by Hayley Doyle
I recently caught up with one of my best friends who now has a baby. I was telling her about my recent family holiday and how we somehow misplaced Bunny - my little girl’s favourite cuddly toy - resulting in Bunny having to elongate her trip and stay behind (permanently) in Spain. Luckily, my daughter didn’t have to be apart from Bunny for more than three days. Hurray, hurray, thank goodness for Ebay! I was able to find the exact same toy and get it delivered to my home. I washed it with a few other cuddly toys and once they all smelt the same, it was as if the original Bunny had returned to us on an Easyjet flight. The soft grey rabbit is from the F&F range at Tesco, and probably cost around 25 AED. However, I paid the Ebay seller a whopping 125 AED.
My friend laughed at this story.
Not because she thought I’d been ridiculous in buying a cheap rabbit for five times the price, but because she understood. She got it. She would do exactly the same in a heartbeat. But she also admitted that if I’d told her this story before she became a parent, she would have thought I’d lost my mind. I had to agree.
Since becoming a parent, there are so many things that I say and do that my younger self would be shocked by. I was forever saying, “If I ever have kids, I’d never let them…” and “If I become a mum, I’ll always…” Well, let me tell you now, Young Hayley, I’ve broken all of my rules. All of ‘em. I’ve gone back on my word time and time again.
1. “What? You plan your entire day around your kid’s nap?”
Yes. Yes I do. If you want to see me, then we do before noon or after 3pm. My toddler is adorable, but she is a toddler; messy, needy, clingy, mischievous, and utterly unpredictable. I make her a well-balanced, easy-to-eat lunch and it’s hit and miss whether she will eat a single bite. By noon, I’m as exhausted as her, but since I’m not a toddler, I have grown-up stuff to do. So when she sleeps, I do stuff. Lots of it. It’s incredible what you can achieve in that 90 minute window compared to the rest of the day spent picking up nibbled halves of grapes and Mini Cheddars. But also, if my toddler doesn’t nap, and we’re out for the afternoon, she won’t be happy by tea time. And if she’s not happy, then nobody is happy. Including you. I like to do my bit for the community, so we shall arrange to meet you after her nap. Happy days.
2. “We won’t go on package holidays… we prefer more culture, a more unusual experience…”
My first born was 20 months old when - against all my protesting - we booked a resort holiday. As we trawled through websites and googled destinations, I kept saying how we should “hold out” for this sort of trip until he’s old enough to go to the kids’ club and make friends around the pool, and we, the parents, should still go where we want to go. And yet, we packaged it all the way to the Canary Islands. My snobbery was wiped off my face as soon as we arrived at our hotel. Instant gratification kicked in. The toilets (immaculate) had baby changing facilities. There were ramps to the pools and around the resort to save lugging a pram up stairs or getting lost trying to find a lift. The breakfast buffet had treats ranging from fresh cut-up fruit to chocolate donuts (when on yer hols…!). My little boy’s face lit up each morning, whilst eating his cereal, when a life-sized duck by the name of Kiko paraded through the restaurant to wave at the kids. And don’t get me started on the mini-disco… Okay, I’ll start. Yay! I never, ever, ever, ever, EVER thought that ‘Baby Shark’ would give me (and my very laid-back husband) such a buzz. Watching my child give it large on a dance floor as I sipped a delicious ice cold grape was a level of fun that I never predicted for myself. Ever.
3. “I won’t shout at my kids…”
I’m not sure when we entered into the age of Gentle Parenting. I do know there are lots of groups dedicated to it on social media, and of course, books. I’ve always loved the idea of talking to my kids, getting on their level, sussing out the root of the problem. “Why don’t you want to put your shoes on, darling? Let’s discuss the possibilities of what might happen to the soles of your feet in the woods if you choose to go barefoot…” And I can’t understand how I ever imagined that my future child might respond with a diplomatic, fully supported argument. Because. My kids don’t listen to me. When I talk to other parents, to my relief, they say the same. I can teach a room of 30 children, get them to sing and dance simultaneously. But if I ask my five year old to put his shoes on, I have to ask 1342 times. Now, I have a degree in acting, and it’s never come in more useful than when I attempt Gentle Parenting. I try tactic after tactic after tactic. I even try to pin him down with tickles, a song, a biscuit bribe, but that kid can slither away faster than a snake. We are late. We are always late. And so finally, I shout. And when that doesn’t work and I’m out of ideas, I yell. And then I drown in a deep pool of Mum Guilt, hating myself. The shoes are still not on my son. Shouting doesn’t work. I won’t do it again….Until next time.
4. “It’s so sad when you see children in restaurants watching their parents’ phone… I mean, why can’t parents just talk to their children?”
This is a tough one. I still find myself fighting against the whole kids-on-phones in restaurants. Eating out isn’t easy with young children, but we do it because, well, we live in hope. One day we will have a wholesome family experience. It will be worth it. Plus, it saves having to cook, and do the dishes, and peel cold baked beans off the floor. When I was a little kid, eating out was a special treat to McDonalds now and then. But if I do think back to the odd - more formal - meal, it was pretty boring. My sister and I would do things like hide under the table, or inspect the loos. Every time I attempt eating out with my family now, I take colouring books, crayons, and a whole extra bundle of energy to keep my children interested in talking to, erm, me. But the second I give in to the whinging for my phone - after broken crayons, frantic wiping of said crayons off the table top, spilt drinks, multiple laps of the restaurant to look at “fun” things - I breathe a sigh of relief as I hear the jingle of YouTube Kids. My husband and I remember that we can actually speak to one another and I taste my food in all its glory. And let’s face it, kids want to watch our phones because they see us on them ALL THE TIME. Double standards. Look, I do talk to my children. I talk to them so much I bore the pants off them. I sing a whole Frozen 2 medley to them every night before they go to sleep. Every. Single. Night. So if phones reluctantly get played with at a restaurant, to give us - and the other customers - a bit of peace while we eat, then that’s okay. In my opinion, anyway.
5. “I’d never sign my kids up for weekend classes…”
There are places to go! People to see! And this was our life with one baby. Every weekend we would pack up the car and go to visit family, hoping for a sneaky date night while the grandparents do their bit babysitting, something they’d been apparently craving ever since I became an adult. Then, when my son was three, we decided to let him try football classes on a Saturday morning. The focus for our weekends changed. Instead of getting stuck on motorways and constantly packing and unpacking bags, we stayed put. We ventured out locally. We also had another baby. The Saturday morning football became a welcome addition to our routine. My daughter, now two, also goes to her own little weekend activity, too. Yes, we might skip it on the occasional week to go away, but its given us a nice structure as a family and we can plan something for the afternoon that doesn’t involve tantrums and empty snack wrappers stuck in traffic.
Oh! And as for date night, I guess the fact it’s now pretty rare (thank you, pandemic, for adding to that rarity) makes it extra special. However, I adore nights in on the sofa in my PJs, with something grown-up to drink, and something spicy to eat. “What?!” asks the party girl I used to be. She NEVER thought I’d say that.
But I just did :)