A good friend of mine is about to have a baby. Her first baby. She is wide eyed with joy at her imminent arrival and happily picking out colour schemes and baby clothes whilst flicking through a large pile of books that all claim to prepare her for motherhood. Now those books are great. I read my fair share of them with the first and glanced through them with my second. The third and fourth .. well I didn’t exactly have the time or inclination. Like most things in life, you can read all the books on a subject you like, but nothing prepares you better than being hands on and living the moment.
And we have survived. So far. The teen is about to enter his last week in school, so I have successfully raised one child and the others are all ambling along quite happily. So when she asked me to tell her what it is really like to be a parent, I thought long and hard about it. Everyone’s experience is different but parenting is like being on a roller-coaster; fast furious and with so many ups, downs and fast turns that it can take your breath away. But what about the bad bits, was the next question. I told her that of course there were challenging times and that she should be ready to expect the unexpected.
Untidiness – I used to be quite a tidy person BC (before children). I ran a tight ship with everything in its place and everything was cleaned regularly. After child number one, I was less meticulous but if I’m honest still quite anal about it all. Toys came out. Toys went back at the end of each day and the house became an adult space again. Like most things (including my figure), the more children I had, the harder it became to maintain. These days, housework and I are like distant friends; we try and get together each week but something often crops up and so it gets put off for another day. As long as the place is reasonable clean, it’s fine. Some of the toys get put away, some stay out forever and there are quite literally balls everywhere in our house and I am forever wheeling around the kitchen on some random football or rugby ball (and no, not intentionally). When the children are grown up I can do housework every day. Now there’s something to look forward to.
Nits – I never had nits until last year. This was something that happened to other people. I was brushing R’s hair when I pulled something out of his hair only to die slightly inside when I realised that it was moving. Breathing quickly, I tentatively picked up a bit of his hair hoping that is was just a bug, but no. He was riddled with the things. No problem, thought I naively, one treatment with some of that special shampoo would do the trick. Wrong. To make it worse, we all had the damn things and it took three weeks of hard work to get rid of them. Six months on and I am still traumatised by the thought of them and I’m madly scratching my head as I’m writing this. Tea tree products have become a firm favourite of mine and I can honestly say that I did not sign up to deal with nits.
Exploding nappies – We used to call them the Korma nappies (apologies if you’re eating) but you must see the resemblance. In the early days when babies are on a milk diet, there are times when the poo looks like Korma sauce and I can honestly say that nothing prepares you for your first exploding nappy. How can such a small person produce so much excrement in one go? The first time I had one of those, I thought we needed to see a doctor it was so awful. Luckily they don’t happen that often but you can guarantee that they will happen when either baby or yourself are wearing something nice and light coloured, baby is sitting on someone’s lap or my personal favourite, in a car seat where the pressure causes the poo to spread absolutely everywhere.
X-rays – I did wonder having three boys first, if it was a boy thing; constantly going to hospital. The teen was a great child as he didn’t like moving unless he had to. If you remember Weebles; funny little egg-shaped people who wobbled but never fell down, he was like that. If he couldn’t lean for something, he would cry until I got it for him. So the next two boys were a bit of a shock as they were and still are constantly on the move. We are very familiar with the waiting room of our local A&E and there have been a fair few x-rays. My favourite to date is still L sticking a tiny magnetic chess piece (from a Christmas cracker mini chess set) so far up his nostril that nothing was getting it out. We sat in A&E for most of the day and even got to see the chess piece on the x-ray which was quite funny looking back (not at all funny at the time). It turned out that a really good sneeze was what was needed, it was a shame that it took five hours for THAT to happen.
Puke – I apologise for using that word but whatever you call it; sick, vomit, it is disgusting. I loathe being sick but someone else being sick is worse. Especially when you have to clean it up. Why do children always seem to projectile vomit over everything within a mile radius? I have often wondered this. I have tried training them from a young age to use bowls and toilets but it just doesn’t seem to work. I was at a parents evening before Christmas and the teen was babysitting. He rang me to tell me that R had vomited all over the living room rug and was wondering what to do. I explained to him how to clean it up and even gave him carte blanche to raid my secret stash of plastic gloves. When I returned, I was relieved to hear that he had cleaned it all up and I joked that it was a good life skill. Then I walked across the rug barefooted without thinking and.. well I think you can imagine the outcome. Not good. The motto here is to teach your children to clean up their own sick from a very young age, always have plastic gloves in the house and don’t have a shag pile rug. Ever.
Exra-curricular activities – Now this is an interesting one. As you meander along the winding road of parenting, there are some things that you do not want to think about. One of those things is that your beautiful offspring may want to have sex. They may be teenagers with throbbing hormones and independent lives but they are still your children and the thought of such grown up activities doesn’t bear thinking about. So you go for the tactic of ignorance. I know that he knows the facts and figures, we have had the awkward conversations where he has looked at me like I am some sort of alien and I have made it clear that all actions have consequences. That is my bit done. Oh but then there is a request for a ‘friend’ to come for a sleepover and in his room, said all nonchalantly like it is a normal everyday occurrence. I pretend that I haven’t heard as surely my little boy isn’t asking to bring a girl home. I could feel a slight panic and in my head I was debating; maybe I agree and sit outside the door all night or do I just say no and risk him going elsewhere. In the end I agreed and it turned out that she had a headache and he spent all night getting up and getting her drinks and medicine. Luckily, he didn’t trip over me outside the door.
Consoles – I thought that getting a games console would be a nice idea; something that we could play together as a family. I was so wrong. One piece of advice that I would give to any parents- to-be would be to not ever buy any electronic device for your child. Ever. Don’t worry that they might feel as though they are missing out or stand out as different at school. Trust me, you will be doing them and you a huge favour. It is so easy to fall into the ‘oh well if I let them play on that for a while, I can just …’, don’t do it. You will be saving yourselves years of ‘I just need to finish this level’, ‘I’m in the middle of a game’ and the general apathy and poor listening skills that come from hours of gaming. If you do need to use it, always use in moderation. They will thank you for it one day.
Tantrums – You expect tantrums, it is all part of the parenting process. You do get some (smug) parents who say that their little lovelies don’t ever have tantrums and I must admit that I just quietly think to myself that those children will grow up to be really stroppy teenagers. Mine have all gone through a variety of tantrum phases. I have had the terrible twos, the traumatic threes, the fearsome fours, the fiery fives and on it goes. Each child has been unique in when and what causes these tantrums and after the panic stricken terror that I felt in the early days of parenting, I have become a dab hand and ignoring them now. As long as they are safe, ignore it. You may get some disapproving looks if you are in public but who cares. Ignorance is an essential part of parenting and should be used when necessary. Failing that, have a tantrum yourself and show them how silly they look. I may have done this once or twice and it definitely makes them think.
Ears – This may come as a surprise but your darling offspring have ears and being all young and all, their hearing is amazing. So amazing in fact that they hear everything and once they are old enough, they can and will use it against you. Those swear words that quietly slip out when someone pulls out on you when you’re driving? They are listening and storing them ready to use at a time of maximum humiliation on your part. Those private conversations that you are trying to have when you think that they are playing nicely? They are listening as though their lives depend on it and will grill you later about the finer points or even better bypass you altogether and just tell their teachers all about it. Those comments that virtually mouth about other people? Oh yes, they are ready to act as a loud speaker and shout out your comments to anyone that will listen. Interestingly though, my children do have fantastic hearing, yet there are times when it seems to fail them; bath time, homework time, time to get up in the morning to name but a few. Selective hearing I think they call it.
Delight – I did toy with using debt as my last one as these children are expensive little devils but I thought I would end on a positive. For all the ups and downs of being a parenting; being a parent will be an unending source of delight. Smiles, snuggles, tickles, games, fun days out, there is always something good going on and I love it and the challenging bits? Well, they are there to make you a better parent and to make the good bits seem even better.
Which part of parenting have you found to be the most unexpected?