On Bribery and Bargaining

We’ve all been there.

A frustrating meal time with a lovingly prepared plate being turned down to the tune of angry cries and unnecessary screams of apparent torture.

A public showdown with an angry toddler in a supermarket who won’t move from the inside of a chest freezer.

Two exhausted parents battling to get a child into bed for longer than forty five seconds at a time.

And we’ve all done it, reached for the biscuit tin, or the chocolate buttons. It’s so easy to manage the situation that way, without raised voices or threats or wasting hours of your time. Aside from that, it’s such a relief to finally have an old enough child that can be reasoned with enough to make a compromise. Eat five more bites of lunch and u can have a chocolate button. If you stay in your bed, I’ll go get you a biscuit. What a pleasure to not have a baby, to not have to reiterate your expectation seventeen different ways, speaking slower and louder as if your child is a Japanese tourist, with large expansive gestures. and at the end of the exchange you’re no better off, with the same comprehension success rate as you would have with the tourist. It’s just so tempting to save yourself the hassle, especially considering the extent of your compromise. It’s one piece of choc. It’s one animal biscuit, it’s a tiny bit of juice. What’s the harm really?

(I would add at this point its not just food, it’s also DVDs, iPad games, etc. basically any ‘treats’ which the kid doesn’t have on tap. In our house unsurprisingly, unhealthy food holds the most allure.)

But at what point does making your life easier simply become spoiling your child?

Lately, I’m beginning to think its much less about how large the treat is, and more about the power play.

To emphasise, let me share a story from this week. R and I were sitting at his table, enjoying a (delicious, not that it matters) lunch of pasta and sauce. I’m aware my son likes his pasta exactly the way I did until I was 16-entirely plain and not touching any other foods. And it makes me want to scream. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony, and yes, I should probably apologise to my own mum.) but I’m trying really hard to break R’s habit at a younger age to my own. After fifteen mins of unsuccessful yum yum noises and many coaxing attempts at telling him what a big boy he is, reading stories and the like, I was ready to scream into a pillow. I turned to him and reached for my hidden Ace. “R? If you eat your pasta, you can have TWO choc buttons. Wowww” I stressed, emphasising the excitement of doubling the usual bribe.
My son sat down in his seat, and picked up his spoon with one hand. Pausing before he began eating, he turned to face me. Using all his new mathematical skills, he spread his other hand in my face, fingers outstretched.

“No.” He smiled through his tearstained face. “Five.”

As momentarily shocked as I was at my two year old playing hardball, I managed to remember my policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and he went to bed without any lunch at all.

But the episode has stayed with me. If I’d given him the five choc buttons, he would have happily munched down the entire plate of food, and it would still have been less choc than I would offer as a special treat in other circumstances. We brush his teeth regularly, he eats healthily and has sugar in moderation, it wouldn’t have done him any damage physically. But what’s stopping him asking for ten next time? Or a snickers bar for that matter? And how can I say no when I’m the one who has given him the expectation that eating his meals = chocolate. Or staying in bed = biscuits? And even more so, that its up to him to set the boundaries?

For me it’s a hard one. I don’t want to give up the ability to fix a problem 123, and sometimes when the food is new or the sleep is urgent I really don’t mind the normal rules dropping by the wayside. But I suppose I’ve noticed how easy it is for them to get lost altogether, and for the ‘one offs’ to become everyday practices. And with what amounts to a tiny little sponge learning from everything we do and say, creating his own world of right and wrong behaviour around our actions, I hope I can try and find some healthier methods of coercion at the next macaroni cheese slinging event or 2am wake up call.

bribing mealtime

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Unexplained absence ( = 1 order mark.)

“You haven’t blogged in a really long time.”

I keep being told this lately. I’m not sure what the multiple speakers intent are, but I hope it isn’t to enlighten me to this obvious fact. It’s not like I’ve been typing numerous blogs all of which have somehow not made it from the publish button onto the home page, hovering somewhere in semi space, and I’ve been sitting at home wondering where all my likes are at.

Equally it would be impossible to simply ‘forget’ about my blog, as selfishly therapeutic and mind cleansing as it has become. In fact I would say there was a point where I was almost too reliant on the smile inducing magic of a new follower, or the mood elevation which correlated with my visitor stats.

Maybe you’ve missed me, (she injects hopefully.) and have been fruitlessly searching for a witty way to discuss late winter colds and coughs in toddlers, or feel better about your own babies fractious sleep by logging it against our non-existent rest. Maybe you also have parental strife, and take some kind of sadistic pleasure in comparing notes. Maybe you just know me outside of this endless scroll of screen and are just purely nosy. Either way, I suppose I owe you an explanation of sorts, for setting up the expectation that I would be around, and then disappearing without a word. If you know me well enough to know that’s actually pretty in character for me, then I suppose no explanation is necessary.

Sometimes, you just need a break. Sometimes, the very act of talking about the same things constantly can make them self fulfilling prophecies. Sometimes it just makes them tedious, even to the writer.

I don’t have any new gripes, I’m sorry to tell you. A couple things have changed, I’m now in solo-counselling instead of duo, my son talks (mostly rubbish but hey, he’s a man) and I’m finding some direction in my career aspirations. I still hate lateness and inattentive parenting and struggle with whether any woman really has a work/life balance to speak of. I still find jokes about grammar hilarious and I still worry that I’ll always let parental relationships define my own adulthood in a negative way.

Don’t think that means I haven’t had things to talk about. I’ve just had to discuss them with a combination of my unsympathetic son and the flattering hallway mirror I intend to pilfer when we leave our rental appt. I’m excited to hear what you think of their insights. Topics (and possible blog titles) to come, include:

  • The woman who told me I enjoy being horrible to toddlers.
  • Gluten free potato hater.
  • Interviewing a hand puppet book.
  • If you can’t make my son sleep then I will punish you by obsessively writing about it.

(and my personal favourite at the moment)

  • “I’m not trying to be rude, but don’t you agree your degree was a colossal waste of time?” Subtitle-now get back in the kitchen.

If that doesn’t make you hit the follow button, then nothing will. Either way, you can breathe a sigh of relief that I wasn’t abducted by aliens with all our planets secrets. I’d make a terrible ally under duress.

On the other hand, you may empathise more with the sentiment below.

Amusing cartoons, just one more thing that hasn’t changed around here.

Did You Miss Me

Half Term Horror

I am about to say some horrible things about children. Some of them may be your own children, some of them may be the kids of friends or neighbours. Just to be clear, despite what I’m about to say, they are all pretty much innocent in this particular rant. This angry diatribe (for that’s what I’m intending to write) is going to be at the very least 95% aimed towards Parents.

Let me also add the disclaimer that I know we are all currently in the difficult world of Half Term. From seeing our kids for a manageable several hours in a day, we are suddenly ‘blessed’ with their presence from 7am-7pm, and that’s if they’re good sleepers. It is really hard to find things to do with them all day every day, and because we all have the same problem at the same time, the mayhem is accentuated by the sheer number of us dealing with the frustration en masse.

(OH, side point. Genius idea just occurred to me. Enforced staggered half terms. Who would this NOT benefit?

1.) Nowhere would be busy for one isolated week a term, which would mean parents could actually look forward to time spent with kids.
2.) All employees wouldn’t be looking for childcare or taking holiday at once, making these situations more manageable in the work-place.
3) there wouldn’t be one random point where flights/ trips etc were more expensive, making it impossible to do family trips of any kind without crippling yourself in the process.

I’m going to move on now, but if anyone in the government is listening, please pass this on to an education minister of your choice. )

Despite the difficulties that the world of Half-Term is inflicting on us, I have to say (with my judge-y hat firmly on my head) some behaviours are totally unacceptable. The following all involve the under 5’s area at soft play where I was unfortunate enough to spend my afternoon. To make things fair, I am only going to list things which I saw today with my own eyes, exhibited more than once, by more than one family.

It is not okay to drop your two year old off, and then disappear off to the other side of the venue to have a coffee with your mates. Why is it suddenly my job to be wandering around the place (ignoring my own toddler I might add) because your kid is crying and you are nowhere to be found?

It is not okay to let your 6 or 7 year old into the under 5’s section, even if it is to ‘look after’ a younger sibling. No. That’s your job. When your six year old starts behaving like… er.. a SIX year old, ignoring your younger child to bound and play all over the area specifically designed for younger kids, scaring them off the climbing frames and knocking them over with enthusiasm, please don’t tell me that he’s just ‘looking after his sister’, because he isn’t! And he shouldn’t have to be. You should be in here, like the rest of us, rather than on the phone in the corner, and he should be in the over 5’s area, y’know, where OVER 5’S can play unrestricted? Your older child is not your baby sitter.

It is not okay to hear your own shoe bag number being called over the loudspeaker that your two hours are up, and proceed to SWAP bags unbeknown to another family so that you don’t have to leave! Believe it or not, I saw this THREE times in the space of my own two hours. One of the mothers in question seemed to be telling on the family she had stitched up! One mother even got her son to do the swapping. What on earth are you teaching your kids? That rules don’t have to be followed? That deception is a clever way to get what you want? That lying pays?

On a similar theme, it is not okay to tell your child to lie if anyone asks how old they are, (clearly not 4) or to let your kid sit at the top of the slide for EIGHT MINUTES while a queue of kids line up behind him and you coo “aww, he’s a bit frightened” from the bottom, or for that matter to shout “Yayyy!” as your twins climb up the slide so that no-one can use it. It is not okay to not be watching as your enormously bratty princess throws balls at my son’s face to “try and knock off his glasses” (ok that only happened once but I feel it’s worth a mention) or as your kids play a game self explanatorily titled “Jump on baby.”

I think we have an obvious theme here. Soft play is NOT free child care. It is a place that you can take your kids, and play with them. At best, parents would be interacting and initiating play with their toddlers, encouraging them to share and participate with other kids, and get the most out of a child-friendly experience.

But come on. Surely the least we can expect as fellow parents is that you simply show up and watch them.

softplay

Cooking and Connecting (Part 2)

Almost a year ago, I blogged about the first time my mother and I cooked together, an experience made somewhat awkward by the fact that it had taken 24 years to try it out. I made myself a promise to share the kitchen experience with my son, so that cooking and baking with me was something he experienced often, and treated as the norm.

Sadly, I haven’t repeated the experience with my own mother. But I have kept that latter promise. And never more so than this week. As I join the rest of the UK in a snow induced lock-in of tremendous cabin fever, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned to the scales and bake ware. And even with the following points, I’m sure you all agree it’s pretty adorable.
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Let me share with you my new expectations of cooking with toddlers.

Don’t expect to keep to a recipe.

It’s pretty funny exploring a kid’s version of ‘just a bit more’ when you are trying to weigh ingredients. My son anyway, just tips whatever he is holding upside down. If you are someone who really cares about precise measurements in your baking efforts, I would recommend pre-weighing everything like you are making a YouTube video. Even then, you will probably have broken glass in the batter at some point. And a lot more washing up. My thoughts? Let them tip it all in, because after all….

…Don’t expect to be able to eat anything

It’s really fun for kids to be involved in preparation for meals and treats. And obviously we can do our best to make food as hygienic as possible by washing hands beforehand etc etc. But let me tell you a secret. Do you know how long a two year olds hands stay clean for after you’ve washed them? About 3 seconds. I cant even lift R off the kitchen step from the sink without noticing his fingers down his trousers / up his nose / in the plug hole / picking something questionable up off the floor. If by some miracle their hands are moderately clean and stay away from the ingredients, you can bet your life that you will turn away for 2 seconds to get the vanilla essence, and turn round to their head stuck entirely in the bowl, tongue out.

Don’t expect to maintain a normal level of mess

If you’re one of those ‘clean up as you go’ types.. Good luck. If you can even see through the icing sugar cloud to move the used utensils closer to the sink, you’re doing really well. Expect everything to be covered in flour and oddly sticky even if the ingredients aren’t. Personally, I count the session a successful activity if I manage to keep the eggs unbroken and off the floor. (Why has no one invented a way to clean up a broken egg in less than twenty minutes and without making you contemplate suicide?)
As your kids get older, they will be able to ‘help’ clean up more and more, (and then less and less as they become teenagers as far as I’m aware. What age is the peak of help and cleanliness you will ever receive? 9? 11? More experienced mums, do tell.) but for me anyway, I prefer to do without the so called ‘help’ of even more things being spilled and spread everywhere and just let him lick out the bowl hoping to heaven he stays in one place until I can get the chocolate-y creature that used to be my baby into the bathroom. (Why is it so far away from the kitchen? Arms up, hands in the air! Arms up!)

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Don’t expect to keep it healthy

Most children I know think cooking is fun regardless of what you are making. But most recipes aren’t appropriate before the age of about 6 or 7 at the earliest. Tweens and teens and even younger kids love peeling, chopping, blending and reading our recipes. And generally don’t randomly spit in the bowl for giggles. But when your kid is under three, they may well shove a handful of whatever you are making in their mouths, making anything main-course-like a tad off limits, (raw meatballs anyone?) and are obviously unable to help with preparing of veg for soups and the like. Coupled with their belief in their divine right to lick the bowl / spoon(s) / counter-top, that pretty much leaves dessert as your main option. Alright as a one off, but with 4 days of snow behind us, and no end in sight, pretty soon I may have to lend R my hula hoop.

 
cooking with mum

 

Cardinal Parenting Sins (and our dirty little secret).

Before I became a mother, like the rest of the childless world, I found certain behaviours by parents seriously annoying. I rolled my eyes, complained to other non-married’s, laughed at them behind their backs, and generally tried to ignore certain situations as best as I could. Don’t they know how irritating they are? I would wonder often.

Now that I have my own son, I see where I was confused. The big unspoken about secret is, there are just some ‘parent’ activities which we know no-one else finds interesting or amusing, even when they have kids of their own, and yet we just kind of… do them anyway.

Putting our babies ‘on the phone.’

If they are in fact a baby, they cant speak. We know that. We know that the best case scenario is that the caller might hear a slight gurgle or a coo, which we will then interpret as “well done! you said hello to grandma you clever thing!” Meanwhile, the caller probably had an actual reason for calling rather than to listen to absolute silence. If the child in question is a toddler, it is probably slightly better, but still, as a mother of a 2 year old, I know that even I have trouble understanding him face to face most of the time, let alone on the phone to someone else. And yet somehow, I find myself passing the phone to my son to have a ‘chat’ more often than not. At least I have the decency to use speaker-phone so the caller can at least cut short the fascinating interchange when they stop feeling polite.

Sharing identical photos.

This is Sammy on the swing. And now Sammy next to the swing. And OH, look at this, he’s trying to climb back into the swing, isn’t that adorable?
No, probably not. But we can definitely see a difference between baby aged 2 weeks sleeping with her eyes shut, and baby aged 3 and a half weeks sleeping with her eyes shut.

Loud kid shows.

You’re in Starbucks, not your living room. The rest of the world doesn’t want to hear what Peppa and George are up to, let alone your own child mimicking the lines back verbatim. We appreciate that your kid isn’t running wild underneath our table and knocking hot drinks into our laps, but seriously-if they cant sit quietly without a noisy smart phone, why are they in this restaurant in the first place? I can now answer this one. I also used to be of the opinion that there was a child-friendly age for adult haunts, and a distinctly un-friendly age, which is where all such outings should cease immediately. I probably even wrote a blog to that effect about a year ago. But hey, we must all admit we are wrong sometimes, and I am willingly eating humble pie on this one. While I still think it’s appalling when toddlers run riot around ANY adult serving place, (kid-friendly or otherwise) I also now know the mutant-human I become if I am not allowed the minimum amount of adult conversation on a weekly basis that doesn’t take place around strangers’ evil kids or whispered during a baby music class. If this means that someone has to sit a couple tables further away so they aren’t distracted by Fireman Sam…? So be it. Just be grateful I’ve given him the show to watch in the first place. And that you get to go home and leave it behind.

Stories involving bodily functions.

No. Stop it. All of you. Even your spouse probably doesn’t want to hear about this, but at least they are forced genetically to be involved and somewhat interested in matters pertaining to your offspring. At an absolute stretch, best friends who are also parents can be involved. Woman sitting near you at soft play? Absolutely not. This one I am not guilty of. As a general rule, if you need to start the sentence by saying “Sorry if this is TMI…” it probably is.

You don’t mind if he….?

Presses the lift button/ the pedestrian crossing light/ the self service tills, etc etc.
No, not at all. If he can do it as quickly as I would do it myself. Do I want to wait by the side of the road for the longest 15 seconds of my life while he stands up on tip-toes for almost long enough each time to reach the damn button? I could be across by now. (Not to mention the dirty look I get for not waiting for the green man in front of impressionable children if I dare to dart over the crossing while your child is messing about.)
Even as a parent myself, I doubt I could stand patiently sharing the same lift space as a child who has been ‘allowed’ to press number 4, and has actually pressed all the numbers from zero, making our journey pointlessly and frustratingly longer.
And I hold a special place on my list for something I will never be guilty of. Parents who let children scan items on self-service checkouts. Lets be honest, most adults cant use those efficiently, so why are you delegating the task over to a ball of dribble while I stand here waiting to use the till?
Having said all this…. Even while I remember the angry feelings I had pre=parenthood, I do think it’s adorable to let R press the lift/crossing buttons, and I do kind of ignore pained smiles from other people in the vicinity when I do so.

So don’t worry folks, next time you see one of us committing one of these (or many many other) cardinal parenting sins, just remember: We are not oblivious. We know we are alternately boring you half to death or driving you up the wall. We’re just doing it anyway.

Hope that helps. 😉

happy meal