It’s 1am, or 2am, or perhaps 4am. I hear footsteps, or coughing, or crying. I want to bury my head in my pillow. Why can’t you just sleep? Either of you.
It’s 5pm. My son is asking to watch TV. I don’t want him to watch TV all evening, but I need to get our tea ready. I cave and switch the TV on. At least one of you is happy. My daughter crawls around under my feet, whining to be picked up. I know what you want but I can’t hold you all the time. I just want to be able to drain the pot of boiling water and pasta without worrying about lifting it with a baby underfoot. That’s obviously a bad idea, can’t you just give me one minute to finish a job?
It’s 11am, I’m trying to read to them both. Providing quality, enriching experience. My son is happy enough. As long as he gets to choose the book. And where we sit. And as long as his sister doesn’t chew the book. But luckily she’s crawled off. Somehow she’s found paper (again) on the floor and is eating it.
It’s 3pm. My son and I stand at opposite ends of the living room, I’m trying to follow his complicated instructions. I’m not doing it right. He flings his arms wildly, his whole body full of frustration. I have no idea what this stupid game is about or what I am doing wrong. His sister sits in the middle of the floor, bemused.
I understand what I’m meant to say
‘How far is it?’ I yell
‘ten past three centimetres’ Is his gleeful reply ‘Now swim like this to me’ He wriggles.
So I copy his wriggle, swimming across the floor to him. He laughs. His sister laughs too, and claps her hands in delight. Suddenly there is nothing more important than wriggling across the room and laughing with my children.
It’s 11am. He chooses The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He finally stays in one place and his sister crawls back over to stick fingers in the holes. When I lift her onto my lap too, she grabs my hair and pulls my face to hers rubbing her mouth on my cheek in her gross but very adorable gesture of affection.
It’s 5pm. My son’s favourite TV programme is on; the one where the presenter Rosa bakes cakes with children to surprise their loved ones with. He turns to me
‘We could fly to New Zealand and sneak into Grandad’s house and find out what he likes, and then bake him a cake with his favourite colours.’
His sister is still whining. I look down into her big blue eyes, and marvel once again that I managed to produce two blue eyed children. I know she’s hungry. Perhaps she knows after I move metal objects around on the stovetop food will be presented. But she doesn’t know it is a necessary part of the process yet. I pick her up and she snuggles against me.
‘Grandad would love a cake’ I say.
There is a character in the Doctor Doolittle novels, the Pushmi-pullyu. It’s so long since I’ve read the books I don’t remember much other than the name and some troublingly racist colonial attitudes that mean I might not urge the kids to read this one. But I love the name. It is a name that deserves a life of its own. It is a word that sums up how I so often feel when I am surrounded by the needs of my small children.
They push me. They push me when I am tired and stressed. When the days are long. And miraculously the nights are even longer. The push me when the amount of rest I get is dictated not by my own body, but by the needs of two small dependent children. And sometimes I want to say ‘enough!’
It can feel like the world expects us to have children that behave every minute, or for us to be enjoying every minute. Instead of just enjoying the ones that are actually enjoyable. It can be easy to feel despondent when your child is the one misbehaving, eating-pickily, or refusing to put their socks on. We forget no parent ever has had a child that did exactly what they were told, every time, without argument. So we joke about being ‘bad’ parents.
This is how I know I’m not really a ‘bad parent’.
Because every time they have pushed me to the edge. Every time I swear under my breath. Every time I snap and take away a toy just so I can get them to listen. Every time I lean my head against the door frame for a split second thinking they might just magically go to sleep in that pause. All of those are not the summation of my parenting, because every time, in the end, I open the door and I hold them.
I don’t pretend to be perfect. Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I see another Janet-bloody-Lansbury article. I spend half my days torn between what needs to get done, and what my children want right now. I can feel pushed and pulled in a dozen directions at once. And I have to remind myself to stop. That even if I yell sometimes, or distract them with TV, or the floor is covered in books and toys, it’s ok. Because the house is clean enough, my children are fed, my children are loved.
When it is good it can be wonderful. When both my children laugh it is the best feeling. Watching my son push my daughter on a swing while she laughed last weekend felt like the highlight of my life. A highlight. Because life is not like that all the time. Never. Nobody’s. So when it’s tough I just have to breathe, and remind myself ‘pushmi-pullyu’. We’ll be on an upward swing again soon enough.
It’s 1am, or 2am or perhaps 4am. I want to bury my head in my pillow, but I don’t. I sit on my son’s bed and stroke his hair. Or I rock my daughter in my arms. In the dark we sway together. To and fro. To and fro. To and fro.