Saturday, 25 May 2013

Big brother

Last week, I had to look after both of my children. All day. On my own.

I know. Shocking, isn't it? I don't know quite how this was allowed to happen, but somehow - somehow! It was. That's just the sort of society we live in these days, I suppose.

I'd managed to avoid this hideous task up until now, through a mixture of cunning and grandmothers. Monday to Wednesday, Lumpy (the big one) is in baby prison (they call it 'nursery', but we all know the truth. They have them breaking rocks the minute the door closes behind you. And quite right too. Little freeloaders.) Then on Thursday, Grandma Badger comes along to help wrestle with the little horrors, and I run off and hide under my duvet, and pretend I'm still 12 and have never even heard of 'children'. At the weekend, me and Mr Badger get to argue over who has to tie them up next, so that's okay.

But Fridays. Oh, Fridays.

Fridays used to be the Lumpy and Mummy day. I probably moaned about having to look after him on my own way back then, but I've chosen to block that memory out, and create a new one, which is full of soft-focus images of us skipping joyfully through fields filled with spring flowers, fishing for sticklebacks in crystal-clear babbling brooks, flying kites, baking cookies, and other unlikely and possibly mythological pursuits. In reality, I think we probably spent most of the time sitting slack-jawed in front of CBeebies, eating Wotsits.

The first couple of Fridays, Mr Badger was on paternity leave, so that was okay. The next one, I cunningly planned a visit to Grandma and Grandpa Badger's, and forced them to help supervise my horde of bratlets. But then it came to the fourth Friday of Flumpy's existence, and no one else was prepared to put up with us. I was on my own.

And I have to admit, I was absolutely petrified. So far, on days when it's just been me and Flumpy, we've pretty much spent the whole day sat on the couch, watching DVDs, with a day's supply of biscuits within easy reach. And this arrangement suits us both just fine, thank you very much. I like being a lazy, biscuit-munching sow, and Flumpy likes sleeping on lazy, biscuit-munching sows. What he doesn't particularly like is being removed from constant human contact and put anywhere other than in the loving arms of his mother (or any arms, to be honest, as long as they belong to a human with a pulse. He's a little tart, truth be told). This is fine if you have absolutely nothing else to do, but if you have to, say, leap to attention at every barked order that your little dictator of a toddler barks at you, then it can be a little difficult.

Whenever I thought about managing these two slightly demanding little darlings on my own, all I could visualize was wall-to-wall screaming. Most of which was mine.

Let's just say I was not looking forward to it.

But it was going to have to happen. Even I couldn't avoid looking after my own children for the next 18 or so years (though at least by then I could just take them to the pub and get them pissed). So I manned up, and accepted my fate.

But I had a plan. Lumpy has recently developed an obsession with bouncy castles, and while desperately googling 'things to do with my toddler to stop him shouting at me' I had discovered a soft play session in a nearby village, which also included - gasp! - a bouncy castle. And it was on from 10am-12 noon on a Friday. Perfect. All I had to do was get through breakfast, then I could bundle them into the car, and go to the Toddler Distraction Session, which should give me a couple of hours without excessive amounts of screaming. Then we could go home and I would somehow produce lunch (most likely Wotsit-based) and then bundle Lumpy up to bed for his nap, and collapse for a couple of hours, with Flumpy on my chest. Then there would just be a couple of hours to kill (hopefully not literally) before Mr Badger would be home, and I would be able to throw the baby at him and run screaming from the house.

That was the plan. There was probably going to still be a fair bit of screaming, but at least I had a plan. The time would be filled. We would get out of the house. There would be witnesses, and this would hopefully prevent acts of violence.

Now, I should probably say something about how Lumpy has been since becoming a big brother. Lumpy - you remember him? He's the one I used to blog about a lot, and post endless cute pictures of. He's still pretty cute, just quite a bit bigger, and with a considerably larger vocabulary.

I really wasn't sure what Lumpy would make of Flumpy before he arrived. Up till now, he's shown absolutely no interest in babies, and, frankly, who can blame him? They are pretty boring. So the best I was hoping for was that he'd simply ignore Flumpy, rather than trying to put him in the oven, or chop his toes off with scissors or somesuch.

But the biggest surprise has been that he genuinely seems to like Flumpy. Love him, even. Whenever we go out he always says 'Don't forget Flumpy! We have to bring Flumpy!' He is exquisitely gentle with him - holding his hand, kissing his head, tickling him. He sings 'Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star' to him when he cries. And, most astonishing of all, he lends him his blankie. Now, Lumpy and his blankie have a very special relationship. Nothing comes between them. They are soul mates. It is the love story of the century. He does not lend this thing out. But his little brother obviously warrants an exception. It makes my heart glow to watch them together, and I know it will get better and better as the years pass, and Flumpy changes from a grizzly flailing maggot (harsh but fair, I'm afraid), to a giggling, adventurous partner-in-crime.

But despite this amazing positivity from Lumpy, there have been a few bumps over the past few weeks. We've seen a marked rise in tantrums - he's been quick to tip into hysteria over laughably minor things. There have been a lot of night wake ups, where he's had us running to his anguished cries, only to ask for a toy car or a "snot blow" when we get to him. There's been a whole lot more of the low-level, irritating naughtiness so beloved of all parents. Now, some of this may just be normal two-year-old behaviour, brought into sharper focus because of our tiredness and general despair. Mind you, that tiredness and despair has certainly led to us being far less patient, quicker to snap at him, and less inclined to put up with things we would have happily ignored before - so we're certainly at least partly to blame. Other things seem to be directly linked to the massive change that has happened in his life, and the new person who's suddenly appeared in his family, usurping his position as only child and general centre of attention. He's repeatedly begged to be allowed into our bed, for example - seemingly convinced that that's where Flumpy is sleeping. This has led to moments of heartbreak and irritation in equal measure, and more than a few 'we've ruined our own lives, and destroyed the personality of our previously lovely little boy' incidents.

So it's not perfect. Lumpy likes attention, and Flumpy is clearly the new attention thief around here. Lumpy wouldn't be human (or a toddler) if he wasn't just a little bit jealous. His mummy is suddenly attached to a little parasite for nearly 24 hours a day, and answers most requests with a pathetic 'I can't right now - I'm feeding/holding/changing/strangling your brother.' This is not too bad when there's someone else around, ready to distract Lumpy and shove his gob full of Kinder egg in compensation. But I was dreading how it was going to be when it was only me. Was I going to be able to aim the Kinder eggs well enough to get them into the wailing mouth? It's only a small mouth, even when stretched open in anguish.

But it was going to happen, like it or not, so we all waved goodbye to Mr Daddybadger on that fateful Friday morning, shut the door, and we were alone.

And you know what? It was actually okay. There was actually very little screaming. I managed, for once in my parenting life, to stay fairly patient, in the face of forty thousand 'why' questions, accompanied by a background of newborn grizzling and constant demands for BOOB! The half bottle of whiskey may have helped, but I'm crediting my all round saintliness.

We started off the morning with lots of books. After the morning feed, Flumpy was cruelly constrained to the carseat (rather than being allowed to recline all day in my arms, which is his favoured position - similar to many men, in fact. Ha ha.) He stayed there without too much complaining, remarkably. Before too long, it was time to rush around madly to get everything together and attempt to leave the house. Again, this was achieved with a remarkably small amount of distress. We all got in the car and headed off to the soft play session, which was supposedly in a community centre in a nearby village.

I say supposedly because when we got there, there were hardly any cars in the car park, and no sign of any sort of play session, soft, hard, or otherwise. The doors were locked, and peering through a window showed only an empty hall. Luckily, Lumpy had spotted a park round the back, and was so impressed with the rope bridge that he was actually convinced that this was the soft play session. We played in there for a while, until I spotted another confused looking mother dragging a small boy around. I asked if she was looking for the play session, and whether she knew anything about why it didn't seem to be on. She was, and she didn't. This at least reassured me I wasn't completely insane, but didn't get us any closer to bouncy fun.

However, I had a Plan B, because I am actually Supermother, and not the hopeless, twattish excuse for a parent that I appear to be. There was another soft play session on at the Sports Centre in Abingdon, just a ten minute drive away. We would go there, and all would be well!

Except, Lumpy didn't want to. He wanted to go across the rope bridge again. And again. And again. This may have been my fault, as I was so amazed at his ability to get across it on his own, that I lavished rather over-extravagant praise on him the first time he did it. So now that was all he wanted to do, and any suggestion that we leave this beloved bridge and go to a fun play session was enough to reduce him to howls of protest. So we had the faintly bizarre situation of me standing in a park, imploring my crying toddler to go to a fun play session because "It will be fun! [duh!] There'll be a bouncy castle! Toys! Fun! Please stop crying! Please can we leave this park! Arrrggghhhh! Etc!"

Eventually something clicked in the genius mind of my beloved son, who finally realized that a fun play session was, in fact, something that might be fun, rather than evil torture designed by his evil mother to ruin his life and stop him climbing across rope bridges, and we were allowed to leave. Halleluiah!

We got to the sports centre just as the session was starting. It was, somewhat bafflingly, called 'Creepie Crawlies', despite it being aimed, clearly, at walking children, and featuring very few insects. It was, basically, a massive hall into which a ton of toys and even more children had been poured. Lumpy was delighted. He leapt straight onto a pedal moped and started tearing around the hall, while I plonked myself down on a bench with the other lazy mothers and wondered if it was time to poke Flumpy awake for a feed (he is, invariably, desperate to feed AT ALL TIMES. Except when he's actually due for a feed, when he will fall into a deep, contented, oblivious sleep. Contrary little so and so.)

We spent the next hour and a half rather happily - Lumpy merrily charging from bouncy castle, to moped, to balance beam, to crash mat, to soft shapes, to playhouse, to bouncy castle, and back again. Flumpy and I trailed in his wake, trying to keep up. And then when they turfed us out at noon, I decided to go all extravagant and treat us to lunch in the sports centre's cafe. Because we know how to live.

Flumpy contributed to this delightful meal by sleeping through the whole thing, while me and James chatted and laughed together. It was almost like having lunch with a friend - I wasn't putting up with Lumpy or trying to control him, I was just enjoying his company. It was really very nice. And I realized that the day I'd been dreading had actually been one of the best in a long while.

Because, you see, something else happened when little Flumpy was born, along with the sleeplessness, the jealousy, the anxiety, and the total loss of any shred of freedom we still possessed. Lumpy became a big brother. For good or ill, he was not the baby any more. He was another step along to growing up. And though that makes me sad in a strange, sentimental sort of a way, it is also rather wonderful. Because the person he's growing up into is really rather wonderful. I don't just love him (which I have to do, obviously, since he is the product of my womb), but I like him, more and more each day.

Flumpy has meant things will never be the same around here again. And, slowly but surely, I'm learning not to be scared of what that means.

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