The Early Risers

My New Year’s Resolution is to get more sleep. This can only be achieved by going to bed at the same time as my children, which does limit my life. It even limits the time the Amazon Prime delivery drivers can see me in normal clothes.

“Are you ill?” my husband asks when he finds me slumped on the sofa in my pyjamas at 7pm.

“No, I’m not ill. I’m tired.”

“You sound tired.”

“I am tired. I’m tired all the time!”

“Me too,” my husband says. “Anything for dinner?”

“Nope. And it’s not a competition.” I say.

“I’m just saying I’m tired too.”

“But are you tired all the time?” I ask

“Yes. Shall I order a curry?”

I nod but I am thinking: How? How can he be tired all the time when he is asleep, when I am awake? How can he be tired all the time when he can sit on a train, while I am running around after Milk and Mayhem for 12 hours every day without even going to the toilet on my own?

I’m too tired to say all this because I’ve said it all before, and I’ve heard the counter argument, which is equally convincing.

“Actually, scrap the curry I’m going to bed.”

My husband shrugs and orders his Chicken Dhansak.

I need to go to bed early because I have a special alarm clock, which goes off at 4.20am. I can’t turn it off, or turn it down, or throw it across the room. I’ve tried to find the snooze option, but nothing works, because my alarm clock is Mayhem and his incessant shouting every morning.

“Downstairs Mummy! Downstairs! Doooooowwwwn Staaaaaaiiiiiirrrrrrrs Mummmmeeeeeeeeeee!”

I wish we lived in a bungalow.

And so, our day begins.

When people say ‘Margaret Thatcher ran the country on four hours’ sleep a night’, I always expect them to add, ‘and that’s why she messed it up.’

I take Mayhem downstairs before he wakes up the others. We spend our first few moments together wandering round the kitchen searching for slugs. This is their time. They slip out of the skirting boards at night and feed on dried baked beans under the table. They leave their silvery trails along the carpet in the playroom. But they will have to change their routine if they are to survive our early risings.

I find it hard to kill things, so we chuck the slugs into the Mud Kitchen outside.

“Slugs flying,” squeals Mayhem. “Like Batman mummy!”

Not really I think, but nod enthusiastically at his wild imagination.

Because someone who works in TV has decided that all children get up at 6am, there is no children’s TV on at this time. I scramble around for a Peppa Pig DVD, but find Peter Rabbit inside the box. Surely (and this does sound odd) that means Peppa Pig will be inside Peter Rabbit? But no, instead I find Fireman Sam smiling out at me.

“Peppa Pig?” says Mayhem hopefully.

I spend the next ten minutes opening and shutting DVD boxes, while Mayhem asks increasingly loudly for Peppa Pig. Of course, Peppa Pig is still in the DVD player, and we are soon accompanied by loud cheerful music and giggling pigs.

By the time my husband and Milk emerge at 6am, I have made banana cakes, thrown away some Lego which hurt my foot, washed up, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, discovered a plastic box with old porridge and raisins stuffed at the back of the fridge and nearly persuaded Mayhem to try it, done a load of washing, which is now in the drier, and am in the middle of an online grocery shop.

“We’ve been catching slugs too,” I say, not wanting to miss out anything I have achieved.

Milk’s eyes widen.

“I want to do that mummy. I want to catch slugs. Can I catch slugs with you and Mayhem tomorrow?”

“That would make my day,” I say, staring at the back of my husband’s head as he gently stirs his espresso.



The Festive Scone

“If you don’t stop hitting Mayhem with that umbrella I’m going to tell Father Christmas,” I say sternly one day as I try to cook dinner.

Milk pauses. He is four and he doesn’t believe me; he believes in the guy with the white beard.

He carries on hitting Mayhem with the umbrella, while explaining, “there is a boy in my class who is really naughty all the time but Father Christmas is still bringing him presents.”

Mayhem ends Milk’s attack by walloping him in the face.

“He hit me mamma!” cries Milk, and Mayhem repeats, “Hit me! Hit me!” until I put on the TV and give them both a bowl of raisins.

Before I became a mum, I promised myself I would never lie to my children, and I would not use blackmail, food or TV to get them to do what I wanted.

Thank God I didn’t swear on a bible.

“They keep hitting each other. And everything.” I moan to my husband that weekend.

He nods wisely. “I read somewhere hitting is an expression of their frustration that no one is playing with them, or listening to them.”

I walk out of the room briefly to stop myself throwing a jacket potato at him. When I return he suggests we all go to the garden centre to calm down.

Someone in a marketing meeting has decided we all have to start buying mince pies already, so even the garden centre is a flurry of elves and fake snow and Christmas music.

Garden centres must love this time of year. This is their moment. This is when they can get out all their fairy lights, fill every space with wicker reindeer and set up a snow machine in what was once the disabled toilet, and call it Santa’s Grotto.

“Why don’t we go and see Santa?” My husband whispers nodding at a notice about booking tickets to see Father Christmas. “It would make it so real for Milk.”

“Because,” I say loudly as I compete with a carol-singing Christmas tree, “because they charge £8 per child, to crawl through a tunnel, past all of their products, so when your kid is sitting on an old guy’s knee with a cheaply wrapped sticker book, worth about 50p, you can’t help wondering if the wind chime dangling next to the elf’s ear would look good hanging from your apple tree.”

“OK. So, let’s not do that,” my husband rolls his eyes, steering the kids away from the ticket desk and into a table full of stocking fillers.

He puts his arm round me. “Perhaps a Festive Scone then?”

“What the hell is a Festive Scone?” I scoff.

According to the menu, a Festive Scone has “winter spices which evoke the magic of Christmas,” and those incredible spices make the Festive Scone £1 more than anything else.

I’m not really in the mood for spicing things up, but the café does look like the only place we can restrain our children.

Mayhem, however, has other ideas and has spotted a giant inflatable Father Christmas. It is so big it would reach the first floor of most houses. Milk runs over to touch it.

“Ooh it’s massive! Is this the real Father Christmas?”

“Err no.” I say turning to my husband. But where is my husband? He has crept behind the big inflatable Father Christmas and is doing a strange voice, which sounds remarkably like Daddy Pig.

“Ho, Ho, Ho, is that you Milk and Mayhem?”

He is bent over with his hands on his knees. He can’t see the people in the cafe behind him who have stopped eating their Festive Scones to watch him. To them he looks like a creepy guy about to kidnap a couple of children, and although I am enjoying this moment, I call him over.

It is too late. Milk and Mayhem now think this is a game and run around and round the giant inflatable Santa. It gets so hysterical a few people rush into the café to get away from us all.

After a while Mayhem starts hitting everything in his reach, and gives the inflatable Father Christmas such a shove, it slips from its mount and starts toppling backwards. It is so tall Santa’s head will most definitely land on a scone, Festive or not.

“Run!” I shout, and for once my children, and my husband, listen to me. We all make a dash for the car.

“They even hit Father Christmas,” I gasp putting my foot to the floor.

“Always good to get out of the house,” my husband says as we speed away.



A Walk in the Park

Mayhem is walking backwards pointing at his bum.

“Poo poo mummy.”

I put my finger inside the stretchy bit of his nappy and pull it back, to peep inside.

“Just a fart,” I say.

He waddles off and balances a knight on top of the rocking horse. “Charge!” he shouts and wallops the knight under the sofa. He spends the next four minutes grunting on his knees as he tries to retrieve it.

He approaches me again. “Poo poo mummy.”

I yank at his nappy too quickly, and my finger is met with warm poo.

When I see my husband later I say, “I think Mayhem may be ready for the potty.”

He sighs. “Do we have to talk about this over dinner?”

“Would you prefer to talk about it in bed?”

“I don’t think we need to talk about it at all – I mean it all went rather smoothly with Milk didn’t it?”

I watch my husband closely to see if he is joking. He isn’t.

I think back to potty training Milk. We put potties all over the house which, on reflection is a little odd because adults don’t go to the loo all over the place, unless they are 95, pissed, or just had a baby.

There are many ways to approach potty training. Some people lock themselves in the house for a week in a sea of pee. I decided staying inside with both children was much worse than swimming in wee, so I used to put Milk’s nappy on when we left the house, and take it off when we got home.

One day Milk refused to wear a nappy. This is a critical moment in potty training. You have reached the point where you have to trust your kid.

And then pack lots of spare clothes.

We headed to our local park.

“We’re going to have a walk and then dinner in the café,” I told my husband over the phone.

“Lucky you, I’ll be stuck under someone’s armpit on the Tube.”

When we arrive I take Milk to the loo and he does a wee, which makes me ridiculously happy. It is a bright spring day and Mayhem is asleep in the sling, while Milk runs ahead of me. As we climb a steep hill onto a walkway lined with trees covered in fluffy pink blossom, I feel guilty my husband is trapped underground.

Until Milk tugs at my hand. “I need a poo.”

“What? No. Don’t do that now,” I say desperately, but his face is already scrunched up and turning red like someone trying to blow up a long thin balloon.

There is a ditch running alongside the avenue of trees. It’s our only hope.

“It’s coming mummy!” Milk shrieks and I push him sideways and yank his trousers down to his ankles. I’m nano seconds from winning this race, but the poo is victorious and breaks off, landing in Milk’s pants.

For a moment we are both silent, crouching in the ditch, staring at the problem, but then I hear laughter in the distance and look up to see a family wandering towards us.

I scrabble around for a wet wipe, and pull out a packet. There is only one left. It is so dry it blows away in the breeze.

“Cold mummy,” Milk shivers. I help him step carefully out of his clothes.

The family is getting closer. A little girl is jumping in and out of the ditch. A little boy is poking at things with a stick. I have left all of the spare clothes in the car, but I find a pair of socks and pants, and in a blind panic use the socks to wipe Milk’s bum.

I try and encourage the poo to stay inside the trousers as I gather them up, but it rolls away into the ditch.

“Let it go! Let it go!” The little girl is singing Frozen at the top of her voice, and the family is close enough to be taking an interest in what I’m doing.

I can’t possibly leave a human poo in a park can I? Mayhem starts to cry in the sling. Yes I can. I grab a handful of gravel and chuck it over the scene of the crime, shoving the soiled clothes inside my bag. I heave myself upright.

“Afternoon!” I call enthusiastically, over the top of Mayhem’s screams, as the family approach.

“Lovely day isn’t it?” The mum smiles, glancing at Milk who is waiting on the path in his clean big boy pants.

“Oh yes wonderful!” I say brightly, standing over the pile of gravel so the little girl doesn’t jump in it, and the little boy can’t poke it with his stick.

I try to look relaxed in the smelly ditch with my baby crying and my little boy inappropriately dressed. They move on and we make a dash for the car.

I relay the events to my husband that evening.

“Sounds like a walk in the park,” he jokes, but quickly adds, “when we potty train Mayhem, we’ll have to remember this.”

“No, you will. I doubt I will ever forget.” I down a glass of red.



System Failure

GET A GRIP shouts the slogan on a leaflet Milk brings home from school. It’s from the council, aimed at parents who keep their kids off when they are sick, or take them on holiday during term time. It threatens fines and educational neglect.

My husband and I don’t like being told what is best for our kids by strangers at the local council. The leaflet is now in our recycling bin terrifying the egg cartons.

Milk is a summer baby and is four years old, so doesn’t legally have to go to school until September 2018. We decided to see how it went but since he has started school his behaviour has changed so drastically, I have to keep checking I have picked up the right child on the way home. I have worked out there are now two versions of my four-year-old.

Some days I am convinced the teacher has handed him a bag of sweets moments before releasing him into my care. He bounces out and chats all the way home. He tells me he is the cleverest and kindest kid in the class, and everyone likes him because he knows the most about dinosaurs.

I can handle this egocentric hyped-up Milk, because a lot of the time I am faced with the alternative.

The alternative Milk is where I imagine the teacher has put a hoover into his ears and sucked out his brains and then rubbed his face in felt tip pen. This Milk has also lost his normal voice and whines like a dying dog.

“What did you do at school today darling?” I ask one day as we trudge home, his coat hanging off his shoulders. Mayhem is contained in the buggy with a packet of rice cakes.

“Don’t know.”

“Did you play with your friends?”

“I told you I don’t know.”

He plods along in his clunky black school shoes.

“When can I have a fun day mummy?” he asks, at the half-way point.

I think of all the five-year-olds in his class who have had a year longer playing at home.

“Err, at the weekend we are going swimming.”

Milk stops walking and stamps his foot. His voice turns into the perished dog.

“I don’t want to go swimming! I want to have a fun day, and you said we are going swimming and I don’t want to go swimming because I don’t like swimming and that is not fun.”

He is sobbing. Cars pass us and the drivers think I have lost my temper or told him his rabbits are dead.

“Ok. Ok. We won’t go swimming. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” he chokes, his huge blue eyes brimming with tears. “What did you do with Mayhem today?”

I make my day sound as boring possible. “Nothing really. I did some washing, Mayhem went to sleep, the Sainsbury’s man came, and then I picked you up.”

Milk’s face crumples. “I wanted to see the Sainsbury’s man,” he wails.

“Err OK. Sorry darling”. I stroke his hair carefully in case that also escalates into an international incident.

“I wanted to see the Sainsbury’s man. I wanted to see the food and wave to him.”

“Food,” says Mayhem waving his rice cake.

After an intense negotiation we reach our garden gate, which I shove open while steering the buggy with one hand.

Milk shrieks. “I wanted to open the gate, and you opened the gate, but I wanted to open the gate!”

He is beside himself.

I don’t say anything. I am not sure if even breathing would be a good idea right now. I wonder if my husband will arrive back and find us all lying on the floor screaming and me refusing to send Milk to school ever again, but all I can hear through the hysteria is a big stern voice.

Get A Grip.


Shop ’til you drop

“There’s a hole in your bum,” my husband says loudly as we traipse around a National Trust garden in the rain.

I realise this is not the beginning of a biology lesson when he pokes the tip of his umbrella at my jeans.

“You need to go shopping.”

I shudder. I never go shopping. I order things online, wait for the package, try it all on, hate it all, and send it all back. I spend my life taping up plastic bags and filling out returns forms, ticking the “Not what I expected” box.

I’m not surprised my jeans have disintegrated. I have been crawling around pretending to be a horse for weeks, and they are so baggy the knees stick out when I stand up.

“Take the kids in half term,” suggests my husband, as we eat our squashed packed lunch on a damp bench. “It’ll be fun,” he adds gingerly.

“I’m not sure it will be fun,” I say as I watch Milk and Mayhem terrorising some ducks, “but there will be fewer queues, and I will spend less money than going to Legoland.”

I wait for half term and drive the boys into town. It’s a short journey but I still have to chuck rice cakes behind me to stop them complaining of starvation. In the clothes shop Milk and Mayhem discover if they hide in the middle of a rail of coats they can surprise each other (and innocent shoppers) by sticking their heads out and screaming. I persuade them to run around a table of neatly stacked jeans instead, while I grab at different styles and sizes. Everyone is relieved when we head to the fitting room.

The children watch me as I undress. “Mine,” says Mayhem pointing at my chest.

“Not anymore,” I grimace as I pull on a T-shirt. I get the first pair of jeans over my knees but have to do a wiggling motion to get them up my thighs, so I take them off and drop them in the ‘no’ pile.

“Have you finished now?” Milk asks, his finger up his nose.

“No.” I am red faced and sweating as I pick up the next pair.

These jeans do fit, if I tuck in a bit of fat.

Milk rolls his eyes. “This isn’t fun Mummy.”

I agree with him but Mayhem seems to be enjoying himself. He has climbed onto the bench and is shouting “Yellow! Yellow!” at the mirror, while rubbing snot across the glass.

“Nearly done,” I say taking off the jeans and putting them in the ‘yes will fit when I’ve been a horse for a few days’ pile.

I hear a grunt and notice Mayhem is disappearing backwards under the door. I grab his wrists at the last second.

“No Mummy,” he screams. “Walk! Walk!”

“Stay with Mummy,” I plead, lying on the floor to see if there is anyone more responsible than me on the other side.

“Can we go now?,” says Milk pushing the door.

“No!” I yelp, but I am holding Mayhem so tightly I am caught on all fours in my underwear as the door swings open.

“Shut the door!” I screech and push Mayhem’s head down so he won’t be decapitated when I drag him back into the cubicle.

I make it home to find my husband is back from work early.

“So, did you have fun?” he asks swinging the boys over his shoulders.

“Mummy did,” says Milk reaching for his sword.

I slump into the sofa and close my eyes. “Exactly what I expected.”


What’s SUP?

“I think we should buy a paddle board,” my husband announces one day over lunch.

He used to dream about us all snowboarding through the back country or downhill mountain biking in the Alps, but those activities involve an enormous amount of faffing with chains and bindings, and face-planting at speed, which is just about acceptable without kids, but probably illegal with them.

He has chosen stand up paddle boarding (SUP) based on an experience we had in Greece, before we had Milk and Mayhem. We wobbled and laughed and splashed about in the water. Then we lay on the beach to dry off, sipping cold beers and admiring our tan marks.

We are lucky to live near a reservoir, which has a SUP club, and a pile of stones covering a muddy slope, which they call the beach. My husband says we can wear wet suits and “really get into it.”

I need to stop this from becoming a reality. “We can’t fit a paddle board on the car.”

“Car,” says Mayhem. “Car. Car. Car.”

He is learning to talk, so we have to be patient and smile a lot.

“Yes we can,” my husband says reaching for the gravy.

“What’s a paddle board?” Asks Milk.

“No we can’t. They are massive!” I picture a paddle board blowing off the roof and into an electricity pylon.

“It will be fine.” Says my husband. He says everything will be fine all the time, even if he hasn’t the slightest idea if something will be fine or not.

I am flummoxed. “They are bigger than a canoe!”

“Canoe?” says Mayhem. “Canoe, Canoe, Canoe?”

“What’s a paddle board?” Asks Milk.

I keep my eyes on my husband as I explain paddle boarding to our four-year-old. “It’s good for your tummy,” I add.

Milk’s eyes widen. “Like a pirate?”

No, not really I think. Not really at all. I have no idea why he would think paddle boarding has anything to do with pirates, but I say: “Yes darling. Like a pirate.”

“Pirate!” shouts Mayhem throwing potato on the floor.

My husband smiles. “They’re inflatable.”

I stop eating. “What? Paddle boards? No they’re not, they’re hard like windsurf boards.”

“That was ages ago – they’re inflatable.” He is most definitely smirking.

“Pirates wouldn’t do that mummy,” says Milk.

“Mummy” says Mayhem. “Mummy, mummy, mummy.”

I stroke Mayhem’s hair to silence his excessive and pointless use of my name, and turn to my husband.

“You’ve just read something about them being inflatable, and you’re pretending you already knew that, and making me look stupid.”

“I’m not making you look stupid, I’m just telling you paddle boards are inflatable.”

“Pirates wouldn’t do that mummy,” says Milk.

I close my eyes in the hope everyone will disappear, but when I open them Mayhem is pushing a piece of beef into his ear and Milk is waiting for me to tell him that he is right, and that pirates probably wouldn’t do core exercises.

My husband is enjoying his lunch, pretending this conversation is normal.

I say very quietly, “You didn’t add the word ‘now’.”

“What?” he looks confused.

“You should have said paddle boards are inflatable ‘now’, instead of making out I am behind on the paddle boarding news.”

He pushes a carrot around his plate trying to cover it in gravy. “You are insane,” he says.

“Insane. Insane. Insane!” shouts Mayhem.



The Great Escape

We are going away for a night without the kids. This has not happened for more than two years and I am not sure if I can behave normally. We’re off to a wedding and I am torn between partying with my husband and lots of people I don’t know, or drinking three pints of water and sleeping for 14 hours in a large clean bed, without anyone kicking or peeing on me.

I’m not worried about leaving the children, but I do feel a bit sorry for the grandparents. We sneak out of the door as they are being persuaded to crawl on the floor pretending to be horses, while Milk and Mayhem play knights. I shut the door to Milk screaming and waving a wooden sword, and Mayhem shouting “charge!” and running into the wall.

I have packed a 35 litre bag for one night. My husband walks out of the house with his suit over his shoulder and his wash bag under one arm. When we reach the hotel we buy a drink in the bar and stare at other people, trying to guess if they are going to the same wedding.

“Do you think I can get away with wearing my gold trainers instead of heels?” I ask.

My husband looks at me. “I don’t think you should be wearing your gold trainers outside your imagination.”

“I just think I’ll be so much more comfortable, that’s all.”

“Well I’m pretty comfortable sitting in my underpants, but I’m not doing that at a wedding.”

The wedding involves lots of waiting for people to do things. Waiting for the bride to float down the aisle, waiting for the readings about love, friendship and hope to be over, waiting for the rings and the kisses and the cake to be cut. Waiting for the photographer to organise 100 drunk people to all look the same way and smile with their eyes open at exactly the same time. It occurs to me as I wait in a line to shake hands with lots of people I don’t know, that I have waited two years to have fun with my husband, and here we are, still waiting.

“I think we should get this party started,” I say grabbing his arm and steering him through the maze of tables and chairs to our place. Our table is behind a large pillar but if we shuffle our chairs to the side we can see the top table through an extravagant floral display. We must have been the people who said yes, when they thought we would say no. It’s a lot of fun being on the odds and sods table, and I am not drinking water. I’m enjoying eating without someone regurgitating food into my hand or throwing cutlery at me.

I miss the speeches because I’m queuing for the loo, and talking to a girl who uses a plastic funnel so she can stand up and wee outside, instead of crouching in a bush with nettles tickling her bum. She offers me the funnel, hidden in her bag, like a drug dealer showing her wares. I’m not sure what to do, so I tell her I’m going to be sick and run away.

My husband is waiting for me on a haystack with a jug of Pimms and a bottle of Champagne. We do not drink responsibly. We do not drink water. We sleep for three hours on top of the clean white bed.

In the morning we stare at our cooked breakfast. I use the napkin to dab my forehead.

We decide we won’t go away ever again. It would surely be better for everyone if we just pretended to be horses for a bit and then sat in our underpants on the sofa.