Tag Archives: parenting

Poncetastic nirvana: taking four under-5s to Tate Britain

It is the summer holidays, as you will probably have noticed by the hordes of noisy children and fed up adults crowding your local attraction. Being the natural tiger mother that I am, I decided to take a day off from wall to wall Wii and schlep the kids up to town for a bit of cultural appreciation. I met up with my cousin in law and together we shepherded four children under 5 round an art gallery.

Like many things in life, the thought of this made my knees sweat with anxiety. But once we were out there, doing, it was fantastic. The kids genuinely enjoyed looking at and talking about the art. Admittedly there was a false start before lunchtime that was remedied with vast amounts of picnic food. Never try and engage a hungry child in higher things. Once the crisps had been demolished and one of our number had wee’d in the bushes, we decamped to Victoria Tower Gardens to let off some steam. The idea that a lovely children’s playground might exist within sight of the Houses of Parliament boggles my mind, but there it is (unicorn just out of shot):

Musical jumping

There is a sandpit, a water pump, a couple of swings, a musical jumping thing and some natural clambering equipment. The playground design displays a refreshingly laidback attitude to health and safety, with a slide that goes like grease off a spoon and a roundabout like the revolving ‘dancefloor’ at the Foundry:

Baby Bones about to spin herself off the plate

Aside from the lovely playground, Victoria Tower Gardens also has a monument to the abolition of slavery (you can see it in the first photo, the multicoloured cupola type thing) and a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Seriously, this is my kind of park. Everyone should go there, although perhaps not all at the same time.

One of two statues of goats at the edge of the playground

The Palace of Westminster and the monument to abolition, as viewed from the sandpit

column

Once the children had worn themselves out and sustained a suitable number of minor injuries, it was time to return to Tate Britain for a second stab at culture. This time was much more successful. The two biggest small people loved looking for specific items in paintings (‘find a man with red socks! find a lady holding a squirrel!’) and soon started suggesting their own, although I didn’t spot anyone battling Bowser. The two smaller smalls enjoyed making lots of noise, trying to touch the exhibits and twanging the string barriers that Tate staff have thoughtfully put out at toddler height to stop people touching the exhibits.

Tate Britain has been rehung since I last visited, a shameful amount of time ago. The galleries run in chronological order so now you can wander through art history and follow the flow of development. The Henry Moores were an instant hit with everyone, interestingly, although my son ultimately preferred the Chapman Brothers’ fast food carvings because “the sculptures that weren’t funny were really good, but the ones that were funny and had lots of crazy beards were funny AND good”. As I stood in front of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, shivering at the power it still retains to unnerve, I asked my son to tell me what he thought of it. He considered, and then said “That one in the middle looks like a bird with four legs and a bum that looks like its face.”

I don’t pretend to have any understanding of art, art history or artistic techniques. But I do believe art is for everyone and it’s a rare person who makes it through life without experiencing some moment where the soul is shaken by a created object in their path. The thought of taking four under-5s to an art gallery made my knees sweat largely because I feared other adults’ reactions, the tuts and sneers and hostility that we might expect for herding a band of feral creatures through the sanctum. It pleases me more than I can say to have been wrong about this. Fellow gallery-goers of today, you were wonderful: tolerant, patient, smiley, all the things that help a child to feel the gallery is their place too. And the Tate staff are fab. We will be back again.

Making memories that will last a lifetime (or at least until they can afford therapy)

It started with a wish. A wish to celebrate my precious first born finishing nursery and getting ready for big school. I’ll take him out for the day, I thought, and make some magical memories to show how proud I am of the kind, funny child he has become. I spotted a half price online ticket deal to Groombridge Place, and when I realised that under-3s go free I factored Baby Bones into the equation too. It will be wonderful, I thought. Even though thunderstorms are forecast, we will have an amazing time. We’ll marvel at nature and turn over leaves and dash through rain showers and I’ll even get someone to take a picture of the three of us so that I am in a bloody family photo for once.

Today was that day. Here is what actually happened: PFB son started moaning halfway through the hour long drive to get there, and carried on for most of the trip (are we there yet? It’s taking aaaaaages. I’m just hot and thirsty and I want to get there. Why are you telling me off? I was just…ufff. I want to go home!) PMS me defaulted instantly to pissed off. The peacocks on the lawn, the hawks flying to command and the beautiful ornate gardens were mere backdrops to our hissed disagreements and the occasional ringing sound of a cast iron bollocking. No thunderstorm, but a sticky heat that bore down on us all like a fat man in a bad suit. Toddler daughter was cheerful, but her adamant refusal to rest little legs in the pushchair grew a bit tiresome after the fourth or fifth mile of walking. The high point of excitement for PFB was getting to use his new lunchbox. Which was, admittedly, gratifying, but we could have done that at home and saved eight quid.

Is it me? I wondered, head in hands, as I tried to explain for the sixth time that no, I couldn’t play Swashbuckle while trailing a snail’s-pace toddler around a two storey wooden climbing frame. Am I doing it all wrong? Where is the magic I so hoped to create? As someone whose own lovely, magic-making mum carked it long ago, my first worry is always ‘how do I know if I’m getting it right?’ How do you know if the memories they’re making are the kind you want to hang onto?

I welled up a little hearing my son make friends with another small boy and tell him all about our family, my sentimental heart clutching at how quickly he is growing up. But then I passed a couple of stony-faced South African mums barking ‘all you’ve done from the minute we got here is complain’ in the direction of their sullen offspring and was reminded that actually, kids of all ages are a pain in arse quite a lot of the time, and that’s ok. Hell, it’s normal. Being bollocked for arselike behaviour is also normal. How else does one learn not to be an arse?

And then we caught the boat back to the cafe and I received a lovely compliment from the boatman about my tattoo (‘it looks like someone’s taken a watercolour brush to you!’ Thanks, lovely and peerless Hannah Aitchison). I drove us home in a kind of cold beer tractor beam, propelled only by the throbbing image of refrigerated ale. I shooed two hot, dirty children into the knackered arms of Mr Bones, who had only just finished cleaning the paint off himself after a long day’s decorating. And PFB son, the moaning wonder, ran straight in to say ‘hey dad, I had a GREAT time today! I saw lots of animals, I climbed on a pirate ship, and we went on a boat! And I used my lunchbox and had my own lunch!’

I guess they make their own memories.

Parenting the toddlergeist

My 20 month old daughter wants a big girl bed. I know this because a couple of nights ago, following several nights of unusual bedtime hysterics, she ran into the bedroom she and Boy Bones share and demanded to get up on his bed. Once on the bed she wriggled under his duvet, sat up against his pillows and beamed at me.

So we cuddled together just like I do when reading the boy’s bedtime stories and when we’d finished she lay down and got comfy on his pillows. Thinking she might want some company, as he often does, I laid down next to her. This triggered a flood of angry noises and emphatic pushing of me away from her. No, she did not want me in the big bed. She wanted herself, alone, in a big bed. She gave me a meaningful look, one which said ‘I hope we understand each other.’

Some months ago, as he was getting ready for bed, my son complained as I cleared away the tiles from a game we’d been playing: “But they’re my lots of eggs, mum!” I asked what they were going to hatch into. “Ten baby Girl Bones!” he yelled with glee. A grinding shudder ran down my left arm, the extra achy one, the arm whose shoulder grinds a bit whenever I pick up my one baby Girl Bones. Ten of her…what would life be like? She is an elemental force, a mischievous imp, a toddlergeist. She is the reason my boots are full of blueberries and there is play food down our toilet. If I were to rename the kids based on what they’re like, she would definitely be Loki.

She is the most direct and unwavering personality I’ve ever known. Even my pregnancy with her was direct. With my son, I had no clue. It took five days of lateness for me to half-arsedly mumble something about doing a test and then a further five minutes of slack-jawed shock to absorb the second line. With her, five days before my period was even due I was smelling the ghost of food long after it had decamped to the outside bin. After two consecutive nights of dreaming about going downstairs to take a positive pregnancy test, I got the message, went downstairs and took a positive pregnancy test. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the words I AM HERE stencilled across my uterus at the twelve week scan.

Before I had children, I thought that people who said babies come with their own personalities were probably on drugs. I mean, a baby is a sack of needs with a mouth, isn’t it? But both of my spawn have made me eat that half formed opinion many a time, and Girl Bones’ blunt and direct ability to communicate is just another illustration of my own stupidity on that score. From her refusal to sleep anywhere but next to me in our bed (until the day she decided she preferred her cot, at which point she refused to sleep anywhere else), to her early mastery of the point-and-meaningful-look combo, to her love of the tactical facepalm during particularly expressive tantrums, she’s a girl with a lot to say and small tolerance for repetition, hesitation or deviation. She knows what she wants and she wants you to act upon it now, while she’s busy growing up enough to do it herself.

Despite the fact that this makes parenting her bloody hard work, I do hope she carries these attributes along into adult life. Because the thing that makes the shouting, the bossiness, the stubbornness okay, more than okay, is the spark in her eye that says life is so fucking wonderful. Life to her is a wonderful game, a game that she can win. I want her to feel like that every day of her life. When she crosses paths with haters and abusers and ignorami and loudmouths and tailgaters and twats, I want her to look them in the eye, laugh her head off and carry on winning. Which is why, when I’m listening to her cackle with joy as I chase her down the street for the twentieth time, I’m laughing too.

Kindness

This fantastic post by Alissa Marquess on 100 Ways To Be Kind To Your Child really struck a chord with me. Parenting chez Bones has felt like a hard slog of late; between the house move, the sleepless baby and the 3 year old being 3, Mr Bones and I are worn down to tiny nubs, and it shows in our tone of voice. Well, not so much him, as he gets to interact with adults five days a week. But I have been too often guilty of snapping, sighing and occasional hag-like shrieking.

So it was cheering to read this list and feel validation hit my knotty soul like a hot bath full of vodka. I try to do this stuff every day, because kindness is so obviously important when dealing with small people. I don’t always succeed; it is so easy to be unkind to those smaller and more vulnerable, so tempting to offload. I snap at my son because my daughter’s crying has driven me demented, or cuddle my daughter with hard, resentful arms when she wakes for the nth time at crap o’clock. Later on, I stew into miserable sleep, prepping myself for another day of being uptight.

A lot of the things on this list add up to giving more of yourself – your time, your emotional space. No wonder it feels so hard sometimes, when the invasion of small children into your headspace is already so complete and overwhelming. Even when they’re away, asleep or mysteriously quiet, their needs and wellbeing and opaque, unknowable futures weigh on your mind, leaving much less opportunity to think your own thoughts.

So making the effort to be kind, especially when you just wish there was someone to be kind to you, feels like a crucial skill to hone. It’s like a mental workout: finding a smile the fifteenth time your toddler tells you their made-up joke is hard work, likewise singing a song to try and distract your screaming baby at naptime. Like lifting weights, these things come easier with practice. My kids have forced kindness from me at moments when I didn’t think there was any left to give, and their happiness has bounced a little of that kindness back to me.
So in the spirit of being lighthearted I nominate this for my number 100: buying Weetabix because they love it, even though cleaning the stuff off babies, toddlers, clothes, table, chairs and floors is one of my least favourite jobs ever.

Night weaning

I think the time has come to night wean my daughter. She is nearly 9 months old and totally addicted to breastfeeding. This in itself is not a problem; she is just a baby and breastfeeding is so much of her world – comfort, sustenance, connection, security. Addiction to breastfeeding has naturally led to us co-sleeping, which is also in itself not a problem. Snuggling and snoozing next to a warm, sleepy baby is pretty great, after all. Seeing the smile on her face when she forces my eyes open at 5am almost makes it worth it. Spending all night crunched up in one place isn’t so hot, but the aches and pains just sort of merge into the general blarg of parenthood.

I’m happy to carry on breastfeeding for a while yet – it’s going well and thus my life is made easier by having all this comfort on tap. I fed my son till he was 13 months old and it was no problem at all. We were fortunate in this.

However, my daughter is quite a different creature to my son. He took a dummy; she would not. He took a bottle; she will not. When he woke in the night at 9mo, often as not you could soothe him back to sleep with some shushing and patting. Try that on Baby Bones and you might as well be shushing a fire alarm. One that’s attached to an angry octopus. She knows what she wants and she’s not afraid of speaking her mind.

So, while I value those qualities in my child and hope she carries them on into adulthood, I would also appreciate the chance to live my own life after dark now and again. I haven’t been to a gig in over two years. Mr Bones and I have spent about three hours in each other’s company sans children since she was born. My best friend has been living abroad for more than a year and I haven’t been over to visit her once. And there is a further factor in this decision: Baby Bones is on the cusp of crawling. Once that starts for real, no way can i have her sharing my bed every night, because she will be crawling over the edge before I can say ‘blarg’. Plus, I will need all my energy to manage her movements during the day., since her most desired objects include hot cups of tea, sharp knives, loops of string and my (fragile, expensive) specs.

So here we go. No more night feeding. It is the right thing for us at this time. But…seeing her chubby starfish hand reach out for reassurance last night as she snoozed by my side, there was a certain amount of grit-in-eye sorrow at moving on.