Tag Archives: Tantrums

Notes from the trenches: 7

‘You’ll miss this when it’s gone!’ people tell me.

I like to remember this when I’m watching the slow seep of faeces under my fingernails, or engaged in a full-body wrestle with a boy and a supermarket trolley (‘Bend your legs. BEND THEM. BEND. YOUR. LEGS’). Then I do a hollow laugh, likely as not.

Actually, I know they’re right. The brain is a tricky beggar, and airbrushes out the worst bits once enough time has gone by. I’ll forget the number of times I texted Timothy in all-caps or locked myself in the loo for five minutes. I’ll get used to having no stains at all on my trousers around the mid-thigh-snotty-nose level.

That’s why I collect these text messages to the husband in one place, brain. So that I’LL WIN IN THE END.

Here’s my last six months’ worth of notes from the trenches. Weep.

5th March

Teddy is poorly enough for us to have to stay in under a duvet this afternoon. We’re watching Happy Feet. Is it me, or do these penguins react to dancing in a sort of…sexual way? I feel uncomfortable. 


20th March

What I really wanted for my birthday was a cowpat cake, so thank goodness we filled that hole.


27 March

Just arrived at Tesco. Dentist went about as well as it could, given the adult: child ratio.

Ted is a menace. Dentist is about the loveliest man alive.

They are not in a great mood, so pray for me *horror face*


8 April

I swear H actually just said this [while watching The Avengers for the first time]

H: ‘Where’s the Increbibble Hulk?’
Me: ‘He’s that man over there. He hasn’t changed yet.’
H: *sigh* ‘Can someone tell him he needs to be a superhero and not a man in a pink jumper?’


16 April

Today was the first time in this kid’s life that I said he had to eat some cheese toastie or he couldn’t have a yoghurt. It went super well.

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21 April

H, looking at the completely dried up frog puddle: ‘I can see a few tadpoles…they’re not moving though.’
Me: ‘Mm, perhaps the rest moved to a different puddle?’
H: ‘Yes, or probably they died.’

Real talk.


22 April

No one ever told Teddy how to eat an apple and he’s just discovered he loves them, so he’s winging it.

Ate all of it bar the stem.

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28 April

Some Tesco men are all jolly and help you in with your bags. Some Tesco men look like serial killers, and stare from your front door while you laboriously empty a hundred items into your front hall. Guess which one we had today?


13 May

So Sainsbury’s keeps their pregnancy tests behind the pharmacy counter. Which only had one waiting person when I first arrived, but they took so blimming long that by the time it was my turn there were seven or eight listening people.

I’m sure I looked well in control of my life asking for a p-test with two shrieking toddlers in the trolley. Wanted to shout ‘IT’S ONLY A MEDICALLY ADVISED PRECAUTION, JUDGERS’, but felt that would go too far.


16 May

Ted’s first time on a bus. 

He’s singing a self-penned hello song to the assembled. Defo doesn’t have his brother’s confidence issues.


18 May

T: ‘Whezzer apple, Herry?’

H: ‘I threw my apple around the room so many times I can’t have it back.’



26 May

So far H has wept over

1) the chocolate sauce on his porridge being in his tummy rather than in the bowl, and

2) the blanket being ‘too fluffy’ on his bottom.

It’s a hard old life, eh?


28 May

Milkshake meltdown. I never learn.

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[Tim: He’s a junkie. One is never enough.]


31 May

I’m in SS. Both boys ok. 

By which I mean Sunday School. I haven’t jollied off to join the Nazi secret police. 


13 June

I have never been to Costco before opening time before. Everyone’s queued up at the door with trolleys like it’s an episode of Supermarket Sweep.



18 June

‘Daddy, daddy!’

‘Daddy’s gone for a run’

‘Mummy, mummy!’

‘What is it?’

‘There’s a big fly in the house and I have to gun it!’

*pointed look*


30 June


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18 August

H is listening to a song I have just realised is about sexy times:

‘This song is about NIGHT EXPLOSIONS, Mummy. How curious’.



2 September

Good news! I have just about jogged enough for a single digestive biscuit. Living life. 


I told him the Night Explosions song was about fireworks. So help me, I’ve already given him the anatomically correct name for my ladyparts, and I’m not ready for anything else down there yet.

(Previous Notes from the Trenches here, here, here, here, here and here. Is it me, or is my life slowly getting less insane? OMGOSH IS THIS PROGRESS?!)

Angry mummy

It was 5pm. Of course it was.

5pm is when their tiny resources are shot to pieces, when I’m desperately trying to tidy up and get dinner ready, because half of their bad temper is down to the fact that it’s been a long time since lunch. I am busy because they need me to do things, but they also need me to be not busy. In an ideal world I would sit cross-legged on the floor and read to them like they want me to, while Mary Poppins cleaned and cooked. As it is, at 5pm I switch on the TV.

This 5pm I walked back and forth across the kitchen, taking things out of cupboards, picking up crayons, scrubbing the porridge-gritted table so we could eat. T maintained a tight grip on my kneecap and a droning wail, so my walking was more like hobbling and my teeth were already on edge. I could have picked him up, but he was wailing because he was hungry, and I can’t cook with him gaily splashing his hands in hot pans. Dinner, then. Just be quick. Keep hobbling.

Then H had a hand on my jumper too. He was asking me something about Captain America (‘Captain OF Amewica, Mummy’) over and over, something I hadn’t quite caught over T’s angry bee hum. He got impatient in the end, and pulled my jumper so hard I almost fell onto his brother. ‘MUMMY. MUMMY. I NEED YOU’.

I got impatienter. And I meant to say ‘Just a minute, love’, or ‘Let me just -‘ or even ‘Scuse me please, darling’. But what actually came out was ‘H. GET OUT OF THE WAY.’

My name is Rachel, and I am an angry mummy.

Impatience has always been my particular failing. When I was younger I was never very good at stopping myself broadcasting it over my face, even if I managed to keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned to keep it under wraps more often, but groundswells of irritation still rise up and catch me off-guard.

Here’s a shocker: when you give birth, your vices don’t just slip right on out of your birth canal along with the baby. You’re the same person you were, only running on much less sleep, and torn in half by love so consuming it stings as well as soothes. I was impatient before and I am impatient now. The small, irrational co-workers I have these days bring two significant differences: they provoke loss of temper more often than the adults used to, and they deserve it far, far less.

I read an utterly wonderful article about the ‘difficult empathy‘ of parenthood last yearthat said:

‘Having a child is a series of tiny successes and failures, all microscopic to the onlooker, all specific to our households alone in ways that cannot quite be explained…Failures are the hardest to explain, and yet those are the very instances when we are most desperate for a little understanding, a little empathy.’

I sobbed into my hands when I read it. I can’t even read it now without tearing up. Not only because it talks – with gorgeous gentleness – about our tendency to show our worst selves to our children, but because it made me realise that my own not-so-microscopic failures can be eased by successes. I decided that my efforts could be two-pronged: bite back the impatience, of course; but also shower them in tiny evidences of love. I can show them – long before they’re able to consciously understand – that while I might lose my rag and raise my voice, I only diminish myself when I do. Never, ever them.

That 5pm, when I yelled ‘H, GET OUT OF THE WAY’ in the direction of my unresisting three-year-old, he crumpled immediately. ‘It’s not kind to say ‘get out of the way”, he whimpered, on the verge of tears. I felt my whole self sag with horror. I got down on the floor beside him, held his hands and looked him full in the face (our family language for ‘I really mean this’).

‘No’, I said. ‘No, it’s not. I’m sorry. I was trying to do something, and I got cross, and I shouldn’t have shouted. It wasn’t kind. Will you forgive me?’

This is one of the things I’ve been trying to embed this year: accept his apologies with instant forgiveness, and apologise readily myself. Also, sitting with him quietly during his time-outs instead of pushing him into isolation, letting him dictate the length of them by how long it takes until he’s ready to talk, naming the emotion he’s feeling and asking whether he needs a hug, and honouring any requests for ‘alone time’ (he does ask. He’s my boy, after all).

Then, prong two: we started doing ‘happy fingers’, where I sit him on my lap facing me, and count out things I love about him on his fingers. Usually we get to five and, beaming all over his face, he requests the other hand. And in our general day-to-day I do try to say ‘yes’ when it’s not important that I say ‘no’. I don’t want to over-praise and I am a huge believer in healthy boundaries, but I think it can be pretty hard to be a three-year-old. Having your mother tell you that you’re valued might make all the difference.

Last week – was it after the Captain of Amewica thing, or before? – we had a little ruckus over biscuits. I ate one he’d made for me at nursery without realising he’d wanted to try it too, and he was so disappointed he cried.  And I thought: I can’t take back the times I’ve hollered up the stairs this week, and becoming a calmer parent will take time. I will keep at it, because this boy deserves my best self, not my worst. But it’s not an easy fix. Biscuits, though? And love, and a morning of one-on-one attention? I can do that. I can love him so warmly that it chips away at my microscopic failures. I can love, and be more than angry mummy.

So we strapped on our aprons. I told him he looked super-snazzy. And we baked.




You must read this article. It was probably the best thing I read on parenting last year; maybe even the best thing I’ve read on parenting, EVER. Go and read it. No really, GO.

Sackcloth and dummies

Here is what a baptism of fire looks like.



We intended to get rid of the dummies gradually, honest. I mean pacifiers, binkies, whatever you call them in your house. We call them ‘dodies’ in ours. Whatever they’re called, Henry loves them like they grew alongside him in the womb. (They did not.) But once he could ask for them, he did nothing else. He was getting more attached to them, not less. It was time to bite the bullet of tears, and bite it good.

We posted them all off to babies who needed them on Monday, and went to buy him a cement mixer in return (the loves of little boys are mysterious things). He was fine with it until I wanted the one in his mouth. That’s when he realised I was serious, and I realised we’d be going through a proper grief cycle. Here we were in Denial. There was a lot of this.


He screamed all around the supermarket, through naps and bedtime, in the middle of Battle Library, and for many, many hours in our living room. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a forty-eight hour screamathon in your ear, but it makes you feel like a skinned rabbit. The back of your throat chokes up until you can’t swallow or breathe. There were several moments where I genuinely wanted to leave him on a doorstep to be raised by nuns, and only didn’t because nuns are harder to find than they used to be. But I worried, quite seriously, that all of his previous good nature was only down to that thing in his mouth, and without it he’d be a demon forever and ever.

On Monday afternoon, feeling like I was being strangled by scream, I bought a day’s worth of Hay Festival tickets as an act of faith that we’d be able to leave the house again someday. On Tuesday afternoon I drove around grim-faced until he’d gone to sleep in his car seat, then bought an apple pie and a strawberry milkshake from McDonald’s and sat in the car park till he woke up. When I found myself wishing vehement holy hell on anyone walking past and talking above a whisper, I realised I was a little highly strung.

Three days later, and we’re almost there. Putting him in his cot with a toy was the accidental masterstroke, so now we’re down to five minutes of bedtime outrage at most. He only asked for a dodie twice yesterday, and when I reminded him that we gave them away, he remembered and said ‘babies!’. I think this means we might be approaching Acceptance stage in the grief cycle, though we keep flipping back into Anger and Thrashing. Especially, for some reason, before breakfast (because 6.15am is precisely when you want to be thinking about time out, I can testify).

I have not even contemplated church, or a restaurant. I don’t have a strategy ready for the times he wants something in public that I can’t or won’t give him. Ug. I wish he came with a manual, or helpful signs on his forehead.

Yesterday afternoon we walked to the park. He is always much more interested in the journey than the destination, and wants to balance on every wall, pull every hedge, bang on every street sign. A fire engine drove past, and bless those lovely men and women, when they saw him staring they all waved at him out of the window. He was thunderstruck. When you take forty-five minutes to walk half a mile, you get to notice things. There were buds on the trees, and a few flowers shivering in corners. It felt like Spring was trying hard, for a moment. It felt like a promise that we’d get back to better things soon.

Here’s hoping for a good Thursday.

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Two halves

This morning, while Henry was in the bath, we played Bodies.

Where are Mummy’s eyes? And where are Henry’s eyes? What about Henry’s feet? And where are Mummy’s feet? 

He gets mixed up a lot. Is this my nose or his? His knee or my knee? Often, he points to me when he means himself. I suppose, entangled as we always are, it’s hard to tell the difference. He’s not much for cuddling – too much to do – but we live our days in a web of contact: between every activity, he runs back to grin in my face, and pats me to check I’m still solid. He doesn’t see any reason why he can’t do all of the things I do, or why I shouldn’t be carrying him while I do them. We are the same, after all. He strokes his own face while I put on my make up in the mornings, and fiddles busily at the worktop in the kitchen while I clean. I carry him home in my arms when he’s run out of puff. When he’s tired, he starts pinching my sleeve between his fingers, like I’m the comfort blanket. I suppose I was, once.

But this is an odd phase, because most days now he’s infuriated by my closeness. He doesn’t want to open his mouth for every spoon I point at him, or follow always where my hand pulls. He has his own tumbleweed path to find, and often I’m in the way. This business of wanting, of having wants and making them happen, is a heady experience. Before now he hardly realised that it was possible to go left when I said right. He can’t get enough of it. There’s a reason I’m reading three toddler tantrum books this month. For the first time, our ties are beginning to chafe.

It makes me smile – when I’m not banging my head against the wall – because this independence that he wants and doesn’t want will grow until it takes him right out of my door, to his own loves and adventures. I will send him out to be his own person and make decisions he can be proud of. He’ll visit me on Sunday afternoons and tell me about his job, his girlfriend and his electricity bills. He’ll have to find goodness and resolve for himself, and there is so much to find. I hope he will make something really fine.

But oh, please, not yet. Give me time. Give me a few years of comfort-blanket rocking and chubby arms around my neck. Give me a few more years where he gets confused whose nose is whose, where we sit quiet together so I can hear his heartbeat and he can hear mine. We go back a long way, me and this boy, to the very beginnings. Just for now, I want to keep carrying him home.


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