This photo was taken in the playground of Schloss Hof, Austria. Noah will chew anything mouth-height.
Noah is a spirited child. This means he is emotional, forceful, determined, relentless and sometimes so naughty that I stand by hopelessly wondering how on earth I should be handling him. I have met my match in this three year old boy. Many readers of my blog, mostly faithful friends and family, have said, “He’s so naughty!” or “I can’t believe his antics!” But there is so much more to Noah than that. If I only portray Noah in this way, I am doing him a disservice. Noah is also an imaginative, intelligent, loving, theatrical, splendiferous little boy. He is my treasure. He laughs easily. He delights in life.
Yesterday, we hired a car and set out to Schloss Hof, an immaculate palace near the border of Slovakia. The Austrians of old certainly knew how to make a palace. Noah had a great day (so we did too) and was not naughty at all…okay, so he was at bath time but this post is not about bath time!
Here are ten things simple things that Noah took delight in:
- A table in the car that he could put his drink, book and tablet on. Next time we need to buy a car, I’m getting me a VW Golf with tables in the back!
2. His snack bag. A couple of weeks ago he bought himself a Disney Cars lunch box in C & A with his pocket money. Yesterday I filled it with snacks, most of which he had eaten by the time we got to the schloss.
3. Lots and lots and lots of space for him to run around in. Noah has issues with walking and usually wants to go on my husband’s shoulders ten minutes after setting out from the house, however, he has no trouble at all with running everywhere.
4. The playground. Another thing Austrians do well. There are several playgrounds within walking distance of where we live and every main attraction has a playground. Back in England, it’s an effort to get to a playground – you actually have to get in the car and drive there!
5. A deckchair. There were a few deckchairs in the playground. Noah was so taken with them that we had to carry one with us to the picnic area, so the little lord could lounge in it whilst eating his lunch.
6. Hide and seek in unusual places: behind a tree, in a flowering rose bush, behind a set of wrought iron gates…the opportunities were endless.
7. Ice cream. Say no more for I myself delight in ice cream.
8. Bits of gravel and a leaf. Since going on a scavenger hunt in the park this week where I told him stones, leaves, rubble, pine cones etc were “treasure”, Noah has now taken to collecting leaves and gravel and insisting my husband and I carry it around in our pockets. Yesterday, I was the leaf carrier and my husband the gravel carrier.
9. Music and dancing. Noah’s Vtech Innotab plays music as well as games and books. It’s helpful when we go to a restaurant to keep him busy for ten minutes. Here he is dancing to “A tisket, a tasket”.
10. Noah loves twisting spaghetti around his fork and then putting a quarter of a child’s portion into his mouth at once.
My Noah, when you are grown up, your pickley ways will be admirable qualities rather than tiring ones. Never lose your love of life.
What with it being Bank Holiday yesterday, we decided to go to one of Vienna’s many museums. We chose the Technisches Museum (in other words, the Technical Museum). When you are travelling with a small child, you may not get to see all the cultural delights a city has to offer. Here are my top 10 tips to consider if you are thinking about taking a young child to a museum:
- Choose the museum carefully. There has to be some sort of bait. When we went to the Natural History Museum, it was the dinosaurs. At the Technical Museum, it was the “big, big, slide and a children’s play area”.
- Avoid distractions en route. Under no circumstances should you allow your child to spot an extensive playground with a range of intricate climbing frames. If you do, your trip to the museum will be finished before it has even started. If you can think up a fun game that involves blindfolds or closing your eyes for long periods of time, now is the time to go for it. If you succeed in actually getting your child to the museum after spotting such a distraction, rest assured, his heart will remain at that playground and he will be sure to let you know it.
- Don’t go to museums that are expensive. You will not be staying there very long. An hour is realistic and that’s taking into account stopping for a drink. An hour and a half is ambitious.
- If there is anything you particularly want to see, forget it. The agenda will not be in your control. If you have a particular interest in the museum you are planning on going to, get a babysitter.
- Take a large bag full of snacks. In the hour we were at the Technical Museum, Noah consumed a Goodies oat bar, two Humzingers, cheese dippers, a Babybell, a quarter of a ham sandwich, some carrot sticks and a chunk of watermelon.
- You need to accept that there will be three stages that your child’s mind will pass through: enthusiasm (when you tell him you are going to a museum in an excited tone and wave the bait under his nose), reluctance (when he realises it means leaving the cars he has lined up in military fashion along his bedroom rug), rejection (pretty much the moment you step into the museum).
- Your child is unlikely to learn anything. Museums are cultural. Museums have amazing things inside them. Museums are educational. Not for 3 year olds.
- Remember, all your child really wants to be doing is either:
- Watching Youtube
- Watching television
- In a playground
Have some sympathy for him.
- You will need more bait to get him home, especially if you are travelling by public transport. You got him all the way there, you got him to be semi-engaged for an hour, he will want to leave, but he will not want to walk anywhere. Noah was promised a cake. My husband took him into the bakery to choose any one he wanted. I gave the bakery a wide berth as I am doing the 21 Day Fix and have not been fixed yet (in other words, I am on a diet). Noah chose a cake with layers of thin pastry and fresh cream between each layer. If you are letting your 3 year old choose a cake, it is advisable to supervise them yourself. Noah doesn’t eat cream. Doesn’t my husband know that? How many times has he heard me order an ice cream for Noah in a restaurant, expressly asking for no cream? How many times has he seen me spooning the cream off the top of Noah’s ice cream, muttering the whole time about how I’d asked for NO CREAM? He ended up sharing his cake with Noah…
Sorry for the outburst. My husband is a wonderful father who usually has a good understanding of Noah’s likes and dislikes. I just really wanted a cake too!
- This hour in the museum will exhaust you. By the time you get in, you will need a glass of wine. If you are on a diet, you will settle for a cup of tea. It would be nice if you could put your feet up for a while, maybe read a book or have a little snooze. But no. A small and adorable little person is asking you politely if you will play hide and seek with him.
Ok, my Noah, you hide and when I’ve counted to a hundred, I’ll come and find you.
When you live with Noah, there is no need to go to the zoo: you can experience a range of animals every day. Here are ten animals you will see at the zoo that is my three year old son:
- The Cat
Noah has always reminded me of a cat when he is asleep. He sleeps on his side with his arms stretched out in front of him, his little eyes squeezed to slits. He looks just like a cat basking in the sunlight. He is also a light sleeper like a cat, ready to jump from his slumber at the slightest disturbance.
- The Dog
In particular, I am thinking of a Pluto. His tongue is always hanging out of his mouth. He likes to bound up to you and knock you over. Then there is his recent fascination with licking people on the face, or if you have your hands over your face for protection, the hands or arms. For purposes of accuracy, Pluto is a cross-breed dog but was a bloodhound in his first cartoon (thanks Wikipedia!).
- The Donkey
He has perfected the donkey kick, a sly little kick administered swiftly and accurately to deter innocent mummies or daddies who are trying to get him dressed.
- The Bear Cub
Oh, yes, the bear cub is small and adorable. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Just like a bear cub, Noah will lash out. He is untamed. He will bite you. He will claw at you. And all because you dared to get up in his space (i.e. when you removed your mobile phone from his grubby paw because he had to get in the bath/eat dinner/go to nursery or just because his eyes were going a bit square). Beware the bear cub.
- The Parrot
Like most three year olds, Noah has a tendency to repeat what other children or adults say as if they are his own words. The parrot is currently referring to me, his loving mother, as “Poo-poo”. When I remonstrate with him about this, he informs me so-and-so at nursery calls people a poo-poo and no level of reasoning or punishment will make him stop saying it.
Of course, it can be hilarious. When I was blocking my dad’s way last week, he said, “Excuse me, darling.” Noah (as usual) was following in my Dad’s wake. “Excuse me darling, Mummy,” he repeated.
Noah is a parrot with a good memory. Poker faced, he repeats lines from television programmes (usually Peppa Pig). We were in the middle of painting dinosaurs this week when he stood up and said, “Mummy, I’m just going to do a wee-wee. Back in a tick!” Back in a tick? I thought incredulously. Where has he got that from? Later on, I heard it on Mr. Maker.
- The Hamster
If you have ever had a hamster, you may have woken at 3am to hear the rhythmic patter of miniscule feet as it pounded its little running mill. Like the hamster, Noah is a nocturnal creature and, like a hamster, Noah likes to play with his toys in the middle of the night. We find ourselves woken at 3 am by Buzz Lightyear (“I come in peace”), or by Woody (“There’s a snake in my boot” – what does that even mean???), or by a dragon relentlessly attacking Noah’s cupboard, or by Happyland figures deep in conversation, or by any toy Noah’s arm can reach out and grab. Unlike other nocturnal animals, Noah does not sleep during the day to make up for his night-time activities.
- The Caterpillar
By caterpillar, I mean the hungry caterpillar. It is not unusual for Noah to have porridge, toast, fruit and a yogurt before going to kindergarten for breakfast number two.
- The Kangaroo
He will jump at you unexpectedly. When you enter our apartment building, there are four steps down to the lift. Noah sometimes springs from the top step, trusting I will catch him at the bottom. I need to drop whatever I am holding, whatever it is made of, in order to catch him. There have been broken eggs, squashed strawberries and a smashed bottle of olive oil.
- The Deer
I am thinking of Bambi (this is as far as my knowledge of deer extends). Bambi snuggles right up to his Mummy as they sit in the woods. Noah likes to do this when he is watching television/Youtube. It’s cute. It’s great. I know he won’t do it forever, probably not for that much longer actually. He will grow up like Bambi to be the stag, the Prince of the Forest.
- The Dinosaur
For the purposes of this blog, a dinosaur is an animal. I don’t expect you would see one at a zoo but I will include it anyway. Noah has perfected the “ROAR!”. This is how I get his back teeth clean: I ask him to roar, he obliges and quickly I stick the toothbrush in. Sometimes, if I ask him to say hello to someone we bump into in the street, he will roar at them instead of speaking.
From donkey or dinosaur, I love you, my Noah.
The skies were grey. The air was damp. A long afternoon indoors loomed ahead, just like yesterday. Where can I take Noah after kindergarten, I wondered? Where can we go that only requires one mode of public transport and doesn’t take too long? Ah, I know, Noah and I can go and check out the Eurovision Village at the Rathaus! This year, Eurovision has come to Vienna.
I haven’t watched Eurovision for years. I hadn’t even heard this year’s UK entry until I went to the Embassy party on Monday, where they hosted a reception which the contestants performed at. And yet, I can only think of Eurovision with fond memories. It conjures up the image of me and my sister as children, sitting in front of the TV with notepads and pencils, allowed to stay up late. We graded each contestant on their outfits or how pretty they were, paying no attention whatsoever to their musical abilities.
The adventure started as soon as I picked Noah up from kindergarten: Noah didn’t want to go to “Roorobishon”, he wanted to scoot home with his friend who lives a few doors down from us. The howling, the tears and the scooter sitting started immediately as we stood on the street corner, getting in everyone’s way. “I want to go home!” he wailed. “I want to go home!”
I produced a chocolate mini egg from my bag. He accepted it, put it in his mouth and continued to bawl his eyes out, causing a dribbly chocolate mess all down his coat. I crouched down to his level, tried to reason with him, to tell him how much fun it would be. Apart from a momentary pause where he reached out to stroke my arm, noticing for the first time the glitter on my sweatshirt which has a sparkly silver thread, Noah’s rage continued to build.
I took a step back and observed him thoughtfully. He wanted to go home. With or without reason, the child was upset. Should I abandon the idea of the Eurovision village?
I pictured us getting home and putting the Spot DVD on (Noah’s current favourite). Now, I am very tolerant of children’s television characters. Unlike my husband, I have never wanted to take out a contract on Mr Tumble. Like Noah, I also like getting up and grooving to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme tune. I’m also quite proud of having memorised the whole script of Toy Story by now. But Spot…Spot books are great, but the DVD is an exact replica of the books with an annoying voice over (sorry Jane Horrocks!). Spot has nothing to offer me.
No, I would not face another afternoon of Spot. We were going to the Eurovision Village and that was all there was to it.
“Okay,” I said to Noah, “You go home, and I’ll go to the Eurovision Village.” And I walked off. Of course, he hurried after me screaming, and in this fashion we managed the ten minute walk to the tram stop.
I had no idea what the Eurovision Village would consist of. There was a big stage set up in front of the Rathaus and in front of that were two rows of stalls representing some of the countries taking part. There were also some food stalls and long benches set up where people could eat and drink. In a few hours, the place would be buzzing. But right now, there seemed to be live music playing from behind the stage, and only a few people milling about.
We went to the GB stall to say hello. Noah spotted people carrying aeroplane balloons along the row of stalls opposite. I scanned around to see if I could detect the source of these balloons. We walked up and down, trying to locate the balloon givers. Noah felt it necessary to repeat his request for a balloon approximately every eight seconds. All I found were a group of three teenagers, each with their own deflated balloon, speaking in helium-high voices. I gave them my best teacher look – it’s good to keep practising. I’ll need it again some day.
At last, I found two air hostesses (sorry, flight attendants) from Austrian Airlines, and surmised they might know where the aeroplane balloons were coming from. To my relief, Noah was handed a balloon. And just like that, he was a different child, a happy child, a child who was right where he wanted to be.
Suddenly, a wave of fear swept over me. Balloons are precious things. Keeping them safe from the danger of floating off is not a job to be taken lightly. I wrapped and knotted the ribbon around Noah’s wrist and we started our journey home with me acting as the balloon’s bodyguard.
We got back on the tram and managed to get a seat. I allowed myself to relax and gazed out of the window. It was a full five minutes before I realised the small person next to me was very still and very quiet. I peered around the balloon at his face.
Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no.
I could not carry him, the scooter and the balloon home from the tram stop. There was just no way.
“Noah!” I nudged him. “Noah! Don’t go to sleep!”
“But I’m tired,” he said sleepily.
“Stay awake! Stay awake and when we get in, you can have the biggest chocolate in the world.” Of course, I had no intention of giving him the biggest chocolate in the world. I’ve had kilogram bars of chocolate in my possession in the past and I would never let such a thing through my front door these days. But I’d have said anything to keep him awake.
Miraculously, he did stay awake. We got home at 1.30pm, with only four hours stretching ahead of us until my husband got in, instead of five.
“What do you want to do?” I asked Noah.
“Watch Spot,” he said, running into the front room. “And don’t forget the biggest choc choc you said about before,” he called over his shoulder.
Your wish, my Noah, is my command. Here’s a Kinder Surprise.
We live on a road that runs around a park. It is Our Park. We love our park. It has two unsightly flak towers on either side of it, but luckily, the view from our window is through the middle of them. You get used to them. To Noah, they are a sign of being home.
Over the past 16 months, the park has been ideal for picnics, scooter races, playing in the snow, bike practise and cheap ice lollies from the café (90 cents for a Twister!). It gets us out of the house. It is a place where Noah can’t cause too much trouble, try as he might. It is beautifully kept with flower beds and sprinklers and gardeners in green uniforms. On trips home, I miss the park on our doorstep.
And then there’s the playground. I am not exaggerating when I say that the playground has saved my life. Noah and I have been to that playground in -9 degrees blizzards and 40 degrees heat.
However…as with everything involving a three year old, our park has its challenges.
Challenge 1 – Buzz
When we go to the park, Noah switches to his alter ego, Buzz. Buzz is a naughtier version of Noah. Who snapped the new flag off Noah’s new bike? Buzz. Who left a pile of shoes, socks, coat and hat in the middle of the hall? It was Buzz. Who threw a plate of food on the floor because he didn’t want it? Buzz, of course.
At the park, Noah keeps up a steady stream of conversation with Buzz. If I accidentally call my son by his given name, the name that came to me in a dream when I was pregnant, I get an angry response: “I’m not Noah, I’m Buzz!”
Where is my Noah, then?
Buzz speaks to other children, not as a peer, but as a superior being, an intergalactic space ranger. Sometimes, his authoritative tones make smaller children cry, especially when coupled with Buzz snatching his spade back from someone who has borrowed it.
Austrian children don’t tend to talk to themselves at the park.
Challenge 2 – Sandpit Wars
Noah has a range of sandpit toys. As well as the bog standard bucket and spade, he has a digger, a dump truck, a watering can, ice cream cones and scoop, a brick mould and trowel as well as an array of those shape things you fill with sand and then tip upside down. Other children covet Noah’s sand toys. Neither Noah nor Buzz like other children touching their things. Oh no.
At first, I didn’t mind either. Then the sand toys started to disappear. I’d have to keep track of who had Noah’s bucket as well as keep track of what Noah and Buzz were up to hanging upside down off the slide. His spade and shape things were buried by bigger children and I had to dig up the entire sandpit with a rake before I managed to excavate them. Now I’m not so generous with Noah’s sand toys, especially if the park is busy.
Sandpit wars don’t just involve the children. Sometimes parents get involved. Other parents (who haven’t brought any sand toys with them) have, on occasion, informed Noah (and me) that it is okay for their child to play with Noah’s toys. If they speak German, I blank them, though I hear what they are saying loud and clear. Usually, they’ve heard me speaking English to Noah, or overheard Noah’s and Buzz’s conversation, so they speak English. They have that skill.
Challenge 3 – The Big Swing
Our park has one of those big woven swing things that fits about four children inside. I don’t know the official name for it, but we refer to it as “the big swing”. The big swing is Noah’s current favourite thing in the playground. The big swing is a popular feature: it’s never empty. Wherever Noah is playing, he always has one eye on the big swing. As soon as he notices it is free, he makes a run for it, yelling at me over his shoulder to hurry up. Unfortunately, Noah’s legs do not always carry him fast enough. The big swing is popular with big kids and big kids get there first. Then all hell breaks loose with Noah sobbing at the side of the swing whilst the bigger kids blithely jump aboard for a twenty minute swinging session.
Since moving to a foreign country where I speak little of the language, I have developed into a bit of a wimp. One day, Noah was waiting patiently by the big swing. There were four children sitting in it of ages from about eight to twelve. Two of them were eating ham semmels (rolls for those of you who don’t speak the lingo) and two of them were eating ice lollies. Noah waited, and he waited. They could see he was waiting. I went to stand beside him and glared at them.
“Mummy, are they getting off soon?” Noah enquired.
“I’m sure they will get off and give you a go,” I said loudly.
Except they didn’t. Twenty minutes passed with Noah waiting by the swing. Rolls were finished. When roll wrappers were taken to parents sitting ten metres away chatting, one child stayed behind to guard the swing, and to make sure the desperate three year old who had been patiently waiting to have a go, couldn’t claim his turn.
I glared at the parents. I glared at the children.
And yet. I said nothing. What a wimp. Why didn’t I politely ask if he could have a go? Twelve year olds learn English in school. They watch American films and speak English in an American accent. But I said nothing. And I have felt guilty about it ever since.
Instead, I coaxed Noah home with the promise of two jaffa cakes.
Challenge Four – The Tree House
It isn’t really a tree house because it isn’t in a tree, but I can’t think of another term to use to describe it. There is a wooden house about six feet off the ground. You can get to the house by climbing a rope ladder or walking up these wooden posts with foot rests. You can get down the same way, or there is a fireman’s pole to use.
Noah is far too young for this. He can climb up the rope ladder but getting down is a different matter: it is too daunting when he is six feet off the ground. Last year when he managed to get up there, he dropped down into my arms from the opening where the pole is, but he no longer has a two year old’s fearlessness.
I usually make sure he steers clear of this contraption, but I have always been inclined to slip into a daydream. Whilst Noah is on the slide, my mind sometimes starts to drift. I am called back to reality when I hear my son’s voice screaming at me from the other side of the playground. He has got into the not-treehouse and he can’t get down. I try in vain for ten minutes to coax him down the rope ladder. But no. There is only one way Noah is getting down from that not-tree house and that’s if I go up and get him. I kick my flip-flops off and climb the ladder. He throws himself at me and I grip on for both of our lives, rope burns cutting into the soles of my feet. I try to get him to put his weight on the rope but he’s having none of it and clings tighter around my neck. Inevitably, this results in me losing my footing and my leg falling through the hole in the rope ladder. I then have to perform a back bend worthy of an acrobat to slide Noah off the ladder onto the floor so he lands on his feet. The whole process is extremely undignified.
Next time, my Noah, I promise I will get those big kids off the big swing so you can have a go.
- There are not many board games that a 3 year old will fully understand. 3+ actually means 5.
- Most games involve counting. Although your 3 year old can confidently count to 11 (in English and in German), it seems he cannot count at all whilst playing a board game. Four on the dice is two and two, but two and two does not make four. Confused?
- He will constantly put the dice in the mouth. This will result in a conversation about choking to death, without actually mentioning death because you don’t want him to understand about death yet, but at the same time, you don’t want him to put the dice in his mouth.
- He will not throw the dice sensibly (i.e. so it lands within arm’s reach). He will throw it across the room every single time it is his turn, despite you saying “Keep it on the rug!” every single time it is his turn. He will then excitedly chase the dice. He will get more and more animated every time he chases after the dice, just like a dog and its stick. You do not want him to get excited, you want him to focus on the board game because you want him to pass whatever tests the government are putting in place for four year olds when they start primary school next year.
- You will lose the dice. This will keep you awake at night. Did it somehow land in the bed? Could he choke on it in the middle of the night?
- The box won’t stay box shaped.
- You will later find bits of the board game under the rug, in between the sofa cushions and in the washing machine.
- He won’t take turns.
- The game will randomly be packed up by your 3 year old, inexplicably, 50-75% of the way through.
- On the odd occasion he does see the game through to the end, he will win.
You win, my Noah.
P.S. Orchard games are really good for 3 year olds!
- If it is raining, you will get wet. Very wet. Despite the rain, you have to go outside to take your son to kindergarten and/or to do the daily shop. You cannot carry an umbrella as well as bags of shopping and the scooter, so you go without. Your son, snug in his raincoat, will insist on jumping in or scooting through every puddle you pass, meaning you will be exposed to the rain for tedious periods of time and get even wetter than necessary.
- Your arms will ache a lot. Firstly, there’s the daily shopping which needs to be carried from supermarket to home and you do insist on stuffing as much produce as possible into two carrier bags. Secondly, there’s your son’s scooter which can no longer be left at kindergarten because it is a fire hazard (don’t get me started…) so it has to be managed along with your two shopping bags. Thirdly, there is all of your son’s discarded clothing – his jacket, hat, sunglasses. You may not believe it is possible, but you will invest in a granny trolley. Unfortunately, you will only get to use it on Saturdays when you don’t have (a) a three year old or (b) a scooter to manage as well.
- You will miss Sainsburys (and Tesco and Asda) with a passion you never would have believed was possible. On trips back to England, you will arrange for your parents to do babysitting duty while you go and pay homage to this miraculous store. Miraculous because you can buy food, toiletries, cleaning products, medicines, clothes, books, cooking utensils, towels, stamps and many more things ALL UNDER ONE ROOF. And then, you can put them in the car and drive them to your front door! You will take your time strolling down the aisles, running your hand lovingly along the shelves. You will buy raisins in little packets, Goodies bars, a whole host of junk-free snacks for your three year old, Calpol, Oilatum and fill your suitcase with these luxuries. You will look longingly at the chilled Anabel Karmel meals, a nutritious standby to have in the freezer for when you are just too tired to cook. Oh Sainsburys, how I do love you.
- Other children (natives) just won’t behave in quite the same way as your child. Other children do not leap off their scooter, punch both hands in the air and shout “To infinity and beyond!” before jumping back on and scooting off at break-neck pace. Also, expect to have your parenting mistakes pointed out to you by well-meaning (I think!) old ladies. Don’t expect to understand the advice, though, as it will only be delivered in German.
- You will always be on a diet. You love your son with all of your heart, but the days are long and you will take comfort in gigantic bars of Milka, giant buns (okay whole loaves) of raisin brioche and wine, wine and more wine. You don’t have the same waist or metabolism that you had four years ago so these three things will take their toll and you will need to go on a diet. Repeat ad infinitum. You will do crazy and uncharacteristic things like pay £67 for the 21 Day Fix which will make you miserable for a whole 21 days of your life (or maybe only 10 as that is all I have endured so far).
- Everything will seem so much further away. Instead of your journeys being delayed by traffic, signal failures or tube strikes, you will have to contend with the Scooter Sit, walking along walls, detours through the park as well as hundreds upon hundreds of tantrums. When you hire a car, you will be amazed when it takes twenty minutes to drive somewhere that took you an hour and a half when you braved it by public transport.
- Your three year old will be forced to understand the green cross code, and yet, it will only be understood using a three year old’s warped logic. He knows he must not cross the road unless the green man is on. But what if he gets to the crossing before you and the green man is on? He will think he can cross the road on his own. Cars won’t be able to predict his actions and neither will you. You will live in perpetual fear.
- The kindergarten will make you uneasy. It is not like a British nursery. There are stairs. There are glass glasses rather than plastic. There are marbles. There are three members of staff supervising seventeen kids. Most of these kids are under two. Sometimes you will find a stray child apart from the others who appears have been forgotten. You will not know how much lunch your child has eaten and he cannot be relied upon to tell you truthfully. If your child is in nappies, it might not be changed, or he might come home in a nappy two sizes too small. You will barge into the manager’s office, irate about the lack of potty-training skills only to be met with a blank look of someone who does not speak a word of English. Your child may come home with bruises, scratches or bite marks. There will be no incident form. There will probably be no insight into how the bruise, scratch, bite mark came to be on your child’s skin. And yet, you have a social child who needs constant engagement so you take the risk.
- You will be responsible for your son’s Early Years education. Children in Austria do not start school until they are six. Some of your friends in the UK have children who can write their name at three. You will try to undertake some sort of schooling where nothing seems to be learnt making you doubt your teaching skills and experience. Here is Noah’s most recent report:
- Drama – A* – He is a talented actor who enjoys playing a range of parts
- Reading – A – Enjoys books and stories and has a good comprehension of what the story is about
- Writing – C – Lacks the inclination or concentration to practise
- Maths – C – Steadfast refusal to pay attention to lessons about shapes
- Science – F – Failure to understand the difference between night and day resulting in tedious nocturnal habits
- Music – A – An enthusiastic player of all instruments at his disposal
- P.E. – A* – Outstanding at running, scooting, jumping off things, crawling under things
- Art – B – He has more enthusiasm than natural skill
- You will fall in love with the beautifully tended parks, especially the one on your doorstep. You will get unexpected enjoyment out of every season. Through your child, you will delight in the snow (because your car will never get stuck in it). In autumn, your heart will be warmed by the damp piles of leaves your child has collected for you as a present. You will love the fact you have four months of solid shorts and ice-cream weather, despite the sun cream wars.
My Noah, Vienna is not really our home, but our days together here are precious.
Nothing in the world annoys Noah as much as being forced to get washed and dressed when he is occupied doing something else. This morning he was watching Ben and Holly when I had to get him ready to go to church. The good thing (usually) about Ben and Holly is that each episode us only ten minutes long. Ten minutes before I knew I would have to get him dressed, I told him this would be the last one he was watching. When I turned it off, he went berserk. He attacked me. He bit my arm, ripped my top and threw a wooden car at me. I tried to sit him down on my lap to calm him. He slapped me straight around the face (this is new) and sank his teeth into my wrist and wouldn’t let go. I don’t know whether you have ever experienced this first hand, but when someone has their teeth imbedded in a part of your body where there isn’t much flesh, even if it is your dearly loved three year old, all you want to do is fight back. And I don’t want to go there. I pushed him off and left the room, shutting the door. He came flying after me, crying, wanting to be held.
My mother has kindly bought me the Supernanny book. I’ve read the first three chapters. Admittedly, the woman is not on my wavelength when it comes to toddlers, but Noah’s tantrums are increasingly explosive, so my husband and I will take any advice we can get. The book includes what to do if… using a range of situations and examples of naughty behaviour. But what are you supposed to do when your child does everything in the book, from getting out of bed, to ignoring instructions, to running off when we are outside? In fact, the only thing he doesn’t have issues with is eating. I read Supernanny’s food chapter smugly. So what does Supernanny suggest? The naughty step of course. If only the boy would stay there…
Back to this morning…I refused to hold him and turned away from him (I know, what a bitch!). I told him he had to sit on the naughty chair and when he was calm, we could talk about what he had done. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he kept saying. But sorry isn’t good enough when I have bright red bite marks all up my arm. Anyway, he wouldn’t sit on the chair. I ended up sitting him down and kneeling in front of him to keep him there. According to Jo Frost (who sometimes refers to herself as Jo-Jo), a three year old should sit there for three minutes. After the three minutes(ish), we held each other as if our lives depended on it and he was reasonably calm. I have never watched Supernanny but I imagine it is full of tantrum throwing Noahs; Noah would make good TV and I would be the hopeless mother looking on uselessly!
We are always late for church. Always without exception. It didn’t help today that Noah scooted ten metres away from our front door then refused to scoot any more. Noah goes to Sunday School during the church service. There is a new woman leading it and Noah refused to answer any of her questions apart from when she asked him how old he is, he said he was three, it had been his happy birthday yesterday and he had a Peppa Pig cake. Everything that isn’t happening right now, happened yesterday for Noah. When he meets new people, one of his favourite ways of introducing himself is, “When I was a baby yesterday, I was eating sand.”
After Sunday School, we walked over to the church to receive communion. The vicar can never get his hand on Noah’s head to bless him but he says the words and the sentiment is there so, as far as I am concerned, Noah has had his blessing. We then sit in church for the last ten minutes while notices are read and the final hymn is sung. By a stroke of bad luck, someone had left a blue colouring pencil in the pew. Let’s just say the ancient pew and the board you kneel on now have blue streaks on them. I tried to get it off, but some traces remain.
God bless you, my Noah.
P.S. Rev, if you are reading this, I am so sorry! I think the blue will come off with a bit of water and a cloth! FYI, it’s the pew at the back. Also, I’m sorry you had to step over Noah who was lying across the aisle as you were making your exit. I was engrossed in the hymn: it’s one of my favourites. Here I am Lord, it is I Lord…
P.P.S. God, forgive me (and Noah) for defacing your church. Amen.
“I need a drink,” a soft, quiet but not-at-all-sleepy voice filters into my dreams.
I ignore it.
“Mummy,” soft, quiet, unsleepy voice now moans, “I need a drink.”
“I need a drink! I need a drink! I need a drink!” voice roars.
I get out of bed, put drink in Noah’s hand, remind him we need to leave for the airport in 5 hours, put the covers back over him and get back into bed.
Bang! Bang! Beaker is whacked against the side of his bed.
Shuffle, shuffle shuffle. Covers are kicked off.
I get out of bed, remove beaker from hand, remind him we are getting up early, put covers back on, get into bed.
Repeat x 2 hours. (And this time I had not given him a giant chocolate Gruffalo).
Bleary eyed, pounding head, I need Noah to get up and get dressed. He is unconscious. I put all of the lights on and do my hair whilst having a loud conversation with my mother who is in the next room. Noah is still unconscious.
“Take your wellies off. Your wellies stay here at Nana and Papa’s house.”
“No, I’m wearing my wellies.”
“If you don’t leave your wellies here, you won’t be able to water the garden with Papa next time we come back.”
“We can bring them back with us. I want to take my wellies to my house!”
“You have different wellies at your house.”
“I want these.”
“The pilot won’t let you on the aeroplane with wellies on.”
“Because…wellies aren’t safe. If we crash, you won’t be able to run off the plane fast enough in wellies.”
He concedes to the removal of wellies. I put his shoes on, wondering vaguely if I have jinxed our flight.
We are in a restaurant having breakfast. At least, my husband and I are having breakfast; Noah is rolling around on the floor getting in everyone’s way.
Our gate is announced. It is a fifteen minute walk away. Noah refuses to go to the toilet, meaning he will 100% need to go while we are taking off beneath the fasten-your-seatbelt sign.
It is a necessary evil that we have to walk past the soft play area on the way to the gate. Noah passes it without comment and I think we are safe. But no.
“I need to go in that play area.” He stops walking ten steps past it.
“No. We need to catch our plane. We’ll miss it,” my husband tells him.
“For five minutes!” Noah insists.
Noah turns and runs off back to the play area with my husband in pursuit. Both return: my husband red faced and trying to seem nonchalant to passing gawpers; Noah kicking and screaming.
“Take this and I’ll take him,” my husband says. I am now carrying my rucksack, Noah’s trunki, my husband’s fleece, Noah’s gilet, Noah’s shoes, a bottle of water, my husband’s sunglasses and Noah’s Buzz Lightyear rucksack. I step unsteadily on to the escalator and promptly drop the Buzz Lightyear bag containing Noah’s Vtech tablet. I watch it bounce on every step down the escalator in front of me.
At the bottom of the escalator, I can hear Noah’s screams. I stand there for at least five minutes before I see my husband’s legs appear. His arms fixed tight around a very distressed Noah. We find a bench and attempt to calm Noah. Like a knight in shiny plastic, one of the airport staff arrives in a buggy. He asks us if we’d like a lift. I am so relieved, I hear angels singing the Halleluiah. But no, Noah will not get on the buggy. His screams escalate. I think they will tear his throat to pieces. My husband politely thanks the buggy driver and tells him we won’t take a lift. Above my husband’s head is a glaring yellow sign telling us our gate is a 13 minute walk from here. Thirteen minutes of hell.
“We need to sort his sleep out,” my husband informs me.
But how? How? How? How? We have tried everything.
Noah was actually good on the plane. He was good right up until 4.30 in the afternoon when I was cooking his dinner and he decided he wanted to go to the park. A tantrum ensued which culminated in Noah looking me in the eye as he deliberately weed all oved the floor.
But in between these major tantrums, there was one of those little moments where I look at my son and I thank God he is mine. We had just got home. Noah went through the house like a whirlwind, getting toys out and quickly discarding them. I made a cup of tea and went to see what he was doing. He was sitting at the table, intently cutting up one of his drawings with a confetti of paper on the floor around his chair. What gave my heart a tug was that he had taken it upon himself to put his Mickey Mouse slippers on (wrong feet of course). Such a small thing, but I felt so full of love for him, it could have split me open.
My Noah, you can be a nightmare but you are still perfect to me.