Emily Howlett: If having a baby is like having a Science lesson, toddlers are like Maths

Posted on March 7, 2014

Would you like to know a secret? It’s a very uncool thing to admit, but, back in the dim and distant past, I was really good at school.

I don’t mean behaviour-wise (we will skip over that part, purely because I don’t want my son to find this, fifteen years from now and be all, “Mum! You can’t EVER say ANYTHING about my behaviour again!”).

But, academically speaking, I was good.

My only grade at GCSE that was lower than a B was the one where I didn’t turn up for the exam. (Darling boy, if you ARE reading this, I have a perfectly valid reason, just ask your father, and don’t you dare miss a single one of yours.)

Anyway. You get the idea. I quite liked doing well, particularly because nobody expected me to. I was the only deafie in a mainstream school, and only the second one they’d ever had there.

I was given no support at all, so I enjoyed confusing them by being good at some stuff. English and Science were my particular favourites, because they just made sense to me.

I think a lot of that was down to the fact you can pretty much figure them out by yourself, reading the textbooks and doing experiments (yes, setting fire to the sixth form spider plant project was a vital experiment).

Maths, on the other hand, was the absolute pits. Unlike sentence structure and photosynthesis, nothing about Maths makes sense to me. I would never manage the allocated work in lesson time, and would be finishing it during my dinner on top of the five pages of actual homework.

Every lesson, every simultaneous equation, every bloody little sine rule or times table; I struggled with them all. To this day, Pythagoras should avoid me in a dark alleyway, or he might find his hypotenuse relocated.

And now, the parenting analogy you’ve all been waiting for.

Parenting a baby is hard. It is knackering. You learn to function on little sleep, little time to yourself and, sometimes, little interaction with anyone else but your tiny human. But it makes sense.

Somewhere, in the part of your brain that is still living in caves and fighting off sabre-tooth tigers, you know that having this baby meets with some deep ancestral approval. (Before anyone gets in a strop, thinking I’m saying we should all have babies RIGHT NOW! No. I’m not. Get over yourself. Anyone who resists their animal urge to breed and lives a life untainted by vomit and nappies is just as valid in their choice as those of us who don’t. In fact, their caves are much nicer to visit, and they tend to have better hair, too.)

But, when you have the little squirmy thing, no matter how hard a time you go through, it does make sense. Even when it’s 3.00am and my rational brain is wondering what? how? And most of all, WHY?, something else is telling me that having this baby makes perfect sense, and being awake at 3.00am to look after him also makes perfect sense.

Having a baby, to me, is like studying English. I’m on the right wavelength. I’m exhausted, and I smell like a drain, and I’ve forgotten what clean clothes are, and, also, what is that large piece of furniture upstairs, with the pillows and the sheets?

But it’s fine, because babies have reasons for their behaviour, and they follow some kind of rhythm. When they do things, or want things, we can understand why. So when it comes to babies, with a little bit of graft, I reckon I can get a Pass in motherhood. Maybe even a Pass With Merit…

Ah, but.

I don’t have a baby. I did have one, and it was wonderful. It was English and Science and bunking off behind the sandpit because you’ve finished your work early. Now, I have a toddler. And a toddler is definitely, absolutely, 110% Maths.

They just don’t make sense. And at least Pythagoras had the decency to write down some rules, even if they are basically bunkum.

Toddlers have rules, but they are special rules. They are things like:

“Bread belongs in the DVD player.”

“One must always put one’s fingers in poo, of any kind.”

“Leave no television screen unsmeared!”

A toddler can also move faster than its parents, which isn’t scientifically possible, and yet remains true. A toddler will learn to give you a kiss, but one day will also decide all kisses must be administered to the nose, via the teeth. For no apparent reason.

A toddler with a deaf mum will soon learn to get her attention by tapping her. But, again, this is far too reasonable a solution for him, he’s a toddler for goodness sake, and so tapping will soon no longer be enough.

Now Mummy’s attention can only be gained by leaping on her from great heights, launching the contents of the toy box at the dog or by hiding in the cupboard that, up until two weeks ago, was thought to be child-proof.

To quote some doctor dude of child wrangling; “Toddlers are built to a design that is perfect in every way except they have all the activity of an international airport, but the control tower doesn’t work.” Well, at least that explains why pears are simply the only food that can be consumed today, but tomorrow they will be the devil…

Fortunately, I am still in the same position I was in back in those dim and distant days. Now, with a baby, I do the same thing I did then, with the Maths homework. When it all gets too much, and I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong, I get my parents to help me. After all, they’ve done it all before. Besides, my dad knows how to Google.

And there’s another weapon my little man has, which the foolish Maths teachers never considered using. He’s got that smile, he’s got those cheeks, and, boy, he knows how to use them. If a times table could beam at me like that, it wouldn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense. I reckon I’d love it anyway. I reckon I’d think it was perfect in every way, too.

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer, horsewoman and new mum. Emily used to be found all over the place, but motherhood has turned her into somewhat of a self-confessed homebody. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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