Why Daddy Should Say Yes to a Kitten

In the hour between dinner and bedtime, my kids gained and lost a new pet. They found her hiding amongst the Lego; her glossy black body contrasting with the bright blocks. I was washing dishes in the kitchen, and popped my head in to investigate the enthusiastic giggling and cooing that was coming from the next room. You know when your child proudly shows you an unruly scribble and tells you it is a mermaid playing with a dolphin in the stormy sea, and you make impressed noises so as not to hurt their feelings? I felt a bit like that upon being introduced to the new pet; truthfully I was less than delighted to even have her (apparently she was a girl) in the house, but I agreed she was very sweet because I love my children. 

The kids named their pet “Tricky” in recognition of her agility. They were thrilled with the way she climbed in and out of their Lego houses. They paraded her around the kitchen in Lily’s Lego caravan, singing, “We’re going on a holiday!” at the top of their voices. They constructed a maze for her from cushions and toys, although she didn’t really grasp the concept of walking through it – repeatedly electing to turn back around the way she had come. They put her in with the little living bean sprout Lily had brought home from school. When I suggested that there was a strong possibility Tricky may decide to eat it, she screamed at Elijah to, “Take her out! Take her out!” That was when I realised that my daughter’s devotion to to her pet did not extend to actually touching her, and that beyond all the enthusiasm about Tricky’s cuteness, Lily was quite squeamish.

With bedtime approaching, I broke the news as gently as I could that Tricky was going to have to find a new home outside. Without fanfare, Elijah immediately scooped up the pet and tipped her outside onto the grass. Lily spent a few minutes mourning her loss and wailing, “We’re never going to see Tricky again! It’s so sad!” 

“It’s very, very sad!” Elijah cheerfully agreed. They recovered pretty quickly – I suspect they had seen it coming. 

Three days later, my kids were playing on the opposite side of the garden, when they unearthed a whole family of potential pets. And there amongst that adorable wiggling pile – oh joy – they identified a familiar beloved form: Tricky! What a happy reunion it was, to see the dear one safe and well. Thankfully my kids seemed to accept that Tricky was now comfortably settled in her outside home. They brought her a scrap of felt for a blanket, a shell for a bed, and left her there in the bosom of her new family. 



Fire Engines and Feathers: Life with a Toddler

These are a few of my toddler’s favourite things: diggers, fire engines, cranes, motorbikes, big trucks with cars on top, monkeys, tigers, cousins, feathers. He thrills at blaring sirens, revving motorbikes, crashing diggers. He shrieks with delight at monkeys that show their lumpy crimson bottoms, puff their chests into balloons and hoot, or sail with insouciant ease from branch to branch. He gazes up, blinking and astonished at cranes that seem to stab the clouds. He adores any chance to run helter-skelter, throw balls and explore playgrounds with his cousins. And he loves feathers.

At two-and-a-half, my son is captivated by those fast and furious parts of life that roar and race and kick up dust. Things that go – quick as a flash, full steam ahead – are the things that appeal to my boy, because like them, he loves to go. His obsession with feathers seems a little at odds with all of his other fast, loud, bold objects of affection.

Last week, when we were getting in the car to take his big sister to school, my son picked up a small, downy feather. After dropping her off, we went on to our regular music group, where he played with Matchbox cars while I helped set up tables and chop fruit. We were part way through the music session that followed playtime, when I noticed his clenched fist. I peeled back his little fingers to discover the clammy, wilted carcass of a feather in his warm, sweaty palm – he had been holding it for two hours.


Today was a blustery Easter Sunday; trees aglow on the drive home from church and the first hint of autumn crispness in the air. My boy found a feather in the yard and was instantly bewitched. He held it tenderly in his hand, smiling at the wispy softness against his skin. A gust of wind snatched it from his hand and he squealed in surprised delight, grabbing at his treasure as it drifted and dipped just beyond his reach. Over and over we tossed the feather into the air and he laughed and chased and tried to pin it down as it danced away like a skittish moonbeam. Last year my son was spellbound by the demolition of a house over the back fence, but today he was just as transfixed by the mysterious paths a soft and silent feather wove through the sky.


And right there lies the sweet and bewildering paradox of life with my toddler. The world to him is a place of wonder and he runs into it full-tilt, arms wide, zooming like an aeroplane. He throws things he shouldn’t throw (a plate of toast crusts, a box of dominoes, a ceramic angel), he yells because he likes the sound of his voice, he runs to get places, he stomps when he’s happy. As my husband once said: he lives life with verve. But then there’s the flip-side: when he’s tired or hurt or overwhelmed or just wrapped up in a moment – the bravado slips and I see the quiet and gentle little soul that is just as much my son. When he presents a bumped knee to be kissed, when he looks at me with tear-stained cheeks and reaches up for a cuddle, when he folds his little arms around my neck and rests his head on my shoulder – these are the slow and cherished moments that remind me this is only the third autumn he has seen.

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Oh yes, this toddler of mine can race and roar and go, go, go. But he can also (sometimes) softly, softly stroke a baby’s hair. He can squat down in front of a one-year-old and observe in wonder, “It’s so little!” He can whisper in awe at the sight of the moon. He can bend down and watch the slow crawl of a fuzzy caterpillar. And he can hold a feather for several hours in his hand. Just don’t expect him not to crush it.

When Good Fairies Go Bad

This is the scene behind my toaster at present: a shell filled with dried corn kernels, a floral toothpick-holder containing a shrivelled blossom, a cork, a scattering of rose petals, some small shells and a plastic sweetcorn. It appears that I may be some kind of hoarder-in-miniature, or perhaps that I’ve dedicated a bizarre shrine to the toaster crumb-tray. There is something far too precise about the collection to indicate that I’m simply a really untidy housewife, so cast that thought away. Each tiny item has been chosen and arranged with infinite care, as if by… well as if by very small magical people.

The view behind my toaster.

The view behind my toaster.

My daughter loves fairies. She talks constantly about her fairy friends, the language that they speak, the midnight feasts they share. She was distraught when our resident fairy family suffered severe flooding to their home in the strawberry patch thanks to some overzealous watering. Immediately, she packed up all of their worldly possessions and relocated them to a new home behind the toaster. I dare not trespass.

I’m in two minds about my daughter’s enthusiasm for small winged creatures of the magical persuasion. On the one hand, I love that her interest gives rise to lots of imaginative play: the creation of tiny enchanted worlds, funny new words, and magical potions from petals and basil leaves. On the other hand, it can be a little intense, verging on obsessional. No Mummy, you can’t throw out that (cornflake/ watermelon seed/ cup of brown sludge)! Please can I have (strawberries/ Tic Toc biscuits/ glow-sticks) for a midnight feast with my fairy friends? The fairies speak a different language, but you can’t understand it. I’m not pretending! It is real! And then there’s the situation behind my toaster.

When it came to gifts for my daughter’s fifth birthday, the question was: to fairy or not to fairy? Should we use the opportunity to try to broaden her interests a little, or should we give her what she really wanted in the form of fairy-related gifts? I admit that the very idea of seeing her eyes light up over something that she loved was an irresistible prospect. I had no concept of the power of this notion until I became a parent (though in retrospect, I suspect it was the light in my eyes that convinced my own father to let me have a pet duckling when I was her age).

So we gave her the glittery Tinker Bell doll that promised to light up and fly three metres at the pull of a string. And we gave her the fairy egg: just add water to hatch your own fairy friend. And there were gasps and squeals, and oh yes there was the light in her eyes.

After breakfast, we went outside to launch Tinker Bell. It quickly became apparent that achieving fairy lift-off was trickier than the ads had suggested, and my daughter started to become frustrated. She tugged at the cord with increasing agitation, perhaps less conscious of the direction in which the toy was pointing. Then suddenly, just as the tiny toes were poised to spring into the air, the spinning, glitter-encrusted wings twirled straight into my daughter’s nose. The sting to her face was perhaps less acute than the sense of betrayal from one of own precious fairy friends, and she immediately dissolved into tears.

Tinker Bell: Winged Assassin.

Tinker Bell: Winged Assassin.

Then there was the fairy egg. The images on the box promised a great deal, and deep down I suspected that the end result may not quite meet expectations. But I knew that my daughter would be enchanted by the thought of hatching her own fairy. (She was!). And it seemed like a fun idea.

What we were promised.

What we were promised.

We placed the egg into a jug of water and waited to see what would happen. The next morning, my little girl ran into the kitchen in a state of great anticipation to see if the egg had hatched. Indeed, the shell had peeled back just enough to reveal a bloated, yellowish face: a warrior of uncertain gender, with fierce brows and angry eyes. With a silence that filled the room, my daughter turned the fairy’s vessel so that she could no longer see its face. Then, without a word, she picked up her spoon and ate her cereal.

What we got.

What we got.

I’m starting to think that I needn’t worry about intervening in my daughter’s love affair. The fairies are obviously perfectly capable of destroying every last magical speck of fairy dust all on their own.

White Ankle Socks and Rookie School Mums

There’s something about seeing them out there in the world without us: that little person that we held curled in our belly and heavy in our arms for so long. Something about watching them – before they’ve seen us – untethered from our own body, afloat in the big wide world. The first few times we return in time to catch them playing independently at a crèche or childcare, the sight seems miraculous, almost shocking: concrete proof of the idea that this child of ours can, and does in fact, continue to exist without us right beside them.

Last week my daughter took some bold steps out from under my wing and into that big wide world. She went ahead and – gulp – started school. It was a huge day, coming on the heels of a roller-coaster 24 hours (more on that later). However, as I work at the school part-time, I was granted the enviable opportunity to spy on observe her briefly a few times as she adapted to her new habitat. They were treasured glimpses that helped to set my mind and heart at ease.

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Honestly, the build-up to first-day-of-school was monumental, at times overwhelming. Despite having taught junior primary for over a decade, I still found myself completely bewildered by decisions about non-marking sports shoes and iron-on labels and contact versus removable book covers. In the lead-up I indulged in spurts of panicked online shopping on school stationery sites with cute names like Dinkleboo and Stuck on You – seeking solace among contented owls and jolly robots, swirly fonts and pastel shades. However, when none of the name stickers, fairy book covers, personalised library bags or iron-on labels had arrived by the start of school and I was forced to improvise with clear covers and laundry markers, I was left feeling like the biggest school rookie mum around.

Meanwhile, my daughter appeared to be holding up well. She was counting down the sleeps until first-day-of-school. She had breezed through her school transition visits, thought her new teacher was “beautiful and nice”, and was excited that her kindergarten bestie would be in her class. However, the thing about my girl is that she can be a bit of a sleeper weeper. By that I mean that she will often appear calm and excited about an upcoming event or milestone, while a whole layer of anxiety is actually bubbling just beneath the surface – ready to erupt without warning in the form of an emotional volcano. Sure enough, at quarter-to-five on the afternoon before school, it blew.

It all came down to the socks. Our family had been enjoying the Australia Day public holiday and we were about to crank up the BBQ for dinner, when I called my daughter to her room to try on her uniform one more time before school. Of course, we had tried on the dress, the hat and the shoes when we bought them in the weeks prior. The only element we hadn’t tried on was the white ankle socks purchased from the school’s uniform shop – but who tries on socks? (Only a fool wouldn’t think to try on the socks! shriek all the experienced school mums. But as I said, I’m a rookie school mum and it hadn’t even crossed my mind). She pulled them on and – boom – up she went.

The socks, you see, didn’t feel right. They had padded soles, and when shoes were added to the equation, the shoes felt too tight. The obvious solution was to find an alternative pair of thin white ankle socks in her cupboard that would feel more comfortable with the shoes. But do you think I could find a single pair of plain white ankle socks that didn’t have visible holes and/or a pink stripe across the middle? What had started as crying progressed to wailing. And what had started as a reasonable mother trying to reassure her daughter that she just had to wear-in her shoes a bit, progressed to a mother teetering precariously on the edge of hysteria. After all, I asked myself, what sort of foolish, rookie mother gets her child to try on her complete uniform when it’s too late to fix anything that’s not right? “I’ve ruined her first day of school!” I sobbed to my husband. Because I know my daughter better than anyone, and I know with absolute certainty that if her socks don’t feel right and if her shoes are too tight, that is going to be the thing that overshadows new books, and nice teacher and best friend and fun playground on her first day.

It was ten-to-five on a public holiday, the day before school started, that Superstar Daddy sprang into action. There was a “do or die” look in his eyes as he grabbed his Superstar Man-bag, keys to the family sedan and bolted to the door on a Mission. I asked him where he would possibly find white ankle socks or even a shop still open at this time, but he was not to be deterred. “I have to try!” was his brave response, he was gone.

Meanwhile, not willing to take my chances with anyone – even Superstar Daddy – managing to locate a sock-selling store in Adelaide just before five on the Australia Day holiday, I went in search of a back-up plan. I found it right at the bottom of my two-year-old’s sock drawer: a pair of plain white ankle socks in toddler size. I have to try! rang in my ears like a mantra, as I wiggled my daughter’s feet into the undersized socks and tugged on her school shoes. I could hardly breathe as I waited for her verdict. In a tiny voice my little girl peeped, “They feel good,” and promptly burst into tears.

A surge of relief and love washed over me as I gathered my daughter in my arms. My little girl, a week off five, about to embark on the biggest day of her life. I knew just how she felt – how anxious and excited and strange and completely overwhelmed. I also had a hunch that the time just before starting was going to be the hardest bit, and I tried my best to tell her this. Tomorrow, things would likely be okay – we just had to get through tonight. And it wasn’t over yet.

I rang Superstar Daddy immediately to tell him the good sock news, but he wasn’t answering his phone. I had expected him to return to start the BBQ after a dash to our local IGA around the corner. When there was no sign of him after half an hour, I started to grow irritated. I couldn’t imagine what was possibly taking him so long. As the time stretched to an hour, my irritation turned to anxiety and my calls became increasingly panicked. Okay, so perhaps my own emotions were a little heightened too, but by quarter-to-six I had reached the conclusion that he had had a terrible accident and was lying pinned inside our crumpled car somewhere. I was on the verge of contacting relatives when Superstar Daddy burst in the door, clasping a pack of slightly padded, mostly white ankle socks. Not perfect, but about on par with our toddler socks in the category of better-than-nothing.

So, against the odds, my daughter made it to first-day-of-school: correctly attired and tear-free. She was a picture of smiling serenity as I kissed her goodbye and weaved my way back through the gaggle of flapping, pecking parents. Personally, I was feeling a little raw and woebegone. I was exhausted before the school day had even begun. But I had a class to teach, so I took a deep breath and did my best to hold it together.

Late in the morning, between my classes, I saw her: out there in the big wide world – or at least the Reception playground. She was springing across a row of stepping-stones, light and carefree in her new school shoes and white (toddler-sized) ankle socks. It was impossible to feel bereft at the sight of her: untethered from me but not aimless, afloat in the world but not adrift. I smiled at the miracle of my daughter, brave and curious, exploring the world without me. And then, with a bursting heart, I kept on walking.

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Spring Neglect

I’m told that as the mercury starts to climb, many people experience an irresistible urge to spring clean their homes. I fear I may suffer from the reverse malady: with the first properly warm days of the season, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to disregard all things domestic. You might call it spring neglect.

I remember the day this condition first took hold: for once we have completed our morning routines and exited the house in a relatively harmonious state – largely due to Lily’s elation at being allowed to wear shorts and a T-shirt to kindergarten for the first time in months. (It seems that when you are four-and-a-half, having bare arms and legs simultaneously is pretty much the pinnacle of human existence.) The result of Lily’s unusually cooperative spirit is that the three of us set off less-late than usual on our walk to kindy; backpack strung from the pram handles, and Elijah ooing and ahhing at the digger on our street. The air is warm and fragrant, and the blue sky glistens like a lacquered bowl.

We pause to chat with our elderly neighbour who is gardening in his front yard. He tells us stories about flying foxes hanging upside-down from our gum trees. Lily giggles hysterically at his little yappy dog, Miss Molly playing “peekaboo” under the fence. We walk on. We find an empty nest; a fat, fuzzy caterpillar; an orange and black butterfly. Each is a thing to exclaim over, study and wonder about.

We finally reach the kindergarten at the end of our street, less less-late now – but it seems pointless to worry about that (or anything, really) in this weather. The miracle of that perfectly warm air and feather-soft breeze against skin is enough to dispel all concerns and anxieties. Kissing my daughter goodbye at the gate, I notice that a wattle bush seems to have exploded into bloom overnight. You really couldn’t dream up a more over-the-top emblem of spring than wattle. There is something shrieky, almost brazen, about the way it heralds the new season: thousands of tiny yellow pom-poms huddled together like a crowd of downy ducklings. And that heady, honeyed scent makes me a little giddy.

Walking back home with Elijah, I feel absurdly happy. I know it may seem a bit pathetic to complain about Adelaide’s relatively mild winters. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that winter has stuck around far too long this year. I’m tired of dripping, grubby skies smeared with clouds. I’m tired of that closeted, cotton-wool-brain feeling of being stuck inside with kids. I’m tired of round upon round of sickness: of aches and shakes and flus and fevers, of scratchy throats and endless coughing, of burning foreheads and broken nights. I’m tired of wiping gluey trails of snot from faces, hands, jackets. I’m tired of feeling tired. This beautiful, warm day seems like a symbolic end to all that – a sturdy lid slammed on winter.

In winter the mess is forever in your face: the half-curled socks slinking across bedroom floors like renegade snails; the grit of toast crumbs embedded in couches; the jumbled piles of texta drawings, bank statements and letters that need to be dealt with; the peril of matchbox cars underfoot. There’s really nothing for it but to clean, yet any parent can tell you that cleaning with small children in the house is about as effective and as painless as trimming your eyelashes with a butter knife in a dark room.

Yes, I love the (rare) settled feeling of a clean and tidy house, with everything in its place. But sometimes I wonder if I might be a little too focused in my pursuit of an unattainable goal. With small children, something has to “give”. To be honest, the days I finally get on top of the mountains of washing and clutter are usually the days I lack patience with my kids, the days when my, “not nows” make me sound like a broken record. Life is busy and messy and maybe it’s time to accept that there could well be years when the state of my house will drive me nuts. Of course there will always be occasions when I have to Get Stuff Done, and insist that the kids play on their own. But sometimes neglecting a household chore can mean nurturing a small person, and that’s a choice I want to make more often than not.

This spring morning I stand in my kitchen with the sunlight lapping the tiles at my feet and watch the shining day unfold outside. And it’s a funny mix of energy and apathy that I feel- a hum of excitement at what the day might bring, combined with a distinct lack of interest in attacking the mess around me. It’s a whole lot easier not to feel irritated by the detritus of crumbs and socks and toys in springtime. Today I can shut the door on the chaos and sit on the decking with my little boy while he “cooks” dirt and leaves in plastic saucepans and runs matchbox cars over the bricks. And later I can eat jammy pikelets with my children in a ramshackle cubby on the grass, and draw chalk giraffes on the pavement.

This spring day is for living. I’ll clean when it’s winter.

There's nothing quite like the taste of dirt on a spring day!

There’s nothing quite like the taste of dirt on a spring day!

A Toddler’s Ten Step Guide to Life

  1. Dirt is a glorious thing. All of its qualities make me happy: the way it feels between my fingers and my teeth, the clouds that form as I throw it in the air, the way it tumbles onto my arms and legs and settles into the creases of my clothes. Breathtaking.
  2. When you say, “don’t do that,” I hear, “you’d better do that really fast, cause this opportunity might not come round again for a while.” Hence the quite remarkable speed with which I emptied my drink bottle onto my pasty today. The three seconds it took you to get from around the kitchen bench to my highchair was long enough for flakes of pastry to be floating! It was an impressive record, plus I had the satisfaction of ticking another life experience off my bucket list. (Making lunch float: check.)
  3. Nudity is hilarious. So are running people.
  4. If you want to blow my nose without me kicking up a fuss, you’re going to have to show me the boogers. Seriously, wouldn’t you want to know what cool stuff your nose has made today? I’m always surprised and impressed by the ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours and textures you pull out of there. Just show me the boogers, people, and I might even help by blowing a few more out for you.
  5. Every tunnel, without exception has or has had a train inside. This includes: tunnels at the playground, mouse-holes in picture books, toilet rolls and tube-shaped pasta. I find these objects quite thrilling due to their association with something I hold so incredibly dear. You can acknowledge the connection and get excited with me or you can try and tell me there is no train. Either way, there will be tooting!
  6. I need to experience all condiments on the dinner table ASAP. That mysterious bottle and bowl just out of my reach hold some kind of intriguing treasure which will, no doubt, enliven my palette and enrich my dining experience. I’m becoming familiar with the way these things work: bowls often hold material for sprinkling and bottles contain sauces for dipping stuff in. Either way, it’s going to be super fun and I really do need it on my plate now! I will scream and point while I wait for the transfer to take place.
  7. A container of water is for putting things in. Always. Some of my favourite combinations have been: Humphrey Bear in the dog’s water bowl, pizza in my cup and socks in the bath. The phone in the toilet was a thing of beauty. I could tell by the excitement in your voice that you thought so too.
  8. If you leave a marker pen lying within my grasp, I will creatively embellish the nearest clean surface. (Unless that surface is paper, of course. Duh!) Typically I gravitate towards white, particularly if the white is also shiny (hello tiles!). Sometimes, however, I do like to try out unusual surfaces (my truck was cool) or contrasting colours (the green looked rather nice on Daddy’s new orange footstool).
  9. As I can only say a few names, I find it helpful to use the one name to refer to people who are similar. So, for example, every smiling boy I encounter is called “Ben”, because that’s my cousin. And when I see a friendly-looking man, I call him “Dad”. Of course, strictly speaking, my dad doesn’t have a turban and or a long white beard like the “dad” at the library today, but the general vibe is similar.
  10. I like to wake up and call for you just a little while after you’ve gone to bed. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this special timing? My heart melts when you stumble all sleepy-eyed and messy-haired into my room, looking a little lost. I wrap my arms around you and hold you tight, thinking how safe and contented you must feel to have a lovely cuddle with me before going back to sleep. But don’t worry, sweet Mummy, I’m just next door and I’ll be sure to check on you a few more times throughout the night. You’re welcome.                                                                            Water is for putting things in

Mother’s Guilt

Ah, Mother’s Guilt. It can hound your heart: fierce and persistent. I’ve had a bad case for about three-and-a-half years now. Of course, the thing about being a mother is that there’s always plenty of stuff going on to distract from a case of Mother’s Guilt. Like Mother’s Guilt about something else, for example. But in those rare silent spaces of the day, the shriek of guilt echoes still. And it says: “Why haven’t you taken her swimming lessons?”

Because here in Australia, it’s what parents do. We are a nation in love with water – which is not surprising given our environment. This summer we sweated through 12 days over 40°C (104°F). There was a day in January where my city held the dubious honour of officially being the hottest city on Earth (46°C/ 115°F). Our national anthem proclaims our home to be “girt by sea”: we are a big hot island enfolded in the most enticing sapphire. Our kids grow up with nappies full of sand and eyes smarting from salt-water. They visit Friends With Pools, ride on inflatable mattresses, play Marco Polo and smell of chlorine and sunscreen and summertime. Swimming lessons are a significant part of this lifestyle. You may have a naturally-birthed, exclusively breastfed, cloth-nappy-wearing, sleeping-through-the-night six-month-old, but if she’s not enrolled in baby swimming lessons, you’re only so-so as a mum. And yes, congratulations dear friend, for helping your baby achieve proficiency at Butterfly by his first birthday.

Although she tends to be cautious at first, given a little time to adjust, Lily adores jumping waves with Daddy at the beach or bouncing through the swimming pool in Mummy’s arms. It’s not as if we have completely denied her and her brother the joys of water. But somehow we just never seemed to get around to those pesky swimming lessons.

Last week I finally – years too late and definitely not in the best season – made an attempt to appease my Mother’s Guilt, and enrolled both kids in swimming lessons. Lily had her first yesterday afternoon. All day she was bouncing off the walls, exclaiming how she couldn’t wait. In fact, her uncharacteristically eager compliance to all my instructions – bathers on, hair up, track pants over the top, showering before her lesson, new goggles on – actually made us early for our lesson.

There was a moment where I was almost lulled into thinking this whole swimming lesson caper was going to be straight-forward. I say almost because being mum to my precious Lily for four years has taught me that new experiences are never easy for her (which may help to explain my reluctance to dive into swimming lessons, if you’ll excuse the pun). Dancing lessons, Sunday School, occasional care, childcare, kindergarten – all looked marvellous to her from a distance, but became tear-soaked affairs the day they shifted into reality.

Sure enough, when the moment came to step into the pool, Lily burst into tears, “I thought I wanted to have swimming lessons, but I don’t!” she cried plaintively. “I’ve changed my mind!” The instructor ended up having to carry her, thrashing and howling into the pool. I watched (as well as I could whilst struggling to prevent my toddler from hurling all manner of items including himself into the water) as she manoeuvred my daughter’s reluctant little frame into a range of positions: belly, back, star float, belly with kick-board, back with kick-board. A bench-load of attentive parents were treated to an earful of wails and whimpers, climaxing in the blood-curdling protest: “I don’t want to get my hair wet!” And my heart twisted and crashed inside my chest as Lily’s face registered a gamut of emotions: distress, anxiety, concentration, fleeting pops of joy and pride.

Towards the end of the lesson, while the other little girl in the class ducked and dived and wet her hair like a mermaid, Lily – the picture of misery – huddled on the pool steps with teeth chattering, tears streaking her face, pink goggles askew and bather pants half-way down her bottom. Honestly, I wanted to cry myself. While there had been a few positive moments, it had been a pretty agonising half-hour on the whole. And as for the Mother’s Guilt: if anything, seeing my little girl struggle out there had made it roar all the louder. But then, what’s motherhood without an ample dollop of guilt?

Wheel Obsession

The other night my toddler plunged head-first and fully-clothed into the bath during a desperate bid to retrieve the little red aeroplane bobbing just beyond his reach. I was in the process of filling up the bath at the time, and thankfully right there to witness his spectacular dive (points deducted for too much splash on entry), and to fish him drenched and wailing from the tub. Seems his admiration for things with wheels is starting to veer into the risk-taking behaviour of an unhealthy obsession.

It wasn’t always this extreme. Over the past couple of months, we have seen Elijah’s fondness for cars, trucks, trains and planes blossom into true, deep devotion. He “bwmm bwmms” his cars around the house. He squeals and points when a bus passes us on the street. He gasps with astonished joy when a caravan appears on Playschool. And sometimes he just must hold his little Percy train, or there’s no telling what might happen.

Like every true passion, my 18-month-old sees his dearly beloved everywhere he looks. Through his eyes, a vaguely hill-shaped object will somehow morph into the glorious form of a car. “Bwmm Bwmm!” he’ll exclaim pointing to an image of crumpled trousers in a picture book or a pig-shaped puzzle piece. During a recent visit to an electrical store, he became transfixed with the toasters, pointing and making excited engine noises. As far as he was concerned, Elijah was looking at a whole row of gleaming cars.

Then there was my mistake of reading a car-themed library book called Around Town as a bedtime story. It was an innocuous-looking little eight-page board book: brightly coloured, lift-the-flaps (two out of four missing), no story but pithy descriptions of various vehicles with a few chugs, zooms and woo woos thrown in. To be honest, it didn’t particularly move me; but for Elijah it was a revelation. We read it and then we read it again. And again. Every time I started on Hello Baby or Spot’s First Colours, the book was slammed shut and Around Town thrust on top in no uncertain terms.

After the eighth reading, I tried to put him to bed. However, the idea of being separated from that busy train and steady truck was too much. He stood at the bars of his cot, alternatively howling with grief and forlornly whimpering, “bwmm, bwmm?” while pointing to the door and the promised land of cars beyond. At the peak of his sorrow, he was hysterical to the point of dry retching, and no amount of patting, singing or shushing could soothe him.

Utterly wrung-out by his emotions, Elijah eventually lay down and allowed me to stroke his back. His sobbing ceased, his breathing became regular. But every time he started to drift off, he would suddenly spring to his feet amid a fresh avalanche of tears and “bwmm bwmms”. In desperation, I even tried putting Around Town into bed with him. But this was not an adequate solution. My little boy desired to commune with me, marvel together at this rich portrait of noisy, hard-working vehicles.

It was almost an hour and a half before sleep finally won out and – utterly shattered – I tiptoed from the room. Within an hour I had collapsed into bed myself, holding my breath in the silence. Sure enough, I was soon dragged from the lovely cusp of sleep by a pitiful little “bwmm bwmm!” With sinking heart, groggy head and gritted teeth, I heaved myself out of bed and prepared for another wearisome battle.

Silence. I waited, but there was no sound.

And I realised that my little boy must be seeing cars in his dreams.

Dear Fickle Four-Year-Old

Dear Four-Year-Old,

Gracious, what was I thinking? Purple is obviously a completely unsuitable colour for knickers. Just because your favourite spoon is purple, I was misguided to assume this preference should extend to undergarments. Lying on the floor weeping is a perfectly reasonable response to the suggestion you might wear such a heinous item to bed.

You’re right: toast should be cut into squares, never triangles. What a shock it must have been to see your snack so grossly disfigured. Daddy was ignorant of the Laws of Toast and got it very, very wrong. You have pointed out his error in a direct and persuasive manner which I doubt he will forget.

I’m sorry for telling you to get on the toilet right now, when your imaginary big sister was sitting on it. It wasn’t your fault that she was taking her own sweet time, and it’s not as if you could have sat on top of her. That would have been awkward. Of course you were upset given my lack of understanding in a complex situation.

The dog should not have allowed her tail to touch the sticker on your leg. Fur against stickers against skin is extremely distressing. No wonder you screamed and lost your appetite for dinner.

I’m sorry the sun is shining on your car-seat while your brother’s is in the shade. It is very unfair and thoughtless of it to do so. No wonder you shed tears at the injustice of life.

I was foolish to offer you a banana when you only like to eat bananas at the zoo.

Please forgive me for speaking to your brother when you were composing a song, thus interrupting the inspired flow. During future song-writing sessions we will remember to wear our soft-soled moccasins and carry out all essential communication in sign language.

I should not have asked you to carry your shoes inside from the car. My arms may have been laden with two bags and a toddler, but I have a pair of perfectly good ears from which I could have hung your shoes – if I was prepared to be a bit more considerate.

Dear Four-Year-Old, thank you for clearly and articulately highlighting my mistakes, lest I ever start to become conceited. And thanks for reminding me daily that I am most certainly not the centre of the universe.

Love from Mummy.