Today Ted and I went to play with his little friends, Harriet and Eloise. Harriet is younger than Ted by a couple of weeks and Eloise is older by about six months. Eloise also has a weeks-old baby brother so I was intrigued to see what Ted’s reaction would be. It was pretty much a shrug.
Harriet is a shy little thing who watches everything going on around her whilst providing a monosyllabic commentary on the whole thing. She has a whole host of words to choose from, whereas I’m still getting the “do you think it’s because you use baby signing?” questions from nursery about Ted’s lack of vocabulary. My response is generally that he’ll talk when he wants to, which I have no doubt is the case. Besides, I’m in no rush for him to take off into full-on conversation mode because I also have no doubt that once he gets going he won’t stop. He’s my boy, after all.
Eloise is a little pixie of a girl. She’s beautiful and cheeky and bossy and has just started to work out that she can tell tales. She tells us the things her Mummy says to her and she happily told us the things Ted was getting up to. I found it adorable, although I’m sure when that baby brother of hers grows up a bit he’ll find it less so.
Harriet and Eloise did what they always do when we get together: they behaved impeccably. And Ted did what he always does when we get together: he got defiant. Generally Ted will push limits with BabyDaddy because he likes to see what he can get away with. He doesn’t really do it with me because he knows that the answer is “not much”, but he seems to have worked out that the exception to the rule is when other people are around. It’s so hard being consistent when you’re embarrassed about your child’s behaviour, your reactions and what the others might be thinking.
I know this is all ridiculous – these people are my friends! – but I just can’t help it. I remember once going to the library with Eloise and her Mum and laughing hysterically as Eloise fished a man’s mobile out of his pocket and ran off with it. The phoneless man also found it hilarious, but I know Eloise’s Mum definitely didn’t; she was mortified. So I know other people are also embarrassed by their children’s behaviour, and I know that it’s not necessary because they’re not generally being judged, but when the microscope is turned on you it really feels like that’s what’s happening.
That it even feels like there’s a microscope at all is testament to that; in reality, no one cares!
It got us talking, anyway, about the parents we are and the parents we want to be. I explained how Ted always drives me mad around 4pm when he suddenly goes into grump mode (coincidentally, it was 4.10pm when we left Harriet’s house!) and how he’s getting frustrated because he wants to be able to do more than he physically can at the moment. Eloise’s Mum admitted that she has a similar time of day and that if it ever makes her lose her temper she feels like a terrible parent and spends the rest of the evening bathed in guilt.
So, in Stitches & Stretchmarks mode, here comes my list of “real parenting” confessions. If I could go back and ask my pre-Ted self what I would be like as a parent and then show me these I think I would be able to just chill out a whole lot sooner than I was actually able to!
1) Although I think it’s unrealistic to stop children from watching television I can limit the amount and judge the quality.
Although I would like to have the energy to entertain Ted when he’s grumpy and doesn’t want to play with any of the three thousand toys he has, I also have two jobs, a pregnant belly and a house to run. I would like to think that I don’t let him watch too much but if there was a CBeebies theme tunes test he was capable of answering I fear his A* would give me away. And while I’m in confession mode, if you give Ted a selection of Disney DVDs he’ll study the covers, look at the pretty pictures, and then choose The Lion King because he’s seen it twice a day for months and he loves it.
2) Although I think it’s unrealistic to stop children from eating any kind of junk food I can limit the amount and judge the quality.
Ted is a picky eater. And I mean a picky eater. Today Harriet’s Mum told me she had hummous and ciabatta for lunch. Eloise had chickpea curry. And Ted had Dairylea sandwiches, as he does most days. When he was first weaning there wasn’t much he wouldn’t eat, but then as his teeth started coming through he got pickier and pickier. Some people try to tell you that children don’t know how to be picky eaters until you teach them, but believe me; those people are wrong. If they’d like to come and feed Ted hummous, ciabatta and curry then they’re more than welcome, but there are still going to be days when he won’t even eat his beloved macaroni cheese and I’m going to give him biscuits to make sure he doesn’t go to bed hungry, Yep, evil biscuits. That’s just the kind of terrible parent I am.
3) I don’t want him to have a dummy, and I certainly wouldn’t let him have it as he got bigger.
I’ve written before about why Ted had a dummy, and now that I’ve been a parent for over a year and a half (and am, for some odd reason, about to do it all again) I can’t help but wonder why I even had the idea that it was a bad thing? Why did it upset me so much to ask BabyDaddy to go and buy one? Why did I think I had to smuggle it past the midwives to get out of the hospital? Next time around there will be a selection in my hospital bag, just in case. And now Ted’s a toddler and he still has a dummy. I have to admit that I do sometimes feel a bit embarrassed and find myself explaining why he has it (although, really, how many reasons could there be?!), but it’s his comfort and makes him feel better. When he gets himself worked up into such a state that he’s doing that crying-gasping-trying-to-breathe thing sucking his dummy calms him down faster than anything else. He won’t have it when he’s twelve, so I’m not too fussed about prying it out of his tiny fist now.
4) I don’t want him to think it’s okay to sleep in my bed because as he gets bigger he won’t want to get out of it.
I wish I had read up on co-sleeping when he was tiny rather than being terrified because people are morons and like to throw the term SIDs around at every available opportunity. But I didn’t. So when I did occasionally co-sleep with Ted it was out of sheer desperation. It meant that after I’d breast-fed and fallen asleep with him lying next to me, or dragged him into my bed from his Moses basket as cuddling him would give me an extra hour in the morning, I would invariably wake up feeling guilty as hell. Refreshed, yes, but so so guilty. Why didn’t I embrace those times? Having my boy next to me, feeling his breath on my skin and hearing his tiny baby snores, I should have felt like the best Mummy in the world. I didn’t. And I regret that. It would have been so much better for both of us – when both of us slept better together – if I had just not cared what people thought!
The other Mums admitted to bribery and frustration and occasional shouting, and I remembered the time when I shut every door in the house between me and the furthest room away, which contained a howling inconsolable Ted.
We left Harriet’s when Ted started getting grumpy at his regular time, and on the way home I popped his dummy in and stopped at the local shop to buy Cadbury’s Buttons safe in the knowledge that what I’m doing is parenting. I’m not perfect, I get stuff wrong, I set myself rules and break them almost instantly, I wonder what the hell I’m doing bringing another one into my chaotic world, but I love my son and I have no doubt that he loves me. So I’m doing okay.