Its only been a minute since I was in the midst of newborn sleep patterns, milk feeds, nappies, naps and muslins but all of sudden not only is my baby three, but he’s making a bid for total independence. I’m pretty sure he’d move out into a little studio flat if he could. He’s not keen on taking help – “I can do it MYSELF” – he wants to be alone, he doesn’t like holding my hand, and he saunters into nursery without a backwards glance. Or even a hug. While I do love that he is a confident little thing and by all accounts a character, William’s fierce independence is rapidly turning into a power struggle. And what’s worse; its becoming increasingly unsafe.
Bill has always had a tendency to bolt off in parks and the beach, like an energetic dog let off the lead. But now its becoming more frequent and more dangerous, especially because he is incredibly fast (or I’m incredibly slow? Maybe a bit of both). Its not that he doesn’t understand that running off is unsafe, or that he’s unaware that its bad behaviour. He just doesn’t really give a shit; he just wants to do his own thing. Last week at the school gates he bolted off down the road and when called him back he just ran faster. He stayed on the pavement and I caught up to him, but his little nursery buddy ran after him, thinking it was a game perhaps, and she actually ran into the road. So not only did he put himself in danger, he put his little friend in danger too (I know I’m paraphrasing Mufasa right now and I’m alright with it). I was livid, mortified, and out of breath by the time I dragged him back to the school gates and apologised profusely to the nursery mum. When I asked him why he ran off, he said he was bored and wanted to go home. The solution, then, might be to occupy him constantly so he never gets bored enough to want to run away. But alas – we live in a real world where boredom is somewhat inevitable. Being tired of waiting is not an excuse for something as dangerous as sprinting away from me. After nursery we have to wait at the school gates for Frank for about 15 minutes. I pack snacks, I pack toys, we chat about his day. It’s still a long time for a threenager, especially when he’s had a busy day at nursery and is so ready for home. I really hope its just a phase but I find myself on high alert with my little flight risk and frankly, its exhausting. My lovely sister in law suggested a game to encourage him to respond to stop; it involves sweets and a lot of running so I will give this a go. Wish me luck.
I recently signed up the boys for swimming lessons, and I was so smug that their lessons would be at the same time in the same place. I thought maybe I’d swim some lengths myself, or maybe sit pool-side with a coffee and twitter. Nah. Frank’s lessons are going fine but I had to pull Bill out of the class after three sessions. His lovely swimming teacher lined them all up without floating devices and asked them to sit nicely and wait for their turn while she helped them swim along one by one. Bill lasted about four seconds before he thought – fuck this, and dived in for a splash about. Unfortunately the swim teacher didn’t notice he’d jumped in and he was slowly sinking out of sight, so I had to alert the lifeguard, who promptly grabbed the teacher and lifted him from the depths. I tried explaining about the dangers of drowning. I tried bribery. I tried threatening him (with no ice cream etc not like…death threats). Nothing worked – he dived in every time he was left to wait his turn. So now I take him swimming myself when Frank has his lesson, and I get to watch the rest of his old classmates sitting patiently and listening intently. The boys also do tennis lessons which is a little like herding cats; Bill is the youngest and the worst at listening by far. But I do see him slowly improving week by week, which gives me hope. Sometimes its so incredibly infuriating to see him pointedly ignore what he’s told to do; tennis coach John will say – everyone grab your rackets and stand on the line. Bill will grab his racket and do a lap of the court, hit a ball, smack his brother then begrudgingly join the others on the line. I always feel like a large stiff drink after tennis lessons. So what can I do to make him listen (and obey?!) Well, I don’t know. But I’m trying different things and I’m looking online, and ultimately I just have to keep going, keep taking him to classes, keep praising him when he does listen well, and maybe lead by example. Do I always listen to him? Properly listen? No, sometimes I don’t. He was telling me about his dream last night and I felt my eyes glazing over as I started to think about work or what we are having for dinner. Maybe that’s something I can do better.
Bill gets so angry sometimes. His rage is BIG for someone so small, but I have no doubt his feelings are legitimate, even though its often about things I may find trivial. Sometimes I just open my arms out for a cuddle and that’s enough to calm him down. Other times that doesn’t work. Yesterday he ran off from tennis class. He got all the way through the restaurant into the soft play and crawled into a space I couldn’t reach him. Eventually I managed to coax him out and return him to tennis, but not before he’d screamed “YOU’RE THE WORST MAMA IN THE WORLD” to the packed cafe. When we got back to class he sat on my lap and we watched the class while he calmed down, and he went and joined in when he was ready to. I often feel quite sorry for him when he’s that angry; its hard not to take it personally when he says he hates me, or embarrassed when its in public. But ultimately I know he doesn’t mean it. At bedtime if he’s starting to get mad I’m lucky that his Dada is around to step in, often a different face can be helpful. And a welcome break for me. Chatting to other parents has made me realise that I’m not alone in having to deal with this angry threenager phase, their kids have got through it and emerged as lovely little people so I have a lot of hope. I just wish I knew how to help him more.
You can do it!
One thing that has helped is giving Bill space to do things himself, and praising him loads when he does something solo. Especially if its a new skill. He is bright and capable, and a lot of his mischief comes from his self-belief that he really doesn’t need any help. He is convinced that he could live alone in the woods successfully, and who knows – maybe he could. Thankfully I managed to convince him that home is much cosier, and slightly less chance of wolf attacks. He’s staying safe in his bed for now. Sometimes I wonder if he’s reacting to something from me; my resistance to the idea that he doesn’t need me so much anymore, and considering he was walking early and his first years all went by in a blur, I guess I could be trying to hold on to him too much. He still needs his Mama, but he is no longer a baby (god forbid you actually call him baby, that is a guaranteed way to piss him off). He is tough, smart and hilarious; my little Bill – I wouldn’t change him. I really hope the threenager thing wears off soon though! Until it does, thank the lord for gin and tonics.