Transition

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We’re back from a really brilliant week in Somerset. Yes, I know I said it was going to be crap (see Expectations: Keeping it Real) but my low expectations really paid off – we had a great time. OK, so it may have rained almost every day but we soldiered on despite the weather, in true British holiday style, and had lots of fun. A memorable open top bus ride through Cheddar Gorge in driving rain is something not to be forgotten.

We are back and so begins the long anticipated transition. It is Back to School time. Change is afoot for all of us. H moves into Key Stage 2, M starts in Reception and T and I become a duo, home alone together. Momentous times that we have talked about and prepared for over months are finally here. M is beyond excited. I am still trying to get my head around my little girl starting school and having just one pre-schooler at home again.

When I say this transition is much anticipated, I don’t mean I’ve been desperate to ship the kids off to school. Far from it. I’ve actually had a really brilliant summer with them this year and definitely the best since H started school three years ago. The first two summers were a challenge with a young baby so the only way was up – I won’t go into details on our first summer break with three kids aged five, two and newborn. Suffice to say I was relieved when September came round.

Not so this year. I’ll actually be a bit sad to pack H off on Thursday because he has been brilliantly behaved and really good company for the most part. But he has missed his mates and will probably go back with a spring in his step. And I dare say I’ll enjoy the slightly quieter days with him back at school too.

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M’s school anticipation madness was reaching fever pitch in May/June and I was genuinely alarmed that spending a summer with her in full manic mode would be hideous and tantrum-filled, but she really calmed down as the summer wore on and the big day came into focus. She is still counting the sleeps but thankfully without punctuating each day with multiple meltdowns.

And finally to my Baby T. His first two summers were tricky but this year he has been a delight. He still has plenty of moments – what two year old doesn’t? But the last couple of months have seen so many significant changes in his behaviour, not least that he is now chatting away with the best of them, which is just adorable and makes life so much easier. I can now see the two of us quite happily whiling away our days home alone together now, discussing the latest Thomas episode as we have post-lunch cuddles on the sofa. And man, does that kid love a cuddle?

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So, big changes are coming. I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way but, after this brilliant week away, where everyone got on really well, I feel happily calm and ready for it all. I also think that everyone else is ready for the transition too. M has been geared up for about a year, and I am finally able to picture my life with just my cheeky T at home (T, incidentally, has no clue what is coming, but takes everything in his stride and will probably be delighted to have me to himself).

If I’m honest, I suppose the one I am still worried about most is H, my eldest. The change from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 (first to middle school) is a big one, even when you stay in the same building. I just hope he is armed with the tools he needs to take it on. Time will tell and I think a relaxing summer is just what he needed to prepare him for the times ahead. He is just still such a baby in his ways and such a gentle soul.

The main thing about these big transitions isn’t so much the event, it is the thinking about it, dwelling on the context. Knowing that it marks an end, as much as a beginning. I’m not one of those parents who wistfully hang on to every ‘last’, wishing my kids younger. I won’t be sobbing over M’s nursery uniform. But it is still worth a moment of reflection.

I’ll never again have my pudgy cheeked baby girl at home. I loved that phase, but my M just isn’t that baby any more. She is a proper little girl, ready to take on the world. She is very smart and her questions are already far bigger than the confines of her currently very small world. She needs so much more, and I will send her off to school next week feeling very proud of the bright and confident girl she is becoming, not full of sadness for what she used to be.

That said, I can’t guarantee I won’t shed the odd tear on the day. It is, after all, a pretty big event.

Tomorrow sees the start of September. So today, 31st August, is the real year end for all those parents and kids out there. Today is a suitably rainy end to the summer. A days of endings, before the big beginnings start.

Good luck to all the kids heading back to school and special good luck to all those dear little new starters. Very big steps ahead for tiny feet.

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We Have Words!

imageThere is no rushing our Baby T. As I may have mentioned, he is a bit of a law unto himself: he likes to decide what he is going to do and when he is going to do it. He does very little simply to please us and, as a result, trying to nudge him towards a milestone or two is both frustrating and pointless.

Up until very recently, communicating using anything other than pointing and grunting simply wasn’t on his list of priorities. Yes, he has been getting annoyed by being misunderstood, but T either hasn’t made the connection between attempting to speak and getting what you want, or he simply hasn’t felt it worth diverting his energy towards learning speech yet.

Our fruitless efforts to encourage a bit of verbal communication have been laughable.

“What’s this?” (points at picture of a cat)

“No”

“Can you say Daddy?”

“Mama”

“I’m Mama. This is Dada. Say Dada”

“Batman”

He seriously said Batman before he said Daddy. Daddy was peeved.

Learning to talk with the other two was rather a different affair. H wasn’t particularly early to speak but he was a pleaser and, once he realised he got a round of applause and lots of whooping when he copied a word from his doting parents, he took it upon himself to win as much praise as possible. Like our T, he was an extreme scribbler, but once the words started he did his best to make us happy and learn as many as he could, bless him.

M was, and still is, my communicator extraordinaire. She started talking incredibly young and, by T’s age, she was using complete and complex sentences. I’ve not been able to shut her up since, which I love, incidentally, even if it drives me crazy from time to time.

You see, I am a talker. “No!” I hear you shout. Yes, I know, it’s a shocker, but I love to talk. And I have surrounded myself with talkers in life: a net of like-minded communicators who catch and carry each other with a web of words. And I don’t mean talking just because you like the sound of your own voice. I mean the art of verbal communication: talking but also listening, responding, encouraging, sympathising. It is the stuff of life. It keeps you sane and soothes the soul. My closest friends and I barely pause when we meet up, sharing our joys and woes, wrapping each other in a verbal blanket of support and kindness.

imageMy little M is a dyed in the wool, five star talker. She is a total chip off the old block and I just know her. I know how she thinks, how she listens, how she learns. I almost can’t remember a time before she was able to express herself.

And so we come back to our little T. Part of the problem is that he came after my alpha communicator – a tough act to follow and no mistake. But mostly, it has been about the fact that he simply doesn’t give a monkey’s. I know my nearly two year old well enough to know that, until he does care, there is next to no point in pushing it. Locking horns with a toddler is never productive.

But something rather miraculous has happened in the last couple of weeks. A spark has fired in his little brain and T has caught the wordy bug. Remembering that he was starting from a pretty low base, I think he has made up some incredible ground of late. I’ll admit I was beginning to have a creeping concern about my grunting child and I even checked the dreaded expectations list of what a two year old ‘should’ be able to do (he was a clear fail a few weeks ago, as far an language went). But now I’m kicking back and relaxing, knowing that he has whizzed passed the mark in next to no time.

Talker T is now running three or four basic words into sentences. He is playing with sounds, trying everything out and is utterly delighted with himself when he nails it. OK, so lots of the words are noises that only I can interpret right now but he has gone from having just a handful of them to producing them by the bucketload.

imageI’d forgotten just how funny and engaging this early talking stage can be. The look on his little face when he manages a new word for the first time is just adorable. T was given some cake in a plastic cup at a party this weekend. The novelty factor of having “kerk in a curp” was something that clearly required a great deal of repetition, marvelling at being able to describe what he had in his hands.

So, has this wave of new language had an impact on the number of frustrated tantrums? No, not really. He may be able to explain what he wants a bit better now but he still kicks off when he doesn’t get it. What it has done is make me feel like we are really beginning to get there.

With his second birthday just around the corner, Baby T has still felt very much like a baby to us. Too much like a baby, to be honest. With the older two, I felt we were really out of the baby stage by their second birthdays, and we were good and ready for that change each time. Let’s face it, a lot of the baby stuff sucks and two years really is enough. But my wordless boy has been seriously dragging his heels. Without language, he still seemed incredibly young, still in the baby bubble. I have been really keen to be able to finally have a two way interaction with my obstinate youngest. We are now, after a long wait, on the cusp of that and I am delighted by it.

Soon there will be another little voice asking me endless questions, bickering with his siblings, interrupting me on the phone. Our house is already full of constant chatter and it is about to increase significantly. Bring it on, I say. It is a hell of a lot better than grunting.

Being the youngest, T will always be my baby, but I’m glad he is starting to shake off his babydom just a little. I think Talker T and I are going to get on just fine.

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The Crazy Count Down to Summer

imageNow that H is coming to the end of his third year at school, I think I have just about got the measure of the ebbs and flows of the yearly school cycle. Some half terms are pretty laid back affairs, with perhaps just the odd school trip or mufti day to worry about. Others are totally crazy and so crammed full of events and requests that they make your head spin.

There are two absolutely mental periods which I think all parents of young kids learn to brace themselves for: one is just before Christmas and we are smack in the middle of the other one – the most manic of them all – the run up to the end of the summer term.

There are four weeks left until school breaks up and in that time we have two sports days, a ballet show, a nursery graduation, two school settling in days, a school disco, an open morning, two lots of parents drinks, ‘hobbies day’ at school and the PTA summer festival. Add to that the usual clubs, parties, a couple of weddings, various work meetings and a family weekend away. It is hardly any wonder my head is spinning just trying to keep on top of it all.

My calendar looks like a mad woman has been set loose on it. My best mate mocks me but I am still very much a ‘write it on the wall’ kind of person. I love my tech but somehow I still need my calendar to be old school and scribbled on. It is slowly dawning on me though that I either need to go digital or I need a much bigger calendar. Hell, I may even need a bigger wall.

When I pause to look at the whirlwind that is the coming month, my heart sinks when I realise that none of this really involves my youngest, Baby T (other than being dragged from one thing to the next or dumped on our childminder for the odd hour). This is a crazy half term full of events for two busy kids, not three. Give him a year or so and my baby boy’s diary will also start filling up rapidly.  And then where the hell will I be? My head is already completely overloaded. I don’t fancy my chances of keeping up with all three of them.

imageI understand why so much has to be crammed into the last few weeks of term, but June into July becomes so hectic as a result. I know I am a born worrier but I actually lose sleep over it, knowing how much there is to organise and sort out, knowing what deadlines we should be meeting and what I have failed to get done the previous day.

And I know I’m not the only one this crazy busy time is taking it’s toll on either. After a particularly busy week, my poor little H is totally wiped out. He actually fell asleep on the sofa yesterday, something I can’t remember him doing since he was about three. Surely a seven year old shouldn’t have bags under his eyes, should he?

imageThe middle one is going the other way. M’s hyperactivity is exhausting to watch. She is so beyond excited about school starting that we are counting the sleeps until September already. The settling in sessions she has coming up are the highlight of her year – she is going to be soooo disappointed when she realises she has to leave after just half an hour. She wants to wear her uniform to the taster sessions. I really don’t want to be that parent so I’m working on talking her out of that one.  I have allowed her to wear a hand-me-down school skirt over her clothes on occasions though, although I think it stokes the obsession, rather than alleviating it.

And as with all highs, M’s are accompanied by many frustrated lows. Strops and tantrums are on the rise from my girl, who needs so much more than she is getting at home and at her outgrown nursery. She is four going on 14 and proving somewhat challenging these days.

imageAnd T? Where does my little lad fit into all this? Anywhere he can, bless him. He is pulled from pillar to post or dumped on someone while I rush about with the older two. For the most part, he endures being treated as a parcel with a smile and good grace, although he too reaches saturation point and loses his shit from time to time. I can’t blame him for that.

But T and I are on a countdown of our own, although he doesn’t know it yet. When September comes round, T will be my only preschooler and we will get to have six hours to ourselves three days a week. We will have all the time in the world to do his favourite things: read Clip Clop, play cars, watch Hey Duggee and have multiple Mummy Cuddles. All without annoying older siblings getting in the way. I’m hopeful that more one-to-one time will help to bring his language on beyond the grunting and pointing stage. It will also be a chance to enjoy my final toddler and learn more about him as he grows.

But that is a very long way off.  Before that, we have a whole summer to negotiate. I have a feeling M’s school obsession is going to make this one feel a good deal longer than usual, although I comfort myself that it can’t be worse than the summer two years ago, with all three of them aged five and under, when T was a newborn.

But before we can even begin the summer, we still have that long and daunting list of events to tick off. I think we may have to spend the first week of the summer holidays in our PJs, to recuperate.

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Question Time

imageIf I counted up the number of questions I get asked every day, I think the final number would make my head hurt. A lot. I live with a four year old so, yes, questions come with the territory, but my M appears to have a particularly enquiring mind and some days she hardly pauses for breath.

I have to admit something which I feel kinda guilty about. I know being four is all about finding out about your world, that questions are something to be encouraged, blah blah blah. But sometimes it just drives me so insane that I want to scream. I want to tell her to shut up and leave me alone. I want to put my fingers in my ears, sing loudly and run away. Not exactly the nurturing feelings of a model Mother.

It can just be so relentless. There are various question categories:

  • the obvious questions that all kids ask, about where a missing toy is or what we are doing today
  • the educational questions, like what is 9 plus 4 or how to spell ‘jam’
  • the really awkward questions like “yes, but how does the baby get into the Mummy’s tummy in the first place?”
  • the scientific questions that are really hard to explain in preschool speak, like “how does the water from the sea end up in the clouds?”
  • the totally random mind dump questions, recently including “do shop mannequins have dead people inside them?”, “what tunes do bluebells play?” and “what do spiders think about?”

OK, so I quite like the last category but the rest of them can really wear me down. I know, I shouldn’t be complaining about having a bright kid with a thirst for knowledge but some days I just need a break from that relentless tiny voice, picking my entirely inadequate brain from dawn til dusk.

The first thing that came out of her mouth this morning was “what colour do you get if you mix green and purple?” Literally the first thing she said. I hadn’t even spoken yet, other than to shhhh the baby whilst I got him his milk with one hand and tried to balance his ever increasing bulk in his sleeping bag with my other hand. She padded into the kitchen, half asleep, and asked me about colour mixing. As if it had been bugging her all night and she absolutely needed to know the answer right now. She asks about colour mixtures quite a lot actually but I was in no fit state to work it out before 7am.

The other day, I was in the middle of running about the house like a headless chicken trying to get us out the door in time for school and she starts shooting sums at me. At that precise moment, I neither knew nor cared what you get if you take 3 away from 11. I would say she is bad at picking her moments but she just never stops so it is much worse than that.

My least favourite Q and A sessions are in the car as I am a captive audience. Plus, I have always viewed car time as adult down time to a certain extent and she totally ruins my moment of zen. I’ve never been a kid’s music in the car kind of a Mum. They get my choice (Radio Two for the most part), or Daddy’s choice when he is driving (hard house and trance, which they all love and bop along to, calling it Funny Music). Car time is something to be cherished. I can sing along to the radio or play Pop Master. I actually look forward to car journeys as they are far more peaceful than being at home.

At least, they used to be. Not so these days. The barrage of questions continues as we drive along. “Why can I see the moon in the daytime? That man on the radio just said ‘conservative’. What does conservative mean? How many ants are there in our garden? How many in the world?” I am ashamed to admit I have come up with a new line to give my ears and brain a rest during car time.  I say I have to concertrate hard on driving for a while now because this is a particularly tricky road. It isn’t. I just can’t stand it any more.

Even if the questions are of the easy variety and are quick to answer (“what day is it?”) or are very cute and endearing (“if bees make honey, do flies make jam?”) my brain still feels like it is being drained as the day goes by. It is like she is sucking away any knowledge left in my tired head and storing it in hers. Have you seen The Dark Crystal? I feel like a Podling having it’s essence drained. By tea time, I am a brain-dead Podling, my essence in a jar beside me,ready to be downed by any passing Skeksis. For those who haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, I basically mean I’m a vegetable, with nothing left between my ears. Oh, and watch it immediately. Brilliant and creepy as fuck.

imageAnyway, back to my point (it is coming up for tea time and my exhausted mind wanders easily). I know the Why years are well documented and that they can be wearing but I hope I’m not alone in actually wanting to scream at my adorable little girl, just to make her stop. It is a slow kind of torture, being questioned to death.

You would think, as M is my second child, I’d be well prepared for this phase. But it was very different with H. He did his fair share of questioning but he just doesn’t have M’s insatiable thirst for knowledge. She is three years his junior and she already asks me things that I know haven’t occured to him, even now.

For H, as with many adults I know, things are just the way they are. He knows a man and a lady make a baby and that is enough for him right now. He doesn’t need to know how. He also lives in the moment. He knows that he will grow up and be an adult one day but he really doesn’t feel the need to endlessly question how old he has to be to drive a car or where he will live.

M asked me at the weekend how I will feel when H grows up and moves away, seeing as he is the eldest so will do that first. I hadn’t even really thought about that yet myself, being so far off. I often have to remind myself that she is only four. I mean, what four year contemplates what her life will look like in over ten years time?

I am very aware that I am infinitely lucky to have my clever little girl. She is brim full of endless love and zibrant energy…. and many, many questions. I feel terrible Mother’s Guilt for resenting the constant stream of questions but, much as I want to help her fill her little head, I also need to protect what is left of mine. Thank heavens for my two working days a week when the question generator is at nursery, driving someone else totally crazy for a few precious hours.

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Why I Write

the-daydreamer-award1So, it seems I have been nominated for a Daydreamer Award.  Don’t get excited.  It isn’t really an ‘award’ as such.  There will be no shiny bronze sculpture adoring my mantelpiece and no acceptance speech is required, as far as I can tell.  Nope, basically a lovely reader and fellow blogger, V and Me, has liked what I’ve written and put me forward for a sort of blog challenge, if you like.

It is still a bit of a shock to me that I have any readers beyond my immediate family and friends so it was lovely to hear that someone was reading my stuff and enjoying it.  So, thank you to V and Me for the nomination.

I’ll be totally honest, I still rank amongst the blogging clueless and, at only three months into my blogging journey, it has only just occurred to me to start making my site look a bit more interesting, with various links and things.  I’m not a technophobe by any means but the blogging world has it’s own rather daunting language and I am only very slowly getting to grips with it.  Hell, it has taken me three months to work out how to add my Twitter feed to this page.  I hope you all appreciate my efforts.  Doesn’t it look pretty?

The blogosphere seems to me to be rather like a club that has all sorts of conventions and traditions that look like fun but are pretty off-putting when you have no idea how to join in.  So, whilst I’m enjoying the journey so far, I feel totally out of my depth most of the time and verge between desperately wanting to be a part of it all and wanting nothing more than to bury my head in the sand and just do my own thing in my comfortable bubble.

So, time to take the plunge and pop out of that bubble with the Daydreamer Award and a bit of blog interaction.  The challenge I’ve been set is to explain what it is that makes me sit down and hammer out my thoughts, experiences and stories in my blog.  A very good question.  Why do I spend time recording random musings about the three small people in my life?  I have so little free time as it is, yet I choose to spend what I have in writing my thoughts and sending them out into the ether.

It certainly isn’t because I see myself as a frustrated writer: I’m not someone who has always thought there was a book inside me waiting to come out.  Neither do I see myself as anything like an expert on kids or parenting.  I really don’t want to become one of those parents, telling everyone else what they are doing wrong and how I do it much better.

I think the reason I am loving writing this blog – and I really do love it – is that it is an outlet.  It lets me pour out the deep, deep feelings I have for my adorable, frustrating, wonderful and infuriating brood. Parenting can be a horribly lonely business and, whilst I have a fantastic network of supportive friends and family, there are still many hours at home surrounded by tiny voices nagging, crying and arguing.  I freely admit that it gets to me in a way that can feel very oppressive and relentless.  Rather than internalise all the feelings that being the only adult in a world populated by little ones stirs up, it helps me to know that I have somewhere to put them.  I’ve done the internalising for years and it pretty much sucks (and leads to big phone bills while I pour my problems out to my poor Mum).  Having this blog is incredible therapeutic and much cheaper than a therapist.

It is also the first time in many years where I feel like I am creating something.  It may be nothing to write home about but there are words on a page, placed there by me.  It isn’t for work and it isn’t for my kids.  It is for me and anyone who cares to read it. I’ve not created anything for me for about a decade and it is very satisfying.  And, if my words touch someone else, to make them laugh or feel they are not so alone, then that is a pretty amazing bonus.

Life is all about balance, something that can be in very short supply for many parents of young kids, but especially for the one who takes on the primary carer role.  It is why us Mums totally overdo it when we go for ‘a quick drink’.  We are released from the role of parent for a short time and have to cram in as much of that feeling of freedom and being just ourselves as we possibly can.  Often with rather messy consequences (you know who you are, ladies).

This blog bring back the balance without the hangover.  I don’t know how many readers I will have as the months go by and I guess it doesn’t really matter, as long as the words on the page continue to mean something.

There are no words to express just how much I adore my children.  For all the other stuff I feel for them, there are plenty of words it seems, and now feels like the right time to let them flow.

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Now, onto the next bit of the Daydreamer Award.  I have to nominate some fellow bloggers to take up the challenge.  I’m going to play it safe and nominate some dear friends who also happen to write fantastic blogs.  My challenge to these ladies is to describe the best and worst things about parenting.  Good luck!

Mannoirs

 The Year to Forty and Beyond

Bickering

“Muuuuuum, he just threw a piece of paper at me”.

“Well, she just said she didn’t like Batman”

“Only because he said he wouldn’t be my best friend any more”

This is the kind of standard row that happens all the time between my eldest two. It is all so totally pointless and ridiculous that, if it wasn’t so annoying, I would laugh at them. But ooooooh, it is annoying. It is extremely annoying.  They can’t just have a row, sort it out and get over it. They have to report it back in minute detail to me, so that not only do I have to hear it once when it kicks off, I also get a blow by blow account of the various misdemeanours committed by both parties when they go and ‘tell’.

Sometimes H and M get on like a house on fire, but then they have days when they seem to do anything and everything to wind each other up.  I know all siblings bicker and I don’t think mine are worse than others but they seem to be going through a rather snippy phase at the moment and pretty much anything is an excuse to get at each other.

The other day, I was woken up by the above ridiculous exchange as both kids burst into the bedroom at some ungodly hour.  I tried, in a bleary-eyed way, to point out how meaningless and inoffensive their apparent insults actually were but they were both mortally offended by the other’s behaviour and refused to see how ludicrous they were being.  It ended with M picking up my slipper and throwing it limply at H’s feet.  Cue outrage from H, denial from M (despite having done it in full view) and all out yelling from everyone.  Good morning!

And it didn’t get any better.  Before breakfast, they had managed to have two more substantial arguments.  By school drop off, I was delighted to be splitting them up for a few hours.

There are two main problems with the dynamic between my H and M.  The main one is that H is an emotional firework.  It takes very little for him to be pushed over the edge into tears or screaming.  He doesn’t take a joke well and he takes everything very much to heart.  The poor lad was unfortunate enough to have inherited his Dad’s short fuse and lack of patience along with my sensitivity and (slight!) tendency to melodrama.  As gene mixes go, it is pretty explosive.  I hope it will calm down as he gets older and gains some perspective.   Making every molehill into Ben Nevis and then blowing it up with dynamite doesn’t make for a very easy existence.

The other problem is that M is too smart by half for a four year old and a very quick learner with an equally quick mouth.  She knows exactly what to say to create maximum impact, which buttons to press to send H into a spinning emotional meltdown.  He can’t simply say “I don’t care if you don’t like Batman”, he takes it as a personal slight which escalated into the end of the world in a matter of seconds.  M is often left looking artfully doe-eyed and innocent, having caused total mayhem.  I’m sure she would fool most, and she even fooled me to begin with, but I have the measure of her now.  She is a much better liar than her brother and has perfected a convincing wounded look, despite being the one in the wrong.

The arguments can be about literally anything.  This morning, they were fighting over whether M’s baby was real.  They both actually agreed that Baby Cupcake was a toy, but M was outraged that H had said so.  I know, it makes absolutely no sense, but that doesn’t stop them screaming at each other about it at full volume at 7am. 

Problems usually start when H gets all big brothery and condescending when M can’t quite express herself or do something as well as he can.  I think he is a bit insecure as she is, like most little girls, leagues ahead of where her brother was at the same age.  He likes to put this precocious young upstart down a bit – something I absolutely cannot stand – and also rather ill advised as she is closing the gap fast and will be able to run verbal rings around him before long, I shouldn’t wonder.

The worst bone of contention is gaming time.  They both love playing Lego Batman on the XBox but, being only four, M isn’t great at it.  For H, Lego Batman is probably the most important thing in his world right now.  He just absolutely lives for it and takes it extremely seriously.  As a result, he gets apoplectic when M fails to pull the right lever or deck the right baddies when instructed to do so. M does her best but her Robin spends a good deal of time jumping off high ledges to his death in a pit of oozing green slime, or running headlong into walls.

The tone of voice H uses to his little sister when this game is underway drives me crazy.  I simply can’t stand hearing an older kid getting at a younger one, simply because they are too small to be able to manage something yet.  It is a pet hate of mine and makes me fume.  When H gets into one of these nagging moods, he is so rude and condescending to his little sister, who is trying her best, that I can’t stand the injustice of and I jump on him.  I can’t help myself leaping in to defend my little one. As a result, Lego Batman sessions tend to end in H yelling at M, me yelling at H and then both kids yelling at me for turning the bloody thing off.  That game is honestly way more trouble than it is worth.  I thought games were supposed to keep kids quiet.  Pah.

So, as you can see, I feel like a referee, dealing with such a high number of rows on a daily basis.  And, much as I am desperate for Baby T to start chatting, I do worry a bit about what a third little voice will add to the discord.  He already comes in for his fair share of verbal abuse but it is all one way so far.  T is known as Destructor Baby and he stomps around the house knocking over painstakingly constructed Lego towers, drawing on works of art and sucking prized possessions.  The kids get pretty cross and yell at him, to which he usually just scribbles back, happily.  H declared recently “I hate babies”, which made me sad but I know he doesn’t mean it and it is kind of understandable.  After all, “babies are a pain in the bottom”, as M calmly observes after Destructor Baby has caused yet more mayhem.

But the baby grunts are turning into attempts at words.  When he starts being able to say the basic combative words, like “mine” and “no”, then we will have a third fighter in the ring.  I thank my lucky stars that my kids are not very physical and rarely come to blows apart from the odd half-arsed lob or push.  But the verbal fireworks are set to increase very soon.  I may have to invest in a megaphone, and a good set of earplugs.

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Angry faces directed at Destructor Baby for stealing sticks in a recent stick pie game. 

 

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Getting the Message Right

imageLast Sunday was International Women’s Day. My sister and I went to the final day of the Women of the World Festival (WOW) on the South Bank for some female solidarity and inspiration. It was a fantastic event and we got so much out of it, despite the fact we were both a little hungover from the night before (well, I had a weekend off and had to cram a lot in, including a good deal of alcohol).

We went to several lectures at WOW and discussions which covered some pretty hard hitting subjects but the closing speech by Jude Kelly, the founder, was just brilliant. In the face of so much misery and apparently insurmountable problems facing women around the world, she spoke about how we can all make a difference in our everyday lives. The way in which we teach our kids to see gender, their rights and the rights of others is key to this. As the mother of three young children, I am already very aware of what a massive uphill battle we have ahead of us on that score.

I am determined that my little girl becomes a strong, empowered woman who feels that there are no barriers to achieveing what she wants. I’m equally determined to ensure that my boys are not pressured by the male stereotypes they face and that they learn to respect women and see them as equals.

But at the tender ages of six and four, some very firm gender ideas have already crept into the heads of my eldest two. H said to me just the other day, on seeing some female footballers on television, “I didn’t know girls could play football”. A year or so ago he even asked me “do some ladies go to work?” This one totally baffled me as I work two days a week myself, which I pointed out to him. Also, all bar one of the teachers at his school are women, but he somehow didn’t view that as a job. He absorbed the fact that yes, ladies can and do work but then said “But ladies can’t be the boss can they, Mummy?” I gave this very short shrift, reminding him that his teacher, head teacher and me are all his boss right now. This he acknowledged readily when pointed out but I was thrown as to how such apparently obvious things in his day to day life can be overruled by some random idea gleaned from television and books that men are authority figures and women are not. This seems especially odd when, like many small boys, the vast majority of the authority figures in H’s young life are women. Pretty much all, in fact, apart from Daddy and his Grandads.

My answers to H’s somewhat depressing gender biased questions are always unequivocal. Yes, women can do everything men can do. But the fact that he asks the questions means he already sees being a woman as somehow being a restriction to what you can do, to what you can become. He is happy to be corrected but I am angry about those ideas creeping into his little brain so young.

Luckily, M is in no way under the illusion that girls are inferior. She is determined and strong willed, with no suggestion in her head that she might not be able to match up to a boy. At least not yet. In fact, she seems pretty sure that girls are considerably superior. However, she does have a strong sense of what are ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things’. She loves pink, fairies, flowers…. all very much girl things in her book, which is no surprise, considering how our little girls are surrounded by Disney princesses and all things sparkly from such a young age.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to stop my little girl from loving all that stuff. I was a pretty girly girl myself at that age and, sandwiched between two brothers, M doesn’t have a huge outlet for her pink, sparkly side. I’ve certainly let her – even encouraged her – to indulge in it. She has the dress up princess gear, wands, fairy wings, dollies and ponies. Just like so many four year old girls.

But I am frustrated that the girls toys and books are all so bloody passive. I don’t think that is what little girls want any more than it is what boys want. Saying that doesn’t seem like anything new or controversial to me. Kids have loved adventure and excitement since the dawn of time. As children, my siblings and I played with both traditionally male and female toys, often all mixed up together in crazy medleys. But our use of girl toys wasn’t in the least bit passive; it was all pretty high octane. Hell, our My Little Ponies lived in aggressive tribes and killed each other for land. Possibly not quite what the toy manufacturers had in mind but we loved it.

Nothing has changed for the next generation. One thing my M loves best is to play with superheroes with her big brother. But she is a girl and she wants to play with girl superheroes. She wants to fight, rescue and be generally awesome as a female character. I’ve managed to find her some small Wonder Woman and Cat Woman figures but that is about all there is out there. There are hundreds of different versions of Batman, Spider Man, Superman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you name it, but they are almost exclusively male.

Besides superheroes, M loves many characters targeted at girls but the ones she adores are not meek princesses in towers. She loves Elsa from Frozen. Yes, a Disney film but one of the most powerful and kick ass heroines Disney ever created. She has magical super powers and is basically a superhero in all but name.

M also loves the Tinkerbell franchise. I was sceptical about these fairy films but actually, having been forced to sit through a couple of them, I think they might just be the best thing out there right now for little girls wanting adventure stories showing female characters being pretty ace. At first sight, these pert little fairies seem to be no more are a bunch of dolled up, wasp-waisted dolly birds in pretty dresses. And they are, but they are also the heroes. They do it all by theselves and they win the day without a boy fairy in sight. I like that and M bloody loves it.

Yes, Tink and the gang are pretty nails, under their cutesy looks. So, with a general lack of girl superhero characters in the shops, we now have a full set of Tinkerbell fairy toys. They join forces with H’s Batman and gang and go kick some baddie ass.

I love that M doesn’t want to be a moany girl kicking about waiting for a prince. She wants to be Elsa or Tinkerbell. She wants to be in the middle of the action, winning. I am grateful that she has a big brother who leads the action filled games they play, to help M keep up this fantastic craving for adventure.

As the kids grow, I know I will have to keep a very vigilant eye on those damaging gender messages because they are everywhere and they don’t do either boys or girls any favours. I will be doing my very best to keep those messages in check and to help my kids see them for what they are. It won’t be easy, but at least I have Batman, Tink and the team on my side, fearlessly fighting oppression and socking it to the baddies with strength, cunning and a little bit of fairy dust.

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NB. Tink herself was out fighting crimes when this picture was taken (I have no clue where she is but not prepared to ask M, for fear of a total lost toy meltdown).