Keep the Weetabix flying

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Singing, rather than talking, circa 1982

You wait years for your children to start speaking, imagining all the wonderful conversations you’ll have when they can finally communicate in words and not just point and say ‘ba!’ How you will have intelligent discussions over the breakfast table, rather than spending the time dodging flying Weetabix and wiping the jam off your jeans. How your children will be well-versed in classics, politics and morality and that this education will start when they are pre-schoolers listening attentively to your every word. They will be able to hold forth on any topic. They will be able to think for themselves.

The reality can be very different. What really happens when your children start to speak is that they then decide to shout very loudly at each other and at you. Rather than all copying the oldest, the four and two year olds mimic the one year old and they all chant in unison bashing their spoons on the breakfast table: “Ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma” as I fly around pouring juice into beakers and milk into bowls. They don’t want to discuss Brexit.

Here are some things that they do, however, like to do with their new found words:

i. Give their opinions (endlessly): 

From giving them the wrong coloured breakfast bowl (“red one, red one”), the wrong towel (“blue one, blue one”), the wrong pants (“I don’t want it Gruffalo pants”), the wrong coloured Zoggs swim toy (“purple one, purple one”), to the wrong type of toothpaste (“I want big girl toothpaste” – from my son), I fear I will never get this right. However, I can start to make things easier for myself, not by remembering the correct variations of crockery, swimwear and toiletries, which alters daily, but by ceasing to court their opinion at all. This avoids conversations such as the one below, which my two year old son and I have regularly:

“How about pasta for lunch today?”
“I don’t want it pasta”
“Peppa shapes?”
“I don’t want it peppa shapes.”
“Ham sandwich?”
“I don’t want it ham samich.”
“Pizza?”
“I don’t want it pitsa.”
*sigh*

ii. Repeating words and phrases: 

They have learnt a new word – wonderful! Their brains are like sponges, soaking up their surroundings. They even invent their own phrases and speak in nonsense sentences – all great for their developing imagination, surely. Then the four year old starts talking about bogeys all the time and magics up sentences such as this:

“I’m going to the bogey shop. I’m going to put my bogey in the bogey basket and go to the bogey shop” (collapses on the floor in hysterical laughter)

And the two year old thinks up a favourite nickname, in his case ‘smackybum’ which he calls everyone from his sports teacher to his grandfather.

“You’re cheeky,” says Grandad.
“I’m not cheeky, smacky bum.”

iii. Describing (mainly bodily functions):

Then they start to be able to describe the world around them and begin to use adjectives. A real leap forward in terms of their conversational prowess, you might think. For example, the other day my toddler was digging around in his nose, found a particularly disgusting bogey and then handed it to me saying,

“That’s a sticky one”.
“Thanks,” I say, suppressing the urge to wipe it on his tracksuit.

When I go to the loo, he follows me in, stands right next to me and then peers down behind my back into the toilet bowl,

“Doing a poo?”
“Er, no”
“Just wee wee?”
“Er, yes.”

He proceeds to pull half the paper from the roll and starts to polish my bare left buttock.

Yesterday morning, yes at breakfast again, a large raspberry sound ripples through the air, reverberating the radiators, loud enough to mask the music on the radio for at least three seconds. We all look at the two year old.

“From. My. Bum.” he announces proudly as my daughter collapses into fits of giggles and the one year old joins in, so as not to be left out, even though he doesn’t really understand.

iv. Criticising your parenting:

In my experience,this happens at around age four. Phrases that my four year old daughter has said to me in the last few weeks include:

“You’re not my best friend.”
“When I talk to Daddy, Daddy talks to me, but when I talk to you, you don’t talk to me.”
“You’re always talking to me. Stop talking to me.”
“Just don’t look at me.”
“Mummy, you’re always on your iPad” (when I’m looking up a recipe in an attempt to make them something other than pasta for tea.)

And, my particular favourite:
Mummy, you make everyone sad”.

Just when you think all is lost, the older children start to call each other “my darling” for at least twenty minutes before hitting each other again and my daughter says “Mummy, please may I have a napkin please Mummy” (as her Granny has taught her that young ladies use napkins).

At breakfast time, the Weetabix is still flying across the table but on the whole, they are eating their cereal and toast. No one is talking. It is bliss. I have given up on discussing classics, politics and morality. Surely Oscar Wilde was right when he wrote that “only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”?

I make a vow never to try to talk during breakfast again.

(This post was featured as Blog of the Day on Mumsnet)

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To sleep, perchance to dream 

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I wrote the piece below a year ago when I had a new baby, a 22 month old and a 3 year old. It is a reminder that the stages of childhood are just that: a stage. Everything passes. This is both good and bad.

It is 5 a.m., I am in bed and a toddler is crawling on my head. In my bed are:

A) the toddler, my 22 month old son,
B) the baby, my 3 month old son who is not technically in our bed (of course not because I have read all the guidance on co-sleeping with multiple children etc, although yes he sometimes is when A is not there), but is surgically attached by way of a ‘bed nest’ locked to our bed,
C) A’s over-sized stuffed toy penguin which goes everywhere with him, named Pi-Ping,
D) A’s milk bottle, mostly spilt on our sheets which are now wet and sticky for all the wrong reasons,
E) a musical sheep with which I aim to build a virtual white noise wall between A and B,
F) miscellaneous dummies; and
G) an owl night light to aid breastfeeding since B and me can’t see in the dark and it’s pitch black outside since it is February and very gloomy.

Oh I nearly forgot, there is also:

H), my husband, a few feet away at the far side of the bed, legs and arms dangling over the edge, fighting for a share of the duvet with me and the rest of the zoo and at the ready to hit snooze on the radio in one hour’s time when the alarm goes off and all four humans will wake for another day (but not the animals, this isn’t a Disney film you know).

Disney, why am I even thinking about Disney? The beat of the musical sheep’s battery heart judders and stops and all I can hear is the breathing of the three male humans in the bed, becoming steady and slow. It is time to get some sleep but the soundtrack to Disney’s Tangled, which my three year old daughter loves, goes round my head. Flynn Ryder, the selfish anti-hero who gets to marry the lost princess, dancing on the bar at the Snuggly Duckling,

“I have dreams like you, no really,
Just much less touchy feely
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
On an island that I own
Tanned and rested and alone
Surrounded by enormous piles of money.”

Oh what a dream. Tanned and rested and alone; is there a greater bliss? Why am I even thinking about this? There’s less than half an hour of precious sleep time to be had.

A shifts in his sleep, rolling so that he is horizontal across the bed, his head in H’s ribs, the soles of his feet pressing against my jugular. I rest my head against C and start to drift off just as the clock display flips from 5.59 to 6.00 and the alarm goes on. “Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.” A sits up, puts his face against mine and demands milk, B starts to cry. It is like Groundhog Day all over again and again.

That evening, I decide it’s time for A to sleep in his cot, to go to sleep on his own and to stay there. All night.

All the armaments are in place: items C, D, E and F, black-out blinds (not at all necessary in winter but I daren’t not use them); warm blanket under and on top of him; portable oil radiator set to medium; comforting orange night light which also plays soothing Mozart.

His breathing settles, grows steady and deeper. The eyelids start to droop and close, then ratchet open again, but soon begin to fall. I’ve told him that Pi-Ping is tired, that Mummy is going to have her tea now (when can I stop referring to myself in the third person? And will I even be able to now it’s a habit and an annoying one at that?), and that his siblings are asleep too.

I start to move, not daring to stand up, so I’m crawling on all fours, not quite commando-style but not far off either. The squeaking floor board under the blue carpet is my undoing, dammit. Suddenly he is bolt upright, like the handle of a garden rake whacking in the face the owner of an accidental foot on its prongs. He opens his mouth and wails. The orange light doesn’t give enough glow to see his face in detail, but I know I could see his tonsils if it did.

We start again. It’s now 8.25 p.m. In my head I’m unwriting my to-do list for the evening: mentally eliminating what it’s going to be possible for me to do before I get too tired and have to collapse into the zoo-bed. Eventually he settles but I wait at least twenty minutes before I dare to even open the door and crawl out into the corridor. Success! I’m only going to go downstairs, bung some sausages in the oven and check my emails but it feels liberating: this is what functioning adults do.

Reading this reminds me of how quickly things change. If I hadn’t written it down at the time, I wouldn’t have remembered (and clearly my brain was mashed). Last night, one year later, the same little boy climbed into bed, I read him a story and he fell asleep within 30 seconds and woke up 12 hours later (this was a good night). He still has items C, D and F but we all have vices, right?  So, just when you think that you can’t carry on with this level of sleep deprivation, the toddler begins to sleep. And then he stops eating or wanting to sit in his buggy and refuses to do anything except watch Paw Patrol. There is always something to deal with, but it’s never what you expect it to be. I guess that keeps things interesting.

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