Parenting Paradox: Brilliantly Boring!
Parenting. Many people won’t even read past this word. Whilst it may conjure up nurturing, supportive, MumsNet*-browsing, caring connotations, to many it also implies finger-wagging, tut-tutting and arms-folded, head shaking judgement . More significantly, it sounds BORING. No rock n’ roll, excitement or romance suggested here – not that these are (or should be) the things of everyday life, but, still…
I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I love my six year old son more than life itself, he is the most fun, entertaining, loving, happiest person I have yet to meet (adult or child). I am already dreading the day when his enthusiastic and constant cuddles disappear, telling me how much he loves me and clings to me frequently. I am sure I will even miss the infuriatingly cute way he trots around the house all day behind me, just to be around me. He makes me laugh, we have our own in-jokes, we love each other unconditionally; we are an unbreakable gang.
It is the school summer holidays and I am lucky to not only have a job that I like very much, it is part-time, pays enough money to mean I don’t have to worry (finally, for the first time in my life) and, more to the point, allows me a LOT of time off over the summer.
I have done my best to arrange a variety of school holiday activities – days out, meeting up with friends and family, I worry about doing a good job and keeping it varied and interesting – but, of course, these all centre around what a six-year-old might find entertaining. We have ‘lazy days’ at home in-between long days out – he is allowed to play on video games (but with time limits) and watch TV as long as there are breaks, instigated mostly by my own parental guilt that he might not be getting enough fresh air, intellectual stimulation, creative activity or time away from screens.
So all this activity, planning and arranging is plenty to keep one busy, you might think. Well, yes, in a physical sense, travelling from A to B on time, making packed lunches, providing craft materials when required – but mentally; intellectually, I am afraid to say it can be really rather DULL. I very much enjoy chatting with my son, I even love playing Lego, Playdough and Star Wars – but not all day, every day. I crave adult conversation, intellectual musing, developing my own creative ideas. These things require time alone; peace and quiet. There is simply no space for thought when caring for a lively young child. Even if I indulgently let my son play video games for a 2 or 3 hour stretch, there is still constant chatter and interaction, I am still ON DUTY: “Mummy watch this… what do you think this is?.. .Can you help me with this?” This means, although I am able to do other tasks, it cannot be anything that requires much concentration or consideration; a bit of sewing perhaps. I don’t even get to go to the toilet alone that often.
Some days I am very happy for all this to be the case – it can be a mental rest, throw myself into some menial but worthwhile tasks and have some childlike play and fun. But other days I can feel my brain atrophying, I find myself doing chores just to keep myself busy and awake (reading stories for long periods or playing games that require minimal thought but maximum physical engagement can be very soporific). I find it necessary to make endless lists of anything important that needs doing or remembering, as there is no way I will recall I needed to send that birthday card or pay that bill around a constantly chattering child asking me to “be Darth Vader” or explain what “Holy Cow” (this morning’s example) means. We often watch a film in the afternoon – not, sadly, to share some emotional golden nugget of childhood wonder together but so that I can have a short nap somewhere in the middle. I can be off duty for a while (although the chatter doesn’t necessarily stop), rest a little in readiness for the teatime/bedtime preparation shift, and the second round of cooking dinner for the adults once the child bedtime routine is over.
Even in the evenings, I feel I must make rather dull adult company – I have not been able to pay attention to the news (although filled with discussion of child sex rings, war, death and destruction, I don’t really want to make this a regular part of my son’s life just yet), I haven’t had chance to read anything interesting, witty or entertaining, I haven’t found or rediscovered a piece of music or (grown-up) film I love, and I certainly haven’t had chance to keep up with the latest internet meme, catchphrase or even the latest exciting Star Wars news as it is released (although I am very grateful to have this passed on to me). Therefore, my discussion levels are limited to what my son has said or done that day, or what tasks I have managed to achieve from my list of chores or any news from someone else if I’ve been lucky enough to see another adult that day – perhaps I have had an opportunity to post a photo on Instagram – to make me feel connected in some small way to a grown-up world, even if just for a moment or two.
If I were younger I might feel like Cinderella – my days actually ARE a constant stream of washing the pots, cleaning, clothes-washing and sorting, tidying, watering plants, cooking, making packed lunches, washing up and cooking all over again. I probably look a mess too – my hair is probably all tangled from small hands cuddling and playing ‘hairdressers’, being climbed upon and having cushion fights. It wasprobably only worth wearing scruffy clothes that day (again) to roll around on the floor and maybe clean the bathroom in. By the evening I am physically exhausted but not necessarily mentally – I regularly wake at 3am for a couple of hours with my mind racing, desperate to plan creative projects, making lists and plans for work, research ideas I want to investigate and write about – wishing I’d stayed up later to do something interesting for myself – I even got up around 4:00am this morning to scribble this article down so I could get it out of my head and get back to sleep. I couldn’t feel less like a glamorous, elegant lady some times, it doesn’t always do wonders for one’s self-esteem I suppose.
Woe is not me, however, I have a wonderful life and am very happy and lucky, I just wanted to put down what I thought is likely a shared experience and thought process of many parents at times, and note that hanging out with kids for the summer is not all fun and movies and play and snacks – someone has to plan and organise the ‘fun’, pay for the movies, be safety monitor, make the food – and clear up afterwards. But there is nothing better than at any point in the day being able to pull my son to me and hug him and tell him I love him, and have him whisper back “I love you too mummy”. Before he then happily declares “I POPPED FREE from Mummy’s cuddle!” to run back to his toys, of course.
I know for a fact that I will miss these times; I already have guilt at not appreciating every single glorious moment , guilt at feeling this intellectual boredom, worrying if I am doing a good enough job as a mother and making a useful and interesting contribution to the world. I am a complex and flawed human being (well, a cartoon caricature of one at least) after all. All too soon, it will be term time again, I will be back at work and missing the halcyon days when spending hours watching a small child bounce back and forth repeatedly on a Space Hopper, “WATCH me mummy!”. Having to laugh every single time he pretends to fall off will soon seem like the best way I could have spent a day ever, and not at all boring in the slightest.
*I have never browsed MumsNet or read a ‘parenting’ guide since my child was 8 months old. I decided “the books” just gave me a list of things I thought I should be worrying about rather than just enjoying time with my child and took the joy out of discovering new stages together. I know they’ll always be there to refer back to if we run into any problems.