Monthly Archives: September 2013

A vague whiff of organised fun

Remember pre-children weekends? You know, getting up late after a night out, rustling up a cooked breakfast and a vat of coffee before settling down to a forest’s worth of newspapers, gently musing whether you should pop along to the market later then meet some friends for lunch? At least I think that is what I used to do – it’s all so hazy now, I am not sure if it happened, or it was just some delicious dream I had. Or perhaps I saw it on a film. Yes, that must have been it. In which case, I will give myself a pair of stunning legs and the ability to speak fluently in three languages.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Sprog, our weekends are a tad different. First up at 9am is tennis. We took E to a trial lesson a few months ago, and he was curiously enthusiastic about the whole thing, so we signed him up. His usual approach to classes, or groups, or any situation where you are expected to have fun and do stuff is one of extreme apathy. I can empathise, to be fair. Anything that even vaguely whiffs of organised fun has me scarpering for the nearest exit. All that enforced jollity and camaraderie. It makes you wish for a gun license.

So there we were, last week, at tennis. I was bleary eyed and jaded from an event the previous evening so rare it may have been the shock that was causing my headache: I went out. I mean properly out. It involved clean clothes, getting on a tube and champagne. Get me. I stood under a little canopy, clutching a cup of tea, watching E swing his racket about in a somewhat uncontrolled manner in the rain. I was most surprised that he hadn’t refused to play, given he is not so much a fair weather sportsman as a fair weather human, but so far he was being remarkably stoical. But his initial enthusiasm for tennis seems slightly to be on the wane; I watch as the coach gives the group instruction whilst E is busily engaged in catching rain drops in his hand.

I tutted, and returned to my iPhone. At which point I realised that E’s lack of enthusiasm might, just might, be apathy by osmosis. I mean, I am all for getting him to run around and hit a few balls, expend some energy and get out of the house, but I am not expecting him to be the next Andy Murray. Or even the next Tim Henman. If he doesn’t look miserable for the whole session, and if he vaguely joins in when he is supposed to, then I consider it a job well done. Some of the parents are a lot more engaged with their offspring’s progress. One or two ensure that they clap extraordinarily loudly every time their little sports star hits a shot over the net and they shout a few words of encouragement. I find this parental engagement  a little off putting. It distracts me from Twitter, for a start. And if E does manage to plop one over the net, I make the assumption that it was fifty per cent luck. And, after all, that is what he is meant to be doing. If he slammed an ace down the court, or cart-wheeled cross-court to flick a tasty backhand over the net, then don’t get me wrong, I would applaud until my hands fell off. But accidentally holding his racket in the right spot to bounce a ball back from whence it came? Excuse me if I don’t call the local newspaper just yet.

He comes over for a drink at break time. “Did you see me hit that ball over the net?” he asks. Errr… it seems I missed that moment of sporting glory, I may have been talking to a dad about the demise of our High Street, or schools, or house prices. (I know. I couldn’t be more middle class if I had sprinkled a balsamic reduction over my Earl Grey and offered him an organic biscuit from my Cathy Kidston bag). “Yes, I did, darling!” I enthused. See. I am not a total cow. I can lie with gusto as good as the next indifferent parent.

And so he goes back to the lesson, and I go back to drinking my tea. Perhaps, I wonder, I should be more engaged with his activities. Maybe it would help him be more enthusiastic. I look over, scanning the damp court to find him amongst the chaos of flying tennis balls, flailing rackets and bedraggled children. There he is, in the middle of the court,  standing still whilst the whirlwind of activity carries on around him, licking the raindrops off his tennis racket. I take it all back. This boy is obviously just weeks away from becoming the next tennis prodigy.

Some kind of gravitional collapse

I feel it is about time that I return to a theme that is a constant in my life: fatigue. Probably because I am too bloody tired to think about anything else, to be fair. Tiredness plagues me. It hangs round me like concrete balloons, slowing me down and making me stupid. The other day, I actually forgot the words ‘garden centre’. I know. Ridiculous. I was talking away to someone, having a fascinating conversation about places to take the kids (because what other conversations do I have these days?) and about two seconds before I was due to say ‘garden centre’ I became aware that there was just a little gap in my mind where those words used to reside. I opened my vocabulary filing cabinet at the letter G, riffled past gallop, gamble and gammon, only to find some bastard had nicked the garden centre.  Where did it go? I stood there, mouth agape, probably slightly dribbling, mid-sentence, conscious of the growing silence where my voice should have been,  until finally – ping – ‘garden centre’ returned. I was so relieved I said it way too loudly and enthusiastically and got some very weird looks from a passer-by.

I know when my tiredness levels have progressed from the usual run-of-the-mill tired – although there is scant running involved, as that takes far too much energy, to all-out, fall momentarily asleep standing up whilst waiting for the kettle to boil exhaustion (and don’t think for a moment that this hasn’t happened). It’s when friends (shortly to be reclassified, downgraded and struck off my Christmas card list) meet me and say: “God, you look tired.” This has happened to me twice in a week. As a fond greeting, I have heard better. As a conversational opener, it lacks a little finesse. As a way to make me feel even more tired, worn out, crap and generally fed up, it’s pretty much ticking those boxes like an examiner at a Mensa convention. I am not sure at what point they think that I need this to be pointed out to me, to be honest. I appreciate that often, what with the flurry of the morning routine to get B to nursery and to walk E to school, personal grooming is not first on my list. But I do look in the mirror before I leave the house. I wave the moisturising cream around in the general direction of my face. I acquaint my  hair with a brush. So I can see my dark eye bags, sucking the light and energy from the rest of my face like two black holes so large I am convinced I am only weeks away from some kind of gravitational collapse, leaving only two malevolent eye bags on a pair of legs. I do not need reminding of this fact.

“God, you look tired.”

“Really? Because I thought that after a few weeks of being woken up by my one year old twice a night, I was looking rather stunning. Blemished, pale skin and an inability to string coherent thought together are all the rage, don’t you know.”

The level of weariness that I, and I am sure, a whole slumber of other parents, operate from, is less about going into your lounge to get something, only to find when you get there you have forgotten what it is you wanted. It is more like forgetting where your sodding lounge is in the first place.

But let’s not be too churlish about it. Tiredness was part of the contract that I signed up for when I decided to become a parent. It was just tucked away in the eighty-sixth page of the terms and conditions, just below never being able to finish a conversation and slightly above the clause about always paying more for your children’s shoes that yours. Nah, let’s be churlish. This bit of parenting is utterly shit.

So for now, I take my leave, and head to the… the… you know… what’s it blood called…  that place where you can buy plants and bird feed and shit. Yeah. There.

A situation of panic; a breakdown of order

This morning, I was pondering a word that sums up parenthood. This was obviously in the nano-seconds that occurred between throwing porridge in the general direction of E, assembling rain coats and school bags and chasing B around the kitchen table brandishing his shoes and trying not be irritated by the fact that he clearly thought this was the best game he’d played since 4.30am this morning, when he was wide awake and trying to gouge my right eyeball out using only his forefinger and a smattering of dribble.

Fulfilling. Enlightening. Joyous. Inspiring. Affirming. Nope, none of these words sprung to mind when I considered parenthood. Once I had worked my way through a number of swearwords, one word remained: Confusion. Later, I looked up the definition of confusion (let me clarify: fatigue may have dulled my mental facilities, but I did remember what confusion meant, I just wanted help putting the words in the right order), and the first entry I came across read:

‘Lack of understanding, uncertainty. A situation of panic; a breakdown of order.’

Now, if that is not the perfect explanation of parenthood, I don’t know what is. But then I probably don’t know what is, because being a parent, I am in a perpetual state of confusion.

I find myself confused a lot. And Confusion is not just content with hanging around like a house guest that has not only over-stayed its welcome, but also seems to have unpacked its suitcase and put its toothbrush in the cup next to the sink.  Confusion makes you shrug a lot as you look at your one year old screaming and wonder quite what the hell is wrong with him, and then before even have time to scratch your chin, quickly introduces its best friend, Guesswork, who appears to have slipped in through the back door when you weren’t looking.

Perhaps my son is teething, I guess, as I look at my crying son, reaching for the Calpol. Or maybe I have given him my sore throat, I muse, shaking the Calpol bottle. Although it could be a viral thing, I shrug, but open the bottle of Calpol anyway. I suppose it could be something else entirely, I think, as he swallows a dose of the strawberry loveliness and then continues to scream anyway. Maybe it is life threatening. Should I take him to A&E? Or perhaps just a cold? Or possibly he is just bored and screaming is a good way to pass some time.

I am confused about what stage B should be at in his development. Should he be feeding himself by now, I wonder at lunchtime. Probably not, I decide (spot the advanced level of guesswork at work here). At which point he commandeers the fork from me, spears a piece of chicken and pops it in his mouth, looking at me with those ‘you really are a twat, aren’t you, mummy’ eyes.

I am confused about his needs. He points and babbles in a very determined way, but most of the time, I have not got a clue about what he is after. So confused was I yesterday by his vehement pointing, I traced the line of his finger direction like a forensic scientist tracking the path of a bullet, holding up every object in its trajectory, but he just shook his head and grunted more loudly, waggling his forefinger in the air. In the end, I offered up the fridge, a door, the light bulb and some floor fluff in a desperate attempt to find out what he really wanted. It turns out that time, he had something stuck to the tip of his finger that he needed me to remove. It looked like a bogey, but hey, I’m just guessing.

I am confused about why my four year old can be breathtakingly well behaved, offering to wash up and tidy away his toys (I did have to ask him twice to repeat that last one, so astonished was I), only to be found face down on the floor screaming about the unfairness of it all three seconds later. I rarely find out the exact cause of the meltdowns, but with a recent incident, I am guessing (there I go again) it was me and my big mouth having the audacity to say something contentious like ‘let’s take your library books back this afternoon’. I know. What a bitch.

I am confused as to why my one year old wakes up in the dead of night, then is quite happy to spend the next hour staring, wide-eyed at me through the cot bars, only screaming loud enough to peel wallpaper the moment I threaten to leave. Actually, I was confused about this. Now I am just mightily pissed off.

I am confused by my son’s questions. No, I don’t know what slugs eat. I don’t know why electricity is invisible. I am not sure he is right that there is good oxygen and bad oxygen, but then again, I am not sure. Let’s just leave it as a ‘probably’, shall we, and move onto safer ground like what we are having for dinner.

They say there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Although when I first heard this adage, I heard it as death and taxis. Which seemed a little less profound than people seemed to give it credit for but pretty realistic, as anyone who has tried to hail a black cab on a Friday night in London will contest.

However, it seems there is only one certainty in parenthood: Confusion. I checked back on the definition of this word. To clarify the aforementioned definition, the online dictionary I used gives the following example:

“The shaken survivors retreated in confusion.”

Which pretty much says everything I wanted to say about parenthood in six words. I not only rest my case, I lock it in an underground chest constructed of reinforced concrete and go and lie down in a darkened room for a while. You know, just to have a few more guesses about my children.

A scattering of wobbly bottom lips

So this was the week that my son started primary school. I mention this in conversation to people, and they all have a strangely similar reaction: a hand on my arm, head on one side, an “ahhhh” to accompany it. I was a little perturbed by this at first. Had I mistakenly told them that I had run over a kitten? That my faithful dog Fido had died swallowing a hedgehog? Nah. Because everyone thinks that starting school is a Big Thing.

Well, it probably was a Big Thing. But that was before the school ran several settling in sessions, and E’s new teachers visited his nursery, and the nursery took the kids on the walk to school, and we talked about starting school, and then he saw my ham-fisted attempts at taking up numerous pairs of grey trousers. So by the first day of school, it became utterly not a Big Thing. Well, not for most of the kids, anyway. And certainly not for me. In fact, I was so not bothered, I begin to wonder if I really qualified as a bone fide mother at all. I mean, sure, it was nice to see him in his uniform. But it was just a slightly-too-large-because-I-want to-get-my-money’s-worth white shirt and a pair of grey shorts, with clumpy unattractive black shoes to complete the ensemble. I prefer his Dangermouse tee shirt, to be honest. He looks a little less nerdy in it.

There were a scattering of wobbly bottom lips and teary eyes from the mums in the playground, but I was more concerned about hot-footing it home to try and squeeze the day’s work into the next two and a bit hours, before I had to pick him up again. It’s less like a school day, more like a quick visit for a leisurely snack with just enough time to daub a few splodges of paint onto a bit of paper.

As the kids eventually filed into the classroom, I gave E a wave and a smile. Am I supposed to not feel this bothered?

“Oh,” said a mum who stood next to me. “It’s awful.”

“I know. By the time I get home, it’ll be time to come back again.”

“No, I mean, my little one starting school. It’s like my heart has been ripped out.”

Oh yes, now I get it. The heart ripped out thing. That. I guess that’s what I should be feeling. Hmmm. Bollocks to that. I’ll put it on my to-do list just below my VAT return, tidying me desk and picking the fluff out of my keyboard. I’m sure I’ll get round to it eventually.