Being British/Dutch my children have two separate names for grandmother. My mother is ‘Grandma,’ P’s mother is ‘Oma’.
My mother is visiting. She arrives late at night while the kids are sleeping so doesn’t get to see them until the next day.
Grandma from England. Here we go.
“What are the plans for tomorrow” she asks
“Well Oma looks after the kids on a Thursday, so she’ll get here early morning and unfortunately I have to work”
The first thing she needs to do she explains is find out where this ‘action’ is taking place.
“One Billion and Rising” she tells me
“It’s a mass global event tomorrow to raise consciousness about violence against women and there’s going to be one of the meetings right here so I need to go, it’s at 12 in the centre of town.”
I look up the location on the website for her and hand her a map.
“Do you think Oma would want to come along with S?” she’s asking
I can’t see it happening; the two grandmas have pretty different priorities when it comes to going out in the cold February snow to attend political rallies.
I don’t get to witness her reunion with her grandchildren because I rush off to work before daylight, but when I get back the house is busy and there are tales of adventures.
“I’m afraid I failed at the first hurdle” she says referring to cooking dinner.
“I couldn’t work out how to turn the gas on.”
There’s a pile of raw chopped veg in the kitchen waiting to be cooked into something.
“It’s just a safety feature.” I tell her, “see, you push down the knob and click the ignite”
“Grandma brought presents!” A is telling me.
While I finish off the dinner they settle down on the sofa to watch a Dr. Seuss animation that grandma has brought on DVD.
From the kitchen I keep hearing some typical Seussian lyrics about butter-side up, butter side-down, sounds fun and they look like they’re transfixed.
I stir the sauce.
“Spaghetti or pasta bows?”
I walk across to A. Her face has dropped and she’s slightly whimpering. She points at the screen. There is a battle ensuing between these two breeds of scrawny bald headed beaky creatures. They’re pointing multi-headed canons across a wall at each other and barking on about buttering bread.
“It does seem a bit sinister” I say
“It’s about the cold war” says my mum
“I can see that, but maybe they’re not ready for this lesson just yet” I say
We eat dinner and my mum produces the goods for all kinds of treats for dessert. The obligatory T-bags and fudge for me and P and chocolate bunnies for the kids. Not strictly allowed and it’s not even Easter, but I guess that’s what grandmas are for, breaking the rules here and there and upping the sugar-quota.
“Hey, by the way” I ask
“Did you make it into town to do the One Billion and Rising thing?”
“Yes, yes, it was good; there were only about 25 of us dancing.”
“Dancing?” I say, “It was freezing”
“I know, but it was a sort of flash-mob. It was absolutely perishing, but the feminists lent me a hat and a scarf”
I can’t believe my mother just said “flash-mob.”
She offers to make up for the encouraging the sugar overload by brushing the kids teeth but she’s foxed when she can’t manage to work the electric toothbrush.
How is this difficult I wonder? I thought electric toothbrushes had been widely available since about 1983?
A couple of days pass and we try to rub along in our usual way. Me trying to maintain a modicum of order, my mum trying to provoke the odd rebellion to that order. I find it hard to contain my irritations on seeing not only the usual scatterings of crumbs and debris, but the sofa covered in an unfolded mass of newspaper and huge numbers of tea-cups. (My mum always delights in trying to show-off that she can read Dutch newspapers. Well I don’t know how long she actually stares at that same article, but if it saves me from having to listen to her pseudo German attempts at speech then I’d rather leave her to it).
One morning we seem to have got back onto the subject of buttering bread on both sides.
“We don’t need to have wars about things you see” my mum is explaining to my 5 year old.
“What we need are new governments”
I go into the kitchen to boil the kettle. When I come back in all three of them are shouting at the top of their voices.
Grandma is clenching her fist and punching the air.
My 5 year old and my 2 year old are standing up on their chairs raising their arms up clutching cereal spoons and shouting “revolution!”
Any moment now they’re going to knock that carton of milk over, I’m thinking.
“Hey, come down from the bench! You’re going to fall”
My mum is cackling. She thinks she might have crossed the line in my code of behaviour and she revels in it. She wants to see how far she can go. Now she starts singing:
“Nkosi, sikelel’ I Afrika
The familiar tune of the African National Congress anthem rings in my ears. 30 years ago it was the enduring soundtrack to a childhood of being dragged up and down the country on one march or another.
“Can you say that? Nkosi sikelel’i Afrika!”
A repeats “Nk-o-si sik-e-le-l’i Afrika!”
My mum looks over at me.
“No no don’t mind me” I say, “Never did me any harm, a bit of indoctrination with breakfast”
Actually I’m looking at my two kids with swelling pride and I’m thinking, wow A has got great pronunciation!
We parents are so trying. So obsessed with our progeny are we that every gurgle enthralls us, every damp squirt has us studying the wonderment of their bodily functions and on top of that we won’t stop going on and on about it. We bother you with our stories of poo and sick, like you could care less. And ‘mummy bloggers’ we’re even worse, so it was only a matter of time.
Here we go then. No mercy.
We start the day with a wet bed. All night long A has been coughing up her guts, to the point where she projectile vomits a mucusy yellow liquid over her pillow. She crawls into our bed and I give her some paracetamol and a few sips of water. Her lips are all rough and she keeps asking for more water to soothe her dry throat. She’s been throwing everything back out, so I only let her have tiny fimble-fulls at a time. She coughs continually for what seems like for ever. She flings the covers off, then flings them back on. She sits up and asks for the bucket. Nothing comes out this time. I prop her up with pillows to try to reduce the coughing. She lollops from side to side slipping off the mound of cushions. Eventually she falls asleep and the paracetamol must kick in because the coughing dies down for a while. When she wakes up the non-stop hacking cough is back. She grabs for the bucket just in time. Well done, no sick in the bed! She’s puking up last night’s water.
“I need a wee” she says
I try to shake myself awake. P jumps up
“OK, let’s go downstairs” he says
But A has got the bucket under her chin again. A few more dribbles of slimy water.
“OH” she’s whimpering in between spews “wee wee”
I look down and see a wet puddle spreading onto the middle of the sheets. The retching reflux has made her let go of her bladder.
We clean her up but she’s floppy and lies miserable on the sofa for the rest of the day.
The remainder of the morning consists mainly of doing hulking laundry runs and struggling to lift our ten-tonner of a mattress, replenishing A’s tea, administering spoonfuls of warm apple juice, running about in my pyjamas after S who is not phased by his sister’s illness at all and shoves his big yellow tractor into her face expecting her to join in. At midday I see a delivery man waving at me through the front window. I am a bit sheepish about opening the door to him in my red christmas snowflake pyjamas that my mum gave me last year but he’s carrying a large parcel so I open the door a crack.
Well done mum, there I was scoffing at the pyjamas, but they do the job a pair of pyjamas is supposed to do. And here you are coming up trumps again with this year’s offering already. It’s a large parcel full of various wrapped goodies.
“You can open one each today” I say “and the rest are going under the tree.”
Early Christmas presents, perfect just when today was looking like a total loss. S gets some wooden skittles which gives him something to bash about instead of pestering his sister and as luck would have it the one A chooses to open is a DVD of Annie.
I prop her up on the sofa and stick it in the machine.
Maybe far away, or maybe real nearby,
He may be pouring her coffee,
She may be straightening his tie
I plonk down the washing and join her on the sofa.
Something strange has taken grip of me, I’m singing along, I know all the words! How did this happen?..I’m watching A watching this film and I’m taken back to a misspent childhood of musical appreciation. Hours of listening to the Annie soundtrack. And I always thought I hated musicals!
So my mum is at it again, indoctrinating the next generation.
Only the early 80’s could whitewash a story of alcoholism, child labour and kidnap to this extent.
She’s sitting playing piano,
He’s sitting paying a bill!
Harmless romanticism or should I cover A’s ears and protect her from dangerous gender conventions?
Bet they collect things
Like ashtrays, and art!
Betcha they’re good —
(Why shouldn’t they be?)
Their one mistake
Was giving up me!
Why would I want to collect ashtrays?
So maybe now it’s time,
And maybe when I wake
They’ll be there calling me “Baby”…
“Ahh,” I think stroking my ailing little girl’s arm “my baby”
I’m getting sucked in watching her giggles at the ‘hard knock life’/pillow fight scene. By the time we’re at the turban helicopter rescue, a dose of stage-school sentiment is pepping through her bloodstream. She agrees to honey on toast and a bath.
They both get in, but S is screaming. A realises she needs a poo. I wrap her back in a towel and she runs to the toilet, which in our house is unfortunately nowhere near the bath. S keeps crying, so I end up having to wipe one child’s bum with another naked shivering child wrapped round my waist.
Back in the bath, S is farting.
“Poo poo coming” he says.
Shit…I run and fetch the potty. I fish him out of the bath for a second time and try to plonk him on but he locks his knees rigid and shouts “NO”
“No poo in the bath” I explain “On the pot”
After a minute or two of potty face-off the poo threat seems to fizzle out so he gets back in the bath.
A is larking about with a rubber ring splashing and S is hooting with laughter. Hopefully the coughing and gut wrenching is easing off for today. Yes tomorrow’s a new day and we’ll both be able to get out of our pyjamas.
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So ya gotta hang on til tomorrow
A gets out of the bath and brushes her teeth.
I love ya tomorrow
You’re only a day a….
A long brown turd is floating up to the surface of the bath water.
“Come on! I said No…poo…in…the…bath!”
I grab S quickly out of the bath, sponge him down in case any poo-crumbs have stuck to his wet skin. Then I get the cat litter scoop and start shit shovelling.
The kids are finally in bed and I’m disenfecting the bath. A day that starts with a wee in the bed and ends with a turd in the bath. Is this one of those grey days Annie means when she says you should stick out your chin and say…“Oh”
“Oh” I say
P and I are arguing, well in point of fact, we both maintain that we are not arguing but that the other is. We are extremely grumpy. The baby has a fever and is awake constantly throughout the night and A has a hacking cough that wakes her up. For the last couple of nights she’s slept in with us. Her coughing wakes the baby when I’ve just got him detached from my boob and back into his cot and likewise his crying wakes her up in between coughing fits. Last night at about 5.30 I finally remove the baby from the bedroom and stumble next door into A’s bedroom so as to stop him waking everyone else. He cries but I force him into a huddle and pat him gently til he stops and gives in to another hour of sleep. I drift off my legs bent up and cramped against the end of my daughters minibed, and I wake up amazingly refreshed! As long as you get to sleep at the end of the night for an hour or so your body tricks you into thinking you’ve had a nights sleep! What a revelation. Worse are the nights when the kids keep you up from 4 and that’s it. Don’t be fooled, no amount of love for your children can override the sleep deprivation and keep you patient and calm on those mornings. We are all bad parents.
Before I had children someone once asked me to predict what would be the biggest challenges about being a parent. I said
“Accepting bad behaviour”
“Allowing my children to be themselves”
Little did I realise that the answer was a lot simpler. The biggest challenge is coping without sleep.
In our house sleep has become like a form of currency between P and I. We have invented a system. I get up on the school mornings, and P gets up on the other mornings. On our morning to get up we both bark and complain looking at the clock. It has never been said in so many words but I’m sure we both have the same thoughts when the kids are wide awake and the clock has just ticked past 6, we secretly direct rage at the other who we are sure had the luck of it being closer to 7 the day before when it was their turn. Today was Saturday and the morning waker was P. When I got up after an amazing lie-in at 8.30 he went back to bed. The baby was also having his first nap of the day and rudely woke up crying so that P was again roused from his sleep. I eventually took the baby downstairs and P continued sleeping til lunchtime. The weekends tend to be basically just a rota of who gets to be asleep. So from 8.30 until almost 12 I am letting him sleep the morning away while I try to keep A busy with the lego with a feverish snotty baby clamped to my leg.
At around 11 I am having a mental conversation with myself,
shall I send the kids in to wake him up?
God I’m so annoyed with him
No I’ll let him sleep, he’ll be so happy and amazed at how long he’s slept, and then we’ll all have a pleasant day being calm and rational with each other
No but this is torture, how dare he still be in bed, I’m sure I never get to do this
Don’t persecute yourself, just go and bloody get him up! It’s about time he came and helped with the weekend
I’ve toed and froed about it all morning and now it’s practically lunch time, so just to show everyone how heroic and good at coping I am I’ve wiped the snot off my legs, plonked the baby in the high chair to stop him climbing up my pyjamas and into the oven and I’ve started making the cheese on toast when P finally comes downstairs.
I’m trying to look all unflustered and cool but I am perplexed when I notice that he still looks grumpy!
“It’s too difficult, I couldn’t really sleep”
Ok so now I think I’m going to punch him in the head, all illusions of a pleasant weekend family day are shattered.
What a luxury it would be to over-worry about “allowing my children to be themselves” and to make mistakes, blah blah, this all sounds like a lot of touchy feely babble. I’ve got a whole ton of books on parenting sitting on my book shelves unopened. My eye suddenly scans over the debris of ketchup, juice and scattered paperwork on the table and rests on a book lying horizontally on top of the shelf.
“How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk”.
Brilliant title anyway.
Now that we live across the road from A’s school my TV anguish is increasing. I dread the day her teacher cycles past and glancing through our front window, which I have come to realise is unusually large sees A slumped infront of some dodgy cartoon. This is a Steiner school as well. TV is practically outlawed! Possibly the worst example would be the animated series about a Chinese girl who looks like manga gone too far, her eyes take up more than half her face. I’ve been putting the telly on every day after school because that’s when the baby has his nap, so A is practically imprisoned, safely held captive while I’m busy upstairs. If any of the other parents or teachers do pass by regularly at that time then they’re bound to think of me as the TV mum.
Anyway today I reached a new level of telly anxiety. I was exposed, found guilty of day-time telly watching. I am embarrassed and now I’ll have no legs to stand on in the busy busy parent stakes. I was eating lunch, which was an exciting cheese and marmite sandwich and now I was having pudding, a cup of tea and wait for it…..a nutella sandwich! A childish diet is sometimes needed to refuel the motivation for more rounds of “she’ll be coming round the mountain.”
I was enormously frustrated that my laptop was not allowing me to listen to radio four. The droning on of those proper British radio voices is reassuringly nostalgic. I am turning rapidly into my dad. I draw the line though at ‘The Archers’. This for anyone who doesn’t know is a stalwart of the BBC. A long running radio soap about farmers. There are west-country accents, probably just so the actors can enjoy the ludicrous and authentic pronunciation of the word ‘tractor’ and there are mooing sound effects in the background. In any case if I hear the well known theme-tune starting I quickly turn off the radio to try and delay the fast approaching onset of middle-agedness. As far as I’m concerned you shouldn’t really be allowed to listen to The Archers until you’ve got time for hobbies and crossword puzzles and you’ve got a shed.
Being away from the UK I can only listen to BBC radio online and for some reason my laptop has a time and calendar that is wrong and won’t match up to the BBC iplayer so it doesn’t work. I tried my phone, but the phone in this out of bounds region. So I turned the telly on for a fix of BBC. As I was standing there in front of the vast front window with the remote in my hand I worried that a neighbour might walk past and it did occur to me to draw the curtains for this illicit act of TV watching but then I thought I was just being weird and paranoid. On BBC 1 it was something to do with some people selling some apparent antique thingy in a box for 35 quid so I continued flicking until I got to a BBC Entertainment, which was a sort of drama/sitcom about 30 somethings getting divorced I think. It was a programme I had never seen before but it had some lovely familiar British TV faces in it, so I sat down on the sofa and balanced my nutella sandwich on my lap. Just as I did this I looked out the window and saw the local council politician walking past my house! He is the father of one of the girls in A’s class and he lives further up the road from us. Now this was too pitiless. I should always listen to that paranoid self, I should have bloody closed the curtains. Now I’m already aware that when this man’s daughter came to play after school that I allowed her and A to watch an episode of Dora the Explorer.
Shall I quickly run outside right now? I think
Shall I tell him the whole story about the radio not working and that I never normally would watch TV in the middle of the day, honest?
Shit, in half an hour from now I will be picking A up from school and I’m sure he’ll be there to pick up his daughter too. Strangely enough a local council politician seems to have a lot of time on his hands for bringing and picking up his kids from school and meandering up and down his street checking up what other people are up to.
Right then, I decide,
When I see him I will have to pull myself together. I will calmy make intelligent polite chit chat. I will pretend that I’m not just a daytime telly addict, but a normal capable fellow parent. I will enthusiastically greet A with a healthy interest in her day at school.
Seriously, what am I going to do? I’m looking down at a half eaten chocolate spread sandwich watching my integrity take a backslide.