The Sweet Spot

A couple of years ago I was at a church community meal that Husband was unable to attend. Breastfeeding a young baby in one arm, cutting up food for my two year old with the other and keeping half an eye on my four year old from across the room, I noticed another lone mother with three children approaching my empty table. Upon enquiry, it transpired that she too was a pastor’s wife. Her children were 9, 7 and 5 – the same age gaps as ours- only a few crucial years down the line.

Oh, do tell me it gets easier!” I quipped, with a smiling mouth and slightly desperate eyes. And I’ll never forget her response. She looked me straight in the baggy, deranged eyes and said, “Children are a blessing from the Lord.”

End of conversation.

Wow. I’m still not entirely sure to this day whether she intended that to be an encouragement or a rebuke, but I know the exact effect that it had on me. For just like that, all feelings of hope that this was just a difficult phase and that “it’ll be worth it when they’re older,” were replaced with feelings of inadequacy, guilt and the overwhelming sense that I- unlike Alpha Mamma next to me- was simply not cut out for this. (I also learned that there are very limited times and spaces for admitting these feelings out loud!)

This morning, however, I recognised the same defeated spirit in one of the Mums at our newly-reopened playgroup. Her two year old son had a very visible injury from an unfortunate two year old incident, and the fact that he kept removing his dressing and attracting a crowd of well-meaning first-aiders meant that the entire room soon knew of his mishap; a source of deep embarrassment for a mother who “really does watch her kids- honest!”. As I watched her chase him from one end of the room to the other, blocking the door, protecting the bandage, and trying to engage with her four year old daughter at the same time, I whispered… “it DOES get better.”

“Does it?! Really?!” She gawked back, her wide eyes fighting back the brimming tears. “Everyone just says ‘enjoy it while it lasts‘ but how can you enjoy it when it’s just so stressful?!”

Well. Exactly.

Last week, on the other side of the coin, a young mum with eighteen-month-old twins attended play group. As she also lapped the room in a zig zag formation, chasing after her wobbly new walkers- who seemed to be repelling one another like magnets- we had the chance for a short conversation. She said, “I was hoping it would get easier soon but my friend says that three is even worse!”

Again, wow.

Why do people feel the need to offer this kind of “advice“? Either the “stop complaining and be grateful” trope, or the pessimistic “every stage is hard“, “you should have thought about that before you had them!” kind of drivvel? Where’s the honesty? Where’s the kindness? Where’s the hope?!

Well, it’s out there, thankfully. Most people aren’t actually like those gems above, but unfortunately they’re the ones that stick. The ones that feed the Mum-guilt and keep us in our place. Which is why I seem to have found my present voluntary niche; just picking up recovering lockdown parents, dusting them off and assuring them, “you’re doing great.” It’s why it is with gratitude and sheer pleasure that I write this post… for me, then. For her, now. And for anyone else who just needs to hear…

IT. GETS. EASIER!

From my experience, right now, as a stay at home Mum of three delightful yet demanding babies very, very close in age… it gets easier. Always a blessing– of course; always a challenge– without doubt; but vitally… less intense.

Funny that, isn’t it?

Funny to think that without the incontinence and the putting everything in their mouths and the high speed wandering in opposite directions and the feeding them from your own body (or highly sterilised bottle and carefully measured formula, come to that), and the complete lack of self awareness and their constant presence 24/7 and the countless associated tasks that always need doing despite said constant presence… without all of that however many times over… life somehow feels a little less overwhelming?

Who ever would have thought?!

So thank you, Alpha Mamma. Children are a blessing from the Lord. But let me tell you as you could have told me… parenting the little blessings does feel alot more blessed when their needs are alot less present! Anyone who tells you anything different just can’t remember.

And I know more challenges are coming. I have enough friends with teenagers to know that right here, right now is The Sweet Spot. (Worth noting that Husband disagrees with me here… probably owing to the fact that his significantly reduced time with them still results in episodes like poo-gate. But this is not his blog. So you’ll just have to take my word for it!)

Yes, our kids still “duck about” at bedtime, wake us up in the night and too early in the morning. Yes, they squabble and fight and whinge and repeat themselves and pick their noses and eat their bogies even when they know I’m looking. But my goodness, they are CUTE! And innocent and funny and inquisitive and energetic. I am loving – really genuinely, gratefully, truthfully enjoying– being their Mum right now. Not because I didn’t before; but simply because they are more independent and that has brought a lot more independence my way too! (You see, it IS so much easier to ‘enjoy every minute’ when there are actually minutes in which they are not there! Again… Gosh… who knew?!)

In fact, if you will indulge me, I’m enjoying my children so much at the minute that I want to tell you all about them- if only to preserve this precious phase of life in the immortality of online literature. (Feel free to switch off here if this is not your lukewarm cup of tea… I’ve pretty much said my piece and overran my word count! Thanks for reading!)

Still here?

I’m grateful.

Let me paint you a quick picture…

First off, the Eldest. The girl who likes pretty things but can’t be bothered to sit long enough to have her hair done. The girl who has dressed herself since she was eighteen months old and still chooses sequin leggings with football shorts, a patterned fleece and crocs with socks. The girl who insists the entire class of girls and boys are all her best friends really. The girl who likes to dance but isn’t all that keen on learning anyone else’s routine. The girl who has castles, play palaces and a giant homemade doll’s house, a box of barbies, scores of figurines and yet… still plays like this:

Homemade worlds hide on every windowsill and at the bottom of every cupboard. Dolls made out of paper are stuck to pencils with blue tac as she states quite matter-of-factly: “I just prefer to make my own.” She can disappear for hours, lost in her own little world occupied entirely by paper and glue. She reads now; memorizes lines for online Church and does the voices too. I watch her, in awe, and think… girl, you’ve barely even started and I am ALREADY so proud of you!

Next up, The Boy. Oh, to record a conversation with this boy! Inquisitive to the core, he wants to know how many days, minutes, hours until everything… and what is that multiplied by four?! Like the ultimate master of bedtime avoidance, The Boy saves his deepest scientific, mathematical or theological questions for lights out; shouting “Mummy!” like it’s an emergency… only to ask “how did Jesus make cheese?”

Last week, he screamed for me while I was on the toilet and, on my tenth return to his room, said, “have you finished?”

Pardon?” I replied.

“Have you finished your poo?” He asked without a hint of amusement. “Because if not, you better go finish it and then come back… this will be a long one!”

I couldn’t contain my laughter at this point and stopped pretending to be annoyed. “Come on then, dig deep. What is it this time?”

“Well, it’s two questions.” He says. “The first is… will you turn over my pillow? The second is… you know when Jesus comes back and makes a new Heaven and a new Earth, will it be the same people on the new Earth or will He make new people who are different to us?”

Huh…?!

The kid is five. (And an ideal companion in an ongoing, grown up theological crisis, I can tell you!)

After talk of salvation and many, many questions of a similar ilk, we finally settled on:

“You do know Mummy doesn’t know everything, don’t you?! In fact Mummy knows very little. God is full of mysteries. Have a good chat with Him! Night!”

Besides frying my brain on a regular basis, The Boy is also a peacemaker, a befriender and host to the kindest of hearts. Last week his teacher gave him a small Kinder chocolate bar, which he stored in his bag and then, without telling any of us, got out and dissected accordingly:

Making sure we each got a piece each.

All four of us thanked him in amazement and confessed that we would not have thought to do the same!

His enthusiasm for school having returned since lockdown (thankfully), this is the age where it is both cool to make things for your teacher and to grass on your mates. It’s also still perfectly acceptable to hug your Mum at a birthday party and smuggle her party food every fifteen minutes. Win.

Last night he told me that the song “You Are My Sunshine” was silly, “because you always sing that I don’t know how much you love me, but I do. You tell me eeeeeevery single day!” Eye roll. Thump.

Last month he made every single classmate a paper doll. Just because.

I am cherishing this phase. ALOT!

And then finally, the Youngest. My “bonus baby” – the one who wailed “Surprise!” during the preschool chaos and ensured we stayed in it just a few years more. She now attends nursery school fifteen hours each week, making her remaining days at home infinitely more precious and enjoyable. Last week, (having been officially dumped by Bubble Mum- who is now a social butterfly!) I put her in the child seat on my bike and we rode leisurely down the canal, stopping to feed ducks and hold dragonflies- as you do.

Cool.

Other days, we go to dance class, where she insists on doing everything “by myself!” one week, but then collects props for me to join in with her the next.

Too cute!

At swimming, she beams from ear to ear throughout – that big, sparkling, milky-pegged grin- regularly telling me how excited she is just to be there, before asking far too loudly in our landlocked cubicle, “HAVE YOU DRIED YOUR VAGINA PROPERLY MUMMY?!”

“Ssssh!”

“ARE YOU SURE?!”

Less independent in the water than anywhere else in life, the Youngest clings to me- wet skin on wet skin- and reminds me that she is still, after all, the baby; perfectly exemplified in the way that her little head still fits like a jigsaw piece in the cradle of my shoulder. Her independence makes my heart swell whilst her dependence makes it melt – this is the age I would freeze if I could, just to ‘enjoy it while it lasts.’

Sure, we still have tantrums, but at present they are more renowned for their comic value than anything else. A favourite, for example, is her absolute reluctance to flush the toilet, hoping to keep her pet solid in its ceramic cage forever like a festering little furbie. Let me tell you, it is mighty hard not to laugh at a three year old straining angrily to “MAKE ANOTHER ONE!” because you dared to flush her poo!

Phew!

As a trio, there is screeching a-plenty, but also moments of pure gold. The Eldest is the play-maker, inspiring scenes of intense imagination, whilst the Boy is the games-master and the Youngest … well… dynamite. (She’s three. What else?!)

We bought a new tablet to help with lockdown chapter two, installing individual profiles with automatic time limits for each child. Except that they immediately cheated the system by agreeing to combine their screen time and play together. Which they have done ever since. I mean… they beat us by sharing. How could I disagree with that? What more could a parent want?!

Other times, I come in from the kitchen to find them doing things like this…

Star Wars Yoga!

Or nosey at the security cameras in Husband’s office to see what they get up to in the garden when they think that they’re alone…

Aeroplanes?

All I’m saying is it’s a far cry from the three different directions in which they used to run!

Sure… I’m told… the harmony won’t last, and the days of peace potentially numbered. But fewer are the days in which I feel overwhelmed, overstretched and impossibly outnumbered!

So far, I’ve spent my childfree hours largely working for Church, but today… I find myself reflective.

For when you have a spare hour for a blog and a brew … it is MUCH EASIER to have this kind of perspective!

I rest my case.

Hang in there!

It really does get better.

Much love, thanks for reading xxxx

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