If your partner, daughter, sister or friend has turned into an evil banshee since having children, rest assured that she is still a nice person inside. She just uses up all her niceness on screaming children and may not have any left by the end of the day. Or on a bad day, by 10am.
Please make allowances for us to be a little grumpy, bearing in mind that…
1. We have a huge battle on our hands just to leave the house
It starts when you get them up: “I DON’T WANT TO GET UP.” Then you ask them to get dressed: “I ONLY WANT TO WEAR MY SWIMMING COSTUME.” Then you make them breakfast “BUT MUMMY I WANTED COCO POPS”. You briefly explain that if they were allowed Coco Pops every day, they’d have type 2 diabetes by the time they reached school age. “BUT MUMMY I WANT COCO POPS.”
Maybe you’re also trying to spoon-feed a baby, which is turning its head stubbornly away because it apparently wants to be breastfed into adulthood. Next, upstairs to clean everyone up, against increasingly creative objections, such as, “But my imaginary friend grew into a mummy and she says you can’t brush my teeth today”. Then hair brushing - cue ear-splitting screams - and the daily fret over whether the neighbours will think someone is being tortured, and call Social Services. Then a pre-emptive toilet visit, without which we can guarantee that a toilet will be requested on the bus: “I DON’T NEED THE TOILET.”
Then the disagreement over shoes: “BUT I WANT TO WEAR SANDALS/WELLIES/WHATEVER FOOTWEAR IS MOST INAPPROPRIATE FOR TODAY’S WEATHER.” This takes you to 8.30am and ages you five years.
2. It’s been months, maybe years, since we last slept properly
It’s hard to maintain your usual sense of perspective when you’re being woken at regular intervals through the night by someone literally screaming in your face.
3. We are fair game for all busybodies
“Put a hat on that baby, it's going to catch cold,” a kindly neighbour likes to tut at me. I smile ruefully, as if to acknowledge my own incompetence, while fantasising about some day pointing out that her own, no doubt warm-headed teenage children are both on an Asbo.
4. We are fair game for all nutters
“What a lovely baby! Can I touch it?” a woman asked me recently in the street. “OK!” I said, because it was 10am and she was carrying a KFC, which pretty clearly indicates serious life problems. Then there was the woman at the bus stop who asked if she could squeeze my boobs. And the man on the train with the day-release tag who wanted to chat. I actually am nice to all these people, but it sometimes seems to take up a lot of nice energy not to scream, “Leave me alone, I am supposed to be in an OFFICE with a SECURITY GUARD outside”.
5. Our phones always ring at the wrong moment
Such as when we’re grappling a baby into a buggy while trying to stop another child running in front of a bus. Then we have to search for the phone in the huge bag of stuff that has to be lugged everywhere in case somebody gets hungry, or throws up, or pees themselves, which happens most reliably when we've just decided that X is really and truly potty trained now and doesn't need spare trousers today.
Then we find the phone just as it rings off and have to call back. Which we may or may not do graciously. (Raised by my own parents to answer the phone saying our landline number aloud in a sing-song voice, I now frequently resort to: “WHAT?”.)
6. We are asked, on average, 273 pointless questions per day
“Let’s go to the supermarket.” Why? “Because we need bread.” Why? “Because we ate it all.” Why? “Because we were hungry.” Why? “Because we need food to live.” Why? Etc. A friend of mine once followed this thread all the way back to: “Because of sub-prime mortgages in America,” but in our house it more commonly ends in: “Because it just is, OK?”.
7. We're worried about work
If you’re working full time, you can worry about whether leaving your children will cause them permanent psychological harm. If not working, you can worry whether you’ll ever work again. If working part-time, you can worry whether your career is stalling AND whether you’re thinking about work too much while with the kids. Hurrah.
8. We never really get time off
There are no weekends on this stuff. There are no holidays. You can go on holiday, obviously, but your children will decide to get their first tooth, or attempt to drown themselves in a swimming pool. There will still be screaming and nothing punctuated by screaming is ever that restful.
9. If we saw the funny side, we’d probably wee ourselves
10. We can’t get angry with the kids
There’s some sort of evolutionary thing that makes babies and toddlers cute, so that you won’t throw them out of the window. You know that it’s not their fault, anyway. And also that if you show that they’re getting to you, it’ll only get worse. Thus you keep being nice to them… and evil to everyone else. What can I say? Sorry. Nice Me will be back in three to five years.