When I do bad parenting, it is because I have run out of patience. Or perhaps I woke up without any to start with. Impatient Mummy says: “Oh for goodness sake, it’s not that bad, get up off the floor.” She meets tantrums with anger, dawdling with manhandling, reluctance to eat dinner with ultimatums and pestering in the kitchen with “Get out of the way, go sit on the sofa and watch Numberjacks!”
Impatient Mummy often surfaces, I have noticed, when the Baby is providing the background music. Her post-modern minimalist compositions like “Ode to Hunger” and “I am being Ignoooooored” bore into the brain and render me incapable of rational thought. Sadly, the Toddler bears the brunt of my frustration.
This post, however, is about what happens when I approach his obsessions, tantrums and wheedling with a calm and reasonable frame of mind. It is about the moments I am proud of.
Regular readers will know that my son’s number-obsession has found its natural outlet in a love of the Numberjacks. (He’d known it all along: numbers are alive! They go on secret missions and solve ploplems!) For the past month or so I have had the greatest trouble persuading him to play with anything non-number related. One day this past week, determined to do something different, I put out the puzzle pieces of his former favourite Maisie Mouse puzzle out on the floor ready for when he got up from his nap. It has numbers on it as well as pictures, so I thought it would hopefully still catch his interest. I brought him downstairs and he surveyed the pieces on the floor.
S: Messy Mummy! Puzzle floor.
Me: Mummy wanted to do the puzzle, but she couldn’t without your help.
S: Try Mummy.
Me: I think maybe these go together.
S: Yes, Mummy. Amazing! Try 9, Mummy.
I pick up the puzzle piece that has the number 9 on it.
Me: Ooo, where does it go? Can you help?
S: Nex-a 5, Mummy.
He took over then and finished the puzzle off himself. Then he gleefully described what he saw in a wonderful bilingual Toddler-stream of consciousness: “10 nex-a 9. Maisie eendjes eten. Eendjes hap-a bread. [Maisie ducks feed. Ducks munch bread.] Maisie plant. Glijbaan . Maisie too happy!”
And so I learned Lesson 1: Patronising your Mummy is more fun even than watching Numberjacks.
Another brilliant new game that he loves and will play even if Numberjacks is on offer is ‘Mama poes [cat]’. We discovered it on a day when I managed to unglue myself from the sofa and relinquish my dignity. I crawled over to the Toddler on all fours and gave him a little nudge with my nose. He turned around in delight and exclaimed: “Hello mama poes!”
I meowed and gave him another little nudge. We had a little conversation where he asked me questions and I meowed in reply, which he thought hilarious, and I ended up reading him one of his favourite stories entirely in meows.
A week or so later I was having another good day and became ‘mama hond [dog]’. This turned out to be an even better game. The Toddler clearly knew that dogs like water, so he went into the kitchen with a pot he’d emptied of magnetic numbers and pretended to fill it at the tap.
S: Shhhhhhh. Here you go, mama hond. Drink.
I pretend to drink while he sits on the kitchen floor and observes with rapt attention.
S: Very loud, mama hond. Oh! Ding dong! Can that be?
He runs to the front door. I follow on all fours, wondering what is going to happen now.
S: Hello Joanne! [one of my friends] Come and see.
He runs back to the kitchen.
S: Mama hond, drink?
… and the game starts all over again.
And so I learned Lesson 2, which I should have learned in labour really: Get down on all fours. There is no place for dignity in motherhood.
My final bit of model parenting involves dealing with undesirable behaviour. Just so you don’t think I have swallowed Penelope Leach, my normal response to playing with the washing machine/throwing balls indoors/tearing pages out of books is “NOOOO! GRRRRRRRARGH!” followed by me stomping around doing damage control while the Toddler weaves between my legs saying calmly: “Mama cross.”
Today, however, when the Toddler picked up the receiver of our house phone and started dialling, I found myself saying the following: “I understand that you think the telephone is very interesting, but it is not a toy. You must not touch it. Why don’t we make you a telephone to play with? Shall we do that?” I held my breath while he considered this offer. Then he said: “Ah… yes!” We made a telephone out of an empty box with pens and sticky tape and a ribbon to connect the receiver to the phone. He used it to ring me in the kitchen and inform me that he wanted apple juice.
Lesson 3: Patience makes for better parenting. Craft is always fun.
Linking up to Magic Moments.