Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Fake Break

toddler train trip

Before it was wrong, children often toiled alongside their parents. For their parents. Now we work for them. Like tiny benign overlords they preside over us. Arguably it’s better this way. But sometimes, when my toddler rides me like a mule after 12 hours of one-to-one fun, only marginally so.

The rhythm of modern parenting is so different from the tune our kids would have danced to a few generations ago. The expectations we have of ourselves now are frankly exhausting. If you saw the blur in my eyes and the stoop in my back, you would immediately guess I’ve been up since 5.30 a.m., moving quickly – in a sort of trotting hunch – after a small child.

(I’m doing it solo. What can I say? My osteopath offered me an elaborate toddler-carrying harness. It looked heavier than my daughter, and more complicated.)

Turns out the immediate and pressing demands of early parenthood don’t allow for as many breaks as I’d hoped. Where once things happened in a linear way, one after another, now several activities must be undertaken consecutively, in a mad reactive rush. Actually, I almost forgot how to have a break.

So you must do maintenance. Take little ‘fake breaks’ each day/week/month that prop you up and make you happy. These are breaks you can take when you really can’t take one, which make you a fully functioning human and mother. A human mother.

These are my five:

A book
I stay up too late because I need time to myself. I do all sorts of things (streaming something rubbish online, normally) in the belief that I am relaxing. Unintentionally, though, I stopped reading books. I’d race urgently to the finish line of newspaper articles but thought I didn’t have time to walk the long way round a novel. Misguided fool, a good book is the single best way to refresh your head. Fifteen minutes at the end of each day – that’s all you need.

A Mini Break
To stay in a hotel alone with a toddler is not a straightforward thing. Evenings will most likely be spent hiding in the 'en suite' or reading by the light of the minibar. But in desperate times this is what I now occasionally do.

A night in an oddly decorated room, behind a narrow door at the end of a long, bland corridor is surprisingly salutary. Think of it as respite care. For 24 hours my daughter and I swim and roam around the hotel like animals, eating food not cooked by me. She can wear pyjamas and swimsuits all day, if she likes. It doesn’t matter. And I get looked after too.

A Train Trip
It’s very difficult to get lost when you live by the sea, as we do. You have a vast geographical point of reference at the bottom of every hill. This is both comforting and cloying, depending on your mood. Sometimes I take a train trip with my daughter so we can get a bit lost together. Not a long one (that would be madly counterproductive), just a short ride to see different things: horses, cows and sheep as we whizz past. We ‘read’ magazines (well, she does – I mainly pick up the free toys from the floor) and eat crap food. The point isn’t really where we end up (normally London, to be honest) – it’s the journey.

The Radio
The TV is now my daughter’s domain, but the radio, the radio is mine. A hinterland on long days constricted by rain, which makes Megablocks, jigsaws and ‘tea parties’ more fun for much longer. With Radio 4 on in the background, we can go for hours.

Give in. Really, it’s been a revelation. The more extraneous stuff I try to get done when I’m spending time alone with my little girl, the less okay our day is. Forget sheepishly meddling with your phone or covertly interfering with your laptop – red rag to a bull. The contentment and (relative) calm that come over us when I let everything else go is a holiday. Surrender is where it's at.

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