There is a child development theory called ‘disequilibrium’. (I believe it is actually based on Piaget’s work, so there might actually be some basis for it.) Either way, I quite like this theory as it explains why the hell my children are goddam hard work for months, and then turn back into the angels I know they can be. Pretty much the theory goes that on the half birthdays (e.g. 2.5, 3.5, 4.5…) the children are in a state of disequilibrium – their minds and bodies are learning and changing, and consequently their behaviour is shite. At their birthdays they settle down and things are much easier.. for six months until the next wave hits 😦
I found 3.5 a particularly challenging age but don’t want to say the hardest ever, I’ll wait until 4.5 is over first, it’s a hot contender. I don’t know if I can explain what I find most difficult. It could be the defiance. Or maybe the aggression. Or it could be the unpredictable nature of his responses. Actually I think it’s the combination. Every. Goddam. Day.
I think compounding it all is the fact that my second child is also in a state of disequilibrium at age 2.5. He can throw a tantrum over the wrong sock, scream because it’s his turn (even though he wasn’t anywhere near it), or cry because he wants a mummy/daddy cuddle and the wrong parent is comforting him (or cut his toast the wrong way). Sigh.
And then there’s the new found power that my 4.5 yo has. Mainly to make his brother cry. This could be by telling him he’s playing the game wrong (because clearly a 4.5yo knows EVERYTHING), by taking what The Toddler was playing with and running around the house laughing, or maybe by telling The Toddler that he doesn’t want to play with him (or runs away yelling ‘don’t chase me!!’). I feel like I’m a referee most of the time these days – stopping waring football teams from killing each other while calmly reminding them of the rules.
My mantras involve ‘things will get easier’, ‘this too shall pass’ and to remain ‘unruffled‘. But mostly I try to get us out of the house, chat to friends, and drink (wine, tea, coffee and gin are all acceptable responses at any time of day right?!). I also try to hold on to the beautiful (although often fleeting) moments – of them playing together well, of morning snuggles (ideally after 6am please Toddler!), of kindness and compassion, of reading together and of laughter. That’s possibly the best cure for all of us.
Me: ‘I’m sorry LM, we can’t do that now. We can read a story or do some lego’
LM: ‘I don’t want to read a story. Reading is boring!’.
Me: ‘Ok then, we don’t have to read’.
LM (5 seconds to 1 minute later): ‘I want to read a story!’
Me: ‘What a great idea!’
LM: ‘Wow! That’s the biggest house I have ever seen! It’s bigger than a bus!
LM: ‘I can’t see when I close me eyes – stop me from closing them!’
LM: ‘That’s not an elephant seal mum. Elephant seals have long noses. That animal has tusks, it’s a walrus.’
LM: ‘I think the [tummy] bug got into The Toddler by the Nackawack’s bad breath.’
Me: ‘Oh, does the Nackawack have bad breath does it?’
LM: ‘Oh yes, it’s awful.’
LM: ‘I love The Toddler. He’s so cute!’
Me: ‘Why do you think he’s cute?’
LM: ‘Because he has no hair and doesn’t talk much.’
LM:’I don’t like my family.’
Me (a little hurt): ‘Oh really? You don’t love mama or dada?’
LM: ‘I love you and dadda. And The Toddler. I don’t love the rest of my family’.
Me: ‘What about Cousin P and Cousin J?’
LM: ‘Oh yes, I love them.’
Me: ‘And what about Granny and Pop and Nanna and Granddad… [lists off another 10 or so members of our family]’
LM: ‘Yes, yes, yes yes……I love them.’
Me: ‘Then you love our family, these people are all part of our family.’
LM: ‘Oh yes, I love our family!’
LM: ‘Look at those birds! They’re flying altogether. I call them sardine birds!’
LM: ‘I love you mama. I love you all the time, even when you’re grumpy’
I have been off the radar a bit recently. Work has picked up and life has become hectic again. Winter has set in, and the illnesses that inevitably go with it too. And with the cold, I bunker down too, almost hibernating, waiting for the thaw.
I have had some struggles too. Some days feel really hard. They take all my mental effort to get through them without losing my shit. But there are always moments of beauty to hang on to. Being treated as a climbing frame by the Toddler. Mr 3.5 announcing that he loves me across the table at a cafe. Watching both of them play together, going on adventures to space, a carers house, fire-fighting. Mr 3.5 stroking his baby brothers head and saying how cute he is, and how much he loves him. Cuddles, puzzles and books galore.
These are enough to pull me through. And before I know it, days seem easier and the world feels lighter again.
Six is the number of times I have forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, and walk away without looking back.
Six is the number of times I have fought my instinct to run back to him and never let him go.
Six is the number of times I have heard his heartbreaking cry as he watches me leave. And the number of times I have fought back tears of my own.
Six is the number of days I have felt a mixture of guilt, anxiety, confusion and freedom.
Six is the number of times I have rushed to pick up, never sure whose smile is bigger – his or mine.
Six is the number of days my Snugglebug has been in daycare.
I don’t remember it being this hard last time. I don’t remember my eldest taking so long to settle in. Maybe I have blocked it from my memory. Or maybe he just settled quickly. Either way it is still goddam tough. I have complete faith in the wonderful carers there, but they still aren’t Mum. They are yet to work out that he likes a quiet cuddle in the dark before being put in his cot. Or that he likes to have warm soy milk after his sleep not before. Or that he often sits quietly and daydreams when he’s tired. Or that he pats your back when he wants his patted. Or that he spits when he eats watermelon. Not because he doesn’t like it (he lurves it), but because it’s part of a song we sing about watermelon. Or that he’s always been a mummy’s boy.
It is so hard putting someone so little in care (I know he’s 13 months, but he’s little to me), and at the moment it’s going against everything I feel. But in my head I know it’s for the right reasons. I know that when I find work I will enjoy having money in my bank account again. That I will enjoy the adult interaction. That I will enjoy being and doing something other than just a mum. That it will make me love them even more. That our whole family will benefit.
I also know that it will be good for him. I can see that my eldest has grown and learnt. Has made his own friends and has his own secret daycare life. I also see the other kids in Snugglebug’s room having a grand old time. And I know it’s not long before he joins them.
So today I will keep busy and remind myself that he is safe and cuddled and fed and watered. And when I pick him up it will be six days until I have to do it again.
Today I lost the game. Big time. I found myself being THAT mum. The grumpy one who yells at her child ‘if you’re in a bad mood you are not allowed to take it out on anyone else’. Who finds herself saying ‘I told you so’ to an almost 3 year-old. Who almost cried when the big one jumped on the little one and the little one squealed in pain. Who saw red and locked the almost 3 year-old in his room to keep everyone safe. Some days are just about surviving. Trying to keep everyone out of hospital, fed and watered. Today I lowered the bar to the ground and only just scraped through. There may or may not have been sneaky pantry-eating, extra ABC2 on TV and too much Facebook-checking. My almost 3 year-old might have suggested that I needed to go to bed at dinnertime as I was too tired and grumpy.
Tonight I am sitting on the couch eating Oreos and reminding myself that I am human and not perfect, but that tomorrow is a new day and that tomorrow I can be the mother I want to be; patient in the face of endless tantrums, full of time and laughter for both kids, with a tidy house and dinner prepared.
I think we all need days like today to take stock and focus on the simple things.. actually fuck that. Days like today suck and I am hoping not to see another one for a while. Give me sunshine and rainbows any day 😉
I find my role of mum is constantly changing. Every time I get comfortable and feel like I know what’s what, things change. I get a grip on having a baby, and suddenly he’s throwing toddler tantrums. I work out Mr almost 3’s rest time (i.e. no naps).. and he gives up the dummy and the side of his cot and ‘quiet time’ is very hands on and not so restful or productive for me (I’m still working out when to cook dinner!). Our morning routine is all set, and then ABC2 changes it’s programming and life is upsidedown 😉
The biggest one of all at the moment is my role as a working mum. I always had it in my head that I would go back to work part-time when bub was one. I handed in my paperwork mid year and figured I would be ready. As it got closer I started to freak out. How would I manage three days of work on top of looking after two kids and all the household crap that comes with it? And my job is not just three days face-to-face. There are expectations of out of hours work and last time it ate into family time, personal time and hubby time. Last time I quickly enacted my leave strategy 🙂
So my very understanding and supportive husband and I did the sums, and agreed I would extend my maternity leave for another year. It will be a strain financially but putting two kids into daycare three days would be eating up a lot of my salary anyway.
Such a relief in many ways but a little confronting also. I now find myself and my life a little uncertain. Daunting yet exciting. Bub has started daycare (we already had a spot lined up, if we didn’t I think I might just have kept him home until he was 18) and I am looking for some casual & contract work to fit around our family life.
So here I am again, trying to define my role as mum – not quite working, not quite SAH. I know I will just get a handle on things and then my cheeky two throw me some curve balls and remind me that I shouldn’t get too comfortable 😉
The Parenting Game. You win if you have positive points at the end.
One point for:
– A load of laundry or dishes
– Cooking somewhat nutritious meals for your kids
– Using the positive language eg ‘that’s not how we walk the cat’ rather than ‘don’t pull the cat’s tail’
– wiping the babies face without tears
– the 5th daily reading of [insert mundane favourite book here]
– showering without baby crying
– getting baby to self-settle
Minus one point for:
– everytime the almost 3yo hits, jumps on or over-zealously cuddles the baby
– everytime french fries are considered a vegetable
– a threenager tantrum over 5 minutes
– a bumped head
– a half finished cup of tea
– a missed or interrupted feed (you didn’t run out of TV time did you? or did the cat disturb you?)
– If bub doesn’t nap for at least an hour at a time
– if dinner isn’t served by 5.45
– when threenager doesn’t nap
– your kitchen is unsafe for kids, they aren’t allowed in, even in your arms.
– you must hold a fussy, teething baby
– you can’t leave said baby alone with threenager for longer than 30 seconds unless threenager is engaged watching television
– baby’s highchair attention span without food is 5 mins
– threenager shouldn’t watch more than an hour of television a day. this includes the all important feeding and settling baby times
-baby happily still nurses. in his room. immediately after a sleep. in the dark. with no distractions.
– the washing machine is dying a slow death. it wakes the baby on spin cycle. proceed with caution (and maths, but don’t forget in your sleep deprived state maths isn’t your strong point)
– one of your cats is neurotic and has developed anxiety. he cries when the baby does. or when you are alone in the room with the baby. unfortunately baby is old enough to understand that noise and no longer wants to sleep/feed. sigh.
Remember each day is a new round! It never ends!
Bonus Rounds! (you must select at least one each day)
– Night weaning – listen from 5am as hubby resettles crying 11 month old. If bub cries too much then either the toddler wakes or the neurotic cat scratches at the laundry door. Spray water on cat as often as required and tell toddler to go back to sleep. Any sleep in half hour blocks after 5am is worth 2 points! Any ten minute blocks make you feel worse – minus 2 points.
– Velcro baby – 11 month old is teething/going through a wonder week/ getting a cold. You cannot put him down for longer than ten minutes the entire day. You are still expected to get everything done. Minus 2 points for no laundry or dishes.
– Gastro! Woohoo the jackpot! Gastro goes successively through each family member. Wait with baited breath while each one of you takes their turn, crying in the fetal position and vomiting on your clothes. Minus 5 points.
– Tantrum central. On these days Mr almost 3 tantrums over both big and small: he didn’t want banana in his porridge (you asked him twice); his toast is cut up (like it is every day); he complains that baby is too close (he decided to play next to him); or you won’t let him ride his car on the couch. Two points each time you remain calm and avoid joining in. Minus 2 points each time you yell, make new porridge/toast or move baby (of course this does help keep baby safe (refer to original rules)).
Bonus rounds soon to be released:
– Dummy training
– Cot to bed transition
– Toilet training!
Life feels a little like Groundhog Day at the moment. It is centred around nap time, play time and meal time. I spend half my life in the kitchen; prepping, cooking and cleaning up after our 4 or 5 meals/snacks for the day. A good day is one where I get to drink a hot drink without losing a child, dinner is prepared early and the kids nap well (or in the case of my toddler ‘rests’ well). I feel both content with my time at home, and frustrated by being chained to a routine. I catch up with friends and hold conversations, but then later can’t remember what we talked about as I was too busy ensuring the toddler was sharing nicely, not running away and eating his meal; and the baby wasn’t putting anything dangerous in his mouth or being forgotten. I realise I forgot not only to ask them how things are with them, but to listen to the reply.
And while every day seems to blend into one I try and remind myself that time is ticking and the boys are growing. The Little One is learning to wave, high five and crawl, and the not-so-much-a-toddler-anymore is desperate to be independent – wanting to order his own babycino, dress and undress himself, and every other time wasting ‘by myself’ thing he can conjure. Subtle changes that make you realise that actually two days aren’t the same in the kid world – they are constantly growing and changing.
So for moment I am trying to find pleasure in the small things – a shared story, a game of lego, baby nose kisses and toddler bear hugs, nature walks, and watching the growth of brotherly love …… because I know in the blink of an eye life will get busy again and I will miss these simple days.
Living with a toddler can certainly be entertaining. I recently read an entertaining blog on cute toddler language and it inspired me to keep a list of the funny things The Toddler says. Here is our list of words and phrases we will miss as his language continues to explode:
1. Thomas dip (hummus dip). If he eats it, I don’t care what he calls it. I even find myself referring to it as Thomas dip to encourage him.
2. Cardles (carriages). It kind of sounds like cuddles, so quite amusing when he’s talking about train cuddles.
3. Mr Pickles (Iggle Piggle from in the Night Garden). It took us a while to work this one out, particularly as he doesn’t watch a whole lot of TV.
4. Hawa (apple). For a good few months there he would refer to apples as ‘hawa’. We never worked out where that one came from, but it’s a bit sad that he now calls them apples.
5. ‘Just’,’ maybe’ and ‘someping (something)’. These are recent additions to his vocabulary. They are put into sentences and add comic value for us. He will say things like ‘maybe a muffin?’ when I ask him if he wants yoghurt or fruit for afternoon tea. It is generally accompanied by a tilt of the head and sweet smile. Man he’s a charmer! He also uses ‘someping’ to procrastinate.
‘Toddler wants.. someping’.
‘What something do you want monkey moo?’
‘Toddler wants someping special..’ again accompanied by a very cute smile and head tilt 😉
6. ‘Daddy please, no mummy grumpy’. He said this one last night when he was spitting yoghurt out of his mouth and testing our patience. Neither of us could stay grumpy for long. In fact we couldn’t contain our laughter. He of course thought we found his yoghurt antics funny.
7. Sick-mato (tomato). The Toddler is allergic to raw tomatoes so we tell him they make him sick. It makes perfect sense that he then refers to them as ‘sick-mato’ 🙂
I think today was the worst drop off yet. Not because he screamed and cried when I left, but because he didn’t. It wasn’t like he ran off happily to play with his friends. Or excitedly bounded over to a carer to show her a toy. Instead he gave me a sad, teary look, a big cuddle and then went to choose a book to read with a carer. But as he stood there, tears were falling and he brushed them away. And my heart broke a little. I gave the carer a smile and reversed my pram out of there I tried to hold back my own tears. Why didn’t he seek comfort in a carer? Why did he brush his tears away? Did he think he wasn’t meant to cry? Was he bottling up more tears, and why? All I wanted to do was rush back in there and hold him. Forever. It made me want to not return to work next year, pull him out of daycare and be a full time SAHM.
But I know that’s not the best for our family. I know that the little extra I will bring in helps us get ahead. I know that being a SAHM full-time kind of does my head in, and working seems to make me a better mum. When I’m more than a mum I’m better at that role. I relish my time with my kids, I’m more fun, more patient and less grumpy. I also know that daycare is great for him. He learns new skills, builds relationships and generally has so much fun I have to tear him away. One time he cried when I tried to take him home. But today it looked like the weight of the world was riding on his shoulders.
So as I try not to cry into my tea, I tell myself that part of being a mum is these heartbreaking moments – watching your kids grow up in ways you didn’t realise they would, wanting to hold them in your arms and not let go, realising that you can’t be there for them every minute and that sometimes time away from them makes you closer. So today I will enjoy some one-on-one time with the Little One, catch up with some friends and finish conversations and cups of tea. And then I will pick up the Big One and relish every tantrum-filled second before bedtime tonight.