The inner crazy will always find a way out.
She is always there… lurking under surface like lava bubbling underneath a quiet volcano.
No matter how many deep breaths, how many times you compose yourself and say something reasonable, no matter how sane and together you may appear on the outside, that inner screaming voice always threatens to break free.
As each maternity leave/period of sleep deprivation torture progresses I feel chunks of my self-control falling away. The sane, rested version of me fades away like a distant memory as I progress toward the inevitable day that the crazy escapes.
I’m getting used to it now.
Having been through this twice before, I realise the sleep-deprived me isn’t permanent.
Around the time the baby can eat/isn’t attached to me for 2-3 hourly feeds/has some alternative childcare/learns to sleep, the fog lifts and I am almost able to see the funny side.
The day I can skip gaily out of the house, ALONE, minus the children and their gear, I gain some perspective and my ability to be rational (mostly) returns.
I have friends who say they prefer sleep-deprived me because I am more entertaining.
I imagine they mean this in the same way that some people find it enjoyable to slow down on a motorway to have a good look at the wreckage of a crash on the other side.
Unfortunately for those who prefer me sane (i.e. long-suffering husband), over the last four years the only outcome of the fog lifting has been a return to full-time work followed by the swift discovery that I am once again pregnant.
Jovial remarks along the lines of “time for number 4 soon then, eh?” are met with a prompt “not a chance” from long-suffering husband, who is scared to stand too close to me just in case. He occasionally mutters darkly about making an appointment for a vasectomy.
I intended to describe how the escape of my inner crazy led to the unfortunate demise of a member of staff at our leisure centre and the birth of this blog.
It was all because of 3-year-old Boy’s swimming lessons.
3-year-old Boy was enjoying his lovely village preschool and had taken a liking to a boy there called Jude.* They shared a mutual love of screaming, roaring, running and climbing. Happily they ended up in the same swimming lesson at the local leisure centre.
Ah, those 3-year-old swimming lessons were a joyous milestone well worth the long waiting list. The magical day where a swimming lesson involved simply handing over your child to an instructor and then sitting in a spectator area, fully clothed and absolved of all responsibility for half an hour.
This following years of Waterbabies/Puddleducks, persuading babies/toddlers in and out of the water in the depths of winter (when the LAST thing you wanted to do was submerge yourself to watch your little angel swim, but did so anyway because the other mothers seemed to care enough about their cherubs to do it week in, week out) and then spending ALL DAY rushing around with wet hair in the freezing cold (because who has time to wash their hair?).
(To be strictly honest on two points, firstly I no longer go underwater to watch Baby Girl swim. Instead I smile at the instructor and explain that I will watch from the surface as I have no time to wash my hair. One instructor did kindly suggest I purchase a swimming cap, a suggestion I continue to ignore. Second point of honesty – I only managed one Puddleducks lesson before running screaming and kicking back to Waterbabies. I digress again- that is another story for another day)
I started talking to Jude’s Mum at these swimming lessons.
In my head she will always be “Social Media Mum.”
She has one of the many jobs I had never heard of until maternity leave when I encountered all the momtrepreneurs- she is a “social media consultant.” I still don’t really understand it.
Social Media Mum had that funny, witty, AWAKE air about her of someone who has left the sleep-deprivation years far behind her and never looked back. She has a sparkle in her eye in as though she actually sees the world around her, as opposed to stumbling bleary-eyed through the day.
Most enviably she had the casual, relaxed attitude of someone whose youngest child is the same age as my eldest and therefore following the morning pre-school drop off, she is totally, utterly, deliciously FREE for the day.
Sometimes I fantasize about what this freedom might involve.
Dropping children off at Government-funded facilities and then casually walking away without dealing with any of the following:
- A clingy/crying baby
- A toddler attached to your leg/running away from you/refusing to walk
- The guilty panicked pressure of how best to fit 100 hours’ worth of ambitious plans into a few stolen hours of freedom provided by childcare at the expense of:
- an hourly rate and hence your meagre bank balance, or
- the (waning) goodwill of your relatives
I daresay that Social Media Mum probably just drops her children off, goes to work, then picks them up again.
However, on the mornings I glimpse her walk casually away in her unfettered fashion, I prefer to think of her as gliding away to recline in a meadow, undisturbed, reading an interesting book and making witty observations. Perhaps she follows this up with a Prosecco lunch with interesting literary colleagues and a quick nap before picking up the kids.
I digress yet again.
As I began maternity leave number three last summer at around 36 weeks’ pregnant, Social Media Mum and her Tall Helpful Husband gradually came more and more to my aid with managing these swimming lessons.
It was a hot summer, even outside the sauna-like swimming pool changing rooms.
I would waddle in every Thursday evening, short of breath, dragging excitable 3-year-old Boy and then-1-old-Boy behind me. I would attempt to get elder son ready for his swimming lesson whilst chasing younger son around the changing rooms, where he liked to hide from me inside the lockers.
I would then collapse in the spectator’s chairs and pretend to watch my son’s lesson whilst soaking up the half hour of adult conversation with Social Media Mum.
Tall Helpful Husband would come to my aid when 1-year-old got bored of whatever electronic device I exhaustedly provided him with. At the end of the lesson he and Social Media Mum would form a practiced crack team, shepherding their two boys into the shower, out, into clothes and then off to football practice like an enviably well-oiled machine.
The fatter I got, the more they stepped in and basically did the same for my son.
When I confessed that my husband would NEVER be joining me at these swimming lessons as he worked late on Thursdays, Social Media Mum looked at me in wonder.
“However will you manage this with THREE?”
She asked in horror/wonderment.
I had not given it much thought but assumed it had been done before and would somehow be okay.
Fast forward two months and not much had actually changed.
I would huff and puff into the changing rooms, no longer due to being fat, but due to lugging a car seat containing Baby Girl. The two Boys would run away. I would put down the car seat and ignore Baby Girl whilst shouting instructions at two sets of deaf ears.
Cue the Social Media Mum and her Tall Helpful Husband duo.
They would assist and somehow all would be well, followed by a half an hour chat in the spectator area whilst they helped me look after the other two.
Social Media Mum would ask to hold Baby Girl and look at her admiringly, making all the right noises, cuddling her, telling me how beautiful she was…and then hand her back at the end of the lesson with a knowing look.
“Lovely to play with…but I do like to hand them back and get some sleep.”
Wise words from a wise woman.
It was a beautiful arrangement on my part and left me with the illusion that I was managing three children terribly well.
Then came that fateful Thursday.
It began well. I had a wonderful day planned.
A well-trusted babysitter was coming to look after Baby Girl and energetic one-year-old Boy for the morning so that I could go for an actual SWIM, alone, then go to the doctors for a child-free 6 week postnatal check.
Two hours away from children was unheard of.
I. COULD. NOT. WAIT.
I arrived at the Leisure Centre and decided to be extra efficient. I would renew my membership and pay for the next block of 3-year-old Boy’s swimming lessons on my way in. I think there were birds singing and I may actually have been humming to myself.
My daydream about how terribly well I was managing was rudely interrupted by words coming out of the receptionist’s mouth.
Something about me having missed the deadline to renew the swimming lessons, and something about my son having therefore LOST HIS PLACE IN HIS 4.30PM SWIMMING CLASS which had now been GIVEN TO SOMEONE ELSE.
I was vaguely aware of alarm bells going off in my head.
Lost his place in the class with his BEST FRIEND from preschool?
The friend with the parents who basically took care of my children and allowed me to believe I was coping?
Things became a bit of a blur as I finally gave up on trying to restrain the inner crazy.
She flew out in full, ferocious force.
There were tears – just a few at first.
Followed by deep wracking sobs with my head thrown dramatically down upon my arms on the desk.
Then possibly some shouting along the lines of “how could this possibly have been allowed to happen?”
The exact details of what happened next are very vague to me in hindsight, but I did manage to get myself to the GP, get through the 6 week postnatal check, demand the contraceptive pill to avoid ever feeling like this again, and found myself an hour or two later sitting calmly in a chair at the chemists, awaiting my prescription.
I decided to write a quick WhatsApp message to Social Media Mum, just to update her that we would no longer be at the same swimming lesson.
The message I sent her reads as follows:
07.50 this morning: kids all ready & eating breakfast, Baby Girl fed, feeling a bit smug at how well I am managing on so little sleep.
8am: Babysitter arrives, set off to have a swim before doctor’s appointment for 6 wk postnatal check. Singing at 3yo son on the way out the door about how we will go swimming later, with Babysitter cheerfully adding “yay, Jude* will be there!”
8.10: renewing my membership for the Leisure centre feeling virtuously healthy on this beautiful autumn day, chatting to Katy at reception
8.11: I notice a sign at reception saying we are on swimming week 2, which I mention to Katy is a but weird as we haven’t had a badge or a renewal slip, but I had better pay for 3yo’s lesson at the same time. Katy informs me cheerfully that I have missed the deadline, that 3yo has been removed from his lesson, and that his class is now full.
8.12: Head in hands, hearing this is terrible news, I start weeping. Childless Katy gives me a pitying look. Slightly patronisingly says “now there is no need to get upset…didyou not see the big Nemo signs about re-booking? He could fit into the 5pm class with the same instructor so that would be okay?”
8.13: I leap over the counter, grab Katy by the throat and scream at her “FFS you utter moron, of COURSE I saw the giant Nemo signs. I come here every f*cking week on my own with THREE children & the only way I get the boys to move down the corridor is to tell them to race to see who gets to Nemo first. You think I also have time to read what it says on the f*cking sign? And NO, the 5pm class is not okay. Do you not understand that Jude is not in the 5pm class and that Jude is his FAVOURITE person? And how do you think I will get three children home, fed dinner, bathed and in bed by 7 after a FIVE o clock lesson when I am alone because my husband finishes work at 9pm on Thursdays? Do you not understand that this is an ABSOLUTE F*CKING DISASTER? Don’t give me that patronising face, do you not think I can recognise a disaster of epic proportions when I see one? Incidentally there must be some way that this is your fault, not mine, why the F*ck don’t you send out renewal Emails like everyone else, FFS? YOU try going to my house and telling my child that he is no longer in the same swimming lesson as Jude*!”
8.15: I bludgeon smug childless Katy to death and go for a satisfying swim
9.10: GP appointment: “yes feeling fine, emotionally everything okay, no unexpected weeping or rage or cases of murder or anything.” Prescription for the pill obtained to prevent ever having to go through this again.
9.30: Sitting in Lloyds pharmacy waiting for prescription reflecting that I really am managing terribly well, & it is a shame 3yo has changed swimming lesson but I will just type a quick (totally sane) WhatsApp message to Jude’s Mum to let her know we have changed time.
P.S. Katy still alive and well but otherwise mostly accurate account of events
After sending the message I felt suddenly much lighter, as though the weight of the world had fallen off my shoulders.
A problem shared is a problem halved and all. I carried on happily with my day.
As 5pm approached I felt a little uneasy. I didn’t actually know Social Media Mum very well, for all I had taken advantage of her generous assistance in controlling my children.
Perhaps I had been a LITTLE hasty in sharing the inner crazy contents of my head?
There was of course the chance she would have found my message amusing, or perhaps, she would actually be fearful for her life in case I were clinically insane.
I arrived in the changing room in time for our new later lesson, bumping into Social Media Mum. I gave her a brief smile and my best impression of a sane person.
Social Media Mum: “You know,” she said, “I’ve been thinking. I have an idea.”
Me: “Oh yes?”
(Oh God, what is she going to suggest. Counselling? Psychiatric institution? Staying further away from her and her children?)
Social Media Mum: “I loved that message about Katy.”
Social Media Mum: “Yes.”
“You know, you should really start a blog.”
Katy appears alive, well, and seems to be a perfectly pleasant human being.