On losing Two, and trying not to be sad about it

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Second birthday. The cheeks have it.

He is on the verge of being three. Hanging onto Two by his fingertips. You can see Three coming in those long skinny legs, the bony bottom in little underpants. Three is in his self-awareness, the jokes with a random punchline, the¬†sentences with multiple clauses. There are Threeish days he wants books with more words than pictures, and days he wants me to pull stories out of my head. I can smell it on the days he sleeps till 7.30 instead of 6am, and doesn’t want a nap because it’s obvious he doesn’t need one.

You’d think this would be good news. It is, it really is. Two has been a marvellous, multicoloured fire-storm. I have sensed for a long time that he and I are very similar, and I’ve butted heads with Two so often we have bruises. I can see the seeds of logic in Three. There’s the unremarkable everyday use of the toilet coming (!!!), and the point at which he can get himself a seventh glass of water. I can see, very VERY distantly on the horizon, a day in which he can put on his own socks.

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But oh, there is sweetness here I am not ready to give up. Two, with his chubby cheeks and flannel Thomas pyjamas. The process of watching him pull words from the air, awestruck with the discovery that things have names, and mispronounce them hilariously. Not ever again in his life will he forget how to say ‘porridge’. He won’t ever need my hand again to go down the stairs. That was Two’s thing, and Two has almost gone.

Three goes to nursery in September. We’re still waiting for the confirmation letter to arrive, but it should come any day.¬†He’ll be someone else’s for five mornings a week, and he is so excited to go. Me, I’ve spent these sunny weeks holding onto Two with both hands: picnics, day trips, library books, lots of mornings jumping off walls and poking things with sticks, as much time as I can wangle with him wedged on my lap. For these last few golden weeks he is all mine, all day, and this life I make for him is the only one he knows. It was never going to last, and it shouldn’t, either. But I will close my eyes and breathe in Two for every minute I still have him.

Three is coming, lovely boy, and just wait till you see what you’ll find there.

Three is coming.

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What’s the magic (sibling) number?

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I’m back! And I’m catching up as quickly as possible, which is to say, not very quickly at all, despite my many multicoloured to-do lists.

In some ways it’s been a rough landing. Toddler-plus-newborn felt pretty damn hair-raising, but toddler-plus-determined-climbing-biter is black belt martial arts. ‘I’d forgotten how much of my day is fending off chaos with karate-chopping¬†hands’, I meant to text to Tim, but didn’t, because I didn’t get a minute to sit down. (I said it to him while wrestling pyjamas onto Teddy during the three minutes he was home, instead.)

And yet, and yet. The way these two interact at the moment is a joyous thing. They communicate somewhere outside speech, in a dialect of face-patting, cheerio-stealing, laughing and crawling up and down stairs, shoulders bumping together. Every day they get more like brothers. ‘Two boyths in the bath!’ Henry crows in the mornings. ‘Two boyths doin’ crawling! Two boyths in the washing machine!’

I ran in quick for that one. No harm done.

I had a really good week away. Today I sorted out my photos from my brother’s wedding, and it was the photo at the top that made me realise why: sibling time is easy time. Your jokes are always funny, your dance moves are always appreciated; your oldest self comes back out to play and you remember why you liked her.

It was this photo too that convinced me I’m not yet done with babies. We would be lost without our boys, Sarah and I. They have spent a lifetime infuriating us, teasing us, accepting us – we’d be infinitely poorer without all that.¬†Four was a great number: we could divide into pairs if we wanted, but altogether we were like the kids putting our rings together to call up Captain Planet: varied and multi-faceted and unstoppable. No one gets you like your siblings, and the more you have, the sweeter it is.

And my own boys -¬†who knows who might be waiting to join their conspiratorial gang of two? I’m game to find out.*

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*not yet, though.

What’s your ideal number of siblings? What made you decide to stop or carry on? Has your experience with your own family made you want the same, or sent you screaming in the opposite direction? It’s different for everyone, so spill the beans below.

His mother called him ‘WILD THING’

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What follows: your weekly note about toddlers.

I haven’t written about Henry much, lately. It’s not because he’s going through a bit of a capital-P Phase – though he is – and I only want to write about the good stuff. I¬†think¬†this clingy, angry thing he’s been trying on has its roots in insecurity and growing pains, and – I don’t know, I suppose I feel he needs his tender parts covered until he feels more like himself. So he’s been a supporting player here for a little while.

He’s still here, though, so I thought I’d write down a few toddlerisms for posterity.

This is the Henriest Henry face there ever was. If you were to bottle up the essence of Henry, this face would be on the sticker.

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His grammarisms are always the best part of my day.

‘Mummy, this da-longs to you, yes?’

‘Look, Mummy, I covered in licker!’ (He means ‘glitter’, and this is never a thing you want to hear when you can’t see him.)

‘I not very well, I have a tummy-head’.

‘Look how smart I are!’ (Drying his hair with a hairdryer.)

(To Siri, on the iPad): ‘HELLO. HELLO. I NEED TO SPEAK TO TIMOTHY’.

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The other day, mid-toilet break, he told me to close the door ‘uzzerwise someone see me in my wee house’. He likes the idea of things having their own houses. This is actually the least embarrassing thing he’s said loudly in a public toilet. Others in the top five include [looking under the cubicle wall]: ‘I can see someone! LADY, I CAN SEE YOUR SHOES’, and, of course, various encouragements to his own anatomy and mine, which we will not reproduce here.

He’s experimenting with ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ at the minute – who knows where he got them from – and finds this so terribly noteworthy that he delivers them both in double forte. It’s like a trombone blast at the end of every sentence: ‘I got you a cheese-apple, DAAAAAD. Coming, DAAAAD’. (What is a cheese-apple?)

He narrates to himself when he’s feeling fancy. ‘I going this way, said Henry. Let’s open the door, said Henry’. I could make the fact that he’s apparently the star player in his own life into some metaphor or other, but let’s just comment instead that he’s still well on track for drama school.

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A little while ago he got very passionate about the alphabet, and learned half the letters. Now – hello, two-year-old – he’s gone off it and will only identify P and K, for which he still has a sentimental attachment.

Winnie the Pooh. Oh my twelve-times-a-day. The other day I caught him with his hand in our jar of honey, and that clean-up is not nearly so pleasant in real life, FYI.

I am still waiting for the switch that says ‘ohhhh, THAT’S where my solid waste should go’. Since I can’t stop him soiling his pants every day, I decided to stop minding. It’s working pretty well.

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He has cleared every plate, three times a day, for four days in a row. Miracle. On the other hand, he also spent his past four nights learning how to climb into Teddy’s cot, necking half a bottle of gripe water – cue frantic medical Googling – and coating Teds head to foot in Sudocreme. Which is to say, he’s growing.

He almost doesn’t fit into my lap now. ¬†But he still wants to, and his face still looks like he’s won the lottery when I turn up unexpectedly. So two-and-three-quarters, you’re welcome to stick around for a while yet.

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Living arrows: how we laugh

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from your children as living arrows are sent forth
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far.
For your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even he loves the arrow that flies, so loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran

Hello, friends.

I am a tiny bit overwhelmed by life, the universe and everything at the moment, so just something short today. There’s a weekly project on I Heart Snapping blog called Living Arrows, all about photos that capture a moment in the life of a child. The title comes from the passage by Kahlil Gibran above. I love the thought that our children are part of us but separate too: that we’ll send them forward into days we’ll never see, that all we can do is steady their forward leap, and watch their paths with our mouths open.

Today the boys had simultaneous nappy explosions after their afternoon naps. I don’t know what they’ve eaten, but in Teddy’s case I’m willing to bet it came from the floor. I showered them both off and plopped them down into sunshine on Henry’s bed.

Sometimes, and that minute was one of them, they are just delighted with themselves and each other, with the twosomeness of the two of them. Henry pulls out his repertoire of faces; Teddy laughs; Henry laughs harder. I can see down the years like a tunnel, and imagine them gangly-limbed and cracking each other up at my expense, light on their faces, potty training miles behind them and bigger, brighter, more sanitary milestones ahead.

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Eggs

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Cousins, in sibling pairs. Which I’m sure you couldn’t guess.

What I love about having babies is that you can get more and more into celebrations as time goes on. Easter this year was a cracker (mixed metaphor unintended). I know that chocolate eggs and church and family are great ideas, but it gets ten times better when all four of us are stuffing our faces together. I hadn’t even considered how exciting an egg hunt might be. It was, and even more exciting when I considered that next year we’d have two boys in the game. So it will actually be a hunt, and not just one boy being followed around by three adults looking weirdly and significantly at eggs.

Photo avalanche ahoy, cap’n!

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We spent most of the Easter weekend with Tim’s parents, and some of the Monday at Donnington Castle. It’s a funny little atmospheric keep, a little outside of Newbury. It looms out of the pretty suburban landscape all of a sudden and apropos of nothing, and is all the better for that. Once Henry had got over his customary pushchair outrage (sigh) it was a great place to explore.

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Can we get a photo with all of us looking at the camera and appearing reasonably pleased? Can we cheffers.

Just before we left, we spent some time and energy assembling Tim’s siblings on a tree branch for an Awkward Family Photo. It turned out very well, I thought. Aren’t they an attractive bunch?

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Of course, then the littles wanted a go.

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Normally we’d have spent the rest of the afternoon making ourselves a little sick with leftover Easter chocolate, but this year we had an Adventure planned. Tim had meetings in Edinburgh on Tuesday and Manchester on Wednesday, and ages ago (when it had been raining too hard to leave the house for days and the walls were pressing on my head) he suggested that I come with him, leaving the boys in the very capable hands of their auntie. So off we jollied into the Scottish hills and an orange sorbet sunset. And we had the most wonderful time.

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I’ve written elsewhere about how much I love Edinburgh (one of my favourite posts from last year). I am terribly, horribly in love with it, and in all guises – even (as I’ve usually seen it) in grizzly rain. Our hotel room was beautiful: one of those that comes with a little spa downstairs and fancy soap, temple balm and lip recoverer in the bathroom, whatever that is. When Tim went off early for his meeting, I had a giant bath, got ready slowly, balmed my temples and recovered my lips, and then headed out by myself to explore.

You can spend as much time as you like in art galleries, when you’re flying solo. Your photos tend to be restricted to mirror selfies, but the freedom more than makes up for it.

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I tell you what: all that fuss the National Gallery made about buying those Titians a little while back? TOTALLY WORTH IT.

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After a night and a day and a night, we got up extra early and drove down to Manchester. I’d never been, and was rather put off at first by the bankruptcy-worthy parking charges and a shopping mall as big as the sun. But just round the corner, there was this.

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There are beautiful things in every pocket in the universe, aren’t there? Happy Easter.

Some of these photographs – nay, many of them – are courtesy of my father-in-law. He has so much more patience behind the camera than I have, and it shows. Thanks Jeremy!

The big mistake I made with potty training

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WARNING: much talk of bodily waste.

I would rather fall into a pile of cow manure than potty train a toddler.

I don’t know why I have such strong feelings about it. I daily do unspeakable things with sick and snot and exploding nappies, but none of it perturbs me like the potty. It’s just one of those overwhelming feelings that well up from deep within, and I must be true to myself. After a couple of abortive attempts, I took the late-as-possible approach with Henry, which chimed nicely with my own laziness.¬†Potty train a child early, my friends assured me, and you’ll be in for weeks of wet-carpet horror. Train one late, and they’ll do it themselves within a couple of days.

No contest. In a beautiful world of unicorns and rainbows, I would like our potty training experiences to be:

1. over and done with quickly and in one go. No farting about between pants and nappies for months, disinfecting puddles of wee at inconvenient moments;

2. as little effort as possible, given that, for Henry, it’s a lot to ask to go from¬†peeing happily in pants without recrimination, to peeing in a box on purpose.

This is perhaps too optimistic. But I was hopeful (and happy to keep putting it off till I thought he was ready).

Then two things happened. The first was that the boys caught back-to-back cases of hand, foot and mouth – not too awful in itself, but requiring two full weeks indoors. The second was that we ordered new carpets for our stairs and bedroom, which arrive next week – meaning that now it didn’t matter much what happened to the floor, but in a week it definitely would. Give it another few months and we might be in a different house, where it would matter even more (and he’d be so unsettled it wouldn’t be right to try).

It seemed like all the stars aligned, and then spelled out the phrase LET HIM LEARN TO WEE. I capitulated.

Oh, it is holy hell.¬†On day one I sat him on the potty every twenty minutes, and he still timed his four pees in the spaces between. One was on the bathroom floor. One straight into his sheepskin rug. Another on the piano,¬†when he paused in the middle of a climbing expedition, lifted his leg and relaxed in all senses¬†(what). Day two he seemed to spend mostly on the potty, but still sprayed his liquid waste hither and yon like a gleeful elephant in a water hole. By the time he consented to bring his A-game for Daddy on day three, I was thinking longingly of the cow manure. We’re now on day six, and while most of his pees are in the right place, I’ve discovered the truth known by mothers long past: a little boy stuck into playing would rather marinate his own legs than stop what he’s doing.

He has, incidentally, perfected the art of doing the solid stuff once a day during his nap, when he’s wearing Lightning McQueen pull-up nappies. I should be regretting this missed opportunity for learning, but I’m not.

After two days I wanted to pack it in entirely, but he’s old enough that stopping would be more confusing than helpful. And there’s my mistake, you see – there was the fatal flaw. I charged in for both of us, and now I can’t get out. You should never listen to carpet deliveries, or quarantine, or the nagging feeling that you’re putting it off unnecessarily, or even the helpful ‘oh, he’s not potty trained yet?’ comments swirling in the air around you, but only to your own instincts. You know your child the best. My instincts said ‘not till he’s almost three, you fool’. They’re saying it even more now, but it’s too late.

I am not potty training Teddy till he graduates.

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As a final thought: I have a very distinct memory of peeing my pants in my Reception class, and my horrid teacher giving me a whack on the head and sitting me in a corner. Days later we were singing in the hall and our little voices one by one became shrieks of surprise, as we were all doused by a creeping puddle from a poor sap called Richard. We ended up stood around the puddle in a circle of judgement, staring down at it in silence, while the teacher berated poor Richard in front of everyone (she really wasn’t very nice). But we were FOUR.

How long will this go on?!

Behind the sign

We’re walking back to the car in gentle sunshine, and I let go of your hand so you can swish through the leaf mould and fallen blossom at the edge of the path. You cannot resist a pile like this, I have discovered. It makes me think of concealed dog mess, but it makes you think of rustly sounds and secrets. This is what it is to grow up. I like turning the clock back with you, even if I don’t step in there myself.

‘Mummy, where are me?’

I turn around and you’re stock-still, pole-straight behind the street sign. ‘Where are me?’ is the call of our household at the minute. You will hide anywhere that will hold you, and many places that won’t. Your crinkled grammar makes me laugh every time.

I haven’t replied yet, so you ask again. ‘Hey mummy, where are me?’

I can see all of you except your head. You can never quite believe how big you are. My view of you is better, but no more complete. I can picture your face, grinning into the rusted back of the sign, waiting. You’ll stay there till I come.

It’s not the hiding you love, you see. It’s the being found.

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A toddler’s guide to making pancake day go with a bang

First, wait until the table is set nicely.

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Then announce ‘I’m going to sit here, Mummy’, and park yourself next to the chocolate. Cram at least five squares into your mouth before she has time to turn around.

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Make sure your little brother is wound up to the point that he will only be carried, then insist on stirring the pancake mix. Make a blank face whenever your mother points out the hot pan, just to whack up the anxiety levels (NB: don’t actually touch this. It’s hot, and you are not stupid).

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Discover an exciting new chocolate yoghurt on the table. Get out your biggest spoon, and dig in.

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Refuse any notion that this is not to be eaten from the jar. Fools. (When they make a fuss about this, cry a lot.)

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Remember the white chocolate you were stealing so gleefully earlier? Once it’s melted, you’ve never seen anything so disgusting. Do they expect you to eat this filth? Cry a lot more.

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Make a late claim that you like pancakes now, just long enough for them to make you another. Eat three bites and then abandon it. Ask for the chocolate yoghurt some more.

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Take so long over all of this that the baby has to wait twice as long for his dinner. What does this idiot know, anyway? He’d probably eat melted chocolate if they gave him half a chance.

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Good job, soldier! Your mother’s face now looks like this. Go to bed in the glow of a job well done, and start planning for Easter.

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Hey, do you have a spare couple of fingers and a mild fondness for this blog? I’d be ever so grateful if you’d nominate me in the MAD Blog Awards! Say, Best Writer or Best Baby Blog? There’s only a week left!

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This sort of weather calls for an emergency evacuation

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Gosh, is it the rain, or what? How on earth does February feel so slow you can hear the clock tick, when it’s three days shorter than your average? You’d think that all these enforced indoor days would be great for the housework, but my bathroom floor of dirty laundry and kitchen counters groaning with crusty plates have a little something to say about that. It probably has swear words in it. They’re not best pleased.

Either way, these cold, cold wet days are enough to make any sensible person start thinking overly dramatic things. Like ‘there are NO MORE INDOOR PLACES IN TOWN’ and ‘maybe I should have auditioned for Frozen,¬†after all’ and ‘I will shave off my hair completely rather than spend another minute with fuzzy rat-head’.

At this point I usually get in the shower, because a hot shower is my most effective drama killer. (This is why I am obliged to have one every morning.) This week we did one better, and made a run for it.¬†Only to the temple, and to Brighton the next day, but we had a car full of road trip sweeties, and it was far enough. It was a cold, cold wet couple of days, and the sea was like boiling slate. The smell is the same, though, even in drizzle. If you lived by the sea, would you stop appreciating the smell of salt in the air? Because I’m not sure I’d ever want to lose the pleasure of that first, giant sniff.

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We ran on the pebbly beach, investigated a fishing museum, winced through the pier arcades, and ate the largest plate of fish and chips ever seen. We got blown to pieces and my hair has probably never been so foolish, but it was like being freed from something. I could still smell the angry sea when I came back to the washing-up, and it kind of made all the difference.

(To me, not to the washing up. Which is – um – still there.)

Sleep training in a small space

Here’s a knotty old conundrum: how do you try out any sleep strategies on a baby with an older sibling in the same room?

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I have been bashing my brains about this for a couple of weeks. Teddy has been swaddled like a tiny chicken pasty since he arrived: we found out he liked it, didn’t need rocking to sleep, and stayed asleep for longer. These things are the holy grail of newborndom, and we held it triumphantly aloft and did. not. mess.

Now, of course, he’s a giant seven-month-old with legs the size of Henry’s torso, and we find ourselves in a bit of a bind. He was spending all night furiously struggling out of the swaddle – we’d come in to find him with one arm punching the air, all HULK SMASH THIS PRISON – but once he was out, he couldn’t sleep. The boys’ room is on a different floor to ours, close enough to hear ¬†them, but not at all close enough to reach across when sleep-drunk and shove his arm back in without looking.

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All of which is to say that, really, you’re only safe if you get a baby who falls asleep with no aids whatsoever, by themselves, in the middle of the open floor. We were giving each other rueful high-fives about the fact that Teds doesn’t particularly like the dummy – no dummy fairy hell in this boy’s future – but instead he got attached to something else. And the something else kept trying to eat him at night.

Add in the fact that our flat is so small and open-plan that he’s been picked up the second he made noise, to stop him waking up the rest of the house, and, well. Time for a change. And who knew you’d end up coddling your second more than your first? I’d already done some gentle sleep training with Henry by this age. But then the only people to consider were Timothy, snoring obliviously upstairs, and Henry and me, duking it out in the nursery.

So here we are, round two. He needs to learn to fuss himself quietly into sleep, without having his arms strapped to his sides. He needs to do it without waking his brother, because we’ve just spent a month regulating his sleep habits, and my bitten nails haven’t grown back yet. I moved his bottle times so he could drink before sleep, in the dark room, to settle him. I started making up the cot like a little bed again, just like old times: raised end, soft blanket underneath, heavier blanket on top, pull back the corner.

(I like doing this. I don’t know why. It feels like a deliberate, ritualistic act of love, to make a baby’s bed. It tells him he is welcome here. Is that weird?)

Then I gave him a dummy to play with, and left him to it. So far, so sort-of alright (sleep training is a bit like that, I find). He squawks for a while, as I pop in periodically, but he’s getting there. And, it turns out that Henry’s a ludicrously heavy sleeper. Which I can’t help but think will be useful information at his teenage sleepovers.

 

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Have you ever had to do sleep-training in small spaces, or with older children around? How did you manage it?