The conversations I can’t bear

Here I am, losing the will to live.

It’s no secret that parenting toddlers is hard work. There’s a reason it’s called the ‘terrible twos’: emotions are running high, communication is still developing and toddlers are basically totally irrational almost all of the time. Increasingly, however, I’ve felt that the hardest part of raising children is the constant repetition of the daily monotony. This realisation hit hard this morning as the three of us engaged in the same conversation we’ve had every morning for about a week now. The discussion was whether they would be eating cereal or porridge.

Me: Theo, do you want cereal or porridge for breakfast?

Theo: Ah, porridge.

Me: Okay, Eli, do you want cereal or porridge?

Eli: Porridge.

I proceed to begin preparing requested porridge.

Eli: Cereal, Mama!

Me: Okay, do you want cereal?

Eli: Yes.

Theo: Porridge!

Me: Okay, Theo, you want porridge. Eli, you want cereal.

Eli: Nooooo, porridge! Sobs. Porridge, Mama!

Repeat forever.

Similar debates were had over whether they wanted a pear or an apple and the vessel in which water should be served. We have also watched the baking episode of the scintillating CBeebies programme ‘My First’ an average of about four times per day for the past several days. (Each episode is only ten minutes long, so I promise I’m not planting them in front of the television for endless hours, tempting as that is sometimes.) I have tried to convince them to watch a different episode, but just when I think we’ve all agreed to try the one about the picnic or the horse ride, someone shouts ‘No picnic’ or ‘No horse’ and it’s back to the bloody cakes again.

Tantrums are hard, but this is sort of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ parenting. By the time the boys are in bed at the end of the day I’m just grateful for silence. I never anticipated how frustrating and exhausting it would be to engage in a hundred nonsensical debates every day. Tantrums can go on and on, but they eventually finish with a gentle dabbing of tears and a quiet cuddle. Discussions about their desires never end. As soon as one decision is made the next topic arises and we’re back in the loop again. This is the reality of parenting: it is a thousand tiny frustrations that build until you’re hanging on by a thread and it’s all you can do not to turn around and shout ‘Make your own damn breakfast then!’

So, Tonight I will go into my boys’ room and pull their blankets over them, kiss their soft cheeks, smooth their hair and make sure the necessary comforters are close at hand. I will vow to do better tomorrow, to not lose my temper over the little things and to model the calm, patient behaviour I want them to learn.

And then I will realise that I’ve forgotten to buy porridge.

‘Mama, read it!’: A few of our favourite books

Books keep them occupied on those busy mornings when I need to get ready for work.

We are big readers in our house and have an ever-growing collection of children’s books, some of which I really enjoy reading and others I’ve been tempted to hide (or burn). I loved Dr Suess as a child, but all those tongue twisters and nonsense words are pretty tedious as an adult. Given that we read an average of three books at bedtime, as well as various others throughout the day, it’s in our interest to ensure that we have a good selection of books that both appeal to the boys and aren’t torture for the parents. If you’re feeling a little bored by your book selection, here are a few suggestions that might make story time more exciting.

‘Grrrrr!’ By Rob Biddulph

‘Grrrrr!’ is about a bear named Fred who is very successful in the annual ‘Bears of the Wood’ competition, but doesn’t have any friends. On the morning of the competition, however, Fred wakes up to discover that he has lost his grrrrr. As you’d expect, Fred learns some important lessons about what’s really important in life. The rhyme is catchy and the illustrations are very clever. Look out for the loved-up rabbits and the deer with pants on his antlers.

‘The Bear and the Piano’ by David Litchfield

We are total suckers for beautiful illustrations, and ‘The Bear and the Piano’ certainly delivers. Litchfield creates an ombre effect in his delicate fields of flowers, and brilliantly captures the bear’s mournful expression as he thinks of the friends he left behind when he went off to the city to pursue his dream of playing the piano. Since we live so far from my parents, I really like using this book to prompt conversations about how distance doesn’t mean that we forget about the people we love.

‘Here We Are’ by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers is well known for his vibrant illustrations and engaging books. ‘Here we Are’ is simply lovely and probably my favourite that we’ve encountered so far. He wrote it for his newborn son as a kind of ‘guide’ to the things he would need to know about life on Earth. I feel like it’s the kind of book that has the potential to grow with the boys. At the moment, they like pointing out the helicopters, aeroplanes, various animals and parts of the body, but as they get older I imagine they’ll become more interested in the page about space and other more nuanced images. One of my favourite details is a double page spread of lots of different people of all shapes and sizes, including two brides in a same sex wedding. I love the message of inclusivity.

‘Room on the Broom’ by Julia Donaldson

No round-up of children’s books would be complete without a nod to the Queen of Children’s Books, Julia Donaldson. It’s difficult to pick a favourite from her huge range. We have really enjoyed some of the work she has done with illustrators other than Axel Scheffler, such as ‘Paper Dolls’, a sweet book about loss and memories illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. However, ‘Room on the Broom’ is one of the most frequently requested reads in our house, so it’s the one I’ll include on this list. This tale of a witch with an increasingly crowded broom being pursued by a hungry dragon is exciting and entertaining. The rhyme and structure of the book is great for toddlers who can anticipate key lines. As they boys have got older they have interacted more and more with the text, and now we tend to deliver the witch’s lines in a chorus.

‘Press Here’ by Herve Tullet

‘Press Here’ is totally different from any of the preceding books. It has a simple concept, but has proved to be very engaging. Each page has simple instructions to follow, and the following page shows their effects. This book is great for teaching cause and effect, simple colour recognition and counting, but mostly the boys just think it’s really fun. They always end up laughing, clapping and shouting enthusiastically.

Just another mummy blogger

It feels like everyone who has a baby thinks they have something new to say about it and starts a blog. So, why should I be any different? Actually, the truth is that the market may feel saturated, but everyone has their own experiences of motherhood, its challenges and its successes.

Tonight, my primary challenge is that we are on day three of my husband working away for two weeks, I am tired, a little bit grumpy, and it is unlikely that I will have 1) an undisturbed night’s sleep and 2) the opportunity to sleep past 6am even though I won’t technically need to get up until 6.25. We are generally lucky with the boys in that they sleep fairly well most of the time, but the lighter mornings are taking effect and you can’t argue with a toddler that it’s still night time once they see the sun come up.

Tonight’s major meltdown came courtesy of Theo, who was distressed to discover that we didn’t have any cheese and he would have to settle for olives alone as an evening snack. Theo started having tantrums when he was around 12 months old, which was certainly a bit earlier than we expected. For a long time we had to just leave him to it as he twisted, writhed and smeared snot across his cheeks. (One of the worst things about having a dog who sheds lots of fur is the added stress of seeing a toddler who is not only monumentally losing his shit, but also doing so with fur plastered to his cheeks courtesy of snot paste.) However, in the last few months I’ve discovered that sometimes I just have to sweep that snotty kid up in my arms and cradle and rock him. He calms down so much faster now, and often says that he wants to be a ‘baby’, so I cradle him and hold him close to my chest until he’s moved on. It felt counter-intuitive the first few times I did it. Everything I’d read said to let them work it out and leave them alone unless they asked for a cuddle. Often Theo seemed to squirm away or recoil from my touch when he was mid-tantrum and I was trying to do the whole ‘respect his bodily autonomy thing’. But one day when the meltdown seemed interminable, I just scooped him up, held him close, rocked him, sang quietly and he snuffled and gasped, then leaned into me and that was it.

I’m not really a trust-your-instincts kind of mum when it comes to the big stuff around sleeping, feeding, and illnesses (I’d rather trust medical professionals, thanks very much), but sometimes it’s worth dismissing the advice of the books, websites and blog posts and just giving your baby (and yes, even at two and a bit he’s still a baby) exactly what he needs.