Monthly Archives: January 2012

FSSS

I have been struck down with a little-known condition that seems to affect most parents at some stage: FSSS, or False Sense of Security Syndrome (or to give it it’s Latin name, Pridus avant Fallus, Twatus). It is triggered by your child getting better at something or mastering an up-until-this-point unachievable skill. The parent starts by feeling relieved, then moves into a phase of being pleased which often is accompanied by a side-effect of smugness, usually coinciding with the compelling urge to tell someone else about your offspring’s achievement. The penultimate symptom is a calming sense of closure on the previous worry that they would be the only child walking the planet that had never managed this. But the final, most debilitating symptom by far is the sinking feeling when realisation strikes that the problem is far from over after all and you were just experiencing a mild, hallucinogenic episode, often brought on by fatigue.

Let’s take an example at random. Ooh, I don’t know, let’s say E’s inability to sleep through the night, for the sake of argument. And argue I will, because I am a tad short-tempered and quite frankly, I can start an argument with a house brick these days, because I am still FUCKING TIRED.

We had duly pinned up the bribe sheet, sorry, I mean reward chart and in eight days, E had racked up five sleep throughs and had earned himself a book. Rock and roll, we thought. What a piece of piss this behaviour change is, we mused, as our fingers hovered over another sticker to add to the growing, wobbly line that represented E’s success at sleeping. We’ve got this cracked, we whispered to each other as we got into bed, anticipating another delicious night of uninterrupted sleep. I may have mentioned it to a couple of friends. Big, big mistake. Now, suddenly, E has decided that he can’t sleep  through after all. The next bribe is still two stickers away, and remains resolutely so. Every night as we put him to bed, we remind him of the holy grail of another treat that awaits him in just two more sleep throughs. Maybe he knows that I got the last book at a knock-down price of £2.49 from Amazon and he is punishing us for our cheapness. Or lack of imagination. He did mention to M on receipt of the book that technically, a treat is chocolate-based, or words to that effect. An effect such as: “where is my chocolate treat, daddy?”

So we are back if not right to the start, then somewhere near it, except £2.49 worse off and with a growing sense of frustration and even more tired than before. Maybe we should up the bribe ante? I am loathe to go down this route, for fear of bankrupting ourselves and spoiling E. After all, my natural instinct is to staple him through the testicles to the mattress in order to get him to stay in bed, not to shower him with gifts. Though I appreciate my natural maternal instincts and compassionate motherhood may not be in speaking terms. They may not even exist in the same universe, to be fair.

And I just can’t escape the niggling feeling that the early success at sleeping through was simply a demonstration by E of his ability to get though the night without getting out of bed. Think I can’t sleep through, mummy? Well I’ll show you. Zzzz. There you go. Five nights of sleep throughs: tick. Now, let’s get back to coming in at 3am every night, as it’s far more entertaining to see you roll out of bed with atrocious bed hair, grinding your teeth and trying hard not to shout at me. We experienced a similar thing with E getting himself undressed. We made a big fuss about him being able to undress himself, and employing that parental favourite of reverse psychology, insisted that he couldn’t possibly be grown up enough to take his own clothes off, thereby managing to get him to strip off without a fuss before bath time. For about a week. At which point, the penny dropped and E realised that this whole ‘new skills and greater independence’ equation had one great big minus side: more work for him. At which point he promptly lost interest in getting himself undressed and re-entered the much more amusing territory of having mummy try and extricate a small boy from his top whilst his arms are resolutely folded over his chest.

I think the root cause of FSSS is parental optimism (P.O.). I am no scientist, but I believe the P.O. gene spontaneously comes into being at the point of offspring birth. It is not only to blame for recurring bouts of FSSS, it has it’s chirpy little fucking fingers in all sorts of erroneous thoughts and actions, such as: I think my five-year old is very intelligent, just look how quickly he completed that four-piece puzzle, or: I will enrol her in ballet, I think she has real promise to be a great dancer once she stops falling over. I understand the Darwinian imperative attached to this optimism gene, as it would make it a tad more difficult to survive and thrive if a child hears the unvarnished truth fall from its parents’ mouths on a regular (‘Look, Freddie, you’re just a bit thick, so stick to the comics, will you?’ and ‘I’m not saying you are not ballet dancer material, sweetie, but you did crack three floor tiles the last time you practised’). But bloody hell, it sure can make talking to parents at their kid’s party a painful and dull experience.

There appears to be no cure for FSSS. But on the up-side, it tends to be short-lived. My current bout was done and dusted in eight days, after all – from hope to despair, in just over a week, not unlike doing the lottery. We have now all clambered aboard the good ship Wakefulness again, to sail the rough waters of interrupted sleep and spurious claims of ‘I’ve had a bad dream, mummy,’ from the ship’s captain. But the next time E sleeps through, I shall take it for what it is: temporary calm before the next sleepless storm. Pass a bloody sou’wester, will you?


The Toddler’s Alphabet (part 2)

H is for Hero Next Door. Aka: Fireman Sam. E can’t remember not to drop his coat on the floor when he shrugs it from his shoulders or to say please voluntarily, but he has pinpoint recall of the lyrics to one of his favourite TV programmes. It is slightly grating to be informed that “Fireman Sam is the hero next door, mummy,” on multiple occasions, but he is then somewhat forgiven by uttering the line “You are my hero, mummy.” (Perhaps, in retrospect, he just wishes that I lived next door).  The coat on the floor thing remains unforgiven, obviously. I have some standards.

I is for interruption. A fundamental part of the toddler’s irritation tool kit. And it’s no good teaching them to say ‘excuse me’ either, as they still bloody well interrupt you, they are just marginally more polite about it.

J is for joking. As in: “only joking, mummy,” as he senses he is three nanoseconds away from a complete bollocking.

K is for kick, as in “Let’s play kick in the garden.” As opposed to “Don’t kick, that’s naughty.” Christ, no wonder he is confused.

L is for like. “I like broccoli.” Super. Then “I don’t like broccoli.” Oh. Then he gobbles the lot up anyway.

M is for magic, used by mummy to explain many explainable, scientific or natural phenomena that I simply can’t explain due to lack of brain cells, lack of time or simply lack of bloody motivation. For example: “Where does the wind come from?”, “how does the electricity get out of the socket?” and “How does Santa carry all those toys in one sack?” Saying “Magic” is a darn sight quicker than Google and about as accurate as most entries on Wikipedia.

To be continued…


The Toddler’s Alphabet (part one)

Laura Slinn

A is for apple. For god’s sake, it seems impossible not to start a child’s alphabet with apple. Please. Someone. Let’s go with aardvark for a change, shall we?

B is for bottom, boobies and blow offs. The holy trinity of hilarity, a never-ending source of fascination for any toddler. I laughed the first time. Now I feel like weeping.

C is for cubumber. The language mangle of a two year old means cucumber will forever, in our house, be cubumber. Doubly hilarious given it contains the word ‘bum’.

D is for doggie. A source of much interest (“ooh mummy, look, a doggie!”) which is swiftly replaced by fear as said doggie approaches at speed with lolling tongue and crossed eyes. See also: Dangerous.

E is for efalunt. You know, the thing with the long trunk. Keep the handle of the language mangle turning.

F is for friend. As in “You are not my best friend any more, mummy.” God, he knows how to hurt. But I know where the chocolate buttons are hidden, so that makes us equal.

G is for Gruffalo. All hail Ms J. Donaldson, it’s the book that keeps on giving. Useful for enticing incalcitrant toddlers outside. “Let’s go on a gruffalo hunt!” gets them in their wellies and out the door quicker than laying a trail of chocolate buttons and is less damaging on their tooth enamel.

To be continued…


The sleep of the damned

E has never been blessed with the sleep of the righteous. The momentous night when he first slept through until morning, aged ten months, would be etched on my mind forever if I hadn’t been so fucking exhausted that I couldn’t even remember my own name, let alone events and dates. I do recall grinding my teeth in silent rage at other mums who couldn’t wait to tell me that their little darling now had a regular, all night sleeping pattern aged six months. Well, bully for them and their clever, clever offspring, I used to think as I stared at my reflection in the mirror, contemplating the two bags for life that I was cultivating under my eyes.

As he got older we did have a spell of sleeping through most nights – a few months of delicious normality. Either that, or after a year of not sleeping properly, M and I were just so tired that once asleep we could stay that way even if our toes were on fire and our son was screaming blue murder from across the hallway. And then he turned two, and whatever sleep spell that had been cast over him, wore off. The sleep fairy packed her glittery little bag, fluttered her gossamer thin wings and fucked off on an extended sabbatical to the Outer Hebrides. Bitch.

But hey, it was only another six months before E managed to sleep for more than five hours at a time, so it wasn’t as if we lived somewhere that resembled the house of the living dead or anything. And I was hardly grumpy and short-tempered at all. Much advice was taken from other parents in similar predicaments, my personal favourite of which was to grease the bedroom door knob with Nivea to keep the child from leaving it’s place of slumber, a genius piece of moisturiser based improvisation, which even I didn’t have the heart to try but enthusiastically applauded.  Many tactics were tried, however. And most failed.

But recently, E has been an okay sleeper. Let’s face it, his report card would not be covered in shiny gold stars, and some nights would provoke the comment of ‘could do better’, but we could cope with him getting up once a night. Until that started to become twice. And sometimes three. And once a couple of weeks ago, it became six. M and I held an emergency sleep summit. When we woke up, prised our foreheads from the kitchen table, and wiped away the embedded toast crumbs, we decided there was nothing else for it. No, not the staples-through-the-pyjamas strategy (although I fought my corner hard on that one) but a good, old fashioned system of bribery. Or as parents refer to it nowadays in order to con themselves into thinking it is behaviourally more beneficial than a bribe: the reward chart.

The equation is simple enough that even a sleep-deprived three year old could get it: sleeping through all night = 1 sticker. 5 stickers = treat. Simple. And get it E does. A little too well, for my liking. The first night we try it, he runs into our bedroom at six o clock the following morning.

“Mummy, I slept all night! Can I have a sticker?” We whoop through our yawns and congratulate him.

On day two, he comes in and wakes us. “I slept all night!” he exclaims proudly. “Can we put a ticker on my chart now?” On day three, he does the same.

Was it that easy? Really? After all those months of trying every parenting trick in the book, and all we had to do was dangle the tantalising prospect of an unspecified treat in front of him? Some piece of plastic tat that he will be inseparable from for about three hours, then step on and have it assigned to the bin? Is this all he has been waiting for? An opportunity to gain materialistically before he was willing to do what he always knew he could do, and not keep getting out of bed? I feel somewhat duped.

There is one downside of this full night’s sleep malarkey. When E comes into our room in the morning, he has more energy than Tigger on acid. This morning, the forty futile minutes that I tried to get him to lie down with me and have a quiet cuddle whilst I napped for a little longer resulted in an accidental fist in my face, three eye pokes (at least one of which was definitely not bloody accidental), a kick in the pelvis, approximately seventeen requests to play a game with him, a number of chin licks, several requests to “smell my hand, mummy”, a pillow grab that resulted in neck ache within five minutes, an excruciating knee on my boob and several rounds of self-induced raucous laughter at the repeated mention of “poo poo”. By the time I got up, I was completely sodding exhausted. No change there, then.


A nice relaxing bath…

Even given my status as a mediocre mother, I was never naive enough to believe that the terrible twos would be confined to just twelve months.  A two-year-old’s tantrums are simply the foundation year in nearly a decade and a half’s worth of training, with a view to graduating with honours in Stroppiness, Bloodymindedness and an extra-curricular module in Unreasonableness at around the age of thirteen.

E had his fair share of two-year old tantrums, but none can have been that heinous as I can already no longer recall the specifics of any. Either that, or they were so traumatic my subconscious has done me a favour and wiped them from my memory, along with simultaneous equations and getting stuck in a pitch black lift aged six.

But his three-year old tantrums display just a tad more… application to the task in hand. M was always an expert at distracting him out of his paddies, usually by making him laugh. My own failing in the forgiveness department (currently closed for long-term renovation) meant that I was less inclined to bring levity into the situation. Why the fuck should I make him laugh? He’s having a tantrum, I am pissed off, he is miserable, I am trying not to shout, he is deliberately winding me up, I am trying hard to remember which one of us is the child… there is nothing even remotely amusing about this. Whilst a well-placed tickle and a raspberry blow may transform the tantrum into giggles, I usually found myself too occupied with grinding my teeth and getting him in a headlock so I could complete the teeth-cleaning mission to attempt a jocular intervention of any sort.

But now, there seems to be little that can be deployed from our diversionary armoury to stop him when he is full flow. It is usually around bath time, the bewitching hour when those twinkling stars of tiredness, over excitement and unwillingness to get wet align in some kind of unholy trinity of bad behaviour. And that is just me.

First, there is the battle to undress. Now he has mastered the art of taking his clothes off himself, he is no longer that interested in repeating the skill on a nightly basis, which suits me fine from an expediency point of view. But I can tell from the second my finger hooks into the top of his sock whether this process will go smoothly or not.

“No, no, no! Get off mummy! Get off!” starts the plaintive yell. Oh good. It’s going to be one of those bath times.

“Come on, sweeetie,” I say, pulling my mouth into a smile with some effort. Let’s keep this nice and friendly, and it could all blow over.

“NO!” E shouts. Fat chance of early peace talks, he has gone straight for the big guns. There then ensues an ugly battle usually involving arm-to-arm combat as I wrestle his trousers down whilst he crawls commando-style away from me across the landing, a stand-off where I lose visual contact as he sulks, trouserless, in another room, a temporary strategic withdrawal by me whilst I decide which tactic to use next and finally an ultimatum issued regarding the loss of a story book if he does not take his vest off RIGHT NOW.

Finally naked, I strong-arm him to the bath. I will attempt a reconciliation at this point, but these days, it is more often than not a waste of oxygen. I lift him up, at which point he will display a hitherto unknown athletic ability to do the splits, sequential scissor kicks and other hip-defying manoeuvres to ensure there is always one limb outside of the bath to prevent entry. At this point, I ponder the necessity of baths. Could we not dispense with taking baths altogether? It would solve many behavioural issues and cleanliness is seeming more and more over-rated as the minutes tick by.

I manage to get E in at last, and try not to think about the fact that my sleeves are wet to the shoulder, the front of my top is practically dripping , rapidly-cooling bath water is seeping through to my bra, and there are wet footprints all over my trousers. Hell, I even manage to wash him, but already the teeth clean is looming. E may now be calm and engaged in giving me a bubble beard, but the moment I brandish that toothbrush all hell could break loose. I have gathered a number of strategies to try and keep him diverted from a strop, including a sing-along-a-teeth-clean, a teeth-clean count-down, a ‘let’s pretend it’s an electric toothbrush’ and ‘let’s clean the crocodile’s teeth and make it snappy’ game. All of which are as likely to work as to provoke outrage the likes of which I have not seen since I tried to get him out of the car after he had fallen asleep.

The most effective weapon I can muster is the threat to take story-time books away. I did try the naughty step. It worked precisely once. For some misbehaviour now nestling in a box in my head marked ‘do not open’ alongside mathematical equations and lift trauma, I put him on the naughty step for two minutes. He sat there, eyes brimming with tears for the duration then contritely apologised on my request. Ha, I thought, good old Super Nanny, this works like a bloody dream. The following day, as E was mustering up some new naughtiness, I warned him to stop.

“Are you going to put me on the naughty step, mummy?” he grinned. And then he actually lifted his hands up and slapped them down onto his thighs as he bent double with the overwhelming hilarity of the notion that I thought the naughty step would work again. I may have uttered an atrocious swear word at this point, quiet enough that E could not hear it over his gales of laughter, but loud enough that a fairy died and crumbled to dust instantaneously.

But there is one strategy that I have devised that I have yet to try which I feel has some potential: a cardboard box, copious amounts of sellotape, a bendy straw and an air hole. Yep, I definitely think it’s a goer. In fact, I quite fancy spending bath time trapped in a small, dark space. It’ll be a fuck of a lot drier, if nothing else.


Christmas Conundrums

Christmas is supposed to be relaxing, not taxing. But from the perspective of a three year old, Christmas is a time for asking. For presents. For chocolate. And then for a bit more chocolate. And then “just one last bit, mummy,” followed by “just one more last bit.” At least I know what is going in next year’s stocking: a new set of bloody teeth.

But mainly, it transpires, Christmas was a time for asking questions about that great, mythical figure that looms large over proceedings. No, not daddy – Santa Claus, the greatest housebreaker that ever roamed the roof tops.

E is standing in front of our fire, a stove affair with a door and handle. “How does Santa open the door from the inside?” he enquires. Perhaps he is already imagining the horror of running downstairs on Christmas morning to find the smouldering remains of Father Christmas in the stove, his sooty, bearded face pressed against the glass door and rigor mortis already setting in to his red hat.

“Ah, Santa has a magic key that opens any stove door,” I reply.

“How does he park the sleigh on the roof?” E then asks. I feel he is thinking a tad too logically about the whole Santa-logistics thing.

“Well, Rudolph drops Santa off and parks on the lawn,” I explain. “Which is where we will leave the carrots.” I am hoping the mention of foodstuffs might sway him from his line of enquiry.

“How many carrots do we leave?” he asks. Jesus, what do you want, a spreadsheet and detailed itinerary?

“One for every reindeer,” I reply. Please, please don’t ask me how many reindeer there are.

“What does Santa eat?” Phew. Now, this is an easy one. There are no mince pies in this house, as mummy doesn’t like mince pies.  “Chocolate biscuits,” I say. “Several. In case he is hungry.” Or indeed, in case I fancy a late night snack.

“How does Santa fly?” E then asks.

“Fairy dust.” This is the most plausible explanation, I feel, given that he has just seen Peter Pan and the children there need fairy dust to fly, so should E feel the need to cross-reference his sources he will find the ‘fairy dust’ solution pretty much water-tight.

“How does he fit all the presents in his sack?”

“Magic,” I reply. “A magic sack.” He’s just going to have to take my word on this one.

I briefly ponder the benefits of perpetuating this myth of ‘magic’. A previous quick online search had uncovered a whole swathe of parents who refuse to indulge their kids with the fairy tale of Santa, instead going straight for the jugular of truth and bluntly telling it how it is. Bollocks to that. Lying to your kids is a parent’s prerogative, is it not? If you have to endure the tantrums, the vomiting, the eighty-two rounds of When Santa got Stuck up the Chimney, then the very least we deserve is the facility to tell great big, juicy whoppers. I don’t really consider telling kids about Santa a white lie. It is too big for that. Not so much white, or even a subtle pastel, but perhaps purple. With a bit of glitter. But I am happy to run the gamut of untruths from white to black, quite frankly.

After all, it will be years before he realises that daddy has not, in fact, got Santa on speed dial for when E is being naughty. Personally, if he still believes that when he is sixteen I will feel my work here has been done.