The Daily Grind

Thomas has a fair amount of routine and structure in his life these days. He’s at nursery for three days most weeks. We go swimming and to toddler music classes. We have some semi-regular play dates. But there are still days – sometimes at the weekend, or more often on a Thursday when all of my local mum-friends work – when we find ourselves with no plans at all and absolutely nothing to do.

And those are the days where I traditionally panic and freak out just a little bit, wondering how on earth to fill the endless hours until bath time, and wondering just exactly what other parents, especially those who stay at home full time, do with their days.

For a while I believed that I needed to be actively “doing” something to enrich Thomas’s life, or give him some learning opportunities or, damn I’ll admit it – to keep up with what I perceived other parents were doing for their children. As a consequence, Thomas has had a lot of trips out to farms, zoos, National Trust houses and gardens, museums and fun days. I don’t regret any of those trips at all, and Thomas has invariably had a blast. We all have, in fact and “Family Days Out” are rapidly becoming one of my most favourite bits of being a parent. But I’ve also come to the realisation that we don’t necessarily need to be doing things of this nature all of the time; That to do it too often dilutes its novelty and value and that Thomas can learn just as much from activities at home. So as the summer progressed, the number of days spent just hanging out at home increased.

Except, “hanging out at home” over the summer months has included regular trips to the fantastic park and playground that is literally opposite our house. Walks through the woods to the lake and country park beyond, all starting just a few minutes from our front door. And when we truly are at home, pootling around the playhouse on our patio or digging and splashing in the sand and water tray. It’s true, it seems, that the great outdoors provides endless opportunities to entertain an energetic, inquisitive toddler.

So, now that autumn seems firmly upon us, I find myself with a renewed sense of fear about how to fill the empty days. Now that park trips are rained off and it’s becoming a bit cold for outdoor water play, I find myself beginning to worry whether it really is good for Thomas to spend an entire day within the four walls of our house.

Days inside the house sometimes include an art or craft activity, but at 22 months Thomas’s dexterity and attention span limit to a large extent what we can do. Likewise we occasionally have a lot of fun with baking projects, which for Thomas simply means pouring pre-measured ingredients in to a bowl and then stirring with all his might. We also play music and bang along with the maracas and tambourine, or dance around together. But most often, a day in the house will mean trains strewn across the living room floor and frequent bursts of frustration when something isn’t working, or isn’t how Thomas wants. It will involve more television than the pre-parenthood me probably would have imagined. It will include the reading and re-reading of books – currently mostly Thomas and Friends books, with some Julia Donaldson thrown in for good measure. It will involve Thomas pulling more and more toys out whilst I try to teach the idea that he should put one thing away before adding more to the mix (and this being largely ignored). It will, I’ll admit, involve a few periods of time where my son is left to his own devices whilst I sneak online (and by sneaking, I simply mean me sitting on the sofa rather than the floor!) or do something that I want to do as opposed to what he wants or what needs to be done.

To be honest, it feels like a grind. It feels uninspiring. It lacks variety and I don’t think it meets the definition of exciting.

Yet, Thomas is happy. Completely happy, bar the tantrums – but exciting days out don’t prevent those either – they come with the territory.

So why can’t I shake the feeling that it isn’t enough? Why do I still feel that I let my son down by not engaging one hundred percent with his games at all times, despite knowing full well that children need to play independently? Why do I find myself playing a game of competitive parenting in which I’m the only competitor, trying to compete with the imaginary ideal in my head where other parents have days filled with carefully structured activities?

And most of all, just what exactly do other people really do all day at home with their under-twos?

Playing with trains

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