Nobody told me that being a good friend would mean leaving my kid at home
Back in the time before Corona, I wrote a piece on Medium about the difficulty of combining friendship and parenthood. Of course, now it feels hopelessly dated and quaint, with all the talk of actually meeting other human beings in person and frequenting bars and cafés. You may still enjoy it, as a relic of a more innocent time, and a reminder of the problems we’ll hopefully encounter again one day.
Tuckers and toxic masculinity: Beatrix Potter can be surprisingly problematic
Recently I’ve been grappling with my inclination to censor the books I’ve been reading with E. What could possibly be so problematic about Beatrix Potter? And can censorship ever be justified? Head over to my Medium article for my musings on these questions, and more!
A post masquerading as a book review when it’s really just a lengthy parental humblebrag
What do you want to know about me? Oh, here you go – I bought my 18 month old a book about Emmeline Pankhurst recently. There you go, infer all you like about my pseudo-intellectual, neurotic-feminist credentials. Does it sound like a dry read to you? It is. It’s so incredibly dry. Informative, absolutely, but there’s not an ounce of humour or even excitement to be gleaned from its pages. It talks about law-breaking, unjust arrests and daring acts of revolution with all the verve of an accounting manual.
But E genuinely seems to like it. She now requests it in that autocratic manner of all toddlers – ‘Panks! Panks!’. I’m aware this sentence puts me squarely in the camp of Those Mums – the ones who swear their child’s favourite food is broccoli, and they’ve always preferred quinoa to chocolate.
I do feel faintly ashamed that my indoctrination is so blatant. I’d always assumed I would impart my political beliefs and values by osmosis and eye-rolling, in the manner of all parents everywhere. I thought it would take much longer before I could create a child who would confidently parrot my views in public. And yet here we are: I can pause at the end of a sentence in the book and she’s memorised the ending: ‘How were women treated E?’ ‘Unfairwly!’ ‘And what did they want?’ ‘Wotes…’
Bear in mind this is a child who only dimly grasps that she’s a girl and not a cat, and yet she’s able to regurgitate the word ‘suffragettes.’ What even is this?
I can’t identify what E actually enjoys about the book. The story is quite abstract and the illustrations are pretty but unexciting. Yes, obviously, to be completely honest, I am of course hoping that her early fondness for this text predicts her incipient revolutionary values and superior intellect. Surely it’s either that or else I’m teaching her that it’s cool to break the law. Best to polish the anecdote anyway, so it can be trotted out either in court or in her Harvard graduation speech, as appropriate.
Has the impossible happened and you have found yourself unexpectedly possessed of a chunk of child-free time? Are you standing frozen, mouth agape, utterly bemused about what to do next? Fear not! Presenting for your perusal the ultimate hierarchy of child-free activities!
10. Staring at a blank wall while intermittently scrolling on your phone
Feels relaxing in the moment but only contributes to the deep ennui and despair within your soul.
9. Washing dishes
It’s amazing how relaxing doing chores can be without a toddler squeezing your knees and yelling ‘Up. Up. Up. Mummy!’ until you give in and stop.
Obviously, it’s work, but I hear that some jobs allow uninterrupted hot beverages.
A crossover activity, for when you want to feel productive but you also very much need a reward.
This differs for us all. I’ve actually seen some parents suggest a trip to the dentist qualifies, which I can only view as symptomatic of how deeply they’ve been destroyed by their children. I know that a haircut qualifies for others, (see https://caitlinwrites.com/2019/11/21/the-secret-to-surviving-a-haircut/ for my thoughts on this) or perhaps a manicure. Personally I find getting my nails done anxiety-inducing – from the moment the polish is applied I’m plagued with worry about preserving it/painstakingly removing it/living for weeks with chipped and fraying nails. I’m extremely lazy and so I enjoy wallowing in a bath and ignoring the chaos behind the locked door.
5. Watching TV
Arguably, this should be higher on the list. But I don’t feel that I fully enjoy watching television now; I’m always too conscious of all the other things I should be doing. I end up unsuccessfully multi-tasking, doing life-admin on my phone whilst my overstimulated brain flicks all a-flutter from screen to screen.
4. Creative activity of your choice
It’s amazing how rewarding origami in a darkened room can be when the alternative is wrestling an overtired toddler.
It took a while but I have finally realised that endorphins do in fact exist and that exercise does make me feel good. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an internal struggle each and every time I contemplate it.
More deeply escapist than TV, and so higher up this list. Who doesn’t want to occasionally (always) spend an hour in somebody’s else head, living another type of life?
1. Time with friends
That rush where you remember who you once were, and who you still are when not mum first and foremost, can carry you through a lot of lonely and tedious times. Plus, there’s often alcohol involved.
Having used books as a guide and a solace through all experiences of my own life, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I have turned to these in order to instruct my child. Without faith in my own communication abilities, I bought a book called Going to Nursery to assist with psychological preparation (read: indoctrination) for that very life event.
Unfortunately, this strategy may have backfired. There are several issues with this picture book which only became apparent after it arrived, to my dim surprise following a panicked nocturnal Amazon Prime purchase.
First and most concerning, nursery is presented herein as a delightful utopia. Of course, I wanted E to eagerly anticipate her own admittance into this hallowed space, but I didn’t want her to be disappointed, or worse, to enjoy it more than being at home with me. Nursery, as depicted in this book, is chockablock with multitudes of cute, fluffy pets skipping through sunshine whilst laughing children play in pristine sandpits. I fear the reality of beginning in a Scottish winter will be far different. Our nursery has no animals that I know of but it is in the middle of the city, so perhaps we can hope a rat will make an occasional appearance. E will have access to an outside play area but it’s all rubber flooring rather than the idyllic flower-strewn meadow of this accursed book. There’s a dearth of adults in Going to Nursery too – only one seems to preside over the motley gang of children romping free through these pages. The adult-to-child ratios cruelly enforced by the powers that be will allow E no such freedom, I fear.
The brutal disappointments only continue. The children at this nursery eat biscuits for their snack, while I know very well that the menu at our nursery features such snacks as quinoa and broccoli quesadillas. Yes, really. Luckily E is convinced that the biscuits in the book are actually oranges so we may yet have dodged that bullet.
More genuinely problematic is the narrative of the book, which explains that big children go to nursery whilst babies stay at home (with their mums, it’s tacitly implied). I mean, this…isn’t true? I assume it’s been written to prepare older children for preschool. But E still calls herself a baby and it breaks my heart a little every time I explain that she’s big enough for nursery. Potentially more psychologically damaging is the part of the story where a little boy suggests that crying for your mum at nursery is naughty. E has seized on this word and repeats it each time we get to that page. The boy is gently persuaded out of this belief, but E hasn’t grasped the concept of the unreliable narrator yet and takes his proclamation as absolute truth.
Probably best to set aside some of the funds I hope to earn while she’s in childcare for the eventual therapy bill. I’ll be sure to keep meticulous records so that twenty years from now she can explain that it was with this very book that all her emotional difficulties began.
My hatred of going to the hairdresser’s stretches a long way back. I remember increasingly sharp commands to sit still, as a child with an aching neck and feet dangling a metre from the floor. I remember the pain of the comb being tugged through my forest of hair. The shame of the time the hairdresser whispered to my mum that I had dandruff. I first learned my ears stick out slightly from a hairdresser, as that comb scraped unpleasantly against them with each downward stroke. I once fell asleep in a hairdresser’s chair, overcome with ennui at the sheer awfulness of it all.
With adulthood came a new kind of discomfort: the cringingly awkward realisation that my face surrounded by wet, scraped-back hair resembles nothing as much as an underdone baked potato. The hour spent staring in the mirror is a useful opportunity to scrutinise the progress of my chin multiplication but I don’t enjoy all the dirty looks I keep getting from myself. I find myself gazing around the room, desperate for anything else to focus on, and so I find myself staring with fixed dead eyes at some other poor potato-face. Inevitably she catches my eye and communicates silently that my gaze puts her in mind of a hungry and soulless sea creature, seeking human flesh to devour. At which point I look away and pretend the whole thing never happened.
Of course, the real low point of any trip to the hairdresser is the obligation to make small talk. My socially awkward soul revolts at it every time. I would rather go back to school tomorrow and sit the maths higher that I didn’t even do at sixteen than speak to a stranger about my holiday for two minutes. No Gemma, I’m not going away anywhere nice this year. And while we’re at it, I’m not doing anything exciting tonight either.
Any hairdresser I have is always as reluctant to engage as I am. They know.* They clock I’m not the kind of person they need to bother with as soon as I come in, with my hair I’ve dyed at home and my eight months of regrowth. (*Hairdressers multiple, because I’m not the kind of person who has their own particular hairdresser. That prospect horrifies me – imagine having to form an ongoing relationship and worry even more about my hairdresser’s judgement of exactly what the state of my hair says about my life.)
But with my most recent trip came a revelation. I brought up my toddler as soon as I could, basically ramming her into conversation. ‘Oh hi Lorraine, yes wet outside, also I have a small child at home.’ It turns out that’s the answer to everything! It explains away satisfactorily my laziness in not going for so long, even though I also did this pre-child. It provides an answer to all those small-talk questions: no, I don’t have a life. And best of all, it provides all the excuse you need to sit in silence for the entire visit, whilst intermittently turning the pages of a magazine and necking wine. This is I assume the best it can get until it becomes acceptable to read a kindle in there. I did ask my husband if that day had already arrived to be told in no uncertain terms that it had not.
There’s still the horrendous hurdle of the tip to negotiate on exit, but once managed there’s the glorious realisation, even better than the admittedly enjoyable swishiness of the new cut, that another six months of freedom has been bought before the whole ordeal must be endured again. Yes, I’m a weirdo who also hates manicures and massages – how ever did you guess?
You walk down the street and find yourself looking at people, random people, shiny happy people, and sourly wondering how much sleep they had the night before. You are certain that it was more than you. Your resentment is as bitter as it is unwarranted.
You turn to caffeine and sugar, in the hope they will help. They do, in that you actually survive the day. But the tiredness is not so much banished as smoothed over. It’s still there, gritty and burning, beneath the sweet rush of your instant coffee and chocolate hobnob. You still feel exhausted, but now hopped up and nervy too.
You fantasise over how much you could get done in your life if only you were less tired. You would do pilates every day. You would have planned and prepped every meal for the next three weeks. The house would be immaculate. The novel would be finished. You would probably be singlehandedly sorting out Brexit, if you could just get another couple of hours every night.
When you are eventually able to go to bed you will lie there, desperate to sleep, utterly unable to sleep.
It’s hard to remember a time when you weren’t tired. Surely you’ve been this tired since you were a baby yourself. Memories of sleeping for eight hours are probably just sleepy hallucinations.
Everything feels insurmountable and unbearably tragic. Scrolling idly through your phone and reading the news is disastrous. You will cry real tears over the death of a guinea pig in Gloucester.
Naps are alluring, so alluring, but to be treated with caution. They should only be resorted to in cases of extreme exhaustion. If indulged in when only very tired rather than one step away from legally dead, they merely result in extreme grogginess and a descent into greater irritability.
The internet will tell you that your baby needs around 6 hours more sleep a day than you. And yet somehow they seem to be awake constantly. Especially at 2am, when you’re ready to crawl under the cot and die.
These are confessions because in real life there’s nothing you want to talk about less than baby sleep. You don’t want anybody else’s advice. You’d rather not hear about what they did or didn’t do. Deep down, you don’t believe things will ever get better. Part of you genuinely feels that this will still be your life fifty years from now.
You cling to anything you can blame. Teething. Jabs. Summer evenings. Leaps. The phases of the moon. Anything, because the only other option is to blame yourself. (Should have taught them to self-settle. Should never have held them while they napped.) And there’s nothing as damaging to the possibility of sleep as lying awake at 3am wracked with guilt about your failings as a parent. My findings – a glass of wine works nicely to dispel such uncomfortable notions and to put you to sleep, for as long as the tiny dictator allows.