It has been a tough few days. The Toddler has been frequently demanding we play Batman Pirates, Batman Builders and Batman Superman (I don’t know what that is either. It involves a lot of shouting). He has hit me because he didn’t want to get his shoes on, because he didn’t want to get in his car seat and because he just wanted to lash out at something and there I was; his little sister catching a couple of unfriendly prods in the process. I’ve tried my level best to keep calm and remember the various tips I’ve learned about tantrums: His brain is nowhere near yet developed; he has big feelings and not enough techniques to deal with them; he needs me. He NEEDS me. He needs me to help him calm down, control his emotions without bottling up, to use his words instead of his fists. He needs me to play games, feed him decent food, take him out of the house. And of course, The Baby needs me too – in a whole host of different, but just as intense, ways. All this being needed is exhausting.
I often hear cries of “But one day they won’t need you at all! Enjoy it while you can!” Believe me, when that day comes I am certain I’ll be heartbroken (although obviously happy they’ve grown into capable human beings. I think I’d worry if my kids were still pestering me to play Batman Pirates in their twenties). I feel guilty for not enjoying every second as I’m apparently supposed to, then end up berating myself (I should be calmer, I should have more patience, I should be more understanding). No. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last couple of years, it’s that being a martyr about motherhood will get you precisely nowhere. I know that my needs are important too. I need time to myself – I always have done – and having kids hasn’t changed that, just exacerbated it.
It’s not just the kids. The household appliances are getting in on the act, too. The vacuum sounds when the bag is full, the house phone alerts me with irritating pings when there’s a new message, both the washing machine and the dishwasher harass me by beeping continuously when they’ve finished their cycles. I can imagine the outrage of my great great grandmothers if they could hear me complaining about the horrors of modern life – at least I don’t have to use a mangle. My point is, there’s always something that needs to be done. It cannot be escaped.
My needs are pretty simple, I think. I need to browse around shops on my own without the constant low level anxiety that someone for whom I’m responsible will kick off. I need to drink a few
bottles glasses of wine with my friends, watch something trashy on TV (Say Yes To The Dress – hello!), lie down and stare into space for a bit. All mothers – all parents really – should be putting themselves first. Just a little bit, every now and then. It’s like they say during airplane safety videos: put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. You’re a bit useless to anyone else if you’re flailing around and struggling yourself.
I recently got chatting to a mum who was feeding her baby after a swimming session. She mentioned her birthday was coming up and I asked if she was doing anything nice to celebrate. She looked a little embarrassed and confided that she’d asked her husband to book her into a nearby hotel for the night. Just her. She was going to take a stack of magazines and make full use of room service. “Do you think that’s awful?” she whispered and, as her baby spat out every mouthful of nutritious home-made food she offered up, I replied that, actually, I thought it was the best idea I’d heard for ages. My birthday has just passed but, husband, if you’re reading – I’ll take a Travelodge, I’m not fussy.