I have now been a single parent for just over a year. And while I am an utter newbie compared to some, I do feel that I have come a long way in that time.
When I first started out, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to cope. I was almost definitely sure that I was going to crash and burn within weeks. I mean, how do you meet the needs of three demanding children without splitting yourself into pieces?
It turns out, there’s only one way to do it. And that’s just to do it. And do it again. And do it some more. Then you realise that actually, you’ve been surviving for a while now, nobody has any lasting physical damage and you’re actually not all that bad at it.
That said, I couldn’t have managed without learning some valuable lessons. Some came from friends, some just came into my head late at night when I was talking to myself (I do that a lot.)
I’ve taken the liberty of writing some of these lessons down. Not because I think they’ll be particularly useful to you, but more because they’re a little bit funny. And if I can’t let my various trials and tribulations stand as a form of amusement for you all, then what the fuck is the point?
Anyway, here we go!
1. Friends can teach you the most bizarrely useful skills
One of the handiest things I have learned this year was taught to me in the very first week. I was trying to declutter, which as anyone knows is at the top of the to do list in this situation. While doing so, I ran into a bit of a problem.
It was the children’s play tent. Or, as I like to call it, ‘the place where balloons go to die.’ You see, I have a slight… balloon issue.
That is, I’m fucking terrified of them.
It’s not the balloons, per se. It’s all that potential they have.
And they’re just so freaking unpredictable. You can sit a toddler of a weight roughly equivalent to a small boulder on one, and nothing happens. Breathe on it two seconds later and BANG!
So, you see my problem.
My solution for an unreasonable amount of time had been: shove them in the tent and forget all about them.
You know, you can roll your eyes as much as you want. It worked! Up to a point. For now, the tent was full. Of course, I could have just taken a pin and popped them all. But the mere thought of that made me do a nervous dance on jelly legs.
Which, by the way, looks goddamn hilarious. But is not an entirely practical method for completing the task at hand.
Luckily, there was a friend on the way to solve my problem. She taught me to snip the balloon next to the knot, so that it deflated slowly and, mostly importantly, noiselessly.
Yes, I am aware that everyone knows this trick. I apologise deeply for my lack of practical life skills.
I don’t even care, problem solved.
2. A double bed containing one adult can fit three children in
Not comfortably, mind.
Between illness, nightmares and general fuckery, my bed can become like a conveyor belt at times. Big Girl and Little Girl tend to sleep through as a rule, while Squeak has maybe once? Twice?
Nah, I’m exaggerating again.
So, there’s always at least one child in there, snoring, sleeping with her eyes open and casually groping my boob.
And when it goes wrong with the others, they have to do it simultaneously. In comes Little Girl, clinging to my back like a limpet, wheezing and flipping a 360 degree turn every time she coughs.
Just as I drift off again, Big Girl pads in, quivering as she exits a particularly gruesome nightmare. A nightmare which, of course, she must tell me absolutely every detail of before passing out on whichever sliver of sheet she can locate.
It’s a full house! Or should that be full bed?
Hang on a minute. Does it still count as ‘fitting’ if I am lying rigid and glassy-eyed, sandwiched between two children who are attempting to reach temperatures approximately three degrees hotter than the Sun? How about if it takes me four hours to get back to sleep because I feel like I’m being slowly suffocated?
Ok, how about if I’m weeping? Twitching?
Hmmm, I might need to rethink this section.
3. Even my phone knows
I have to admit, this did amuse me just a touch! I was texting a friend, and for some reason I needed to type the word ‘kiss.’ No, I have no idea why. What occurred next clearly shows that I do not write it very often.
So tippety-tap I went. And up popped this:
Whaaaaat? How did my phone know? Is this part of the new update?
It’s like my phone peeped at me through its creepy, stalker eye (what, you thought that was a camera?) and said, “Yeah, she’s got no call to be writing that.”
4. The evenings are quiet
If there’s one thing I can say about my house, it’s that it is loud. The usual; soundtrack sounds a bit like this:
“BANG! Ow! THUMP! Nooooo! SWISH-CRACK! Not my pigtails! CLICK-CLACK! Pikachu, I choose YOU!”
It’s an eclectic mix.
So once everybody is finally floating along the plane I like to call ‘sleeping with one eye open,’ I like to collapse and become one with the couch. And, you know, throw a couple of blankets over me and switch on Netflix.
The only problem is, none of these objects are particularly good conversationalists. Therefore, I spend a lot of time sitting in silence. Well, silence interspersed with the metallic tick of knitting needles, anyway.
It isn’t really that big an issue. I’m a quiet kind of person, so I savour these moments.
Then, the phone rings. Uh oh.
For anyone who’s not sure why this wouldn’t be absolutely fine, allow me to illuminate you. You see, it’s in this sort of situation that you can get a bit of a surprise.
Well, I can get a bit of a surprise. That is, my voice. It comes out sounding not exactly as I would expect it to.
In my head, I sound pretty perky. Energetic, even. And definitely female.
But out loud, after three hours rest? Well, my voice box tends to take a little while to catch up to the party.
So what actually comes out of my mouth is croaky. It’s grouchy. And it’s decidedly deeper than I anticipated.
Dammit, I sound like Yoda!
Which is great for the self esteem, as you can imagine.
5. When a kid throws up on me, I have no idea what to do first
Stomach bugs. In a house full of bacteria-laden germ factories (or as some like to call them, children), they’ve just gotta happen. The last one we had hit Squeak harder than everyone else. The poor kid must have been puking for about four days!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know how to deal with a vomiting child. I have a handy checklist that goes a bit like this:
a. Comfort child
b. Clean up child
c. Stand up without dislodging revoltingness onto the carpet
d. Get changed
e. Put washing on
f. Rinse and repeat
Ta-da! Couldn’t be simpler. Except… where do I start, exactly? All of the towels, cloths and general cleaning paraphernalia are rather more than an arm’s reach away. Said child is howling, there’s a rapidly cooling pool around my nether regions and I’m doing battle with my over sensitive gag reflex.
I’m sorry, that was a bit graphic.
Oh no, wait! Actually not that sorry.
I’d stand up, but the mess! But I have to stand up. But the carpet! I haven’t really figured out a successful method as yet.
Man, it was way easier when someone could just pass me a freaking towel.
6. Quick thinking is essential
So, at the moment, Little Girl’s most favourite and best activity in the world is building with Lego. That stupidly pointy shit spends most of the day strewn across the floor, repeatedly stabbing me in the feet because goddammit I don’t have time to look where I’m going!
I did wonder if we would have any trouble with Squeak attempting to ingest some of the smaller pieces, but so far that hasn’t been an issue.
Mainly because Squeak doesn’t really dig predictability.
Therefore, when she came to me, whimpering and with her finger digging in her nostril, I guessed that things may have gone a little awry.
Fun fact: Did you know that the diamonds from Lego kits are almost exactly toddler nostril sized?
I know, right? Actually, strike the ‘almost.’ That thing was a perfect fit.
Obviously, my first thought was, “Shit.” Then, “I’m in the middle of cooking dinner on a school night!” And finally, “How the fuck do I get that out?”
I couldn’t drop everything and go to A&E. Well, I could, but it’s not really desirable to trail two extra, hungry children along with me.
At times like this, it’s not what you know. It’s who you know. And luckily for me, a friend of mine once had this happen with a couple of raisins and a much younger child.
Her story is way grosser than mine. But she taught me a little trick, which I remembered at this most opportune of times.
So I grabbed Squeak, pinched her empty nostril shut and blew in her mouth.
And it was out! That was it. From disaster to success in a second, all thanks to my ability to retain pieces of information that spend most of their time being utterly useless.
7. Changing a lightbulb involves risking life and limb
When it comes to completely this, the most mundane of all DIY tasks, the odds are stacked against me. Here’s why:
a. My ceilings are super high.
b. I am super small.
c. I am also terrified of heights.
d. My stepladder is a rickety freaking deathtrap.
But you know, you gotta do what you gotta do. And sitting in the dark isn’t exactly my idea of fun, either.
There be scary things in the dark.
Even with this knowledge, it’s still no picnic. Changing a lightbulb when you can’t look at the fixture because you’ll freak out and fall off the ladder. Bracing yourself four times on the way up so you don’t fall off the ladder. Desperately trying to control your quivering legs so you don’t wobble the ladder over.
It all boils down to the fucking ladder, essentially.
<looks up> Shit. Bulb’s gone.
So, what parenting lessons have you learned this year?