The Real Reasons I was Cross Today

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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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Erasing Memories

As parents we are mostly in the business of making memories.

But often it is as important to get rid of them. Like the memory of rashly made promises that you find yourself unable to keep. Or of the chocolate cake you blithely set about making with the children the night before, forgetting that you are keeping your daughter off dairy for a week.

Cake? What cake?

Cake? What cake?

“The cake needs to cool right down before we can eat some. It needs to cool down overnight,” I said, hoping sleep would induce amnesia.

This morning, as I set about erasing the evidence with a cup of tea in the kitchen, I thought gloomily that my plan was doomed to failure. My son, who has taught himself to read primarily by building up a dizzying sight-vocabulary, has a near-photographic memory. Times this by ten for memories that are inconvenient to you. Times this by a hundred for memories involving snacks.

Just yesterday he asked me about the banana chocolate chip muffins we had made last week, wondering where they were. To his great disappointment, I had to admit that they were all gone now, and he pressed me for a detailed accounting of the fate of each of the twelve muffins.

On occasions when the Fairy Godmother is babysitting I give her a quick rundown of the important information of the day while rushing out the door. “And I did say that before bed he could finish sticking the alphabet land book he was making earlier, but he’s probably forgotten about that by now,” I say dismissively.

“Yeah, all those things you say he has probably forgotten? He never has,” the Fairy Godmother replies gloomily, as I run off to work leaving her in craft-hell.

Sometimes there are things the Boy actually wants to forget, but can’t.

His intense curiosity, lively imagination and sensitivity are a bad combination when it comes to films, books or TV shows that contain what is laughably referred to as ‘mild peril’. (For the record, Disney, to a four year old, an adorable little rat being swept away on a raft by a rushing river and getting separated from his family, while being shot at with a shotgun is not ‘mild peril’. Yes, I am looking at you, Ratatouille.) The Boy will back away from the screen, squeaking in fear, his eyes still glued to the TV, unable to look away. These are memories that he will refer to later and mull over, trying to unpick their meaning.

The images that have haunted him above all else were from a Barbapapa book about pollution and animal cruelty. (I know, not the ideal topic for a children’s book. It has taught me to re-read my childhood favourites before showing them to my children…) He loved the book and wanted to read it all day, asking me questions: why were those people hunting the animals? What did they want to do to the animals? What is coming out of that chimney? Why are the animals sad? What is the dirty stuff in the water? What are those people wearing on their faces? (They were gas masks. Barbapapa doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pushing its idealistic agenda onto the next generation). What are the people doing now? Is the air clean again now? Will the animals come back?

He woke in the night crying bitter tears, his dreams filled with smoke from chimneys and a sky that had gone black and would never be blue again. We talked, I explained, we prayed together, he slept. The next day he woke from a car-nap, again terrified and in tears because people had destroyed the earth and the sky was black.

We had really good conversations about all sorts of important things off the back of this book, but how I wished I could hide the book and erase the memories.

In the end, he worked out a way to do it himself.

“See,” he said, “This is the book all about me. It has lots of pages.”

“What book?” I said. He wasn’t holding anything.

“Here, in the air.”

I looked up. He was pointing proudly at nothing. He told me that the book had pictures, and he could look things up about when he was two or when he was three. I started to understand. The book was imaginary. It was the book of his life, with all his memories.

“But some pages I will take out,” he said very seriously. “Like the pages about the chimney with the smoke and the sky that is black. I will rip those pages out of my book.”

“That is a good idea,” I said. “And we can put nice pictures on the pages instead and fill up your book with good memories.”

“Yes,” the Boy agreed.

“Great,” I said, giving him a hug. “Let’s bake a chocolate cake.”

How to be a Domestic Disaster

I couldn’t sleep the other night. I was thinking about housework, and deciding that Something Had to be Done, before one of our friends called Kim and Aggie on us. Or Social Services.  So the next day I drew up an ambitious schedule for the week and got going. I managed to tidy the living room, reorganise it so my nappy-storage-location was no longer the space between the sofa and the French windows and did some long overdue filing. I decided I absolutely had to hoover every day, no excuses, and got going straight away – I even hoovered under things. Yes, well you might gasp.

I couldn’t sleep any of the subsequent nights either. It was as if I had flicked a switch that was normally set to ‘Rest’ and ‘Twitter’, to an unfamiliar setting named ‘Feverish Activity’. Even while lying in bed, I was still planning which load of laundry needed to be done next and how I might occupy the Toddler while I hoovered the stairs and tidied the dining room table.

Three days into my personality make-over, I found myself sitting at the breakfast table, bleary eyed and drained, staring at my schedule. I’d only managed half of what I’d planned, but I’d planned for that, too. Aim for the stars and you might land on the moon. The Toddler’s chatter broke into my thoughts.

“Mummy, biscuits?” he said.

Junior baker at the ready

Junior baker at the ready

I suddenly had a vision. I was Nigella Lawson, in a spotless house, looking gorgeous, baking immaculately beautiful biscuits with my Toddler, teaching him about cooking, measuring, enjoying food and keeping him away from the TV at the same time. Somehow, in my sleep deprived state, this seemed completely within reach.

“How would you like to make your own biscuits?” I asked.

The suggestion was met with pleasing enthusiasm. We went into the lovely, recently cleaned kitchen with an optimistic spring in our step.

Fast forward half an hour.

There are dirty dishes absolutely everywhere and the floors and surfaces are covered in flour, sugar and butter. The baby is crying in the high chair which I put in the kitchen to keep her close, bits of rice cake stuck in her hair. The Toddler is standing on a little chair, wearing an apron, crying because I told him off for licking the spoon that was meant for stirring and then took the spoon away. The first attempt at creaming sugar is in the compost bin (butter too hard). I am in a corner of the kitchen doing all the mixing myself, because the Toddler was doing it wrong, too slowly, and trying to stick his fingers in the mixture. In between the crying, the Toddler keeps asking me if we can bake biscuits now.

“We ARE baking biscuits!” I snap. “Now the dough has to sit in the fridge for an hour. We can finish making the biscuits after your nap.”

Only had one biscuit cutter. We made the other shapes with tupperware.

Only had one biscuit cutter. We made the other shapes with tupperware.

The crying goes up another notch. “No! Not nap!”

I bury my face in my hands, getting dough in my hair as I do so. Through my fingers I look at Nigella’s book, the one with the biscuit recipe I am using. It is called How to be a Domestic Goddess. 

Lies, all lies. It just tells you how to mix ingredients for biscuits. Nothing about managing two small children while doing so, as well as keeping the kitchen clean and your sanity in tact.

We finished the biscuits after nap time. They tasted a bit salty, and I had to chuck away half the icing as the ‘pink’ food colouring came out brown. I tried to remember how long I’d had the bottle but when I’d narrowed it down to ‘definitely since before I got married’ I thought it best to throw it straight in the bin.

The whole thing, I decided, had been a disaster.

Left: definitely green. Right: erm, no. Bin.

Left: definitely green. Right: erm, no. Bin.

But the next day, the Toddler proudly took his biscuits to a play date and shared them with his friend. Today he wanted to eat more of them, and do more baking. It occurred to me that perhaps I had been a domestic goddess after all. There are, when I think about it, very few activities the Toddler can get through without crying or having a tantrum at least once. He is two and does not need a reason. So he cried. So we made a mess. So I lost my rag and ended up doing most of it myself. So it was all done to a soundtrack of ear-splitting screaming from the Baby. He seems to have come away from the episode with positive memories, a sense of pride in his achievement and tasty biscuits.  Job done.

You want to know what happened to the housework schedule? I decided that putting in lots of extra effort is great and definitely worth it, but one also needs to know when to quit. While the biscuit dough rested in the fridge, I followed its example in my bed.

Iced and ready for sharing.

Iced and ready for sharing.

Swearing for Toddlers

I’d like to start this post with a disclaimer. I am not usually a swear-er. I tried to get into it when I was about 10, as all the cool kids seemed to be doing it, but I could never get the words to roll off the tongue naturally, and I was quickly spotted for the fake-swearer that I was and didn’t get in with the cool kids. So I stopped, and stuck to the occasional “s***”, which in The Netherlands is a much milder swear word than it is in Britain.

Motherhood, I have found, brings out sides to you that you never knew were there. Rage, for me. I never knew I could get so angry, particularly about very minor things that, on reflection, usually turn out to be my own stupid fault rather than the Toddler’s. So it may be that, very occasionally, I may have used the F-word. To myself, or the world at large, in the kitchen. Not to my poor son, I promise.

However, I think he must have heard.

The other day he was playing with his play dough numbers and number 3 got squished. I came into the room and found him frowning at the shapeless lump in his hand that used to be his beloved number 3 and heard him say to himself: “Fik – fak – ff…” He was clearly searching for the right word for the situation, trying to remember what he had overheard.

“Fok – fox!” That was it. His face cleared up. It must have been “fox”, that made sense. Then he added his favourite expletive for good measure: “Oh bovver!”

I was killing myself laughing – and of course also very ashamed that my son had heard me use a word I thought I’d never use.

“Fox” as a swear word for toddlers really appeals to me. In fact, I propose the introduction of a whole range of animal-swear words to cover all occasions. “Sheep” can replace sh**, and “beetles” b****cks. We have been trialling the system in our house and the results are very pleasing.

“The internet is foxed again,” I grumble at my husband.

“Yup, it’s because [our internet provider] is a bit sheep,” he replies.

Now this is swearing even I can cope with. Although I think the cool kids probably still wouldn’t let me in their gang.

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A Change in Perspective

My patience is at zero today and I can’t cope with the Toddler’s exuberance (read: running around knocking things over, pulling all the books off the shelf, littering the floor with tiny sponge letters and a whole deck of cards) and seemingly boundless hunger (6am: Mummy, bread stick? 6.10: Mummy raisins? 6.20: Mummy banana? 7am: Mummy porridge? 7.15: Mummy more porridge? 8am: Mummy apple? and so on until at 10.30 he was consuming another whole bowl of Weetabix and asking for more). Even his affection was getting on my nerves, as he came and snuggled up next to me while I was trying to do work on my laptop, wanting hugs and cuddles. I may also have been on Twitter but that is entirely beside the point, of course.

Anyway, for Prose for Thought today I was planning to post an old poem that I wrote a year or so ago, but instead I found myself writing one about how frustrated I was feeling with my son. My poetry doesn’t usually rhyme, unless it is Sinterklaas, but it felt appropriate in this case.

A change in perspective

I love you, but you wind me up.
Your goals don’t mesh with mine.
When you want midnight cuddles,
I want a glass of wine.

When you want to watch a DVD
I want you to play.
And when you think you’re helping me
you’re getting in my way.

Your games involve a lot of mess
and take up all my time,
and when I want you to stay still
you want to jump and climb.

I have so little patience
and you have so much joy.
Life’s one big experiment
and everything’s a toy.

I keep telling you ‘be careful’,
‘don’t touch’ and ‘don’t go there’,
but isn’t it much better
to try things and go everywhere?

Better to get down on my knees
and see life through your eyes.
I may be a bit more sensible
but you are far more wise.

(c) Judith Kingston , 2013

As I was writing this, my son started playing and interacting with his baby sister, making her laugh, playing games with her, trying to attract her attention and amuse her. This is a new development. My poem is done and he is still playing with her.

I’m linking this with Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought

 

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.