And Then There Was One

imageHaving spent the summer with a houseful of three noisy kids, things have changed a lot around here recently. We’ve gone from three to one and it all feels rather strange.

Yes, T and I are home alone since M started school and it is taking a bit of getting used to. It has been a long while since I had just one preschooler at home and I’d forgotten what it was like. In a way, it almost feels like a day off at times. It is just so refreshing only having to keep an eye on one little runner in the park. We can switch to T’s pace for the first time in his little life and he simply loves being able to wander through the day, stopping to examine every acorn and flower, without annoying the older ones or rushing to their social engagements. T has kindly started napping again too, after a nap-free summer, so having an hour off in the afternoon while he kips is just heavenly.

But I have to admit that I’d not really appreciated how much T’s siblings keep him entertained, especially M who is so sweet and inclusive when playing, letting her little brother join in even if he is like a bull in a china shop. Suddenly, it is just the two of us and I’m afraid Mummy is proving to be rather a disappointing substitute for his fun-packed sister.

imageWhilst T will play by himself when the mood takes him, I can see him looking at me and waiting for the action to begin as soon as we get home after the morning school run. He moans and complains at the prospect of spending any time inside with boring old Mummy, so we end up heading out to pretty much anywhere just to shut him up.

I feel much more pressure to do interesting toddler activities than I have done for years. Hell, I even revisited a toddler group (see Toddler Groups: A Survivor’s Story), which was definitely a step too far.

All this coincides with a ramping up of the Terrible Twos. Killer tantrums are still rare – he is never going to rival his big brother at this age, who was simply horiffic – but he is definitely getting into the swing of it all a bit more. The answer to every question is “no”, naturally, but those nos are getting considerably more forceful and prone to lead to screaming meltdowns. It seems that no matter how often you go through the Terrible Twos as a parent, they still have the power to surprise you when then land with a thump. Oh yes, I suddenly remember them in technicolor.

The other problem is that all this together time is feeding T’s Mummy obsession. Limpet boy and I have been joined at the hip for many months now but he is really stepping it up a gear, now that he has me all to himself. He actually tries to pull the other kids off the sofa now if they dare to sit next to me. I can’t sit down without him clambering all over me, clinging onto my neck and suffocating me. He pushes and pulls me, like a cushion, until he has me in optimum hold and then grips me like a boa constrictor. He only releases the grip slightly to explore my face, attempting to stuff sticky fingers up my nose and into my mouth. It feels like he is trying to posess me, climb back in and become one person again.

Yes, I know I’m going to told off for moaning about this one, that I should be grateful to have such a lovely cuddly boy and that I’ll be sorry when he grows out of it. I get told that a lot, mostly by parents of much older children, natch. But we aren’t talking nice cosy cuddles, here. The boy screams if I dare to get up to, you know, carry on with normal life. He kicks off if I so much as move my arms from around his warm little body. He hugs me so hard and endlessly that I feel totally drained by him, like he is sucking the life out of me.

And it is getting worse. All this time together is exacerbating his possessive behaviour no end. He follows me around the house whining “cuddle cuddle cuddle” until I relent. I am getting next to nothing done and having to endure far more CBeebies than is natural for a woman in her 30s.

imageBut I can’t begrudge him too much. He is a third child after all, used to being short changed on Mummy’s time, and now it is his turn. Sure, it is inconvenient to have a toddler sized scarf round your neck, one that is prone to turning into a screaming banshee at the drop of a hat. But I am enjoying at least some of this unadulterated toddler time, without a pregnancy or a new baby in the mix this time round. And the more kids you have, the greater your grasp of time: it all passes soon enough, so the hard times are not worth crying over.

And T doesn’t really make me cry, even at his worst. I wish I could say the same of his older siblings at this age. He is my third, my last toddle, and nothing he can do is new to me, or worth getting deeply upset over. So no tears this time.

Instead, he makes me laugh. It is easy to forgive his misdemeanours when he has such a disarming smile and a flare for performance. Even his tantrums have such a large dose of melodrama thrown in that it is hard not to smile sometimes. I didn’t smile when he screamed his way up and back to school this morning, but most of his meltdowns are brief and delightfully over-acted.

There are two years ahead for T and me now, before I wave him off to school too. Some days that feels like a long time, other days I think it will go in the blink of an eye. I wont be beating myself up for not enjoying every moment. Who can honestly say they would? But I think we’ll muddle through pretty well, my little limpet boy and me. image

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Toddler Groups: A Survivor’s Story

imageI’ve not been to a toddler group for about three years. Last time I went, I pretty much swore off them, having had my fill. However, last Wednesday’s rain was set in, T was in a very busy mood and I was feeling too skint to blow £20 on a morning chaining tea at soft play. So, against my better judgement, I decided to revisit a group held in a local church, just to give T a morning out. After all, we are home alone together, now that M has started school, and I felt a bit under pressure to entertain the lively little lad.

Like most such toddler groups, this one was run by well meaning Christian ladies whose own kids are much older and who want to provide a service to local Mums, with a less than subtle undercurrent of converting them to see the light, where possible. Pleasant as they were and much as T enjoyed bombing about playing with manky old toys, I was very quickly reminded why I stopped going.

The fact that these groups are so inextricably linked to churches creates an automatic issue for me. I’m not religious and don’t want to bring my kids up in a religious way. At one group I attended I was faced with a full on conversion attempt by the pushy vicar telling me I was bound for hell. Needless to say, we didn’t go back to that one. Everything is about God at these groups. The story and song time is religious, even the colouring pictures are holy scenes. But, much as that puts me off, it isn’t the real problem I have with them. The big issue for me is that they are such apparently happy, friendly places but I found that they can be anything but for the people who are really in need of a bit of compassion.

I am sure lots of Mums have very positive experiences of toddler groups. I didn’t. I’ve been to many in my time, some better than others, but the one that sticks in my memory was a group I used to go to with a small, angry baby H. I was a brand new Mum, going through an extremely painful and traumatic transition from breezy freedom to being at the mercy of a tiny rage monster. I had some lovely new Mum friends but I also had many seemingly endless days to fill with a miserable baby in tow.

So, I signed up to lots of groups, hoping to keep the baby happy and inject some adult conversation into my day, above and beyond trying to engage the Sainsbury’s cashier in a chat, out of sheer desperation to speak to a grown up. These were not my happiest days, I’ll freely admit.

Some baby and toddler activities were brilliant. Anything involving music was a winner. But the standard toddler groups were awkward and ultimately disappointing. They were full of cliques of local Mums who had known each other for years and basically had very little time for interlopers like me, recently out of London and with no network. I don’t think they meant to be mean, but they had their friends and weren’t really interested in meeting anyone else.

I’m not a shy person and am usually happy to kick start conversations but I felt like a fish out of water. I was at a pretty low ebb and not really able to rally and keep trying to make friends: being shattered, lonely and miserable, reaching out to unfriendly women who shut you out, was pretty demoralising. So, I sat and drank tea each week, trying to look busy and not like the sad, lonely one with no mates. Dire as it was, it was still better than the alternative of sitting at home with the baby.

To give them their due, the ladies running this particular group were lovely. It is possible they spotted a Mum-on-the-Edge and took pity, chatting to me and offering well meaning advice, tea and cake, without mentioning God once (other than shoving the odd church flyer at me).

imageH and I always snuck out before the religious songs at the end. It was all bad enough to endure, without having to sit through baby indoctrination too.

That first toddler group feels like another lifetime now. I look back on that anxious, sad and stressed Mum with great sympathy but almost as if she is another person. Seven years of parenting and three kids later, I feel like I have changed beyond measure. I am too busy to have time to fill, I am confident in my own parenting abilities and I have a wonderful network of friends. But I still have room for more and I would never be one of those cliquey Mums who cut people out.

At last Wednesday’s toddler group, T and I rocked up noisily to pay our 50p entry fee. We were a very different duo to that angry baby and desperate Mum of the early days. T is a happy lad in a way that H never was and I was only there for the stewed tea and to give my lad something to do for a couple of hours.

Apart from that, it was all painfully familiar. Mums in cliques, friendly organisers giving me concerned looks as I sat on my own with my boy. The difference was just in my outlook. T had no interest in doing any of the organised activities and I had no interest in chatting to the other Mums. Instead of sitting there longing for someone to befriend me, I was pretty keen to avoid the banal chat. Not one of the other Mums approached me as a new face to say hello to anyway. The me of today was delighted but I was very aware of how the new Mum me would have felt to be so ignored.

T had an absolute riot. He would be delighted to go back next week. I don’t think we will though. I think I’d rather pay for soft play. It was interesting to go back in time and revisit how I felt and remind myself how things have changed for me. But I don’t need it. In fact, I think I may actually need to never go again. Who wants to be made to feel like the outsider, whilst simultaneously having their kids being told that God wants to use them? Not I.

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It all feels rather one-sided to me and not worth the paltry 50p entry fee. I’m glad I went back though, if only to be reminded how things were, that I hadn’t imagined how miserable it could be. It also showed me how far I’ve come and that I survived it.

It felt good leave and go out into the rain, happy in the knowledge that the toddler group thing really isn’t for me.

The Little Things That Kill

imageAs a parent, I am used to putting up with a lot of shit, both literally and metaphorically. I’m naturally a pretty patient person and I manage to let most of the multiple annoyances that accompany having three young kids wash over me. But every now and then one little thing will break through my outer layer of “yeah, whatever” and seems to pierce my brain like a drill. It could be a particularly annoying toy, a much repeated phrase or a behaviour pattern. Once the bloody thing works it’s way into the ‘unbearably annoying things’ pool, it sends me fair mad.

I’m not at my best right now, to say the least. We have been up 5am most days with Terrible T for months on end, and often in the night too. The constant relentlessness of that exhaustion is having an impact on my patience levels and there are a few little irritations that have been becoming more and more unbearable of late. 

We’ve all been there with the noisy toys, right? Most of the time, I can pretty much blank most of them out. My husband sometimes winces when T races in and out over our new wooden floors with his push along monkey, which relentlessly whacks the floor with each step, but I don’t even notice that one. Even the incredibly loud Buzz Lightyear bellowing about going to Infinity and Beyond every time anyone so much as walks past the toy box doesn’t really bother me.

But that fucking Grandpa Pig and this little train that goes Choo Choo Choo, well I would sooner chop his porky head off with a carving knife than have to listen to Peppa et al cheerfully singing at top volume about him one more time.

Like the majority of the most irritating toys, Grandpa Pig’s Train was a gift (thanks Mum) and it doesn’t have a volume switch. It plays a variety of annoying noises but one in six is the train song and it is horrifically loud and absolutely infuriating. Unfortunately, T loves the damn thing. I keep wondering whether sabotage would be acceptable. Could I drop it in the sink by mistake perhaps? Or accidentally file it in the charity collection bag? But then I look at my baby’s big blue eyes and feel massive preemptive guilt and bottle out.

But it isn’t just the toy from hell that is getting to me right now. One issue that is driving me mental is spit related behaviour from my disgusting little girl. M is four now but she still puts everything in her mouth. She is forever sucking her sleeves, collars and soft toys. But worse, much worse, is the hair sucking. She has hair long enough to stuff in her mouth and she sucks handfuls of the stuff. I tie it back as much as I can to stop her but when it is loose she can’t seem to stop herself, despite my constant reprimands. It hangs in wet, spitty rats’ tails, tangled and smelling of drool.

I am so at the end of my tether with the hair sucking, I cannot tell you. I’m used to the disgusting ways of little people but the hair sucking feels like a new low, somehow. I physically recoil from touching her spit soaked locks. I have no idea why I feel so repulsed by it when I am constantly mopping spit off the baby’s face and dealing with considerably worse bodily fluids the live long day. Perhaps it is because she is four now and really should know better; perhaps it is just the texture and faint aroma that comes from her spitty hair. Who knows, but it is driving me to distraction and I am seriously considering drastic action.

imageSo, it looks like my girl will be having a neat little bob next time she has her hair cut. It is either that or I blow a gasket. It has to be just short enough to be out of reach of her mouth. Part of me is sad at the thought of chopping off her lovely hair but the repulsed part of me is delighted and knows that her ‘lovely’ hair is never really allowed to be lovely, as it is always tangled with flob. Besides, she’d look super cute with pretty much any cut so would probably look great.

And the final thing that is driving me totally nuts is H’s obsession with his tablet, primarily with sodding Angry Birds. He is a total tech fiend, like his father. He would be on it 24/7 if I let him (which I don’t). There really is nothing that isn’t deeply annoying about this obsession. When he is playing it, he is totally engrossed, head down, deaf to all other things, with the irritating little tune piping gently around the house. When I ask him to stop, all hell breaks loose and we have moans, even tears sometimes. Between Bird sessions he spends his time asking me when he can play it again and losing his soft toy birds around the house endlessly. And perhaps worse than all of this is his insistence that he tells me all about it.

“I’ve just done this one amazing level Mum where Red smashed this pig and he few right up in the air and it was awesome”.

To which I reply “I don’t give a flying pig’s ass about fucking Angry Birds and I want you to shut up about it forever more or my head is going to explode, OK?”

imageOf course I don’t. But I want to. I feign interest and smile. It isn’t actually the Birds that I hate, to be fair. It could any of H’s intense obsessions which come and go and that I have to hear about in minute detail. I know this is a bad one and I should encourage all communication but it is so mind numbing, hearing about what each of the bird’s special powers are, that I can sometimes hardly stand it. How can a kid who gives such endless detail about a computer game have nothing for me after school beyond “Yeah, it was alright. Can’t remember”?

Sometimes (now) life can feel like it is made of nothing but these small irritations that fester and combine to make one big screaming ball of head fuck. Dried up lidless felt tips, our possessive toaster that burns everything to a crisp, H’s terrible aim in the bathroom, Mr Tumble. I could go on.

But I think I’d probably be a lot less mad at these little things if I could only get a good night’s sleep and drag myself out of bad after sunrise. Even being woken up by a cheerful little babble rather than an ear-piercing scream would be a huge improvement.

I know I’m not as tired now as I have been in the past. It isn’t even really about the level of tiredness at this stage. It is about the fact that we are still doing this, still subject the to hideous demands of a bad sleeping early riser.

Before you say it, I know it will get better. I have done this twice before, after all. I just wish it would get better a bit bloody quicker. I am sick of being a zombie and sick of dealing with a overtired, grumpy toddler.

T is two now so I am still stupidly optimistic that it might improve any day now. Perhaps then I won’t feel like a rage monster over these little things. And I won’t have to send Grandpa Pig to slaughter.

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Being the Baby

imageMy Baby T has been getting a bit of stick lately from his siblings and it makes me really, really mad. I don’t get seriously cross with the kids that often but yesterday some hard words were had, in defence of the baby of the pack.

T is changing fast. He watches the bigger kids and he wants so much to be like his big brother and sister that he fights to reject all signs of babydom. He wants to drink out of open cups, bin his bib and reject his highchair, despite the fact that he can hardly reach the table when he sits on a grown up chair. In short, my baby boy dreams big.

With two older siblings ahead of him, T wants everything sooner than he is ready and he feels a huge sense of injustice when he can’t have what the others have. Being the baby can be hard.

But being the big brother or sister can be hard too. The problem with toddlers is that they can be incredibly annoying. If you are a kid who has a collection of small, precious items that you want to keep safe, or a game set up exactly as you want it, a maurading spit monster is really not going to be your favourite person. I get that, I really do. I’ve been there. But T is part of this family and the kids getting angry with him for simply being a toddler makes my blood boil.

H loves his baby brother but the more active and capable he gets, the more irritating he seems to find him. As the oldest, H has always looked out for the other two and he was positively obsessed with T as a baby. But that obsession has well and truly faded. He now gets so annoyed with his little brother wanting to play that I catch him shouting at him as if he is a badly behaved dog. T blunders in, knocks the Batcave over sucks Superman’s cape and ruins the game. Yes, bloody annoying, but that is life with a toddler.

I sometimes wonder if I should shut T out, keep him away from the big kid games. But I feel so sorry for him and all he wants to do is join in, in his clumsy, over-enthusiastic way. So, mostly I tell them to let him play. All they have to do is give him some random character they don’t want, let him walk it about a bit and he is in heaven. A few knocked over superheroes seems like a small price to pay to me – but then I am not a superhero crazy seven year old boy.

As well as being yelled at by his brother, T has another problem: he has an overbearing sister. M is beyond delighted by T’s improving ability to play and chat. She has endured years of being at the mercy of her big brother’s moods when playing: H has a habit of losing his temper or wandering off bored when he loses interest half way through a game, leaving M bereft. But she now has a very enthusiastic sub on the bench, and one that she can boss about, to boot.

imageFor the most part, M and T play very well together. But M has a tendency to experiment with her baby brother’s mood, to wind him up and let him go, just to see what happens. She can whisk him up into a frenzy in the time it takes me to make a cup of tea. She likes to see just how nuts it is possible to make a two year old just before the bedtime wind down.

But that isn’t all she does. She just can’t stop herself from petting the poor lad. She cuddles him, strokes his hair and tickles his tummy. She loves to help him put his shoes on and do his cardigan up. He is basically an oversized doll to her, but he isn’t very happy about it. Being constantly pawed when you have a busy toddler schedule to keep to is plain annoying.

And sometimes she messes with what he is doing, just because she can, in a sort of tots power play. Yesterday I caught her sitting on the sofa putting her feet on top of T’s toy train, stopping him from moving it and ruining all his fun, just because she could. This came just five minutes after H had been berating the poor lad for daring to want to join his game.

It was time for serious words with them both, in defence of my baby, who only wants to do his thing and be like his siblings.

When you are growing up, you don’t really appreciate the pros and cons of your position in the family. As a rule, you tend to think you are the one who is hard done by, no matter where you sit in the pecking order. I am the second of four kids and I know there were times when I wished I was able to do things sooner, like my big brother, or that I was the cute little one, like my little sister. But right now, more than ever before, I feel sorry for all the family babies out there. Maybe you were right, Sis. Maybe it does suck to be the little one.

Being a toddler can be very hard. Being a toddler who is in turn shouted at and wound up by older children can be doubly hard. I make no apologies for standing up for my baby and really telling the other two off, despite remembering clearly just how irritating little siblings can be.

T is our little boy, the ‘forever baby’ of our small clan. Annoying? Yes. Frustrating? Undoubtably. But he is our baby, our annoying. And they have to put up with him, the good and the bad.

School starts for M tomorrow. If T had any clue what was going on, I think he might be secretly pleased.

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Hold Them Close

imageI am reeling this evening. Not from toddler tantrums, not from the first day back at school. I have been on the edge of tears for much of the day, trying to keep my head focused on work and failing. None of my children are to blame. I’ve been crying for one small boy found lying face down on a beach in Turkey.

I know Aylan and his brother are the tip of the iceberg. I know this particular little boy, whose limp body we have seen all over today’s press, is just one of many thousands who have died this year. These other deaths have not been photographed and shared the world over, have not been the subject of an outpouring of public grief and outrage, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Aylan’s death would not be special in any way, apart from the fact that it has been seen. And, traumatic as it is, see it we must. We turn away far too often.

The political debate rages and those of us watching the unfolding crisis in horror do what pathetically little we can. We sign petitions, share stories and look up who we can send our donations to. But before that comes the gut wrenching emotional reaction to what we see.

I know my tears won’t help Aylan’s poor lifeless body, but I cannot get his image out of my head. You see, I have held my own tiny children in my arms. I know how it feels to have a little boy, to hold his hand and wipe his nose, to have his little legs wrapped around my torso, as I balance him on my hip. I know what a delight and a trouble he can be, what incredible energy he has, something us adults marvel over, wishing we could bottle it. To see all of that gone, nothing left but a tiny lifeless body, is almost beyond bearing.

I am, of course, thinking of my own little ones when I look at him. I am thinking of how soft their cheeks are, how infectious their laugh, how sharp their elbows are when they clamber over me. Maybe these things hit home harder when you are a parent of your own small children but I can’t imagine that anyone could look at that image and not think of other little ones they know. Aylan could be any of our children. We are just so incredibly bloody lucky that we live in a safe, affluent country. We are no more or less deserving of safety. It is just pure luck, that’s all.

Listening to the voice of the boys’ father on the radio – hearing how he struggled and failed to keep his family alive – I feel sick. To imagine being in that position is shocking and too horrific for words. We would all do everything we could to save our babies, even risk such incredibly dangerous journeys and slum conditions. Just think what they must be fleeing that is horrendous enough to force them to undertake such a migration with babes in arms.

But the cry that Britain is “too full” continues. The tone is slightly softer today perhaps, in the face of a wave of public opinion, but the answer is still that this is someone else’s problem. History will rightly judge our response harshly. Will this picture be a catalyst for the world to act? I am not hopeful. I have seen too much of the world to be hopeful.

Tonight, our house continues in it’s own little bubble of love and safety. It is full of the usual mayhem, always amplified on a work day, with all that catching up to be squeezed into just an hour or so. Snacks to be had, baths to be done. H gave me his report on his first day of school – it was awesome, apparently. M was full of the latest gossip from nursery and a tiny finger injury she had to show me ten times. My pudgy little T spouted general scribble and nonsense, as always. He was very proud of his newest word – popcorn – which he repeated endlessly.

I hurried them along when they were slowly munching snacks in front of the TV. I told them off when they squabbled in the bath. A standard night really. But I watched them with a shadow in the corner of my eye tonight.

They are my world, these three. One man’s world has gone dark today. I’m not religious but the saying “There but for the grace of God go I” says it all.

Tonight we cuddle perhaps just a little longer and harder than normal at bedtime, though they are in blissful ignorance as to why. And I am both deeply sad and thankful beyond measure.

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