Changing Phases

img_1653So, for those of you keen to know how the potty training is going (I’m sure you are all on the edge of your seats), we have had a major breakthrough. T is no longer crapping himself up to three times a day. He is, in fact, not crapping himself at all. He has finally got it.

You can imagine my delight when he started doing number twos on the potty. After months of him pooing in pants, saying I was over the moon is an understatement. No more dealing with the mess and no longer having to add small pants to the weekly shop. Joyous day!

The first few times he was successful tended to be rather epic affairs, getting on and off the potty for literally half a day before he managed to go. He sped up after a week or so and he now has it down to about an hour. So we have an hour of little trousers scooting up and down like yo-yos while he hops up and down on the loo or potty, does a tiny wee, washes hands, repeat to fade. Until, eventually, a small button of poo is produced. Whereupon I applaud and leap about like a deranged loon and reward him with Haribo. Then, in about an hour or so, the process starts again.

Now don’t get me wrong, this rigmarole is far preferable to dealing with dirty pants but, over the last couple of weeks, it has become a tad wearing. Especially as he seems to be able to produce about four or five micro poos a day. I am fully aware that this process is just his dear little head getting used to all the feelings and messages going on his body, but we seem to live in the toilet for the majority of most days. My hands are cracking up from helping him with endless handwashing and my mind is cracking up from the pure repetitive nature of it all.

img_1650And it isn’t just waiting for a poo that is taking up time. He has pretty good bladder capacity but, for some reason, he has become obsessed with the ritual of going for a wee. If we are home, he goes several times and hour, just for fun. When we are out he is far less bothered by it, because he is busy. Not that we haven’t been caught short out and about. We have. Plenty of times. I’m very grateful that he has already mastered the art of peeing standing up. There are few bushes we’ve not anointed on our travels.

Incredibly inconveniently, he always needs to pee at school pick up time, just as the kids are on their way out of the classrooms. We leg it to the loo and T does his 86th wee of the day, while I panic about the older two coming out and fretting over their absent Mother. Such a regular occurance has this school pee become that M’s teacher now just smiles and nods at me as we manically scamper past, reassuring me that she’ll keep hold of my girl for me until we get back from the wee run.

So, in under a month, we have gone from small, soiled pants to endless loo trips. And this change, from one pain the arse to another, has got me thinking about how nothing lasts for long. The phases of parenthood can be so brief, both the good and the bad. Not that they feel that way at the time, of course. One minute, you are ripping your hair out over something, desperate to know how to fix it, and then, almost overnight, that problem has completely evaporated and something new has cropped up to replace it. It might be better, it might be worse, but the main thing is that, just before you feel you are about to lose your mind, it is different. A change is as good as a rest, as they say, and the very fact that the shit you are dealing with (whether literal, as in our case, or metaphorical) is different shit, suddenly makes it bearable again.

I am a tad prone to melodrama in life, I’ll freely admit, but perhaps I’m taking this uncharacteristically grown up view on time passing because I have a new nephew who is just five months old. I’ve watched his rapid change from helpless newborn to entirely engaged little person recently with a sense of amazement. Can my own babies’ early months possibly have passed that quickly when every age, every tricky phase, seemed to last a lifetime?

img_0201With my first especially, my H, I remember each stage feeling endless. It was so difficult and stressful, I felt we had been enduring it for a decade by the time he reached three months. Looking back, I imagine him as a babe in arms, little red face screaming up at me, for painful years on end. But – in real time – that phase was only a matter of weeks. How can time play such tricks?

So, whilst I know I am unlikely to forget the hell of potty training both of my boys, I suspect the pain will seem longer than it actually was when I look back on it. (My girl was a doddle in comparison, by the way, apart from a particularly memorable flood in a little National Trust cafe).

Or perhaps time will mute the misery. You never know with memory. It is a funny thing, especially when it comes to the crazy world of childrearing. So many emotions flying about, so many battles, large and small, lost and won. All compacted down into hazy, vastly inaccurate little glimmers of how things were or might have been.

I’ve never been of the ‘enjoy every moment’ camp. Let’s be honest, there is much of parenting that only an idiot would relish. Does anyone enjoy flushing the contents of a potty and having splashback on their slippers? No, I didn’t think so. I’ll never, ever tell a new mum who looks like she is on the verge of tears while her baby kicks off that she should ‘enjoy every moment’. But I do think it is worth remembering – when you can see beyond the fog of whatever shit you are going through – that nothing lasts for long. With any luck, change will come just before you lose your mind. And you’ll soon be wondering what you were so stressed about.

So, until change comes to release me from this endless round of loo trips, I’m just going to have to grit my teeth, keep the Detttol to hand at all times and remember, nothing lasts forever. And if it feels like it does, then a very large glass of wine usually helps.

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Travel Trauma

imageWe just got back from our first foreign holiday with the kids, having opted for cheaper, easier (and wetter) holidays in the UK for many years. After a total washout holiday last year, we took the plunge and went to Corfu. And we had a really brilliant time. From hours on the beach in the sunshine to dolphin spotting on a fantastic boat trip, it was pretty ace, all in.

But you don’t want to hear a dull holiday report of everything going beautifully, do you? Let me instead tell you about our travel trauma on the way home. It was one of those days when, even as I was going though the worst of it, I knew that one day I would look back on it and laugh. So hopefully it will amuse you too. Just don’t read it while eating. You have been warned.

Before we even set off, our M was looking peaky. She had been very subdued and tired the night before and was looking rather washed out and pale, as if she was coming down with something. She refused any breakfast and tried to sleep whenever we sat her down anywhere. She was also car sick for the first time ever earlier in the week so the prospect of getting through a whole day of travel without incident wasn’t looking great.

imageLike a good, organised parent, I made damn sure I was fully prepared for possible spew ups in the coach transfer back to the airport. I packed a plastic bag – having first checked for holes – a whole pack of wipes, a spare t-shirt for M, a bottle of water and lots of tissues. I then congratulated myself for being so clever and forward thinking.

We got on the coach, which was already pretty full. I wanted M to be near the front and my little limpet boy T wanted to be near me, natch. So I sat M next to the window in the first free seats, with me beside her and her T just across the aisle, next to a woman who looked less than pleased about having to endure a coach trip with a snotty toddler. Little did she know what she had coming. But more on that later. My husband and H had to sit half way down the coach in the next available seats.

Well, as expected, we were about half way through our coach journey and my poor little girl was looking awful. I was on standby with my pre-tested carrier bag. Chirpy T was being very good across the aisle, yelling about all the other buses he could spot, making the woman beside him wince at the volume.

imageM started to throw up and, despite me having an open bag on her lap, a good deal of it missed the target because she clamped her hand over her mouth and vomit squirted out between her fingers at crazy angles. It was all over her, on my hands and on her beloved Bear. Sick bag fail. After a very brief moment of panic, I rallied well and dug into my bag, nicely spreading the vom around inside it from the back of my hand. I retrieved the wipes and used about half a bag to clean us up pretty well.

The vom bag was a right off with spew dripping down the sides and, from the look on M’s face, more was clearly on the way. I frantically searched in vain for another bag in my rucksack but only found about 50 nappy sacks, which were clearly not up to the job. So I did a stage whisper down the coach to my husband, who dug out and lobbed down a beaten up old plastic bag with multiple holes in the bottom. It would have to do.

imageOriginal spew covered bag inserted into hole-filled bag, along with handfuls of used wipes, and we were ready for round two, which didn’t take long to arrive. Throughout the whole process, dear little M was remarkably calm and a total trooper. No crying or yelling. She just quietly threw her guts up, whilst I tried to deal with the fallout in as inconspicuous a way as possible. The smell may have given us away a tad but I thought, given the circumstances, things were just about under control.

It was at this point that T started moaning from across the aisle. And I don’t mean a bit of background, bored griping. I mean serious whining. I was still balancing the bag of doom on M’s lap when this moaning ramped up and suddenly, out of absolutely bloody nowhere, he projectile vomitted up his toast and jam. This from a kid who has never been travel sick in his life and, unlike M, had showed no signs of illness previously.

It was one of those moments when you are literally frozen in panic. I had spew on both sides and I had no idea what to do next. I wanted a hole in the bottom of the coach to swallow me up. My husband clocked that something was afoot but had no idea what until I turned to him and simply mouthed “Help!”

He was there in a flash and, thankfully, got the clean up started as I was still reeling and frozen in horror. It was one of his most epic moments, for which I will be eternally grateful. T was stripped, the remainder of the pack of wipes was used up and vom was picked out of hair. About 40 of our 50 nappy sacks were employed to bag up various items of clothing and regurgitated matter. And let’s not forget that T was sat next to some poor random woman who did her very best to stare out the window and ignore the whole drama, whilst surreptitiously dodging bits of flying spew.

We finally pulled into the airport and I could have wept with relief. I apologised profusely to the woman and bundled our nappy clad toddler and vom girl off the bus, followed by H who was loudly saying “So, has everyone been sick?!”

Multiple bags of vom dumped, full body changes and lots of washing of hands and hair in the grimy toilets and we were sorted. We had no wipes left but hey, we were at an airport, so there was bound to be a chemist here, right?

After standing in no less that six different queues, we were through security and went in search of a chemist. Hmmm. No chemist. But surely one of these random tat shops would sell some basic essentials like baby wipes, wouldn’t they? No, they wouldn’t. If we’d been after olive oil or Greek tourist crap though, we’d have been sorted.

So, we were stuck in the limbo world between passport control the aeroplanes, with a two-hour wait and a three-hour flight ahead of us, with three kids, one of whom still wears nappies and was definitely due a crap.

imageI stocked up on napkins from the snack bar and a large bottle of water as my makeshift wipes kit and prayed.

Our flight was eventually called and we were in our final queue to board, with T happily watching the planes out the window. He ran over to tell me all about them and the whiff hit me. He had done a massive shit. Excellent timing, son.

On to the plane we went and my first question to the smiling air steward was “Are there sick bags in the seat pockets and can I use the toilet right now? This one has done a big poo”.

I won’t go into details but I hope you never have the experience of having to change the nappy of a gangly toddler in a tiny aeroplane toilet with nothing but napkins, hand-towels and water at your disposal.

The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful. As uneventful as flying with three kids can be anyway. Until we got to Gatwick and realised one of our bags had gone AWOL en route. Marvellous.

Given how straightforward our journey to Corfu was, and how horrendous the trip home was, I think we’ve seen the full gamut of what travel with kids can be during our first foray into foreign holidays. We saw the highs with the total joy on the faces of kids flying for the first time, and we definitely saw the lows.

If I can take any positives from the lows, I guess I at least have a good story to embarrass the little two with when they are older. Oh, and I now know that it is a good idea to take travel sickness tablets for kids with you on holiday, even if you don’t think you’ll need them.

And wipes. Definitely take more wipes.

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(In in case you were wondering, Bear has been washed on a delicate cycle, smells sweet again and is recovering well from his ordeal).

When to Admit Defeat

imageKids really are gross. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I really, really hate potty training. It is, in my eyes, quite possibly the worst, most disgusting parenting experience to date. Which is saying something.

Let’s be honest, kids are pretty foul from day one. They wipe their snot all over your clothes, do explosive poos, even throw up in your hair. But there is something so gross and soul destroying about dealing with poo-filled pants on a daily basis. I think it trumps all the other things hands down. It is the pure, shitty relentlessness of it.

We embarked on our third and final potty training journey about two months ago. It started well and T nailed getting wee on target immediately. OK, so he was still pooing in his pants but it was early days. I even proudly announced that he was the best so far and was sure that my clever boy would work out number twos soon enough.

Days and then weeks passed with daily turds in kecks. We had a couple of memorable craps to deal with: one down the trouser leg and one he tried to clean up himself, mostly by rubbing his arse on the wall.

Still I persevered. After all, my eldest did poos in his pants for about three months before he finally worked it out. T would get it soon, surely. And I didn’t have a little baby to manage as well this time round, so how hard could it be? I just had to endure it for a bit longer and he would hit a turning point and work it out. So, I bought more cheap pants and braced myself for yet more shit.

imageOne thing I didn’t want to do was go backwards. I have always believed that mixing up nappies and pants during potty training just leads to confusion, so the best option seemed like sticking with it.  Besides, I really wanted him out of nappies in time for our holiday at the end of August and time was ticking.

But the strain of dealing with the accidents has really been getting me down. It is one thing coping with it at home but out and about is something else altogether. I no longer carry nappies everywhere, as I have done for over eight years now. Instead I have the Shit Kit, a bag full of numerous pairs of pants and trousers, poo bags and wipes. If anything, it is more cumbersome than the changing bag used to be.

Plus there is the feeling of dread when away from home. A trip to soft play is positively terrifying. What if he has a crap in the ball pit? Wherever you go, you invariably end up trolling about with a bag of poo-smeared trousers stuffed into your bag. And dealing with the fall out in a park or a grubby public loo is just foul. Half a bag of wipes to clean legs, bum and hands later and you still feel like you are both grubby.

I can’t help but get annoyed with T after the third accident of the day and he is now refusing to even try to do it on target, opting for hiding behind the sofa instead and not telling me he has done a poo, leading to dried on disasters to deal with.

I keep beating myself up for not knowing the solution to this. I mean, third time round, I should be able to work this out, right? And I feel really annoyed with T for not even trying to figure it out. I have gone from being really proud of him to really pissed off. He must be confused and he is clearly worried by failing. So I am being horribly unfair but it is just impossible to smile through it sometimes. I do my best to hide my frustration but sometimes it shows.

imageWe are both getting more and more stressed about crap. So I decided to forget my own rule about not going backwards. After all, I made the rule up and, as I have clearly demonstrated three times now, I am in no way an expert on potty training. So the rule is no more.

Yesterday morning T crapped himself and I made the decision that it would be the last pair of binned underpants for a while. The pull ups are back. And do you know what? We both had a lovely day. There was no pressure on T and he behaved like a dream, which for my naughty little lad is a very rare thing indeed. I didn’t even pester him to wee on the loo and he absolutely loved it. He happily reverted to babydom without a backward glance.

So, have we just wasted the last two months of misery by going backwards? Am I just giving up when the going gets tough? Possibly. But I hope not. I hope he remembers what he has learnt and can pick it all up again when we are both in a better place for dealing with it.

imageI do feel a bit annoyed with myself for not allowing T as long as I gave H when he was struggling to poo on target, for running out of patience with it. But my boys are very different creatures and what is right for one isn’t necessarily right for the other. Besides, I only had H and his baby sister to worry about back then. I was on maternity leave and yes, dealing with it when there was a three month old baby in the house was no kind of fun but, on reflection, it was probably easier than it is this time round, with three kids, work, school and various other commitments to juggle.

Even if we are back to square one when we restart in a couple of months, at least we will both have had a break. And boy, do we need a break. Two months is a long time in the life of a not-quite-three year old. Who knows how my funny boy will have developed and changed by then? So I am hopeful. There is no point in being any other way.

For now though, we are both going to chill out and relax about it all. T can merrily crap himself without guilt and I can stop feeling like I am banging my head against a wall of turds. If he is still in nappies by our holiday, so be it. Shit happens. He can happily crap while the sun shines as I drink cocktails without having to run back and forth to the loo with him every five minutes. And we won’t have to worry about a poo in pants on the aeroplane either. Every cloud, and all that.

I dare say I’ll let you know how we get on next time, if you can stand reading any more about shit, that is.

As I said, kids are gross.

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Patience

imageI think patience is probably one of the most important qualities to have as a parent. Especially a parent of toddlers but so far – for everything up to eight and probably beyond – you need buckets of it. The more kids you have, the more you need.

So it is a tricky thing when your patience decides to up and leave you for a fortnight. I am generally a pretty patient person but every now and then my patience decides to bugger off on holiday and suddenly everything the little gits do drives me to distraction and makes me want to scream right in their faces. So I finally cracked and did just that this morning. Not something I’m proud of but, hey, sometimes something has to give.

I may be wrong but I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that my patience levels have fallen through the floor since we started potty training. It is no understatement to say that I loathe potty training. I hate potties. I hate the endless washing of smelly, wet pants. I hate dragging a confrontational and reluctant kid to the loo every half hour and I hate that it doesn’t seem to make any difference as he still wets himself. And don’t even get me started on dealing with number twos.

T made a really good start with potty training two weeks ago. He nailed holding it in between loo trips and, despite the initial flurry of puddles, he got the basic concept pretty quickly. OK, so he refused to poo at all for a few days but it was a small price to pay. Two weeks on, we have just had a first poo on target (after binning a lot of pairs of cheap pants) but the novelty of weeing in the loo has worn off now so, if anything, the number of puddles is actually increasing. We got through 4 pairs of pants – my entire stash – on one morning in the park on Friday. He ending up having to wear a borrowed pair of his little mate’s frilly knickers.

The endless trial of going cold turkey on nappies has played havoc with my usually pretty plentiful pool of patience. I know how you are supposed to react when dealing with potty training accidents. The sweet smile, the encouraging words, blah blah blah. But I find myself running out of platitudes by the 6th accident of the day. The kind words become a little more sharp, the tone of voice a little more clipped. You would think third time round I would have this nailed, right? Sadly not.

Both boys have also been ill recently and are currently on antibiotics, with eight doses between them a day. I’ve had to cancel lovely plans left, right and centre, in favour of spending days stuck at home with my grumpy, ill kids.

imageSo, with circumstances seriously depleting the shrinking patience pot, not only am I not dealing well with the accidents but I am also far less tolerant of pretty much every annoying thing that my kids do. The bickering between the younger two is sapping my brain. If I have to listen to one more moany report about their mini bust-ups, my head is going to explode.

So, this morning, as I say, the patience pool finally ran dry and I snapped. T has been incredibly confrontational recently with tantrums a plenty. He started making a fuss at toddler music – something he does pretty often to be honest – but today I seriously lost my cool with him. He was refusing to put his enormous toy car into my bag until after the class and started crying and moaning. This ramped up and ended in me carrying him out to the car under my arm.

I was just about holding it together at this point but I could feel the red mist descending. I gave him several ‘last’ chances before strapping him into the car to drive home. He suddenly realised that I wasn’t joking and he was about to miss out on his beloved music group so he stepped it up some more, going for the most extreme ear-piercing shrieks he could muster.

So, I screamed in his face. Not at point blank range at least, but in the style of a demented banshee. Yes, very grown up and mature, I know, but the last fragile thread holding my cool in place finally snapped.

Well, he shut up at that. He looked utterly shocked to be honest. Who can blame him? The moment I did it I felt really guilty. Yes, I guess it had the desired effect as he said sorry, put the car in the bag and was incredibly well behaved when we finally made it back into the room. But scaring my children into submission isn’t exactly a parenting route I want to go down.

imageOur screaming match seems to at least have reset the pair of us. T has been a dream today, compared to his usual foul-tempered self. And there is nothing like a good dollop of guilt to replenish your patience pool. I won’t be adopting screaming hysterically as a new parenting method but I also won’t be berating myself too badly for it either. Sometimes you lose your shit in life. To be honest, it is a small miracle it doesn’t happen more often around here.

I spent some time with a newborn baby recently and he is just adorable in a way that only a tiny newborn can be. After seeing him, returning to my galumphing brood of big kids – that answer back, argue and generally annoy the hell out of me – it was hard not to hark back to those early days when the worst they did was do an explosive poo or bite your nipple. But such is the reality of parenting. You don’t really get a baby, you get an-annoying-little-git-in-waiting. Although you don’t know it at the time, thankfully.

But these three are MY annoying little gits and I would lay down my life for any one of them. Teaching them and keeping them in line as they grow feels almost impossible at times. Their ability to eat away at my patience and my resolve to keep my cool is quite remarkable. So every now and then something goes pop. Usually a blood vessel in my eye from the intense screaming.

Praise be to the Mums and Dads out there who never lose their shit, who never give in to the red mist and scream so loud that they hurt their throats. They are bloody amazing. If they even exist, that is. And I do not count myself amoungst them. If you do, then you are a far better person than I.

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Dropping the Ball

imageThe last couple of weeks have been a bit of a rollercoaster. But not the fun kind. The kind you have bad dreams about not being able to get off while it veers dangerously on two wheels round tight bends. It has all felt rather stressful and incredibly busy. Life with three kids is never quiet, I know, and I don’t think it has actually been any more hectic than usual of late, but I’ve been struggling to keep up more than I normally do because things have been a bit full on and emotional just outside of my little family unit.

As a result, I have been always just behind the curve. Like I’m running to keep up with my life, with my kids, and never quite making it. I’m not on top of things and I breathe a sign of relief when by some small miracle I manage to get everyone where they are supposed to be, on time, with everything they are supposed to have.

This is what happens when your mind isn’t fully on the job – the job being parenthood. It is only when other stuff gets in the way and makes you drop some of the balls you are juggling that you realise how many sodding balls there are.

imageWhen things are running well, when I am in the flow, getting things done throughout the week feels almost like a ballet, moving swiftly and precisely from one thing to the next in a pleasing and smooth motion, just about hitting the right timings. Work, school, clubs – they all slot together. It can be exhausting but I can do it and do it well. The flow of washing from basket to machine to cupboard is a satisfying cycle, with clothes flitting around almost by themselves, it is so swiftly slotted into the gaps of the day. The kids are shepherded from one place to another, from one meal to another, and it all feels natural and right at the very best of times. Not always, mind, but when I am on top of things, it works. It is multitasking at its best and I am bloody good at it.

As long as I don’t stop. Don’t ever bloody stop. Not to reconsider a small parenting choice.  Not to ponder a possible alternative agenda for the day. Not to be distracted by things going on elsewhere that suck your attention and emotion. If you stop, if you drop just one ball, the chain reaction it sets off is a total disaster. Once you drop the first ball, you realise how precarious the others are. Your flow is fucked. Your natural smooth progress through the week falls apart the moment you look at it and realise just how many bloody things are involved. And once you start analysing it, seeing that each of those tiny things you have to achieve and maintain add up into one massive and never-ending  list, you are doomed.

And then, when you are looking at all the balls on the floor, bouncing off in all directions and rolling under the sofa, you suddenly find you have absolutely no idea which one to pick up first.  The kids, sensing that your mind is in turmoil, go nuts and draw on the walls or climb the curtains while you are distracted. They step up the naughty behaviour because they know you won’t notice. Because they are a bunch of chancers and arseholes. The little one has ramped things up to such a level this week that he seems to think climbing on tables and creating chaos is actually expected of him these days.

imageSo, for some reason, I chose this time, when my brain is addled mush and the balls are all goners, to start potty training the toddler. Possible not my greatest decision but, in for a penny and all that, so we are now full speed ahead. How bad can it be? I’ve always done it with a small baby latched onto my boob in the past so this time should be a piece of piss by comparison, right? Well, there is certainly a good deal of piss involved anyway.

After a couple of days of mixing it up with pants and pull-ups, we’ve gone cold turkey and it is pants all the way. I figured that, since I am in a mess anyway, I may as well throw myself in deeper. Besides, after 8 years, the nirvana of a nappy-free world is calling me and I simply couldn’t resist. Plus the pressing need to wash small, wee-soaked pants has at least put me back on track with the washing mountain.

I won’t say I’d forgotten how hideous potty training is. I really haven’t. It will be etched on my memory forever. But I had forgotten how boring it is. All those endless trips to the loo, all that wee mopping. And worse. What I had hoped is that, third time round, I would know exactly what I was doing and T would nail it in 24 hours.  He is doing pretty well, at least on the wee front, but it is still wearing. And messy.

As with all things, T is doing it his own way, not following the same pattern as his older siblings. I really must learn to remember that T is so much his own man, that when presented with two options, he will always surprise me by taking a third path that I didn’t even know was there.

I’m hopeful that by this time next week I’ll have my mojo back, that the juggle will be back at full, seamless speed. And that my clever little T will have sussed out the whole pants things and be happily toddling to and from the loo. We are bypassing the evil potty. It is too gross for words and neither of us is keen.

So, until things are back to full throttle round here, T and I will both have to roll about in our own mess for a while. But I’m hoping neither of us is going to let it get us down too much.

After all, shit happens, right?

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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.

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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