The Story Giant (and being ignored)

In my constant quest to be a Good Parent, I have read to my girls since they were about 3 months old. It began as the start of the slow process of attempting to develop a bedtime routine, but bled out into day-to-day attempts at keeping them entertained and stimulated. They’re two years old now and I can’t decide if it’s working.

If I give my girls a book each (I’ve tried the sharing thing; it does NOT work!) then at least one of them will sit and look through it, sometimes with a great deal of interest. If I attempt to actually sit and read with them, I end up feeling irritated because it never ends how I want it to! Such a control freak!

It begins with me seating them either side of me and enthusiastically telling them we’re going to read a book. Examples have included The Gruffalo, several Roald Dahl classics, Peter Rabbit, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and That’s Not my Bloody Pony. See, I really do try!

I begin the first page in a hopeful manner; I can pretty much hold their attention during that first page and it feels awesome. Always a bit of a show-off as a child, I even do different voices and accents, and I make sure I emphasise all the different inflections in the text. I use those crazy yet endearing CBeebies presenters as my muse. If they can hold my daughters’ attention for 10 whole minutes then so can I!

By page 2, they’re no longer attempting to follow what I’m saying and begin grabbing the book from my hands and turning the pages before I’ve had time to read more than about two words. I’m at least given the impression that they’re vaguely interested in the physical book itself.

By page 5 (and remember, we’re talking about books that only have a few giant font words per page most of the time!), they’re clambering all over me, screaming in my ears and repeatedly asking for Peppa Pig to go on the TV. By page 6, the book is on the floor and Peppa Pig is on.

At bedtime, I force them to listen to me by plugging their mouths with bottles of milk. If I’m lucky, I can read for about five minutes before the milk is gone and the girls are jumping up and down in their cots, laughing and screaming so loudly that I actually can’t hear myself reading the words anymore.

My current attempt, The Story Giant by Brian Patten and illustrated by Chris Riddell is fantastic. It centres around a giant who has lived in a magical dreamworld since the dawn of time. He knows all the stories ever said or written, and at night he weaves children from across the world into his magical world, where he shares stories with them. In return, the children share their own stories, and each is enraptured with the tales they hear. The stories deal with mature subjects including death, and I’m really enjoying reading it. Unfortunately, it’s taken months to get through it because I only get a page or two read each night. I would make a really terrible story giant; the kids I weaved into my magical land would just ignore me and run riot round my magical castle!

I have no idea if anything I’ve said is normal. My worry is that their lack of attention span in relation to me reading to them is a direct consequence of the fact they’re twins. I can’t sit with one of them on my lap and lovingly focus on that one child while they snuggle into me, enraptured by my fascinating tale. I have a rocking chair inbetween the two cots and it just about fits me in it, let alone two children as well!

I have always loved reading, and whilst I struggle to fit reading into my hectic lifestyle, it will always be one of my passions. I hope I can instill the same level of passion into my girls before it’s too late. The good thing is that as well as being a control freak, I am also supremely stubborn, so I’ll keep trying until I’ve cracked this nut… Just allow me a few frustrated “AHHHH”‘s in the meantime!

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Constant failure

In theory, I subscribe to the “There is no such thing as the Perfect Parent” ideology. The one that makes me feel better when I shout at the kids. The one that comforts me when I lazily put Peppa Pig in front of the kids while they wait for me to cook dinner (see photo evidence of my utter parenting failure). The one that unites fellow mummy bloggers. The one that I usually believe… But…

I didn’t really realise how much of a control freak/perfectionist I was until I had kids and discovered very quickly that when it comes to parenting, it’s impossible to maintain control. Be it control of my willful children, or control of my own emotions. One minute, I’m crying because I feel so overwhelmed with love. The next I’m screaming at the twins because they’ve done something REALLY annoying (or dangerous). Then I’m crying again, but this time because I feel so desperately guilty about shouting at them when all they were doing was discovering the world around them, demonstrating the curiosity of toddlers that is unsurpassed by any other age. The thing that can so often make me laugh! So I go through this emotionally exhausting cycle of tears-anger-guilt-laughter throughout the day and feel utterly drained by the end of it.

As we climb towards bedtime, I find myself itching for it to be 7 o’clock, so I can have some time to myself. And then the kids are in bed and I miss them, feeling guilty for wishing them asleep. I reflect upon the day and sometimes, all I can remember is how they did my head in all day, and how desperate I am to have a break. Sometimes I reflect in shame, remembering that moment I screamed at them, and their innocent little faces looked up at me in wonder, not even upset but just curious; “Why is mommy shouting at me?”

I hate that I do this but I have an image in my head of the Perfect Parent. The Perfect Parent isn’t the yummy mummy who keeps her life in order, but it’s certainly a mother who doesn’t lose her temper with her kids over something trivial.

My children are my life. I couldn’t face life without them. And yet there are times when I could bloody kill them!

Those moments where I lose it make me feel like a complete failure. I’m the grown up, and should therefore be showing my girls what is and is not acceptable behaviour. I know what kind of mama I want to be but for me, I think it’s unobtainable. And so I feel like a constant failure

Ok. Maybe not constant. Maybe there are times when I am supremely patient. When I indulge the girls’ natural curiosity. When I play with them. Cuddle them. Meet their needs. Teach them. Love them.

Maybe having a mama that gets it right more than she gets it wrong will have to be enough.

Life changes…

I’ve always loved poetry but never really had an outlet for it. Then I started blogging and quickly discovered the wonderful Rhyming With Wine and something inside me said (very meekly), “I could do that…” Lack of confidence held me back, until I found myself commenting on one of her brilliantly funny poems, and guess what? She replied saying she loved my poem. High five! Cut a long story short and I found myself agreeing to feature in her Cheers! series and here is the poem I submitted:

Life Changes

Oh, how life changes
In just 15 years
In with Prosecco
Out with the beers

In with homecooking
Out with kebabs
Whilst swaying home drunk
(No money for cabs)

In with the Mom Shoes
Out with the heels
Sod what they look like;
I just care how it feels

Out with posh lunches
In with soft play
I got told off for going
Sock-free there today!

Rebellion used to mean
Sex, drugs and booze
Now it means sneaking in
A quick little snooze

I used to dance on tables
And party through the night
Now by 10pm (at most)
You’ll find me tucked up tight!

It used to feel like torture
To get up at half past seven
Lie-ins now mean anything
Past six is simply heaven

The most important thing back then
Quite simply put, was ME
Now what I need, or want or like
Is simply not priority

Motherhood means sacrifice;
My daughters’ needs come first
Sometimes my love for them
Makes me feel my heart could burst

But sometimes all the clambering and
Crying gets too much
I want to run away somewhere
And simply not be touched!

An hour or two is all I ask!
Just once a week or less!
A time where I’m not clearing up
Everyone else’s mess!

Out with my youth
In with cuddles and Bing!
My life may be less free now
But I wouldn’t change a thing

Rhyming with Wine

Thank you SO much Dawn for bringing me out of my poetry shell!

Mealtime madness

Of the numerous things I was totally unprepared for before becoming a twin mama, the madness of mealtimes and everything associated with them has been one of the most difficult to adjust to. Memories of eating what I want, when I want, pressure-free and in a calm environment that included adult conversation (or blissful silence) with The Hubs seem a million years ago. If a child-free friend asked me what mealtimes involve these days, I would advise them of the following:

1. Children have no patience
I can’t overstate this; when my girls are hungry, the world has to know about it. I try to maintain a schedule (something which has kept me just about sane since they were born) but I often misjudge how long a meal will take to cook, or I’m unorganised and don’t get it started in time, or I’m supremely unorganised and haven’t even decided what they’re going to eat. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same: the twins hanging off the safety gate on the door to our kitchen, crying and screaming, pointing at the oven and basically reminding me what a crap parent I am at that moment. You’d think cooking would be something you could switch your brain off to do, but until you’ve tried cooking while two whirling dervishes do their best to destroy your eardrums, your heart and your sense of self-worth all at the same time, you may not realise just how difficult it is!

2. Children are fickle
As soon as I started weaning the twins onto solid food, I decided that where possible, I’d make my own. I wasn’t Mrs Perfect; the food wasn’t organic or particularly fancy (it mainly consisted of mushed up boiled veg) but I wanted to give them a taste for healthy food, and to introduce them to a variety of flavours. In theory, this would lead to good habits as they got older. Well, what a load of crap! I do still try, where possible, to ensure they eat fruit and veg but quite frankly, they sometimes refuse to eat anything at all, and often turn their noses up at anything healthy in favour of potato-based food (chips, waffles, crisps) or chocolate cake (thanks, Peppa Pig!). And the worst thing? The complete inconsistency. The fact that I think I’ve nailed it one day with salmon, potatoes, peas and parsley sauce and then the next time I serve it, they throw it on the floor/up the wall/in their hair/in my hair. I have a list of food they’ll eat which I pretty much cook on rotation but in reality, they basically live off fish fingers and chocolate.

3. Children don’t care about social etiquette
I very rarely go out to eat with the twins. Yes, it’s partly because money is tight these days but it’s more to do with how stressful I find the whole experience. The lack of patience (see point 1) and strong chance that I’ll pick the wrong meal option for got them (point 2) or that I’ll end up guilt-ridden for choosing a supremely unhealthy option just to keep them quiet (also point 2) means that it’s rarely an enjoyable experience for anyone. I end up embarrassed, the kids end up having a meltdown, and fellow patrons have their meal ruined. Even in a child-friendly place, I end up feeling mortified for the staff, who have to listen to our bullshit and clean up after our gargantuan mess. Eating out with children means that you don’t enjoy your meal and therefore the act of shovelling luke-warm food into your mouth becomes completely perfunctory instead of something to savour. There’s no commenting on the bouquet of the wine or cleansing your pallet between courses when it comes to family dining; it’s a case of get in, order the first thing you see, pre-fill the kids with snacks to keep them quiet while the food cooks (or is boiled-in-the-bag) so that they’re not even hungry by the time the food arrives (a no-win situation), chow down, have an argument with Hubs, shout at the kids, pay (thank you, Contactless Payment!) and leave, in an awful mood, with gripping indigestion and two screaming toddlers. Sound like fun??!!!

4. Children don’t like to stay put
I have no idea at what age kids start to understand that we sit at the table nicely when we eat, but Nearly Two is definitely NOT that age. Our house is small so I got rid of the high chairs ASAP (it’s the legs! They take up so much floor space!) and took great delight in buying the twins a cute little table and chairs set from Ikea. I thought I could teach them how to sit nicely! How bloody hilarious is that??! I’ve gotten over the issue by using those strap-on booster seats on dining chairs at the dining table, but until I thought to do that, mealtimes were supremely stressful because the twins just would not stay put!

5. Children. Eat. Really. Really. Slowly.
Unless the food put before them is chocolate, my twins take an AGE to eat. They investigate every morsel, turning it over, squeezing it, licking it, rolling it along the table (I serve their food on plates but I don’t know why I bother)… Eventually, they indulge me by actually chewing and swallowing one mouthful, and then the food-playing starts again… It takes over half an hour for them to finish playing and decide they’re full. I don’t want to rush them, and I know it’s important to give them that time and that they learn so much through their playing and investigating but honestly, watching them eat makes me die a little inside.

6. Children make SO much mess when they eat
Let me preface this one by saying that both the Hubs and I are rather OCD about mess and cleanliness. Many parents laughed at us when we announced our looming twins simply because of how impossible it would be to maintain our pre-kids standards. Having kids means relinquishing control freak tendencies (or battling with them on a daily basis in my case) and one thing I am simply unable to control is meantime mess. If you’re a relaxed type, who doesn’t mind food on the floor, up your walls, all over the kids, yourself, the ceiling, the sofa, and anything within a 50-mile radius of your slobbering child then parenthood is for you! But if you’re like me, with magnolia walls and an aversion to stains, you’re going to find mealtimes a struggle. I have been asked by a child-free friend in the past how I fill my days. When I’m not at work, they mainly consist of preparing for, sitting through and cleaning up after the twins’ breakfast, lunch and tea. The time inbetween involves washing up (several times in one day), doing laundry (a load a day, minimum), ironing (a weekly treat with music on, I’ll admit), watching Peppa Pig and thinking of educational games to play to alleviate some of the Peppa Pig guilt.

I always like to end my blogs on a positive note and this one is no different: it’s all totally and utterly WORTH IT. Parenthood is bloody hard but the rewards are greater than anything I’ve ever experienced in paid work or anywhere else in life. Just don’t ask me if that’s true when I’m scraping half-chewed Bolognese off the floor, wiping yoghurt out of my hair, or trying to remove chocolate hand prints from the magnolia walls.

Please just back off with the unsolicited advice

If I ever get to the stage where my kids are grown and I therefore think I’ve become a Parenting Expert who gets to give you unsolicited and dogmatic advice when all you want is to be left alone to figure it out yourself, give me a good slap. Because I’ll bloody deserve it.

Last night, on a very rare night out for an extended family member’s birthday, I found myself surrounded by a group of moms, all of whom have children older than my girls. This seemed to make them think they had the right to tell me that I should be potty training the twins NOW and that the “problem” is that I’m not ready.

Let me be clear: I am always grateful for advice given in response to me asking for help. I may not necessarily follow the advice, or I might adapt it to suit my needs, but if I’ve asked for advice then I’ll graciously accept it.

But last night was supposed to be a fun night out, not a Netmums session. I didn’t ask for the advice, and I didn’t want it. The reason I didn’t want it is because I’ve already made the decision not to potty train the twins yet. They’re not even two yet and show no signs of being interested in progressing out of nappies. I don’t find nappies a chore and I’m in no rush. With the Terrible Twos already proving extremely challenging, why would I want to add to the stress by potty training them at the same time? I also feel like I’ll know instinctively when they’re ready, and I think it will coincide with the time when they can actually communicate their needs. They do talk, in that lovely toddler way, but only in single words, none of which involve, “Mommy, I hate this nappy, can I use the potty/toilet please?”

What really got my back up was the way they laughed at me when I tried to explain my decision (which I shouldn’t even have to do). It was a laugh that said, “Ah haha you have so much to learn little one! Oh you naive young thing, I’m such an experienced parent but you are a mere fledgling!” They’re the perfect parents of course.

Don’t get me wrong; I know I need to crack this nut before they start school. But they won’t start school for over two years. They’ll start pre-school in just over a year, so maybe I’ll think about it in six months or so, but honestly, I’d be ok if they’re still in nappies when they’re three. The point is, I don’t want the transition to be stressful if I can help it, and I want it to come from them, rather than from me.

Maybe they were well-meaning. Maybe they didn’t mean to annoy me. Maybe they’re even right! But I really would prefer to be left alone to figure it out for myself, unless I’ve asked for help!

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

The attack of the Mom Shoes

It gets worse. Not only am I now a blubbering wreck at anything vaguely emotional, a Pod Person who talks about nothing but her kids, and someone who’s in bed by 10pm every night, I am now also the (embarrassingly) proud owner of Mom Shoes.

You know the kind: ugly but bloody comfy as hell. The kind we swore blind in our teens and 20s that we’d never be seen dead in. The kind our own moms used to wear on those Forced Family Fun afternoon walks.

I was talking with a fellow mama recently and we agreed that having children has changed our mindset  to such an extent that it permeates into every single part of our lives in a way we never thought possible. It means struggling to relate to deliberations over fashion choices being discussed by child-free friends (all I can add to the discussion is “But is it comfortable??”). It means zoning out of discussions about the latest movies because trips to the cinema are a distant memory. It means sometimes feeling like going out to paid work is a relief. It means spending more time make-up free and letting the grey hairs grow through because hair appointments are impossible to attend, afford or justify. And it means ALWAYS choosing comfort ahead of appearance!

I get the whole Yummy Mummy thing; who wouldn’t want to be that glamorous mama? But it just seems like an impossible task. I spend my days doing chores, thinking of ways to entertain two crazy toddlers (whose attention span is usually about 10 minutes), lugging said toddlers and associated paraphernalia in and out of the car or pushing said kids in the buggy (why do they have to keep growing?!?). It comes to something when your local friendly family butcher tells you you’re looking tired!

There are times I make an effort and it does feel good but those times are few and far between. At least I know that there will come a day when I’ll have time to make the effort more often, though by that point, my girls will probably be wearing their own make-up, cool clothes and beautiful shoes, and I’ll just be their out of touch, old hag of a taxi driver! The only way is up!

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

The Terrible 2s – Squared!

I always knew this day would come (though I naively thought it would come once they hit 2 years old, rather than before): the Terrible 2s (or should that be 4s in my case?!). But I never really knew what it meant, other than that they may become possessed by the Devil and that it would be permanently horrendous.

I was wrong.

Before I read into it (via Google of course), here’s my take on what I think is going on here:

My little girls’ personalities have been gradually developing and shining through since birth. Even at mere days old, I could see differences between them, evidence that twins are completely individual rather than just two halves of a whole. T1 needed more attention and had less patience but slept more. T2 was generally more content and less interested in my attention or approval. These tendencies swung in roundabouts at times, but grew and strengthened over time.

As their little selves became more prominent, so too did their emotions. Unfortunately, they lack the intelligence to grasp what all of their emotions mean right now, and become utterly overwhelmed with them. This can sometimes manifest itself as reenactments of that girl from The Exorcist (x 2), but it can equally mean hilarious laughing fits! The point is that they go with the flow, living in the moment in a way us cynical adults never can anymore, giving in entirely to whatever they’re feeling at the time, regardless of logic or societal standards. Sometimes, this is freeing. Sometimes, it means throwing themselves on the floor in a rage, with no amount of consoling from me making a difference other than to make it worse.

And to make matters worse, they lack the communication skills to tell me what’s wrong, or even to ask me why they’re feeling the way they do. At best, they can repeatedly screech, “Mommmmeeeeee!!!!!!” At worst, they scream unintelligible, guttural sounds, tears streaming down their puffy red faces, and I’ve learned that the only way to handle this is to ignore them. To let them scream it out. If it’s just one of them, it means turning to her sister and praising her, playing with her, and giving her positive attention until the screaming one calms down and comes to join in with whatever we’re doing. Sometimes it works, and the three of us have a lovely time post-tantrum. Sometimes, however, it results in the grumpy one getting jealous and instead of joining the fun, she comes over and shoves her sister out of the way to get to me. This can result in a meltdown from her sister, who was otherwise ok, and me losing my patience. I wish I could say that I always remain calm and patient, but I am a human being and am therefore innately flawed!

I see my role as the person who needs to show my girls what normal behaviour is. It makes me think of the importance of these formative years. It helps to explain why some children unfortunately grow up to be anti-social non-members of society. When we read about an act of violence, for example, I wonder what the offender’s childhood was like. I don’t think it explains everything but if a child isn’t raised to understand what is and is not deemed acceptable in society, how can they ever become well-adjusted, functioning adults?

I went off on a bit of a tangent there…

So, what does Google have to say about the Terrible 2s?

This was the first quote that came up:

“According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, the terrible twos are a normal stage in a toddler’s development characterized by mood changes, temper tantrums and use of the word “no.” The terrible twos typically occur when toddlers begin to struggle between their reliance on adults and their desire for independence.”

Sounds pretty spot-on (how could I forget about “no”?!).

I also came across this helpful article which highlights the potential positive aspects of every tantrum.

Something important to note: toddlers are AWESOME. I have so much fun with my girls! They are so entertaining, singing along to their favourite songs, playing Hide and Seek, dancing, running, spinning around, getting into mischief and giving me the most amazing cuddles! And being witness -and direct influence on – their speech development is a really exciting time. I know there’ll come a day when I’ll wish they’d shut up but at the moment, it’s so much fun.

In conclusion? There are ELEMENTS of the Terrible 2s which suck. There are times I could quite happily just walk out my front door and keep walking. But there are so many amazing things about toddlers at this age that putting up with their inability to understand and control their own emotions is a small price to pay… Most of the time anyway!

Mummuddlingthrough