Monthly Archives: July 2013

Welcome to Shitsville

Welcome to Shitsville

The terrible twos. It’s an alliterative parental minefield, isn’t it, surviving the terrible twos. I have a sneaking suspicion though, that the concept of the terrible twos came about for a number of reasons:

1. To hide the fact that the terribleness goes on way, way longer than the year when they are actually two – but to admit as much may make parents weep uncontrollably, and

2. The Terrible Threes, or the Terrible Fours, just does not have the same snappy ring about it.

In my experience (status: amateur parent, achievements: not killing or seriously maiming either of my children by accident, career ambition: to get more sleep) the terrible twos is a misnomer of epic proportions. E did have a few tantrums when he was two, but he was worse when he was three. Perhaps the Throttling Threes then? Although this has more to do with what I wanted to do to him when he had said tantrums or misbehaved, rather than describing his behaviour. Not that tantrums need describing. You ask a parent of a toddler about tantrums, and they will wince, their teeth will involuntarily start to grind together and their fists will clench repeatedly. Oh…right. Just me then.

But now E is four, we have stumbled into a whole new territory of behaviour. Not so much tantrums, but worse. I never thought I would yearn for those days when you were faced with a tantrum, but I kind of miss their simplicity. And the simple strategy to deal with them: walk away. I like this as a strategy. My whole life, I have lived by the principle that I should not to walk away from things: confront problems, don’t hide from issues, stand and fight (not literally fight, you understand. That’s just crazy talk. Unless you are standing in front of someone much smaller, with glasses and no arms). But a tantrum? Get the hell away from it as fast as you possibly can and go and put the kettle on or reach for the wine, depending on whether you can justify a quick glass of red at 2.30 in the afternoon or not. Of course, health and safety fans, you have to make sure the tantrumer is not going to hurt themselves. I tended to put a ring of traffic cones around his prostrate, writhing body and in worst case scenarios, employed two miserable looking men in high-vis jackets with ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’ signs and half-smoked roll-ups clutched between their fingers to stand either end of him, waving or halting traffic past as required. Anyway, enough of my parenting master class.

So, here we are, stumbling around this new territory of behaviour – let’s call it, oh, I don’t know… Shitsville, for the sake of argument. Well, I am stumbling, E is stomping and stamping, mostly. E seems to have both regressed two years in behavioural terms, and progressed nine years into teenhood simultaneously. So a request to turn the television off can be met with a crumpling of the face as tears threaten to make an appearance, whilst at the same time a surly and emphatic “no” is spat forth. It is a charming thing to behold. An innocent comment about popping along to the library later can provoke a howl of disdain, a stamp of the foot and a whine that puts fingernails and blackboards to shame in the irritation stakes.

And I have to admit, not for the first time in my parenting career (I call it a career, but I am not sure I should, as ‘career’ makes it sound a little too purposeful, with some forward momentum and improvement) I am a little flummoxed. These little Stand Offs in Shitsville – coming to a cinema near you soon, certificate 18, contains scenes of mild violence as I bang my head repeatedly against the wall  – are fairly frequent and bloody annoying and I am not sure I really have the right strategy to deal with them. I am wielding the only stick I know. It is a metaphorical one, of course. For now. I am withholding toys, treats and television: my alliterative arsenal of choice. I admit, I am doing it mainly for the sake of a quiet life – but if anyone asks, I was just following that sage parenting advice of ‘pick your battles wisely’. In the past, I probably wasn’t as strict as I should have been with admonishing naughtiness. Sometimes, I let it slide because a) I was in the middle of rescuing a small object from the mouth of my one year old, b) we needed to get in the car before midnight or c) I was just too sodding tired. All of which pretty much guarantees I will not be picking up the trophy for parent of the year any time soon. But now, wandering around Shitsville without a map, a sense of direction or any sort of clue, I have just become Super Bitch Mummy. At the first sign of trouble, I tell E what is at stake. At the second sign of trouble, he loses the toy or treat. At the third sign? He loses another. This can go on for some time. As I said, it’s not up there with the most effective of strategies, but it’s all that I have at this point.

What is most surprising – and I use the term surprising not in the ‘ooh, what a lovely present’ way, but in the ‘oh, I seem to have chopped my leg off in the food processor’ way – is the barefaced cheek. My four year old is channelling a grumpy thirteen year old. He can deliver a sarcastic “sor-reeee” with all the practised insouciance of a hormonal teenager and can back-chat with the best of them. After one particular episode at bedtime, where there were tears, shouting, screaming, stamping and admonishment (we were pretty honours even in all these stakes) and things had finally calmed down, I went back up to his room to have a chat, point out his unacceptable behaviour and get him settled. Doing this, I felt, would be the grown-up, parenty-type thing to do, rather than throw all his Lego in the dustbin, which was the first thought that actually sprang to mind. He listened to what I said. “So you are going to be good now?” I asked. “No I am not,” he replied bluntly. Christ on a bike. I wouldn’t recommend Shitsville as a destination. Quite frankly, it’s.. err… shit. I knew I should have looked on Trip Advisor before setting off.

There is a tiny cloud in the sky of Shitsville, with a tiny silver lining. Just a small one, but one nonetheless. I have spoken (well, technically, moaned, but let’s not split hairs) with several mums of four year olds, and they pretty much all say the same thing about the behaviour of their offspring at the moment. Lippy, chippy, grumpy, stompy kids. Actually, just add whingey, stampy and rudey and we can reinvent the Seven Dwarves for the iPad generation. Knowing my friends are dealing with the same crap does have a touch of schadenfreude about it, but show me a parent who is not secretly relieved that there are other poor sods in the same leaky, unstable boat. So there we all are, in our boat. Floating up Shit Creek. Guess where the paddle is? Nah, I don’t know, either.

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Hush little baby

B has lost the sleeping plot. Whereas I, on the other hand, am just losing the plot in general. Last night, at 3.10am, as I leant over B’s cot, stroking his back, willing him to sleep as he burbled, gurgled and swung his legs about with gay abandon, I thought I would sing him a lullaby. It turned out something like this, although a little more whispery and sung through gritted teeth than this version. Just click to listen. If you are going to play this, you may not be surprised that it contains swear words. I know, who’d have thought? So perhaps don’t play it on your iPad, full blast, on the 18.49 to Euston. My pathetic singing voice alone would be enough to create mass panic.

Oh, and if you can’t see a play button, but see a link with ‘download’, don’t panic… it won’t download, just play in another page. Honest.


Big is a relative concept

E is starting school in September. ‘Big school’, as we refer to it. Granted, big is a relative concept, as I have told past boyfriends more than once, but for E, it is a Big Thing. Or is it? To be honest, it is difficult to tell with him. This might be a boy thing, or a four year old thing, or just a him thing, but the Big Thing might not be such a Big Thing, and could be quite a Yeah Whatever Thing, but I’ll be damned if I can tell. It’s an I Don’t Have a Clue Thing from where I’m standing.

Talk of Big School has not been uncommon in our house for the past few months, and every conversation has me surreptitiously peering (which may seem like a contradiction in terms, but when you live with The Inscrutable One, your surreptitious peering skills are quickly honed to perfection) into E’s face, looking for a reaction that might reveal his true feelings about the transition from nursery to school. I tell you, that boy has a great future in MI6. He is as inscrutable as a house brick with a secret, that one. Nothing. Not a flicker. Not even after thumb screws and flushing his favourite toy down the toilet did he relinquish his true feelings about going to school.

“Are you looking forward to starting school?” I ask casually.

“Yes,” he replies, which really means: ‘I might be. I might not be. I could be totally relaxed about this, or a maelstrom of fear and anxiety. You are my mother, and if you can’t work it out then tough shit, you’re on your own’. I am perhaps paraphrasing the subtext a little.

Whereas I, on the other hand, am already a little bit in love with his new school and don’t mind telling anyone who will listen. It is still quite a new build, so is purpose built to contain a large rabble of kids perfectly, with doors in every classroom that open out onto the play ground, an outdoor classroom (I know, an outdoor classroom! I’d never heard such a thing. In my day, an outdoor classroom meant sitting on the damp concrete of the playground trying to stop the ants crawling up your socks whilst two people stood fifty foot apart and tried to imagine the size of a dinosaur) and high ceilinged rooms filled with light. Christ, I fancy living there myself, quite frankly, even if it would mean having to practically crouch on my haunches to lower myself down onto the toilets. Of which there would be quite a choice. And on the up side, not even my family could fill up all the coat pegs we would have at our disposal.

And it seems that schools have got smart since I went to one (which was so long ago we paid for school dinners in groats and we had the luxury of a small bottle of luke-warm milk at morning break that already had the faint tang of sourness as it had sat outside the classroom for the previous five hours). Kids just don’t turn up on the first day any more, drowning in their stiff, packet-fresh uniform, barely in control of their bladders, their tear ducts on a hair trigger. Now, the school offers a number of warm up sessions, getting the kids used to being there before the first day of term. I am sure this ostensibly is to provide “seamless integration” and an “emotionally sensitive and educationally supportive approach to transition” or some other “holistic educational strategy” but let’s face it. The real reason is that the teachers got bloody sick of all those wailing, petrified kids, all those urine-soaked garments and all those blubbing parents and decided to do something about it.

I position the first of these sessions to E as a ‘play date with some new friends’. This, I believe, is a text book example of Parental Spin. I find spin the best way to reinterpret things into a four-year-old-friendly way. Mind you, if I put much more spin on this situation, we may all get picked up by a cyclone and dumped in the Land of Oz. He seems to take this idea in his stride, right up until the very moment I tell him it is time to go. At which point he dissolves into tears and chants “I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go” like some fervent religious maniac. But now, at least, I know that this is a Big Thing. Either that or there is an episode of Scooby Doo on the television that he hasn’t seen before. Now this could get tricky. I contemplate picking him up and forcing him there, but I can barely carry him to the front door these days. Then inspiration strikes and I bribe him out the door with a drinks bottle that I had bought him that clips to his scooter. Genius. So off we went, with only the mild inconvenience of stopping every two minutes so that he could take a sip from his new bottle before ostentatiously slotting it back into place.

We stand in the hall on arrival, as I point out kids that he knows in a desperate attempt to shrink this Big Thing into something smaller. He holds my hand and says nothing and I find myself inadvertently turning up my cheery-laissez-fairness to 11, no doubt a sure sign to E that I, too, consider this a Big Thing. Finally, names start being called. E is first and I propel him forward. He stands in front of the teacher, rigid, hands flat by his side, head straight forward, like a soldier awaiting orders. Possibly orders to face a firing squad. Once the line is complete, they are told to wave to their mummys and daddys and head to the classroom. E turns, searching me out, and I give him a smile and a wave and look at his face for clues as to whether this is still a Big Thing. I am still none the wiser.

I pick him up two hours later and ask him if he had fun. He smiles. I ask him what he did. He says nothing. I start to guess. Building? No. Puzzles? No. He hands over a piece of yellow paper, on which are stuck a few random pom-poms and a splodge of paint. Well his artistic side has not flourished under the school’s tutelage yet, that’s for sure.  He was tight lipped about who he met, who he played with, what the teacher said to him and only begrudgingly admitted what he ate at snack time. I might have to attach one of those Cat-Cams to his neck, it’s the only bloody way I am ever going to find anything out. I might as well install a cat flap in the front door and leave his dinner in a bowl on the floor while I am at it. As a child care routine, I think it has a lot going for it.

We have now had two sessions at the school and I am fairly confident that starting school is now, not a Big Thing. However, there is one more hurdle to scale in this whole starting school thing. I made him try on his new uniform the other day. The moment the shirt was on, he was wriggling around like a worm under attack from a bunch of stick-wielding four year olds. “The collar itches! I don’t like it! Get it off!” he cried repeatedly, making it bloody difficult for me to turn the cuffs up twice and tuck the bottom into his trousers all the way down to his knees to make sure we had really captured that ‘three years growing room’ chic that is part of the school uniform regulations. We may have got over the going to school thing, but a shirt collar? Now that really is a Big Thing.


A plan approximately 150 miles the wrong side of a good idea

Family Mothering Frights has just returned from a holiday. It is the first ‘abroad’ break we have undertaken since having kids, which just goes to show, we are never going to rack up enough Air Miles to get to the local Tesco, let alone somewhere nice. Particularly as we took the ferry. But I digress. A ten day holiday, away from these shores, with two kids, for the first time in five years. It was a holiday Jim, but not as we know it. A number of things struck me during our time away  – leaving aside the football and the table tennis ball, both which struck me with annoying frequency due to a four year old’s over-exuberance and under-accuracy. So, here are six things I learned about family holidays:

1. The definition of holiday? ‘An extended period of leisure and recreation’. Really? I am guessing the person who crafted that explanation did not have young kids. It was bloody exhausting. Swimming. Table tennis. Play park. More swimming. Kicking the football around. Pedal carts. There was the shimmering oasis of a kids’ club on site, a mirage of kid-free time that would allow us to really indulge ourselves and do absolutely bloody nothing for a while. So the first day it was on, we sold it to E as an action-packed adventure and dropped him off for our two hours of peace… I mean, his two hours of fun. I walked past about half an hour in, and E was holding a paper plate with a few coloured splotches on, waiting glumly for the girl to attach some elastic to it to turn it into a mask. It was about as interesting an activity as watching paint dry. Oh, wait… E actually was watching paint dry. And what we didn’t factor in was the fact that we were still left with B. There was a club for his age, but he had to be supervised by a parent. What’s the sodding point in that? I don’t turn up to a restaurant and then have to help the chef chop all the vegetables, so I really can’t see why the organisers needed help with a bunch of 1 and 2 year olds. They were in a large tent, for chrissakes, all they had to do is zip the tent up to keep them contained. Granted, they may have all expired in the heat, but let’s not get picky.

2. Having extended bedtimes for the kids is only a holiday treat for half of those concerned. We arrived late on site on our first day, so the boys were a couple of hours late in bed. Never mind, I thought, we will get them back on track tomorrow, so we can enjoy the balmy evenings on the veranda, possibly accompanied by a small sip of the French stuff. But apparently, every other family on site had thrown the bed time curfew out of the window and it had landed right outside my bloody fenêtre. (Oh yes, I am practically bilingual, me).  Come half nine, when I was still stroking the back of my one year old – more to keep him pinned to the cot mattress than in comfort – gritting my teeth and trying not to drip sweat onto him, there were small infestations of children everywhere outside, playing football, or tag, or frisbee, all screaming and yelping at full volume. Which meant that E also had no intention of going to bed. Now, I love my children. But not enough that I want to spend every waking moment with them. Call me crazy, but I rather quite enjoy my kid-free evenings where conversation can proceed in an orderly fashion without interruptions for rescuing a small child who is teetering on the sofa arm, or shouts of ‘bum’ and ‘wee wee’ which on the thirty third repetition we still all find utterly annoying. Sorry, hilarious, I meant hilarious. So eventually, I was prodding E back into his room with a loaded corkscrew, so desperate was I to sit down, have a glass of wine, and pretend I was on holiday.

3. There are certain holiday rules that you forget if you have not dipped a toe into a sandy beach for over half a decade.  Rules like always apply sun cream before you get to the beach. So there I was, the ultimate idiot abroad, kneeling on the sand before two bare footed and swimming costume-attired children, wielding a bottle of factor 50. Within approximately three nanoseconds, my hands were covered in a delightful gritty, sun-cream paste and I essentially sandpapered my children red raw as I wilfully covered them from head to toe with cream that was three parts sand, two parts sweat and a small drop of sun cream. At least their skins would not be burnt. Mainly due to the fact that I had scraped off every layer of their epidermis in the process.

4. Holidaying in a mobile home without a television exposes our utterly poor parenting. Come the witching hour, it is not yet time for E’s bed (which was getting so sodding late he was in danger of being able to tuck me in) and yet we are all too exhausted to do anything constructive (E: “Mummy, let’s play football”. Me: “No.” E: “Why?” Me: “You’re not allowed to play football in France after 8pm”). It is at this juncture that we would usually turn the in-house baby sitter on. But without our flickering rectangle of visual delight, the situation threatened to turn nasty.

“I don’t like France, there’s no television,” E declares.

I cannot disagree. But then inspiration strikes and we set up the car DVD player for him. France suddenly becomes a lot more palatable for all concerned.

5. I had a moment of madness before we went away. I spent a few quid and bought six books for my Kindle. Well, I was going on holiday, what else did I want to do with my time? Oh yes, that’s right, apparently not reading. I managed the sum total of nine pages. And that’s nine Kindle pages, so it probably actually means that I read about three paragraphs. B was asleep and I was determined to start one of the books I had bought. One minute in and E spots me:

“Mummy, what are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“Oh.”

“It’s quiet in here, isn’t it?”

“Not as quiet as it could be.”

“What’s the this button do?”

“Don’t press th…”

“Whoops. Can you play with me now?”

6. Long car journeys are a plan approximately 150 miles the wrong side of a good idea when you have a one year old on board. Our four hour drive to the site on which we were staying was bearable for the first three hours: B had a sleep, woke up, stared out of the window for a bit, ate the snack that was waved in front of his nose, stared out of the window a bit more, practised not saying ‘mummy’ and generally had a pleasant time. Come the fourth hour, and he was wailing, whinging and basically letting the other occupants of the car know that if they didn’t let him out of this fucking car right now someone was going to pay. A succession of toys were handed to him, which he lobbed around the car. Feet were tickled, which just increased the decibels. Songs were sung, accompanied by the incessant howl of someone who really, really didn’t want to hear that the wheels on the bus went round and round.

So there you have it. My tan is already starting to fade (or maybe it’s some of the dirt being washed off now I can have a shower that is more powerful than the one we had on holiday, which was about as invigorating as standing under five weeping fairies) and I am back at work. Ahhh, it’s so peaceful in my office. Today, I have not donned a swimming costume and spent forty minutes bouncing a heavy one year old around in the water. I have not spilt sun cream on any item of clothing as I chase an incalcitrant boy round the kitchen. Nor have I attempted to keep two energetic, fidgety children indoors to shield them from the blistering midday sun. You know what? I am actually rather enjoying this holiday-from-my-holiday. I should do it more often.

Going on your hols? Fancy something to read? Obviously, if you have small kids don’t waste your money, but for everyone else, you can get a copy of Jodie Newman’s book Womb with a View from http://www.jodienewmam.co.uk for just £6.99 to take with you. That works out to just 0.05p per gag. Or get it on your Kindle for £3.99 and… oh, sorry, my gag calculator has run out of batteries.


A coincidence of vowel sounds

I have always felt that there are a number of key skills that children should really be able to master much quicker than they actually do. You know, like walking. And self-feeding. I would like to say cooking dinner as well, but I am not unreasonable so I won’t. After all, I am quite a patient person. Well, let me qualify that a little. I used to be quite a patient person, before nearly five years of sleep deprivation wore my fuse down to a frayed, charred stump. So perhaps I am not quite as patient as I once was (is that the dulcet tones of the understatement klaxon that I can hear?). But I have to admit it: I am now very bored of waiting for B to get to grips with language.

I mean, I am not expecting a fluent soliloquy on the relative merits of building a Lego tower against knocking down a Lego tower, as he chews on his Weetabix of a morning. But even one or two more words in his vocabulary would be nice. The sum total at the moment? Two. Well, more like one and a half, really. There is: “uh-oh”, which to be fair, is barely a word, more a coincidence of vowel sounds. B says it at the drop of a hat. Actually, he says it at the drop of anything, and what makes it even more bloody annoying is that he drops things purposefully just so that he can say it. Toast flops to the floor: “uh-oh”. His water beaker bounces off the floorboards: “uh-oh”. The plastic kettle is pushed from the play kitchen surface: “uh oh”. My will to live slithers to the ground: “uh-oh”.

The other word he has mastered is ‘dad-dee” and he repeats this with even more frequency than ‘uh-oh’. Over and over, in answer to any and every question that he gets asked.

“Are you hungry?” “Dad-dee.”

“Shall we go in the garden?” “Dad-dee.”

And although this can work in my favour: “Who do you want to change your nappy?” “Dad-dee”, the merits of his single word response can get a little wearing. Eventually, I decide that he really should be able to grasp the complete set of parental titles and it is about time I get a little look in on the oral action.

We are sitting at the table after lunch. “Mummy,” I say, pointing at myself.

B stares back at me, stony faced. “Dad-dee.”

“Mummy,” I repeat, smiling and pointing.

“Dad-dee,” he replies.

“Mum-me,” I say once more, annunciating the hell out of it. Which is not easy, given that my teeth are involuntarily starting to grind together.

“Dad-dee,” he replies once more.

“Mmuumm-mmeee,” I say slowly and loudly, just in case he is a bit thick and needs it really spelt out.

“Daaad-deeeee,” he says, slowly and loudly, just in case I am a bit thick and didn’t hear him the previous four times.

Okay. This is not working. Time for a different approach. Let’s go back to basics. “Muh-muh-muh-muh-muh,” I say, sure that a phonetic approach will do the trick.

B throws his spoon at me and as I wipe a splash of yogurt from my eyelid I decide that B has decided that today’s lesson is well and truly over.