Clare Mackintosh: Parenting by numbers

Clare and her family, ten years ago, and now

Clare and her family, ten years ago, and now - Credit: Archant

‘This too shall pass,’ I think to myself as another row breaks out over breakfast

In the early days of motherhood, I would frequently close my eyes, take a deep breath, and think, this, too, shall pass. Because let’s face it: parenting babies is no picnic, is it? Evie and George were sleeping in shifts, in some monstrous (and entirely deliberate) attempt to exhaust me, waking only to emit cries that could have doubled as air-raid sirens. Josh – a mere 15 months older – would shout loudly and unintelligibly as he navigated the house on newly mobile legs, cracking his head at regular intervals on yet another piece of furniture we’d forgotten to make safe. This, too, shall pass.

“It’s hard work now,” I’d say cheerfully to visitors, as they stared aghast at the chaos that now passed as my life, “but it’ll be lovely when they’re all old enough to entertain each other.” A decade later, I laugh at my naivety. As I write this, strains of GET OFF MY EAR YOU’RE HURTING ME WELL YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TOUCHED MY STUFF THEN drift up the stairs to my office. One child is in isolation on the top floor following an overly aggressive wrestling match, and in the kitchen bin are the vindictively shredded remains of a careful craft project. I cannot remember the last time peace reigned in this house, but I’d put money on it not being an evening, and I can guarantee it wasn’t between the hours of seven and nine in the morning. After-school bickering has its moments, but nothing can rival the arguments of three children who would rather be in bed. In reverse order, here are my children’s top five Reasons For Getting Angry at the Breakfast Table:

Number five: someone’s hair being wrong. Now, we’ve all had bad hair days, but life’s too short to go all Jekyll and Hyde over a wonky parting or a sticky-up fringe, isn’t it? Not if you’re in my household, where a catastrophic coiffure provides you with carte blanche to scowl and growl at anyone who dares to say “Good morning”.

Number four: someone having the marmalade at the precise moment it is wanted elsewhere at the table. I know. Heinous. There are (at my last count) two types of marmalade (thick peel and thin) in the cupboard, along with four jars of jam, some peanut butter, and the jar of chocolate spread they’re only allowed at weekends. But of course it will be that jar that is required, and the millisecond delay that ensues will RUIN THE WHOLE DAY NOW THANKS VERY MUCH.

Number three: someone finishing the orange juice. I like to think my children are fairly intelligent, but they demonstrate a distinct lack of common sense when it comes to comestibles. Pouring the last few dregs of juice into your glass – however tiny the amount – is not finishing it but DRINKING ALL THE JUICE YOU’RE SO SELFISH. Sigh.

Number two: someone being annoying. Okay, I’ll give them that. But is it really necessary to respond to the off-key warbling of the entire soundtrack from The Greatest Showman by punching said warbler in the back and giving them a wedgie? Apparently so.

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Number one: someone looking at someone else. Yes, HE (or she) IS LOOKING AT ME AGAIN, MUMMY! is the top cause of arguments in the Mackintosh household each morning. Evie’s looking at George, George is looking at Josh, Josh is looking at… well, you get the picture. Such is the force of their objection, I can only assume that in homage to some ancient tribe, the children believe an unwanted gaze will steal their souls. If it would take their vocal chords as well, I’d be all for it.

This, too, shall pass, I mutter, as I intercept a bread roll aimed at a sibling’s head, and defuse a meltdown over (appropriately enough) the butter. This, too, shall pass, I tell myself, as the windows rattle and a door slams overhead.

They’re in double figures now – that no-man’s land between child and adult. It’s a tricky time, navigating relationships, testing boundaries. It’ll get easier, I’m sure. I hear the teenage years are a breeze...

In ‘A Cotswold Family Life’, Clare has collected Cotswold Life columns in aid of the Silver Star Society at the John Radcliffe hospital, who support families experiencing high risk preganancies.

For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh

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