So now I have two children. I’m responsible for two peoples’ lives. Two personalities to shape…two empty brains to fill…two bodies to keep safe. And two people that I could turn into psychopaths. When I sit and think about the magnitude of this, it feels like someone is body slamming my chest. I mean what if they went on a killing spree? They might become famous Psycho Sisters and get a film made about them. Our very own Natural Born Killers. Someone like Pauline Quirke would play me, she’d be the dowdy old simpleton scratching scraggy grey wiry hair saying “they were such lovely girls…I just don’t know where I went wrong…I thought the dog died by accident”. Twitter would go mental asking why I didn’t get that it was my fault. Oh! The responsibility! All these feelings were amplified when, on the morning after Girly no2’s birth, I switched on the TV to find Donald Trump had been elected into the most powerful position in the world. What had I done?!
After Girly no1 was born, I lost it in a taxi in Leeds. I got caught up in all of the things I could do wrong to this small child. I threw my arms around wildly and was cry-talking (cralking?!) at this poor man. I felt sick from the pressure. Well, it might have been travel sickness from his speeding through the Yorkshire Dales but I definitely remember feeling sick. Fortunately the driver was a father of 5, one of whom had made it to 16 all in one piece and with what sounded like a healthy attitude towards life. He politely smiled and didn’t say much while I ranted and raved like a deranged person in the back of his cab. It could well have been a scene from Emmerdale right before the main character reaches over and grabs the wheel and ploughs them into a nearby rock so he did well to stay in control. Daddy Cabby calmed me a bit by reminding me of some of the things I had said to him on the journey, and pointed out that I actually cared about how she turned out, so that was a good start. By the time we got back to the airport, I felt oddly close to him, although I hope I never see him again. He was a strange wise old elf, but help comes in many forms.
Obviously this level of worry is a product of my chronic over-thinking, but fundamentally, it’s people that hurt people. We make or break each others’ lives meaning my responsibility doesn’t stop with my children, it’s the impact they have on everyone else’s life. It’s too much! Everyone I meet, I look at them and wonder how they became that way and what their upbringing was like. The cold stiff robot who can’t keep friends – I imagine she lived in a dark castle where everyone stayed in their own room and no one made skin contact without an awkward shuffle and muttered apology. The overly touchy feely one with personal space issues who steals your food – hippy parents, loads of siblings, shared a bed til they were 16, dressed in home made clothes, possibly lived on a commune. The arrogant but good looking sporty boy – banker wanker dad and frosty pearl wearing mum who made him compete with his brothers for the best score on the spelling test. Obviously these are ridiculously over exaggerated stereotypes from my head but you understand the thing about most (I stress most, not all) people being a product of their environment.
Before we had the girls, like any new parents, we agreed the things that were important to us and we set out with great enthusiasm about managing them. Our list had we written it down would have read something like this:
- Compassion – we want her to look at other people and consider how they’re feeling and why. We’ve not quite nailed it yet, Girly no1 shouts “be happy!” at anyone not displaying a megawatt smile on their face (me all day every day until Girly no2 sleeps through) but it’s a start. She is only two.
- Honesty – any parent wants their child to be able to talk openly, especially to their mum and dad. I always could with mine. I remember crying to my dad about my Husband snogging someone else at a party I wasn’t allowed to go to when we were teenagers. He obviously wasn’t my husband then, he was my 13-year old boyfriend and it was devastating. But the fact I could tell my parents says a lot. We talk a lot to both girls. Weirdly we don’t get much back from Girly no2 at just a few weeks old but Girly no1 never shuts up. Maybe we should re-think this one….
- Be your best – personally I still go for being the best but you can’t win at everything and that’s a tough lesson to learn. Everyone hates the expression “reaching your full potential” but I’m sure that’s all anyone wants their child to want. Sadly Girly no1 has inherited my, what I like to call, dogged determination but what others might refer to as ridiculous stubbornness. Watching her throw a puzzle across the room because she can’t fit two pieces together makes me feel aggravated for her. But we pick up the pieces and try again. Until another 30 seconds goes by and it happens again, this time accompanied by a wooden spoon from me because I burnt dinner again. My Mother-In-Law The Primary School Teacher has had to teach us a little coping mantra: “We don’t get cross, we take our time”. I can really see it working for me.
- Have fun – one of my overwhelming memories from my childhood was us all dancing in the kitchen with cabbage leaves as hats on a Sunday afternoon. My parents used to link arms and skip down my school drive for parents evening. We played brutal games of basketball at the back of the house. On reflection they were probably pissed for all of these activities but we all had lots of fun! We play lots, we’re big fans of a kitchen disco, we sing when we drive and we make up crazy stories to entertain ourselves. We’ll never be the Von Trapps but we’ll hopefully never be the Mitchell’s either.
- Affection – I met someone recently, a married, childless woman, who was criticising her sister-in-law for allowing her nieces into their bed. She went on to say how she hadn’t even been allowed to cross the threshold to her parents room. I’ve thought about this a lot, firstly how funny it is when a non-parent talks about how they would parent (HAHA HAHA! The things you think you know!), but more the balance between marital space and family space. It’s such a personal thing. I think we have it right for us. We have morning cuddles every day and Husband and I aren’t shy about being affectionate in front of the girlies. I look forward to a time when they make gagging sounds and moan at us for being gross. And I look forward even more to a time when that is their norm and they want it for themselves from their relationships. Nothing beats a huge cuddle from the one you love.
- Be kind – understand other people’s perspectives and just be kind. Nothing melts my heart like Girly no1 pretending to give me “pink medicine” (!) if she thinks I’m hurt, or offering her favourite comforter to Girly no2 when she cries.
You set out with these great intentions, you have a plan and you follow it. You tone down the potty mouth, pronounce your t’s, you share your favourite food (I just buy two pots of custard). Then you realise that it’s your behaviour and what they see that will matter the most. And you take a long hard look at yourself and your life. That’s why I won’t be surprised when no1 calls me a nobhead one day. Or when she puts her hands on her hips and shouts “Beany….” in my exact agitated tone to my Husband (Beany is his nickname, not a weird insult). Or when she sits in front of the mirror and says “Will you just let me dry my hair?”. I’m ok with these things because I also know that she’ll give great cuddles, she’ll listen and she’ll ask good questions so it all works out in the end. She might also be great at jaegerbombs later on in life.
The responsibility of creating another human that will impact other people’s lives is enormous. I have had to fight my inner control freak demon and realise that as long as I can be a good person I’m proud of and associate with good people, that’s the best I can do. In the meantime, I’ll keep the girls away from the knife drawer.