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First time at the flicks…

“Would you like to go to the cinema?” I ask teeniest, having spotted a great new children’s film about to show at our small town theatre.
“Will there be trains there? Or cars?” he replies excitedly. I suddenly realise that we haven’t ever taken him to the cinema before and so he has no idea what it actually is!
“No, no trains or cars”, I say with a smile. “Going to the cinema is a bit like watching a film on television, only the screen is much bigger.”
“Oh”, says teeniest, brain whirring.
“You usually get treats at the cinema as well”, I add. “Drinks, sweets, popcorn – things like that.”
“OK. I’ll go”, he replies immediately, rushing into the hall to look for his shoes. “Can we go straight now?”…

Three sleeps later and it’s cinema day.
“You said there was a big TV”, whines teeniest when we get to the auditorium. All he can see is dark red curtains which are hiding the screen.
“You’ll see it in a minute”, I say, trying to find our seats. As soon as we sit down, he’s up again. He’s found that banging the seat down as hard as you can, then watching it bounce up again is a great game.
Curtains open, lights dim and the trailers start.
“Who’s got the TV remote?”, teeniest shouts, as he kneels on his seat and peers around the cinema in the dark to try and find the lucky person.
“No-one, darling”, I whisper, trying desperately to get him to sit down again and be quiet. “There’s a man at the back who projects the film onto the screen. Now let’s just watch the trailers”.
“Trailers”, he repeats incredulously, standing up again. “Why didn’t you say there were tractors here? You said there were no cars…”

Film eventually starts. Teeniest starts fidgeting. I think he’s still looking for the man with the TV remote. Then he says he needs a wee, so we dash to the toilet.
Half an hour passes. I try to get into the film.
Teeniest, meanwhile:
* Munches noisly on a bag of crisps
*Sucks furiously on a drink carton straw, making slurpy noises just as the film gets to a quiet scene
*Says he needs a wee again (I realise he’s taken a liking to the handdryer in the ladies)
*Gets glared at by the grown up in front whose seat he has been continuously kicking
*Starts searching through my handbag for a red toy car that he insists he brought with him and has to play with NOW.
Once again I try to ignore him. The film is getting to a good bit. I know it’s a children’s film but even I am quite gripped.
“Mummy.” Teeniest starts prodding me again.
“Mummy,” he announces loudly. “I think I like coming to the cinema…
But when’s the film actually going to start?”

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Ta-ta toddler years!

You’re on that long, crazy rollercoaster ride called raising a toddler, with all its chaos, unpredictability and hair-raising moments. You want to cry, shout, scream, possibly even run away at times.
Then, suddenly, almost before you know it, you’re starting to come out the other end. Hissy fits in the supermarket (toddlers, not yours) become fewer and further between, attempts at trying to reason with the little person become slightly more successful, and the ‘NO, NO, NO with foot stamping’ reply is heard a little less often.
Here are some of the other ways that I know we are finally waving goodbye to toddlerhood in our house – and by the way, toddler will now be referred to as ‘teeniest’ in this blog, as although he thinks he is at exactly the same stage of life as teenager, he is still very much the weeniest in the family.

Nursery rhymes have been dumped
Much to the relief of the rest of the family we no longer have to listen to countless renditions of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ on long car journeys. Now it’s ‘Horrid Henry’ instead

Loo paper actually stays on the roll
Finally the bathroom game of ‘let’s see how fast I can unravel the whole roll of toilet paper onto the floor’ seems to have lost its daily appeal

Comfort blankets are a no-no in public
Instead of being dragged everywhere with us, ‘Clothy’ now remains firmly behind closed doors, but has definitely not been thrown out just yet

‘I want’ has become ‘Seriously I want’
Fancy words such as ‘seriously’ and ‘actually’ and ‘probably’ have started appearing in sentences for the first time

No fakes for me
Toy phones or plastic money are no longer acceptable. Only the genuine article is good enough, even if it means pinching teenager’s mobile from his school bag or holding the pound coin from the shopping trolley in a tight little fist and refusing to give it back

Pink is for girls
Only a year ago we couldn’t leave the house without a rather fetching baby-pink spotty handbag in tow (full of cars, of course). Now? Even socks with a tiny pink or purple stripe at the top are thrown on the floor in disgust

Tomorrow, tomorrow…
‘Tomorrow’ used to mean anything beyond NOW. But the penny has suddenly dropped that references to the future come in all shapes and sizes. Days of the week are the favourite at the moment – even if Friday comes before Monday and Wednesday is at the weekend

It’s boring
Not long ago a walk to the park, a ride on the shopping centre escalator or even a few minutes watching cars go over the speed bumps in our street was the best thing ever. Now? That’s soooooo boring. Can we go to a swimming pool with super-spirally slides instead?…

Buggy’s banished
No more quick snoozes in the buggy while mummy dashes around town with a long list of errands to get through. No more sitting in the shopping trolley with a big iced bun while she does her weekly food shop. Now I absolutely insist on walking everywhere or pushing the trolley myself.
What’s more, there’s no more nipping into a parent and toddler car space for mummy at the local supermarket either. Oh, to have a toddler again…

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Children’s birthdays. The magic and the memories.

Whether one of our children is celebrating their fourth or fourteenth birthday, I like to think we give them a little bit of magic – even if that only means a nice present in the case of the older ones.
It’s lovely to enjoy that magic with them, but for me their birthdays are also a time when I find myself feeling a little wistful, indulging in my memories of their birth date and all that has happened in their little lives since.
This week was toddler’s birthday. Let me share the magic and the memories.

You unwrap your presents – will you get that hot wheels you’ve been talking about for weeks, or that toy fire engine that we have to go and look at in the toy shop every time we go to town?

I unwrap the memories of the day you were born, of the dash to hospital early in the morning after those first signs that labour might be underway. Of those long hours of waiting while you decided whether or not you could be bothered to leave your safe place of refuge for the real world. Of the indescribable pain near the end, then the relief and elation when you finally arrived. Of the joy as we phoned the other three children and told them they had a beautiful new baby brother.

You run to the door as you greet your little friends who have come to your birthday party. You’re so excited – you’re having teddy bear crisps, pizza and mini sausages to eat, we’ve blown up lots of balloons, and you’ve helped choose the presents for the party bags to give out at the end.

I run my fingers over a dusty photograph of you as a tiny baby. I remember the first time I held you in my arms, the first time I touched your velvet skin, the first time I smelt your sweet breath. I remember how I just stared at you for what seemed like hours, unable to speak, not quite believing that you were mine. I remember all those milestones in your life so far, your first smile, your first words and steps, that brave wave goodbye as I left you at pre-school for the very first time.

You wear a big badge with your new age on it and show it proudly to everyone you see.

I wear the worry lines from those times you’ve hurt yourself, from those times when you’ve been ill with high temperatures and I’ve stayed up all night nursing and comforting you. From the times you’ve cried but couldn’t tell me why, the times you’ve had a strange rash or refused to eat for no apparent reason.

You wipe away a big, sticky, chocolate smear from your face.

I wipe away a tear. The tear of another year passing, of you growing a little bit older, a little bit taller, a little bit more independent. The tear of regret that I haven’t always savoured every moment with you, that sometimes I’ve been impatient and grumpy with you, that sometimes I have despaired of you, wished away those precious early years, and then felt like a really bad mother.

My thoughts scatter as we sing happy birthday, and I smile as I watch the reflection of the candles on your cake shining in your bright, excited eyes.
I take a photograph. I’ll put it away – like my thoughts – to look at another day or another year.
Happy Birthday my darling boy.

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The Right Move?

“We’re putting our house on the market,” husband announces cheerfully to the children as we sit down for a relaxed family meal at the kitchen table.

“But there isn’t a market in our town”, says middle son.

“Can we go to one in London?” says daughter. “My friend says there’s some really good ones there where you can get great clothes…”

“I want to go to London”, interrupts toddler. “On a train. I want to go NOW…”

“The house”, repeats husband firmly, above the toddler. “We’re going to sell the house and buy a new one. Hopefully with a bigger garden.”

“How about putting it on e-bay?” jokes teenager, who has recently been trying to sell unwanted loft junk on the site to earn some extra pocket money.

“No, we’re using an estate agent,” says husband, slightly impatiently. “And they might put a ‘For Sale’ sign up in our front garden. We’ll probably have people come and look around the house, so it’s very important that from now on you all keep your bedrooms and toys tidy.”

“I don’t want to sell my K’nex rollercoaster”, complains middle boy. “It’s mine. I got it for my birthday.”

“You don’t have to sell your toys,” says husband, starting to wish he’d never mentioned our plans in the first place. “If we move house you can take them with you. We’ll have a removal lorry and we can take everything that belongs to us in that.”

“But what about the conservatory”, asks middle son. You can’t fit the conservatory on a lorry.”

“I want to go to London on a train, NOT a lorry”, wails toddler.

“What if someone likes our house and decides to buy it, but we don’t like theirs? Will they force us to live there even though we don’t want to?” continues middle son, becoming more and more perturbed.

“We’re not swopping houses with anyone. Someone buys our house and we buy a different person’s house. And they buy someone else’s house. It’s called a chain,” explains husband, trying his hardest to remain calm.

“Not a chain. A TRAIN”, toddler screams, knocking over his drink as he bangs his fists on the table. “I SAID I WANT TO GO TO LONDON ON A TRAIN!”

“Do we really need to move?” sighs teenager, as everyone jumps up from the table to avoid getting squash all over their lap. “I like our house and you’ve just painted my bedroom at long last.”

“D’you know what?”says husband glumly, as he searches for a floorcloth to mop up the pool of squash. “I’m starting to ask myself the very same question…”

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Mummy you’re fired!

“You’re fired!” my toddler suddenly declared the other day.

Admittedly it was his older siblings – all fans of the current series of ‘The Apprentice’ – who taught him the phrase, but he still had a point. We’re always moaning about how challenging and demanding our toddlers are. But in their eyes us grown-ups must seem horribly annoying and unreasonable sometimes as well – not to mention pretty confusing in what we tell them, too.

If my own little man is anything to go by, I’m guessing that the following would be a toddler’s top ten grievances in the baby boardroom.

Mummy you’re fired because:

1.      You never seem pleased to see me in the morning

I wake up all cheery, full of beans and ready to start the day by jumping on your bed. You – on the other hand – look at the clock, moan to daddy ‘Why did we ever have kids?’ and put a pillow over your head. There’s nothing like feeling wanted.

2.        You always manage to distract me when I’m having a full-scale tantrum

It’s so annoying. Something has really made me mad, I’m lying on the floor kicking and screaming (and actually quite enjoying it, especially as I am attracting lots of attention) and you have to go and distract me by promising me a treat when we get home if I stop crying. Doesn’t everyone have the right to be badly behaved once in a while?

3.     You dress me in hand-me-downs

Not only do you make me wear hand-me-down clothes with logos that are clearly dated – or outfits you have picked up from the charity shop – but then you go and brag to your friends, in front of me, about how much money you’re saving. Bang goes my street cred.

4.     You give me mixed messages on potty training

To wee or not to wee? I just don’t get this toilet business. When we’re at home you’re delighted when I say I need to do a wee or poo. But when we’re in a long queue at the supermarket checkout, or we’re in the car on the motorway, and I need to go to the toilet right then, you get really flustered and irritated with me. I can’t work you out.

5.     You always think of excuses when I want to do messy play

You always think of an excuse when I want to get out the paint pots or do other messy activities at home. But when you drop me off at pre-school and the teachers says we are going to be painting, playing with sand or water, or gluing glitter, you always say ‘that’s fantastic!’

6.     Whenever I say ‘now’ you say ‘a bit later’

I want to go to the park NOW, eat a biscuit NOW and buy that new toy NOW. Why do you always reply with ‘a bit later’, or ‘tomorrow’, or ‘another day’. Mummy, life would be so much more exciting if you let your hair down and started living life in the present. Trust me.

7.     You try and shut me up when I’m only telling the truth

That woman on the train WAS old. And that man at the swimming pool DID have a really hairy back. Why, when I’m just telling the truth do you start talking very loudly, suddenly have a coughing fit, or surreptitiously  cover my mouth with your hand?

8.     You like saying the word ‘no’

No, you can’t have that bottle of bleach, No, don’t put your fingers in the plug socket. No, you can’t let go of my hand to cross the road. Everything is NO, NO, NO! Why can’t you be a bit more laid back, say ‘yes’ a bit more often and let me work out this ‘big bad world’ thing for myself.

9.     You’re useless at helping me build things

We’ve got train tracks, marble runs, K’nex and Lego galore. But it’s always a disaster when you try and help me build anything. Quite frankly I’m fed up of waiting for big brother or dad to come home to help me put them together properly…

10.    You always rush through my story at bedtime

 You’re always saying to your friends how you wished your children read more books. But when it comes to my bedtime you choose a book with hardly any text, skip pages in the middle in the hope I won’t notice, and read it so quickly I don’t even get the chance to look at the pictures. Oh, and you yawn the whole way through. It’s me who is meant to be shattered, not you…