Clare Mackintosh: No easy answers
- Credit: Castleski
‘I have been mothering for 10 years - not including the hinter years of early marriage, featuring no children but a husband fresh out of apron strings, which is practically the same thing’
It is said that 10,000 hours of consistent practice is sufficient to become an expert in almost anything. I beg to differ. By my estimation I have been practising parenting for around 90,000 hours; you’d think I’d be raking in the awards by now. Where is my Mother of the Year award? My Pretty Damn Good at Parenting badge? Frankly, I’d settle for a Mediocre Mum badge. But nothing. Zip. Nada.
I have been mothering for 10 years (not including the hinter years of early marriage, featuring no children, but a husband fresh out of apron strings, which is practically the same thing) and I still suck at it. I have lost count of the number of times I have vowed to stop shouting; promised myself I’ll play more games with the kids, or help more with their homework. For 10 years I’ve bookmarked ideas for creative play; cut baking recipes out of magazines, and looked up how to make my own play-doh. Have I made it? Have I hell. Time races by like someone’s pressed fast-forward, and I barely have time to catch my breath before the next milestone whizzes past. No sooner had I got good at dealing with toddler tantrums, than someone crept in and moved the goal posts, and suddenly I had to know my times tables and be good at phonics. I turn my back for a second and the job description changes again. How are your computer skills? When was Queen Victoria crowned? How do you get grass stains out of cricket whites? I defy any headhunter to find an applicant with the right transferable skills to be a parent. Friends tell me to make the most of these years ‘before teenage hormones hit’, but already I can see them seeping in to my erstwhile gentle children. A slammed door from the 10 year old; a pouty hand-on-hip from a nine-year-old seconds away from another strop. Testosterone and oestrogen hang in the air like a mushroom cloud. Thank goodness there are two of us.
The Big Move from the Cotswolds to north Wales (stick a stamp on that New Home card - I think we’re finally getting somewhere...) has been accompanied by a Big Move on the domestic front. The husband has followed in my footsteps and quit a life in uniform for one spent following a passion. Fortunately he isn’t writing books (no room for two author egos in this family...) but has instead joined the search and rescue team, racing across Snowdonia to save damsels in distress (and idiots who wear flip flops up mountains and wonder why their toes get chilly). For the first time in our family life he is home at weekends and during the evenings (call-outs permitting); he’s there for the afternoon school run, and for homework and teatime. And boy, am I glad of it!
Not only because I can write uninterrupted, but because if there’s one area of motherhood in which I truly, madly, deeply suck, it’s homework. Oh, sure, I can help with the essay writing, the spellings, and the addition of ‘wow words’ (adjectives, to you and me) to a piece of prose, but present me with a maths quandary and Houston: we have a problem. “That’s an interesting one,” I’ll stall, pretending to scan the exercise book thrust under my nose. ‘”Why don’t you have a go at working it out on your own, before I tell you what the answer is?” At which point I’ll retreat to the downstairs loo with a scrap of paper, a calculator, and Google, before emerging triumphantly with the result.
Heaven knows what parents did before Google. It’s my go-to resource for everything from bedwetting and medical complaints, to gymnastic tutorials and origami templates. I’m adept at searching; sifting through the adverts to find a reliable source, and pinging a link to myself for future reference. If I’ve spent 90,000 hours parenting, then I must have spent at least a tenth of that time looking things up on Google. Almost 10,000 words: I guess I’m well on my way to being an expert.
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