Torn – The Parent Paradox

As the great and wise philosopher Natalie Imbruglia once said:

Nothing’s fine, I’m torn
I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel, I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor.
Illusion never changed
Into something real
Wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn.

If that isn’t an accurate description of motherhood, I don’t know what is!

OK, I’m rarely naked on the floor, because this is, after all, Sheffield, and it’s a bit nippy – but I’ve been down there sobbing in my dressing gown for sure.

I’ve lost faith – in myself, in my ability to cope, in the system, in the Sleep Gods.

I’ve had my pre-kid illusions shattered a billion times.

I’ve been so tired I can’t tell what’s real anymore.

And I’ve been wide awake at dawn helplessly watching the day inevitably rip through the night.

Frankly, if you don’t recognise any of this in your own experience of parenting I think you might have been doing it wrong.

The thing that resonates most for me in this 90s classic, though, (and yes, I do know it’s not a Natalie Imbruglia original – I also don’t care) is that feeling of being torn.

Torn is pretty much the average state of your average parent. And I’m not just talking about work-life balance and spreading yourself thin by being a slightly failing mother/employee/spouse/friend/person. (Also note, the other side of slightly failing is MOSTLY ROCKING).

I’m talking about the kind of torn that’s soul deep – I’m talking about the Parent Paradox.

The Parent Paradox is the phenomenon where (through the medium of children) you suddenly feel so many conflicting and contrasting things all at once. And you can’t tell or trust which one is true because they all are, and they all aren’t.

Where you are so very happy and so very in love with your baby, but so deep-down tired and miserable and lost and afraid at the same time.

Where you are surrounded by people big and small, but still feel lonely and isolated.

Where you crave time alone but ache for your children when you’re apart.

Where you’re desperate to have your pre-kid life back, but wouldn’t change a thing.

Where you want them to stay in the right now and not grow up too fast, but love it when they hit each new developmental milestone.

Where you long to squeeze them but don’t want anyone to touch you back. (Possibly ever again).

Where you love them so much is stops your heart, but they make you SO UNBELIEVABLY ANGRY it kind of scares you, too. (Just put the fricking shoes on!!!!!)

Where you can be so busy all day, and yet have achieved nothing by the end of it.

Where you love to spend time with them, but are also are bored to tears by the hell that is imaginative play within 10 long, long minutes.

Where your heart is full but you’re running on empty.

Where the hours until bedtime tick by so slowly, but they grow up way too fast.

Where the poo is disgusting, but the nappy bums are so damn cute.

See what I mean?

You are living in the a state of constant duality and it is incredibly, astoundingly disorientating.

I have often seen the Parent Paradox as something which must be endured, until your vision, decision-making capacity, emotions and hormones return to some sort of rational, predictable normality.

But in retrospect, maybe it’s not a curse that’s rocked you off your axis, but a gift.

A gift that comes free with your first baby and lets you see the world in a whole new light – split into hundreds of twisting kaleidoscope parts.

By being in two (or more) minds, by not being certain, or sedate, or grounded; you get to see every side of your own story and your own heart in glorious technicolour.

It’s like going from two-dimensional black and white to suddenly being able to see the Magic Eye pictures hiding in your life – a new multi-dimensional, multi-faceted perspective.

The only thing you can really do is to sit back and let the colours flow over you.

Maybe the perfect sky IS torn.

And maybe it’s not a tear, but an opening.

Maybe, just by having looked through that dazzling, confounding, refracting lense – you get to go into the rest of your life with new eyes and new empathy.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s actually making you a better parent.

Thanks Natalie.

(But not for convincing me I could pull off that elfin haircut from the video – I couldn’t).

 

Mumonthenetheredge

xx

 

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Without my kids

Today is my very first night being a mother without my kids.

Okay, so it’s not my FIRST night. I go out. Sometimes. I’ve been away with work the odd night and with friends the odd weekend – the latter perhaps three times, and only once in the lifetime of the smallest small.

But now I will be away from them every other weekend and a night in the week, at least. And it is hurting, very, very badly.

I feel like someone has hollowed out my heart and womb with a melon scoop, and I can feel the scrape of every curl of flesh that’s been removed.

The void inside me is reflected in the empty beds upstairs.

And I cannot bear to look.

To catch you up, Dadonthenetheredge is now officially DadOFFthenetheredge.

As we all know, small children are pretty hard on relationships.

For my part, perhaps it would have been better if I HAD been away a bit more often. If I hadn’t fallen so hard and fast for them that they became my everything…

But I have found the process of parenting, particularly after pregnancy loss, all-consuming.

Trying to manage, trying to cope, trying to get through – has been all I’ve been able to do. All I’ve known how to do. And it has been up to me to manage. I have been the primary carer; him the primary bread winner – often working away. I have had to LEARN to cope – and to do it on my own.

Perhaps I have learned too well.

My life changed drastically with the onset of children. His didn’t. I threw myself into my new world and found meaning and validation there. He threw himself into his world and found the same.

Looking up, we have found we are actually in very different places.

And the place we occupy together is not a nice one.

It is a mess. Made up of his ambition; my anxiety.
His drive; my depression.
His lack of empathy; my lack of attention.

And of course the normal underappreciation on both sides, lack of communication, resentments building, misunderstandings simmering – and the endless tiredness competition in which most parents are engaged.

BOOM. There you have it.

Had it.

The fact is that we are both better versions of ourselves when we are not together.

And when we are together, we are not showing our girls what a relationship ought to look like. We are showing them something ugly. And that can’t go on.

I am not worried about going it alone with the kids – practically and emotionally I’ve been doing that for some time.

But I’m afraid going it alone WITHOUT them feels very much like heart is being sucked out through my c-section scar, leaving a throbbing vacuum in my chest.

I don’t know how to fill it.

I don’t remember what was there before. I don’t even remember who I was before I had them. And I’m not sure I want to.

Oh, I am sure eventually having some space for self-care will be good for me.

I’m sure having my 8th lie in in 6 years will be good for me.

I’m sure building a life outside of them will be good for me – and ultimately for them.

But tonight, it doesn’t feel like it.

Tonight, I feel like I am breaking apart.

My hands are itching to touch them. My ears are roaring with their silence. I do not think I am capable of going upstairs and going through the motions of going to bed like it is a normal night. I don’t know if I will ever find a normal again.

Tonight, I am going to wallow.

I am going to let myself fill up with this heavy, jagged sadness – because it is better than nothing.

I am going to mourn the loss of my family – a vision which I’ve worked so very hard to achieve – but which never seemed to quite materialise with us as a foursome.

Tonight I’m going to miss my babies.

I’m going to contemplate the sheer insanity that is loving someone so much it feels like it is fighting to burst from your skin, and you have to grit your teeth, clench your fists and hold your breath against its force.
I’m going to wonder at the the utter madness that is loving someone so completely and so fiercely when they will inevitably, every day, grow further and further away from you.
When they will – by design – love you less and less. When they will be a little less yours with every passing moment – like mine are tonight. When they will eventually leave you forever.

I mean, who the FECK decided this would be a thing???

And why in God’s name did I sign up for it?

Tonight, I am going to cry big, face-contorting, grotesque tears.

I am going to howl at the Nether Edge moon about injustice, unfairness, and loneliness.

And then I’m going to plan how to show none of this to them when they come back to me.

I’m going to plan something wonderful for us to do together that will bind us with memories, and create us a family that just looks just a little bit different to the one I always dreamed of.

And whether you are with or without your children tonight, I’m going to suggest you do the same.

The hidden loneliness of the new mother

Delighted to be featured in the Yorkshire Post http://bit.ly/2z6CviG this week as part of their campaign combating loneliness – #happytochat.

I’m alongside two wonderful women and mothers I’ve met along the way – Hannah from Childcare Adventures and Kate from Little Sheffield.

Motherhood can be isolating in a lot of different ways. But what’s really clear from this article is that if you feel this way – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

xxx

#MeToo

There were the older boys who took me and my friend Becky aside into the library at school, and talked to us about our body parts. They showed theirs. Age 9.

There was the neighbour we all instinctively knew not to go near at community barbeques. And we knew not to leave anyone behind. Age 11.

There were the guys in Spain on Spanish exchange who would drive past repeatedly and shout at me out the window about my chest and blonde hair. I was 14.

There was the bloke on the bus to that club, who squeezed us into a seat, refused to move at our stop, and helped himself to a handful of our vulvas as we climbed past. We were 16.

There was the driving instructor, who took me for walks, put his shoulder on my head to ‘see the speed dial’, and took me home to meet his guinea pigs. I thought I could handle him. I was 17.

There was the friend who comforted me when I was upset and made a grab for my tits when he got the chance. 18.

There was the scary Big Issue guy, who approached me alone, and then followed me yelling about my privilege, when I wouldn’t stop to talk in a dark corner. 21.

There was the friend’s boyfriend who got drunk and told me how much he liked me, and wanted to check if my breasts were real. I couldn’t prove it unless he felt. 22.

There was the bloke on the busy train who sat next to me, and kept ‘accidentally’ brushing my breast with his arm, and pressing his leg against mine. It wasn’t that busy. 24.

There was all the blokes at the parties and clubs who came up behind me to rub themselves against me, or cop a feel. Who worked in teams to separate the target girl for their mate. 15-25.

There was the guy at work who just got a bit too friendly at the Christmas do, with hands where they shouldn’t be. I laughed it off. 26.

There was the airport security guy in Egypt who pulled me out of line and complimented my partner on my boobs and hair. Holding an AK47. Fun times. 27.

There are all the builders who have ever told me to smile, and all the blokes in cars who have beeped when I’ve been jogging, alone, at twilight. Ongoing. And I still smile back, even though I still don’t want to.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has inspired a #MeToo revolution.

I wasn’t going to write #MeToo, because I have never actually been assaulted. I am not a survivor. And I thought this was about them.

But then my nearly 6 year old came home from school to tell me this week that the Year 2 boys are trying to smack her bum. And I was taken straight back to the empty school library with my friend Becky.

Part of me wanted to dismiss it – to tell her they’re just playing. To ignore them.

But then like the rest of my generation and the generation before, I realised I have been taught to minimise the ongoing, everyday sexism and breaches of personal space and consent that just happen to you if you just so happen to be female.

I have been taught that you suck it up, get on with it, keep your head down, deflect, don’t cause trouble, do what you have to do to stay safe.

Smile.

And that is not what I want my daughters to have to learn.

#MeToo isn’t just about assault. It’s about every woman’s everyday experience. And the really terrifying thing is that every woman I know has a list just like mine. Every. Single. One.

That’s not okay.

And we really need to start talking to our girls and our boys about it if we’re going to stop it in its tracks. We need to talk about consent, and respect, and bodies, and relationships, and feelings.

And as my own #MeToo list – and my own daughter – prove, we need to start talking a lot earlier than we think we do.

Harvey Weinstein might be a disgusting predator, but he’s also a great place for us to start.

 

Mumonthenetheredge

xx

On Victims

There are too many victims lately. In the news. On television screens, flashing up on phones. And we are all deeply, deeply sorry for them – these people caught up in awful circumstances, to whom awful, awful things have happened.

Because we know that’s how to treat people who have been hurt.

Back in real life though, our day-to-day, we also meet, every now and again, Victims.

These are Victims with a capital letter – like it’s a job title.

We all know one.
They are dramatic.
They lurch from crisis to crisis.
They are over emotional in inappropriate places.
They over share.
They can talk about nothing but themselves, and what made them a victim.

They will also not do anything to help themselves escape the cycle. It becomes the sum and total of who they are – and when it comes down to it you suspect they’re enjoying the drama and attention just a LITTLE bit too much.

And it is annoying, exhausting and frustrating – especially when it impinges on you.

I have met several Victims in my time. People who thought their sh*t was always sh*ttier than everyone else’s. People always demanding sympathy and leeway. People dangerously crumbling – and liable to reach out and take you down with them if you let them latch on.

I have not had time for their shenanigans.

And I have not always been kind.

And then…

Then I became a ‘victim’.

I became a victim, I suppose, of motherhood. Because it started, really, when I first got pregnant. It was a complicated pregnancy for one reason and another, and I struggled with anxiety and dread. For perhaps the first time in my life things were happening to me that were out of my control, being done to me, my body letting me down and not doing what I wanted it to. And I didn’t know how to cope.

For the first time, I was passive, and helpless – a victim of circumstance – however much I’d wanted that circumstance in the first place.

It didn’t end.

I was a victim of a bad birth experience, again way out of my control and experience. And then the rest came. Postnatal depression, miscarriage, problems at work, relationship issues, infertility struggles, blah blah blah.

And gradually, without really noticing, I became a Victim.

Yes, my nice, ordered, controlled life had collapsed around my ears. But I think the thing that really changed – that took the v from lower to upper case – was the lack of emotional support I received.

When I really truly needed understanding, needed an outlet, I didn’t get it. And in that void I went into a tailspin. I started reaching for it in other places – sometimes the wrong ones. Seeking support. Looking for validation. Over sharing.

Essentially I started blogging as the one active thing I felt I could achieve against the barrage of stuff happening to me. I started blogging out of loneliness – the sort of solitude you can only experience inside your own head, when there is no one else to talk to about what goes on there. I started blogging because I needed to get my thoughts out, somewhere people could choose to actually listen and engage. I started blogging because I was desperate for someone to hear me, to find someone who could empathise. To find someone who could say, ‘me too’. To feel less alone.

I have been deeply touched by some of the support I have received from strangers, particularly from women and mothers who also love their children to distraction, but are lonely, and kind of traumatised by the sheer impact it has had on their bodies and minds and relationships and lives. Other victims of motherhood.

And gradually, I have become less of a victim.

It has taken me some time to look back and see how battered I have felt, how helpless. Because I have been doing the only thing I have known to do – gritted my teeth, battened down the hatches and got through each day as best I can.

But today I have decided I will no longer be trapped, ruled and assailed by external forces. I am no longer going to curl up in a corner of my life and take what’s dished out to me. I am no longer going to plead for help from passers by. I will no longer let things just happen to me or around me. I’m going to help myself. I’m going to stand up, and say ‘enough’. I am going to deal with the things I’ve been cowering from. I am going to heal.

And I am also sorrier than I can say for my past attitude to Victims.

Because having been there, I can see the other way of looking at a Victim, is to see someone who is struggling with their mental health.

Someone who has been hurt.
Someone who is adrift.
Someone struggling to cope.
Someone reaching out.
Someone who for whatever reason doesn’t doesn’t have anchor.
Someone who doesn’t have a safety net.

No – it doesn’t need to be your job to catch them as they fall.

You may not be close enough to do so, and you are certainly not obliged to sacrifice yourself by throwing yourself underneath every stranger, acquaintance or colleague. But neither do you have to help them on their way. Maybe you could just reach out and touch them, briefly, with kindness. And maybe, just maybe, that could slow their descent. Maybe – hopefully – that could mean they don’t shatter when they reach rock bottom.

Maybe, just maybe, you will save someone through a moment of fleeting kindness that will actually cost you very little.

So the next time you meet a Victim, a drama queen, someone who seems to think they’re special and that the world owes them something, look again.

Pain is not a competition.
There is no sliding scale of acceptable reactions to life events.
There is no statute of limitations on trauma, or on sympathy.
Emotion is not a failing.
Mental ill health is not a weakness, and it is most certainly not an attack on you.
And the smallest bit of empathy could go further than you would believe possible.

I am no longer going to be a victim. Of whatever case. Of whatever circumstance. Things are no longer going to just happen to me and knock me flat. In fact I am going to start happening to things.

And those things should watch out…

But not because I plan to come out fighting.

The opposite of passive is not aggressive – it’s active.

While I’m not going to let myself be bombarded and diminished by LIFE any more, neither am I going to cause any damage of my own. The things I’m going to happen to are going to be better for me happening to them.

I am going to be better.

And I want you to know that you can be better too.

 

Mumonthenetheredge

xx

27 things to do in Sheffield in the last week of Summer Holidays – Mumonthenetheredge style

  1. Lose your SH…. **Rag** before 9.30am.
  2. Wonder how the hell you’re going to get everyone out of the house by 7.45 when school starts again.
  3. Spend 30 mins blowing up the slow-punctured paddling pool for the 800th time, for 5 mins play before everyone falls out.
  4. Head to the park – any park you haven’t already been to in the last 48 hours. Instantly regret this. Subdue urge to roar at other people’s holiday-feral children. (And your own – you’re now in public).
  5. Realise your kids’ school shoes no longer fit, and make a last minute dash to Clarks.
  6. While in town, promise the kids you’ll go to the final few days of The Beach… Realise it has ended. [WARNING: ENDS TODAY!!!!] Brace for Force 10 tantrums.
  7. Pack the eleventeenth trillionth picnic of the season, knowing they’re only going to eat the crisps and then ask for ice creams 10 mins later.
  8. Contemplate the sheer pointlessness of cucumbers.
  9. Go to Weston Park Museum to feed the ducks, chase the pigeons, and play in the Viking Hut and Boat. (Top tip: get a large, large coffee from the Starbucks over the road).
  10. Plan a final summer holiday Glorious Family Day Out – perhaps at The Deep, or at Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Good luck. You’ll need it.
  11. Head up to Manor Lodge for crafts, lavender maze fun, hide and seek in the ruins, and maybe a donkey ride. (One of my fave places).
  12. Throw the crafts out surreptitiously 2 days later. There is only so much crap art one house can bear, after all. 
  13. Call everyone you know begging for a play date to dilute the company of your children. Try not to appear too desperate/crazed.
  14. Toy with the idea of a trip to Chatsworth House Farm and Adventure Play Area. Remember this will be mayhem like ordinary parks x104  (see no 4), and seriously doubt your own fortitude.
  15. Spend the entry money on a lunch out instead, at The Wheatsheaf in Baslow, where you can watch the children on the play equipment and DRINK ALCOHOL!!!! (You’ll need to employ a designated driver).
  16. Go to Bakewell on the bus (entertainment in itself) for a poke around the shops, a play in a novel new playground (and splash area) and take bread for a classic game of Fish or Duck? over the bridge (who gets the bread first – I’m Team Fish).
  17. Break out the art supplies. Desperate times call for desperate measures! (I mean, not the glitter, it’s not that bad yet, but definitely the paints). Encourage small creations – possibly decorating pasta, or stones.
  18. Leave small creations as Bogart gifts at the Longshaw Estate. Walk down to the ducks, if you can bear the whining about enforced exercise. (And if the poor ducks in/around Sheffield can bear any more feeding after 5 weeks of summer holidays).
  19. On no account allow children to check gifts on the way back, as the Bogarts always fail to collect them in a timely manner. Lazy little b-stards.
  20. Invest in bath paints. Minutes of fun! And don’t wait for official bathtime. 11am is a perfectly acceptable time to wash children when you have failed to leave the house with them and they are driving you round the bend.
  21. Wait for a really really sunny day, and then find an INDOOR PLAY AREA, in the hopes that everyone else will be making the most of the sunshine outside, therefore avoiding other people’s children! I like something small where I can keep an eye on both children at once.
  22. Introduce a kiddie bubble disco at 4pm everyday in a desperate effort to re-impose a routine and stop the late afternoon scrapping. Depending on your sanity levels, feel free to include/exclude the Hokey Cokey.
  23. Ceebeebies marathon. No one will judge you at this point. (Especially if you don’t tell them).
  24. Serve pasta for tea for the 2 billionth time this August, knowing deep down most of it will go into the bin. Again. Weep silently into the pan to salt the water (optional), and pray for the return of your childcare so someone else can feed them.
  25. Bugger it all and just hang out at the @851 baby cafe, desperately hiding from your children behind a coffee and a slice of cake.
  26. Wait with as much patience as you can muster for bedtime.
  27. Invest in a supply of finest Sheffield GIN to see you through the week!

Enjoy!

OR

Get proper ideas of what’s on over at Little Sheffield, and fabulous tried and tested reviews at Trips with a Tot.

Mumonthenetheredge

Oh Bedtime, Wherefore Art Thou?

O Bedtime, wherefore art thou? You’re taking bloody ages.
The kids have worn away my calm, by scrapping, screaming stages.
It’s surely time for tea quite soon, and then they’ve got to bathe
And then you’ll come, O Wondrous One, my sanity to save.
It’s not that I don’t love them, or treasure every second –
It’s just it’s so relentless, and harder than I’d reckoned.
I’ve smiled, I’ve shushed, I’ve wiped their  bums, (and noses and the floor)
I’ve played at mermaids, painted pictures, upheld turn-taking law.
I’ve fed them food (which they’ve ignored) and stopped them eating mud,
I’ve hugged and kissed it better when one of them draws blood.
I’ve been a horse, I’ve been a chef, I’ve even been a hanky –
A pillow and a punch bag (which made me somewhat cranky).
We’ve done the park, we’ve read a book, the baby had a nap
But now it’s time to put them down and claim my own self back.
I want to drink a nice hot drink, I want to be alone,
I want to look at pictures of them, scrolling through my phone.
I want the chance to miss them, I want a bit of peace
I want to want them in my arms, while I bask in sheer relief.
So please be kind, O Bedtime, and peaceful and serene,
Let lullabies yield to sleep – and sleep per chance to dream.
Let there be no more wees, wails for water, or demands for one last book,
No more existential questions, as a conversational hook.
Let them close their eyes and remember the best of all our fun,
And forget the bits I didn’t do, the bits that I got wrong.
Let me see long lashes rest on cheeks, and hands curl under chins,
Let my heart fill up with love again, and forgive their transgressions.
Tomorrow is a whole new world, to explore and start anew
But only if I get the chance – to watch them, and renew.
For there’s something rather magical about a child relaxed in slumber –
That unwinds the day’s frustrations back to sentimental wonder.
So by any name, O Bedtime – just please tonight be sweet
(And maybe slightly early, ‘cos I’m dead upon my feet).

13 tips for a day out at The Deep

The Small Small is 2, I thought. What can we do together as a family to mark this key milestone in her small life? I know! A Glorious Family Excursion!

Animals!

Movement!

Neon lighting!

The opportunity to get wet!

BOOM!

The Deep…  

So from personal experience, here’s 13 top tips to help you have a great day out.

 

  1. Plan ahead

The first step of preparation for a trip to The Deep is to get all family members on board.

For me, this involved a slow drip-feed introduction of the concept to Dadonthenetherdege over several weeks, as he alas suffers less from the blissful amnesia I clearly enjoy in between our Glorious Family Excursions.

(I can’t say we got to the point where he thought it was his original idea – the pinnacle of spousal management techniques – but he did come to a point of weary resignation. Win!)

It’s also a good idea to engage the Smalls, as they all hate any form of surprise. Fortunately ‘Fish’ is one of the few animals the Small Small can consistently identify – so this process was more successful than I originally anticipated. So we started talking about fish, reading Tiddler, and watching Nemo.

I momentarily considered an oceanic craft project but sat down with a cup of tea until the urge went away.

“Shall we go and see the fishies?” I asked encouragingly. “FISH!” Responded the small small, rather in the manner of Cat from Red Dwarf.

Maximum Mummy points! I thought. (I never learn).

  1. Brace

Ok, the next top tip for a successful trip to The Deep is to brace for the price. On the day it’s £12.50 for an adult, and £10.50 for a kid.

The good news is that if you pre-book online you can save a couple of quid, under 3s are FREE, there’s a deal which means you get to go back within the year for FREE, too.

Free is always fab, but just be aware it’s a helluva trek from Sheffield for what amounts to four hours entertainment, and four (quite big) tanks of fish you basically just get to see from multiple angles. (Including a lift).

Just saying – mostly because my chances of persuading Dadonthenetheredge to return within the next 12 months are remote to “Ha ha ha you must be bloody kidding me.”

  1. Get there early

If you want to avoid queue, like most folk do, or want to avoid people – like I do – then get there just before opening time! By the time we went in the queue was pretty long.

This did of course involve leaving Sheffield on time, which with two excited Smalls to corral, a recalcitrant husband to chivvy, and a picnic to pack (see 5), was no mean feat.

  1. Take in car entertainment

I’m sure it’s possible to get to The Deep by public transport but I’m buggered if I know how. (My kids are hard enough to manage strapped down in a car, let alone toddling all over a train harassing innocent travellers and colouring in the upholstery).

After attempting Eye Spy with the world’s worst loser (Big Small), someone who only knows the colour yellow (Small Small), and someone who can only communicate in transit to comment adversely (and occasionally non-verbally) on other road users (Dadonthenetheredge), I moved valiantly on to a sing-song. My ingenuity ran short at the 85th verse of Wheels on the bus (what DO amoebas do on the bus, anyway?), whereupon I gave up all pretense of good parenting and just gave the children electronic devices.

Don’t do this.

There was apparently not enough screen time left, and the children had to be surgically separated from Peppa Pig and Furbie-wotsit at the other end – a process I’m given to understand from the screaming was quite painful.

  1. Take a picnic

On busy days the food bits fill up fast, but there’s a whole room set aside for picnic-ers. You do have to drag a picnic round the whole bloody place, mind. But this problem can be easily solved by no 11.

  1. Set expectations

My kids arrived at The Deep expecting to see fish.

There were two minor problems with this.

The first (and possibly least relevant to anyone else) is that Dadonthenetheredge’s priority upon arriving anywhere, is to find the cafe and drink tea.

No one else wants to do this, because we are excited and want to get on with the action. But Dadonthenetheredge is our designated driver, by virtue of the fact my physical coordination, observation skills and general decision making render it inadvisable for me to be in charge of a 2 tonne lump of metal moving at 80 mph and containing everyone I love.

We therefore have very little choice about the designated driver thing, and apparently the tea thing, which is the price in gratitude we are required to pay for his driving services. (I’m considering turning him in for a new model with the non-tea-fuelled energy of a 21 year old – or investing in a chauffeur. Or thermos. Probably a thermos.)

The second and far more general issue in terms of expectation setting, is that there aren’t any bloody fish for the first 2,000 metre meander into the bowels of The Deep facility.

No, instead of fish you get a museum about the HISTORY of fish. My kids don’t care about the history of fish. Neither do I, to be honest, especially when trying to herd increasingly indignant Smalls in public places.

“Where da fish, mummy?” Asked the Small Small. FIVE BILLION TIMES.

The Big Small settled for sulking her way down, while the Small Small entertained herself by getting stuck in a terminal question loop, poking her fingers into the little neon floor lights, falling flat on her face, screaming, tripping up other Deep patrons and steadfastly refusing to hold anyone’s hand.

By the time we got down to the first ACTUAL tank of ACTUAL fish, she was over the whole thing.

She declined the opportunity to even glance in the direction of the tank, and went to play on some viewing steps. She proceeded to completely ignore the presence of all fish – and me telling her that we’ve got knob-wombling steps at home.

FFS.

  1. Don’t go with anyone actually interested in the history of fish

For. The. Love. Of. God.

  1. Don’t watch Happy Feet before hand

So you know that scene in the film where Mumble wakes up in a tiny weird room where aliens stare at him and all the penguins are mindless zombies hypnotised by free fish, boredom and hopelessness?

Yeah, well, that.

  1. Sharpen your elbows

There is an interactive section at The Deep where your children can get the sensory and educational experience of touching real sea-creatures! Amazing! What an opportunity!

The only problem is that the demo space is two metres long, and every single child within a 5 mile radius has assembled along it, flanked by their doting parents taking pictures.

If you want a look-in you are going to have to be *THAT* pushy parent, use your elbows, possibly covertly assault or otherwise sabotage a few small children, and say things like “Yes darling I’m sure it will be your turn soon” in a loud and passive-aggressive voice, in the hope other parents will move out of the bloody way.

This is going to kill part of whatever soul you have left.

When you do get to the front, of course, the attendant will immediately pack up the demo, or your child will suddenly recall a deathly fear of starfish, refuse to touch anything and scream like a freaking banshee.

Have fun.

10. Don’t mention the soft play!

In an effort to distract the Small Small from her beloved steps – I happened to point out the soft play zone at the very bottom of The Deep. Bad move. She promptly abandoned the steps and raced through the rest of the exhibit with a single minded focus she clearly doesn’t inherit from me – or I’d be a damn sight more successful at life than I actually am.

The soft play is tiny, and consists of a few crash-mat toys and building blocks. It was unfortunately also populated wall-to-wall by fished-out, museum-feral children – some of whom were 15 if they were a bloody day.

Not entirely unreasonably, the Small Small took exception to this arrangement, and decided to throw a massive planking tantrum.

At this point frankly I struggled not to join her.

  1. Kidnap a disabled person

Fortuitously, we remembered to take with us as one of our party a person with mobility issues.

This turned out to be a stroke of genius, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don’t know one, you may have to resort to nefarious means to secure them – but you do not want to leave home without one.

The Deep allows you to hire wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and the latter saved our bacon. Or fish. Definitely our day.

It proved the most popular of The Deep’s attractions (for my ungrateful prodgency, anyway) and even rated higher with the Small Small than STEPS. Imagine! We therefore managed to catch the children smiling while being given a ride, in between arguing over who’s turn it was, obvs.

These, of course, are the record we put up on Facebook of the birthday outing.

The scooter is also handy, btw, for transporting your picnic around. (See 5).  

  1. Remember the blindfolds

You will need these on entry and exit to avoid your Smalls seeing the absolutely ginormous gift shop that they’ve kindly made it impossible to circumnavigate.

It being a birthday celebration and the Small Small having taken zero sodding interest in anything else (besides the mobility scooter – see 11), we caved when she showed a passing fancy for a stuffed seal, and purchased an extra birthday present.

She has literally never touched it since.

  1. Don’t take my kids

If it is not obvious to you by now, my top tip for a successful trip to The Deep this Summer Holiday is just not to take my kids with you.

I may have this tattooed on my own arm for next time I consider a Glorious Family Excursion.

Good luck out there.

 

Mumonthenetheredge

 

Want more ideas of stuff to do this half term? Visit the wonderful Little Sheffield –  www.littlesheffield.org.uk.

 

Want PROPER reviews of places to go and things to do? Go find Niomi over on Trips With A Tot – www.tripswithatot.com

 

7 things I’ve learned in the first year of school

 

  1. You can never have too much uniform.

Having started out extravagantly last September with an outfit for each school day, we’ve limped to the end of term with just two t-shirts, a skirt, a single jumper, and one very short, very crumpled summer dress with a chewed collar and a few perma-art stains.

Fortunately, every third day of school appears to be a non-uniform day. (Note to self: pick up more small envelopes in which to place endless pound coins for various/random activities/theme days).

  1. Literacy is slow but amazing.

There’s no denying that we’ve found the reading and writing thing a rather difficult process. The Big Small started out enthusiastic, but wanted to be able to do it instantly and soon got bored when it turned out to be quite hard, and involve actual concentration and rules.

When it comes to practice at home, she doesn’t want to do it, is surly and inexplicably upside down when forced into it, and refuses to be instructed by mere parents: “That’s not how we write it in school mummy”.

Internal monologue:  “It’s the letter fucking ‘s’! I’ve been writing the letter ‘s’ since I was 5. I write for a living. I’m pretty sure I know which way round it’s supposed to fucking point!!!!”

External monologue: “Let’s try it again darling!”
“Look how it’s written in this book!”
“Start with the pencil here…”
“No, don’t throw a tantrum, you’ve nearly got it!”
“Darling, look, you’ve got to go down the snake.”
“No, no, it’s this way.”
“It IS how you do in it school, daring.”
“It’s the letter EFFING ‘s’! I’ve been writing the letter ‘s’ since I was 5. I write for a living. I’m pretty sure I know which way round it’s supposed to EFFING POINT!!!!”

Anyhoo, rather to my surprise, we’ve got to the end of the year and the Big Small is reading not only words but even books, and some of them aren’t mind bogglingly boring, and don’t star Nan, Biff or Chip.

I’ve even caught her reading beautifully to her toys and the Small Small, and I have received some lovely notes telling me I am a booful mumy.

Amazing. 😉

  1. The social stuff is hard, fast.

Friendships are hard. Someone is always not someone else’s best friend, not coming to my party, being told on, or not playing nicely. Social power is learned quickly, and wielded ruthlessly.

When your kid comes home and tells you they had no one to play with at lunch time, it’s like a dagger through your heart.

And when they come home and tell you they told so-and-so they couldn’t play because they weren’t part of the ‘club’, it’s just as bad – if not worse.  

We’ve had many discussions about thinking how it would feel to be in someone else’s shoes, being kind, looking for kindness in others, and walking away when people are being mean.

I’ve had to face the fact that this is the first of many life lessons where despite my best efforts, the Big Small will have to figure it out for herself – and make some mistakes along the way. You can’t socially engineer or influence for them in the classroom or playground – these are hierarchies and nuances they will face and skills and strategies they will need for the rest of their lives.

And that really rather SUCKS.

As someone who is still too often trying to figure out how to fit in and be liked, watching this process begin so early has been surprisingly painful. It’s taken me right back to my own childhood in a series of rather uncomfortable 80s montage flashbacks. (It turns out very little has changed really, apart from the hair and the socks).

  1. Play dates have changed.

What has changed, is play dates. Pre-school, play dates meant meeting up with your Mummy mates and drinking tea while holding a disjointed conversation around phrases like “Share!”, “Maybe later, darling”, “We don’t hit, do we?”, “Take you hand out of your pants, please!”, “Do you need a wee?” and “Don’t eat that if it’s been on the floor.”

At school, the play date is an important part of your child’s social development, and the one way you CAN try and subtly shape your child’s friendships.

It is held after school, when everyone is at their giddiest, hungriest and tiredest. Yay.

Your child will never want to bring home a kid you know who’s parents you know, leaving you in sole charge of a completely strange child who doesn’t have to do what you say because you are powerless to take away their stuff.

Your child will inevitably be a little shit, refuse to share anything, and go off in a sulk.

So now all you have to do is to make sure your kid doesn’t sabotage their social standing/friendship, make sure the other kid has a good time, eats some food, and reports back on your wonderful parenting. Oh, and then make sure the house is presentable and you aren’t too weird and intense when the strange parent turns up to pick up the strange kid.

NO PRESSURE THEN.

(Btw, this will all be complicated by the Small Small wanting to do everything the Big ones are doing).

The good news is that invariably your little arse-wipe of a child actually behaves impeccably at other people’s houses – and it turns out everyone’s kid is a pain in the neck at their own play date. Phew.

My advice is to try and host as little as possible, and invite multiple kids if you can manage it to dilute each others company.

Also, wine.

  1. The school run gets easier.

When you started the year, the idea of getting all children up, cleaned, fed and out for double drop off WEARING THEIR SHOES, was rather daunting.

I won’t say I’ve got it down to a fine art, but we’re now almost never late. Almost. It’s really just about starting the process early enough (my kids appear to need a solid 40 minutes of faffy time before they can be persuaded to leave the house) and then just shouting “EAT!” and “SHOES!” every 2-3 minutes.

  1. School comms don’t get easier.

I’m a woman on the edge (as the name of this blog would suggest) who is oppressed by her existing text messages and emails, from people she genuinely likes, about stuff she’s genuinely interested in.

The massive barrage of random, fluctuating, and often spurious school information delivered across multiple channels several times a day has very nearly tipped me over that edge.

As the year has worn on, I’ve learned to care less (curiously the solution to many of my problems) and only open the stuff that looks really important (nothing from the PTA). I do also check the book bag once a week, though usually in a mad panic on the way out the door first thing on a Monday (between screaming “SHOES!” and “EAT!” obvs).

If it’s vital I’ve found that either child and network of school gate mums will let me know about it (having got to know me and how crap I am).

  1. They’re still babies.

Yes, my Big Small can read now (sort of – see 2). Yes, she has a whole life away from me that I never hear anything about (apart from snippets of friend drama – see 3). Yes, she’s learned some new and interesting words (and not all of them from me! See 2 again). And yes, she’s now wiping her own bum and brushing her own teeth (both still requiring some supervision).

But at the end of the day she still drinks warm milk, and she still wants a bedtime story, a cuddle and a song.

She’s still my baby. And as she continues to grow into her own person, I know she always will be.

 

Mumonthenetherege

xx