I always say to people who ask what it’s like being a parent that it is a world of extremes – you’re either bursting with love or want to jump out the window and run away with the overwhelming nature of it all. A few weeks ago I had a bad parenting day. Felicity was going through a clingy and upset phase, I think down to a mixture of teeth and frustration at being able to toddle a bit but not really walking well. She was similarly grumpy just before she got the proper hang of crawling. We’d been to get her first shoes in the morning, which wasn’t a roaring success – she hates shops if not in a trolley where she can peer about – and randomly having her feet prodded did not endear her to shoe shopping either.
I then made the error of deciding to pop into Toys R Us next door to look at potential first birthday presents. I assumed they’d have a little section, like our Early Learning Centre does, where she would be able to have a little crawl and, you know, play with some toys. How naive. I hadn’t grasped the whole ‘it’s a massive warehouse with too much stimulation with nothing she can actually play with to maximise parental stress and likelihood of impulse buys and therefore our profits’ element of the shopping experience.
By the time we came out Felicity was so tetchy and fresh air starved that I decided I couldn’t face half an hour of screaming if I stuffed her into the car so went to get a coffee for me and a snack for her before heading home. This then meant we were late for her lunch, then she wouldn’t nap and was generally quite cross about what a terrible day I’d given her. I was very tired and stressed by the time she had another meltdown when I gently dared to try to get her to nap as she was overtired and unhappy.
I’m sure a lot of parents can identify with these days when there’s nothing overtly wrong, just timings have been off, the baby didn’t want to do what you wanted/needed them to participate in. After all, they get no say on whether they feel like going shoe shopping. You haven’t quite got the magic ratio of doing stuff/going out/food/sleep right. As a result you’re worn down by constant demands on you and feeling like you’re failing as a parent as all you want is to have five minutes of peace. By this point they’re so overtired peace is the last thing they can give you. These days are fairly rare for us but still draining when they arrive, always on a day when I’m least equipped to deal with it as well!
This particular day did get better though because after failed nap attempt number three I reached for a book: A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. I inherited this copy from my grandmother as she used to read it to me when I was a little girl. I’d put it on Felicity’s book display although thought it would be one for when she’s a bit older. Will had picked it up after she pointed at the cover and discovered she loved it.
If you’re not familiar with the book it follows a black cat around lots of dark creepy places only to discover (spoiler alert) a very adorable mouse all tucked up in bed at the end. I find it completely charming and it’s a great slightly spooky but not really scary book for Halloween as well. I think it’s generally classed as a book for older children although the one sentence every page turn works well for Felicity as the story moves quickly and there is a lot to look at thanks to the beautiful illustrations. She also gets the point of the plot- the first time Will read it and she reached the end and saw the mouse she squealed with delight. She still grins and points when we get to the last page.
All this is a very long winded way of taking a moment to appreciate how magical sharing books can be for both babies and parents. On this day, still sitting in her darkened ready-for-nap-bedroom we must have read that story five times over as she gleefully squealed at the end. Seeing her enjoy it so much immediately relaxed me as she was happy again, and sharing something I’d loved as a child is a special moment of bonding. The whole day went from tiring and stressful to joyful and content.
I wanted to record it on this space as this isn’t something I explicitly realised would happen when sharing books with my child. I think a lot of people would say they read for pleasure, escape and distraction – and children need that too. I obviously had it in the back of my head that I wanted her to enjoy reading. But I also know I’ve been guilty of thinking too much about the utilitarian and educational ‘you can learn a, b and c’ side of things. It was a much needed reminder of the magic of reading.