In sickness and in health?

A lesson in letting go when you're ill...This week I got this heartfelt email from a friend of mine:

 ‘I have been reading your blogs from my sick bed this week – very enjoyable! By the way, if you are in need of another subject, you might want to consider how, although the other half is trying to help look after the little one and you while you are sick and laid up, what actually happens is like “Sleeping Beauty”: everything stops in the household and what appears to be a forest of dirty washing and dishes, floors, etc, grows and does not disappear until you recover from your illness. I am not kidding! In the space of a couple of days the house is a tip and it will take me about a week to sort it all out.

 ‘Men just do not seem to think about the need to keep on top of things. I even had to get up to make sure that my smalls had been washed as it would not enter [DH’s] head to think about such things. And he is not even trying to be unhelpful. In his defence he says that [DD] kept him busy (although what he thinks happens when I have her on my own is a mystery?).

 ‘I am feeling much better now, although I am sporting a bruise on my head where I managed to knock myself out on the bathroom floor during the throes of my illness. [DH] did not even raise and thought that I had just decided to lie on the floor to rest!!!? Why would I do that as it is way more comfortable to be sick in bed? I still do not understand how men’s brains work even after years of living with him.’

Ring any bells? Luckily I’m hardly ever ill, but last time I was, last Christmas with flu, I did not spend one single day entirely in bed. I actually think I can’t be unwell – or at least can’t give in to it – because there is always too much to do. Apart from the fact that I run my own business, so I don’t get sick pay and a client deadline is a deadline, there are two small people and one other big person to clothe, feed, ferry around etc.

Perhaps I’m being too much of a control freak here, but my fear is that if I did ever spend a couple of days ill in bed, there would just be more work for me when I did get better, so I might as well push on through. I’m probably not giving DH enough credit – I do know he is perfectly capable of doing everything I do. But because house/child management is not his job, it’s not instinctive, and it would probably take almost as much effort to issue guidance, instructions and reminders as to just do it myself. Perhaps I should reread ‘Mr Large in Charge’, by Jill Murphy, where Mrs Large isn’t very well and everyone muddles through, with just a few accidents…

Mind you, I fully admit that I am no great nurse myself when DH is ill. Partly because of my own full-blown martyr status, I have little truck with illness and am not terribly sympathetic, other than pointing him in the direction of the Redoxon, ibuprofen and echinacea. Last time I scoffed at his ‘man flu’, tho, I was a bit embarrassed when he was diagnosed with a full-on chest infection. The ol’ crown of thorns was a little askew that day…

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Children’s parties: The Rules

How many children’s parties in a weekend is enough? On Saturday DD had very kindly been invited to two parties by pre-school friends, one a joint one. In the morning, me and DH took DD and DS to the party at a local soft play centre. It was lovely, tho noisy, and for some reason DH thought it would be a good idea to push his 14 month old son down a 10ft slide. The sliding bit was fine, landing on small face and cutting lip at bottom not so brilliant.

There were lots of kids there, plus the mums and dads I see on the nursery run, some of who have become friends. Lunch consisted of a bowl of Wotsits for DS to match his hair, and DD munched her way happily through cakes, sausages, chocolate spread sarnies, and misc. potato starch snacks.

I put our pressie on the present table. And then started to panic. There were loads of huge boxes, like the other mums had bought the contents of ELC

Small but perfect

Small but perfect

. And none of them looked like a token present. I had thought about what to buy all three birthday girls, bearing in mind that only one of them is an actual playdate friend. I like buying books and creative stuff for children, and I know what DD likes doing, so I settled on those really nice Usborne dolly dressing sticker books, with an extra one for the friend we see outside nursery. With a card and wrapping, this came to between £6 and £10 each. I heard one of the alpha mums commenting that at her son’s party (to which we were not invited) she was really surprised by how generous everyone had been. Our gift seemed rather meagre, suddenly.

For DD’s 3rd birthday in August, we had a joint party in the village hall with her best friend. It was bloody hard work with 24 kids, but all of the parents were good friends or relatives and we all chipped in to help. But now she’s in pre-school, and the trend seems to be to invite everyone in the class to parties. So what are the Rules here?

Is there some kind of protocol about who to invite, whether you have to accept, and how much you spend on a gift? I know these organised parties at catered venues cost money and sometimes the party bags alone seem to have cost more than the birthday present I’ve bought, even if the plastic stuff does end up in bits in the bin within minutes of getting home. If you accept an invitation to the party of a child you don’t know very well, are you are entering into a contract to purchase a large gift? Or is a small, thoughtful present OK? 

On Saturday, DH took DD to the afternoon party by himself while I looked after DS. They had a ball, with the exact same set of kids and parents as in the morning, although DD came home with someone’s footprint on her face from the bouncy castle. I don’t know who was more knackered, DD or her dad, after two parties and rather too much sugar…

Pushing my buttons…

I hate to say this about my beautiful, funny, bright three year old daughter, but (whisper it) sometimes I find her enormously irritating. Sometimes I even find the Gingerbread Man (14 months today!) really annoying too. Just because they are being small people and doing small people things and making small people noise and mess and fuss.

I feel bad about this. Before DS was born, I was endlessly patient with DD. She could do no wrong, and actually, she was such a ‘good’ girl anyway, it was pretty easy. Then DS comes along with all his noise and reflux and not sleeping and being A Boy generally, and my head, eyes and arms need to be in two places at once, dealing with two different people who are utterly dependent on me but in completely different ways, at the same time. Having a second child, for me, was the exact situation that the expression ‘head f**k’ was invented for.

So now, much more frequently than I would like, I am shouty, impatient mummy. DD calls me a snappy crocodile. At bedtime last night, after a random, one-year-after-potty-training

A mummy, yesterday

A mummy, yesterday

pants pissing incident at her best friend’s house (who then did the same – it’s a conspiracy!) she told me ‘I love you, mummy, but I didn’t like you today’. Well, fair enough my darling, because frankly, I really don’t like myself when I get in a mummy rage. She asks to see my face sometimes, to judge what mood I am in, because things can swing from absolutely fine and fun to not so nice in milliseconds.

DH says she just knows how to push my buttons. I hope to God she hasn’t inherited his perverse, winding up sense of humour and this is just her Being A Threenager. I am growing terrified that I am somehow damaging her by not being lovely all the time. I am starting to dread her being an actual teenager because if I can’t manage a pre-schooler with patience, humour, love and respect, then how on earth am I going to deal with a 13 year old girl? And goodness only knows what sort of tantrums DS is going to start pulling soon, given the range his tiny toddling self gets into when he loses his current fixation object, an empty bubble pot and wand (Bah-boo! BAH-BOO!).

In an effort to chillax, I keep picking affirmation cards from Louise L Hay’s wonderful Power Thought Card deck. Today it is ‘I am flexible and flowing’. We’ll see if keeping that in mind helps me with overtired nippers towards bathtime tonight…

A taste of freedom

On Saturday morning, my mostly-lovely husband said to me: ‘I want you to have a couple of hours to yourself this morning, go into town and I’ll take the kids for a long walk with the trailer’. Really? Time to myself? OMG. I RAN, obviously.

Spent a lovely hour in Pret with a latte, breakfast items, and the paper, then wandered round looking for properly opaque leggings that pale wobbly thighs don’t show through. No pushchair, baby or small person to manhandle, cajole and bribe with rice cakes and the promise of stickers. None of the general impossibility of clothes shopping with children. I used the escalator rather than queuing for the one lift in M&S, even! I didn’t buy anything, it was just blissful to wander round with space in my head.

Now I’ve got two children, these little bubbles of time out are rare and precious. The space and peace to read the newspaper with a coffee and window-shop. It doesn’t sound like much, but when I got home, to two happy and fresh-aired babas and a grateful-to-be-relieved husband, I felt like I’d had a mini spa-break or something. Not to say that I don’t want to go back to Pennyhill Park very soon, but even a couple of hours to myself meant I spent more time smiling than barking for the rest of the day.

Everyone wins when mummy’s calm and relaxed. As my amazing coach Lee Chalmers once said to me, there’s a reason why parents on aeroplanes are told to put an oxygen mask on themselves before their children.

I know where you live…and it’s not in the catchment area

I can’t believe DD is only just three and we’re applying for schools already for next September. Everytime I read the word ‘choice’ in council literature, I see ‘tombola’. Didn’t realise when we moved here seven years ago that we are in education nomansland, with no obvious local primary school, and nowhere near any of the ‘Good’  ones round here.

My mental map of the city over the past few years has shifted, from knowing where the off licences and takeaways are,  to soft play centres and baby- (and boob- ) friendly caffs, to every infant and junior school and last year’s precise catchment area, which is usually around a mile from our house.

One more school tour tomorrow and then the form is due in on 22 October. It’s entirely possible we will get none of our three choices and just be assigned somewhere. Private isn’t an option for financial and ideological reasons, although I was shocked to hear ‘Maybe we’ll win the lottery and we can send her to xx school’ coming out of my mouth during a moment of panic after seeing our nearest school, on a mildly dodgy estate. Now I’ve got children and they are the most precious things in the world, I am beginning to see how some left-wing politicians manage to convince themselves it’s OK to shell out for private schooling.

The Independent Schools Directory is running a poll on what is most important to parents when choosing a school, and it’s all about Ofsted ratings and academic standards, rather than facilities, atmosphere, pastoral care or staff. Do I want DD to be happy and cared for by great teachers, or to achieve her academic potential? Can you do the latter, without the former? Is it a given that if you go private you are guaranteed all of those things anyway? Or will DD and DS thrive in any school if I get really involved in their education?

My mum reassured me, sort of, by reminding me that I was probably unhappiest at the ‘best’ schools I went to. I might have to start looking for killer heels to wear to PTA meetings…