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Saying no, saying yes, and other stories

There’s not been much sleep in these parts lately. Have I mentioned that? You know, that I’m tired? No? Well, not for at least ten minutes anyway. Yes. Tired.

I have learnt that my ability to perceive myself as a good mother is directly proportionate to the amount of sleep I’m getting. Probably because my ability to BE a good mother is directly proportionate to the amount of sleep I’m getting. So, on both counts, I’ve been pretty crap this week.

Three or four hours of sleep a night and long days breeds a particularly snappy, shouty, emotionally fragile kind of mummy that neither me nor Kai are particularly keen on, and there has been a lot of snapping and shouting this week. Added to this, both of us have had to adjust to a new way of being around each other in the last few months. It’s just us now, you see, there’s no one else to help ease the tension. I am having to find ways of staying sane when your main source of company, and for long, solitary days and nights at a time, is two and half, and Kai is having to learn that I can’t provide the same focused attention available to him at the weekends, when he has an army playmates in the form of his Dad and family to help keep him occupied.

All of this is making for some particularly fraught weeks at the moment: lots of fallings-out, and the need for making-back-up-again. Good job we love each other, hey?

Motherhood has never come particularly naturally to me. I’m not that well suited to it, needing quiet and having a particularly fundamental need for my own space and to devote time and energy to my own projects and ideas. I have a tolerance level of about three seconds when it comes to the kind of involved, repetitive play that toddlers so enjoy, and Kai has especially intense needs in that department, being a child that never sits still, needing focused concentration to communicate with him and craving stimulation as desperately as I crave the peace to sit and snooze or read. I find I end up saying ‘no’ a lot: “no Kai, that’s enough now”, “no Kai, you’ll have to wait”, “no Kai, mummy’s busy”. We both end up frustrated and fraught, and I end up feeling guilty. It seems like he has the most fun when he’s away from me at the moment. I feel like dull mum, paling in comparison to the excitement and energy he gets from everyone else in his life. I’m not always sure what I’m really giving him most days, aside from fulfilling his basic needs.

But, BUT!

We’re getting there, on the good days at least, we really are. I’m learning to give a bit more, and Kai’s learning to take a bit less and somewhere in the middle we’re starting to find a better balance. I’m a great believer that it’s important for children to learn to play on their own, and NOT need an adult to direct them or play with them the whole time – it gives their imaginations a chance to be really unleashed without adult constraints. When I’ve had enough sleep to think about it properly, I realise that my ‘no’s don’t always have to be a source of guilt – I can view them as  something really positive. And I’m learning to include him more – we’re becoming a little team, me and Kai. We clean together and cook together and wash up together and sort laundry together. When I have errands to run, we make it an adventure. Kai helps remember what we have to buy, where we’re going, and we don’t rush home, spending time dawdling along the pavement seeing what we can see.

Our Day

What I’m learning is that saying no is okay, as long as they’re are plenty of ‘yes’s too. After a morning of ‘no’s after a long night of little sleep, I’m really trying to set aside some time to say “what do you want to do Kai?” and answering “YES!”. I’m finding that even if I’ve said no a hundred other times that day, it’s the yes’s that define what kind of day we have, even if it’s just the one. It’s giving us, in between the frustration and the fallings out, some real gems of time together.

Every day this week when I’ve asked him what he wants to do he’s signed the same sign: PAINTING! And so that’s what we’ve done. Lots and lots of it. I know I tend to harp on a bit about Kai and his art work, so forgive me my indulgence again. I guess when you have a child where so much is focused around what he’s NOT doing, it becomes extra-important to celebrate the things he DOES do. And this is something that makes Kai special in my eyes just now, not because of any particular extraordinary skill, (although I think for two and half he’s got quite an eye on him), but because it’s something that he enjoys so much, and which gives me so much joy to watch.

This week we’ve been using objects around the house to copy in our paintings, toys mostly, and he’s loved it. We talk about what colours things are, what shape, we mix our paints, I watch Kai daub and splat and dot, and for half an hour I get to feel like maybe I’m doing something right for once.

So here’s Kai’s painting of his toy Noah’s Ark, done all by himself while I did my knitting and we talked about what he was doing. I’m not a believer in the religious meaning, but we like stories, me and Kai, especially ones with animals in, and when you get to a paint a rainbow, and conjour up all the hope and light that that brings with it, well, I think it was just about perfect for us yesterday.


(P.S. The pants were clean, promise – had fallen out the laundry basket. Failed to spot them till after I’d saved the photo. Oh well, cheap thrill for you there. You’re welcome.)


  1. I would say that Kai is unusually talented in the painting department! Jonah is year older and his paintings don't resemble their subject matter nearly so well. Sounds to me like you're a great parent! I was feeling guilty for not painting with my boys enough while I read your post. This parental guilt thing is such a strong urge – I think we should really all cut ourselves some slack and accept that we ARE good parents. Easier said than done though…

  2. Fantastic painting. I particularly like the giraffe! Kai has real talent.

  3. Fab post – I needed that this morning. Properly uplifting and he quite clearly has talent in spades. The parents of that poor ‘This Is Me’ child on my blog can only dream of such artistic ability …! xxx

  4. I think Kai has a great talent for painting, Baba does nothing remotely similar to that yet. I also say a lot of no's but am like you I think that they have to play on their own it is the only way their imagination will grow. And I too think that Baba has much more fun with other people, but Mr L pulled me up on that the other day saying that was rubbish its just because you can't see the fun they are having when you are surrounded by no's. It's why I started my posterous blog just to write three things down a day that we have had fun doing so that it isn't always about the nos it really helps.
    I think you are doing a fab job at the moment xx

  5. I hate saying no too, but it is just a part of life I guess. I can be a bit slow to get going in the morning and for some reason if we are upstairs all Piran wants to do is get hold of stuff in my bedroom that he is not allowed! I hate it because every day seems to start with me saying no and telling him off. I tried bringing toys up to his room but it is very rare that he will play in there.

    So I have to say no to myself first thing (NO I can't stay in bed just 20 minutes longer!), make us get up and go downstairs. He will then play happily with his toys and we have a much nicer start to the day.

    Oh and I am so very impressed by Kai's painting. Superstar!

  6. This probably isn't PC, but now I'm an old fart with teens I don't care, so I'll say it anyway. I struggled with this age too. I struggled with babies… struggled with toddlers and really didn't flourish as a mum until much later. I didn't want to play lego, or read a book 15 times. I really found it hard. Then they went to school, and we both got our own time, and they were pleased to see me at the school gate, and told me loads of stuff, and it all started to click. And now? Now is fabulous. I get peace – they can make their own dinner, tell ruder jokes than me, sometimes even laugh at the ones that I make… they don't need 'looking after' or entertaining, really, and they're so much fun! (I still say no a lot, to be fair…).

    That's not to say that toddlerhood isn't fun, and I'm not wishing your life away, it's just different fun. And like all things, there are horses for courses. I think what I'm trying to say is that everyone struggles with certain bits. And it doesn't mean you're a bad mum. It's just that all of a sudden you'll go 'oh, I LOVE this bit'. Honest. xx

  7. I have come to embrace no. I don't say it just to say it but I think it is good for kids to learn to wait and to understand that you can't have everything you want exactly when you want it. Life just doesn't work that way.

    We are painting up a storm here too. Oh spring where are you?

  8. Very wise words from English mum … I totally agree. I have teen and toddler( oh lucky me I hear you sing;)) and it’s sometimes hard on either scale. But toddlers are their own special kind of unrelenting hard work and having to change the game literally every five mins is exhausting ! And I have to admit I have been wishing milly’s life away a bit myself lately… Shame on me ..,.. We all just need a long break I think and our very own nany McPhee , we can but dream x

  9. I can so relate to your post right now – my ability to cope and be a good mum are directly related to my sleep quota. And when I wake up (or just get up, being already awake) knowing I'm startingthe day half dead and on an energy deficit it just adds to my grumpiness. I feel most days I'm running on empty and I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired (currently have mastitis – again- and Ruby has a vomiting bug so sleep jot an option). BUT, there are glimmers of good and we just have to cling to them and know they'll get more and more as we get more and more sleep (oh we can dream!). Artwork A1 by the way!

  10. You describe yourself very much as I feel I am; I need space and quiet and there is precious little of it. I feel like I spend more time shushing them away than playing. I was dreadful when I had just tinies, though I enjoyed 3 and 4 as small for much of the time and was looking forward to 5.

    Your art and the things you've been doing just look wonderful… wondering if we can yt convert you to home ed ;) I know it sounds odd but I do better with mine around me all the time than when I get time off! You sort of get used to it :D

  11. asmallhandinmine

    I am so like you, in that I like my quiet and my space to get on with my own things, Im not really a people person and its taken me a while to teach myself to give complete attention to my son and do just what he wants to do, no matter how repetitive I find his play. Being a single parent really does make it harder, because its just the two of you. It is so much easier in the summer though, when youre not stuck in the house so much! Kai's painting is amazing, and so much better than my 4 year olds!

  12. Hi Josie, I love what you say about the 'yes' being what defines the day. I find that too. When I look back on what we've done, especially on days when the rest of life gets in the way, it's very often the 'yes' which stands out as the magic part, the part when we really connected and had fun – even if it was just a short part of the day.

  13. philfirefly

    Anyone out there enjoyed ''Five Minutes' Peace'' by Jill Murphy? Not forgetting the rest of the series, which beautifully sums up being a mummy. Kai's lovely elephant reminded me! (African, obviously. You tell by the big ears. I think.) I also love that parrot doing a little pirouette on the edge of the boat!

  14. i am also a great believer in children being able to play independently. but my problem is i find myself saying No to the exciting and messy games they are playing really happily and creativly. i have been making a conscious effort to embrace their mess. it's nothing that can't be tidied up. a great post and an impressive painting

  15. Shireen

    i am amazed how you are doing all these things with your son! what a lovely mummy you are! my parents were separated also when my brother and i were young, and i never really understood how many hats my mother had to wear and how exhausting it must have been for her until i became a mother. its so hard, but you sound like you are creating some wonderful experiences for your son, even though you are running on a nearly empty sleep tank!

  16. regardsrainbow

    I agree Shireen, Josie you are an inspiration! I trust you're going to keep all of Kai's paintings too – somewhere safe until he's older, it would be a fab 'diary' for him to look back on in his teens!

  17. Kai takes after his mama – a true artist! I think mums often fulfill the more 'functional,' needs for their little ones day in day out (not always but often) and that can leave us feeling drained, lack of sleep aside, which only exacerbates everything! Others may seem more fun to our kids in our tired eyes at those moments. But look at all you are doing with Kai, fun and functional. So much. And there is a reason he keeps looking to you, even if he doesn't articulate it – he loves you!

  18. Quite an artist for one so young! Obviously taking after his Mum x


  1. Pass it On! A world-changing meme | Sleep is for the Weak - [...] mine and Kai’s lives and is a huge part of how we both express ourselves. Encouraging Kai to paint …

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