I'm pretty lucky with my kids. They're generally well behaved and they don't get into much real trouble. They don't usually break things on purpose, they don't bite, they don't swear, they don't piddle in the fridge, they don't redecorate with spam, and they don't badmouth me to their friends on Facebook (yet). That's good going.
So why do I keep having to shout at them?
I suppose it's not so much what they're doing, it's what they're NOT doing which is the problem. Again and again, they seem to be determined to get into bother for the most trivial misdemeanours simply because they refuse to do what they're told.
If I politely ask Fraser to put his clean socks away, there's every chance he'll completely fail to acknowledge I've spoken on the first couple of attempts, irritating me before we've entirely started. It's not that he can't hear me, it's more that the sound of my voice alone isn't enough to make him pay attention. There has to be more incentive.
When my tone turns threatening and he finally stirs enough to realise I'm talking to him about socks, he's still not likely to do what needs to be done. He's liable to give me a selection of the following replies:
"Put what in where? What's that you said? The box in the floor?"
"I put some away last week."
"Mummy said I could do it when I liked."
"In a minute."
"I don't have any clean socks."
"Guess what book I got from the school library today."
Any of these can lead to a long discussion about such things as the laundry schedule, what exactly Mummy said or the improbability of me being able to correctly surmise his current reading choice given a shortlist that might as well be every kid's book ever published.
I normally start becoming somewhat shirty at this point. He'd possibly get away with it, though, if he just got straight on with putting his socks in the drawer. He knows this. Sadly, he frequently chooses to make a joke to 'relieve the tension' first. Invariably, this involves pretending to not do what he's told.
It rarely goes well.
Lewis, meanwhile, questions everything.
Me: Mummy's taking Marie to the cinema. You could go too.
Me: The film's about a mouse having adventures. You'll like it.
Me: Because you like that kind of thing.
Me: Er... There'll be sweets.
Me: Because there's always sweets at the cinema. Look, I've got stuff to do. If you stay here, you'll have to entertain yourself.
Ten minutes later, immediately after the others have left:
Lewis: I can't think of anything to do.
Lewis: Why are you making that noise, Daddy?
Marie fends off orders by complaining that she's 'too tired'. Since she's only four, this is maybe fair enough when the task in question is walking to the centre of town or requires negotiating several flights of stairs. It's not so convincing when she's been told to go to the toilet or to get ready for bed.
This morning I told her to go and put her clothes on.
She pouted at the thought. "I'm too tired from all my sleeping. My pillow took all my energy."
"Yes, sleeping is hard work. Are you too tired to play as well?"
"I'm too tired to do anything."
I decided to test her. "How about bouncing? Would you like me to get the trampoline out so you can bounce and bounce and bounce until you're sick?"
She miraculously perked up. "Yes!" she said, jumping up and down and doing a dance. "I want to bounce."
"Then get dressed!"
Immediately, her shoulders slumped and she collapsed to the floor. "I'm too tired," she said mournfully...
Yep, my kids don't get up to much that's particularly bad, but they're wearing me down with the same minor disobedience every day. I've tried taking a deep breath and counting to ten. It doesn't work - it merely gives one of the others an opportunity to take a turn.
I have a few other options. I could let them run wild and do what they like until they get low on food and cash, and then laugh at them when they come begging for more. That might be mildly cathartic but would ultimately be too messy to make it worth it. (I hate cleaning the fridge.)
Another possibility would be to retaliate. I could ignore anything Fraser says until he's repeated himself six times and has steam coming out of his ears in frustration. A taste of his own medicine might do him some good.
Although, now I think of it, his brother has been trying that approach for years...
Retaliation probably wouldn't work on Lewis, either:
Lewis: Why what?
Me: Why not?
Lewis: Why not what?
Me: I don't know. Why?
And so on, for ten minutes, until:
Lewis: Why are you making that noise, Daddy?
Again, this doesn't seem worth the effort. It's much more tempting, however, to tell Marie that I'm too tired whenever she makes demands.
Actually, I do that quite a lot already. It doesn't seem to have changed her behaviour but at least I get a quick rest.
Hmm... Neither giving up nor getting my own back are going to work. I suppose what I should really do is phone my parents, explain my predicament and then listen to them laugh. After everything I did to annoy them when I was small, I won't get much sympathy but that, in itself, will maybe give me a little perspective...
Then I can go back to doing what I always do - trying my best and muddling through.
It's gone OK so far...
Yours in a woman's world,
PS Not everything the kids tell me over and over again is a bad thing. Marie has been constantly saying recently, "You're really still a young man, Daddy. Did you know that?"
This was quite nice to hear...
...until I discovered it's all inspired by Finding Nemo. What she means is that I'm still young compared with Crush, the giant turtle.
He's one hundred and fifty.
I'm less than thrilled.