I’m glad I’m a Mum. I’m glad to see their little faces, their smiles and glad to cuddle them when they are sad – even if the reason they’re crying is because I refused to give them the iPad. I’m glad, despite my hatred for my saggy post birth belly, and the loss of my expensive wardrobe which no longer fits me. Despite the agonizing post natal anxiety and hemorrhoids. I’m glad.
But I’m also more glad than society tells me I should be when Monday morning arrives and I cheerily wave them off to day care. I’m glad when my daughter chooses a very short book for her bedtime story instead of a Dostoyevsky length Enid Blyton (those final minutes of the day are when I have the least patience).
There are things I thought I would never do as a parent. Sacrifices I thought I would never make. Ridiculous solutions to problems I’d never heard of. And coping mechanisms I thought I would never have to use. I have done them all and more.
1. I never thought I would… drink while breast feeding.
They say you shouldn’t drink whilst you’re still breast feeding. But what they actually mean is that you shouldn’t breast feed when you have alcohol in your system. This is (fortunately) not the same thing.
As a shellshocked new mother, I’d lost my life. The party girl, the carefree traveller had departed and in her place was an anxiety ridden, dark circled hag with unwashed hair. My daughter screamed when I put her down, cried when I picked her up until 8 weeks later out of desperation to regain a piece of my former self, we and our newfound friends – parents of a baby girl who had been born a week before – invented tequila Tuesdays (which was exactly what it sounds like). But how was I to drink without harming the health of my baby?
They say that your breasts can produce as much milk as a baby needs. But babies come in different shapes and sizes. By my reckoning, my breasts should have been able to produce more. So using a milk pump I cranked up my milk production because you can store breast milk in the freezer for up to three months. Saving reserves for those times when your mother in law takes your baby out for a pram ride, or you can’t get home in time for the feed. Or indeed when your milk is poisoned by the fermented cactus juice. So I prepared. Pumping the remaining milk out when she’d finished a feed and carrying on for 10 minutes more just for good measure. It worked. But after tequila Tuesdays when my world felt more alive on slightly headachey Wednesdays, I still had alcohol in my system. So I would pump out the polluted milk and throw it away using instead the clean milk I had stocked carefully in the freezer. My friend named it the-pump-and-dump. I got a couple of shots and some more free time. It saved my sanity.
2. I never thought I would… spike my children’s food
Look darling! You can eat carrot coins today – they’re like real money but bright orange! Paddington’s favourite colour!
No Mummy. Carrot coins are bleh.
How about peas? They’re like little drops of green rain.
No Mummy. Peas are bleh.
It doesn’t matter how perfect a mother you thought you would be. No matter how much organic produce you buy or exciting names you invent for vegetables, there are some things your child will not eat… although this long list is cut in half if you drown them in ketchup. (What? Is ketchup not a real vegetable?)
My children are devious little souls and they do not like vegetables. I can dice them into funny shapes and play airplanes with them but they know full well that I cannot force them to eat them. Emotional blackmail is not an option. Bribery doesn’t work. Enter the meal for all seasons, spaghetti bolognese. Spaghetti bolognese is one of those saucy dishes which disguises stuff. Blended carrots and broccoli mixed in with meat and copious tomatoes ensures that they are getting at least some goodness into them, even whilst they think they are outwitting me.
They’re eating it. They’re bloody eating it. I whispered, clutching my boyfriend in delight.
I’ve had to keep up the pretense of course. I still offer yummy carrot coins and little drops of green rain. One, because I would like them to actually eat vegetables. And two, if I didn’t they might get suspicious of my sudden acquiescence. I’ll tell them when they’re older. Maybe.
3. I never thought I would… drug my children unnecessarily.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking cocaine… just paracetamol. But in the months preceding my children’s births I’d discussed extensively with my mother in law – a doctor – about childhood illnesses. How the fever serves a purpose in the body for killing bacteria and how unnecessary and potentially harmful it was for a fever to be brought down when it had a job to do. But she wasn’t there when my boy was screaming full on for 2 hours in the middle of the night, burning with a temperature. She didn’t have to sit through every agonizing second of writhing when she was deathly tired and at the end of her rope.
And it was so easy, so easy. The temptation of a sweet suppository within arm’s reach. The bliss of seeing him calm down and seeing him sink into an exhausted sleep (together with me). Babies get sick a lot. Then they start day care and they get sick even more. Paracetamol has become a life line for when it gets too much. When their screaming reaches fever pitch. I reach for it. I’m gonna stop soon… I promise.
4. I never thought I would… sleep with my children instead of my boyfriend.
With my daughter the ‘rules’ were sacrosanct. We were told we would do her more harm than good if she got used to sleeping by my side. We wanted above all to do the ‘right’ thing. So she was sleeping in a cot by the time she was 4 weeks old. But she didn’t like it and so we spent hours singing through the bars holding her fingers until the wails finally stopped. Or we’d rock her to sleep and oh-so-carefully lay her down in the cot. But as we creaked out of the door she would wake up again and the whole palaver would start all over again.
With my son, I couldn’t bear to go through it again. We bought angled pillows for the sides of the bed so he couldn’t roll off and I slept with him, breastfeeding and dozing in and out of sleep…for the entire night. Utter bliss. But the bed was only big enough for two (or rather one and a half).
Sorry, I said to my boyfriend. You have to go. I’ll see you in about 7 months time.
5. I never thought I would… replace my pop music playlists for Itsy Bitsy Spider
You can hear them, the Mums. In the aisles with their trolleys. They’re the ones humming the theme tune of ‘In the Night Garden’ as they load up on purees and flavourless corn puffs. In the first three years after I had children my YouTube mega hits list was slowly replaced with the wheels of the bus, the alphabet song and the odd meditation sequence that I badly needed after a long day building blocks. Suddenly I knew all three verses of Twinkle Twinkle, the lyrics to Teddy Bear’s picnic and had made up 10 more refrains to ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.
Luckily that time passed and we moved on to Will.I.Am. ‘The Traveling Song’ from Madagascar for my son whilst my boyfriend tried to train my daughter to sing his favourite Iron Maiden song ‘The Number of the Beast’. But the torture wasn’t over yet. Children – if you didn’t know it – appreciate repetition. Many wonderful songs have been utterly ruined by overplaying. They love ‘The Fox’ by Ylvis and I did too, until the 50th time. But then I found it.
A genius parent had recorded 10 hours straight of The Fox on YouTube. I added it to my playlist along with the 20 different versions of Wheels on the Bus and hey presto, I was able to cook some spiked spaghetti bolognese in peace. In the end playlists can always be remade (when they’re teenagers).
6. I never thought I would… get rid of the television
We never actually had a television in our house. We had the iMac – good for spotify, YouTube and Netflix. But that fateful day came when my two year old learned how to use the mouse. We got a cordless one and hid it. They found it. Their love of television was a godsend at first; 20 minute breaks of Backyardigans when I needed a coffee (I’m not admitting how often that was). But it became an obsession. Hysterics for 20 minutes after I had turned it off was not compensated by the preceding break. Worse still, hysterics even when I refused to turn it on became run of the mill.
Then one Monday after school, the television had disappeared. To television heaven (I said). It had been broken by constant over-use (I said). A warning that watching the telly too much could break it (I said). We still have the ipad in-case-of-emergency. But it can be tucked neatly out of sight between the books I never read anymore. Plus we get to sneak off to television heaven together when the kids have gone to bed.
7. I never thought I would… cry at the X-Factor
If there’s one thing that’s boring, it’s hearing the same phrase drop from Simon Cowell’s lips over and over.
‘I think we may have found ourselves something special. You’ve got four big fat yeses.’
But as the girlfriend of a pop songwriter, X-Factor is one of the shows that is obligatory viewing (and we sneak off to telly heaven to see it). I don’t care about the sob story. I don’t care about the emotional car crash. But when the contestant is there singing their heart out on stage, the camera pans in on their parents off-stage who are more often than not, crying with pride. Their children are doing something that they love, stamping their boots on the world and sometimes lifting the audience off their feet. It’s times like these that I look over at my boyfriend and see a silent tear also running down his face. He is moved, as I am, by the breathtaking enormity of seeing your child, someone whom you love with a depth you couldn’t possibly have imagined before their birth, making their own way, in their own indomitable fashion.
When you have a child, anything that involves children strikes at your heart. I feel sick when I read about child abuse, grief when I read about tragedy and yes, I am even moved when I watch mawkish reality shows like the X-factor.
It’s unlikely that my children will go in for the X-factor (not least because I think Simon Cowell’s seeing the demise of that particular cash cow). But whatever they do I’ll be there behind the scenes cheering them on and most probably, shedding a tear with pride. Because despite everything I thought I would never do, I’m a parent. And that is what we do.