I’m Hiding From My Hand

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If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see? – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Some days, especially those on which I have limited interaction with other adults of the species, take on a peculiarly dreamlike quality. In part, of course, this is due to a lack of sleep. I exist in that state where time takes on a different character and the air can feel somehow heavier, as if the room (or your mind) is filled with fog. But there is also another factor at play. The Toddler.

I have always had a soft spot for surreal humour. My Dad read me some of the work of Edward Lear as a child, and later introduced me to Monty Python. Who would have thought that the cultivation of an appreciation of nonsense would be such excellent training for life with a toddler. Without this, the madness of everyday life might be appreciably more maddening.

Even still, I sometimes wish that a giant foot would just descend from the heavens to mark the end of scene. But not today. Today, there was a little piece of madness that was nothing but joy.

Pickles came running into the room with his hand behind his back. He ran round and around in circles screaming with laughter. The whole time he kept his hand behind his back. When I asked what he was doing he replied that his hand was chasing him.

Of course.

I asked if he thought it would catch him. “No,” he replied matter-of-factly, “Running too fast.” I was impressed. It is surely no mean feat to outrun one’s own hand. He ran out again. I could hear him running up and down the hall. Finally he returned, much quieter now than before. He didn’t say a word, but slid open his cupboard door, climbed inside and then closed it behind him.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked. “Hiding!” Came a loud whisper. “Who are you hiding from?” “Quiet mummy! Hiding from hand!” “Oh.” I imagined his hand as Thing from The Addams Family, scuttling around, wondering where oh where he could possibly have got to. I imagined him imagining it. It made my heart smile.

And that’s it. Just a short one today. It was only a little slice of a day (although he did hide from his hand for a remarkably long time). But, in the words of Willy Wonka, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

Little Hearts, Big Love
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I’m sorry, my darlings

I read an article the other day about how children with working mothers tend to do better. They are more ambitious because they have better role models. As someone who has spent time as a researcher I know well enough to take with a grain of salt most journalistic reporting of scientific results, which generally tend to be much more nuanced than sells papers. However, it got me to thinking about parental guilt and my own absurd situation where I convinced myself that I was taking on a new semester of teaching at university when my baby was three weeks old in order that I could stay at home with my kids. So that I could nurture a strong and unbroken attachment to me as their primary caregiver. Again, this was something that I had read. Given that the development of sound critical reasoning has been imperative in my working life, I feel that my skills in this area are pretty well developed. Yet even I get sucked into this constant bombardment of contradictions about what I am doing wrong, wrapped up in pleasant sounding articles about what other people are doing right. I try to justify decisions but have to use such warped logic to meet all of the different recommendations that I can’t win. Well, I am admitting defeat. Here is my letter of apology to my poor babies that they can show to their therapists in years to come.

My dearest babies

I’m sorry that I went back to work when you were so young. What did it teach you about relationships that your primary caregiver was not with you around the clock during your infancy? I’m sorry that I was a stay-at-home mum. What sort of role model could I possibly be?

I’m sorry that I didn’t give you enough tummy time when you were newborns. You needed to spend as much of your awake time as possible on your tummies but sometimes I let you lie on your backs. Doing so no doubt impeded your development. I’m sorry that I ever put you on your tummy as newborns. If you couldn’t get into the position yourself, I shouldn’t have put you in it. Doing so no doubt impeded your development.

I’m sorry that I enrolled you in various classes and activities when you were little. I should have let your days be filled with free play so your imaginations would have the best chance to thrive and so you would learn what it was to feel bored. I’m sorry that I let you spend so much unstructured time playing at home. There were so many more things I could have done to boost your cognitive growth and help you reach your full genetic potential.

I’m sorry that I breastfed you until you were old enough to decide that warm milk with a marshmallow before bed was a suitable exchange. If you were old enough to ask for it, then you were just too old! Don’t even get me started on the marshmallows. I’m sorry that I started you on solids at four months and didn’t breastfeed on demand exclusively until you were able to feed yourself. Having complementary feeds probably meant that you didn’t get enough breastmilk to maximise your i.q.

I’m sorry that you didn’t have all of the toys that could have helped with each new stage of your development. By not stimulating the right sense at the right time, your brain may not have developed the optimal neural connections and pathways. I’m sorry that you had too many toys. I should have ensured that you only had one thing to play with at a time so that you were not overwhelmed by choice.

I’m sorry that I didn’t give you iPads as babies. By reading you books instead, I deprived you of the highest level of sensory stimulation available. I’m sorry that I allowed any screen time before you were two. Any screen time before two limits normal development.

I’m sorry that I ever said no to you. When I didn’t want you to do something or have something I should have still ensured that every interaction was framed in a positive way; connect and redirect. I’m sorry that I didn’t say no to you often enough. A lack of proper boundaries has most likely set you on a course to lawlessness.

I’m sorry I loved you too much. You couldn’t walk passed me without being swept up for a hug. You probably had better things to do. Shoo, mummy! I’m sorry I didn’t love you enough. No amount of love could ever come close to what you deserve. But all that I do have to give is yours my darlings.

Always and forever

Your most fallible mother x

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Always Choose Sleep

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About a month ago I mentioned to my husband that I was thinking of buying a whiteboard for our kitchen. I could write to-do lists, keep a record of activities, write up list of meals that we’d be having that week, plus have exercise and blogging schedules. I was going to be organised. I didn’t get the whiteboard and the moment passed. A couple of weeks later I had this great idea to buy a tin of blackboard paint and paint an entire wall of our kitchen with it. Same idea as the whiteboard but it would, I imagined, have more of a funky cafe vibe if I could write all over the wall with chalk. My husband nodded with all the feigned enthusiasm of someone who knows that this idea too shall pass. But, just in case, that same afternoon he went out and bought a small whiteboard and attached it to the kitchen wall. Point taken on the funky cafe vibe idea.

The two qualities that I think are most valuable in someone raising young children are kindness and patience. Unfortunately for Pickles and Pords their mother does not naturally possess either of these. I don’t say this to be hard on myself. I think I have other useful attributes for parenting, not least of which is the self-awareness to know my limitations and try and work on them. So every time I find myself losing patience (hourly), or starting to respond in a way that is less than optimally kind, I make a new resolution. Today I will choose patience and kindness. As I organised the new whiteboard with different headings and space for lists I just knew that from this would flow a new me. I would be organised and therefore never be flustered. I would be the mother of my resolutions; always kind, always patient.

Unfortunately, this week the babies were sick and my resolve to be kind and patient was severely tested. It was conjunctivitis, so we were in quarantine. Pickles spent the days roaming around the house and I would follow him with my disinfectant. Towels, bedding, clothes were all washed in hot water immediately after use. He picked up the routine quite quickly, and on Tuesday afternoon I found him staring into the washing machine, which was running with one face washer inside. Future (kind, patient, well-rested, mother-of-the-year) me is going to have to deal with the fact that he has worked out how to operate the washing machine on his own. In that moment, I was just glad that he’d got the fact that in the world of the sickness lockdown, hygiene was paramount. It wasn’t fun, but we got by with books and blocks and too much tv.

Then it would start. At about 4pm each day, Pickles reached the end of his tether. He hated being inside all day, he hated being sick, and so he would let me know about it with a low, continuous whine. The sound was the perfect expression of what it’s like to feel sick. Others might say: “I don’t know, I just feel ‘blerg’.” Pickles said “errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh  errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “What should we have for dinner?” “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “Shall we read some books?” “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.”Silence from me. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “Maybe we all need to have a little lie down.” “No! No lie down! Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” And so it went. I imagined my husband in his IT workspace, probably laughing at videos of cats playing piano, emailing someone on the other side of the room rather than having to talk, and going out for a little walk to clear his head when it got a bit much. I cursed his name. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.”

There never were longer hours than those between 4 and 6. Then, suddenly, they’d be over. Dinner, bath, bed. Day shift done. Relief and peace for approximately 30 seconds. Then it was Pords’ turn. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” She was congested and it hurt to lie down. So she wanted to be held. All night. By me. If I left the room to brush my teeth, she would recommence: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Now, my rational mind got that they were very little people who weren’t feeling well. But the tireder I got, and the more times I heard an errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh or an aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, the less patient and kind I felt. In a brief moment of respite I stood looking at my beautifully organised new whiteboard and the blank columns where I had planned to schedule time for exercise or blogging. I shook my head, took the red marker, and wrote “ALWAYS CHOOSE SLEEP!!!” My husband smiled: “That seems like a very good plan.”

Yet, here I am not sleeping. It’s a Saturday morning and I asked for an hour to write a blog. I’ve been interrupted approximately once every three minutes. I am sorry to say I have not always responded with patience and kindness. And no doubt it’s incoherent mostly rambling. I should have trusted in the wisdom of the whiteboard.

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Pickles and Trouble

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“Come here, little friend” said Trouble to Pickles.
“Come here, little friend” said He.
“We’ll have fun, little friend” said Trouble to Pickles.
“You’ll always have great fun with me.”

“There are treats in the cupboard” said Trouble to Pickles,
“They are not so impossibly high.
Just drag that chair over towards the bench,
It won’t be too tricky to climb.”

“There are stones in that pond” said Trouble to Pickles,
You can see they are ever so near.
Get close to the edge and reach your arm in,
You really have nothing to fear.”

“There is room in that drawer” said Trouble to Pickles,
For someone your size to squeeze.
Won’t it be fun to hide in there?
I promise it will be a breeze.”

“There are markers left out” said Trouble to Pickles,
And I know how you love to draw.
Everyone loves your pictures so.
Why not do one on the floor?”

“There is more fun outside” said Trouble to Pickles,
And I’ve noticed the door is ajar,
You can slip out unnoticed and no one will mind.
You don’t have to go terribly far.”

“Come here, little friend” said Trouble to Pickles.
“Come here, little friend” said He.
“Of course, my dear friend” said Pickles to Trouble.
“You always can count on me!”

Prose for Thought
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First grief

Louis

On Sunday morning we were searching the front yard for our cat, Louis. Pickles was perplexed because in the waking hours Louis was always close by him. Louis would follow him around the garden, or sit and watch him playing. If we were inside and he was out, he would be at the window. If he couldn’t find us he would wait by the door.

Before Pickles, Louis had never really advanced from the noisy, playfully aggressive kitten that we’d picked from the litter of foundlings at our local vet. He had never been around other cats and so assumed he was human. He mostly wanted to eat what and when and where we ate. He wanted to sleep tucked up under the covers with his head on the pillow. He liked all of our favourite television shows. When someone arrived who he didn’t know or trust, he would rush headlong into the defence of the home. A little streak of terrific madness.

When Pickles was born Louis became a different cat. He had always been affectionate and protective, but now he was also unspeakably gentle and tolerant. As Pickles grew, he pulled Louis’ tail and fur, lay on top of him, and on several occasions even tried to ride him around the house. Louis took it all. He was ever patient, ever loving. Just before Pords was born, we moved house and Pickles was a little more fragile than usual. He had dissolved into tears at something or other, and Louis came over and started licking his face. He licked and licked until Pickles was laughing. They were best mates.

So, on Sunday morning when Louis wasn’t around, Pickles came up with all sorts of theories as we searched. He settled on the one in which Louis was on holidays – probably the beach, but maybe Nana’s house because she has fish. Suddenly, my husband said: “I see him.” He pointed to the side of the road. I knew from the tone that it was not good.

I bundled Pickles and Pords into the car and left my poor husband to deal with it on his own, not wanting the kids to see. As we drove, Pickles kept his eyes peeled: “Looking, looking, looking” He sang. “What are you looking at?” I asked. “Looking for Lou Lou” He replied. My heart sank. I pointed out a bus, hoping to distract him. “Bus looking for Lou Lou.” In that moment I decided to play along. “Yes. Or maybe Lou Lou took the bus to the beach.” He looked satisfied; that was probably it. Ok phew, I don’t have to deal with this right now. As soon as we got home though: “Lou Lou back? Lou Lou back?” Of course Lou Lou was not back. “Nope, still on holidays. He might not come back.”

I saw some friends that afternoon and talked it through with them. I also read some articles about toddlers and grief. There was a general consensus that simplicity and honesty were the best policies. So that night I pulled Pickles onto my lap and said: “You know what happened to Louis? He’s dead. That means he can’t ever come back. But he was a special part of our family. He was a funny old cat wasn’t he?” Pickles’ face furrowed in deep concentration as he grappled with the philosophical ramifications of this new word: dead. I wondered if I had done the wrong thing.

I asked if he wanted to hear the story of when his dad and I had first met Louis. He smiled. “Yes please!” So I told him the story. And again. Probably twenty times before he would go to sleep. In the end he was telling it with me. “This one!” he’d yell when I got to the part where we decided that Louis was the cat for us. Then finally he slept and my husband and I could talk through our own sorrow.

The next morning the first thing Pickles wanted to do was to make a play dough sculpture of Louis. Later, his cousin brought him a picture she had drawn of Louis and he rushed to proudly display it on the fridge. It was the first thing he showed his dad when he walked in the door that evening. “Lou Lou!”

He is gone, but Pickles has already found ways of remembering him. Inevitably one day he will have much bigger griefs to deal with, and perhaps this experience will have helped in some way to prepare him for those to come.  I used to think it was callous when people said that having pets was a good way of teaching children about grief and loss but I can see the point. I hope that when he next faces grief, he is able to hold on to some of this ability to find joy in remembering. And I will try to remember how being able to share in that joy with him has helped me this time too.

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