I often ask myself how the hell I went from being a child living in the middle of the New Forest, with scrappy hair and dirt under my nails to being a fully-fledged mother with two girls, as well as being a wife to a boy who tormented me for the first three years of my secondary school life. In my head, I’m still living in Forest House, tearing around the fields, climbing up trees to avoid the farmer’s pack of pungent dogs who were long past dead, and making mud pies. Boys were merely good friends who weren’t afraid to get mucky and indulge in some good old-fashioned toilet humour. They certainly weren’t considered on the rare occasion I would picture my future wedding. Of course, I knew one would need to be there, but, ultimately, it was all about the dress. And thoughts of having children were limited to picking out cute outfits from the Freemans catalogue and playing make-believe with a tired old doll we used to call Rosie. It’s a shame her head eventually fell off and Mum was forced to throw her in the bin.
But here I am, in my thirties (I won’t say whereabouts), eleven years married, and with a nine-year-old and a four-year-old. I gotta say, life is a lot more stressful than I pictured it at eight years old, and the fact that I’m not all that far away from being middle-aged is a little terrifying. Still, I can’t say it hasn’t been fun. Poor mini-me romanticised meeting the boy, getting married and living happily ever after, much like a Disney film which was a staple Christmas gift every year. Father Christmas always got a thumbs up when you felt that tale-telling shape of a VHS tape under a piece of wrapping paper that looked suspiciously like the paper your parents had used to wrap all the other gifts. However, meeting the boy at eleven years old wasn’t what I had ever considered, neither was our on/off relationship, or his gross man habits, such as flatulence, a severe potty mouth, and his propensity to sulk over absolutely nothing.
But let’s talk about having children, the little darlings. It’s fair to say I’ve always liked children, being that I decided to become a teacher from a young age. I like their bluntness, their honesty, and their fascinating views on life. However, having a child who is dependent on you twenty-four/seven is not something to decide to take on lightly. The feeling of responsibility is huge when it first happens, knowing that this tiny human with an insanely powerful set of lungs and the ability to suck your nipples raw, is going to need you to do everything for them, is immense. I thought giving birth was exhausting, but once you get through it, it’s not the end of the hard part at all; it’s just the beginning.
Charlotte, my eldest, was overdue and over nine pounds when she was born. She was a hungry baby, but also one who would begin feeding only to fall asleep on me. Meanwhile, I was usually fighting sleep myself, trying hard not to risk falling under and smothering her in the process. It’s like nature thought, ‘How can I make this necessity to feed your child as difficult as possible?’ It got so bad, I would be silently begging her to not be hungry. And I caked my boobs in nipple cream, but they still resembled huge angry red chilli peppers. Much to my disappointment, breastfeeding didn’t work out for me, or Lotty, or my boobs. I hated it because as a new mum you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be perfect. Not that feeding with a bottle is imperfect because, let’s face it, keeping your baby fed is what’s important, but you still have a lot of people out there telling you it’s what you should be doing. However, the bonus of bottle feeding was the fact that Bryan got to have more of a fair share in feeding her, and he loved it. He didn’t enjoy the explosive poops up the back, but the bonding was amazing.
Evie, however, wasn’t easier as such, but I was given much better advice, so I was able to breastfeed, and given my OCD was going haywire, it was much easier than having to wash bottles and keep everything sterile. I loved the baby stage with both of my girls, even with the sleepless nights and hormonal breakdowns; they were both gorgeous babas. Would I want another one? Uh-uh, nope, negative. Am I that evil smug bitch who gets home late to see the light on in the neighbours’ house’s nursery and smiles to herself? Yes, that is me; absolutely.
You see, when I had Evie (or ‘Evil’ as my husband affectionately nicknames her), I didn’t feel ready to say she was my last baby; it seemed too final. Bryan, on the other hand, was running to get a vasectomy as fast as his legs would carry him. What can I say? The boy loves his sleep, whereas children seem intent on stealing it from you. However, when Evie turned into a toddler, I had to admit, I was done. My girls have a five-year age gap due to the fact childcare costs the same as most people’s monthly mortgage. It’s been good but it does mean I’ve been bringing up mini-human beings for the best part of a decade, and Evie certainly has her own personality. She’s a mixture of fiery temper and angelic cuteness; all blond hair and big eyes to hide her mischievous personality. Some days it feels like everything is a battle with her, right down to which pair of drawers she’s going to wear. She’s also an adrenaline junky; the kid who wonders what will happen if she leaps off a rock that is three times as big as her and will do so just to find out.
Charlotte, on the other hand, is motherly, warm, and has to micro-manage everything to within an inch of her life. If we are going out, she has to ask a billion questions, some of them more than once. If I’m telling Evie off for, I don’t know, spreading slime across the living room carpet with a butter knife, or planning to take over the world, Charlotte is there, right behind me, trying to give her two pence worth as well. Evie then loses her ever-loving shit, I have to tell Charlotte not to get involved, she gets offended, and the whole house is in uproar. And where is the husband in all of this? Probably sitting on the toilet, where he’s managed to remain hidden for the last hour or so.
However, Charlotte is somewhat more trustworthy than her sister in the sense that Evie will reveal all our secrets to whoever would like to listen. Actually, she’ll put on her foghorn of a mouth whether she has an audience or not. For example, telling the family staying in the yurt next door that Daddy had to go and drop his poo babies off at the pool in the loudest voice possible, or asking me why I have hairy bits when getting ready to go swimming, or the time when she picked up a grape and announced, ‘Jesus Christ, look at the size of this grape!’ Yes, I’m afraid that last one was on me.
With three girls living under our rook, one could feel sorry for Bryan, especially as it is likely to be mood central when they become teenagers. However, he has quickly adapted to life with a wife and two little girls and has developed a number of survival strategies to use at his disposal. Here are but a few:
- Use the bathroom frequently. In fact, as soon as you get home, bomb it up there and hide away for as long as humanly possible. So long as you’ve got your phone, you have all you need to survive. If necessary, let off plenty of flatulence (or worse) so the area is literally too toxic for anyone to come near it.
- Another good hiding place is on the floor, behind the bed, where, from the doorway, it’s virtually impossible to see you. Remember to lie still and silent and hope to God they give up and go away.
- The garage! This is mostly your domain and the excuse of needing to sort it out is something the wife can’t argue with. It’s not as safe as the previous options, for the little one likes to come and rummage around with you, and you know how much she likes to ask questions about absolutely everything. But if times are desperate, and the wife has already ripped your balls off for being in the toilet for so long, then it’s a perfectly good place to hang low.
- The dump – you do love a good tip run, don’t you? Clearing out the crap, while escaping the house for at least a good hour or so? What’s not to love?
- Wind everyone up to the point of the wife losing her sanity, then get in a massive huff because she’s finally snapped at you. This is risky but extremely effective!
- If all else fails, Wickes, B&Q, or Screw Fix are all excellent places to escape to. The best time to need to go to these places is when the wife is in the middle of dinner, the eldest is complaining she’d hungry, and the youngest is yelling down that she needs help wiping her bum.
Not that Bryan is a bad father; he is a brilliant Dad who loves his girls and wants the best for them. Alas, there are occasions when it feels like he’s my biggest kid.
So, the picture-perfect, Disney-esque family unit probably doesn’t exist in the way you imagined it inside your head when you were still a child yourself. But I’ll admit, I’ve outgrown Disney. Even though I can sit through a princess film with my girls, smile in the right places, and sing along to those songs which plague your thoughts at three in the morning, I become easily bored. Real life is much more amusing with my hairy husband and our offspring. Of course, ask me again when he’s hiding in the toilet and the girls are arguing over which God-awful YouTube video they’re going to watch, and I might be craving a little alone time. Perhaps on the floor behind the bed?