Failing Fast

7 o'clock

7 o’clock

I sit on the sofa and assess the day. It is clear that today would be chalked up as ‘Fail!’ at the Perfect Mum’s training academy. I have failed to get my children dressed before 10am. I have failed to get to music class on time. I have failed to take them out this afternoon. I have failed to get them eating their dinner before 6 o’clock. I have failed to provide them with something that they will actually eat. I have failed to give them a bath. I have failed to keep their dummies from them outside bedtime. I have failed to get them ready for bed before Daddy gets home. I have failed to get them in bed before 7 o’clock (by some margin). What does this tell me? Does it tell me that I’m a terrible Mother? Does it tell me that I better pull my socks up or my children are going to turn out to be vagrants? Should I skip the medicinal G&T and go straight for the self-flagellation? No. What it tells me is that it is clear that this stay-at-home-mum’s skill set does not closely match her (perceived) job description. So is it time to switch careers? Or time to switch the job description? I choose the latter. And re-word it thus, “Keep children alive until Daddy comes home. Then drink gin”. There. I can definitely get on board with that. I might even be something of an expert. 

Tether’s end

You think you have reached the end of your tether, then some poo somehow appears on the hall floor, one of your terrible two drives through it on their plastic toy car and starts to distribute it at 20cm intervals throughout the house. It is only then that your tether is truly reached. The only way to cope is to leave the house, eat dim sum, drink wine and eat cake.

My tea tastes shit

My tea tastes shit and I’m a bit grumpy about it. It’s my own fault – I’ve been reusing tea bags to combat the financial drain of my eBay and Etsy addictions and the result is a decidedly below-par brew. Add my inclination to forget about the blessed thing for just that little bit too long and I’m left with the ultimate in grey and tepidly crap beverages. At this stage the only option is to give it a blast in the microwave (I could make a fresh one but that would just result in the wasting of another bag which we can little afford) but then all I have is a warmer but even shittier drink. It almost pains me to drink it. But I do.

The fact that I’m grumpy isn’t all tea related. It has been one of those pissier weather days that makes you wonder why the hell you haven’t moved to Spain. And I had to drag my sorry ass out of bed super early to get the kids (in the heaviest buggy in the world, with the most annoying rain covers in the world) to the doctors for the ungodly hour of … 9:30! (OK I am well aware that that is late in most people’s books but you’d be a fool to pick me up on that right now.) Then add the fact that the small ones refused to eat the yummy egg mayonnaise sandwich that I had lovingly hand-bought from Marks & Spencer’s. Then they both embarrassingly kept trying to run out of the lovely music class we went to leaving me chasing them all over the neighbouring café area and then cried their heads off when I dared to bring them back again. Then they screamed blue murder when I tried to put them down for their lunchtime nap until I gave them a little snack (because duh, they were hungry having not eaten the blasted egg sandwich) and read them several books. And then … then I notice that the outside of the bloody annoying bastard rain covers have still got a load of stuck on tomato seeds from some long forgotten rainy lunchtime snack that the stupid bastard pissy rain hasn’t even rained off. I mean what is the point of walking all over Camden most of the morning in the rain if it doesn’t even do you the courtesy of giving the rain covers a bit of a spruce? So, my question is, would anyone like to come round and clean my rain covers? Please? I’ll try to make a u-turn and be sparkling company. And I might even make you a tea.

I have a great new game. It’s called ‘burning the shit out of my right arm’.

Mega Burn

Mega Burn

It has become clear that my sub-conscious doesn’t see the point in teaching my children health and safety on a theoretical basis. Instead it chooses to make use of practical demonstrations. To this end, I have (to date) burned my right arm no less than three times to demonstrate the lesson that the oven is hot. I would say that the message had been fairly well engrained in the off spring after the first mega-burn, but it seemed that my sub-conscious thought it was worth a further two demonstrations to make sure that the message really sank in. The result? Well the plus side is that the tinies are now petrified of the oven and won’t go near it, the downside is that I’m possibly permanently scarred. But surely that’s a small price to pay for the health and safely of the smalls. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t decide to take the same approach to teach them that you can drown in the toilet.

Guilty as charged

Following on from the theme of perfection, or at least the action of striving for it, let’s talk about guilt. This is more for the parent types out there, but I’m sure it can be applied to others too, it’s just that I can no longer remember not being a mother. It seems like a wild, crazy, hedonistic dream I once had.

Ok, so do you find that you constantly feel guilty and therefore feel the need to justify yourself to others – even to your other half or your best friends – for those moments when you stray from the perfect parenting path? Do you even find yourself justifying yourself TO yourself? (I know. That’s a lot of yourselfs.) For example, today I’m feeling guilty for a nice healthy spectrum of things: the two and a half pieces of toast topped with lashings of nutella that I am gobbling just before bedtime, the fact that I didn’t take the kiddies out this afternoon, the fact that I resorted to letting them watch the television for an hour or more so that I could get on with sorting out a logo for this site (it didn’t come out quite as I’d hoped, so I’ve hurled it back into the design phase in disgust), and the fact that I let them have dummies outside of sleepy time (in fact, the fact that I let them have dummies at all, being that I promised myself that I’d ditch them as soon as they turned two).

So there’s some good solid guilt in that little selection, but there must be a bit more I can squeeze out of myself if I really tried. Well let’s have a think…[2 seconds pass]…Ok that’ll do it. Here is a list of my top ten guilty mummying actions:

1. Not breast feeding for ‘long enough’
2. Letting them watch the television for longer than 10 minutes a day
3. Allowing them to have a dummy
4. Getting a nanny for a couple of days a week to let me have some ‘me’ time even though I don’t have a (proper, paid) job
5. Sometimes giving them quick and easy meals that are just that little bit too salty and/or sugary
6. Buying a non essential cute toy
7. Buying a non essential cute outfit
8. Ditching bath time
9. Despite buying various non essential cute toys, feeling guilty that they don’t have the latest and greatest ‘best’ toy or book that is essential for their development (and which, as it happens, that baby over there has who is talking/walking/tap dancing/snow boarding better than my children)
10. Not being proactive enough in encouraging them to speak and wondering if that is why they are still generally only saying mama, dada, mamadada and now gaga (which instead of augmenting their vocabulary has generally replaced dada)

and one for good luck

11. Feeling like I must have done absolutely everything wrong because for some reason my children are the only ones who are clinging to me in terror and floods of tears in a room filled with otherwise quiet, happy children.

But why should we feel so guilty? Granted, if I was only ever eating nutella on toast, or feeding the kids back to back KFC, putting them in front of the box for nine hours a day with a dummy in their mouths and never ever venturing outside the house (other than to go to KFC of course) then I might have a case for poor parenting, but should I really feel like I have to justify myself for those little moments when I feel like I ‘let myself down?’

Well do you want to know what I think? Fuck it. That’s what I think. It’s as simple as that. Fuck the lot of it. I’m fine, the kids will be fine, they will talk, tap dance and snow board just as well as the next guy and my nutella tastes delicious.. I might just have to put in a few more skips tomorrow morning.

Not seeing your guilt-maker on the list? Do let me know – I do so love to share.

I have a confession: I’m not perfect

Until recently I had been of the opinion that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well. Indeed this phrase rings out in my mind on an almost daily basis. I usually hear it in my Grandma’s voice .. I have a memory of her saying it to me when we were both younger and it was something that her mother had said to her too, a little family ideology if you will. And I find it useful. It helps me to do all the washing up at the same time rather than adopting a (never-ending) one-batch-at-a-time approach. It allows me to wash it all properly with hot, soapy water rather than allowing the last quarter to be washed in the previous three-quarter’s tepid grease. It makes sure that I soak and scrub the laundry rather than just bunging it all in the machine and crossing my fingers that my washing liquid will do the job on the paint, poo and pasta sauce that has come to dominate my (laundry) life. It means that the bees I paint on the kiddlies’ bedroom wall1 are actually quite passable in comparison to my first mediocre attempts that turned out just that little bit shit. Yes, all very helpful. Makes me more productive and at the end of the day I’m glad that I got those things done: there’s little to no smell of rotting food or dirty undercrackers in the house, the plates aren’t greasy and the bees look lovely.

Bee painting addiction

A close to perfect bee

What I hadn’t banked on it doing, however, and what I hadn’t really even noticed until recently, was that it has stopped me from completing a variety of things that have been in the offing for a good decade or more. To start with there are those piles of photographs from a travelling adventure in 1999 that are still waiting to be put in an album because the album is ‘worth doing well’. Now I’m a bit of a photograph album perfectionist, so for me ‘worth doing well’ means that it has to have hand-drawn maps of the locations that the photos were from, excerpts from the diary that I wrote along the way and maybe the odd little sketch of something relating to the pictures at various stages (all beautifully scribed in metallic pen, of course). In summary, it has to be nothing short of a work of art. And it will be in 2078 when I finally get round to doing it on my death bed (I’m hoping for a 102 year innings).

Now photograph albums are one thing, but what if we’re talking about me applying for the job of my dreams? In this situation it is easy for most of us to put off applying for that challenging career catapaulting job by convincing ourselves that we don’t have quite the right qualifications. And sometimes this is true. I’m not going to run for President of the USA just yet, for example, as I haven’t read a newspaper in months, have very little aptitude for diplomacy and, most importantly, still haven’t got round to deleting all those offendingly compromising ‘Uni Days’ photos that some kind soul put on Facebook. (I’m also not American.) But sometimes we don’t apply or don’t apply yet for a perfectly achievable (if challenging) job just because we can find excuses not to; because it’s a little bit scary, or the job is too perfect that unless I’m perfect myself there’s no way I’m going to get it. So in the same way that I have put off doing my perfect photo album I start finding reasons that this perfect job isn’t for me: I only have the 1 year’s experience in a particular skill rather than the 3 they ask for in the job description. I start doubting my abilities.. “I’m just not good enough”, “I’d feel like a fraud”, etc. I’m just not the perfect candidate. Well here’s a thought. What if no-one else is either? The consequence of this situation is not only that I don’t get my dream job but also that the person that does get it is possibly not as well qualified as I am. And all because I was waiting to be perfect. Well maybe it’s time to stop trying to be perfect and settle for good enough instead.

Even Mary Poppins had a day off

Even Mary Poppins had a day off

Ah-ha so now that we’re banding around phrases like ‘good enough’, suddenly the concept of not trying to be perfect becomes a bit more familiar to me. As a mother of a wriggling, jiggling, giggling, squawking, food throwing, howling handful of twins, one of the earliest lessons I learned was that I needed to adopt a ‘good enough’ approach to being their Mum. Fortunately some clever soul thought to tell me this right at the beginning of the twin Mum fun-ride as it is physically and mentally impossible to strive for ‘perfect parenting’ with twin babies. So although I still did try to do some baby signing, baby led weaning, baby massage (when do I bloody get one?), baby swim-swim, baby silver service and cocktail waiting, etc. I did, and do, just about manage to remind myself periodically that just because I’ve had to push them around in an enormous Titanic monstrosity of a pram rather than have them all aesthetically slung around my body; just because I gave them puréed food rather than starting them off on organic beef wellington with a rosemary jus it’s just, just possible that they will still develop into perfectly fine, happy, functioning adults.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not dissing the benefits of all those things I’ve listed and I do still find myself drifting towards the unnecessary where things like handmade play dough is concerned., but I’m also perfectly aware that whatever I do I’m still going to completely screw my children up. That is inevitable. Can you show me an adult human being with absolutely no insecurities or other character flaws? Even Mary Poppins is only practically perfect in every way and she can fly, slide up bannisters and make a flight of stairs out of a puff of smoke (and manage not to punch Dick Van Dyke in the oh so un-cockney mouth for two hours). So my point is, that we shouldn’t and mustn’t allow ourselves to worry constantly about how imperfect we are, whether as parents or otherwise. It is okay not to be perfect. In fact it is advisable not to be. So let’s all say it out loud. I am not perfect. But I am perfectly good enough.

1 I have a small addiction to painting bees on my childrens’ bedroom wall. I am seeing someone about it.

Yes I made it! (I survived my childrens’ birthday party)

Ok so they say that the most stressful life events are moving house, getting married and having a baby1. Getting married was indeed pretty stressful2, and yes, having a baby (or babies in my case: Just two. At the same time. Like, twins in fact) wasn’t exactly trouble free either3. But I think we really need to give due credit to the stress involved in arranging a children’s birthday party. And particularly doing so while in the process of trying to move house.

It all starts off so simply: About a month before their birthday I say to my hoosboond,4 “I know it’s potentially more stressful but I think it might be better if we hire a little room for the party this year so that we’re not so crowded in our flat. And then I can invite a few of their little friendies along and it’ll be cute and festive and we can sing songs, eat a party tea, bla-di-bla (ha-di-ha), etc”… I find myself getting all smiley and excited at the thought of the little kiddlies all sitting around singing and hopping to ‘sleeping bunnies’, having their party tea, blowing out the candles on the cake, cheering and then sending their little friendies off home with a little party bag containing a piece of cake and maybe one toy because we’re not bloody made of money you know!

Monkey/ape shaped ginger biscuits

Surprisingly, the black tar-like icing tastes delicious.

Then a week or two pass and I find myself deciding that the party is going to have a monkey/ape theme (I have to put ‘/ape’ as I know that there will be at least one smart arse tutting at a rogue gorilla or King Louie5 reference) and start busily searching for both toddler and adult monkey outfits on eBay along with all manner of matching accessories. One thing leads to another and a few days before the party I find myself purchasing monkey shaped cookie cutters to make monkey shaped biscuits for the party bags (I don’t in general agree with the word cookie, but ‘biscuit cutters’ sounds wrong) and then searching around Sainsbury’s for monkey nuts so that I can leave a trail of them from the reception of the building down the very long (3-4 metre) corridor to the room that we have hired. I imagine the kiddlies and their parents spotting the nuts and laughing, looking for the next one while gaily skipping towards the room.

Then before you know it I’ve gone around every local supermarket and found that they don’t bloody stock monkey nuts at this time of year: it being the end of November they’re only stocking ‘festive’ nuts and apparently monkey nuts aren’t considered festive enough. (They may have a point.) So instead of giving up on the monkey nut trail idea like a sane person (or as sane as a person can be who thinks a monkey nut trail is necessary in the first place), I find myself saying ‘That’s ok, I shall simply replace real monkey nuts with cut out pictures of them instead, and while I’m at it I’ll print out a load of monkey colouring-in pictures for them to have on a table in a ‘craft section’ of the room. I find approximately 50 different monkey/ape themed colouring-in pictures (which should just be enough for the 8 attendees), and even use Photoshop on one of them for a couple of hours to remove the copyright watermark. I then find myself thinking, “ooh then maybe I can make little mini colouring-in books to put in their party bags along with their – what now seems like a rather measly – slice of cake and a small bottle of party bubbles”. Fortunately, in an uncharacteristic moment of clarity, I decide that that is going too far.

Coping with fame

Rock star for a day? Joni decides that fame is not for her

Despite getting all sensible on the mini colouring-in books front, on the eve of the party I nevertheless find myself frantically cutting out (unfestive) monkey nuts one minute while making and decorating monkey shaped ginger biscuits the next. Oh and of course I have the brilliant idea that the kiddlies can help me make the biscuits. Which naturally translates immediately into a fabulous game of running joyfully around the flat covering everything in flour, (Hoosboond absolutely loves this and walks around menacingly muttering about house viewings while sweeping and vacuuming as flour flies all over the kitchen and (horror!) lounge carpet as if it is like beetroot juice or something else really stainy…) followed by fights over the dustpan and brush when I try to make tidying-up a game and inevitably ends up with them both collapsing in a tantrum of howls.

By the time the actual party starts I have developed a somewhat noticeable twitch in my cheek and soon find myself shouting at my hoosboond that ‘it would really help if you could get the booze out of the car now???!’. While a nagging thought at the back of my mind tells me that I might have lost touch with the whole point of the party, I still can’t stop myself from blu-tacking all those blessed (but not festive) monkey nuts along the corridor, even though most of the guests have now arrived and are enjoying themselves in the room WITHOUT HAVING FOLLOWED THE MONKEY NUT TRAIL TO GET THERE!!

Pointless monkey nut trail

The ‘I’m losing touch with the point of today’ monkey nut trail that nobody followed

I decide that a sip of fake bubbles will help. But I am unable to keep track of my drink while continuing to attach pictures of monkeys and their nuts everywhere, so my hope for it calming me down doesn’t quite come to fruition. And now little girlie one is crying non-stop. Hoosboond tells me that the best use of my time is to comfort little girlie one rather than decorate an empty corridor with nuts. I don’t even laugh at the ludicrousness of this sentence. Instead I smoothly (ish. I mean, considering that I was pointlessly decorating an empty corridor with nuts) flip into calm, quiet mother mode and together me and little girlie one wander around happily looking at all my wonderful pictures of monkeys and nuts (ah-ha! there was a point to them after all).

Drowned monkey biscuit

Drowned monkey biscuit

She has just calmed down and is quietly murmuring a tentative ‘oo-oo-oo’ when someone rushes out of the party room bearing the news that ‘there has been a disaster with your biscuits!’. I smoothly flip out of calm, quiet mother mode and rush into the kitchen, sending little girlie one into floods again. The biscuits have been left too close to the sink and the box is now full of water with a dozen now double-sized, handmade, hand-decorated, house-destroying monkey biscuits in it, all doing the back stroke.

Survival bubbles

There aren’t many times I pop open the bubbles, but surviving my children’s birthday party is definitely one of them

I realise that it is pointless. Chaos is in charge, not me. So I decide to sit down, snuggle my little girlie and drink my drink. The party happens. I barely remember it. Little girlie one cries fairly constantly throughout and at the end we fill about 18 bags and boxes full of all the uneaten nibbles I had carefully prepared for the adults and head home. Crying girlie is cuddled to sleep. Frantic boy (who did actually enjoy the party and spent the last hour of it filling himself with sugary things he was only supposed to have a small amount of) bounces off the walls and eventually catches one at just the right angle to project him neatly into his bed. It’s time to relax. I swap my monkey paper cup for a real glass one and say to myself “Thank God that’s over. Next year it’s 2 pizzas and a DVD”.

1 A google search tells me that Kalms once asked 2000 people which big life events – moving, having a baby, getting married, changing jobs, etc. – caused the most stress. They obviously deemed it unnecessary to include other somewhat key stressors like chronic illness, death, etc, but maybe they didn’t want to get people down.

2 Largely in our case because I insisted on making it an all singing, all dancing festival, event of the year kind of do, decided to hand make various key elements of it and then ran out of time to actually make them.

3 Three days of pointless agony before someone sliced me up, dragged them out, chucked them in intensive care while muttering words like ‘having trouble breathing’ and then insisted we all stay in hospital for weeks while they tested the bejesus out of the little blighters.

4 Hoosboond = husband. I’m just not that big a fan of the word husband. It sounds too grown up and dull. I’m not entirely sold on hoosboond either, to be honest, but I’ve yet to come up with something better.

5 The cool Orangutan from The Jungle Book who “wants to be like you-oo-oo”