What do I do? Nothing special. I'm just another Muther.

This is my blog about modern motherhood. I have a 1 year old daughter who, though planned, was the biggest surprise of my life. I would compare being a new mother to riding a Vaseline smeared unicycle naked and blindfold through a field of landmines whilst every enemy you'd ever made jeered from the sidelines, pelting you with tomatoes full of wasps. A bit nervewracking then. If you tried to take my daugther off me however, I'd stab you in the head without hesitation...and with a corkscrew. It would be nice to use my corkscrew for something again. Love, hate, be indifferent but whatever you do, share with others to raise my ratings.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Ones company...twos crowd control

##]the past 24  hours I've been a mother of two. 

I've blogged before about whether or not I'll ever jump on the vaseline smeared unicycle again and expand our family to four, but it's an idea I keep shelving under 'maybe one day' as there's just so much going on in our lives, not least caring for our one year old.   Recently though, a couple of my friends have taken the plunge, and my mind has been churning thoughts of a little brother or sister for Iris over like the dirty clothes that relentlessly clog my waching machine. 

One strangely sunny evening last week, we were walking the dog across the fields behind our house when I said, out of nowhere...
'Sunday.  For a girl.
John thought for a second then said
'bit twatty, but I like it.' 
We carried on walking, and as we meandered home through the Victorian Graveyard that I find so fascinating, I mentally logged 'Ada' and 'Lilian' as potentials (my Great-Grandma and Great-Grandma in law's first names.)  Yesterday,  spotting the name of an up and coming young actor on the case of a DVD I exclaimed  
'Ezra!  Ezra Hornsby!'
'I really like Ethan' said John, without looking up from the tower he was building for Iris to knock down.
'Noooooooooooooooooo!' I exclaimed vehemently.  'That's Danni Minogues baby name, and she's shagged Simon Cowell, ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.'
Ezra Elliot Hornsby I mused to myself, mentally tucking him into a JojoMamanBebe sleepsuit and smoothing his soft, dark hair across his sleeping forehead.  On the other hand, I thought dreamily, I could tuck blonde, curly haired little Sunday Lillian Hornsby into one of the many Iris cast offs I've been saving in ziplock bags in the linen cupboard.

Gah!  What the fuck are we doing?   It's been happening way too much recently.  Not long ago I started having my periods again after an absence of 13 months.  Though I'm still breastfeeding, it's only really as a comfort for when Iris is over-tired or under the weather.  That, coupled with some extra hours at work, have kick-started my reproductive system, and I guess Mother Nature is letting me know that my baby isn't such a baby anymore.  It makes me sad to think that my tiny bundle is now a toddler who's taken her first steps, but it also makes me think of all the beautiful moments we've enjoyed as a family since her birth, and it may sadden me even more to contemplate the fact that Iris is potentially the only baby of my own  I'll ever hold in my arms.

When my friend asked me if I'd babysit her 4 year old daughter overnight while she went on a hen do, I didn't hesitate to say yes.   I'm very fond of her little one, let's call her Esme to keep things anonymous, and she's at an age where you can snuggle up with her on the sofa watching the Lion King or endlessly debate the merits of the various shades of pink in her tutu.  She's also at an age when the naughty step is a daily occurance, but I figured that on a night away from home in a relatively strange place, she'd be on her best behaviour.   I imagined us snuggling up in bed reading books or sharing a meal at Pizza Express, and to be quite honest, I was flattered that someone would trust me with their precious child - it meant I was doing a reasonable job with Iris, and it wouldn't hurt to earn some babysitting Brownie points to fall back on when I needed a break myself.

Yesterday was a typically manic day in the Hornsby-Martin household.  I fell out of bed at 6am to prepare for a talk and demo I was giving at a nearby private school with an assistance dog from my work.  On the way home, after addressing 100 flicky / bouffant haired sarcastic and unnervingly well-dressed teenagers (all of whom arrived driving better cars than me) I called in to our local post office to send some items I'd sold on Ebay.   An hour later I emerged, traumatised, after their computer system crashed mid transaction and the octogenarian counter assistant suffered a nervous breakdown that I somehow had to talk her round from, whilst calming the angry mob that had developed behind me as I tried to claw my already stickered parcels back from behind the glass screen.   Grabbing Iris from home where her Dad was watching her, I planned to nip in to work to return the dog I'd borrowed.  Arriving at the office, Iris threw up half a pound of cheese all over herself and crapped extensively out of either side of one of the frankly useless reusable nappies I'm trying to convert to.  Having forgotten our nappy bag (rookie error) I managed to scrape the worst of the bodily fluids (and indeed solids) off with A4 printer paper, whilst my colleagues gagged in horror.  Late for my counselling appointment (yep, I'm seeing a shrink again due to some weird and wonderful thoughts and feelings surfacing as Iris turned one) I hurled myself onto a bus into town, ditching Iris back with her slightly irate Dad who was trying to work from home.  After ranting for an hour, I grabbed some shopping, queued for half an hour at the bank and re-appeared at home to find the lovely Esme already ensconced in the bay window of our living room, building wooden towers with Iris and John - a lovely family tableau from the future perhaps?  I hadn't forgotten she was coming, I'd just lost track of time.  Suddenly I was a Mother of two and it's true what they say, it's more than twice the work.

Looking after a 1 year old isn't really a problem anymore - I've been just another Mother long enough to cope with that (though it has its highs and lows.)  Most of the time it's a pleasure, and so is looking after a 4 year old.   Put the two together, however, and you've had the kind of 24 hours I've just had, the kind that's set my mental health back several years and made my brain switch off in several different places (and I'm not joking, the endless questions make you shut down in a survive of die kind of way.)   Though I've had little experience of an older child, Esme is more fun to be around than should be allowed and reasonably easy to control given a bit of direction.  Initially, Iris, Esme and John were entranced by my sudden arrival, not least because I'd had the forethought to pick up a 6 pack of jam doughnuts from Tescos.  I was  impressed when Esme informed me (though Iris and John were already cramming their mouths full) that she had a chocolate bar in her Very Hungry Caterpillar suitcase and so wouldn't be joining in the doughnut fest as she already had her treat for the day taken care of. 
Her Mum's got her unbelievably well trained, I said to John, as Esme politely asked for a handful of grapes and a cup of water
We could learn a thing or two here.Twenty minutes later I learnt my first lesson about toddlers, they live very much in the moment.  During a game of tig, Esme plunged her little hand into the doughnut bag as she passed it by, exclaiming
'I loooooooooooooooooooooove Doughnuts, I'm eating them all.' 
As a rookie owner of a 4 year old, I bought her 'you are what you eat' propaganda.
'But you've got a bar of Dairy Milk in your bag' I protested, stung.
'Silly, that's for bed-time' she replied. 
Lesson one learnt about toddlers, they know all the right things to say (because they've been drummed into them by parents)  but they don't actually understand the messages they spout so freely, and their hearts rule their heads (indeed their stomachs rule their brains, like most of us.)

The next thing I learnt about proper toddlers is that they get off on pure unadulterated attention.  I kind of knew that, because babies like it too, but anything a 1 year old can do a 4 year old can smash to pieces.  If I was a tiny person in a big person's world I'd want to know that I could command an audience, my survival would depend on it - but heaven help the grown up lady that isn't prepared to take notice when a 4  year old lays her demands on the table. 
Look at me!  Look at me!  Said Esme repeatedly.  That was fine, I was more than happy to look at her with one eye; building a tower, reading a book, festooning herself with all of my jewellery grappled from the rack I hang it on.  She did it with grace, and she'd learnt how to flatter her audience all the better to cater to her whims. 
You have a pretty bedroom' said Esme.
'Thank you' I said, pleased that she'd noticed.
'Your bed is nice.  It's lovely.  Can I jump on it?  I'm jumping!  Watch me!  Watch me!   Watch me jumping up and down on your bed, on your bed, on your bed, watch watch watch, wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!  I'm wearing your necklace and your earrings and your rings and I'm jumping, jumping, jumping on your bed.'  
That's sort of when I zoned out of the whole 'look at me' business.  It didn't take a rocket scientist (or a tentative and under confident parent of a 1 year old) to realise that  you didn't actually have to do the looking all of the time.  As long as you reassured the toddler that you were there 'yes, you are building a tower, reading a book, playing with my jewellery, eating my jewellery...hey, hang on, stop it right now) then it was enough to satisfy their lust for looking - it seems that faking it around a 4 year old is the way forward, though it still doesn't work on your partner. dammit. 

The next thing I learnt about toddlers is that they may understand the concept of sharing, but they don't like to do it, and why should they?  Iris and Esme played quite happily next to each other for a while, and things were looking harmonious.  John and I exchanged glances.  'This is nice' our eyes said 'we could do this.'  Then Iris made a snatch for a plastic Dolphin that Esme was holding and mayhem ensued - naughty Iris, no Iris, that's mine Iris...you see her point, but at the same time Iris is a little baby, and doesn't know any better.  Put yourself in the place of the toddler.  You've been conditioned by your parents and nursery to see snatching and grabbing a toy as bad, then someone snatches and grabs a toy from you and you're told 'it's okay, she's a baby, she's allowed.'  An adult mind can understand the difference in development between a 1 year old and a 4 year old, but why on earth should the children involved be able to do so?    It would be okay if this sort of situation took place once a day,but for the Mum of two it takes place numerous times an hour, and you end up feeling more like a referee than a mother.  As Iris' Mum, I was inclined to take her side and to imagine that Esme, as the older of the two, should know better.  I can only imagine how hard it must be to be Mother to both of the contenders in the epic battle for objects and attention.  Esme also took it upon herself to police Iris with all the wisdom she'd been bestowed with during her 4 short years on planet earth.  I couldn't argue with her, her logic and behaviour was faultless..Iris shouldn't grab or  cry when she didn't get her own way, she shouldn't smear food in her hair or throw an all out paddy when she didn't get what she wanted.  Esme pointed out a number of occasions when Iris rightfully deserved the naughty step.  How can you explain to a toddler that a baby can't be disciplined in that way?

When Iris was a newborn, her presence separated John and I a lot of the time, after the initial adrenalin rush of new parenthood wore off.  We came to understand that to wash, eat and sleep we needed to take shifts caring for her, and that the division of our family wouldn't last forever.  Now that she is 13 months old, John and I are coming back together as a couple, and it's about time.  During the first year, we really had to bank on our love for each other and commitment to our family unit to carry us through.  Now we can unite a little more as Iris sleeps a bit longer - giving us more of an evening together.  We eat meals together again, we allow his parents to babysit for full days or nights so that we can spend longer lengths of time together, we even went for a drink in the afternoon recently whilst I enjoyed an afternoon of work at the same time that Iris was at nursery (picking her up was interesting as we both stank of booze and were a little over zealous in our greeting - but we had had our first taste at getting back to some semblance of the life we had before combined with parenting, a difficult mixture.)  Looking after Esme was a shock, as it one again divided our family.  It's physically impossible to put a 1 year old to bed whilst a 4 year old, who quite rightly stays up slightly later, gets involved.  I needed to put Iris down, whilst Esme was entertained elsewhere - that was just a fact.  I'm at a loss to understand how single parents of more than one tackle bed time, as all parts of the process were compromised by my newly acquired toddler's 'helpful' interference.  In the end, I instructed John take over with Iris while I distracted Esme elsewhere.  Much of the time with bath Iris and read her a story together, and sometimes we all cuddle up in bed while I feed Iris before she sleeps.  I missed this time together, and I resented not having it - even for one night.

I used to have two dogs.  When I was 24, a ratty and rather cross terrier called Lucy trotted into my life and made me her bitch.  She'd been ill-treated by several different 'homes' and  had spent time as a stray.  Like me she was lost and looking for understanding.  We found comfort in each other and despite the fact that she was un-trainable, un-stoppable and rather un-likeable it was love at first shite.  We spent every day together, and cuddled up in bed every night.  Though I had a partner at the time, Lucy was the one who got me through the tough days with her unconditional love.  We were a team, and I never though I could love another dog as much as I loved my Lucy-Lou (or understand another dog's mind the way I understood the way she viewed the world after all the trouble she'd been through, though none of it was her fault.)   Three years later, I felt ready to expand my hairy family and this time I was going to get it right.  Visiting a litter of newborn Labrador puppies for work 'just to have a look' I left with a tipex mark daubed on the tail of the runt of the litter and, 8 weeks later, Buckley came home to join my family.  This time, he was going to be well trained from the word go.  He slept in a cage in the kitchen (whilst Lucy hogged my bed) and he became a chilled out, dependable chap with a happy go lucky nature.  Having one dog was hard, but surprisingly and delightfully two was easier.   Lucy and Buckley entertained each other and, after some initial 'only child' behaviour from Lucy, would cuddle up in one basket at night and keep each other company if I ever went out on the tiles.  When we lost Lucy last year, Buckley was without his playmate and spent a lot of time making deep and very pointed sighs as he lay on the sofa.  Sadly, we didn't replace Lucy with another little friend for him as I'd just given birth to Iris.  Though Buckley's currently a little concerned about her jabby and snatchy hands, it's looking like the two of  them will become very happy playmates soon enough.  Until then, Buckley gives us the guilty eyes.

I guess I viewed having two children as being the same as Lucy and Buckley, but human relationships are much more compicated.  As a mother, I already feel like I'm torn into pieces.  If I was a pie, Iris would get the Lion's share, then John and the dog would each have a slice, and  my wor, family and friends a smaller one.    On a good day, there would be a small and battered piece of crust left over to keep for myself.  On a bad  day, Rowan the pie would be entirely consumed by her hungry family.  Adding another child to the mix just makes a mother rip off another piece of herself  - carving up that pie  up ever smaller and serving herself up  some hefty helpings of guilt as she does so.  I'm used to giving Iris my full attention, she's my entire world, and right now it feels like we have all the time in the world to gaze at each other while she's breastfeeding or linger for half an hour in a warm bath before bedtime together.  How would I cope with sharing my daughter?  Wouldn't I resent that other child for its demands, or would I start to resent Iris for tearing me away from my new and more needy baby?  It's just another juggling act, and I'm getting so good at juggling that I think I might, one day, just fuck off and join the circus. 

Life certainly wont be easier with another child, if we do ever go down that long, dark and daunting road again.  Esme's presence taught me a lot of things, not least that you shouldn't believe a 4 year old when she says she's 'only cutting off a tiny bit' during a game of haidressers.  It was a lot of fun, and watching her bending over Iris showing her how to use a toy or cuddling her (a little too enthusiastically) on the bed, my heart melted a bit.  I could see how Iris and Esme, once they both got a bit older, could be like my two dogs...ganging up on Mum and Dad instead of each other.  I find that somtimes the most satisfying part of parenting is when your child's in bed and you can sit in a nice, quiet living room sipping wine and talking about her.  With two, we had a lot more to talk, and giggle about, and a lot more parenting issues to debate.  It felt nice, with the two of them upstairs asleep, like a missing piece  of the jigsaw had been found and slotted in.  Maybe I'll ask Esme's Mum if I can borrow her again, I'd reccommend it, and I only wish I had borrowed a baby before having Iris...but then I'd never have had Iris would I?

I'll leave you now, as Iris has poured a glass of squash into my laptop, and I'm not sure how much longer it's going to......................................


3 comments:

  1. Another Pulitzer prize worthy edition.
    Was it 'Esme' who gave you a haircut?

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  2. Speaking from experience, once you get past two it becomes an issue of crowd control and the older ones entertain the younger ones!

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  3. So true. I find it hard when my four year old copies things we are praising his two year old brother for. I know he is able to do a jigsaw he has done it for years! The good thing about having two kids is that it makes looking after one a walk in the park and you wonder what you ever found difficult. It will also make great blogging material! I'm afraid I cant help with the bedtime issue. My husband works away a lot and getting three of them to bed is a nightmare,usually ending in tears from one of them or me! If you work it out please write a blog on it.

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