As the kids get older, it's easy to forget how things used to be. What seemed like an insurmountable problem only a few months ago can be quickly relegated to a hazy memory by fresh challenges and poor sleep.
I'd almost forgotten Marie used to be a world class stropper, for instance. From little over a year, she had the ability to work herself up into a frenzy over nothing, letting rip with a titanic tantrum that caused everyone within five hundred metres to stop and stare, imagining I must be conducting medical experiments in order to produce screams that loud.
Usually I'd only put a hat on her.
One occasion, she went from zero to meltdown in three and a half seconds merely from the sight of a shoe approaching her foot. Since we were in the shoe department of John Lewis and we'd gone specifically to buy her shoes, this was something of a disaster. Matters didn't improve much when she threw herself straight over backwards in protest, banged her head and caused panic in every adult in the vicinity apart from me. I tried to point out that it was the third time that day she'd made a statement by flinging herself headfirst at something hard and that fussing would only encourage her. Nevertheless, a first-aider was summoned and an ice pack was applied. Marie had a fight with the ice pack, batted it away, screamed some more and balled up her toes in order to make shoe fitting impossible. There was nothing to do but leave, all the while followed by a selection of worried looks from the assembled mums and shop assistants.
I couldn't do much else but shrug. These emotional outbursts were a normal feature of my daughter. Sometimes she had several a day, other times they could be a week apart. Once or twice we thought she'd grown out of them but then they came back... until one time they didn't. As is so often the case, though, we barely noticed. Only months later could we look back and realise that the phase was finally over.
Not that she doesn't still have the skills...
A couple of days ago, I had a flashback to how life used to be. I was in the supermarket with Marie and we'd already picked up a few essentials. I turned to my daughter and said, "We need to get a special treat to take to Katie's house when we go round for lunch. Do you want to choose something?"
She pulled a grumpy face. "No."
"How about some biscuits?"
"I don't want to take ANYTHING!"
"Er..." I was slightly stunned by this unexpected resistance but we needed to get something -Katie's mum had brought chocolate the last time they came round to ours and etiquette dictated we reciprocate in some fashion. There was a possibility that we already had a suitable gift back on the top shelf in the kitchen but that's always stacked so high with random books, DVDs, kitchen implements, post and packets of food that have nowhere else to live, I was reluctant to touch it. Every item added or removed is a delicate balancing act that could end in an avalanche of Thomas the Tank Engine and crackers landing on my head. I decided it would be easier persuading Marie. "I'll take some biscuits then," I said.
This wasn't good. A four-year-old who's refusing sugar is either sickening for something or is already worked up beyond the point of reasoned argument. I grabbed a packet of biscuits and headed to the check-out.
Having lost the fight, Marie felt the need to immediately pick another one in an attempt to exert some control over me. As we left the shop, she started to whine. "I don't want to scoot. You carry my scooter."
This was clearly madness. She loves scooting and her little, pink scooter is pretty much her favourite thing.
"My hands are full with the shopping. You can carry it, or you can scoot, or we can leave the scooter here and someone else can have it."
"You carry it," she said stubbornly.
I headed off along the pavement. "If you don't want to scoot, you'll have to carry it."
"No. I don't want to carry it."
"Well, you'll have to scoot then."
"I don't WANT to SCOOT!"
I was already some distance ahead of her. "Well, I'm not carrying it," I called over my shoulder.
She struggled along, dragging the scooter with her wrist in an effort to take it with her without actually carrying it or scooting. "DADDY! Come back!" "DADDY! COME BACK, DADDY! COOOOOMMMMMEE... BAAAAAAAACCCCK!"
This scenario continued for several minutes. A passing granny nodded at me in sympathy. "Ignoring them's the only way," she said.
"Uh-huh," I muttered.
When we finally reached home, Marie refused to enter the house. "Dry my tears, Daddy!" she yelled.
What she really wanted was for me to come into reach so she could press her scooter into my hands and get me to lift it over the threshold.
"The tissues are in the kitchen," I said, hanging up my coat. "Come in and dry your own tears."
"I want dry tears before I come in."
"Tough." I made myself a coffee, sat down and started watching the lunch-time news.
I wondered about having some chocolate to keep me going but then I remembered it was on the top shelf. I decided not to bother.
Marie stood on the doorstep and screamed for fifteen minutes until it was time to head round to Katie's house. At that point, Marie agreed she'd come inside in order to go to the toilet and, since she'd buried her head in the doormat for some of the tantrum, I washed her face. This removed her tears without drying them as such, thus producing an acceptable compromise.
We went along the road. Katie was desperate to play when we arrived but Marie was rude and grumpy. She sat on my lap and refused to do anything other than hug me.
The situation was a little awkward.
Then I had an idea. "Would a biscuit cheer you up?" I asked.
She grinned and nodded her head. Katie's mum opened the packet we'd brought and handed one over. Marie munched on it happily. Within a few minutes she was laughing and ready for games...
It was all rather traumatic but it did make me thankful I don't have to go through that several times a week anymore. I'm also wondering what stuff I should put less effort into avoiding when I'd be better off focusing on the long-term gain.
Perhaps I ought to go tidy that shelf. There may even be biscuits in there...
Yours in a woman's world,