Friday, July 15, 2011

Weather report: red mist descends

Before yesterday, I could have counted Blake's VERY BAD tantrums on 2 fingers - one was soon after we moved into this house and I was trying to get him to nursery when he just wouldn't cooperate (re-read the tale here), and the second was the infamous Dulwich Park tantrum when we didn't let him have another go on the fire engine ride last summer (if you're feeling brave, read that one here).  There are no doubt countless mild to medium ones that have occurred since then, but nothing quite prepared me for what happened yesterday afternoon, what I'll henceforth refer to as THE Tantrum.  As in, the Tantrum to End All Tantrums, or the Mother of All Tantrums.  Or, the "Please don't let there be another one of those, ever again, please" tantrums...

Hindsight, as we know, is the prescription status I often wish my glasses were.  We had hosted our good friends Jenny, Charlie, and Flora here for lunch, and met up with them later in the day at the local park.  The older boys were doing a fantastic job of really running around a lot, giving Jenny and me cause to think that they were going to be really tired for bedtime, making that part of the day a little bit easier.  When she asked me if I wanted to go back to their place for the kids' dinner, I thought it seemed nice and I also relished the thought of not having to go home and make something, so I gratefully accepted.  That's the part where in retrospect, I should have just come home and called it a very busy and successful day, but instead we parked up in front of our house and headed around the corner to theirs.  It takes about a minute to walk there and it has been so nice to have them as lovely neighbors close by.

The kids had some fish pie and peas, and Charlie and Blake created a fantastic traffic jam out of Matchbox cars, but as 6:00 approached I told Blake it was time that we headed off home.  On our departure, Charlie offered Blake a page out of his Cars coloring book - lucky Blake ended up with a picture of Lightning McQueen which seemed like a great little activity for when we arrived home.  Or so I hoped...

No sooner did we say goodbye and their door shut did Blake burst into tears and start saying that he didn't want the Lightning McQueen picture - he wanted another one.  "Well, sweetie, look, they've closed their door and are going to start to go have their baths, so we'd better get on home ourselves and do the same," is what I think I said to start.  At this point Blake started stamping up and down and screaming that he wanted another one, and I thought to myself, "Oh no, this isn't good!"  Within about 5 seconds his face had gone bright red, he looked completely aimless and like he didn't know what do do except scream and shout (at that point I had a sinking feeling that he was just completely and utterly exhausted), but then he ran back to their front door and started banging on it.  Well, Jenny is a lovely lovely person, and probably actually of course wouldn't minded this slight disruption, but I was not at all happy with Blake doing this and quickly moved to get us on the route home.  I realized I would just have to pick him up and carry him the short distance.

I had made the mistake (the only-retroactively-aware-of-it mistake) that I had just carried Noah over from our house and Blake had walked; an hour earlier the world was a fun and beautiful place and the idea of doing a 60-second walk just carrying Noah with Blake walking chirpily beside me seemed absolutely fine.  Now, not so fine.  I had Noah in the crook of my left arm, Blake initially in the crook of my right arm and I was making some forward progress.  Then all of a sudden, WHAP came the sound of a little hand hitting me - hard - smack in the middle of my face.  WHAP, it came again as quick as the first had landed.  As much as I knew we weren't doing well, those blows were still very unexpected and very surprising.  I stood, slightly frozen as I understood that I'd just been hit in the face by my 3.5-year-old, when all of a sudden he then started pulling my hair - REALLY HARD, and scratching me like an angry cat.  On the sidewalk we'd just come from, two teenagers walking by seemed to be giggling at my predicament.  Great, I thought, that is just what I need.  Turns out that I didn't have too much time to worry about that, since now that I'd let Blake down on to the sidewalk he had bolted off so I then had to chase him around the corner.  But unfortunately he didn't carry on in that direction (toward our house) and decided, looking something like a slightly delirious animal trying to escape from a cage, to run back toward Charlie's house, still chanting about wanting a different picture.

At this point let me just say, all of this would be very bad if it was happening inside our house.  Or even inside someone else's house.  But it was happening on the street, in broad daylight in full view to any number of neighbors who had gone to investigate what in the world that screeching noise was that had been going on for the last 10 minutes.  Not to mention of course the possible danger of Blake running into the road and me being unable to catch him for having Noah to contend with, or putting Noah down to get Blake and having Noah wander into the road...it was NOT a good situation.

What made it worse, and yes, it got worse, was that at this point a neighbor of Jenny and her 3.5-year-old daughter drove by on her bike.  I don't know this woman all that well, but I do know that I often seem to be more critical of my own mothering style when I'm around her, so I'm obviously concerned that my techniques probably aren't quite the same as hers, and that somehow mine are worse (examples of mine being the giving of ice cream as not even necessarily a treat, but a way of getting through the early evening, or the watching of tv for that same goal).  A few minutes later her husband who had been out for a run came by and asked if I needed any help.  I actually said yes, as I was feeling so helpless and just desperate to make it the 50 yards or so more to our door.  We tried to figured out what he could take - we ended up thinking my bag would be a good option, as I was still clutching Noah (no idea what the poor little guy was thinking throughout all this, until he actually started crying and it was pretty clear that he was kind of freaked out too).  Blake was just rolling around on the sidewalk at this point, not listening to any reason, and I ended up telling the husband not to worry about us.  I then picked up Blake again and proceeded to try to move forward.  His next act was to bite me really hard in the shoulder, and I pretty much just dragged him parallel to me until he saw our road and ran to our front door.

Once inside, I closed the door behind me and tried to pause for a moment to take some deep breaths and attempt to stop shaking.  Humiliation, frustration, shock, disappointment, guilt, resentment - that's pretty much the list of feelings that were coursing through me.  Blake's sobs ultimately faded into sniffles but mine were really just beginning, and I didn't really - I couldn't really - speak to him for about 10 or 15 minutes; I just had to get Noah in the bath and into bed.  I finally started asking Blake if he understood why what he had done was not nice, and explaining that Mommy was very sad because what he had done had really hurt me (how many times have I said, "Hitting isn't nice!"?).  He had said he was sorry several times, and it was clear he was feeling very contrite, but still...we had a cuddle on the couch, and he cooperated and had a bath with Noah before falling asleep pretty easily, pretty early.  As I said, he was exhausted. 

I felt pretty crappy all day - you try getting beaten up by a 3.5-year-old and tell me you feel good the next day!  I explained to nursery this morning what had happened and they reported when I picked him up that Blake had been very good all day and that he'd asked them if he could make me a card to say he was sorry.  He's obviously a good boy, and yesterday was clearly just a case where he lost the plot (not that many of the stories he now reads have much plot to speak of for him to know what that even is).  I don't think at least that I have the makings of a Lionel Shriver novel on my hands.  He was just over-tired and Mommy was the unfortunate victim of the resulting exhaustion-borne outrage. 

I don't know about you (although I have a feeling I actually do), but it is certainly not very often that I get hit in the face.  The only time I can actually think of being involved in any sort of physical altercation (apart from my rugby-playing days) was when I was in probably 4th or 5th grade and a brother and sister pair on our street and I got in a fight and one of them pulled a clump of my hair out.  I vividly remember the scene, and I have no other memories of a hand making hard and fast contact with my nose, so yesterday's incident was quite a shock to my system.  I spent much of today feeling as if I'd been in a barroom brawl, and with a newfound empathy for Evander Holyfield and what he must have felt in that fight with Mike Tyson. 

This evening all was quiet on the home front.  Blake and I were good friends and he told me several times that Noah, Matt and I were his "best friends", which is reassuring.  He also made me laugh, when, in the back garden with his plastic Toy Story ball, he told me and Noah: "Watch the team of me!" as he dribbled the ball and kicked it into an imaginary goal.  After Noah went to sleep I helped Blake draw some dinosaurs on a beach, along with a "wiggly house" and "our house" and several palm trees, to which he needs to add some coconuts to a tree once he finds his brown marker. 

I'll certainly be ready for the weekend to to try to rest and regroup. If I'm in the mood to watch sports, I think the British Open golf tournament will be on.  I am sure it will be very civilized, quite unlike my recent experiences with boxing.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Getting into the local political scene

Of all the things I am in life, one thing I would never categorize myself as being is "politically-minded".  I have often just viewed politicians as egotistical, self-absorbed, power-hungry people who are out to make their point and make their opposition look bad/stupid/ignorant/wrong.  And those are the people I would vote for - I don't even know how to describe the ones I wouldn't!  Joking aside, I've just always seen politics is a battleground, and I don't really like confrontation.

What I do think I am is a caring person, and fair, and concerned about people having access to certain privileges and rights that come with paying taxes and being members of a modern society, which is why I'm having a revelation tonight about whether I need to be more concerned about politics.  I went to a meeting tonight at a nearby primary school, a lovely school which would, in theory, be the school that Blake would go to in September 2012 when he starts his official educational life.  I say "in theory" because the meeting I went to tonight was organized by concerned parents who already have children at the school.  They're worried because currently for entry in 2012, there would not be enough places at the school for siblings of existing students, a priority group for entry.  So Blake basically doesn't have a hope in hell of getting a place there; we live about half a mile away and it seems there will be families who live nearly on the doorstep of the school who wouldn't get in at the current rate.  It's not promising.

I came home, wrote a letter to our local councillor showing my support, and then started to think about politics.  I am also really upset at the fact that our local library has closed indefinitely, because of a leaking roof which I may have mentioned in a previous post.  I feel extremely sad for all those people who need access to a library more than I do - the elderly, who can incorporate a visit to the library as part of their day's routine, and doesn't require them to go somewhere like a cafe or restaurant to spend money; people who don't have their own computers and need access to the Internet or to be able to type and print documents; and parents and their children for whom the library can represent a world of excitement and learning and a place where they can see how wonderful books - and free access to them - are.  All communities in the modern world should have - in my opinion - a library....and now ours is shut because the local government didn't plan properly for the roof's replacement.  Sigh.

Of course as with almost everything it seems, it comes down to money.  There likely isn't money for a new roof, or if there is, it will need to be directed to something more important, like schools.  And there you have it...maybe it's not late for me to get involved with politics.  I may just have to, if I want my kids to be able to take out library books, and know how to read them. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

I'm with Grumpy

I'm pondering a question this morning, which is, how can both sides of the bed be the "wrong" ones?  Noah woke up around 6:00 something and I took him out of the left side of his cot (based on where his head normally is), and sometime shortly thereafter a forlorn and pitiful-looking Blake crept into our room, having exited his bed from the right side.  From about 17.5 seconds after each of them woke up, they have acted as if they have drawn the shortest straw in life's stakes, that their road to hoe is the hardest of them all, that woe is them, etc, etc.  In short, they have both been super grumpy.  By 8:30 it felt as if the walls of the house were closing in on us, so we headed off to the park.  Blake, in particular, was acting pretty pathetic, so I wonder if he's coming down with something.  He threw about 3 fits related to Cheerios and raisins, not wanting to scoot/ride on my back/walk, and the direction he was facing on the swings.  I ended up having to carry Noah back from the park and have Blake ride in the stroller so that we could actually make forward progress.  Like missing an old lover, I thought with wistful longing of the fun that Phil and Ted and I once had and how they just seemed to make life so much easier.  A friend has offered us her side-by-side Maclaren which I think I'm going to take her up on; I don't think I could handle another trip to the park like the one from this morning. 

We came home, I got Lil' Grump to sleep, put Sesame Street on for Big Grump, ate two Twix biscuit fingers and a chocolate digestive in a 2-minute period, and I feel a little better now.  I donated to the Save the Children East Africa Appeal, and of course there is nothing like a humanitarian crisis like the one those poor people are in to help put everything in perspective.  I feel confident Noah is going to wake up in a better mood, and I'm going to shut off the computer and go sit with Blake and see if I can persuade him that life is not so bad.  It's all very quiet in the living room, so I wonder if in fact he hasn't fallen asleep on the couch.  And as we know, there's no saying about waking up on the wrong side of the couch!  Things are looking up...

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Independence Day

I didn't really plan it this way, but I enjoyed a day off today for the 4th of July, while most of my compatriots across the pond were doing the same.  Noah had conjunctivitis over the weekend and his sticky eyes were pretty bad. He woke up a lot in the night last night, so I had to take him to the doctor today, and I knew he wasn't really up for nursery either.  Once we got his eye drops, we didn't really do much else during the day, apart from go to the Streatham Library since West Norwood's has been out of commission since a recent rainstorm made it unsafe (people stole the copper roof from the library, and it therefore leaks in the rain....how sad is that?!). 
I was feeling inspired enough to dress the boys in red, white and blue, although Blake wouldn't cooperate with a nice-looking polo shirt and instead insisted on a red shirt with the words "tough" emblazoned above a bulldog.  I'm so pleased that he has a whole collection of about a dozen of these shirts that Granny Karla has lovingly bought for him, and which he never selects for himself to wear.  Oh well.
He had said this morning that he wanted to feed the ducks at Dulwich Park, so I picked him up early and we went down and fed, if not the ducks, then at least the pigeons.  The kid has a kind of infrared ice cream detector so before we'd even parked the car he said he had seen the ice cream van.  The boys are averaging about 6 ice creams a week at the moment; I'm not sure when or if that becomes a problem...fortunately summer doesn't last as long as we wish it did!
Ducks fed, ice cream consumed (I know now that Blake never seems to eat a whole cone, so I don't order one for myself and then get Blake's when he abandons it), it was off to the playground, where all was going well until Blake wet himself and we had to head home.  We had a Skype call with Granny Karla and Grandpa John, and then I served a 4th of July banquet of hot dogs, blueberries and strawberries.

Slightly comedy shot of Blake trying to eat that hot dog...

And now it's coming up to midnight and I've just been distracted by the movie Knocked Up on tv.   I remember seeing it the week I gave birth to Blake; it was so funny then, but I was a more carefree viewer this time around and found it hilarious.  Happy Independence Day!

West Norwood Feast

Yesterday we ventured out to Norwood High Road to attend a new creation, West Norwood Feast, which calls itself a "people-powered market". The Feast occurs on the first Sunday of every month and yesterday happened to be the first time that we were here the first Sunday of the month, and that, crucially, I remembered it was happening.
Matt had gone into town to meet with Alan on the plans for the extension, and Bishy was visiting for the weekend so she and I headed out with the boys. In the post-Phil-and-Ted world of our journeys, Blake was on his scooter and Noah was in the Maclaren. We started at the Artisans' Corner, a collection of what I'll call "pretty things on which I have no money to spend": hand-kitted owls and vintage-fabric-covered pillows, prints for Adored Child's room, lovely-smelling herbal soaps and lotions, etc etc. I didn't part with any money here. Blake then wanted to get an ice cream and while I was trying to deflect that request toward a Cars-themed ice lolly back at the house, he spied a tiger in the crowd. No, not a real tiger - a kid with his face painted like a tiger! Blake was then on a mission, and the ice cream was in fact forgotten in lieu of the coveted face painting. We had already trudged nearly all the way up the High Road toward St Lukes, but now found ourselves re-tracing our steps to finally arrive at a little tent where two women were wielding paint brushes and hovering over pictures of children in various guises of butterflies, pirates, ghosts, and action heroes, including SpiderMan which was Blake's selection. I happened to be chatting with the mother of a girl Blake is at pre-school with, and about 2 seconds after he had sat down I looked over to see his entire face covered in bright red! I mean BRIGHT RED
After he got his face painted, we hung around the children's play area for a little while, and I was chatting to a man from church about the merits of the Feast.  I couldn't agree more with his comment, which was "If it helps increase house prices around here, I'm all for it!"  We then stopped for some of the best ice cream I've ever had - it was Movenpick from the cafe Kahvah and man, was it good!  Blake had chocolate, Bishy had double cream and meringue, and Noah had panna cotta (chosen for its lack of chocolate staining properties).   Poor B came home and crashed on the couch he was so tired.  When it came time for Bishy to head off, Blake was very sad and burst into tears.  They had had such a good time making out shopping lists and building an 80-block rocket out of Legos.  B is getting really good at his letters and we are loving the road signs around - he definitely knows that R, O, A, D spells road.   I'm sure it will be no time before he works out that F, E, A, S, T spells face painting and ice cream.