10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Toddlers

It’s one of the things you probably hear most before you have a baby. “You don’t realise how much they’ll change your life,” usually said with a dreamy faraway look. At this time, you probably assume that the speaker is thinking fondly of their little darling, and how life is so much better now. With hindsight, the odds are just as good that they are remembering the last time they were able to eat a meal in peace or get a full night’s sleep.

Well, having been caught out by this ourselves, I’ve decided to be selfless and tell people the Truth About Toddlers. (sounds good doesn’t it? It could be a book…) You may have heard some of these before, or some may be a total shock, but if you haven’t got children, take heed and learn. If you have got children, feel free to heave a sympathetic sigh and add on any vital points I may have missed. We need to work together, people.

1. They are in training for adolescence as soon as they hit eighteen months. The Terrible Twos doesn’t start at their second birthday and end at their third- as soon as they can walk and talk the Terribleness is in place right up till their teenage years. They have strops, they have mood swings, they tell you to go away. My two year old even stamps into his bedroom and slams the door on me. All that’s missing is “You don’t understand,” and I’m sure that’s just a matter of vocabulary.

2. They are experts at manipulation. They could write a book on it (if they could write). Machiavelli could learn a thing or two from any toddler. Tactics vary, from going straight from one parent to another hoping for a different answer (everyone knows about this one though), to using emotional blackmail that they learn from Grandma when you’re not looking. They keep you on your toes – just when you’re all fired up, in strictest, no-nonsense mode, they switch to utterly adorable and you cave instantly. And you fall for it every time.

3. The mess. Seriously, even if people tried they couldn’t warn you about the mess. I was never a great housewife (I can hear my husband choking as he reads that understatement of the century) but even I get depressed by the sheer scale of mess one tiny little body produces. And they do it without you noticing. It’s one thing to tip the toy box upside down – at least then you just pile it all back in. But I’m talking about the house exploding. It’s relatively tidy one minute, so you go congratulate yourself on keeping on top of it and go to make yourself a cup of tea. Five minutes later you can’t find the floor.

4. The amount of ‘stuff’ you need with you. When they’re newborn, that’s fairly self-evident, what with bottles and muslins. And I imagine once Daniel’s toilet training it’ll be the same, pants, spare trousers etc. Now, I thought I had it easy. After all, all he needs is a few wipes and a couple of nappies and a drink? Yes, but he also insists on bringing a train, or Buzz Lightyear, or a cow. Soon you’ve got half of Toys R Us in your handbag, and get a funny look at the checkout because instead of your purse you’ve pulled out a toy shark. And you wonder on the way back to the car why your neck and shoulders ache all the time.

5. Speaking of shops, the old ‘tantrum in the aisles’ chestnut is a classic. This is a tricky one, because everyone’s seen the cliche on tv and is prepared for it. But the true horror of it actually builds up over time. It starts when your child is around eighteen months, and you’re thinking behaviour problems should be starting any time now, but since they’re not you must have the best-behaved child in the world. You go around the supermarket, outwardly commiserating with the harrassed mother coping with meltdown in the biscuit aisle but secretly smug because your little angel is sitting contentedly in the trolley smiling serenely at the world. Then one day they decide enough is enough and you are suddenly the harrassed mother, caught totally unprepared because you’d been lulled into a false sense of security.

6. How much you can love and loathe CBeebies simultaneously. No matter how much you swear pre-parenthood that you won’t let them watch too much tv, it’s a rare parent that doesn’t, in a moment of desperation, blurt out “How about CBeebies?” and savour the moments of peace that follow. Mister Maker is pure genius, at least that’s what my son thinks. On the other hand, Waybuloo is just weird and you want to shoot Little Cook Small after about three minutes.

7. Their unerring sense of timing. They will desperately need something (insert most inconvenient request you can think of here) right when you need to make a phone call / leave the house / go to the toilet. They are at death’s door until the moment you get them into see the doctor, at which point they jump up and run around, completely healthy. They will sleep through for the first night in eight months the night they sleep at Grandma’s (not that I’m bitter and twisted in any way).

8. The total lack of fear. They’re tiny, they look so fragile and you hear horror stories about children who’ve landed on their heads. So you spend your life a quivering wreck if they are higher than 5 centimetres off the ground or even slightly close to the road. But the little so-and-sos really don’t care. They climb onto the sofa, jump off, roll off. They climb onto the slide and try all sorts of interesting ways to come down, none of which include nice and safely on their bottoms. They launch themselves off every piece of furniture they can get onto. They arrange toys so that it makes a precarious ladder to the top shelf just to reach a DVD. Or just for the fun of it. And every hair on your head that turns grey overnight they count as a job well done.

9. The lack of freedom. Yours, not theirs. When they’re a baby, they lie in their pram looking cute and you can go just about anywhere and do just about anything. Please, make the most of it. Yes, you have to stop for an occasional feed or nappy change, but this is nothing compared to going out with a toddler. They don’t like a shop, they WILL let you know. You fancy a pub dinner? Forget it. You can’t just up and out for some late night shopping because they need to be back in bed by seven. I hadn’t realised how often we had popped out for an evening, browsing at Borders and having a leisurely latte in Starbucks (with our only constraint the closing time), until we couldn’t do it any more.

10. How much none of the above matter. You are totally unprepared for how much you love this little person. When I am upset or ill Daniel will come and give me a cuddle and ask “alright Mummy?” with such love and concern in his face, and there is no way of describing the feeling that comes with that. Just as there is no way of describing the feeling you get when you haven’t seen them for a couple of hours and their faces light up when they see you.

Is there anything I have missed?

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When Did That Happen?

When did my son turn into a miniature human being?

I remember when he was first born. We marvelled, as all new parents do, over his tiny hands and feet, his amazingly loud voice and how clever he was to be able to look at us and recognise us. But he was still almost like a different species. A baby, not quite a human being like the ones walking and talking around us. He couldn’t actually do anything. He couldn’t choose what activity he was going to do, where he was going to move to, what he was going to say.

Now, all of a sudden, he is not a baby any more. He is making those choices. He can choose, if he wants, to run backwards and forwards around our flat all day. He can choose to take out the animals from his Noah’s Ark or his little figures and line them all up, making them ‘say’ clever and insightful things. He can choose to copy what we say –  we’re not big on swearing but we have to watch every word we say. He chooses to walk in a straight line, a wiggly line, dance, run, fall over.

He knows what to do. When did that happen? When did he learn that if I say “Dinnertime” he has to go and knock on Daddy’s office door then climb onto his chair? When did he learn that to turn on the musical Christmas toys he pushes the switch on the back? How did he learn to operate the TV and DVD player more quickly than Daddy did? When did he realise that if we get the camera out it’s much more fun to smile adorably at the camera then turn away at the last minute?

He talks to me. He says things like “I’ve got an idea, people” and “Alright, Mummy? Have a nice sleep?” I can’t believe that two months ago I was worried about his speech – he comes out with the most amazing things now. Yes, it’s not always an unmixed blessing. Like when we were in the shop and he pointed at an elderly gentleman with a white beard and said, very clearly, “Look, Mummy, Santa Claus!” But he can, and does, also say “I missed Mummy” after nursery, or “Love you”.

He has strops. Nothing all that bad (see my post The Challenge of Loving) but he definitely has strops. When he was a baby he had four basic states: cry, sleep, smile, neutral. Cries had variations, smiles had grades depending on the cause (Grade 1 for mildly amused, Grade 5 for Grandma etc), but they were essentially the same state. Now, Daniel has all the moods that I or Daddy have and suddenly we see ourselves reflected in him. We’re allowed to be moany and miserable after a sleepless night with him, but find it hard to deal with him being the same. That’s because we’re just not used to it – all of a sudden he has adult emotions and can express them and we need to catch up with him. But on the other side of that he has also developed a wonderful sense of the ridiculous, and his laughter at something that is just too silly is infectious.

He experiments. He only has our word for it that climbing onto the sofa and rolling off will hurt, so he gives it a go. He sees no reason not to take the roof off his toy garage and use the frame as a hula hoop. He’s pretty sure that a big car will go down his slide with a big crash, but what will a little car do? And he doesn’t know, not for definite, that he’ll get caught every time he tries to take a bauble off the Christmas tree. May as well keep having a go. The baby we had, it seems like only ten minutes ago, couldn’t have even imagined any of these possibilities.

Now, we loved our tiny baby so much. We could not imagine loving him more, he seemed so perfect in every way. I’m sure when his little sister is born in April we will go through the same emotions. But the thought that she could develop into the same sort of miniature human being as Daniel, with all that potential and excitement, but entirely different again, is mind-boggling. And I can’t wait.

The Challenge of Loving

My son has recently turned into a two year old. Not age-wise, his birthday was actually back in July, and we have been congratulating ourselves on escaping the Terrible Twos. But behaviour-wise, tantrums and selective deafness have arrived in our house.

To be fair to him, he could be a lot worse. He is not particularly aggressive towards other children (he saves it for us) and his worst behaviour comes when he is very tired; otherwise he’s actually a lovely little boy. To paraphrase: “When he is good, he’s very, very good. But when he’s bad, he’s horrid.” The trouble is, Daniel (who has never been a good sleeper) is not sleeping well and is consequently tired a LOT.

It has been quite a shock to the system. Our lovely, happy little boy has turned into a child who hits and kicks us, ignores us constantly, causes huge amounts of mess deliberately and screams whenever he doesn’t get his own way. In fact, I have seriously wondered if toddlerhood is training for adolescence, both for us and for him. My throat is sore from shouting and I only seem to have one phrase in my mouth at the moment: “Daniel, don’t do…”.

We have had two choices. We could choose an easy road and basically let him get away with it. It would certainly be kinder on the vocal chords. We could let him keep coming into bed with us at two o clock every morning and letting none of us get any decent sleep for the rest of the night. Again, no crying and tantrums. We decided not to do this, and at times I think we must be mad.

We have decided to have a crack down on behaviour and sleep, handing out ASBOs right, left and centre. The sleep plan at the moment is not working out great for me although Daniel seems to be gradually getting better – he is at least staying in his own bed, although this is under great protest, particularly if it is Daddy going in to settle him at two o clock and not me. For us it involves a good hour lying on the floor, and I don’t know about Daddy but it’s murder on my poor muscles which have apparently been softened by pregnancy and crushed by growing baby. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel but it’s a dim, distant spark at the moment.

Behaviour, hmmm. Being firm but fair is our guideline at the minute, and following every confrontation with a cuddle and an ‘I love you’. But the real challenge, to me at least, is dealing with the huge emotional swings that ‘behaviour modification’ brings. Not his – mine. I go from being at the limit of my patience, seethingly angry to doting mother and back again in a heartbeat, and it is actually exhausting. Not to mention the huge guilt you feel when it turns out you don’t have unlimited patience and tolerance after all. Experiencing negative feelings towards your child is, to say the least, heart-wrenching and has you constantly questioning your fitness as a parent. Not that how much I love my little boy is ever in doubt, not for a second, but the fact that I don’t constantly see him as a source of delight and satisfaction is, to me, disturbing, difficult to deal with, and makes the path of least resistance seem highly tempting.

I am saved from this by the strength of my husband – I guess we give each other strength, thinking about it – and the reward when our plan actually works, when he does listen or say sorry or do as he’s told. It’s still rare, it’s still early days but it’s happening and we are getting our beautiful boy back. Even if it’s only temporary.

 

The promise of the first day

Bar near Honfleur

It’s now just under four weeks until our holiday in Brittany, and we are getting very excited. We are going for three weeks and are investing a ridiculous amount of expectation into the holiday, in terms of how relaxed we are going to feel afterwards, how much we are going to reconnect with our lost or forgotten selves, the new and exciting things we are going to see, how much our french will improve. You get the picture.

We have started making mental lists of everything we need to pack, the best route and timetable to Plymouth, how many stops on an eight hour drive with a toddler we need to make, how we can avoid being stung by the extortionate motorway services. Do we take a laptop and spend some time in an internet cafe halfway through to post pictures to facebook, blogs, etc, or do we disconnect completely from our normal lives? How many novels can I write in those three weeks? How many days can we spend on the beach? Because obviously it will be nothing but clear blue skies and warm sunshine the whole time.

The picture above was taken on the first day of last year’s holiday. We had travelled Dover to Calais (instead of Plymouth to Roscoff, which is much closer to where we are staying) and drove down the west of France to Brittany. We forgot about the restricted lunch times, and drove through packed, touristy Honfleur and a couple of other villages before realising that if we didn’t stop soon it would be four o clock before we could eat – not an option with a one year old! We found this bar and sat drinking locally brewed Normandy cider out of bolées with our food. The weather was exactly as we had hoped, the quiet village was idyllic, and we still had the whole of our holiday ahead of us. If we get a day like that this year, I will be a happy girl.

Incidentally, shortly after leaving the bar and resuming our journey, we got completely lost, ended up very stressed and upset, and arrived at our gite about three hours later than we’d hoped.

So it may be foolish to invest so much in the first day, but I’m willing to risk it.

Yearly reflection

It’s coming up to the time of year again where I look back and wonder where on earth the time has gone. My son’s birthday is next week, and I have barely adjusted to the idea that I have a son.

There is hardly a day that goes by without him inspiring the strongest,most overwhelming feelings in me. Yes, some of those feelings are frustration and annoyance – “why won’t he go to sleep? Why won’t he eat his dinner? Why won’t he let me go to the toilet in peace?” – but mostly I am amazed everyday at his miraculous development.

Every day he learns a new word, says an old word a little clearer, copies something new that we do, learns a new skill. He is the world’s best builder, a Brit-winning singer, the next Picasso/Shakespeare/Shaw. He can kick a ball better than David Beckham, he is funnier than Peter Kay. All this, and he’s not even two yet.

I look back at the first picture here, taken when he was minutes old. He is battered and bruised from a brutal forceps delivery, his skin is still blue from the cord being around his neck, he is only just calming down from the trauma of being born. I love that he is, even then, looking at me as if to say “You just wait and see what I’ve got in store, Mummy!” And then I look at the next picture, taken on my mobile on his first birthday. He is full of cheek and joy and life. The last picture was taken a couple of months ago at a friend’s birthday party, and I can see all the mischief he promised as a newborn in that smile. I wonder what the difference will be in a year’s time.

It’s been an exhausting, emotional two years. But I cannot imagine life any other way.

Happy birthday, Daniel x x x

A quick note…

…just to say that dishwashers really are a mummy’s best friend.

We had poached salmon, new potatoes and steamed veg for tea last night. At the end of the meal there were loads of dishes, pans, mess. Five minute job and you’re done.

Nice clean room, and I can sit down and pretend to write. Fab.

There is only one thing that, in my humble opinion, beats a dishwasher. A multicooker. Ours is the Cookshop Gourmet Multicooker, and I cannot now imagine life without it. We occasionally, as last night, have a meal that has not been partially or totally cooked in the multicooker, but it is pretty rare now. This machine is wonderful, you can prepare almost any food, you use NO OIL (Yes! Even for bacon and eggs!), and it literally takes five minutes to clean. You heat it up a tiny bit, wipe it with a bit of kitchen roll or a clean dry cloth, and that’s it. I cannot recommend this enough, especially to other mummies!