December 15th 2017
I am banned from my own living room. Honestly. As I type this I can hear Big Lad guffawing at the no-doubt hilarious antics of Richie Rich on Netflix and the grunting efforts of Little Lad as he drags every single blanket we own in there to make his special den. And I'm not included. I'm in the spare room. Where it's cold and un-festive. No cosy glow of a Christmas tree in here. No electric fire on full blast or soft sofa to nestle my Christmas-calories-don't-count bum into. Just a cold, hard office chair and the jarring white sheen of the laptop screen.
It is kind of my fault though. Well, probably definitely my fault.
The point is, I will never bloody learn. I will never remember that no matter how old my children get, no matter how far past the drooling baby / terrible toddler / psycho pre-schooler stages they fly, they will still sabotage even the tiniest of efforts I make to take a slither of time for myself.
So I'd done the school run, negotiated the (apparently obligatory) screen time, set-up the crafts table to make last-minute Christmas gifts for the teachers, debated the point of said crafts table until I was blue in the face, made the dinner, threw out the dinner, went to war over pudding, washed the dishes, tidied the kitchen and after all that . . . was delighted to find that the Lads sounded as if they were playing what you might call 'nicely' elsewhere in the house.
The living room was silent. A rare thing indeed. It was cosy and glowing and waiting - waiting I tell you - for l'il old me to curl up with a good book. Or a fave telly programme. Or even a quick look on Facebook. Whatever. It was waiting for me.
So I crept to the door and ever so gently pushed it closed, tip-toed over to the sofa and settled down for the long haul. No, I hadn't had my own dinner yet. And yes, there were probably a million other household tasks to get on with. But the rarity of this occasion was so alluring, so enticing that I couldn't consider any other option. I was going to sit down. And it was going to be now.
I'm currently reading Derren Brown's 'Happy' and, being a mindfulness teacher myself, am really quite taken by his approach to happiness inspired by the ancient philosophies of the ever practical Stoics. At this particular moment, whilst I could hear my Lads giggling and yelping somewhere in a parallel world that was NOT the living room, I started where I left off . . .
'Outcome lies beyond our control . . . we do well to remind ourselves, whenever we make plans, that things may turn out contrary to the ideal.'
That's when Big Lad crashed through the door, eyes glassy and cheeks fiery and repeatedly shouting "I didn't mean to do it, I didn't know, I was just paying The Lava Game!"
(The Lava Game, for those of you who are not acquainted with it, is when you assume the entire floor to be a pool of lava yet all other household objects are inexplicably immune to the ferocity of its heat and therefore the only safe places to stand / climb / sit / leap onto)
After dragging my eyes (and very soul) away from Mr Brown's book, I consequently heard that Big Lad had broken the washing basket in my room whilst dodging the raging pool of lava, not knowing "it was was so wobbly and weak". I firmly explained that he shouldn't have been playing in there in the first place and to please move his lava shenanigans to his own room. I left him to working out how he was going to get to his own room without burning his legs off and went back to my book . . .
'We are at the mercy of something outside of our control: whether or not the event happens as we would wish . . . The more excited we are, the more likely it is to fail to meet our expectations'
"Mummmmmeeeeee!" Wailed a creature from the bathroom. "Can you come and wipe my botty-bot-bot?"
"What?" I shrieked. "No Little Lad, you are six years old! You can do it yourself. We've been over this before!"
"Yes, but it's a really big one! I reeeeaaaaallly need your help this time." And then he started reworking Jingle Bells at the top of his voice using only the words botty-bot-bot, indicating he would be happy to sit there with his bare bits awaiting sanitisation for quite some time to come.
I dragged myself into the bathroom, my book sadly abandoned on the coffee table, and went to face the pooey, festive nakedness awaiting me. It was everything and more you could imagine so I will be going into no further detail on this one.
All that said and done, I returned to Mr Brown's idea of 'Happy'. Feet on coffee table, blanket draped cosily across my legs, smug smile playfully touching the edges of my lips . . .
'The Stoics would not deny us feelings of excitement, but they would encourage us to retain this little reminder that we're not ultimately in control'
I suddenly felt a tug on the blanket on my legs. No, not a tug, more of wrench. And then a thump right into the back of my knees which sent shockwaves of frustration up my spine. It was Little Lad's head. He was writhing about on the floor beneath me, still cheerily singing "botty-bot-bot" to the tune of Jingle Bells and forcing the blanket (that was supposed to be offering me a cocoon-like haven) into a sort of tent with my legs as the main support structure.
"What are you doing Little Lad? Mummy's trying to read a book. Just for ten minutes. Please?" Little Lad surfaced from his blanket-induced stupor and looked up at me from the floor. His eyes flitted from my no doubt tense, unfriendly face to the doorstep-like book I was reading, and back again.
"Is it a good book Mummy?"
"Yes, sweetheart, it's very good. I'm really enjoying it. Now, if you could just . . ."
"I think it will make a good shelf in my den." And he snatched it out of my unprepared hands, slammed it closed (losing my place, naturally) and shoved it down into the depths of the den we was so hell-bent on making.
Now here is the place where I like to think I would have offered to help Little Lad build the den, or crouched down there under the blanket with him and perhaps explained in whispers the main threads of happiness as explored by Derren Brown. Or maybe we could have eaten Oreos together (or the cheap ones from Lidl anyway) and sipped milk and gleefully sung Botty-bot-bot together and we could have melted into a mindful bliss accessed only from the joyous surrender of both of us to the helpless beauty of the present moment. Instead . . .
"I'm BORED, BORED, BORED!!!" Big Lad flung himself into the living room with such force I felt a blast of cold air strike my face. And before I could say a word the telly was on and Netflix was out in full force. Richie bloody Rich and his impossible blonde quiff and his annoying little friends and his uncanny ability to build up totally unrealistic expectations of fame and fortune in every child ever to set their eyes on this bloody programme . . .
That. Was. It.
"Right! Fine! You two have the bloomin' living room. It's yours! It's not like I wanted to read a book - on my OWN - for like TEN SODDING MINUTES!" And I swept out with what I imagine was a grand and dramatic flair but was probably actually just stomping and rude.
And that's how I got here. Since that moment Little Lad has been totally oblivious and has just seen my exit as an opportunity to build his imaginative empire of cushions, blankets, coffee tables and (my) books in peace. Big Lad has, however, been in to the spare room to see me three times (obviously pausing Netflix so Richie Rich doesn't get up to anything without him) and has suggested I should be banned from the living room until I'm: "calm enough to go back in again."
So I'm left to reflect on my spoiled-brat behaviour and wonder how on earth I can arrive at moments like this when I am supposed to be a mindfulness teacher. I am supposed to help others see how to remain calm and composed and able to be carried along with life as it is, rather than life as we want it to be. While that smug smile was playing on my lips and I thought the living room was mine for the taking, why didn't I actually absorb Mr Brown's words about not being in control, about knowing things often turn out differently than we expect, about being at the mercy of events as they unfold? How on earth, after nine and a half years as a parent, can I not know any bloody better?
Well, I suppose it's because I'm a human.
And thank the lord (or God or universe or stars or whatever your thing is) for humans like me. And humans like you. And humans like any of us who can admit when they are wrong and learn and absorb and retreat and digest and ponder and read books by Derren Brown and just generally know that this is all part of the experience of being human too. My kids need to know my limits, just as I need to know theirs. My kids know that I'll be in there any minute and the cheap Oreos will come out and we'll loll about on the floor in Little Lad's den and I'll pretend Richie Rich is amazing and we'll forget the time and bedtime will slip by us and there will probably be more bots to clean but hey - who cares? It's all part of the same rich experience we are blessed with each day.
Now if you'll excuse me, I am ditching this screen for a parallel world just across the hall.
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