The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

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Banished Blues

img_1776Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve always been a bit shit at January. I view it with a kind of dread, like a blot on the horizon, forever lingering in the shadows of the joy and fun of Christmas. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been a bit ridiculous about it over the years. I’ve been known to start feeling the January Blues creeping into my life before we’ve even finished Boxing Day.

It isn’t just a parenting thing, finding life harder with small kids in tow during the long winter months. I’ve hated it with a passion all my adult life. In my pre-kid days, I had a fantastic job in events which was manically busy in January and February. I bloody loved it! I never had time to slip into the January Blues. I was rushed off my feet and, by the time things started to calm down at the end of February, Spring was just round the corner and the crocuses were popping up all over.

Kids came along. The job was utterly incompatible with a family and it had to go. Back came the winter misery but this time it was worse. When my challenging first baby arrived, we had several winters of extreme snow, too deep to wheel a pushchair through and, with ungritted country roads, driving was often out too. Being housebound for days on end with a foul-tempered small boy did nothing for my anti-January mood.

So, my January misery became even more of a ‘thing’. It was set in concrete, like a slab of annual doom. It got easier after those first few years but the blues just sort of stuck. I’d moan about it ages in advance, tarnishing the fun of December with the background dread of it all.

img_1774We had a fantastic family Christmas this year – our best yet in fact. It’s amazing what a difference it makes not having a baby in the mix. It was brilliant fun and we were all on such a festive high that you would think I’d be prime for a fall from a great height into winter blues. And, true to form, I could feel it sneaking in. I actually felt that slight falling feeling in the pit of my stomach on Christmas morning. The kids had only just opened their presents from Father Christmas and the doom came knocking on the door. That’s when I made a decision to say Fuck You January Blues! How dare it attempt to get in before we’ve even opened the festive bubbles?!

I have always loved the run up to Christmas more than the day itself, with the expectation and excitement. It is all just so full of joy and wonder. And yes, that bit is over after the big man in red has been and gone. But getting the January Blues whilst doing your teeth on Christmas morning really does take the piss.

About a year ago I was having a bit of a moan to my Dad about how much I hate January and I remember his response clearly. My Dad is a wonderful father but he isn’t much of a one for liberally imparting words of wisdom or advice. So when he does, you sort of have to listen. He said ” You really are ridiculous about January, you know. It is just another month like any other”. That’s pretty much all he said. But I listened and knew he was right. And I made a bit of a promise to myself to try harder next year.

So it was more than a bit disappointing to feel the pit forming in my stomach at 10am on Christmas Day. I looked at my scruffy, sleep deprived reflection (H was up for hours with all the excitement) and I said to myself “No, this isn’t going to happen this year”. Just like that. Years of being at the mercy of a month I have imbibed with doom, shut down in the blink of an eye.

And OK, I know it is only 10th January but it is actually bloody working. I dismissed the pit of doom on Christmas morning and the bastard thing hasn’t come back.

We had a hysterically funny New Year’s Eve with our lovely neighbours (much dancing and belting out Whitney as I vaguely recall) before entering the Blues danger-zone: taking down the decorations, back to school, back to work, etc, etc. I’m delighted to report, I’ve nailed it so far. Taking the tree down was fine because oh, look at all the lovely space we have again! T was very sad about it going and snuck off with a reindeer Christmas decoration, which I let him have to soften the blow. But I was totally fine.

Back to school was a little harder as I miss my little monkeys and never relish the return of the school run but even that was OK. I’m not enjoying the early starts again but we have fun things planned in the diary for the coming weeks and Spring isn’t that far off, so what is there is to miserable about really?

I’ve had a couple of slips in my new found January Zen, the most notable being on Saturday when both H and I ended up in tears after a particularly bloody awful homework session. But after a long chat with a good friend, I have a bit of a plan of how to tackle some of the school issues we are coming up against, so I feel more in control again.

img_1775Like anything in life, if you can find a way to remove the emotion to a certain extent – something I’ll freely admit I’m not always that great at – it all just becomes a series of things to try in order to come up with a solution. The emotion makes a few school hiccups into an insurmountable mountain. It makes a return to routine and shorter days a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth at the unfairness of the turn of the seasons. None of this is helpful.

I’m never gonna be one of those smug people who can take decisions based upon emotion-free clear thinking. That just isn’t who I am or who I’d want to be. I’m ruled by my feelings and I admit they can get out of control at times but I wouldn’t change it. I will always wend my way through life, making decisions based on feelings, with a bit of logic and detachment thrown in where I can. My heart is king – my head accepts it takes second place. I hope that makes me a good Mum/friend/wife/sister/daughter. And I fill my life with similar people.

But it pays to have a few key people around you to ground you with sensible, emotion-free advice. Like my husband. And my Dad. They see the problems H has at school for what they are: tiny hiccups in the grand scale of a childhood, of a life. They see that January is just the start of the year, not a harbinger of doom.

All that grand ‘this is how I am’ crap aside, I’m at last beginning to see that there is no point in adding emotional shit when it is pointless, like the January Blues. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s all just a bit too much drama for it’s own sake, something I excel at. As Dad rightly said, it is just another month. Shut up and deal with it, one little thing at a time.

Plan future fun, laugh, see friends, cosy up under blankets. Crucially, don’t do anything stupid like Dry January or kick off a major diet. Don’t put the pressure on. It really isn’t the time. If you treat January right, maybe the cantankerous old git of a month will soften and be a bit of a laugh after all.

See Dad, I’m learning.

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Big: for the Crazy and the Brave

Big is beautiful, right? Well, with three kids in the mix, we are a ‘big’ family, by most standards. And it may be beautiful but it is also many other things – some wonderful, some not to much.

Standard perception of family size is that one kid is small, two is normal and three plus is big. That is just how people see it. As one of four kids myself, three doesn’t seem so huge but it is certainly a hefty step up from two and no mistake.

I began to realise when pregnant with my third that I was doing something considered to be somewhat out of the ordinary. I lost count of the number of times friends and even total strangers looked at me with my huge bump and two small kids in tow and became wide-eyed in amazement that I had actually chosen to have three. I’ve been asked numerous times if it was a mistake. Once reassured that no, it was very much deliberate, they look baffled and call me either “brave” or “crazy”, depending on how polite they are being. It is always “brave” or “crazy”. Those are the standard labels for Mums of three, it seems.

imageThis mixture of bewilderment and pity continued once baby three arrived and I am still regularly told how nuts I must be to have chosen to have a big family. Yes, it is hard work but I am utterly delighted by my little brood and wouldn’t change my set up for all the tea in China (and I drink a lot of tea). I don’t go around telling people how damn conventional they are for having two kids, do I? But the world has always liked to loudly voice its opinions on other people’s choices and I’m used to being considered to be a bit loopy for mine. I don’t think it ever occurs to people that their throw away “you must be crazy” is just one of several I’ve heard this week. And all for having one small, extra person in your house.

Not that I mind really. And they might have a point. There are few logical reasons for making the jump from two to three and I’m certainly not playing down the challenges I face. It is a whirlwind: I had no idea how much one extra person would turn our world upside down. That leap from ‘normal’ to big is vast and I feel like I am permanently on fast-forward these days.

Having number three means more of so many things, both good and bad, but it means far, far less of one crucial thing: time. The loss of free time seems disproportionate. One more person takes you from pretty busy to utterly frantic. The juggle of dividing my time between each child, husband, work, housework and everything between has become insanely difficult. The first thing to go is, of course, time for myself. And with that goes a good chunk of my ability to keep things together. Cue far more regular ups and downs and Mummy’s head exploding.

I was asked not long ago by a woman trying for her third what I thought was the bigger jump: from one to two or from two to three? I think I may have spat my tea out laughing. Do the maths, girl. What do you think?

imageWhat we have more of these days is pretty much everything apart from time. Oh, and money of course. We have five different tubes of toothpaste in the bathroom, for various ages and tooth concerns. We consume about 20 pints of milk a week. We buy industrial sized packets of fish fingers. I dread to think how many thousands of pounds we have spent over the last 7.5 years of continuous nappy use.

We also have more noise. Again, the increase seems disproportionate, but I think this is because third kids are notoriously loud. Let’s face it, they kinda have to be. I took T to his two-year check with the Health Visitor this week and she said “My goodness, I can see communication isn’t an issue” before we’d even made it through the door of her office. He literally never shuts up, he just gets louder and louder depending on how many other noises he is competing with.

We have more fighting, yelling and whining too. Peace is in very short supply. But we also have more giggles, more wonderful cuddles and more happy mayhem, which I just love. Peace and quiet is overrated.

But just this week, as I was attempting to manage the three of them in a café after school, a woman looked at me with pity in her eyes and said “Are they all yours? You are brave.” And it got me thinking. Maybe I am. And maybe I’m a bit crazy too. But maybe that is OK, or even a good thing.

imageSo, if the world thinks of us parents of three as crazy and brave anyway, I suggest we own it. There are worse things to be and I think a mixture of bravery and craziness is actually pretty helpful when raising kids. I think everyone should be a bit brave and a bit crazy from time to time, so maybe we are setting a good example, one that says you should go for what you want in life, even if it seems a bit mad and is going to be so hard that there are times when you can do nothing but cry, when you think you will never get through it.

And the more kids I’ve had, the braver I have become, more confident in my own decisions. I think some of that extra courage has rubbed off. Looking back, I was a typical first-time Mum all those years ago, anxious about my every move. My first-born is nervous and lacking in confidence even now and I wonder if I’d been more self-assured whether he might have picked some of that up and taken it on. By comparison, my second has confidence by the bucket-load. Perhaps she watched my confident air with her and adopted it as her own.

And as for the third, well, he is a lion, small only in stature. He gives as good as he gets and almost nothing scares him (apart from hand dryers – that really is the only thing I’ve found to phase him). This little dot squares up and takes me on when I tell him off in a way the other two never had the balls to do. He is a force to be reckoned with, both brave and crazy in equal measure. It could be a total coincidence of course, that my younger kids are more confident, but I somehow doubt it.

I have some amazing friends who are Mums of three. I value them so very much because they entirely get it. They get me. They know the challenges of a big family and can help me to find a way through. And we can look back together on our two-child lives and laugh at how busy we thought we were. They are all a bit brave and a bit crazy too, and I adore them for it. They are my kindred spirits. I am proud to number myself amongst them.

So, the next time someone looks at me and my brood and says how crazy and brave they think I am, I hope I will take a moment of that all too precious time to smile and say “Thank you”.

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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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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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The Little Things That Kill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being the Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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