Tag Archives: toddler

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?!

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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.)

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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? 

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We’re going on a bear hunt

Or, in other words, How To Visit Your Local Park Yet Again In Rubbish Weather Without Going Insane.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is one of Henry’s favourite books – you should hear his pronunciation of ‘what a bleu-la-ti-foo day’ – so I suggested we go to the park for a bear hunt of our own. There are a lot of bear-friendly hiding places in Prospect Park. We checked them all.

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We found the thick, oozy mud (and so did my car boot)…

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…then the deep cold river (squelchy duck pond)…

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…then the big dark forest.

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No bears. I speculated that they might be hiding under the tree roots. Henry scoffed. Too small for bears, he said. They’re probably having their lunch. Still, we brought a (very unimpressed) bear with us as a back-up, so we weren’t totally empty-handed.

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Of course, we should have known. When you go looking for bears, you’ll end up finding a swirly whirly snowstorm, which in real life doesn’t go ‘hoo wooo’, but something more like FEEL MY ICE BRICKS AND DESPAIR, FOOLS.

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We’re not going on a bear hunt again (until all of us have dried off, and February decides to stop being a prize ass).

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Pregnancy crib-notes: some things I wish I’d known about two

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‘How are you doing with those two boys?’ people ask.

The answer is: ‘Today I am awake. So today is good’.

Do you remember those guest posts I published back at the beginning of July, with people giving advice about moving from one to two children? I loved them. I still read them now, since seven months and 1278 dirty nappies isn’t nearly long enough to feel like you know what you’re doing. But I have discovered some things, and not all of them are chocolate button-related. If I could do some sort of spiffy time machine action and land right in the middle of 30th June, 2013, I’d…tell myself to give birth on the BATHROOM FLOOR, NOT THE CARPET, IDIOT. And I’d also say this.

(I know I’ve been going a bit Buzzfeed, lately, with all these lists. That’s 11pm talking. I’ll write something with paragraphs this week, I promise.)

you can love them both…

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I worried about this the way everyone worries about this, even while knowing that it was silly. This boy I’d poured heart and soul into for almost two years – how could I love someone else in exactly the same way, without taking away from what I had with my first, or feeling like I was somehow cheating on him? Well, it just happens: gradually and subconsciously at first, then on it comes, like a tidal wave – implacable, deep-seated love. Oh, my little Teddy. He exists in a whole different chamber of my heart, and I love them both for themselves, and together. It just happens, honest.

…but choosing between them still hurts.

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Perhaps this gets easier. I never seem to have enough time to do all of the things I want with them both. I know that making them share and take turns with my attention is extremely good for them, but I always feel a twinge of guilt for the boy I’ve put to one side. You can’t help comparing them, either, and that’s a guilt-maker too. It helps to remind myself that Henry was at this stage once, and Edward will be at this stage soon, and neither of them can help being where they are at the moment. Which is true of everyone, anyway.

you’ve done this once already. You can do what you want now.

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The biggest surprise for me was how much more confidence I had to follow my instincts. The first time I handed Teddy over to Tim for a bottle, after four long weeks of feeding him every two hours, I screwed myself up in bed and cried. Then I stopped, because I’ve done this before. And it was unquestionably the right thing to do with Henry, and it happened to be the right thing here, too. It’s not that you can repeat the experience with your first child exactly, because they’re both very different. But I have a better idea now of when to follow the book, and when to trust my gut. Most of the time I still feel like I’m winging it. But this time I know that one day, I’ll wake up and realise that this thing I’ve been agonising over for months and months has just gone away, without me noticing.

for three months, embrace the chaos

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Those early days of newborn-and-two-year-old. Oh, my giddy aunt. When the boiling needs of your children consume every waking minute, and your waking minutes are nearly all the minutes there are. A good friend told me just afterwards that it took her three months to start climbing out of the chaos, and I clung onto that like a life raft. It was true for me, too – and I would add that it then took six months to get them both to a stage where proper routine is possible. So I tried very hard not to feel guilty about anything in the early months. Getting to the end of the day with us all alive, fed, clean(ish) and happy was more than enough. I slept whenever they both slept, whatever else I could have been doing. What I’m basically saying is that I spent three months with crazy hair and ignoring the vacuuming. And it was fine, and it got better.

the baby phases are even better than you remember

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I’d forgotten about that furious look of concentration when they spy something they want to pick up. Or the way they tell you how nice you are by grabbing your face. Or the way their whole body tenses with excitement when you come into the room. Or that phase where all they want to do is ride around on your hip, because the view is so much better from up here. We’ve been delighted all over again – and watching Henry be delighted by them too is wonderful.

there has never in this universe been so much poo

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You know how when women live together, their cycles start to coincide? Small children have the same thing, only with bowel movements. My text messages to Tim these days are all in capitals, with fractured sentences like ‘BETWEEN THE TOES THIS TIME’, and ‘SEVENTEEN WIPES REQUIRED’ and ‘HAVE STRIPPED THEM BOTH NAKED AGAIN’. I have discovered, too late, that you cannot have too many wipes, or nappies, or disinfectant, or protective head-gear. I have become a form and texture expert. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME.

Even on the less good days, there’s this. Two really is better than one.

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Hey, are you incubating a foetus right now? There are more pregnancy crib-notes here: 

What you’ll actually need in your hospital bag, and why

Things to do at thirty weeks: an alternative list for the anti-nester

Five maternity styles I’ve learned to love…and five I love to hate

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Mornings, revisited

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I came across this post the other day, and felt like I was looking back at long-forgotten country. So here’s a continuation.

Dear self,

Here are some things that you should never forget (even when the skin on the back of your hands has gone baggy)

that you get the first hint of Boy 1 being awake when he thunders like a galloping elephant on the stairs

that Boy 2 is almost always beside you already, fuzzy head jammed into your armpit

that Tim does the breakfast routine unless you really have to – and this is now so ingrained that the other day Henry told you to go back to bed while Daddy made porridge, so SCORE ONE for you

that you get Henry in the bath every day by pretending his pirate bubble bath is talking to him

that your pirate accent is really no better, despite all this practice

that they spend twenty minutes trying to out-splash each other, and as Teddy has been gifted with thighs, he wins

that the real loser is you, since you start every day wet

that Henry will get dressed faster if you pretend you’re both racing cars

that your racing commentator accent is pretty dire as well, and who said parenthood involved so many accents anyway

that you never, ever in your life thought your bed would end up with so much pee in it

that you spend your getting-ready time having conversations with a boy who now likes having his hair combed and putting his socks on and brushing his teeth, so look, my dear, how things change

but that he still likes the taste of your perfume

so maybe they don’t change all that much.

Embrace the soakings, dear self, because they’ll be over before you can blink. And moisturise those hands.

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The five Supernanny principles that have changed my freaking life

Hello hello, from toddler city!

[Population: 1.

Average height: short.

Average noise level: loud.

Preferred transport method: steam train.]

There’s always something going on here, eh? At the moment, for us, bedtime has gone completely haywire. And, just between us, Tim and I are a bit clueless at bedtime. We’ve never had to be good, you see: Henry has always slept. Until now. Suddenly he won’t stay in bed when we put him down, and we’ve been a bit wishy-washy in putting him back, letting him up for a drink, letting him up ‘for five minutes but no longer’, going back in to sleep beside him, etc. We’ve been away, he’s been sick, and before that, there was Edward, so for six months there’s been one disruption after another. Once the jetlag had faded this month, we decided to get him into better habits. I do not want a five year old wibbling about at 11pm in my bed. Or even a two-year-old. Sleep is too precious, and toddlers are full of sharp edges that end up all in my face.

My dear friend gave me Jo Frost’s first Supernanny book this week. I know Supernanny is a bit 2004, and not all of her methods are for everyone. But it was one of those glorious moments where I read something again after a long while, and suddenly it made so much sense. I recognised more about the inner workings of my toddler in the opening chapter than I have while reading twelve other parenting books. I had to face up to the fact that, while he was loved extravagantly and doing well in all sorts of areas, he was also playing me like a fiddle in others. I’ve been trying out various things all week. Reader, THEY WORK. THEY FLIPPING WORK.

Here are five Supernanny principles I intend to write her a tear-stained letter about:

one: The Voice

‘Henry, please don’t do that. Henry. HENRY, NOOOOOO.’

This is the soundtrack to many of my days. I feel like I spend all day harping on at him from somewhere above his head, while he blithely ignores me. I hate the squawking tone I end up with, almost more than the shouting when I’ve really lost my rag.

Supernanny has two things to say about this: first, some toddler chaos is inevitable. They don’t understand the value of things, they have no sense of danger, and they love to explore. And second, when he does something you don’t want him to do, use The Voice. Go over to him, bend down to his level and make him look at you in the eye. Then say something like ‘[biting your brother's fingers] is unacceptable behaviour. It’s very wrong. Please don’t do it again’. But the trick is your tone: not shouting at all, but lower, and more stern than your usual.

It turns out that Henry was pretending he couldn’t hear me a lot – making him look me in the eye makes a huge difference even before I say anything. But The Voice is a miracle worker: he really seems to feel reprimanded, without needing a raised voice. It also seems to calm him down when he’s heading for a meltdown.

two:  The Advance Notice

Ms Frost compares parenting a toddler to behaving like a Speaking Clock: they have no sense of time, future or past, so when a new activity is coming up, they need verbal countdowns. I wouldn’t like it if I were in the middle of something and abruptly made to switch to something else, so why would they?

I realised that half of Henry’s resistance comes at points in the day when I’ve asked him to do something different, and he doesn’t want to. He used to regularly throw fits about getting in the bath: he loves it once he’s in there, but hates stopping what he’s doing. I’ve been giving out five- and two-minute warnings all week (‘Henry, in five minutes it’ll be time to get in the car. We’re going to get in the car in two minutes, ok?’). Ta-da: most of the time, he’s mentally prepared for the new activity and goes along without fuss.

three: The Helper

I’d been trying this anyway, but after finding this chore chart for three-year-olds, decided to be a little more ambitious in what I let him do. He had a go at drying the dishes while standing on top of the recycling bin, last night. It made him feel about ten feet tall, and I didn’t get the usual ‘Mummy, I cuddle Edward very hard’, while trying to cook.

(Please look at the rest of those organisational downloads if you get time, because they’re amazing.)

four: The Routine

Another lightbulb moment: in the chaos of getting back from our holiday, getting over jetlag, catching up with work and now getting the house ready to sell, I’ve been hideously lazy about going outside. But the problem with indoor days is that it’s much harder to sustain a routine. Supernanny says that without routine, toddlers feel all at sea. If they don’t know when to expect things, then they feel like any behaviour is acceptable.

We’ve tried a new routine this week: housework over breakfast, outings in the mornings, then lunch, then a nap (while I work), then toys, then screen time, then dinner. He seems to love the predictability, and it has the handy side effect of limiting his access to the iPad to a single, one-hour window.

five: The Follow-Through

Reading this book made me realise how often I ask him to do something, then let it go when he refuses. I thought I was choosing my battles, and not sweating the small stuff. But to him it looks like backing down, and it tells him that I’m not really in charge. Feeling like they’re in charge for toddlers is like Facebook for adults: they think they love it, and can’t stop themselves from using it, but actually it makes them feel weird, sad, and a bit sick.

I’ve tried really hard, this week, to follow through on absolutely everything I ask him to do. If I say he needs to wear a hat in the park because it’s cold, well, then we can’t get out of the car unless he’s put his hat on (and he has to put it on himself, not wait for me to force it on so he can rip it off). And if he doesn’t put it on, we go home. This asks for a lot of commitment – putting the pushchair up and down twice was particularly outrageous, since I hate it – but it’s worth it. Because here’s something I knew, and had forgotten: if I insist, all the way to the bitter end if necessary, he will do it. And no one gets cold ears.

You are probably shaking your head and thinking ‘um, yes. Obviously’. It was all obvious, and I was sort-of doing it already. But I wasn’t doing it all, every time, and every time is crucial to this little breed. Every time means this is the way things are, and my decisions are final. I dare say we’ll need to adapt again as they both get older, but for now, our days run smoother. We are all happier. And I get to enjoy him for what he is.

If you see me with a Supernanny tattoo at any point, try not to look like it’s weird.

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The wonderful Museum of English Rural Life this morning, where he was well-behaved and delightful. IN YOUR FACE, WHAT TO EXPECT READERS.

(Sorry.)

What do you think about Supernanny? Any of her tricks worked for you and yours? Have you ever put a child to bed 67 times in one evening? We have, now. 

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Merry bloomin’ Christmas!

Welcome to the busiest day of the year! And GREAT SCOTT am I enjoying the fact that Teddy woke up every two hours last night. After a month of six-hour sleeps. This is the sort of exquisite timing that leads to me stuffing handfuls of Milky Bar buttons in my mouth while showering, and thinking that Kermit’s song in The Muppet Christmas Carol might actually hold the key to a happy life.

Before I sign off for a few days, I thought you might want to see our attempts at a Christmas photo. This is one of these traditions that I think we’ll love to look over in years to come, but for now, well…it doesn’t make for a peaceful afternoon. Picture us all in clothes we’re only allowed to wear for ten minutes because I need to pack them, stemming projectile sick from No. 2, keeping No. 1 in place with a Pingu episode just out of frame and yelling ‘Saaaaaay chocolate! SAY CHOCOLATE! SAY IT! AND SMILE!’

In the end we went for one where three out of four of us were smiling, because that was the best option by a really long shot. Ah, babies.

Even Teds is no match for the power of the Pingu.

The One Where Pingu Was Weirder Than Usual.

The talking-to.

The One With The Talking-To.

The escape.

The One With The Escape.

The Foreheads of Desperation.

The One With The Foreheads of Desperation.

The SO FLIPPING CLOSE.

The One That Was SO FLIPPING CLOSE.

The Winner, With Apologies to Teddy.

The Winner, With Apologies to Teddy.

Seasons greetings, etc. I’m off to pack a suitcase. See you on the other side!

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