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. 

  

  

Finding Knowledge and Other (Green) Things at the Library

On this, the first morning of the school holidays, we walked to our local library. The walk was not without the usual handful of small dramas that tend to accompany any stroll with a toddler and a five-year-old, but all things considered, it was fairly successful. We encountered only one slightly scary, yappy dog on our journey. We had brief but friendly conversations with a man fixing his car in the driveway and a small boy peering through his front gate. We skinned one knee twice, but thankfully the knee belonged to the more physically resilient of the children, so we got away with minimal tears. Of course, the less hardy child noticed that her injured brother was receiving the lion’s share of attention and attempted to amend this discrepancy by fake-falling-over three times. But when the wheel of the pram accidentally clipped the back of her ankle, she was provided with a genuine opportunity to stage her own short production of suffering and sorrow. The balance of attention thus restored, we reached our destination in good spirits.

I’m a Library Teacher, so naturally I hope that my children will cultivate their own love of the library. I hope that they will learn to relish the hushed stillness, the smell of books, the cosy intimacy of a shared story, perhaps even that pit-of-your-stomach flutter of almost-hunger at opening a new book and devouring the first fresh and perfect words.

When we entered the children’s section of the library today, both of my children selected a pile of books and settled down on the floor to look through them. I felt a rush of pride at my well-behaved and studious offspring. We were getting ready to go when the library’s hushed stillness (and my momentary parental smugness) was pierced by the voice of a two-year-old not overly concerned with inside voices: “I’ve got green boogers!” He held his finger aloft, as if celebrating a Eureka moment of discovery, except that in this case the tip was adorned with a rather spectacular globule. “LOOK AT MY GREEN BOOGERS!”

Pick (excuse the pun) the Library Teacher’s son: making discoveries, eager to share his knowledge with others.

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.

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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.

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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.

The Comedy Act

When she’s in a particularly good mood after her bath, my five-year-old daughter likes to dabble in a bit of physical comedy. She throws her underwear into the air, cries “Where’s my knickers?” and spends the next minute scrabbling madly around the room pretending to search for them, while her two-year-old brother just about hyper-ventilates from laughter. It’s HILARIOUS. My toddler has never once attempted to imitate this comedy act, but he heartily enjoys the show.

This morning my two-year-old is sitting in the trolley as we do the weekly shop. Bonds underwear is having a sale, so I devote a minute to the merits of a three-pack of cushioned-sole, low cut socks. And then a voice interrupts my meditation: “Where’s my knickers?” I shush him, but he knows he’s on to something. This time there is a certain confidence, an authority in his voice as he bellows, “WHERE’S MY KNICKERS?” And then again, but this time in a weird, sinister growl I’ve never even heard him use, “Where’s my knickers?” For goodness’ sake, he doesn’t even wear knickers. Full marks for timing, though.

Tonight’s Bedtime Monologue From my Two-Year-Old

7.20pm: Give two-year-old a pep talk about going to bed nicely, unlike the previous night.

7.22: Two-year-old lies quietly in cot.

7.23pm: “I’m waking up now! I want ice-cream! Green ice-creams. I want ice-creams all DAY! I want ice-cream all-ready!” (Hums for a while then stands up). “Mummy, me keep waking up! Door not shut! Not shut anymore. Not shut. One, two, three, four.” (Starts jumping in cot. I lie him down).

7.25: “Want go outside one day. All day…. Mummy! Me is cross! Me biting! Yeah! (Wet slurping noises). Want bite someone! Aaaagh! Can’t reach you, Mummy! Me not go to sleep!” (Stands up. I lie him down).

7.30pm: “Want to take off sleeping bag! Waaaa!” (Loud fake crying). “Want Daddy! Really want Daddy! Cuddle please Mummy!” (Give him a drink, discover toy Platypussy inside his sleeping bag which leads to much laughter. Put him back to bed.)

7.35pm: “Ha ha! Never seen Platypussy there before! Me know Zac. Mrs T got Zac. Me see Zac for long long time long long time. For long long time. Mummy! Not going anywhere! You stay Mummy! Never see Zac at childcare. Never see Zac at childcare. Hmmm. Pretend you is Mrs T, Mummy!”

7.40pm: “Let’s check on Lily. Let’s check on me.” (Starts humming tunelessly).

7.45pm: “Please sing song, Mummy! Not that one. Not that one. Different one. Wheels on the bus go round and round. You know that one for long time? Wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. Wheels on the bus go round and round all day long. All day Mummy. All day Mummy. All day Mummy. All day meemee. All day hmm hmm hmm.”

7.50pm: (Starts humming softly. Hum gradually builds to scream). “Something on my Platypussy! Dad! Daddy! At work Daddy? Want Daddy! See Daddy after sleep? Then have my break-sast.” (Starts groaning loudly).

7.55pm: “Mummy! Mummy! Want Daddy! Daddy is home! I’m stuck! Aaaah! Can’t get it out!”
(I pull legs from between bars of cot).

8.00pm: “My friend’s called Wang-wo.”

8.04pm: Breathing deepens. Stay another 15 minutes just to make sure.

8.20pm: I exit room and head straight for chocolate stash.

Mums say the darnedest things

Have you ever caught yourself talking to your children, and been struck by the thought that you might sound a little unhinged/ borderline unfit-to-parent to somebody who hadn’t quite picked up the context? Just for a lark I thought I would record some of the more peculiar things that have come out of my mouth – mainly directed at my 2-year-old – this past month.

Here they are, verbatim:

“Who put weet-bix on my eyelid?”

“You can drill the wall, but I don’t want you banging the wall.”

“I don’t think the sun gives milk to its baby.”

“We don’t sit on people’s toast.”

“Stop rubbing your ice-block into the doormat!”

“That’s not Jesus, that’s the man who reads the news.”

“If you need to wee, do it on the grass.”

“Mummy is not a fun fair – it hurts when you jump on my head!”

“Soap is not for eating.”

“That’s not Jesus, that’s just Michael Clarke – he plays cricket.

“The drill isn’t meant to go in your ear.”

“I’m raining Lego!”

“All the diggers are asleep now.”

“That’s not Baby Jesus, that’s Angelina Ballerina.”

“Go to sleep – there are no flying fish in your cot.”

If you’ve caught yourself saying something odd to your children lately, I’d love to hear it!

The little legs that rest

I’m watching TV on the couch with my two-year-old – both of us feeling a bit under the weather – when he turns his body slightly and rests his legs on my lap. Not the squishy, doughy legs of a baby, but the sturdy, slightly chubby legs of a toddler. Legs that kick up splashes in the swimming pool and twist and bob to music. Legs that feel so fast when they run, no matter that the gait resembles a stagger always perilously close to a fall. Legs with a freckle on the left knee.

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He rests his legs on my lap without request or apology; supremely confident and utterly comfortable in the position. There’s something achingly sweet about those little incidental touches: a small hand resting on my leg as we share a snack, a downy head leaning sleepily on my shoulder, a row of tiny rosebud-toes pressing my foot as we sit together on a step.

In an odd sort of way, there’s nothing like being casually used as a pillow by my child to make me feel loved. For him it’s merely a soft and easeful drift to the closest place of comfort. And for me, the very simplicity of the situation is a dear reminder that, despite a myriad of parental shortcomings, I am still that safe and trusted place.

He rests his legs on my lap and says, without so many words, I am yours and you are mine.

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

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.