Toddler time  

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A rather mundane post about the frustrations of a day spent toddler-wrangling…

As parents of young children will know, it’s expected that, on the days you’re home with them as primary carer, you take your kids out to the park (or some equally worthy place of child-centred activity: a friend’s house, playgroup, family-friendly cafes, the zoo etc.) Sometimes I find this a bit of a fraught activity. My son often says he wants to go initially, but when it comes to the ritual of actually getting dressed, shoes on, out of the house, he objects. Strongly. This is usually because he’s in the middle of some little game of his own devising, so I have the double whammy of tearing him away from self-perpetuated activity, coupled with the fact I’m not that plussed about going out myself. (I think I’ve become a bit agoraphobic since moving to Swizerland – fear of foreign places). And pregnant: it’s all soo much harder trying to manoeuvre physically and mentally right now.

Also – is this as recent phenomenon / modern parenting trap? My mum and her peers seem to think it’s slightly bonkers the way parents these days around and try to do something with/for the kid EVERY DAY. In their time it was much more about the child fitting the parents’ routine, it seems. Or maybe they’ve just forgotten. I’m also really starting to wonder if it’s one of those situations that’s worse for the part-time parent? Full-time stay at home, you’ve got the routine going a bit more smoothly (maybe?! I seem to remember this from my year off on maternity leave but of course that was with a baby. This is probably just a BS grass-is-greener feeling on my part). Part time, it seems like you’re constantly juggling and adjusting and so is your child. Those three or four days a week of daycare are great, but it often feels like you’re right back at amateur hour when the “mum time” kicks in…

Anyway so, back to my toddler day. We finally make it out of the house but I realize I also need to get some groceries in. Is the park in any way near or convenient to any shops? Is it fuck. Ok so now begin the negotiations of what we do first. Park first or shops first. You can imagine what a 3-year-old who has no idea of the joys of delayed gratification is gunning for. Ok so park. We get there. It is closed. Great. So… the other park it is. To get there, we may as well detour past the shops. But I’m already feeling somewhat defeated. Why is it so hard to achieve two relatively simple things? Park and shops? Why must I lug my prego belly so far just to buy food and go on the swings? Sigh.

We make it to the shops, I haven’t brought the list because I’d been thinking we’d just go to the park but once I was out, it seemed crazy not to swing by the supermarket as well. I get a clutch of goods comprised of some stuff I remember off the list, a few things I’ve thought of since and various bits that catch my eye as we whip through. I wonder, for the 837th time since P was born, if anyone without a buggy in the supermarket realises how bloody awkward and annoying it is to try to shop with one. Manhandling the stroller with one hand, while an increasingly weighty shopping basked dangles off the other arm… and pregnant. Ugh.

We leave and by now I’ve decided that fuck it, it’s already noon and we need to buy some food for lunch and we can take it to the park and have it as a picnic. This food will be Macdonalds. Fuck it. Yes, I feel bad, yes, part of me has THE FEAR that having fast food right now will set a dangerous precedent with P but it’s been a rough morning. The doctor told me yesterday after clocking my low-ish weight gain with this pregnancy “it’s ok to eat!” And I want a treat. I steel myself for feeling like slapper mum of the year and walk into maccas, negotiating the large stroller round school bags of teens and inadvertently ramming ankles. The area in front of the counter is packed. So full there are not even clearly defined queues . I can’t deal with it, I can’t be bothered and, literally  we can’t even fit. We trundle back out. “Are we going to the park now?” Asks P who, in all honesty, has been pretty patient up until now. “Yes” I sigh, thinking of Burger King one street over but knowing it will be equally full of student lunchers.

We make our way to the park. I have to wheedle and cajole P to hop out of the buggy to walk up the steep hill to get there – it’s too heavy for me to push with him in and the shopping, and did I mention 8 months pregnant? Finally he agrees. We get to the park. We stop for a pastry snack on a park bench in the sun. It’s nice. We get to the play area. It’s completely deserted. I remember that I sort of hate the park. Where is everyone? Am I missing something? Sheesh it’s no wonder I feel lonely. Of course, the times when another parent-and-child are there, they speak in German so I’m out of the picture either way. It’s almost more isolating when that happens, in fact.

I push him on the swing for a while, he demands more, more, more. I make bargains about finishing and have to back down every time. This is why parenting is so much harder than office work: the emotional undermining . Constantly being denied, overridden, bossed about by a 3 year old who in no way knows better than you and, in fact, you’re meant to be guiding to become a decent human being. Others have said this better than me. I can’t be bothered looking up the links to the articles right now.

I try to look around and enjoy the glorious autumn display of trees, leaves are all the colours, from bright lime green, yellow, orange and all shades of brown. A puff of wind sends a shower of them spiralling to the ground, looking up, it’s like a gentle leaf snowfall spinning out in the sky above me. It’s really beautiful. There’s squirrels and birds flitting about in the thinning branches and almost no one around, a few dog walkers passing, pleasant, productive sounds of hammering and home renovations nearby. But it doesn’t sustain me. We’re back to negotiations. I’m bored of pushing this shitty swing and it’s nearly 1pm now, we need to go home and eat a proper lunch. I don’t know where this Timetable Of Correct Parenting comes from, I just know I need to adhere to it as well as possible or I’ll feel even worse. As he screams and cries and I give in once again, I have tears my eyes. How can I feel so defeated after just a couple of hours? What do you do when a depression trigger is taking your son to the park?

We get home, he goes straight back to his toys. I can’t be bothered insisting on lunch although I eat some myself. When he asks for TV an hour later, I capitulate. When I finally convince him to eat, around 3.30pm, we have a 20-minute long fight about butter – whether it’s on the toast I’ve made him (of course it is, but he insists it’s not and demands I remake the meal to his specifications) which involves him crying and us arguing until I finally dab a token amount of butter on top of the already-spread toast and he eats it.

I’m sometimes get so sick of this motherhood gig, to whom do I address my resignation letter?


  1. Hi Claire,
    I just wanted to say this was a beautifully evocative post about a day’s parenting. I often find it really hard to convey the small frustrations that mount into big frustrations and just flatten you. The next time someone says something stupid or judgemental about motherhood I think I’ll direct them here. Thanks!

  2. Ugh. So many memories. The supermarket and the stroller! I used to think: Why don’t they have a little parking room to the side or something where you could dump your pram and use a trolley until you’re ready to go? And there’s nothing worse than an empty park. You go there so the kid runs off with other kids and leaves you the hell alone, you don’t go to the park to play with them. And the swing! you go there to wear them out. How they gonna get worn out sitting on their lazy arse while you push? Maccas is gold. 4 year old goes once a week with husband’s Mum. The happy meals toys are really good. And if there’s an in door play centre, the ‘park’s’ there too. I love MacDonalds. I love TV, DVDs and computer games and youtube.

    There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have to take them out and you can barely face it. I get that a lot. It’s called Saturday morning! It’s usually better than staying in though.

    It sounds like no more outdoor for you. Not until you get wheels. Get a plastic table cloth and some play doh. Jig saws, Lego, Find-it books. Batten down the hatches and start roosting. He goes to Day care. That’s a day out.

    I also like the way you describe the misbehavior as humiliating. I say this to husband all the time. As a teacher I get humiliated by insubordination all day, then on the weekend and evenings I get from my own kids. Husband doesn’t get it. He says ‘who’s judging you? why are you embarrassed? Where’s the humiliation?” But when you make a reasonable request and someone does the opposite; then they are undermining your decisions, your confidence and your ability to help them. They make you inefficient, angry, guilty and bloody tired.

    You’re doing a top job. It’s a rough gig.

  3. I hear ya. I’m with Marn, go the Maccas now and then with impunity, tele here and there sans guilt. I hate parks and swings too. Though Viv is pretty chilled otherwise, swings are her crack.

  4. This is an excellent post. I know nothing about the topic, but I love it. Does it help you to write them? I hope it does because I love reading them.

    I stayed over at my bro’s the other week while his wife was out and I got up in the middle of the night and in morning when the baby was crying so he could sleep in a bit and holy shit it was a novelty for me to do it once, but it ruined me for the next day and I can see how exhausting it could be night after night. And as they grow the challenges change, but remain challenges.

    Your post (and Miriam’s comment) also kinda reminded me of this:

  5. It does kind of help to write about it. And to get encouraging comments! 🙂

    I think, to be fair, it’s probably slightly “easier” with your own kids rather than helping out with others’ because you’ve kind of built up (or worn down!) to it… but yeah, it is exhausting.

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