A Letter To Myself...Re: The Terrible Twos

Jack is three next Wednesday. We have just seven days left in the minefield that has been terrible two. I was overjoyed about this fact until I read this post on threenagers by Just a Normal Mummy and then I died a little bit inside.

Two has been a tricky year, full of trials, tribulations and tantrums. But it has also been a massive learning curve for me and one that has definitely enhanced my limited parenting skillz. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I sometimes wish that I could go back to this time last year and give myself some advice on how to handle the upcoming year and the perils of the terrible twos. If I could, I'd say something like this:

Dear Laura,

Jack is two next next week. It's time to brace yourself. Hard. I know you've noticed a few warning signs already - a hint of resistance there, an angry snarl there - but believe me, you ain't seen nothing yet. This is the end of life as you know it and over the course of the next year your sweet, smiley, little cherub will transform into an angry gargoyle of a boy before your eyes. He will systematically rebel against all of the things he currently loves and accepts - including (but not limited to) meals, baths, sleep, routine and you. The two of you will come to blows and there will be many, many tears (mostly yours) but there are some things you can do to make the transgression from feral toddler to upstanding infant as painless as possible.

Alllllll of the smiles to alllllll of the horrid.

Firstly, you need to start giving less of a shit about what other people think. Over the next year you will invest time and money on days out where Jack will behave like a total ape. There'll be hitting, screaming, flailing, running away, ignoring simple instructions, making unreasonable demands and throwing-himself-on-the-floor-and-headbutting-the-tarmac-in-fury tantrums from Hell. You will use your best Supernanny voice to try and regain control. You will fail. And you will end up dragging him to the car and hissing things like 'we are NEVER coming here again' through gritted teeth as you wrestle him into his car seat and leave four hours earlier than you'd planned. Then you'll both cry the whole way home. Why? Because you got flustered thinking that other parents were looking at you and thinking yours was the worst behaved child there. And, to be honest, they probably were. But they weren't judging you. They don't really care that much. If anything, they're probably glad that, on this occasion, it was someone else's child rather than theirs. Stop being so sensitive, understand that he's pushing boundaries and never let a five minute tantrum ruin a good day out. Silly girl.

Don't take his rage and apparent detachment from you too personally. I know it hurts your heart when he darts off into soft play shouting things like 'No mummy you sit down, you go away' rather than wanting you to play with him. I know that when he gets mortally offended by you daring to touch/push the shopping trolley he's sat in it can feel like he simply can't bear to be near you (BTW, when he does this stop trying to placate him by moving the trolley with you torso or elbows...it looks fucking odd). But honestly, he doesn't hate you. He's just desperate for independence and well, you kind of cramp his style. But it'll always be you he runs to for cuddles when he's poorly or sad. Remember that.

Don't worry too much about milestones. Over the next year people will irritate you a LOT with questions about potty training and cot-to-bed-transitions. You will feel pressured and you'll rush into things sooner than you should. This is a catastrophic mistake. Especially the bed thing. He's just not ready. He likes his cot which is why he's made no attempt to jump the bars yet. If you push this he will rebel and it'll be goodbye full nights of uninterrupted sleep and hello painful sleep training exercises. Trust your own judgement and believe that you know him best. He'll get there in his own time.

Pick your battles and be consistent with your rules and consequences. If something is deemed punishable once then it has to be punishable again. Yes it's repetitive and tiring and will interrupt you when you're watching Jezza doing housework but how else is he going to learn the boundaries of what's acceptable? Don't get uptight and bollock him for EVERYTHING though. He's a little boy and he's learning. Be patient and let the little things go. That way, when you do really need to discipline him about something important he'll take you seriously rather than laughing in your face, waggling his tongue at you and legging it.

Most importantly, enjoy him. I know that on the days where he's kicked your shins, terrorized the cat, spat his lunch all over the floor, thrown your iPhone at a wall and growled at alarmed pensioners in Tesco it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But despite the tough bits, two is a really exciting year. It's the year when he'll begin to talk to you in meaningful sentences about the things that matter to him and when he'll learn numbers, letters and nursery rhymes. He'll sing along to All About That Bass (a really crap but very catchy song that hasn't been released yet) and ask you 'what you doing babes?' and you'll laugh. These will be the bits you'll remember when your old and decrepit, not the tantrums. So enjoy them and remind yourself every day that you are blessed to have such a brilliant little boy.

Good luck. You'll need it, pal.

Laura (from the future)

If you had a time machine, what advice would you give yourself about parenting with the benefit of hindsight?

When Class Teddies Come To Stay

Last week Diddy Dog (the nursery teddy) came to stay with us.

This was my first experience of hosting the class toy and I hadn't expected it so soon. I can see how the premise of taking a class teddy home and writing about its stay would be beneficial for an older child but an easily distracted toddler who can't read or write yet? Not convinced. Regardless, Diddy Dog was here and I for one wasn't fooled by his quiet ways. In fact I'd go as far as to say he was the ultimate nightmare house-guest: unannounced, full of expectations and accompanied by the judgey journal of doom where I would be required to record the tales of his adventures with us. I was relieved, of course, that I was dealing with a teddy rather than an actual living creature that I'd have to protect from that cat's savage clutches all weekend but I was still apprehensive. Despite my lack of experience, my first thought was 'shit, we're going to have to do something good this weekend now.' I knew that this sort of stuff probably wouldn't be deemed appropriate for Diddy's hectic social calendar.

Then I started to wonder, just how much time, energy and money was I expected to spend on entertaining a stuffed dog? Well, according to some people...quite a lot. One article on the BBC website examines the nature of the class teddy scheme and suggests that it has become less about education, storytelling and parent/child interaction and more about inciting competition between parents. Apparently photos of teddy baking butterfly cakes with granny or being pushed on a swing during a lazy Saturday stroll around the park are no longer cutting it. Class teddies are now being papped with celebrities or enjoying luxurious mini breaks. The Chronicle ran a report on one school that had banned the concept altogether after a parent took the one-upmanship a step too far (13.1 miles too far, actually) by declaring that teddy 'ran' the Great North Run! It seems like behind every signing off message that reads 'teddy had a great weekend with us, we hope he comes back soon' is a veiled challenge...'beat that, suckers.'

Maybe that sounds cynical and over the top. But the fact remains that schools are phasing class teddies out amidst claims that many parents find the process so stressful that they are reduced to tears. Although I personally can't imagine shedding actual tears over entertaining a stuffed toy, I can totally see how feelings of stress, guilt and inferiority could creep in for parents who happen to work weekends or who (like me) alternate weekends with ex partners or who struggle with English/literacy or who can't afford to do expensive, impressive activities at the weekend or who simply can't be arsed.

I did it myself. I flicked through the journal and scrutinised what Diddy had been up to with other families. I saw him eating berries with one child and wondered why Jack has suddenly got so fussy. He'll barely sniff a grape these days, never mind eat a sodding blackberry. I saw him playing on another little girl's jungle gym and cast a critical eye over our own back garden with it's dilapidated swingball and a lawn in dire need of cutting once all the cat poo has been scooped up. Another family took Diddy away for the weekend and I thought about how long it's been since we went anywhere. And none of these things would have made me sob into a bottle of gin at 11am on a Saturday morning, but comparing yourself as a parent (even over the silly things) and feeling that tiny jolt of inadequacy is never comfortable.

So I'm torn. On one hand I think it's a real shame that schools are getting rid of what is essentially a fun and educational activity for children just because parents are making such a big deal out of it. On the other I can sympathise with parents who feel that this is just another way of piling on the pressure and exposing their insecurities. I'm on the fence. And as I look at Diddy's cute little mush, I marvel at how a soft toy can provoke such intense feelings either way. Us parents really are proper weirdos.

Shit stirrer!!!

I'd love to know what you think. Has the world gone a bit bonkers? Is the class teddy just a bit of harmless fun or is there more to it? Have you had the pleasure of hosting the class teddy and how did you approach it?

Wicked Wednesdays #2 - Not-So-Comic Relief

Last Friday it was Red Nose Day and Jack's preschool had a pyjama day which was a huge relief after the trauma of World Book Day fancy dress pressure the week before. Never a fan of fancy dress, I thought Jack might enjoy wearing his pjs for school. Wrong. Have you ever seen a more miserable, less enthusiastic child? And he refused to get his face painted! Think he's missed the memo about COMIC Relief being, you know...fun.

(If you could ignore the huge bottle of coke and mountains of sweets/cakes in the background that'd be FAB).


Top Toddler Toys I'd Send to Room 101

When you have kids you kind of accept that you're going to acquire a lot of stuff. When they're tiny you concern yourself with the practical things - bedding, feeding apparatus, clothing (things that will help keep them alive) rather than toys. Yeah, there'll probably be a Lamaze squirrel and a Sophie the Giraffe kicking about but the play things aren't excessive. They're controllable. Things are organised and neat and lovely.

Then they get bigger. They need entertaining. There are birthdays, Christmases and countless shopping trips where the only way to quell a tantrum is to promise them a new book/car/Macca Pacca water squirter on the way to the checkout. The collection grows and gradually your house becomes overrun with toys. They seem to multiply, spilling from room to room like brightly coloured, plastic, molten lava. They can't be contained. Not by plastic storage boxes, colourful IKEA baskets or that flatpack toy box from Argos that you put together, weeping, slat by slat. Before long your living room looks like an explosion in Toymaster, your garden is a dense jungle of battered, broken plastic and you have a spare room that you daren't set foot in because it's full of crap and it overwhelms you.

Everywhere you turn there are books, puzzles, lego, crayons, flash cards, action figures, trains, teddies, musical instruments, golf clubs, blocks, animals and cars...dear God, the cars. I am genuinely convinced that I'll meet my doom at the hands of a misplaced Hot Wheels on the top stair. But those aren't the worst; these are the top toddler toys that I'd send to Room 101 and how they are slowly taking over our home.

Statement gifts
The statement gift is often presented to children on birthdays/Christmases by well meaning friends or relatives. It has two resounding characteristics: it is big and it is useless. For the first three minutes child may well be enthralled by the 4ft Winnie the Pooh or life-size, battery powered vehicle (batteries not included) but then their interest will evaporate and you'll be left smiling gratefully while thinking 'Cheers knobhead, where's THAT going to go?!'

Urgh, bits. So many bits. A piece of a train track here, a piece of a different train track there, a plastic scalpel from a doctors kit, fencing from a long forgotten farmyard, bits of random (often unidentifiable) plastic. It's endless and it enrages me for two reasons: firstly because it's EVERYWHERE and secondly because it means very few of the toys we own are actually in full working order. The other day I somewhat optimistically bought Jack a Frozen puzzle book. Each page was a jigsaw and as I watched him gleefully dismantle the elfin features of Anna and Elsa I knew that this was the first and only time that this jigsaw would ever be in one piece. I may as well have cut out the middle man and torn a fiver into several pieces then hidden them around the house. Now we do jigsaws on the iPad.

Free shit
Props to McDonalds, their Happy Meal toys have come on leaps and bounds since I was a sprog. Even I got a bit excited by the penguin periscope a few months back. Nevertheless, this is still cheap, plastic tat that doesn't need to be added to the growing collection of overpriced, plastic tat that we already own. The same applies to Kinder toys and anything that comes on the front of a magazine (with the exception of the Mr Tumble telephone which I often use to 'tell Justin that Jack is being naughty'). Once the initial interest has worn off I usually try to discreetly dispose of them but if I'm caught in the act I get told off. 'Toys no go in bin, naughty mummy!' Busted.

Drawing equipment
In our house, drawing usually means making one solitary scribble on a blank page before moving on to another one. Then another one. Then another one. In this way a full drawing pad can be used up in minutes and the house quickly becomes a highly flammable shit-tip that would make a tree hugger weep. And when he's bored of drawing the only thing left to do is tear his masterpieces into a million pieces and treat himself to a little papery snow storm. The rage continues.

Ball pool
This was a great toy for a 6 month old. A little piece of soft play in our own living room where he'd sit gurgling contentedly among the brightly coloured balls for ages. Fast forward 18 months and there is no sitting. Now the best game EVER is to tip 200 balls all over the floor and watch mummy pick them up. Repeatedly. Bonus points if you can get them to the back of the sofa and all those other hard to reach places. This isn't where my hatred of the ball pool stems from though. No, the amount of occasions I've found myself showering down a bath full of balls following an explosive nappy/projectile vomit incident really sealed that deal. Now the ball pool is tucked away in the spare room of doom and we do not speak of it.

Play Doh
Whenever Jack used to come home from nursery he'd talk about Play Doh. Granted, the tale usually involved his friend Tyler who seemed to have a habit of eating it but he still showed enough enthusiasm for me to assume it would be a worthwhile Christmas present. I bought him the Play Doh Burger Maker with high hopes of the fun we'd have mincing burgers and cutting out gherkins. What a fool. Why did nobody warn me about Play Doh? It stinks, it mushes together into revolting colours that all resemble dog shit and expose it to air for more than 3 seconds and it crumbles into a substance that is ideal for treading into carpets. AND it comes with a plastic knife, perfect for flicking Play Doh at windows and stabbing up mummies. People have since advised me that Moon Dough is a less offensive alternative but that advice has come too late for my carpet and my sanity.

How do you cope with your toddlers toys and which ones would you happily send to Room 101 (or at least a car boot sale?)

Wicked Wednesdays #1 - Dino-wellies

This because I told him that wellies and too-small, dinosaur pjs aren't a good look for him. Whoops.


Is Kids TV Too Nice?

Being a mother to a two year old boy, I seem to spend my entire life a lot of time watching Cbeebies and the like. And I can't help but notice that kids TV seems to have gotten much tamer over the years.

Don't get me wrong, my son needs no encouragement to run wild so it's not like I expect to see violence, anarchy or poor behaviour being promoted when I plonk him in front of the telly for half an hour*. I'd be the first one to complain if Kat or Andy went all cray and dropped an F-bomb or lost any of their infectious cheer when introducing the next soul sapping episode of Mr Tumble. But when did kids TV get so nice? So unrealistically, over-the-top enthusiastic? Topsy, Tim and their insufferable parents, for example, seem to be joyful about everything. The day the roof caved in they whooped and hollered because it meant they got to 'camp out' in the living room and when they got nits you could be forgiven for thinking they'd won a trolley dash around Toys R Us. Another shining example of uncharacteristic happiness comes in the form of PC Plum who appears to neglect all of his law enforcing duties in favour of learning to DJ, shopping, dancing, bike riding or otherwise prancing around like a tit. It seems Dr Ranj's jolly songs about bogies and poo are about as dangerous as it gets. I suspect this is why I'm still sniggering everytime I hear 'take me up the North Mountain' - one brief moment of tenuous naughtiness amongst all of this Godawful cheer.

In my day (am I old enough to use that phrase yet?) kids telly was tough and downright terrifying at times. If it wasn't the chilling stare of the Demon Headmaster using hypnosis to control the Prime Minster's brain and take over the world (?!?!?) then it was the emotional turmoil of Knightmare where one wrong side-step to the left could result in the virtual death of a whole team of pre-pubescent dungeoneers. OK, so this was TV aimed at older children but even some of the stuff aimed at the littlies could be a bit alarming at times. Grotbags the witch and her quest to terroise the children inside Rod Hull's 'pink windmill' (no comment, not a single comment) was bad enough but it genuinely took a long time for me to get over the deaths of the hedgehogs from The Animals of Farthing Wood when they met their untimely end under the wheels of a HGV.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing that childrens entertainment is...well, child friendly. Just that it's a bit unrealistic. Policemen are not like PC Plum, no parent would see an opportunity for merriment in the financial catastrophe of a leaking roof and yet hedgehogs do get run over on motorways. This is life. Why try and teach kids otherwise? 

On a side note, I think the most disturbing example of pure terror from my own youth came from a book rather than a TV show. I always loved Enid Blyton - whether it was talking toys, fairy folk or middle-class, mystery solving minors. These days people argue that she was racist, sexist and allegedly a bit of a battleaxe but as a child you don't really concern yourself with such matters and anyway some of her work was published over 75 years ago when social attitudes were much different and kids really were called Dick and Fanny. Times change.

That said (and gloriously barmy as she was) she can't, in my opinion, be forgiven for the abomination that is Mr Pink-Whistle. For those who haven't stumbled upon this dubious do-gooder before, Mr Pink-Whistle is a middle aged, pot bellied, half brownie/half human. Because he doesn't belong in either the mortal or mystical world he is lonely and decides to spend his days stalking young children (often invisibly) in order to interfere in their childish business. He rights wrongs, grants wishes and dishes out punishments where he deems necessary. All well and good. All very ethical. Until he starts climbing drainpipes and loitering around invisibly in children's bedrooms, often unexpectedly appearing at their foot of their sickbed with a sinister pop to 'entertain' them or lecture them on their poor behaviour. For me, the prospect of a middle aged man lurking invisibly in my bedroom was pretty nightmare inducing as a child regardless of whether or not he came bearing gifts or to put on a magic show. 

And he wasn't just creepy, he was properly mean too. I remember one tale where he dished out some Pink-Whistle style retribution to an anti-social youth (whose crime was stealing dog collars) by de-robing him, beating him then stealing his clothes...in the middle of the street! I KNOW, RIGHT?! Two wrongs don't make a right, Enid, and I honestly believe that Mr Pink-Whistle Interferes belongs next to the work of Stephen King rather than in the bedtime reading section. 

So I suppose we have to be grateful for at least some of the censorship in today's kids entertainment industry. Given the choice I'd choose that episode of Bing stepping in dog poo over pervy Pink-Whistle any day of the week. 

Do you think kids TV has changed for the better since your youth? Which TV shows did you love as a child and which ones really grind your gears these days?

*3 hours, Maybe longer if the iPad is dead.

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The First Post *gulp*

Eeeeeeeek. The dreaded first post. They always sound a bit gimpy don't they? I'll try not to sound too gimpy. Here goes.

I'm Laura and this is my new blog - a parenting blog about being a bit rubbish and a bit dysfunctional but still having lots of fun on this crazy journey through motherhood. I've written a couple of blogs in the past but for whatever reason I never stuck at them. Since having my son though, I find that there are so many memories I want to record, lessons I want to jot down, issues I want to discuss, funny moments I want to share and occasions where I just need a bloody good rant. I love to write so this seems like the logical way to do all of those things. Over the past few years I've also been following some really amazing parenting blogs that have inspired me to have another crack at it myself. I can't promise that the posts you read here will be useful or particularly well written. They may often be ranty and sweary. But they will always be honest and I hope you'll enjoy them.

For more info about me and my dysfunctional family, see the About tab.

I need to thank the very talented Gillian for prettifying my blog in ways that are far beyond my IT capabilities. Also, Neil Slorance who drew my lovely logo.

Phew, that wasn't too painful was it?