I overheard a snippet of a conversation between two mums from school this morning as I was stomping back home, the black cloud that was following me matched the ones spitting rain down on me and Pip as we walked. It was a snippet that lifted the black cloud instantly from my shoulders and put a little spring back in my step. This is what I heard:
"It gets to a point when you can't see any of the good anymore and you just hear yourself moaning all the time. It's just "Clean your teeth" or "Tidy your room". It just feels like you focus on the bad all the time"
I heard this conversation after a stressful morning which involved Katie systematically irritating everyone in the house for some reason known only to herself and we were late for school because Pip decided to do a poo in his nappy at 8:43am. I had virtually dragged an annoyingly slow-walking Katie by her hand to school and we arrived dead on 9am. Phew! I have not yet been so late that we've had to sign the late register. I felt irritable, sticky and grumpy as Pip and I left the school playground.
Hearing regular mums having this conversation isn't a revelation really. We know that we are not the only ones having a difficult time with our children. We know we aren't the only broken record in the street, hearing our voices say the same things over and over again, but hearing that sort of conversation at the right moment, on the right day, can feel like a breath of fresh air on an otherwise rainy and muggy day.
I will confess that I am glad that the school holidays are over. The holidays felt at least a week too long if I'm being honest. We aren't a family that thrives on a lack of routine and "going with the flow" and I'm not someone who thrives on having no "me" time at all (my back almost seized up from lack of yoga). Katie's behaviour has regressed since Pip joined us so having free time for her means finding as many ways to get into trouble as is humanly possible. I thought we had moved on from this behaviour. We had a few blissful months earlier this year when she would sit quietly and draw, the need to find naughty things to do having left her mind in favour of finally learning how to occupy herself with her imagination. Sadly the arrival of Pip has regressed this particular new found joy (on my part) back to her former "can't leave her alone for a second" method of self occupation. Katie thrives on gaining attention, any attention will do. At her worst she will spend her entire day just finding ways to annoy everyone. It's like she's on a mission. She gets a glint in her eye that means that the day will end in tears, for everyone. She loves to annoy Pip and is testing her strength against him. He seems to cry very quickly if they are left alone together for even a short time so I have to watch them all the time. Sometimes she will be really helpful and sweet. She will go and get his toothbrush and put toothpaste on it without me even asking or she will give him a little cuddle and tell him she loves him but it can turn on a dime and, before you know it, she will be pushing him over. Much of this is normal sibling stuff but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with and the intensity of the holidays left me with a knot in my stomach that was making me feel physically sick and making me feel like a very miserable Mummy.
This was our first holiday period as a family of four and the most time the children have spent together since Pip arrived. Katie hasn't really had a lot of time with Pip because she's been at school since he arrived. It's all a big adjustment and we are still very much in our early days stage. We couldn't do our usual overseas holidays because Pip is not yet legally adopted and is unable to have a passport. Daddy had some time off but it is difficult finding entertainment that suits a 10 month old baby and a 5 year old girl. Pip is crawling and walking around the furniture. He is happy just spending the day doing that and he also needs his naps. I would have liked to have spent more time at home but I find Katie easier to manage if we're out of the house and doing something energetic. Katie can influence the mood of the house enormously both positively and negatively so it can feel like the walls are closing in on me if we're home all day and she is in what I call a "pickle belly" mood. Pip, bless him, has to fit around what works best for the entire family. He's being rewarded this week though with a week totally at home with lots of crawling and exploring the house.
Don't get me wrong, we've had good times over the holidays. We've had lots of days out with friends and been to country parks and had picnics; we've looked after my neighbours kittens (one of which will be joining us at the end of this month - yes I know, I know, I'm totally mad!); we've sloshed in wellies in the local lakes; we've had playdates; we've done the reading challenge at the local library; we've baked cakes; we've snuggled and watched films. It was a real juggle with the age gap though. We've crammed a lot in but there has always been the start of an argument just sitting there, waiting for its moment to pounce. Like the mothers were saying, it's easy to lose sight of the good stuff and just focus on the negatives.
As a result of all the angst I feel like I missed how Katie was feeling about starting Year 1. I noticed she stepped her challenging behaviour up a notch over the last week of the holidays. Sadly I was so hormonally challenged during that last week that I was focusing on just getting through the week. I missed that she was anxious, because children just don't come out and say "Hey Mum, I'm really worried about starting Year 1". No they get grumpy and stressy and drive you to the point of explosion. They decide not to go to bed; they refuse to clean their teeth; they run away and hide every time you call them; they are rude and belligerent; they thump and kick and shout. I'm obviously supposed to be able to read all the sub-text in this behaviour and think "Aaaaah she's worried about starting Year 1!".
The penny did finally drop after a big argument and Katie cried in my arms. She was worried about being in a new class away from some of her friends (they've all been split up because they are little
I've had a lovely 4 days with just Pip. He's been exploring the kitchen and I've been running behind him slowly Pip-proofing the space. I've also done yoga every day whilst he naps and I feel like I'm healing a bit. My head feels a little calmer. The migraine that developed last week is slowly diminishing. I've got more patience again for the times when Katie is home and being challenging. I feel like I'm giving her more quality time when we're together. I feel like I'm regaining some perspective over everything and. just as the autumn is arriving and the country starts to prepare for its annual hibernation (or maybe an Indian Summer if the weather reports are to be believed), I feel like I am coming out of a self-imposed shell and am rebuilding myself.
And on that note I can hear my yoga mat calling me.......