How to avoid sibling debates while baking

I often think how great it is that my boys are close in age, as they share many interests. However this often means many disputes too. Today they elected to bake a cake but completely disagreed about which cake to make.

My solution was as follows:

1) Let child 1 choose the picture/recipe they fancy. Let child 2 choose the colour and edit recipe to include closest matching food colouring.

2) Take it in turns to press the ‘reset’ button on the weighing scales.

3) They get a wooden spoon each. If you only own one wooden spoon in your kitchen, I suggest entering a quiz or competition (and losing).

4) Divide the top of the cake using Kit Kat fingers so they can decorate their own section.

Child 1 chose blueberries (because it matched the picture). Child 2 chose banana and sweets. I went for strawberry and chocolate chips. That left us with one quarter left. Baby is too little for cake so we let Grandma decide on the last topping. She was most unoriginal with her idea, copying my strawberries but leaving off the chocolate element.

Easy. Uneventful. Success.

3

The search for the underground house.

With the husband working shifts, I’ve found that adventures during lock down are like buses. You haven’t been on one for a while, then they all come together. Being able to use the car to visit to new places has really made a difference. We are exploring different locations again and it’s exciting. Driving somewhere pretty to avoid people is much more fun than simply ignoring the locals!

On this occasion we went to Catherington Downs – as a child this doubled up as my ‘extended’ back garden. It would appear to be a happy place for my children too. There was joy on their faces as they ran around in circles. Also, many possible directions to explore in: bumpy tracks, steep slopes, narrow twisty paths and overgrown walkways. I let the boys choose our route. After releasing an initial bout of energy, eldest son made reference to ‘going home’ so we opted for a tactic that my parents had deployed when I was young. I had a rainbow striped teddy bear when I was very small. Prior to my gorilla obsession, it was probably the stuffed animal that I’d loved the most. Therefore any talk of ‘Rainbow Ted’ was automatically of interest to me. Like my son, I also refused to walk anywhere ‘for fun’. The point of going for a walk was to get somewhere and on so many occasions we’d just end up back where we started. My parents introduced a neverending search for ‘Teddys Mummy’s house’. What had previously been a boring walk was now a vitally important quest! Being close by to where I grew up prompted this memory and like so many previously adopted parenting strategies, I stole this one too.

Eldest son has had two bunny rabbit plush toys since he was tiny (one blue and one white), imaginatively named ‘Blue Bunny’ and ‘White Bunny’. So our adventure became a search for Bunnies Mummy’s house. Luckily for us, rabbits are native to the English countryside, unlike Grizzly, Polar, American Black or even rainbow bears. This meant we were able to convert our adventure into a nature trail too, hunting for plants Bunny’s Mummy may have eaten, examining partially dug out areas of the hill and investigating the position of perfectly spherical rabbit droppings. I felt like I was trying to track something on the ‘Lost’ island – if you remember that television series. The excitement was back! Who’d have thought that a detailed examination of grass, dirt and excrement could be so much fun?

Our search led us to a wooded area where we encountered a strange looking tree that appeared to point across a lane and up another field. After establishing that it had a public footpath through the middle we set off in that direction, assuming that Bunny’s Mummy had left a clue for us. Every time we reached a gate we also had the added thrill of ‘getting into the airlock’ using only Mummy’s feet to open it. This made an excellent disguise from the standard response of avoiding touching due to the threat of Covid-19. Upon reaching the meadow, we quickly established that this was triggering the husband’s hayfever. (Interestingly, when we were out driving the day afterwards, middle son would ask “Daddy, are you going to sneeze?” every time we drove past a yellow field.) At the top, there was much to be discovered and a beautiful view but we still hadn’t found what we were searching for.

It was all a bit too much halfway through the return journey and between us, the husband and I ended up carrying all three small people back up the incline on the other side. Then Daddy made a momentous discovery! Below a lonely bush the ground had been disturbed. But this was was not like previous sightings. Here, the divot led to a burrow, which let to a potential warren and the home of Blue Bunny’s Mummy. We’d found it! A good job too given that this unexpected discovery led to the boys suddenly being empowered to motor up the final bank, renewing their energy levels just enough to forget they’d insisted on being carried only 5 minutes before. In fact, holding Mummy’s hand for that last section of the walk was all middle son needed to get him back to the car.

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.

It’s his birthday and he’ll cry if he wants to.

Middle son turned four on Friday. The school run was always going to be an interesting one. The thing about birthdays is that daybreak still arrives at the same time but you have added excitement and present opening to add into the usual morning routine. Plus the odd special request such as a fourth cereal in their bowl. It’s usually worth it. Seeing your child’s smile on their special day is always magical.

We took the bikes to school (middle son’s choice). It began to drizzle from the miserable looking grey clouds littering the sky. All was still good. It remained that way until we were less than 50 yards from the school gate. We’d just crossed the main road, the boys had pushed their bikes across sensibly, we’d even navigated our way past other families carefully. Now on the corner I let the boys know they can get back onto their bikes and cycle the final stretch. Except they didn’t – well one didn’t. Instead, middle son burst into tears. I asked him what was wrong and he wails. We had ‘the talk’ where Mummy told him that she can only make something better if she knows what the problem is. Still nothing but wailing.

He wouldn’t get on his bike. He wouldn’t push his bike. He wouldn’t walk. He wouldn’t even use his words to explain the problem. There was no way I could carry a bicycle and a larger than average four year old while pushing youngest son in his pram. We appeared to have reached a common scenario where I am forced to try and fathom out the problem. Putting the brakes on the pushchair, I crouched beside my sobbing child and began the guesswork. I can reveal that he wasn’t cold, he didn’t hurt his shin on the pedal while pushing the bike, he hadn’t forgotten something important and his tummy didn’t hurt. At this point, someone took it upon themselves to move my pushchair for me – presumably it was in their preferred walking line. I felt a bit inadequate, wondering why they didn’t just ask me to reposition it. Maybe they knew I had an important mystery to solve. He was still crying but as I asked him again what the problem was, I spotted a clue: a subtle glance at his saddle.

“Are you upset that your seat is wet?” He nods. We have a winner. Even better, it’s an easy fix. I use my coat sleeve to wipe it and he’s all smiles and on his way again. I’m not as lucky. As I stand up, I experience some unplanned discomfort. I’d been crouching below a community noticeboard. As I stood, the bottom corner of this sturdy board ripped a small ravine in my back. No matter. All three children we currently happy so the searing pain paled into insignificance.

I went home and started baking yummy goodness for middle son’s party. Youngest son helped by sitting in his sling and looking cute. By the time it was time to collect the boys from school I was feeling pretty positive. His party wasn’t particularly extravagant or well planned. It was only a small affair, he had one friend and some close family over for cake, presents, play and party food. But he loved every second. Sometimes it’s the simple arrangements that they enjoy the most.

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!”

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.

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.

The Swamp

The start of February half term, renowned for being wet and cold, is also when you expect all indoor places to be incredibly over crowded. So instead we opted to invite some friends over, with a view to going outside (regardless of the weather) after lunch. After several games of dressing up, hide and seek and an indoor picnic; eldest boy, middle boy, youngest boy, mummy, her friend and her friend’s 2.5 children were ready to go. If your offspring have a tendency to become slightly feral in the afternoons then there is nowhere better than the great outdoors. We took the 5 boys to explore the heath near our home. Somehow I’d ended up sending both sets of eldest child’s wellington boots into his school. So, in the aftermath of Storm Dennis, we were prepared to get wet. The friend I was with was forest school trained so nothing could possibly go wrong. She was equipped with welly boots and a backpack. I was possibly a little less prepared with a baby strapped to my front and a packet of wet wipes.

We had great fun on our exploration: chopping through the brambles, splashing in puddles and investigating which items float and sink. Assorted feet had already slipped into the mud and youngest boy had a rather well placed splash mark on the centre of his forehead. We also learnt something new from our knowledgeable companion. The knopper gall wasp produces knobbly brown galls on acorns – if you’re interested. Next, we opted to follow a raised footpath, mimicking trains as we did so, until we came across a large mass of muddy water. Too wet for a bog, I’d like to call it a puddle but given the enormous size of it, ‘pond’ might have been a more accurate term, except for the absence of the ‘token duck’ swimming in it. So perhaps the word ‘swamp’ is a better descriptor. It was at this point that eldest boy made the single, fateful decision to push middle boy in. Only a gentle push, but that was all it took. Stumbling forwards, away from the safety of the raised pathway, he initially landed on his feet. There was no time to consider any form of relief, as he continued to slip in the murky slime, eventually landing up to his armpits in muddy water. I’m incredibly grateful to my friend who promptly returned him to solid ground. Now dripping a mixture of tears, bog particles and rogue bits of rotten grass; he stood there wailing. We were able to distract him by another stick search and a passing puppy dog. He made a swift recovery and continued to play ‘sticks in the mud’, that was until it came to walking back. He refused. Point blank.

Trying to persuade him to head back seemed to take decades. This would have been fine, if at the end of them he’d actually been closer to home. In reality, he’d managed a 180 degreee turn only. Diversionary attempts (including finding larger sticks, having races, looking for other puddles etc) all failed. He just kept whimpering “I don’t want to walk!” on repeat. His comments weren’t entirely accurate because he didn’t want to hop, skip, run or crawl either! I know this because I attempted to try and persuade him to try any of these methods. Of course, what he actually meant was that he wanted to be carried. Now weighing over 20kg – probably significantly more if you count the galleons of water his clothing must have absorbed – I contemplated the feasibility of trying to carry him and youngest son home from here. I thought about putting him on my shoulders but couldn’t bring myself to allow his saturated shoes to drip foul smelling, dirty water over his baby brother’s face as the little dude snoozed innocently in his sling. On spying a conveniently placed bench, I came up with a new plan: removing middle son’s rancid shoes and socks and using this seat as a means to allow my soggy child to climb onto my back. When he couldn’t even lift his own leg halfway to bench height (primarily because he was refusing to bend his knees) I also aborted this plan.

The minutes that followed involved various attempts to take his hand and coax and encourage him forwards. Although I expect to the casual observer, it might have looked more like I was just dragging a crying boy along. Mirroring the paralysis caused by a venomous bite, his movements decreased and decreased. At one point I was holding one of his hands, while my friend took his other hand and his feet stopped moving altogether. We called it ice skating – his shoes glided across the pavement. Except there was no ice, just friction. Then he lost the ability to support his own weight and crumbled himself into a little ball by the kerb. He felt cold and his protesting got louder. It was at this point it began to rain again.

Youngest son was snuggled in his baby carrier under our kangaroo jumper. Removing all three of these items meant I could pass this precious bundle to my friend – who had offered to carry the little one the remainder of the way. So now down to my short sleeved shirt, I lifted my heavy, drenched preschooler in my arms and struggled the remaining distance to home. I really wished I had some kind of upper body strength. Middle boy got a kilogram heavier with every step I took and the lactic acid was building up. I’m pleased to report we did make it back, with all 5.5 children still in tow. Once inside, I’m ever grateful to my smallest boy for being so happy and smiley when I left him (still snuggled in a cosy bundle) in the lounge doorway while I sorted a warm bath for medium sized boy. Biggest boy had now begun crying, as it dawned on him that his friends were leaving earlier than planned. Washing load on, eldest boy entertained with lego, middle boy thoroughly cleaned and youngest boy attended to, we were all feeling a bit happier and the four of us snuggled up to read a Tinga Tinga Tale. Our verdict on this adventure was a unanimous – “Let’s do it again soon!”

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).