The Game

Some days I’m convinced that all three of my children are part of a highly tactical game. Not only have they not shared the rules with me, but I suspect that the aim of this game is to keep me moving and alert at all times. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been playing this for pretty much their whole lives, I’d assume that they are simply supporting the government in encouraging me to follow the first part of their current three part slogan. Despite being completely unaware of the official rules, I have established the following:

  1. Points are awarded for converting a simple task into a chaotic one.
  2. There is no finish square. The game is ongoing.
  3. Children play as a team. Usually they tag in and tag out at select moments to lead Mummy into a false sense of security.
  4. Usually children take turns, but they regularly alter the order of play to provide maximum confusion.
  5. If at any point, Mummy appears calm and is danger of either completing a job or finishing a sentence, then immediate action must be taken by one of them.
  6. You win bonus points by throwing yourself on the floor.

This morning my children were definitely playing. I was feeling super positive when I woke up this morning. This feeling of optimism was maintained for at least the first six minutes of the day. Then youngest son played his first move: the cry and wriggle. This is where you cry and refuse to be comforted. The louder the better – this way you have more chance of waking your brothers. You don’t want milk, you don’t want to play with your toys and you don’t want cuddles. You do want to be held in a standing position, in the kitchen, with a plastic spoon. It only took an hour or so for Mummy to establish this and make her comeback.

Eldest son wasn’t hanging around though, and quickly made his move: the whine and stall. This involves taking a standard situation, such as putting your socks on then adding more drama to it than you’d expect from an Eastenders Christmas special. He played well, successfully delaying us just long enough to mean he got to take bike to school instead of walking, but not so long that he would miss any of his cherished school time. While my eldest was was having a tantrum about not wanting to wear his raincoat (on a rainy day), his siblings were being saintly. Youngest son smiled sweetly at me as if to say that he would never sulk like that (conveniently forgetting a moment earlier) and middle son was ridiculously obliging and polite, whilst simultaneously providing a running commentary about the good things he was doing in contrast to his naughty big brother.

After an extended school run, complete with mini adventure, I took middle son to his beloved playball session. Within minutes of starting, he decided to take his turn: the squawking magnet. This move is one of his personal favourites and involves getting as close to Mummy as possible (parents aren’t entitled to their own share of oxygen after all) and forgetting how to use any sort of independence. It starts simple, you simply run over to Mummy every 2 minutes or so at full speed – just to see if you can catch her off guard and knock her to the ground – a loving type of rugby tackle. Around this point, his voice goes all high pitched and instead of using standard sentences, he precedes everything he says with the term ‘Mama’, in a manner which only his baby brother would be proud of. It then progresses to Mummy needing to be within 30 cm of you at all times. This is particularly difficult when Mummy blends in amongst a group of preschoolers in much the same way as a shark would blend in amongst the goldfish in your fish bowl. It also makes running, jumping and striking a tennis ball rather tricky. Finally, he moved on to the third stage, refusal to comply with any instruction and expecting everything to be done for him – perfectly acceptable when you are 4 months old but a touch mortifying when you’re 4 years old.

Luckily for me, breaks in play are as essential in this game as they are in an extended version of monopoly. Therefore the boys are currently back to their lovely selves. One is playing beautifully on his own, one is exploring the room managing to insert only toys in his mouth and one is at school – possibly doing maths – his happy place.

Self-preservation mode

No one spends as long watching and analysing a child’s behaviours as much as their Mummy. Over time, my observations have led me to the following conclusions:

1) My boys behaviour matches societies expectation closest when nobody is around to see it.

2) My boys are more inclined to ‘play up’ if they are tired or excited.

Today, after lunch, both conditions in hypothesis number two were met. I stood no chance.

It had been a great morning. We went to watch ‘Oi Frog’ at the theatre as my children are genuine fans of the books. They are collecting them. I was a little fearful at first when middle child established that his seat was not number 18 (his favourite number), but he loved the show. There were points when he was laughing like a drain. Everyone loves a bit of audience participation, especially when you are three years old. I’ll avoid saying anything else to avoid including spoilers.

The intention was to go swimming after lunch, then it occurred to me that I’d left at home one vitally important item: youngest son’s swimming nappy. I’m forgetting a lot of things lately. I’d gone through the bag twice and asked hubby to check we had everything we needed. We felt like numpties! Being in the city centre, we came up with the ingenious plan of heading towards a shop. Not only could an additional nappy be purchased (avoiding grossly inflated prices), but the boys could also select a book each using the vouchers they received for Christmas. The plan turned out not to be quite as ingenious as I’d hoped. The boys were increasingly animated at the thought of new, exciting reading material. I always panic I’ll lose one of them when they get like this in supermarkets and probably resemble an oversized meerkat, constantly looking over my shoulder. After only about 2 minutes I realised I had lost one of them! After a quick survey, I was partially consoled to discover that the missing boy was husband. I took my three small people down what felt like every aisle in the store. Around every corner there was something else which captivated their interest but still no Daddy. Finally we found him at customer services.

Should my children desire to do any type of theatricals when they are older, they’ll be well practised with the ‘performing in front of spectators’ part. I’m basing this upon the fact that whenever they do something embarrassing, it is usually in front of an audience larger than at a ‘Take That’ concert in the O2. Within the space of a few seconds, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me AND husband had found out that we couldn’t use the voucher in this shop anyway. Being the adult, I did what any sensible grown up would do in this situation: run away. Well not strictly true – it was more of a brisk walk. Poor hubby was left to return items to the correct shelves before catching up with us.

After reassessing our options, we elected to go and collect the boys coats, which I had very carelessly left behind the day before. On the way home, we stopped at a place called ‘Cheesefoot Head’. Obviously the primary reason for this was that the name of it amused me. However, it was also a beautiful, empty place where my boys could run about and be kids. (Warm kids now they had their coats back!) I watched them follow the trail and spot landmarks on the horizon. In that moment, all the horrid stuff from earlier in the day disappeared and I could relax again. The path was very muddy, too muddy for a pushchair and I didn’t have my carrier; so we took turns to carry youngest son swaddled in his blanket. Of course it started to rain, so I had to take my coat off to cover baby but it felt great to be exploring again. This just wasn’t eventful enough for middle son, who managed to get his foot stuck in the mud and lose a shoe – just to make things interesting.

Mooning around

Today we visited Winchester Science centre. We’re annual pass holders and were excited to take part in their special space activities. Of course, I asked my children to go to the toilet before we left, as all parents do prior to significant car journeys. Yet as soon as we arrived in the car park, middle son announced that he needed a wee. Luckily we happen to have a resident potty in the boot of the car, so I thought we were off to a pretty good start. I was feeling pretty brave. Brave enough to be in an occupied, public building with three boys (aged 5 and under) and without my other half. My logic was that, being eldest son’s INSET day meant that the school holidays hadn’t started for most people yet. As a result, it would be relatively quiet inside. How wrong I was. The queue went out the door and my eldest has the attention span of an ant. Apologies to the local ant colonies if I’ve made an unfair assumption about their species being impatient. Fortuitously, we were not completely alone, as we were meeting a friend and her children. She’d already made it past the entrance desk, so was able to intercept eldest son and divert him to the parachute exhibit, where I could see him from my position at the back of the train of people. He was already doing his jumpy, happy, dance (where the arms flail in all directions and the eyes light up). He loves this place – it’s so hands on.

If you discount my boys constantly running in opposite directions to investigate the next exciting science display, the trip was relatively uneventful. Until at one crucial point, while nursing youngest son, I became aware of middle boy doing a peculiar jig – involving a bit of wiggle and bit of a bottom shuffle. Recognising this as a sign of what was to come, I called him over and informed him that we were going to the toilet. Now. As I began detaching the baby from his latch, the middle boy disappeared – straight into the men’s loo. My boys do seem to prefer the male toilet. It possible that on this occasion it was selected on account of the door being painted orange. You may already have established from previous blog entries that middle child has an attraction to this particular colour. However it is more likely connected to the statement I have been told many times by my eldest, “Boys toilets are for boys and we are boys.” This is never an issue on family days out, when husband can go with them. But today husband wasn’t here. I quickly came up with a plan: send in eldest boy to check the coast was clear, so I could go in and assist. Getting his attention was the first hurdle – he gets easily distracted by buttons to push and levers to pull. I enlisted the assistance of my friend and her daughter to get his attention without losing sight of the bathroom door. Then I began explaining his ‘toilet mission’ to him, “This is important, you need to…”

I didn’t get any further because middle son had returned, pants and trousers still round his ankles, a huge smile on his face. “Mummy come and see my wee.” he announced proudly. Except he has no interest in showing me his ‘wees’. When you couple that with the fact that he hadn’t bothered to pull up his clothing, it became immediately clear that he was looking so pleased with himself because he had just deposited a turd. I took his hand and headed speedily for the ladies (despite his protests). I was told that there was nothing to see in there. I replied that yes, there was! Toilet paper was available. I also had no desire to view his excrement. Luckily we weren’t far from the toilets and so I didn’t have to escort him the entire distance of the centre.

Once inside, I became aware very quickly that I was still holding the baby. A quick thinking person might have left him with their friend, but in my haste and eagerness to remove my son’s bottom from the view of the unsuspecting general public; I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to bring youngest son’s pram to put him down in. I am therefore, very grateful to the amiable, old lady who held youngest son for me at such an angle that he was able to see Mummy (thereby avoiding a spontaneous bout of tears), while I assisted with the bottom wiping. I felt like we were doing the ‘walk of shame’ when we exited the toilets again, my face burning with embarrassment. I was reassured by my friend that very few people had actually noticed. In fairness, the man leaving the men’s toilets (shortly after my son had finished his poo) probably witnessed more than he’d bargained for, but he smiled in jest over in our direction – suggesting that he wasn’t offended and could probably see the funny side.

I’d love to write that the remainder of the trip was incident free. However, the suggestion of home time was accompanied by a tantrum from eldest boy who had no intention of leaving. That was until I used that ‘Mummy line’, suggesting he walks home instead (a line that you really hope they don’t agree to – because walking home was never realistically an option). He made it to the coat pegs, still crying his eyes out. A hug from his friend and all was well again. Temporarily. As we walked across the carpark, I requested the boys either held my hand or held onto the pushchair. Neither child normally appreciates holding Mummy’s hand. On this occasion they were both squabbling over it. I contemplated trying to wrap one of my arms through the bar at the top of the pushchair, so I could hold both the bigger two by the hand, while simultaneously trying to manoeuvre the pushchair with my knee. This kind of planning was completely unnecessary, when it became apparent that both boys wanted to hold my left hand. We compromised and eventually reached the serenity of the car. Overall an exhausting but very enjoyable day.

When the robots came to town.

My elder two boys are 20 months apart and they’ve always ‘had’ each other as long as they can remember. The majority of the time, it is a beautiful thing how close they are. However, there are times when middle son cannot have the same life experiences as eldest son at exactly the same time. Infant school being one of these. When his big brother first graduated from nursery, middle boy was not impressed. I told him that when he turned four, he’d be able to go to school too. He turns 4 next week. I fear that not only will he expect to start then, but he’ll be holding out for a place in the same class as his sibling – two academic years above. There may be a full scale rebellion once this realisation dawns on him.

What do robots have to do with any of this? Well, yesterday was ‘Internet Safety day’. Eldest was tasked with dressing up like a robot. We had a great time at the weekend: putting together his costume, cutting it to size and discussing it. All was very positive until the actual morning he needed to wear it to school. I did not plan ahead very well, in fact I did not plan ahead at all. I foolishly thought that I would simply be able to apply my regular ‘school morning’ tactics. This was very naïve of me. Middle child was unimpressed. He felt it most unfair that he wasn’t also wearing a robot costume. No amount of wishing that you can turn back the clock and make two costumes instead, is any help in this situation. Getting him to put his shoes on was challenging, getting him out of the door even more problematic and getting him to start walking was nigh on impossible.

Through his grimace and tears, middle son was adamant that he wanted to scoot (see previous blog post re: walking to school). This wasn’t really an option given that eldest boy didn’t have the peripheral vision from behind his robot head in order to scoot safely, Mummy had no space on the pram to carry this robot head and of course middle boy couldn’t scoot unless eldest boy did. Not only would this result in Mummy finding herself in the exact same predicament, just with a different child sobbing on the driveway but also for practical reasons. My boys walk at a speed that could match the pace of an injured snail but I’m pretty sure they scoot faster than a Boeing 747, with a strong tailwind. At these contrasting speeds, I’d need a second parent to escort the child I wasn’t with. After a quick check, I established that there was definitely only one of me and put middle child’s feet on the bar of the basket, which sits below youngest boy’s pram. This prompted some significant rocking – as he decided that this buggy was actually his personal surfboard. I’ll admit to feeling slightly sea sick but I can’t complain too much as youngest boy seemed to appreciate this motion, using it to fall asleep. Nothing takes your mind off that fact you aren’t wearing a robot costume, like helping Mummy look after baby (and apparently being better at it than she is on this occasion too).

Crowded places

Another interesting rule I’ve discovered, which applies to my children, is that the amount they play up in public places is directly proportional to how crowded a location is. Take them to a lovely, secluded place and they are amazing. However in amongst a packed audience, within a relatively quiet room and my bigger two boys rival race cars – both with the speed at which they run and the Diesel engine type noises they make whilst doing so.

My timing for school pick up was not great last Friday. The ‘grown up kids’ junior school (next to eldest boy’s school) finishes exactly 5 minutes later. Eldest boy was last to come out and then proceeded to greet youngest boy with a high pitched squeal that I’m pretty sure could only be detected by bat sonar, unless you happened to be stood right beside it – which unfortunately I was. What I’ve neglected to mention, is that when your primary concern is to entertain your baby brother with howling noises, you fail to notice your book bag is trailing through an unfortunately positioned puddle. So by the time I’d rescued aforementioned book bag and made it across the playground, it was approximately 4 mins and 58 seconds later.

We reached the other school just as the doors opened and a swarm of children came flooding out. We had a line of parents on our right, incoming children on the left and families eager to make a quick getaway behind us. It was at this point I became aware that middle boy had stopped walking and was attaching himself to my right leg. I had no idea why and limited time to extract any form of complex reasoning from him on the subject. I took his hand and coaxed him onward. I was fully conscious that if I played the the wrong move here, our little family was likely to be solely responsible for causing traffic tailbacks longer than those found on the M27 at rush hour. We successfully moved forward about 5 foot before he attempted a similar manoeuvre, losing his footing and falling as he did so. I helped him up but we were going nowhere, the crowd seemed to be getting larger, the queue of people waiting to pass us seemed to be getting longer and eldest son seemed to be disappearing further into the distance. It was at this point that a lady I’d never spoken to before, until that point known only as ‘the lady with the long orange coat’, intervened and offered to push youngest son in his pram for me so I could carry middle son. For this, I am very grateful to her. A few seconds later, eldest son reappeared pushing his brother’s scooter for him. On sight of it, middle child seemed completely rejuvenated and was now capable of walking on his own again. Crisis averted with the help of a kind stranger.

Of course, I was then faced with the difficulty of continuing to walk the same direction as this helpful lady for the next two corners – at a ridiculously slow speed – unable to ask to pass her. This was partially as I felt I was now forever in her debt and saying “Excuse me” as well would be asking far too much. Primarily though, if we had gone on ahead, I would have felt like I needed to sustain ‘overtaking speed’ and I couldn’t handle the embarrassment if my boys decided to randomly stop again.

Communication methods

Middle son is more than capable of using words to tell me something. However, in addition to English he is also fluent in a second language. I’m yet to establish a name for it, but it basically involves obstructing Mummy in some way. This morning he strolled into my room. I asked him “How was your night?” and he responded by lying down on the floor in front of me.

This occurs frequently. Similar happened as we were coming through the front door yesterday. I requested that he took his shoes off and he promptly lay across the top step, demonstrating some kind of ‘planking’ move. He will vary it slightly depending what he wants to say. Sometimes there will be a leg in the air: other times he’ll position his arm at a peculiar angle – rivalling something from a zombie movie.

Of course there’s more to it than simply lying in front of me. For really urgent matters, he will elect to try and lie on me (preferably my feet). If I’m moving at the time, he decides the best course of action is to intercept my projected walking path. If I happen to be pushing littlest son in the pram when an vital matter occurs, then a rather complex manoeuvre is required. He stands on the wheel itself, allowing an abrupt stop to our journey and ensuring he has my full attention. It is at this point that he is able to share that important information with the whole family, that information he was so concerned we might miss if he’d just mentioned it casually in conversation. For those reading also keen to find out the message on this occasion: there was a grass on shoe.

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Mud and breakages

Why is it that when your children are screaming at you, there’s always a large audience? Often, for me, this is in the supermarket. On this occasion, it was the school playground.

In my last post, I mentioned having a moment. This particular moment occurred while I’d half changed a cold, wet, muddy and wriggling three-year-old; only to discover that the one item not packed in his changing bag (a pair of trousers) was the one essential item he needed. Then another mummy helpfully mentioned “That water bottle’s leaking all over your bags!”. She was right. It was.
The day had started out pretty well and by that I mean the children had all been fed and were out of the house with enough time to run an errand on the way to school. We arrived at school without incident. Middle boy falls over. I pick him up and there are no tears. I stroll over to another mother, I feel confident enough to make conversation. Eldest boy appears “He’s about to fall over again.”
I asked my son how he knew this and was told that it was because his brother was climbing on a muddy bank. Evidently my boy has a talent for predicting future events – as I turned, middle boy slipped and was now wearing the muddy bank. It would have been too easy to wait for 5 minutes until his preschool opened and change him there. So I attempted to remove his soaking coat and change his trousers while still in the playground. It was a wet day so I couldn’t just sit him on my lap to do it, and it was cold so I was trying to change him quickly. The discovery that his spare, clean trousers had been forgotten occurred while middle child’s legs were still dangling in mid air. I thought it was a genius plan using eldest child’s school trousers instead – after all they were only slightly too long. Disaster adverted I thought.
That’s when I was told about the leaking water bottle.

I picked it up. The lid was still on tightly, but the growing puddle in the bottom of the pram would suggest a leak from somewhere. That somewhere, it turned out, was a whopping great big crack in the base of the bottle (no idea how I managed to miss it earlier). Middle boys book bag was the worst hit – thankfully it was empty. Again feeling like I’d dodged a bullet, I went to put the (now useless) water bottle in the bin. Eldest boy howls and I mean howls. Floods of real tears appear, “Don’t put it in the bin!”. He begged me. Then middle child starts, “I’m thirsty”. I now have two crying boys trying to convince me that their Daddy can fix cracked, plastic, water holding receptacles. Eldest boy hasn’t been this opposed to me disposing of an object since his wee fragranced, old school shoes went in the skip last year.
After what felt like forever, his teacher eventually persuaded eldest boy to go into class meaning I only had the ‘explainwhymiddleboyisinadequatelydressed’ mission standing between me and the post 9am walk home.