I did not think I would have children. Throughout my teens and early twenties the memory of my vampire younger sister, non-sleeping demon that she was, smeared in baked bean juice with peanut butter in her hair, burned brightly and indelibly. I remained stony hearted in the face of babies; I would far rather touch a dead pigeon, or deadly spider, than a baby - they seemed a bit gross to me, and invariably ugly. I did not see any up side to babies, unlike dogs, or horses. Disturbed sleep, filth, incontinence, deadly boring non-conversations about some or other biscuit, or puddle. No. Decidedly it was not for me.
And yet, by some weird alchemy, I got ecstatically, deliberately pregnant at twenty six, by far the first person I knew to go down that road. That story is for another day. For these purposes, I will only say that my younger self was quite correct. Disturbed sleep, filth, incontinence and deadly boring non-conversations were all indeed part of the process. They weren't the hardest parts either (anyone else have a total, intractable clash with their partner on vital aspects of parenting? No? Just me then). But it was right, and wonderful (and awful) and mercifully, very funny. Funny is important. I had not realised that babies and small children could be such a lasting, ever-changing source of hilarity. They are funnier and funnier. I am ridiculously privileged to have them.
However I am not here to sing the praises of my children. I have just squirted ketchup on my foot and ketchup is my least favourite thing in the world ever. I have had to take my sock off and am risking my toes with the weepette and still shuddering in a post-traumatic fashion. It has made me want to list the worst things about having children. The small things that suck my will to live from every pore simultaneously.
1. Ketchup. I would never have imagined I would live in a house containing ketchup, let alone handle it. It makes me retch, even touching the bottle. And yet here I am, face contorted in a rictus of disgust, wiping ketchup off my big toe and wishing to erase the last five minutes from my memory forever.
2. Sand. I hate sand so much. Oh god, how I hate sand. I have mentioned this before. Why must small children like sand? Whenever I step into a sandpit, I get goosebumps all over. The sound of flesh against sand is simply the most hideous noise ever, worse than unglazed china. Wiping sandy feet, ugh. I have come face to face with so much sand in the last seven years. I am praying for the day they don't like it anymore. Please can this be soon?
3. Putting socks on. Why must children's socks be so small and unstretchy? And their feet so unyielding, and always facing the wrong way? Why do they still make me do it when they are old and in perfect control of their limbs for the purposes of playing Mario Party Eight? Why do I give in? I have no answers. But there is a design fault.
4. Public swimming pools. Children love splashing in that delightful soup of old plasters, bleach and verrucas. I hate it. Hate hate hate. And then, adding insult to injury, the icy changing rooms. The lost pants. More of the cursed socks. And then small children, giggling delightfully, opening the door to the changing room and running away as you stand wearing a grey bra, one sock and no pants. I'm going again tomorrow morning. Pray for me.
5. Splitting up fights. Siblings. You are boring. I don't care who did what to who or who had the larger crisp. It makes me die inside. Again, I have said this before; but this is exactly what the worst bits of parenthood are; repeating the small things that drive you insane over and over and over.
6. Packed lunches. You will not be surprised to hear that this too, I have mentioned before. More than once. It goes like this: you never remember you have to provide the packed lunch. You either have no bread, or nothing to put in the bread. Sometimes you have neither. You fight with stone cold butter and lack of imagination. You cram it all together. It comes back wholly uneaten, but thoroughly messed around with, so crumbs, yoghurt, old pieces of ham, banana and jelly are all mixed to an appealing slurry-like texture. You must then clean the mess out and like Sisyphus, start again. It would be quicker, cleaner and equally nutritious to fill the lunch box with stones. I might do it next time.
I could go on, but I'd much rather you did it for me...