Scream O’Clock

imageMy little T has a very special way of waking up. A special way of waking the whole house up, in fact. No getting up and playing happily in his room for him. Not even any sneaking out in the middle of the night or creeping into our room. Instead he treats us to an ear-piercing scream alarm every morning.

I know that night walking shenanigans can be very annoying, as can little, cold feet in your bed, kicking you in the ribs in the small hours. But I would give almost anything for a bit of early morning creeping and snuggling if it meant an end to the blood-curdling, tortured shrieks that we are treated to daily.

T is two years and a few months old now and has been in a big-boy bed for quite a while, so it is well within his power to climb out when he wakes. He has a room full of toys and books he could entertain himself with, or he could walk out of the open door and come to find us. But he hasn’t quite grasped any of that yet. As soon as he wakes, he screams blue murder, as if he has been stung by a wasp.

This beautiful noise kicks in the minute T wakes each day, at any time from 5am. Every single frickin’ day. It also happens when he wakes from his afternoon nap. I’m not talking a bit of tired, grumpy grizzling. My boy means business and he really goes for it.

Being woken at 5-something is always painful but being woken by a screaming banshee is particularly demoralising. He shuts up the minute I pick up his ever-increasing bulk and either bundle him into my bed for half an hour of fidgeting, or lug him downstairs for his milk. But it is such a horrible way to welcome the day and it is beginning to take it’s toll on both me and my man. Not to mention the poor neighbours.

imageT is generally pretty cheerful during waking hours so this morning scream-fest is rather puzzling. The other two certainly didn’t do it at this age, but T is determined to be a mould-breaker, keeping his poor, tired parents on the back foot. Why would a smiley kid who loves his bed and gets happily tucked in at sleep time suddenly wake and feel the need to bellow like his world has fallen apart?

I’ve been unsure where to go with it, how to try to break the habit before it breaks us. Two-and-a-half isn’t that far away now. Reasoning has kicked in over many things, and yet still the horrendous mornings go on, our ears ringing with his screams. We are just desperate to make it stop.

T has an incredibly good understanding of so many things now. He listens and communicates brilliantly. He grasps meaning and reasoning. Much as I love the recent developments in his ability to understand and communicate, it has made the morning screaming even more irritating somehow. I blunder into his room half-asleep at 5:30am and look down at my son in his bed – his face beetroot red from the yelling, arms up begging me for a carry – and I can’t help feeling really, really pissed off with him.

After all, we’ve had months on end of this. And I can’t believe that a clever little communicator like him doesn’t understand when I tell him not to scream every morning. There is no way he can honestly feel that distraught to be alone when he wakes, when he knows for a fact that I am just across the landing.

I can have little chats with T these days, to relay instructions and explain good behaviour versus bad. He sits there and nods and I absolutely know that he gets it. When M throws a flid and gets banished to her room, T says “nor-tee, go a bed-oom”. When he gets given a time out himself and I tell him off he says “nor-tee, no more skeeming”, to show that he knows screaming his tiny face off isn’t acceptable behaviour.  See? He bloody gets it! Yet still it continues. Every fucking morning.

I’ve been trying a new tactic this last week or so. T is a total cuddle-monkey and loves nothing better than to be wrapped around my neck like a scarf, squeezing the life out of me. He seems to equate screaming in the morning with getting picked up and being carried downstairs. So I thought I’d attempt to wean him off being scooped up, encouraging him to get up by himself. I’m trying to force a new morning pattern onto him that is a bit less hideous. We’ve been getting desperate so it seemed worth a try, although I didn’t hold out much hope.

I think the cuddle factor is a major part of the problem, if I’m honest. With my previous toddlers, I had a good incentive to phase out the endless carrying as I was pretty heavily pregnant by the time they were T’s age. There has been no such pressure this time and T, by far my most cuddly of tots, has taken full advantage of the fact. Not only does this play havoc with my back but it allows T to keep behaving like a baby, always begging for carries, refusing to do things for himself. In some things he is fiercely independent, but why walk when you can simultaneously have a bear hug and be airlifted from place to place?

Well, no more. For the last week, I’ve been making my cuddle monster get out of bed by himself when the scream-up begins and either leading him into my room for cuddles in bed or making him walk downstairs. And if he won’t do it himself, he has to stay there.

imageThere has been a hell of a lot of resistance to this new routine, waking the whole house up as he loudly complains. But this morning was a bit of a breakthrough. The minute the screaming began, I got up, stood in my bedroom doorway and called him to me, telling him to get out of bed and join me. And he only bloody did it. He shut up immediately, rolled out of bed, toddled over and clambered into bed with me. Not only that but he then fell asleep in my arms until 7am! OK, so I didn’t sleep again but at least I was still warm in bed, not sat downstairs, too tired to focus, trying to keep an exhausted toddler from waking up the whole house.

My husband was sleeping downstairs last night after a bout of insomnia. He woke at 7:15am to the sound of me and the boys having breakfast (M is the only sensible sleeper in the house and was still tucked up in bed). Bleary eyed, the old man stumbled out of his pit saying “What the hell is going on?” He was genuinely deeply confused to be rising so late. It is so very long since he had a night where he wasn’t ripped from sleep by wailing that he was totally disorientated. We were all running late as a result, without that extra couple of hours to get ourselves ready, but it was a small price to pay. T also refused his afternoon nap as he wasn’t totally exhausted for once, but I can live with that in exchange for brighter mornings.

I dare say this morning was a one off but I’m hoping it means some sort of progress because I’m not sure how much longer we can all cope with the the daily scream-fest. If nothing changes, the only other option is investing in some expensive earplugs and soundproofing T’s room with old egg boxes.

We’ll be eating a lot of omelettes this week, just in case.

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Time Out: a Blessing or a Curse?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had an unusual amount of time out away from the kids. Things just worked out that way and, after months with no breaks, I’ve had back-to-back weekends where kid-free time has been on offer in abundance.

Time out is always appreciated and the last two weekends have been really brilliant but, as if often the case, I felt a bit grumpy afterwards. I get disappointed when I don’t feel rested and full of the joys of life with a young family after a break. I always expect to have a warm glow, to feel much more at ease with my manic life for having had some time away from it all. But it never quite works out that way.

Last weekend contained far too much alcohol, as child-free times tend to do. It is a well-known fact that, once off the leash, us parents go a bit crazy, trying to cram all the fun we used to spread evenly over a month into one hectic day. The hangover the morning after could have been worse but, when I think about it, I really shouldn’t be surprised when I don’t feel refreshed and rejuvenated after these rare treat days.

But the exhaustion and hangover aren’t really the problem. The problem is tasting freedom for a few glorious hours and then having it snatched away again. And oh it tastes soooo sweet while it lasts.

imageDon’t get me wrong: I adore my kids and indeed my life. When I return to the fold I am reminded of just how much I love them. It washes over me like a wave. Getting back on Sunday night after a whole day away, to find my three beautiful babies sleeping peacefully was a moment of deep appreciation for the blessings in my life. I always feel that intense rush of love for them when I come home, even after just a few hours of separation.

But, life being what it is, that glow is pretty short-lived. The usual early start and a couple of tantrums later and the glow is already a hell of a lot dimmer. By lunchtime, it is a distant memory. Kids have no respect for glow. For them, it is just another day, another flip-out over nothing, another screaming row with their siblings.

So, after a blessed escape – so full of fun and empty of small snotty noses and nagging voices – I can’t help feeling a bit down for a few days. On Monday and Tuesday I was grumpy without really knowing why. When the realisation hit, as it did this morning, I felt a bit better about it all, because I remembered that this is just what happens. It is the standard low, after the high, and it will pass as soon as the weekend is slightly more distant in my mind.

I feel guilty about wishing my kids’ young years away sometimes, about wanting more escape time from my lovely little family. I feel especially guilty in the light of such tragedy in the news of late, of young lives cut short, of families destroyed. I know how incredibly lucky I am. But I can’t help feeling rather trapped in it all sometimes.

In a strange way, I think having the odd day or night away is counterproductive. After all, before the last couple of weekends, I had months on end with no time off and I was fine. Yes, I was looking forward to the break but you get into a kind of rhythm with it all when no escape is in sight. You just carry on and get into the relentless roll of life with young kids. When you don’t get a taste of what you are missing, you don’t think about it so much.

So, back into the pattern of family life I roll. This week we’ve already seen a heady mix of extreme tantrums, explosive nappies, early starts and terrible nights. The kids seem to have bickered more than usual and the four-year-old has really been tapping her inner diva. But that’s all just standard in a house stuffed full of kids.

imageAnd there have been wonderful moments in there too. There have been new words spoken, giggly bouncy castle chases and some incredible cuddles. And it is only Wednesday.

And so it rolls on, with the three of them pushing me to my limits – both high and low – on a daily basis. Their needs and their energy roll like a steamroller overs any grumps or glows I may be feeling. The relentless rhythm doesn’t give a shit about moments of reflection, neither the good nor the bad.

So, much as I love the time out, maybe it’s easier to stick with the roll. It pulls you along. Interrupting it necessitates a rather painful jump-start. But Sunday was so much fun that it was worth the pain of the days after. And there is really no sense in giving up on time out just because it makes you sad when it is over.

I think I just have to remember to anticipate the low. I have to learn to roll with it a bit better, rather than being steamrollered.

Answering Back

imageWhen I was a kid, it was pretty standard to be told not to answer back by a grown-up. It was also standard to giggle and ignore it. It is one of those reprimands, rolled out often and listened to almost never.  I don’t think I even really knew what it meant when a dinner lady said “don’t answer back” to me when I was a little dot. I was a pretty good kid so I can’t imagine I had said anything particularly awful but she was a miserable old bag and I think I was probably just being too perky and smart, so she said it to make me be quiet.

I think lots of adults tell kids not to answer back just to shut them up, not because they are being naughty or mean. For that reason, I didn’t want to use that phrase myself as a parent. It is just one of those trite lines that has lost all meaning from over-use by generations of parents. Old fashioned and empty.

Well, this week I said it. With very good reason, I must confess, as my seven-year old boy is being a right lippy little git. But I said it nonetheless. So it seems I am not so much turning into my Mother (who never used that phrase, as far as I can remember) but into the miserable old dinner lady with the too-bright lipstick on her mealy, downturned mouth.

H has been really pushing it recently. Asked how his day was, he tuts and sighs, casts his eyes up and mutters something angry under his breath. I have been doing my best to ask nicely and keep my cool, to coax him into a more receptive state of mind, but he seems to ramp up the pre-teen stroppiness even more when I am polite and gentle with him. I’m sure it is classic boundary pushing but it is getting a little testing.

The most annoying thing about the lip is that he seems to reserve it for his siblings and me. Daddy gets away scot-free. I’m not sure how as he has never been particularly authoritarian, but Daddy commands a respect from my eldest that I find somewhat baffling. If I threaten to tell Daddy about bad behaviour, it can send H into total misery, begging me not to tarnish his good name in the eyes the Great Dad.

I comfort myself with the fact that the little two couldn’t give a rat’s ass about upsetting Daddy. They would laugh in my face if I said “wait till your Father gets home”. But H is a total Daddy worshipper, with the result that his stroppiness mostly heads in my general direction.

I know it’s just a phase and, for the most part, I can gently tell H off and work on him to get him out of his funk. But it depends entirely on the day I’ve had as to my level of patience with it. Last week was a good one for my two-year old, so I was feeling less stressed and the strops from H were easier to dilute and deal with. This week, not so much.

Terrible T has been monumentally monstrous this week. OK, so he has a cold but, man, he has been awful. He has kicked and screamed his way through the week so far, throwing tantrum after tantrum. By the time H and M come home from school, the patience pot is pretty much empty.

So, when H decided to use that voice after school yesterday, to tut, kick the sofa and rant in response to a pretty basic request from me, I didn’t handle it as well as I would have liked. Not only was he told not to “answer back” and to “wait til I tell Daddy”, but it ended with both of us screaming at each other and him being banished to his bedroom. Not our finest hour.

imageThe problem with having multiple kids is that they work in a kind of tag team, wearing you down one at a time throughout the day until you are at your wit’s end and completely out of patience. They aren’t experienced enough to realise when it would be wise to step back and give you five minutes to take some deep breaths and reset. They go on and on until you hit breaking point and end up losing it in the style of a wailing banshee.

It is all horribly unfair on the kid that carries that final back-breaking straw, of course. If you must yell, you should really be yelling at all of them, or at least the one who gave you most shit during the day. But it doesn’t work like that. The one that pushes you over the edge gets it in the neck.

And I’m afraid to say that the answering back is often the final straw for me. I find it disproportionately irritating. On paper, being a bit lippy isn’t as bad as screaming tantrums, right? But it is just so infuriating to be tutted at and spoken to as if I have just crawled out from under a rock, just for asking him to put his socks in the washing basket. That rudeness gets me to angry far quicker than any of T’s worst toddler meltdowns.

H is a good kid really. He is just having a stroppy phase. It may well be a long phase that lasts until his early 20s but I am still choosing to think about it as a phase, for sanity’s sake. He is always very apologetic after driving me into a total meltdown too. Doesn’t stop him doing it again, of course, but at least he does say sorry.

I was moaning to my husband about it the other night and he said he would have a word with our boy, to try to get him to buck up and be polite. He took H to one side and before he had even started getting to the point, H collapsed into a ball of tears, spit and snot, saying how bad he had been, how sorry he was and how he didn’t deserve any presents from Father Christmas. It was deeply melodramatic, ending with sworn oaths to be nice, stop moaning at his siblings and be polite to Mummy.

Did it last? Of course not. What do you do with the sinner who repents endlessly but carries on regardless?

Tonight I am drinking a very large glass of wine to help me wash away a day of tantrums, misery, moaning and back-chat. Half a bottle of Sauvignon tends to improve my mood and makes the bedtime routine go with a pleasantly hazy swing.

When the kids are in bed I will drink more wine, whilst I try to think of a better way of saying “don’t answer back”, one that doesn’t make me sound like a miserable, old dinner lady.

Oh, I’ve got it! How about “Shut the fuck up”? Too much?

I’ll keep working on it.

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Thug Kids

imageT is currently sporting a bit of a fat lip after face-butting a pavement. He isn’t usually that clumsy, as toddlers go, so he was rather shocked at the accident but very stoical, despite the blood and the pain. Now a few days later, he is much better and only occasionally points at his lip and says “ow”, when he fancies a bit of sympathy. But we are still being careful of his lip until the swelling goes down. Putting jumpers on is a very delicate operation right now.

So, I was more than a bit pissed off when Thug Kid decided to take a very deliberate run and push at him on the bouncy castle this morning. Yes, it was a soft surface but still, face-planting on a fat lip even on a bouncy castle is pretty painful. OK, so the kid didn’t know T had hurt his face but that kind of thing makes me really mad. Thug Kid’s Mum said sorry and made him apologise but what the hell is it with kids like that?

We’ve all come across them, right? I don’t just mean the boisterous, overexhuberant ones who bluster into everyone in their excitement or play a bit rough because they are too full of beans. I mean the kids that get that mean look in their eye, make a decision to do some damage and then really go for it. That’s what I saw today. Thug Kid got that look in his eye, checked to see that Mum was preoccupied with his baby brother and then launched himself at T full throttle with one aim: to knock him down.

I’m not saying this kid is a bad egg but he was definitely overtly aggressive. Maybe it was a one off. Maybe he was jealous of his little brother and acting up; I have no idea what was going on in his little head. But my kids are soft, sensitive souls and are always utterly shocked to be met with such deliberate aggression. That kind of violence is just totally outside their experience. Apart from the odd, halfhearted push they don’t even physically fight amongst themselves much. They make up for it by excelling at verbal warfare, mind you.

imageWhen T’s big brother H was about two, something similar but a lot worse happened to him. We came across a biter. I had already clocked this little bugger, who was a red-head of about three I guess – he was running about on the bouncy castle and ‘accidentally’ slamming into all the little ones.  I was keeping an eye on him but he made a bee-line for H before I could stop him. The little shit charged him, shoulder barged him to the deck and climbed on top of him. He then straddled him, very deliberately searched for a bit of exposed flesh and bit his hand so badly that it bled.

Shocked didn’t even come close to covering it. It was the first time I had witnessed a kid so young being so brutal, so calculatedly violent, and I have to admit it threw me and my innocent belief that little kids don’t have a bad bone in their bodies. Having such a gentle child myself, I was genuinely alarmed that one so young – but old enough to know better – could have such a desire to inflict pain on another kid.

As I said before, I am not judging the parent or the kid. I have no idea what is going on in their world to cause that kind of behaviour. And, as today, the Mum reacted perfectly. She dragged her son out of the room immediately and took him home. But the look of resignation in her eyes told me this was far from a one off.

Once I’d patched H up and taken him home, I felt desperately sorry for that Mum, taking her kid into social situtations every day where he is likely to attack another child. A kid that seeks out smaller kids and bites them until they bleed. She then has to face the embarrassment. She has to leave, drag him home, deal with the inevitable tantrums and misery. And where do you begin when you have a kid like that? How do you tackle that sort of behaviour? Whatever parenting problems we’ve faced to date – and there have been many – I’ve never had to deal with that one and it is something I am deeply grateful for.

H was a very nervous toddler and he was pretty traumatised by the biting incident. He ran and hid from all red-haired boys for months afterwards. T is far more resilient and, once the hurt was gently rubbed better, he had forgotten all about today’s incident in minutes.

imageBut today’s toddler agression took me straight back to my moment of realisation when H was bitten years ago: that some kids, like some adults, just are incredibly violent. I’m sure some are the product of their environment but I’m also sure that some just pop out like that, full of aggression. Hopefully, if their parents’ are able to help them, most will learn to control it as they grow up. But some won’t. And you have to wonder what happens to those ones.

I am thankful I did not give birth to a kid so full of rage. I have no idea how I would handle it. Like my kids, I am way too soft in the middle.

T and I went on to have a lovely morning, despite the earlier ambush. We chased each other on the bouncy castle, raced cars and painted. T smiled and giggled a lot, because that is what T does.

We had some snacks and a cup of tea after play time, him chatting away the whole time, sharing his crackers with me. After a brilliant Half Term, I am totally loved up with my three soft and sensitive kids right now and this morning made me feel even more so.

Soft isn’t weakness. Far from it. Soft is kindness, sensitivity, empathy. I am proud and grateful to have three such gentle children.

And I may be soft too, but us softies aren’t all as easy to push over as toddlers. Anyone threatening my cubs had better watch themselves. Thug Kids, you have been warned.

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