Monthly Archives: September 2011

Breast not mention it

I hear on the radio that there has been yet more research into breastfeeding. And lo, the medical profession doth say: children who are breastfed are better behaved than those who are not. Fact. Oh for fuck’s sake. Can we please have a moratorium on breastfeeding research? I think mothers may have the picture by now. Breastfeeding is good. Super-breasty-duper. But does all this research really persuade more mothers to breastfeed? Does it really win over those floating nipples? (Which are a bit like floating voters, but with a much higher propensity to lactate).

Mostly, this research seems just to make mothers who can’t or won’t breastfeed feel like pariahs who are going to raise stupid, disease-prone, ill-behaved morons. Mind you, I guess it does provide an alibi for bad behaviour. The next time E tantrums (it happens on a regular enough basis that I have turned it into a verb) I shall just sigh, look down with a woeful expression at my breasts and say: “He would be such a well behaved boy if my boobs had not been a bit broken and I could have breastfed him for longer.”

And just how much money, in these cash strapped times, are the government pumping (to stay with the breastfeeding lingo) into research? I do not go out of my way to read up on the latest missive about how the benefits of breastfeeding are practically verging on the miraculous – I managed three months, which means my boobs should at least be in line for beatification – but I have read countless reports in the newspapers of new research.

“So, Trevor, how much have we got this time?”

“Let’s see, breastfeeding research fund…here we are…a hundred grand.”

“Excellent. So we could track a good representative section of babies from birth, both those who are breastfed and those who are fed formula…”

“Watch your bloody language, Nicholas.”

“Sorry Trevor. Those who are fed ‘the unmentionable’ – then we can track behavioral traits, conduct regular reasoning and cognitive tests, off-set the data against identified affluence, class and nurturing factors…we could really advance the breastfeeding debate this time.”

“We could…”

“But…?”

“But we won’t.”

“We won’t?”

“Nah. Can’t be fucked. All those babies, dribbling milk and puking. God, it turns my stomach. Not to mention all those hormonal new mothers. Jesus. And let’s face it, we both know what the results will be.”

“We do?”

“Christ, don’t they teach you anything in medical college these days? Look, we just need to identify a few attributes that will guilt new mothers into breastfeeding, preferably those that will seemingly solve a couple of societal ills… you know, breastfed babies are less likely to wear hoodies, if you breastfeed your baby exclusively for a year they won’t get in-growing toe nails, only two percent of rioters were breastfed… that sort of thing – and that’s it. Job done.”

“Oh…right. Well, in that case, pass the Digestives.”

“Digestives, Nicholas? Digestives? We have a hundred grand at our disposal. I have three cases of Duchy Original Shortbread in the stationery cupboard.”


Mornings are (well and truly) broken

E wakes up at 4.45am and refuses point blank to return to bed. After some pointless efforts made to return him to his own bedroom, brought to a resigned end by a double whammy of extreme fatigue (from me) and extreme stubbornness (from him) he inevitably crawls into our bed as M leaves for a ridiculously early meeting. I have a notion that E might curl up next to me and have another snooze. But oh no. He has other ideas. Like kicking me. Oh, and pushing his fist into my Adam’s apple until it touches the back of my throat. And pinching my left nipple hard with an accompanying “beep beep!”.

“Stop,” I hiss through gritted teeth. So he moves to phase two of Operation Shitbag, by whinging over and over and over: “mummy, I want milky. I want milky. I want milky mummy. Please.” If he thinks the first ever voluntary use of the word please is going to get me out of bed at 5am to make him a beaker of milk he is very much mistaken. I could cheerfully throttle him. Actually scrub that. There is nothing even remotely sodding cheerful about this situation. I am beyond pissed off to a degree that even startles me. I am so tired after five consecutive 5am starts and to add injury to fatigue someone has crept in to the bedroom whilst I was sleeping and inserted sandpaper under my eyelids, replaced my bone marrow with concrete and extracted my brain, leaving only an ‘I Owe You’ note in its place.

But it’s not just the tiredness. It’s the punching and the pushing, the kicking and the pinching, and the insistence that he sleeps on my pillow as he grinds his forehead into my face so that my eyes water that is killing me. I lie on my hands, in my tiny slither of double bed that I have been afforded by my bed-hog of a son. Actually, it is probably the safest place for them right now, as they are twitching slightly, wanting to slap E’s leg as his foot smashes into my chest again.

A small hiatus in the general stream of bed-based violence occurs and I relax slightly. Perhaps he will fall asleep. I squint at the clock: 6.10am. All is not lost if we can squeeze in a fifty minute snooze.  Even though I have to keep one buttock clenched to ensure I don’t topple out of the side of the bed, lying there next to E, as he pulls my arm around him, I can’t imagine why I was so angry with him. I feel his body warmth on me and I inhale the smell of his hair. Slap him? What was I thinking? I close my eyes and feel a wave of tiredness pull me down. All is quiet.

Then E whispers “bogey…”

I open one eye to see him rootling around his right nostril. Fine, I don’t care if he has his index finger poked half way up his bum – he is still, and not inflicting severe pain on any part of my anatomy, and I can feel sleep slowly creeping up on me as my eyelids close.

“Bogey…” Ellis repeats in a whisper, “…on mummy’s eye…” and a second later I feel a slightly gooey finger slide across my eyelid leaving a trail of wet slime behind it. Jesus. I could seriously slap that boy sometimes.


It’s driving me potty

laura slinn

Potty training. Two small words. One whole lot of damp, pants-wetting, pee-smelling trouble. M and I have discussed potty training E, and keep coming to the same conclusion: wait until he is ready. We feel justified in this, an attitude that could otherwise be construed as cowardly, lazy and based on enlightened self-interest, as this is what The Experts say. You know. The Experts in The Books.

It is also backed up by friends who have forced their kids into being trained early due to a number of reasons, mainly the impending birth of a sibling, less often due to them really wanting to spend their days mopping up puddles of piss. They all say don’t rush it, as it makes it harder and this, we agree, is practically scientific fact and we are right not to have done it yet.

We have had a potty in the bathroom for a while though, just in case the urge ever takes E. It gathers dust next to the radiator, with only the occasional outing into the middle of the floor when E wants to use it as a receptacle for catching his discarded socks as he undresses for bath time. I ask him every night before he gets in the bath if he wants a wee on the potty, to which the firm and immediate reply comes: “No.” Which is short for: “No. I am about to sit in a nice warm bath where I can be thoroughly entertained by watching myself pee in the water to my bladder’s content. Heck, I can even wiggle my willy so the pee jumps out of the water a bit.”

One evening though, standing there naked, he says yes. Bollocks. That has thrown me. I pull the potty nearer and hold E’s hands as he gingerly lowers himself onto the potty. On contact, he springs to his feet. “Too cold!” he protests. I suddenly get an overwhelming sense that we may have molly-coddled our son a tad too much. I make a half-arsed (excuse the bottom pun) attempt to warm it up by rubbing it, wondering if a Genie may materialise any second. I put it back on the floor and E reluctantly reseats himself. Due to some ridiculous design flaw (in the potty, not in my son), there is a large raised curved part between his legs, causing his willy to stick up in the air. This does not bode well: one of us is about to get it in the eye. I can imagine the scenario eighteen years hence:

“So, E, tell me why you have always had a phobia about urinating?”

“Well, when I was two my mother made me piss in my own eye”.

I try to poke his willy back down, but can’t quite get it to do what I want it to do, which I would like to say is the first time I have encountered this problem with the male appendage but quite frankly, can’t. I poke at it again. E is, quite understandably, getting a bit pissed off with having someone jab ineffectually at his pride and joy and bats me away. Finally, I get him to reposition himself and we finally get tackle positioned correctly.

“Finished!” yells E, and jumps up. The potty is dry. Sod it. Let him piss in the bath.


Questions, questions…

Laura Slinn

E’s questions come thick and fast.

“What’s this, mummy?” he enquires, holding up an item from his play farm.

“It’s straw, sweetie,” I reply.

“Whassit do?”

“Errmmm…horses eat it…” I reply, tentatively. Oh no, hang on… don’t horses eat hay? So what the fuck is straw? Or is it the same thing as hay? Surely not. “…or perhaps it is straw, in which case rabbits sleep on it.”

Christ on a bike. E has yet to hit three and already I am teetering on the brink of the crumbling edifice that is my general knowledge.

A little later, we are out for a walk and E stops by a short post at the side of the pavement. “What’s that?” “It’s for…electricity. I think. Or it could be gas.” E looks up at me, blatantly unimpressed. His silent gaze forces me into a somewhat unwise further attempt at an explanation.

“The sign shows where the pipes are that run under the ground,” I nod, waving my arm up and down the pavement. “They carry the electricity… or gas… although it could be water come to think about it…” Bloody hell, my head is starting to hurt. Luckily, E is distracted by a ladybird and I am let off the hook.

On our return to the house, E turns to me and says “Mummy, what does smoke do?”

Okay, that’s it. I quit.


The long goodbye (with antlers)

Waving Goodbye (Bad mother)

Elton John is wrong. Sorry is so not the hardest bloody word. Look: I kick your shins – ‘oops, sorry.’ I bump into you with my shopping trolley – ‘sorry, didn’t see you there.’ I accidentally drop your hamster down the drain – ‘oh, clumsy me, I am sorry’. See. Easy. But goodbye? That’s the hard one.

Saying goodbye to E as I leave him in nursery can be tough. Since moving up to the pre-school class, involving a literal move up the stairs to the room on the first floor, the breezy goodbye I used to toss into the toddler room as I cantered to the car is a thing of distant beauty. These days, it is a Russian roulette of a farewell: will it be wobbly bottom lip, a white-knuckle grip on my collar or a cheery wave?

E is in that ‘settling in’ period, where he is still acclimatising to being a very small fish in a loud, big, turbulent pond, a pond full of bigger, more confident fish, sorry, kids, most of whom have better control over their opposable thumbs, their bladder and know more words for ‘willy’. So the morning drop-off can be a little emotional for him.

The carers have a strategy for kids who struggle to say goodbye to mummy or daddy. I find it a slightly curious strategy, as it seems to involve prolonging the agony for as long as is humanly possible. They take the child to the large, first floor window and wait for the parent to appear in the car park, at which point said parent must stand under the window, wave a long, final goodbye and leave.

For the first week or so, I did this with a heavy heart and an ever-increasing sense of ludicrousness. A heavy heart, as it was sad to see my little boy pressed up against the window, his short, sobbing breaths repeatedly creating momentary circles of mist on the window as he forlornly looked down at mummy, who was clearly abandoning him. Ludicrous, as I had utterly sworn to myself that I would not be one of those frankly moronic parents who wave up at the window like they’ve just got off a Sunshine Coach – and yet there I was, waving like a buffoon and feeling like shit for leaving E. Bad, bad mother.

But a couple of weeks in, I thought that if I had to partake of this ridiculous charade and watch E miserably waving goodbye to me, perhaps I should make more of an attempt to elicit a smile from him before I leave. This may have been a thought born of enlightened self-interest, as leaving him happy gave me less indigestion after my breakfast. But there are limits to what you can do when you are separated by double glazing ten foot above ground level. The fallback tickle is redundant, the upside-down swing no good. So I do what any self-respecting adult would do. I put my outstretched hands either side of my head to create comedy antlers, stick out my tongue and give it a them all a good old waggle. Bingo. A smile. A small part of my dignity shrivelled up into a ball inside me and withered into dust at the precise moment my tongue came out, but hey, I left E with a smile.

And like everything you do as a parent in a moment of desperation and idiocy, it then becomes expected. E would wait with anticipation at the window for me to make an utter tit of myself. Sometimes other kids would look on, then glance at E as if to say ‘holy shit, you poor buggar, is that your mummy?’

I then confess to M that I am doing the ‘Antler Adieu’ and he reciprocates with a confession that involves him doing a comedy ‘trip up’ outside the window to elicit a laugh from our son. I feel momentarily relieved as that seems marginally more idiotic than my farewell, then doubly worried that both of us might need to see a shrink.

I decide that perhaps I should try and wean E off of my farewell with antlers, due to the law of diminishing returns that states that it becomes a little less entertaining for him every time he sees it, which is inversely proportionate to the shame and humiliation that grows within me when I am doing it. Because whilst leaving my child in someone else’s care all day sometimes makes me feel like a bad mother, let’s face it, I’d be a much worse mother if I had to look after him myself. There are only so many incidents of Play Doh in my hair and stroppy insistences of him sitting down on the zebra crossing before one of us would be locked in the shed. As it is, he gets to play with his friends all day and I get the comparatively easy job of working for a living. He gets professional care, a lesson in socialisation and fun and I get to keep my sanity. It’s a fair exchange.

I come out of nursery one morning and there, in the spot under the window, is a mum. I watch her saying goodbye to her daughter. She is actually dancing. Clad in a pale pink cagoule, legs kicking, arms swinging, she looks like a pantomime orang-utan with ants up her arse.  It is at this precise moment that I make a promise to myself… and the Antler Adieu is never, ever seen again.


Mmmm… medicine

E has a stinking cold. I prefer it when he brings home a painting from nursery, but this week, he has brought home a particularly virulent strain of nose snot. Mind you, it is a close run thing with some of the items he brings home.

One day as I am on my way to the garden at nursery to pick him up, I notice a tray of small jam tarts. It does takes me a moment to recognise what they are though – first glance does put me in mind somewhat of the leftovers of a particularly nasty road traffic accident. Having done the handover with one of the girls (‘he’s had a really good day’, she says, just as they say every day, even when in the next breath they then tell me that he has been bitten by another child or bumped his head on the slide) I try to make a quick exit, but she gleefully reminds me to take a jam tart home. I select a tart, trying to pick one that looks least likely to have a bogey in it, or have been poked by every grubby finger in the class and we take it home to eat after E’s fruit. Given its four centimetre diameter, it is surprisingly heavy and lands on the plate with a dull thud. One bite in and E abandons it, offering me a bite with his customary generosity that appears about ten seconds after he has decided he doesn’t like something. I refuse, but after much badgering, I relinquish and take the smallest bite possible. Holy shit, how does pastry get quite that hard? Actually, I would rather not know as I am already feeling a tad nauseous.

So here we are, at bath time, with E sneezing his way through giving me a bubble beard, producing quite impressive slugs of shiny, green mucus from both nostrils at an alarming rate. As I carry him, wet and shrouded in a towel, to his bedroom, he starts to struggle and whinge. Laying him on the change unit to get him dry, I sense a full-scale paddy just around the corner so launch into a desperate diversion tactic.

calpol, Laura Slinn

“Right,” I say, in the most obnoxious sing-song, children’s-presenter-type voice, “my nice thought is… the beach!” I smile manically like a simpleton (it comes surprisingly easy). “What’s your nice thought?” But E is not to be distracted from the task in hand – his mission to wind himself up into a total frenzy. So I bring out the big guns: the promise of Calpol. Well, he has got a terrible cold. It’s not as if I am just using it as a bribe to behave. As if. That would be irresponsible.

The guarantee of the strawberry elixir does start to work, but I sense I am living on borrowed time, so I hand him the spoon, just to build a little anticipation. This does the trick, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Now, where were we? Oh yes. “My nice thought is… going to the park,” I lie. “What’s yours?

E pauses for a moment. “Medicine.” Okaaaay. This is less a diversion, more of a statement of intent.

“My nice thought is…ice cream,” I say, which is at least true. “What’s yours?”

“Medicine.” Hmm, this isn’t going quite to plan. I sigh.

“My nice thought is… playing with Play Doh. Another whopper. “What is your different nice thought?”

“Errr… spoon.”

I fear E has a one-track mind; a track leading only to that diminutive, slightly sticky bottle of strawberry loveliness that is currently residing up on the shelf. So I administer two spoonfuls of the aforementioned life-saver and start the bedtime routine, thinking about the imminent large glass of red wine waiting for me
downstairs. Now there’s a proper nice thought.


A zebra in my shoe

Laura Slinn

I was never a meticulous, house-proud, zero-tolerance-to-mess, death to clutter kind of a gal. I wanted to be, I really did, but two key factors constantly impeded my dream: my inherent laziness when it came to tidying and the fact that M and I are just a little bit messy, all the time. I have always wanted a constantly tidy house, one where the dining table can be used for its primary purpose of dining without having to clear a smorgasbord of crap out the way first, but it has just never happened. Mind you, it has always been a controlled mess. The newspaper pile might be swollen and threatening to topple, but it is definitely a pile. A few dirty mugs might linger unwashed longer than is strictly necessary, but at least they congregate around the sink.

But with E, all tidiness bets are well and truly off. How does one small human being create such chaos with such little effort? And despite our attempts to at least constrain the mess, there is no crevice of the house left uncluttered. Shit just gets absolutely everywhere. I walk into the bathroom for a pee and there is a Santa hat discarded in the middle of the floor. A cricket bat lies abandoned under the kitchen table. A zebra nestles in my shoe.  A small car wheel appears in my knicker drawer. A two-inch plastic rod with a threaded end, once part of a construction kit but now universally referred to as ‘the red thing’ turns up
absolutely everywhere: first by the cooker, then in E’s bed, then down the back of the sofa cushion. I swear I throw the sodding thing away in a fit of pique, only then to see it floating in his bath the next day.

There is nowhere I can cast my gaze without some piece of child’s crap staining my peripheral vision. I feel like I am in the middle of some domestic-scale demonstration of entropy in action. A gradual decline into disorder: I may have that written on my gravestone. Or perhaps just on my medical notes.


You’re not going home, you’re not messy enough yet

What a genius idea: messy play. I sign E up for a set of sessions, gleeful that we have a Structured Activity in place for a non-nursery day, a day that can otherwise seeminly stretch unendingly into the distance and into which I am obliged to plan an ever-increasingly desperate set of things to do to keep E occupied whilst simultaneously wearing him out.

The idea is simple: kids being messy, just not in your house. Instead, we are in a clapped out old church hall, with bomb-proof lino on the floor and wipe-clean walls.

“Can we read some books, mummy?” E asks, once he has shed his cardigan at the spot on which he is currently standing. Oh no, no book reading thank you. I didn’t pay nearly a fiver to sit down in a non-messy way and read a non-messy book. “No,” I say, and lead him over to the glueing table, where an array of tiny glittery shapes and foam stickers are just waiting to be thrown around the room. He sits down and sparingly spreads a line of glue onto the blue sugar paper in front of him before gently sprinkling a small amount of glitter on top. “More,” I urge, like some malevolent glitter pusher. But he has already lost interest and heads to the books. Buggar.

A little later, we are at the Playdoh table. Except it is not actually PlayDoh, but a stickier, slightly gritter poor substitute that leaves a pink residue on my fingers and an annoying crunchiness under my finger nails. I continue to make a row of sausages on E’s request and look around the hall. One mum is pouring frothy water into a varierty of containers with a pink teapot whilst her son watches on, another mum is intent on drawing some flowers on the chalk board, her daughter having long wandered off. A third mum dollops paint onto a piece of paper as her son picks his nose, and another builds a castle with Lego whilst her daughter shows her knickers to any interested parties. Who the hell is this messy play for, anyway?

I find it is mainly an hour and a half of trying to be tolerant of other people’s kids. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I dislike other people’s kids. Actually, scrap that. That is exactly the case. I have never been a kid kind of a person, I don’t know why. It could be that heady combination of excrutiating volume, lack of control over bodily excretions and utter belief that the world revolves around them. Mind you, it could just be they smell a bit. Luckily, the act of becoming a parent must have activated the otherwise dormant kid-loving gene, allowing me to believe that the sun, moon and stars all emanate from my son’s posterior on a regular basis – although this sudden rush of kid-love seems only to extend to my offspring.

So when a boy snatches a toy from E’s hand whilst his mother looks on and says nothing, I smile thinly and roll my eyes in that ‘kids, huh?’ kind of way. And as soon as she has her back turned, I prise the aforementioned toy from the boy’s grubby little fingers and reinstate it with its rightful owner. And when a girl rams my ankle with a loaded pram, I pat her on the head and smile through gritted teeth, whilst simultaneously wondering if anyone would notice if I accidentally clock her on the head with the pink teapot I am now holding. Another boy makes me wince just looking at him, with his moustache of mucus and unidentifed breakfast materials coagulating at the corners of his mouth.

The final activity of the session is a communal sing along. A variety of instruments have been distributed to the kids and mums are busily trying to get small bums to stay on seats with varying rates of success. Already barely contained chaos is threatening to tip over into unrestrained violence, as one girl swings her over-sized maraca round in a windmill fashion, endangering the skulls of at least three of her immediate neighbours. The song starts, a cacophony of reluctant parental singing and random percussion noises from the floor. Several drumsticks are being sucked viciously and one enterprising boy has realised that using another boy’s head as a drum is quite effective in the noise-making department.

One parent is engaged in a futile attempt to try and get her little girl to hold the triangle properly, showing her three times to grasp the string, not the metal – and three times failing. Watching her getting more cross as her daughter insists on free-style triangling makes me want to grab the bloody thing and hit the mother repeatedly over the head accompanied by the words: “Let her hold it how she bloody well likes, you cow.” I don’t, although I might have got away with it if I had sung it to the tune of Five Little Ducks.

There is a collective sigh of relief when song time is over and no major injuries have been sustained. I hope St John’s ambulance will be in attendance next time as I fear it is only a matter of luck that someone has not got a mini-castanet stuck in their ear.

We go to leave, but not without one last attempt to get E to engage in something messy as he almost seems cleaner than when he arrived. One last painting where I don’t care how much paint falls from your paintbrush and onto the floor? One last collage, and I promise I won’t say a word when you stick all the stickers to the furniture? A quick splash with the water, and I really don’t mind if you pour it down the wall? But no. We get into the car and I look down. I have a spray of pink paint on my sleeve, a patch of ground-in Play Doh on my top, a circle of wet on my trousers and a trail of glitter stuck to my forearm. Well, sod it. it is messy play, after all.


A choice within a choice

I swore I would never, ever bribe a child of mine to get them to do something. Obviously, I made this pledge long before I actually had a child, a promise to myself that joins the ever-growing list of parental pledges that I have been systematically breaking with bitter abandon ever since my womb-tenant vacated. Smelling the arse of my baby in public to ascertain if he has pooed. Licking a tissue and wiping a dirty cheek (let me just clarify: I am talking facial cheeks. Even I have some standards). Finishing off left-overs from his plate. And now bribery.

It is just that there are certain sticking points, or more accurately, flash points, that seem to end up in protracted, painful and inevitably fruitless negotiation. And it does seem that several of these are all based around the theme of trying to get the incalcitrant child out of the front door. Whilst experience has taught me that it is wise to add at least twenty minutes to the schedule to accommodate the last fifteen foot of the journey out of the house and over the threshold, sometimes even this is not enough.

Getting shoes on. Now there is an innocuous enough activity that can turn into a monstrous power struggle of epic proportions. Some days I can be found chasing E round the kitchen table, brandishing his shoes in my fists like some kind of middle-aged hoodlum that got tooled up in the Clarks’ kids department, cajoling him with ever-increasing desperation to just SIT DOWN. When I do catch him, I find a leg-lock is by far the most successful strategy to achieve full shoe-ness, although it is usually accompanied by a fair amount of screaming, emanating mostly (but not always exclusively) from E.

Getting a jacket on. ‘Give your child a choice within a choice’ I have read many times from a variety of parenting guides. You know the books, they are peppered with ridiculous photos of an ethnically-diverse range of young children all looking suspiciously clean, with gleaming complexions brought about by a sickeningly varied diet of fruit and vegetables, with sentences that seem to acknowledge that parenting is hard, but with a subtext that reads ‘but if you really do find it hard then you are not fit to be a parent and please take your unfortunate off-spring to the nearest social services’.

A choice within a choice. The aim of this, I think, is to allow the child a semblance of independence in a controlled way. In reality, it is a stark demonstration of the old adage: ‘give them an inch and they will push you and push you and push you a mile, until you crack and lie sobbing on the floor’. I may be paraphrasing a little.

I hold two jackets up for E to choose from. Ha. A choice within a choice. I have this nailed. I hold all the cards (or the jackets, to be precise) and E holds an illusion of choice. E immediately walks over to the coat rack and pulls off his winter coat. “This one,” he states. Wait a bloody minte. That is a choice outside of the choice. That’s not the bloody rules. And anyway, fifteen minutes in that fleece-lined coat and his internal organs will reach boiling point and his eyes will melt.

‘No,’ I say firmly. ‘This one or this one.’ I wave them toward him to clarify, just in case he didn’t understand the first time. ‘This one,’ he repeats, waving the coat toward me to clarify, just in case I didn’t understand the first time. I think one of the jackets I am holding is squeaking until I realise it is the sound of my teeth grinding together. ‘No,’ I repeat. ‘You are wearing one of these two. Tell me which one you want or I will choose.’

‘This one,’ he replies and looks at me with defiance. Several options are open to me at this point. Choices within a choice, if you will. I can use brute force to get him into a jacket, but past experience tells me that this is inevitably a lose-lose situation not dissimilar to trying to get an angry octopus into a small carrier bag, with the aforementioned octopus then having the mother of all strops down the length of the High Street. I can forgo the jacket all together and teach E a lesson by being outside in a tee shirt, except my middle-class parental guilt will not allow this to happen. I can carry on with the ‘you choose’ negotiation until there is no oxygen left in the house and we both fall over, or it gets dark and the shops shut, whichever happens first. Or I can employ a strategic slice of bribery. Bingo.

‘If you put this jacket on, you can have a packet of raisins.” Two compliant arms shoot out and stepping over the quickly discarded winter coat, E navigates himself expertly into the jacket, even turning to face me so that I can zip it up.  I am a broiling mass of self-loathing at my pitiful capitulation of my no bribery rule, seasoned with a large dollop of relief at having achieved Mission Jacket-On without the need of a second adult, a shoe horn or a shouting match.

We cross the threshold of the house as I slip a second packet of raisins into my pocket. Bribery. Now there’s the real choice within a choice.