The Making of Memories

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Someone asked me recently what my earliest memory was…the very first thing I ever remember happening. It is a memory from when I was around 3 years old, and I only know I was that age because I remember being in the kitchen of the house we lived in at the time, which we moved from when I was 4 . There were blue walls I think, and I was sitting at the table eating breakfast. The sun was coming in through the window and I can see my Mam at the kitchen sink, I remember she was wearing a long skirt and she’s singing a song. I want to say it’s ‘You Are My Sunshine’, but honestly I’m not sure if it was that, or if I just think it was because that’s what I sing to my two boys. Maybe that’s why I started singing it to them… that bit has got mixed up in my mind but anyway, that’s the memory.

And now that Rian is almost three, it dawned on me that any of these days might turn into his earliest first memory that will stick with him. So I suppose it’s kind of like when you know there’s a speed check up ahead, and you want to be on your best behaviour in case you get caught. What if his memory decides to pick the day I’m cross with him, or the very moment I crack under the pressure, lose my patience, and shout?! So I’m trying extra hard to keep it calm and channel my inner Mary Poppins (although, side note, I adore that film, but I’m not sure why we hold Mary Poppins in such high childcare esteem when you think what she actually did with those kids. Jumped into paintings, entered them into a horse race without even a helmet in sight, floated to the ceiling in some random old man’s house, managed to get them lost in the middle of London on their own chasing after a homeless woman feeding pigeons, dancing on roofs and leaping up and down chimneys…but who am I to judge!)

So it’s kind of a big responsibility. Not just the first memory, but all the core memories. We’re responsible for the childhood of two people…that’s a serious responsibility. You don’t really think of these things on a day to day basis, most of the time it’s just getting dinners cooked and kids washed and hoping we all get a night of uninterrupted sleep and things like that. We make an effort do do things with them, things that involve investing time. Playing games with them, making things with them, involving them in the cooking and baking things, going for walks and all those sorts of activities, nothing unusual there.

As a full-time working mother, or as I prefer to say, an outside-the-home working mother, I’m plagued with constant guilt and always questioning myself about whether I should be leaving them. Missing little day to day things, the things that  inevitably add up to big parts of who they are. It’s not easy, but it’s something I just have to deal with. So I ask myself, how can I make it work? How can I make sure that the memories they have that will stand out won’t be of the days when I’m at work?

All I can come up with is to make sure that the time we do have together is full of fun and happy things. Of course there’ll be the day to day things, but I want them to grow up and remember things like us all baking something together. Or reading books together, or painting pictures. Going for walks to hunt for the Gruffalo (in our house, this seems to be the most fun an almost three year old can have!) The more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m no different in wanting these things just because I leave the house to go to work. Does every mother have the same guilt regardless of whether they work outside or if they stay at home and work there every day? Probably. We all just want those core memories to light up yellow (ever since I saw Inside Out this is how I picture it!), and stay stored in a cosy little corner of their minds and hearts forever.

And some days, I know it’s working. Recently my heart almost exploded when I saw Rian playing with ‘Sniffy’, his favourite can’t-sleep-without-him soft toy. Sniffy got flung to the other side of the room, presumably trying to fly, but he landed kind of awkwardly. Rian went over, picked him up and asked, ‘You ok Sniffy?’ Then tucked him into his neck as if Sniffy was a tiny baby, stood there and sang to him ‘You Are My Sunshine’….

I get it wrong a lot of the time, I know I do. But when these little moments appear that show me that sometimes I’m also getting it right, at least getting it the way I’ve chosen, well, there’s just nothing better. Maybe it is possible to work away from the home and not see them all day every day, and still create those all important core pieces of comfort, happiness, security, home…love.

 

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Return to Work – The Fear

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I’m back to work soon, and I’m not sure I’m ready. Yes, sometimes I think of the nice aspects to it – getting to use my brain for non baby related things, having great chats and laughs with my colleagues and friends, getting to dress in clothes that won’t get covered in a range of bodily fluids, having a lunch break, Fridays that feel like Fridays again. I haven’t even used my own handbag for a year in favour of throwing everything into the changing bag because, well, what’s the point! And of course, getting paid at the end of the month. All excellent things and reasons to be glad about it.

But. There are a range of emotions that come with it. People often describe maternity leave as being ‘off work’. It’s not. It’s much much much more work than actual work. That’s fine, I love about 80% of it, I’m very grateful to have had the chance on both babies to take extended leave meaning I have been home with them for almost a year each time. The obvious worst part is having to leave them again, not seeing them in the mornings and having the fear of missing a ‘first’ while I’m at work. The cuddles, kisses and random cute things they say and do. Things they might say or do that I would find amazing, but to someone else might just be another ‘thing’ and not necessarily worthy of being reported to me. And I’ll miss it altogether… honestly just thinking of this makes me want to cry. I cannot explain just how much I am going to miss them. If I could just train them to reserve these things for when I’ll be there that would be perfect! They will be in excellent hands with our childminder, no doubts or worries there whatsoever. But I’m their mother. Part of me wonders should I be leaving them at this age? I won’t get into that now, it’s not like I have the choice. Mortgages and bills have to be paid and that’s that.

There is an element of anxiety looming. It’s a strange thing of being familiar with something and being unfamiliar with it all at once. It’s like starting a new job, but you know the people and the place. It’s been a year since I was there, and no doubt things will have changed. There’ll be in-jokes that will go over my head until I catch back up again. There will be new systems, new people, new things to learn. Even the things I already knew, I will have to learn again. That was a bit of a shock when I went back after my first maternity leave. I felt like all the things I had known up until that point on how to do my job got melted away with every night feed and sleepless night with a newborn. I remember sitting for a few minutes trying to remember how to do something I had previously been able to do with my eyes closed. Having to ask for help again for something I feel I should already know. And that shakes your confidence, or at least it does for me.

There’s a sense of paranoia. What if I’m not as good at my job anymore? Obviously, I have more on my mind now than I had the last time I was there, thinking about the boys and wondering are they missing me being there. Am I focusing enough on it, giving it my best? What if the person who was covering my maternity leave was better at my job than I am? I don’t mean that I feel like it’s a competition in any way, but it’s sort of odd, handing over your job and responsibilites to someone and then coming back to see how things are done, if they are done differently. It’s yours and yet it’s someone else’s at the same time.

You’re sort of expected to slot straight back in, as if you’ve only been off work for a weeks holiday. That routine Monday morning thing of ‘How was your week off?’ And the routine reply of ‘Ah you know yourself, just took it easy’. ‘How was your leave?’ ‘Well, I just grew and produced a whole person, didn’t sleep for about six months and managed to figure out how to keep them plus a toddler alive successfully, you know…just took it easy.’ ‘Great stuff, well done. Have you got that report?’

Maybe that’s my own expectation, or theirs, or both… I’m not sure. But it’s a big change, and I just don’t find it easy to slot straight back in. There are good aspects to it too – I feel like a different person now than when I left – well of course I am. I teach my children things every day, and they teach me things about myself right back in return. Things I used to get stressed about in work no longer stress me out at all. A ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ type of thing. I can multi-task like a champion. I can make decisions quickly and under pressure and not feel the fear as much as I did before doing these things. I can manage my time much more effectively. Really, the more I think about it, the more I reckon maternity leave should really count towards your annual review – the new skills you pick up are beneficial in so many ways! Not that I was bad at this stuff before, at least I hope not, but it gives you another type of confidence in your abilites, even if I can’t for the life of me even remember what my login password was!

Well anyway, whether I like it or not I’ll soon find out if I’m right. The return date is looming, no point ignoring it anymore. Now, if I could only remember where I left my puke-free handbag.

 

 

 

 

 

The Nostalgia Factor

I’m sentimental, I always have been. I’m very nostalgic, I’ll listen to a lot of – let’s face it, cheesy music – purely because it will take me back to a time or a place that makes me feel happy.  I’m that type of person who ends up ruining the last couple of days of their holidays because I get so disappointed that they’re almost over and wishing I could go back in time and do it again. For the majority of decisions I make, my heart rules my head.

I take A LOT of photographs of the boys. One look at my Instagram, and you’ll have noticed that already. There aren’t any photos of latte art and nice rustic looking meals all perfectly arranged. It’s really not all that interesting unless you love looking at pictures of EXTREME CUTENESS, the two most adorable little boys I have ever set eyes on! Yawn you might think, don’t worry I get it, I get fairly bored looking at photos of other people’s kids too. But I take the photos for me, and I keep my favourites on Instagram as a sort of portable photo album for myself and I love looking back at the older ones.

There’s another reason I like doing this though. I’ve come to realise something probably already very obvious, but it only properly dawned on me the other day. Just how fast they are changing. Of course I know it already, I say it all the time. But I’m realising that as well as learning new things, getting taller, those sort of things, their whole personalities are completely changing. The person they are today is not necessarily the same person they will be tomorrow. Of course there’s an element of that in us all, but it’s much more amplified in kids.

This time last year, I used to have to ask people not to say the word ‘Banana’ around Rian, because he would almost explode with the excitement such was his love for bananas. Even hearing the word would make him hop up and down with excitement, and want one on the spot, and I couldn’t have him eating bananas all day and night. A few months later, the wonder of bananas had worn off, and his main purpose in life changed to eating ‘Gapes and Oburt’. That’s grapes and yoghurt to you and me. Gapes and Oburt even had their own song, that’s how much he loved them. He also used to get excited at the sight of the ‘Mote-Orto’, because seeing the Remote Control usually led to his other favourite thing in life, Thomas the Tank Engine. But even then, he only wanted to listen to the songs, so, I would spend my life watching this song, leaving it forever engrained on my brain, over and over.  ‘AGAIN MAMA!’, so we’d rewind it and watch it again. And again. On a journey indeed.

It’s a bit like when, with a baby, you might pull a face which makes them almost cry with laughter it’s that funny. About an hour later you do it again, and they sit looking at you like you’re the biggest parental embarrasment they’ve ever had to face. What could possibly have happened in one hour to turn something from side splittingly hilarious to absolutely pathetically sad?!

So when Rian comes in and suddently asks for ‘grapes and yoghurt’, pronouncing it perfectly, and says, ‘oh there you are remote control!’ in the hope that I will put on Thomas, my nostalgic self feels a bit sad for the little person they have left behind, and a bit sad that I won’t hear the cute way he mispronounces his words. These little examples and how I’ll miss them are probably part of the reason why I cried at the part of Toy Story 2 when Jessie’s owner outgrows her and she’s flung under the bed, or in Inside Out when (spoiler alert) the imaginary friend character sacrifices himself. I cried! Why? Beats the hell out of me. I never had an imaginary friend, so I’ve no idea why that particular part got to me but for some reason, I find it extremely hard to let things go, however unimportant they may seem. So what I wonder is, will this turn me into a clingy type of mother who wraps them up in cotton wool? I hope not, I don’t want that. Judging by how Rian seems so independent already, I don’t think so. But I know there are things about them growing up that I am going to find so hard. I already miss parts of his personality that he has grown out of. Little things he says or does. No doubt it will be exactly the same with Alex. I’m sure all parents are the same in that regard.

I suppose you could argue that being too nostalgic could be a bad thing – it’s important to embrace change and look to the future and all those wise words people say we should all do. I’m not one to embrace change easily, although I’m trying to get better at it. But the fact I cling to nostalgia so much is also good too I think. It makes me appreciate them for how they are now because I know, in the near future, maybe even as near as tomorrow, they will change again and I will miss the version they are of themselves today.

Sometimes, after one of those long  days when everyone is cranky and tantrumy and growing teeth and things, I’m wishing for bedtime, for peace and quiet. There’ll always be those days. When I’m not in the mood to watch another episode of Thomas again, that same episode again, because that’s his favourite one. To read that same book again for the 50th time in a row about Smartest Giants and Witches on Brooms and Gruffalos.

Instead, I recognise that tomorrow he might not want me to read to him at all anymore. Next week, he might not want to cuddle with me on the couch under his favourite blanket and watch Percy and Thomas cause ‘confusion and delay’. I know there’ll come a day when my nostalgic self will long for these days back again. I just wish they weren’t whizzing by so fast! And off I go again on my little nostalgic merry go round, dreading the changes instead of enjoying them while they’re happening right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Male Feminists

Sometime in the last two weeks or so, I looked at Rian, and momentarily looked away. When I looked back at him again, he had suddenly changed from my eldest baby, to my little boy. Somehow, even though I have been looking at him almost constantly, he grew out of his baby like ways and morphed into this little boy, right in front of me. It’s like he went to bed one way, and woke up another. All of a sudden he seemed taller, more outspoken, more determined, he had more words and lots more attitude! It’s just amazing how fast they both change.

And it got me thinking again, about what sort of boys, men, people I want them to be.  I am often fascinated at how personalities can be shaped and the things that can influence it. I wonder are we born with a certain amount of morals, ideals, and taught the rest? I often think of my three sisters and I,  we all had more or less the same upbringing but of course we are all four different people. How much is taught to us and how much are we just born with, and how much of what’s left is shaped by society?

So with this in mind I often think carefully about what I want to teach the boys, how I want to shape their minds and what way will I go about it. All the usuals of course – right from wrong, kindness, honesty and right up along with all the big ones are manners – I’m a strong believer in good manners. But also – and very importantly to me – I want my boys to be feminists.

I want my sons to grow up thinking of themselves as no different to anyone else in their playgrounds. No better or worse, just equal. I don’t want them thinking they have to play football just because they’re boys, or that they can’t play football with girls because girls are girls. But it’s more than that. Feminism to me is equality – for women and for men. Someone recently used the phrase ‘cry like a girl’ within earshot of Rian, and although I am certain they used the phrase casually because, like it or not, it is often used as a passing phrase, but it really irritated me. It really is not an idea I want them to be familiar with. Cry like a girl implies girls are weak to cry. I want them to cry if they feel like crying. ‘Boys don’t cry’ is another of these phrases – but of course they do. My heart would break at the thought of Rian or Alex wanting to cry but instead they don’t, they bottle it up and think to themselves, I can’t cry, I’m a boy.

I know Feminism is much much more than that. Perhaps I’m wrong even referring to this as Feminism in the first place, . Gender based restrictions are all over the place, everywhere we look, from toy shops to workplaces. Assumptions are made based on society’s archaic ideals. We assume they’ll grow up and want to play football or rugby for example. But what if one of them wants to do ballet? I often say this to my husband, joking, just to see what he’d say.  But what if one of them does? Do I say no because it’s too ‘girly’? Of course not.

I digress. This isn’t about them growing up and realising that they like things that are wrongly aimed at a particular gender. It’s not about that. They can grow up and be whoever whatever they want to be, I just want it to never occur to them that they should think twice about it, or think ‘how would this look?’ or wonder ‘ SHOULD I be doing this if I’m a boy?’. I don’t want to place my assumptions or the assumptions of society on them just because they happen to be one gender over the other.

And I’m not perfect. Of course I will make these assumptions, some consciously and some subconsciously because that’s what I’ve absorbed my whole life. But I’m determined to try my very best for them.

I often see articles and opinions shaped around how we need to raise girls more like our boys. And in one way this is great, I sometimes personally notice small day to day occurrences of casual sexism from both men and women towards eachother. But what if we need to raise children as children and not as one or the other? Or to be better than one or the other? Pink toys, blue toys. Boys games, girls games. Boys clothes, girls clothes. As a kid I DETESTED being put in anything even remotely girly and even more so detested playing ‘girly’ games like Barbie. Why can’t we forget about gender and raise them to believe they can achieve whatever they want to as long as they work hard enough for it. That they don’t have to behave according to their gender – boys and men can cry and girls and women can muscle up like Arnie if they want. I hope I manage it right. The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually harder to raise feminist boys over feminist girls. Generally it is more widely accepted now that we teach our girls to be anything they want and so to play with toys traditionally aimed at boys like farming toys or superhero things is fine, but, for boys to be seen playing with traditional ‘girl’ toys is much less so.

And there’s a more serious side to it. Take Donald Trump’s ‘Locker room’ comments that were highlighted during his presidency campaign. I want my boys to be the ones who turn and walk away from that, but not before pointing out how wrong it is.  To stand up to their peers, tell them it’s wrong, and not to just laugh along because it’s popular. To have that strength of mind and character.

How do I plan on doing it? Like everything else in my methods of parenting, I’ll just do my best and wing it!  I’ll try and lead by example. I will teach them that strength does not only mean muscly arms, but dealing with and showing emotions whenever you feel them. That often the things we view as weak or ‘feminine’ are actually signs of pure strength. The frustrating thing is that I feel it is society that will influence them most and a lot of it will be outside of my control. So to regularly talk about it and challenge views as often as possible, ask them why things need to be a certain way. Young kids don’t see differences like colour or shape or size, they just see people. So I suppose I want to try and continue this mindset as they grow up. Boys may be boys, but I will do my best to raise mine to be Men.

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The Age of Internet Parenting

I picked up my phone recently and had a great chat in my ‘November 2014 Babies’ WhatsApp group, and for about the billionth time thought how grateful I was that I had met these amazing women online.

It’s a place I can go to vent, chat, discuss, ponder, laugh and have general craic in, with women who just completely understand eachother. We’re lucky because we all consider ourselves and eachother completely normal – there isn’t the usual ‘one’ that ruins it for the rest of us! And I can honestly say I’d have had a much harder time figuring out motherhood if it wasn’t for these girls who I now call genuine friends. Some of us are on our second babies together, some on their third, and it’s great because some of us get to regularly meet in real life too while we share another maternity leave together. Of course we don’t just chat solely about the glory of wiping snot and puke all day, these girls are genuine friends. We have shared personal stories, personal challenges, celebrated with and supported eachother through plenty of life changes over the last three years.

I think though, my favourite thing about this group is that there is absolutely NO judgement. No pressure, no feeling of ‘ I think you’re doing this wrong’ that I have come across in other online groups. And it got me thinking.

I am raising my children in an era of Internet Parenting. Sure, there are great benefits. I have an infinite pool of experience and knowledge all with a few taps through the screen of my phone. Obviously I was raised (relatively recently given my amazing youthful looks) in a pre Internet time. Who did my Mam have to ask ‘what do I do’ type questions to? A much smaller circle of people and even then it was most likely at the end of a landline phone or worse, hand written letters! No instant answers for her.

But there are also downsides to this, something I’m realising more and more. The more we congregate online to discuss and figure out the hurdles of raising mini humans, the more pressure and comparison comes with it. You see endless groups for any aspect of parenting from groups based on how you feed your baby, how you wean your six month old onto solids, to the safest way to transport these little people in your car. You see babies achieving milestones at different times to your own and immediately compare. You become informed of ‘best practise’ and ‘healthiest ways’ and ‘you should ONLY do this’ and you find you haven’t, couldn’t, or can’t do things that way and instantly feel like you’re doing it wrong – like you are failing.

I don’t mean to suggest that for the most part, it is people telling you you’re doing it wrong. Most of the time people are simply telling their own experience. But for me, I find I can sometimes question myself based on that person’s advice or experience.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ – I can’t remember who said that – ( Google informs me it was Theodore Roosevelt) and it’s true. It made me realise that I sometimes don’t have enough confidence in myself or sometimes in my decisions and I doubt myself. I see how other women seem to manage the various hurdles and if I’m not doing it the same way, I sometimes assume I’m doing it wrong.

Although as I type this I realise that was much more the case at the very start when both boys were born. Everything is so confusing then. I thought I’d escape it this time after I had Alex, that I would know what I was doing but he was such a different baby that I still felt new to it all. When you have a baby not only are you learning as you go, but you’re getting to know your new little bundle – what they like and what they don’t like. Learning their different cries is sort of like learning a language. And you can pick your own child’s cry out of 20 babies crying at once. So why this self doubt? Surely I’m not the only one who feels like this?

And so I wonder, to what extent is it natural as a new mother to doubt and question yourself, or how much of that is influenced by Internet Parenting? Everywhere you look there are blogs about parenting. Why do we feel the need to write it down, unlike our parents before us? To help other people if it’s a topic you’re particularly good at? Are you a baby genius who knows the best way to do all things baby? But even if you are, this in itself doesn’t make any sense because I could preach til the cows come home about the latest parenting skill I’ve acquired but unless you ARE me with MY child, chances are it wouldn’t work the same way for you anyway.

Is it harder now than it was for my mother for example? I think it must be a bit of both. The endless knowledge I have instant access to would be sorely missed if I didn’t have it (so long as it is researched properly and you don’t take it as gospel from just anyone!) – but I really do think a big downside is the negative impact it could have on your mental health. Constantly seeing how everyone else is doing it differently, or how they seem to do it so easily or perfectly. I for one certainly put myself through a lot of guilt and feeling of failure around the time both boys were born based on expectations I had placed on myself from reading  of other people’s opinions and experiences on certain aspects of parenting.

But maybe that’s just me. So why do I blog about it? I think it’s like a form of therapy – I find it so therapeutic just writing things down, especially about the challenging aspects of IVF and parenting. Sometimes it’s for posterity – the experiences are so precious it’s a nice way for me to keep a sort of memory collection.  And mainly I just really enjoy doing it. Maybe I do have it harder than my mother and her mother did – although I think not – but then again I guess we’ll never know.  The age of Internet Parenting is here, maybe it’s just one more storm we need to try and navigate! In the meantime, I’ll be doing my best trying not to put myself down and making comparisons, and start believing that maybe I’m doing just fine on my own after all.

 

Now I Can S P E L L

There are many ways in which I’ve changed since producing and giving birth to two Bumps. Let me count the ways.

Hilariously – I used to think I was ‘tired’. Tired! If I got woken up at 8am on a Saturday by a neighbour’s barking dog it would almost bring a tear to my eye. How on earth would I last til bedtime?? Now? 8am is considered a glorious lie in sent from the Gods. Tired also applied to strenuous things like just getting up and going to work five days a week. Now I have to do that, plus prevent a toddler and a baby from flinging themselves off of things and poking sharp things into their eyes. Cooking them healthy dinners and cleaning up various bodily fluids! Tired!

And if I thought one baby was tiring – well of course it is – I wonder what on earth I did with all my free time when I had just one mini dictator to parent on my last maternity leave. This time around, it’s as good as a mult-tasking assault course of making lunches and dinners, cleaning stuff  and wiping things. Entertainment for a toddler and entertainment of another sort for the baby. Naptimes are the holy grail times of the day – and if you strike absolute mult-tasking parenting gold of simultaneous naptimes..well is there anything better?! Surely someone will arrive at any moment with my name engraved on a shiny trophy for achieving the ultimate daily aim. A whole hour or even more to yourself! It would almost make you delirious. Time you should probably spend washing your hair or putting away the clothes. Usually I’m just so grateful for it I spend most of the time basking in the glory of the peace and quiet and lying on the couch drinking coffee while the mountains of washing stack up and laugh at me from their various piles of messiness.

And another thing. I now find myself spelling words in my mind, or even worse, spelling them out loud to people long past the age of that requirement. Would you like some M-I-L-K in that tea? How about a B-I-S-C-U-I-T? Excuse me, can you point me in the direction of the W-I-N-E please? Because Toddler is some sort of child prodigy genius (yes I’m biased) and can pre-empt when I’m about to speak of things that he’s not supposed to have, now I have to go round spelling stuff.  He also has some form of supersonic hearing so if I even begin to tear at the wrapper of something I might want to secretly inhale when he’s not looking, he suddenly apparates beside me out of nowhere with his little hand sticking out for his share of it. And also, I’ve noticed, he must have random psychic abilities too. Let’s say I rustled the wrapper of a packet of lettuce, and rustled the packet of a bag of chocolate buttons… HE KNOWS.

 

Did you know that things can smell sticky? No, neither did I. But they do. I could walk into a room now and smell the sticky thing from ten paces. How do they get sticky in the first place? Well, apart from the obvious sticky hands mauling them all the time, honestly, the rest of the time it’s a complete mystery. I don’t even let myself wonder what the stickiness even is, it’s just one of life’s great mysteries along with where the other socks go and why the nappy will always, always, land shit-side-down.

And we’re moving into the WHY? Section of Toddlerhood. But why? Why? Ok, why? And your own sarcasm can come back to bite you on the arse and make the Why game ten times worse.

‘Why do I have a willy?’

Cos you’re a boy.

‘Where your willy go’?

Out for a walk.

Why?

‘I was only messing, Willies can’t walk’

Why?

And so it goes. It’s best to exit the murky waters of Willies and Other Things Like Them as quickly as possible with inquisitive two year olds, or next thing you know they’ll be asking random strangers in Aldi ‘You have willy?’ True Story.

Next up –  not giving a crap about the actual state of you. I’m not just talking about the lack of effort you put into doing your hair or makeup – previously something that would usually done every day regardless. No, this is another level altogether. Last month I had actually gone a whole day unknowingly sporting a sticker of a fish on my forehead. Down to the shops and everything. I’m not sure I even cared all that much when I noticed it either and casually peeled it off as if it was meant to be there all along.

There are other nice changes too. The things they come out with can melt you in seconds, and make you cry with laughter. Watching him chase a wasp around the kitchen because he wanted to know if it wanted to have a ‘go’ on his scooter and telling it ‘aww you’re so cute’ because he hears me saying it to his little brother all day long. The huge satisfaction and warm fuzziness that comes when you can see them working things out. ‘I DO IT!’ is a familiar phrase to anyone with a toddler I’m sure. When you spend ages trying to teach them manners over and over and then one day they do it completely unprompted! To see his imagination develop. He’ll often grab his Bullseye stuffed toy and shout ‘BULLSEYE TO THE RESCUE!’ before trying to rescue an imaginary disaster from taking place.

But maybe the biggest change is how I seem to be just morphing into my parents, doing things I swore I’d never do. Things like dressing them in matching outfits How I detested that as a kid! Of course I realise now that management has the right to change the rules at any time, and so I shall!

Ever since Rian was born, each stage he’s gone through and now each stage Alex is going through, I keep thinking is better than the last. It just gets more and more fun – more challenging too of course, but every day I wake up and I think, I just can’t wait to see what new things they do today and what new ways they’ll change me too.

The 2-Year-Old Survivor Guide, by Jen

Like many brave war heroes before me, I know that entering a war zone or battle requires much strategic planning and preparation. It’s every woman for herself, there can be only one winner. Make sure it’s you.

Yes, I’m talking about parenting a two year old. Oh, he might seem harmless, sitting there with his cute little button nose and big blue eyes gazing up at you saying ‘I uvv you Mama, huggie!’ BUT DON’T BE FOOLED! These creatures are deceptive little feckers. They rope you in and make you remember all the cute adorable things you love about them, and make you wonder how you made something so precious in the first place and just as all your stupid mushy related hormones are making you melt in a puddle of maternal pride and joy, they scream in your face and wipe their snot all over your clothes. You’ve been Toddlered.

No sir, they must not be underestimated.

People don’t give two-year-olds enough credit. They are highly intelligent and strategic. They can play you off against your Second In Command (Yes Gavin, I have appointed myself as Chief. Or whatever the head army person is called.) You must be on guard at all times.

Lets start with the basics. First tactic is Distraction. This is key – they’ll fire whinge after whinge, demand after demand. Be vigilant and stay focused! You must deploy the Distraction tactic at once. I suggest you point out an aeroplane flying overhead, doesn’t matter if there is one or not, they love aeroplanes and helicopters and pretty much anything in the sky. This should buy you enough time to think of a new topic or activity for them to do. This also works well if they’re on the verge of a tantrum – it is your responsibility, Soldier, to recognise the signs in your own toddlers. Sticks! They love sticks – find a stick, preferably near a puddle, their day is made, and you will have averted disaster. Sticks and puddles can save you.

Bribery. This is one of your best weapons. But use it wisely –  they’ll know when you’re bluffing. You need to be prepared to follow this one through. For example, ‘For the love of God stop that!! If you stop that we can go to the Playground later’.

Now unless you’re willing to go to that playground and move endlessly from Swings! Slides! Swings! Round-bout!  and socialise with other mini dictators, withhold the bribe. Basically you’ll never know peace again otherwise. They have memories like Elephants and that’s all there is to it. But beware with Bribery. It could put you on a slippery slope to Expectation. Bribery must only be used in extreme cases, or really you’re not doing yourself any favours, and even worse, they’ll essentially have taken away some of your best armour!

Choose Your Battles. This is a war, it consists of many many battles. Some you’ll win, some you’ll lose, but choose them wisely. Measure up the pros and cons. So what if he wants to paint his head green. Let him do it if it keeps him quiet and you get a chance to feed child number 2 in peace. But if he wants to skip his nap? Hell no, this one is yours! You will not deprive me of that hour of peace! Even offer help. Here’s a paintbrush for your other hand – why not throw a bit of yellow in for good measure. But overall, I suggest you make sure you’re winning more of the battles than you lose. Apart from anything else, I just don’t like losing anyway.

Reverse Psychology. This one takes a bit of practice. It’s all about outwitting and outlasting. You want them to eat the dinner you’ve just slaved over – BUT DO NOT LET THEM KNOW THIS. Approach it casually. Oh hey! I’m just going to leave this dinner over here. Talk a bit to yourself about how nice the dinner is. Child 2 comes in quite handy here – ask him does he want some. He can’t talk yet, so naturally you pretend  he will of course want some. Mr Potato Head LOVES this dinner. But hey if you don’t want it, no problem. They’ll look at you suspiciously, yes they’re probably onto you, but curiosity and fear of missing out usually – not always! – but usually wins out. Mission complete.

Patience. This is the hardest one. You’ll need A LOT of it. You’ll think you have none, you’ll feel the pressure…but hang on in there! You can do this! They are TWO! You are.. well there’s no need to get into specifics here, but you’re a lot older than two. You’ve a lifetime of wisdom to work from. They, on the other hand, think they can put their hands over their eyes and turn completely invisible to the human eye for God sake. Now I’m not going to pretend that I have this one mastered either. I lose the plot like the best of them.. but I still try and that’s the main thing, ok?! It’s a bit like doing that horrific plank move at the gym. At first you can only manage .2 of a second. But before you know it, after say 5 years or so, you can hold it for a good 10 seconds!! Oh, ok maybe that’s just me. Normal people get it a lot sooner than that, but you get my point.  Patience is the same, it comes with practise and for me it’s an ongoing project. But I didn’t get where I am today with no patience, so take heart!

And remember Solider – we’re all in this together at the end of the day! We are all chiefs  (or whatever the correct term is!) of our own little army – all fighting the same battles, and winning and losing the same ones in the process. But at the end of a long day, when those little arms are around your neck and those mushy hormones are rushing back in…..well let them. Why else do we do this after all?!

 

This Jen’s Survival Guide. Fight the good fight. Learn it. Print it. Stick it on your fridge. Most of all, STAY STRONG!

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