Monthly Archives: February 2012

Daddy does tickles

Nature, nurture. Nurture, nature. How much of a boy’s love of whacking people around the head with a sword and playing destruction derby with as many toy cars as possible is a product of their gender genes, and how much is the unconscious influence of parental expectation? How much does a little girl’s desire for pink reflect something innate within her, and how much is down to the fact that barely an item of girls’ clothing or girls’ toys can make it into the shop without at least a dash of pink, a frill or a smattering of glitter?

I am glad to have a boy. Pink brings me out in hives. And I spent a fair proportion of my childhood playing with Lego and Meccano, so having a boy felt much more natural to me. Give me the risk of getting pee in my eye from an unshielded willy at nappy change time than have to deal with the prospect of putting tights on a baby girl any day of the week.

But I have come to the realisation that my concern over gender stereotyping has been pointing in the wrong direction all along. Forget trying to bring your child up without gender bias. It’s our roles, the bloody parents, that should be the real cause for concern.

I like a bit of rough and tumble with E. Me and the kitchen floor have been very well acquainted over the last three years, as E and I play aeroplanes, or mummy monsters, which involves a long chase around the dining table followed by inevitable capture and incessant poking and tickling whilst rolling around on the floor, picking up squashed peas and toast crumbs with gay abandon. (Not to be confused with mummy simply acting like a monster, which involves a severe lack of sleep, much  shouting and definitely no tickling). I thought I was quite a fun mum on the physical play front. Granted, I don’t swing E around quite as much as M does, purely because even three years of pad boxing does not build arm muscles sufficiently to allow prolonged lifting of a toddler whose legs seem to have been filled with concrete. But it appears I may have been mistaken on the fun-mummy front.

Recently, E announced that “daddy does funny tickles.” Yes he does, I agreed, what a fun daddy.

E then added: “Mummy does cuddles.”

Well yes, this is true. I do. But however heart-warming it is to hear your son acknowledge that you score highly on the cuddle-o-meter, it’s a bit well… mummy-ish.

So I seek clarification. “And mummy does tickles too?”

“No!” came the unequivocal response. “That’s daddy’s job.”

Well buggaration. Since when did M get appointed to the role of Chief Funster? I think there must have been a bribe involved, as the post was not even bloody advertised and I had my CV all ready, highlighting my willingness to be a team tickle-player, and my experience as an expert Lego tower demolisher. Instead, I get the mummy role, involving cuddles and the application of a Mr Bump cold gel patch whenever he walks into the cupboard door that I keep leaving open, as I never remember that he is too tall these days to walk underneath it, proof if needed that my skill as a nurturer comes under the ‘could do better’ category.

Ah well. I guess the Mummy Cuddler role is okay. Mind you, the pay is shit and the hours are fucking dreadful.

The Toddler’s Alphabet (part 4)

T is for thank you. Often missing from a toddler’s vocabulary until much haranguing has taken place. Or T for tomorrow, which toddlers have absolutely no concept of whatsoever: “Are we going swimming today, mummy?” “No, tomorrow.” “This day?” “No, after you wake up.” And you can forget the concept of time beyond the next 24 hours. I nearly broke E’s brain trying to explain that his birthday was eight months away.

U is for uh-oh. Learnt early on, it can be applied in a multitude of circumstances, but is usually uttered slowly by a toddler just after they have broken something of yours that is valuable. And quite probably irreplaceable. Like your will to live.

V is for very, used to compensate for a lack of vocabulary: “It is very, very, very, very big, mummy.” “Is it huge?” I reply, trying to give him an alternative word to replace his repetition. “No, it is very, very, very, very big.” So there.

W is for why. Oh my god, the why question. I am sure this is used alongside water boarding and sleep deprivation by the military. Oh, and with it’s almost as irritating alphabet-mate, whinging.

X is for xylophone. The only reason this instrument has not been confined to the pile marked ‘firewood’ is that no one knows any other word to teach a toddler for X. And quite frankly, X-ray is just bloody cheating.

Y is for yukky. Can apply to almost any substance or circumstance. Often: “Mummy, you smell yukky.” Well, it takes one to know one.

Z is for Zebra. The only Z word you learn, along with zoo and zip, until the age of 26.

I do it because I love you

“I’m only doing this because I love you.”

Oh, that old parental chestnut. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be employed with increasing frequency as E gets older. It appears to be a part-apology / part-excuse for inflicting some hideous action or discipline on your off spring, whilst maintaining a veneer of altruism… I am warming to it already. Shouting at them for not looking before they cross the road, confiscating the tin opener (which in a house full of toys seems to be unsurpassable in terms of entertainment value for a three year old), yanking their hand away from the scorching hot plate you have just put on the table… in the inevitable tearful, tantrumful aftermath, you utter those words without a second thought.

I used to say it to E after every swimming lesson that we endured. To be fair, he sometimes couldn’t actually hear me say those words being uttered over the screaming fit he was having – on one occasion impressively maintained at an ear-splitting level all the way out the pool, through the changing room and into the car park.

I am not one to give up easily, and gritted my teeth through three sets of lessons, feigning fun and water-based thrills for E’s sake. The very least he could do, I thought, was to feign it back. But no. He seemed to hate every minute. I know I did. But I only made him keep going because I loved him and wanted him to learn to swim so that of the three million ways that the Grim Reaper could do his dastardly deed, drowning would not be one of them.  It’s probably back on his list now, several places above ‘falling into a sausage-making machine’ and ‘death by over-consumption of ice cream’ as I have admitted defeat on the lessons. I did the lessons because I loved him, but there is a limit. Which turns out in my case to be twenty-four swimming lessons, sixteen refusals to hold a float, five tantrums and three hard whacks in the face with a yellow woggle.

However, defeat is a relative concept as a parent; I prefer to think of defeat more in terms of simply redefining a strategy. We do still go swimming. I am very keen that E should build his confidence in the water and so most Monday mornings, when saner people are sitting at their desks pretending to be industrious, or at the very least, sitting at home in the warm with their toddler engaged in an activity that involves neither lycra or water, E and I are to be found at the swimming pool. Swimming in the winter. It’s just one up from camping, in my book (that’s the book entitled ‘Things I will never do (oh bollocks, I’ve got a kid)’.

So here we are again, bobbing up and down in the child’s pool. Having failed to persuade him to put arm bands on, he is resolutely holding onto me and I am desperately trying to prevent him pulling my costume straps down thus inadvertently flashing my boobs to the rest of the pool. He is not a fan of arm bands, more’s the pity. I blame his previous swimming lessons, where no one was allowed to wear them. I don’t really understand why – they were part and parcel of learning to swim when I was a tadpole. That and white, crumbly floats with a bite-sized chunk (replete with teeth marks) missing from one of the edges. It seems to me akin to a lot of educational theory these days, where half-baked ideas are introduced as improvement, but turn out to be – well, just crap ideas. It reminds me of nursery, when E was in the baby and then toddler class. Drawing was never referred to as drawing. It was mark making. This pretentious moniker can only, I assume, have been adopted as any numpty with opposable thumbs can make a mark. Blimey, let’s face it, you don’t even need thumbs. Or fingers. Or hands, if it comes to that. Drag a baby or toddler across a piece of A3 paper without their nappy on, chances are a mark will be made. Tick: module accomplished. Whereas drawing sounds a little too much like there is actual skill involved, and under no circumstances should skill be part of education; it may engender feelings of inferiority amongst those who are not gifted with the ability to progress pass skid-marks on the artistic front. Crack. Oh, I do believe that is the sound of my soap box buckling under the weight of my own rhetoric.

Anyway, back to the arm bands, my very own two-fingered salute to the swimming teachers of this parish.  I am keen to get him to wear them so that he can experience the joy of floating safely and independently in the water and start to learn to propel himself forward with confidence. Or, so that I can stop exposing my breasts to total strangers and to give my arm muscles a bloody rest from carrying him in the water… I couldn’t possibly say which.

A girl doggy paddles past in her arm bands. “Ooh, look,” I exclaim, “she’s having fun in her arm bands. Do you want to put yours on?”

E nods enthusiastically. Bingo. There is little that peer pressure does not resolve. So now sporting his unwieldy buoyancy aids, he finally lets me go and gingerly allows himself float. He starts to grin manically as he realises what he is doing, and almost a full minute of triumphant floating passes before he gets a tad over-confident and actually tries to move a limb, at which point his head bobs down slightly and he takes in a mouthful of water. Before I can say ‘please don’t grab me there,’ he has clamped himself back on to my straps and I have shown my left mammary to a passing dad. Super.

And then, mercifully, it is time to get out. We get changed and talk happily of the impending trip to the leisure centre cafe, where there is promise of a shared slab of flapjack, the usual treat for being a  good boy in the pool. And it is excellent flapjack. Per inch, it is possibly the heaviest substance known to man, with all the structural integrity of reinforced concrete. But boy, is it good. That flapjack, I think, the only bloody reason either of us can stomach the weekly torture, sorry trip, to the pool. All that horrible getting wet, the accidental swallowing of pool water that no doubt contains a large proportion of strangers’ urine, the sheer effort of supporting a three-year-old in the water for forty minutes, the standing on the changing room floor in someone else’s wet patch, the haste to get dry which means your knickers drag reluctantly all the way up your still-damp legs… I do it because I love him. Or perhaps because I love that flapjack. Okay, it might just be the flapjack.

The Toddler’s Alphabet (part 3)

N is for no. Of course it is, we’re dealing with toddlers here. Once they have struck upon ‘no’, it seems to open a golden door of exerting control that proves too tempting for a toddler to resist and must be repeated as often as possible. Preferably with an ever-increasing volume. And sometimes with a foot-stamp thrown in for extra drama and emphasis. Guaranteed to set your teeth a-grinding and your fists a-clenching.

O is for one. As in “Just one more mummy.” Pertains to bed time stories, chocolate or Octonauts episodes. Particularly effective as a strategy when mummy is too exhausted to argue.

P is for poo. Or more accurately, poo-poo, as it is rarely uttered in the singular, or without being accompanied by much laughter.  “Mummy, you smell of poo-poo,” is a real favourite. Which is ironic coming from a boy whose own excrement odour can strip woodchip from plaster walls from ten paces. Or P is for Please. A word never spoken without a prompt or a raised eyebrow, unless the toddler really, really wants something, at which point it is repeated twenty-nine times without pausing to take breath.

Q is for quiet. Often mis-translated by a toddler. Example: “Please be quiet,” at 6am when you are desperate for just another ten minutes kip is translated as “please shout directly in my ear right now, preferably whilst sticking your finger up my nose.”

R is for raisin. I had never bought a single raisin pre-parenthood. Now my cupboards are full of those little cardboard packets. As are the pockets of every jacket I own. And every handbag. And the carpet of my car is mainly held together by half masticated raisins too.

S is for silly. As in “Mummy, you are silly.” Usually said in loud voice in the middle of Tescos. Or S for sharing. As in “Share that toy right with me now or I will cry.”

To be continued…