Monthly Archives: September 2011

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.

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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.