As I sat in the metro this morning, furtively prying strips of royal blue Play-Doh from under my fingernails to a soundtrack of LCD Soundsystem (“Tribulations” seemed apt), I felt an overwhelming wave of relief wash over me: the weekend was finally over.
Who would have thought that a couple of days of quality time with a two and a half year old could be so soul-destroying? But by five o’clock on Sunday afternoon, nerves pulled taut, head pounding, I found myself wondering whether I could use the excuse that it was already dark outside, in tandem with the fact that Tadpole has no grasp of the passage of time and cannot yet read a clock, to pretend it was bedtime and put us both out of our misery.
If I were to read one of the well-known books on the market about toddler taming, I imagine I would be told that this is a normal phase in the development of any child, one in which the toddler has become aware that she is a individual, and is experimenting with the level of control she can exert on her environment. Or in this case, over me. It is a battle that I have to win, if I am not to become one of those parents who is a slave to their own child, tyrannised in their own home. In short, prime Supernanny material.
The pattern of behaviour that Tadpole and I found ourselves locked into this weekend went something like this:
“Right, let’s get your shoes on, we are going for a walk,” I said brightly, looking forward to escaping out into the fresh air, as the white walls of my apartment were starting to close in on me.
“No!” whined Tadpole, stubbornly, her voice at that particular pitch which causes me to bristle, instantly.
“Okay then”, I forced myself to say in a soft, level voice, let’s stay in. “Never mind, I’m sure I’ve got something better to do than take you to play on the slide…”
I turn, start walking away.
“Noooo! I want to go!” she screams, at full volume, clawing at my legs. (Note to self: must cut her fingernails.)
“Well, let me put your shoes on then!” I say, slightly less calmly.
“Nooo!!!! Don’t want to put my shoes on!”
We had about twenty such futile “discussions” in the space of one weekend. Some ended in tears (hers, and mine). One with a smacked bottom (which I then spent the rest of the weekend beating myself up about). The same argument played out, over and over; ever decreasing circles of pointless conflict.
The lowest point of the weekend was Tadpole’s Sunday afternoon nap. We had just returned from a walk in the park and she was visibly tired when I zipped her into her sleeping bag and kissed her protesting cheek. I retreated to my room, pulling the door to, so as not to hear her inevitable whining, and watched a couple of episodes of The OC (current painkiller of choice) on my computer.
An hour and a half later, I heard the familiar woke-up call from Tadpole’s bedroom: “MummyMummyMummy! Mum-MY! MUMMY! I awake now!” I sighed, and pushed her door open. It seemed strangely heavy to my reluctant arms.
Once I had taken in the sorry sight before my eyes, I inadvertently whimpered.
In the dim light of the shuttered bedroom, I could make out Tadpole, cheeks flushed, eyes wild with self-induced sleep deprivation, kneeling on her bed, surrounded by the entire contents of her Mr Men boxed set. She must have pulled this down from its habitual home atop the fireplace by balancing precariously on the edge of her bed, swaying unsteadily in the confines of her sleeping bag, as I have repeatedly asked her not to do, for fear of injury. The books were strewn all around her on the bed, and spilled onto the floor in all directions.
But there was something else amiss here: a dusting of something white (snow? feathers?) covering Tadpole’s hair, clothes, bed and freshly hoovered rug, which I couldn’t, at first, identify. I took a couple of steps into the room, and saw exhibit A: one Miffy tissue box, discarded by the end of the bed. Empty.
So, instead of taking her nap, something had possessed my daughter to slowly, patiently, and very quietly shred an entire box of patterned tissues (a present from grandma) into a thousand tiny pink and white flakes. To sprinkle the resulting confetti all around her.
My shoulders slumped in defeat. I had no rage left in me, only despair. I fetched the waste paper basket from my bedroom, placed it quietly by her bed and staged a tactical withdrawal.
Some time later, I heard the pattering of little feet. Tadpole appeared, skinny legs protruding endearingly from her pull-up nappy. She was brandishing a favourite teddy.
“It’s for you mummy. Be smile!” she said, cautiously.
I managed a weak approximation of a smile, which doubtless looked more like a grimace, and went to fetch the hoover. Outmanoeuvred, once again.