As the school holidays approach I look forward to them with a mixture of delight and trepidation. Delight at being able to spend quality time with my kids and trepidation... at just how much 'quality time' I can actually take!
As a working mum, time with my kids - aged six, four and two is precious. I try and take time off during their holidays - and pack as much in as I can. Trips to the zoo, circus, playgrounds, arts and crafts and cooking at home etc. Many would argue I do too much driven by working mum guilt. That may well be so, but I genuinely love our outings and seeing the joy and wonder on their faces! On their own they are all gorgeous - a delight - a pleasure! Together they are a ticking time bomb. Just how long before the first verbal or physical punch is thrown is anyone's guess.
It is this - the dynamics of the three of them all together that I find the single hardest thing about being a parent. Despite being one of three sisters with the usual sibling up and downs; fighting, best of friends, more hair pulling, I feel unprepared and frustratingly un-forewarned of the trials and tribulations of dealing with my children en-masse. Why do they HAVE to fight? Is it just because the eldest two are boys?, innate sibling rivalry?, or purely biological?
Their testosterone fuelled little bodies means they cannot keep their hands off each other for more than a few minutes at a time. Either kicking one another whilst sitting on the sofa, or wrestling around the house and taking it in turn to jump on each other's heads - our two year old daughter included.
Pre parenthood - like many childless adults I would stare agog in the streets and in restaurants -at the out of control parent screaming at their equally out of control children - to "sit back down"; "come back here"; "put that down". Really - I would think -how can they have so little self respect as to humiliate themselves in public and demonstrate their clear lack of parenting skills? Oh how easy it is to judge.
I am now that parent! Just today I shouted at my six year old as he ran off to a climbing frame when we were trying to find somewhere to have lunch. I turned around to see several adults muttering and glaring at me and my evilness! Oh to be back on the judging panel - I'd be far less hasty.
How is it my children can turn me from a calm, sane(ish), generally mild mannered woman into a screaming, threatening, harridan within the space of 60 seconds? I would never dream of speaking to anyone the way I sometimes speak to my children - the most precious and beloved beings in the world to me! How is it that they can push my buttons like no one or anything else?
Believe you me I have read the parenting books. With sage advice such as leave the room, count to 10, ask Child 1 calmly why they are talking/hitting/winding up Child 2 or 3 in this way and how it would make them feel? Really is there anyone out there who can put this "sage" advice into practice?
But for me the ultimate test comes down to two words. CAR and JOURNEY!
Travelling up to Manchester to visit the in-laws on bank holiday Friday, with many of the rail networks down for essential maintenance - travel chaos loomed. So I was forewarned and so I thought, forearmed. Ipads fully charged and loaded with films and games, snacks and drinks galore - the two year old en-route for a good two hours nap.
But what followed was five hours of hell. You name it the boys were arguing over it - iPads, positioning of feet and hands, what the other one said even the colour of the sky. Three hours in I took over from hubby at the wheel thinking he could entertain them. But no - he took up the newspaper and zoned the kids out - the way only men can. By this point I lost it - screaming at the kids and hubby who all screamed back!
Facing the return journey on Easter Monday, I thought, it couldn't be so bad! How wrong I was! Worse traffic and worse fighting! Four hours in I decided some zen was needed and instead of refereeing I would leave the boys to their own devices. I kid you not the very moment I had that thought - the six-year-old started screaming. I turned round to see blood and saliva flying towards me and all over his face.
I started yelling in shock and shouted to the four-year-old "what have you done?" What he had done was knock one of his brother's teeth out! How is that even possible? One packet of wet wipes, a lot of blood and tears and 10 minutes later things calmed down sufficiently for me to get a good look. Thank goodness the lost tooth was not one of his newly grown adult front teeth! My enterprising son was already finding a silver lining - negotiating double pay from the tooth fairy due to blood loss and trauma.
En route we combined the inevitable toilet break with a stop off at a local farm. Some new born lambs were frolicking around close to their mother. As I watched them play I saw something very interesting - they stopped their frolicking and started fighting! - Head-butting each other and pushing one another out of the way. I smiled ruefully to myself and gave their mummy sheep a sympathetic nod. It's not just me who has to deal with fighting siblings it seems!
As the Easter holidays draw to an end - I'm filled with a mixture of relief and a tinge of sadness. Still... only another six weeks to go before half term.....!
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