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.