Today when I arrive at nursery, my daughter is playing outside with the other children. I see her hiding behind a screen and popping out like a jack in the box to the repeated amazement and delighted applause of her teacher.
She does it 5 times before she spots me. And when she finally does see me, she leaps out and runs across the yard to throw herself into my arms. Every time she does, my heart starts to burst a little bit more with love, although I can’t see how it is possible to love her more. But she does love me and it makes me hope we are doing something right. She smells of apples and fish. Her hair is full of sand and her clothes are filthy. It looks like she’s had a good day. Her brother is in the pram and I’ve brought her tricycle so she can cycle home. I was afraid it was going to be too far for her, but as it turns out we go the long way round and she still wants to carry on.
Halfway home, she take off her boots and demands her sandals. At the moment she’s testing her ability to take her own decisions so I obediently get them for her (stored with foresight under the pram), and put them on her feet. I try and make sure that I don’t say ‘no’ for the sake of saying ‘no’. We’ve agreed, her father and I, that she should live freely and make her own choices as far as possible. But she cries when she can’t push the peddles with her little feet. I hate it when she cries, I think any parent does.
And yet I stand patiently doing nothing on the side of the road saying ‘Come on, push a little bit harder – you can do it.’ I know that it’s important for her that she achieve and grow. That she learns to try. I hope she never sees how much I worry for her, it’s one of my worst faults in parenting. But how happy she is when she finally manages it! I secretly gave her a push uphill though. Her father and I believe she thinks she can do it all by herself, but at 2 years old she’s a bit too little. Downhill is a different story. She isn’t scared even though I know she will fall off. And I bite my lip until the inevitable happens. She’s scraped her hand and thinks the world has ended. Sad tiny tears trace their way through the dirt on her face and I cuddle and kiss her, whilst her brother wails in his pram. Then she sees a cat and suddenly her hand is forgotten.
My son is crying as he has been for the last two days off and on. I pushed him round for two hours this morning whilst he screamed. It was exhausting for us both. He can’t sleep which means I can’t either. His first tooth is causing him quite a lot of discomfort – that and the fact he is tasting his first proper food means his digestive system is gearing up and he can’t quite work it out. It helps apparently to chew on my nipples and during the let down he always break off whilst milk spurts everywhere… but since it’s always to smile at me, I forgive him every time. There seems little point in my wearing clean clothes; spit up and fruit smoothies adorn my t-shirts and your vests, in matching mirrored prints. As his sister trundles along beside the pram, his red tired eyes are puffy through crying. I feel so sorry for him, but my voice stays cheery and oblivious for my daughter’s sake.
We get to the garden and she decides the best thing to do is to stomp in muddy puddles. Now that she’s wearing sandals, that means all her clothes get wet and dirty. I only see more laundry. Then she shouts ‘Daddy, Daddy, where are you Daddy?’ Her father works in the guest house with headphones on. He’s deaf in one ear and goodness only knows how he even hears her, but he always does. He opens the door, his arms and his heart as he picks her up and twirls her round. He never wants to let her go, but she’s an independent little thing. When we get inside, she offers me imaginary tea from her plastic tea set and then drops water all over the rug. Yet another dinner I cook for her isn’t according to her taste so as usual it finishes in cornflakes, yogurt and fruit. Somehow even though she doesn’t like the dinner, most of it has ended up on her face, in her hair or on the floor. I start with the floor, but I should have started with her hands because now there are apple and blackberry hand prints on the sofa.
It’s my son’s turn now to feed. His sister meanwhile jumps from the sofa to the floor narrowly missing crushing her skull on the corner of the table, and ignores my gentle protests. I don’t want to shout because my son cries when I do and he looks at me sucking, grunting and beating my breasts with his little hands. His sister brings me ‘Room on the Broom’ and I read it whilst looking at him. If I don’t, he will realize my attention is elsewhere and stop feeding. He considers this our time. Luckily I know the words to Room on the Broom off by heart and the words ‘whoosh..they were gone’ are always filled in by her. She’s started screaming again now because she notices my attention is with her brother; it makes him jump and start crying. It’s time to ask the Teletubbies to help us out. We put them on whilst I clutch my son to my breast trying to juggle the remote controls and my daughter bounces herself in his pink chair that used to be hers, thankfully distracted by another 10 minutes of Cbeebies. She’s singing along to the Teletubbies’ theme tune, although she calls them teletummies which admittedly makes more sense.
Their father has finished work, it’s only 6.30 and I’m so tired. He’s not too tired to play a game of peekaboo with his son though. He loves this and the sound of his laughter is truly the best sound in the world. It’s time to get them both changed for bed and in their pyjamas. At the moment Dad is in charge of putting our daughter to bed and I am in charge of my son. He is able to remain only a very little time without me and we’ve been hardly separated since he was born 6 months ago.
As I hear my boyfriend rapping out Each Peach Pear Plum (it’s the same request every night), my son snuffles hiccuping and sobbing his way to sleep against my chest. He’s not happy and at the moment he wakes almost every two hours to let me know. My daughter has reached the blissful stage of sleeping regularly through the night now in bed with two cats, three dummies and a bottle of milk.
Now they’re both asleep, at least for a while. It’s the end of a tiring day. I want to catch up on all the things I haven’t done. Put a wash on, clean the kitchen and tidy up. To browse the internet, to touch base with my beloved boyfriend – their father – to read the pile of books that has been growing untouched for the past two years. I need to close and review our company accounts, plan and buy a wardrobe from Ikea, sort through new clothes and parcel off old clothes to my friends about to give birth. Take a bath, watch a movie and sip a glass of wine. I want my boobs, my sleep and my life back. The evening is my precious time.
But instead I get out my iPhone and look at photos of my children. And think about how much I love them.