Category Archives: just a phase

Present imperfect

Mabel’s a biter.

There. I’ve said it. It’s the worst thing your child can be, until they grow up and become a druggie or   a republican or a dirty hippie or whatever your bag isn’t, baby.

I’m sick of blogs that make you think everyone else’s children are perfect, and of making myself feel that I’m a crappy parent because of this one thing. So I’m telling you here and now that this is what’s been going on, and it’s not fun. I’m also willing to bet I’m not the only one of you who has had a child with a horrible phase, and I think we need to talk about it.

When she was younger, maybe a year ago or more, she went through a biting phase. Happily, it was short-lived and I didn’t have to be the mother of the biter. But now she’s doing it again so, for now, that’s what I am, again.

I know when she does it and how it happens. She’s not attention-seeking, and I don’t think she’s even pushing boundaries. When she’s seeking attention, she leaps up and down and rudely interrupts my conversations with adults. When she pushes her boundaries, she walks up the down-slide smirking and casting sideways glances at me to make sure I see how good she is at being bad. This is not how she bites.

It happens when she’s tired. Because right now we’re in a huge sleep upheaval – the good sort where she is finally, praise the lord, learning to sleep all night, alone, in her own bed, without waking – on the days after the nights where that doesn’t happen for one reason or another, she’s exhausted. I daren’t let her nap midday  – last time I did that, a one-hour nap led to a three-hour-late bedtime, and the whole, horrible, cycle was perpetuated. So we just have to plough through, and sometimes other people are the innocent victims.

When she bites, it’s because, although she may look perfectly content from the outside – watching tv, playing happily with other children, going about her own business – she’s actually teetering on the brink of exhaustion. Something small happens, and she snaps. Her instant, instinctive, uncontrollable response to the anger she feels then, is to bite.

I have a temper. I do, really. It’s been tamped down by time and effort, but I still remember the feeling of having to lash out. I still remember slapping friends who got my goat so badly I had to do something about it. (And I was probably nine or so for that memory – I can’t imagine what I did when I was three.) I remember making a conscious decision to snap a pencil in half rather than hurt someone. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying. So she probably got it from me, is what I’m saying.

I’ve also been the mother of the bitten, when the shoe was on the other foot, and that’s no fun. I know how people feel about biters; I’ve felt it, I’ve listened to the gossip, I’ve avoided certain children and watched them like a hawk. I would not blame anyone I know for feeling that way about Mabel at this point in time.

Three-year-olds do not have much impusle control. It is easily eroded by fatigue, hunger, a long day, a frustrating scenario. They can ask nicely and use their words and share beautifully and even sometimes delay gratification in the morning. But come the witching hour, all bets are off. We’ve talked about feeling angry, and things you can do when you feel angry, like stamping your foot or jumping up and down, or punching a cushion. When she’s tired, there is no space of recognition between the feeling and the reaction, so there’s no time for me to redirect her or for her, yet, to redirect herself.

I have thought a lot about this lately. We’re using a star chart for other things, we’re bringing more order into our lives now that school has started, we are settling into a routine. I am trying with all my might to get Mabel’s sleep on track, because I am 100% sure that’s the key to all of this. That, and time. Time for her to not be three-and a-half any more. Time for her to stop doing it. Time for her to work out what to do with her anger, even when she’s not feeling her best. Time for the bitten to forgive and forget.

Time for me to believe in her, and in me.

Deep down inside

Shhhh! Don’t say a word! I’m hunting wabbits.

No, no, I’m not. But the two children have been playing together – actually, honest-to-dog playing together – quietly, even – for quite a while now. They’re saying quite disgusting things, if I bother to listen, about things their imaginary moms do (not me, obviously not me), but I don’t care. “My mum messes around her face” was one of the nicer ones that Mabel just came up with.

But I think it’s been a while since they’ve done this. There’s been hilarious running-around-the-house-someone’s-going-to-put-an-eye-out playing, but not much sitting down with toys together playing lately.

I know now that I’ve said it – no matter how quietly – it will all fall apart, but it’s been nice. Ironic, even, since I came here to tell you about how rotten Mabel has been to her brother lately, and maybe write my way into some sort of explanation of it for myself.

For a while now Mabel’s been telling poor Dash that she hates him. Then she rubs it in: “I love Mummy, and I like Daddy, and I hate you, Dash. You’re poopy and I hate you forever.” Stuff like that. Which is all well and good and developmentally appropriate, I’m sure, but the poor boy believes her, no matter how much I tell him that she’s only saying it and that really, deep down inside (just like Anthony, if you’ve read about Anthony) she loves him. “No, I don’t,” says Mabel.

So then he has to go and ask her to pour lemon juice on his paper cut, thus:

– Mabel, who do you like?
– Mummy, and Daddy, and everyone, and I hate you.
– Mabel, if Mummy and Daddy weren’t here, who would you like?
– I’d still hate you.
– If there was nobody else in the world except me, would you like me then?
– No, I’d hate you. You’re poopy.

Of course, in between times they play together, or sit together companionably, and everything’s just fine because she’s forgotten her fraternal stance, but then she remembers and thinks she’ll just stir things up a bit, so she pinches him. Viciously. For no good reason, as he always tells me.

“I did have a good reason. But it’s a secret,” she retorts.

And for the most part, he doesn’t fight back. He’s not a saint, so sometimes she gets her just desserts, and other times he just idiotically hangs out waiting – even asking, literally – for more; but so often he’s sad about it, and he tries his best to be a really nice big brother. He picks things up when she drops them, and finds her toys if she wants them, and generally does her bidding in the hopes of winning favour. (Sometimes I wish he’d be a little more assertive. She’s got assertive all sewn up, and then some.)

Trying to parse her behaviour somewhat, I suppose she’s testing her boundaries and playing with her power. She’s pushing him to see if she can really push him all the way away. She doesn’t dare do that to me (since I’m attached to the very important boobies, remember) and Dash is a far easier target than Daddy. She’s learning that she can bestow or withold affection, how it feels to be mean, and how it makes other people feel. Not a fun thing to watch, but I suppose it’s necessary.

One day last week when she was horribly overtired, having needed a nap but only got ten minutes in the car, and then managed not to go to bed until too late, her sobs gave me  some insight into her psyche: “It’s not fair,” she hiccupped at me, “that Dash was the first one out of your tummy.”

That’s it, basically. There’s no competition like a three-year-old’s competition, and no matter how many times she bests him by announcing “Whoever’s a girl wins! I win!” her brother will always have won the first, the biggest, the most important race of them all. He was born first. Until she comes to terms with that, she’s just going to have to work out her resentment with all the immaturity she can muster.

(I’ve reserved Ames & Ilg’s Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy from the library, and in fact today’s outing was meant to be to pick it up, but we haven’t made it out yet. I read it back when Dash was rising three, but I think a re-read would be timely. I’m hoping it will tell me this is very normal behaviour for her age, but for the moment I’m just spouting psychobabble off the top of my head. So don’t sue me if I’m way off target.)

I hope that she soon decides it’s more fun to be nice than mean. This morning she did announce to Dash that she likes him, to his secret delight, so maybe things are moving in the right direction. Or maybe she’s just toying with his affections. I already feel sorry for her first boyfriend. Make that her first five or six boyfriends.

Detente

Summer numbers

Things I left the supermarket with this morning that I would not have expected to buy:

  • One pink piggy spatula
  • Two miniature American flags

Things I left the supermarket with this morning that I would have rather left behind, or not brought with me in the first place:

  • Two children 

People who have been bitten by their sister twice in the past two days:

  • Dash

People who have been driven to the last resort by their brother who just will not listen to any other sort of dissuasion:

  • Mabel

People who have to decide whom to be more annoyed with first:

  • Maud

Number of bites of baby carrot Dash has had since yesterday:

  • 2 (actual honest-to-god bites that were swallowed; this is huge)

Temperature, in degrees farenheit, that it is outside my house just now:

  • 95

Expected high:

  • 100

Heat index; that is, what it will feel like when you factor in the humidity:

  • 107

Amount I hope we will go to the pool this afternoon:

  • A lot.

Poopy

Poopy is the word, it’s the time, it’s the motion. Poopy’s the way she is feeling.

No, that’s a bit misleading, now that I look at my oh-so-clever quote manipulation there. I mean, I wouldn’t want you to think I was speaking literally, using “motion” in this context. It’s just that with Mabel at the moment, everything is poopy. Poopy this, poopy that, I’m poopy, you’re poopy, Dash in particular is very often poopy, we’re all poopy. Except now and then one of us might be mutton-head. (That’s a WildKratts reference. I’m told you had to be there, and I keep missing it. But she claims she means it as a compliment.)

She is three and a half, after all, so there had to be something. I think we’re getting off pretty lightly if this is the sum total of her half-year behaviour-regression thingy. She’s into calling people poopy and sometimes pinching them too, but mostly only if they’re her brother. Poor Dash is trying hard not to take it personally, but if I hear “Waaaahhhh! Mabel pinched me and called me poopy,” one more time in the next five minutes – well, it’ll be just like all the previous five minuteses.

Poopy was not a word ever bandied around in this house before Mabel heard it last summer and had a brief fling with it, but now it has returned with a vengeance. While helping at nursery school recently I heard a teacher scold one of Mabel’s classmates for saying it. His father, who happened to be there too, was shocked and wondered where he could have heard such a thing. I had to fess up that it was probably from my delightful daughter, and have a wee chat with Mabel about words we are not to use at school, to protect the delicate ears of those more innocent.

Personally, I don’t really take much issue with poopy. As bad words go, it’s pretty hilarious really, and I’d quite like to use it all the time too. Considering she has a six-year-old brother whose classmates, I know from my field-trip experience last week – know some much more serious bad words, I’m quite happy with it. But from the perspective of the other parent, I understand that I would have liked my only/eldest child to go as long as possible before hearing any of the less savoury elements of vocabulary, or even getting an inkling that words could be used like that, and I too would have been displeased if some moppet in Dash’s class when he was three was wandering around firing off such epithets at random peers.

So I think she knows that she shouldn’t say it at school, but at home it’s a bit of a free-for-all, because I really don’t have the energy to get all riled up every time the p-word is dropped; and since she’s doing it for effect anyway, the best tack is clearly firm parental apathy. I suggested to Dash, who finds it hard to ignore, that he pretend she said something nice and respond with a cheery “Thank you!”

He’s not sure this tactic is working yet, but at least it’s more fun for all of us than hearing him whine about it.

One of the few times when she’s not calling something poopy

Skeered

Our fearless leader (Mabel, that is, who is our leader only because she is The Boss of Us All) is just a tiny bit less fearless these days. In fact, I think I’ll go out on a limb and call it a scared-of-things phase.

She’s been all “I don’t wanna go to school” for the past two days, which has got her exactly nowhere but school, but for all her teacher assures me that the drama is for my benefit only and she’s fine once she’s in (which I believe), it’s increasingly hard to get her there. Putting a three-year-old into a carseat and taking her out again, and getting her to wear shoes and socks nevermind a coat, is much easier with co-operation, you know? Even a petite and bijou three-year-old like this one. On Tuesday once we’d arrived, I unclicked her carseat but each time I tried to pull an arm out of a strap she’d hook the other one back in more firmly. She obviously didn’t feel that being already in the parking lot was any reason to stop the protest.

Hand-in-hand with that goes the old favourite “Carry meeeee!” that I’m hearing far too much at the moment. In addition to which, in the last day or two she has professed to be scared (sorry, “skeeered”) of:

  • the clock in her room
  • the space under her bed
  • the space beside her bed where the mattress just fails to meet the wall by an inch or two
  • a wriggly thing she found outside that wasn’t a worm
  • spiders
  • her dreams

Poor terrified child. It’s a necessary phase, I suppose, and shows an expansion of her understanding to hold all those things that are unknown, as well as known. She’ll settle down again soon. In the meantime, I’ll probably be carrying her a bit more than I should, and bringing her scooter along as much as I can.

Grrrls

Mabel was hell on wheels this morning at playgroup, for no apparent reason. When I asked her why, in the car on the way home (I mean, I asked her in the car, she didn’t do it in the car; and yes, for your information, it is much easier for me to just keep typing than to back up with the delete button to clarify things), she had felt the need to fight with her friend and push over her friend’s little brother, repeatedly, she told me it was because she hasn’t had a nap. Which is fine, except that this was at 9.30am. I need to stop excusing bad behaviour with lack of naps, it would seem.

Now she’s napping, and I feel like I need one too. I didn’t think last night was particularly bad, but perhaps we were both sleepwalking up and down the corridor for hours and neither one of us remembers.

I think she was just very excited to be there this morning, and wanted to show off to everyone that these are her particular friends whom she sees outside school/ organized playtime events, and she felt the best way to do that was with overenthusiastic belligerent physical contact. Interspersed with taking toys away from smaller children just for the heck of it and/or because they weren’t doing it right.

I don’t know if this is a girl thing, but it’s exactly what Dash’s friend (known here as Helen) used to do every time we had a playdate, and here’s Mabel being her second incarnation all over again; and it’s not as if her first incarnation isn’t still out there wreaking havoc – I mean, being sweetness and light and growing up at twice the speed of Dash, it seems whenever we see her – so I’m not sure population of greater Washington DC can deal with the sheer force of another one. Or that I have the fortitude to cope with it.

So is it girls in general, or those two in particular?

Crazy fool mother

Sometimes I pretend I’m a stranger and have a conversation with myself that goes something like this:

“You what?”
“My daughter wakes up multiple times a night and I have to nurse her back to sleep and nobody else can do it and she has never slept through the night in her life.”
“And she’s …?”
“Three.”
“And you think this is perfectly reasonable.”
“Well, it’s not ideal, no. I’m sort of hoping she’ll grow out of it.”
“What sort of crazy fool woman are you?”
“Um. Yes.”

And then I feel pretty stupid.

The night before last, after a prolonged putting back to sleep that saw me finally get to brush my teeth at midnight, Mabel slept on her own from 12.30 to 4.30. Four hours. I was so excited I spent the rest of the night planning to make a Facebook page called “Mabel slept for four hours on her own” just so I could Like it.

She’s not even at the point technically known as sleeping through the night – the five-hours-at-a-time thing that you might reach with a baby who’s a few months old, when after giving thanks to the deities and scattering burnt offerings over the ceremonial altar, you get greedy and think, well that’s nice, but I’d like it to be five hours when I’m asleep, not just from 7pm to midnight, thank you very much, “technically”. I’d LOVE her to sleep from 7 to 12, because then I could go out without rushing back to either a screaming child or a wide awake one, either of which will take a further hour to get to sleep now that I’m here because she’s so disgruntled that I had the temerity to leave her.

Her sleeping is more in flux now than ever because we’ve scrapped the nap, mostly. Tomorrow night we’re going to the cinema and a friend is babysitting, and so I’m going to give Mabel a nap so that she can stay up till we get home at ten. (If I put her to bed before we leave, she’ll scream when she inevitably wakes up to find me missing. If I let her stay up, she’ll be perfectly happy hanging out with one of her favourite grown-ups until we get back.) She definitely needs a nap now, after four napless days, but we’re toughing it out, and she’ll be fine so long as we don’t try to go anywhere she needs to be civilized.

And as soon as I had written that she came to me and said “I know what we can do! We can go and have a nap!” so I took her upstairs and she was out like a light. I’ll wake her after 40 minutes and I don’t think it’ll do too much damage to the master plan. It’s one thing not napping a child who could do with one but won’t admit it, but I’m not going to deny a nap to a child who actively seeks one out. I may be a crazy fool woman, but I’m not a monster.

A new phase

It’s all but impossible to narrow your own child’s personality down to a few simple traits – they have so many facets, and so many personas – you know, it’s almost as if they’re whole people who won’t fit into little predefined boxes, just like you and me …

So please indulge me as I now do exactly that, just a little bit. Because I seem to see Dash’s personality emerging anew these days, and it’s amazing. I don’t know if this is how he’ll be as he grows up, or if it’s just another step along the way, but I love it. He was an active baby, always on the go, kicking hard from the very start. (And I mean the very start. Before he was even out, he’d take my breath away with the thumps.) He was the sort of toddler who’s like a wind-up force of destruction: put him down and he was off, straight into the nearest thing he could pull down and take apart. He was a preschooler who couldn’t be left alone with a non-board-book: he would just rip them up, because they were there and he could. His paintings at nursery school were huge swathes of black, his drawings were scribbles, his scissor skills lacked accuracy. In short, his fine motor skills had not yet caught up with his gross ones. Which is pretty much the norm for a boy of his age.

Then there was the valley of four-and-a-half, this time last year, when an ocean of self-consciousness swept over him and he was almost swallowed up by the embarassment and terror of just being, especially in public, and life was difficult for a while. This year he’s emerging like that most cliched butterfly from a chrysalis, and contrary to everything I expected as I watched him grow, it seems that maybe here I have the bookish child I always not-so-secretly hoped for, after all.

He’s still active – his favourite thing at the moment is to ride his bike round and round in ever decreasing circles, and he wants a Razor scooter for Christmas. But it seems his fingers have finally caught up with his imagination. He can happily spend ten minutes at a time (which is an age, for him – he runs on dog years, I think; except when in the bathroom, at which point endless aeons telescope into mere seconds as he stares into space and forgets why he’s there) drawing a huge-armed person, or an intricate pattern, and colouring it in carefully, and even labelling it; or painstakingly writing a two-line story, asking at every word how it should be spelled.

[Sample story, intriguingly entitled “How the Hoverbike was Invented”. “Once upon a time the scientist invented a new machine. It was a hoverbike.” Brief, and to the point, if somewhat lacking in the detail I was so hoping for. Also, “How God Made the World: God made the world by the big bang.” Fascinating stuff, from the child of two atheist agnostic ex-Catholics.

Related aside: Mabel came upstairs yesterday while I was getting dressed, turned on the bedside light, and announced, “God created the world!” I was a little startled. I came down to discover Dash had just written the above story, which explains it to some extent, but her let-there-be-light moment was entirely spontaneous. Spooky.]

Anyway. Today we went to the National Harbour, which was very nice, if a little more commercial than I was expecting, what with all the shops, and the frankly Vegas-esque feeling of the convention center, and we thought we might stay for the lighting of the tree. (We didn’t, because they spent so long getting around to it that it was time to go home before they’d started. It was still very pretty, though.)

Tree, pre-lighting; harbour; sunset.

Dash pestered me for a small notebook in CVS, so I shelled out a dollar for his art, and while Mabel was jumping off benches and dancing to the warming up choir, her brother was diligently drawing designs for several options for the mechanism of his immortality machine (to be brought out on limited release, friends and family members only, when we’re old so we don’t die). It will be operated either wirelessly or by a stick. I think. Here, he can explain it to you.

All clear?
I love this kid. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

(And while I’m at it, here are Mabel and her dad, for your further entertainment.

)

Wiggles

I was just composing a lament to lost naptime, an ode to naptimes past, when it struck twelve-thirty and there was Mabel looking for mumeet. So we went upstairs, and lo, she is asleep. Hooray for naptime.

I will pay later on, of course, when it will take an hour and a half to get her to sleep tonight, but for the moment the respite is welcome.

I think we’re just at that stage, where she needs a nap half the time, maybe less, and when it happens it’s vital, but it messes up bedtime no end. So we need a new bedtime routine for the days when she doesn’t nap, in order to get her to sleep earlier than 8pm, which was fine in the olden times but not no more. The trouble is that it’s difficult to get her to sleep before her brother, unless she’s really so fried that she has a total breakdown and I cart her off to bed on the spot.

The old routine started at 7.00 for both of them: pyjamas, game of superheroes, upstairs for teeth and stories in Monkey’s bed with Daddy, after which I would be summoned to spirit Mabel away to her downy rest. The new routine goes straight from pyjamas to stories on the sofa with Daddy, and then I take Mabel upstairs for teeth and bed while Monkey gets a reprieve and a more leisurely game of superheroes and whatever else he needs downstairs.

This worked pretty well on Saturday, when it was implemented. Monkey decided that if we were having stories downstairs, we should just go ahead and sleep downstairs too, so he carted his duvet and pillow down to the sofa and every one got cosy. Nobody did sleep downstairs, mind you.

 Hm. Looks like pyjamas hadn’t quite happened for Monkey at this point.

Earlier today, looking at a two-inch-high plastic horsie, of whom Mabel is particularly fond:

– Mabel, why does this horsie have no ears? Did you bite them off?
– No.
– Oh. So where have they gone?
– Well, they were wiggling all over the house, and then we went to the zoo, and they just wiggled off.
– I see.

Girl with a (metaphorical) curl

I had a badly needed haircut this morning, at a new place that had been recommended by a few friends. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but now that I’ve had a while to pose in front of the mirror at home and flatten it down some from its slightly Jersey-Shore proportions, I think it’s not bad. The acid test, as always, will come when I wash and dry it myself, but I can put that off for a good few days yet.

Mabel had a perfectly good morning at school, but it deteriorated horribly when I removed her hastily from playgroup at lunchtime and she had a screaming fit all the way home in the car. She was stockpiling the riding toys and refusing to let anyone else play with them even though she wasn’t either, so I decided it was time to go. Cue the screaming. And some more screaming, all the way home in the car, because of the indignity of being removed early.

So you would have assumed that no sharing + screaming tantrum = a child ready to nap. You would have assumed wrong, apparently. She sat and nursed on the sofa for a long time, watched TV, and finally was playing alone quite happily, but when we tried to go upstairs and lie down she wouldn’t even stay there.

Then she went into the bathroom and plastered liquid hand-soap all over her hair.

You know, she’s a perfectly sweet child. Just don’t cross her, if you value your eardrums.

Current conversation snippet:

Monkey: Mabel, are you making up these stories as you go along?
Mabel: Yes.
A daughter after her mother’s heart.