As we pack up our home, I’ve now started to re-read the journals that I have kept over the past twenty five years.
The first few books were fairly mundane, covering pregnancy, baby milestones, juggling work and parenthood. There were details on well remembered events such as our first family trip to Australia, first meetings with my in-laws. There were comments on some world events.
We were obviously rather frazzled as parents of a three year old and a baby in the first few months after I returned to work. There were several diary entries about our morning hassle to get out of the house on time, drop the girls at our child minder, Aussie Mate to the station and myself to work locally. The girls must have sensed our stress and pushed the limits accordingly.
“I don’t like you Mummy!”
“ I don’t care whether you like me or not, you still have to get dressed!”
Tough love on our part.
A year later, another morning, the usual “Hurry up, we’re late” and the reply ”But you chose to have two babies so it’s your fault.”
One morning I followed the girls into the bedroom to find both jumping on the bed. Toddler rolled off.
“It wasn’t me Mummy. She fell up by herself”
During potty training phase we let her wander around without a nappy. Not such a good idea when she stood beside our bed and wee’d on a clock radio that happened to be on the floor. Fizz, bang, dead radio.
When trained there were still occasional accidents. She wet her knickers in the supermarket, but I didn’t realise until we got out to the car. I don’t know what sort of trail we left around the shop. Most of it was in the shopping trolley seat and over Aussie Mates beers.
Two days before a fourth birthday.
“I can’t bloody do this Mum!” whilst trying to cut out a paper snake.
I’d forgotten that she didn’t like going to nursery.
“They make me do work and make me cross my legs too much!”
Words she couldn’t pronounce – aminals and hostipal.
“Do you want cheese on toast?”
“Yes but without the cheese.”
We didn’t have baby monitors. If the girls cried or called we’d respond accordingly, go to them if it seemed serious, leave them a while if they just wanted attention.
We only had baby gates at the top of the stairs, they soon learned to crawl up the stairs from the lounge and to slide down safely on their stomach or bottom. At times we put a coffee table in the way to stop them climbing if we couldn’t be there to watch them.
Younger kids certainly learn from their older siblings, but C~M also tried things that her sister never thought of.
I undressed her one evening and jumped a mile when I found a big black plastic spider inside her clothes. I don’t know if she put it there, or one of the boys at the child minder’s, but she knew it was very funny.
“Major achievement today was finding all the pieces of C~M’s toys. S~E has had a name train for two years and we’ve never lost any of the shapes. C~M has one for two days and there is only one piece left! I found one part in the laundry box, one hidden in the bathroom, one in a bag of paper rubbish.”
She used to climb down from her sister’s top bunk, to sit on the waist high windowsill to look at a book. She did fall off a few times but that didn’t deter her.
We tried to enjoy relaxed Sunday mornings as a contrast to hectic weekday mornings. Tea and toast in bed with Sunday newspapers, while the girls pottered about. There were occasional dramas…
…..C~M (aged two and half) went to the bathroom to do a wee. S~E (aged five and half) went downstairs to get another drink. She suddenly shouted DAD !!!. He ran downstairs to find water dripping through the kitchen ceiling. I met C~M coming out of the bathroom, soaked from her neck to her knees. She had both taps on and the plug in the sink and yes, a good waterfall.
…..Less than two weeks later, we had water through the kitchen ceiling again. We were downstairs, the girls were upstairs starting to get washed and dressed. S~E was in the bedroom, C~M in the bathroom. The wrong arrangement of people and rooms! More mopping up. We removed the plug from the bathroom sink!
The tone of my journals alters when we changed things, when we were obviously more stressed. When I started a new job, commuting back into London. When we had a nanny for a year, after four years of a child minder. When she started school.
I didn’t get to be at the school gate very often as I worked full time. But I made a point of getting to know some of the Mum’s. They were helpful to bounce ideas, discuss concerns, share views and suggestions of family friendly places to visit. This informal network was invaluable, especially when they had older kids and had been through the various age stages before. This is an aspect of the old style extended family format that modern society misses out on.
“Life doesn’t come running to you – you have to go chasing after it.”
Some years were tough, but those years prompted us to make changes in our lifestyle and work life balance. Aussie Mate was a house husband for a year, happy being one of the few Dad’s at the school gate. The family dynamics changed considerably, less money but more time together. The girls had a much closer relationship with their Dad, even thought C~M told him that he didn’t know how to play dolls properly.
In her first week at school, we discovered one afternoon that she’d forgotten to put on knickers when she got herself dressed in the morning. “But Mum, my teacher doesn’t know I went to school without knickers, because the day I forgot them, Mrs H forgot to do PE”.
Things changed again with both girls in school. Aussie Mate got a local job on permanent night shifts. This worked for us, as he continued to do the school run and sleep during the day.
At five and a half, C~M wanted to leave home on Saturday morning. She was cross with me. “Mum, I’m going to leave home but I need you to take me to school. Once I’m there I know my way to C’s house, but I don’t know my way from here, so can you take me?” I persuaded her to wait until after swimming. Back home, she packed some clothes into a bag. Then she wanted to go to the park first “but I’m still leaving home later!” When she realised I wasn’t going to take her, she sat out on the garden wall for ages.
They grew up. Friendships developed. They pushed the boundaries at home but knew there would be consequences. The girls remember having to stand in the naughty corner (not sit), if they were both in trouble, sitting back to back on the lounge floor with hands on their heads, or fingers on their lips. At times I made them write lines. They remember no jumping on the furniture, no watching tv whilst doing homework, table manners and asking to leave the table at the end of a meal, helping to clear the table, wash dishes, put dirty clothes in the laundry basket. But they learned to contribute to the family and they learned self discipline.
Then we were parents of teenagers!
“By the time we realise our parents were right, our children are telling us we are wrong.”
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