Time: I never have enough of it these days. It’s only been two and a half years but I have trouble remembering what the hell I was doing with myself pre-kids. I had so much free time and yet I would convince myself that I was always busy.
Pre-kids, doing the washing up and putting out the recycling felt like achievements; to be honest they still feel like achievements but that’s usually because I have twins attached to my legs as I’m doing it.
I remember having the time to watch a box set, or go for a long walk in the park, or even meet a friend for coffee! I look back at that time like it was a golden era – and it was, because these days I have to make time to go to the toilet.
“It’s Mama’s special time in the toilet… Sorry why are you in the toilet with me? No put the toilet paper down… Don’t put that in your mouth… I don’t need you to hold my hand, that’s just for your number twos not mine… Seriously get that out of your mouth!”
I know I’m lucky. As a standup comedian I get to go away, stay in a hotel and have some ‘me’ time. And there’s no question that I don’t jump at these opportunities. I do.
Sometimes when I’m away I get a bit giddy and have on more than one occasion had a bit too much to drink. The novelty of being in the company of adults for an entire evening where booze flows freely can be more than I can handle and I find myself waking up in my hotel room at 5am with a kebab on my chest and an episode of CSI something or other on my TV screen, questioning my life choices.
“No amount of ‘fun’ is worth having two two-year-olds jumping on your limp, lifeless body on the living room floor at 6am the following morning.”
There’s nothing like sabotaging your one lie-in of the month by getting shitted and unable to get back to sleep because of a raging hangover.
By the way, don’t make the mistake of expecting any sympathy from your partner should you let that information slip out in a phone conversation later that day.
“Did you have a good lie-in?”
“Not really. I got wasted last night; I didn’t get back ’til 3am and woke at 6am.”
“WELL, IF YOU’RE EXPECTING ANY SYMPATHY FROM ME YOU CAN FORGET IT! YOU’RE STILL GETTING UP WITH THE KIDS MONDAY MORNING BECAUSE I’M KNACKERED. WHY WOULD YOU GET DRUNK WHEN YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SLEEP! I WOULD HAVE GONE TO BED AT 10PM AND SLEPT THROUGH ’TIL 10AM! THE ONE TIME YOU GET TO SLEEP AND YOU BLOW IT!”
She’s right of course, but no one needs to hear that while lying in the foetal position on the bathroom floor trying not to think about how many men have urinated on the very spot upon which you’re resting your feverish, sweating face.
Still, if you are going to have a hangover and you do have kids, I would highly recommend you quarantine those bad boys to when you’re nowhere near your offspring. There is nothing more horrific than a hangover in the presence of young children; the two should be avoided at all costs.
Even if at the time you think you’re enjoying yourself, however much ‘fun’ you thought you were having at 1am downing that third shot of Sambuca while regaling a stranger with some dull story that involved a trip to Thailand in your 20s. No amount of ‘fun’ is worth having two two-year-olds jumping on your limp, lifeless body on the living room floor at 6am the following morning, as you try to focus on a pattern in a rug that will somehow help you with not throwing up or passing out, or throwing up and then passing out.
“Pre-kids, doing the washing up and putting out the recycling felt like achievements; to be honest they still feel like achievements but that’s usually because I have twins attached to my legs as I’m doing it.”
To be honest, I don’t need a hangover to find myself locked in some kind of living hell with my children. No, I just need to make my way to my local soft-play centre and Dante’s Inferno awaits me.
Soft-play centres are where you go when you’ve exhausted every other option of where to take your kids. No one is there because they want to be there. No one. Every single parent has a look of defeated resignation on their faces as they follow their three-year-old through a plastic tunnel, clamber up rubber stairs, over rope bridges and down slides that no adult should attempt without the appropriate padded onesie.
These places are always called ‘The Fun Factory’ or ‘Monkey Fun’ or ‘Fun Play’. Which is ironic really because I think I’d have more fun dragging my face up and down a broken mirror than at any soft-play centre I’ve ever been to.
Just the other week I found myself clambering through some padded corridor chasing after one of my boys as he hurtled through and over rubber shapes to the opening of a twisting plastic tunnel that would eventually spit him out the bottom.
It was at the entrance of this tubular chute that I made eye contact with another mum.
“You’re not going down there, are you?”
“Um yeah, he wants to go so I have to go with him.”
She looked at me with a face that had seen too much. “Don’t go. I’ve been down that one and you don’t want to go down there.”
Oblivious to my anxiety, my son was already ready to push himself down this cylindrical torture pipe, so readying myself, I grabbed him between my legs and off we went.
I don’t know how long I felt my middle-aged self slam from one plastic side to the next like a solitary sports sock at the end of a washing machine spin cycle, but I was eventually spat out the bottom like a sack of spuds, to the sound of my son shouting, “AGAIN AGAIN MAMA!”
I’d like to say that was the one and only time I made that mistake, but I went down another four times after that. I’m pretty sure part of my spleen is still up there.
Of course the only way to really get through a day like that is to reward yourself with a drink or three. Go on, you deserve it! What’s the worst that can happen? OK, don’t think about it. Just keep drinking…
Guilt: let’s talk about it.
I’ve had to deal with a lot of guilt over the years, not least because I was brought up Catholic. There really is nothing a Catholic likes more than to feel guilty about well… everything really.
So, you’d think that after becoming a parent I’d be used to that nagging feeling. It seems the answer to that is, “NO!” It’s almost impossible to go through a day without feeling guilty about something.
I blame the class system, because there’s no guiltier mum than a middle-class mum.
“I want Finlow to be happy but he’s allergic to sucrose, so he can only eat hummus and carrot sticks for dessert. You know sugar is poison, right?”
I didn’t know that, love, but I’ve just been reading about the collapse of the NHS and the refugee crisis, so I think you’ll find my care factor is below zero.
As a parent, guilt is something you have to learn to live with. For example I am acutely aware of how much I look forward to Wednesdays and Thursdays. What is so special about these two days? They are the two days I have without my boys.
Yes, you heard me correctly, I am openly admitting that I look forward to NOT being with my children. I know: what kind of awful human am I? I dunno, but I feel guilty about it.
The truth is that when I’m not with them I miss them, but there are days when I crawl out of bed at 6am and see their smiling, upbeat and expectant faces ready to grab the day with both hands, excited about the adventures ahead, delighted that they are going to hang out with me and I think, “I’ve got nothing for you kids. Nothing.”
Playgroups are the worst, I often find myself at one of these BORED OUT OF MY BRAIN. Of course I know that playgroups aren’t FOR ME but the very thought of going to one sends me on a one-way ticket to Yawnsville.
“I’ve tried making butterflies with fingers and imagination and what I got was two toddlers with paint all over their fingers trying to wipe their hands on the kitchen wall.”
Why do I go? Because my boys like nothing more than to play with the exact toys they have at home in a completely different environment. Maybe it’s the challenge of having to wrestle it off another two-year-old, either way I am flatlining.
I think the real problem is I hate small talk and playgroups are a hotbed for engaging in inane chit-chat.
“It’s so cold, isn’t it?”
“Yeah it’s cold…”
“I’ve had to take blankets out for the kids; another thing to carry – it’s a nightmare!”
“I’m sorry, but I think I may have stopped breathing halfway through your last sentence.”
The thing is that generally people are nice and so I feel bad that I have zero interest in interacting with them, but then someone instigates an interaction and I remember why I was enjoying the sound of my own breathing,
“Are those your boys?”
“I’ve definitely seen them around at other groups.”
“That’s possible, although I don’t always go with them.”
“Oh! I must have seen them with their dad…”
Exhaustion and boredom is your enemy as a parent because it means that you’re just not present. I’m sure I’ve missed out on my kids being funny/cute/engaging while I’ve been staring blankly at a wall fantasising about a hot bath/pint of wine/sleep.
“Any time our kids want something that we don’t want them to have, we tell them with confidence that whatever it is has gone to sleep.”
I want to be one of those mums naturally at ease with motherhood. The kind of mum that gets excited about crafts: “Hey kids, we’re going to make a spaceship out of egg boxes and macaroni!” or, “Let’s make butterflies using our fingers and imagination!” I’ve tried making butterflies with fingers and imagination, and what I got was two toddlers with paint all over their fingers trying to wipe their hands on the kitchen wall.
I know I’m not naturally adept at arty stuff and so I find it hard not to beat myself up about all the ways I fall short as a mum. Particularly when you hear yourself making any old shit up to stop your kids from doing [insert anything here].
One of my boys is obsessed with his dummy and bunny or as he likes to call them “Nummy and Munny.” He clings to this small bunny whenever he feels vulnerable or upset. Now we don’t have a problem with the bunny if it wasn’t for the fact that he always wants his dummy with the bunny and he’s two so dummies have got to go. So, no dummy means no bunny!
It’s hard not to feel like you’re torturing your child when they’ve been screaming solidly for two hours for said bunny and dummy. Surely he should be allowed to suck on a bit of plastic and rub his nose up against a filthy green bunny if he wants to?
But we’re hard-nosed bitches and we’ve decided he’s two and it’s time to GROW UP. So we’ve inflicted a strict regime of no bunny or dummy in the daytime. Perfectly reasonable, wouldn’t you say? Not for a two-year-old, and I’ll be honest with you, you can’t use logic with these people, so you find yourself making up any old crap to appease them.
Now I’m not sure if it’s down to exhaustion or our lack of imagination but any time our kids want something that we don’t want them to have, we tell them with confidence that whatever it is has gone to sleep.
“Bunny and dummy can’t come out now cause they’re sleeping.”
“All the snacks are sleeping now…”
“That really sharp knife has to stay in the drawer cause it’s sharp and could cut you. Also it’s asleep.”
I appear to be bringing up my children with the firm belief that everyone and everything suffers from some form of narcolepsy.
The plus side is, of course, that my kids appear to be completely unaware of my failings and for reasons that are beyond me they think I’m amazing. And even though I know they’re wrong I’m going to let them enjoy that deluded notion for as long as possible. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.
I’m not saying I’m a great cook. In fact no one’s saying that. But I can cook; I can make the basics and sometimes something more than basic and people (my girlfriend) seem to enjoy it. Hell, I’m going to go all out and say that even I like my cooking. My kids? Not so much.
I have made them a variety of meals over the last 12 months, anything from a fish pie, chicken and apple balls and spaghetti bolognese, to vegetable soups and even a Thai curry. Each time they have looked at me like I’m offering them a coughed up hair ball I’ve just pulled out of the vacuum cleaner.
It’s disheartening when you’ve slaved away over a hot stove, or even a lukewarm one, only to have your kids look you directly in the eye and shout, “NO MAMA!”
“What do you mean no? Mama’s cooked you a lovely dinner and if you eat it all up Mama will give you a yoghurt.” (I don’t know if speaking in the third person helps, but I’ve seen other parents do it and I’m committed to it now.)
To anyone who has tried to negotiate with a two-year-old, I would just say this: save your breath – they’re not interested. And if you’re trying to negotiate anything, make sure you have more than yoghurt up your sleeve, because as far as bribes go, it’s pretty poor.
Suffice to say my son looks at me with a face that clearly says, “I’m not eating that muck.” And in case there is any ambiguity as to how he feels, I watch the plate fly off the table and land face down on the floor.
“Making sure your kids eat is a bare minimum requirement as far as parenting goes. And yet I’m convinced it would be easier to explain quadratic equations to a squirrel than get my boys to finish their dinner.”
Dinner that I have literally just cooked, dinner that I have lovingly prepared, dinner that I have made sure has the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables to offer my son a balanced diet. A dinner that will hopefully help his bones and brain grow because he’s small, he’s a small lad and I want him to grow so he has to EAT. WHY WON’T HE EAT MY DINNER?
I shouldn’t take it personally; after all they’re two and two year-olds can be fussy eaters. They like something one minute and hate it the next. Or in my case they don’t like my food one minute and they still don’t like my food a year later. It’s OK, I’m over it. I mean it’s not about ME and it’s not like they don’t eat, they do eat, they just don’t eat MY BLOODY FOOD!
Apparently I’m not allowed to get annoyed or upset when my children refuse to eat, even though it’s one of the few ways I can reassure myself that I’m doing something right. Making sure your kids eat is a bare minimum requirement as far as parenting goes. And yet I’m convinced it would be easier to explain quadratic equations to a squirrel than get my boys to finish their dinner.
I try not to take it personally, but it’s hard. Imagine you’ve cooked a meal, maybe invited some friends over and as you bring the dinner to the table one of your friends says, “Euuuuurgh! No! I don’t want it!”
And then grabs a spoon and throws it at your head. Maybe you hand the spoon back to your friend and not unreasonably say, “Don’t throw your spoon please.”
And your friend looks at you directly in the eye and throws the spoon again, this time hitting the wall behind you. You don’t react; instead you pick up the spoon and say, “Now, are you hungry?”
“Nooooooooo!” your friend screams.
“OK, so why don’t you just eat a bit of it?”
You watch your friend swipe the dinner you have lovingly prepared on to the floor. You both stare at the plate now resting upside down and your friend looks at you, smiles and shouts, “BISCUIT!”
We all know where that biscuit would end up.
It’s hard to reason with a two-year-old; they’re just not up for it. Reason isn’t something they’ve got to grips with. In fact, most two-year-olds haven’t got to grips with remorse, boredom, impulse control or basic empathy. My girlfriend and I are basically living with two psychopaths.
“I have made them a variety of meals over the last 12 months; each time they have looked at me like I’m offering them a coughed up hair ball I’ve just pulled out of the vacuum cleaner.”
I look forward to the day I develop ‘The Look’. My mum has it; she could just give us one The Look and we knew that if we didn’t stop whatever we were doing there would be big trouble.
I can give my boys The Look for hours… and they just laugh in my face, usually as they’re chewing on a laptop cable or trying to push my mobile phone through the floorboards. I have all the authority of a bewildered supply teacher at a borstal. No one’s listening.
Fortunately my girlfriend and I are always on the same page and incredibly supportive of one another.
“Are you giving him a biscuit?”
“It’s just one biscuit.”
“I just told him he couldn’t have a biscuit, so if you give him a biscuit you’re undermining my authority.”
She’s got a point.
The good news is they’re only two, so there’s still time to claw back some control and dignity and I feel confident that once we can reason with our boys, life will get that bit easier. Or so I’m told by friends who don’t have children and right now I prefer to listen to them than my friends who do:
“Oh my god, it was a nightmare; Charlie only ate bananas until he was five.”
“My kids have never listened to a word I say, it’s so depressing.”
“Kids are bastards – I wish I’d never had mine.”
Thanks for the support guys.
Still, I do love my little psychos, even if they hate my cooking and have no real idea about ‘feelings’. The good news is that as a soon-to-be perimenopausal woman, there’ll be plenty of time for them to catch up on that front.
Let’s just say it’s going to be a steep learning curve for them.
I’ve never thought of myself as particularly competitive but since the birth of our twins I’ve discovered a newfound desire to win and win hard.
I know, who the hell talks like that, apart from twentysomething stockbrokers with a self-awareness lobotomy? I’ll tell you who: parents, that’s who. But this competitiveness isn’t about our children; no, we reserve this competition solely for our partners.
The winner is of course the person who can convince the other that they are the most tired. To be honest, there are no real winners in this so-called competition but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone:
“I only got three hours’ sleep last night.”
“I feel like I’ve had three hours’ sleep all week.”
“You had a lie-in yesterday.”
“I didn’t get to bed till 2am!”
“I didn’t get to bed till 1am and I was up at 5am.”
“Well, I got less sleep because I got up three times in the night!”
“I literally never sleep! Ever. I work 23 hours a day and I survive solely on caffeine and did I mention I double breastfed our children for six months!”
“I don’t think you appreciate how hard it is to stand up in front of a room full of people for 20 minutes! OK FINE! You win.”
Obviously I’m paraphrasing. I can’t repeat a lot of what is actually said – or so my editor has told me.
“No party, no movie, no celebrity premiere, nothing and no one can compete with the mere thought of eight hours’ sleep, OK make it nine. Sod it, if we’re fantasising, let’s make it 10.”
Sometimes it’s hard to empathise with your partner when you are so tired you fantasise about being Lenny Henry in the Premier Inn ad. The truth is I probably would get a better night’s sleep in the middle of Waterloo station at rush hour.
There have been times when I have woken in the night to hear one or both of my boys crying and looked at my girlfriend sleeping soundly without a care in the world and thought, “She must be exhausted, she got up early this morning and she’s worked really hard all day… but I did get up twice already so, strictly speaking, it’s her turn. She needs to wake up now… What the hell is wrong with her? Why can’t she hear them screaming? Is she pretending to be asleep? I bet she’s pretending to be asleep! Well, it looks like MUGGINS HAS TO GET UP AGAIN!”
Of course I get up; I tend to my children, I cuddle them, reassure them and sometimes even rock them to sleep. All the while making a passive-aggressive mental note of what a perfect parent I am to throw back in my girlfriend’s face at the mere inference that she might be tired.
I know what you’re thinking: how petty are you, Brister? I’m petty. I’m very petty. I’m the Tom Petty of petty. Why? Because I’m KNACKERED! I don’t think you understand just how tired I am. I am literally obsessed with sleep. Nothing gets me going more than the thought of my perfect bed, with the perfect pillow and the perfect mattress. No party, no movie, no celebrity premiere, nothing and no one can compete with the mere thought of eight hours’ sleep, OK make it nine. Sod it, if we’re fantasising, let’s make it 10.
Obsessions are never healthy and they make you boring. People who are obsessed with anyone or anything are generally tedious. Just ask the partner of any Olympian. Sure they’re proud of their achievements but somewhere in the back of their mind they’re thinking, “I love that Jean is so good at hurdling, but Christ she’s dull.” For anyone reading this who is an Olympian I’m sorry you had to find out here, but just know we’re all thinking it.
I don’t know why I’m being quite so smug because my obsession with sleep has firmly placed me among the BORLYMPIANS. Any conversation I have is basically led by how tired I am.
“How are you, Jen?”
“Mate, I’m sorry to hear that. But I guess if you have kids…”
“I don’t think you understand how tired I am. I think you think you know, but you need to know that you don’t know. You don’t know what actual exhaustion feels like. I’m actually buggered from the inside out. I think I might be dead. I think this conversation might be a dream I’m having.
“I am so tired that when I went to a farm the other day with the kids and saw a goat asleep in some hay, I wished I could be that goat, sleeping in a pile of what was essentially dirty grass and its own excrement. Because watching it asleep in a pile of its own faeces made me realise that the goat’s quality of life is probably better than mine. I am that tired. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW? DO YOU??”
OK, so maybe boring and mental.
“I tend to my children, I cuddle them, reassure them and sometimes even rock them to sleep. All the while making a passive-aggressive mental note of what a perfect parent I am to throw back in my girlfriend’s face at the mere inference that she might be tired.”
When the kids were newborn I’d hear other parents say stuff like, “The first six weeks are the hardest.” And with that in mind I waited for the six-week mark to arrive and alleviate me of the misery of sleep deprivation. No change there, it was as horrific as ever.
“Wait till they get to six months, it eases up then.” Nope, still a horror show.
“When they’re a year old the fog will lift!” Can’t say that I noticed that.
I don’t know if there is an unsaid rule with other parents to hold back on the truth until the kids reach two, but I have definitely noticed a certain shift in tone.
“Twins! Oh my god I don’t know how you do it. I remember when my kids were two and four, it was so hard, there were times when I used to joke with my husband, ‘I think those bastards are trying to kill us!’ They’re 17 and 19 now and they’re still a bloody nightmare.”
It’s encouraging conversations like this that have made me realise that I need to stop talking to other parents.
Fortunately my girlfriend and I are very supportive of each other’s needs as well as being incredibly passive aggressive, so I’ve been told I can lie in tomorrow morning, because, “Some people obviously need more sleep even though they got a lie-in at the weekend…”
Whatevs. I’m going to sleep like a goat lying in its own poo. Night.
Time sure does fly when you have twins! Said someone somewhere with twins, I’m guessing.
And it really has; who can believe they’re going to be two this month!? I mean, how has that happened? Yes, I understand how time works, but it feels like only yesterday that I had no little boys and here I am today with two little boys who are going to be two! That’s two and two. Does that make four? What am I saying? I think I need to stop drinking…
It’s amazing how much you manage to get done when you have kids. I am infinitely more productive now that I have no time, which makes me wonder what the hell I was doing with all that free time before they arrived. I went for days and days with nothing to do until my gig in the evening. I know I was writing, but I’m writing now, so what was I doing between the writing? How many trips to the fridge and cups of tea did I make to squander all that time?
For those of you who don’t have children, if you think you’re using your time effectively, I can tell you now that you’re not. Have a baby, seriously, just one (not twins – that’s madness) and you will get shit done. If you have a two-hour window to do your accounts, send a few invoices, make dinner, do the washing-up and put the bins out, you will tick everything off your list.
Pre-kids, I could go for days in my flat lounging about in my pyjamas, ignoring the smell of the overflowing bin and staring out of the window as my girlfriend complained that she’d found yet another box of my receipts under the sink. These days I am an efficiency ninja. Yes, there are still boxes of receipts I haven’t looked at in months, but they’re now sitting on a shelf in the study. I know, it’s like I’m a grown up.
“I can honestly say that I am a better person since we had children. I don’t mean a better human – I’m still an incredibly self-involved dick – I just mean I have become a better version of me: Jen Brister Version 2.03.”
Sometimes I miss my old life, and by ‘sometimes’ I do mean ‘every morning when I sit down for breakfast’. Back in the old days (two years ago), I would sit quietly with a coffee and read the news on my phone. I might take an hour pottering about, eating cold toast and reflecting on why a particular promoter was ignoring my emails/phone calls/smoke signals.
These days as I sit down for breakfast, I am rarely alone. Just this morning I found myself teetering on the edge of my stool as my two boys clung to each of my legs shouting, “Mama! MORE!” “Mama TOAST!” “Mama BISCUIT!” I pretend I can’t hear them until the volume reaches a level that forces me to abandon not only my breakfast but also any other activity or job I deludedly thought could be tackled in their company. The fact is, when you have twins they won’t let you do ANYTHING.
God knows I love them. You have to or you’d be on Craigslist trying to swap them for a pair of speakers (at least you can control the volume on those).
Of course there are days when I’m with my boys where I’m lucky if I leave the house without looking like I’m homeless. Clearly I haven’t nailed this parenting lark and maybe it’s because I’m the ‘other mum’ that I still look to my wife (yes wife, because girlfriend makes us sound like we’re tragic middle-aged women suffering from arrested development) to lead the way in most things.
“Should I be doing this?”
“Should he have that in his mouth?”
“Am I allowed to… (insert anything you like here)?”
She is, of course, the boss in all things and as such is always quick to tell me when I’m not quite doing it right.
“That T-shirt doesn’t match his shorts, take it off.”
“The washing isn’t going to hang itself.”
“You forgot to buy nappies again!”
It’s encouraging words like this that keep me on track and I’m grateful for that.
Fortunately for my wife I am incredibly laid-back and easy-going*, so I’m happy to let these things slide.
*scared of her
“For those of you who don’t have children, if you think you’re using your time effectively, I can tell you now that you’re not. Have a baby, seriously, and you will get shit done. ”
I also know that she has learned a lot from me, too. For example, she now knows that you can make a convincing fart noise using the palm of your hand and your armpit, dinners are way more fun when eaten off the floor/wall/furniture, and throwing all the cushions off the sofa and playing ‘bundles’ in the living room is always a winner and never* ends in tears.
Despite many of my protestations to the contrary, I can honestly say that I am a better person since we had children. I don’t mean a better human – I’m still an incredibly self-involved dick – I just mean I have become a better version of me: Jen Brister Version 2.03. By the time I get to Version 2.10 I’ll be writing lists, sticking to deadlines and filing my tax return early. I really can’t wait for that day.
Until then, I’ll just remind you that I’ve been up since 6am and by 10am I’d already emptied the recycling, fed and dressed the boys, finished the washing-up, hung out the washing and taken the boys to the park. Yup, I am winning at life!
I think I may have peaked too soon.
Can I go to bed yet?
My wife says, “No.”
Sometimes I miss the old me. The ‘me’ that had no responsibilities, that could go out whenever she wanted, meet friends, drink with no fear of how a hangover could quadruple in pain when you have to get up at 4.30am, the freedom to see shows, eat out, etc.
But most of all, I miss good old fashioned ‘conversation’. When I think back to the conversations my girlfriend and I used to have versus the ones we have now, let’s just say I’m not entirely sure we haven’t both been lobotomised.
I’m not saying that we’d spend hours discussing politics or literature or indeed anything highbrow, but we used to chat about our lives, our friends, maybe I’d crowbar a few political rants in (“Yes Jen, the Tories are dicks, can we move on?”). But whatever we talked about, it felt like ‘adult conversation.’ The last debate my girlfriend initiated with me went a bit more like this:
“Which Postman Pat do you prefer? The original or Special Delivery Service?”
“Um… I quite like Special Delivery Service.”
“How can you say that? The original is way better!”
“I think the music is more catchy.”
“Jen, have you noticed that Pat can’t be trusted to get anything right? The guy has one ‘special delivery’ to do ALL DAY and he messes it up!”
“I relate to the guy; he’s a bit of a klutz.”
“And what’s with all the fancy motorbikes and helicopters, hmm? What’s wrong with using his van? WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS, JAMES BLOODY BOND? HE’S A POSTMAN FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!”
I’ve never seen the woman get that passionate about anything, not even the birth of her children.
“To our children we are nothing if not interesting. Only yesterday the ‘bigger one’ stared at me intently as I explained the difference between his potty and an actual pot that he’d found in the cupboard.”
I don’t know when this happened exactly, but at some point we became the dullest people on the planet. When you start debating the naturalistic qualities of a kids’ television program aimed at the under-sevens, it’s time to scream out your window for help.
I’m not really surprised at the level of our conversation given every interaction I have with any adult type person leaves me struggling to find something/anything of interest to say.
“So what have you been up to?”
“Oh you know… We’ve been busy with the kids…”
“Bet that must be tiring.”
“Yeah it is… So Brexit, eh? That was a bummer… Jesus, can we get some alcohol so you don’t notice just how boring I am?”
It’s to be expected I guess. After all, aside from work, all we do is look after our children. That is the role of a parent.
Yes, I get to go away and lead the glamorous lifestyle of a jobbing comic – I recently had the pleasure of staying in a Best Western in both Liverpool and Nottingham, which I can highly recommend if you’re looking to stay in a windowless cupboard with two centimetres of plyboard separating where you sleep from the toilet. I won’t lie to you, after two weekends of this decadence you start to miss being gently introduced to 4am by a child screaming directly into your face.
The only consolation to be had from this is that our children haven’t noticed – to them we are nothing if not interesting. Only yesterday the ‘bigger one’ stared at me intently as I explained the difference between his potty and an actual pot that he’d found in the cupboard.
“One is to do poo poos and the other one is to cook dinner in.” It feels good as a parent when you know that you’re making a connection with your child. Although I should add that he was wearing his potty on his head at the time, so it was hard to tell how seriously he was taking our chat. My point still stands.
“When you start debating the naturalistic qualities of a kids’ television program aimed at the under-sevens, it’s time to scream out your window for help.”
Fortunately we’ve been told that this ‘dull’ stage is temporary and it’s not long before you get your personality back. Although I’m not sure everyone will be happy to hear this, as my mother bluntly told me the other week, “Yennifer, I think you should know that you’re a lot less annoying since you had children.”
You could glean from this that I have matured as a human being since becoming a parent, but I think she and I both know it’s because I don’t have the energy to contradict every little thing she says for no reason.
Maybe I should celebrate the fact that I am a ‘better person’ right now; it’s sad that my friends won’t get to experience it as I never really see anyone. But rest assured, despite being the equivalent of a wormhole in terms of interesting conversation, I am still great company because I simply don’t have the energy to be a massive bellend.
Only time will tell if having kids will eventually make me a more rounded and fascinating individual. So far, interaction with other parents is screaming, “NO WAY!”
In the meantime my girlfriend and I will continue our heated debates about whether Mr Bloom ever played bass in an indie band in the 90s or how much we’d have to raise in a Kickstarter campaign to never see Mr Tumble again or whether Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy are having an illicit affair that only Derek Jacobi can confirm or deny.
Either way, one thing is for certain: Postman Pat should sack off his ‘special delivery service’.
Before you have kids, there is no person in your life more excited for you to have kids, than your mate(s) with kids. Their enthusiasm on hearing about the pregnancy is over and above every other person you know, including your mum. “YOU’RE HAVING TWINS? THAT’S AMAZING! I’M SO HAPPY FOR YOU!”
“Why are you shouting?”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
Of course with hindsight I can see why they temporarily lost their minds. Finally they have a friend who is about to join the ‘I’ve got no life’ club and they couldn’t be happier that they’re no longer alone in a sea of sleep deprivation, puke and tantrums.
I feel like I need to prefix everything I’m about to say with this: I love my boys, I love them more than I’ve loved anyone or anything in my life and have no regrets that they are here.
I think some of my mates could have been a bit more upfront about the whole experience. “Honestly Jen, children change your life, you feel so fulfilled, the first time I felt unconditional love was when I held my daughter…” Blah blah blah.
“I want you to know that prior to having children neither my girlfriend nor I would have considered leaving the house with urine on our jeans. Fast forward 20 months and neither of us have the energy to give a toss.”
Nobody ever sits you down and says, “Listen mate, a word to the wise: some days are like a horror show – you don’t sleep, you can’t go out when you want to, you have to go to the loo with the door open, you’ll never finish a cup of tea or coffee again, you have to eat your ice cream behind a bin in the garden, your sex life all but disappears and your social life as you know it, is over. Anyway, congratulations!”
Of course you don’t want to be the downer on someone’s good news and no one can really prepare you for what’s in store. To be honest I don’t know how I’m so surprised at the state of my life today, having spent the last 20 odd years judging every mum I’ve ever seen on a school run. “Bloody hell love, make an effort! Run a brush through your hair! Christ! Are those Crocs?” As women, when we talk about feminism, let’s be honest, there is no one more judgemental of a woman than another woman.
I’m not proud of my behaviour, particularly as now I see that judgement in the eyes of other women as I struggle down my street wearing clothes that scream, “I’VE GIVEN UP!”
The compromises you make when you have children are quite frankly insane. You put up with stuff that prior to having kids you would never have considered. Just the other day my girlfriend asked me to sniff her jeans, “Why?” “They’ve got piss on them – I just want to know how bad it smells.”
I want you to know that prior to having children neither my girlfriend nor I would have considered leaving the house with urine on our jeans. Fast forward 20 months and neither of us have the energy to give a toss. Your standards slip and finally drop to a place that you couldn’t have fathomed just two years earlier.
Here’s something that I seem to be fine about these days: poo under my nails. Now I know some of you are going to read this and visibly wince, as you should. There is nothing OK about having poo under your nails and had I found a speck of faeces on my hands two years ago I would have been scrubbing my hands in the sink with a wire brush and some bleach. Now, when I find poo under my nails I find myself saying, “What is that? Is that… poo?” Then I scrape it out with my thumbnail and carry on with my day.
“As I reach our bedroom I finally lose it: ‘WHY DOES OUR BEDROOM SMELL OF POO? HOW IS IT THAT THE ONE PLACE WHERE WE NEVER HAVE A SINGLE NAPPY, STINKS OF SHIT!’”
Just two months ago I found myself having a tantrum, an actual tantrum in my house at the age of 41. Who have I become? As you know we have twin boys, so we have double the amount of everything, including nappies. Which means that on a daily basis we have a lot of poo coming out of our house. And I mean A LOT.
On this particular day I found myself in my living room shouting at my girlfriend, “Why does the living room smell of poo? Have the walls of this house finally absorbed the smell?”
My girlfriend, who as always was busy with more important things and was frankly not taking me seriously just shrugged her shoulders. I wandered into the kitchen, “Hang on, why does the kitchen stink of poo? Have our hygiene levels dropped so dramatically that we’re OK with our kitchen smelling of crap?”
I stormed up the stairs. “The stairwell stinks! What the hell is wrong with this house?” By this point I am apoplectic and as I reach our bedroom I finally lose it: “WHY DOES OUR BEDROOM SMELL OF POO? HOW IS IT THAT THE ONE PLACE WHERE WE NEVER HAVE A SINGLE NAPPY, STINKS OF SHIT! I CANNOT LIVE LIKE THIS A SECOND LONGER!”
It was only moments later when I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror that I realised: I had poo on my chin.
“How long have I had poo on my face?”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“I wasn’t; I just assumed you knew it was there.”
I didn’t realise that things had got so bad that my girlfriend thought I was fine about having poo on my face.
I’m not going to lie to you; it’s pretty hard to claw back any dignity from that point.
Fortunately my girlfriend’s standards have dropped as far as mine, as I pointed out to her when I let her walk through the streets of Brighton with sick on her back.
What can I say? You’ve got to get your kicks where you can.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or something. No but seriously, names can be confusing, not least if you’re Mum, but not ‘the actual mum’; you’re the ‘other one’.
We’ve spent the last 20 months drilling our proposed names ‘at’ our children, “OK, say Mama… no, Ma-Ma… No I’m Mama, she’s Mummy. No not Bunny. MUMMY!” But they’ve come to their own conclusions and they are that we’re both Mama and Mummy. Yes it is confusing.
“I think he’s talking to you.”
“No he’s definitely talking to you.”
“Well he’s looking at you.”
“What the hell is that smell?”
“Yeah, he’s definitely looking at you.”
Nothing has brought me as much pleasure in the entirety of my middling life than hearing my sons call me ‘Mama’. Initially I couldn’t get my head round it, my desire to correct them was, at times, overwhelming: “Guys, can I stop you there. OK, how to explain this… I’m not officially your Mum, I mean I am still your Mum but I’m not your actual Mum-Mum. She’s sitting over there with a look of exasperation on her face. I hope that helps.”
Don’t worry, I have never said this out loud. Well, only once and they didn’t seem to have any idea what I was going on about.
“For those of you who think it’s hilarious to suggest the name ‘Mad’ ‘cos it’s a mixture of Mum and Dad, trust me when I say it’s a lot funnier in your head.”
I don’t know why I’m surprised to hear them call me Mama. I have literally spent the entirety of their lives referring to myself in the third person to really drum it in. “Mama loves you.” “What did Mama say about putting dirt in your mouth?” “No, Mama doesn’t like it when you bite her.” I imagine it’s as irritating to hear out loud as it is to read. Does everyone do this, or is this just the insecure workings of the ‘other mother’? Answers on a postcard please.
Just be grateful that my third person references haven’t stretched to adult conversation: “Jen’s really tired.” “Jen’s just popping to the shops.” “Yes, Jen would love another drink.” I think we can all agree that it wouldn’t be long before someone rightfully punched me directly in the face.
Picking a name for yourself as a parent is a weird thing to do. If you’re hetero, of course there is no question of who you are and naturally what your name will be. You don’t have to sit with your partner and work it out: “OK, so we’ve got Mama, Mummy, Mum, Mom, Momma, MiMaw, Mum-Mum, Mother, Madre, Mam, MamaJen, MummyJen, MumJen, MJ & M…”
It’s a bloody minefield. And for those of you who think it’s hilarious to suggest the name ‘Mad’ ‘cos it’s a mixture of Mum and Dad, trust me when I say it’s a lot funnier in your head.
I’m not entirely sure how much difference it makes either way. Yes my boys are calling me Mama for now, but I know that might change as their vocabulary grows and their pronunciation improves.
I mean, trying to make sense of anything they say is hard work. At the moment the big one calls the little one, ‘Dooda’. All you really need to know is that my girlfriend and I did not name one of our kids Dooda, or anything close to Dooda.
To be honest, naming your children can be its own separate nightmare. It took us a long time to come up with our boys’ names and like all soon-to-be parents, our process was unique to us. My chosen method was to declare my love for one name and then rigidly refuse to consider any others.
To be fair, most of my girlfriend’s suggestions were pretty wacky; at one point it really felt like her choice of name depended on the room that she walked into: “What do you think about the name Radiator?” “I think Tongs is a nice name.” It helps to be rigid when the alternative is naming your kid ‘Coving’.
Oh and just a bit of advice for any people out there who are waiting for a sprog to arrive, or are in the midst of naming their baby, or might consider the madness of children in the future.
Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances tell ANYONE the name of your baby before it arrives. You will not thank your friends for their ‘input’. “Markus? I hate that name! I went to school with a guy called Markus and he was a complete bellend.” See? Not helpful.
“If your baby points to a random man and calls him ‘Dada’, don’t go bright red, contradict your baby loudly and overcompensate by talking about how your boys have two fantastic uncles who’ll be fantastic role models – it looks weird.”
Still, I am loving that we have a Dooda in the house and that my children are finding their own language to describe things and themselves, even if it is mostly gibberish. The reality is that when your baby starts to talk they’re just sounding, so whatever comes out of their mouth is just, well, sounds.
You can’t take it personally when they spend six months shouting, “Dada!” every time you walk into a room. It’s not cause they think you’re their Dad; it’s just easier to say Dada than it is Mama. So don’t get paranoid about it; don’t think to yourself, “Is it my haircut? Should I put on a bit of makeup? Is this shirt too androgynous?” It’s not about you. SO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CALM DOWN!
Also, if you’re in a public place and your baby points to a random man and calls him ‘Dada’, don’t go bright red, contradict your baby loudly and overcompensate by talking about how your boys have two fantastic uncles who’ll be fantastic role models – it looks weird.
I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.
And so here we are 20 months into this never-ending rollercoaster ride and I am officially a ‘Mum’ because my kids have told me so. It is the best of times (apart from the 5am starts, the endless poo and the horrific tantrums) and I’m making the most of it. That’s really just code for, “I’m too tired to do anything else.”
To all the parents: I salute you; it can be hell out there but apparently it’s worth it. And for those of you who don’t want and have never wanted and will never want or have children… please stop looking so bloody smug.
Kids, who’d have ‘em, eh? Well, our parents for a start, I don’t know what they were thinking either, to be honest. Being a parent is hard; I’m going to go all out and say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my 41 years and I’ve tried reading A Brief History of Time. Honestly, that was the longest 11 minutes of my life.
As a person in charge of, and responsible for, two small people, I am amazed at how much of my time is spent just thinking about them.
Prior to their arrival I can honestly say that I spent most of my time thinking about, well, me really. I mean not just me – sometimes I’d watch the news, feel sad for a nanosecond and find myself thinking about someone a lot less fortunate than me. But mostly it was all about me.
God, I sound awful, but really it’s not my fault, I’m a standup comedian and if there’s one thing we’ve nailed as a group, it’s self-absorption. I’d say just ask any comedian, but I forgot to mention our lack of self-awareness.
I’m grateful every day that I don’t have to do this parenting lark on my own. I don’t know how single parents do it. I also don’t know how we’re not handing out awards to these people every year.
At the bare minimum there should be an annual parade where all the single parents are invited to march through the streets of their town while the rest of us stand by the sidelines shouting supportively: “YOU GUYS ARE GREAT! KEEP GOING! ONLY 24 YEARS TILL THEY MOVE OUT!”
Single parents are heroes because they have to be everything to their kids: nurturer, disciplinarian, boundary maker, educator, listener, supporterer. I’m pretty sure that last one isn’t even a word, but you get my point.
“I can make my boys laugh. I would feel better about that achievement if later on I hadn’t caught them both laughing hysterically while throwing a spoonful of yoghurt at the wall.”
I, on the other hand, have the luxury of having a robot for a partner, which means that organisation is not something I have to worry about. My girlfriend also earns way more than I do, which takes the pressure off my endless creative pursuits that either earn nothing, or less than nothing (no Edinburgh Fringe for me this year).
She’s 100 per cent devoted to them, completely on top of their developmental needs and milestones and has already completed their first baby book. See what I mean? Robot.
Meanwhile I have been very proactive at… hang on… I have been on top of… wait a second… I have been wholly responsible for… Jesus! What the hell have I been doing for the last 18 months?
Nobody knows. Even when I asked my girlfriend point-blank what I’m bringing to the parenting table, I could see her eyes searching for a response.
“Jen you do loads of stuff!”
“Well you look after them and… you know… other things… What about the other day when you made them laugh? They loved that!”
Great, I can make my boys laugh. I would feel better about that achievement if later on I hadn’t caught them both laughing hysterically while throwing a spoonful of yoghurt at the wall.
Look, I know I’m doing something right, because my girlfriend’s not the kind of person to massage my ego if I’m failing at something.
When we first got together I had to tell her to stop coming to my gigs, as her feedback was a little too honest: “You were fine! I laughed in places, but that guy over there, wow, he hated it and so did that woman in front of me and that group of people by the door…” I GET IT. THANK YOU. There’s only so much feedback my self-esteem can handle.
But when it comes to our boys she trusts me, and that’s a big deal right? I have entire days when I am completely responsible for two human boy-people and no one bats an eyelid.
“I barely have time to go to the bloody toilet for crying out loud and when I do, I have two small boys standing next to me screaming, ‘Weeee weeee!’”
I’d go so far as to say that very occasionally I actually look like I know what I’m doing. Not every occasion, granted. There was an incident recently with a roundabout and a cheese sandwich that didn’t make me look great, but we’ve moved on from there. At least the cheese sandwich has; I have no idea where the hell that went.
I guess it’s OK to admit that I struggle at being ‘a parent’, I can’t be alone in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer relentlessness of it all. There doesn’t appear to be any quality ‘down time.’ Sure, we get our evenings off, but by 7pm I’m catatonic. I can barely string a sentence together, let alone ‘make the most of my evening.’
And Radio 4 can bog off: no one wants to hear famous creative types bang on about how productive they became once they had children. “I wrote my first three books in under a year after my first child was born.” Good for you love; I’ve written a shopping list and I’m going for a lie-down.
Between changing nappies, distracting them, feeding them, stopping them from climbing up the back of the sofa, running after them, pulling various objects out of their mouths, taking them to the park/farm/playground, cuddling them when they cry, holding them when they’re tired, washing clothes, bathing them, endless bloody cleaning… WHO HAS TIME TO BE CREATIVE?
I barely have time to go to the bloody toilet for crying out loud and when I do, I have two small boys standing next to me screaming, “Weeee weeee!” It was funny the first couple of times, but I’ll be honest with you, that joke is wearing thin.
Sometimes I have to remind myself how easy I have it. We are a middle-class couple with a ‘nice’ home in a ‘nice’ part of the world, with two children WE WANT. We’re not fleeing a war, our kids are healthy, we’re not rich but we’re not poor by any stretch of the imagination.
We are indescribably lucky and life is as sweet as it’s going to get. So on the days when I wake at 5am with what feels like a killer hangover despite not having had a single drink the night before, crippled by exhaustion and trying not to inhale too deeply as I tackle the contents of a nappy that a grown man would be proud of, I remember that where I am right now, is exactly where I want to be. (Also, wine. Wine REALLY helps.)