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.