Gentle readers, today has been a hard day of parenting. I’m staying at my parents’ house for the week, so the kids and I are together constantly. On good days – like yesterday, when everybody had a sunny disposition – this is lovely. On bad days – like today – it’s hard work.
The struggles started today because I woke up feeling groggy and slightly unwell, with a pounding headache that paracetamol wouldn’t shift. It made for a slow start to the morning, but that wasn’t too much a problem because it was freezing outside and I didn’t feel any great rush to leave my parents’ comfortable, centrally-heated house and brave the elements.
The shit hit the fan when Joe decided that he simply wouldn’t accept my recommendations about wearing warm clothes. Bear in mind that this boy chooses what he wants to wear 99% of the time, and that we are wholeheartedly supportive of whatever ensemble he selects. But, occasionally, Mummy and Daddy might urge him to consider something dull and uncreative, like rain, or freezing temperatures, or the likelihood of breaking one’s neck if one attempts to go climbing at a playground while wearing an ankle-length dress. Occasionally (very occasionally) he will accept these suggestions gracefully and allow us to actually have some say in his wardrobe, but often (like today) he’ll dig in his heels.
So, in response to my insistence that it was not appropriate weather to leave the house without a warm fleece over the top of his dress, he had an absolute breakdown. A screaming, crying, ‘has he been smoking crack’ kind of breakdown that you’d typically associate with a two year old (a tantrum the likes of which Hattiekins threw daily between the ages of 18 months and three years, in other words). To my credit – and I’m giving myself a huge gold star here, because I really felt rough – I managed not to morph into Shouty Mummy, and didn’t even lose my temper. But I did tell him to pack it in and calm down, and that I couldn’t deal with him while he was making that noise, and that I was going to another room to read my book. I told him that he had a short window of time in which to get over himself and accept that Mummy actually IS the boss of him, or else he’d be sitting in Gogga’s office for the next hour, while Hattie and I went out. And then I abandoned him to his roaring and went to the other end of the house, thanking God that my parents’ place is big and I could put enough distance between the two of us for his shenanigans to be mostly drowned out. Granted, I wasn’t the warmest and most sympathetic mother at this point, but quite frankly it’s a miracle I didn’t just climb out of the window and drive far away.
Eventually he pulled himself together, came for a cuddle, put on his fleece, and enabled us to leave the house. My plan was for us to have hot chocolates somewhere, have a little mooch through a couple of local charity shops, buy painkillers for me, check out the play equipment at my old primary school, and then come home. But every single thing was a drama. Hattie was mostly OK, aside from her annoying tendency to delight in reminding Joe and me that she wasn’t making a fuss about stuff (yeah, not so endearing to other kids, FYI). But Joe dawdled everywhere we went, was hugely indecisive when I said that they could each choose a small toy, ended up forcing us into the local $2 shop for his toy, and chose possibly the ugliest knock-off piece of crap doll in the place. But, being Joe and therefore being the world’s most stubborn child, he wouldn’t be party to any suggestion that she wasn’t the best doll choice. Hattie had chosen a little teddy bear at the first place we visited, with no fuss, further cementing her status as the child I would rather hang out with today.
We went to the cafe with minimal drama aside from the kind of normal four year old not-listening nonsense that is mildly tolerable most of the time, but completely infuriating when you’re feeling rough. The guy who cleared our table as we were leaving sympathetically wished me luck for the rest of the day, so I think the general mood of our little troupe was obvious to onlookers. I bought painkillers, and I kept to my promise to take them for a quick play, but my head was absolutely throbbing – ‘I feel like crying’ pain. I mentioned to the kids that it would be helpful if they could moderate their volume down from its customary wild shriek, and they looked at me with great concern and then continued exactly as before. It’s always nice to see that the children you assumed were empathetic little individuals may, in fact, be unfeeling sociopaths.
After a timed 12 minute playground visit (with a lot of Joe-related bitching and moaning about everything) we got home, where they continued to muck me around and try my patience by changing their minds about sandwich fillings, and whether sandwiches were even wanted. But finally lunch was made, and I broke with my usual strict standards about not watching TV and eating, and put a DVD on for them. I explained that my head was still very sore, and so I would go to my room and lie down while they wanted the DVD, and they could come and find me when it was finished.
Well. I had about eleventy million visits. Hattie swears she only visited twice, and Joe reckons he visited four times, but if that’s the case then there must have been seven or eight other preschoolers in the house, because I was rarely undisturbed for more than five minutes. I would drift off to sleep, only to be visited by some grumbling (or, in Joe’s case on at least two occasions, screaming) small person. Joe’s discontent was two-fold: firstly, he decided that he really didn’t like the piece of crap doll, largely because her hair was so thin that she was half bald; and secondly, because (while complaining about the doll) he’d missed his favourite part of the DVD. At this point I actually did go to the living room and rewind it for him, rather than doing what I felt like doing (opening the front door and shoving him out into the cruel, cold world). And then I went back to bed.
Joy of joys, when the film was finally finished and they could legitimately disturb me, my headache was mostly gone, so we spent the rest of the afternoon on arts and crafts. We actually had a lot of fun, and the evening was also good. Check out this peaceful scene! You’d never suspect that World War III nearly broke out on several occasions today, would you?
When I put them to bed I suggested to Joe that he and I could try to be a lot nicer to each other tomorrow, and he responded by gravely telling me “Mummy, when you shout at me it makes a funny feeling in my tummy and I want to cry”. Nice work, Joe – 10/10 for Guilt Trip Inducement. However, I did gently point out that, today, despite extreme provocation on several occasions, I didn’t shout. I also remarked that, when he responds to simple instructions with ten-minute screaming tantrums, I also get a funny feeling in my tummy and want to cry. And I pointed out that I do actually know what I’m talking about when I say it’s cold outside, and that I don’t pull rank very often, so it might be a good idea to pay attention when I do.
So, yeah. Fun good times with four year olds!