It is sometimes very hard to stay calm when managing a toddler. At the moment, the Toddler has conjunctivitis, which he has aggravated by constantly rubbing his eyes. He has drops for his eyes, moisturising cream for around his eyes as the rubbing has caused eczema to flare up, and antibiotics to prevent it turning into cellulitis. The drops need to be administered every two hours, the antibiotics every four hours, the cream as often as possible. I also need to clean his eyes regularly with cooled boiled salted water and cotton wool, and apply steroid cream to the eczema he has on his arms, legs and torso. This would be a full time job if you were doing it for yourself, but if you also have to cajole a two year old into agreeing to all this man-handling and fussing, life becomes a little tiresome.

Even something as mundane as getting out of the house is a major operation. Sir only wants to wear one particular pair of shoes and one particular coat, regardless of the weather or whether the coat is in the wash, and where ever we go he needs to have his entourage of toys with him: “Teddy mee [come along]? Mickey Mouse mee? Bus mee?”

Tonight, I foolishly thought that, at 2 years of age, my son would be fine at a carol service that was taking place around bedtime. It was only short, he’d managed it fine last year, there were lots of people we know well and there were mince pies for him to nibble. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Last year he couldn’t talk. This year he chose all the quietest moments to loudly demand our attention: “Mummy, bus! Mummy, number eight! Daddy daddy daddy!!” After every carol and before each reading he would make use of the silence to point out: “Singing!” And when a kind friend thought she’d help out by taking the Baby off my hands, he freaked out and said: “Baby! Mummy, wawa Baby gone? Mummy, zoeken Baby [look for Baby]!” Also, all his favourite people, most importantly Daddy, kept standing up to do readings or sing in the choir, which prompted him to run over to them calling out their name and demanding cuddles.

By bedtime, I am done with Toddler-wrangling, and I just want him to meekly follow me upstairs, brush his teeth and go to bed so my husband and I can have some time to ourselves. Unfortunately that is rarely what happens. As I write this, I can still hear him chatting and singing to the toys that had to come to bed with him, probably about all the stories that he wanted me to read or the games he still wanted to play. Occasionally, I hear him call out: “Muuuuummmeeeeee!”

I, however, am on strike. I am eating crisps and drinking a glass of cheap white wine and I am in denial about the Toddler’s awake-ness. Surely soon he will get tired and go to sleep? Surely?


Routine: my guilty confessions to Gina Ford

Before my son was born, we decided that we wanted to get our baby into a routine. My husband, who prefers underlying principles to rules, read Gina Ford and said: “Great, let’s apply the general ideas but not try to follow her timings to the second, because this woman is clearly insane.”

I, however, am one of those people who navigates their way through the flood waters of life by clinging on to rules like a life raft. I am not saying this is good. In fact, I would say this is one of my big failings, as I am prone to getting so caught up in the little details that I fail to spot the big picture, like, say, the reason you are actually following the rules in the first place.

When my son was a baby I tried not to get too hung up on Gina’s precise timings, but she was so adamant that unless you followed her routine to the letter, things would go wrong, and if your baby was not content it was your own fault for not doing as she told you. Aside from rules, I am also a bit of a sucker for Experts. So the Toddler, a baby at the time, got into a lovely routine that looking back I am more than happy with, but along the way I did nothing but stress and beat myself up and clock-watch and shed the occasional tear of frustration at a nap that was too long or too short etc. etc.

With the Baby, I still can’t make up my mind what to do. I am not trying to Gina Ford it. I am trying not to Gina Ford it. Instead, I decided I’d go with a more general ‘rhythm’ rather than strict timings – as suggested by the Baby Whisperer, because I am still a sucker for Experts – of eat, play, sleep in 3 to 3 1/2 hour blocks. I try to watch her and put her to bed when she seems tired. I want to let her sleep for as long as she wants to, up to the next feed. Then I try to keep her awake for about 2 hours before bedtime. That is what I want to want.

In reality, I cannot help clocking how long she has been asleep for and comparing it in my head to Gina Ford’s advice. This morning I let her sleep for an hour and a half before I woke her up, 45 minutes before her next feed was due. That was me incapable of making a decision for either my own plan or Gina Ford’s: Gina would say no more than a 45 minute morning nap is needed, so it was too long. My planned approach would have said: you woke her up well before her feed and it was difficult to rouse her, she obviously wanted to sleep for longer, so let her. In total, today, I let her sleep for four and a half hours. Gina would say that was too much daytime sleep at this age, especially if I then guiltily admitted that I had let her sleep until 8am that morning and that she was more than ready for bed by 6.15pm.

Something in me says: if she wants to go to bed, let her. If she wants to sleep until 8, let her. If she wants to nap for ages, let her. There will be plenty of times when she won’t want to do any of that and you’ll wish you’d taken the opportunities to have a break and some one to one time with the Toddler when you could. She sleeps quite well at night, she feeds, she is happy and content, she settles herself to sleep without rocking, singing, white noise, hand holding or anything. All she wants is a quiet, dark room, and her fingers to suck. This is not a baby who needs more regimenting. This is a baby who is quite happy and self-sufficient.

Eventually, I am hoping I can gently encourage a reliable routine that I can plan my work around. And I also hope this reliable routine will include a lunchtime nap that roughly coincides with my son’s, so that I have time to do some work in the middle of the day. But at 12 weeks, I’m sure my son was no further in being ‘reliable’ than my daughter is now, even though I had put a lot more hard work into his routine and shed many more tears over it.

In the meantime, I will be the one in the corner with a clear view of the clock, pretending not to watch it.

In which Thin Cat Suffers

7am. The Toddler is feeding the cats endless handfuls of dry cat food until their bowls are overflowing. The cats are appreciatively nomming away, their tails relaxed on the floor. The Toddler spots them and wants to see what happens when you step on tails. What happens is that Thin Cat runs away as if the hounds of hell are after him and hides under the table in the dining room.

The Toddler is in pursuit.

Toddler: Oh Mummy, quick! Catch Thin Cat! Thin Cat! Eten [food]!

He spots the cat hiding under the table.

Toddler: Cat tafel [table]. Naughty cat. Thin Cat eat. Not hiding table.

He crawls under the table to retrieve the cat, who runs off, back to the kitchen. The Toddler is once again in pursuit.

Toddler: Yes! Cat honger [hungry]!

As soon as Thin Cat sees the Toddler coming, he runs back to the dining room to hide under the table once more.

Toddler: Haha! Fun! Catch you!

Peers under table.

Toddler: Boo! Dinosaur, grrrrr.

Toddler: Oh, gone!


The Toddler has now reached an age when the rules of social behaviour become more meaningful and important: saying please and thank you, sharing your snacks and toys and, of course, saying sorry when you have done something wrong. Please and thank you have so far been very easy to implement. He loves using these phrases, perhaps as they get him drinks and food, and he will repeat: “Thank-oo, Daddy” like a broken record until he gets a satisfying response, like “You’re welcome”. We are having a little more of an interesting time with the concept of “sorry”, however.

We started off teaching him to say sorry by stroking the injured party’s head, back when his speech was a lot less well-developed. This worked quite well and my husband and I would proudly report to each other the lovely, heart-melting moments when he would employ this gesture to apologise for his misdemeanours.

Then I started to hear him say sorry. He would push past me and say “sossy, Mummy.” However, when he had done something wrong and was asked to apologised, he still used the headstroking method instead of the word. I then realised he had picked up one of my little idiosyncracies. One of my persistent mistakes in English is that I will say “sorry” instead of “excuse me” when I want to pass someone. I thought initially that this was a language issue, but while writing this I realised that it was in fact a personality one instead: I seem to feel it is unconscionably rude of me to ask people to move aside. Now, I am passing this on to my toddler, who now thinks that sorry = headstroking and excuse me = sorry. Woops.

His use of the word has developed from there and the jury is still out on whether it is going in a healthy direction. I have noticed that, in addition to using ‘sorry’ for ‘excuse me’, he now apologizes to me when he bumps into something. Again, this is cute but not quite right. Then a few days ago, the Toddler and I were playing with his new alphabet stamps. He was in extremely high spirits and crazily excited about the letters he could recognise: “X! E! M! S!” So excited, that he knocked several stamps on the floor. When the X stamp fell for the umpteenth time, I wearily bent down to pick it up.

“X! lond! [floor] Gotit X?” he asked anxiously.

I returned the stamp and he carried on with his alphabetting. A few minutes later he suddenly said: “Sossy mummy. Sossy mummy,” and stroked my head at the same time. Clearly, this was an apology and not an ‘excuse me’.

“Geeft niet,[That’s okay]” I said, unsure what he was apologising for.

Apparently, my uncertainty showed, as he went on to explain what he was sorry for: “Tempels lond.[Stamps floor]”

He was apologising for dropping things on the floor by accident. Not bad.

Then yesterday he showed things were definitely moving in the right direction. He was waving his arms around enthusiastically and accidentally bumped his sister’s head in the process. I wasn’t even sure he’d noticed, but he stopped what he was doing, stroked her head very gently and said: “Sossy, baby.”

Developing grammar

Thrilling topic, I know, but as a half-baked linguist I am continually fascinated by how my toddler’s language is developing, so I hope you will forgive me a slightly indulgent, geeky language post.

Lately, he has started making sentences with three words instead of two, now with a very definite structure: subject – verb – object. For example, in Charlie and Lola yesterday, Sizzles the sausage dog ran off with a cuddly rabbit. The Toddler’s reaction: “Oh no! Sizzles got-it rabbit!” Of course, this sentence has two objects, but we will gloss over that – to the Toddler “gotit” is a complete verb.

His use of verbs is quite interesting to me as well. Mostly he uses Dutch verbs, whether the sentence is predominantly in English or in Dutch, and he only uses the infinitive. He will say: “Daddy maken car?” [Daddy fix car?] when the wheel has come off his favourite car. I have given other examples in earlier posts, such as “baby pakken” and “baby huilen!” He does not yet change the verb to show who is doing the crying or picking up, just the verb itself will suffice.

In English, he does one of three things with his verbs:
1) He uses the -ing form: “Mummy, number seven dancing!”
2) He puts “it” at the end: “Sizzles gotit rabbit” or “Daddy fixit car?”
3) He adds a Dutch ending to an English word to make it into a verb. This one is my favourite. Most recently he wanted to “play-en”.

When making words plural, it is the opposite way round. Whether the noun is Dutch or English, he puts an -s on the end. Only problem is: he is not quite solid on the reasons for adding the s and will apply it randomly, just to see what it sounds like. Although occasionally he will use it correctly: “Two cats!” or in the right context but with the wrong language: “Leeuws!” [Lions], most often we find that he expresses his joy at seeing his favourite people by grammatically multiplying them to make more: “Daddies! Omas!”

The Two Week Itch

A wise pastor of our acquaintance imparted a valuable piece of knowledge when our son was born: nothing with a baby lasts longer than two weeks. We clung to this during the long, screamy nights. What he neglected to mention, however, was that this goes for the good stuff as well.

It has once again proven true with our daughter. After a week or two of being inconsolable and needing to be rocked and marched up and down the stairs and held and sung to in order to drop off to sleep, she discovered she had fingers to suck on and now she just wants you to put her in a darkened room so she can drift off peacefully by herself.

I say “now”, but for the past day or two I have been wondering whether she has hit the Two Week Itch again. Sleep has most recently been preceded by some heart-rending crying as if she is in pain. Last night she wouldn’t settle at bedtime, which is very unusual, and after a few minutes of this very worrying cry I picked her up and stroked her back. A huge burp. And then peace. I put her down and she went to sleep.

When the same thing happened for her most recent nap I started to wonder whether this is her new fad: the pre-sleep-burp. We will see. Whatever happens, I think it is always wise not to get too excited about the good times with little babies – they do like to surprise you.

Improvised Tea Party

You don’t need a tea set to have a tea party.

The Baby, The Toddler and I are staying at Opa and Oma’s house in Nininand (The Netherlands). There was great excitement this morning at seeing his special toys again – though gaps between visits are long enough that he plays with them differently every time we come. “Blocks!” the Toddler shouts, making a beeline for a trolley with coloured bricks. He builds a tower with all the cylindrical blocks and then another, separate tower with all the rectangular ones.

Then he hands me a block and keeps one for himself. He pretends to munch on it, keeping a gleeful eye on me to make sure I’m joining in. I, too, munch on my block. “Mmmm, kerlucious!” he models for me. It is apparently a delicious brick. Then I am given a flat brick. I ask him whether this is a slice of ham, but he uses his own flat brick to scoop something out of the other one.

“Ah, are we eating yoghurt?” I ask.

He nods. “Yoghurt.” The flat brick: “Pleepel.” [spoon] We eat our pretend yoghurt and it is good.

Then his eyes light up with an even more exciting plan. He runs to get more blocks and sets them up on the sofa next to me. “Opa.” They are for grandpa. He sets up an identical set on the armchair. “Oma.” Those are for grandma. Neither of them are present in the room – they are at work. Then he goes to get Teddy and carefully sits him up.

“Teddy zitten billen. [Teddy sit (on your) bottom] Back soon.”

The Toddler gets Teddy the right bricks and arranges them in front of him. Then he decides more is needed. “Goo Teddy, dlinken.” [Good Teddy, drink] Teddy gets another brick to drink. Slowly the wooden delicacies pile up around Teddy. The bear is clearly very hungry and thirsty.

I sit there watching while sip my cup of tea-block and wonder why we bother buying him expensive toys.


Teddy joins in the tea party


When my daughter was born, I was slightly wrong-footed by my feelings for her. My very first thoughts were: “Phew! I never have to do that [i.e., labour] again!” My husband and I also repeated that to each other out loud with great relief a few more times as the midwives cleaned the baby up and brought her to us. Second and final child. For sure.

Then she was in my arms and I was: proud, elated, moved, excited and also still kind of high from the entonox.

I also thought: hm, she’s a little wrinkly and very small.

I think in those first few days I loved her just as much as I’d loved my son in his first few days – but then I didn’t have anything to compare it to. When The Toddler arrived to meet his sister the next day, zonked out in his pushchair from all the excitement of a sleepover at a friend’s house and seeing Gran in the morning, I felt overwhelmed with the two whole years’ worth of ever increasing love I had for him – and by comparison our new baby daughter seemed like a stranger. So new, so small, so unfamiliar. She slept and cried and fed. The Toddler giggled and sang and chatted and played and imagined and wept and shouted and ran and cuddled and did Monster Voice.

The Baby was hard and painful work. I loved her, but I loved my toddler.

Now the really tough earliest days are over, I find that my love for her has grown and grown and grown. She is smiling now, and making gurgly happy conversational sounds. She follows objects with her eyes and looks around with keen interest at everything that’s going on around her. She has filled out and looks more and more like a little person. I now find myself looking forward to seeing her smile in the morning, loving spending time alone with her when the Toddler naps, randomly hugging her because she is just so cute.

Right now, I feel on top of the world, not just because I am getting my usual amount of sleep again most nights, but because whereas before I had just one child to delight in, now I have two. I can’t wait to see what they will both be like tomorrow, and next week and in a year’s time and on into the far future.