Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Best behaviour

G&T - 35-and-a-half months  M - 13 months

As a parent, you spent a lot of time worrying about messing up your kids. Will a few too many cartoons every now and again stunt their learning? Will resorting to fish fingers one night irrevocably ruin their future diet? Will giving in on one too many argument create selfish, miserable adults? Well, no, probably not. But we worry anyway. But every now and again, your kids to something to remind you that you're not so bad as this parenting lark after all.
I live about 50 yards from a handy little shop, to which I can easily pop to grab any provisions. I say easily. That was before M could walk. When I realised I needed milk the other day, I got the girls all ready and started to put M in her buggy, but she put up such a fight, I thought I'd treat her by carrying her instead. She didn't see it as a treat. She struggled all the way there and back, desperate to gain her freedom and refusing to see anything but injustice in the fact her sisters were allowed to walk by themselves. The following day, I ran out of bread (I know, I know, why didn't I buy that the day before? Well, I have a lot of kids, you know. Things drop out of my brain fairly easily these days...) but this time I had a plan. The twins still had their little animal-shaped backpacks and a little (well, a lot) of searching (and increasingly frustrated mumbling to self) didn't reveal one of the clip-on reins, but did uncover a clip-on strap from an old handbag. So, I got the twins into their coats, and M into a ladybird backpack and an utterly adorable all-in-one rainsuit, clipped on the strap and set off, feeling smug about my own brilliance.
M will love the walk to the shops now. I'll get my bread, and we'll have fun...
Turns out, toddlers don't see being on reins as freedom. M completely refused to go where she was bidden, determinedly aiming for every open gate, constantly fascinated by the kerb and completely fixated on a little terrier being taken for his walk on the other side of the road. The 50-yard trip took a good ten minutes, with me cajoling, tugging, carrying and persuading, all the while desperately trying to also keep an eye on the twins, calling at them to stop, frantically paranoid that every passing car was suddenly going to swerve from the road and plough into the precious little girls just out of my reach.
But when I finally made it back into the garden, bread in hand and nerves in tatters, while the girls all splashed happily in a giant puddle in the drive, I realised something. I needn't have worried. Although I did have to keep shouting to the twins to wait for Mummy, they stopped immediately at every call, waited patiently at every kerb without having to be told, checked carefully for traffic and didn't even come close to stepping into the road, instead walking carefully alongside the garden walls. In short, they were perfectly behaved. Perfectly behaved because of me. Yes, they are good girls by nature, but their dad and I have always been careful to drill road sense into them, stopping and looking at every junction, always waiting for green men, no matter how frustrating the delay, and doing our best to instil a healthy respect for traffic. And it worked. I know plenty of people who shudder at the idea of letting their 2-year-old walk off the reins, but I have complete confidence in my girls. They know their limits and, more importantly, they have common sense.
It's not just out in the street either. When we do make it to the shop, we're their favourite customers. All the staff love the girls and we're always being told that the twins are the best behaved visitors they have. They are polite, attentive and friendly. Of course the girls argue when tempers fray, but they are very good at sharing and making sure their sisters get an equal share. T refused to deliver G a rice cake the other day as one of them was broken. Everyone had to be equal. I've always made sure the girls have as many choices as possible, as much control of their own lives as I can give them. They select their own clothes each day, decide between them what they'd like for tea, and I always give them the chance to hand back stolen toys or apologise and make up before I resort to the Time Out corner. Of course, it doesn't always work, and all three girls have the power to drive me completely insane. But I am so proud of them. And of their dad and me. When I see how clever and caring G and T are, and how M is shaping up to be just as sweet, I have to admit that I might just be quite good at being a mum after all.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Who's in charge here anyway?

G&T - 35 months  M - 13 months

So, as predicted, as soon as G decided G was ready to be potty-trained, there was no going back. There have been no puddles for a week, and she's quickly moved on from the potty to the toilet. We're still having a few issues with the more, erm, solid deposits, but I have no doubt we'll get there. In fact, I'm sure we'll get past there. G is working the system.
The twins love JellyBelly jelly beans. I hate them having them, but their dad is a softie, so they do get the occasional little bag, which always sends them into raptures. So, it seemed logical to introduce a couple of jellybeans per pee to help motivate G. And it worked. A little too well. She's gone from only two or three big pees on the floor a day, to sometimes 10 or 12 tiny ones in the potty or toilet. Each time, she leaps off in delight. exclaiming: 'I did it! I did it! Three jellybeans please.' (Cue beautific smile). She's no fool.  I've also had to re-introduce treats for the long-since toilet-trained T, who suddenly started having 'accidents' when she saw G being rewarded for something she did for free.So I've had to introduce a rating system, whereby the bigger the pee, the more jellybeans it earns. Now, G leaps off exclaiming: 'I did it! I did it!' (examines potty contents) 'It's a two jellybeaner!'  I find myself wondering how I got here. How on earth did I reach the point of grading urine?
Well, I did because I always do. Kids are sneaky. They know they're cute, they know you love them and they know your weak points. T has a different approach to getting her way. She's adorably affectionate. She'll look into my eyes, stroke my face, tells me she loves me... and get whatever she's after. Even M is learning the power she has, though thus far, she's going for the physical approach. She's started using her body to get out of things - the 'I don't want to get in the buggy' reverse C-shape, the 'I have been wronged' dramatic floor drop and cry, the 'Don't pick me up' arm lift... The girl knows what she wants - or doesn't want - and isn't afraid to show it. I'm a (relatively) mature, (relatively) intelligent women, who built a (relatively) successful career in a job where people relied on me and trusted my judgement. Now, I'm constantly out-witted by toddlers. So is it true that pregnancy actually costs you brain cells? Or has motherhood just softened me?
My girls have boundaries and rules and they know what's expected of them. I am tough when I need to be and won't let them get away with bad behaviour. But when they turn on the charm, I'm mush. I just hope I'm preparing them well for their lives ahead. Not to use their looks to get ahead, but that sweetness works better than temper. I know I'll have to phase out the jellybeans soon, and I will. I'll ignore those big brown eyes, and those sparkly blue ones. I'll say no and stay strong. Soon. Honest. Just not quite yet...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

A golden miracle

G&T - 35 months M - 13 months

It's been a few weeks since I've managed to find time to write this blog. We've had tummy bugs, baby jabs, horrid colds, more vomiting, doctors' visits and very nearly a stay in hospital.... In short, it's been hell. But amongst it all, a little chink of heaven has shone through. We've had a miracle. Six whole months since I began the process, I finally, after countless trials and traumas, have two totally toilet-trained toddlers. Well, kind of...
What with little M arriving when the twins were 22 months, then us all upping sticks and moving from London to Scotland a few weeks later, I didn't even start trying to potty-train the girls until they were nearly two-and-a-half. All the signs were there. They had long since had the language and understanding of what was expected. They were incredibly enthusiastic about potties and pees and big girl pants. They were ready. And after a few messy Dettol-filled days, T just got it. She soon started asked for the potty at the right time, then quickly got the hang of the toilet. We swiftly moved out of pull-ups to go out, into pants all day, and she never looked back. I turned all my attention to G, praising, rewarding, cajoling and cuddling. My reward? Nothing.
Frustration soon set in. Aware losing my patience wouldn't exactly help, I gave up and put her back in nappies, waited a few weeks and tried again. And again. And again. Even little M taking to sitting on the potty and announcing 'Poo!' didn't spur her big sister on. I began to panic. I hadn't expected this to be a completely seamless process, but, honestly, how long was it going to take? Would she be trained before she was due to start nursery? Before school? Before her baby sister?? It soon became obvious where the problem lay. G was having fewer and fewer accidents, and had clearly gained control of her bladder. But when the time came, something was just stopping her using the potty instead of the floor.
Five six months in, I decided to just go with it. I put her in pants whenever we were in the house, and just accepted that I'd have to be on the ball and clean up any spills before a curious M got her hands, mouth or anything else on them. It actually wasn't too bad, though I'd only recommend this course of action if you have wooden floors... And after about three weeks, it just happened. We had a living room full of guests when G told her Daddy she wanted to try the potty in the dining room and voila! A pee! A golden stream of wonder! It was a warm, wet miracle! Within days, she was doing everything in the potty, and has even made the odd attempt at using the toilet. I honestly can't believe it. After all this time, it seems to have just happened. Accidents are few and far between and, despite all my fears to the contrary, I have no doubt she will be totally trained before her third birthday next month. The past six months have suddenly become worth every pee-obsessed second.
I've been trying to think of what tips I should be passing on to mums who have all this fun ahead of them. Of what pearls of wisdom these tough few months have afforded me. Only I can't. I don't have any. This isn't an exact science, and I don't have a magic wand to wave.
In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have tried to train the twins together. But which one would I have tackled first? Both ticked all the boxes, both were equally willing and able. Should I have been more consistent? Gone with one reward system and stuck to it through everything? Maybe, but it isn't that simple when you have two other toddlers to chase around. And when it comes down to it, I'm not sure it would have changed anything anyway. G started using the potty when G was ready. Not when the books told her she was, nor when I decided she should be. Whatever mental block was stopping her, she simply decided one day to step over it, and that was that.
It's easy for me to say now, and I know I ignored this very advice myself mere weeks ago, but the only thing you can do with potty training is relax. All the experts in the world can't tell you about your own child. T and G have the same level of language, the same comprehension, enthusiasm and sense of fun, but they are two very different people, and I can't force them into boxes to suit me. T has always been more willing to try new things, she's more compliant and trusting. G is a fiercely individual soul, who likes to observe and assess and wait until she's fully ready before she does anything. And that's OK. It's more than OK, it's who she is. It's who they both are. Who all three of them are. I call the girls 'the girls' out of convenience. They are not a set, a neat little group of Russian dolls. They are three wonderful, crazy, challenging, separate little people. And no matter how many heartaches that causes, and how much money I spend on Dettol and kitchen roll, I wouldn't have it any other way.