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.



Wees and poos in

Potty training. We’re having another go.

The Boy recently turned three, and I had sort of in my head decided that I would have another attempt at getting him out of nappies soon after his birthday. If you are struggling with potty training, please read about my first attempt, no really, it will make you feel better.

I will write more about his birthday later, but for now the most important thing to note is that he got three cuddly Numberjacks. They go absolutely everywhere with him now and are even rivalling the much loved and abused Teddy. So one evening the Numberjacks were getting ready for bed, just like the Boy, and he presented them to have their nappy changed. I started pretending to change 3’s nappy when I suddenly stopped and said: “Hang on: 3, 4 and 5 don’t wear nappies! They’re big Numberjacks! They wear pants! And do you know what, you’re three now, and you’re big, so tomorrow, you can wear pants too.”

I put him to bed and gave myself a well-deserved pat on the back and a gold star for a) quick thinking and b) model parenting and c) exploiting the Numberjacks.

The next day, I spent all day mopping up floor puddles and changing his clothes.

The second day, I decided there was nothing wrong with bribery. He was awarded a chocolate coin for doing wees and poos in the potty.

The third day, he was good at doing wees in the potty, but I had to change SEVEN soiled pairs of pants, that just did not seem to bother him in the least. I had to ask him to show me the contents of the offending underpants, tipped off by the smell, otherwise he would have happily kept playing. He then took great glee in watching me tip the poo from his pants into the toilet and then he demanded chocolate coins. I had to explain that the deal was that he had to deposit straight from his body into the potty, with no intermediate stop offs in his pants. Not sure he’s got the message yet…

The days after that have been up and down: some accidents, some spontaneous potty/toilet visits, a lot of “Do you need the potty?” “No thank you please”, and a lot of requests for “treasure”.

I still have no wisdom to share, except that this time I am determined to see it through and wave goodbye to size 5 nappies (for now). What I do want to show you, however, is the most fantastic potty training book that we have been using. I can heartily recommend it – and I should add that nobody is paying me to say so. It is called Pirate Pete’s Potty.

DSCF4562It is aimed especially at boys and does an amazing job of taking both the adults and the child through potty training step by step: why it’s happening, what to expect and how to react to the things that might happen on the way. One of the best things about it (aside from the “cheer!” button) is that it starts by setting up Pirate Pete as the instigator of the potty training:

"It's alright for the baby to wear nappies," thinks Pirate Pete, "But I want to be more grown up than that."

“It’s alright for the baby to wear nappies,” thinks Pirate Pete, “But I want to be more grown up than that.”

This starts the whole thing off on the right foot: you’re not wearing underpants to please your parents, who seem to have some mysterious stake in the matter. You’re doing it for yourself, because you’d like to be more grown up.

Your potty is for doing wees and poos in, instead of in your nappy."

Your potty is for doing wees and poos in, instead of in your nappy.”

It also very clearly explains what the potty is for, and that it replaces the nappies. Finally, it suggests some lovely motivational peer teaching:

When the baby is ready, Pirate Pete can show him just what to do with his potty.

When the baby is ready, Pirate Pete can show him just what to do with his potty.

The Boy just loves the book. We’ve been reading it as a bedtime story for the past week, and I frequently get requests to read it throughout the day. He has added his own little details and has snuck in the Numberjacks as well (they each get to choose a potty after Pirate Pete has chosen his). When he presses the ‘Cheer!’ button, he also gives a little extra cheer for himself. All in all, it has been a brilliant tool, and it also helps keep him sitting on the potty for a bit longer in the hope that he might try doing a poo – so far no luck but I’ll keep you posted.

A final useful side effect of Pirate Pete has been that the book has provided the Boy with a subtle way of letting me know that he has had, or is about to have, an accident. While he is playing and narrating his play, suddenly I will hear: “Wees and poos in!” This is my cue to grab the spare underpants, trousers, kitchen towels and anti-bac.


I’m sure he will get there soon, but there is still a way to go before my days will be free of clearing up wee and poo…


Sun, sea and Numberjacks

This was the first time we’d been on a proper holiday abroad for two years. Those two years obviously made a massive difference to how The Boy experienced the adventure. He joined in the anticipation, for one, and in the days leading up to our departure would ask whether we were going to the seaside today and whether his fire engine (his Trunki ride on suitcase) could come. He also picked up on our destination. On the plane he kept repeating, his eyes wide with wonder:  “Going-a Spain.” The Girl was less impressed with the flight, and screamed non-stop during the second hour, finally falling into an exhausted slumber as we landed and had to get off.

We arrived at the apartment late at night, the kids asleep in the car. We carried them straight up to bed. The next morning, I greeted the Boy with: “You’re in Spain!” For the rest of the week, he was convinced that ‘Spain’ was the apartment and would ask to go “back to Spain” when he’d had enough of a trip to the supermarket or an outing that didn’t include enough snacks. We tried explaining that Spain was a country, just like England or The Netherlands, and that the supermarket, the beach and the park were all in Spain too, but to no avail. By the end of the trip we just went along with it, wearily confirming that yes, there were ice creams back in Spain and he could have one once we got there.

He was initially a bit disappointed that there was no television in Spain, but being a resourceful little chap, he had soon rectified this by commissioning me to make all the Numberjacks, their enemies and accessories out of paper and acting out episodes with them endlessly; assigning all the toy cars we’d brought identities from Roary the Racing Car; designating the plants on the balcony as The Veggies from Mr Bloom and casting his two Duplo polar bears (the one in the plane and the one in the car) in the roles of Splish and Splash from Iconicles (or Icono-barnacles, as he insists the program is called). This kept him occupied for hours. There were even some interesting mash ups, like when Roary crashed and the Numberjacks came to rescue him with some brain gain.

There were also plenty of amazing fun things to do outdoors. Going to the beach quickly became number one favourite, even warranting a little song: “Going-a beach is fuuuuuun!” Building sandcastles, digging holes, sunbathing next to mummy and washing hands at the special fountain were instant hits. The sea took some getting used to. He wanted to keep a safe distance at first and was very worried that the waves would come and get us, but slowly he and the sea made friends and he was happy to play by the water’s edge, writing numbers in the sand.

Meanwhile, the Girl practised walking, played with her brother’s toys, fell over and hurt herself, got lots of cuddles, learned to say “uh oh” but not when to say it other than to get a laugh from the rest of the family, played in the sand for ages and spent a lot of the nights awake. Goodness knows why, but she’s a baby and doesn’t need a reason.

The flight back was in the middle of the night. The Boy had doggedly stayed awake during the 45 minute car ride to the airport, saying “bye bye” to all the cars we passed, and was still awake when we took off. Finally, around midnight, he dropped off, his head resting on Daddy’s arm, just as the Girl woke from a blissful slumber. She spent the flight charming all the other passengers with beaming smiles.

We arrived home in the dead of night and put the Girl straight to bed. The Boy was not having it. He was far too excited to be home. He greeted the cats with great delight and then wanted to dive into his favourite activities. “Watch Chloe’s Closet,” he insisted. “Watch Numberjacks?” When TV turned out not to be an option, he found his paper Numberjacks again and had to be dragged away from them with hissed threats and bribes to stop him screaming the house down and waking his sister and the lodger.

Spain was great, but clearly, nothing beats S house.

Drawing in Spain

Drawing in Spain

Who shall I be this week?

The Toddler is Peter Rabbit this week.

A few weeks ago, he was Mickey Mouse. He announced his new identity to me one day, and then he assigned identities to everyone else: I was Minnie Mouse, the Baby was Pluto and Daddy was quite annoyed to discover that he was Goofy. Before that, we were Numberjacks. The Toddler was Numberjack 2, the Baby was Numberjack zero, I was number 7 and Daddy was number 8. We ourselves had suggested that he was number 2, trying to explain the concept of ‘age’ to him. We were never sure whether he’d got it, and whether our own numbers had been assigned reflecting how old the Toddler thought we were, or whether it was our status in the house or just how much he liked the Numberjacks in question. When a (21 year old) friend of ours came to visit and was told she was Numberjack 9 we gave up trying to work it out and just went with it.

I find this role playing fascinating. As a child, I would get completely caught up in stories and want to live in them. I would change my name to that of the main character of my favourite book and insist my family and friends call me by it (usually something archaic and unfortunate, as I read a lot of Enid Blyton and The Worst Witch and so on). Every week, I had a ballet class with three of my friends, and our parents would take it in turns to get us there. As one family did not own a car, they got us to ballet by taxi. We loved this, as we got to go on our own and lie about our names. I would tell the driver I was called Mildred or Darryl and be someone else the next week, terrified meanwhile that one day we’d get the same driver we’d had before and he would rumble us.

But I was about nine at the time. My son is two and a half and he already has this longing to live in stories.

With the Numberjacks, he definitely acts out episodes, but with his paper numbers, not by pretending to be a Numberjack himself. He will launch number 3 and find a three to land on in the house, and once I drew the puzzler for him and he wanted me to trap all the numbers in Puzzler bubbles.

When he discovered Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, it was the Mouskatools that followed us into every day life. If something went wrong, the Toddler would helpfully suggest that a Mouskatool could help Mummy’s car drive faster or bring more Shreddies when they’d run out.

Now, it’s Peter Rabbit, his new discovery. He is Peter Rabbit, of course. I am Mummy Rabbit. His baby sister is Cotton Tail. He will ask me: “Oh! Where’s Cotton Tail?” Or: “Look, Cotton Tail trying to stand!” Or if she is yawning in her car seat: “Cotton Tail is really tired. Wants a little sleep. Oh, poor Cotton Tail.” Somehow this is just irresistibly cute and expresses his love for her perfectly. She is Peter Rabbit’s little sister, an adorable little rabbit who sometimes gets in the way of his best laid plans.

Last night, I was Mr Tod. This was new. I’d never before been a baddie and I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. So as my son skipped, rabbit style, up the stairs, I followed him slowly and said I was coming to get him, trying to stay on the right side of scary. But I needn’t have worried. The Toddler fed me my line: “I smell rabbit!” I repeated this obligingly.

Mr Tod does bedtime. Image from

Mr Tod does bedtime. Image from

It turned out that Mr Tod gets a lot more done. He was allowed to brush the Toddler’s teeth without a fuss, he managed to change his nappy and he was even allowed to pick the two bedtime stories. Mr Tod wanted stories with foxes in them. The Toddler approved. One of the stories was in Dutch, but Mr Tod had to read it, so I translated it on the fly. I read both of them slowly, with that calm, sophisticated menace that the character has on TV. My son loved it. Mr Tod tucked him in and counted to twenty as he stroked Peter Rabbit’s fur.

I snuck in a goodnight kiss at the end. Thankfully that was allowed.

What you can do with a little patience

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.

maisie puzzleS: 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.
Me: Woof!
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.

Things I have done to avoid watching the Numberjacks

The Toddler is obsessed with the Numberjacks. No longer do I get a “Hello Mummy! Nice-a see you!” in the morning. Now it’s “Ah, Mummy. Nummajacks onna way?” All day long he follows me around begging to see our recorded episodes again and again and again. There are only so many times that you can – or should – watch the same four episodes of anything. Sadly, he is in that phase of development where he truly believes that if you just keep asking the same question over and over again, eventually you will get the reply you were hoping for.

Not wanting to relinquish all parental control and have my Toddler sit in front of the TV learning about cylinders all the live long day, I have tried everything I could think of to prise him away. These are all the things I have done to avoid watching the Numberjacks:

1. Re-enact Numberjacks episodes.
This has been quite effective. We have made numbers out of playdough, and the Toddler has gleefully danced them all around the house, ‘looking-a seven, looking-a seven, found a seven!’ Sadly, he has played with them so much that the playdough is going dry and they are starting to crack and fall apart. Every few minutes now he returns to me with a squished handful of playdough: “Mummy, want a three. Make a three Mummy.” It is getting harder and harder to resurrect the numbers, they now crumble in my hand. The result is a very sad Toddler, shrieking “want a threeeeeeee!”

Number 6 supervises a craft activity

Number 6 supervises a craft activity

So I drew him all the Numberjacks on paper. Then we spent quite a bit of time making a house for the Numberjacks in an empty box: gluing on bits of wrapping paper, colouring the inside with felt tips, sticking on glittery number stickers, gluing a picture of a DFS sofa on the inside and then sticking numbers on the sofa. Then we stuck all the paper Numberjacks onto squares of cardboard for durability. This is now a favourite toy and can distract him from the TV for a good fifteen minutes at a time.

Some of his re-enactments are not so great, however, like when Spooky Spoon suddenly turns up in the middle of dinner and there is no longer any eating, just a flying spoon. Sigh.

2. Playing with magnetic numbers.
He hasn’t been in the mood for sticking them on the fridge, but he has spent a happy half hour resting the appropriate magnetic numbers on the cover of his big number book. We have also put them in toy cars and raced them around, and made a miniature ballpool for cuddly toys out of all the magnetic numbers together.

3. Playing Numberjack games on the CBeebies website
This is not my favourite distraction technique, as it means I can’t then use my laptop at all, as he will see it and want to play games instead. But he has in fact learned to use a mouse pad by playing Numberjack games in the space of about twenty minutes.

4. High energy games
While suggestions of nice quiet games are all rejected when he has Numberjacks on the brain – “No, not Duplo. Not Happyland. Not cars. Not drawing.” – running, chasing, racing, football in the garden and dancing are always popular. The trick is not to ask. Just start doing it and he will join in, laughing gleefully. It’s just very tiring for weary parents…

5. A taste of his own medicine
The only time I have managed to get him to actively agree to playing instead of watching the fateful show was when I got incredibly fed up and resorted to acting like, well, a toddler. I threw myself onto the sofa and whined: “I want to play! I want to play!” Requests for Numberjacks stopped instantly. The Toddler rested a very grown up hand on my back and said: “Oh, okay Mummy.”

I had finally spoken to him in a language he understood. Sadly, as this is exactly the kind of behaviour I am trying to discourage in him I won’t be able to use this technique regularly.