In the early days after having a baby, what were previously simple tasks like getting showered, dressed and leaving the house, suddenly become seemingly impossible to accomplish, momentous endeavours. However, what most seasoned mothers will tell you during these difficult times, is that things “do get better’ and “you get used to it.” In fact, I distinctly remember being told by one especially optimistic acquaintance that “before you know it, you’ll be smashing it!”
I think of these words, when, one Saturday morning, I am trying to get myself and the boys ready to leave the house for when Nanny arrives at about midday to take us all to lunch (this was pre second lockdown). The morning consists of feeding the kids (and clearing up the subsequent mess and disarray, which naturally follows toddler mealtimes 100% of the time), trying to keep them entertained for long enough to enable me to have a two second shower alone, and breaking up multiple “play” fights between them (“play fights” are deceptively named as such, and, although they are usually started with good intentions, they would usually inevitably lead to one or both of the kids being mortally wounded if they weren’t intercepted frequently and at an early stage). As a result of all of these distractions, when Nanny rings the doorbell at precisely midday, I answer the door looking flustered, wearing nothing but a damp bath towel, with my hair sopping wet. The kitchen and lounge look as though they have been ransacked by a gang of vicious thieves in pursuit of a highly coveted treasure whilst under considerable time pressure.
“It’s not going well!” I exclaim to Nanny just before I let out a hefty sigh, which causes the hair partially covering my eyes to lift momentarily. She takes one look at me before scanning the eyesore that is now the downstairs living space. “I’ll take the kids” she says, understanding that my attempts to get us all ready on time have been utterly disastrous. I usher the kids out of the door and Nanny takes them for lunch whilst I begin my mission of tidying the house and getting dressed. Even after 3 years of motherhood and “surviving” with two under two, I still have not “got used to it”, become any more adept at getting out of the house on time, and I’m certainly not “smashing it.” Whoever told me all of that is either far too good at this whole parenting thing for their own good and deserves to be shot in the little finger with a paintball gun at point blank range (this happened to me on New Year’s Eve 1999 and I can honestly say it was intensely painful and distressing. However, I feel it’s a reasonable thing to wish on someone who has irritated you, since it’s highly unpleasant, but also short-lived and relatively benign) or, most likely, they are a frightful liar and are just as shit at this as the rest of us are.
In early October, my husband is studying conscientiously for his upcoming general practice membership exams (to anyone unfamiliar with the system of medical exams, membership exams are extortionately expensive exams, which are necessary to pass before you can finish your medical training and become fully qualified. Essentially this means the whole process is intensely stressful, because not only does your career progression depend upon you passing said exams, they also have a huge impact on your bank balance, and so having to sit them multiple times has the potential to render you bankrupt. The exam process is also even more painful because there is an extensive syllabus to learn whilst you are working a full time, demanding job and it’s hit and miss as to whether you’ll be lucky enough to work somewhere that allows you to take any study leave other than on the actual exam day. Basically, by the time the exam comes, most people resemble the living dead on account of having burned the candle at both ends balancing work and study for months on end. The stress, lack of sleep, and malnourishment (no time to cook decent meals) leaves you looking ghastly). James’s exam is due to take place on the 28th of October and so, by this time, his revision is in full swing. Studying for post graduate medical exams is hard enough when you don’t have children, but with kids, revision can be extremely difficult. In fact, it’s near-on impossible without one serious amount of help. In order to leave James in peace and able to focus on his studying, Nanny and I decide to take the boys on a day trip to the seaside one Saturday.
We have agreed that we will head to Whitby for the day. This is a seaside town about an hour and a half’s drive from Leeds. Granddad will accompany us too. In order to ensure we are on the road at an acceptable hour, the kids stay over at Nanny’s house on the Friday night. This is so we can avoid her showing up the following morning raring to go, only to find me standing in a towel in the middle of an environment resembling a war-zone. This arrangement means I only have myself to get up and dressed, as Nanny will sort the boys out (when you repeatedly demonstrate how shit you are at getting yourself and the kids ready for a certain time, you’ll be amazed at how often others offer to “take some of the pressure off you” by having the kids to stay or watching them for a few hours!)
Everything goes smoothly on the day, and I am ready when Nanny and Granddad arrive at 9 am with the boys in tow. I sandwich myself in the back between the boys’ car seats, and we set off for Whitby. At this point, I wish I wasn’t quite so partial to chocolate truffles given how much I’m having to breathe in in order to fit in the tiny space between the carseats, but other than that, I can’t complain. We make a stop on the way to grab some breakfast at a diner and to break up the journey a bit, and we arrive in Whitby at about 11-11.30.
The day by the seaside consists of a nice lunch, eating ice creams on the pier, visiting Captain Cook’s museum (which involves an extremely barbaric demonstration of the ship’s surgeon amputating someone’s leg), and exploring the beaches. Joking aside, I am very impressed with how well the boys behave on this trip. Henry walks everywhere with me without complaining once and is generally in good spirits. Edward spends a lot of the day in a pushchair, but is equally as delightful. The highlight of the day has to be the donkey rides on the beach, however.
The donkey riding on Whitby Beach is something we have been looking forward to ever since we decided to come here on our grand day out. The weather is cold, wet and windy (typical English weather, in other words) but we have decided that this won’t stop us. The donkey riding begins just below the slipway leading to the beach. There are several donkeys on leads beside a sign saying “Donkey rides.” Two young men are in charge of the activities. We approach, ready to enquire about paying for the boys to each have a ride. Henry is looking rather skeptical at this stage, and doesn’t seem keen on the idea. Nanny and I ask one of the young men how much it is for a ride. It is somewhere in the region of £8. Since Henry is looking pretty phased by the prospect of mounting a donkey, a brilliant idea comes to me. “Is it only children who are able to ride the donkeys, or can adults do it too?” I ask the young men, thinking that perhaps Henry would be less afraid if I accompanied him. Almost as soon as the question has passed my lips, I realise how utterly absurd the concept of someone my size getting on one of those donkeys is, and this is confirmed by the sudden expression of horror that is now written all over both of the young men’s faces.
The young man on the left looks at me wide-eyed, as though I am Fat Bastard (from Austin Powers) and have just asked an osteoporotic old lady to give me a piggyback, whilst the one on the right looks as alarmed as the horse in Robin Hood: Men in Tights as it sees a morbidly obese Broomhilda about to launch herself from Maid Marian’s balcony onto it’s back (essentially the horse’s frantic neighing is translated using subtitles to “she’s got to be kidding” before it swiftly moves out of the way, causing Broomhilda to crash to the ground and land smack on her over-sized arse).
After that awkward introduction, the boys each enjoy a couple of donkey rides (they thought it was great fun once they got on) and I am able to get a few good photos of them on donkey-back for my collection. After this, they have a good run around on the beach and then we head back to the car, ready to embark on our journey home.
The boys have recently become partial to having their evening baths with copious amounts of bubble bath. They enjoy putting the bubbles on their faces so that it looks as though they have a Santa Claus style beard, and they also like “painting” the bathroom walls with bubbles. One of their latest bath time games involves them standing up, looking each other in the eye, and shouting “RAAAAAAAAAA!” before each performing a “bombshell” style jump into the water. Edward performs his jumps particularly enthusiastically, the result being that he produces a tidal wave similar in magnitude to one that would result from Mr. Blobby and Santa Claus teaming up in a men’s synchronized 10 metre platform diving competition and simultaneously bellyflopping into the pool. This colossal splashing leaves the bathroom walls and floor covered in bubbly bath water, and me, more often than not, left resembling a drowned rat by the time bath time is over. On numerous occasions my husband has arrived home during bath time to a bathroom resembling the dance floor at a rowdy foam party in Las Vegas. I am reminded by a close friend a few days later that this could be worse. As she rightly points out, should one of the kids shit in the bath and then proceed to bombshell into the water, being soaked by a tidal wave of turd would be exceptionally unfortunate.
Neither of the boys has ever particularly enjoyed having their teeth cleaned in the mornings or before bed. Henry has come to accept that it’s a mandatory part of their routine and now puts up minimal resistance, but Edward is still at the stage where he tries everything in his power to escape the enemy that is the toothbrush. Recently, rather than sticking to his usual tactic of screaming the place down and trying to kick me in protest, he has adopted a new and, in his opinion, ingenious trick to try and weasel his way out of having his gnashers polished. As soon as he sees the toothbrush, he quickly rolls onto his front, crosses his feet, and sticks his bum in the air. He then begins “snoring” loudly in a bid to convince me he has suddenly fallen asleep and is therefore exempt from having his teeth cleaned. This is pretty amusing, especially given the obviously fake snoring and the fact that he blows his cover by giggling when I say “oh no! Has Edward fallen asleep?” After a little bit of playing along and laughing (the length of time dependent largely on how patient I’m feeling at the time), Edward is swiftly put into a headlock, his jaw prised open, and his teeth brushed.
The boys have accumulated a collection of cuddly toys that they take to bed with them. To begin with, they each had knitted teddy bears, which were made by a lady at Nanny’s work and are really rather cute. Each of their collections has gradually expanded, and both of them now have several soft toys in their beds. Henry has recently become very into dinosaurs and he has a plush toy T-rex as well as several figurines of varying fearsomeness in his collection. These days I find it increasingly difficult to believe him when he claims he is “frightened” in the middle of the night whilst he is simultaneously embracing a variety of hideous dinosaurs, which are enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
One evening, once the kids are asleep, my husband and I are tidying up their toys, many of which have been strewn over the lounge floor. As I gather up multiple dinosaur figurines, including an especially hideous one with horribly long nails, I turn to my husband and say “what is it with boys and dinosaurs? I mean, these dinosaurs are just utterly horrendous aren’t they?” My husband looks at me in disbelief, before replying “what are you talking about? Dinosaurs are well cool!” I guess there are some things about the opposite sex that women will never understand.
I distinctly remember running into a friend over the summer and him greeting Henry and asking how he was. Henry swiftly replied with “I need the toilet. A big poo is coming out.” This is but one of many examples of how toddlers are quite often loud, unsubtle individuals with no social filter whatsoever. However, when it comes to stealing highly sought after items such as chocolates and sweets, the little blighters can be more inconspicuous and sneaky than the world’s most notorious jewel thief. This becomes apparent one evening shortly after my husband receives his exam results (you remember we travelled to Whitby to get out of his hair whilst he was studying for this- by the way he passed with flying colours- yay!)
James receives a rather lovely gift of expensive chocolates from one of his work mates in the post as a token of congratulations in light of his exam success. He has politely offered a couple to the rest of the household and is now sat at the breakfast bar on his laptop with the box of chocolates open a few centimetres away from him. As I turn around after getting something out of the fridge, I notice that Henry has climbed up one of the stools onto the breakfast bar, is crouching behind the screen of James’s laptop and has successfully pilfered almost all of the remaining chocolates without James noticing. Although we have to scold him for being sneaky, wicked and over-indulging in sugary snacks without parental permission, I can’t help but admire his skills on this particular occasion.
Edward celebrates his second birthday in mid November. Once again, we are in a national lockdown thanks to the ongoing pandemic. He receives several thoughtful cards and gifts from friends and family and we have a nice meal and some cake together just the four of us. I totally chicken out of attempting to make an extravagant birthday cake and instead invest in a trusty “Colin Caterpillar” cake from Marks and Spencer (for anyone who is unfamiliar with Colin, he is a chocolate cake designed to look like a caterpillar and has been a British favourite for birthdays for thirty-odd years). After all, due to the lockdown, no one other than the four of us is going to see or eat this cake, so I just thought “sod it, I’m not doing it.”
By far the most complementary card for Edward comes from our cleaner. She begins her written message inside with “To Genius Edward Burnett.” I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite like this written in a two year old’s birthday card before. She then goes on to explain that she referred to him as a “genius” because “that is what he is.” Whereas I’m very touched that she holds Edward’s IQ in such high regard at the tender age of two, I can’t help but laugh at how utterly ridiculous this name is given that Henry is very keen on reading books whereas Edward prefers to tear out the pages and attempt to eat them. He is also keen on trying to ingest chalk rather than drawing with it. I can’t say that I’ve noticed that any of these habits are typically demonstrated by those who turn out to be geniuses later in life, but perhaps the cleaner knows something I don’t.
Shortly after his birthday, Edward receives a belated birthday gift in the post. It is a wooden “learning clock” toy from our friends in Birmingham. Edward is very excited to receive another present and is inspecting the clock when the doorbell rings. It is an engineer who has been sent round to inspect our broadband router because the internet has been playing up recently. The router is in the lounge, where the boys are. As the engineer begins working on the router, Edward has realised what his new present is and begins fervently shouting “cock! cock!” at the top of his voice. The engineer turns round and meets my eyes, an expression of shock and disgust on his face. “He means clock!” I say, in an attempt to clear up any misunderstandings from the engineer. Trying desperately to change the subject, I remark that it is really cold in the house and so I’m going to go and put the heating on in a bid to warm up. The engineer looks me up and down, and, by way of acknowledging the fact that I am inappropriately dressed for November (I’m wearing a short dress), he says “how about you put some clothes on.” Realising how utterly foolish I now look, I retreat upstairs to the nursery with the children in order to “get out of his way whilst he works.”
On the last weekend in November, we decide to start putting the Christmas decorations up. Amongst these, is a Santa Claus figure, which is usually positioned on the top of the piano during the festive period. This particular Santa is wearing a gold suit with white, fluffy trimmings. Henry has been admiring the many decorations and when he spots this golden Santa, he points to it and exclaims “Grandma!” Although Grandma (who is actually Henry’s eighty five year old great grandmother) does possess long, white locks these days (hence why Henry made the connection between this figurine and her) I’m glad to say that she isn’t unfortunate enough to sport an impressive navel-length beard complete with a moustache like Santa Claus does. Despite this, the rest of us naturally howl with laughter at this comparison.
Later that week, my husband arrives home to a relatively tidy house. I am also dressed and have on a full face of makeup. My husband looks at the state of the house and me and tells me approvingly “you’ve done well today.” It’s funny how gullible men can be sometimes. Little does he know that I glued my toes together earlier with nail glue whilst I was attempting to apply some patterned transfers to my nails, I’ve accidentally bought eight sets of three (twenty four) linen baskets for the porch cupboards thinking I had ordered only eight (which would have been a more than adequate quantity), and I have laxative in my hair because Henry poured some of his laxative containing juice over my head shortly before James returned home (Henry is often constipated, hence the laxatives in his drink). Whereas I’m not entirely convinced that one “gets the hang” of the chaos of motherhood over time, it’s apparent that I’ve become more convincing at faking being totally in control from time to time, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.