Night training, part trois

We (finally!) have one night trained child. G has been in knickers at night for about six weeks now and although we’re still dream-weeing her, she’s adapted really well to not wearing a pull-up at night. R has really struggled with it and is currently back in pull-ups. After a grand total of six dry nights out of a possible twenty-one (when G had managed eighteen in the same period), Dh and I made the decision to stop trying to night train her for a bit. She’s clearly not ready and it isn’t fair to force her. I don’t want her to end up in therapy! Plus we were starting to get really sleep-deprived and crabby and there’s nothing worse than changing yet another set of pissy sheets at 3am for the fifth night on the trot. Every cloud though – we can both change a single bed in less than two minutes now, under sheet and all.

On one occasion, after changing a wet bed and putting a very confused and sleepy G back to bed I went downstairs and got slightly hysterical as I loaded up the washing machine with soiled sheets and bedding. ‘I CAN’T DO THIS ANY MORE. THE SMELL! THE SMELL!’ I shouted as dh looked on in horror (which, to be fair, is his usual response to most things). Reader, I TURNED on Dh and told him it was ALL HIS FAULT that G had wet the bed as he hadn’t made her go to the toilet the requisite 37 times before she went to bed. If she drinks anything after 6pm she becomes a Gremlin and we ALL know what happens to them when they get wet. The whole turning on Dh thing didn’t go down too well, unsurprisingly and he went to bed in A MOOD so I had to do some profuse apologising. Serves me right.

Apparently we don’t have to worry about R until she’s 7 so it’s not the end of the world that she isn’t night trained yet. It would just be nice for her – and for us – to leave her last bit of babyhood behind before she starts school.

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Bed-shaped

The girls are now in proper, grown up beds and suddenly their bedroom looks rather small. It was huge with the toddler beds in and now there is only a walkway where there used to be floor space. G loves having a high sleeper with a den underneath but R is less happy with the arrangement. She has asked Dh if she can go back into her little bed and he has (gently but firmly) said no. R is generally more resistant to change than her sister and she certainly isn’t suffering as she climbs into G’s bunk for some imaginative play at 6.30am.

Dh and I are terribly jealous of the new beds and are thinking of contacting Ikea to suggest that they produce a double or king-size high-sleeper. I’d love to have a den in which I could steal away and read books and play with my iPad. It would only be better if it revolved, Austin Powers-style. However, if it revolved Dh would spend 98% of his time leaping onto the bed, waggling his arse at me and shouting ‘DO I MAKE YOU HORNY BABY? DO I? DO I MAKE YOU RANDY?’. While that would be charming initially, I fear that it might get tiresome after about ten minutes.

G likes plotting things to do in her bed, like stealing the sweets that I have confiscated from party bags and sneaking them upstairs to share with her sister in secrecy. She’s not as daft as her fluffy exterior might indicate, especially when you factor in R’s dislike of most sweet things (she likes the idea of them but won’t eat them), so G looks generous but gets to keep the spoils for herself.

We have promised the girls that they can have friends round for sleepovers during the summer. R and G are off for a sleepover at someone else’s house in a couple of weeks as Dh and I are attending a child-free wedding, which means we get a night in a rather naice hotel on our own while the girls wear out someone else for a change.

I’m rather hoping that the hotel has revolving high-sleepers as standard.

Too old for tantrums?

In the darkest days with R and G, where they take it in turns to be so utterly horrible that we have no option but to put them in time out, I remember a reply to a forum post on a well-known baby website (not the one advertised to your left, incidentally). In the throes of the terrible twos, someone asked if it would ever get easier. Among the soothing replies, there was one that has stayed with me. I can’t remember the exact words that were used but the gist of it was as follows:

‘If you do everything right from 0-4 years the child will be lovely and compliant from the age of 4 until about the age of 9’.

So what in GOD’S NAME OF HELL have we done wrong with the girls?

They oscillate between being utterly lovely and adorable and being completely vile shitbags. I’m sorry but there’s no other word for it. We’re consistent with discipline, the boundaries are very clear and we’re as fair as we can possibly be when trying to meet the needs of two little girls.

The only consolation is that we’re not alone. A number of parents we know with 4 year olds are going through a similar thing. I thought there might be a gender divide as the boys seem to be super-physical at the moment, preferring to vent their frustration by punching and kicking each other while the girls are in meltdown diva mode. However, I was chatting to one of the mums and she said her boy is physical AND having meltdowns. Apparently their newborn baby is infinitely easier to take care of, despite the feeding and night waking.

Everyone accepts that the terrible twos exist and allowances are (mostly) made for toddlers losing it in public places. I thought we were out of the woods with the ‘Threenager’ phase. No-one talks about the pre-schooler meltdowns though. I find it very hard to admit to people that the girls can still be quite challenging precisely because I feel like I must have failed them in some way.

I have posited a number of theories for the girls’ behaviour: they’re frustrated and need to go to school; we’re not stretching them enough intellectually; nursery isn’t stretching them intellectually; they’re bored; they need to go to boarding school; they need to go to a young offenders institution….I’m joking about the last two – you knew that right?

They don’t flip out at anything major. It’s always tiny things that wouldn’t bother them normally, but on a particular day, when the wind is in the wrong direction, they decide to become cross about random stuff like…sweetcorn, getting dressed, the right pair of knickers, the tights they want to wear happening to be in the wash, R not listening to G, G not listening to R, them not wanting to listen to us, trainers, bathtime, the wrong colour shampoo bottle, the toothpaste being ‘too spicy’, having to walk the relatively short distance from the bus stop to home, losing at a board game (R), the whole world not doing what she says (G).

Jesus. We’re bringing up two Naomi-fricking-Campbells.

Thing is, they can also be so ridiculously lovely that they make my heart sing with joy. I took them out at the weekend and they were, quite simply, a pleasure to spend time with. They tell me I’m the best Mummy in the world. They adore Dh. They behave impeccably at nursery. Why can’t they be lovely just a little bit more of the time? Even when they’re in super-good mode, I wait for one or both of them to blow. I’m hoping it’s just another sodding phase, that we haven’t got it horribly wrong for the last four years, that they don’t have behavioural problems.

I know one thing though. I’d like to meet the person that wrote that reply on that message board a year or two ago and tell them to look after R and G for 24 hours…no – make it a week. They’ll be a husk at the end of it. In fact, that goes for anyone who smugly reads this and thinks ‘My child doesn’t do that. Aren’t I brilliant?’ I’ll happily set up an R and G loan scheme.

The really bloody annoying thing is that the girls would be absolute angels and the hapless person would wonder what the hell I was bleating on about.

Identity crisis

This morning I was Tom. Sometimes I’m called Nanny Plum…or MISTRESS PLUM if I’ve been particularly bossy. Dh is often referred to as Elvis but he prefers to be King Thistle.

Confused? No, it’s not some bizarre medium-term marriage role-play thing. Honest! They’re some of the many names that R and G bestow upon us during imaginative play.

The girls went through a phase before Christmas of being obsessed with Fireman Sam. Luckily it’s no longer available via our V+ subscription (or so we’ve told R and G) so we’re not subjected to the crappy computer animation of the newer series. During Fireman Sam-based imaginative play R has to be the main man and G is always Penny. Dh is Elvis (the dopey fireman) for some reason. I have to be Tom the all-Aussie helicopter rescue dude. I take it as an opportunity to practice my crappy Australian accent. ‘MAAAATE! Put another prawn on the barbie. BONZA!*’.

We’re a bit like The Incredibles because, until now, our identities have been a closely guarded family secret – as far as the girls are concerned anyway. We were Tom, Penny and Sam this morning until we reached the nursery car park at which point R made us switch back to our normal identities again.

It’s all terribly confusing. R gets very cross if we slip out of character at home and call each other the non-secret names. G’s generally too busy in G-World to notice.

I love the imaginative play that the girls do. The beauty of them having a permanent same-age playmate is that they will go off and create princess land or perform a rescue together. The input from Dh and I is minimal now – by choice from the girls. Sometimes I’m told in no uncertain terms to leave them alone (the first time they went to play in their bedroom alone with the door shut I sat downstairs feeling like a spare part) because, as G puts it, they’re ‘busy’. On occasion we are called upon to assume our secret identities and I relish the chance to act silly and put on an accent (actually, that’s a fairly standard Tuesday for me) but R and G put me firmly in my place when I overstep the mark and become embarrassing…which just makes me worse.

Now I need to get them to role-play bringing me breakfast in bed and I’m all set…

*Basically I’m channelling a bizarre combination of Mark Webber and Alf Stewart from Home and Away.

Dr Jekyll and Ms G

Dr Jekyll

You can generally see it coming. G will take something you’ve said the wrong way, or someone will disagree with her, or one of us will refuse to do exactly what she wants and we know that we’re about to be in the eye of the storm.

When G decides to lose it there’s nothing on earth that will distract her. Heading her off at the pass is simply not an option. Anyone foolish enough to attempt to reason with her will be blasted with a stream of fury:

“YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO WHAT I’M SAYING. TALK TO ME NICELY. DON’T LOOK AT ME WITH THAT FACE. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME. WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING TO ME? YOU’RE NOT MY BEST FRIEND!”.

The only thing we can do is silently carry her wriggling, screaming, contorted body upstairs, put her in time out in her bedroom for 4 minutes and cling on to the handle while she flicks the light on and off repeatedly until the bulb blows (Dh has been known to take the bulb out when he senses an outburst coming) with one hand and rattles the handle, desperately trying to get out, with the other.

As I hold on to the handle, my hand going redder with every rattle, I silently watch the clock. G has a hell of a set of lungs on her. She never goes quiet in those four, long minutes. Sometimes she screams louder and louder until she reaches a crescendo of sobbing and shouting.

When the clock ticks over I quietly open the door. G stands there, a red-faced, tear-stained, snotty mess. She breathes heavily, gulping back yet more tears. I get down to her level, look her in the eye and tell her to say sorry. G looks back at me with defiance in her eyes. Finally, when she realises there is no other option, she whispers an apology at me. I take her by the hand and we head downstairs so that she can apologise to whoever was caught in her wake.

After a few minutes everything is calm and it’s like the outburst didn’t happen. I marvel at the fact that I managed to stay in control and didn’t do the one thing that would be so easy to do but extremely hard to take back later – I didn’t hit her*.

Ms G

G and I make cakes together and she loves licking out the bowl, often dipping a finger in before I’ve removed the mixture. She calls herself Mummy’s dancing queen as she throws shapes to Can’t Get You Out of My Head by Kylie. She draws an endless stream of pictures of Mummy, Daddy, R,  her favourite characters, animals and soft toys. She can write her name without help. She can copy words and sentences that I write out for her, her nose almost touching the paper as she scrawls out the letters in her wobbly left-handed writing. She tells us that she dreams of blue and pink puppies, yet has to sleep on her left side so that she can look out for monsters. She’s brilliant at board games and quietly takes the spoils while her hyper-competitive sister sulks about losing yet another game of Guess Who.

G is fantastically bossy and acts like R’s older sister, the one minute between them often feeling like more like a year. She has a tremendous sense of justice. She spotted R’s best friend at nursery (A) kicking mud at her. R didn’t want to tell tales on her friend so G marched up to her keyworker and ensured that A was made to say sorry to R. R worries too much about what other people think of her. G doesn’t care a jot.  She genuinely thinks that she is an additional keyworker at nursery and takes a register each morning (they now print out a list of names for her) and has a little notebook in which she writes everyone’s lunch orders.

G is incredibly confident and believes that everyone in the world is fundamentally good. She is absolutely fearless and doesn’t mind making herself look silly. She is a bit clumsy and falls over quite a lot, but she picks herself up and only makes a fuss if it really hurts. She is brilliant at putting outfits together (we call her Gok) and loves clothes shopping with me. She has excellent taste and selects outfits for R and herself. She’ll even dress R if her sister is in a contrary mood. This morning she laid out a t-shirt, boxers and socks for Dh, all perfectly co-ordinated.

G has a quirky worldview. We do a letter of the week and while we were queueing in the supermarket last week I asked the girls to think of things beginning with D. Without pausing to think she said in an extremely clear voice ‘DEAD’. I thought I’d misheard her so I asked her to repeat what’s she’d said. ‘DEAD’.I stifled a laugh and asked her to think of something else. G thought for a moment: ‘DYING’. I asked her if she meant ‘diving’. Apparently not**. The woman behind us in the queue waving a bunch of daffodils around in an effort to get R to notice an object beginning with D had to hide her face to mask her giggles.

G has a tremendous imagination. She takes R with her to another world, where sealions play with Sleeping Beauty and her toy doggy has a whole life of his own. I asked her once if she wanted to be a sealion trainer when she grew up. She fixed me with a very particular look – a ‘How stupid ARE you?!’ look – and replied: ‘No! I want to be a sealion’. As she colours in, she sings made-up songs to herself. She makes up games for the other children to play at nursery. She has a very slight lisp and people comment on her sweet little voice – when she chooses to use it as opposed to her usual bellow.

We all joke that she’ll probably win an Oscar one day…but will take Aunty J to the ceremony because she’s G’s idol. That, or she’ll be running the country. People underestimate G. They think she’s silly and fluffy but she’s got a mind like a steel trap. It all goes in and bits of information reappear at the oddest moments. I was told about space and flying to the moon over breakfast the other week. When A was our letter of the week she was most insistent that Owl began with an A and got incredibly cross when we kept correcting her.

How do we solve a problem like G?

I joke occasionally that we should just send G to school now, because she seems more than ready for it. While I don’t think she’s a genius I do think that she needs to be stretched a bit more, hence the letter of the week. I’ve also got the Oxford Reading Tree phonics books, which she refers to as her reading books. She’s nowhere near reading yet, but both girls seem to have inherited Dh’s practically photographic memory and can recall whole sections of books on only a second read-through. She also likes flashcards so I’ve bought a couple of sets and she likes (I know!!) me to test her on them.

When G is on-song she’s such a lovely child. A bit Lola-ish at times but basically very sweet. When she’s in Jekyll mode I want to walk out of the house and not come back. I honestly thought that once the terrible twos were out of the way we wouldn’t have to deal with tantrums any more. Yes, I was extremely naïve and stupid. Now the tantrums have context and guilt and wordplay and layers.

G is like this now. What ON EARTH is she going to be like as a teenager? A couple of our friends are also going through this with their preschool-age daughters. One phoned me up the other night and we compared notes. I tried (probably in vain) to offer some crumbs of comfort:

  1. You always take out your frustration on those you love the most
  2. They’re going to be strong, confident women who won’t take any shit from anyone.

I didn’t say it at the time, but there’s a third:

  1. No matter how awful G has been during the day, when she snuggles down in bed with her doggy, she always tells me she loves me.

Little sod.

*I haven’t ever hit R or G. Believe me though, there have been times where I’ve briefly considered it as an option. When the red mist descends I go into a different room to the girls and take out my frustration on an inanimate object.

**We’re waiting for her to become a goth or – heaven forbid – an emo.

Now we are Four

It’s the night before R and G’s 4th Birthday and, once again, I’m in a reflective mood. It’s time for me to catch my breath, review the last year and look forward to year five.

“I think the thing I’m really looking forward to is teaching them more stuff. I actually had a conversation with dh last night about teaching the girls to read. That’s pretty exciting”

Bless. I was so hopeful a year ago. So our little geniuses aren’t reading Shakespeare just yet but I think they’re doing ok. I get milestone e-mails from various parenting websites and I read about 75% of them and think YEE-HA! My children are MARVELLOUS. I then read the other 25% and think BOLLOCKS! They aren’t doing X,Y and Z. I am clearly a terrible parent. I then put down my flagellation branches and remove my hair-shirt and basically get over myself. They can both write their names. They can count to 30. They know their colours and shapes. They can recognise some letters. They use words like ‘ridiculous’ and ‘concentrate’ in everyday conversation (can’t think where they might have heard them). People are kind enough to tell us that the girls are bright and articulate.

“We’ve completed most of the milestone stuff now and the only outstanding thing is night training”.

Moving swiftly on…

 “OHMYJESUSCHRISTGODONASTICK WHEN WILL THESE INFERNAL ‘PHASES’ EVER END? We had a tough time with R a couple of months ago (she still has her moments/breakdowns though) and are currently having a difficult time with G because she lives in Grace-world, which sounds like a lovely place but frequently clashes rather horribly with the real world, where she actually has to DO STUFF.”

The phases don’t really end. R was quite hard work (a little sod) in the Spring and Summer and G took over in the Autumn. They have days where they are absolutely adorable and lovely and parenting them is the easiest job in the world. Just when we think we’ve cracked it, the girls have a few days of being utterly horrid for no apparent reason and we tear our hair out. Their moods are easier to predict now and we’re generally better at dealing with them. Experience brings wisdom, and all that jazz.

Despite that, this is the first time that I’m writing one of these updates and I’m not feeling relieved that we have survived another year in crazy twin-world. I’m actually feeling a little sad that the girls are growing up so quickly and this time next year they’ll be at school. I love their combination of inquisitiveness and innocence. The rite of passage of going to school means that they’ll lose that beautiful innocence very quickly and I’ll mourn it deeply. Although the girls have attended nursery from a very young age and have been exposed to a number of different influences, they have been in a very ‘safe’ environment and aren’t very worldly. Going to school will inevitably change that.

I’m fascinated to see how they deal with school though. They are used to an ‘institution’ with rules and social norms so it won’t be a big leap for them in that sense. It’s very likely that they are going to have to get used to a uniform and also adapt to a different rhythm to their days and weeks. It’s going to be a huge shift for Dh and I as we juggle terms, holidays and after school clubs.

That’s for next September though. I don’t have a ‘plan’ as such for the next nine months. I just want to make the most of R and G while they are still ‘ours’.

Half-full

I can finally cast off my mourning garb and uncover the table legs*. I’m officially ‘over’ my sadness at not ever having any more children. Having (nearly) four year olds is (almost) brilliant**.

My father-in-law had a 65th birthday party at the weekend. A year or two ago I would have been planning a. Babysitters*** or b. A strategic exit from the party when one or both girls reached inevitable meltdown at 8pm. This time I was confident that the girls could see most of the evening through. Dh was convinced that we would be in bed by 10pm. I told him to have a little faith. I had a plan. We travelled to the Fens after lunch, the point in the day at which the girls are most likely to be content and a tad sleepy. It kind-of worked when we turned off my driving tunes and Classic FM did its usual trick of putting the girls into a coma.

The girls were on the dance floor until 11pm when Dh and I staged an intervention and took them back to the hotel. This was their first ever late night and they coped admirably. G is a proper little dancing queen, although the beat in her head is clearly different to the one the rest of us can hear as she dances a bit like Phoebe from Friends. R spent most of the time following her cousin P (6) around. P is the Chloe Pig to R’s Peppa. She worships her. Dh was told on several occasions that the girls were ‘The best behaved children we’ve ever seen’. These people were only a teensy bit drunk (i.e. still able to stand) so I’m totally taking the compliment.

We have finally redecorated the girls’ bedroom. When we moved here two years ago their room was yellow with a teddy bear border and they were young enough at 20 months to warrant keeping the décor the same. Over the last year it became increasingly apparent that the room looked too babyish for their swiftly evolving tastes. It took me a while to persuade Dh but I finally wore him down and earlier in the week we painted their room pale pink (it looked worryingly like seafood sauce initially but has calmed down now) and decorated it with Peppa Pig wall stickers. I have also – finally – hung my cross-stitch alphabet up. It looks LOVELY.

I wanted to buy the girls proper beds but Dh has vetoed that for the time being because (brace yourselves) the girls aren’t dry at night yet….

<I’m now going to give you a moment to digest that. I’m getting a hot chocolate while you revel in our crapness by leaping around the room, air-punching, whooping with joy, whatever>

All done now? Good.

….so there’s no point moving them out of their current beds (their cotbeds with the sides off) until they’re in knickers. We’re dangling that (along with promises of bunk beds, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse bedding) as a carrot to ‘encourage’ them out of night-time pull-ups but they’re having none of it.

So, we’re not quite where I’d like to be, but we’re getting there. Plus, we don’t have to go through this again with other children so my glass is (for a change) half-full. All hail the 4 year olds!****

*I don’t actually think the Victorians did this.

**Apart from when they do something so naughty and/or stupid that I want to fall to my knees and weep at my parenting failures. This happens approximately once a day.

***Ha ha ha. I’m joking of course.

****Except when they make you cry.