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Thursday, 7 June 2018

#4 On Enforced Relaxation With Children in Spain

#4 On Enforced Relaxation With Children in Spain

Don’t they know how important my time is?

Anyone who knows me will know that I am constantly in overdrive. Overplanning, underestimating and running late are just part of my DNA. And it's not that I don't care. Both things stress me out and yet, on one hand, I take stock and think how ridiculous it is that someone in their late thirties still does a light, slightly sweaty jog to make appointments on time; on the other I curse my own idiocy for thinking that bringing kids into the mix could ever have helped this situation. Duh.


And so it is with kids, and I know I am not alone here (please tell me I'm not). Flapping about, trying to get out of the door in the morning with T-minus-ten seconds before we have to leave (see this post for earlier comment on this), unable to locate Son's left shoe whilst also trying to brush his teeth so hurriedly I risk making his gums bleed and he keeps going  ‘ow'. Daughter, when we dare to try and put her cardi on, screeches, twists and runs away, knocking the pee-filled-potty so hard it splashes, then she disappears behind the sofa. When we try and coax her out like a frightened kitten, she laughs maniacally at us and our stupid, stressed-out faces. Once finally out of the door, we plough down the street with the pram, tutting and moaning at Son each time he obliviously stops to point at ants or try to pick weedy flowers.


And then I once again take stock. I am grumpy and exasperated or at the very least I am pink and a bit sweaty. I am most probably being short with the kids who don't understand Time or why it matters. It is my fault we are running late. At their best, they are just being kids and at their worst they sense mine and Husband's stress and treat it like a comedy show. Either way this rushing is just not working. What is more, the more time we spend here, the more we realise it is not just the kids who look bemusedly at us, at these times.


To elaborate: being in a rush with kids may be stupid; being in a rush with kids in Spain is just pointless. There is a convenience store called Coviran here, a bit like our dear Spar franchise in the UK. In this one local Coviran, the lady who runs it sashays around in the same nonchalant manner no matter how busy it is. She usually has a lit cigarette resting nearby, which she will finish, if she so chooses, even if you are waiting at the till. And don't get me wrong, locals complain about her  - or at least her fags - as much as anyone; the issue is that she just doesn't give a monkeys.


I have a grudging respect for this woman. She sees your hurry yet does not let your problem become hers. Another such situation is on one bus route which needs to share the same ancient, cobbled road as a million pedestrians, most of whom oblivious tourists taking photos, and often the bus needs to slow down to a near-halt as these people reluctantly drift out of its way. I feel my natural reflex to tut and tense begin to take over, even if I don't have an appointment to keep since - newsflash - it appears I just do not like being held up. Don't people know how important my time is?


The driver, on the other hand,  never beeps. He never so much as sighs. He just chills and trundles the bus along because he realises something important: if you don't like this pace of life, then don't be here. And back to the kids: if you are going to stress about being late, either organise yourself better or just go Spanish, as my kids are happily doing, and chill the hell out. Otherwise, you are just bumming people out, my friend.


Because this makes me realise another thing: inflicting your panicked hurry on someone else, especially someone not inclined to hurry, has a huge self-importance about it. You're like the guy driving up everyone's ass on the motorway to get somewhere 40 seconds sooner. And once I admit this, albeit grudgingly, to myself, a couple of epiphanies happen. Firstly, if you haven't got 40 seconds’ margin for error in your plans, your timing needs some serious work.


Second epiphany: Son recently had a last-minute birthday party to attend and while we'd grabbed a present, we had no wrapping paper. Ducking into a newsagent's near the party to request some, the young guy behind the counter smiled and beckoned me to pass him the presents so he could wrap them for me. The result: over the next five minutes or so, various other customers traipsed in, some held waiting by his so-dedicated gift-wrapping, some served quicker, but nobody complaining. Once finally finished, he passed the gifts to me with a smile. As he saw me fishing around for my wallet, this turned to a bewildered look and he flicked his hand with cheery dismissiveness- ‘no pasa nada’. Literally: 'nothing happens'/ nothing bad will come of this.’ In English terms: don't worry about it.


Don't worry about it? But worrying is my trademark. It's what defines me. I love being on-edge and flustered. Everyone around me loves it, too.


Or maybe it's time to really go to town on that 'when in Rome’ cliche and be a more zen me.


I'll let you know how I get on.


Erica

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Here's Looking At You in Spain, Baby #3: On The Attitude to Children in Spain

#3 On The Attitude to Children in Spain

More VIP treatment than we get


It takes a village to raise a child, it has very often been said. In Spain, I’d argue it takes a city. A country, even.


And just what on earth am I on about? Well, actually it is the way people treat children here, especially little children, and how everyone sees raising children with a sense of community that is so different to the world I am used to. And I’m not just talking about having playdates and being nice to your friends’ kids, or at least those kids with whom you are on first-name-terms, because here it is something bigger. It is the way people approach strangers’ kids, those they do not know - or owe - from Adam. It reveals a pretty different outlook, to say the least.


In one way, this can mean a ‘shared’ approach to discipline. The other day, a couple of friends and I were sat in a plaza where our kids were playing with some loose stones on the ground. Typically, wine+occupied children meant a marvellous sense of relaxation for us. But it was short lived. Suddenly, the atmos was punctured by an old lady’s head appearing from a nearby doorway, whereupon she commenced scolding the children (and, indirectly, us parents) for removing the stones from her doorway. After the initial deep shame you still (yes, still) feel from being told off by an elder, we quietly admitted that not only was it fair enough, but that this old lady had some guts. She neither feared our response nor that of our kids, she’d said her piece then left it at that. She was badass.


But this approach is not just about chastising kids, unabashed. Do not mistake this for a culture where kids are pests and that they should be seen and not heard, because it’s really not the case. What there is here is an overriding affection for little children, other people’s children as much as anyone’s own, and the same fearlessness in showing them that affection. In the supermarket, on the street, on the bus, people of all ages stop in their tracks when they see any random toddler, and they coo and smile at them. They make physical contact with them. Elderly people do it the most of all, often ruffling my son’s hair, chattering away to my daughter and patting her hand, especially if she seems upset. For primary teachers, it's totally normal to cuddle their students all the time which is so different from what my own teacher training taught me.


Kids are practically VIPs here in so many social settings. In a tapas restaurant the other day, the waiter bent down to my children's level, took both their hands and whisked them off behind the bar. They chortled with delight and re-emerged moments later with a chocolate treat each. In another plaza one day, a smiling old man picked up my daughter and started dancing around with her to the flamenco music, while his friends tried to show her how to do the proper hand movements. All was done in plain sight of, and close proximity to, us the parents, which I'm sure helped it to feel so un-weird. Neither the waiter, nor the old man, had ummed or ahhed, they’d just gone and done it which clearly highlighted how normal it all was. And yes, when we first arrived here I would be struck by how different this was to what I was used to. My US, Canadian and Aussie friends have basically said the same. But we also agree that it's hard not to be taken in by the warmth of it all here, by the reminder that kids remain the greatest leveller among people.


Perhaps a bigger difference is with child accidents. If your kid falls over here, someone will rush to pick them up and cuddle them first, then try to decipher who and where the parent is. I have now found myself doing it without a second thought where once I might have hesitated. Again, in the culture I grew up in- and which my kids were initially born into - it just wouldn't be so normal to rush and cuddle a kid you didn’t know. Or, more, accurately, whose parents you didn't know. Your instinct would be to feel concerned that the child was upset, of course, but you'd locate the parent first so they could take over with the physical bit. You'd thereby alleviate yourself of any of the weird or suspicious looks people might give you because warm or physical engagement with someone else's kids is reserved strictly for close friends, family and officially-employed childminders. And those of our parents’ generation assure us it was not always like this, with such a fear about strangers’ intentions towards our kids. Even though our culture has always been more standoffish, they argue, it is a growing, media-fed paranoia that is now to blame. Whatever the source of the fear (and I suspect it to be a mixture of the two) the outcome is the same: what happens is that, as with most things, the more self-conscious you are made to feel about your own behaviour, the more critical it makes you of others’, which in turn makes them more self-conscious...and so the cycle is perpetuated. A paranoid-judgy cycle which seems to exist a lot less here.


And look, I'm not saying that child-related crimes never happen, or that you should never trust your instincts when you feel that your kids are in real danger. I'm also not advocating being totally naive around something our parents never had to deal with: over-sharing info about our kids on the internet (and this is coming from me, by the way, who used to share way more than I do now). But neither are Spanish people saying any of these things. And yes, crime statistics can be unreliable because they depend on how many crimes actually get reported at all, but even so the stats do not suggest that Spain is an unsafe place to be a little kid. They in fact suggest the opposite.


And don't get me wrong, it's hard to undo thirty-odd years of what I've become used to. That old British reserve and awkward stiff-upper-lip will probably always be a part of me, too. It's also a part of some of my favourite comedy and literature, to which I fully intend to expose my kids. But if we stick to our plan and stay here for the long term, it'll be interesting to see how those two turn out as a hybrid of the two cultures, especially in their approach to children. In reality, I suspect it'll just be another one in a number of ways in which we'll be embarrassingly old and out of touch.


Bring it.


Erica

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

#2 Here's Looking At You in Spain, Baby: On Settling Into Life in Spain with Young Children: The Early Days

#2 On Settling Into Life in Spain with Young Children: The Early Days


I was the needy one

So, if you remember last time, sh**t had got real. And how. It’s been six months now since the start of this adventure, and a journey of life-changing extremes. To explain: for those of you who have ever considered moving to a holiday destination - by which I mean not just holidaying in one - it can be ironically un...holiday-ish. To say the least. On good days, the aching beauty of the place you have chosen shimmers before you and congratulates you on your choice; on bad ones it taunts you like a gorgeous person way out of one's league. For every dull, life-admin task you have to get done (see below), this beauty cruelly mocks you with every bored glimpse you take at it from a window, with every sigh you emit in every long, long queue.


That has been some of the reality, anyway. For the first  week or two, this had not sunk in yet and we were most definitely in holiday mode.


On our first evening, you may recall how we wove up the valley early evening, past a sepia landscape whose browns and yellows became more of a peachy blush with the increasing pinkness of the sky (the last bit I just added but stay with me here). And I've mentioned it before but I'll do it again, since the Alhambra really must be seen to be believed. It has a crisp austerity to its form, all squares, right angles and tooth-like battlements, which make for quite a contrast with the bushy hillside where it sits, looming down over the city in silent reproach. Son and Daughter were not immune to its charms.


‘Look! The Al-ah-hambra!’ Son shouted.
‘Mehhhh-a-ham-brala’ Daughter mused.


And although we had lived in Australia for six years and were no strangers to heat, there still felt something exotic about the hot, thick wind blowing at us, the warmth that radiated off every hard surface. Down cobbled lanes we sauntered until we realised how late it had got (in Australia the sun sets at 8pm latest) and that we'd better bloody feed the children. This we did in a bustling square where the kids chased cats around while we drank wine and ate morcilla. How thinly we disguised our smugness while holidaymakers we got talking to gasped ‘you're moving here?’ and gave us theatrically envious looks. God it was all so great.


And so passed the first week or so. Then reality set in. We had to sign Son up to school, find care for Daughter and do painfully dull things like setting up bank accounts. And all this with the joyous handicaps of minimal Spanish and a family set of passports that had got stolen on our first night, never to be seen again (really don't ask). But, as you do, we somehow cobbled together some crappy semblance of organisation between us with the help of some new friends on the ground. And believe everything you hear about insane bureaucracy in bits of Europe. Signing Son up for school consisted of getting lots of documents stamped in a big hall then standing in a very long, very stagnant queue in a beautiful marbly corridor, the sun beating in on me, for three hours. I typically had underestimated how long it would be until I next ate and stood there feeling more faint and hollow-bodied as the time passed. People in front of me were yelling, shrugging and tutting and every so often an adminny-looking lady would pop her head out of the office door we were stood by to shout Something Important at the queue. Various people responded exasperatedly, some walked away and I just carried on standing there like a dumbass. My very helpful friend (thank Christ for her) informed me that we may as well stick it out, then just as I had nearly given up all hope, a letter suddenly got thrust in my hand and I was informed that even though it was nearly two o’clock Son could start school that day if we wanted him to.


Obvs we thought we would allow him some transition-time, so we plumped for the next morning. And how weird it felt, that he would not just be starting school - proper school - for the first time ever, he would be doing it in a place he'd never been to before, speaking a language he didn't yet speak. The advice I'd been given while researching our move, all those light-years ago?


‘Throw them in and don't tell them they can't do it.’


What this means for a parent? They'll probably be fine; it is your fretting and flapping that will upset them.


And this is so true. Son bowled on into school the next morning, skipping along the lanes with his new backpack bouncing and when we got to the gates, he ran on in without even looking back. You know who felt the most anxious, the most in need of reassurance? Yep, me. And for some time this pang of neediness would come back every now and again when I least expected it. I would finish a perfectly pleasant coffee with some new-found friends and I would, upon my walk back home, suddenly feel out of my depth and alone. I would feel homesick and lost and I would picture Son sat at his little desk in the classroom, doing his best to be brave, smile, and just get on, in Spanish, with all the busy tasks schoolkids get on with. His bravery made me miss him and want to just turn around, storm into his school and rip him out of his class so that I could just have him all to myself and hold him tight so he would comfort me. Then upon reflection the Less Dickish Me (yes, there is one, thank God) realised how utterly unhelpful for anyone that move would be. It was bloody tempting, though.


And how, six months in, are we now doing? Well, despite another move of house, another switch of jobs and so many other things, we are finding our feet. But to be totally content wouldn't make for much good blog-writing so fortunately there's still plenty of material there. Basically, until we are rich and flawlessly bilingual there will be more material than I can shake a stick at.


So hang on in there, people, and until next time…


Hasta luego.


Erica




Monday, 16 April 2018

Here's Looking at You in Spain, Baby, #1 The Big Move, or 'On Moving to Spain With Little Children'



A horrible, stressful exit



So, well, sorry I've been away for a bit. Pretty much a year, admittedly. As the title of this post might suggest, though, we've had a bit going on; so much so that I am starting a whole new section of this blog devoted to this big new life we seem to have got ourselves into.


What has this life involved? Many things, too many to fit in one post. Which is good, since I'm going to, you know, need stuff to fill other posts. But just to illustrate: it involved an exit that had been considered for some time yet which stil became a frenzied, flapping stress-fest in the last few days (how is this the story of my life?), a cross-continental journey and an eventual landing of one Boeing 727 on some hot Spanish tarmac. From there, the adventure to Granada, Andalucia, was about to begin, and how exciting it felt flicking through all the Google Images in my head: the mighty, earth-red Alhambra Palace looming down over the city, the crumbling white houses all packed into the Albaicin hillside opposite. Two years of waiting to see all this for real was about to end in two hours of car journey.


But enough of the travel writing for now. It's now time to explain how and why we came to be here at all. Time to backtrack to the time of austerity which had preceded it.


So last time we spoke I was telling you all about dealing with solitude as a mum. While I would argue that there is something universal about that experience, it was definitely exacerbated and prolonged by life in sunny, costly Sydney: I had wanted to return to work, to re-skill after having Daughter, not just to have adult chat but to chat even with people who (gasp) didn't have children. But we were stumped at the first hurdle. Daycare for a second child cost more than I would be earning the days she was in there. Still, OK, we decided, for my sanity we could perhaps justify running at a loss (you get the idea how ready I was to be back at work- who, pre-babies, would do most work for free). And yet, just in case I was getting cocky, up rocked the second hurdle: the famous daycare Catch-22. I couldn't take work unless daycare was secured, and I couldn't secure daycare (including paying a whopping deposit, etc) until I had work to justify the cost. And then the picture just unfolded itself, day by day, before our eyes. We had:


  • No relatives close by for quick-filler help with the kids (hello England, many thousands of miles away)
  • Extortionate rent to pay on a leaky, ‘characterful’ old terraced house (hello Sydney's real estate bubble)
  • Been harbouring a desire to return to Europe before too long
  • Been dreaming, and fantasising, at length, about a life in beautiful Spain (I'll explain more about this choice later).


And at the end of yet other skint winter's day in Sydney, another experience of getting adrenaline rush at the Aldi till in case the card got declined, Husband and I sat down and as he so beautifully put it,


‘We could just f**k off now, you know. Like, really soon.’


So that was that. And before we knew it we were Googling and emailing our little socks off, not just dreamily perusing real-estate websites but contacting people who would actually fix us up with somewhere, not a perfect-somewhere but a start. And that, for now, was enough.


The rest became a blur of contract-signing, leaving-dos, packing and a horrible, stressful exit from our house where we'd so tragically underestimated how many shipping boxes we'd need that we ended up chucking decent stuff out on the street, GIVING our overpriced Dyson hoover to our next-door neighbours, having the airport transfer woman twitching uneasily as we were running so late, my brother madly helping us to pack the kids, our stuff and our lives into the grumbling minibus.


But none of it mattered. We were finally doing it. Shit had just got real.


More next blog on what actually happens when one moves to Spain...with children in tow, obvs…


See you then!


Erica


Seen the book? Take a look! http://lookingatyoubaby.com/
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby https://www.facebook.com/lookingatyoubaby


Monday, 29 May 2017

#32 On Solitude With Children, and How Trying to End Solitude is Hard


I worry I might dirty them if I get too close 


So my relationship with my husband predates Tinder. We’re both very glad about this. When we see references to Tinder culture on TV, or hear about it from our unmarried friends, we think how much harder it must be - how much thicker skin you’d need as a person - to embark on a romance in this way. As if starting to date someone wasn’t hard enough on the old nerves and insecurities, here is a world where you can be swiped into oblivion on a screen, where your written messages, your profile and photographs of your face can all be passed around and laughed at without you even knowing. It’s a tough gig, this modern dating business.

The thing is, I don’t think I’ve fully avoided it, actually. And no - **ANTI-SCANDAL**  - I’m not remotely single again, it’s actually something more simple. I’m trying to make local friends. Mum friends. And I tells ya, on your less-perfect days it can make you feel like a Tinder loser, a left-swipe-ee, as it were.

I’ll explain. Moving to a new area and still currently out of work as there is no work (yawn), I decide I’d better make some buddies to fill the conversational void left by, you know, my fifteen-month old daughter. So one thing it is customary for a mum to do in this situation is to go to a local playgroup. It’s quite an easy set-up: toys and facilities all set out, loads of parents hanging about that you can talk to, though handily - and this is one great thing about kids - the conversation can be very non-committal since you can always use your kid as an excuse to duck out and run off if needs be. Easy, hey. Except if you’re actually trying to make lasting contacts, you begin to worry that if someone does duck off from a conversation with you, it’s because you’re boring them, or coming on a bit strong, or desp. You might perceive a connection and want to hang out again, but feel pushy or pesky if you ask. Is this too soon? Should I wait until I get chatting to them next time? Are they just humouring me until I go away?

What’s more, there’s a statuesque woman at my new playgroup and she always looks so ridiculously well turned-out I swear she must be in those ‘passers-by in the street looking amazing’ pages of magazines. Honestly, she  wears red lipstick and heels and a Grace Kelly backcombed ponytail. To playgroup. Probably on her way to somewhere fabulous afterwards. And the more I look at her the more I’m suddenly aware of my own grubbying around, pre-shower with no-makeup-wax-face. I feel bad that I might somehow dirty her if I go near her. I grubby off somewhere else.

See what I mean about the dating thing?

And the likeness to Tinder is here: it gets worse once mobile phones start getting involved. Even if someone you talk to suggests switching numbers, if you suggest a date and they keep turning you down, are they beginning to regret giving their number to you? Have you become a left-swipee? Is this treat-em-mean-keep-em-keen?

These are all very paranoid thoughts, I realise, and when you’ve never found it that hard to make friends before, you realise why you take all this so personally; you’re low in confidence at the times when you feel a bit lonely, and it makes you feel needy. Because being a mum can be a bit lonely, and it doesn’t matter who you are. You will experience it if you have kids.

Realising this, although not fixing the problem, paradoxically made me feel closer to all mums, in a way. It made me realise that all those confident stereotypes: the celebrity mum, the prettiest or most popular girl at school, those flawless women, if they’d had children then at some point they would have been alone. Even if surrounded by friends and/or adoring yes-people all day and a partner who loved them, at night when the baby woke they’d have left a warm bed and gone to rock a sad baby in darkness, until silence fell again.

And it’s a weird thing, this connection with your baby at these times. When you feel low or rejected, you draw them closer to you as if they’re your protection against the world: they need you, unconditionally, when it might seem that nobody else does. And when you see beautiful, famous mums or walk past airbrushed-looking ones on the street, pushing their designer prams, you know deep down that sometimes they get low too, and sometimes their baby is all they feel they have. It can stop them seeming so shiny and intimidating, or you less scummy, perhaps.

Realising this made me look at Perfect Woman at playgroup differently today. She seemed an ice queen in the same way that Betty Draper is an ice queen: a veneer of perfection with a lonely soul hiding behind it. Or perhaps she’s actually completely fine, always indeed on her way to somewhere fabulous and I’m just an annoying scruff. Who knows.

The real irony is this: just like with dating, often when you’re fretting about being pesky, it’s because the other person is holding back for fear of exactly the same thing. And we should all know this far along the track: that’s not behaviour borne of confidence but the complete opposite. The holy grail, of course, is not to give a crap about what other people think of you then it doesn’t matter either way. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

Those are words easy to believe when we’re not sleep deprived, cash deprived or adult-conversation-deprived, of course. Bugger. Best get back on the mum-Tinder, then. Wish me luck.  


Erica


Seen the book? Take a look! http://lookingatyoubaby.com/
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby https://www.facebook.com/lookingatyoubaby

Thursday, 23 February 2017

#31: On Returning To Work After Having Children




Bleh! Bleh! Bleh!


Your phone alarm sounds. It doesn’t matter what pleasant tune you have changed it to in order to be less unpleasant, it always sounds the same: shrill, bossy, accusing.  And it always produces in you the same bodily response: a feeling of heaviness - the result of sleep deficit, hangover or both -  laced with adrenaline.


Bleh!
Bleurgh.


Welcome to the start of your day.


Or so it was, before you had children. My, how you moaned when all you’d had to do was drink a bit less and go to bed a bit earlier, but that would have been boring so you never did. Come to think of it, that bit hasn’t changed much with having kids (not if you’re me, anyway). But now, in fact, you can take all of this and raise it by adding children to the mix because after your maternal absence, you’re finally going back to work.  Why? Well, in my case it’s not down to any contractual agreement but through pure choice.


!


Yes, all true. Second time around especially, for all the kids’ hilarity you do miss adult banter. You miss feeling vaguely skilled at something that doesn’t involve babies. More than that, you miss the freedom to do with parts of your day what you please.


But more about freedom later. Please note I said ‘parts’ of your day because let us not forget that each day starts with a morning. Morningtime in the working-parent household is a very special time indeed, because on top of all of the above some extra fun elements have been thrown in, namely a minimum of one cherub in particularly difficult/ dawdling mood, an extra-large slice of sleep-deficit pie for you and Husband and all of it pitted against a cruel clock to which chunks of time melt away at some kind of parallel-universe lightspeed.


Anyway, there you and Husband are, juggling and tag-teaming your little socks off, highchairing and feeding the children. Then, like cuckoo-clock figurines, one of you pops out of the shower at the same time that the other one zips in. Shower privacy? There is none, of course, since the door is constantly flung open to shouts of ‘have you seen his shoes/ my keys, etc’ mixed with chirrups, screams and toilet flushes, all set to the constant, gravelly whirr of the coffee machine. You glance at your watch:


‘Argh!!’


It’s already nine minutes later than you’d intended to leave, you’re trying to wipe the children with a stinky flannel and suddenly an inner voice (or maybe Husband’s voice) just yells


‘Leave it! Go!’


And everything reduces to some kind of terrible slow-motion where with each blink and each heartbeat the chaos flashes before you. As if there is a fire, you must simply run. You grab the children, your bag, their overfull bags and head for the door, flinging it open. As you take one glance back, you see the half-wiped highchair/s, the coffee cups, the foul dishcloth hanging off the counter. The scene looks like an oat-splashed Marie Celeste, you think, as you pull shut the door and stride to the car.


Next minute, you blink and take stock. You realise you have just pulled up outside your children’s daycare centre. You have no recollection of the journey you have just made with your foggy, auto-pilot brain and yet here you are. With adrenaline still pumping you grab the children and only just remember their bags, thrusting them into the arms of the lady waiting at the door. Your children may start to cry. And however much you know they’ll stop in about 90 seconds, the cries still smart as you dart back to the car, plonk yourself in, and then, suddenly,


And then.


Something in you changes. Some crazy wave of calm washes over you, like a breath. You know the day will be different now.


At work, when immersed in whatever it is you do to Earn Money, you don’t perceive what’s happening to you. But come coffee break or, even better, lunch break, you see it: liberty. You can go where you please, not having to think about nap time or where is baby-friendly or where has changing facilities. More than that, you have physical liberty: you are not pushing a pram so each time you leave a queue or a shop you almost feel like you’ve forgotten something. You feel so weightless it’s as if with each step your body, full of helium, could float away.


Where to go! What to do with this time! How little you used to appreciate it!


But it’s a strange kind of liberty because you never truly revert to the pre-baby you, ever again. In the supermarket, you mindlessly scan the shelves only to look down at your arm and see that you are gently rocking your empty trolley, back and forth, as if it were a pram in baby-soothing motion. And yet losing wheels altogether, simply carrying your bag/s feels weirder still since you’re so used to having a pram to put stuff in all the time. You begin to understand why old ladies drag those little tartan trolleys around. You may even slightly envy them.


And the end of the day? It comes around quickly and intensely. No swanning off to the shops or work drinks for you. Nope, it’s Pickup Time, from whence you have a flurry of madness until 7pm; think Morning Time but with baths thrown in, more tomfoolery and more peachy infant nakedness everywhere. And once it’s all over, once you finally hear silence replacing their sleepy sounds, you reflect. You consider how mad that all just was, how mad the next morning will be and thus how you need to turn in early, sober and sensible.


Unless you’re me, or Husband, that is. And since we never learn anything, we live in total denial of all of the above. We watch back-to-backs of Whatever Season We Love until fizzing with overtiredness, then repeat all above steps ad infinitum.


But you know the best thing about being in denial? You can be in denial about it and it’s fine. Just ask the US President.


Oh God.


Later,


Erica


Seen the book? Take a look! http://lookingatyoubaby.com/
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

#30 On Saying The Things You'd Said You'd Never Say, To Children






I became a teacher seven years before becoming a mum. Like many of my teacher-turned-mum friends, I have seen how the former helped prepare me for the latter as there are so many many parallels between the two roles: never really switching off, thinking on your feet, having to cram thirty tasks into a one-hour ‘non-contact’ slot (a free period / nap time), trying to stay psychotically positive in the face of it all. In fact, I shudder to think how the scatty, pre-teaching me would have coped with mumming; the current me can still take two hours to leave the house tots-in-tow. I doubt we’d ever have seen daylight.


And so it was that teaching also prepared me for disciplining kids, but not in the way you might think. Before you go assuming that my kids jump, Von-Trapp style, to my penny-whistled commands, let me set you very straight: I am still certain that I exercised more control in central London schools, in a sea of chewing-gum, graffiti and giant, hormonal teenagers - than I do with my own three-year-old son. No, what I learned was this: there are certain things you will find yourself saying (and doing) to maintain boundaries and they are often things you once vowed you’d never say.


‘It’s your time you’re wasting.’
‘Would you like to come and teach the class?’


I had rolled my eyes with the best of them hearing these at school. At teacher-training college, such phrases informed exactly how I did not want to practice. I will be the new, cool teacher, I thought. The maverick, the fun and funny one. I will not trot out crap old phrases and I will not enforce rules. At the end of the day, why pull kids up on uniform or lateness when there is Shakespeare to be explored, crucially, through mime and dance?  


The result: I was eaten alive, of course. My ‘lessons’ resembling the opening credits to Fraggle Rock, I had become nothing new or exciting but that old parody of the rookie. And so it was then that I sought some old-school advice from those above me, those that appeared to manage unruly classes with an effortless grace. They taught me the importance of tone of voice, postural positioning, facial expression; in short, body language. But as my confidence increased, a certain language-language began also to creep into my practice and there they were, the words I had avoided for so long:

It's your time you're wasting...


Etc, etc.

Etc.



I even found myself standing, waiting for silence, hand-on-hip and emitting, just like all my own teachers back in the day, a loud ‘ERM-’ noise. Is ‘erm’ even a word? It didn’t matter. It was old-school, it was effective and that was enough.


I had become the very teacher I had sought not to be. Or sought originally not to be. But you know what? My original view had been ridiculous, informed by myself as a child, not as an adult. The penny had dropped and I enjoyed having classes who listened now; dammit, it was not just effective to trot out the cliches and the erms, it felt downright satisfying because I realised that I had earned the right. A boring conformist? Nah-  I’d finally shaken off the shackles of giving a shit what kids think. I had come of age and I began to feel how much my previous teachers must have felt the same. Maybe not the most exciting club to have graduated to, but it certainly felt good.


What does this have to do with parenthood? Well, let’s just say it’s fitting that this experience was something I brought with me into more recent years. In my childhood home, once again there were certain phrases said to me that I had winced at every time. Now you should see me as I reel them off with gay abandon. Here’s a run-down of my favourites:



Massive cliche phrase

Why it is in fact brilliant
  1. I want doesn’t get


Almost a strapline, this one is snappy, memorable. It’s slightly undermined by ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ later on but that’s for another day.
     2. Mind your P’s and Q’s
Said by paranoid parents in the car on the way to dropping you off at a friend’s house. A catchy way to stop your kid from acting like a boorish bellend, which reflects badly on you. I am sure I will use this one like there is no tomorrow when the time comes.
    3. Where does he/she live?
Less of a catchphrase but still very popular; actually meaning ‘he/she looks a but common to me.’ The utterance of this one generally rules out the necessity for #2 above.
   4. We’ll buy/do that another day, not    today.
Sounds positive but is in fact ‘sod off/ not on your life/ I hope you forget all about this very soon.’
  5. Please do X/Y/Z boring task. There’s a good boy/ girl.’
Again implying positivity and compliance before the act even occurs. Clever.



So I’m all for progression and all that, but let’s be clear: reinventing the wheel is just one task too many for a busy mother. And speaking of mothers, I most certainly hear my own mum every time I say these phrases but you know what? That’s not such a bad thing if that woman could whip four wayward little asses into shape.


Now I’m off to spread her word(s)



Erica




Seen the book? Take a look! http://lookingatyoubaby.com/
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby https://www.facebook.com/lookingatyoubaby