This post first appeared as a column in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2011. I know this one was written early in pregnancy because I was not yet a miserable waddling grumpy shut-in.
I woke up this morning to find four-year-old Peanut tucked under my arm. She had crept into my bed in the early hours, and her tiny pixie face was as beautiful in sleep as anything I’d ever seen. She woke up as I watched her, kissed me on the arm and said ‘Good morning Mummy. I dreamed you were Luke Skywalker.’ Trailing behind me as I crept around getting ready to go for an early swim, she chatted sweet, oddball nonsense, and I left her eating an apple on the lounge, looking through her Junior Masterchef cookbook and waiting for Daddy to wake up and make breakfast.
Swings and roundabouts, I thought in the car as I drove off. Ivy was the sweetest creature in town that morning. And yet, the night before, she could have been the poster child for lunatic devil-spawn as she refused to eat her dinner and stomped off, squealing like a piglet, into Time-Out. Parenting is all swings and roundabouts.
Keith and I are having what we think of as a Step-Up Week, a sudden naughty patch that requires us to pull out more heavy-duty discipline. Normally we respond to the demands of life with pre-schoolers by using endless negotiation, constant counting to three, and retreating to a quiet place inside our own heads. But this week both Ivy and her two-year-old brother T-Bone are displaying what you might call challenging behaviours. On a good day I might call it Testing Boundaries. On a bad one I call it Sucking the Very Life from My Soul, and to recover from a day of it, I must lie horizontally on the couch in a vegetative state applying chocolate to my mouth for at least an hour. More like two, if I’m honest. Sometimes three. The chocolate/couch ratio is heavily dependent on how much the children have worn away my will to live that day.
This week Peanut has been fighting in the classic pre-schoolers battleground: the dinner table. She is a wily opponent who tries to divert attention from her lack of eating through vivacious conversation. She’ll chat away like a talk-show host on a variety of increasingly desperate topics to avoid the actual eating of the food, as one by one, her privileges and treats are revoked. Dessert is off the menu. Charlotte’s Web won’t be read tonight. Stuffed animals will be sleeping on the naughty shelf. She stomps, making unearthly noises, in and out of Time Out.
This week, three nights went on this pleasant manner and then Keith offered a helpful hint. ‘Maybe if we had something nicer for dinner tomorrow,’ he suggested. I looked at him for a long moment. ‘That didn’t come out right,’ he said.
Meanwhile, T-Bone, is going through a little separation anxiety phase. Yesterday, as we watched Peanut in her swimming lesson, I tried to talk to the person next to me. T-Bone saw this as a monstrous betrayal of our relationship. ‘Turn you face around! Turn you face around!’ he begged, pulling desperately at my chin. In case he hadn’t made his point, he then banged his fists on my leg and shouted ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’ for a good five minutes.
The new baby, on the other hand, has its own needs. Gestating away merrily, this month it has demanded lemon cordial, gherkins, mountains of Turkish Delight and lazy nights watching cooking programs. Frankly, I’m delighted with the good behaviour of Child 3. Now I just have to sort out the other two.