Posts Tagged ‘Motherhood’
Every now and then you hear about these surveys that tell you how much of your life you spend doing things like sitting in a traffic jam (66 hours a year in London, apparently), cleaning your teeth or thinking about sex.
Well, I’d like to add my own scale to that: Time, as a mummy, spent waiting. People talk about how the time spent with small children “flies by” or “passes in the blink of an eye” but, as one currently labouring at the coal face of parenthood, I’d like to note how much time is spent waiting.
Usually in not-very-comfortable positions.
Just as a starter – a little amuse bouche, if you like, we have:
- Waiting for the children to get out of bed (while hovering on the landing balancing two empty glasses, the days’ dirty washing, the children’s clean school clothes, one swimming kit, one guitar, one PE kit and a reading book).
- Waiting for the children to eat their breakfast.
- Waiting for the children to get dressed.
- Waiting for the children to clean their teeth.
- Waiting for the children to get into the car (while holding two school bags, two PE kits, a guitar and two lunch boxes. I’d like to say and with a water bottle balanced on my head, but you wouldn’t believe me).
- Waiting for the children to get into their car seats (with your back bent and twisted at 90 degrees and while hoping a passing child doesn’t slam the car door on your legs).
- Waiting for the children to pigeon-step slowly into school in 45˚C heat.
- Waiting for the children’s school bell to ring (I mean, seriously, they’re on the school grounds now, talk about eking it out).
- Waiting for the children to do a poo (while squatting in a smelly public loo cubicle trying not to let your Joseph linen trousers touch the wee on the floor).
- Waiting for the children to agree to do their homework.
- Waiting for the children to actually do their homework.
- Waiting for the children to come in from the park.
- Waiting for the children to eat their dinner.
- Waiting for the children to get into the bath.
- Waiting for the children to get out of the bath.
- Waiting for the children to go to sleep.
Anyway, I’ve done some calculations, and I think that all this adds up to seven years of waiting per child – so about 17.5 years for the average 2.4 children. No wonder time as a mum flashes by. There’s simply no time left to do anything else.
“Mummy, mummy, can I go on the iPad before bed? Just for a bit?”
“Yes, but it’s five minutes iPad, then one story, then bed. Okay?”
“Just one story at bedtime if you go on the iPad. Got it?”
“Yes. One story.” [Pause] “But you’ll read it two times? The one story? You’ll read it three times? Lots of times till I’m asleep? Yes?”
I had a play date today with a mum who has a child the same age as DS (note, the mums had the play date, not the children). We saw a lot of each other last summer, when we were both suffering our boys waking ridiculously early thanks to the sun rising at 5am. I have memories of meeting my friend in coffee shops throughout August, both of us hollow-eyed and desperate, as we exchanged details on whose son had woken the earliest, aka how knackered we each were.
Anyway, today I asked how she was and she said something I think every mum of small children will relate to: “A little less desperate, thanks.”
And then, over a cup of tea and some chocolate shortbread, we devised the following scale of mummy desperation:
Top rung of desperation ladder: Child is either not sleeping or is waking way too early – and by that I mean 4.45am onwards. Mummy is gaunt, hollow-eyed, slightly manic, talking too fast, laughing too much and quickly conks out after one glass of wine. She has to pinch herself to stay awake on Al Khail Rd.
Middle rung of desperation ladder: Child is either waking only one or two times in the night or is waking for good after 5.30am. Mummy is knackered and trowels on the under-eye concealer and Clarins Beauty Flash Balm but, with two coffees, a good handbag and a fair wind, can convince others that she’s perfectly sane and not about to collapse, sobbing with exhaustion, onto her chocolate croissant.
Bottom rung of desperation ladder: Child sleeps through the night at least 5 nights out of 7, or wakes consistently after 6am. Mummy, although still chronically knackered and bearing battle scars from being on the higher rungs of the desperation ladder, feels like she’s taken amphetamines – she is invincible, she is unstoppable, she is Beyonce on stilts. She sees a hint of the possibility of having a life once more: Hobbies, a social life, maybe even some work. (It’s a beautiful thing but I’m sorry to say it doesn’t last long. I don’t think you’re home and dry till the child’s turned five.)
DD brought up the topic of 12/12/12 in the car on the way to school today.
“It’s a very special day today,” she said. “It’ll never happen again because there aren’t 13 months.”
To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it. It was 7am and I’d been up since 5.20am, washing my hair, getting ready, making packed lunches, packing school bags, dressing children, cleaning their teeth and dashing out in the car as the sun rose.
As DD brought up the topic, I was accelerating through six lanes of dense traffic onto Emirates Road. It wasn’t the best time for a discussion.
But once we were in the fast lane, I clicked on the cruise control and turned a little of my focus to the conversation.
“It’ll happen again in 100 years,” I told DD, “when it’s 12/12/2112. Your great-grandchildren might be talking about it on their way to school (in a rocket ship) in 100 years’ time but none of us will be around to see it.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because we’ll be dead,” I said. There was a tiny gasp from behind me. I could almost hear DD’s eyes snap open with shock.
“Dead? What’s going to happen to us?”
“Nothing darling, it’s just that you won’t live that long. With the best will in the world, you won’t live to be 107 and a half. DS could potentially be 103 and a half, but I doubt it. And I certainly won’t make it to 141.”
“So, mummy? We’ll be dead after you?” piped up DS.
“Yes, that’s the general idea,” I said. “But I’ll be waiting for you,” I added, trying to offer some sort of consolation as it seemed a terribly depressing topic for a bright school morning. As we talked, we were watching the pinky-orange sun come up over the desert dunes and the distant Burj Khalifa light up like a rocket in its golden reflection. “I’ll be waiting for you and I’ll be so excited to see you again.”
There was a thoughtful pause. Then…
“But mummy,” said DS very seriously. “You’d better take the iPad, because I’m going to be a long time.”
Sweet words from my littlest one – and how I hope he’s right.
I’m a girl-mum. It’s not surprising since I had a girl first. Ever since my first pregnancy, all I knew was “girl”; everything was pink and purple, Angelina Ballerina, hairclips, dollies, prams, colouring, fairy wings, shoes and handbags.
But now, even though I have a boy, I’m still a girl-mum. I just “get” girls better – I get the hairstyles; I get the twirly dresses, the jewellery, the stationery, the high heels – I even get the emotional complexity (but ask me again when she’s 15).
Initially I thought I’d never get used to “boy”, but, generally, I am getting there. He’s a simpler creature; his emotions are black and white; his needs more basic (hungry / tired / needs a hug is about it).
But I still get caught out when I have to take DS to the hairdresser. When it’s DD’s turn, we’ve looked at hairstyles online. We discuss her hair type, the care routine and the products. We know exactly what we want and we give the hairdresser precise instructions. But my first trip to the barber for DS’s haircut caught me short.
“How you want it?” asked the (rather cute) young Lebanese chap.
“Um. Cut?” I asked.
His eyebrows rose.
I tried again: “Shorter?”
It hadn’t even occurred to me that there were “styles” for boys. That there might be a decision involved at the barber’s.
And even now we’re a good two years and plenty of haircuts down the line, I still get taken aback when the (flirty Syrian) stylist asks what I want.
“Shorter at the back,” I say, imagining Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, “and a bit longer on top?”
“And the sides?” he asks.
“Cut?” I suggest.
“Clipper or scissors?” he asks.
And, really, at that point, I’m like “Can I just sit down while you make his hair shorter? However you see fit? Seriously, do you have any sparkly pink hairclips that DD and I can look at?”
I really don’t mean to sound negative about parenting because, as I said yesterday, I would miss my little monsters terribly if, for example, they somehow got accidentally sold on eBay after a glass too many of that rather nice Soave I’m drinking at the moment.
And I do like being a mum.
But I’m a very efficient type of person. I grocery-shop with a list. I “target-shop” in malls. I walk fast. I don’t “wander” anywhere; I don’t meander and I never hover. I group my errands together for maximum results with minimal time-wastage, and I multi-task on the loo (don’t tell me I’m the only mum who puts on her bra and brushes her hair while doing the morning wee?).
Inefficiency, time-wasting, having to do things twice – these are things that make me foam at the mouth with frustration.
And one of the big things about parenting is that you often, all too often, have to do things twice. Every single day it can be one step forward and two steps back, 50 times over. It’s why I drink: By 7pm, after a day of thwarted progress and frustrated efficiency, a glass of wine stops me from running, screaming, into the desert with my knickers on my head.
But I digress. You want examples, right?
Case study: Dinner
Between each 50km school run on a Tuesday, I’m home for 90 minutes. I spend that time neither on the garden sofa with a cup of tea and a magazine nor horizontal in my bed, but sweating (and yes, I mean sweating as I have turned off the a/c for the winter perhaps a little prematurely) over a hot stove making supper.
Today I’ve invented a new dish that combines many elements that the children love. I’m confident, as I fry the onions and the garlic, steam the broccoli, wilt and chop the spinach, chop the smoked salmon, par-boil the potatoes, stand stirring the white sauce and grate the cheese, that it will be a new family favourite.
The children hate it.
DS cries. “It’s yucky!” he wails, spitting it out as if I’ve fed him dog pooh. DD is more diplomatic. “Mummy, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but… I really don’t like it.”
I test them a bit, I push them; I galumph about the room in a huff, lecturing them that I’m not a restaurant, just a mummy, and that they should like it as it’s made up of all their favourite things. They love smoked salmon! I taste it and my pupils dilate it’s so delicious. I tell them that there’s no other option; that they’ll go to bed hungry. But no.
“Can we just have a bit of bread instead?” asks DD quietly, with big, hungry eyes. “With some hummus?”
It’s then that I realise I have to offer an alternative; that they are hungry and that they genuinely don’t like my self-styled potatoes dauphinoise au salmon fumé, broccoli et spinach.
DD gets Sunday’s left-over Tuscan bean stew with rice; DS gets a tomato and broccoli pasta from the freezer. I, meantime, get no time to write my blog as I’m preparing two suppers, and a step closer to opening the wine. Meh.
I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say becoming a mum has been the best thing I’ve ever done – and don’t get me wrong, a lot of thought went into the decision to procreate. Until I was 33, I’d happily have boxed up the world’s children and packed them off into outer space.
Now, of course, I can’t imagine life without my little monsters. They are, without doubt, the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But that doesn’t mean motherhood is a garden of roses and that there aren’t times we’d all happily sell our kids on eBay (for me, that time is usually at 6.15am when they’re refusing to get up, eat breakfast and get dressed). So, for those of you who think motherhood is a walk in the park, here are the worst bits of being a mum:
- Shouting at the kids to eat their breakfast on a school morning (it’s not rocket science is it? Up, dressed, breakfast, teeth, school… day after day until you’re 18, get used to it!).
- That sinking feeling when you realise you forgot to send a child in with the correct PE kit / swimming kit / guitar / packed snack for the school trip.
- That even more sinking feeling when you realise, as you sit down with a cup of tea, that you actually need to be at the school gate NOW. Facepalm.
- Breast-feeding. Yes, really.
- Finding a nice mummy friend and then realising she’s “that” mum whose kids have organic, homemade Bento boxes for lunch every day.
- That thing where you plan your first really indulgent day of leisure in five years only to have a child fall sick so you have to cancel the lot (and you know you’ll never reschedule it, not till they’re at university).
- Being up all night with a sick child only to have to get out of bed at 6am to get the other child off to school.
- Homework. I mean, really, I left school over 20 years ago!
- Other mums. What a frickin’ nightmare they can be. What happened to sisterhood, ladies?
- Lack of sleep. it’s aging me faster than the Sauvignon Blanc and, trust me, I’m trying hard with that.
Before I had children, I used to spend a lot of time wishing my life away. Wishing I wasn’t at work; wishing I was on holiday; counting the days till special events; longing for something or the other to happen.
But when you have kids, you learn quickly to grab your pleasures as and when you can. You learn that the ideal moment may never come along (not without that upward-inflected wail of “mummy?” in the middle of it, anyway) so you learn to live much more in the moment; to appreciate the small things that give you some fleeting respite.
10 unexpected minutes without children around. A quick glass of wine when the kids are in the park. 20 minutes reading a book before bed without falling asleep mid-chapter. A snatch by the pool with a magazine. That sort of thing.
And I must have got quite good at this living in the moment thing, because now, if I’m in a little pleasure-zone, I’ve learned not to think ahead even to the next half hour. I focus entirely on enjoying that little bit of down-time one hundred per cent.
The problem is, my children don’t work like that. And I wish they would.
We can be in the garden, for example, early morning on a Friday. They’ve had a yummy breakfast that I’ve served them picnic-style in the garden. They’re racing about on their scooters, playing on the trampoline or playing hide and seek, and I’m relaxing on the garden sofa with a coffee and Grazia (it’s my Friday-morning treat). The birds are singing, the air smells of pollen, red dragonflies are dancing over the sparkling turquoise of the pool.
Life is, really, quite peachy. I breathe it in… and relaaax.
“Mummeeee?” comes the wail. “What are we doing later? Can we go to the beach?”
And, even if I say, “Maybe,” or “Let’s think about it later” (you can read into that ‘when daddy gets up’ if you like), the morning will then be punctuated every five minutes with further wails of “Oh when are we going to the beach?” and “Please can we go to the beach now?”
“Just enjoy being here for now,” I tell them. “You’re having a lovely time! Enjoy it! We’ll go to the beach later, but just enjoy what you have here for now. Please.” (There may be gritted teeth on that last “please”.)
And finally, we do get to the beach. The children are full of excitement in the car. They run across the sand, splash in the water, make some sandcastles and, before I’ve even got my shorts off, there it is: “Mummeee? When are we going home? I’m hungry. Can we go out for lunch? Pleeease?”
There is one night a year in Dubai when Dubai stops being Dubai and becomes a suburb of the great US of A.
And that night is Hallowe’en.
I didn’t grow up with trick or treating in the UK. As far as I know, that game was only for suicidal kids who wanted to be abused by grumpy old farts in big houses (a bit like carols-singers).
But in Dubai, it is a Big Thing.
And nowhere in Dubai is it bigger than in my compound, where people take it Very Seriously Indeed. Last night, out with 3YO DS and 7YO DD, we faced things so scary that I had nightmares last night.
And, to be honest, I have to say I disagree with the whole thing. On the one hand, I’m telling DD, “Don’t speak to strangers and never accept sweets from them” then, two hours later, I’m shoving her up some stranger’s garden path saying, “It’s fine, ask the man in the weird suit for sweets.”
Uh. Hallowe’en? Next year I think I’ll be “washing my hair”.
I will be honest with you: Despite posting the odd recipe on my blog, I’m not one of life’s chefs. I’m not a foodie. Cooking is not something I enjoy. Pre-children, I rarely bothered – working in the media, I ate in gorgeous restaurants five nights out of seven, then flopped gratefully on the sofa with beans on toast or pasta the other two.
It’s only since having children that I’ve had to force myself to learn how to combine healthy ingredients into dishes that would nourish the little angels without causing them to a) gag b) get food poisoning or c) throw the food back at me.
It’s been a challenge, I can tell you.
But now I have a little repertoire of dishes that everyone in the family likes; dishes that meet my requirements for healthy eating and that are relatively quick and easy to make. The problem is, as I sit down on Saturday to write out the week’s menu, I get into a rut. It feels like Groundhog Day. We have:
Sunday – Grilled salmon (kids only – DH and I hate salmon).
Monday – Some sort of vegetarian curry or dhal with rice or chapattis.
Tuesday – Some sort of pasta dish (lasagne, spag bol, tuna pasta).
Wednesday – Some sort of baked dish (shepherd’s pie, moussaka, veggie bake).
Thursday – Homemade salmon fishcakes or chicken strips for the children; something from the freezer for the adults.
Friday and Saturday I don’t cook. We might eat out, order NKD Pizza or scavenge in the larder.
I’m desperate to increase my repertoire so, now and then, I flick through recipe sites and print out new ideas. But out of every five new recipes that I try, maybe only one will meet with approval from the entire family, so it’s a pretty soul-destroying task.
This week, I thought I’d found a winner. It was a “Zingy vegetable bake” touted as “a mix of healthy, vitamin-rich vegetables covered with creamy cheese sauce with a golden, crunchy, cheesy topping – yum!” It was “favourited” by 25 cooks and even had crushed chillies in it – DH’s requisite ingredient.
As I wrote the shopping list, I decided to share the joy with DH.
“You’re getting this on Wednesday,” I said, shoving the iPad under his nose.
“It looks like vomit,” he said [fair point, I must add, on closer inspection].
“But it’s a ‘mix of healthy, vitamin-rich vegetables covered with creamy cheese sauce with a golden, crunchy, cheesy topping’!” I said enthusiastically. “I’ll do it with a salad!”
“Oh my,” he said, deadpan. “Yum.”