Naughtiness is a Boy Called T

imageToddlers are sent to try us. I’m on my third now so I know the drill. They are little buggers and it often feels like their primary goal in life is to make your day harder. Out of my three, I thought the first would be unbeaten in his terrible reign. He was the red-faced Tantrum King. My second gave about the standard level of bad behaviour so was a walk in the park in comparison.

But my final toddler, my Baby T, is taking it to a new level. He is just so incredibly naughty. He certainly knows how to throw in the odd scream-up but that isn’t his forté. He is just so wantonly cheeky, so deliberately defiant. He is a professional piss-taker.

Perhaps it is experience or just indulging the baby but I don’t often get upset or embarrassed by T’s behaviour these days. More often than not it makes me laugh to see this tiny blonde bombshell taking on towering adults with such ferocity, such bare-faced cheek.

We went for a sleepover at the weekend. OK, so four kids aged eight and under in one bedroom was never going to make for a quiet evening but, as the older three were settling down nicely, T was making merry mayhem. He was up and down out of bed, clambering about on top of his big brother, throwing bedding down the stairs and generally taking the micky for hours.

When my girl started school last September, I was looking forward to having time with just one pre-schooler at home, thinking how easy it would be to get things done, to nip into the shops for milk for example, with just one in tow. But T was only just beginning to step it up then. It is almost as if he waited for M to be out of the way at school before unleashing his full onslaught of pure naughtiness.

A trip to the supermarket with T is incredibly daunting. I do it when I have to but I go out of my way to avoid it. I needed to buy three things in Friday. Just three. Easy, right? Wrong. T never agrees to sit in a trolley, of course, and he insisted on bombing about at speed, tripping up pensioners and taking things off shelves. One poor woman had to swerve her trolley into a shelf full of wine bottles to avoid him as he pelted out in front of her.

His favourite thing about supermarkets is being able to run his trains up and down the grills on the inside of the fridges in the chilled aisles, because they make a delightful clattering noise. He then left his train in a fridge and kicked off until we located it, sat on top of a block of Red Leicester. All this was punctuated by frequently losing him down various aisles, although he was usually easy to find if I followed the near continuous yelling about how he wanted a biscuit from the café.

You can see why I avoid it.

Today I took him to get his passport photos done. This is something I’ve been dreading but I was feeling strong so bit the bullet. The only local place that does kid passport photos is a little independent pharmacy, staffed by an incredibly bad-tempered and impatient woman. Always a helpful attitude when dealing with a toddler.

So, the white backdrop was pulled down in readiness and a footstool was produced for T to stand on. Not a bloody chance. He refused to put his feet down and started yelling his head off when I lifted him up. So we went for Option B and I put my foot on the stool, knee up, for T to sit on. Well, that was apparently abhorrent too, cue more screaming and squirming.

Our friendly photographer took a picture of the top of T’s head and tutted loudly, saying it was no good. She took another three or four over the next few minutes, as I attempted to pin him to my knee and calm him down. She eventually got one with him looking at the camera and showed me this shot of a blurred grimace. I think I laughed at how terrible it was, which she seemed to take as confirmation that I was happy with it. She was reaching the point of saying anything to get shot of us and said the passport people “might let a blurry one pass as he is only two”.  Hmmm. I’m not sure ‘might’ is good enough for a passport application so I asked her as nicely as I could to try again.

imageIt was time for the big guns. Lollypop bribery. I grabbed a lolly from the counter and waved it in front of T. He screamed louder and grabbed for it, knocking it out of my hand and sending it skidding across the shop floor under a lady’s wheelchair. I put T down, apologised to the lady and crawled about under her wheelchair to retrieve it. T spotted his chance and legged it out of the shop, carrying a can of deodorant in each fist, swiped from the nearest low shelf.

Skipping on through the next few minutes of mayhem and we were back in position, boy squirming and yelling on my knee, lollypop retrieved and unwrapped, photographer with a face like thunder. I tried holding him with one hand, waving the lolly about in front of him with the other. He was now beetroot and covered in snot from all the yelling, so not exactly photo ready, but I didn’t have a free hand to wipe him with. We had attracted quite a crowd by now and an elderly couple were standing behind our happy photographer waving and cooing to get T to look in the right direction. The screaming and wiggling went on.

I gave him the lolly, out of desperation, to see if the sugar hit would make him shut his face for a moment. It worked, the yelling stopped. But now we had the problem of getting a photo without a lollypop in shot. The Happy Snapper went for another few shots. One was T’s grumpy profile, one had his little pink tongue sticking out reaching for the lolly, and one was perfect apart from him having his eyes shut.

I was on the verge of giving up when my friends, the elderly coo-ing couple, made an inspired last-ditch attempt and started waving rubber ducks they’d grabbed off the shelves behind them. T looked up, I dropped the lollypop out of shot and Happy Snapper clicked at just the right moment. Success! Of sorts. You wouldn’t frame it but the passport people would approve. The coo-ing couple and other onlookers actually started applauding.

I put T down and gave him his lolly. He grinned and started happily chatting to his assembled audience, the entire apparent trauma immediately forgotten. He was all cute smiles for everyone, telling them how having his photo taken was “lots of fun”. Speak for yourself, mate.

One thing I forgot to mention about my third and naughtiest toddler is that he can be incredibly cute when he wants to be. Which works entirely to his advantage, of course. He is as manipulative as they come and could charm the birds out of the trees. Cheeky little git.

Although he didn’t win our photographer over with his post photoshoot smiles. Her parting scowl rivalled his worst angry pouts.

And we forgot to pay for the bloody lollypop.

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The Trouble With Targets

School is hard. I’m finding it a lot harder this time round than I did as a child. When you have a kid that finds it more difficult to do the things that many kids seem to breeze through, who is falling short of the new impossible targets, it can be very hard indeed.

My boy doesn’t worry about it. He enjoys school. He is cheerful and content in class, blissfully unaware – for the most part – that he isn’t measuring up to government standards, or that I am sometimes tied up in knots of worry. But my boy hasn’t read the rules. He hasn’t seen the list of things he is supposed to know by the end of the year. I have. And I know he isn’t going to tick all the right boxes. He may be funny and sweet and clever with a special and original way of looking at the world, but he struggles to join up his letters, so he fails. He can’t tell me what 7 X 8 is, so he misses the mark.

School work didn’t bother me at his age. I found it easy. But that is just because I was lucky. My head happens to work in the way they wanted it to. My boy’s head is a world of different. He doesn’t fit the mould, which makes him both wonderful and worrying. He doesn’t learn by rote. He lets thing wash over him. Some things stick, most don’t.

My boy is bendy too. He is hyper-mobile. Excellent for gymnastics. Not so good for handwriting. The look of concentration on his dear little face while he tries to join an F to an L is adorable. But you don’t get points for adorable. You don’t get points for effort either. These days, you either join up your writing or your writing is deemed to be substandard, no matter how perfect the content.

My boy is incredible. The extra effort he has to put in must make his school day a lot harder than it is for most. But he never wants to miss school. He never feigns illness to have a duvet day. He skips in happily.

My boy is the most loyal friend you could wish for. He gets on with everyone but he is devoted to the special few, his very best mates. He looks out for them, is kind, would never be deliberately hurtful or play them off against each other. He is all wide-eyed innocence and shock in the face of such behaviour from others. But there are no tick boxes for kindness and loyality.

I am a worrier. I always have been. My husband and my parents tell me not to sweat it, that he is only seven, that he will find his niche and it will all fall into place soon enough. They are probably right. I really hope they are right. But I can’t help but worry because I want to protect him. I want to protect him from feeling like he has failed because he hasn’t ticked the right boxes. Because the skills and talents he has are not valued as highly as those others have, so they score zero.

I am on a learning curve that I don’t think the government understands. I am learning that hitting the academic mark isn’t the only measure of a child’s success. My amazing little boy is teaching me that. He has a wonderful attitude, is positive and keen, and I worry about him losing that with the realisation that he is struggling with some of their targets.

Our school is great at supporting kids like H who need a little extra help with things. They see and value the whole child and give him all the help he needs. But so much of it is out of their hands. These tick boxes come from on high, from politicians attempting to woo their aging conservative voters who think that learning the times tables by heart was good enough for them, so should be inflicted upon the youth of today.

imageBut I am overstating things, as I am prone to do. He is doing OK. He is keeping up, just about. I have been so impressed by how he has improved with his reading and writing recently that I was feeling pretty confident. But at a parents’ meeting at school last night all the targets were listed as the new curriculum kicks in. Standards have gone up. Reaching an acceptable level is now that much harder. This is pretty scary when your child wasn’t even hitting the old averages.

I sat through the meeting, biting my lip, trying to keep the bubbling emotion inside me at bay, as I heard about the hoops that have to be jumped through to make my boy ‘secondary ready’ in just three and a half short years. There are targets on the list that he won’t hit this year, no matter what any of us do. He may not hit them at all. Does it really matter in life if he cannot join up his letters and recite his twelve times table? Of course not. But being perceived to have failed to meet the standard might just matter. There may come a point when empty tick boxes matter a lot. Because there may come a time when he will care deeply.

We are certainly not alone. That much I know. There are parents up and down the country worrying about their little ones. The creative ones, the ones who think differently, the ones who have a lot to offer but not necessarily the things on the government’s list. There will be other parents worried in his school, in his class. Us worriers will read the list of targets and our hearts will sink. We will work extra hard, do extra maths and reading at home, work on our kids’ confidence with lots of praise for the small wins.

But no matter what I do, I am certain there will be empty tick boxes come July. There will be empty tick boxes in three and half years too, on the eve of secondary school. Because my wonderful, kind, creative, imaginative little lad does not always fit in the box, let alone know how to tick it. Because one size does not fit all. Because no matter how fantastic your school is, the system of measuring achievement for little ones in this country is too rigid. It does not leave room to appreciate the many talents and incredible facets of the wonderfully varied little people that we are raising.

This makes me sometimes sad and sometimes cross. But mostly it just makes me worry and wish there was a better way.

What we have to do is help him to do his best and make sure he understands that there is more to life than ticking boxes. We have to make damn sure that he knows that we appreciate him for who he is and for what he is good at. Even if the powers that be don’t.

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My brilliant boy.

January

imageWe’re coming up to halfway through January now and, despite my best efforts, it seems the first month and I are getting along no better than we usually do. Relations between us are frosty. But it isn’t really frost that is the problem. It is the endless rain.

Sunshine has been in very short supply this Winter. I can count on one hand the number of crisp, clear mornings of wonderful Winter sunshine that we’ve had. Most days have been grey and wet. Not only does that have a negative effect on the old mental state but it also means more days faced with that awful dilemma: stay home or face something hideous like soft play.

Last Sunday we opted for staying at home. Big mistake. But I was hungover and it was raining so it seemed worth a shot. The kids started off behaving OK, well all apart from the toddler that is, but he never behaves so that is nothing new. Things started going downhill with the older two by about 11am. There were endless unreasonable demands, bickering over next to nothing and lots of noise of the very moany variety.

Three kids on a hangover is grim at the best of times and Sunday certainly wasn’t the best from any point of view. It was one of those clock-watching days, working out how many hours had to be endured before bedtime, which came early in the end as we had really lost our shit by then.

We did manage to get outside for a while when the clouds parted for half an hour after lunch, to give the kids a chance to practice on their new bikes. It didn’t go well. H was in a flat panic about falling off, M was moaning about being too cold to hold the handlebars. T is going through a particularly challenging phase – his reign of toddler terror is peaking – so he threw a flid and point-blank refused to leave the house at all. He then spent the majority of the afternoon watching Thomas the Tank Engine and scowling. If we dared to to suggest an alternative activity he went beetroot and howled.

M rallied after a while and started doing pretty well on her bike but H became a ball of anxiety, as he often does, and started crying and wailing. It was lucky it started raining again really, so that we could escape the frustration of it all. I know there is a lot to be said for sensitivity but there are times when I wish our kids would just bloody man up a bit.

Rain or no rain, January can be a total bastard. It isn’t helping my healthy eating and drinking plans. It started brilliantly and I did really well last week. Lots of fresh vegetables and no alcohol from Monday to Thursday. I was getting ready to dig out and polish my halo. But Friday came round and the wine flowed. Sadly, it didn’t stop flowing until Sunday. And with wine, you obviously need all manner of snacks, especially when you go out and get so drunk on Saturday night that you find yourself having slowly collapsed in a small heap on the floor of the pub, after losing balance while looking for your lost cardigan. Classy. Well, Dry January is for losers anyway, right?

Still, I’m not going to let my health plan failure worry me too much. Sure, I still need to get back to some sort of pre-Christmas level but, with January still here for another couple of weeks, I may be up against it and life is too short to beat myself up for minor failings.  The kids are still making it to school on time looking vaguely reasonable most days. They are all fed and relatively clean. As long as I am getting the basics done, that is enough of an achievement in itself for January. Hitting the other goals may have to wait until a little later in the year.

imageSince it isn’t possible to hibernate in January, it is best to attempt to use this month productively. It is good for planning, after the mayhem of Christmas. I’ve been planning fun things like crazy and filling up the diary beautifully, to avoid a repeat of our hideous Sunday. And, very excitingly, my best mate and I have just booked a holiday for the Easter break. Four kids and us in a cottage in Dorset for a week. No husbands. We are planning to rock the lesbian couple look with our four feral offspring. My mob all know and love her and her little girl so much that it will be like she is the second parent to them for the week. We both have free rein to tell each other’s kids off and treat them as our own, so there is no trouble on that score. It is going to be ace.

My birthday party planning is coming on apace too, with invites out for M’s dance-based party next month. She is completely in love with pop so she is going to adore it. I’ve even booked H’s April party. I’m on fire, birthday-wise, which is pleasing.

To be honest, I know I’m being pretty unfair to poor old January. The trouble I have with January isn’t January’s fault at all. It is mine. It is my habit of sinking, especially in mid-winter. Of being dragged down by something as daft as the weather and the short days. It is my failure to adapt quickly enough to the reality of Winter without Christmas sparkles. Experience tells me I’ll get there, it just takes me a little longer than most people.

This crazy wet and warm winter weather does at least have the advantage of bringing on all the Spring flowers, which are popping up everywhere, bringing hope and expectation with them. Snowdrops, daffs, primroses and even crocuses are poking up all over, whispering of the coming of Spring.

Once January has turned into February, what is it that changes anyway? Nothing in real terms. But something changes in me as we creep towards the end of Winter and lighter, brighter times. February feels much more friendly, much more bearable.

I think January and I are just going to have to agree to remain uneasy companions. We may never be buddies. But we can live with each other for a short while. We have to for another two weeks, until February makes that light at the end of the tunnel look a little brighter.

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Just Add Sleep

I’ve been writing this blog for a whole year now (thanks for sticking with me!) and much of that time has been spent moaning about lack of sleep, for which I can only apologise. Well, I am hoping that particular subject may be something I can move on from soon. You see, we have had a bit of a breakthrough.

Sleep here has been a painful topic of late (see Scream O’Clock). Well, it has been painful for about 8 years actually. However, over the last month or so, we’ve actually been sleeping. I mean all three kids going to bed at a reasonable hour and rising at 7am or later. Yes, even our sleep resistant, early-rising Baby T has started to tow the line.

imageI don’t know exactly what triggered the change as we’ve tried a lot of things but I suspect it is simply that he has reached an age where waking up alone in bed is no longer scary and he finally really understands what his sleep training clock is all about.

It is also down to the fact that something snapped in me a few weeks back, after yet another 5am start and exhausting day. I decided some serious action was needed and it was time to be Nails Mummy. Don’t laugh. I can do that when I have to. I decreed a major early-rising crack-down for all three of them. It was a few weeks before Christmas, always a good time for bribery, so I said that they could all open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve, on the condition that they didn’t get out of bed before 7am at all for the next few weeks. Even one early start would be a fail. See? Nails.

To be honest, this crack-down was aimed entirely at my eldest, H. T had no clue what I was going on about and M rarely wakes before 7am anyway. H, however, has been getting up at 6am or earlier for as long as I can remember. He noisily goes for a wee, turning on the bathroom light and whirring extractor-fan, banging a few doors, before he trundles up and down stairs a couple of times to get things he has forgotten and then switches on the TV or tablet and entertains himself. So if our early-rising two-year-old wasn’t already awake and downstairs with one of us, he sure as hell was after all that.

Now I don’t know why I never considered this before but it finally occurred to me that if I stopped H getting up so early, he might not wake his little brother up. So I cracked down hard on H and, guess what? Things changed. Almost overnight. No more toddler screaming at 5am. T now gets out of bed when his clock changes at 7am and politely knocks on his bedroom door until we come and open it for him. The change could not be more dramatic.

As I said, I think some of this is down to T being a bit more grown up, but making H stay in bed has definitely helped a lot. And an added bonus is that H, who almost never wants to sit and read a book by himself, is waking up at 6 or 6:30 and quietly reading until 7am. Double-bloody-whammy of utter brilliance.

imageOK, so I know it sounds really bleedin’ obvious that stopping H’s early rising will help the baby sleep in, but there is something about prolonged sleep deprivation that simply saps all common sense out of your brain. It may be obvious to you but I was wading through the hell of it and had literally no idea what to try next. If one of those hideous Super Nanny types came into my house with her camera crew, she would have come up with that solution in five minutes and you would have all been sitting in front of your TVs nodding and agreeing with her, wondering why I had been so daft as to not consider that myself. Well, I was in the shit up to my eyeballs, and I couldn’t see over it. I was beyond being able to see solutions.

But we do have a solution at long last, it seems. I’m not going to be stupid enough to claim to have nailed it. We all know that things can change. But I am quietly hopeful. It is, after all, about time we had a break in the sleep department.

And oh, what a change it has made! My husband and I feel like we have rediscovered our inner kid. We found ourselves giggling and getting on like a house on fire this Christmas, like we did before we had kids, before lack of sleep turned us into zombies. Our relationship has become a little more fun again. We’ve feel like proper mates, partners in the crazy world of childrearing, rather than feeling like shift workers, taking it in turns to deal with horrible o’clock starts and moany, tired kids. It is so much easier to laugh off kid misdemeanours when you are not so tired that you want to cry.

So, after nearly 8 years, we are finally getting some sleep. And while it has done some amazing things to our world, I still seem to feel more tired than I’d hoped, which is a bit disappointing. I still have bags under my eyes and I still feel like I’ve been run over by a bus when T starts his morning knocking to drag me out of my cocoon. What is that all about? I’m getting more sleep than I have done in years but I’m still tired? Seriously? I really don’t get it. Maybe my body is still catching up on all the years of going without and I’ll wake up one day next month as fresh as a daisy and raring to go. I can but hope. Or maybe I just got old over the last 8 years and can’t take the pace of life any more. Maybe all that exhaustion has taken it’s toll permanently and this is just the new normal for me. Only time will tell.

The only downside of T sleeping better is that afternoon naps are well and truly a thing of the past. He clearly isn’t really ready to drop them entirely and he does a lot of falling asleep in random places at really inconvenient times, often waking up in a terrible mood. And no nap means no afternoon hour off, of course, but I’ll take it. It is worth it.

So, hopefully this is going to be the last update from me about sleep or lack thereof. At least for now. I intend to enjoy our new family sleep pattern for as long as it lasts. The world is a slightly brighter place. And considerably less blurry.

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After the Tinsel

imageIt is New Year’s Day. 2016 has landed. As always, we begin our year with a mild hangover in a house full of noise, wanting to do next to nothing but being got at by annoying small people. They really know how to ruin self-indulgent, lazy hangover days. The little one and I also have a manky cold, which doesn’t help. I felt remarkably well when I was knocking back the booze last night but the germs are biting back today.

The kids don’t go back to school until the 5th, but 1st January always feels like the official end of Christmas to me. Once we hit the 1st, I feel a strange mixture of sadness that it is all over for another year and a massive desire to be done with all things festive as soon as humanly possible.

It simply all has to go. Cards have been unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin and I’ve started taking decs down by stealth, one at a time. But I’ve been talked into keeping the tree up for one more day by the kids who will be gutted to see it go. They are desperate to hang onto the dregs of Christmas but for me their happy chirping of Jingle Bells has gone from cute to infuriatingly grating overnight.

The empty house, minus all the lights and decorations, will look odd for a day or two but I have such a strong urge to strip out all that tinsel, I just can’t leave it until the 12th night. It is my way of dealing with the reality of the next bit. The dream-world that is Christmas, full of magic and glitter, has to be wiped away as efficiently as possible in order for me to be able grit my teeth and prepare to face that old bastard, January.

imageGetting back to the real world feels even harder than normal this year, because we had such a brilliant Christmas. Our first time hosting the big day at home was a roaring success and something we plan to repeat. We went to lots of jolly gatherings after Christmas too and had many laughs. We ate and drank far too much and, despite the inevitable squabbles and general family overexposure at times, it was the best Christmas I can remember having since embarking on a life with kids.

A good deal of that is down to the fact that our baby, little T, is not such a baby any more. It was the first Christmas in a long time that I was neither pregnant nor attached to a very small, demanding kid. T wasn’t clinging to me or disorientated and miserable because of all the commotion. For the most part, all three of them happily got on with it, with notably less input required from us than in previous years. We could actually sit down at dinner and eat, without constant interruptions. It was as close to relaxing as Christmas with three young kids can be.

So, it was brilliant but reality beckons. We have a few days left before the treadmill starts again, during which time we have homework to do, neglected reading books to open and labour over (for the first time since school ended, I have to admit) and labels to sew in new coats. It all feels very dull and mundane, compared to the last couple of crazy, joyous weeks. My January calendar is depressingly empty of fun.

On top of that looms the horror of having to get back to some sort of sensible diet and alcohol unit consumption, losing the extra pounds gained in weeks of excess. A block of cheese and a bottle of Prosecco a day is a painful habit to break. When school, work, nursery and diet all kick in, it is like Christmas was just a lovely dream – but one that made me fat.

imageBut it is definitely time to get down to it. Time to look ahead. New Year is a time of such great promise. Who knows what 2016 has in store for us? It will soon be time to start planning the first family birthday of the year. In February my little girl turns five, a landmark age and no mistake. She is already so wise for her years that I can’t quite believe she is still only four. There is a party to plan and invitations to send out. She is very excited, with weeks to go still.

In a few months, my kids will all have had their birthdays and they will be eight, five and three. That sounds a great deal older and more manageable than seven, four and two, somehow. T turning three in the summer will be a biggie. I’ve been pinning a lot on that one, as a time when things get easier. And I can see it coming clearly now. Having such a successful Christmas has made me realise that it really is improving. Slowly but surely. By the end of 2016, we will have waved goodbye to highchairs, nappies and pushchairs. It will be the end of the baby era. I can’t help but feel a zing of excitement about the relative freedoms that will bring.

We are also going on our first foreign holiday as a family of five this year. It is months away but it is all booked and I’m very excited. I’ve not even left the country since 2010, so it will be a landmark.

Despite reminding myself about all the good things ahead, January is notoriously blue, and I can hear it’s Sirens calling me. After the Christmas high comes the dreary, dark low of long nights and routine. But I figure if I put minimum pressure on myself, I might just steer clear of the rocks this year. I’m not going to expect to breeze through it. I’m not going to make any impossible resolutions either, like taking a month off alcohol or eating next to nothing to lose weight fast. It strikes me as a crazy time of year to undergo major hardships. It can be bad enough without the extra pressure.

So here we go, folks. 2016, here we come. Time to get back to the serious business of guiding my little tribe through life. Back to the old routines and tasks. Yep, it can feel pretty monotonous and serious after all the frivolity of the Christmas run, but no-one (apart from Wizard) really wishes it could be Christmas every day. The fact that it puts all that serious stuff on hold is what makes it so special.

Kick-starting normal life again is a struggle and nigh on impossible when buried in stockings and tree lights. So, it is out with the tinsel and in with the new, even if it is initially through a the stuck-on smile and gritted teeth.

Coping strategies have to come into play in a big way in January. Time to start filling that calendar up with visits to my favourite people, so we can help each other through, so we can moan and giggle and muddle along together. You know who you are. Expect a call.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and a non-shitty January. Go easy on yourselves, stick together and avoid the rocks.

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