‘Spring is sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is’.
My Dad used to recite that line to me when I was a child, and if I replace ‘birdies’ with ‘pinot grigio’ you have exactly my sentiments about the approaching warmer weather. I’m a big fan of a pub garden, of early evenings sat outside while the children play in the paddling pool and run through the wheat fields before leading the country into the abyss. Wait, that’s just Teresa May, my bad.
I adore the good weather, I’ve lived and worked in central Europe and being outdoors suits me entirely. My issue with the approaching summer is that my kid is an only child, which means that I am her playmate, which means no wine, no sitting down, and absolutely no relaxing thank you very much. Despite a social life which would make the Kardashians recoil in exhaustion, my kid wants to play with ME. Which is great, because she still thinks I’m cool enough to play with (time is ticking on that front) but it flies in the face of wine-drenched relaxation in the garden. The first green shoots of Spring signal the end of my peaceful hibernations indoors, and the start of my Olympic training regime in such sports as Kick the Ball Loudly into Next Door’s Fence, Help Me Up on to this Swing, and Mum Can I Have an Ice-Lolly. I need to get fit, quick, these are blood sports and I’ve neglected my training.
Having an only child is an absolutely magical thing. They (maybe a tad patronisingly) allow you to become an honorary child again while they set the rules and run you ragged. I adore it. We can’t have any more kiddos, so this girl will be forever thrust into other people’s gardens, picking up neighbourhood waifs and strays to play with while we are out and about. I don’t think this is a negative thing, and I’m grateful that I’m active enough to keep up with her while she shouts rules at me and berates my obvious athletic inadequacies in public. From what I hear from people with more than one kid it seems to be more of a lion-taming situation anyway, more Chris Pratt with the raptors in Jurassic World and less The Waltons. I’ll never know, but sometimes I feel a pang of gratitude in Autumn when the nights draw in and we can legitimately stick a DVD on under a blanket and ignore the outside world completely. Summer is great, but dear sweet baby Jesus I’m shattered already.
It’s getting close, I can smell it. The faint scent of pleading in the air. The most delicate whiff of peer pressure and hope. The bold claims among school friends about which presents have been requested and which ones they will oh-so-definitely be receiving. It’s Christmas and there’s absolutely no escape.
Every Christmas in our house is a day of firsts and lasts. It’s always bitter-sweet and there is no greater measurement of the passing of too-short childhood years to make me wonder if this year was a few months shorter than usual. We only have one child, so each year we edge closer to losing her belief in Santa, the mystery grows smaller and wonder shrinks like a vacuum-packed tool set. She’s still little enough to believe, but big enough that next year she might not. Each present from Santa is precious and for a second she is tiny again, mystified by the enormity of his night time adventures. The next second she is opening a card with £10 sellotaped inside and a tiny piece of the spell falls away.
Christmas with a child has been the lovliest experience. It was a stressful time growing up with divorced parents and time-share days and two dinners, always two dinners. Now we have our own family and although we still need to try to find balance between 4 different sets of grandparents, we manage and it’s peaceful and we fall asleep after dinner just like our parents did. The hardest part of the day is trying to soak it all up, to take in her face when she opens an unexpected gift or watches her dad try on his inevitable novelty hat. To take photos but not too many, to capture the best moments but also not to miss them trying to switch the camera on.
Firsts and lasts happen simultaneously with an only child and Christmas is such a huge barometer of how little time we actually have that I can’t help but feel a little sad. I’m very lucky, I know. I know that my tiny family is here and safe and loved, and I know that other’s aren’t. So, every year I will love and give and play and argue because there aren’t any promises that we have more to come. I will get annoyed at advertising and buy it anyway, I’ll buy glittery make up for my 7 year old if that make her happy, because one day she will wants £30 lipsticks and I’ll spend the day weeping into my bank statement. It’s the little things, the little lasts. They are my real present.
Read previous Motherhood’ columns
We’ve reached a small and enormous milestone here at HQ.
The girl child is on the cusp of leaving Infants school and moving up to Junior school. Admittedly, the new place is 20 feet away from the old one and under the same roof, but it’s still a big move for a 6 year old. Change is not her speciality. We recently swapped shampoo and good grief, they really shouldn’t call it No More Tears.
This year has been a tough one for her, and us. She went through her (frankly ridiculous) government-approved SATS. Her school were ace and took the burden of stress away from the kids but the intense workload exhausted her for weeks. I could write about quite how much I object to SATS for 6 year olds, but it’s the same ground and objections which have been banded around for years, except that having lived through it we can speak from experience and not from conjecture. Our little girl is academically bright and very aware of her place in her class, but the competitive nature of the tests made her question her own successes. Her confidence was really shaken and it was hard to see her getting tired and cranky and tearful. Still, I’m sure the government know what’s best for them, and definitely doesn’t profit from the whole enterprise right? Guys??
I really do understand that testing is part of academia and how, done correctly, kids gain a new set of skills by consolidating what they’ve learned so far. But oh my goodness, 6 year olds? Our little one still sucks her thumb in her sleep and curls up on my lap for a cuddle. She cries when I tell her off and farts for fun. (These aren’t linked, I always applaud a good fart.) Her favourite subject is kittens and she can talk about how to do the splits for a good hour if you’re interested. It’s fine if you’re not, I’m not either.
Next year is going to be a super-fun-no-testing-lots-of-trips kinda year, and we’re planning to celebrate all the successes that aren’t measured in class. Kid learns a new move in gymnastics, we’re going out for tea. She stops ‘flossing’ for more than 30 seconds, it’s a trip to Build-a-Bear. She nails the jump off the swing, we’re inviting the Queen round to demonstrate. If well-being and happiness were on the score cards, she is going to ace it.
Spring is trying to arrive and our 6 year old is in full swing with her SATS exams at school.
A thoroughly pointless hoop-jumping time of year which does little more than assess how well the school teaches kids remember what >, %, £ and < mean and how phonemes can affect common exception words. (Your guess is as good as mine.) My kid thought the symbols were old fashioned emojis but whatever. As much as my husband and I have little motivation to exhaust our anxious little hard-worker, we have been really surprised with just how competitive she’s become. Seriously, she’s like a Year 2 Terminator. Her teacher commented on how she relishes a difficult test sheet and is super happy when it’s exam time. We’re currently looking into hospital records from 2011 to see if we brought the wrong one home.
Given that she cares so much about her assessment results, we have started to jump on the competitive band wagon and have become her cheerleading squad. She delights in telling us that she got 5 out of 5 on her weekly spelling test or all her homework questions correct, and we make a fuss of her hard work each time. We’ve always held the opinion that rewards are for behaviour and effort, rather than results, so we are still careful not to spoil her when she nails a new maths theory. But I want to, I want to launch glitter-canons in the streets and shout about how clever she is, but it’s wound in and packaged as a ‘that’s great babe, you worked really hard on it’ instead.
As parents we have a couple of degrees and a PhD between us, so we were expecting her to do okay at school. She’s one of the youngest in her class, so we were also aware that she would be almost a year behind her classmates, both socially and academically, but she’s overtaken everything we hoped for and is now an Uber Geek of the highest order, and we are (quietly) really proud.
So, little lady, go and smash those exams. Those silly tests which could be better spent outside digging up worms or making dens. If she’s happy, we’re happy. And if you come top of the class, we might just buy you an ice cream on the way home. If it ever warms up.
2016 and 2017 took some of our best loved celebrities, David Bowie, Charles Manson, Tinky Winky, Glenn and Abraham from The Walking Dead. The list is long. The nation has collectively exhaled and wrung their hands at the losses which seemed to dominate the news.
It’s a strange sadness to mourn the loss of someone you didn’t know personally, a grief which must feel something like a child feels when an adult dies who they didn’t know particularly well. Over the last year 3 of my good friends have died, and my daughter has observed my grief from the sidelines, a news report featuring familiar faces but ultimately unconnected to the emotion which I was trying not to display overtly.
Death is such a huge and unknown quantity, forever is a ridiculous idea linked to thoughts of summer while they wait inside on rainy days or how long it will take until they are allowed pudding. Time is elastic and mouldable, an element they can control with enough pleading and wishing. Forever is laughable. Mummy getting upset because she misses a friend is such a remote and strange thing to our daughter.
We’ve always been very honest with our child, she’s very intelligent and knows when we aren’t telling her the whole story. She knows our friends died through illnesses which the doctors couldn’t give them medicine for. She has realised all of us can get these illnesses and that people don’t always die when they are old. We don’t have a faith, so we can’t tell her we believe that they are in any kind of ‘better place’ or that they are happier now that they aren’t suffering. We don’t lie to her about ‘heaven’ or ask her to blindly believe what we do, she knows she’s free to believe in which ever God she chooses. (She’s currently leaning towards Hinduism because the Monkey King is ‘awesome’).
She’s seen the reality of death this year and knows it’s ugly and sad and has given her bad dreams about losing her dad and I. We’ve tried to reassure her that we are healthy and unlikely to be going anywhere soon, but I feel like something has been taken from her with the deaths of my friends. Not ‘innocence’ or anything that profound, but maybe the idea that ‘forever’ is a Thing. Parents can leave one day and not come back, and doctors can’t cure everything. People are fallible and temporary, and time is permanent and can’t be reasoned with. It’s a sad but important lesson, and hopefully she will learn to see that the good parts outweigh the horrid parts and that there’s really no point in being mean when we can choose to be kind. Maybe she’ll grow up with a little more tolerance as a result. Or maybe she’ll just ask for more pudding, because, in the end, why not?
Motherhood at Christmas…
Crikey, that swung around as quickly as a toddler with a loaded paintbrush. Christmas is here again, the shops would have you believe that they are selling out of this years craze and school friends are swinging the vote for my daughter’s requests from Santa. This is our 6th Christmas as parents, and here’s my completely serious, helpful guide to a stress-free festive period.
Go abroad. Honestly, leave the country. I’m not talking about taking your partner and kids either, just you. Get on a cheap flight anywhere and even 2 weeks trekking the Gobi desert with no water will be a comparative breeze.
Fake your own death. Only until the January sales, mind. Don’t want to miss out on those 7O% off bargains in Debenhams do you? It’ll be a late Christmas present to your kids when you re-emerge, Lazarus-like, on the 6th. If you time it right the decorations will have put themselves away, too.
“Pop a box of mince pies to a mate or neighbour you haven’t seen in a while and don’t be worried about ignoring social media.”
Adopt an inappropriate wild animal. Accidentally trouser a baby squirrel from your local shelter. The entire family will be so focussed on hourly feeds and instagramming it wearing hats that they won’t notice your absence. You can spend Christmas in the local and by the time it’s all over the animal will be grown up and you can sell it for parts on the dark web.
Create a family treasure hunt which just leads them really far away. Hide clues at service stations up the M6 until they are on the Scottish border and you’ve turned the kid’s bedroom into a games room and are 29 hours deep into Call of Duty. When they inevitably call home just pretend you’ve got amnesia and don’t remember your former lives together.
Introduce the kids to horror films. This serves the duel purpose of keeping them very quiet AND brings up questions about their own mortality. Start with The Exorcist and work backwards. They’ll shore up a huge amount of appreciation for not being possessed by a demon over the festive period that you’re guaranteed to be lathered with gratitude come Christmas morning.
Now obviously I’m being a tad over-dramatic here (except about the baby squirrel – this is just plain sensible) but it’s worth keeping in mind that not everyone loves this time of year as much as they might seem. Pop a box of mince pies to a mate or neighbour you haven’t seen in a while and don’t be worried about ignoring social media, it can be an utterly false picture of how happy everyone else is. Look after yourselves first, and everyone around you will be happier as a result. Take care, kids, and if it all goes wrong I’ll see you in the Gobi desert.
Back to school with you.
What’s that odd sensation, the feeling like something is missing, like you’ve left your phone at a mate’s house or forgotten to pick the cat up from the vets? Oh riiiiiight, the kids are back at school, and for a few brief, precious hours you are ALONE. That’s unless you have more kids, in which case I can’t help you, you’ve only done this to yourself.
Our summer was long and full of babysitters, playdates, picnics, boredom, work, boxsets and colouring-in. None of us were sad when September rolled around. This year our daughter has started year 2: she’s just turned 6 and is starting her SATS year where she will be tested and evaluated on her ability to jump through the hoops our government deems appropriate. She doesn’t care – she is a bright little thing and takes it all in her stride for now.
It’s a strange sensation to have your little girl suddenly so influenced by things other than you
The biggest change we’ve seen so far this year has been socially. She came home after her first day and coyly suggested that ‘all the other girls’ are still wearing short sleeves. She’s never really paid much attention to her appearance before, but now her hair must be done correctly in a style fitting with her classmates and her backpack must be from the shop in town where all the others buy theirs. It’s a strange sensation to have your little girl suddenly so influenced by things other than you and your partner It feels like they should have a few more years before the inevitable self-doubt and need for peer validation creeps in, but there we are.
The most jarring moment since she went back to school has been seeing her lose confidence in herself. She decorated a homework folder and it was a glorious, colourful, glittery mix of unicorns and clouds and we all loved and admired it. After taking it to school she came home disheartened after seeing the other kids’ efforts. Now she wishes she has done it differently, and watching her enthusiasm and pride in her work turn to indifference and worry is utterly horrid. How can I maintain her confidence when there are so many factors around her which knock the wind from her little sails?
The next few years of this kid’s life will only expose her to more social pressures and worries which as adults didn’t even exist when we were younger. The internet wasn’t around when I was growing up, and no one had a mobile phone until university. Hair straighteners didn’t exist, so everyone looked slightly feral in the 80s, whereas our kids will grow up with a sleekness unheard of until 1998. It’s a different set of rules, but as long as we maintain an unwavering confidence in our kids, we just have to trust that they will meet each worry with the knowledge that we are there to set limits and install filters which will sift out the rougher edges of their childhoods. If that fails and they still complain, I suggest showing them your childhood photos and explaining that things could be a heck of a lot worse. Although I do NOT regret my 1989 perm. That bad boy was awesome.
Hey there, kids! No longer shall I be filling your heads with talk of food (although in over a year I never once wrote an actual sensible column on the subject), instead I shall be writing about my Adventures in Motherhood.
This column first appeared in Standard Issue Magazine, which recently turned into a podcast like a mythical beast springing from a glorious fanny. So, here I am, writing for you smashers instead. Just a little heads up, there will be no advice. No judgement shall be passed on your strange and unusual parenting techniques. As long as the kid is safe, happy and fed, I play fast and loose with the Gina Ford generation of do-gooders. You can take your organic quinoa and take a long walk somewhere quiet while I throw potato smiles and frozen veg (purely for show) at my daughter while she asks me what’s for pudding.
My daughter is almost 6, and in year 1. For those of us who grew up in different times before Trump was president and people wanted an end to free healthcare, she’s in the first year of primary school. She’s about this tall *points at the wall* and has zero concept of personal space. Her favourite things are fairies, unicorns and the xBox, and she would like to be a princess ballerina when she grows up. My feminist views are shunned in favour of sparkly dresses and handsome Princes, and good luck to her.
We all make it up as we go along and none of us are any better at it then anyone else
Motherhood hasn’t been the most natural journey to me. 10 years ago I thought I’d be married with 3 kids and a mortgage. But here we are, my husband, daughter and I, living on not a lot of money with no plans for more kids because they are expensive and post-natal depression kicked me into next week for her first 4 years. That’s a long time to feel rubbish, and I don’t plan to repeat the experience.
I used to presume it was just me who didn’t have it together, who found it hard to be around other parents for fear they would see through the charade of normality. 6 years later and I’m convinced we all know absolutely naff all about what we’re doing. We all make it up as we go along and none of us are any better at it then anyone else. And if anyone makes you feel that way then they aren’t the people who you need around you.
Being a parent isn’t the defining feature of ‘me’ any more. It used to be my entire baby-filled life. No job and a husband who worked away meant a very lonely start for my and my little girl. Now we’re surrounded by a huge industry of school and work and childcare and people, each element chipping away at the feeling that we are forever stranded together like 2 survivors with no instincts. We are less dependent and so more free to be ourselves. There is life beyond kids, so this column is intended to explore the balances between being a parent and having the autonomy to claw back some semblance of normality. If I can do it, anyone can. Seriously, I’m rubbish.