In pursuit of the happy medium

People constantly talk about ‘striking a happy medium’ and I’ve often wondered if this is, in fact, possible? So many factors would have to be finely balanced in order for this to be achievable and human nature is so inherently fallible (certainly in my case, anyway!) that somewhere along the lines the potential for error must arguably be too great!

I’m always utterly fascinated by family dynamics and I derive huge comfort from seeing that my parental struggles are by no means unique! The notion that the ‘second child’ is always something of a handful certainly rang true in our case, but then I’m the fourth out of six – so I’m not entirely sure how that should have affected my own personality or emotional development… Perhaps being ‘somewhere in the middle’ has left me ‘floundering’ (in hierarchical terms at least) and unable to voice my wishes / feelings with any degree of conviction? I suspect, though, that my colleagues might (ever so politely) disagree! 

I’ve written before about the sibling rivalry that pervades our home-life and (by association) my largely unremitting role as judge and jury. However, as the boys get that little bit older, I’m beginning to catch glimpses of certain (almost desirable) traits coming to the fore, and I find myself daring to hope that they will, eventually, manage to reach an ‘uneasy peace’.

The fact of the matter is that my boys couldn’t be more different. My eldest is shy, relatively sensible (he is a prepubescent boy, after all!) and prefers to observe first, then join in later. My youngest is self-assured, quick-witted, and impetuous – and causes us far more heartache as a result. In this regard then, I must confess that I am utterly guilty of wanting my boys to ‘strike a happy medium’. After all, being polite and unassuming doesn’t tend to fare all that well in a Saturday morning league match but then again, neither does one want to be the parent of a child for whom a red card might almost become a ‘badge of honour’!     

With the return of a third UK lockdown, I’m fairly confident that parents far and wide have been desperately striving for a healthy balance between ensuring that their children continue to make some sort of academic progress, whilst trying to protect their physical and emotional wellbeing too. For those parents also trying to hold down a job, it can feel like something akin to being a trapeze artist, where the margin for error is depressingly slim. It seems to me then, that the quest for a better work-life balance, the holy grail of parenting or indeed the happy medium, is something that is destined to haunt us all for many more years to come. If, on the other hand, you are fortunate enough to stumble upon it, please don’t be shy in coming forward; my liver and /or sanity might depend upon it!

Guilt: rite of passage, or wasteful emotion?

I’ve literally lost count of the number of times that I have sat worrying about whether or not I could have done things differently or handled a particular situation better. I try to tell myself that this is because I am constantly striving to improve. In reality though, I suspect that it has more to do with nagging self-doubt, and the awful realisation that life simply doesn’t come with a handbook.

I remember attending an antenatal class with my husband when we were expecting our first child. There we were, eager to learn the craft of parenting – and somehow naïve enough to think that three 45-minute sessions would suffice! We sat on the edge of our seats, earnestly focusing upon the midwife whose (unenviable) task it was, to talk us through labour and birth – which she did, with almost unseemly alacrity, and in glorious technicolour! As I glanced around the room, a real assortment of reactions was on display; from the overt smugness of a young (and very glamorous) couple, to the mild panic etched upon the face of a young single mum-to-be. And I don’t mind admitting that we were undeniably in the ‘Oh my goodness, what have we let ourselves in for?’ camp, clutching at thinly veiled humour to bolster our ever so rapidly dwindling confidence! One of the things that struck me then though (and haunts me even now) was the stark realisation that we would be taking on enormous responsibility and that, quite possibly, nothing that we did from this point onwards would ever be quite good enough. A truly sobering thought!

Anyway, whilst this facet of our lives is still very much a ‘work in progress’ (both boys mercifully having lasted an awful lot longer than any house plant hitherto entrusted to our care), it feels like an opportune moment to share our progress to date…

At nearly 35, and having recently lost both parents, I was blessed with the arrival of a beautiful baby boy. At a whopping 9 lbs 1 oz (and making his appearance in something akin to a Superman pose) he certainly made his presence known! However, as if by way of atonement, he was an incredibly easy baby – sleeping through the night at just a few weeks old and calmly embracing each developmental milestone at his own pace. And so, having initially been rather doubtful as to my suitability as a Mum, I began to wonder if I was in fact Mother Nature?! I became enormously adept at accepting coffee invitations and chatting amiably to other mums (often above the shrill cries of their new-borns) whilst my own little bundle of joy slept contentedly in my arms.   

Imagine my shock then, when a ‘real’ baby arrived some three years later… One that had an aversion to sleeping, feeding or in fact complying in any small way with my (evidently) feeble attempts at parenting! Literally overnight, I seemed to have gone from having a calm malleable pre-schooler to being that parent who feels duty bound to apologise on arrival for the chaos that will inevitably ensue as a result of her child being within a 5-mile radius.

I can’t tell you how many times I have left a soft-play centre, school playground or children’s party at breakneck speed (and with tears pricking my eyes) because my youngest has (in true wrecking ball style) ‘imposed’ his ideas upon his peers. Or frantically scoured the area for any sign of a little boy in a (deliberately chosen) bright red coat who has managed to take advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration and disappeared without trace, only to re-appear many long minutes later unashamedly proud of the utter panic that he has managed to engender. And each time, I have blamed myself unreservedly – not just for his distressing behaviour, but for the woeful negativity of my response to that behaviour too. Because for every loss of self-control, lack of empathy or act of belligerence, there will also be a spontaneous hug, infectious giggle, or funny retort just around the corner and I’m left wondering how on earth to strike a ‘happy medium’, whilst also reeling at the complexity of it all. 

Rather regrettably, 2021 has begun in very much the same vein as 2020 ended – peppered with challenges, uncertainty, and heartbreak. The ‘new normal’ at work is quite alien from the job I used to love, and ‘remote examining’ feels very different from being ‘on the road’ too, where meeting candidates of all ages and backgrounds was a large part of the attraction.

For once then, my New Year’s resolution has nothing to do with weight loss, fitness goals, or even a commitment to consume less alcohol – although the latter would certainly be beneficial! This year, although my role as a parent remains largely unchanged, it is my approach that I am hoping to modify, because I have come to realise that (whilst I never hesitate to berate myself savagely for every time that I have lacked the composure to deal sensitively with a situation) I frequently fail to acknowledge the successes too.

Perhaps ‘guilt’ is simply the mantle borne by all parents? A rite of passage, as it were? However, if nothing else, the last 12 months have demonstrated to us all that life presents numerous challenges (some entirely beyond our control) and I wonder, therefore, if we shouldn’t all be a little kinder to ourselves – and dispense with what my Dad frequently referred to as a ‘wasteful emotion’?        

If I could teach you anything

In a world where the desire for possessions and status often belies the value of priceless commodities (such as decency and integrity), I found myself wondering what it was that I would wish to tell my children – when they are of an age to be a little more receptive!  The following is written very much from the heart:

If I could teach you anything

If I could teach you anything, I’d urge you to be kind,

It doesn’t really cost that much to keep an open mind.

And every time you choose to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’,

You might just be affording someone the confidence to strike out

Into a world offering something good, to all who walk her path:

From the fiercely inquisitive toddler, to those in the aftermath

Of grief and disillusionment, where loneliness abounded –

Where the air grew dense with silence, though laughter had once resounded.

If I could teach you anything, I’d ask you to show love,

It’s surprising how such a simple thing gets passed down from above.

By showing someone tenderness, or a modicum of compassion,

You’ll help them healthy relationships to build, sustain and fashion

Into something all encompassing, a possession to be cherished –

Where once a sense of self esteem had very nearly perished.

With love you ‘pay it forward’, through deeds both great and small,

It needn’t be a luxury; it’s the right of one and all.

If I could teach you anything, I’d strive to give you hope,

I’d deliver the gift of resilience and tell you not to mope!

Things tend to have a curious way of working themselves out,

If you can just stay positive, and not succumb to doubt.

For every lesson painfully learned – obstacle or mistake,

There’ll be fresh opportunities, a new direction to take.

Just re-evaluate your goals, and craft your dreams anew

The most important message here is ‘Just be true to you!’

And when the ‘Day of Reckoning’ finally arrives,

I’m certain that our Maker will look with kindly eyes

Upon our life’s journey, our achievements big and small,

And tally up the times we chose to help those who’d otherwise fall.

“No man is an island” as stated by John Donne,

And when we leave this ‘mortal coil’ (our battles lost or won),

Remember that I loved you, far more than any other,

The most remarkable privilege, that of being your mother.       

Who’d be a parent?

I woke up just this morning, determined to be bright,

And headed for the shower before the morning light

Had fully cast its splendour, on all things great and small,

But then I heard a rumpus, beyond the bedroom wall.

The sound of toys being flung about – with large amounts of force,

Doors being slammed and insults yelled until their throats were hoarse.

You’d think a nation’s army had just been redeployed,

Rather than a ‘fall out’ between two headstrong boys!

And so, I ventured forward, much wisdom to impart,

My plan to help them rationalise, polite exchange a start,

And yet the scene unfolding was enough to make you faint –

A room in utter disarray, both children mid-complaint.

I tried to be the grown-up, all calm and in control,

But as the volume rose again my eyes began to roll.

With every accusation, a counterattack ensued –

My blood began to boil and yet the cause I still pursued.

I tried asking questions, to establish facts or fault,

But every time that someone spoke, it led to fresh onslaughts!

I prised my youngest’s fingers from around my eldest’s neck,

Yet still they were connected, but where? I’d have to check.

A punch was thrown, their nails dug in – it really wasn’t pretty,

And still the insults flew about, all moist and terribly ‘spitty’!

I used my strength to separate the writhing angry bodies,

All the while making futile threats to do with cancelling hobbies.

I sent them to their bedrooms for some quiet self-reflection,

And set off, once again, a calming shower my intention.

I let the water shroud me as the tension ebbed away,

There was still a tiny chance that we could salvage our day.

Once dressed and dry (with breakfast served) I spoke of the morning’s folly,

They ate and drank (half listening) no sign of guilt or worry!

I expected some reaction, some words, a gentle nod,

But all I got were sideways glances, a silent path they trod.

They left the table demurely as I tidied their things away,

And headed out to the garden, on scooters and bikes to play.

But before any time had passed at all their ‘friendship’ (recently mended)

Hit further subtle obstacles and the ceasefire promptly ended!