Our second child, M, was born at 31 weeks. That’s 9 whole weeks of bun cooking that should have been going on in the oven. She was little, not much larger than my hand and weighed just 1.65kg. She spent 5 weeks in the NICU at the hospital before she was big and strong enough to come home. I always think that her rocky start to life is what’s made her a real fighter. My mum calls her a ‘chilli padi’ – or bird’s eye chilli – small but potent. I often tell H, my eldest, that I think M is the ultimate ‘tough guy’ – one of the bravest kids I know. He remains unconvinced.
M has always been a bit of a force of nature- strong willed and feisty. And now that she’s 2 and a half, this is her moment. Right now, every single cell in her body is compelling her to do the opposite of what she’s told, to never accept NO for an answer, especially not from her parents. This of course, is a fun time for one and all. Said no one ever.
You’d have thought that we’d be used to all this, having gone through it once before with H. But you do forget after 2 years. I remind myself that this torturous part of parenting is actually a crucial point in M’s development, and that it doesn’t last forever.
I remember foolishly commenting to dadallama just a few weeks ago that M was being so lovely, so jolly, such a pleasure to be around. I obviously spoke to soon. Getting dressed in the morning is an absolute mission. Mealtimes are a shit show. Bedtime an absolute circus. She has to do everything her big brother does, have everything that he has – even if they both have identical toys (how can they even tell the difference between those 2 goddamn Minions?!) She has to do everything first, and by herself. Everything has to be done in a hyper specific way, except these specificities are completely obscure and unknown to anyone but her.
For example. At breakfast a couple of days ago, M spied the largest slice of freeze dried strawberry in my granola mix and instructed me to place it on the side of my cereal bowl. Bit weird I thought, but by now I know not to question anything. So I did as I was told. And after that, I ate it with the rest of my granola. As soon as I had done this, her eyes welled up and she wailed ‘LEAVE IT THERE!’ Apparently everything was breakfast, but that particular strawberry was for decorative purposes only. What a psycho.
Another morning, I heard her wailing because H had flushed his own poo away, she had wanted to do that. She went nuts because I wouldn’t let her eat an old crumpet crumb off the kitchen floor. I mean I’m usually a 3 second rule kind of mum but that bit of crumpet was too old even for my low hygiene standards. And there was the time she tried to climb out of the bath, dripping wet, on her own and refused to let me help her out. She of course was infuriated when I lifted her slippery, thrashing body out of the bath against her will. And when dadallama said she couldn’t wear her shoes to bed, and tried to take them off by force, she kicked him in the face. (Nearly. But she wanted to.)
When it comes to discipline, M had it all figured out after a couple of visits to the naughty step. One night, when she was being particularly naughty at storytime (probably trying to cover up the pictures with her hands so H couldn’t see), I dished out the ultimatum: Are you going to behave? Or do you want to go on the NAUGHTY STEP? To my surprise, she simply answered ‘Yes’. I was stumped. Did this kid just say yes to The Consequence? Who does this?? She then said ‘Self!’ and merrily, smiling, trotted off to sit on the step outside their bedroom. A minute later, unprompted, she wandered back in, said ‘SORRY MUMMY’, gave me a cuddle, and sat back down nicely for the rest of the story.
Of course things rarely resolve themselves this easily – most times the apologies, cuddles and good behaviour only happen after all the tears and snot and drool have run out and when all of us are completely spent. If you could see dadallama’s face at approximately 815am every morning you would be looking into the face of exhaustion itself.
But….dare I say it, I think we are turning a corner. Yesterday, there was only one brief outburst in the morning, which evaporated as quickly as it started. Dinnertime was easy. M did announce that she ‘No like it!’ but ate most of her tortellini anyway. When H dropped his ice lolly, M gave what was left of hers to him (H and I couldn’t believe our eyes.) And at storytime, M willingly gave up her spot on my lap to H after the first story, instead of fighting to stay on there like she normally does. H is probably reconsidering the statement he made a few days ago about wishing he didn’t have a kid sister. At least I hope he is.
They say, the greater the storm, the brighter the rainbow. The very forces of nature that give M her tenacity and fight are the same ones that give her an incredible capacity for love and affection and downright unbridled happiness. When she’s finally tested all of the boundaries, and she’s worked out what’s okay and what’s not – I’m sure a great big freaking rainbow with her name on it will be waiting for us. God knows we deserve it. And parenting will be fun again. That is, for 2 more years – when we have to do it all over again with N.