Parenting

Toddler tantrums and Fournager feelings

I am a person with a lot of emotions. Always have been. Luckily Noel is someone who understands about emotions, and being married to me, he has to. So it is no wonder that our children have big emotions. And at the moment they have a lot!

Sidney is 4 and due to start school in September. Around this time for the last few years he seems to go through a developmental phase. On one side he is noticeably more independent, and will surprise us by saying or doing something quite new and grown-up. And then, on the other side, we get a regression to a needy and highly-emotional child. Very like a mini-teenager.

Turning off the telly is one of the cruelest punishments one can bestow on Sidney.

The triggers are often to do with me. He suddenly doesn’t want to be apart from me and go into nursery, or let Daddy put him to bed. Likewise, where he can be pretty reasonable, the emotional mini-teenager side to him can burst into mega-tears at a moment’s notice and be pretty intense until he can calm down. The telly is another trigger for him. We almost always have the telly on in the daytime in our house, and Sidney is very fond of it. Turning off the telly is one of the cruelest punishments anyone can bestow upon Sidney.

Harriet meanwhile has properly morphed from baby to toddler and along with that have of course come the tantrums. She is quick to anger and has a fantastic banshee-like screech that would make even the most zen of people wince. Harriet has also perfected the art of throwing her entire body on the floor, anywhere at all, and kicking around like a crazy 80s body-popper. It’s actually quite impressive … I could add here that her hair is on the strawberry side of blonde, and that hot-headedness may be something she will take with her through life. As a ginger myself, I can see this being a thing.

So, you see, our house is quite tumultuous at the moment. We have lovely, happy, quiet moments. Mainly I thank CBeebies for their hard work here. I also bless the lovely Spring weather we have had recently – what a joy! And also, the best bringers of peace to our home; a very friendly neighbour’s tabby cat – who even when sleeping doesn’t seem to mind being prodded by little fingers. And the lovely Bella – a Labrador-collie of senior years belonging to my parents – who comes for the occasional ‘working holiday’ – earning her keep by being ever-patient and enduring endless cuddles from two mostly-gentle small children.

I can see that they are the frustrations of having to share, or wait, or take turns.

The tantrums are for the most part fine (the noise is the worst thing). I can see that they are the frustrations of having to share, or wait, or take turns. And these are hard lessons to learn. Sometimes I don’t want to share things either … That is why I wait until everyone is in bed to eat a chocolate muffin. I can choose when to eat it so that I don’t have to share! Mwah ha ha ha! And these emotional phases will pass with time. (Phew).

For Sidney and Harriet though, who both live very much in the moment, those “No, I’m sorry. You have to wait” responses are terrible. They can be pretty awful for all involved if I’m honest. They add a certain intensity to the day, but they also make the happy moments all the more joyful. When everyone is happy and playing together, or eating fish fingers, or watering the empty pots, I try to be mindful and enjoy the moment – knowing that happy moment is extremely precious and could end in a mili-second.

Parenting

I hate it when they’re ill

So this week there’s been a tummy bug in our house. Harriet is going through that stage of picking up absolutely everything, and it is my personal mission to try and prevent things spreading to the rest of the family.

The whole house feels bruised and battered

Tummy bugs are my least favourite of all the illnesses, I just have to get the mess cleaned up as quickly as possible – wash and sanitise everything – and then hope like made that no one else comes down with it.

They also tend to come with a sleepless night as well – so the next day the whole house feels bruised and battered. All round no fun.

The tiredness and the worry usually bring about a spike in anxiety, and I even sometimes find myself in moments of quiet, trembling slightly from the panic. And also trembling from the relief that I am managing to look after my baby even though I am in a situation that I can’t stand. I find myself wondering if other parents feel as I do in these moments. Perhaps the trigger is something different for them.

I know that phobias are related to how we feel about ourselves

I remember being about 12 when one of my sisters was poorly with a bug once, and I was so in awe of how my parents handled the situation. I remember worrying even at 12, how I would manage to look after my children in that same situation, when all I wanted to do was hide. I probably sound very lame – there are parents that have to deal with much more tricky situations than me. But sickness is something that I particularly loathe – even have a marginal phobia of to be perfectly honest.

I know that phobias are related to how we feel about ourselves. They are irrational – something in the way we feel about ourselves manifesting itself in something external. As I write this, I can feel my head trying to analyse what it is that I fear about myself. I suspect it is to do with my on-going worry that I won’t be able to cope in a situation. The big, “but what if …”.

Of course, if the big “what if” ever happens, I know that Noel and I will deal with it. Because that’s what you do when you are a parent. Your daily goal is to take whatever happens and survive to the end of the day. And then hope that the next day will be a bit more normal. I love normal … Who knew that normal could be so glorious! Something to aspire to, even.

Normal is having a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep

During my 20s I would have been so disappointed to ever think of normal as something to aspire to! Now, normal is great. Normal is when you can anticipate the mood swings and the tantrums. Normal is when you can guess at how someone is going to react to a situation, and normal is having a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep. (Undisturbed being the holy grail – literally can’t remember the last time I had one of those!)

Anyway, I’m sleepily wondering where I’m headed with this post. I think part of it is me needing to extract some anxious feelings, in the hope that it will be a cathartic experience … It definitely does help to write things down.
The other part of me wants to reach out to other parents, and indeed anyone who feels a bit lame for feeling scared sometimes. I always think I should be braver at this sort of thing, but I’m not. Its a few days of me feeling extra worried, and maybe a few ill people. And then, as things start settling back to normal (gosh, I really do love normal), the anxiety starts to subside again.

Oh, anxiety. My arch nemesis. So what will I do now? Take a few deep breaths, do some work, and get myself to bed early. Anxiety not really conquered today, but maybe I’ll do better tomorrow.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the bad stuff

… I wrote the above a few days ago now, when I was still feeling incredibly anxious. Thankfully, the feelings did of course subside as I believed they would. Getting out of the house when Harriet had passed her 48hr probation period helped – especially as it coincided with us spending time with some lovely mums and tiddlies at Toddler Group. That really helped. Some serious chatting was done, not just about the silly stuff, but some of the serious stuff too … A reminder that its always good to talk. Please don’t be afraid to talk about the bad stuff – most of us have a bit of bad stuff we sometimes need to talk about.

xx

Parenting

Gender awareness rules (when you’re 3)

Recently, girl things and boy things have become a thing in our house. Not boy’s actual thingys and girl’s actual thingys – those don’t seem to be of any import whatsoever. No. The supposed rules of things that boys can do, and girls can’t. Colours that boys like, and colours that girls like.

This morning Sidney asked me if I liked pink

This has come about over the summer. For the record, until he was, let’s say, 3 and a quarter, Sidney’s favourite colour was actually yellow. Now its blue. This morning Sidney asked me if I liked pink. I said I did, and that I liked blue as well. Sidney does not currently like pink.

We also had a weekend a little while ago when Noel’s parents came and stayed, and gender roles unwittingly came to the forefront. Noel and his Dad are both pretty handy when it comes to building, and spent the weekend constructing a wonderful wardrobe to fit within the sloping ceiling of our bedroom – no mean feat let me tell you! … So Noel’s mum and I did the lion’s share of the children duties and the cooking for the weekend. Also no mean feat. And this was basically the simplest, and most effective way to get the weekend’s main task of wardrobe creation, done. However, this meant that by the end of the weekend, Sidney was convinced that only men could be strong and wield tools.

Mummy was fixing the pipe, with tools

At this point, I am going to add that we also had a leaking waste pipe from our bathroom, (don’t worry, it wasn’t the poo pipe), which needed fixing. This pipe runs between our house and next door, and me, being a skinny sort of bean, was the only grown-up person who could fix it. So, fix it I did! Noel was on hand to assist, and we made a point of showing Sidney that mummy was fixing the pipe, with tools.

Noel and I have never sat down and discussed how we should go about teaching Sidney and Harriet about gender. Its never really been a thing. I am mindful that I don’t say that ‘Sidney is handsome’ and ‘Harriet is pretty’ – instead I tell them both that they are cool dudes. And that they are gorgeous. Or, that they are both ‘as noisy as each other’.

Harriet knows that the most coveted toys in the house are Sidney’s racing cars

And, for the most part, their toys and bedrooms are pretty gender neutral. There are a few pink, Harriet things, and a few blue, Sidney things, but they both play with everything regardless of what colour it is. … Also, Sidney is very partial to Shimmer and Shine (Oooh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh) and gets pretty excited when he sees it on the telly! Likewise, Harriet knows that the most coveted toys in the house are Sidney’s racing cars. So, like most gender ‘consciously-unconcsiousing’ parents, we encourage Sidney and Harriet to play with whatever they enjoy playing with.

However, I am not a total hippy either. I’m afraid that I don’t dress them as completely androgynous child X’s. Sidney’s clothes are standard boy clothes; jeans, shorts, t-shirts and the occasional shirt for parties and Christenings. Harriet’s clothes are mostly leggings, shorts, tops and – I confess – dresses too. I try not to pink or blue them too much, and Harriet has as many of Sidney’s more neutral hand-me-downs as I think we can get away with. But of course I am guilty of genderising them by this – even though my main aim is for both children to look and feel like they could go out to play or have an adventure whenever – because thats what I want them to do. But yes, I still like Sidney to look like a cool boy, and Harriet to look like a funky girl.

Is that so very bad? I think Sidney’s sudden awareness of boys and girls has mostly been learnt through interactions with his peers. He is learning that there are differences between himself and others. He is also learning about where he wants to fit in. A few weeks ago he told me that he wanted to wear trainers to nursery instead of sandals, ‘because everyone wears trainers’.

I see it as our job to nurture their individuality

I guess the important thing is to allow them both to try all sorts of things, and then let them find their own preferences. If Sidney decided that he really wanted a Shimmer and Shine (Oooh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh) doll for his birthday, would I let him have one? Yes, probably, why not! And if Harriet decides that she wants to only play with racing cars, would I suggest she has a doll instead? No, of course not. I see it as our job to nurture their individuality, and also help them to fit in where they feel it is their place to be.

I wonder if it is hypocritical of me to dress them as the genders that they are, and not androgynous siblings? No, I don’t think so. As long as they feel happy and comfortable in the clothes they are wearing then thats great. If at some stage we come to a point that they should wish to identify as something other than what they look like, then we’ll adapt. I don’t dress Harriet in anything that she might feel physically limited in, compared to her brother, so I know that they are equal. And if Sidney thinks that only strong men can use tools, mummy will always be on hand to show him that puny women can fix stuff too.

 

Parenting

“And how are you in yourself?”

“And how are you in yourself?”. I have come to loathe this loaded question. I don’t think anyone asked me this until I became a mum. I don’t dislike it because I am afraid that it will make me break down in floods of tears. I loathe it because whenever it is asked, at the time I am usually just fine! You know; alright, things are all normal just now. My children might be a bit tired, but they’re fine too. We’re all bumbling along as happy as we can be at this moment!

In hindsight I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be in the firing line!

Then … It happens. “And how are you in yourself?”. This question is usually posed by a health professional. In this instance it was a Health Visitor – one whom I hadn’t met before – and it was actually Harriet’s 12month progress check so I wasn’t really prepared to be questioned about myself. In hindsight I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be in the firing line! … My right arm was wrapped in a tubular wrist-support bandage (to support a healing fracture) and to really glamour it all up, on the same hand was a very gross blister that had appeared out of nowhere after a tiny patch of eczema had flared up! … Oh, and I suppose we all looked a bit clammy after me cycling us there straight from the nursery pickup. Despite all that though, no one was crying (not even me) and we were all there on time. Go us!

But there it was. The seed was planted. Harriet’s progress check was all fine. She’s a bum-shuffler, who’s also quite happy cruising around – great – and she’s following her little weight chart perfectly – fab. And as a delightful added bonus I even managed to persuade Sidney to let the health visitor weigh him too, so we can move everyone up a carseat size. All is going well.

Did the lines around my eyes look more terrible than all the other mums she’s seen today?

However, someone has now asked me, ‘how I am in myself’, which automatically means that for the next 24 hours I am questioning whether or not I am ok. Do I not look ok? Did I seem like I might cry? Did the lines around my eyes look more terrible than all the other mums she’s seen today?

There is something in that particular phrasing that gets under my skin every time. Someone could just as easily ask, “How are things?”, or, “How are you, mum?” and I would understand that they are asking me if I’m ok. But by using the words you in yourself suggests something deeper. Like I might not be myself, or I might be feeling so overcome with my lot in life that I have something that needs looking into, deeply.

Let’s be honest. There are moments when any parent feels a bit overcome with being so on demand all of the time, but mostly its cool. Once you get used to being so important to miniature versions of yourselves, it can be pretty special at times! But that’s just part of the rollercoaster of having children I think.

This summer our family’s general look is, ‘a bit clammy’

Nevertheless, that turn of phrase is something I genuinely wish people wouldn’t use. It makes people feel like there is something wrong with them, when there isn’t. We’re just navigating the overcrowded-supermarket of everyday like everybody else. Sometimes we don’t have disgusting blisters and clammy children, and sometimes we do. This summer our family’s general look is, ‘a bit clammy’ – but at least that means we’re drinking enough, right?

Finally, I guess a caveat here could be that I am one of those ‘hypersensitive’ people you read personality descriptions about, which is why I react so badly to questions that are unnecessarily probing. However, even if I am a bit on the hypersensitive side, if me and my two children managed to get ourselves somewhere on time – and none of us is crying – we are all in ourselves, just fine.

 

Mindset

Remembering to breathe

What a thing to say! Who needs reminding that they need to breathe?
Well, I do. Yes, I know you’re inwardly thinking, ‘Weirdo!’ – but just bear with for a moment.

A really lovely nurse once told me that you need anxious people – they’re the people that usually get things done.

Remembering that I have to tell myself to breathe sometimes, well at the moment, that’s quite often actually, comes from observing a little mindfulness. I have always been an anxious person. A really lovely nurse once told me that you need anxious people – they’re the people that usually get things done. I think she’s right. However, an anxious person stops getting things done when the anxiousness gets too much.

Before I became a mum, cycling and yoga, and before that, wine, vodka and dancing, used to keep my anxieties as bay. But when that first 24/7 bundle of sleep-depriving snuggliness arrived, things changed, lets say, rather a lot. As any mum knows – or parent for that matter – once baby arrives your time is no-longer your own. Your needs suddenly sit at the bottom of the washing basket along with all the ironing and the bits of tissue that snuck into the washing machine and got all over the dark wash (never the white wash).

I found myself in mummy-land really struggling with anxiety, worrying all the time that something bad was going to happen, and that I wouldn’t be able to cope when it did.

Anyway. I found myself in mummy-land really struggling with anxiety, worrying all the time that something bad was going to happen, and that I wouldn’t be able to cope when it did. So much was my worrying, that after a couple of months of constant crying, citalopram helpfully sorted me out. This was ok, but I knew that it was only treating the condition, not actually helping me sort out the problem I have with anxiety. When we had bundle of sleep-deprivation no2, I had taken myself off the citalopram and been cycling and active as much as I could.

What then ensued was me always waiting for the next calamity/wee/breast-feed/etc/etc to happen – and so I was always holding my breath!

However, two small children meant double the craziness and double the constantly being needed! Eek!! We even potty-trained Sidney when Harriet was a few weeks old – just to add to the fun – he was totally ready and had it nailed in 5 days. On the flip side, what then ensued was me always waiting for the next calamity/wee/breast-feed/etc/etc to happen – and so I was always holding my breath!

I finally noticed that I was doing this and realised that this was probably making me feel anxious all the time. So, I had no choice, but to tell myself to breathe… Just breathe Sarah. Take a few long breaths. Breathe out slowly. And it worked. The anxious tummy cramps I give myself when I hold my breath all the time slowly stopped, and I felt in so much more control. And if the Harriet had to wait for her feed, or Sidney needed a wee while I was washing up – it’s fine. Its ok.

I feel proud of myself when I feel myself taking long, deep breaths

Recently the tummy cramps have been back, and I have caught myself holding my breath again, a lot. Even when I’m pouring a cup of tea. So I am literally telling myself to breathe. Anxiety is a thing that I manage. I have to manage it otherwise I will go bananas, and I don’t want that. I feel proud of myself when I feel myself taking long, deep breaths, telling myself that its ok if I’m writing this, and not working on a deadline that is due. This is important too. I can take a deep breath and its ok if both my children are wanting things but I am going to finish the washing-up anyway. Them waiting for me helps them learn that they can’t have what they want as soon as they want it.

Breathing. Thats the most important thing I can do right now.