Friday, 20 May 2016

Wouldn't change a thing

The Easter holidays are well and truly over and the summer holidays are fast approaching once again. I love and loathe the school holidays. Love, because there are no fraught mornings, no urgent uniform requirements, no homework, no bloody packed lunches, no tired and angry children to pick up at home time; Loathe, because there is just an endless expanse of time in which to fill, occupy, feed and tidy up after five small people.

I have, as I am told on an incredibly frequent basis, got my hands full. That frequency increases tenfold during the holidays when I am with them almost all of the time. I have heard 'you've got your hands full' more often that I think it is possible to imagine. My new response is 'so I'm told'. Before Dot was born I used to get blessed. A lot. As if I had the Pope with me on work experience (presumably so he could see first hand that encouraging people to keep procreating regardless of circumstances, might be a little bit stupid.) I think it is a Suffolk thing. I got 'ahh bless ya' from midwives, teachers, strangers, cleaners and many, many mothers when they found out that the baby I was housing/had just had was my fifth. Throughout the summer holidays shortly after her birth I got 'How old is she? Are they all yours? you've got your hands full, ahhh bless ya'. I am not saying it isn't always welcome, there are times when I am bored at the park or in a queue when I am happy to while away a few minutes with the '10 months, yes, so I'm told, thanks' responses but sometimes at the supermarket checkout whilst I'm trying to keep them all vaguely under control whilst packing bags it can sound suspiciously like I am failing to manage which I am less keen on. A number of times it is followed with 'But I bet you wouldn't change it for the world wouldya'. I SO WOULD.

"I wouldn't change a thing". Who came up with that?! I would SO change things. Oh man, given the choice, my list of things 'to change' would be extensive (18 pages FRONT AND BACK - Ross v Rachel 'on a break' etc). There are loads of great things about children and babies - obviously - otherwise I would be insane, but ye gods are there a million things I would rather were different. Here are a few:

FACT: I love the children at least 25 times more when they are asleep (actually about 25000 times more than that last hour before bed when in all honestly most days I could happily walk away and never come back). When I have slept I am at least 25 times nicer than days when I haven't slept the night before. Sleep is transformative. If I could change just ONE thing about babies/children it would be that they sleep for between 12-20 hours a day  - 20 for newborns then gradually down to 12 hours from 10 years onwards until they leave home. If they came out pre-programmed to sleep from at least 7pm-7am imagine how much nicer the world would be? There would be no arguments between mothers about who was doing it 'right', parents wouldn't argue over who was more tired, people wouldn't accidentally leave babies in shops due to sleep deprivation or do the school run in their slippers etc Older children wouldn't hang around in the evenings driving you mad well in to adult/drinking/inappropriate eating time. (It is impossible to lecture on good eating practises and then tuck in to a packet of crisps and chocolate biscuits with your glass of wine whilst you're waiting for your supper to cook). I mean, don't get me wrong, if they are in a good mood and they are willing to fetch your wine and snacks for you then all is good. BUT if they are nosey or vocal or anything other than a silent presence then really, it's just too much after a long day with children. Bea and I have managed to agree on a happy hour where we watch crap reality programmes on TLC (Say yes to the dress, Kate plus 8 etc) but she knows I can quite often be grumpy during this time and is very good at keeping her head down. But pre-programmed children wouldn't argue about bed times, wouldn't fight over who was allowed to stay up until when, wouldn't keep yelling for drinks/light/dark/medicine hours after you put them to bed. It would mean that whatever happened during the day, whatever fights were going on, mess being made, food being thrown blah blah blah - you would know that there was a nice early 'end' to it all coming your way shortly.

Also, it would put an end to the weird evil baby voodoo nonsense that curses you the minute you make the mistake of even THINKING how well they are sleeping at the moment or stupidly mentioning it to someone. The minute you think, mention or linger over their sleeping bodies thinking about how fabulous they are then their evil voodoo sensors kick in to action and BOOM, awake every hour for absolutely no reason whatsoever, sucking bottles/boobs dry time and time again just to teach you the lesson you should have learnt a thousand times over already. It would also put pay to those hideous 'post sleepover days' - where your usually even tempered and fairly compliant child is transformed in to some kind of possessed demonic arsehole of a human being, and depending on how little sleep they managed, it can take days for the possession to wear off. Imagine the joy and brilliance of being able to say 'yes' every time they ask for a sleepover because the sleeping part of the arrangement would actually be adhered to. 

DEAR GOD after 17 days of the Easter holidays it was like I was in charge of 5 giant rats. They just spent each and every sodding day telling me they were hungry. They eat, shit, eat, wee, eat, eat, eat and eat. WHAT THE HELL?! As you know I love to eat, but these guys take it to another level. Days out, Days in, I am expected to provide a constant stream of snacks and meals that they deem suitable. This last week alone I have spent £300 on food and drink from three different supermarkets (YES including bloody Aldi - it makes no sodding difference), in an attempt to keep them filled with a vaguely healthy variety of food. The boys are the worst. Dot and Cybs are close behind. It is impossible to keep them topped up. We went for a lovely walk along Southbank on our recent trip to London and if G and Ted told me they were hungry once, they told me a trillion times. G was quite close to death at one point. Not from strangulation, as I have spent many years learning not to put my hands around their throats, but from his near starvation from going without food for four and a half hours. It made me ponder how on earth they get on at school where one presumes the teachers are not providing drinks and snacks every half an hour. No wonder the boys come out of school at the end of the day in the foulest of moods - it has been a full two and a half hours since they have eaten anything. I am shocked they aren't keeled over, shaking and writhing on the floor with the intense pain of hunger. In an ideal world, children would only require one main meal a day and then some light and healthy snacks at other non fixed times of the day. I am incredibly 'over' preparing food for them and then tidying up afterwards. Some of them eat like rats as well. The mess after each meal has to be seen to be believed. One of their favourite meals is risotto but I won't feed it to them unless the cleaners are coming the next day because otherwise I spend all night on my hands and knees picking up bits of sodding rice.

Mythical beings
MAN I wish these guys were real. If the Tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and big FC were real, my life would be immeasurably easier. I forget the tooth fairy constantly. Luckily Bea knows the truth after finding a text message on my phone telling K not to forget when she was 9. The others are sadly not so clued up which means that the pressure is on. Poor G had terrible baby teeth - we're not sure why but they started to decay quite badly from a very young age and last year two of them were in a bit of a state so he ended up having them out under GA (mercifully K dealt with it and yes, I am part of the 'worrying statistics' on children's teeth. BITE ME with your immaculate teeth. It's not like I send him to him bed with a bottle of coke) and after a pretty terrible time, G was looking forward to his reward from the tooth fairy and put his rotten teeth safely under his pillow. Four nights he waited. FOUR. In the end he sadly concluded that because he had to have them pulled out and due to their condition, the tooth fairy had decided his teeth were not worthy of payment. Although for once that meant I looked pretty awesome as I bought him a £60 lego set to cheer him up and that silly cow bag of a tooth fairy couldn't even find him £2.

The Easter bunny this year was pretty disappointing as well. I had great intentions in the lead up to the event and even bought the eggs well in advance AND I checked the official Coeliac Society list before buying Bea's and everything. I was so pleased with myself I managed to 'park' Easter in my brain under 'no further action required'. The night before Easter, Easter Eve if you will, I spent the evening downloading pictures from Bea's phone on to the laptop so that she had enough space to take a zillion pictures of Little Mix at their concert the following day. I was pretty tired after I'd managed it all, bid K goodnight and fell fast asleep. At 5.45 am the next day Cybs woke me up and asked for some milk. I lay back down thinking how lovely it was I didn't have to get up and do anything when I had that stomach punch of a realisation that it was in fact, Easter and all the Easter eggs were in K's car boot and in the cupboard under the stairs. My mind raced - can I tell them it's tomorrow, can I hide them in the garden (they normally get them at the end of their bed), can we ignore it completely? I panicked, I tried to wake K with whispered shouting, then slightly louder whispering and then eventual hard kicking to rouse him enough to fill him in on the situation. I ran downstairs and passed the boys beginning to stir in their room, I whisper-shouted that it wasn't the morning and to go back to bed, I grabbed the eggs from under the stairs and had to quickly decide what to do with them, I opted for a Christmas version and put them in front of the fireplace. K ran out to the car in just his pants to gather the rest. I ran back upstairs and got back in to bed with Cybs and Dot to complete the illusion. The boys asked what had gone on and I said I thought I was going to be sick and Dad had come down to check on me. Then  they decided it couldn't be Easter as there were no eggs in their room. They went downstairs shortly afterwards and discovered the bunny had been but left the eggs in the wrong place. Bea was upset. She wanted bigger eggs and didn't like Aero and why the hell were the eggs in the living room??

Spirits rallied with a shed load of chocolate so I decided to make things more 'magical' with an Easter egg hunt in the garden now that we have a garden suitable for egg hunting. Sadly I put one of G's in a bush and it fell down. I didn't really think at the time that that would be a problem until he stuck his hand in and I remembered it was a rose bush and he cut his hand several times on all of the thorns. Luckily, Grandma saved the day and managed a far better egg hunt in her garden with cousins to enjoy it with whilst K drove off to London with an incredibly excited Bea. I later found a lovely note complete with illustrations she had written for the Easter Bunny asking him/her (sexless?) to leave the eggs 'here' and hoping they were well and had had a safe journey. I did feel a TAD guilty and her anger on the day was slightly more understandable after that but I do find it quite hard to believe that she still believes in a magical rabbit. SO, all in all, the Easter Bunny was a crushing disappointment but they still ended up with enough chocolate to give sugar purists a heart attack. (Luckily, K is a chocoholic and as per most years, stealthily hoovered up the excess over the following week - hopefully meaning the children won't be included in any other 'worrying epidemics').

And well, if the big FC was real, December would actually be a flipping joyous time for me and man, how I would treat myself to some lovely things with all the lovely money I would save. A new laptop for one - I am currently sat with the screen held up by a pile of cushions because it has broken free of its supports and is only held on to the keyboard thanks to the wires. My November and December would be pure heaven as I wafted from one social engagement to another with only a few family and friends to buy for - no managing of child expectations, no mad bidding for a stupid light up unicorn on ebay thanks to selfish far sighted bastards who bought them all up in October. It would also mean that faulty/easily broken gifts were much easier to return as well. I am yet to replace Ted's rather awesome shark beanbag that broke within half an hour of ownership thanks to a faulty seam.

Proportionate behaviour
It would be utterly amazing if their behaviour was directly proportionate to the amount of time/effort/money you spent on them. One of the things K finds hardest to cope with is the seeming ingratitude that bad behaviour implies when we are making a concerted effort to have fun - meals out/days out/family activities - anything that is out of the 'ordinary' should be rewarded with exemplary behaviour.  No strops in the gift shop at the end of the day because you refuse to buy a £20 stuffed panda, (What the hell is that btw - we go to the zoo/legoland/cutty sark etc and pay a fortune to get in, fortune for drinks and food and guides etc and then you have to pay to leave the place with some kind of toy/branded plastic as a 'memory' of the day - I appreciate I could be strong and say no but that isn't exactly my forte), no sibling fights, no whining, no parental arguing over acceptable reactions to bad behaviour, no constant demands for food, just happy, smiley and grateful faces from morning til night. Like real life facebook pictures all day long. Amazing.

I'm not saying it's particularly fun for them but good lord I do not enjoy ill children. I mean one day is understandable, acceptable and sometimes even enjoyable - an excuse for a legitimate day on the sofa is all good as long as I had nothing else planned (it is so rare for me to have anything on but it can happen once every blue moon) but any longer and it is just bloody dull and a pain in the rear. Dot and Cybs enjoyed a week long illness over the Easter holidays which I could well have done without. A cough and cold is currently going around and this is also incredibly painful. Illness doesn't just ruin your days it also blights nights as well - broken sleep, crying, coughing and puke are regular occurrences. One morning in the holidays I started my day breast feeding Dot in bed whilst lying on my side with Cybil lying behind me on my other side. She started coughing so badly she was sick, the milk she had just downed had all come straight back up again - all over my hair and back. Due to the exceedingly early hour of the morning I couldn't move because I was very desperate to keep Dot asleep as she would cry an awful lot and very loudly were I to remove the boob from her mouth, and that would wake up the other three so, I just had to lay there as I felt the regurgitated milk trickle down my back and tried to calm Cybs down who was upright and startled. I kicked and kicked K until he finally awoke and passed us a towel. My efforts to keep Dot asleep throughout all this failed and I eventually gave up and got in the shower-  only for Dot to cry so much due to my absence that I had to welcome her in to my shower and hold her, fully clothed with one hand and wash my hair with the other. But at least I was clothed and sick free for the Sainsbury's delivery when it arrived shortly afterwards.

And the rest
Back answering, knowing it all, not listening, mess, money, noise and neediness. Most days I would change it all to make it easier for me. But one of the main things I would change is how quick it all is, how fast they grow, how days turn in to weeks which turn to months and years and then suddenly your newborn is a toddler and then at school and then at secondary school and then a teenager. I panic that I am going to forget it all, I worry about how I will cope when they aren't all little enough to need me all the time, I panic over not remembering how they smelt and felt as tiny babies and sometimes I rack my brain to try and remember the hilarious thing they said the week before that I wanted to write down so I never forgot. I take pictures, millions of pictures, in the vain hope that seeing the pictures in years to come will sufficiently jog my memory. I try to take enough video footage that we can see what they were all like and remember all the sleeplessness/fighting/mess when there is only sleep/calm and tidiness. If I could change one thing, it would be to remember it all perfectly, the good, the bad the ugly. I wish I could make my brain in to a video camera so that I could recall it all in perfect detail whenever I wanted. Even the sleeplessness. Particularly that actually because one day I might get enough sleep to think having another might be a good idea and as much as I love babies, I really do not want to raise or pay for another child. Enough is really enough.