Well now that we have the nonsense of school admissions out of the way we can carry on with the more fun aspects of parenthood.
Marty has now reached the grand old age of four and the only noteworthy fly in the parental ointment is the realisation that the well known adage “The Terrible Two’s” is a load of old bollocks! The first problem is that it rarely starts at two, which is no bad thing but can lead to a short lived false sense of security. The second problem is that it never, ever, ever, finishes at two. A far more apt phrase would be “The terrible Godknowswhen’s”. I grant you that it mightn’t trip off the tongue quite so well but at least we’d all know exactly where we stand.
In truth we’ve gotten away with most of the amateur dramatics and the sudden need to beat your way through the floor of ASDA using nothing more than your fists and a loud wail. I’m not sure why we’ve gotten away with it but I suspect it’s partly because Marty isn’t that keen on the thespian life and partly because we just ignore him every time he does try for an Oscar.
Wailing aside, the move from 3 to 4 is very much a transition; he talks better than he did, counts better, runs faster, argues in a way that can occasionally be described as rational, if you ignore the references to Thunderbirds and Peter Rabbit, and is just like a three year old who’s learnt a bit more. It’s evolution rather than revolution, which makes it pretty unique so far but I suspect is the way it will always be from here on in.
One change that I hadn’t seen coming, but probably should have, is the fact that he’s become a far fussier eater. There was a time when you could put pretty much anything in front of him and he’d eat it but now the look of the food matters. We do try to persuade him that it’s all about the taste but it’s been a forlorn battle. On the bright side this means that Leanne and I get to eat all the mussels, although he’ll make an exception for Moules Mariniere, which is frankly a disappointment as this is one of my favourites.
“It’s too spicy!” Is his usual complaint at meal times. I wouldn’t mind if this was because we were feeding him vindaloo every night but it applies to the nutmeg in lasagne, the Chorizo sausage in Paella, the pepper in cacciatore. The only exception to this rule is ASDA’s ‘meat feast’ pizza, when he’ll drink a glassful of milk with his meal just to ensure that he can cope with the heat and get as much pizza into himself before I beat him to it.
The good side of all this complaining is that he will try his best to explain the problem. All complains and arguments start with the opening line “Actually Daddy...”, which gives me time to settle down for the entertainment. There really are few things more guaranteed to raise a smile than a four year old explaining to you how life really is. Sometimes his reasoning is truly impressive but most of the time he’s lost me within the first few minutes, especially when the ‘tree falls down onto the house’, which is an event that features in most of his arguments and is something that he finds extremely funny... presumably because a tree has never fallen down onto his house.
Another joy of four year olds is listening to them narrate their own games. Marty has become a big fan recently of Thunderbirds, partly because of the new TV series but mainly because he has an old dad who still loves them. The up side of revisiting old TV series’ is that you get to ‘borrow’ the toys off all your older cousins, so Marty will now happily spend the afternoon ‘wooshing’ around the house with various Thunderbirds to hand, all the time explaining the unfolding drama to any who’ll listen: “What’s the sitruation Scott?...Oh No! The pit of peril!... This is a case for internatural rescue. 5...4...3...2...1” At which point he starts singing the theme tune, or at least that’s what I think he’s doing, it’s hard to tell on account of sounding little or nothing like the theme tune to Thunderbirds
My mum keeps telling me off for correcting Marty’s pronunciation. I can see her point in that it is a brief moment in time and it is cute... but I correct him anyway. Fortunately it seems to make not the blindest bit of difference, so my mum and I are both happy. I particularly love ‘Internatural rescue’ and his avoidance of the letter T at the start of words. ‘Prane” instead of “Train”, “Fry” instead of “Try”. That one particularly threw me at the time as we were watching Saturday Kitchen. James Martin was in mid cook when Marty suddenly announced that he was really frying. It took me ages to figure out that he was talking about putting his shoes on.
Another one that threw me completely at the time was “d’skies”. Aficionado’s of Thunderbirds will know of The Hood’s penchant for disguising himself. Alas, I’d forgotten all about this, so when I wore a hat one summer’s day I was utterly flummoxed when Marty asked if I was in d’ skies and spent a few minutes looking upwards before it finally dawned on me what he meant.
One of the hardest joys to explain to others is how you feel when your child uses a word or phrase for the first time. Ok, there are certain words that might not leave you suffused with joy but for the rest it really is wonderful. Just yesterday Leanne was explaining to Marty that he couldn’t have any fruit because it was almost dinner time. He sat back on the kitchen worktop, digested this information, and then sighed “Unbelievable!”
See! How is that in any way funny? Yet Leanne and I both reacted as if we were watching ‘Live at the Apollo’!
As a result of this uncontrollable mirth Marty has come to the conclusion that he is a natural comedian, and in fairness he’s probably right. “Only joking!” is now one of his more popular phrases, along with its counterpart: “You joking?”
Another favourite of mine is “Give me a clue!”, which is particular funny in that he doesn’t distinguish between him revealing something to me and me revealing something to him.
Me: “Marty, what did you do at nursery today?”
Marty: “Er.... Give me a clue!”
A slightly less humorous development has been his attempts to grasp the concept of death. For us this topic arose when he was trying to figure out how his family are all related. He took great delight in discovering that his Nanny was my Mum but that inevitably lead on to where my dad was and where his mummy’s parents where.
It’s a difficult topic to explain to a four year old. I know many adults who can’t get their heads around the idea of death; its inevitability, its utter permanence and its complete indifference to your sorrow. So trying to explain it to a child is far from straight forward. I guess all parents will have to deal with these questions sooner or later and we all have to find our own answers. However, because it is such a mind blowing concept, the odds are that your child really won’t understand what you’re saying... but they will pick up on your emotions. So if you appear upset and scared of death, your child will be upset and scared by it as well, which isn’t a good thing. Another no-no is explaining it as ‘sleeping’. Not only does this confuse the hell out of your child but it also makes them scared of sleeping.
I’ve been reading “The Lion King” to Marty recently, which also deals with the concept of death in the guise of ‘The circle of life’. Marty seems quite happy with the idea that we’ll always be with him in his heart and will always be looking down on him in one sense or another but he also seems to think I’m going to be grass one day, which I guess is right in a biological sense but has resulted in Marty having a slightly morbid fascination with our lawn.
Questions abound when you live with a four year old and I must admit that I do enjoy trying to answer them. I probably don’t answer them correctly and I’m not sure Marty even follows what I’m saying but at least I give it a go. What has shocked me though is how youngsters can appear to be paying you absolutely no attention whatsoever and then, 3 weeks later, repeat what you said to them verbatim. A classic example of this was my reply to the question of Monsters and Dinosaurs.
We were walking through a wood when Marty suddenly got it into his head that the wood might be filled with Monsters and Dinosaurs. I pointed out to him that monsters didn’t really exist to which he replied that actually they do but they are really good and get energy from laughing and not making you frightened unless they are bad monsters, but they lost. An answer that only made sense to me when I remembered he’d been watching Monsters Inc.
On the question of Dinosaurs I replied that all the Dinosaurs died out a long, long time ago. So long ago that no humans had even been born and that we all looked more like hedgehogs than humans when dinosaurs lived. Ok, so it’s not the best answer but it didn’t really matter because Marty was throwing sticks for the dog and wasn’t even listening.
About a month later and we’re on a camping holiday. We’ve all just had a short walk and are returning to our tent when Leanne happened to mention Dinosaurs.
“Don’t worry mummy,” Marty replied, “All the dinosaurs are dead and we were hedgehogs!” I was shocked that he’d listened to me, Leanne was wondering what the bloody hell he was talking about.
There is of course a downside to this retentive ability; I’ve overheard a few exasperated “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” comments coming from his play room. To be honest I’m amazed that I’ve managed to forgo swearing around him for the past four years and, judging by the amount of times my wife has explained to me what we do if he does start swearing, she has little confidence that I’ll manage to keep it up.
Apparently, we ignore him. No shouting, no telling off and certainly no laughing. If they get a reaction they are more likely to do it again for the simple reason that all children crave attention. Ignore them and there is a fighting chance they’ll never bother saying it again. If he does try it again we apparently have a quiet word after the event about it being a bad thing. God knows if it’ll work but hopefully we won’t have to even try.
Another urge that has increased now he’s four is the competitive streak. When he was three he was pretty competitive, I assume all kids are, but these days he wants to turn everything into some sort of competition. The only real downside to this is that he will not tolerate losing. Oh no! Beat him and he’ll dissolve into tears of anguish and outrage.
I’ve managed to temper this a little bit by introducing the concept of the draw; if he wins, he wins. If I beat him by a country mile, it’s a draw.
To be honest it’s quite a handy thing all ‘round. Want to get him to bed? Seems reluctant to go? Just race him up the stairs, see who’s the first to get into their jim-jams, who can brush their teeth best and who can jump into his bed first. Simples!
Not content with reasonably fair competitions he’s taken to making up his own rules.
Marty: “Daddy, what colour is that car?”
Marty, now looking a little crestfallen: “No! You say it isn’t and I’ll say it is!”
Me: “Oh, now I think of it, it looks blue!”
Marty: “Ha Harr! You’re wrong! It’s red! SEE!”
This can seriously keep him amused for most of the day!
To be honest it’s amazing what goes on in children’s heads. Marty currently seems to think that the world’s ills can be cured with sellotape, it’s pretty much his answer to everything. A toy breaks, where’s the sellotape. The car breaks down, just grab the sellotape. Feeling a little poorly? Try Calpol and sellotape.
We were at the National Railway Museum in York a few weeks ago and one of the guides was attempting to explain that the Mallard train could no longer run because the boiler needed a very expensive repair. At this point Marty butted in and patiently - and loudly - explained to everyone that all that was needed was an ample supply of sellotape. You probably had to be looking at the face of the guide to get the full effect but it was very, very, funny.
All these joys involve the entire family but there is one fascination that is just for us boys. I am of course referring to the ancient art of urination. To women, having a wee is a mundane bodily function that can only be made interesting by inviting all your mates to join you in the Ladies. However, for the male of the species, it is a wondrous and ever evolving art form. One of Marty’s recent discoveries is that ‘I can wee on a tree, ‘cos I’m a boy and girls can’t wee on a tree ‘cos they’re girls!’ The downside of this is that Marty can’t go near a tree these days without wanting to pee on it.
“Daddy, I need a wee. I know! I’ll wee on this tree!”
“Marty, the toilets are just over there!”
“But the tree is just here!”
We usually end up dragging a protesting child into the loo but, if we’re not quick enough, we, and the rest of the National Trust visitors, are subjected to his impression of the Manneken Pis; bottom shining in the mid day sun as he contentedly communes with nature.
A slightly more bizarre development has been ‘Clash Wees’. As all parents know, privacy, like time and sleep, are things that vanish over the horizon the moment you opt to have a child. This was brought home to me when, whilst quietly going about my business, I heard a little voice right behind me say “Oooooh Daddy! That’s a clever wee!”
From this moment on Marty insisted on standing to do his business. Alas, the thrill of the standing wee was not enough for him and it is now virtually impossible to go to the loo without Marty accompanying me so that we can stand side by side and ‘clash-wees’.
As a result I’m left in a typical parental dilemma; part of me wants him to grow out of this asap, part of me wants him to never change J