It feels like just yesterday you were a helpless bundle, placed in to my arms and reliant on me for everything. It’s hard to imagine now having to support your delicate head, having to carry you everywhere and having to try to understand your whimpers and wails. “You’ll learn to interpret their cries” I was advised. Can I categorically state that I could never tell a “feed me now” cry from a “I’ve unleashed all hell in my nappy” cry. Process of elimination was more my approach, starting with a sniff!
Watching you flourish from this wriggling bubba with a proper set of lungs to the scooting, chatty, cheeky little chappy you are today has been a joy – and a challenge.
The drive for independence began at a slow pace. We cheered the first time you managed to plant your dummy in your mouth, we applauded when you held your own bottle and we were awestruck the first time you pulled yourself up to standing. You’d think you had beaten world records the first time you fed yourself your own Ella’s Kitchen pouch. If I thought I was becoming redundant then, I had a shock awaiting me.
You were never the fastest baby to pick things up. You didn’t gain your walking ‘L’ plates till fifteen months with a few drunken staggers in to the arms of your gorgeous child-minder, Robyn. Was I ever concerned? Nope. I knew you’d do things in your own time. And that you did.
Admittedly, you took your time with saying ‘Mama.’ You really kept me hanging on there till you were nearly two. Two years of being your everything; you certainly built the anticipation.
But independent you now are in many things. The much maligned ‘terrible twos’ took hold and frequently life became a battle of wills as you began to have an opinion and the voice with which to share it. I may have given up a career spanning twenty years in education but you my little man, have developed in me a skillset that would set me up in United Nations negotiations.
It has me beaming with pride to watch you master skills and take on the world with gusto, as you utter your favourite phrase “me do it.” No, you’re not taking charge of the big scissors. No, you’re not pouring mummy a glass of wine. And no, you are not climbing up the loft ladder.
Even if I wanted to be the helicopter mum, swooping in to cater for your every need, there would be no chance you’d allow it. You abhor support, you crave self-sufficieny and let’s be honest – much like your mother you can just be down-right headstrong. To the point where I’ve started to categorise your breaks for freedom in a little game I like to call: INDEPENDENT OR STUBBORN? Please join me in playing along…
Let us start with the first battle we face in the morning. It’s 5:50am. I have tried without success to settle you in my bed when you woke at 5:30, up with the larks but a darned sight noisier. I’ve staggered down the stairs with you on my hip (it seems you’re not independent enough to manage the stairs at that time, requiring “mummy hug” assistance to get you to the lower levels). I’ve put on the requested televisual noise. I’ve repaired to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and do a couple of eyeball shots of espresso.
You come to the kitchen, to check on the status of your breakfast order as I pour the steaming porridge in to your bamboo bowl. I go to take it in to the playroom where your table and chair are set up and my coffee drinking couch awaits, but hold your horses there mumma!
“I take it.“
This is not rhetorical. This is a statement of fact laced with an element of challenge. You take it or… there’ll be a pre-6am meltdown? No. Not willing to chance it. Not without caffeine in my system. But – small child-size bowl, adult-sized porridge sachet and carpets to navigate. Shudder.
I draw a deep, nervous breath, give you the bowl and watch as you gingerly make your way across the tiles to the cream-carpeted hallway.
“I being very currful.” Yes. Yes you are little man. Nearly there.
“It’s very hot mummy.” Eyes front. Focus. Every time he talks to me I see the porridgey meniscus slopping ever closer to the border of the bowl.
I hear the tinkle of the Teletubbies and hold my breath as the cat skedaddles out of his path. By some miracle, the bowl is placed almost adeptly on the IKEA table without spillage! As he begins to shovel glutinous spoons of breakfast in to his mouth I omit a sigh, heavy with relief and slurp greedily on my coffee. Until I hear “wipe it up mummy.” Someone it seems, has missed their mouth – but not the charcoal deep-pile. It seems the mum dependency is still strong when it comes to mess management.
So to address the question… stubborn or independent?
Within two days of having his scooter, Mini Evel Knievel had mastered your basic push and go but also the fancy squat-and-ride and the one-legged ballerina glide manoeuvres. Toes in shoes were practically threadbare thanks to his refusal to use the brake, favouring the toe drag across the pavement to slow himself down.
It is a joy for me to not have to drag the buggy out to get to the village. It is also a massive bonus that scooting the kilometre to the train station (the inevitable destination for the ultimate engine fan – especially now the bakery has reopened with its allure of gingerbread men) completely knackers him out!
His drive for independence started with the need for speed. My pelvic floor wept at the stop, start sprinting that was required to keep up with scooting’s answer to Lewis Hamilton. My heart was in my mouth as he bombed down the pavement, only inches away from knee scrapes, elbow grazes and Paw Patrol plasters. The only solace was that he had acquiesced on the argument to wear a helmet.
Our game here is based not on his reluctance to scoot along by my side but a far riskier situation. Our pavements are shocking. Cracks, patches, tree roots and sink holes to Hades. On the right-hand side they incline at a level comparable to an Alton Towers rollercoaster. On the left-hand side there are undulations that could cause a flight-path hazard if you hit them too fast.
Logically, Harry has established the road is a far smoother and preferable ride. Every time we go out we now have ten minutes of debate about him scooting the pavement or the road. This usually ends in him scooting on the side of the road with me sprinting alongside, watching for cars like a bird watches for prey. One holler of “CAAAARRRRRR,” and he kick-flips his mean machine over the kerb and on to the grassy verge. (Can I stress, it’s a long stretch of straight road where you can see cars coming from a distance – before the Mum Police attack)
Argument has become futile so all I can do is strap on a Tena, do a couple of stretches and be ready for a Usain Bolt-esque sprint to the village.
I remember the first time we lowered you on to your floating lily-pad in the sink, delicately cradling your head and gently splashing you with the optimum temperature water.
Now, the bathroom is reminiscent of the sinking of the Titanic, water an inch deep at my feet, your toys sloshing backward and forward in your wake like lifeboats adrift in choppy waters.
But bath times are fun. It’s our family time. We talk through our day. We play with a plethora of plastic creatures; jungle wars being your play of choice. We attempt to wash your hair without the scene resembling a vampire being lowered in to holy water.
The elements of bath time up for question are two fold here though. Both relate to your extrication from the aforementioned.
Firstly there’s the refusal to get out. Trying to lift a slippery little sucker, who won’t raise his arms or stand up from a bubbly tub, is nigh on impossible – not without doing either party injury. So there’s a simple solution. Let the water run dry. And remove the plug that’s he’s learned to push back down. As the water drain away, with my will to fight so close to parent-time, I state, “Harry, you’ll get really cold.”
“I like to be cold.”
VERDICT: Stubborn as a mule
But then there’s also the nights where he feels like he’s had enough after five minutes and it’s time to get out. “I do it myself,” he declares as he tries to hook a leg over the side of the bath. Now – he is getting tall. His legs are clearly inherited from his father. But again, wet, standing child + bubbly tub – is anyone else shuddering at the thought of the bruised bits that could occur from a slight slip? I roar “sit down!” and then try to explain the potential consequences of such an act of autonomy. The look I receive is not one of understanding, but glowering frustration at my refusal to let him attempt his heroic, solo exit.
This is my favourite time of the day. Dimmed lights, freshly bathed babe, calm and quiet. Our roles have been established that Daddy does PJs and a couple of stories and then Mummy swoops in to have snuggles, cuddles, milk and bed – oh, and he gets at least another two stories out of me.
I’ve always put on the nightlight, lay on the sofa and had Harry lay on me to share a story. It’s a special time, feeling his body giving in to sleep, his heart rate slowing, his warmth shared with mine. We talk about the story. I feel, as well as hear, his chuckles and exclamations. We recite the well known phrases of our favourites together.
Milk is supped, cuddles are had and he is lifted and lowered in to his cot with a whispered “I love you so much” echoed back and forth (followed by a gentle but impassioned “no shouting out – sleeping please“).
Or at least that was the case until this week, when he decided he now wants to sit on the other end of the sofa to me.
I’m not sure if this is a result of all the reinforcement of social distancing or just a desire to have his own space. Either way, it tore my heart just a little that he no longer felt the need to snuggle in with me, letting me breathe in his freshly-washed scent and stroke his hair.
Suddenly those visions I’ve had of Kevin the Teenager, grunting and huffing at me, seemed not too far away.
Thank goodness he eschewed the social-distancing etiquette and came in for hug at the end of the story or I think my heart would’ve completely shattered. My baby is growing up.
This is a game I continue to play on an hourly basis as Harry asserts his will and makes his mark on our world. He appears a happy balance of stubborn and independent thus far but the little pickle can’t be blamed. As he refuses to speak to Granny Mo on the phone one day whilst taking her for a FaceTimed ride on his train the next, as he rebuffs the dinner I have prepared and as he refuses to tidy up the train track he has pulled apart, I need to remember whose child he is. Stubborn? Moi?
Where has your child asserted themselves? When did you start to see them become an independent little person? What challenges has this provided for you? Which age would you say is the biggest battle for self-sufficiency? I’d love to know!