From despair to where

Aside from waking at 5.30am, deciding to read Meg and Mog stories VERY LOUDLY to each other (with accents and everything) and waking me up in the process, the girls have been absolutely brilliant today.

After ballet and tap we went London Zoo with one of the girls’ friends and her family. My two were in super-good mode and I only had to take R to one side once to have a gentle word about not listening to grown-ups. It was a really long day – we finally got home just before 7pm – but they didn’t complain about the large amount of walking that we did, or the multiple train/tube/bus/taxi  journeys that we took (the girls went in a black cab for their first time in their lives and loved it.), or the fact that I couldn’t carry them. In fact, neither of them asked to be carried at any point. They ate their lunch nicely and R only whinged about not getting a biscuit for a couple of minutes before giving up and curling up on my lap for a cuddle.

Today proves that the girls can behave beautifully and that they choose to be wilfully difficult when they want to. I have noticed that their behaviour is generally worse when both Dh and I are around. They are definitely much better behaved when I’m on my own with them, or in a one-to-one situation. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to do the lions share of the parenting on my own all the time. I like having someone here to share the girls and frankly, I need Dh as much as they do.

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.

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’.

Baby, you’re a Big Star now

If this were a film this blog post would be accompanied by the pages of a dairy fluttering to the ground accompanied by brown leaves and shiny conkers to show you two things:

  1. It’s Autumn
  2. Time is passing very quickly

If this were a film I’d look like this and Dh would look like this

Right. You’re going to have to give me a minute now…

Where was I?

Oh yes. The girls have moved up to the preschool room at nursery, which is called Big Stars. The nursery has always been oversubscribed (aren’t they all?) so they have built a brand new Big Stars building that is adjacent to the existing premises. I say building, it’s actually a very fancy garden shed built on brick foundations. Anyway, it’s lovely and it feels about two minutes since I wrote about them moving up to the Little Stars room last September.  Now you have to imagine a whooshy sound and me doing wiggly hands, Wayne’s World style.

I picked the girls up from their new room for the first time last night and I was struck at how similar the setup was to Sunnyside nursery in Toy Story 3. To get to the new building you have to walk through most of the old one and I’d spotted a couple of toddlers in the Bubble Room (AKA the Caterpillar Room) bashing each other over the head with toys and running around. The Big Star room was, comparatively, an oasis of calm. Very grown-up looking pre-schoolers curled up on beanbags reading picture books.  A couple of children were helping the carers to tidy up at the end of the day. R and G ran over to their trays and pulled out a bundle of drawings each to take home. It was the real-life Butterfly Room.*

G absolutely adores the new setup. I asked her what she’d been up to today and every sentence began ‘IIIIIN BIG STARS…’.  She’d been playing with the dolls’ house, doing more complicated puzzles and constructing things with lego. She’s inordinately proud of the fact that she can write her name (kind-of, pretty much) and every scribble is accompanied by her left-handed wobbly hieroglyphics. There are lots of new books and she told me about a few of them in great detail.  G also told me a very complicated story about another child that didn’t listen when it was tidy-up time and talked during circle time. I strongly suspect that she was referring to herself…

R, generally more resistant to change, is not quite so pleased. She really liked the transition half-days she did in the Big Star room over the last few weeks, but was upset when she realised that the ‘old’ Big Stars had gone off to school. How dare they! She really misses her old keyworker (her beloved Mel-Mel) and told me at bedtime that she wanted to be a Little Star again. I was sympathetic and gave her lots of cuddles, but when I arrived this evening she was in the playground with a group of boys playing chase and laughing her head off so I I’m confident that it’s a temporary malaise.

Meanwhile, Dh and I are plotting the girls’ next move…

* Did you know that the little girl playing with dolls in the Butterfly Room in Sunnyside is the older Boo from Monster’s Inc? (I thought that was lovely when I found out and I’m going to go away now before I start listening to You’ve Got a Friend in Me and crying…)

The end of 46 Days

At the beginning of March I had a crazy idea. Instead of giving something up for Lent, I would try to do something every day. The idea for 46 Days came from there. Today is the 46th and last day.

I thought I’d have a look back through the last 45 days and see what’s happened:

0 people offended (that I’m aware of…)

1 holiday booked

1 disastrous week of night training

1 graduation attended

1 Margot Leadbetter moments

2 bouts of nostalgia

2 guinea pigs (Charlie and Lola) arrived

2 fish (Eddie and Bob) bought

3 fish (Maisy, Eddie and Bob) died

3 Easter bonnets made

4 3rd birthday parties attended

4 One Born Every Minute liveblogs

5 separate illnesses (2 for me, 2 for G, 1 for R)

6 twinny observations (I could have written hundreds of posts on this)

7 Friday photos

8 rants (I’m amazed there aren’t many more)

That’s a fairly average seven or so weeks in the HoT. Ok, so you don’t buy guinea pigs and kill off goldfish every day, but everything else was pretty normal…for us at least. It’s a nice little snapshot of our lives.

I only missed one night – when I was away for work – and I made up for it the next night with two long posts.  I have to say, as the weather improved dramatically in April I found it much harder to generate enough enthusiasm to sit down every night and write a blog post. Last night I ‘cheated’ and uploaded the Friday photos from my iphone whilst slumped on the sofa after another busy day. Thank Steve Jobs for the WordPress app!

I speculated at the beginning of all this that a period of sustained creativity might make me want to do some creative writing. It hasn’t, but only because I haven’t had time after writing 46 Days posts. There are a couple of ideas percolating in my brain but I can’t commit them to screen just yet.

Instead I’ve been exploiting my creative mind in different ways. I’m really into card-making at the moment. If there’s an event coming up I’ve probably made a card for it! My cards aren’t going to make me rich and they definitely look ‘home made’ but I hope people appreciate the effort. I attempted my first scrapbook – a graduation present for my Mum. I love getting creative with photos, bit of paper, a stack of embellishments and a ton of pritt stick. I have also made great progress with my latest cross-stitch and am already thinking about the next stitching project. I might do something really challenging this time…

As I get older I can no longer sit in front of the telly of an evening once the girls are in bed. I have to be doing other things, so that I feel my evenings aren’t wasted. That reminds me…I have very strict rules on my ‘me time’ activities. They are all done in the evening in the precious few hours I have when the girls are asleep and before I go to bed. During the day I’m either spending time with the girls or working.

I’m looking forward to having a few nights off (maybe even a week or two) from blogging – or the tyranny of the blank page (which only affected me twice in 46 days) and the feeling that I ‘have’ to write something. I might try something similar later in the year. November is my bogey-month so I might try 30 Days or something like that to ward off the SAD.

That’s all in the future. Now, I’m off to make a Mojito and await our take-away delivery.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Year Three – in which R and G became CHILDREN.

“I know from reading the stories of others that year three isn’t going to be magically easier. We’re going to have the terrible twos to deal with. There’s the frankly scary prospect of potty training. This time next year the girls will have abandoned their high chairs (that will probably happen quite soon) and in all probability, their buggies. We’ll have to think about turning their cotbeds from cots to beds. Their daytime nap will become a thing of the past (and will be greatly missed)”

Two days before the girls’ third birthday and I’m in a reflective mood. I wrote the above passage a year ago on the eve of their second birthday. If I were a box ticking kinda gal, I’d be feeling pretty pleased. Potty training? Completed by October (2yrs10m). Highchairs? Junked in January (2yrs1m). Buggies? Phased out over the Summer (2yrs7m-ish). Our Nipper Double and single Maclaren Volos sit forlornly in the cupboard under the stairs, gathering dust. I don’t quite feel ready to part with them yet. Moved into beds? Done in (ahem) December (2yrs11m), although, with bed guards we should have done it a year ago. Daytime nap? Sadly dropped in May (2ys5m) and much missed by both of us, although they sleep (touch wood) very well at night, generally.

I realised something a couple of weeks ago. Choosing to have a second (third, fourth, fifth, etc.) child isn’t just about providing a sibling or creating a larger family. It’s also an opportunity to make up for the mistakes you made first time round. When you have a baby it’s a bit like playing a new computer game. Level 1: pregnant. Ooh! Jump over the vomit! Don’t slip over on the ice with that bump! Level 2: newborn baby. You have to look after an infant while fighting off uzi-toting zombies hurling poo and food at you. The first time you play you’re crap – still trying to figure out the controls, wondering if that thing wonder towards you is going to give you a hug or kill you. Second time round, you actually know stuff. You know that three button clicks after killing the zombie with the machete you’ll find a pot of gold. There are things that we would do differently if we had more children but as we’ve decided that R and G are our one shot at this parenting thing, we’re not going to have the opportunity to put this theory into practice.

As for the ‘terrible twos’, closer inspection of the girls’ instruction manual (we have a poorly photocopied Welsh language version) reveals that they actually start when the child is two and  a half and usually last for a year, so that means we’re half-way through them. 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.

“I’m looking forward to having proper conversations with the girls. To explaining concepts and ideas to them. I’m even (god help me) looking forward to the interminable ‘WHYYYYYYYYY??’ questions”.

Ok, so this is quite fun and the conversations we have are hilarious but whenever R asks us to explain something, we’re treated to THE LOOK (a.k.a. The Ruthie Stare), which says “You are talking utter codswallop. That’s clearly not the answer. Why am I stuck with these imbeciles?” Last week I was asked where snow came from. I rooted through my brain and dredged up a bit of knowledge, which I imparted to R. She put her head on one side, gave me THE LOOK and replied “That’s WRONG Mummy”. I felt 6cms high. I asked her what the proper answer was. She didn’t know. I felt better.

So, year four. We’ve completed most of the milestone stuff now and the only outstanding thing is night training. I wasn’t ever very fussed about doing this before their 3rd birthday. The received wisdom is that most children aren’t ready until their fourth year to be fully night trained – you can try before that, but you’ll spend A LOT of time changing wet beds and I don’t know about you but I’m rather fond of sleep now I can have some – so I’m happy to follow the girls’ lead. G wakes up with a dry nappy roughly half of the week and R always wakes up with a wet nappy so there’s no rush.

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. I want to take them on even more day trips. We might even think about going on a proper holiday.

Year One was physically and mentally exhausting. Year two was full of change. Year Three has been intellectually demanding on top of everything else, but it’s been my favourite so far. Let’s see what year Four brings.

Things that go bump in the night

Many months after their peers moved from cots to beds, we finally took the sides off the girls’ cotbeds yesterday. We’ve been debating it for months and always had it in our minds that we’d make the transition when the girls started climbing out of their cots, but they never did. I knew the game was up when we went to visit the girls’ old nursery (oh how we miss it) a few weeks ago and I mentioned that we only had two things left to do to help the girls become pre-schoolers rather than toddlers: 1. Get them night trained, 2. Move to beds. To their credit, they disguised their horror/surprise well (about the cots at least) and kindly gave us some advice.

The girls went to bed as normal at 7pm and were rather excited about their ‘Big girl beds’. Instinctively, dh and I went to lift them up to put them in their cots and felt silly when the girls clambered into bed by themselves. They went to sleep pretty quickly and all was well. We had debated buying bed guards but dh po-poohed the idea and was convinced that the girls wouldn’t fall out. I was fairly certain we’d need them. G can fall over walking in a straight line (she gets it from her mother) and has always been a wriggly sleeper so, to my mind, there was no way that she would stay in bed all night.

At 10.30pm we head a ‘bump’ on the monitor (yup, haven’t got rid of that yet either) followed by a wail and G shouting ‘CUDDLE MUMMY’. I went upstairs to find a rather confused G sitting on the floor surrounded by her duvet. If she had been a cartoon she would have had stars and birds whizzing around her head. I gave her a big reassuring cuddle and popped her back into bed. R was snoring throughout.

In total, G fell out of bed a further three times in the night. I sent dh in each time to sort her out. On the last occasion she had fallen out, clambered back into bed herself but had forgotten to take the duvet with her, so he had to help her with that. That’ll learn him, I thought, smugly. R didn’t fall out at all. Typical really.

So, this morning we went out and bought two bed guards – the flexible ‘roll-up and pull out’ variety. Dh paid. They have been installed and the girls are sleeping peacefully. For now at least.

Twins as individuals

As they (rapidly) approach their third birthday, the girls are working out their relationship with each other and carving out their personalities. They now understand that they are sisters and relate the term to each other i.e. R/G is my sister (if one wants to get the attention of the other they will shout SISTER RUTH or SISTER GRACE) and they have worked out that Aunty J is my sister and Aunty D is dh’s sister.

They sometimes call each other twins but I don’t think they actually understand what the term means. I have tried to explain that they both lived in my tummy and were born at the same time but they just look at me like I’ve completely lost it. Maybe when they’re three they’ll start to understand…

G acts like the older sister (which she is by a minute and we all know that R will be FURIOUS when she finds out) and treats R like a slightly wayward younger sibling that she has to keep an eye on. G has become extremely adept at talking R ‘off the ledge’ when she’s having a wobbler and also encourages R to join in her imaginative play, often as a distraction technique when she senses that R might be on the verge of losing her temper. G likes to help with household chores and wants to do things by herself and be ‘a grown up girl’. At nursery the carers have noticed that G watches out for R and tries to mother her a bit when it comes to joining in with games and activities. If we let her, G would dress R and look after her. We are gently discouraging this by thanking G for being so helpful and kind but encouraging R to do things for herself.

R’s attitude is very much ‘Why have a dog and bark yourself?’. We have watched open-mouthed as R has ordered G to do something for her i.e. collect a toy that she wants and dutifully bring it over to her. Again, this is something we are discouraging. R is the more physically active of the two and encourages G to join in with her running, climbing, jumping and hopping. Interestingly, when she’s on her own R becomes incredibly grown-up and sensible. I’ve taken R out alone a few times recently and she’s an absolute pleasure to be with. She listens to what I say (rare when they’re together), chats in a very knowledgeable and mature way about whatever she sees and does.

In many ways the girls complement each other: G is imaginative and R is very physical and they bring those traits out in each other. However I firmly believe that as they get older, they need to spend more time apart in order to blossom fully. At nursery their carers are making even more effort to treat them as individuals – giving them separate pegs for their coats and bags, for example and putting them in different groups for activities and reading. We’re trying to spend more time with them individually, so dh will do something with G and I’ll do something with R.

When they go to school I’m going to ask for them to be put in separate classes. I’ve already checked with the local primary school and they’re happy to do this. I don’t want to get reports about ‘The Twins’. I want to hear about R and G. They each have very strong personalities and I want them to blossom as individuals whilst still maintaining the innate twin-ness that they absolutely have, even if they don’t quite understand it yet.

Monsters Inc.

The HoT has two new inhabitants in the form of some rather active little monsters. Now, I know what you’re thinking and yes R and G do have monster-like tendencies but they have adopted imaginary monsters and treat them like pets.

G’s is a little pink and purple baby monster that gets tired easily and needs lots of cuddles and kisses. Sometimes it gets bigger and scares her (pick the bones out of that one, child psychologists…) but mostly it just sits on the table and sleeps. R’s is HUUUGE, green and called Dominic. It waits outside the front door for R to let it in and it ROARS and stomps around shouting.

It’s fascinating that their imaginary monsters reflect the girls’ personalities. G’s is sweet and kind but occasionally gets angry. R’s is very loud and stompy and likes to let everyone know it exists.

G is much more into the game than R and washes her baby monster in the bath and takes it to bed. R joins in the game but doesn’t initiate it. She’s happy for her monster to exist when she wants to join in G’s game. Otherwise she’s not that fussed.

I don’t know how long the monsters will be with us – they only arrived today – but it’s another fascinating glimpse into the mind of (nearly) three year olds. I’m rather hoping it’s a sign that they have excellent imaginations and doesn’t mean that they’ll be paying vast sums of money to therapists when they grow up!

C is for Ceramicist…

Well, despite my fretting, the girls have taken to their new room at nursery like ducks to the proverbial. They absolutely love it. For the first couple of days they still tried to go into the Bubble Room for breakfast but now they trot over to the Little Stars breakfast table and before dh and I have kissed them goodbye they are munching their cornflakes and chatting with their friends. The transition has been eased considerably by the fact that their little group of friends moved up with them. Many of their friends are now potty training (which makes me wonder why we pushed it earlier…oh! I know!) and apparently sit on their potties or the little toilets (the girls use the toilets at nursery and insist on using their potties at home. Sigh.) together and gossip – surely a precursor to their girlie trips to the loos to chat and apply more lippy when they are older.

It’s certainly tiring them out. G was nodding off to sleep over her pre-bath time milk this evening and R was rubbing her eyes during bedtime stories. They come home with new ‘creations’ almost every day now. Dh: ‘What’s that R?’ R (looks mortally offended): ‘It’s you Daddy’. Dh:(contemplates black squiggles)it’s lovely, thank you R’. R: (rolls eyes). Their speech, already reasonably good, is coming on in leaps and bounds and G in particular comes out with long sentences and Alan Bennett-style monologues that make us shake our heads in disbelief. G already had an extremely good imagination and she’s added even more layers to it in the last few weeks. They aren’t geniuses, or even moderately advanced for their age, but they seem to be doing really well.

Tomorrow a ‘Ceramicist’ is coming in to do mug and plate painting with the children. Once I’d stopped rolling my eyes (can’t think where R gets it from) I filled out the forms (and wrote the cheques) and the girls will be painting a mug each with their full names on. I still get a kick out of seeing their ‘proper’ names in print. They seem to do more activities with outside sources as they get older, so I’ll be selling my body parts to fund their fun.

They are also spending some time in the ‘proper’ pre-school room, which they won’t officially move into until next September (as I said, just normal kids for their age) where they tell us that they ‘do reading’ and ‘Ummm’, apparently. We’ll have to find out a bit more about that. R and G can be slightly unreliable when it comes to information about their day. Me: ‘did you play with L today?’. G: yes. Me: she’s on holiday this week. G: oh.

So, it’s all going well. Dh and I got the girls dressed for nursery this morning and as I waved them off I looked at the two tall slim popular confident blonde girls trotting down the path with their Daddy and felt very proud*

*I still think there was a mix-up a hospital and they aren’t really mine…