When You Realise All Parents are Dicks

Now first things first, don’t take it personally, I’m not calling you a dick.

OK, I am. But it’s OK, because to you, I’m a dick too.

We’re all dicks.

I spent this afternoon in a building the size of an aircraft hanger in the arse end of fucking nowhere rather dubiously named the Fun Factory for a birthday party. Which is fine, as long as you class the Hunger Games for under 10’s with added hysteria, plenty of padded foam so the little ones can give each other frontal lobe damage with and ridiculously marked up refreshments as erm, fun.

May the odds be ever in your favour, kiddo.

Yeah, it’s a soft play nightmare. Run by teenage staff that send daggers into your very soul while they serve you a thimbleful of shady latte that costs over two quid and you decide it’s probably wise to not ask whether they have any contraband booze under the counter.

There’s a vast seated area where spectators parents can sit and watch pandemonium unfold and judge whether their kid is winning or not. Occasionally throwing them a towel to mop up the sweat and / or blood, a drink that’s so brightly coloured it’s verging on neon and despite the advertisements, no piece of real fruit has ever been anywhere near. A quick shoulder rub, some fight talk whispered in their ear before slinging the little ones back in so they can get back to discussing the parking at Waitrose and complain that the Easter holidays are coming too quickly.

And that’s when the realisation crashes down around me.

All parents are dicks.

The parents of the birthday boy are dicks, as lovely as they are, because why, why would you spend hundreds and hundreds of actual British pounds on this hell on earth. Where you get unlimited jugs of squash for free and a visit from Leo the Lion, the shoddy soft play mascot, is just an added extra of £9.99! Yep. They’re dicks.

The dad who’s chosen to throw himself into the pit of fury with an army of ragamuffins trailing behind him, secretly plotting his demise, who keeps shouting from the netted tower – “Ange! Ange! ANGIE! LOOK!” while he displays his I’m fucking mental, me! inane grin while army crawling through a series of padded tunnels. He’s a dick.

The crowd of middle class parents, full of hopeless enthusiasm, “Now, children, I know this isn’t like Centre Parcs but let’s try to have fun, shall we?” Dicks.

You my friend, over there, yes you, you’re a dick for naming your spawn that with absolutely no sense of irony.

The lady over there is a dick because she ordered cheesy chips and granted they probably cost her a fiver in this place but now I can’t order cheesy chips without the awkward “HAH! Oh I know! Yours just looked SO GOOD – I couldn’t resist!” *insert tragic nervous laugh* And if anything sullies a cheesy chip, it’s the sense that an entire table of adults who have nothing better to do are watching your every move. Dicks.

The mother who keeps trying to engage me in conversation to damn our kid’s teacher and form some kind of parental mutiny against her. Mega dick.

And the worst bit?

Realising I’ll be the almighty dick in three months when Noah breaks me down into handing over hundreds and hundreds of pounds for his birthday party in the house of all evil for two hours of screaming, florescent lighting and as much free squash as he can bloody well fit in his face.

“When are you having another baby?”

This morning, I helped a friend after the school run. She had her hands full, was trying to open a heavy gate and push a buggy at the same time. Naturally, she was causing a tailback of parents trying to hot foot it out of the bitter cold after kissing their offspring goodbye, and I was in severe need of caffeine, I selflessly stepped in and helped her out by pushing the buggy for her and immediately regretted my saint-like good nature. In my groggy, half-asleep state, I was ambushed by a gaggle of highly excitable, walking ovaries (broody mums).

“Oh it suits you, Cas!”

“When are you going to have another one?”

“Oh please have another, please!”

And last, but definitely not least…

*dramatic gasp* *suspicious twinkle in eyes* “Oh my God, you’re not pregnant, are you?!”

I did what any self-respecting 28 year old mother would do in a highly personal, uncomfortable, unexpected situation. I whimpered a nervous giggle and ran the fuck away.

I wanted to collapse among the painted snakes and ladders of the school playground and weep. I wanted to let out this all-consuming ball of “I-want-another-baby-so-badly-it-physically-hurts.” I wanted to tell them I took a pregnancy test a few days ago and when faced with a single blue line, I barely spoke for the rest of the day, silently hating myself for getting my hopes up and letting my mind wander. I wanted to say that this burning need to have another baby has simply grown and intensified over the last 6 years. And it’s gotten to the point that I now subconsciously find myself window shopping for baby clothes online when I’m supposed to be buying school uniforms and have shamefully avoided friends and family who are pregnant or have new tiny babies.

I didn’t do that though, instead I scuttled away, burying my face further into my scarf while guilt engulfed me. Why doesn’t one child feel like “enough”? Because he is enough, he’s everything, he’s at the epicentre of our chaos filled lives and always will be.

But what if there’s more?

My heart shatters every time he asks for a little brother or sister, and then thinks for a moment before finally deciding on a sister and I have nothing to say but “I know, baby, I know,” and I have to quickly distract him with something else because my heart’s battering my ribs like a moth caught in a jar.

An ever-increasing age gap that just gets bigger and bigger.

Beating myself up for not being well and for things not being different. Resenting myself for not being able to just say “Fuck it,” and get busy making babies because the need to feel the weight of our newborn on my chest again is just too great.

Because what if I get ill again? What if I can’t get out of bed for weeks on end? What if I have another breakdown and end up in a mental hospital, terrified and alone – again? Last time, we were lucky, Noah was at school when the police coaxed me, crying into the back of their car to take me to A&E. He was young enough to innocently accept that “mummy’s just a bit poorly” for my absence. I can never, ever afford for that to happen again but the fear constantly hangs over me.

My head tells me we have to be sensible and responsible, that we still need a few things in place and that we will get there. We will. Honestly, we will. Soon.

While my heart cracks into countless shards, doubt creeps over me like ice and I’m left feeling hopeless, ungrateful and selfish.

My body aches and tears sting my face in the frozen air, my legs struggle as if I’m ploughing through wet cement as I try to get home as quickly as possible. A weight, a tangible real weight over my shoulder brings me back to the present moment. A gentle tinkling sound. I stop dead on the pavement as I realise Noah’s schoolbag, adorned with half a dozen Star Wars keyrings, full of Dennis the Menace library books and twigs and leaves he’s collected is still slung over my shoulder, ten minutes after giving him a kiss and telling him to have a good day.

At that moment, turning around is the very last thing I want to do, I don’t want to see the hoard of mums again. My toes have grown numb while the cold creeps through my rubber soles. But I do it anyway. I turn around. Because against all odds, with both his parents being ill, with nothing turning out like we planned, and even when we didn’t think we could do it, we did good with Noah. And somehow, soon, we’ll do it again.

No More, No Less

A bittersweet realisation struck me the other day. On our return from a long, hot day at the beach, our skin turned freshly pink from the sun, sand smuggled in every orifice imaginable and a happy, exhausted kid bursting with stories about the first crab he ever caught and OMG THE ICE CREAM and and and… All while covered in dirt from digging around in the mudflats and his hair full of saltwater.

I realised I was content.

I realised I was enjoying being this dude’s mum and spending time with him.

And there’s not many occasions I can say that’s actually happened.

Obvs it should’ve been a happy moment, but with the addition of the notorious Mum Guilt™ and Parental Doubt©, instead it was tinged with a generous dollop of  “I’m so shit. I’ve ruined his childhood,” and “Fuck, I better start saving for his therapy.”

Thing is, I reckon it’s still an unsaid thing, finding parenting a chore, something a lot of us cover up with self deprecating quips about needing to neck the gin / wine / any alcoholic beverage to hand (delete as appropriate) and hiding in the toilet with the door locked, armed with our phones and stolen Freddos and Smarties. Truth is I don’t really drink, and the last time I locked myself in the bog, the kid shat on the carpet outside the bathroom before I could hide away my contraband wrappers, wipe away the tear stains and allow him entry because ya know, sometimes 30 seconds warning of MUMMY I NEED A POO HELP IT’S COMING, ain’t enough.

What I mean is, we jokingly skirt around the issue, dance around it while the reality nips at our toes and we try not to let the pain reflect in our faces or the exhaustion show around our eyes, when all we want to do is collapse and weep for help.

I’ve been stuck in that seemingly never-ending cycle of wanting nothing more than to go back to bed before I’ve even properly begun the day, of feeling panicked and trapped, my heart racing, my head swimming with fear every time I’m cornered to play with my kid. Of having to physically force myself out the front door for every school run, every birthday party and outing, sweating, short of breath and shaking. Plus all the innocuous day-to-day parental tasks and required emotions and energy that simply feel impossible and out of reach, for the majority of my six years as a mum.

It’s only now, after more than six years, that I can look back on a day and think “That was a good day.” Even with the house decimated and my kid’s parting shot when he goes to bed is “‘Night, OLD LADY,” while he tries to wipe his bogies on me.

It was a good day.

No more, no less.

And it’s enough just as it is, because it’s been such a long time coming.