The Real Reasons I was Cross Today

photo (6)

I got cross a lot today, kids, and this is why.

It wasn’t because you ran ahead out of sight.

Well, it was because you ran ahead out of sight.

But mostly it was because you tried to justify it, because you tried to absolve yourself, by saying it wasn’t you, it was the choo choo train you were riding, which didn’t have a stop before the bend so you couldn’t get off. I was cross because you kept insisting the train was real and it really wasn’t your choice, your responsibility.

And it wasn’t because you spilled the water.

Well, it was also because you spilled the water.

But mostly it was because you spilled the water and walked away and didn’t tell me, and by the time I noticed, the water had soaked through Mog’s Christmas, an exercise book, the Disney Princess colouring book, a cut out Elsa and Anna and a full set of lidless felt tips.

And I got even more cross because you didn’t seem bothered that all that stuff was ruined or that I was cross with you.

And it wasn’t because you wouldn’t tie your shoelaces.

It was because you didn’t even want to have a go. Because you said you would do it yourself tomorrow or the day after but I ‘had’ to do it today. It was because you wanted to take a day off from the responsibilities of being 5.

To be honest,

I also got cross because I too get tired of taking responsibility for stuff. And sometimes I wish you kids would make all that a bit easier by doing your bit.

And sometimes I am jealous,
and I wish there was someone that I could
hold my foot up to and say:
you do it.
I’m not in the mood today.
Can you please tie my shoelaces?

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And then what?

The Boy is 4 and a half.

“Mummy, what happens if you leave your car in the car park?”

“Eventually someone will call the police and they will take it away. Then it will cost you a lot of money to get it back.”

“But what if the police don’t come and take it away?”

“Well, then it will just stay there.”

“And then what?”

“It will just stay there.”

“And then what?”

“Well, eventually, after a very long time, everything falls apart. The car will start to rust and fall to pieces.”

“And then what, Mummy?”

“And then what what?”

“After the car has fallen to pieces, what will happen then? Can they fix it?”

This is the Boy’s new hobby. Anything interesting that comes up, he wants to follow the process through to its ultimate conclusion. What are the eventual consequences? My husband and I promised each other that we would take our children’s questions seriously, and give them a real answer – as long as it was age appropriate of course. So we do this: we answer his “and then”s ad infinitum.

Sometimes, the questions come from scientific curiosity.

Sometimes, from worries. He has recently discovered that there is such a thing as death, and it seems sometimes that he is checking whether a decision could lead to something disappearing from this world, either through death or by breaking beyond repair and Mummy throwing it away. If I warn him not to do or touch something, he wants to know what the consequences might be: if he did step in dog poo, what would happen? Would the shoe need to be thrown away? Would he get sick? How sick? If he dropped his Paw Patrol playset on the floor, would it break? Would Daddy still be able to fix it?

Sometimes you can see that he is assessing the risks and benefits of being naughty. So eating something off the floor might give you a poorly tummy. And then what? You might have a very sore stomach and throw up. And then what? Do you have to go to hospital? No? Do you have to go to the doctor? Not always? You can see the cogs whirring: this doesn’t sound too bad, perhaps a risk I could take if it is a very tasty bit of cake that has dropped on the floor.

Something I always liked about the Numberjacks was how they seemed to exemplify their age. Numberjack 2 is very two: everything is “mine!” This where our Girl is at. 3 wants to do everything herself and 4 likes rules. Numberjack 5 is the one who asks “What if…?” It would seem our four and a half year old has levelled up ahead of time.

While writing this, the Boy has turned up next to me, his head on one side, a proud grin on his face. I notice that he has tucked a small Lego piece into his ear and is balancing it there, waiting for me to notice his clever trick.

“No!” I shout. “Don’t put stuff in your ear! It might get stuck!”

I’m sure you can guess his answer.

numberjack5

Crying

I usually have a little ‘debrief’ with the Toddler about special fun activities we have done. Birthday parties, days out, visits to grandparents, toddler group, stay and play at the children’s centre – on our way back to the car I will ask him: “Wasn’t that fun? What did you do at [activity]?”

First, the Toddler will tell me about everything he has eaten. Then he will tell me about all the times he cried. Then, if I’m lucky, he will tell me about some of the fun activities that one would more usually include in a report of a special day. His reflection on a friend’s third birthday party went a bit like this: “Yummy food! And sausages, and chicken, and cakes, and squash. And slide, and fall over, and S cry. And big ball. Little boy take. S cry.” When prompted about some of the fun he’d had, he added: “Bouncy castle! Heeeeeeel leuk! [Looooooots of fun]”

It makes me quite sad to think that his distress at these little mishaps must be so deep that they are in the forefront of his mind when asked about his day. What really gets me is when he tells me about all the times that he didn’t cry. One day we were playing with chalk on the pavement outside our house. Predictably, I had to write all the numbers from one to ten for him. There were some other little boys playing outside, and they came riding past on scooters, one of them accidentally driving over a piece of our chalk. It was completely squashed. The Toddler stared at the broken chalk. I looked at the Toddler, holding my breath.

He didn’t cry. He did exclaim about it a lot. And then he started telling me, over and over: “Little boy squash chalk. S not cry.” I can’t quite describe why this was so heart-breaking: something to do with his awareness that he might have cried, but that it was an achievement not to, even though he wanted to very much.

Long preamble, but my poem today is about how very real and deep toddlers’ feelings are.

Not Cry

Your life is on a different scale
you cry
you wail
when the breadsticks have gone stale
when your plans and projects fail

A snatched toy causes genuine grief
its return
real relief
Childhood sorrow – is the adults’ belief –
may be intense but it’s only brief.

But we are wrong and you recall
that wrong
that fall
the time you almost lost your ball
or I didn’t answer to your call.

Your body may be only small
but your feelings are life-size
your spirits plummet
and they rise
and any grown-up would be wise
to comfort a toddler when he cries
to soar with him whenever he flies
so to win the precious prize:
to be an equal in his eyes.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Linked up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought

Too big, Mummy

The Toddler, although a mathematical genius, is a bit confused about opposites.

We are about to leave the house.
“Hat off, Mummy?”
“You mean you want your hat on?”
“Yes, Mummy.”

He is playing downstairs and wonders where Teddy is. He remembers he left Teddy in bed.
“Teddy beneden [downstairs], mama,” he says. “Get-it Teddy?”
“Do you mean Teddy is upstairs?
“Yes, Mummy.”

His latest confusing opposite is “too big, Mummy”.

He is playing in our new sandpit and filling his bucket with sand, tipping it over to make sandcastles. Then he wants to write numbers in the sand. We have some other moulds, and I ask him if he would like to make a crab out of sand perhaps? “No, too big Mummy,” is his reply.

What he means is: I am too little for that. What he actually means is: I’d prefer not to do that. I don’t think I can do it so I’d rather not try.

We come in from an outing and I suggest that maybe he could take his own shoes and socks off. “No, too big Mummy.”

At dinner time: “S, why don’t you have some cauliflower as well, instead of just picking out all the carrots?”
“No, too big, Mummy.”

Since his little sister arrived, he has become aware of the possibility that you might be too little to do certain things. We’d explain that the baby was too little to eat bananas, or grab things, or sing songs. Soon, he started telling us she was too little – but ironically, too little to do things that by then she was actually capable of.

Now he has started to apply this concept to himself. It seems to have given him a way of expressing insecurity, a lack of confidence – or sometimes just stubborn unwillingness to try something new. He can be a bit of a cautious boy. For about six months after a little mishap with a slide, he would climb up the steps to slides of any height with great excitement, only to peer down and decide: “No. Not.” and turn around to climb back down the steps again. He seems to have forgotten that reluctance now. But he does seem aware of his limitations, he is not one of these fearless boys who will throw themselves into new adventures regardless of the dangers and risks. He wants to try the more difficult climbing frame but insists I stay right next to him as he climbs up the first bit, then squeaks “Carry!” as he can see he is “too big” yet for the monkey bar section that comes next. I lift him over to the other side, where with great joy he zooms down the slide – something he has mastered and feels confident with. The monkey bars don’t put him off wanting to get to the slide. The difficult ladder section at the beginning doesn’t put him off, he wants to give it a go, but he wants me to stay close and coach him, help him decide where to put his hands and feet next. And I look on in amazement, because the last time I looked he had no hope of even attempting that climbing frame.

He is growing up and getting bigger all the time.

Special bed

Special bed

This week, he moved into a real bed from his cot. We were quite nervous about how he would take it. We talked about leaving the cot up in the room for a while, in case he was really upset and wanted his old bed back. There was no room, though, so we had to take it down and go cold turkey. My husband and I were both very cautious as children and very resistant to change, so our assumption is usually that our son will be the same. We prepared him that he would have a new bed that evening and billed it as a wonderful surprise. Once it was built, made up and all his toys had moved in, my husband got out his camera to record this moment – hoping that the Toddler’s reaction wouldn’t be: “No, too big, Daddy.”

It wasn’t. He rushed into his room to see his surprise and said: “Special bed!” He got straight in and wanted us to stroke his hair so he could go to sleep. Every morning now when I come up to get him, I find him sitting on the floor reading books and he greets me with: “Lekker slapen nieuw bed!” [Nice sleep new bed!]

He wasn’t too little or too big for the new bed, but just the right size.

Well.

Maybe I think you’re getting a bit too big. Don’t grow up too fast, little man.


Relief

Whenever the Toddler picks up a new phrase, he starts experimenting with it to determine its appropriate context. A sad one we had recently – which I mentioned here – was “Goway”. He used it to get me to move aside, or to stop interfering with his projects. I tried to introduce more appropriate language for each of these situations with some success, only to be blindsided by a new use for the offending phrase. I had told the Toddler off for something – drawing on the table, pulling Fat Cat’s tail, ripping the pages of a favourite book, something like that – and made it clear that if this happened again he would go onto the Time Out chair. He sat hunched up on his toy aeroplane and summed up my speech for me: “Goway S.”

“No!” I exclaimed, “Not go away S! I love you, I don’t want you to go away. I just want you to stop [using DVDs as shoes]. That’s all.”

His latest new phrase is much more fun. It’s “Phlew!” [phew, but I’m sure you spotted that]. His use of it is original but generally accurate enough. Here are two recent examples:

1. The Baby is screaming in her bouncy chair while I run around trying to find socks, coats, shoes, snowsuits and bags to go out for the afternoon. The Toddler is keeping himself busy rearranging Story Corner with mixed results. There are books everywhere and all the cushions are scattered around the room. I come back in with his outdoor wear and announce, just barely managing to keep my cool, that it is time to go to the Children’s Centre.

“Oh phlew!” the Toddler says, abandoning his interior decorating project.

2. I am baking pancakes for lunch. In good Dutch tradition I start with savoury toppings, so I serve the Toddler a cheese pancake. Not my best effort ever, it is slightly too crisp and not cheesy enough. He picks at it half heartedly and as soon as I go back into the kitchen to bake more, he abandons his plate and gets back to playing. I come in with the second pancake and a squeezy bottle of Dutch syrup.

His face lights up. “Ah! Syrup! Phlew!”

He’d obviously been worried that the whole pancakes-for-lunch idea was going to be a wash out, but what a relief! Mummy has delivered the goods after all.

3. The kids and I have come home from a trip to the supermarket. It is 5pm – that infamous time of day when normally very charming children shatter glass with their screams and empty bookcases in disgust at dinner being tardy. My husband comes out to help get the kids and the shopping in. I gratefully leave him indoors with the children while I go out to get more bags. I come back in. The Baby is crying and the Toddler is jumping on the sofa. He jumps off and runs up to me.

“Oh phlew! Mummy back!” he says.

“He is expressing the sentiments of the entire family,” my Husband sighs.

“Phlew” now joins the ranks of the Toddler’s other favourite phrases, which include:
“Oh bovver!” – “Dear, dear” – “Goodness me!” – “I did it!” – “Come back here” – “Come and see” and “Oy!”

Tantrums – and Mind Reading

I had mentally prepared myself for the Terrible Twos. I thought there would be fearsome battles over “I want another biscuit!” or “No, I don’t want to go to bed!” I thought I would win them with Logic and Being the Parent and by standing firm. I was not prepared, however, for shrieking tantrums caused by my son’s disappointment at a lack of evolutionary advancement on my part.

Let me explain.

The Toddler is lying facedown on the – not very clean – floor, screaming, kicking, crying. There are actual tears. If I come near him, he starts to mow his arms about to try and hit me. Just before he launched into this rather theatrical display of displeasure, we had the following conversation:

Me: Would you like porridge for breakfast?
Toddler: No, Mummy.
Me: What would you like to eat then?

Cue tantrum. What is going on?

It seems similar to the tantrums he has when, out of blue, he says: “Again, Mummy,” without specifying what; or “Pleeeeeease, Mummy,” without asking for anything. Attempts to clarify what he wants dial up the rage. He does not understand “What did you say?” or “What do you want?” and seems to interpret them as ‘Mummy will not acquiesce to my request’.

The Toddler has always been quite prone to extreme frustration. He would shriek and cry in the days when he could not move around yet but desperately needed to reach a particular toy. Later on, building a tower or putting train track together would reduce him to tears. In fact, I had to teach him to say “Mummy, help!” very early on, to deal with the constant shrieking that accompanied a task he had set himself but could not complete due to his own physical or developmental limitations.

Now he is frustrated at mine. Is he waiting for me to develop mind reading skills?

Slowly, the breakfast-options-tantrum subsides a little, and now when I come close his arms don’t wave about but they stretch up to me. He wants to be held. I kneel down and he climbs onto my lap where I hug him close until he stops sobbing. Over my shoulder, his eye falls on the remote control: “TV, Mummy?” he asks sweetly.

Everything is back to normal.

Setting an example

I have been excusing myself some less than ideal parenting lately. I am tired from the baby waking in the night, frazzled from tandem screaming, physically worn out from the constant lugging around of two children and all their gear… It is easy to come up with excuses. And of course you need to cut yourself some slack otherwise you would go crazy.

But.

It hit me the other day that I am my son’s model for acceptable behaviour. For example, how do you deal with frustration? He looks to Mummy for inspiration.

Mummy drops a fork on the floor that has just been washed up and makes a loud GRRRAAARGH! sound, as if it is the end of the world. He comes running over:

“Happened, Mummy? Matter, mummy?”
Stressed out Mummy says: “THE FORK FELL ON THE FLOOR!”
The Toddler comes over and strokes my head. “Oh, Mummy. Nummumind.”

He vocalises his own frustration by shrieking and rolling on the floor. I then tell him that it really isn’t all that bad: look, the magnets do stick together when you turn the train round. How can he learn that it ‘isn’t all that bad’ if I myself go mental over a dropped fork?

He has also started to parent himself, treating me to a little replay of my own favourite phrases. At bedtime he runs up and down the corridor with a toy broom. To himself he says: “S, time-a bed! Come on, S, hup hup [chop chop].” He takes just as much notice of his own nagging as of mine, and keeps on cleaning.

What brought me up short was when he started saying “Go-way,” to me. I was quite shocked, and told him that was not kind, and to say “Excuse me,” which he duly parrotted. I tutted to myself, wondering where he had picked that up from.

Then I was in the kitchen cooking, stirring pans with one hand while holding a screaming over-tired baby in the other. Hungry toddler came in, demanding snacks like a broken record.

“Get out of the way, S!” I say in irritation, “Mummy is trying to cook. Out of the way.”

I stop and listen to myself. I did not say excuse me. I was not kind, or even polite. Tired and frazzled I may be, but how will he learn to be kind and considerate if I cannot keep my temper over little annoyances?

Keeping morale up is a bit of a high wire act when it comes to parenting. You want to reassure yourself that you are doing a good job and not perfectionist yourself into an early grave, but still set yourself standards so that your children grow up to be loving, considerate people. In that vein, I would like to leave you with a bit of wisdom from a parenting course I attended a year or two ago:

All the most important, foundational input into a child’s character happens in the first three years of its life – [cue panic: almost missed the window!]

– but you only need to get it right 30% of the time for a child to grow up a happy, secure and well-rounded human being.

Memory

When the Baby was still just a topic for discussion, I was visiting a friend who had just had a second baby. She seemed quite harrassed and overwhelmed – her toddler was going through the usual “you are trying to replace me and I will have my revenge”-phase, the baby was needy and her husband had just gone back to work. As I watched and reconsidered our own second-child-plans, she imparted a piece of advice a friend had given her that she had found helpful: when they are both crying and you have to choose who to go to first, choose the toddler. The baby will not remember this time, but he will.

When a year or so later I found myself in the same situation – attention seeking first child, crying baby, husband back at work – I often repeated this to myself to help me prioritise. Things are easier now, but I was thinking about the memory aspect of it again recently: when my son is older, he will remember parts of what happens to him now. The very happy bits and the very sad bits. My own earliest memories are from when I was about his age, and they are as follows:

1. My mother was heavily pregnant with my brother. We were standing in the doorway to my grandmother’s hospital room. She was in bed knitting a pink jumper. That was the last time I saw her, she died before my brother was born.

2. I was sitting in my cot, merrily cutting up a little book with a pair of scissors I had snuck into bed with me. My dad came into the room and got very angry.

A little sad to see that both these memories are negative. One is sad – although I wouldn’t have realised it at the time. Perhaps it was more scary, seeing my grandmother like that. The other is one where joy turns to fear and guilt, as the cool new thing you have discovered turns out to make your favourite people mad at you.

I have noticed recently that the Toddler’s memory is improving. He can recite exactly how many giraffes, peacocks, birds, rabbits etc. go in Maisie Mouse’s train in one of his favourite episodes and he talks along to his favourite books. I was prepared for that, as the endless repetition must be etching these stories into his brain. When we were in the supermarket in the Netherlands, however, he startled me by casually ace-ing a pairs game on a touch screen computer provided by the store (I know! How amazing is that!). I had demonstrated a few turns, then I said to him: so where is the other umbrella/tree/house? He gave me a bit of a “what is wrong with you?”-look, like I was obviously a bit thick for needing to ask, and touched the right card every time.

For Christmas, the Toddler got quite a few puzzles, his favourite being a Maise Mouse floor puzzle with 24 pieces. He had some help the first time, but from his second attempt he has been doing the puzzle all by himself, with increasing speed. At first I thought it must be excellent spatial awareness. This might be the case, but it was something else as well. I listen to him chat to himself while doing the puzzle. He puts the two halves of Pirate Maisie together and then mutters: “mumber three… Ah, anotis [there it is]!” and connects it up to the piece with the number 3 on it. Then: “Treasure….” The treasure chest is joined up. “Flower…” And so it continues. And I realise he has learned the puzzle by heart and is reconstructing it from memory.

Most touching is his new memory of recent past events. It was snowing yesterday, and the Toddler had spent a happy half hour outside with Daddy and Mummy throwing snowballs and making snowcastle with his bucket and spade. That evening at bedtime Daddy gave him a bath, then said goodnight and I took over for the bedtime story. He shouted one last goodnight to Daddy, then turned to me and said: “Papa! Sneeuw! Mummy! Throw it. Haha. S happy.”

I really hope these are the memories that last into adulthood, and not the fear or the sadness: Daddy, Mummy, snow and happiness.

Let’s talk about feelings

This is the second instalment of my observations of the Toddler’s emotional development through his speech. He has started using more adjectives of late, such as ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘high’, ‘heavy’, ‘lovely’, ‘nice’ and various colours. Most recently, this has extended to adjectives that describe feelings.

He knows “happy”. At least, most of the time. “Baby happy, Mummy,” he will say, when she is screaming at the top of her lungs. I am not sure if this shows a lack of understanding of the word, or whether he is sketching the situation we need to arrive at. At other times he uses happy in the right context so this one always baffles me.

“Grumpy” is very amusing. When his will is thwarted, occasionally the offending parent will be rewarded by the Toddler theatrically stomping off into the next room, folding his arms – Teddy still clutched under one of them -, pulling a textbook cross-face and saying: “Grumpy!”

He can do angry as well, but in Dutch: ‘boos’, pronounced like ‘boast’ but without the ‘t’. On his Maisy Mouse floor puzzle there are many images of his favourite mouse, all of them smiling apart from one. In one corner, Maisy is wearing a pirate costume and a scowl (perhaps we should imagine her saying “Arrrrr matey”?). The Toddler points at this picture every time he makes the puzzle and explains: “Maisy boos”.

He also knows that Mummy gets cross. It is a little confronting to see how this defines for him when you should get angry and what that looks like. He has clearly been studying me, as any outbursts of anger from me at his misdemeanours are observed with keen but detached interest at the time and greeted with: “Mama boos.” Clearly, he does not feel this has anything much to do with him, nor does he see it as a reason to change his behaviour. More about that some other time… The other day I witnessed the outcome of his observations when he knocked over his little shopping basket with toy food. In a voice full of exasperation he said: “Mantit lond. Boos! Lond! Boos!” [Basket floor. Cross! Floor! Cross!]

Clearly, I get cross a lot about him throwing/dropping things on the floor.

I thought that was it for his current range of emotions, but this morning there was one more. The Toddler was making his sister’s toy giraffe (or “waf” as he calls it) dance rather vigorously on Mummy’s laptop.

“Gently, giraffe,” I said, “Careful with the laptop.”

The giraffe drooped. “Waf sad,” the Toddler said softly.

Come back!

I have been logging my son’s language development and studying it with great interest ever since he started speaking. However, it occurred to me recently that his speech is more than just an amusing reflection of how we, his parents and grandparents, talk: what he chooses to talk about reflects his social and emotional development as well. This is the first of two posts in which I study his language to find out what is occupying the Toddler’s brain at the moment.

One of his current preoccupations is with the location of people and things. He spends half the day trying to establish where things are. In the morning I am greeted with: “Ahhh Mummy! Back!” I was gone, but I have returned, and he is pleased. Once out of bed he starts suggesting toys that might come with us (“mee”, in Dutch).

“Mama, Teddy mee? Mickey mee? Cars mee?”

As I am usually half asleep still, I agree to whatever he suggests, and he heads for the stairs with his arms full of cuddly toys. The cars go in the pockets of my dressing gown. On the landing, he will start to establish where everyone else is: is Daddy downstairs? Is the baby awake? Is the baby coming downstairs with us?

These questions are obviously based on what he considers to be reasonable expectations, as they are slightly different after his nap. When he exits his room after his lunch time sleep, he will want to know whether Gran is downstairs, and perhaps Opa and Oma. When I explain that they are all in their own houses, he hopefully suggests that maybe Teddy can come to Gran’s with him and Daddy. Again, I have to burst his bubble: he is not going to Gran’s with Daddy, but to the supermarket with me and the baby.

“Teddy mee supermarket?” Yes, okay, Teddy can come to the supermarket.

While he plays, location is also all important. “Oh no! Where grapes gone? Ah, anotis [=there it is].” Or: “Ofant [elephant] hiding! Hide-n-seek!”

The location of his favourite people is also a matter of constant concern. If one of us leaves the room for even just a few moments, to go to the toilet for instance, the Toddler will say a formal goodbye. When you return, you are greeted with a joyful “hello [insert name]! Back!” If he does not agree to you leaving the room, he will follow you and say: “Come back here!” Today he was getting fed up with me trying to leave the Duplo to go and wash up, so he grabbed my legs and said very decidedly: “Mummy not zis way anymore.”

So what do I think I can tell from this about his emotional development? He seems to be coming to terms with the fact that the people and toys he loves are not always with him. I get the feeling that he disapproves of this situation in general, but that he is willing to put up with it for short periods of time, as long as you come back.