Toddlers & Teens: The Twilight Times

Sometimes I look at my children and I think , “Bloody hell, I’m their mother. I’ve no idea what I’m doing.” Truly, each day comes and goes and I hope I’ve just done my best. I hope I’ve given them some happy times, good food, love, hugs and not shouted too much. But parenting brings such new challenges every day. I have to constant re-evaluate myself, adapt and proceed with that unknown outcome of producing sane adult children. I am in envious awe of you parents with grown up, well adjusted adult children. You deserve to sit back and feel smug at your success. I’ve no idea how you got there, but you did.

As a mum of four I’m often asked, “how do you do it?” Honestly, I’ve no idea. My four are in groups of two separated by ten years! That makes quite a difference really. In some ways it makes it easier, but at the moment I am going through the challenges of having both a toddler and teens. My delightful little three month old daughter with cystic fibrosis (another story) easily just fits into the bigger picture. But step into my house between the hours of 4pm and 8pm and you will descend into another world, a twilight zone. That is when you will see my most frazzled. It begins post toddler nap, after which he always has a meltdown, and he is then stuffed into a car to pick up his older sisters from school. He likes to wear his dressing gown and space monkey pyjamas at all times at the moment. They sometimes stick to his chubby little body with jam, sand and whatever else he’s been into that day. If you see me in the bank with such a child, do forgive me and don’t judge, for its easier to take him like that than face another tantrum. Pick your battles I say.

The school run complete we return home for toddler supper that coincides with infant cluster breast feed (between 5 and 7.30pm). This also happens to occur at teen snack time, of which they always ask me “What can I eat?” and evening meal preparation. Really evening meal overlaps with toddler and baby bath and bedtime. I can stick the rice on and run upstairs to bath one, while breastfeeding the other or the baby has to wait screaming until I can get to her. The act of producing a home cooked meal at this time I consider a small miracle. In a word – it’s CHAOS! Chaos hopefully filled with laughter, tears, frustration and lots of love. Please forgive me that if I answer the phone during that time or you ask me a question, I’ve no idea how I will respond, I may be short with you. This is far more challenging to me than many of my days struggling with the demands of being a junior doctor.

Rather apt, trying to balance the see saw of ages.

Rather apt, trying to balance the see saw of ages.

Now it has struck me now that I am facing very similar challenges in parenting a toddler and a teen. I have my lovely 12 year old, she’s almost 13, so for sake of argument let’s call her a teen. And, my oldest is 14, soon to be 15 (read her excellent blog here) has already traversed some difficult stops on the teen journey, but at the moment is on a nice smooth flat section of the teen rollercoaster. My toddler pushes me to the limit, he’s seeking his boundaries. “I WANT BISCUIT. I WANT CHOC-CA-LAT” he has been known to scream at 5.15am when he wants breakfast. “No, darling, we don’t eat biscuits or chocolate for breakfast” is what I try and say. Really, I want to scream “FOR F~@$’s sake WE DON’T EAT THAT FOR BREAKFAST. I AM IN CHARGE HERE, YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!”

Whatever, we parents have been given the tough job of not causing emotional damage and setting the example. Crikey, we must be perfect. But I can tell you what, my kids have unfortunately heard me use some very bad words, shout and scream and throw my own tantrums. Now, never mess with a MUM TANTRUM as they can far out-do any toddler or teen. Now my toddler has found a new object of joy. An object of mischief. It’s his Stool of Power. This red plastic stool has been introduced as my latest parenting challenge. It came with an electronic drum kit, which I have hidden as it has only one volume – extremely loud. (Manufacturers, I’m sure you don’t want your drum kit implicated in some parent-child altercation, so please put a bloody volume control on it.) Now the Stool of Power goes everywhere with him. It has enabled him to reach into drawers containing matches, find sharp knives, pull down books, pick up the kettle using no handles just the bare metal (thankfully it was cold) and other such mischief. I need eyes in the back of my head to see where and what he is using the stool for. Rationalising that touching the ceramic hob after I’ve made a stir fry is going to hurt doesn’t seem to work. I am forever providing safe limits to his testing of boundaries. If you see me in the Emergency Department (where I may well run into my husband as he’s there more than at home at the moment) with a toddler in pyjamas, screaming baby and grumpy teen, know that I did try, honestly I did try.

Now where can I begin with the joys of parenting teens…. My oldest daughter’s recent blog post of the challenges of living with a Belieber will give you some insight. I find myself facing different boundary challenges. What is acceptable speak between mother and child, when to come to the table for supper, how I cannot buy yet another thing and so on and so on. Now, I come from the school of frank parenting. I don’t like the idea of my girls not being equipped with the things I didn’t know. So we have frank chats about:

  1. condoms (and how they aren’t 100% reliable)
  2. sexuality
  3. trimming pubic hairs
  4. waxing hair on the upper lip
  5. how never to get a credit card (if you do make the limit tiny)
  6. how to use a debit card
  7. not to go to there area as that’s where the doggers go (“What are doggers?”. We’ll come back to that one.)
  8. to save for a pension
  9. to save for a deposit on a house
  10. how to make a delicious pastry

I always have my ‘lectures’, hopefully some of it will go in. I just want them to be loved and grow up and be happy. Hopefully, not get a job as a pole dancer or doctor (but I will love you even if you do). But teens.. they really try me to the limits of my patience. It’s not that long ago that I remember the teen years, but believe me I do know that I didn’t know a lot of stuff. So, I SPEAK FROM WISDOM and EXPERIENCE my lovelies. I find the teens so often depicted on TV and the movies so obnoxious, the parent’s so dysfunctional and they seem to talk so rudely to each other. I hope this isn’t what my girls think is normal teenage behaviour. I hate the sexualised music videos, the constant depiction of seeking love and losing your virginity. I find myself asking for things to be turned off and sounding like my own mother! Our latest attempt to blend our family into one functioning unit, complete with happy memories, is to embark upon camping trips. This has met with considerable teen groans. Disdain even, as my embarrassing ‘Mum-Mobile’ arrives to pick them up from school. A seven-seater enormous ‘car’ complete with roof box. I do suggest that they may walk. We must be mad to consider camping with teens, a baby with CF and a toddler. But I’ve got a spread sheet checklist for all eventualities – slightly embarrassing, but organisation is key to everything.

Vehicle of Embarrassment

Vehicle of Embarrassment

Must go as toddler now has a heavy metal object and is swinging it over the head of little baby sleeping peacefully. Oh, she is saved by him trying to put Borat into the DVD player. Which shall I retrieve first? All this and it’s not even 9am. But I’m filled with this feeling that this time is short. My girls are growing older and I can count the family Christmas’s left with them living at home on one hand. My youngest may not even remember living with three other siblings. I’m trying to capture memories for you in video and photos.

But let’s end on this. I love my kids, I love every one of them with their differing personalities and smells. I’ve been sniffing the tops of their heads and smoothing my chin on their soft hair since minutes after birth. I am your mummy and I hope I am doing OK. Happy Mother’s Day to my friends in America.

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Journey into Medicine – Snapshots

Polo-shirt, pants, white tennis shoes, hair tied back and off I go. I haven’t been in a ‘uniform’ in 12 years, last time was working at a supermarket stacking freezers. Feels strange. I kiss my kids and husband goodbye and leave the house ready for the next phase in my life. Scared. Excited. Standing on the edge of something I do not know.

In the four years since I decided to become a doctor (I know why not sooner) this is the first time I have entered a clinical setting as a ‘professional’ and not a patient. It is absolutely essential to experience this for me to finalize my decision. I am embarking on a one year (or more) journey into medicine, volunteering at a local teaching hospital.

Tonight I am to spend much of my time in the emergency room developing x rays. (This is 2002 and we are still developing films.)

I arrive one minute late at 7.01pm, no sign-in sheets available, I know we absolutely have to sign in, what should I do? I’m off to a bad start! I introduce myself to the techs, I feel like I’m 14 years old.

One guy races through the procedures, showing me the ropes.

“Put the x-ray here, make sure the bell rings, don’t open the door, replace film in the cassette, 11 by 14, 11 by 12, 8 ½ by 10, extremities here, here is duplicating film, this goes here. This is the flasher, put the sticker in here, check it”. And it goes on.

I listen intently. I am truly in a new world. It’s so second nature to him, yet alien to me. Barely one hour ago I was picking up rice off the floor, putting toys away and negotiating dinner with my three and one year olds.

No time to think we’re off to our first patient. A repeat chest X-ray on an elderly lady in ER. I wonder who she is, why is she alone? Is this how we will all end up? Alone in a hospital, weak and in pain. I truly appreciate the responsibility of our tasks as ‘caregivers’ in this woman’s life.

Then it’s on to the next patient, the next and the next. Two young adult men with constipation, another young male with a nail gun injury. Then a lull. Then off we go again, two more women in their 80s or 90s both with fractured hips. A young 11 year old boy with his mom, scared, sick and confused. I see the look in the mom’s face, “what’s wrong with him, how long till we know?” she asks

It is only then I am surprised by how little I know of each patient I have just spent brief moments in time with. Seeing her reminded me of who I am and why I decided to go into medicine. Only then I realized how motherhood affected my ability to communicate with this woman. Up until that point I was so busy, helping and learning that I had forgotten I too was a mom. I could tell what she was thinking by the worry in her face. I could tell how her son felt during the x-ray as mom waited outside. I wanted her to know that I was a mom and could understand what she was going through. I didn’t tell her.

We went upstairs to another floor. Another x-ray. We woke a woman with our bright lights and big machinery. This is where she may spend the last days of her life, being poked and moved, loud TV sitcoms blaring and hospital food. I remembered when I was in hospital having my girls, being woken up at all hours, blood pressure, this, that and the other.

I was surprised how many came into the ER alone. A 90 year old woman brought in by paramedics, her clothes stained with faeces, urine, a mint green dressing gown, tattered brown shoes, thin and all alone with no one to care for her. “My leg hurts, oh my leg hurts. What’s wrong? I’m cold.”

I can understand what they are feeling as patients. Barely 10 days earlier I had a chest x-ray, my underwear exposed by the open gown, not sure how to stand, am I straight enough, should I breathe now. Am I doing this right?

Now I am told that this empathy for patients can be erased from your psyche as you progress through training. In fact I was surprised how I quickly saw the patient as an acute abdominal x-ray series or whatever the term for their x-ray was. I saw these people for around 10 minutes or so. As the x-ray blinked taking a snapshot of their injury, I too was seeing only snapshots of their lives. Yet, there I was seeing right through their hearts and bodies and trying to understand their minds.

And so it began. By the end of the evening I’d developed several x-ray films, changed sheets, undressed a patient, talked with patients and families, made them feel at ease, seen bloods, guts and not that much gore. My shift over I left and the CD came on in my car…

“From the day we arrive on this planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There is more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done”

** These are based on events, but genders, details and so on have been changed to protect identities. When appropriate, consent was obtained.