The Teacher

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I have become a bit of a shouty mum.

When my husband points this out, I also become a shouty wife.

‘You have no idea what it’s like, looking after three children for twelve hours a day without a break.’ I say loudly, grasping my tea, so I can’t make any rude hand signals.

My husband opens the fridge.

‘It’s not easy for me either,’ he says staring at the food inside. ‘I’m stuck in the baby’s room doing video calls with hundreds of people, while I can hear everyone else having fun in the garden.’

‘Fun?’ I say, nearly spitting out my tea. ‘Do you think it’s fun trying to stop the baby have his fingers chewed off by the rabbit, while Milk unscrews the slide, and Mayhem buries Storm Troopers in my tomato plants?’

‘I still think you’re a little more shouty than you need to be.’ Says my husband folding two slices of salami into his mouth.

I stare at him. ‘That was for the kids to make home-made pizzas.’

‘Oh sorry.’

‘You’ve just eaten their home-schooling.’ I say sullenly.

My husband rolls his eyes. ‘How is the home-schooling going?’

I wonder if he is trying to wind me up. I think back to my ‘school’ day.

It starts with Midnight screaming because he can’t push a toy car through his bus window.

Ew!’ I say to Milk above the noise. ‘The sound ‘ew’ is what we are learning today.’

Milk waits for me to say something else.

‘Imagine you are eating. Chew. The ‘ew’ sound,’ I say.

Milk writes down, ‘I chew.’

‘Great!’ I say extremely pleased with my teaching. I turn my back on Midnight who is about to throw the bus at me.

I write the words Chew, Flew, New, on our blackboard.

‘Can you think of any other words with the ‘ew’ sound?’

‘Shoe?’ Says Milk.

‘Err, that’s with an o and an e.’

‘Why?’ Asks Milk.

‘I’m not sure.’ I feel the bus hit my shoulder.

‘Blew?’ Says Milk.

‘Yes!’ I pick up the bus and hand it back to Midnight, who throws it immediately under the sofa and screams as he tries to get it out. ‘Blew is a brilliant example, well done.’

Milk writes ‘The Blue Car’ on his piece of paper.

‘Oh no, I thought you meant blew. Like I blew my nose.’ I say.

Milk rubs his head. ‘But blue is an ‘ew’ sound.’

I rub my head too. ‘Shall we do some drawing?’

Mayhem joins in. ‘Look mummy!’ He shoves a piece of paper so close to my face he nearly slices my eyes.

‘Lovely,’ I say at the swirling mass of biro. ‘It’s so good.’

‘It’s an amaze.’ He says. ‘Do you want to follow the line to the treasure?’

‘It’s a maze,’ I say.

Mayhem gives me a look. ‘That’s what I said. Amaze.’

I grab a red pen and follow the scribbled lines round and round but I can’t get to the treasure, because if I do, Mayhem will draw another ‘amaze’ and another, and another, and I will never escape. I rest my forehead on the table.

‘Are you OK mummy? Asks Milk.

‘Not really,’ I say.

Midnight is still screaming, lying on his tummy with one hand under the sofa, trying to reach his bus.

My husband appears. ‘Any chance of a cup of tea?’ he asks, immune to the chaos. ‘I’ve got a call in five minutes.’

‘Only if I can go to the loo. I haven’t been this morning.’ I run for the stairs.

I sit on the toilet for as long as possible, staring at some water on the floor, which is most probably someone’s wee.

‘I’ve got my call now!’ Calls my husband.

I return to an eerie silence. Midnight is not screaming.

Everyone is eating a biscuit.

‘Why are they eating biscuits?’

‘I think they were hungry,’ my husband says sheepishly. ‘Actually, I’ll have a coffee – just leave it on the stairs.’

I finish recounting my traumatic day. ‘So maybe that’s why I’m a little shouty.’ I say, putting my mug on the side. ‘How was your day?’

‘It was really tough, actually. Strange times.’ He gives me a hug. ‘They’ll be going back to school before you know it.’

‘But I like having them here.’

My husband bursts out laughing. ‘You really are impossible.’

‘Strange times,’ I say and manage a smile.

 

The Heavy Runner

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It’s Lockdown and we are allowed to go out for exercise once a day. We can also collect medicine, and buy essential goods.

Off licences have been kept open, as the government appears to think alcohol is essential to get through a health crisis.

‘How can alcohol be classed as an essential?’ I say to my husband, incredulously. ‘Surely it is a good time for everyone to cut back and give up?’

After one day of trying to home school two children with a baby throwing toy cars at my head, I understand. Alcohol is essential.

Mayhem is asking where his Storm Trooper’s arm is, and Midnight is stumbling around the kitchen like a drunk student, searching for food.

It’s 4pm. The worst time of day to be stuck in a house with three children.

‘Can we go for a bike ride? Shouts Milk above the clattering, as the baby chucks a cheese grater out of the cupboard.

‘Good idea. I’ll take you,’ my husband says appearing in the doorway.

‘Errr, I’m not staying here with these two.’ I say pointedly.

‘OK, we’ll all go. This can be our family exercise.’

Milk takes his bike and Mayhem jumps on his scooter. My husband puts Midnight in the carrier on his back, and we are off.

‘Look I can see a deer!’ Squeals Mayhem after 50 paces. He stops his scooter to peer over a gate.

We all have a look.

‘It’s a sheep.’ I say.

‘No, it’s not. It’s a deer.’ Says Mayhem crossly.

‘Car, car.’ Says Midnight.

‘It’s a lamb actually,’ Milk declares.

‘You’re all meanies!’ shouts Mayhem and sits down on the grass verge. ‘I’m not talking to any of you EVER again.’

I plonk myself down next to my middle child.

‘We’re not really allowed to sit down,’ says my husband. ‘We’re supposed to be exercising.’

‘You can have some of your Easter bunny when we get home if you carry on.’ I whisper to Mayhem. My husband raises an eyebrow.

Mayhem jumps up. ‘Let’s go home now then,’ he shouts.

We coax him down the hill away from the house. After another 100m I feel a familiar pain in my foot.

‘My foot really hurts from that thing,’ I say to my husband.

‘What thing?’

‘My Plantar Fasciitis.’

‘What’s that?’ Says Milk wobbling past.

‘It’s when your foot hurts from too much exercise,’ I say.

It’s actually caused by over-training, or running on hills and for being, as my husband  pointed out, ‘a heavy runner.’

‘I think I’ll need a foot operation after all this virus stuff.’

Mayhem’s eyes light up. ‘Will they cut your foot off?’

‘What?’ Milk shouts, slamming on his brakes. ‘Why are they cutting off your foot?’

‘No one is going to cut my foot off. I just need to rest it.’ I wonder what year that will be at all possible.

‘No walking or running,’ says my husband.

‘No standing or jumping!’ says Milk.

‘No hopping!’ chips in Mayhem.

‘Car, car!’ calls Midnight.

‘You could go on the bike?’ suggests my husband.

The next afternoon I feel like a child again, freewheeling down the slopes near our house, the wind blowing the spider webs out of my helmet. Moments later I am standing on my pedals, panting and sweating, trying to get up a hill. The wheels slip on loose stones.

A lady overtakes me, keeping her distance. Then a man and his son. And a dog. I don’t think I’ve ever seen our lane so busy.

‘You’re quite red,’ my husband observes when I return.

‘I got overtaken four times on the hill.’ I say, washing my hands.

‘Shouldn’t be that many cars around,’ he frowns, checking Midnight’s nappy.

‘They were walking.’

‘Oh,’  My husband laughs, and offers me a glass of wine.

‘Car, car.’ Says the baby.

 

Lockdown

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It occurred to me, as I let my husband cut my hair, while Milk and Mayhem ran around the kitchen screaming ‘macaroni cheese!’, that I might find lockdown a little bit challenging.

‘It looks quite good actually,’ says my husband putting down the scissors, gingerly.

‘But you’ve only been doing it for five minutes. Most people spend hours at the hairdressers. I haven’t even had a cup of tea.’

I eye the scissors he has been using. He said he couldn’t find the ones we use for the boys’ hair, so he chose the big blue kitchen scissors, which we sometimes use to cut up pizzas or raw chicken.

My husband looks a little afraid as I jump up from my chair to look in the mirror.

My hair looks absolutely fine – if you’re not seeing anyone for 12 weeks – which is lucky because the whole country is only seeing people through computer screens or over the garden fence for the next three months and counting.

‘At least you don’t have to do the school run with it…’ offers my husband sheepishly.

It’s true. The schools have closed, and after the initial shock, everyone is now printing out maths worksheets and ordering glitter glue and pipe cleaners online, in an effort to be home schooling heroes.

It was something we all knew was coming, but we didn’t believe would happen. Like dawn, when you stay up too late with a glass of wine. Dawn always comes too soon.

My first ‘home-schooling’ dawn arrived with Mayhem crawling over my head to drink from my glass of water on my bedside table.

‘Is my hair made of circles or lines? Why is this water a bit warm? How do I make a triangle with my foot?’ he fires the questions at me as if I am on a quiz show against the clock.

I look at the time. It is 5am.

‘The thing is,’ I say to Mayhem, removing him from our bed, ‘the thing is I’m not starting the home school thing yet. Not quite yet.’

‘When are we starting the school at home thing?’ says Milk bounding into the room, dressed in jeans and his school jumper.

‘Where’s daddy?’ I ask, trying to distract them. It works. They seem to think it’s a game of hide-and-seek and rush off shouting, ‘we’re coming to get you daddy. Ready or not!’.

I know they will find my husband downstairs with Midnight, feeding him blueberries and playing cars on the carpet, which has recently also become a picnic mat.

Later I am sitting down at the kitchen table while Milk and Mayhem stare at me in expectation.

‘Are you OK teacher?’ they say.

‘Please,’ I say resting my head on the table. ‘I’m not a teacher.’

‘Are you OK?’ Asks my husband returning from his lockdown run.

‘I’m not sure PE with Joe is meant to be done with a one year old throwing soft toys and fruit at participants,’ I say.

The boys want to play Star Wars in the garden while Midnight sleeps in his buggy, so I write and drink tea. My husband opens the fridge and closes it again.

‘There’s nothing to nibble’ he says grumpily.

‘I guess nibbles don’t count as essentials.’

‘I guess so.’ He says. ‘I’ll ask the neighbours if they can get some chocolate.’

‘You can’t ask people to risk their lives for you to have some chocolate.’ I say.

But my husband can.

We spend the evening gawping at the news in disbelief and eating essential chocolate.

‘Life will never be the same again. Everything has changed.’ says my husband popping another piece of chocolate in his mouth.

The baby wakes up.

‘Not everything,’ I say heading upstairs for a sleepy cuddle.

Oh Crumbs!

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Storm Dennis is coming and my husband calls from work to check we are OK.

‘Any news?’ He asks as if I work for the Met Office.

‘It’s raining.’ I say.

‘That’s not news.’

‘Actually, there is news.’ I say picking porridge out of Midnight’s hair as he wipes his nose on my knee.

‘Go on.’

‘We have a mouse living in our car.’

‘Pardon?’

‘A mouse!’ squeals Mayhem. ‘Milk we have a mouse living in our car!’

My husband lowers his voice. ‘What are you talking about? Have you seen it? How do you know?’

I explain that I found mouse poo in Midnight’s car seat.

‘That is disgusting! I can’t believe it!’

‘It’s quite common apparently.’ I say defensively.

My husband laughs but it’s the sort of wild laugh the baddie does in the movie before they push the red button.

I don’t know why he is so shocked. He has been an integral and enthusiastic guest at our ‘car picnics’. Long ago we realised eating in the car before or after a walk is better than spending £60 on a pub lunch while chasing small children round the table.

I try and diffuse the situation. ‘I’ll clean it out. No more car picnics.’ I tell the boys who look like I’ve told them they won’t eat again.

My husband is placated but the next morning he picks up the car keys.

‘Are you checking on my cleaning?’

‘We need loo roll,’ my husband says.

‘But there’s a storm!’ I say dramatically.

‘I know but we need loo roll. I don’t know how we can run out of loo roll.’

I stare at him as he pulls on his coat, and I’m a little surprised his head hasn’t caught fire with my laser-eye beam burning into his skull.

‘What?’ he looks up a little unnerved.

‘You don’t know how we can run out of loo roll?’

‘I do!’ Shouts Milk from the bathroom. ‘Because Mayhem wees on the floor and we put all the toilet roll on top of it.’

‘And…’ I call back.

‘Because Milk uses it as a blanket for his dog.’ shouts Mayhem.

‘And…’ I start but my husband waves his hands in the air. ‘OK I get it. So, no one uses it to wipe their bum?’

‘Bum!’ Screeches Mayhem. ‘Daddy said BUM!’

‘Well I use it for that.’ I say sheepishly ‘Don’t you?’

‘Of course. That’s why I’m going to get toilet roll.’

Midnight is pulling at my leg. ‘Eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh.’

Midnight spends his days wandering from room to room, looking for cars or biscuits and climbing into the Tupperware cupboard. When he has exhausted these means of entertainment he says ‘eh eh eh eh eh’ until someone gives in and picks him up.

‘Do you want to take the baby?’ I say trying to hand him over to my husband.

‘I’m not taking a baby out in a storm just because you don’t want to play cars.’

I have to agree it is a little extreme.

When he returns with the toilet roll, he says ‘I didn’t see any mouse poo.’

‘Maybe it’s gone.’ I say relieved that picking up bits of old sandwich and a black ball that was once a tangerine was successful.

‘The car mouse has gone!’ Says my husband happily.

Milk starts crying. ‘But I loved the car mouse. I want another car mouse.’

Mayhem joins in. ‘I love the car mouse too. I want the car mouse.’

Midnight senses the mood and throws himself on the floor rolling his head from side-to-side leaving bits of biscuit and slimy snot trails on the carpet.

‘It’s OK. It will come back,’ says my husband tramping upstairs to the loo.

He’s right. It will be back.

As sure as the rain falls, so the crumbs collect, wherever we go.

Holiday Horrors

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I have tonsillitis. I know this because I have Sylvester Stallone’s neck and because we are going on holiday in three days.

The doctor is sympathetic but questions my sanity.

‘A caravan, with three children, in October?’

‘In France,’ I add, to spice it up a bit.

‘Ah. Wine.’ Says the doctor smiling.

We chose to go to Normandy on our first trip abroad with three children because it is only three hours’ drive from Calais.

‘It’s not three hours though is it,’ I say to my husband as we all clamber out of the car for the fourth time.

Midnight has been screaming and we discover a large poo has spread up his back and onto the car seat. When Milk did this as a baby we would laugh and say ‘ooh he’s done a poonami’ but now we grunt ‘he’s done a massive one, it’s your turn.’

We spend most of the day exploring French motorway service stations and throwing money into the Toll Road machines and arrive at the campsite ten hours after leaving our house.

We have stayed in similar places before. In the summer.

The boys don’t seem to notice the driving rain. ‘Oh, I love this place!’ says Milk jumping out of the car. ‘Can I go on my bike, can we go swimming, can I have an ice-cream?’

‘Let’s just play in the caravan while we unpack’, says my husband opening a crate of beer.

We booked a three-bed caravan as a treat but soon realise the third bedroom is made out of all the available turning, walking and breathing space.

We spend an hour moving our bags around in a circle while the boys jump on the beds and Midnight pushes toy cars down the back of the electric heaters.

‘Time for some French food!’ My husband declares and we head to the campsite restaurant, which serves pizza in front of a stage covered in pumpkins.

‘I fancied Moules Frites,’ I sigh.

‘One day,’ my husband smiles.

‘Maybe if we tire them out tonight, they will sleep in tomorrow…’ I say hopefully.

We look at our children. Milk is crawling around with Midnight, helping him take the lids off some pumpkins, while Mayhem is tearing up and down shouting and shaking his head from side to side.

‘I actually think that could happen,’ my husband says sipping at his beer.

But Milk is at my side. ‘Mayhem’s being sick,’ he points.

Mayhem is now retching into a pumpkin on the corner of the stage.

I race over and take off his jumper to cool him down and use it to clear up the vomit.

‘You need to calm down. You’ve made yourself sick.’

He nods and wipes his nose and then runs off yelling ‘Arghhh I’m a Halloween pirate! I’m a skeleton pirate arghhh!’

Meanwhile my husband has won a cocktail for catching a ping pong ball in a pint glass.

‘We should play this at home!’ he says happily.

The boys go to sleep seconds after we put them to bed so we think it’s a good idea to drink two bottles of wine.

We were wrong, mainly because it is never a good idea to drink when you have tonsillitis and children, and also because we didn’t take into account the clocks changing.

Midnight rises at 3.30am.

‘It’s ridiculous why is he even awake?’ my husband groans.

‘He’s a baby! He doesn’t know he’s in France.’ I pour our third cup of tea.

‘He should do – he’s eaten four croissants and a block of Brie for breakfast.’

‘Bonjooooor! Bon appeteeeeet!’ Milk and Mayhem appear rubbing their eyes.

‘Are we still in France? Asks Milk looking out of the window at the pitch-black night.

‘Yes, we are.’

‘Are we still on holiday?’ Asks Mayhem.

‘Apparently,’ says my husband. ‘For another five days!’ he adds winking at me as he fills up the kettle for the fourth time.

 

 

 

 

The Sex Pets

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‘We don’t have a pet mummy. Why can’t we have a pet?’ Milk moans on the way to school.

I roll my eyes. ‘Yes, we do have a pet. We have two pets. THE RABBITS.’

My eldest son looks confused but then his face relaxes. ‘Oh. The rabbits.’

‘Yes, you know the animals at the bottom of the garden? The ones Daddy feeds, cleans out and takes to the vet. Those are your pets.’

‘I don’t like that grey one.’ Says Mayhem picking his nose. ‘That grey one scratches the white one.’

‘They do have names you know.’ I say a little crossly.

We’ve looked after Barry White and Mrs Grey for four years.

‘I wish we had a dog,’ says Milk.

I ignore Milk because he says this around 47 times a week.

‘Actually.’ I say, a little too brightly, ‘Daddy is taking the grey one to the vet for an operation. Hopefully that will stop her hurting the white one.’

Mrs Grey has not been spayed and keeps trying to hump Barry White, which is confusing for Barry White, because he had the chop a while ago and has no idea what Mrs Grey is doing.

Mrs Grey mounts him and claws at him in her futile passion, pulling the hair from his back. He looks like a zombie rabbit.

My husband takes the sex maniac to the vet, and when the boys return from school, he sits them down for a chat.

‘Operations on pets are sometimes too much for them, so Mrs Grey might not come back.’

‘You mean she might die?’ asks Milk, his eyes widening with interest.

‘Well yes, I suppose she might,’ my husband says carefully.

‘Will we be sad if the grey one dies?’ ponders Mayhem biting the head off his ginger bread man.

‘Errr, we might be’, says my husband.

‘Then can we get a dog?’ asks Milk.

‘No’ my husband and I say in unison.

We actually agree on something. We do not want a dog. Yet.

I can not imagine any scenario where I would want a dog while still looking after small children. Adding an animal to the school run, as well as having to stop to pick poo, is unthinkable.

‘One day, when we have more time, and money, we might get a dog.’ I say quietly.

‘So, we are getting a dog?’ Milk smiles positively.

I’m not even sure why Milk wants a dog anyway. He is terrified of them. He practically jumps into the road every time he sees one coming down the path.

Some mad old woman once told me that if we got a dog it would solve the ‘whole being scared of dogs thing…’ as her mutt tried to eat my flip flops (with my feet still in them) and the boys hid behind my skirt.

I mean that’s like telling an arachnophobe to “just embrace all the spiders”– although to be fair on spiders, they are free and don’t poo on the pavement.

The phone rings and my husband answers. It’s the vet.

He goes very quiet and lowers his voice. ‘Oh, OK. Yes, I see. OK. OK. Mmm.’ He puts down the phone.

‘Is everything OK?’ I ask.

‘Not really.’

‘Oh God, is Mrs Grey dead?’

‘Worse.’

I try to think what might be worse than Mrs Grey being dead. Lots of things actually, but I don’t have time to consider them before my husband drops the bomb.

‘The rabbit is fine but the bill is £137.’

‘What?’ I sit down.

‘Yes. Exactly.’

‘We might as well get a dog,’ I whisper angrily. ‘

Mayhem goes to collect Mrs Grey with my husband, and Milk, Midnight and I wait on the doorstep for the most expensive bunny in the village to return.

We hear them coming up the path.

‘Daddy!’ Mayhem is chatting away. ‘Daddy I can’t believe I am carrying a NOT dead rabbit in a box!’

‘No, I can’t believe it either,’ says my husband grimacing as they appear at the gate.

 

Back to School

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‘Am I going to preschool today?’ Asks Mayhem suspiciously as I sort through Milk’s uniform two days before term starts.

‘No. No one is going to school today.’

‘So, I’m not going to preschool ever, ever again?’

‘Errr. Yes, you are.’ I say shaking out Milk’s jumpers in the hope they will look new.

‘Awww this is the worst day EVER!’ cries Mayhem throwing himself on the sofa in a huff.

It is definitely not the worst day ever. I know because I have lived through several of those during this holiday.

My husband and I have somehow managed to survive six weeks with three boys on an average of four hours sleep a night.

Even the rabbits get more sleep than us, and they don’t have to make their own breakfast.

We have stumbled through most days in a blur of coffee and cake.

I never drank coffee before this holiday. I wonder what I will be shoving down my neck by Christmas.

As far as I’m concerned, the summer holidays are an opportunity to create a world away from school. A world of little structure, no time pressure, no rules. Just fun.

And this involves becoming sloths.

‘Are any of you going to get dressed?’ my husband says one day on his return from work.

‘Not really worth it now is it? Only two hours until bedtime.’ I reply throwing popcorn into my mouth as the boys scramble for the pieces I drop.

Milk and Mayhem have stopped using the toilet, and taken to throwing open the front door and peeing off the doorstep.

‘Not on my tomato plants!’ my husband calls from the bedroom as Milk aims with glee.

A lasting memory is a naked Mayhem racing towards me on a packed Suffolk beach screaming, ‘I need a wee! I need a wee! I need a wee!’ before relieving himself in the breakwater as toddlers and their paddling parents looked on in dismay.

I also discovered the sweet spot of child care.

As long as you don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time, acting normal, looking after three small children isn’t too bad.

However, in my effort to avoid leaving the house and the £100 ‘big days out’, we have pretty much destroyed our home.

Midnight has worked out how to open all the cupboards and particularly enjoys his Tupperware parties, and Milk and Mayhem have brought most of the garden inside.

I also wonder how we are going to wean the boys off ice cream – my husband’s holiday mantra is ‘it’s ice-cream time every time the sun comes out’, which this summer, it really did. A lot.

As September arrives the school run looms.

I don’t like the person I become on the school run.

I am the crazed woman marching along in porridge-stained baggy trousers, wild hair scraped into a bun, still trying to swallow a piece of dry toast I managed to shove in my mouth before we left the house.

I am the frantic one pushing the buggy too fast for my children to keep up, barking orders back and forth answering the same questions over and over again.

‘Come on we’ll be late; do you want to be late? Don’t run in front of that driveway. Did you even look? Milk leave that stick behind. Stop running! Walk faster. Slow down! No, we can’t pick blackberries now. I don’t know why that old man has no hair. Watch out for that dog poo! I don’t know, probably because the owner doesn’t want to pick up poo. That’s why I don’t want a dog. You want a dog? But you’re scared of dogs….’

As we get ready for bed the night before school, I ask the boys what the best part of their holiday was.

‘Playing,’ says Milk.

‘Ice cream,’ says Mayhem.

I think my best parts were probably the smallest things too.

Hold them close, they are going back to their other world now.