Words Words Words

Midnight has started to talk. But he has only got as far as commands, and he is enjoying wielding this new found power over us.

It’s like living with a mini dictator from the moment we wake.

‘Go downstairs,’ ‘You sit there,’ ‘You play cars,’ ‘Mummy get popcorn.’

We find ourselves increasingly fearful of his demands, especially, when we don’t understand him.

It’s breakfast and Milk and Mayhem eye their porridge with suspicion.

‘Who made this?’ asks Milk.

‘Daddy made it,’ says Mayhem, pushing his spoon into the middle.

‘How did you know?’ my husband says, pleased that they recognise his effort.

‘Because you haven’t stirred it enough’, says Milk politely.

‘Yes, it’s all lumpy,’ says Mayhem. ‘Like your driving daddy. Your driving is all lumpy and bumpy.’

‘And mummy’s is all smooth like her porridge,’ says Milk with delight.

My husband glances at me and looks a little forlorn.

‘Give me that!’ Midnight interrupts.

We all look at what he is pointing at.

I pass him a banana.

‘Me no like that!’ He shrills and the banana spins off into the air and lands somewhere near my computer.

‘Give me that!’ he screams.

We try water. We try an apple.

My husband points at a satsuma.

Midnight holds out his hand.

We all wait with baited breath while my husband frantically peels the satsuma and places it in front of our glaring toddler.

There is a pause.

‘ME NO LIKE THAT!’ he screams and the satsuma is propelled into oblivion, to be found in a few weeks and mistaken for a yellow ping pong ball.

‘I just don’t know what he wants!’ I say in exasperation.

‘Is he cross because of the virus?’ asks Mayhem.

‘No. Everyone else is, but he doesn’t know about that.’ I say.

‘Get down on his level’ suggests my husband.

I kneel down next to Midnight, aware that the floor by his chair is a perilous mess of lego and regurgitated baby bels, from last night’s torturous dinner.

‘Can you use your words?’ I say calmly stroking Midnight’s hot red face.

‘POOOON! POOOON!’ he screeches and grabs porridge from his bowl and slaps it on my head.

I wipe the porridge from my brow as the older boys start laughing.

‘He wants a spoon,’ says Milk. ‘I can understand him. He wants a spoon.’

My husband gives Midnight a spoon and we all sag with relief as he digs into his porridge.

Later, while I pick the sticky oats from my hair, my husband checks on me. ‘Are you OK? You seem a little stressed.’

I sigh. ‘I am stressed. I feel as if my job is to try and satisfy an extremely unreasonable and violent boss, while failing to catch flying fruit, and utterly failing to provide a wholesome environment for everyone else.’

My husband agrees with me. Which is unusual.

‘Maybe Midnight is bored?’ He says.

‘Of course he is! Do you know what we did today? We played cars, then he went to sleep in the car and when he woke up I let him choose your pants from the supermarket, as his main activity.’

‘So maybe you could do more fun things, like painting?’ My husband suggests.

I roll my eyes.

‘Bubbles?’ My husband continues, a little gingerly.

‘Don’t even talk to me about bubbles’, I say.

My husband raises an eyebrow.

‘They have ruined that too.’ I sip my tea.

‘They?’

‘Bubbles used to signify fun. Blowing bubbles, making children ooh and ahh, giggling, jumping and popping. All those lovely words and feelings, associated with the word bubble. But they have stolen that word. They have taken it and turned it from a lovely bubbly fun word to ‘You must only stay in your bubble,’ ‘you can form a support bubble’, ‘do not mix your bubble.’ And they’ve given us awful words. Social distancing, Self isolation. Awful.’

‘I think you might need a bit of time on your own.’

I look at my tea. ‘Yes maybe I should self-isolate. But I do agree with the boys about your porridge. Is there anything else I could have, or will you be feeding me toilet roll?’

‘Oh don’t worry ab0ut that, I know where there’s a very juicy banana,’ he says and raises his cup with a wink. 

The Bed Hoppers

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BEEEEEEEEP…. BEEEEEEEEEEP.

I wake to the sound of the smoke alarm running out of batteries at 2.30am.

It didn’t run out of batteries when we were awake, during the day. It waited until we were all in a rare deep sleep.

The smoke alarm is outside Midnight’s room, and fiddling about with the cover is like trying to disarm a bomb. This is something I don’t feel trained for on four hours sleep.

I pad back to our room and hiss at the lump in the bed. ‘Help me! help me!’

‘What’s happening?!’ My husband wakes suddenly and crosses his arms in front of his face in a self-defence pose.

‘Alright Daniel San, calm down, we’re not under attack.’

My husband drops his arms.

‘Listen,’ I whisper. We both stay perfectly still. It seems a long time before the BEEEEEP comes.

‘It’s the smoke alarm.’ I explain.

‘Just take the battery out.’ My husband says gruffly.

‘I can’t get the cover off. It’s making my ears bleed.’

‘I’ll do it then.’ My husband rolls out of bed. I fetch a stool.

‘I can’t do it.’ He grumbles, shoving his thumbs into the tiny plastic crack trying to prise it off before it beeps again. He is wobbling dangerously over the stairs.

‘I’m going to get a screw driver.’ I say and spend a frantic two minutes rummaging around in the cupboard of doom under the stairs.

The screwdriver works and we open the cover and take the old battery out. There’s a robotic sound as if it is dying. A red light flickers, and goes off.

‘It’s like the end of Terminator.’ I say

My husband puts his thumb up and climbs off the stool.

‘Well done,’ I say as we crawl back to bed.

I lie awake wondering about the chances of a fire starting in the next three hours now we haven’t got any batteries in the fire alarm.

I close my eyes but moments later Midnight is screaming.

I rush to his room, but as I stroke his head, I hear Mayhem shouting. ‘Somebody? Anybody?’

My husband races to Mayhem’s side, so he doesn’t wake up Milk.

‘You know in Star Wars? Do the death droids have burnt faces?’ I hear Mayhem say.

‘Umm. No. Yes. I don’t know, we’re not talking about this.’ Whispers my husband loudly. ‘It’s the middle of the night, everyone is asleep.’

‘We’re not asleep. And Mummy and Midnight aren’t asleep.’ Says Mayhem.

‘Everyone should be asleep.’

‘But I want to play Star Wars. It’s my destiny,’ says Mayhem.

I can’t help letting out a snort, which startles Midnight.

‘Chocolate Balls!’ shouts Midnight. ‘Chocolate Balls!’

‘Shhhh’ I try to keep calm. It is 3.30am.

‘NO.’ Says Midnight and pulls himself up in his cot. ‘Down there’ he says pointing to the door.

I try to ignore him by rolling onto my side and staring at a cobweb under his cot.

‘DOWN THERE! DOWN THERE! DOWN THERE!’ He shouts.

Mayhem appears at the door.

‘Why are you on the floor mummy? Midnight wants to go downstairs.’

My husband lifts Midnight out of his cot as I heave myself to my feet.

Downstairs we sip coffee in silence, while Midnight eats grapes and Mayhem watches Lego Star Wars. Milk is fast asleep.

‘Don’t worry, we’ve only got six more years for them all to sleep through.’ My husband yawns.

I nod, the dust from the floor has crept into my nose and I close my eyes and sneeze.

‘That was like a power nap.’

My husband grins. ‘Bless you.’

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.