Toddler Wars

I have been demoted from Chief Comforter to Head of Eggshell Walking for Toddler Negotiations.

It is a testing role which starts with a spooky voice in the middle of the night.
 “Mummy. Mummy where are you?”

If I pretend to be asleep this question will be repeated increasing in volume until Milk and Mayhem awake in a panic.

If I reply then I’m thrown into the inevitable night time ritual which ends with me dodging the lego on the landing and carrying Midnight to our room,  booting my husband into the darkness, so we all get some sleep. I bed share with a rotating rib jabber.

This job continues for 15 hours without a loo break – or any break – except possibly to put the bins out or feed Barry White (our never-ending rabbit).

“I don’t like this spoon!” Midnight screeches at 6am as my husband presents him with porridge.

My husband gets another spoon.
“I don’t like that spoon. That spoon is babyish! I’m a big boy and I want a big boy spoon.”

“I don’t even know why we still have these baby spoons”, huffs my husband chucking it into the sink and slinking back to the table with another one.

“Maybe sorting the cutlery drawer has slipped down my list of priorities since I took on the role of Everything Other Than Fun” I say to his back while burning holes in his head with my tired red eyes .

We sip our coffees in silence hoping Midnight is eating his porridge and not emptying the fruit bowl into our shoes.

Midnight is of course right. He is no longer a baby.

This only really occurred to me the other day when I was carrying him up a dog poo-smattered hill while my lower back creaked and cracked.
“You’re not a baby any more” I say into his hair.
“I’m a big boy.”
“Well big boys walk” I say gingerly, lowering him towards the ground.
“NO THEY DO NOT! BIG BOYS DO NOT WALK,” Midnight throws himself from my arms before I can stop him, and lands in a ball on the path.

I’m relieved to see he has avoided landing in dog poo, but he will only walk if he can carry half a tree back to the car.

He pokes his branch around on the ground all the way up the hill.
“Please dont poke dog poo,” I say.
“I won’t mummy – is this dog poo here ?”
He pokes his stick into dog poo.
“Yes it is,” I say trying to remove the branch from his clenched fists.
“I need to take it off you”
“Noooooooooo” He screams.
“I need to take it away, it has poo on it”.

As we battle the stick gets waved around like a conductor’s baton. The threat of poo being flung in different directions is possibly the biggest adrenalin rush I’ve had since I jumped out of a plane 20 years ago.

I wrestle the stick off him and throw it frantically over a fence, which I quickly realise is someone’s garden.

We do a runner with Midnight screaming as I drag him the last few metres to the car. An hour and seven custard creams later Midnight has forgotten about the poo stick.

My husband calls. “Do you want anything from the shop?”

“Ear defenders ? Or masking tape” I suggest.

I hear the fridge door open.
“I’m going to be annoying Mummy!” declares Midnight from the kitchen.

I find him trying to open the wrapping on  a chicken with a pizza cutter.
“Can I eat it mummy?”
I sigh. “We need to cook it first.”
“Now Mummy?”
“No, not now” I say.

My husband is thrilled at dinner. “You must have had a nice quiet day cooking a roast on a Tuesday.”

I roll my eyes “Absolutely,” and I smile because that is all I have left.

The Day Trip

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‘I’ve booked for us to go to Wisley’ says my husband.

This is our first day trip in nearly a year. I am so excited I immediately jump in the car to buy supplies. In my haste I forget my mask. 

I scrabble around in the boot and find every conceivable combination of clothing. I could even dress up as a birdwatching snowboarder with plastic spiders attached to my knees. 

But there is no face mask.

I consider attaching a nappy to my face, but decide it will look odd and I’m not convinced it’s clean. Instead I find one of Midnight’s wooly hats with little strings at the side. Perfect. I pull the hat over my mouth and tie the string round the back of my head. 

I check myself in the car window. The pom pom is hanging down from my chin but I am pleased with my creativity, and head inside. A member of staff approaches me. 

‘Would you like a mask?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I feel myself going red and nod enthusiastically. The bobble nods with me.

‘We have spare masks for people who’…  she regards my hat face ‘…For people who forget…’

I accept the socially normal mask. But I have tied my hat too tightly to my head and I can’t undo the knot so I weave through the aisles with a face mask over my mouth and the bobble hat around my throat. It is a sweaty trip.

At home my husband sighs as he removes the hat from my neck with a snip of the scissors. ‘I just don’t know how you will ever manage to return to the adult world.’

I agree with him.

We tell the children where we are going. ‘It’s like a magical adventure park with a big glass house,’ my husband waves his arms around enthusiastically.

‘Do you mean a garden with a greenhouse?’ asks Milk not even looking up from his complicated lego assembly.

‘Kind of…’ we concede ‘ but it has a shop at the end’.

The children roll their eyes. ‘That sounds boring,’ says Mayhem.

Midnight copies. ‘That’s borin’!’, he shouts. ‘That’s borin’ Mummy.’

I’m surprised at my two-year-old’s attitude, considering the most exciting thing he has done is buy some underpants in a supermarket. 

And then we hit the motorway. 

‘Lorry!! Midnight screeches. ‘Transporter! Lorry again, Mummy! Lorry again, car, car, car, car. ‘Ment Mixer!, Lorry!’

We get an hour long inventory of the vehicles using the M25. 

Unfortunately my husband took the wrong week off work and the great glass house with the man-eating plants and giant lily pads is still closed. We press our noses against the glass, allow the children to terrorise other garden-users for an hour and then buy expensive organic yoghurt lollies from the shop, which the boys quickly realise have no sugar in them.

‘Tastes weird’, says Milk. Mayhem nods and hands his to my husband.

Midnight is inhaling the lolly through the sleeves of his jumper. ‘Cold hands.’ He starts to cry.

At home my husband eases his day-trip disappointment by watching football. 

There is a mixed reaction to this event. Milk slinks off to play Lego. Midnight squeals every time my husband yells at the TV, and Mayhem seeks me out in the kitchen.

‘I hopped all the way from the television to here,’ he says a little out of breath. ‘It was 38 hops.’

‘See if you can hop back,’ I say sipping from a glass of wine while online shopping.

‘Blow your whistle! Blow your whistle! Blow your whistle!’ My husband is incensed. 

‘Blow your whistle Ref!’

‘He can’t hear you, darling,’ I call from the kitchen and buy ten face-masks and a tub of ice-cream.

Words Words Words

Midnight has started to talk. But he has only got as far as commands, and he is enjoying wielding this new found power over us.

It’s like living with a mini dictator from the moment we wake.

‘Go downstairs,’ ‘You sit there,’ ‘You play cars,’ ‘Mummy get popcorn.’

We find ourselves increasingly fearful of his demands, especially, when we don’t understand him.

It’s breakfast and Milk and Mayhem eye their porridge with suspicion.

‘Who made this?’ asks Milk.

‘Daddy made it,’ says Mayhem, pushing his spoon into the middle.

‘How did you know?’ my husband says, pleased that they recognise his effort.

‘Because you haven’t stirred it enough’, says Milk politely.

‘Yes, it’s all lumpy,’ says Mayhem. ‘Like your driving daddy. Your driving is all lumpy and bumpy.’

‘And mummy’s is all smooth like her porridge,’ says Milk with delight.

My husband glances at me and looks a little forlorn.

‘Give me that!’ Midnight interrupts.

We all look at what he is pointing at.

I pass him a banana.

‘Me no like that!’ He shrills and the banana spins off into the air and lands somewhere near my computer.

‘Give me that!’ he screams.

We try water. We try an apple.

My husband points at a satsuma.

Midnight holds out his hand.

We all wait with baited breath while my husband frantically peels the satsuma and places it in front of our glaring toddler.

There is a pause.

‘ME NO LIKE THAT!’ he screams and the satsuma is propelled into oblivion, to be found in a few weeks and mistaken for a yellow ping pong ball.

‘I just don’t know what he wants!’ I say in exasperation.

‘Is he cross because of the virus?’ asks Mayhem.

‘No. Everyone else is, but he doesn’t know about that.’ I say.

‘Get down on his level’ suggests my husband.

I kneel down next to Midnight, aware that the floor by his chair is a perilous mess of lego and regurgitated baby bels, from last night’s torturous dinner.

‘Can you use your words?’ I say calmly stroking Midnight’s hot red face.

‘POOOON! POOOON!’ he screeches and grabs porridge from his bowl and slaps it on my head.

I wipe the porridge from my brow as the older boys start laughing.

‘He wants a spoon,’ says Milk. ‘I can understand him. He wants a spoon.’

My husband gives Midnight a spoon and we all sag with relief as he digs into his porridge.

Later, while I pick the sticky oats from my hair, my husband checks on me. ‘Are you OK? You seem a little stressed.’

I sigh. ‘I am stressed. I feel as if my job is to try and satisfy an extremely unreasonable and violent boss, while failing to catch flying fruit, and utterly failing to provide a wholesome environment for everyone else.’

My husband agrees with me. Which is unusual.

‘Maybe Midnight is bored?’ He says.

‘Of course he is! Do you know what we did today? We played cars, then he went to sleep in the car and when he woke up I let him choose your pants from the supermarket, as his main activity.’

‘So maybe you could do more fun things, like painting?’ My husband suggests.

I roll my eyes.

‘Bubbles?’ My husband continues, a little gingerly.

‘Don’t even talk to me about bubbles’, I say.

My husband raises an eyebrow.

‘They have ruined that too.’ I sip my tea.

‘They?’

‘Bubbles used to signify fun. Blowing bubbles, making children ooh and ahh, giggling, jumping and popping. All those lovely words and feelings, associated with the word bubble. But they have stolen that word. They have taken it and turned it from a lovely bubbly fun word to ‘You must only stay in your bubble,’ ‘you can form a support bubble’, ‘do not mix your bubble.’ And they’ve given us awful words. Social distancing, Self isolation. Awful.’

‘I think you might need a bit of time on your own.’

I look at my tea. ‘Yes maybe I should self-isolate. But I do agree with the boys about your porridge. Is there anything else I could have, or will you be feeding me toilet roll?’

‘Oh don’t worry ab0ut that, I know where there’s a very juicy banana,’ he says and raises his cup with a wink. 

The Bed Hoppers

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BEEEEEEEEP…. BEEEEEEEEEEP.

I wake to the sound of the smoke alarm running out of batteries at 2.30am.

It didn’t run out of batteries when we were awake, during the day. It waited until we were all in a rare deep sleep.

The smoke alarm is outside Midnight’s room, and fiddling about with the cover is like trying to disarm a bomb. This is something I don’t feel trained for on four hours sleep.

I pad back to our room and hiss at the lump in the bed. ‘Help me! help me!’

‘What’s happening?!’ My husband wakes suddenly and crosses his arms in front of his face in a self-defence pose.

‘Alright Daniel San, calm down, we’re not under attack.’

My husband drops his arms.

‘Listen,’ I whisper. We both stay perfectly still. It seems a long time before the BEEEEEP comes.

‘It’s the smoke alarm.’ I explain.

‘Just take the battery out.’ My husband says gruffly.

‘I can’t get the cover off. It’s making my ears bleed.’

‘I’ll do it then.’ My husband rolls out of bed. I fetch a stool.

‘I can’t do it.’ He grumbles, shoving his thumbs into the tiny plastic crack trying to prise it off before it beeps again. He is wobbling dangerously over the stairs.

‘I’m going to get a screw driver.’ I say and spend a frantic two minutes rummaging around in the cupboard of doom under the stairs.

The screwdriver works and we open the cover and take the old battery out. There’s a robotic sound as if it is dying. A red light flickers, and goes off.

‘It’s like the end of Terminator.’ I say

My husband puts his thumb up and climbs off the stool.

‘Well done,’ I say as we crawl back to bed.

I lie awake wondering about the chances of a fire starting in the next three hours now we haven’t got any batteries in the fire alarm.

I close my eyes but moments later Midnight is screaming.

I rush to his room, but as I stroke his head, I hear Mayhem shouting. ‘Somebody? Anybody?’

My husband races to Mayhem’s side, so he doesn’t wake up Milk.

‘You know in Star Wars? Do the death droids have burnt faces?’ I hear Mayhem say.

‘Umm. No. Yes. I don’t know, we’re not talking about this.’ Whispers my husband loudly. ‘It’s the middle of the night, everyone is asleep.’

‘We’re not asleep. And Mummy and Midnight aren’t asleep.’ Says Mayhem.

‘Everyone should be asleep.’

‘But I want to play Star Wars. It’s my destiny,’ says Mayhem.

I can’t help letting out a snort, which startles Midnight.

‘Chocolate Balls!’ shouts Midnight. ‘Chocolate Balls!’

‘Shhhh’ I try to keep calm. It is 3.30am.

‘NO.’ Says Midnight and pulls himself up in his cot. ‘Down there’ he says pointing to the door.

I try to ignore him by rolling onto my side and staring at a cobweb under his cot.

‘DOWN THERE! DOWN THERE! DOWN THERE!’ He shouts.

Mayhem appears at the door.

‘Why are you on the floor mummy? Midnight wants to go downstairs.’

My husband lifts Midnight out of his cot as I heave myself to my feet.

Downstairs we sip coffee in silence, while Midnight eats grapes and Mayhem watches Lego Star Wars. Milk is fast asleep.

‘Don’t worry, we’ve only got six more years for them all to sleep through.’ My husband yawns.

I nod, the dust from the floor has crept into my nose and I close my eyes and sneeze.

‘That was like a power nap.’

My husband grins. ‘Bless you.’

The Teacher

abc books chalk chalkboard
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I have become a bit of a shouty mum.

When my husband points this out, I also become a shouty wife.

‘You have no idea what it’s like, looking after three children for twelve hours a day without a break.’ I say loudly, grasping my tea, so I can’t make any rude hand signals.

My husband opens the fridge.

‘It’s not easy for me either,’ he says staring at the food inside. ‘I’m stuck in the baby’s room doing video calls with hundreds of people, while I can hear everyone else having fun in the garden.’

‘Fun?’ I say, nearly spitting out my tea. ‘Do you think it’s fun trying to stop the baby have his fingers chewed off by the rabbit, while Milk unscrews the slide, and Mayhem buries Storm Troopers in my tomato plants?’

‘I still think you’re a little more shouty than you need to be.’ Says my husband folding two slices of salami into his mouth.

I stare at him. ‘That was for the kids to make home-made pizzas.’

‘Oh sorry.’

‘You’ve just eaten their home-schooling.’ I say sullenly.

My husband rolls his eyes. ‘How is the home-schooling going?’

I wonder if he is trying to wind me up. I think back to my ‘school’ day.

It starts with Midnight screaming because he can’t push a toy car through his bus window.

Ew!’ I say to Milk above the noise. ‘The sound ‘ew’ is what we are learning today.’

Milk waits for me to say something else.

‘Imagine you are eating. Chew. The ‘ew’ sound,’ I say.

Milk writes down, ‘I chew.’

‘Great!’ I say extremely pleased with my teaching. I turn my back on Midnight who is about to throw the bus at me.

I write the words Chew, Flew, New, on our blackboard.

‘Can you think of any other words with the ‘ew’ sound?’

‘Shoe?’ Says Milk.

‘Err, that’s with an o and an e.’

‘Why?’ Asks Milk.

‘I’m not sure.’ I feel the bus hit my shoulder.

‘Blew?’ Says Milk.

‘Yes!’ I pick up the bus and hand it back to Midnight, who throws it immediately under the sofa and screams as he tries to get it out. ‘Blew is a brilliant example, well done.’

Milk writes ‘The Blue Car’ on his piece of paper.

‘Oh no, I thought you meant blew. Like I blew my nose.’ I say.

Milk rubs his head. ‘But blue is an ‘ew’ sound.’

I rub my head too. ‘Shall we do some drawing?’

Mayhem joins in. ‘Look mummy!’ He shoves a piece of paper so close to my face he nearly slices my eyes.

‘Lovely,’ I say at the swirling mass of biro. ‘It’s so good.’

‘It’s an amaze.’ He says. ‘Do you want to follow the line to the treasure?’

‘It’s a maze,’ I say.

Mayhem gives me a look. ‘That’s what I said. Amaze.’

I grab a red pen and follow the scribbled lines round and round but I can’t get to the treasure, because if I do, Mayhem will draw another ‘amaze’ and another, and another, and I will never escape. I rest my forehead on the table.

‘Are you OK mummy? Asks Milk.

‘Not really,’ I say.

Midnight is still screaming, lying on his tummy with one hand under the sofa, trying to reach his bus.

My husband appears. ‘Any chance of a cup of tea?’ he asks, immune to the chaos. ‘I’ve got a call in five minutes.’

‘Only if I can go to the loo. I haven’t been this morning.’ I run for the stairs.

I sit on the toilet for as long as possible, staring at some water on the floor, which is most probably someone’s wee.

‘I’ve got my call now!’ Calls my husband.

I return to an eerie silence. Midnight is not screaming.

Everyone is eating a biscuit.

‘Why are they eating biscuits?’

‘I think they were hungry,’ my husband says sheepishly. ‘Actually, I’ll have a coffee – just leave it on the stairs.’

I finish recounting my traumatic day. ‘So maybe that’s why I’m a little shouty.’ I say, putting my mug on the side. ‘How was your day?’

‘It was really tough, actually. Strange times.’ He gives me a hug. ‘They’ll be going back to school before you know it.’

‘But I like having them here.’

My husband bursts out laughing. ‘You really are impossible.’

‘Strange times,’ I say and manage a smile.