What’s on the other side of the mountain?

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Today I was at my local library. I don’t know if you read my last post (which was a shockingly long time ago, sorry), but due to my new life as a student, I am utilising this facility with pleasing frequency now. It helps me to swallow the alarming increase in the council tax bill this year – I use my free 30 minute parking nearly every day and I use my local library – go me! I am literally squeezing every last drop out of the council (this is meant to be sarcastic)!

Anyway, whilst I was flicking through cook books and taking photos of some of the recipes (don’t tell me you don’t do the same thing) and avoiding opening the book that I should have been reading (very very dry, tiny writing, difficult to pronounce words) I observed a convoy of prams and buggies arriving. One by one, the women (for they were all women) unpeeled their bundles from their cosy cocoons revealing little boys and girls in varying states of stupor. All of them were very very cute, some squeaking what sounded like little words like hi and mummy. My heart leaped and I had a little surge of love – that general feeling of love I usually feel when I see little people, because they are incredibly sweet.

I also had a feeling of jealousy, I can’t lie about this. These lucky people who were young enough to still have babies and who were lucky enough to be dealing with a baby or a toddler and not a teenager who clearly thinks I am a total IDIOT or an opinionated 7 year old who is obsessed with ROBLOX (an online game – google it!), or a borderline hormonal 11 year old boy who is equally obsessed with Fortnite (another computer game – google this one too)! The mums left their prams parked in front of the book cases and headed up stairs.

About 10 minutes later, I remembered that I had to buy mince (the glamour) and got up to leave the relative sanctuary of the library. As I walked out of the building I heard the strains of ‘she’ll be coming round the mountain’ floating down the stairs and I realised that the mums and babies had come to a music group. And then the memories came flooding back!

When my now 13 year old was a baby, I had enrolled in a local group called Joe Jingles. Every week I would rock up to the local church and sit cross legged on the floor armed with cow bells and tambourines singing all the songs, doing all the actions, laughing and clapping, desperately trying to get my girl to show some interest. I worried that her development was stunted, that her not joining in, her dis-interest was a bad reflection on me as a mother. I worried about what the other mums thought of me, what I was wearing, what my baby was wearing, how she was behaving, what they thought of my pram, blah blah fucking blah.

When the boy came along, I did it all again, and I enrolled him in a dance class for toddlers. Again, the embarrassment when he didn’t get the steps right – yes, I’m being honest here – the distance of a few years certainly helps! When the monster arrived, I was maybe more relaxed. I was a bit knackered and preoccupied with the other two. She was not subjected to the same ‘events’. I felt guilty about this of course, but quite frankly, I didn’t have time to think about it really. I also had a sense of freedom from prying eyes. I was not interested in the whole social aspect of these activities and I chose to commune with the people I knew and felt comfortable with.

Please don’t get me wrong though. I am not knocking these groups and classes. They were a life saver for me as a mum of babies and toddlers. That world can be lonely and monotonous. Providing stimulation for an inquisitive child on your own, all day, every day, is exhausting. It’s not an exaggeration to say that going to something like a music group or dance or play group, can be the reason why you don’t descend into a dark hole of despondency. And yet…

That familiar feeling of total and indescribable exhaustion washed over my mind and my body when I heard the strains of nursery rhymes and cow bells floating from that upstairs room at the library. It brought back memories of broken sleep, long stretches of boredom, feeling unsure of who I was exactly and how I was going to get through the rest of the day after the loud, chaotic hour would be over.

In that same moment, my thoughts were tinged with a sense of regret and an over-riding feeling that I wish I could have pitched up Bill and Ted style in my time machine and explained to my younger dude self that I should sing and dance and enjoy myself, jump straight in and savour every single second because it is gone in a flash.

And what’s more, your children and their inexorable journey onwards causes you, the parent to forget what has gone before and to know only the moment in which you are currently immersed. As a result, you will find yourself sitting in a library in 12 years, stealing recipes from a library book, you’ll be that bit more wrinkly and grey, looking at these young mummies as if they are aliens, watching across a vast, un-crossable chasm as they look straight through you even though you feel like you know them so well.

I remember asking my sister for advice about new born babies when I was pregnant with my first. Her second child was just 6 months old at the time and even then, she told me that it was all a bit foggy and she found it hard to remember exactly what her baby had been like at days or weeks old. I couldn’t believe her! But, I can report that the same thing happened to me. I can remember giving birth and I know that I breast-fed and I changed nappies, and I lived with babies who crawled around and sat in high chairs and couldn’t feed themselves or get glasses out of cupboards and couldn’t constantly open the fucking fridge to steal food – but beyond these vague facts that I know to be true because I have children, the rest is a bit fuzzy! !

Surely it’s just natural? My preoccupation now is with the world of the teenager. When friends with older kids told me that toddlers were a piece of cake, just wait until they hit 13, I remember thinking that they were clearly deluded and had terrible memories. Maybe this is partly true. But, I think I am learning that parenting a young adult is possibly the hardest thing I’ve done yet. I must caveat that sentence with a ‘yet’ because I’m sure this will be eclipsed.

None the less, as I left the library today, I suddenly felt very relieved that I was not in the room upstairs but was instead walking out of the building, unencumbered by a heavily laden buggy and unco-operative toddler wondering how long I might be able to cope in the playground before freezing to the core. I virtually skipped to the supermarket and grabbed my 500g pack of mince and positively sprinted back to my car and from there, to my home, driving past the schools in which my offspring were at that very moment imbibing information into their brain sponges!

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