Lessons In How To Be A Bad Parent

In McDonalds

In McDonalds

I just spent a wonderful evening catching up with a good friend (who, thankfully, sees parenting as challenging as I do and isn’t afraid to admit it) while our kids played beautifully together upstairs. If only all evenings could be spent thus.

I was telling her of my new low this week, when I bribed my child to eat some fish finger in McDonalds (he refuses to eat anything but chips and beans, certainly no meat or fish) and it made me think of all the things I never thought I’d find myself saying as a parent (and that have probably secured a special ring of parenting hell just for me).

These are a few I can remember:

  • To my child in McDonalds: “Just eat one piece of fish finger and then you can have your chips”
  • Too frequently, and in the hearing of other parents: “Please just finish your chips and beans, and then you can have your cookie”
  • “Please, can you just watch TV, I’m too tired to take you outside”
  • “Yes you can watch another programme, but it’ll mean no bedtime stories”
  • “Can we watch Ben & Holly? I’m bored of Octonauts”
  • In response to a scream: “Unless you’re bleeding I’m not interested”
  • After daughter practised counting to 100, out loud, ALL DAY: “Can you stop counting now and play Candy Crush instead?”
  • To a chatterbox child: “Would you like your mimi?” (Dummy/Pacifier)
  • To an overly affectionate child: “I don’t want a cuddle right now but I’m sure Kara (the dog) does”
  • “I don’t think a third satsuma/yoghurt/fruit pot is a good idea, would you like a cookie?”
  • “I’m too tired to go to the park and it’s cold, would you like to go shopping?”
  • “Why don’t you watch TV on the iPad; we’ll do your homework tomorrow”

I’m sure there are hundreds of others, and that doesn’t include all the things I swore I’d never ever say, no matter how tired and cranky I got (shut up / go away / serves you right / FFS / don’t you dare / you’re doing my head in and so on.)

Sigh. At least I can make other people feel better about their parenting! Don’t you just love being a mum?

Watching and Failing: 2013 365 Challenge #167

Cosy Bunnies

Cosy Bunnies

Had a strange instance of parenting fail today. I’m blaming the lack of sleep. Today was not a great day to take both kids to the Farm by myself. Normally I like going to one of the Farms, they’re relaxing places with plenty to keep the kids amused. As it took two hours to even get out the house, due to my tiredness and their inability to do something as simple as brush their teeth, my nerves were already stretched before we left home.

I paid for them to paint a plaster of paris plaque in the craft barn. Both chose fairies and all was good until I tipped out the black water and got some fresh, as it was muddying the watercolours.

Littlest Martin threw a paddy because he wanted black water, and proceeded to prove his point by painting his fairy black.

Painting fairies

Painting fairies

For some reason it made me mad, to the point I had to leave the room. But not until I’d got grumpy with him and accused him of being ungrateful. All because he liked black.

And because I wanted to paint a fairy and make it beautiful. Ironically his black fairy is very effective, much more so than his sister’s multi-coloured one, or anything I might have painted.

I do try to let them do their own thing, although covering stuff in black paint does irritate me for some inexplicable reason. (Maybe I get frustrated with the art stuff because that’s my thing, particularly colour.)

On a good day it wouldn’t lead to anything from me but a gentle, ‘How about blue?’. But, when I’m tired, it seems I’m more of a two-year-old than he is. Thank goodness kids are forgiving!

Painting the world black

Painting the world black

Later I was able to sit and watch the children across the playground, out of earshot. It was lovely.

There’s an irony in choosing to sit and watch the children unobserved, when generally they spend all day saying, ‘Watch me, watch me!’ because I’m reading a book or checking my email. Maybe it’s the gift freely given, or that it’s nice to watch without having to be an active participant. ‘Watch me!’ really means, ‘Praise me and applaud my marvellous efforts,’ or ‘Watch me so you’re no longer watching my sibling,’ or ‘Tell me I’m better than them, tell me you love me more.’

This passive watching, as my two sit side by side in a sand pit happily digging, not flicking sand or annoying each other, this is a joy not a chore. I have felt in my life that my family are never watching. Maybe they’re doing this lazy, passive watching-at-a-distance. It’s a nice thought.

And then you make eye contact, and it’s broken. 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire hurried forward and slid onto a wooden chair at the back of the gathered audience.

I hope Maggie wasn’t having me on, telling me to come here. I wonder if she knew it was St Georges Day?

Claire looked around at the people hemmed in on either side. A flutter of panic rippled in her stomach. After a morning spent with small children, what she needed was quiet repose and coffee. Her internet search on Blists Hill after lunch had revealed the St George’s Day activities and it had been too good an opportunity to miss.

She’d arrived at the hostel to be informed by the manager that she had five minutes to get across to the location before the performance began.

Inhaling deeply to control her ragged breathing, Claire felt as if every eye was on her, judging her for her frizzy hair and the sweat trickling down her neck and chest into her bra.

The set in front of her didn’t looking inspiring. A wooden board with the English flag painted on it and a tatty basket in front isn’t exactly West End theatre. Claire tried to remember that Shakespeare’s plays hadn’t been big on set design either.

A hush fell over the gathered crowd and a person came onto the stage. Claire sat enthralled as she watched the rendition of St George and the Dragon, enacted brilliantly with a handful of actors and a dragon costume. She was no longer aware of the uncomfortable chair or the drying sweat on her forehead.

As the play finished, Claire looked around at the clapping crowd. Even the children seemed to have enjoyed the performance. Part of Claire felt pleased to know that modern children weren’t above being entertained by something that wasn’t 3D animated with surround sound and a bucket of popcorn. She wondered if Sky would have enjoyed it.

Thinking about Sky brought to mind the long-overdue call to Sky and Ruth. With a quick look at her phone she realised Sky would still be on her way home from school. Instead she changed some money into pounds, shillings and pence, and wandered through the Victorian streets, buying bottles of curiosity cola and other knick-knacks to send home to Sky.

The cola bottle reminded her about her assignment. I wonder if I could weave it into a blog post. Hmmm maybe Coca Cola wouldn’t be too impressed if I wrote about a rival brand. It seemed strange thinking about work in this old-fashioned location. Her shiny glass office and life of travelling to client meetings seemed a world away now.

*

“Hello, Sky, it’s Auntie Claire. How are you?”

“Auntie Claire, hello! We learned about fossils at school today. Did you know they’re hundreds and millions of years old?”

Claire sat back into the bench and let her niece’s words flow over her. The jumble of images made her smile, as she pictured the blonde head bent in concentration over rocky fossils and pictures of dinosaurs. There was something very real about listening to Sky talk about her day at school. Seeing the world through fresh eyes; feeling the youthful excitement at every discovery. A tired world felt and experienced anew

In turn, she told Sky about the Victorian town, with people in costume and old fairground games, and the rendition of George and the Dragon.

“How is your Mum?” she asked, when the conversation came to a natural pause.

“Sleeping. Nana says I mustn’t disturb her.”

“Is Nana there?”

Sky didn’t answer, but Claire heard running feet and a call down the corridor. She waited, hoping her mum was in a good mood.

“Yes?”

“Hi Mum, it’s Claire.”

“Oh. Where are you?”

“In Shropshire. Kim’s getting married next weekend, so I’m staying west to attend the wedding.”

There was a pause, and Claire imagined her mum processing the information. She waited for the inevitable comparison to her own spinster-state. It didn’t come.

“Well, about time. I never understood that long engagement thing. In my day if you wanted to get married you did, and had as grand an affair as you could afford.”

Claire looked round at the Victorian town, thinking her mum sounded like she came from that era rather than thirty years ago, when she and her father had a pretty lavish affair, if the photos were anything to go by.

They talked some more about the wedding and Claire was grateful to her mum for not asking who she would go to the wedding with. At last there was only one question left to ask.

“How’s Ruth?”

“Fighting. I wasn’t happy when she told me you’d let Sky meet up with that good-for-nothing ex of hers. But it’s given her something to fight for. It’s good to see. The medication will only take her half the way.”

Claire felt the knot in her stomach release at her mum’s words. As long as her sister was fighting, that was the best to be hoped for.

“Give her my love,” she said, before saying farewell. The clock said 5pm but, to Claire, it felt like bedtime.

***