Getting Through the Day

I want this blog to be a happy, funny and life affirming place for the most part, but writing another cheery post felt rather like ignoring the elephant in the room.  So, I have to admit that I’ve been rather down recently.  Nothing earth shattering has happened.  Nobody has died.  There are just a few things going on for me right now which are making me feel less than jolly.  Combine that with a desperate need for Spring to start, and it has led to a rather glum me.

Back in my pre-children days, I was certainly not adverse to a bit of misery.  There is an age old depressive strain running through my family and, whilst I escaped the worst of it, I was certainly prone to being dragged down a little by it in my youth, especially in my late teens and early twenties.  I didn’t feel I’d found my place in life; I just wasn’t happy in my own skin.  I tended to turn to a bit of misery and wallowing to get through: put some Sarah Maclauchlan or some Radiohead on, drink too much wine and have a bit of a weep.  That was my tried and tested method of dealing with it.  I would be down for a few days but then things invariably improved.  I think allowing myself to be dragged down by it all actually helped me deal with it before picking myself up, dusting myself off and feeling ready to face the world again.

I found my place in the world at about the age of 22 when I found a life and a crowd that I loved, so I was able to leave those days of wallowing behind me for the most part.  Life moved on happily and raucously through my twenties, then came the excitement of marriage and the joy of kids.  And as any parent knows, with children comes that incredible sense of responsibility, so much stronger and overwhelming than you ever imagined it could be.  And, crucially, the necessity of putting their needs before yours.

As their primary care giver, I am the rock in my kids’ lives.  It is my job to be strong, supportive and together.  And I absolutely am, most of the time.  I am a carrier on, a manager, a crusader.  No matter what is going on with me, I do my utmost to make sure that this house runs as it should, the kids get decent meals, clean clothes, plenty of cuddles and endless love.  They are washed and dressed and where they need to be, when they need to be there.  Sometimes hair isn’t brushed and sometimes there is food on their faces, but they are always well loved and well looked after.

All this care stuff takes a huge amount of time.  It also takes it out of you.  Usually, I just watch a film, have a glass of wine or chat to my Mum to recharge my batteries and I’m ready to begin again.  But when there is something a bit more substantial going on, something that gets you down, it isn’t so easy.  I crave the self indulgence of my youth, a few days of having a cry whenever I need to without having to be together in front of the kids.   A few days of lounging about at home and suiting nobody but myself.  Not cooking, not washing, not keeping the house together, just sinking under for a brief time.

Before things get too maudlin or sound too desperate, fear not, I am OK.  I also know that my life is pretty bloody good and that this is just an emotional blip. As I said, I am a survivor: I cope and carry on.  So things will be fine, I’m sure.  It is just that getting through the day when you are down and have three small people to carry through it with you feels like having a mountain to climb sometimes.

There are occasions when having a good old sob is the best thing you can do for yourself, to give you a break from pretending everything is OK.  With kids, more often than not, the time that you really want to go for a cry, is the time you need to start cooking their tea or you have to change a nappy.  Kids wait for no man and are, thankfully, generally unaware of their parents emotional needs until they are much, much older.

So, the best I can do is wait for it to pass.  It may take longer with small children and their demands in my face at every turn, but it will pass.  The evenings are still me time, wine time, wallow time, if I need it.

And one thing that I didn’t have access to in my teens was an endless supply of pudgy cuddles, which I have to admit help enormously.  They also stop me from sinking too deep as they remind me just how much I have to be thankful for.

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The Madness of Mama

imageThere are new parents all around the world right now waiting with bated breath for their cute little baby to call them ‘Mummy’ or ‘Daddy’ for the first time.  They wait and wait, desperate for that amazing communication milestone, after months of hard slog.  And when it finally does happen, it is a heart-melting and beautiful moment.

And so it was for me: I welled up and I couldn’t  stop smiling when my first babe said Mama.  Little did I know what was to come.  That precious little word is currently pushing me towards a minor breakdown.

Any new sound a baby discovers is repeated to death, as the it flexes it’s vocal chords.  Then the fun really starts and they start saying it like they mean it.  Dare to leave the room?  Mama, Mama, Mama!  They wants something but don’t know how to ask?  Mama, Mama, uh, uh, uh! Sometimes I swear they do it just to wind you up.

This is pretty much where we are with Baby T right now.  He has precious few words still (see my previous post about communication issues – there has been no noticeable improvement).  But he doesn’t seem to care.  Why bother learning new words when you can convey pretty much anything you wish with that one all-encompassing word yelled at volume?

This last week, T’s ‘Mama’ shouting has reached new levels.  I know that, as child number three, he has to make himself heard but it is getting ridiculous.  The most annoying thing about it is that he has taken to yelling it with such an upward inflection that he sounds for all the world like he is about to launch into a sentence and ask me the time or discuss the weather.  But the rest of that sentence never comes.  Just more of the same….  Mama, Mama, Mama….repeat to fade (or not, as the case may be – a fade would be a blessed release).

And he isnt the only one vying for my attention.  I get bombarded by Mummys all day long from all three of the noisy little oiks.  One day I may count the number of times that word crops up.  It has to be in the hundreds and I think it currently pushes a thousand a day, because of T’s continuous Mama-babble.

It seems kind of wrong to say you wish your own kids would stop calling you Mummy endlessly but I really bloody do right now.  To be honest, Baby T is driving me right up the wall.  I’m sorry son, but shouting one word at the top of your lungs just doesn’t qualify as language.  And why does it have to be that one word?  Imagine someone calling your name endlessly all day and then, when you reply, they have absolutely nothing of any interest to say to you.  Other than to shout your name again even louder, of course.  Right in your face.  Annoying, right?

I’ve tried shhhh-ing him, telling him to be quiet, whispering in the hope he will copy.  He understands what I’m asking, he just doesn’t give a hoot.  Which is all very well and good but I think he may be overlooking the fact that he is pushing me over the edge.  Having exhausted all other options, I found myself shouting his name back at him the other day in desperation, to give him a taste of his own medicine.  Yes, I know.  Very immature and possibly pushing crazy but, as I said, he is nudging me towards madness with his endless Mamas.  When I did this, he stopped for a moment of blissful silence, looked rather shocked and then laughed heartily.  Fail.

As with all these things, it is just a phase, or so I keep reminding myself as I quietly rock and cradle my evening bucketful of calming wine.  Soon, Baby T will have found another new way of driving me insane.  Then we’ll be back into the low hundreds of Mummys per day, which may make being yelled at all day by three little voices mildly less challenging to endure.

We may even get some words soon too, other than Mama, bubble, go and uh-oh.  Or we may not.  At least not until T starts caring about being understood and stops being a little tyke who doesn’t give a damn about pleasing anyone, other than himself.

So, to all those parents of dear little pre-language babies, awaiting their first Mama and Dada from their little angels’ mouths, I will say this: enjoy the peace while you can.  Yes it will be a wonderful moment, but it is also the opening of the flood gates.  You may not think you will ever tire of hearing yourself called Mama or Dada, and perhaps you may not.  But I have.  I really, really have.  And, before you judge me, remember that three small voices can make a big noise.  And remember that you have not met my Baby T.

A Growing Concern

imageSpace is at a premium in our little house. With three kids in a three bedroom mid-terrace place, it is a bit on the cosy side.

When we first moved here nearly ten years ago, leaving our little London flat, we marvelled at what we saw as acres of space. We left one bedroom completely empty for months as we simply had nothing to put in it. Three children and vast quantities of plastic crap later, and every inch of space is now utilised to the max.

I desperately wanted three kids so, when in the midst of planning for our Baby T, I naively brushed off all concerns about the size of our house. It would be fine! Nothing to worry about. Other people manage with multiple kids in small houses. The older two can share and everything will be hunky-dory. Besides, the housing market can’t keep on growing forever so, when it crashes, we can nip in and buy a bigger place. Easy!

Hmmm. Not so much, it seems.

Don’t get me wrong, we are very lucky in what we have and I count my blessings. We live in a gorgeous village in West Sussex, in catchment for a fantastic little school and in walking distance from a commuter belt station. All pretty idyllic.  Our location is perfect but, as always, that comes with a hell of a price tag.  And prices are still going up.

Our school takes just 30 children a year and the catchment area is the size of a large handkerchief. School places are hard to come by and if we moved out of catchment we’d have no chance of getting the little two into the same school as H. As I’m not prepared to have kids in different schools, with all the stress that would bring, we can’t move for at least three years, unless we find another place in catchment.

Besides, whilst not strapped for cash, we are simply priced out of the market locally if we want to upgrade. Our only option is to stay put, unless a perfect and reasonably priced little three bedroom house with lots of extension potential crops up in catchment. I’m not holding my breath.

And staying put certainly isn’t a major hardship. I love our little abode and we have done as much as we can to improve it over the last decade. New kitchen, new bathroom, garage conversation to make a playroom. Our next plan it to rip out the much peed on carpets in the sitting room and put in wooden floors.  But after that, we are at the end of the line in terms of what we can do to improve our lot.  We can’t build out into our tiny garden or there’d be nothing left and we can’t build up.

As much as I’d love to be able to have one bedroom per child, H and M absolutely adore sharing.  At six and four, they think it is fantastic to have a buddy at night. They can be little pickles and stay awake chatting longer than I’d like, but they keep each other happy and M especially loves knowing her big brother is there so she isn’t alone. If I told them tomorrow that they’d have to split up and have their own rooms, they’d be devastated. When, in years to come, they start needing their own space, we can rejig things a bit, even turning the garage conversation into a forth bedroom. All sounds perfectly straightforward and do-able on paper, right?

But recently I’ve been getting a creeping feeling of panic about it all. I know this sounds obvious, but I hadn’t really taken into account the fact that the kids will grow. Very big. I break out in a cold sweat at the idea of trying to accommodate two adults and three gangling teenagers here. I had been happily kidding myself that it would get easier as they got older, as we would wave goodbye to the bulky plastic crap they have as little ones. I had failed to calculate the fact that they themselves will one day, in the not too distant future, be frickin’ enormous.

The kitchen is one of my biggest concerns. It is a tad wider than a corridor and already very crowded at busy times.  Plus, bigger people eat more food. We struggle to fit everything in as it is. The kitchen cabinets are like a tightly packed jigsaw puzzle. There just isn’t room for anything else, unless I start throwing dinner plates out, and we kinda need those.

The food cupboard is crammed to capacity with enough food for just one week, feeding two adults and three small kids. How we will cope with teenagers eating us out of house and home, I cannot imagine. We have a slimline dishwasher and a washer-dryer (no room for a tumble).  Luxury for the kid-free couple we once were. Just about manageable now. But in ten years time? Just negotiating the kitchen with teenage boys raiding the fridge could become pretty problematic.

I’m a bit annoyed with myself for not thinking about the fact that my kids will one day be ravenous, leggy giants in a too-small house. I mean, it is pretty bloody obvious to anyone not blinded by the dreaded baby-need that this overcrowding is inevitable.

But even if I had played all this through in detail, I still wouldn’t change the fact that we have our Baby T. He will one day be a six foot monster, eating me out of house and home and growing into our once empty space like a weed, along with his enormous brother and sister.  But we will just have to manage. I have the three kids I so desperately wanted and being crowded out of my own house may just be the price I have to pay.

Who knows, maybe in a few years, before the giants descend upon us, the housing market will crash or we’ll win the lottery. In the meantime, I guess I’m just going to have to get used to going to the shop more often, running the dishwasher every few hours and having even more clothes draped over banisters and doorways to dry. Oh, and tripping over the ever growing limbs of my not so small people.

The Joys of a Baby-Free Day

imageToday was a special day for me and my eldest two as it was a very rare chance to spend some time together without Baby T. Much as we all adore our little blonde bombshell, he really does know how to ruin a good day out. It is just his age, of course, but we all felt really rather delighted to drop him off at nursery this morning and head off for some T-free time.

M, like pretty much every four year old girl I know, is crazy about Frozen. So, me and a couple of friends with girls of a similar age booked up to see Singalong Frozen together. I took the day off work, dressed my little munchkins up as Olaf and Elsa and off we went.

It was quite an experience. The audience was a sea of three foot tall Elsas, with a smattering of Annas and Olafs and even the odd Sven thrown into the mix. All were accompanied by parents ranging from the painfully reluctant to those singing louder than their kids (you know who you are, ladies). If you’ve not seen the film, just imagine 400 odd small girls in ice-blue princess dresses and you have the general idea.

I was a little concerned that H would be bored, being a six year old boy and somewhat suffering from Frozen Fatigue. However, there was plenty of shout-ya-head-off interaction with the actors and a bag of tricks for each kid, containing various items to bang and wave about, so H was happy as Larry and joined in with more gusto than the girls.

We all sang our hearts out then went for a well earned late lunch. Four kids, three Mums and a lot of pizza and pasta. Despite the odd spillage and one Elsa falling off her chair, it was a pretty relaxing meal and the whole day was great fun.

Now, let’s imagine this lovely day with a baby in the mix…..

The theatre experience is beyond horrific. Over two and a half hours in a darkened room with an 18 month old who cannot run about – when that is pretty much all he wants to do – surrounded by 600 people who are a tad annoyed by random screaming or being hit in the head by flying objects. A simple trip to the loo becomes beyond fraught, indeed near on impossible. Tiny hands everywhere, running off at speed, no pushchair to restrain him.  I actually shudder at the thought.

And then onto lunch, assuming you can face it after the horrors of the theatre. Any meal out at T’s current age, is an ordeal. He wants to eat the minute we get there and yells until he gets food. You give him a load of snacks just to shut him up and by the time his food actually arrives, he is full and no longer really wants it.

You give him toys, books, cutlery, condiments, anything that will keep him occupied. It all lands noisily on the floor with you constantly bending down and crawling around under the table to pick it up. The time between arriving at your table and the food appearing feels like a lifetime.

Finally, food arrives. So, he decides this is the perfect moment to do a massive poo. You then spend ten minutes wresting him on a too small, flippy-down changing table, attempting to avoid flinging poo around the cubicle (not always successfully – I once managed to flick some rabbit droppings down between the loo cistern and the wall of a particularly badly designed changing area. They are probably still there).

After dealing with the explosion, you return to your table and, if not put off eating altogether, you tuck into your cold meal. The toddler then tries to eat your food and simultaneously throws his own food around the room for about ten minutes. There is at least one drink sent flying.  When he is done (but you are still trying to eat, of course), he wants to get down and stalk around the restaurant. He yells when you don’t let him, so you end up walking him round inside or, when that gets too disruptive, around a cold, wet garden until everyone else has finished.

He leaves total carnage and devastation in his wake. You slink out, embarrassed by the commotion, the food thrown everywhere and the pile of 200 used wipes left on the table.

As I said, an ordeal.

It has come to something when a six and four year old are considered to be civilised, grown-up companions, but I loved our day together without my youngest hell-raiser.

So, whilst I felt a slight pang of guilt about dumping Baby T in nursery while the rest of us went out to have fun, I mostly just enjoyed the break from toddler induced stress. Should I hang onto that feeling, as yet another motherhood guilt?  Or should I just Let It Go (did you see what I did there)?

Today, I’ve decided to choose the latter. Elsa would be proud.

About My Girl

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My little girl turns four tomorrow. Watching her change from chubby-cheeked toddler to proper little person over the last year has been an absolute delight. She is already so self-assured, confident and eloquent that it takes my breath away at times. She is totally adorable and, if it were possible, seems to be becoming more engaging daily.

Before I spend too much time waxing lyrical about the wonder that is my M, I must just state that I adore all my children equally. And I’m not just saying that because it is what Mums are supposed to say. I really do. Heaven knows, some of my kids have been more challenging and harder to love than others at times. But I do actually feel the same depth of love for each of them, which I admit was quite a surprise to me at first.  I worried when I was pregnant with my second that I would have a favourite, that there wouldn’t be enough love for more than one. But I needn’t have been concerned. That deep mother’s love is, incredibly, replicated time and again. There is no love limit, it seems.

That said, I have to admit that, had I not had my little girl, I would have felt that there was a gap in the perfect picture of what my family should be. I have such a wonderful and deep relationship with my mother that I simply couldn’t fathom not being able to replicate that with my own daughter. My boys are just amazing and have an incredible energy which I relish and would like to be able to bottle, but there is just something between me and my M.

We just get each other. We get the giggles together. We exchange looks about the boys, and indeed about my husband. We think in the same way and like the same things (although her version is usually pink and covered in glitter). Watching her try to understand the world reminds me so much of how I was at her age. It takes me back to my own girlhood and warms my heart.

I’ve always cherished my relationships with the special girls in my life.  In the same way that I cannot imagine life without that connection with my sister, Mum and favourite girl friends, I now cannot imagine not having that other little but powerful female force in the house. She is my special girl companion, amidst all the crazy testosterone-fuelled boys.

M certainly isn’t an angel and we have plenty of run-ins, although she is generally pretty reasonable and rarely goes into a blind rage like her brothers. But she is strong-willed and very bright, which can lead to conflict with her big brother. She knows how to wind him up and, whilst generally being pretty accommodating and very kind, she also likes to outshine him when she can.

M has known all her numbers and letters for some time now and she shows a genuine interest and enthusiasm for learning, something H really never had before he started school (and even now it can be patchy).  She is already leagues ahead of where he was when school began, and she still has seven months to go. Much of this is boy vs girl, I think, but after having a boy I have to light a fire under to get him to do his homework, I am really enjoying watching her love of learning unfold.

M drinks in the fascinating world around her and retains information in a way that often surprises me. OK, so sometimes she misinterprets – last winter she told me squirrels store acorns up their bottoms and poo them out when they are hungry – but she works things out, she thinks ahead, she calculates.

M has already planned how she will live when she is grown up (rainbow house, pink car, job for charity – like Mummy) and yes, it lacks any real understanding of how life in the future will really be, but she understands that it is coming. H cannot compute far beyond the now and freaks out at the prospect that we may not always all live together as a family in the same house, as we do now.

Her maturity of thinking is striking and often catches me off guard. I don’t always have pre-prepared answers for the big questions she asks me, that I have yet to hear from her big brother.

But, despite all this maturity, she is still my little girl. She had her birthday party today in a soft play cafe, ran around squealing and stuffed her face with cake. She can be relentlessly annoying, appallingly disgusting and extremely loud, just like any kid of her age. But she also has a little special something. Like is said, we just get each other.

She is tucked up in bed now, post party and post sugar rush, looking utterly adorable. Watching her sleeping peacefully, I am reminded how very lucky I am to be able to watch her learn and grow.

Happy Birthday, my little M.

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Say It Like It Is

imageOur little house has been full of the delicious smell of my vegetable casserole bubbling away in the slow cooker today. I’m seriously not usually this organised but we have been housebound with a spotty toddler and I thought I might as well make good use of the time by cooking dinner and emptying the washing basket (it is good to remind myself that it isn’t bottomless once in a while). Besides, it was cook or watch Thomas the Tank on a loop whilst being dribbled on and frankly – although it certainly isn’t one of my favourite pastimes – in this case, cooking won.

H got home from school and was immediately his usual post-education in-ya-face whirlwind, which was refreshing after a day of quarrantine.  One of the first things he said was “What is that horrible smell? I hope that isn’t our dinner as it smells disgusting”. Thanks, son.

Like most six year old boys, he is pretty vegetable phobic so I guess it makes sense that he wouldn’t be too keen on the smell. Luckily for him, the stew was for the grown-ups (and tasted pretty good actually). The kids had sausages and mash to eat, fling onto the floor with a large splat from M’s fork and, in Baby T’s case, wear.  Much less disgusting, apparently.

It is that bluntness that only a child can get away with that made me smile. H didn’t mean to be offensive by declaring the smell of my cooking to be disgusting. I don’t think it even occurred to him that I cooked the dinner (well, chopped it up and stuffed it in a slow cooker) and that saying it smelt foul was rude. He just smelt it, disliked it and said it.

Both my six and almost four year olds, like most kids their age, are masters of self expression without a care for consequences. And always at volume. “Look at that funny man, Mummy. His hair looks really silly”. Cue embarrassed shuffling away as fast as I can with a pushchair and three small people in tow (really not fast at all).

Most memorable of these incidents was H spotting a lady with Dwarfism and saying loudly to an entire barber shop full of men “Wow! Look at that little girl! She looks really funny. Ha ha ha! Why is she outside without her Mummy?” There was to be no shuffling away – we were in a long queue – so this was followed by a painful conversation, all overheard by about ten guys and two stylists, in which I tried to explain the concept of growth defects and to a five and two year old, all while breastfeeding a nosy baby who kept popping up for air and leaving me somewhat exposed to all the aforementioned onlookers. That was my last attempt at a trip to the barbers with all three in tow.

H is on the verge of learning some social niceties now and understands that saying some things can be hurtful, even if not meant. It won’t be long before he is as conditioned and restrained in his speech as the rest of us.

Because we lose that ability to say what we think and to ask honest questions so young. This, obviously, is a good thing in many situations. Think of the offence and upset we’d cause otherwise. It would be unkind to tell the man in the post office that he has a huge nose or explain to the delivery man that he smells of old socks. But sometimes I would like to be able to be small again, say what I bloody well want to people for a day and get away with it.

Imagine being able to ask the question you really want to ask or say what you really think when having a heart to heart or a huge row with a loved one. Oh, the liberation! It would be so refreshing to screw the consequences and say exactly what I wanted.

One other thing I love about the honesty of kids is that when one of them says “I loved dinner” (extremely rare in this house, but it does happen) or “I like your dress”, you know they really, utterly mean it. It isn’t said to make you feel better or flatter you; they’ve not learnt how to do that yet. There are no processes in place between thought and speech: it is just a totally honest reaction. There is a lot to be said for that, in this world of insincerity and platitudes.

See it, say it. A rare thing indeed in adult life and one to be cherished in my offspring while it lasts, even if it does mean putting up with a few negative comments about my cooking.

Lost Things

image“Mummy, where is Batman?”

I am asked this question – or a variation of it – roughly 20 times a day. It is usually Batman at the moment but it can be any current favourite. I am constantly baffled by my eldest’s ability to lose just about anything. It goes from being in his hand to being apparently irretrievably lost within seconds. This, coupled with a staggering inability to find things even if they are in front of his nose, can lead to a little bit of conflict in our house.

One of the many, many things that no-one tells you before you have kids is that you will spend a vast quantity of time dealing with lost things. A good portion of your day will be spent looking for, discussing, rowing over and fielding screaming tantrums about said lost things. You’ll also receive various injuries by treading on these apparently lost things that are actually right in the middle of the floor, where they were dumped five minutes before.

Both the older two, H and M, lose things with alarming regularity. M is pretty laid back for someone of just under four. She is also pretty reasonable so, when she loses a favourite thing, she understand that it will turn up soon. So she usually has a little moan, gives up and moves on to something else for a while until the lost thing materialises.

Not so for our H. He is the king of melodrama (I have no idea where he gets it from) and Batman hasn’t just been temporarily misplaced. He is gone forever. H is therefore never going to play with anything ever again or, indeed, ever be happy again. Life is over, as we know it. Now imagine having this conversation 20 times a day. Wearing.

I can usually nip this particular misery in the bud by finding Batman. He is often in the Batcave (natch), or on the floor, on the table, even in H’s pocket. All obvious Batman places. A quick scan of the room usually allows me to call off the search within seconds. But sometimes, Batman can be a bit more sneaky and has crept off to the bathroom or wedged himself down between sofa cushions.

When Batman plays hard ball, I have a number of options:
1. Drop what I am doing and search the house on my own – Batman is found, H is calm.
2. Orchestrate a full house search involving me and all capable children – time consuming and often involves the kids moaning before making a hell of a mess turning out boxes and throwing cushions around – Batman is eventually found (usually by my)
3. Tell H he should look after his own things and that he needs to look for Batman himself – hours or even days of moaning, sulks, tears. Batman is not found (until I eventually find him by emptying a coat pocket, tidying up or I tread on him).

I know the right answer here. I really do. I need to teach H to be responsible for his own things and go with option three. And I do…..sometimes. But option one is just soooo much less painful.

The ultimate misery of course is when something is lost at school and is therefore a total goner. Our old friend Batman was apparently irretrievably lost at school a few weeks ago. I took pity on my inconsolable H and ordered him a second hand one on EBay, but not before that pesky caped crusader had popped out smiling from under the Batcave, yelling “surprise”!Little git. Batman has now been banned from school.

So, we now have two Batmen. Good, so we have backup, you would be forgiven for thinking. But no. It seems New Batman is wearing a different suit so isn’t nearly so cool. Besides, H has generously gifted New Batman to M. Sweet, but unhelpful in the endless round of lost Batman games.

So, until H moves on to the next favourite, it seems we are all doomed to lose and search for that moodiest of superheroes on a daily basis. And I dare say it will usually be me searching for and finding him, to prevent my own little crusader turning as moody as his idol. I know I shouldn’t but some days I would rather run about the house briefly looking for a small plastic man in black than endure a hour of doom. Is that wrong?