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.

If you go down to the woods today…

The exercise of choice for my boys at the moment appears to be cycling around the block. Ours is not a very big block. As much as I love fresh air, it can get monotonous. The boys seem to like perfecting their route though. Add in the extra fun ‘social distancing’ element – when you see someone and call out ‘person coming’, then you all turn around and go around the block in the other direction – you can find yourself roaming the same four corners at least ten times in quick succession. The house on the corner has a flagpost. The excitement about which flag might be flying is surpassed only by the discussion on the subject every time we pass.

With Daddy not at work yesterday, we decided to go for an adventure at our local wooded area instead – a welcome change. We looked a bit odd. We’d all worn shorts but the sunshine had been deceptive, so grabbing the jumpers nearest the front door seemed sensible. Except eldest son had found a jacket that clashed impressively with his shorts and middle son and I had selected long woollen cardigans – not the best choice to complement the rest of our outfits. Perhaps what completed the image was our footwear. I’d just washed the boys shoes, so only their wellies were available. I elected to wear fluffy walking boots, after all we were walking. Husband was thoroughly embarrassed by us but luckily slightly reassured knowing that we wouldn’t be going close enough to anyone else for them to notice our bizarre mix of garments.

Within a few minutes of wandering we’d found a stream. Disgruntled that their game of pooh sticks had been unsuccessful (due to the water level being so shallow), they played at finding different ways to cross it instead. When they both ended up in the water, I silently commended myself on taking their normal shoes out of the equation. That was until husband pointed out that at least one of the Wellington boots leaked! I was fully expecting eldest son to want to leave immediately, as he can’t bear wearing damp clothing. Thankfully, he was distracted by a fairytale character that he’d found pinned to a tree. Onwards we ventured.

The area isn’t that large. Normally when we visit, we stick to the paths but on this occasion we ‘off-roaded’. As a result, it seemed a lot larger. We even lost track of where we were, before identifying the sound of the main road to reestablish our position. Each time a new person was in sight, we’d hide behind trees and trek through the undergrowth in order to make a secret pathway where no one else would be. Although at one point we were spotted – need to work on the camouflage.

Daily exercise complete. Fallen trees climbed on. Childhood unplugged.

Pure imagination

I’m sat nursing youngest son while the sunshine beams through my window. Upstairs I can hear the conversation between my big two as they play. Currently they are putting on different voices for assorted underwater characters, as they set off on a mission across the playroom. No additional entertainment required.

It’s no secret that my children have always preferred structure over imaginative play. For them, the more rules a game had, the better it was. Eldest son in particular, has always found creative games difficult. He regularly informs me that a grown up is required for maximum enjoyment. Lego is strictly for use with numbered instructions only. Train characters remake Thomas the tank engine plot lines. All games are better with a Mummy shaped audience.

Middle son does play happily using his own ideas but prefers company. Like so many children, he is always eager to share his ideas, so Mummy would be required to sit and watch the paw patrol assist the octonauts in getting through the spooky woods (for an hour or so). I appreciate this sounds like I’m making up some feeble excuse for not getting my housework done. It is, in fact, the reality. Well it was.

This lockdown seems to have changed all that. The big two children appear to enjoy playing together, using their imaginations and combining ideas and without an audience. The irony of it is that I’m so proud of them I almost want to watch.

Edit: I drafted most of this post in the early part of last week. We’ve had a minor regression in patience skills since then. Facepalm.

New found appreciation for our garden.

I’m not a gardener. Plants have a habit of dying on me. Whenever I’ve been given flowers or seeds as gifts in the past, I’ve had instant guilt. It’s like I’ve let them down, like they deserve a better life. Therefore my idea of gardening has primarily been removing weeds from our “picturesque” patio (think large slabs of uneven concrete). The larger, more destructive jobs in our garden, such as kicking down a wall or two, shearing the large bramble bushes back to nothing and taking a sledgehammer to the old rotten shed were completed, but general maintenance not so much!

It used to be my little gardening friend who inspired me to at least try, However, these efforts saw me getting no further than the garden centre, where eldest son was promptly distracted by the soft play. Then the boys got older and started taking an interest. Both eldest and middle son have previously come home excited from preschool, with their homemade bird feeders. We lovingly positioned them on the plum tree. They were quickly abandoned (really hoping we made at least one bird happy in the meantime). The boys’ grandparents live in a flat – with no garden – so last year they started an allotment in ours instead (growing raspberries, rhubarb and blueberries). Suddenly, we had two avid gardeners in our midst, as the boys insisted on going out to pick fruit daily. I would be presented with a bowl containing five and a half berries and I’d be expected to bake something instantly! Then reminded to buy ice cream. That was last summer.

Now we find ourselves in strange times. The weather has been beautiful, yet the only outdoor space we can go is our own garden. I told eldest boy about food shortages in shops, so he is dutifully watering the bare raspberry plants. Middle son also joined in – his input was to share his water with the plum tree by pouring half his cup on to its trunk. Further learning about how trees take in water is required; in the meantime the tree in our garden looked like a passing dog has had a wee up against it!

We’ve also got the boys a climbing frame as they are missing the park already. Their Nanny has been very generous. She knows how active they are. The frame itself is pretty much going to take up the entire garden (minus the allotment). First it requires assembling though. The guide time is 6 hours for construction so I’m aiming for completion in 6 days. That said, 6 weeks is probably a more accurate target for us! The husband likes to procrastinate and the children like to make frequent interruptions. First job: level the garden area it will be stood on.

So despite looking like something the Groundforce team could make a week’s worth of episodes out of, we’ve spent a lot of time in the garden this week. I get out a few garden toys, some chalk and their old bikes and the big ones seem to amuse themselves far better than they ever do playing indoors! Even youngest son seems content enough to sit on a picnic blanket and play. A combination of helping level the soil in the corner and a rock hunt led to an idea for this morning’s project: an Easter garden. Middle son found some sticks, which I tied together using an old daffodil leaf to make the crosses. Youngest son kindly lent us the large toy lorry that he’d been eating, to transport stones and mud across the garden to our masterpiece. Middle son had already began selecting flowers by the handful. (In this respect it’s probably a good thing that the only ones growing in our backyard are wild flowers.) Eldest son took the construction process seriously, he even went to the trouble of running inside to get his children’s bible. He considered it essential that we pay attention to detail when selecting a suitable stone for the front of the empty tomb.

Garden now complete. It would appear I am capable of gardening after all – when the garden in question is no more than 12 inches square.

These rules are made for keeping.

A common parenting strategy when you’d like your child to do something is to count down from 5 or 3 (or I suppose 80 odd if you have a particularly defiant toddler). But what actually happens when you reach zero?

‘Probably very little’ was the conclusion that I swiftly came to when eldest son asked me exactly that while I was attempting to incite middle son to come over to us. He likes to subtly walk backwards until the last possible second, then run over at top speed, while I adjust the speed of my counting accordingly so as to ensure his success. My answer: I’ll tell Daddy. For him, this response took the counting down rule to a new level! Eldest son is a fan of rules. He just loves them. This is probably why he’s so keen on playing board games – plenty of rules to follow. So he likes to keep track of the rules we make and remind us of them should we forget. Usually this is helpful.

The disadvantage of having house rules is that I’m frequently being told off for breaking them. Just last week, I was in trouble with my children for answering the door without checking who it was first. I was fairly confident of their identity, given that person had just messaged me with ‘I’m outside. What is your house number?”. I’ve also been warned that I shouldn’t have been up before the sun – if you have a child with a gro clock this will make more sense to you.

At the moment my bigger boys are very into toilet humour. That probably includes my husband. They find the mention of the words ‘poo’ or ‘bottom’ especially amusing. It’s the last thing you want to hear when you’re tucking into a home cooked meal, or worse: a chocolatey dessert. Hence the introduction of the rule where these words can’t be used during family dinner times. At one such meal, youngest son decides its an ideal time to fill his nappy. You’d think going to change him would be appreciated by the rest of the family, who could now eat without any lingering offensive aroma. Sadly not. I was given a stern telling off for using the poo and bottom words. Note to self: next time say, “Please may I be excused so I can sanitise the baby’s derrière from excrement!”

The truth is out there

Driving home yesterday, my boys had a discussion about their next game. I wasn’t particularly impressed when they decided on the ‘liar’ game. I was even less impressed when I discover that this game pretty much involved reciting the ‘Liar, liar, pants of fire’ rhyme repeatedly, but using an assortment of different voices. Oh, and also replacing the word ‘pants’ with a selection of other items. Daddy nearly had a minor coronary when the game first started and we hear a little voice shout ‘Car’s on fire!’ By the end of the game, we were less concerned about the car’s imaginary combustion and more about how to get this catchphrase out of our heads.

It’s possible they were just voicing their opinion to us about lies. Eldest boy regularly tells me, “You must always tell the truth because otherwise you are lying.” – he’s not wrong! With the exception of the Father Christmas scenario, I like to think we are reasonable when it comes to being truthful. However, all my children seem to make me out to be the biggest liar imaginable. I tell people that youngest son has reached a new milestone but of course he won’t show them. I tell people that middle son doesn’t like chicken then he munches on a chicken nugget happily. And I tell people that eldest son has a habit of wriggling too much, which prompts him to sit beautifully in their company.

Leaving the house

Most people know that once you have a baby it takes approximately 42 times longer to get out of the front door. Luckily (in the olden days) it used to take me less than 5 minutes, which is probably why, now I have three young children, I’m able to achieve this feat in under 2 and a half hours.

I exaggerate slightly. Unless you count today. Today, my children tag teamed their preferred type of havoc. Youngest son does not appreciate being put in his car seat. He likes to be held. Except Mummy needed her hands free to assist middle son. Middle son could not decide which pair of shoes he wanted to wear. We wrestled with a particularly tight fitting orange shoe, successfully installing it onto his foot just in time for him to change his mind. He now wanted his ‘new’ shoes. Except these were on the radiator drying, having required the washing machine treatment. Except I was unaware of this so went to fetch them. Youngest son begins screaming blue murder as Mummy is now more than a foot away. When I returned, middle son and eldest son appeared to be rugby tackling each other. My understaning of the situation was that eldest son’s hat had fallen off and he blamed middle son.

Once he had selected a more sensible pair, I asked middle son to put his own shoes on (he can). He refused. As youngest son was still upset and I knew he would remain so until we were in a moving car, I tried to speed things up by putting middle son’s shoes on for him. On completion of this task, I detected a fragrance in the air. He had skid marks in his pants. Changing them and cleaning him up first meant removing the shoes and trousers etc. again. I now felt heightened amounts of Mummy guilt about youngest son, who was still crying, so I took him back out of his car seat to comfort him. Eldest son chose this moment to open the front door and attempt to get in the locked car. I asked him to come back in and wait because his brothers weren’t ready. Eldest son started crying because “That will take a very long time!” He had a point – it would. Middle boy sauntered back downstairs with pants – not his pants though – so I sent him back upstairs.

Fast forward a little while. Middle son is now dressed again – with shoes, eldest son has stopped crying and youngest son is also contented. I suggest the big boys now get in the car. We exit the house. It is cold. Both forcefully request gloves. We re-enter the house. Eldest son can’t find his gloves. Middle son needs help putting his gloves on. I need to put the baby down again – a minimum of two adult hands is required for the glove fitting procedure. This prompts baby to cry again. And so it went on. We didn’t get to where we’d intended to go. In fact, the minor disaster that was ‘leaving the house later’ set in motion a series of events that sent Mummy into meltdown mode. Wine wasn’t even an option due to baby still breastfeeding. Luckily I found we had a chocolate biscuit left in the tin. It is not there now.

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.