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.

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.