Dear Dave

Friday 18 September 2009

Lowering the point of view

Dear Dave,

Sorry to hear Sam's acting up. I imagine you thought he'd reached an age where he was past having tantrums and acting irrationally in a fit of pique. Sadly, I should point out that most people never reach this age, they merely learn to disguise things better...

As it happens, Marie's being more awkward than usual as well. (And that's saying something.) She's taken to stamping in frustration when she doesn't get her own way and she keeps shrieking statements like, "But I don't want to go to bed now!!!!" It's exhausting for everyone. Too much of it and I have to put my foot down and tell her in no uncertain terms to go to her room. Then she demands to know how come I'm allowed to stamp and shriek, when she isn't. For some reason, this makes me strangely prone to tantrums and irrational acts.

As the adult in these situations, it's annoyingly up to me to calm down and take a step back. I think the problem is that there's only so much being polite and doing what she's told that she can manage in one day. Now she's at school, her teacher is getting most of the good behaviour quota. After all, teachers have that scary voice to put miscreants in their place, the option to send offenders to the headmaster and, if all else fails, the ability to revoke play-time. I can't possibly compete with such a harsh enforcement regime and I probably shouldn't try. Realistically, it's small wonder Marie wants to run wild the moment she gets out of the school gate, and if it comes down to a choice, I'd rather she was behaving in lessons than at home. I need to give her a little space for a while.

I'm not certain I'll manage it but it's worth a try...

Seeing things from a child's point of view doesn't necessarily make life run more smoothly but at least there's a better chance of spotting the bumps coming and being able to brace for impact. As an example, it finally occurred to me the other day why I spend half my life telling the kids to get a move on:

Each morning, the last half an hour before leaving for school takes place to a soundtrack of me telling three children in turn to eat up, get dressed, brush their teeth, put their shoes on, find their bag and remember their lunch. More than that, Marie requires encouragement to pull on every individual item of clothing, since she has a tendency to lose focus between one sock and the next. All the children know what to do and they can all do it within the allotted time but somehow, if I don't stand around nagging, we end up being late. As a result, distractions and tangents have to be slapped down rapidly.

Today I was busy making the packed lunches when Fraser said, "Daddy, you know the three legendary bird Pokémon, Moltres, Zapdos and Articuno?"

"Not really," I replied, fighting with cling film and cheese sandwiches. I was aware of the creatures' virtual existence but I knew this wasn't going to be anywhere near enough knowledge to cope with the technical discussion of special attacks and elemental type which was liable to come next.

"Well," began Fraser, undeterred, "in the game I was playing this morning..."

I cut him short. "Finish your breakfast."

Moments later, Lewis wandered past. "Daddy! Why are carrots orange?"

I almost launched into an explanation of beta-carotene, vitamin A, World War II pilots and the peculiar tanning properties of excessive carrot consumption. Then I looked at the clock. "Have you brushed your hair yet?" I replied.

"Oh, I forgot," he said. "And now I really need to go to the toilet!" He disappeared again in a hurry.

There was the sound of a collision in the hallway, a scream and some arguing. "Get on with it!" I yelled as I filled the lunch boxes with drinks and fruit.

The arguing stopped and Marie burst into the kitchen, singing to herself and leaping from foot to foot. "La, la, laaaa. La, la, laaaa. La, la. LAAAAAAAAA!"

She finished with a pirouette and a flourish and then looked at me expectantly, waiting for applause.

"Clothes, Marie. Put on some clothes," I sobbed.

This sort of interaction continued for another twenty minutes, my voice rising in pitch at regular intervals. Then we jogged along the road and made it into the playground just as the bell rang. The kids skipped off happily to join their friends and I took a few deep breaths. Lewis still hadn't brushed his hair.

Every morning is like this, no matter when I get up and irrespective of when I call the children for breakfast. As I said, though, now I know why. It's a question of perspective. From their point of view, the kids are all doing what they're supposed to be doing, which is getting ready for school. When I tell them to hurry up, they can't see what the fuss is about. They know there's more than enough time to stop for a moment and fill me in on a couple of Poké-facts or to show off their latest naked dance routine or to ask me a science question. After all, it doesn't take long to throw on some clothes and then brush teeth. What they don't seem to see is the bigger picture. They're aiming to get themselves ready for school on time but I'm aiming to get them each ready for school in such a way that everyone is on time. This is a remarkably different goal. Brushing teeth takes much longer if there's five minutes of queueing outside the bathroom involved. Throwing clothes only leads to getting dressed quickly when the kids are flinging them on themselves, rather than at a sibling who's distracting them with a burlesque musical number about Pikachu and vegetables. Without me coordinating and haranguing, the operation descends into chaos.

The constant goading is enough to drive even me slightly crazy, however, so goodness knows how they feel about it.

Unfortunately, cutting down on nagging is easier said than done. My children still need to get to school punctually and I suspect talking the issues through with them would have no practical effect whatsoever. It's a case of examining and altering the morning schedule to reduce the occasions they can get in each other's way. This will release extra time for conversation and variety performance, thus adding some freedom to proceedings. It might help us all relax and that would be more pleasant from every point of view.

I doubt I can rearrange the daily routine sufficiently to remove the nagging altogether, though. There will always be five minutes worth of distractions more than there's time available to accommodate.

Then again, maybe if I shaved off Lewis' hair and simply sewed a school badge onto Marie's pyjamas...

Yours in a woman's world,


No comments: