My latest post at Families Magazine online – http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/LOCATIONS/Solent-East/Family-Life/Parenting-advice/Those-were-the-days-my-friend
During half-term I met a friend for coffee in a café on the far side of a nearby park. Walking through the park to meet her, I passed the play park that used to be my regular haunt when the girls were just a little smaller. As I walked round the perimeter heading towards the café, I glanced across at the children and parents climbing and hiding and shouting and laughing and my head was filled with memories of the times I spent there with my own children.
My very first solo walk with my tiny, fragile new born in the gaudy green-checked pram we were kindly gifted from a friend was in that very park and my memory of circling the play park with my heart in my mouth tempting myself to believe that I really was taking a walk in the park with my very own baby, just like a real parent, is still so vivid. I still have the large reddish brown leaf picked up from the path as a memento to place in my baby’s box of memories as a reminder of our very first outing (I started out with good intentions at least, although this habit of collecting keepsakes did not last much past her first birthday, and my second daughter was lucky if I managed to keep her birth certificate somewhere safe!).
As soon as Ana was old enough to sit in a swing, I made this play park my home from home. I quickly discovered that a visit to the park with a 6 month old was not a significant time filler and, after 20 minutes maximum in the toddler swings, we were pretty much all-parked out and ready to move on to the next brief activity, but as she got bigger and began to venture onto the slides, this park became as much part of our routine as tea and cake with friends (and distinctly healthier!).
Many a Saturday morning was spent with Ana, and later her baby sister too, crossing the park to visit the library before wandering round between the climbing frames braving the chilly winds or enjoying the sunshine depending on the season.
Many a day in the summer holidays was spent packing up a picnic and heading to the park to meet with friends and spend a few hours enjoying the luxury of free fun, fresh air and green space offered by a city park.
Many an afternoon was spent standing below the monkey bars waiting to catch a falling child or just to be there as a security blanket as they demonstrated their considerable muscular superiority over their puny mother!
And so, last week, as I walked past the play park, I remembered with fondness the part it has played in our lives. Its role is not quite over for us: at 7 and 9 the girls have not yet outgrown the park and we still visit reasonably frequently and still will for some time I imagine, but the days when it figured as the centre point of our entertainment schedule are fading now.
Much like the rest of parenting, I realised that afternoon that we only really appreciate things when they are soon to be gone. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent many days shivering in that park and wishing I was at home in my nice warm house; I spent many hours cursing as I was begged and cajoled to run round the edge of the lopsided circular tyre shape that has replaced the roundabout in many modern parks but is frustratingly difficult to manoeuvre without scraping your limbs on the floor; I have spent many trips to that very park attempting to find a secluded spot behind a tree for one or other of my daughters to pee because there were no nearby public toilets.
At the time, I did not relish any of these things, but now – when I see my play park years drawing to a close – I rush to cherish those memories, to box them up and hold them close and chide myself to remember the times when this used to be my playground.
As with most things in my parenting career, we begin with a mother who is slightly more self-absorbed than she really should be. Feeling very pleased with my published article in the back to school issue of Families Magazine, I spent some time reading and re-reading my article and swelling with pride. During one of my many read-throughs, I managed to glance at the article next to mine, which was on the importance of taking your children for regular eye-checks. ‘Drat!’ I thought to myself. ‘I meant to do that last year!’ Resolving to take my parenting job more seriously, I took on board the very sensible advice in the article and booked an eye test for both my children for the very next week.
Our first appointment made me wonder if we really were the only family who appeared to make the job of all health care professionals as difficult as we could possibly manage:
Early on, we required reinforcements to be brought in when Ana found it impossible to keep still whilst having her eye examined on the impressive looking ‘big eye machine’ and required much coaxing and cajoling from two separate opticians in order to remain still long enough to get any meaningful results.
Moving to the examination room, I cheerily answered the questions regarding my children’s eye sight with assurances that ‘No.’ they had never shown any signs of sight problems and that this was just a routine check. However, when Faith began the test proper and started identifying the letters, numbers and pictures she could see on the screen, it very quickly became apparent, even to the untrained observer (i.e. me) that she was really not doing as well as one might expect of someone with no sight problems. As the task continued, I started to wonder if maybe she had shown signs and I had just failed to notice them. It was true that she was quite clumsy and did walk into things on many occasions, but then that is also true of me and appears to be completely down to poor co-ordination and a general lack of awareness! Maybe – I started to ponder – she actually had shown signs of squinting at things and I had just interpreted this as one of her many eccentricities (and believe me, there really are many!).
The optician began to identify the apparent issues: neither eye was great, but one was significantly under par – a lazy eye that needed dealing with pretty sharpish if we were to avoid serious problems in the future. As I sat nodding my head in shamefaced silence, the realisation that I had failed to identify a significant health issue in my youngest daughter slowly dawning on me, Faith was busy driving the optician to distraction. Twenty minutes in and she was clearly fed up of the whole process. She start shifting around and moving the glasses off her nose to scratch underneath, causing them to fall to the floor on more than one occasion. The optician persisted, making encouraging comments from time to time in an attempt to keep her focused, but it was no good. Any initial curiosity had faded and now – getting on for 40 minutes after we had arrived in the shop -Faith had reached saturation point. The lovely optician quickly realised this and decided to move on to Ana, but by this time we were about 20 minutes away from closing time and I think we all knew we were flogging a dead horse. So we cut our losses and made a new appointment for a fortnight later when we would finally get to grips with who needed what intervention.
So two weeks later, when we had all adjusted to the news and Faith had started to get excited by the prospect of wearing glasses, we headed back for our rearranged appointment, blissfully unaware that it would be a full two and a half hours before we would be leaving again! After a friendly welcome from our new optician friend, things started to go downhill quite quickly. Both children were to have eye drops to help with their eye exam and we were warned that this would sting. Clearly, I should have reciprocated this warning to the effect that my children really did not do pain or discomfort with anything approaching stoicism (http://motherinferiorblog.com/2014/07/26/keep-that-nurse-away-from-me/). First up was Ana and after a good 10 minutes wrangling, including extra support and comfort from me, she finally had eye drops in both eyes and was reluctantly proceeding with her test.
Once it was confirmed that there were no major problems here, it was back to Faith and straight away we hit a stumbling block: having witnessed her sister’s objections to the drops (and not being of a naturally compliant nature in the first place), Faith was not eager to get the job done. Twenty minutes later and I am guessing the optician was wishing she had chosen a career path that avoided children in all forms because no-one was having fun as we attempted to wrestle Faith into submission and get the wretched drops actually in her eye. Once again, I wondered to myself whether all families really could create this much havoc everywhere they went or whether we were just particularly skilled in this regard.
To cut a very long (remember the two and a half hours) story short, we managed (just about) to squirt at least some of the magic drops in Faith’s eye before being sent away to wander round the shops for 20 minutes for them to take effect. Using the time wisely to search for potential Christmas presents, the girls soon discovered that the drops did have the professed effect in blurring their vision and they took a macabre pleasure in trying – and failing – to read the small print on the back of boxes.
Thus rejuvenated, we returned to the torture chamber opticians to finally complete our epic adventure. Ana’s was straightforward with a slight prescription, but nothing requiring treatment or glasses. Faith’s (naturally) was more of a challenge and eventually (possibly in a desperate attempt to finally be rid of us!) the optician completed her work and Faith had a prescription.
Of course, we were not done (oh no!) as we now had to choose two pairs of glasses. Being a bit of a soft-touch (and quite frankly, by this point, wanting anything for an easy life!) I told Faith that she could choose one special pair (with extra cost) and one plain pair (for free). It will not surprise you to discover that the lovely purple Converse glasses she chose turned out to be too big and needed 20 minutes of careful manipulation (checking – going back to adjust – checking – going back to adjust – checking…… you get the picture) before FINALLY we were able to pay and escape at 5.50pm, having arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed for our 3.20pm appointment all those hours ago.
And the moral of this story?
Well, there are many:
- The sensible advice about eye tests: please make sure you take your children for regular eye tests as I am clear evidence of the fact that you may well not notice their sight problems in the course of everyday life.
- The advice for parents of younger children: get them in training early to be able to sit still for more than 5 seconds at a time.
- The advice for opticians: if you see my children heading your way – run!
- The advice for similarly harassed mothers: persuade someone else to take them for their sight test to avoid the embarrassment, annoyance and generally energy-sapping trauma of the whole thing!
Look at her! Butter wouldn’t melt! Don’t be fooled for a second by that innocent face!
Many of my recent posts have been about not knowing what the best course of action is in managing my children’s behaviour.
But say I have decided on a course of action and am pretty happy it is the right thing at that time, even then it is not always so easy to see it through. There are many reasons why I might consider bailing on my plan of action. Here are just a few of those reasons and the resulting effects on my actions:
1) Laziness and selfishness – Two weeks ago, after a particularly explosive weekend of anger and irritability (Ana’s rather than mine) I found myself handing out the rather hefty consequence of a week-long TV and internet ban for my errant 9 year old. Very quickly she – and I – realised that a week is a surprisingly long time when you have no recourse to the calming, soporific influence of the TV. Having made it through the school week without reneging on my ban, we arrived at the weekend and things started to get more challenging. On Saturday afternoon, when Mike and Faith had gone into town, Ana and I were left to mooch around doing our own thing. I sat down to some marking and Ana had homework to do. I was keen to have some background TV to lessen the trauma of an afternoon’s marking, but what about the ban?! Would I:
a) Sacrifice my own TV viewing to stick to the ban: selfless and unlikely.
b) Banish Ana from the living room so that I could watch TV alone: harsh even for me!
c) Make up an implausible story that gets me out of the ban whilst pretending it is still in place: genius – I’m in!
And so, I found myself telling Ana that she was not really watching the TV. I was. She just happened to be in the same room.
2) Being worried about the views of others – Last weekend we met up with friends to go for a peaceful countryside walk.
I have been walking with my children enough times to know in advance that ‘peaceful’ is about as far from the reality of their version of a countryside walk as you can get. As we began trudging up the hill in the mud, you could almost sense the woodland animals running for cover to escape the screeching laughter. We continued in this vein until we reached the top of the hill, by which time Faith – tired and cold – had had enough. After a tussle in a muddy puddle with Ana, she was well and truly finished and began screaming as if she were being stabbed with a hot poker.
Now, I had adopted my usual strategy of walking away and leaving her to it, sure in the knowledge that EVENTUALLY she would give in and catch up with us. However, I hadn’t accounted for the arrival of a group of walkers heading towards Faith, with me far in the distance.
I hesitated momentarily, but my fear that the walkers would a) assume something terrible was wrong with Faith and worry (her screaming did definitely suggest this might be the case!) and/or b) think I was a bad parent for abandoning her; made me turn back and run to rescue her.
3) Being worried about the neighbours – On Thursday, both my children in turn decided to have a catastrophic meltdown involving significant shouting, door banging and rivers of tears. In Faith’s case, this went on…..and on…….and on…….and got progressively louder and louder.
I – quite unusually – remained calm in my attempts to deal with her torrent of emotional outpourings, but when my normally laid-back and very friendly next-door neighbour banged on the wall, even I started to think I might need to change my tactic.
This time though, in the safety of my own home, and confident that no other strategy was going to calm her any quicker, I stuck to my guns and waited it out.
Outcome: HELD MY NERVE! Go me!
Postscript: I bumped into my neighbour at the weekend and apologised for the outburst. He initially feigned a lack of awareness about any specific incident, but as I struggled to recall which day it had been, he quickly came to my aid and reminded me – rather too quickly – that it had been Thursday evening…so possibly slightly more noticeable than he may have suggested. Oh dear.
Maybe next time I need to bail on the home front in order to save my friendly relationship with the neighbours and choose to hold my nerve when around people I actually won’t ever see again (like on that hill!). Either that, or I need to invest in some soundproofing for my kitchen – and quickly!
I freely admit that many of the aspects of parenting that others seem to derive pleasure from are actually a source of irritation and inconvenience to me and this, in part, was my motivation behind starting this blog. I sometimes question whether I am really cut out for parenthood when I turn down invitations to ‘Sing-a-long Frozen’ without a moment’s hesitation (on the basis that I have no desire to sit through it, regardless of whether my children might wish to!) and did not even consider pulling out of my end-of-term social with work colleagues even when it became apparent that my attendance there would prohibit Ana from attending a choir concert.
I know these cold hard facts make me look bad. I realise that some people may wonder why I had children if I am so unwilling to sacrifice my fun for the sake of theirs, but I hold fast to the idea that a happy parent maketh a happy child (I added the ‘th’ to make it sound like an ancient decree, but I did – admittedly – make that up to suit my own ends!).
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to point out that – whilst at times it may seem as if I don’t care – my children are, in reality, the absolute best things in my life and I never failed to be amazed by the fact of their existence. I have daily moments in which I stare in disbelief at these little people who have found their way into my world and I wonder at the miracle of it all.
As my girls get older, I think I feel this even more keenly. I have written before about the strangeness of seeing my children as little people who think and act differently to me, but I never fail to find this both wonderful and terrifying. The more they grow, the more they start to become uniquely themselves and say and do things that are new to me. They are now more than just a reflection of their parents or even their peers. They are developing their own sense of humour; their own mannerisms; their own style. I find myself wanting to both freeze these moments in time and simultaneously fast forward life to see what they are still to become.
In amongst all of this is my amazement that I have a role in their lives. The privilege of parenting is something I may mock, but I honestly do not take it for granted. I frequently gaze at my two girls and wonder at the good fortune that has brought them into my life. In the words of the great Stevie Wonder, they really are ‘the sunshine of my life’ and even on the rainiest days, this remains the constant thread.
I will continue to complain, and shout and tear my hair out when they drive me mad. I may even continue to make decisions that favour my enjoyment over theirs, but I know, and (more importantly) they know, that they are my world …. and my sunshine.
My youngest daughter has developed a phobia of medical professionals. It doesn’t matter how many in depth conversations we have with her about the fact that they are they to help people, her mind has been made up: they are out to hurt her.
I know exactly where this stems from. I remember the moment well: her preschool jabs. Much as we all hate the idea of taking our tiny babies to have their injections at 8, 12 and 16 weeks, in our case at least, this ultimately proved to be a reasonably painless affair. A brief temperature spike maybe, but nothing that a bit of Calpol wouldn’t solve. Crucially, babies at this age (again, maybe just mine) have the memory of a goldfish and are rarely emotionally scarred by the experience. Not so for 3 year olds.
3 year olds are move savvy. In Faith’s case, her preschool jabs went like this:
Go to doctors.
Wait to see the nurse.
Listen to her comforting chatter and her reassurance that it won’t hurt because it’s ‘just a scratch’.
Be jolted into righteous indignation on being injected and discovering that yes, it did hurt (albeit momentarily) and therefore, this nurse just conned you.
Never forget and never forgive.
I am not sure when and how Faith came to put such importance on other people’s honesty (it certainly it doesn’t appear to go the other way and she is more than happy to con, manipulate and tell little white lies herself), but she does not take kindly to feeling like she has been misled. If you tell her, for example, that it is supposed to be sunny in the morning and she probably can wear the summer dress she has picked out, then woe betide you if the rain falls the next day. This change of circumstance will be a source of considerable irritation to Faith, leading to aggrieved complaints that you have ‘tricked’ her followed by a sulky silence in protest at your dishonesty.
If we now re-visit the preschool jabs incident, it may be a little clearer why this event proved such a game changer in Faith’s mind. From her perspective, the nurse had intentionally lulled her into a false sense of security before callously stabbing her in the arm. No amount of friendly chatter after the event, or even compensatory chocolate buttons provided by yours truly was going to make up for this blatant deception. The medical profession had duped her once, but Faith would not let them do so again.
And so began years of ‘doctor phobia’ where the merest hint of injury would instigate panicked cries of “Don’t take me to the doctors!”
When Faith started school and began attending her new child-minder, I could only be grateful that she was not the first of my children to be in her care given that Faith’s frantic cries of “don’t tell Mummy!” when she fell, bumped into things, or hurt herself in some way would otherwise have surely led to a quick referral to Social Services!
Aware that this situation would cause considerable problems if Faith ever had real need of medical attention, I decided to implement a plan of action to convince her that doctors and nurses are actually very nice people. One week, as I pondered how best to do this, I had a light bulb moment. My brilliant plan, based on 11 years of Psychology teaching, was to take Faith to watch me give blood, thereby curing her of her phobia of doctors (particularly those wielding needles that they might stab in her arm). Genius!
It wasn’t long into our 40 minute wait at 7.30pm in a busy church hall that I started to wonder if this really had been my best idea yet. Faith was tired after a day at school and tiredness, in this particular child, seems to induce mania. She bounced around, asking odd, incoherent questions of anyone who would listen and when we finally made it to the blood donation beds, produced her pièce de résistance. As the nurse instructed me to lay down on the bed, Faith piped up and declared ‘Don’t worry, Mummy. You just have to close your eyes and think about Jesus’ at which the lady putting the needle in my arm collapsed in giggles and I tried to look as far from being a Christian fundamentalist as possible!
After this adventure, things did appear calmer, but when doctors are mentioned, Faith’s old mistrust still surfaces even now 3 years on from ‘jab-gate’. I can only hope that, with time, this resentment will slip from her memory and the medical profession will attain their proper place in the mind of my youngest daughter as a group of people who are there to help in times of need.
If not, well, she can always close her eyes and call on higher powers….she’s not called Faith for nothing you know!