Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oh, Honestly.

Pic stolen from here

There's a point in every mother's week where The Husband comes home and we greet them at the door, say, "Tag!" and run past them, leaving them with the carnage of the day. I've been known to pull into the driveway after a day of playdates, errands and school pickups, with three whinging, arguing children in the backseat, lean on the horn until The Husband comes running (fearing the worst, no doubt), jump out of the car, motor still idling, and be hiding in the toilet before he can scratch himself.

Some days, I start blogging about how hilariously shitty being a stay-at-home mother is..... and then need to take a break because the rage is too close to the surface. (This is my life? Are you serious? Oh my God, I used to be good at something.) Some days, it's hard to find the hilarious among all the shit.

Irony. That's what motherhood is, a big fat vindictive case of irony. I remember in that thing I used to have called a career, I was good at dealing with difficult people and complex situations. Now I find myself daily facing off against a four year old - and losing. I remember thinking I'd never be one of those mothers screeching at their kids in public places. This week at playgroup I scared the bejeezus out of everyone else' kids when I lost patience at my selectively hearing impaired dreamchild and screamed in that voice-breaking kind of way, "THREE YEAR OLD GET YOUR BACKSIDE OVER HERE BEFORE I HIT IT SO HARD YOUR FUTURE HUSBAND WILL BE ASKING YOU WHOSE HANDPRINT YOU HAVE TATTOOED ON YOUR ARSE!!!" Come to think of it, I was going to be one of those parents who never smacks. Calm down, people. It's still legal. I checked.

I remember coming home from work some days and saying, "I hate my job." It's a little uncool to say that when your job is your kids. But, some days, I hate my job. Someone said to me today how much they love going to work. Going to work. And coming home. Gosh, I remember that. I immediately felt a bit defensive and said, "I'm not ready to go back to work, I love staying home." And I do. Sometimes. And sometimes, I don't.

I really enjoy blogging. I love that people enjoy reading along. I like picking through the good and the bad of each day, finding the stories that might make someone smile, or lift their mood, or make them feel normal, like it's okay to feel the way they feel. But unfortunately, not every day is funny, or nice, or makes me want to make other people feel okay. Sometimes, I just want to be able to write, today, I hated my job. Glad that's over. My throat hurts from the effort of not crying and I'm feeling full from hiding in the pantry and eating all the almonds. I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed at how much mess they make, I just want to go to bed but the sooner I do, the sooner tomorrow will come and to be honest, I'm not sure I want to do tomorrow at all.

So, I'm sorry this post isn't funny. I'm sorry it doesn't have a nice, neat, happy ending. Not all days in the life of a mother have happy endings. I hope that's okay. I hope it's normal. I hope my children won't be scarred by having a mother who doesn't always see the positives. I hope they know how much I love them, even when I'm not loving being around them. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Slow Down, Take A Deep Breath, And Just Stay CALM!

Picture stolen from here

I'm currently trying out a new parenting technique. You may have heard of it - it's called Staying Calm. I've had mixed results with it.... earlier in the week it didn't go so well, but the last two days have been quite wonderful. (We did drop the kids off at their grandma's house and spend the night in a hotel.... that's right, no kids..... no, not even the smallest one.... it's called Detachment Parenting and it makes me Very Calm.)

Now that we have the spawn back again, my Calm is being tested. (As I type this, the older two are supposed to be tidying their room. It is 43.2 degrees in there and they have precisely three things to put away. So far, it has taken them thirty-three minutes. The four year old walks in whining that the three year old hit her on the head with her metal water bottle - well, chicken, you have two arms, two legs and a metal water bottle of your own. Work it out! The three year old then comes in declaring dramatically, "I can't walk!" The Husband says, "Oh no!! How did you get here then?" She looks at him disdainfully and says, "With my legs!")

Anyway, I am not one of these parents that just Stays Calm naturally. I have to work at it, and I am generally opposed to things I have to work at. My usual response to the whining/dobbing/pestering so masterfully dished up to me by my children is to put my hands in the air, close my eyes and say "I don't want to hear it! I don't want to hear it!" repeatedly until they give up and go away.

But now that I have managed to stay calm for the forty five minutes, I consider myself quite an expert and would like to share with you some of my tips on how to Stay Calm in the face of a small, determined army.

#1: Instead of yelling, sing. Turn whatever you were planning on yelling into a song. The kids will think you are being nice, and you won't get that nasty sore throat you get from screeching at them. Also, they are more inclined to do what you ask. I don't know why, but it works. Just ask Mary Poppins.

#2: Socialise.... a lot. Us mothers are ALWAYS nicer to our children when we are around other parents. No-one wants to show off the veins in their forehead to their friends.

#3: Count to three. Any more than three wines is just irresponsible parenting, but three definitely takes the edge off.

#4: Take some time out. Barbados is nice this time of the year, I hear.

#5: Play a game together. Some of my favourites are musical statues (take the time to enjoy a nice, long bath while they are 'frozen'), hide and seek (my no-fail hiding place is in the next door neighbour's chook shed - be sure to remember your book and a block of chocolate!) and the one where you throw a pack of hundreds and thousands open on the kitchen floor and tell them to pick up all the blue ones.

#6: Try meditation. It relaxes you, and with any luck, while you are sitting cross-legged on the floor humming, the kids will tire of waiting for a response from you and leave you alone.

I hope these suggestions help. You may look a bit silly sitting in the neighbour's chook pen, singing the words of your favourite book while shovelling chocolate and wine into your mouth, but at least you will be Calm!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Parenting Qualification #3: Surviving Witching Hour.

Witching hour is the biggest myth about parenting out there. Parenting books will have us believe that our children are mildly unsettled for an hour or so right about the time that we are attempting to serve three versions of the same wholesome, delicious meal, catering to each child's particular tastes, whilst supervising bath time. Here is the truth. Witching hour begins when your child wakes from their afternoon nap, and continues right up until bed time. Which, lets face it, is probably going to be an hour after you planned it to be.

Witching hour actually goes for Four. Freaking. Hours.

I'm not too sure where the term 'witching hour' originated from but I suspect it involves fleeting visions of burning the little darlings at the stake. Or perhaps it has more to do with the otherwordly shriek that mothers use to communicate during the last few hours of wakeful parenting each day.

I dread witching hour. In my house, it's the time of day most likely to see me hiding on the toilet with the laptop, while The Husband is left to wrangle the spawn through dinner and into bed. I have tried establishing a routine to make things run a bit more smoothly, but the sad, sorry truth is that my children often climb into bed unshowered, in various states of undress and, more often than not, with that evening's dinner still clinging to their hair.

Last night, witching hour began before The Husband arrived home from work. The kids' god-awful Fairies DVD had been on a constant loop and let me tell you those songs are bad enough when performed by whiny, underpaid university students being whored for the junior masses, let alone when re-enacted by two slightly off-key fairy wannabes. Through gritted teeth, I informed the three- and- four year olds that it was quiet time now and the TV was going off. The TV went off..... and so did the fairy wannabes. (I always managed to convince myself that my kids didn't watch too much TV..... until the three-year-old's birthday party invitation wishlist resembled ABC for Kids' afternoon line-up. I'm sorry, honey, I really don't think Angelina Ballerina will be able to make it to your party. Once you're inside that TV, it's damn hard to get out again.) 

I resisted the temptation to join in the wailing, and herded them off to the bedroom to tidy up before dinner, while I attempted to rummage up something halfway nutritional, colourful and appealing to everybody in the family. Jamie Oliver promised it would be easy and my family would love it. The kids came to me screaming something about pulled hair. I sent them away to 'work it out'. They came back arguing over who has to put the knickers away. I poured myself a glass of wine. The four year old worked out that closing her sister's fingers in the door could be classed as an accident but still guarantees a very satisfying reaction. I told Jamie Oliver where to shove it and stuck some two minute noodles in the microwave.

The Husband walks in and I mumble something vague about it being his turn now and take off into the bedroom for some space. I spend ten minutes cooing at the youngest who I am very afraid will grow up being hated by his big sisters because he never gets yelled at. I reassure them from time to time that I spoke nicely to them as well when they were babies and I'm sure he'll get his fair share of being screeched at when he learns to talk.

I eventually surface from my voluntary exile just in time to see the three year old try noodles out as a new hairstyle, as the four year old knocks her drink onto the floor during a particularly exuberant ballet twirl. I send them off to get their pyjamas and they walk a trail of noodles into the carpet, get to their bedroom, forget why they were there and come back emptyhanded.

I speak. very. slowly. They move. very. slowly.

The three year old finally comes out dressed for bed in yesterday's t-shirt. I sigh and check it for obvious food deposits. The four year old announces she is going to bed naked, which is more about her laziness than the weather. They argue over the three year old's toothbrush, they argue over which book to read for bedtime story, the Boy chooses now to screech for a bottle.

We finally get them into bed and shut the door on their procrastination. I spend two minutes in the passageway outside their room silently shouting all the swear words I had bitten back during the evening, then get dressed to go for a walk. As I leave the house, both girls are standing on the windowsill doing their best impersonation of naked starfish. I check that none of the neighbours are observing, use sign language to demonstrate that they will be in Big Trouble if they are still awake when I get home, and I Get The Hell Out Of There.

I'm halfway around the block when I realise... bugger. They went to bed unshowered - again.

I did a Google image search for 'witching hour' and this is what I ended up with. Seriously, Google, that's the best you've got?? I don't think Mr Google has kids.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Grocery Shopping: Extreme Sports For Mothers.

When my children began walking and talking, the fortnightly excursion to fill our pantry stopped being called grocery shopping and instead became GROCERY SHOPPING. Just like that, in big letters. I now write the shopping list with a big glass of wine. It's that much of a big deal.

Us mothers all have different tactics to help us survive the GROCERY SHOP, and yes, we all get together sometimes to talk about it. Debrief, if you like. Share survival tips, swap war stories, offer advice after particularly traumatic experiences. I told you, it's a bloody big deal.

Some mothers only shop late at night, when dads are home to watch the little ones; some mothers 'pop down' every few days for just a few items at a time; some really clever metropolitan-area-dwelling mothers use Coles online, and all of us rural mums are VERY JEALOUS of those mothers.

I don't tend to do things the easy way, so I do the GROCERY SHOPPING in one big go, once a fortnight. This is serious business. It involves planning, time and a bloody big trolley.

A few days ago, I did the GROCERY SHOPPING with all three children, for the first time. The Boy is eight weeks old now, and the kids were getting sick of eating weetbix and dry crackers. Something had to give, and it made sense that it would be my extreme fear of shopping with all of the terrors in tow.

Naturally, I chose a 38 degree day to undertake this grand outing. I piled the kids in the car, left my re-usable bags sitting proudly next to my front door and drove to the butcher/greengrocer. Some very considerate soul had left a shopping trolley right next to where I parked my car. (This happens a lot in our town. Considerate souls are always leaving trolleys right where the next person might need them.... at the end of the shopping centre carpark, at the doctor's surgery, outside Centrelink, at the bottom of the river.....) I balanced The Boy's capsule on top of the trolley, dumped the three year old in the trolley seat and marched the three of them into the shop. I was halfway through teaching the four year old to select good apples (you can't start too young, I feel. It won't be long, and I'll be able to send her to do the GROCERY SHOPPING while I sit back in my rocking chair with a gin and tonic) when the three year old started wailing, "I'm stuuuuuuuckkkk!". I look up, and the dear child has managed to get her knee jammed in the leg hole of the trolley seat. I note with interest that she is knickerless once again, and calmly tell her, "Yes, darling, you are supposed to be stuck." The green grocer looks mildly alarmed at my apparent lack of concern and comes round from his counter and offers to help extract her from her predicament. He, far more gracefully than I would have done, coaxes her knee free and sits her back down in the trolley. She throws him a dirty look for not setting her free to roam the store.

We complete our fruit and vegetable shopping and discover that the shop's EFTPOS machine is not working. "Never mind", I tell the grocer, "I'll just pop across the road to the ATM." He looks relieved and grateful at not losing out on our $150 sale until I say, "I'll just leave the kids here. Be back in a minute!" His face falls, and I flee the shop before he can protest. I consider popping in for a coffee at the cafe next to the bank, but remember that I have frozen meat in the trolley that will defrost and waste me $50.

We eventually make it to the supermarket and by the time I have unloaded them all, selected a trolley big enough to handle a baby, a toddler and a motherload of shopping, I'm red faced, panting and dripping sweat. The terrors sense my weakening spirit and lie in wake for the kill. They wait until I am precisely halfway through the shopping list, and the three year old says, "I need the toilet."

You what?

I consider my options. Rip open a packet of training pants and whack one on her? Tell her to wee slowly in the trolley seat as I walk quickly around the shop? (Surely people are less likely to notice a trail of drips than a rather large puddle...) Leave my trolley half full, give up entirely, go home and feed them more dry crackers while I enjoy my bottle of wine?

I snarl at her, "Hold it in" and finish the shopping in record time. I'm over budget by $100, but I'm not about to go through my bags to decide what to leave behind. I get back to the car and analyse which order I am supposed to load the car. I finally decide to load the groceries first because I am pretty sure that any thief worth his salt would prefer to steal a trolley full of groceries than three snot-faced children. We all make it into the car alive and I finally realise why bottle shops have drive through service.

It's for mothers who have finished the GROCERY SHOPPING.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When Bad Days Are Normal, Censoring Is Optional.

What is a 'blog'?

Well, it's like an online journal, except it has people reading it, which means I end up censoring what I write and not saying some of the things I may be more game to if it was truly for my eyes only. I don't do 'journalling', though, I'm not sure why, or how blogging is different. I think it's the extrovert in me (or, as I am into being totally honest, it's probably got more to do with my deepseated need for validation - but anyway, that's all a bit heavy for a lighthearted blog like this.)

Today was another one of those bad days. The kind that drive me to blog, to spew it all out onto paper (or screen) and tell it like it really is... humour with a tinge of anger, because fuck! No-one told me it would be this bloody hard! We seem to go through patches where the good days are rare, and the bad days are worse than normal. I'm sure it's pretty common, I'm sure every parent feels this way sometimes, but here is what they are not likely to say out loud.

Sometimes, I don't like my children.

Sometimes, I like one of my children more than the others.

Sometimes, it feels like a long time since I liked a certain one of my children the best of all.

Sometimes, it feels like leaving would be a very easy thing to do.

Sometimes, I wonder if motherhood is really for me.

Sometimes, I am quite certain my children go to bed not having heard a single warm thing from me all day.

Don't misunderstand me. This is not how I feel all of the time. But certainly more than I would like. And the guilt that results from these feelings sets me off on an awful merry-go-round of useless, tired emotions, and useless, tired days.

But, here's the thing. It's normal to feel this way. I know it is, because I have very good and forgiving friends and when I whisper fragments of these feelings to them, they don't look at me in disgust. They nod their heads. And they share their own stories. And after some time in their company, I begin to feel as if I could go home and keep plugging away.

I read a blog post today that took my breath away. And not just mine, judging by how quickly it's gone viral. This mother has captured how millions of mothers around the world feel about parenting their own little ones, in such an honest, insightful way. And it got me thinking.

So, I wonder if it is enough to just catch glimpses of the good days in between all the shitty stuff that happens as we parent. I wonder if it's enough that my children experience me as being warm and loving, just sometimes. I wonder if they go to bed knowing that I love them, even when the words have not fallen from my lips that day.

Mothering is damn hard work. I joke about it alot, whinge about it more, but rarely do I stop and commend myself for doing the hard slog through the bad days as well as helping to create the good days. The good days are easy! Its the bad, heavy, bickering days that we need to be congratulating ourselves for surviving!

I may not be the best mother in the world. But I am most definitely the best mother for my children, and trying to get better all the time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Parenting Qualification #2: The Ability To Be A Bitch.... In A Nice Way!

I have been blessed with a wonderful Mothers' Group, but I have heard some horror stories about others out there. And, to be honest, I'm not surprised, because mothers are bitches. We totally are. Some of us hide it better than others, but it lurks inside all of us.

Don't agree? Well, think back to when you had your first child. Attending that first mother's group. Hoping everyone will like you. (You only hoped that because, deep down, you know mothers are bitches.) Checking out everyone else' babies and noting with some satisfaction that your dear little one is not only by far the most beautiful, but is obviously the most advanced. Oh dear. Except for little Johnny over there. He's already rolling. Well, its ok, I bet his mother is a bitch.

Remember the concerned conversations about other mothers in the group? "Oooohhh, is she not coping very well? Oh dear, I must stop by." whilst hiding the smile lurking at the corners of our mouths behind a cup of green decaffinated tea. Don't lie to yourself, now, we all did it. There was some kind of perverse satisfaction we gained from thinking that other mothers were not swimming through motherhood.

By the time you have your third child, its a different story. Now, your conversations about other mums are more likely to go "well, of course she's not bloody coping! She has children!" You know that anyone who looks like they are swimming through motherhood are either full of shit or taking their kids' ADD medication.

It's the same with weightloss. All mothers are concerned with their weight. And yet, every now and then, I will come across someone who claims to love their stretch marks, as they are constant reminders of carrying their three precious children. Bollocks. Anyone who says this is lying. No woman loves their stretch marks. My stretch marks are indeed reminders of my three children, and I tell you, that knowledge does not make it easier to love the little darlings on those bad days. Also, I seem to collect an extra stomach every time I have a child. And not in the convenient "It's ok, I have an extra stomach especially for dessert" kind of way. More like, if you saw me naked you could be forgiven for thinking that all three of my children crawled right back up there.

To make things worse, at school pickup, there are always the merry band of Lycra Mums. And I'm not talking about the Lycra-wearing mums that convince you in one unfortunate glance that anything made of Lycra should NEVER come in a size larger than an eight. I'm talking about the ones who must have made some god-awful deal with the devil to be able to keep the bodies they had when they were 16. We tell them they look wonderful, they did such a good job of losing the 100 grams of baby weight they had after popping out their fourth child and pretend we know what they are talking about when they go on about getting a high from running. "Bitch. I heard she's shagging her PT. I bet when she stops getting 'free' sessions, she'll swell up like a blowfish."

Well if you are like me, and lycra makes you look less like Catwoman and more like an overweight elephant seal, then you may take comfort in this short clip. It's gold.

All mother are bitches.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Parenting Qualification #1: The Ability To Switch Off.

I went to uni for four years to train to become a teacher. Along the way, many of my peers dropped out of the course, usually after realising that even though teaching was one of the easiest courses to gain entry into, it did not automatically follow that they actually WANTED to spend the rest of their lives stuck in a classroom with other people's spawn. And that, apparently, a teaching qualification is not entirely earned at the pub.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to wonder if the world wouldn't be, even slightly, a better place if there was a similar four-year-training requirement before people were awarded the right to become parents. Pipe down, please, all you political correctness zealots, I'm not about to suggest compulsory sterilisation. But who among us has not stood in line at the checkout revelling in silent disgust at the dreadful parenting of those in line before us? (For crying out loud, no means NO! Don't say no fifteen times then hand them what they want when their insatiable whinging finally gets to you! Its been getting to ME for the last ten minutes and you don't see me shoving a chocolate in their mouth!)

So, not so much to solve the problem of an overabundance of appalling parents as to make myself feel better about co-existing with them, I have decided to write a series of blog posts outlining what I see as the necessary skills for effective parenting. Feel free to let me know if I overlook any.

The first on my list is the ability to Switch Off. This is a skill that you will need to utilise many times a day, for the rest of your life. It begins in pregnancy when you will be required to maintain an interested and grateful demeanor whenever you are offered unsolicited advice-slash-opinions about your size/sex of the baby/impending birth/future parenting style.

But it is a skill that truly comes into its own when your children begin talking.

Switching Off is particularly handy when your children engage in their frequent battles with one another. There are few sounds less harmonious than the sound of siblings shrieking at one another, unless it is the ensuing tale-telling and whining about whatever injuries they have managed to inflict on each other. Switching Off not only preserves your sanity in these instances, it also provides a 'teaching moment' to the children - that the noisier you are, the less mum cares.

Switching Off is also useful on those long car trips, particularly when your child is firmly entrenched in either the "Look, Mum!" stage of development, or the "Why....?" phase. Car trips often result in a running commentary that starts out mildly amusing but ends up ringing in your ears like the whine of a lone mosquito  emanating from the back seat. Injecting the occasional "Really?" or "Mm-hmm" into the endless drone from your child will ensure the best results.

Tools to help you Switch Off include locks on the toilet doors, headphones and loud music. Sometimes wine can help too (but only if the little darlings are safely tucked up in bed, obviously.) If you are not confident in your ability to Switch Off effectively, I recommend observing your husband while the cricket is on. They have that shit down.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Things My Neighbours Know.

Next door neighbours are the bane of a frazzled mother's existence. They know things. They hear us at our worst, see our yards when we haven't frantically tidied them for visitors, count our weeds over the fence. They know how often we wash, when we break the sprinkler ban, when we haven't bothered cleaning out the chook pen.

They see us ambling out to the wheelie bin at noon in our pyjamas, hanging more than the washing out when we go outside with no bra on, they watch our clothes languish on the clothes line for nearly a week at a time before being bought in to make way for the next week's worth of banked up dirty laundry.

They hear our children playing unsupervised in the front yard, with just the occasional token glance out the window to make sure all heads are accounted for. They are the invisible witnesses to our outbursts at husband and children, and are the only others to hear us screech in shrill voices til our throats hurt. (I said don't YELL!!) Keenly observant neighbours also know how often we feed our children takeaway by examining the contents of our recycling.

In summer it's worse. We have our windows open. They hear the things we can usually hide behind closed doors.

Our neighbours are an elderly Romanian couple. They spend alot of time weeding their lawn, which I find daunting, as my lawn gets about as much attention as the hair on my legs. (Fortunately, I can hide my legs under some trousers. I don't have this option with the lawn, although my children try their best to hide it under all their toys.) Our neighbours speak very little English, so aside from a smile and a nod, we don't interact with them very much. This suits me fine, because, as I said, neighbours know things. Its very hard to make friendly small talk with someone who has heard you loudly threaten to sell your children on eBay.

Now that summer has hit, we leave our bedroom and ensuite windows open. We don't have airconditioning in our bedroom and I don't sleep too well when it is hot. For this reason I also sleep undressed. When The Boy wakes up, I turn the ensuite light on, stumble out to the kitchen to make a bottle then feed him in bed, before changing his nappy on the changetable in the ensuite. The Husband doesn't seem to mind me wandering around naked, and who can be bothered dressing in the middle of the night just to feed a squalling baby?

Every time I got up and turned the light on, I would hear a strange noise, a high-pitched creak. I assumed it was some kind of nocturnal frog or night-bird, and thought nothing of it until I began hearing it during the day as well. It occurred to me that I only ever heard it on that side of the house, and wondered if we had a nest somewhere.

Until, one night, I heard the creak as I sat down on the toilet.... immediately followed by the elderly Romanian lady next door yelling at her husband what I can only assume translates roughly to "Stop perving on that woman next door!!" The creak came again, followed by a thud as their screen door slammed shut.

So. Apparently my neighbours also know what I look like naked.

I tried to include a picture in this post, but unfortunately doing a Google image search for "dirty old man" gave me far more than I bargained for.