Thursday 24 September 2015

6 things you face once your kid starts school

My beautiful boy on his first day of school (and probably the last photo I will post of him on my blog, I promise!).

Ever since I gave birth I've had people giving me milestones to work towards - "don't worry", parents say, "it's so much easier when they start smiling", or when they can talk, or when they can wipe their own arse. They list the milestones and you tick them off and you count down to the next. Now don't get me wrong, I love my children to bits - and yes, I do cherish the special moments and the sloppy kisses and the cute things they do. But I also count down to those milestones like its a ticket to the bloody Bahamas. Sure it's lovely when your child hadn't learnt to talk yet, but that ain't so cute when they can't tell you what they want and they're now clawing your legs and screaming. Give me a child that can talk any day. So we tick it off and we give ourselves a pat on the back (seriously, do you not do that?!) and we count down to the magical day of school that everyone tells us we will feel both emotional and relieved over - the promise of the school days and now it is the time that the parent 'gets a break'. 

Yes, if you live in 1945.

Here are the problems you face when your kid starts school

1. The school runs
If you're not lucky enough to have a car and get stuck in traffic (oh joy!) then, like me, you'll have to walk. This, in theory, is lovely - a nice leisurely stroll to start the day with - If you were walking completely ON YOUR OWN. Instead you have a child that lags behind whining all the way up the hill that he's tired (until he sees his best mate and then they peg it up the hill doing batman impressions) - do you think I'm a complete sucker?!  Clearly. Because now I'm carrying his book bag, his drinks bag and, oh, did I mention, a ten month old in a sling? At what point did I think it was reasonable for him to give me his book bag to carry?! Sucker.

2. The hours
The people that tell you life gets easier after school probably put their kids into boarding school. In Austrailia. Seriously, someone tell me how I'm supposed to do things now that I can't be anywhere until 10am? Oh, and did I mention I need to leave at HALF PAST TWO to pick my kid up? That's hardly a working day is it? It's more of a long lunch break, in which to cram in a bit of work whilst you're shovelling in some leftover ham sandwiches. And if you put your child into 'before and after school' clubs, you've still got to fork out for it and make sure you're back from work in time to pick them up. 

3. The weather.
Some weird celestial weather god plans it to rain at 2:25pm - I SWEAR. Take today, for example, it has been sunny all morning, and now it's approaching 2:10 there are big black clouds looming, making you look like a proper 'school mum' in a frigging North face cagool. Who wears those things? People on expeditions and parents on school runs, that's who – practical parents who now have to dress for the weather. Oh, sure, you get the odd one who tries to fight it, turning up in the playground in Dune stilettos (mostly the mums), while all the other parents watch on smugly in their Hunter wellies (if you're posh), or ten year old trainers (if you're me).

30 mins before the school pick up

4. Home time
When I expressed exhaustion after looking after my pre-school son, everyone reassured me: 'wait till he goes to school that'll tire him out!' Yes, if he was a snail, but he is not a snail, he is a little boy who is full of beans and the only thing that tires him out is, well, waking TO school. Home time comes and he's wired. "What are we going to do now mum? I'm bored?" And he climbs on the sofas as bounces off the ceiling. Well who is tired at 3:30pm?! (Okay, me). After spending the last four years of him finishing nursery at 6pm, school is like a walk in the park – more like a sit in the park, actually. To top it off, you can't go anywhere because tea time is at 4:30, but an hour is waaaay too long to cope with a bouncy four year old in the house, so you have two options: go out the house and have tea at some god-awful fast food restaurant (there's only so many nights you can get away with it), give him a snack at 3:30 which means he won't eat his tea, or, my preferred option, tea at 3:30pm and try to make it stretch till 5:30pm, just make it last as long as possible so you can try and get more work done (if you're a nutter like me and work from home).

5. Letters
Coming out of my god-damn ears. I swear to god they make up stuff so that you get a letter every single day of the working week. Could they not just put the info about the cake stall in with the info about the school trip? Here's an idea; an online calendar so that everything is all in one place and can be easily updated. Nope, they prefer to kill off several forest-loads of trees so that they can cover them in endless notes in comic sans. My son's school has started sending emails now too - sometimes you think they're just repeats of the letters, but no, they like to interchange their communication methods just to make sure you're paying attention in true school-teacher style. Now I have to spend an hour a week sorting out my inbox as well as my paper bin, just to make sure I haven't missed anything. 

6. It's the end of an era.
A bloody hard one. Had I my son been of a less demanding nature I may well have got emotional about him starting school, but the only tear I shed was when I had to iron on labels to fifteen items of grey and burgundy uniform. Admittedly I'm very lucky – he loves school – he was more than ready to go. I didn't feel emotional, just proud of him; how he handled his emotions on his first day; how he sat on the mat next to 30 new children; how he complied with the rules and got excited about school dinners. Maybe you got emotional about your child starting school, as I thought I might, because it's such a massive thing: a marker of change for your family; the start of the new era; and the end of all that nappy changing, spoon feeding sleeplessness. My baby is no longer a baby anymore. 

And thank god, because it was bloody hard work. Parents who drop their kids off at school should be presented with a trophy - and a certificate saying well done you absolute bloody legend, you made it through nearly five frigging years of complete and utter chaos. 

And here's to more of it: the school trips and the parties and the fetes and the homework and the school clubs and friends over for tea. Here's to the parents in the playground in their pac-a-macs or stilettos – Either, or – well done for making it this far (you bloody legend, you).

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Monday 14 September 2015

YOU'RE tired?? 6 steps to responding to exhausted mothers

I planned to write a post about my son starting school last week. In fact, I had a number of ideas of topics to write about. 

But I was just too exhausted. 

I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I hit an all time low in parent-ville. 

I have suddenly had to tackle a whole new life phase; juggling being a 'stay-at-home' mother (until I have more childcare sorted) and a full-time freelancer (which kind of means working during nap times and till around 12am each morning). My ten month old still hasn't mastered the whole sleep thing either and is up at least twice a night and at 6:30am and then we've been dealing with various illnesses, doctors and hospital appointments, not to mention the added dimension of school runs and half days and reading ten flippin' letters that appear in a book bag everyday.... I know, I know, moan moan. It is a lifestyle I have chosen, albeit somewhat blindly; I take full responsibility. I am the master of my own destiny and all that shit - unless you have children, in which case mastering anything is bloody impossible.

Being of a somewhat honest nature I am quite open about being absolutely bloody knackered (can't you tell?!). This does not mean that I regret my children or my career choice, I do not have an ulterior motive when I say I'm exhausted; it simply means that I am tired. No kidding! On good days I am equally as honest about finding life fun, or being thankful for my kids when they are funny, kind or clever. But this time, I am just plain knackered. No, I am not the first mother on the planet to have a child that doesn't sleep through the night, nor am I the first to start a freelance career alongside looking after children, but I am not going to tell you that I'm okay when I'm not. 

Admittedly I need to make some changes so that I don't have a complete-and-utter-frigging-melt-down, but no doubt in a month or so I will be telling you how cute my kids are, or how chuffed I am to win a new client. Thousands of other mothers put on a front that everything is hunky dorey, and I'm not one of them. 

Now maybe I'm stupid to expect people to accept my honesty; to tell me the sleepless nights won't last forever, or to simply give me a god-damn hug. Instead, I am told how someone else's life is harder than mine: "you're knackered? Well I havent had any sleep for the past twelve fucking years, AND I have to walk the dog - do you have a dog?!

No, I don't have a dog. I cannot be tired.

The problem is that this doesn't make either party feel any better about their current life situation - it merely creates a culture of one-up man ship (down-man-ship), leaving every mother thinking that she doesn't have a right to feel tired every now and again, or has to justify it with ridiculous tales of how the one o'clock feed lasted two whole hours, and then the neighbour's car alarm went off and then..... Who gives a shit? You just wanted a hug, right? Or at least for someone to validate you - to tell you that, yes, you are tired, of course you are, this is a frigging impossible stage of life. Besides which, all we're doing is creating a culture where mothers feel they can't be truly honest for fear of being shut down by martyr-mothers. This is not a culture I want to live in. So, if you'd rather not let your parenting struggles make you all bitter and twisted, here are five ways to be kinder to other mothers when they say they are struggling.

Step 1: 
If you are a parent yourself, know that the parent who has just mentioned a state of tiredness is not hinting that you are NOT tired in any way shape or form (unless they are a little bit psychotic). They are not telling you that their life is worse than yours, you DO NOT have to justify yourself. 

Step 2: 
Conjure up in your mind all the times you have felt bloody exhausted (like, close to death itself) and now speak to this mother with as much compassion as you would perhaps like in those situations. Do not mention your dog.

Step 3: 
Acknowledge her. Do not say "me too" - if you have a good friendship then there will be plenty of opportunity for you to raise your own woes of tiredness/explosive poos/the time you locked yourself in the bathroom this week because you were scared of your two year old. If you do not have a good friendship then don't be surprised if she puts her tired fist into your unsympathetic face (okay, slightly harsh, but I wouldn't put anything past a mother suffering from extreme exhaustion). Sure, she may only have one kid and you have three but you have no idea what else is going on in her life. Acknowledge that life might just be a little tough for her just now.

Step 4: 
Encourage her - tell her that it won't be the same forever, give her some hope; something to look forward to. Tell her she's doing a good job, or, if you don't think so, say nothing and just hug her instead. Don't tell her to 'cheer up' or 'count her blessings' or you may have to take another hit.

Step 5: 
Offer help. How can you make life easier for her? If you're scared she'll ask you to look after her unruly children for her, offer specific things you can help with, like taking her out for a drink or bringing round a takeaway, or just offering her a cup of tea. 

Step 6: 
Check up on her. Ask her in a week if things have got any better. It doesn't take much but you may have lifted her spirits in amongst the chaos of life, knowing that you're there for her. Having little sleep means more susceptibility to illnesses and depression, so make sure she's okay.

I try to do these things when a parent-friend expresses that she or he is finding things a little tough. It's all too easy to compare ourselves – to play the martyr or think we have to prove that we've got it worse than anybody else. Parenting is pretty tough. Kindness goes a long way. So if you're feeling pretty tired today, you have a right to feel exhausted; you are doing the best you can. Hang in there, it won't be forever. But right now you have a choice; to let it make you bitter the next time someone else tells you they're tired, or to respond with kindness instead.

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