Mum On The Verge

Read an honest account of the trials and tribulations of bringing up four little ones in Surrey.


“I don’t know how she does it...” well here’s how! An honest account of life with young children. Get Mum On The Verge’s take on life from the trenches of parenthood. It’s a struggle, but life with small children can be full of unexpected joys too...

hapter 12: “End of year, end of tether”:

The end of the year brings a new kind of 'crazy busy' to our already bustling household. With three of my four children in school I have nine end of year concerts, picnics, and countless meetings. The sessions with the teachers about their progress and the evening conferences about what we are to expect in the year ahead - all of which are more or less the same. And this is in addition to our normal day-to day activities.

So for the past two weeks, I could be seen running back and forth to my kids' school pushing a pram in the day and sometimes with my husband in the evenings (thank goodness for babysitters). It's done wonders for my figure, but my house looks like a tip, my clean laundry is piled up near the ceiling, and I haven't slept much. In fact, it's only thanks to my husband that I can find a few moments to write this.

The concerts and sports days are always great fun. I love seeing the kids all dressed up, proudly 'doing their thing'. One of my kids will inevitably shout out their brother or sister's name and give them a wave. This year, when Adam shouted her name out, Rachel proudly waved back from behind her costume and even blew us a kiss (in true celebrity style). Elizabeth, on the other hand, blushed and gave a tiny discreet little flicker of the hand, visibly embarrassed. And at sports day, her humiliation was multiplied as it took three of us to try to restrain her two youngest siblings from running onto the running track uninvited. Luckily we weren't the only ones with runaway toddlers, but that was no consolation to my shy oldest child.

The evening meetings are a different story. Most of what is said at the meeting is also written in the big brown envelope that we receive there – which is lucky because I have seen one or two parents nodding off. In my day, there was no meeting. We used to get a letter through the post which told our parents what to expect in the following school year. It also contained the name of our new teacher, who our parents didn't meet until the autumn. 

As fun as it is to meet the staff and see the other parents without kids, I would much rather do this in a relaxed environment over a few drinks instead of when I'm exhausted, hungry (because I haven't had time to eat), and worried about whether the babysitter managed to get four kids to bed on time!

Luckily, the evening meetings are over for another year (woohoo!)  But I now have to attempt to fabricate a frog costume for JP's concert on Wednesday with less than a week's notice. I'll probably just find some green clothes and a green baseball cap and stick some eyes onto it. It won't be the best costume there but at least it'll be fun to watch our little man in action!

Chapter 11: “Sleep deprivation”:

When I was  young, I used to think sleep was a waste of time. Now I know how deluded I was after finding out first-hand why sleep deprivation in some parts of the world (allegedly) is a form of torture.

The last three weeks, with my children's illnesses, the heat, and nightmares, remind me of my 'introduction to insomnia' brought about by the birth of my beloved Elizabeth nearly seven years ago. She was a hungry baby who fed, slept and threw up in 30 minute intervals. For the first two months of her life, I barely slept as I was feeding her every half hour. 

The well-meaning midwife told me to demand feed and she would settle herself into a routine 'in a couple of weeks'. Hah! Two MONTHS later I was a nervous wreck so I put her into a routine myself (with the help of a well-known book) and, funnily enough, by three months, she and I began sleeping seven hours per night and we were both happy and rested.

Although things got better, the births of new babies continually replayed the same scenario albeit not as bad. Some nights I am up so much, I feel like a jack-in-the-box!

Four children later, eight hours sleep is as rare as gold in my life. Long gone are the days of going out until the wee hours of the morning on a Friday and sleeping until noon on a Saturday. Today, after two weeks of hardly sleeping, I am walking around feeling like a zombie. Last Tuesday, I showed up at mums and tods thinking it was Wednesday! I even forgot my name. 

I used to dream of a sun-drenched holiday under a blue sky on a white beach. Now I dream of one night – just ONE- in a hotel so I can sleep through the night, past 6am and through to at least 10am. I pray for someone willing to take my munchkins off me for 24 hours so I can sleep all night and spend the day dozing in bed.

Well, I'm off to bed now. Maybe, I'll get a full night's sleep tonight! 

Chapter 10: “The perils of the playpen...or not?”

After having my third child, I used to sit aghast thinking about my great-grandmother. She had ten children. That's six more than what I have! How the hell did she manage to take care of 10 children? 

I can think of several things that are different in my life that may have made her life with multiple munchkins easier than mine with my four. She had a much bigger house and garden. She didn't spend three-and-a-half hours walking nearly 3 miles on the school run. Her world wasn't riddled with the 'health and safety' police and yet it seems it was a bit less dangerous. She knew all her neighbours and their families...

But she also didn't have a washing machine, drier, car or dishwasher, or a television and computer to entertain her kids. So how did she and her children survive?

Then, as I was looking through some old family photographs, I spotted her secret. She had a playpen.

The reason I don't have one is, sadly, because when I was a naïve young mum with my first child, nobody else I knew had one. No one recommended them. I ended up thinking maybe Elizabeth would be scarred for life and in therapy by the age of five if I put her in a playpen.

Four children later, I don't know if my theory was right. All I know is that the fact my toddler is not in a playpen may well land me in therapy. When I start to do some house work in one end of the house, I can guarantee there is chaos on the other, and it's usually provoked by my one-year-old Adam. 

Take tonight for instance. While I was putting clothes away, I had to stop every three to four minutes to stop Adam climbing. He was on the desk, the dining table, the kitchen counter and the TV cabinet, to name by a few. Then, as I cooked dinner, Adam put the washer-drier, full of clean dry clothes, on the rinse cycle and switched it on. A few minutes later, I heard: 'Mummy, help'. Running to the bathroom I found him in the toilet (yes inside it)!

And the others, although older, are no better. Their antics are not as suicidal as Adam's but they can be just as destructive. I have found Rachel trying to colour the table cloth pink with a marker ('but mummy it's my favourite colour!'), JP trying to wash his car with Daddy's medicated shampoo, and even Elizabeth trying to give Adam a 'makeover'!

It's too late for me now. There is nothing I can do now except send people to naughty corner, have a quiet cry, and then clear up the mess. 

I am told it gets better. Well I certainly hope so because otherwise I may have to go out and find some rather large playpens!

Chapter Nine: “Going viral”

Sorry it's been so long since I updated my blog but in my house, when a virus hits, it hits hard and there are ripple effects.

The dreaded 'vomiting and diarrhoea' virus that was doing the rounds of Carshalton ravaged our household.  And as you can imagine, in the confines of our minuscule house with small children, no one escaped.

It began about a week after the Easter. And it was a really weird one that hit without warning. Everyone seemed fine, quite happy in themselves. Then, out of the blue just after dinner, Elizabeth complained of a stomach ache. Minutes later, she was sitting on the toilet. She went to bed for about 2 hours and then spent the night vomiting. And I spent the night changing sheets (she sleeps on the top bunk so she didn't always make it to the toilet on time.

The following day, JP and Rachel got it. In much the same way, one minute JP was quite happily breaking a house rule and jumping on the sofa (but mummy, it's a pirate ship!) and the next, he had a tummy ache and was 'pebble dashing' all over the carpet. Soon after, Rachel, who hadn't eaten much for dinner, exhibited similar symptoms. I rushed her to the toilet, narrowly avoiding a second carpet disaster. At one point, I was holding Rachel's head over a bucket and I could hear JP in the toilet. After cleaning up Rachel and putting her in her bed, I went to the bathroom and found my little boy sleeping next to the toilet... I felt really guilty then. I had never had to go through something like this myself. This was followed by another sleepless night of sheet washing.

By day 3, Elizabeth had been okay for more than 24 hours, so I sent her back to school. This was a good thing because I had 2 very sick children at home but it was a bad thing because the following evening, 36 hours later, Elizabeth was back with her head in the toilet. That was another trait of this illness, it comes back 1 day after you think it's okay.

With all the delays, the illness continued for 2 weeks, ending with my husband getting a mild form of it. At the end of it, I was exhausted but, for once, I did not get the virus. I'm not sure why or how, all I know is that I wiped every surface of the house with anti-bacterial spray every day. I also remembered advice given to me by a friend whose mum was a nurse: wash your hands all the time.

Now I'm off to the laundrette. All the washing created by this illness has put me so far behind in my laundry that I have to use 3 washing machines and 2 driers to catch up...

Chapter Eight: “On The Run”

As the new term begins, many of us look forward to having the kidlets back at school and out of our hair. But the end of the holiday is always bittersweet as we face the Dreaded School Run with much trepidation.

When my eldest was a baby, I often giggled at the phrase, school 'run'. Little did I know that it really is a 'run' as dozens of mums take out their pushchairs, come rain or shine, and speed down the streets of Carshalton with one thing in mind: getting the kiddies into the school before the final bell tolls. 

The athletic ability required for this event mirrors that needed for an Olympic pentathlon. Because the race does not begin as you leave the house. It starts when the alarm goes at silly o'clock in the morning and you start getting children ready, making packed lunches, and preparing breakfasts. You also have to make sure book-bags are in place, shoes and coats are ready, and assorted sundries such as notes and gym bags are there if needed. Then you begin the nagging process – a process which I might add is as painful for the donor as it is for the recipient. But no time for your breakfast, the stopwatch is going.

Once everyone is ready, you're off, racing down the hill. And they're off, hundreds of mums running up and down hills across streets, and round sharp corners with only one aim in mind: getting their children to school before the bell rings.... 

You don't want to be late, it means the school office and a telling off by the headteacher! No, not for the children, for you! It's enough to put anyone off school.

Understandably, there are actually some mums who have resolved to home-school their children rather than subject themselves to this daily torture. You go through the afore-mentioned stress, but if one little thing goes wrong -someone throws a tantrum, falls down on the way, or even needs the toilet as you are leaving- you're late! And then it's not the tantrum-thrower that gets told off: it's you!

It's an option I too am considering but for now, it's starter's orders for me. I'll say one thing for the school run: it keeps me fit!

Chapter Seven: “Totally deflated” 

Anyone who has ever had a pram with tyres will have had a puncture in it at least once. And I am no exception to that. But as Murphy's law would have it, when it happened to me everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the worst possible way.

It was sheeting it down and I had not had a particularly good day. Adam was about two months old and Rachel was going through her terrible twos. JP was not in a particularly good mood, having been kept from nursery due to a tummy bug. 

I was running late because madam decided not to co-operate when I said "let's go and pick up your sister." The weather was okay when we left, but halfway through the school run, the heavens opened up. I ran as quickly as I could trying to get JP to hurry (for some reason he thinks he's going to get more wet if he runs in the rain). I arrived at the school with one minute to spare, out of breath, frustrated and soaking wet. 

I picked up Elizabeth and set off but about 10 minutes into my journey, the pram got really difficult to push. As I looked down, I realised the tyre was flat. Suddenly this overwhelming sense of complete vulnerability came over me: I had no idea what to do or who to turn to. But there was no time to dwell on that. My kids were completely dependent on me so I had to pull myself together and come up with a solution.

Luckily there was a bus shelter nearby so I wheeled the pram there on two wheels and thought for a minute. My husband was in the City and would not be able to get home for two hours. I couldn't wheel the pram all the way home because it was too far: I'd  just recovered from a cesarean. My only option was to impose on one of my new friends.

I made my way to a nearby café and rang my friend who completely re-arranged her busy schedule and found someone to look after her children so she could come rescue us. When she came in, I dissolved in tears. I was fed up, wet, tired, and felt bad for my children who were also wet. But most of all I was overwhelmed by my friend's kindness. 

We took the pram to the ATS Euromaster (I know it's for cars, but I had no idea where to take a punctured pram tyre and I thought, 'this is a tyre place, may as well try' ) and then we went home.

The next day, another friend helped me get Elizabeth and JP to school and I got my pram back (I was right about ATS).  Life returned to normal but my faith in human nature had been restored by my kind new friends who had bent over backwards to help someone they barely knew.

Chapter Six: “Holidays are here and nowhere to go,” 

Why do playgroups close during school holidays? It's the time when we need them the most!

Yes, I realise that many people have older children they have to contend with but when  your eldest is six, it's really not fair to expect you to fend for yourself for nearly three weeks!!

I must admit I am looking forward to not doing six school runs per day. But I am dreading trying to find ways to entertain my children and keep them from destroying the house. In particular, I'm thinking of Adam, my curious one-year-old who started walking three months ago and refuses to play with HIS toys (he wants to play with MINE). He also has a hatred of tidiness so every chance he gets, he pulls everything out of boxes, bookshelves and cupboards.

Not content with walking, Adam has now started climbing. In the last week he has: climbed and fallen off a chair, scaled two other chairs with booster seats and tumbled down chair and all, got stuck several times between the chair and the table when I pushed the chairs in, attempted to scale a bookshelf, and tried to get on the kitchen worktop. Oh and it's only Wednesday.

But during holidays, even the Children's Centres are closed. I pay my taxes so why close these gems when I can actually use them! Come on, there's only so many times you can go to the park!

Not all of us have a spacious gardens and bags of money to go on holiday when the cynical  airlines, hotels and holiday resorts have put up their prices to try and squeeze every last penny out of us poor hardworking middle-class families!

And when you have four children you can't impose (almost) your entire family on your friends. Of course, there is an excellent place to find some activities for during these holidays: the 'What's On' section of this website. But some of these aren't cheap and what are we supposed to do the rest of the days!

So if you organise a playgroup, spare a thought for those of us who have lots of small children... keep it open!

Chapter Five: “Daylight saving, time wasting” 

Why can't they just leave clocks alone? We are no longer at war, we have electricity! 

And every time the time gets changed, my alarm clocks get completely messed up. Last winter, for example, my JP alarm clock nearly gave me a heart attack, jumping up onto my bed at 5am shouting Mummy, wake up! It's morning!!! And in the evening, Rachel fell asleep in her dinner plate (literally).

At the other end of British summer time, last week, I lost my morning alarm calls for  two days. Normally this would not be too bad, but during term time it's actually a bad thing. I wake up late thinking it's still the middle of the night and then I have to deal with cranky children who don't want to get out of bed. I have to wake the baby up and take him outside half asleep, which I find absolutely barbaric. 

It also means my morning routine, which is mad at the best of time, turned absolutely chaotic. We have been running to school, almost late for school every day!

And in the evening, I get endless arguments which start with 'But mummy the sun is out, you can't send us to bed yet! It's still daytime.' 

I'm sure the people who are deciding to keep this madness up have no children. They're probably fat, overpaid executives who don't do a day's work, get their nails done every other day and get up a lunchtime.

If any of you lot are reading this, think of us, the little people who have to get our little people up and running at an obscene time in the morning. Leave the clocks alone!!!

Chapter Four: “Mornings From Hell,” 

Getting small children suited, booted, and out the door on time is difficult at the best of times. But when you have four, it's nothing short of a military operation.

In a carefully orchestrated juggling act, you have to get the four washed and dressed, before releasing them back into the wild. The elder children, of course, do not require you to actually do it for them, but you still have to stand over them nagging them, which takes just as much effort. 

Then if you are planning to stay out the whole day, you need to ensure all the assorted paraphernalia required to feed and change your children goes in the car. This necessitates forward planning and actual written references so you don't forget the portable high chair or the baby cups, for instance, in the chaos of getting ready.

But things don't always go according to plan.

Take last Saturday, for instance when my four cherubs turned into monsters, playing a fun game of misdirection which would make the best hustler proud. Whilst I was dressing Rachel (3), the baby started dismantling the front room. Then, as I was dealing with that, JP (5), who was supposed to be getting dressed, went into his bedroom without a stitch on and started looking at a book. So I went in the room to nag him into putting his clothes on. By now, a fight had broken out between a half-dressed Rachel and Elizabeth who was ready and had been playing nicely by herself.  By the end of the operation, I was exhausted, hoarse, and an hour has passed. 

A similar process followed, with Mummy running from pillar to post, trying to get shoes and coats on whilst Daddy packed the car.

Surprisingly, and despite all my kids' best efforts, we were sitting in the car ready to go at the agreed time. Victory was mine! Or so I thought...

As my husband turned the key in the ignition, the car was stone cold dead!! We just had to laugh or we would cry: the best laid plans of mice and men, eh?

Chapter Three: “Dog Poo Happens (especially in Carshalton),” 

They're like small land mines, scattered around the streets of Carshalton. 

Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but dog poo on the pavement is the bane of my existence.

And it's blinkin' everywhere! A couple of days ago I spotted six pieces of poo just on my street.

When I walk, I have to scan every inch of the pavement, as sometimes it looks deceptively like a leaf. In quick avoiding action, I have to move children and lift prams so that we don't tread in it. And if we are unfortunate enough to not see one, it is an absolute disaster: it gets into the grooves of shoes and pram wheels.

Take the other day, for instance. We were walking home from a family day out in the park when bang! Elizabeth trod in it, closely followed by the back wheel of the pram and my husband. 

It was a small one but we had to wheel the pram  all the way home on two wheels and take shoes off before entering the house. We then had to remove the offending wheel and take it and the shoes to the bathtub where they were thoroughly washed with boiling water, soap, disinfectant, and an old toothbrush. Then the bathtub was disinfected and washed. My husband also felt like boiling his hands after the ordeal.

I'm lucky he was there, because when I am on my own, I have to take the children inside and leave them to their own devices while I get the dirty wheel in and clean it. I then usually find the baby has got into a cupboard or bookshelf and emptied it in two minutes flat.

I am now fantasising about ways of getting back the irresponsible dog owners who just let their dogs do their business in everyone's path. On-the-spot fines starting from £50 (just enough for a new pair of shoes)? Instant confiscation of the pet? Or maybe emptying the contents of my son's nappy on their doorstep, see how they like it when they step on someone else's excrement. 

Now I just have to catch one of the offenders...

Chapter Two: “Pancake Day” 

My Lenten penance began early this year when the chaos of Mardi Gras entered my house Tuesday night as I attempted to cook pancakes.

Usually, it's my husband who is tasked with this delightful duty, I'm not very good at it and he actually enjoys it – he can even toss them. 

But this year he was away on business so I decided to go for it myself, I mean how bad can it be, right? I had a plan. I bathed the kids early, prepared the toppings and even put them on the table before cooking. 

All was going to plan: the kids had taken turns mixing the batter. I'd made one pancake and Elizabeth (my six-year-old) was pouring the batter onto the pan for hers, when chaos walked into the room in the shape of a gorgeous baby.

While I was ensuring Lizzy did not catch fire pouring batter on the hot pan, I heard a kerfufel behind me. I turned around to find baby Adam, with his cheeky one-toothed smile, in front of my new washing machine which was lit up like a Christmas tree! I quickly removed him from the kitchen and ran back to my pancake which was smoking by now. I carefully flipped it over when my over-sensitive smoke alarm went off. I ran over to it and fanned it and then ran back into the kitchen just in time to stop JP, 4, from covering himself in batter ('Mummy I was only trying to help'). Then I escorted baby away from my washing machine (again). 

The next 10 minutes were spent running back and forth between the kitchen, the smoke alarm and Adam, who was determined to total the washing machine . And in that time I only manage to make one pancake. With three pancakes made, I decided I'd had enough. I picked baby up, put him in his high chair and told the other two to sit at the table. I made three more pancakes and brought them in.

By the time I'd finished the pancakes, dinner was half an hour late and I was an exhausted bundle of nerves.

But wait where was Rachel, my normally loud and boisterous 3-year-old? She was quite happily sitting at the table having eaten the last bit of cheese which I had grated for the pancakes.

Needless to say, next year, I'm leaving the flippin' pancakes to expert tossers...

Chapter One: “Moving to Carshalton,”

I love Carshalton. It is a beautiful, friendly (albeit expensive) place to live. It's the perfect cross between a big city and the countryside. There are loads of green open spaces for the kids to run around and yet there are enough cafés in the little High Street for there to be a 'Café culture'.

When I moved here a few years ago with my husband and three children I felt like I was going to a foreign land. I'd never heard of the place when he first mentioned it to me and to tell you the truth, I was a little frightened to be moving 'south of the river'... I couldn't even figure out how to pronounce it: Cars-halton? Car-shalton?

But Carshalton isn't as obscure as you might think. Did you know that former Prime Minister John Major was born here? Or that a young Cliff Richard went to Stanley Park Juniors? Or that Yardley perfume was originally made with Carshalton lavender? That the Lavender fields in Stanley Park allotments were cultivated by prisoners? Or that all those great big holes you see in the ground around the parks used to be streams and rivers and that they all dried up because the water table around here went down due to the increase in population?  

Soon I discovered that despite the weather – I swear it's colder and more damp here than in the rest of the Southeast – the people are warm and friendly, and that's what makes it such a great place to be. That community spirit which older people in London say used to exist 'in their day' is alive and well here. A fact I experienced when my fourth child was born.

Yes, you read right. I have four children. And the joys and struggles I have with my munchkins is what this blog will mostly be about. Hopefully this will entertain you and I'm sure you'll relate -whether you have one, two, or even five or six children (yes, I know of a Carshalton mum expecting her sixth). Please feel free to join in my rants or say so if you disagree.

So do you know any quirky facts about Carshalton? I've only been here five minutes, but I'm sure some of you have lived here longer, maybe even born and bred? I'd love it if you shared them with us. 

Look out for Mum On The Verge’s next entry, coming soon…

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