My Funny Girl At Five

imageTomorrow M turns five. A landmark age and no mistake. Five is a stepping stone from dependant pre-schooler to fully-fledged little person, and my girl is well on her way.

In some respects I can’t believe M is only just five. She can be very grown up and mature for such a little dot. Mind you, she has always been ahead of the game in mental and emotional development. She was talking in sentences by 18 months and has hardly paused for breath since, constantly challenging my weary brain with her lateral thinking and intense questions.

If M doesn’t know how something works, she does her best to think around the problem. She comes up with weird and wonderful solutions but they always have a hefty dose of logic and clever thinking thrown in. If bees make honey, then surely flies must make jam, right? And if squirrels hide their acorns for the winter, where else could they possibly hide them but up their bottoms, to be laid like eggs when needed? After all, they don’t have any pockets.

She comes out with the most delightful phrases and ideas. These little glimpses into the workings of her dear little head have me in stitches and melt my heart in equal measure. But with such an active brain come some very challenging questions. I found myself having to give her a rudimentary explanation of how a baby gets into a lady’s tummy when she was just two, after a barrage of questions, facing her puzzled and dissatisfied little face when given half information. For now she is content with eggs and seeds but I can see her brain working on the next question. H, three years her senior, still hasn’t even enquired.

imageOne of M’s favourite books is called Evolution, a delightful, kid-friendly picture book about the earth and how we came to be here. It was a panic purchase after months of questions about who the first ever person was. I once spent an hour-long car journey struggling to explain how we evolved from monkeys in terms that a three-year old could comprehend. She went quiet for a moment, thought hard and then said “Hold on, are you saying monkeys turn into babies?!” The book has helped a lot with that one.

But the questions never end, from the easy ones to the impossible. She asks things I’ve never even contemplated. It can be exhausting and we were both delighted when school started and her world widened to include more adults that she can quiz. She is now driving both me and her teacher crazy, and I have someone to defer to if I can’t work out how to explain something. “Why don’t you ask Mrs X, tomorrow?”

M is changing so fast now, it is hard to keep up. The start of school was only a few short months ago but in that time she has smoothly shifted gear, moving from the small circle of her family to being a fully fledged member of the school community. She has a social network to be proud of and embraces every aspect of school life. She is a natural and has never looked back, lapping up each new experience.

imageAway from her best behaviour at school, my girl is certainly no angel. She is raucous and bawdy. Her toilet humour repertoire far outstrips that of her big brother, who she regularly has in stitches with her endless stream of bum, poo, willy and wee jokes. After an overheard throw-away remark about girls’ play dates being less noisy than boys’ (it is easy to forget that her little ears never miss a thing) she recently announced “Girls are quieter than boys, aren’t they Mummy?” and I nearly choked on my tea laughing. Our girl is the noisiest of our three by a county mile. She even beats her stroppy little brother. Her voice booms out like a klaxon. She may like princesses and all things pink when the mood takes her but meek and retiring she ain’t. She is fierce, loud and wonderfully forthright. She is a force to be reckoned with and sharp as a tack, running rings around us already.

Whilst she knows how to play beautifully with both her brothers, M has an uncanny knack of winding them up. With H, she knows exactly how to needle him for the most extreme reaction. Easily done with my melodramatic eldest but she has mastered the art beautifully. With the little one, she likes nothing better than to gee him up into a wild frenzy, making him more and more manic and running him up and down the hall. He adores it – and hero worships her – but it is extremely loud and always ends with him smacking into a doorframe or face-planting.

Looking at my little girl today, I saw just how much she has changed in the last year. Gone are the baby chubby cheeks and sticky-out toddler tummy. She is a leggy beanpole now and graceful, in a funny sort of way. She has always been our accident prone one, tripping up dramatically several times a day until relatively recently. Her knees were permanently pulverised and she has been to A&E twice after nasty mishaps, so I never thought I’d see her as graceful. And she still is clumsy really, but she reminds me of a baby deer now. Not quite in control of her rangy limbs yet, but with promise that she will be soon. And when she is, it is going to be quite something.

For all this change and growth, my little girl is still my baby. She bear hugs me as often as she possibly can and I can’t sit down without her clambering onto my lap, wrestling with the little one for prime position. She still misses me when she goes to school and that sometimes makes her sad, although she gets over it fast enough when she sees all her friends tumbling into the playground.

She has always made it clear that Mummy is everything in her eyes and was inseparable from me for the first couple of years. And much as new things have come into her world, she hasn’t lost that attachment yet. It doesn’t even seem to be remotely diluted, for which I am very grateful.

Like all good birthdays, M is celebrating hers for about 10 days, with various gatherings and parties, and she is buzzing with wide-eyed excitement. It is going to be a blast.

So, Happy Birthday, my dear little M. I am very proud of who you are becoming and I could not love you more.

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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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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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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).

 

About My Girl

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My little girl turns four tomorrow. Watching her change from chubby-cheeked toddler to proper little person over the last year has been an absolute delight. She is already so self-assured, confident and eloquent that it takes my breath away at times. She is totally adorable and, if it were possible, seems to be becoming more engaging daily.

Before I spend too much time waxing lyrical about the wonder that is my M, I must just state that I adore all my children equally. And I’m not just saying that because it is what Mums are supposed to say. I really do. Heaven knows, some of my kids have been more challenging and harder to love than others at times. But I do actually feel the same depth of love for each of them, which I admit was quite a surprise to me at first.  I worried when I was pregnant with my second that I would have a favourite, that there wouldn’t be enough love for more than one. But I needn’t have been concerned. That deep mother’s love is, incredibly, replicated time and again. There is no love limit, it seems.

That said, I have to admit that, had I not had my little girl, I would have felt that there was a gap in the perfect picture of what my family should be. I have such a wonderful and deep relationship with my mother that I simply couldn’t fathom not being able to replicate that with my own daughter. My boys are just amazing and have an incredible energy which I relish and would like to be able to bottle, but there is just something between me and my M.

We just get each other. We get the giggles together. We exchange looks about the boys, and indeed about my husband. We think in the same way and like the same things (although her version is usually pink and covered in glitter). Watching her try to understand the world reminds me so much of how I was at her age. It takes me back to my own girlhood and warms my heart.

I’ve always cherished my relationships with the special girls in my life.  In the same way that I cannot imagine life without that connection with my sister, Mum and favourite girl friends, I now cannot imagine not having that other little but powerful female force in the house. She is my special girl companion, amidst all the crazy testosterone-fuelled boys.

M certainly isn’t an angel and we have plenty of run-ins, although she is generally pretty reasonable and rarely goes into a blind rage like her brothers. But she is strong-willed and very bright, which can lead to conflict with her big brother. She knows how to wind him up and, whilst generally being pretty accommodating and very kind, she also likes to outshine him when she can.

M has known all her numbers and letters for some time now and she shows a genuine interest and enthusiasm for learning, something H really never had before he started school (and even now it can be patchy).  She is already leagues ahead of where he was when school began, and she still has seven months to go. Much of this is boy vs girl, I think, but after having a boy I have to light a fire under to get him to do his homework, I am really enjoying watching her love of learning unfold.

M drinks in the fascinating world around her and retains information in a way that often surprises me. OK, so sometimes she misinterprets – last winter she told me squirrels store acorns up their bottoms and poo them out when they are hungry – but she works things out, she thinks ahead, she calculates.

M has already planned how she will live when she is grown up (rainbow house, pink car, job for charity – like Mummy) and yes, it lacks any real understanding of how life in the future will really be, but she understands that it is coming. H cannot compute far beyond the now and freaks out at the prospect that we may not always all live together as a family in the same house, as we do now.

Her maturity of thinking is striking and often catches me off guard. I don’t always have pre-prepared answers for the big questions she asks me, that I have yet to hear from her big brother.

But, despite all this maturity, she is still my little girl. She had her birthday party today in a soft play cafe, ran around squealing and stuffed her face with cake. She can be relentlessly annoying, appallingly disgusting and extremely loud, just like any kid of her age. But she also has a little special something. Like is said, we just get each other.

She is tucked up in bed now, post party and post sugar rush, looking utterly adorable. Watching her sleeping peacefully, I am reminded how very lucky I am to be able to watch her learn and grow.

Happy Birthday, my little M.

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