Views From The Sick Bed

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been sick for three weeks now. Miserable flu. Sore throat, achey, and a cough that makes it close to impossible to get a proper rest. I’m so, so exhausted. It’s been quite horrible really, but there have also been moments of reflection and insight. In particular, I have read two articles shared on Facebook that irritated me in the way that only someone who hasn’t had enough sleep can be irritated by a blog. I wonder if this is where internet trolls come from – they’re really just sick, sleep-deprived parents who are prone to unreasonable agitation.

The one that said your phone is ruining your child

My first problem with this one was the implication that anything could be ruining my child. Ruining! Machu Picchu, the Greek economy, and kids who watch tv on their parents’ phones. My second problem was that this person was writing about how she was totally horrified when she’d seen some kids at the library watching something on an iPhone. Now, obviously it’s not ideal. It would be better if the kids were reading books, or if an engaged parent or carer was reading books to them. But the bigger problem for me than the kids eschewing the books for some screen time, was that this other parent made a judgement without seeking any context. Sure, it’s great that she was there playing with her toddler. But there are plenty of reasons why a parent might use the one thing they know will get their kids to sit quietly for ten minutes at the library. Maybe they needed to ask the librarian about a particular book, or look something up, or use a computer, or fax a form. Maybe they’d been playing with their kids all day long and just needed a few minutes of peace and the library was a safe, quiet place where they could have a time out. Whatever it was, the chances of the children being ruined by this experience seem quite low.

I have mixed feelings about screen time. I am aware of the recommendations, although I would like to look a bit more closely at the research to see if there is much difference in the ramifications of passively vs. actively watching. Pickles enjoys some television shows, but most of the time he needs someone there to be talking about what is happening (or watching him act out what is happening) otherwise he gets bored quickly and wanders off. Today I woke up feeling so sick that I said to him, “We might need to sit quietly on the couch and watch some tv today buddy”, he started bouncing around and saying “No tv day! No tv day!” So that was that. Luckily he seemed to take my sickness into account and spent the day preparing me cups of tea and soups in his play kitchen and being much more engaged by quiet craft activities than he usually is.

He’s an active, imaginative, sociable kid, but he watched tv before he turned two and, sometimes when he watches it now, Pords is in the room too so we’ve already ruined her. They don’t watch tv on my phone, mainly because I don’t think my phone has that capability. I think the fact that their mother is somewhat of a luddite probably has the potential to be more damaging than allowing some screen time. Luckily, my husband is a digital expert. They’re too young for devices or computers yet, but when they’re learning to write, they’ll also be learning to code computers. My husband rightly points out that we’re in a digital age and learning coding languages is likely to be just as useful as learning any other language or new skill. We’ve talked about developing coding lessons for young children. I might add some to this site if we get further with that. But, I digress. It seems probable to me without a further look at the research that there is screen time and screen time and either alternative would have to be very extreme to lead to the fall of Rome.

The one that said if we were honest we’d all say parenting sucks

When Pickles was a few months old, the nursing service in our area organised a mothers group. At the first session, twelve bleary eyed new mothers sat around in a circle and the nurse went around asking how motherhood differed from what we were expecting. She clucked sympathetically as people spoke about sleep deprivation and feeling a loss of independence. Then when she got to me I said that although I had experienced those things, I had also expected those things. I had known plenty of people who had become mothers and heard war stories about the early months. I said that given these expectations, the thing that differed from what I was expecting was just how indescribably wonderful it was. Certainly wonderful enough to make up for the lack of sleep and the fact that it suddenly took a lot longer to leave the house. There were plenty of nods and smiles from the group, but the nurse looked disapproving. “Yes, but it’s very hard.” It seemed that only a particular bent of honesty was welcome in the sharing circle.

This article took me right back there. There are moments and days when I feel fed up and frustrated, and sometimes even irrationally angry. But if I’m having a bad day, I can get irrationally angry walking down the street if there’s someone in front of me walking at what I deem to be an unacceptably slow pace. I absolutely loved the job I had before Pickles was born, but there were some days when the afternoons dragged and I thought “If I make a cup of tea, it will be quarter to four, and then there will only be fifteen minutes until there’s only an hour til 5 o’clock.” Doesn’t mean the job “sucked”. Doesn’t mean walking down the street “sucks”. (Although, let’s face it, when you’re dealing with slow walkers sometimes it kind of does).

Last week I caught up with a friend at a cafe. I had chosen a kid-friendly cafe with plenty of books and toys designed to keep little people entertained and for some reason I thought that this consideration on my part would make Pickles sit still and quietly amuse himself while I had a cup of tea and a chat. He played with the toys by himself for a few minutes and then tried to get my attention to come and play with him. When I refused and continued chatting to my friend, he started exploring. Luckily there weren’t many others in the cafe, but he must have sat on every chair, tried every door, touched everything he could reach. No matter how many times I got up to retrieve him, how many times I asked him just to sit and play for a little while longer, how exciting I made our afternoon sound if he just let me finish my tea, he wouldn’t sit still. Of course he wouldn’t, he’s two and grown ups  chatting over a cup of tea are boring. At the time I was so cross with him, but reflecting later that day it was pretty clear that what I was frustrated by this reminder that I can’t just go out to a cafe and have a quiet chat with a friend. Even when I’m exhausted and want nothing more than just to sit down and drink my tea in peace. But that also led me to reflect on the reason for that. I have a gorgeously happy, bouncing baby and a funny, independent, curious toddler, and I get the privilege of spending a big portion of my time watching them learn and discover and grow. They want constant attention (day and night!) but it doesn’t “suck”.

Postscript: My husband came home from work early today so that I could rest. He told his work that he was going home to look after his family and he got lots of pats of the back. He also acknowledged that if a woman had said that she was going home to look after her family there would have been sneers and snide remarks about the unreliability of working mothers, and that being a white, middle-class male has plenty of perks. So, I think this calls for an acknowledgement on my part that it is much easier to not think the job sucks when your partner is the best. I stand by my irritation though. Don’t tell me that I should admit something sucks when I don’t think it does.

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