To my friends without kids – why I’m always late

August 25, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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I’ve been meaning to write this for a while:

I hear that tone in your voice. See the look in your eye and a certain set of your shoulders. You’re annoyed.

I’m late again.

Well. Let me tell you why I’m late. Again:

I have a child. Not just a child. A toddler. And here’s how a trip out the door goes:

  1. I have to convince her that we need to go. This might involve a chase scene reminiscent of “The French Connection.” But I’m no Gene Hackman in his prime. I get winded and have to sit down.
  2. Finally get her convinced that we need to go. Now to get her dressed. You see, after I got her out of the dirty diaper and into clean training pants (yay, she’s working on using the potty!) she wanted to keep wearing her pajamas. Now that she’s ready to wear street clothes, she’s taken exception to the orange and green outfit. She wants the outfit with the cool kitty cat. Turns out that’s dirty. After 10 minutes of trying to explain cool kitty cat is dirty and in the laundry, we reach a compromise – flamingo shirt with pink shorts. Check with her to see if she needs to go potty. It’s more important to put the cow and horse in the castle. Obviously, going to potty is not a priority right now. Tear her away from the toys long enough to get her dressed. Shoes. I need shoes. I go get shoes.
  3. I return to the living room to find her stripping out of her shorts and training pants. They are, of course, wet. As is the carpet. Turns out she DID have to go potty. She wants to sit on the potty. So I let her sit on the potty. She decides she needs to go play with the quail and vulture in the zoo. Quail, she informs me, needs a bath. My pleading and begging, by the way, are useless, serving only to spark a near meltdown. Five minutes later, quail is clean, and she’s back on the potty.
  4. No, no she’s not. She’s at her bookshelf, looking for the potty book. Ah! Potty book found. Back on the potty. I got to check the bag to make sure I have everything; a couple of toys, a book, drink, snacks, wipes, spare change of clothes, another change of clothes, a spare pair of training pants. Crap! Almost forgot a spare diaper! I go into the bathroom to get a spare diaper – just as she comes running out with a wipe covered in her own feces.
  5. “Daddy, I cleaning up poop on the floor!” I grab her clean hand, gently turn her back towards the bathroom, and see, arrayed in a nice exclamatory pile, her poop. In an effort to be helpful, she’s tried to put it into the big potty. She missed. In an effort to be helpful, she’s started cleaning up the poop with a baby wipe. Luckily, I removed the rug yesterday, since she spilled peepee on it.
  6. I get her to release the fecal covered wipe into the diaper champ, get her started on washing her hands, and run to the kitchen to get paper towels and sanitary wipes. Run back to the bathroom. Where she’s decided to use the little medicine cup thingee to splash water all over the vanity. I wash my hands, dry her off, dry off the vanity, turn off the water, and send her into the living room to play.
  7. While she watches and suggests that she, too, would like to help get the poop into the potty, and asserts that she got poop on the carpet, and that daddy is cleaning up the poop, I do, in fact, clean up the poop. This, by the way, was a fruit poop, not a cheese poop. If you have kids, you’ll understand. Mess cleaned up, I wash my hands. She runs to the kitchen. “I want candy! I want candy!”
  8. Some how, by some miracle, before she gets candy, I get her into an outfit that is A) Clean and 2) Acceptable. Parrot shirt is good. Another set of pink shorts is good. I go to get shoes and socks, and step right into the patch of wet carpet. She still wants candy. I tried to dissuade her with promises of ice cream after lunch. To a toddler, there is no such thing as delayed gratification; gratification delayed is gratification denied…forever. I go to get the steam vac, near the kitchen. While there, I get her a piece of candy. Peanut M&M. She’s happy. I’m happy. The whole world is happy. But there’s still urine on the carpet. Steam vac into the living room. Five minutes later, I have, supposedly, removed most of the urine from the carpet. I take the steam vac back, and return to the living room. What was I doing?
  9. Oh, right! Shoes! I go back to get the shoes and socks. I return to…
  10. The living room, where she’s decided that swallowing the Peanut M&M just isn’t as much fun as letting it leak down her chin and parrot shirt. I peel off the shirt (white, of course, and fairly new, gift from a relative), and rush it to the bathroom to rinse and do stain triage. Rinse, squirt, rub, soak, I turn around, she’s got cholcolate and peanut running down her chin. Poised on her chin, the drop heaves itself into the empty air, and falls, silently, to the carpet. Great.
  11. I grab the wash rag, wet it, wipe her face. Dab up as much as I can of the spittle infused chocolate on the carpet. Look up, see what I missed, and clean her face a bit more. Good… At this point, I’m only 15 minutes late.

    The washcloth, is, of course, white. Rinse, squirt, rub, soak.
  12. Find another outfit. At this point, she’s not picky. Though she wants to wear sandals, not shoes. I grab a pair of sandals that match. She doesn’t want to wear those sandals, and insists on choosing her own sandals. They don’t match. I don’t care.
  13. I put on my own shoes. That way, I won’t know if I step on any more wet patches. They can wait until the next time I steam clean the carpet.
  14. I realize I do have her dressed, relatively clean, in some kind of foot wear, but that I have not combed her hair. I do so. Except she doesn’t like getting her hair sprayed. Usually, it’s not an issue. Today, it is. Five minutes later, I’ve got her calmed down, and I begin combing her hair.
  15. I got her headed towards the car, and I pick up a bear for her to play with in the car. Get her strapped in, and realize I forgot a snack and drink. Well, she reminds me. She wants goldfish. I run back in, and get the animal crackers I forgot to put in the bag. I give her animal crackers. She doesn’t want those. I run back into the house…and can’t find the open bag of goldfish. Into the pantry – open a new bag of gold fish – look for a container – screw it. I’ll bring the whole bag. I grab the water I forgot, and run back out to the car. I start the car, realize I don’t have my phone, and run back into the house. I get back to the car, and she informs me she wants her milk. “Water?” I offer, hopefully. And in vain. I run back in to get the milk. I come back to her screaming that she needs her three bears. Crap. The bears became a set while on vacation. I run back to her room to find the other two bears. Which I do find, in fairly short order. Just before stepping out the door, I remember to grab my wallet.
  16. Back in the car, we’re good to go – except I left the bag on top of the car when I was getting her in. Out to get the bag, back in, back out, close garage door, and we’re off.

    Yeah, sure, we’re 45 minutes late but we’re on our way. We’ll be there. I’d call, but turns out I forgot my phone.

    You better be there too. I need this lunch, I need some sanity. What I don’t need is that tone in your voice. That look in your eye. That certain set of your shoulders. Sure you’re annoyed. I’m suffering from PTSD – Parent of Toddler Stress Syndrome. Get over yourself.

First, practically everything in this list has happened. Just…not all at once. Although several of these things have happened just in the last couple of days.

From Across the Pond: “Sorry, but my children bore me to death!”

July 31, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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Sorry, but my children bore me to death!
by HELEN KIRWAN-TAYLOR, Daily Mail17:50pm 26th July 2006

It’s the start of the summer holidays, when millions of mothers despair at how to entertain their children for the next six weeks. What none of them dare say is that they would rather their children were still at school or, frankly, anywhere else. Helen Kirwan-Taylor, a 42-year-old writer, lives in Notting Hill, West London, with her businessman husband Charles and their sons Constantin, 12, and Ivan, ten. Here, she argues provocatively that modern women must not be enslaved by their children.

The lies started when my eldest son was less than ten months old.

Invitations to attend a child’s birthday party or, worse, a singalong session were met with the same refrain: ‘I would love to but I just can’t spare the time.’

The nanny was dispatched in my place, and almost always returned complaining that my son had been singled out for pitiful stares by the other mothers.

I confess that I was probably ogling the merchandise at Harvey Nichols or having my highlights done instead. Of course I love my children as much as any mother, but the truth is I found such events so boring that I made up any excuse.

I can’t say which activity I dreaded more: playing Pass The Parcel at parties with a child who permanently crawled away from the action towards the priceless knick-knacks, or listening to the other mothers go on about such excitements as teething and potty-training. Mind-numbing!

To be honest, I spent much of the early years of my children’s lives in a workaholic frenzy because the thought of spending time with them was more stressful than any journalistic assignment I could imagine.

Kids are supposed to be fulfilling, life-changing, life-enhancing fun: why was my attitude towards them so different?

While all my girlfriends were dropping important careers and occupying their afternoons with cake baking, I was begging the nanny to stay on, at least until she had read my two a bedtime story. What kind of mother hates reading bedtime stories? A bad mother, that’s who, and a mother who is bored rigid by her children.

I know this is one of the last taboos of modern society. To admit that you, a mother of the new millennium, don’t find your offspring thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable at all times is a state of affairs very few women are prepared to admit. We feel ashamed, and unfit to be mothers.

It’s as though motherhood is an exclusive private club and everybody is a member except for us few. But then, kids have become careers, often the Last Career, for millions of women who have previously trained for years to enter professional fields of business. Consequently, few of those women will admit that they made a bad, or — worse — a boring career move to motherhood.

My children have got used to my disappearing to the gym when they’re doing their prep (how boring to learn something you never wanted to learn in the first place).

They know better than to expect me to sit through a cricket match, and they’ve completely given up on expecting me to spend school holidays taking them to museums or enjoying the latest cinema block-boster alongside them. (I spent two hours texting friends throughout a screening of Pirates Of The Caribbean the other day).

Am I a lazy, superficial person because I don’t enjoy packing up their sports kit, or making their lunch, or sitting through coffee mornings with other mothers discussing how Mr Science (I can’t remember most of the teachers’ names) said such and such to Little Johnny and should we all complain to the headmaster.

At this point in the conversation, my mind drifts to thoughts of my own lunch and which shoes I plan to wear with what skirt.

The other mothers tease me for my inability to know anything about school life. But since when did masterminding 20 school runs a week become an accomplishment? Getting a First at college was an accomplishment.

The trouble for a mother like me is that not being completely and utterly enthralled with, dedicated to and obsessed with one’s children is a secret guarded, if not until death, then until someone else confesses first. When I mentioned this article to my friend Catherine Fairweather, travel editor of Harpers & Queen, the relief on her face was instant.

For years she’s listened to her friends proselytising on the sublime act of mothering. ‘But no one ever told me how boring it is,’ she moaned.

When I brought it up at lunch yesterday, my friend June, a stay-at-home mother of three young children, admitted that ‘children are mind-numbingly boring’ and the act of being with them all day and night is responsible for many mental breakdowns. ‘Looking after children makes women depressed,’ she concluded.

All those glossy magazine spreads showing celebrity mothers looking serene at home with their children serve only to make women feel inadequate. What the pictures don’t show is the monotony, loneliness and relentless domesticity that goes with child-rearing.

They don’t show the tantrums, the food spills and the ten aborted attempts at putting on shoes. They don’t show the husband legging it to the pub so he doesn’t have to change a nappy, either.

Research tells us that mothers drink the most when they have young children. Is that because talking to anyone under the age of ten requires some sort of lobotomy?

Arabella Cant, an art director with two young children, admits that she considered jumping off a bridge in the early stages of her career in motherhood. ‘Bringing up children is among the most boring and exhausting things you can do,’ she says.

Her solution was to avoid subjugating her own life to that of her chil-dren’s. ‘I’m certainly not traipsing around museums or sitting on the floor doing Lego if that’s what you mean by being at home,’ she explains. ‘I’m loving it, but my children fit into my life and not the other way around.

‘I have friends who spend their lives driving their children to and from activities, but I don’t want to spend my life on the North Circular’.

Those of us who are not thoroughly ‘child-centric’, meaning we don’t put our children’s guitar practice before our own ambitions, are made to feel guilty. We’re not meant to have an adult life — at least, not one that doesn’t include them.

Many of my friends — fortysomething, university-educated professionals who swore that they would be normal parents — make it a policy now that ‘our kids go where we go’. They drag their three-year-olds to dinner parties where the youngsters end up in front of a video all night. (I have seen children having tantrums in front of guests, and rather than send the children to their rooms, the parents send their guests home.)

So how have we reached this point where so many intelligent women are subverting their own needs and desires to that of their children?

Much of our current obsession with parenting has to do with the cult of child sychology. ‘Parents in the Fifties were led to believe that if they weren’t with their children, the children would be disadvantaged,’ says psychologist Eva Lloyd. ‘It started this ridiculous “kids first” culture. We live in an age when parenting is all about martyrdom.’

Psychiatrist Dr Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding The Hyper-Parenting Trap, adds: ‘To be a good parent today, you have to sacrifice a lot.

‘When the current generation of mothers was young, children were simply appendages.

‘Our parents would never cancel an adult activity to get us to a soccer game. They would often not show up for our games or school plays, and, as a consequence, they never witnessed our great triumphs or were there to comfort us in our humiliations. As a result, our generation said we would do it differently.’

So it is drummed into mothers that if we find our children stressful or dull, it’s because there’s something wrong with us (but not dads, of course, who have a ready-made excuse for being out of the house all day because they ‘have to go to work’).

And yet many women have spent years studying and then working so that we would not have to do a job as menial as full-time motherhood. I consider spending up to 30 hours a week sitting behind the wheel of a 4×4, dropping children off at play centres or school, to be a less-than-satisfactory reward for all those years of sweat.

Besides, in my view, making a child your career is a dangerous move because your marriage and sense of self can be sacrificed in the process.

Psychotherapist Kati St Clair has listened to the frustrations of scores of mothers. ‘Women now feel great pressure to enjoy their children at all times,’ she says. ‘The truth is, a lot of it is plain tedium. It’s very unlikely that a mother doesn’t love her child, but it can be very dull. Still, it takes a brave woman to admit that.’

All us bored mothers can take comfort from the fact that our children may yet turn out to be more balanced than those who are love-bombed from the day they are born.

Research increasingly shows that child-centred parenting is creating a generation of narcissistic children who cannot function independently.

‘Their demand for external support is enormous,’ says Kati St Clair. ‘They enter the real world totally ill-prepared. You damage a child just as much by giving them extreme attention as you do by ignoring them altogether. Both are forms of abuse.’

Child experts are increasingly begging parents to let their kids be.

‘Parents think they can design their children by feeding them a diet of Mozart — well they can’t,’ says Dr Rosenfeld.

Sometimes, apparently, the best thing parents can do for their children is to let them be bored.

This, of course, makes mothers like me — who love their children but refuse to cater to their every whim — feel vindicated. By sticking to our guns, we have unwittingly created children who can do things like make up stories (very few kids can any more).

Because I have categorically said: ‘I am not a waitress, a driver or a cleaner,’ my children have learned to put away their plates and tidy up their rooms. They’ve become brilliant planners, often inviting their friends to come for the weekend (because I’ve forgotten to bother).

Frankly, as long as you’ve fed them, sheltered them and told them they are loved, children will be fine. Mine are — at the risk of sounding smug — well-adjusted, creative children who respect the concept of work. They also accept my limitations.

They stopped asking me to take them to the park (how tedious) years ago. But now when I try to entertain them and say: ‘Why don’t we get out the Monopoly board?’ they simply look at me woefully and sigh: ‘Don’t bother, Mum, you’ll just get bored.’

How right they are.

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