Yesterday morning I spent half an hour negotiating with my youngest daughter over what to wear. I’m not talking pretty dresses or trendy Instagram outfits – I would simply have been content with the basics, something over her pants. Maybe a jumper, even. This is one tiny example of spirited behaviour that I try my hardest not to crush day in day out. And it’s fine, I don’t want her to change. However, some of the other stuff… I struggle to call it “spirited” as it seems, to me, it’s just plain naughty.
After the dressing fiasco I came downstairs to find Effie had climbed up onto the kitchen worktop. Aside from the obvious health and safety implications of having a toddler on the counter-top, I had to deal with a tsunami of mess the likes only my youngest baby is able to create.
She’d got hold of some chocolate spread out of the baking cupboard and was spooning into her mouth with her hands, before wiping her hands all over the counter. She’d then added to her chocolate creation with sprinkles – a whole tub to be exact. The sprinkles covered every inch of the kitchen, falling into the cracks at the edge of the laminate and sticking stubbornly to the damp edges of the sink. It took me twenty minutes to clear up – twenty minutes I don’t have on a weekday morning.
Then there was bedtime. An hour after putting the girls to bed I discovered Effie in my bedroom, her face full of my favourite make-up, her nails, hands and arms covered in my best nail varnish – as well as the whole surface of my chest of drawers (which she’d climbed on, by the way, to reach the makeup). She’d waited until we’d gone downstairs to creep into our bedroom and wreak havoc. It was almost impressive, the level of planning she’d clearly done in her little three year old mind. When caught she whispered “Sorry” and immediately went to bed. She knew she’d done wrong. Still – why did she do it in the first place?!
We’re not lax parents. I watch Effie like a hawk, because I know what she can get herself into. It’s not always possible to keep tabs on her every second of the day though. I might need to dash to the loo for a wee, for example. Or perhaps even help her sister do up her tie in the morning. In those split-seconds when I’m not looking she has the ability to cause a whole world of chaos and, quite frankly, it’s exhausting. Completely and utterly exhausting.
She’s an inquisitive child. Into everything, afraid of nothing. I love her feisty nature, her wilful determination to do things her way. These are leadership qualities, traits we admire in adults. As a woman, these are characteristics I want her to have – she’ll go far.
And here, I guess, is the problem.
I’m trying to walk an invisible line between laying out clear boundaries and enforcing them, for the sake of a happy family life and to teach her that other people’s feelings matter (it matters that she wasted a whole tub of chocolate spread, it matters that I had to spend twenty minutes cleaning it up, it matters that she ripped her sister’s book and it matters that she ruined my make-up – even though she didn’t do any of those things with malicious intent). But I’m also trying not to crush her spirit, not to chide her for being interested in how things work all the time, not to try to turn her into someone she’s not.
Yet again I’m reminded of how different both my girls are. The challenges I face raising a toddler second time around couldn’t be more different to first time. With Freya, my main hurdle was trying to encourage my sensitive tot not to be scared of everything. It was an obstacle course of drama just walking down the road with her – if a motorbike went past she’d be terrified, if someone was mowing their lawn, if there was a big dog on the other side of the road etc etc. At seven Freya is still quite nervy in the water and although she’s blossomed in confidence lately and is thriving at school, she’s still an observant soul who likes to suss things out before getting involved.
My challenge with Effie is the opposite. She knows no fear which, as a first time mum to a fearful kid, I used to think was the dream. But it brings a whole new host of challenges. Walking down the road with Effie is a whole new drama, not because she’s scared of the motorbike but because she’s trying to jump in the road and climb on it. She has absolutely no grasp of road safety and I’ve had to resort to using a buggy or putting her in reigns after she nearly threw herself under a car last week.
When I try to talk things through with her she just laughs and tells me “You’re poo”. She’s too little to reason with and I find myself doing things I always said I never would. I would be the mum who’d teach her kid to walk sensibly holding her hand. I would be the mum to ditch the buggy at age 2 etc etc. The joke’s on me, it seems.
But on the other hand this lack of fear can also be a beautiful thing. Effie can already swim unaided without armbands or a float – something you can’t say about many toddlers who’ve literally only just turned three. She can jump into the water and do a front crawl right across to the other side on her own. She’s swum nearly a full length on her own before and can already swim down to the bottom of the pool to pick up weighted floats that kids double her age struggle to get. Her braveness leads her to some amazing achievements.
So this isn’t a kid-bashing post. And it isn’t a cry for help really either. It’s just an observation of what it’s like being the mother of a mini tornado. Every day I find myself hurtled from one extreme emotion to another – I can feel intense pride and intense frustration or anger within the space of five minutes.
Parenthood is tough, huh?!