things and here’s my

Top Ten Things Our Children Have Taught Me

  1. Children will forgive you nearly anything. They won’t neccessarily forget, but they will forgive.
  2. Despite having the same gene pool, schooling and upbringing the characters of our children are startlingly different. From birth onwards. I am no closer to deciding the nature/nurture debate.
  3. Fifteen minutes of bad behaviour at the end of a good day could make me feel the whole day was awful when it wasn’t. But it sure as hell made that first sip of wine taste fantastic once they were in bed .
  4. Children never wait until you are ‘ready’ to answer those awkward questions. They get sprung on you as you peel potatoes or are in the cinema queue
  5. Children love having their parents around to do stuff with or to watch them perform. Even if they say they don’t mind if you don’t come, they like it if you do. I do not believe the ‘quality time’ theory.
  6. Children will repeat what you say as to others. I never thought I’d hear our 7 year old daughter explain to her teacher that her dad says peach flavoured water tastes like cockroach vomit.
  7. There is no greater joy than seeing your children’s unbridled happiness. It is fantastic when they all get on together. Even if they are ganging up against you.
  8. Children made me realise I know fuck all detail about what’s going on in the world when they asked me to explain the Arab Israeli conflict, Afghanistan, or the break up of the Soviet Union.
  9. Any concept, project, piece of work, disagreement or conversation can be expressed through the medium of interpretive dance to hilarious effect.
  10. As long as they are safe and well, fuck all else really matters

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.

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.

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