Dulcie, as a baby, was described by someone far wittier than I, as having ‘a whim of iron’. She still displays some pretty resolute behaviour but can be as flakey as pastry when the mood takes her. A wish to open a bottle of nail varnish and coat the scruffy little nails of a group of two friends and a neighbour’s toddler? Then she can spend ten minutes (which in a preschooler’s life is like a supereon) with her concentration-tongue poking out, sweaty palms twisting the lid and nostrils flared with the effort, until the silence and the smell cause me to run up the stairs and put a swift end to proceedings. Sadly only after twenty digits have been swathed in Hello Kitty pink. A long day, a slippery bit of jelly that won’t get on the spoon? Then she can curse jelly and renounce it after a nano-second of trying.
Himself the Elf is made from sterner stuff. He won’t allow obstacles to bend him from his path, whether they are physical (SHOVE goes the chair put in his way. PAH to the fence as he tries to slither underneath. UMPH to the door that has been shut on him) or his own limitations. There is now nothing that is out of reach, for he just climbs to get it. I honestly now find it simpler, easier and a darnsight less dangerous to hand over what he wants before he makes too much effort to get it (obviously, I don’t count knives, matches, medicines and the like under this as they’re dangerous, or dried apricots as too many have a predictable outcome and I’m the person who has to deal with it). Continue reading
Repetition is an important part of life with small children. I don’t just mean the endless wiping of oozing or leaking body-parts, or constantly saying “If you stand right in front of the buggy, I can’t push it” or “Get down from there, please”, or even the days when you look at the clock repeatedly in the hopes that it is now 5 o’clock and you can start making dinner and see the fabulous light at the end of the tunnel that is bed time, instead of the time actually only being 1.04 and not 1.03 like last time you looked and you’ve got a marathon of childcare to endure first. There’s the repetition of questions that can be like being pecked on the head for hours on end by a sharp-beaked bird, but also the gratifying slow arc of seeing how the answer to “Where do apples come from?” becomes becomes more complex as the child can grasp more information (Disclaimer: do not take it to heart if you’ve bloody well looked up how the blossom turns into apples and made sure you’re clear on stamens and what they do, if a child then looks bored, and asks “I just meant Waitrose or Sainsbury’s,” before wandering off.) Obviously, there’s repetition to the shape of most days, and in the house that includes an awakening that leads me to believe my second-born will be a milkman, there’s plenty of hours to fit in activities that are a repeat of the day before. It is, I believe, called Routine, and some are more fanatical about it than others. I prefer the day to have a familiar shape, punctuated by meals, and spend the rest of the time making hay while the sun shines (or clambering over the sofa when it doesn’t). Continue reading
Dulcie and Himself the Elf have reached a new level of familiarity with each other and it isn’t just drinking the bath water that the other has peed in. They’ve perfected winding each other up to either such hysterical laughter that one or the other topples over, and as a neat counterpoint, have learned that they can reduce the other to tears of rage in an instant.
“He’s so funny! I love him so much that I’m going to give him a big squeeze,” croons Dulcie, grasping Himself the Elf firmly and making him sit down. He has spent the last minute trying unsuccessfully to reach up to a previously unattainable point on a bookcase and just as his fingers brush the shelf, she has calculatingly bumped him back down to the floor and is using his rage as a distraction for her boredom. But it works both ways. Himself the Elf may be charmingly silly but he isn’t stupid. He submits to the cuddle, all the while stuffing a huge handful of her treasured ballet skirt into his slobbery mouth. A muffled “Haaaaa!” can be heard from him, then a shriek as his sister notices. The tutu-clad child can certainly move fast when she needs to. Continue reading
Himself the Elf is on the move, and has learnt to stand up holding on with only one hand. Part of me applauds his achievement and is pleased for his sake that his world is expanding as he explores higher and higher. But. Oh but. Another part of me is slightly despairing, and this is being egged on by Dulcie, who is a naughty little devil whispering in my ear (or rather bellowing loudly and furiously) that he is snatching, he is grabbing, his is awkwardly interfering with everything that is going on, and that he leaves a trail of dribble, torn paper and bitten books in his whirlwind wake. The wail that something is being grabbed can no longer be countered with the advice to ‘pop it on your desk’ or ‘look at it on your bed’, as the chubby little mitts reach further. And Himself the Elf will no longer revel on the floor with a random selection of plastic belongings no-one else wants (otherwise known as baby toys) as we ladies cosy up on the bed with a book, for he wants to climb up and see what is going on. And then he wants to chew it and slap it and fling it.
As a lifelong preserver of books and their spines, I share Dulcie’s despair as yet another tome gets closer and closer to his slobbery maw. So I have been trying to ensure that story time with both children is covered by reading a book with cardboard pages or a durable plastic library cover, and with a story that interests them both. For Himself the Elf that covers the following: farm animals, vehicles, and pictures of babies and children. For Dulcie, it is almost anything, for she is a slightly undiscerning listener, but with a bias towards princesses, girls that are older than her, anything that culminates in a wedding, and narratives which at some point reflect her life. So yesterday, we settled down to Giving by Shirley Hughes.
Giving by Shirley Hughes
Part of the series of ‘doing’ words by Shirley Hughes (there’s also Bouncing, Chatting, and Hiding), Giving delights Dulcie by showing a baby brother and a big sister. This nameless girl is about three or four, and attends play group without her mum, can dress herself and has friends round to play, supervised only from a distance – so quite a lady of the world to my little girl. The book has no story but is a series of verbal and visual illustrations of what ‘giving’ can encompass, from giving present or a smile to being given a scratch by a cat or a ride on daddy’s shoulders. There are perfect little vignettes of pre-school life – the importance of painting a special picture to give to someone; the pride in being able to present mummy with a gift on her birthday; and a moment of camaraderie as the little girl gives her baby brother some slices of her apple as the pair of them sit under a table covered with the recognisable detritus of a meal that needs clearing away.
The whole gives me a glimpse of life for my daughter, as the parents are important yet not omnipresent figures. Who knows what our children are thinking or what imaginary world they are living in during that unobserved ten minutes as we clear up after breakfast? Yes, we are together all day, just as this family in Giving is, but it emphasises to me that what I see as an important event might not have touched by daughter’s inner world. After a trip on the train to the beach last week, I asked Dulcie at bedtime what her favourite part of the day had been. Her answer? Being allowed to pick which apples in the supermarket we took with us. The world of Giving is very much seen from her level, not from mine, and is all the more charming for it.
The insight extends to the sibling relationship, catching the intensity of the emotions that they experience. We see the younger brother attempt a reciprocal gesture at dinner (“The baby gave me two of his soggy crusts. That wasn’t much of a present!”) as he gives his clearly adored big sister some of his food, to her wry amusement. He sits at the tea party she is giving with a friend, but placed amongst the doll, the dog and cuddly toys, he is clearly for her part of the supporting cast, making up the numbers. Yet his alert posture and restraint in abiding by the tea party rules shows he feels the honour of being included in her game. For Dulcie, there was a resonance of the power that Himself the Elf’s worship and pursuit could be both annoying and pleasing, depending on the circumstances. This is encapsulated in the final scene, which the sister has built a tower from bricks and “the baby comes along and gives it a big swipe!”. Naughty glee on his face, horror on hers, changing to anger with a clenched fist and an apprising look in return from her brother.
It is a scene which is only too familiar here, as I suggested to Dulcie that we read the book after a vicious attack on a castle made from Duplo. The resolution? The story book siblings cuddling on the floor with her magnanimous restraint in not swiping him back as “he is my baby brother, after all”, and here a moment of brief harmony as we three see our own world drawn so beautifully and told to us.