We have a family quotes book at home. There are all sorts of gems in there, many of which have come from the mouths of our kids over the last five years. My favourite is probably “You’re ACTUALLY worse than Mussolini” which I apparently said to my wife in March 2011 (although neither of us can remember the context), closely followed by “Dad – you’ve got lovely footprints”, an astute observation made by my son in May last year.
Yesterday, a new entry made its way in, as I found myself irately saying to our four-year-old and two-year-old that oft-repeated phrase, “My name is NOT Mr Underpants – it is DAD.” This was the end result of a completely farcical bedtime routine, during which time they both proceeded to want a story, want another drink, want to share a bed, want me to sing them a song, want a wee, and then not want a wee after all. After getting progressively more irate with them as the minutes ticked by, they then clearly read my mood very well by beginning some kind of football-like chant in my direction, in which their father took on the new name of Mr Underpants who had his own special song.
It’s often the most ridiculous things that tip you over the edge as a parent. After a busy day at work and a frustrating commute home, it should be joyous to have two excitable little kids calling you a silly name. And often, it really is. But just sometimes, when they’re trying your patience and you can’t think of how to make them stop, it can all too easily make you feel like you’re dealing with nightmare children. The other day, I actually found myself telling our eldest to “grow up”, and had to immediately remind myself that he’s only four and, you know, the wonderful thing about being four is that you really don’t have to grow up just yet.
Sometimes, though, the pressure to have a good time with your kids can only make matters worse. We had an experience like this on holiday last week: my wife and I had set up a barbecue, put up a wind-break, assembled the outdoor table and chairs and generally put ourselves through a right old mission, all in the name of having some Enforced Family Fun. The five of us would eat merrily in the Cornish sun outside the little van we were staying in, the children would laugh happily, and we’d all have toasted marshmallows at the end. Or so the theory went…
The reality was rather different: the wind blew a gale, the kids didn’t want any meat, and the barbecue burned through its foil base to singe the nicely manicured lawn underneath. But the marshmallows – they were a guaranteed winner, surely? This one was non-negotiable – so when Child Number 2 decided she wouldn’t even try one from the barbecue, we weren’t having any of it. “You’ll love it!” we cried; “you have to try JUST ONE.”
Why did she have to? What possessed us to think this was some kind of essential ritual for every two-year-old? We’d built Marshmallowgate into such a big issue that suddenly, it wasn’t possible for our little girl to just eat a date stick instead. And the result? Well…
Is it just us? Or do any other parents suddenly find themselves having gone down a path of We Must Do This Because It’s What We’ve Planned…for no apparent reason?
Suffice to say, me and my wife ate all the marshmallows. We felt a bit sick afterwards, but we were comforted by the happy sound of our kids singing Mr Underpants in the caravan.