Thursday, 28 February 2013

Power struggle

Do you ever feel like you've lost control? Control of your home, your children, your whole life? I've never been a control freak. I've never been obsessively neat, or super efficient, or remotely organised. But since I've become a mum, even things I thought I was in control of seem to have spiralled out of my reach. Things like this...

1) My house. I'm not a neat freak or a compulsive cleaner, but I like to think I at least used to be able to keep my home respectable enough. These days, it's a constant battle to find the worktop or the sofa or the floor. I am eternally picking things up and putting things away. I have cleaned and tidied more in the past three years than the rest of my life put together. Yet it is never clean. Never. Proper tidiness always just seems out of my reach. Especially in the kitchen. No sooner have a put everything away than more things just seem to appear there. I'm beginning to distrust my own memories. I mean, I thought I once saw a clean kitchen, but maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. Maybe I never really had a clean kitchen. Maybe no one has ever really had a clean kitchen. Maybe it's all made up by cleaning product manufacturers to squeeze money out of us as we grind ourselves into the ground.  Maybe it's just a myth...

2) My body. I don't just mean my figure, though that is also a distant memory, I mean my actual body. I rarely have fewer than two children attached to it at any one time. I thought when I said goodbye to pregnancy and breastfeeding that that would be it. I would be able to eat what I wanted, wear what I wanted and generally be in charge of my own body for the first time in years. Nope. Now, instead of having internal parasites sucking me dry, I have external ones clinging to my every limb. If I sit down to read or play with one of the girls, another will instantaneously appear to sit on my knee. Often, there are ferocious battles as three fight for only two legs. I am merely collateral damage, furniture to be used and dismissed at will. I seem never to be able to stand up when I want to, and often have to complete basic household tasks with one hand, while carrying a child in the other.

3) My brain. I forget things. Lots of things. Not that unusual, I grant you, but I'm frankly surprised I've made it this far through a sentence without losing track. OK, so I've always been a bit forgetful, but these days, it's a constant worry. It's not that I put things off as I don't have time. They just vanish from my brain. It's infuriating. I was tidying the dining table the other night, and kept noticing the half a melon still waiting to go back in the fridge. 'Must put that away,' I mumbled to myself. I found it the next night as I laid the table again. Not a single thought about it had entered my head in the 24 hours since I'd seen it. I'd been in the room numerous times, but no tiny inkling had drawn my head round to look on the table. And it's not just fruit that slips away. It took me no fewer than five trips to Boots to buy the girls new toothbrushes. I have shampoo, nappies, hair dye... but nothing during any of those trips drew me to the dental aisle. Each night as I picked up the toothpaste, I'd kick myself about the state of their brushes, but come the next morning, the thought would be gone, and I'd start the process all over again.

4) My children. Particularly my youngest. Yesterday, she pelted out into the garden while I was trying to get the twins in from nursery, and as I tried to herd her inside, she made a dash for the garden steps. Stone steps. Nine times out of ten, she stops at the top and grabs for the nearest hand to help her down. Not this time. As I ran screaming her name across the lawn, she simply stepped straight off the top one, and bounced down on her face. Luckily, all the damage seems to be a small cut and a bit of a bruise. All the damage to her that is. Not sure my heart will ever recover. And in the few hours since that event, I've also had to snatch a crayon out of her hand, just as she was about to insert it into her ear, catch her by the nappy as she tried to launch headfirst off the sofa into the book box, and dry another round of tears as she wrestled her way out of my arms and slipped over on the bathroom floor. I simply cannot keep up with her.

With the demands of three small children to meet, I just can't do all of it. I can't do any of it well. I feel like the children are running the place. I'm certainly not in charge any more. I can't be. I just can't be in charge of so many things at once.So, I have just one question. Will I ever be in control again?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Silence is golden?

At what point does listening in on your kids become spying? Although the current debate over whether of not parents should read their children's texts and emails isn't something I have to worry about just yet (though it seems foetuses will be getting iPads soon, the way things are going), it has made me wonder about when to give them a little privacy.
Obviously,with M sharing their room, we still have a baby monitor in with the twins, and can hear their every move. They are 3 years and 2 months now, and I wonder at what point most people switch their monitors off. If we continue to keep an ear on M until she's that age, it means we'll be prying into the twins' private time when they're 5. Surely that can't be right? But at what point do I cut the cord?
In truth, I could probably hear everything I need to hear without a monitor already, especially when we're upstairs in bed, no more than a few feet across the landing from the girls' room. When our monitor broke recently, I was still easily woken by M's 7am demands for milk. But I wasn't ready to let go of my crutch. we bought a new monitor, and whenever M's napping, or the girls are in bed, it's by my side. I can hear them cry, and I'm comforted by the snuffling and sounds of gentle breathing that form the background music of my evenings. Which is weird, because usually I hate breathing. Not the act of it, obviously, but the sound. My husband endures an onslaught of pushes and nudges and kicks if  the poor bloke comes to bed with a noisy cold. I feel bad if I wake (or hurt) him, but I just can't sleep through snoring.Unless it's the girls', then the gentle snuffles easily lull me into contented sleep. Isn't it strange how things you hate suddenly become adored when they belong to your children? Like feet. I hate feet. Cannot bloody stand anyone's feet other than my own ( upon which I love to lavish every luxury), however I could kiss and tickle and snuggle my daughters' feet all day. But I'm getting off the point, which is am I intruding on the twins?
Although their dad or I do have to occasionally go into to see to them in the night, it's very rare and only usually when they're poorly. They pass out when they hit the pillows at 8pm and wake up chattering to each other at 8am. They could easily get out of bed and open their door themselves if they chose to, but despite six months in proper beds, we've yet to have any night-time incursions into our room. They simply chatter away until their dad or I come in, or if one of them needs the loo or is getting bored, they shout until we drag ourselves out of bed. Removing the monitor would encourage them to start getting themselves up and about, and I trust them not to disturb M if she does happen to be having a lie-in. I do truly believe they're ready. I'm just not sure I am.
Having M in the room is a convenient excuse. Although she is also a great sleeper, I do have to sometimes comfort her in the night and, at 16-and-a-half months, I think she's too young to be out of earshot. But at what point will that change? Her dad and I have already decided we'll probably move her to a bed next winter, so she can have a nice cosy duvet and warm blankets rather than a sleeping bag. She only turns 2 in October so, as with so much, it seems she'll be hitting this milestone earlier than her sisters, whose cots we converted at over 2-and-a-half. They took to the change with so much enthusiasm and such ease that it was obvious they'd been ready for a while, so I don't worry about M doing the same. But should I also take that chance to give her and her sisters some privacy as well? Or should I take that plunge even earlier? I just don't know.
Listening in on 3-year-olds hardly seems an invasion, but on 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds? When should I stop snooping?

Friday, 15 February 2013

Fear of failure

Starting preschool can be a scary time. Getting into a new routine, being separated from those you love, worrying that you'll do something wrong... And no, I'm not talking about the kids.
The twins have been in nursery for over a month now, and have easily got into the swing of things. Although they are still not as over-enthusiastic as some of the other wee ones about going each day (I think maybe the fact that they have a permanent playmate at home makes nursery an added bonus, rather than a looked-forward-to-treat) they are having fun, and both seem to have grown in confidence. T especially has become more independent than ever, insisting on completely dressing herself each day, and sending me out of the room if I dare to try to help her go to the bathroom. G is coming out of her shell too, though she does tend to let T take the lead and introduce her around when she's feeling shy. After all the dramas we had toilet training G, being a nursery seems to be helping with that too. She loves the perfectly G-sized toilets, and the independence she has to go all by herself whenever she pleases. But we have had a couple of slips. And therein lies my new biggest fear. The accident book.
Each afternoon at 3.15, an orderly queue of parents and grandparents file in to collect their little ones and are greeted by one of the nursery assistants at the door. Holding a book. The first time she stopped me to ask for a word, I didn't know what was coming.
'I just need you to sign this,' she smiled. 'G came up to one of the teachers and told them she'd wet herself. She's all changed and she wasn't upset. We just need you to sign in the accident book.'
She was friendly and casual, waving away my apologies and assuring me it happens, but I felt bad all the same. So when I was beckoned over on the way in one day the following week, my heart sank.
'She didn't realise she needed to go to the toilet and soiled herself,' the teacher explained.
'There was quite a lot and she does look a bit peaky now,' she added, explained that G's wasn't the only such incident that afternoon.
It soon emerged that G had caught a wee tummy bug but still, I felt bad. And now, every day as I file my way in, I'm torn between desperation to get my babies back, and fear of the book. As soon as I have a view of the teacher, I try to catch a glimpse of her hand.
Is she holding the book? Is she pulling aside anyone else? Is it for me??
I can feel my heart-rate start to rise as I get closer, desperately hoping that all I'll receive as a welcoming smile.
And nine times out of ten, that's all I do get. Those two are the only incidents we've had. But I still can't shake the feeling of shame.
Not of G. Never in a million years could I be ashamed of my bright, beautiful girl. This is all new to her. The odd accident is more than understandable, so why can't I help judging myself? Worrying that somehow I've let her down?
Potty training has been quite a journey. T was dry within maybe a week, and after an initial reluctance to poop in the potty, clean within a month. But my pride in how easily she coped is marred by the guilt I feel that G has struggled. After months of accidents, simply giving up on pull-ups and putting her in pants no matter what did eventually work and she has now been pretty much dry for a few months. But I just can't convince her to use the toilet to poop in. After introducing a system of 'no accidents all day' rewards, she's got into the habit of going in her night-time pull-ups in the morning, so it's not like I have a lot of mess to deal with, but I feel awful that I can't seem to get her over whatever mental barrier is stopping her using the toilet. And I can't help but worry that people will think I'm not doing a good enough job as her mum.
I never judge any other parent I see signing the book. All kids get distracted and forget to use the loo. But none of those mums had three kids in the space of two years. I feel like I have the justify that by being better. By not making mistakes. Are people looking at me and thinking that if I wasn't capable of raising these girls, I shouldn't have had so many? Do they think I'm not coping?
T was trained easily and little M has already started to run to the potty saying: 'Did a poop! Did a poop!' I can't see how she won't be out of nappies by the age of two. But I don't have two children. I have three. And I feel like I've let one of them down.
I'm actually quite relaxed about it from G's point of view. She'll do it when she's ready and her delayed cleanliness will make not one single ounce of difference to her life. But was there something I should have done to help her along the way that I missed? Was training her and T together a mistake? Should I have guessed she wasn't ready? Was trying too soon the cause of these fears now?
I don't imagine I'll ever know. One day, G will simply get up and go to poop in the loo, and this will all be behind us. But will I learn to go easier on myself? I don't know. I know I'm being ridiculous. With three times as many kids, it's only natural I'd be making three times as many mistakes. And despite all those mistakes, my girls are pretty great. They're bright, intelligent, funny and wonderful. I should accept that that is a reflection of my parenting skills. I had a lot of children in a short space of time. It wasn't exactly planned that way, but I knew what I was getting into. I have made mistakes, and I can assure you I'll make many more. But I love my girls more than anything in the world, and that's all that matters, right? If I have to sign the book again, I'll smile and thank them for taking care of my little girl. I'll keep trying to help G master this latest skill, but until she does, I'll still be just as proud of her as ever. I just have to work on being a little bit proud of me too.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Sleep tight Matilda Mae

This is not the type of post I usually write, and I hardly know where to begin. The issues I'm about to discuss are difficult, heart-rending ones, but I can't really write about anything else, as I've been struggling to think about anything else.
I was heartbroken to read a Tweet about a week ago from a fellow blogger who I follow, Jennie at Edspire: 'Our beautiful daughter Matilda Mae was taken from us last night to join the angels in the sky x RIP Beautiful angel daughter x We love you x' She was just nine months old.
At first, I tried to convince myself that this was some perverse joke, that some mentally ill individual had hacked Jennie's account and written these terrible words. But no. Jennie has since explained that Matilda died in her cot on the day she learned to crawl, tragically finding her way under her blanket and suffocating. Cot death. The words every parent dreads from the moment they hold their child in their arms. But though it is the stuff of all our nightmares, none of us really believe it will happen to us. But it does happen. And it happens to people just like me.
I follow Jennie and read her blog because we are alike. Very alike. We are the same age, we both struggled to have children, and we were both blessed with twins thanks to IVF, then, less than two years later, we both welcomed a miracle baby girl we never dreamed we would be able to have naturally. Our little ones even have similar names. I never imagined our lives would suddenly split in such a brutal and devastating way. I feel so utterly overwhelmed by sadness for what Jennie, her husband and the twins are going through, and so angry and confused as to why that beautiful little girl was taken. I feel guilty, too. Because I still have my baby. I can hold her, hear her laugh, see her smile. It's so unfair. And I feel helpless. I want to help, to somehow support Jennie through the nightmare, but my efforts seem so pathetic. I've replied to her Tweets, but my words hardly seem enough. I just hope the volume of the voices joining together to tell her we care is helping in some way. Jennie says many people don't understand why she has turned to Twitter, and I can't imagine that's where I'd want to be right now, but it doesn't matter the tiniest bit what I'd do, or what anyone else thinks. Whatever Jennie wants or needs to do, is the absolute right thing. And all we can do is let her know we're there. We all wish so desperately that we could make this unhappen, but we can't. It did happen, it does happen and we're all having to face that.
I can barely watch an episode of ER if a child is dying, and have so far refused to read one book by my favourite author, as it concerns a family's loss of a little one. But this isn't a story. It's brutal and cruel and incomprehensible. But it's real. Whenever my brain tries to get me to think about what it would be like if my little M had been the one taken, instead of Matilda Mae, I can't get it into focus. I simply can't process the thought. The idea of life without one of my girls is horrific, and I can't imagine wanting to go on. But I'd have to for the other two. Just like Jennie has to for her beautiful twins.
So it is Jennie I've turned to to know what to do. She asked that we all hold our children close, tell them we love them and don't put things off. I have been showering the girls with more cuddles and kisses than ever, the urge to hold them close is almost overwhelming. M fell asleep in the buggy yesterday as I brought her back from dropping her sisters at nursery. I parked her in the sunroom while I got on with tidying up. After about an hour, she cried and I went to get her up, but when I lifted her, she snuggled in and fell straight back asleep in my arms. Any other day, I'd probably try to get her back in her cot and make the most of my twin-free time to get things done. But I didn't. I sat on the sofa and held her until she woke up. She's 16 months old now and the early days of being trapped under her as she refused to sleep anywhere else are long gone but cherished memories. I savoured the weight of her, the warmth against me, the feel of her hair. When the twins got home, I didn't try to get the kitchen clean or put the laundry away. I built elaborate train tracks and sang endless nursery rhymes. I made the most of every minute.
And that's what I will do my best to keep doing. Of course I am going to get exasperated with the girls, frustrated by their demands and overwhelmed at times. But I will never forget Jennie's wish. I will do it in your name Matilda Mae. I will do my best every day to honour you by being the best mum I can. Sleep tight, angel. I hope you and your family all find peace.