Word of the week: unsettled

Unsettled

It’s been JJ’s second full week at big school. He seems to be taking it in his stride but just at the point where you think a new routine is bedding in, it seems that the dust is once again un-settling as tiredness creeps in. What started off as a pretty chaotic madcap pre-bed ‘routine’ has rapidly descended into the ninth circle of hell as JJ not only encourages his little brother to ignore me and defy my every wish but also seems to be possessed by the devil a little himself, kicking, screaming and seeming to relish this new found naughtiness.

This has not been helped by the fact that their father has been working late shifts and I’ve been flying solo, although the threat of ‘telling Daddy’ has been enough to kickstart the first hints of obedience. As always, once EJ is in his cot, JJ’s defiant behaviour suddenly ebbs away as quickly as it washed in. Last night he even turned to me and said, ‘sorry for being naughty earlier Mummy’ and then ‘are you sorry too?’ to which I replied ‘yes, I’m sorry for getting cross’ and that was enough.

In the meantime EJ’s nice settled routine of going down to bed like a little lamb is also a bit off the rails as he has begun climbing out of his cot and then repeatedly climbing out every time he is deposited back in, screaming at the stair gate demanding to be released. My policy is always to ignore this kind of thing. I’ll only put him back twice – I’m not playing that game! If they have to cry themselves up into a fury then that’s what happens. It happened with JJ for a couple of nights when the gate first went up too. This time it’s different though because, whilst I studiously ignore the screaming and get on with my chores (we’re talking maybe 15 minutes here – and always with the intention of going back to soothe, comfort and reassess once the mood has changed from defiant to just plain tired and upset), JJ can’t in good conscience let EJ sit and stew, preferring to talk to him calmly and kindly through the gate which is actually really sweet and, last night at any rate, left EJ a lot more docile, just wishing for some milk before allowing me to put him back to bed once and for all.

I have to say though, every evening I get more and more on edge in the run up to 6pm when I know I will be chewed up into a mangled shadow of my former self before being spat back out at 7, grasping desperately for the G&T!

As far as the transition into autumn routine goes though, it’s starting to come together. The madness of party planning is over thanks to two birthdays that bookend the holiday period and I’ve actually taken my foot off the pedal and relaxed a bit, even treating myself to a small shopping spree, before I begin to formulate my master plan for the run up to Christmas. This breather has left me with the space to think about me again, as selfish as that might sound. I guess the summer period is always going to be a time filled with wall to wall kidstuff, but once term kicks in and they are back in the capable hands of their educators, it seems like the right time to start thinking about personal goals and dreams outside of motherhood.

So, whilst certain events of the past week have been very unsettling, I look forward to shaking myself out of whatever comfortable furrow life seems to have settled into lately and come a bit more alive with a challenge more demanding than just baking a cake or joining a linky. Watch this space…

 

The Reading Residence

Wicked Wednesdays: when bedtime routines go bad…

I realise that this little montage shows everyone laughing and all good fun but by God it’s the most chaotic, nutty, manic time of day which inevitably ends in someone getting either head-butted, flying off the side of something and getting well bumped on the way down, my poor knees/tummy/boobs getting either elbowed, kicked or kung-fu chopped, tears and screaming, lots and lots of screaming. Then we all sit down together and read Each, Peach, Pear, Plum. Sigh.

Linking up to the fab Brummymummyof2 and Wicked Wednesdays.

brummymummyof2

D is for…Deep sea diver #alphabetphoto

Deep sea diver

After a long hard think about what to link up to the Alphabet Photography Project over at Podcast I realised that EJ in his new Deep Sea Diver pyjamas would be perfect! Then I tried to actually get a good shot and found myself chasing an absolutely manic bedtime toddler up and down desperately grappling him, trying to get him to turn around! As you can see from this shot, I never really got him to stand still and its a bit blurry! As such I thought I’d attempt a little bit of artistry and what better for week D than giving it a Daguerrotype makeover? Hope you like it ) and by the way check out Mothercare’s diver pyjamas properly if you get the chance – they are soooo cute!

The Snack Trap

jelly babies

I realise lately that one of my major battlegrounds with my children is in the arena of food. JJ has always been a fussy eater, preferring baked beans to any other kind of veg, refusing to eat rice, and for quite some time pasta, hating peas, shunning pretty much anything green really. He is also a fiend for demanding unhealthy snacks and I have had very little opportunity to curtail this trend as his father is a lifelong ‘bad snacker’ and huge multi-packs of crisps, cupboards full of chocolate bars and ice cream are always ‘appearing’ in the house unannounced! On the two days of the week when the hubster is alone with the children for any length of time he invariably takes them to the Golden Arches ™ for lunch – I know this because our house is absolutely littered with Happy Meal toys!

It is also a very rare occurrence for us all to sit down together as a family to eat a meal as the hubster’s random and varied shift patterns mean that he is generally hungry at all the wrong times, and I often cook different meals for the children and eat my dinner after they’ve gone to bed.

Lately they’ve been having their meals out in the garden and this has only proved a negative for JJ’s eating habits as he tends to have one mouthful before running off to park the Little Tikes car, shoot head first town the slide or cycle laps of the lawn. Nothing I say can prevent this from happening (he’s suddenly into the “if you say/do that I’m not going to be your best friend” phase – essentially my name is mud for even hinting at an intelligent and sociable pattern of calm and focussed mealtimes!).

His little brother is much better for eating up and trying more variety of foods but he can’t help but pick up on his brother’s bad habits and want to join in.

I will readily admit I am weak-willed, a bad mum, who invariably caves and loses this battle.

I envy others who can parent with their partner as a team and maintain a united front – I feel that this is one key area in which it would be so helpful to break bad habits and instil good ones. Healthy snacks only in the house would be ideal, but I fear that even with this measure in place it would be a hard slog to de-program a child who has come to expect everything from Wotsits to Jelly Babies on demand at any given moment.

I feels like I’m making excuses but I find it very difficult to find the time to lovingly prepare healthy meals that my kids will most likely, eat. Working part time means that the children are all over me when I’m around and they need constant supervision at this age. The last thing I feel like doing after they’ve gone to bed is use any of my precious left over time sourcing and preparing toddler meals.

However, I have had a little success lately and in the past, with a couple of hidden veg recipes. I stumbled across the website of a woman who dubs herself ‘The Sneaky Chef‘. It’s all incredibly American – her real name is Missy Chase Lapine!! But I quite liked her coloured purees. Purple – blueberries and raw Spinach leaves blitzed; Green – steamed spinach, broccoli and peas); White – cauliflower and peeled courgette. I have in the past made her chocolate brownies with the purple puree (sneaky spinach – tee hee!), and lasagne with the green puree sneaked into the tomato sauce and the white sneaked into the cheese sauce! I actually made the lasagne (minus sneaky white puree) last week and just as an example of how fussy JJ is, even though he likes carrots, he made me pick out all the finely diced pieces he came across because he didn’t like the ‘crunchy’ texture (which frankly amazes me as those babies had been fried, boiled and baked during the course of preparation!).

Another recipe that I tried out last week was a new one for me (recipe here!) although not dissimilar to an Annabel Karmel recipe I tried last summer – Sainsburys Little Ones chicken burger with grated courgette and sweetcorn in the patties (I also substituted grated apple for grated carrot as I know JJ has a love-hate relationship with our little orange friends). I thought this might go down quite well as they tend to enjoy food which is easy to pick up with little hands and dunk generously in ketchup! EJ did so well, finishing off his two burgers whilst JJ did at least (eventually) get through one and a bit with a bit of broccoli & carrot on the side – broccoli getting another look in thanks to pre-school!

I really liked this recipe as it is pretty much a meal in a burger with the chicken, fruit & veg, breadcrumbs and an egg in there to bind as well. I’ll definitely make these again, although maybe not immedidately as the children are also wont to go off things previously enjoyed for no apparent reason other than over-familiarity!

I have to say that I always feel happier when healthy food has gone in – I feel like a better mother, I feel calmer and more in control. So when I read about other people’s children snacking on pro-biotic muesli bars and happily swigging pure water it still gets me down, but at least I know I’m trying (unless its a bad day and then all I want is happy children and I’ll just have to live with the sugar rush!).

*Just as a footnote to this – I have to share this question from JJ yesterday as he carefully examined a half chewed jelly baby: “Mummy, why does sugar hate teeth?” – difficult to answer but gratifying to know that this fact is bouncing around inside his little head!).

 

Keeping the monkeys in the enclosure…

First nights behind the gate

When JJ first started to notice that there was a world outside his cot I was quick to flick through all the ‘baby safety’ catalogues and source the tallest, most secure stair gate I could find to put across his bedroom door. Of course this is mainly for his own protection as his doorway drops down a step and faces out over a steep staircase which itself cannot be gated due to the non-symmetrical pattern of the banisters.. But no-one’s complaining that we have also benefited from the peace and quiet afforded by our child’s inability to run into the living room at 9.30pm demanding a banana. Or refuse to go to bed and stay there. Or re-appear 200 times to have a good old whinge about CBeebies axing Topsy and Tim.

I would certainly recommend this form of ‘sleep training’ to anyone with small children – keep the monkeys in the enclosure, that’s what I say!

To be fair three nights of ‘training’ was all it really took to make him feel comfortable with the situation. There have been times when he has actually taken us to task for forgetting to shut the gate behind us! And now, after just under four years of safety-conscious gating we have suddenly experienced the first instance of him realising that he could drag a small stool across, climb up and flip himself over the top. The reason he did this was to join his brother for an early morning cuddle in the cot which is currently located in the master bedroom. As the cot will shortly be transferred to his room and we will have all the same ‘safety’ issues with EJ, I’m not anticipating a removal of the gate any time soon.

Of course it also works as a ‘place of safety’ during a godalmighty meltdown…(for me!) These four year old boys and their testosterone surges eh?! (cue nervous, slightly manic laughter!) Now pass me the gin…

badmumsclub

The trickiness of treats

Pick your battles

My children are still very young but they are very lucky – to live in the western world, to come from a happy home, to be loved and doted on, to never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from or whether or not they will have somewhere to sleep at night or a roof over their heads.

They have already been given so much, so many treats (although not as many as some) and sometimes I wonder at what point they will realise that they have so much to be grateful for and that the treats they receive are very special and to be treasured.

When it comes to ‘spoiling’ a child everyone has their own opinion. Giving them everything they demand, willy nilly – well, I certainly try not to do that but sometimes when you’re choosing your battles you have to just cave once in a while (OK more than once in a while!!) and that can lead to short term peace but possibly long term moody, self-righteous children with an over-riding sense of entitlement and nobody wants that! I admit I teeter on this line all the time and overall I’d say that I tip over into lavishing treats more often than is probably acceptable. What’s that? Ice cream just before dinner? Oh go on then! Another fruit pastille at bedtime ‘”to soothe your cough”? What they hell! Your seventh episode of Chuggington in bed before lights out? If it means I can go and swig down a glass of Sauvignon uninterrupted, I say YES!

But seriously, I don’t give in to every demand – it wouldn’t be physically possible and I would be stony broke – its the knowing how to handle the fallout when the treats are denied – that’s the tricky part and I worry all the time about my lack of any kind of consistent strategy. This is one of those bits of parenting that doesn’t just kick in when you have a baby. Its the part where those self doubts kick in: “I’m not a natural mother”, “I wasn’t cut out for this” and perhaps my own reactions just reinforce a negative spiral down into the depths of bratty behaviour…

When the treats become the norm there is nothing left to offer, no bribe, no reward… So maybe what we need are less ‘magic’ moments and more ‘ordinary’ moments. Or another glass of Sauvignon (mummy’s treats!) and some earplugs!!

This post was inspired by this week’s theme at the The Theme Game (‘Treats’) devised by Jocelyn of The Reading Residence and Iona of RedPeffer.

 

The Reading Residence

Like herding cats…

We’ve all heard the expression, right? But who would attempt such a foolhardy enterprise? Cats are proud, unique, individual, single-minded beings not to be messed with by the likes of us mere mortals. Yep, cats are a bit like toddlers in that respect.

You know how it is, you’ve finally got all the members of your family together in one place and its the perfect opportunity to capture a single moment for posterity. You gather the clans in the same general vicinity, make your intentions known…and then the fun begins. Here is a classic example of the scene you can expect to follow:

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Note the hilarious cartoon like dash my brother in law attempted to escape the picture mere seconds after trying to plant a small (extremely unhappy) gruffalo in the centre of the frame. The fact that everyone appears to be mushrooming out in different directions, and the look of resignation on my nine year old nephew’s face (he had been saying “this is never going to work” on repeat for the previous ten minutes).

I have to admit this does make me chuckle. Now if I could just invent a toddler version of catnip (which could be dangled appealingly over the camera lens) I could make a fortune!

 

Is there such a thing as a no-tantrum child?…

tantrumkid

…and if so, is that normal? I often find myself discussing various aspects of parenting with a variety of other mums going through similar stages and phases with their children, but recently, during a conversation about the ‘Terrible Twos’ an older lady who’s daughter is now in her 20s interjected into the discussion stating that she’d never had to witness the Terrible Twos as her daughter had been a perfect angel and never had any tantrums. I did a double take – really? A toddler that never had a single tantrum? Is that even possible? I have to admit to being extremely sceptical assuming that this lady was just misremembering through a rosy-tinted haze.

Next time I was on the laptop my curiosity got the better of me and I googled “toddlers who never have tantrums” (or something similar) to see whether there was actually any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise for such a phenomenon. I found a thread on NetMums discussing this subject and there were actually a few people who claimed to have children who don’t conform to the generally understood phenomenon of the Terrible Twos. I don’t think anyone claimed that there were no bad times at all but just that they had children who were very mild-mannered and even if they got upset about something it would involve no more than a couple of minutes of grumpiness before they moved on.

The general feeling seemed to be that tantrums really exist on a sliding scale depending on the nature of the child – anything from a little minute-long grump to full on rolling around on the floor of the supermarket kicking, screaming and crying.

Other than the nature of the child, external factors also have to be taken into account – maybe some parents are just better at following their children’s cues and making sure they are never too tired, hungry, stressed or overstimulated. I’m sure this must be easier to manage with an only child too as you are able to focus solely on that one child’s needs and patterns – with more than one you are constantly juggling and trying to play off the balancing act.

And maybe some parents just give in to their child’s every demand and that’s why there are no real tantrums? Having said that I have definitely been guilty of one of the big no-nos of parenting when it comes to tantrums – giving my children the thing they want, to fend off or end a melt-down. I managed slightly better yesterday in our local garden centre when JJ started losing it because I wouldn’t buy him one of their juice bottles. I stood my ground though and when he eventually wailed “but Mummy I’m thirsty” I whipped the pre-packed drink bottles out of my bag and that seemed to be an end to it! (If I had taken the bottles out any earlier they would have been dashed away no doubt, I think he just had to reach a point where he realised that this was actually a workable solution to his actual issue – being thirsty – albeit not as cool a solution as one in a £1.50 tiger-shaped bottle).

In my further research I learned that tantrums happen at a time when children are developing the limbic system – the emotional centre of the brain. This kicks in before the development of the cortex (the reasoning and thinking part of the brain) so when emotions hit, they hit hard and there is nothing in place to off-centre that flood of feelings. The article I read did acknowledge that some children never have tantrums, but I guess its reassuring to know that when they happen they are actually indicators of healthy brain function and development – I still think I’d be a bit weirded out by a perfect angel.

How about you?

The Mirror Stage

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Anyone who’s ever seen a baby progress through their first year of life will be aware that, at some point, they become aware of mirrors and the fact that there is another little person on the other side. When my eldest first went through this phase I was reminded of something I learned when I was at university studying literature. Part of the course involved getting to grips with literary theory – a lot of which crosses over with psychology and philosophy. There is one particular theory by a French academic, Jaques Lacan, called ‘The Mirror Stage’. He suggests that babies between the ages of 6 months and 18 months discover themselves in mirrors for the first time and it gives them a sense of (false) power and control (as they can force movements in their reflection by moving themselves). It’s false because of course the reflection is not a real person any more than is a shadow.

You might wonder how this plays into literature. As I recall through my studies of the works of Henry James, the mirror stage comes into play through his ghost stories. He has two particular tales, more famously The Turn of the Screw in which a governess goes to work in a large country house to look after two children. Whilst there she becomes convinced that there is a ghost stalking the children and she becomes absolutely paranoid about their safety. She believes the ghost to be a former employee who is thought to have molested the children and imagines that the children can see the ghost too. In the final scene she speaks with the young boy and explains that he is no longer controlled by the ghost, however the boy dies in her arms. In another tale by James called The Jolly Corner, a man returns to his former childhood home after spending 30 years abroad. Seeing the house again reminds him of the choice he made years ago to forsake a career for a more leisurely life and soon a ghost appears in the house which represents the man he would have been if he’d taken a different path in life. The ghost stalks and haunts him at night.

Essentially these ghosts are projections from the fevered imaginations of the protagonists – the opposite of what happens in the mirror stage really because they are the parts of the psyche that cannot be controlled and this is the human condition beyond the age of 18 months when we first become aware that the person in the mirror is just a trick of the light.

With EJ just turned 19 months I am now fully aware that he has hit Lacan’s ‘turning point’ – the point at which we first develop our ego – the first little bit of self-knowledge. Its hardly the end of innocence but at the same time it’s a major developmental leap and kind of explains why the ‘Terrible Twos’ suddenly begin to come into play at this point. The understanding that they have both the ability to demand control but also lack control leads to unrealistic demands and massive frustrations.

I guess the best we can do as parents is try and give them the illusion of as many choices as possible (the strawberry yogurt or the apricot yogurt?) and hope that they never manage to knock themselves out in a fit of pique!

Linking up to The Prompt over at Mumturnedmom whose prompt this week was the word “Reflection”

mumturnedmom