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One less thing to worry about

This afternoon, the small children I was holding, one on each hip, vomited on me at precisely the same time – like nauseous synchronised swimmers. Four years ago I would have run straight to the shower. Today I thought for a couple of minutes about whether I really needed to change my top.

Being literally covered in sick is one of the things that no longer bothers me at all. (It should be noted I haven’t checked this theory with vomit from anyone other than the children.)

Here are some other things I’ve decided to stop worrying about.

Screen time
When my son was little, he wasn’t going to have any screen time, ever. I had read all the articles about how bad it is for little brains and how no kids should watch any TV until they are 2 and basically not use an iPad until they are 30. But then we were stuck on a bus one day, he was bored and complaining and someone showed him The Wiggles. He was captivated and stopped grumbling for a full five minutes. Six months later we were at The Wiggles’ live show, singing along to allll the words.  Now he has a sister, Robocar Poli is about the only thing that enables me to get her down for a nap without him racing in. I’m choosing not to worry about screen time within reason. As long as it isn’t those egg-opening videos on YouTube, or another precocious American child “reviewing” toys. My iPad swiftly “runs out of battery” if those come up.

Sleep
I’ve tried to follow routines and I’ve looked for tired signs. I’ve tried baby wearing, car-soothing, white noise and blackout curtains. But my baby seems to have missed the memo that she’s meant to have at least an hour’s nap twice a day, and then to sleep 13 hours at night (or something like that). I could tie myself up in knots worrying about whether she’s getting enough sleep and reading all the research about how unhealthy it is for small people to be awake too long. But all that seems to do is keep me awake at night in those small snatches of time when she actually is asleep. For now I’m following her lead. I figure by the time she’s a teenager I’ll probably have to coax her out of bed.

Food
I’d love it if my kids would eat only vegetables and lean protein and look at everything we serve them with pure delight. But actually they’re more likely to want to snack on custard, Nutella and crackers (preferably all at once) and to turn their nose up at our culinary creations. I could spend all day worrying about whether the good in the courgette cancels out the bad in hiding it in a chocolate cake, or I can just try to get the best food possible into them as often as I can. I’m convinced all those Pinterest mothers sharing photos of their kids with plates of artfully arranged, creatively cut “just whipped this up for a lazy night off cooking” vegetables are sneaking them packets of chips when no one is looking.

Clothes
I recently went to H&M and bought my kids some super cute matchy-matchy outfits – tops and trackpants, leggings and tshirts etc. They looked so sweet in them (almost like all the other kids on my Facebook feed). Then the clothes had to be washed and the pieces came through different loads and I’ve never been able to put the outfits together again. My son went out in a pyjama top and a pair of Hawaiian shorts the other day. I’m okay with that.

Keeping up with friends
I’m sure some of my friends must think they’ve mortally offended me because they haven’t heard from me since 2013. They haven’t. But by the time I’ve got everyone sorted, packed my mountaineering kit with the supplies I might need for the three hours we’re out, and organised us all into the car, any event we were going to is pretty much already over. I’m fortunate that one of my best friends is in Bhutan so I can at least pretend that the fact we haven’t caught up lately isn’t entirely my fault.

Sleeping in same bed as husband
I used to be shocked when people told me they slept in separate beds, but we seem to have become that couple. Our daughter (as mentioned) isn’t a great fan of sleeping but will put up with it if she has a milk supply on tap all night. It’s quite cute having three of us squished into the bed but the smallest one tends to take up the most room and the adults end up lying precariously balanced on the sides. Sometimes I actually have one foot on the ground. So when my son turns up demanding his father come and help him back to sleep after a nightmare (or whatever drives the demonic wailing down the hallway) we are both more than a little relieved. I’m assuming we’ll get back to the same bed within a couple of years… right?

Feeding to sleep
How many times have I heard that feeding to sleep is an awful habit that creates bad sleep associations that I’ll never be able to break? I think I lost count at about 1432. But when the alternative is pacing up and down the hallway for four-and-a-half hours, I’ll take the option of feeding for 20 minutes. I figure there aren’t any 12-year-olds still feeding to sleep so we’ll break the habit at some point.

8 things to look for in your co-parent

I now have just over three years’ experience as one half of the parents of a small person.

One of the things I discovered early on is that it is quite important that the person you create a new human with is pretty decent. Of course, sometimes you pick a dud and the sooner you identify that failing, the better. But if you get a good one, everything is so much easier.

Here’s a list of things I think you should look for in a co-parent.

Ability to function on no sleep

When I first met the children’s father I despaired at how he could stay up until 2am and then want to get up at 8am the next day. He actually said to me once: “Sleep is a waste of time.”  I, on the other hand, preferred to stay in bed as long as possible. Now I see what a blessing it is that he can function  when sleep-deprived to levels that are banned by the Geneva Conventions.  When you first get together, see if you can pull a few all-nighters, then spend the next day indulging in some sort of endurance event. Perhaps run a marathon or shift house. This should give you a good insight into what it will be like when your baby arrives, and whether your partner will turn into an unhelpful, grumpy mess at the first sight of a sleepless night.

Ability to improvise

No matter how well you plan and how organised you think you are, things will go wrong when you are wrangling children.  Most of the time when you leave the house, you will forget something important. You might be out and realise you are short by one nappy. Or you will be on a long car ride and realise you have no toys and not enough mobile data to play kids’ songs on Spotify. It is going to help enormously to be with someone who can fashion a nappy out of a box of tissues or toys out of the detritus left on the floor of the car, all while making up silly songs, pulling faces at the children – and focusing on driving.

Similar taste in TV

Since number one child was born, I have watched more TV than I did through the rest of my life combined. I’m not sure if it’s because we can’t go out as much, or just because we are awake a lot more hours in the day now, but we seem to spend a lot of time binge-watching Netflix, hoping the noises we can hear aren’t our kids waking up. It has turned out to be important that we share similar TV interests, and that he’s decent company to hang out on the couch with. Imagine if I had discovered too late that he was a TV commentator, an open-mouth eater, or a remote-control obsessive. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Ability to eat quickly

This has turned out to be much more important than I expected. Going out for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffees, snacks or whatever becomes quite a different proposition when you have a small person along for the ride. Usually, this involves one person eating quickly while the other holds the child, then switching. Extra points, then, to a parent who lets me get to my lunch before it goes completely cold. By the time the children are teenagers we’ll be eating so speedily that no one will even notice the food was ever there.

Willingness to carry a bag

You can’t have any of this nonsense about men not carrying bags. There is no sense in only one half of the parenting couple being a packhorse when you venture out of the house. You need nappies, wipes, changes of clothes for all of you, toys, food… then all the stuff you’d normally carry, too.  It’s only fair that the load is shared – and everyone looks equally tragic carrying a nappy bag, anyway.

Strong stomach

You can’t faint at the sight of blood or vomit at the smell of vomit if you are going to be any use to me. My husband has had to put up with increasing levels of rottenness since our first one arrived on the scene. I’ve had him checking stitches, he’s inspected nappies for foreign substances, held our little one while he had a tummy bug that had both ends going constantly, and done the sniff test to work out whether a stain is peanut butter or… you can guess.

Willingness to be interested in anything

Related to the above, I never thought bowel movements would be a subject of conversation in my life but now I send text messages about them. Or phone to tell him about the contents of our daughter’s nose. He has to at least pretend to care.

Sense of humour

Sometimes, both kids will be shrieking at us, we will be covered in bodily fluids of unclear origin, we’ll realise we haven’t had a shower in 24 hours and we both have bags under our eyes that would take all our belongings if we could ever have a holiday again.  But I’m never quite as sure that I picked the right person to raise these gorgeous nutbars with as when he points out that something that seems awful is actually a little bit hilarious.

One day we’ll get our bed to ourselves again, a clean change of clothes and the chance to shower in peace. Until then, here’s to the wonderful dads in the world (or mums, step-parents, co-parents of any description).