There seems to be a sort of unwritten code among parents that I was loosely aware of when Mouse was born, but of which I am now monumentally thankful for. It’s something in our hardwiring that makes us help out other mums who are Going Through Shit. God knows, since Moo has arrived, I’ve Gone Through a Pit of Shit trying to keep everything on an even keel and preserve a vague modicum of Mouse’s routine.
I’ve already experienced a few instances when I’ve been out with both girls on my own, trying to undertake an activity or so-called leisurely pastime, and literally not been able to cope with their tandem demands.
The most notable incident occurred when Moo was a few weeks old and I was attempting to get Mouse to her weekly swimming lesson. Our group of six mums has three who have recently popped out babies, and I thanked my lucky stars when the instructor deemed our first-born brood tall enough to have their lessons unaccompanied. This meant that instead of juggling childcare and finding someone to watch Moo while I swam with Mouse for half an hour, I could deposit Mouse into the pool and then sit in the “viewing gallery” (blue plastic chairs in Reception positioned in front of a grainy CCTV screen, actually) with Moo.
Don’t get me wrong, it creates an unholy amount of stress, but it is marginally better than the alternative. On this particular week, however, it was awful from the get-go. Moo had been fussy all day and chose to drop a “seeper shit” just as we needed to be in the car. At the point where the clock struck 12 and we were officially late, Mouse wet herself in the kitchen. Mercifully all the traffic lights were green for go-go-go and we made it to the pool with a minute to spare.
“I’m not going in today mummy.” Defiant, matter of fact, obtuse and very very naked.
“Yes, you most definitely are. We’re here now and you’ll have so much fun with all your friends, and me and Moo can watch -”
She cut me off. “I really really just don’t want to go today.”
Would a more savvy mum have cut her losses here and gone home? I don’t know. Anyway, I managed to wrestle Mouse into her costume and take her poolside, having now also scooped up a very shouty and hot little Moo (of course swimming pools are pre-ordained to keep their environment to a temperature that would melt David Essex’s face). At the pool steps, Mouse decided to up her game and run off in the other direction, falling over in the process. I half dragged her up by her forearm and marched her back to the pool, with Moo screeching right into my eardrum.
I levelled with her “Listen. Please, please just get in the pool. It’s not that bad, you’ll have fun…and you can choose a lolly afterwards. Maybe even also a biscuit. Please, for Mummy, get in the pool.”
She turned limp in my grasp in that really infuriating way that toddlers do and started to wail imperceptibly. I literally didn’t know what to do.
From somewhere, a pair of hands took Moo, and I let them. From the pool, the instructor emerged like a radiant mermaid of solace and carted Mouse off. “Just go, you know she’ll be fine in a few minutes.” She’s been our instructor since Mouse was ten weeks old and I trust her judgement. I crept back to the changing room and immediately burst into angry, frustrated sobs. More arms were suddenly around me with a collective murmur that yes, sometimes it’s so so hard. I pulled myself together, reclaimed Moo and the lesson passed without incident.
Moo’s six week check took place, through my own poor scheduling, on a day where I also had Mouse to look after. I’d bribed her with promises of snacks and let her bring in a couple of shitty, dog-eared books from the GP surgery’s toy box, date of origin approximately 1975. Despite such attempts to keep her docile for what, twenty minutes, she waited until I’d stripped Moo down to her birthday suit before announcing “I need a poo”. Right. Of course. I foisted Moo onto the thankfully wonderful doctor and whisked Mouse off to empty her bowels.
Last weekend, Mouse was invited to a party at an outdoor play centre. My husband was predisposed at a 10k race, and in my classic “it’s ages away, it’ll be fine” style I decided to take both girls with me, like an idiot. When we arrived, I realised that there was no way I could bounce on the trampolines and help Mouse onto the zip wire and walk along the balance beams with her like she’d asked me to. Instead, I left Moo in her carseat on top of a picnic table and asked that the other mums flag me down at any sign of imminent distress while I hovered on the sidelines of the wooden fort and encouraged Mouse down the slide.
At lunchtime, when I needed to feed Moo and the only available seat was ten meters from the party, I let another mum open Mouse’s carton of juice, cajole her into eating her ham roll, serve her some fruit, and unwrap a cupcake for her. Later, while holding a now-screaming Moo, I watched another mum lift Mouse between stumps of wood in a path along the ground, to her squeals of delight. I thanked her, and the lovely lovely mum replied, “Oh you’re alright, we all have to pitch in and help out don’t we?”
I so want to be on the giving end of this gesture. I wish I could be that mum, too, but at the moment I just can’t. All I can extend to is watching your baby on a blanket at a group while you nip to the loo. It makes me feel properly shit, to be so indebted to the unconditional kindness of the code, and in a roundabout way, on my more vulnerable days it makes me feel like a failure. But what’s the alternative? I’m not about to barricade us into our house until the girls reach the age where their demands are a bit more evenly spread. Equally, I’m not likely to sprout the additional three pairs of arms required to competently “project manage” the children anytime soon.
So yes, please, I would love you to take Moo out of her car seat and cuddle her while I put Mouse’s swimming costume on. And I really am grateful to you for making your child share a box of raisins with Mouse because I was so preoccupied this morning with getting to our play date on time that I neglected to pack any sort of snack. Thank you for knowing the code.
-SJW August 2016
This was published by the Huffington Post on 8th August 2016. You can view that version here.