Sometimes, as a mum, I feel like a servant to my toddler. I say sometimes, I mean pretty much all of the time. Even when he is asleep, as I am usually dealing with the fall-out from whatever activity he was engaged in prior to bedtime. Or picking up his clothes from the landing which often involves hunting the errant sock that he oh-so-hilariously kicked from his foot three seconds after I had uttered the words: “Please don’t kick your sock off.” I cajole it out from behind the radiator with a sigh and move on to replacing sixteen books onto the shelf, collateral damage from his lengthy story selection process.
There are many reasons why I hate that time of day, involving turning off the television, bath time, washing hair, getting him out the bath without one of us having a tantrum all spring to mind – not to mention the fact that it is not quite wine ‘o’ clock yet – but it is the tidying that galls me the most. If only he would bloody help, I think, as I scoop up a heavy snow-fall of ripped up paper fragments and search for pen lids under the sofa. But I know I don’t mean this. Because E is of an age that means whenever I hear the phrase ‘mummy, can I help?’ my heart momentarily stops and my sphincter starts to twitch.
Breakfast time. It is complicated enough, what with preparing B’s breakfast, shovelling it down him then keeping him entertained sufficiently so he doesn’t start wailing whilst I then prepare mine and E’s, without the added hindrance – sorry – help, of a four year old. I am about to pour milk onto his cereal when he asks to assist. I stop and look at what I am holding: a six pint plastic bottle brimful of milk. Jesus wept.
“Errr… it’s a bit heavy really,” I say to E. I know I should encourage him to help , but really. I got up at 5.30am, I have already been sprayed with Weetabix when B let out an almighty sneeze mid-chew and have just found myself opening the oven to find the milk. Can’t we start the whole helping thing tomorrow?
We come to an agreement that I will hold his bowl and have one hand on the milk, and he can pour. To be fair, my vision of a tsunami of milk washing us both out the front door turns out to be a little alarmist and I escape lightly with milky socks. I can live with that, although I purposefully don’t think about my sock aroma eight hours hence.
But that is not the end of the breakfast helping. Oh no. Neither of us have cried yet. “Can I butter my bagel, mummy?” Oh goody, I don’t think the table has enough grease smeared all over it yet, so that would be perfect.
I place the bagel and accessories in front of him and stand well back. Milky socks are one thing, I can do without having lumps of Flora in my hair as well.
He digs a lump of butter out of the tub roughly the size of a tennis ball and I twitch involuntarily as every synapse in my brain screams: MOVE THE FUCKING BUTTER RIGHT NOW AND TAKE OVER. I watch him fastidiously fill the hole in the bagel with said butter, and then smear the remaining three atoms around the bagel itself.
“Shall I spread the Marmite sweetie?” I ask breezily, and reach for the knife.
“No thanks,” he replies and pulls the jar towards him. I wince and hold my breath.
With much concentration, E sets about the task and does not stop until there is enough Marmite on the bagel to carry out an impromptu chemical peel on the roof of the mouth of anyone idiotic enough to take a bite. He surveys his handiwork for a few seconds. “I’m not hungry,” he states and pushes the plate away. Really? What on earth is it about three inches of Marmite that you don’t fancy?
Now I do appreciate that helping is the best way for learning to take place. It is how kids start to gain a little independence in their lives, which engenders a sense of responsibility and autonomy. All very worthwhile. Which, as with most worthwhile activities involving your own kids, means it is excruciating to be part of. Call me a miserable old harridan, (it wouldn’t be the first time) but is there not some way to go from totally inept to black belt without the shit in between? I can take E for swimming lessons, why can’t I take him for breakfast preparation lessons? That way, it can all happen somewhere else, he can pin his certificate on the fridge and I can hand over toasted bread products and toppings without fearing for my own sanity.
Dressing. Ugh. Now there’s another activity that needs to be learned away from the home. And when I say home, I mean me. A long time ago, I used to have infinite patience, regardless of the situation I was in. Then I had kids and my patience fucked off with my pelvic floor muscles and my disposable income and I was left with a fuse the length of an ant. Watching E get dressed when we are on the clock and have to get to nursery is agonising. What with the spontaneous outbreak of dancing (not by me, just to clarify), the long suspension of progress whilst he practically wets himself laughing when he realises his pants are on back to front and Spiderman is climbing up his bum crack, and then the two-legs-in-one-trouser-leg trick which I suspect is done on purpose so he can jump around with his legs jammed together like a rabbit trying to escape from a strait jacket, it is not a speedy process. In fact, if he doesn’t get a bloody move on, he will have grown out of his bloody trousers before we get to the front door. By the time he is reaching for the buttons on his top, I can’t help myself – I am practically hyperventilating from the stress of watching and I and reach out to take over. “Don’t help mummy,” he says sternly. I actually have to sit on my hands to stop myself poking that sodding button through the hole myself, whilst my inner control freak bangs it’s head repeatedly against the wall and sobs for mercy. It has to be said, those of us with children who are partial to a large dollop of control in their lives are destined to reguarly poke their own eyes out with barely-controlled frustration. Finally, button through hole, we leave the bedroom: E at last, fully dressed and me, with my teeth ground down to small enamel stumps. I may have to go for a lie down. No help required.
Don’t forget, head on over to http://www.jodienewman.co.uk for the debut book from Jodie Newman, writer of Mothering Frights, mediocre mother and expert swearer.