The Adventure of Superheroes and Dreams

All my Noah wants in life is to be a superhero. Judging by the number of superheroes that exist in the world of television these days, I am quite sure that a lot of four-year-olds share the same dream. Of course, with Noah, the superhero fixation is intense. And although I find it charming, although I am proud of the boy’s imagination, I do find it all a teeny tiny bit exhausting.

Example:

Last night, my husband was working late, therefore not in the proximity at bedtime. Noah knows what’s what. He knows what he can get away with. He knows I am the weaker one, the one with the more wobbly and changeable rules. My husband is the first to attest that Noah never plays him up at bedtime. Oh no. He saves that particular superpower for me. Two minutes after I said goodnight and left him in his bedroom, he was calling me. I trudged back upstairs.

“I need to be blue, Mummy,” he said. “Blue like the Blue Beetle. How can I get a blue face?”

“You can get face paints. Goodnight, Noah.”

“Will face paints make my face blue?”

“Yes.”

“All over my face and my eyes?”

“Yes. Now, goodnight.”

“But not inside my eyes, Mummy.”

“No, not inside your eyes.”

“Because if paint gets inside my eyes, I won’t be able to see. And it will hurt.”

“Okay. Goodnight now, Noah.”

“Wait, Mummy! What about my feet? How can I get blue feet?”

“You can put face paint on those too. You should have been asleep ages ago so I’m going now.”

“Face paints on the face of my feet?”

“Er…yes…”

“And my legs?”

“Yes.”

“Both sides of my legs?”

“Yes.”

“And I need blue arms.”

“You can use face paints. We’ll get lots of face paints and you can be painted completely blue. But right now, you need to go to sleep.”

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A lot to answer for

Every day, Noah wants to dress up as a superhero. He can go through several different personas in the space of fifteen minutes. I have to watch his superhero moves on my bed. “Watch this, Mummy!” And he launches up in the air at a contorted angle. “And Mummy! Watch this!” And he attempts some sort of gymnastics, landing in a heap. Putting the washing away takes about half an hour because I have to enthuse over so many of Noah’s moves. The bedsheets, pillows and mattress protector have to be reattached to my bed several times a day. There is no escape from the superhero downstairs, either. He launches off my chair (which I am not allowed to sit in) and throws himself across the room crying “Super cat speed!” Every time he needs to pick something up, he declares “Super Gekko muscles!”

I am also required to be a superhero myself in role plays where Noah is director, creator and controller of the game. He tells me everything I have to say and every move I have to make. I often get things wrong which enrages him. There is no room for improv on my part and no opportunity for my own creative exploration. Noah is a creative dictator.

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I’ll be Batman and you be…the green one…and you stand over there and don’t say anything

Noah’s passions have always been relentless from the moment he was born. His first passion, of course, was breastfeeding. As a baby, this was all he was interested in doing all day and (especially) all night. Until he discovered the delights of food and breastfeeding was just at night. All night.

Noah is a spirited and an intense child and I often question whether I am cut out to be the mother of a spirited and intense child. I wonder whether I’m getting it wrong somehow. When we are in a restaurant and Noah is hanging upside down from his seat, refusing to talk in anything but baby speak, refusing to eat anything, I look around the restaurant and every other child of his age is sitting there eating dinner calmly. I have no idea how other parents manage this. Okay, so a lot of these quiet children are on ipads so maybe I do know how a lot of parents manage this…But I have to wonder – did I eat too much Haribo when I was pregnant? Did I make Noah like this? Because I did eat a lot of Haribo.

And yet, as my Dad is fond of saying, it’s the Noahs who change the world. Passion is a gift. Spirit is a gift. Dreams are a gift. So I play along with these superhero games with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. I often find myself gritting my teeth and waiting for Noah’s phases to pass. But do I actually want this phase to pass? Do I want Noah to give up on wanting to be a superhero and get the bad guys? Do I want him to stop believing he can do the impossible?

Hell no.

Today I turn 35. Every time I think of this, I feel like a bucket of ice has been tipped over my head. I am closer to 40 than I am to 30. I am virtually middle-aged. I have grey in my hair and frown lines between my eyebrows and little pouches under my eyes when I smile. I have a little lump that comes and goes on my leg, about the size of the fingernail on my little finger, and I am terrified it will turn into a varicose vein. My metabolism gets a bit slower every hour (although that could have something to do with the amount of jaffa cakes I consume to get me through each day). Today I turn 35 – that magical age when a woman’s fertility suddenly takes a nose dive because my eggs are all old and my ovaries are weary. Yesterday, when I was 34, I was so much more fertile than I am today. But today I turn 35 and I am still chasing after my dream.

Since I was twelve, I have wanted to write novels. In fact, I have written several novels. I wrote a series of novels when I was a teenager. Think Sweet Valley High. Think Sweet Dreams. Think Point Romance. I created my own version called The Kool Kids. I wanted to have a novel published before I was 30. When I was 28, I decided I had better get cracking so I religiously wrote for 20 minutes every single day. After ten months voila I had my first novel. Alas, it wasn’t good enough. So when I went to Vienna and faced two years of unemployment, I decided to neglect my Hausfrau duties (such as doing the washing or tidying up) and spend my free time writing another novel. But an average literary agent receives fifty unsolicited manuscripts a week from people like me. That’s 2600 a year. An average literary agent takes on about three of these writers. This is the kind of thing they teach you at the writing events I have been to: how unlikely it is that you will ever get published. The book I have just written is better than the book I wrote six years ago. But is it good enough? Look at the odds.

If this novel gets rejected 50 times, if this novel doesn’t make it, it will be disappointing. No, it will be soul destroying. Every rejection hurts. Of course it does. I am not particularly resilient by nature. I am not particularly confident or driven. But eventually, I know for a fact, my soul will heal, I will get over it and I will start writing another novel and maybe that will be the one. Who knows?

My spirit and determination is altogether a quieter thing than Noah’s. But I am 35 and I still have a dream. I still have a dream because my Mum and Dad believe in me and they are as close to real life superheroes as you can get. By the time Noah is 35, I hope he is everything he wants to be. And if he isn’t, I hope he still has a dream.

So when Noah is at nursery today, I will go to the shops and find him some face paint. A lot of face paint. And I will come home and paint him blue if that is what he wants. And I will let him paint me green. Or red. Or stripy. I will do whatever I need to do to keep him believing he is a superhero for as long as I possibly can.

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Present Boy…Superpowers include unwrapping other people’s presents and camouflaging himself in the wrapping paper.

P.S. Can anyone tell me where to buy face paints??


 

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The Adventure of More Than Tantrums

My Noah is going through one of those phases again. The naughty phase. The angry phase. The phase where he flat out refuses to get dressed in the morning. Where he holds off going to the toilet for hours on end and sometimes does poo in his pants because he waits so long, he doesn’t get to the toilet in time. The phase where I have absolutely no idea what to do or how to help him.

But why? Why does he go through these phases? Yes, young children are notorious for having tantrums. But at times like this, I can’t believe that Noah’s anger, frustration, temper and aggression are within the realms of normal four-year-old tantrums. Yesterday, he pulled me across the room by my hair because I pressed the pause button on the iPad when he wanted to do it.

He has everything. What’s missing in his life that makes him so angry? What can I do to make him better? Telling him off makes everything worse. What is going on in his head? Should I go and speak to the doctor about him? Or is this just how some children develop?

I have returned to work two days a week. My Mum and Dad take him to nursery and look after him for half a day each. He is particularly difficult getting dressed for my Mum. I usually send her a message just before I go into my first lesson at nine o’clock to see how the morning has gone so far. Last week her response was “don’t ask”. When I got home there was toothpaste all over the armchair. My Mum had brought the toothbrush and flannel to him after failing to get him to wash in the bathroom. He had taken the toothpastey toothbrush and rubbed it over the chair. Yesterday he was hiding in the corner refusing to get washed and dressed when he was due at nursery any minute. I found myself standing in the middle of the staffroom shouting down the phone, “Noah, get dressed immediately or you won’t be able to watch and television for the rest of the day!” To which he replied, “NEVER! GO AWAY!”

The slightest thing can set him off. He is engulfed and powerless in the clutches of his own temper.

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Mid rage

Last week, he picked two daisies on his way out of nursery. In the back of the car on the way home, he dropped one of them. Because I didn’t immediately pull the car over and retrieve it, he started doing his nut, kicking the seat in front, trying to get out of his car seat. When we got home, he refused to get out of the car, lashing out at me as I tried to unstrap him. “GO AWAY!” he screamed at me. So I did. I locked the car door and went inside and watched him out of the window. He stopped crying, managed to wriggle out of his seat belt, climbed into the front so he was sitting behind the steering wheel and pretended to drive the car, merrily switching the hazard lights on and off whilst he was at it. Then he suddenly started screaming his head off, even worse than before. I bolted back outside and dragged his thrashing body from the car. He stood on the pavement, frantically swiping at his eyes, his screams so high pitched I am surprised I could even hear them. He was genuinely distressed and panicked. The problem seemed to be that his eyes hurt. I didn’t know what to do. Did he have something in his eye? Was he reacting to the light? Did he have some sort of migraine? Had he developed meningitis because I left him in the car? I got him to the bathroom and bathed his eyes with a damp flannel. If this didn’t work, I was absolutely going to put him back in the car, drive him to the doctor and insist on being seen. But it did work. He calmed down. I noticed his hands were filthy. He must have rubbed his eye and got something in it. Afterwards, we sat on the bathroom floor, him gripping on to me for dear life. “I will never really go away when you tell me to,” I said. “I will never, ever leave you.”

I decided to devise a reward system for him. I went to Wilko and brought five toys costing £1 each – finger dinosaurs, glitter, a craft kit, two boxes of their own brand lego and a book. I wrapped them all up individually and put them in a bag. Then I drew lots of houses on a sheet of A3 paper. Each house has five windows and when he is a good boy, he gets a smiley face sticker to put in a window. When all the windows of a house have a smiley face in them, he gets to choose one of the presents. I thought this was a genius idea…

As I was explaining the workings of the chart to Noah, he wanted to draw on it. He picked up a pen. I stopped him: I am Controller of the Chart, not him. And that was it. All of his pens were flung across the room. He bit my hand. Everything on the table was swept on to the floor. His tower of DVDs was knocked over. He was screaming. He bit me. I felt the very blood bubbling in my veins. I was about to lose it. “Why are you so naughty?!” I asked him, not at all calmly. “GO AWAY!” he screamed. So I put him in the garden for time out. If I put him anywhere in the house, he wouldn’t stay there and his rage would continue to make his behaviour destructive. And I needed to calm down. So he sat on the back step glowering at me through the glass door whilst I picked up all the things he had thrown on the floor. He didn’t attempt to come inside. He needed a wee so he pootled over to the bush and pulled his swimming trunks down and relieved himself right there. Then he picked up his tennis racket and starting pushing stones into the holes.

We needed to leave and go to his swimming lesson (hence the swimming trunks). I didn’t tell him off. I didn’t tell him that he wouldn’t be able to watch any more television that day as a punishment (although that was his actual punishment). It was his first swimming lesson in a new class and we couldn’t miss it. I was completely drained.

When we got to the changing room and he took his clothes off, I suddenly smelt poo. Noah’s poo to be precise (I can detect it from a mile off).

“Do you need to go to the toilet?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied.

I sniffed the air. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure not.”

“Turn around,” I said.

And there was poo all over the back of his trunks.

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe, tried to think. Was this my fault? Was he so traumatised by me putting him in the garden for time out that he pooed himself? He definitely didn’t have poo on his swimming trunks when we left home because I put his jogging bottoms on over them and I would have noticed. And what the hell was I going to do? Miss the swimming lesson? Could I put his clean pants on and hope the swimming teacher wouldn’t notice?

I took him to the toilet and got the trunks off him. I wiped his bum and then wondered if I could rinse the trunks under the tap. But that was unhygienic. I might give some innocent person gastro enteritis or something from rinsing pooey trunks in a communal sink. So I drenched a wad of toilet paper in water and attempted to wipe the poo off the trunks in this manner.

We went to the poolside for the swimming lesson, Noah in soaking wet but not terribly pooey trunks. My husband (who took Noah for his swimming assessment the week before) had already informed me that they taught with floats rather than armbands which I wasn’t wild about. Then the teacher directed me to the viewing area to watch the lesson. So I couldn’t sit by the poolside and be ready to jump in and save my child if necessary. The viewing area was behind glass windows in a whole other room. I sat on the edge of my seat, craning my neck so I could watch what was going on. There was only one other little boy in the lesson. I watched Noah swim from one side of the pool to the other with a variety of floats. I was impressed. My husband has been taking Noah swimming and took part in his lessons while we were in Vienna. I hadn’t seen him swim for ages. He was leagues better than the other little boy. And then the teacher took his floats away. He started to swim across the pool with no armbands, no floats, only his two little arms and two little legs propelling him through the water. My heart was in my mouth. I stood up and squashed my nose and cheek against the glass.

He did it. He swam across the pool on his own. He can swim!

And just like that, all of his previous antics of the afternoon paled to insignificance. It didn’t matter that he had been naughty. It didn’t matter that he had taken a chunk out of my hand. He wasn’t enraged and screaming and distressed. He was a confident and brilliant little boy swimming without armbands for the very first time. And there were tears of joy and tears of pride hidden very deep in my eyes (because I’m not one to cry).

He is so very challenging and so very wonderful. And I am so very glad he is mine. I just wish I knew how to teach him to react to life a little more calmly. After all, life will test him far more than not being able press the pause button on an iPad.

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Noah’s first present from the chart – finger dinosaurs. They went in the bath with him and then to bed with him. I haven’t seen them since. 

 

The Adventure of Being Back

I am in Essex. Noah is in Essex. My husband is in Vienna. This is not an unusual situation. This has happened a lot over the past two years. But this time it’s different. Why? Because this time we are back for good. This time Noah and I are not staying with my Mum and Dad, we are living in our own house. Five days a week, I am a single parent. And don’t I know it.

I had forgotten how stressful it can be living in your own property. Every time we had a problem with our home in Vienna, we phoned my husband’s office and they sorted it out. It makes me wonder why people actually buy houses rather than rent for the rest of their lives. Since we took our house back over from the tenants, we have had it painted, completely replaced the kitchen floor, replaced the kitchen worktop and hob, bought a new washing machine that couldn’t be fitted, replaced the kitchen tap and had Noah’s bedroom door re-attached three times. Is it just me or is it impossible to find reliable, reasonably priced, skilled workmen who actually turn up when they say they will? Is it just me or is it reasonable to expect Currys to be able to fit a washing machine when you pay them £35 for the privilege?

I have become a nervous wreck about the paintwork and the doors. The doors are so old and crooked, I am worried that Noah and I are going to be stuck on opposite sides one of these days. We frequently have this interaction when he fools about running around upstairs trying to shut me out of rooms: “Noah, don’t play with the doors…Please don’t play with the doors…Don’t play with the doors!…STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS!” I brought the wrong kind of paint for the bathroom and it marks and stains when it is splashed with water. It looks a state already and it has only been painted for a month. How was I supposed to know this? What do I know about paint? So when Noah splashes around in the bath, we frequently have the following interaction: “Noah, don’t splash about because you are ruining the walls…Please don’t splash the walls…Stop splashing the walls!…STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS!”

I don’t even want to get started on what it was like unpacking all of our stuff and getting the house straight. Our house is small and we have a lot of stuff. I am never moving house again. Whenever we need more space, we will just have to build upwards. We’ll end up with a twenty storey house by the time we retire. A twenty storey house with a roof garden.

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Nightmare
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I must admit, I did a great job of Noah’s dinosaur bedroom

And then there’s Noah.

Noah is used to my parents’ house. He has five big boxes of toys there and a treehouse. Seventy percent of the Sky Planner is full of his programmes. To Noah, their house is more home to him than our own house. He has never minded leaving my husband in Vienna whilst we came back to England to stay with my Mum and Dad. He accepted that this was what his life was like. If we had moved back from Vienna and chosen to live there whilst my husband was away, things would probably be okay right now. But I made the decision to move back into our house. In no way, shape or form did I want to live on my own. I made the decision because I thought it would be best for Noah to be near his new nursery, surrounded by his things, to settle into his new home and his new life straight away.

What Noah doesn’t get is what the hell his father is playing at coming and going backwards and forwards to Vienna. Initially, I suggested to my husband that we just tell him Daddy was going to work during the week and leave it at that with no mention of Vienna. I quickly realised this wasn’t going to work because Noah would see he was in our old flat when we Skype.

Last week, he painted a dinosaur from one of the craft kits he got for Christmas and presented it to my husband at the weekend. On Monday morning, ten minutes after my husband had left for the week, I came downstairs to find Noah sitting in his armchair crying his little heart out. Clutched in his little paw was the dinosaur. My husband had forgotten it. Noah cried and cried and I couldn’t console him. I phoned my husband to see if he was still at the station but it went straight to voicemail. “I want daddy!” Noah wailed. His little heart was hurting and I couldn’t make it better. So I gave him a chocolate bunny. Yes, it was 8 o’clock in the morning, but it was a desperate situation: my little boy was feeling real, raw emotional pain for the first time in his life and I was helpless. When my husband found out what happened, he was a wreck too.

So Noah is confused. He is frustrated. He is angry. “I’m sad about Daddy,” he says two or three times a week. And what happens when Noah is confused, frustrated, angry and sad? That little strand of demon child which runs through his veins, rises to the surface.

From the moment he wakes up, he is a challenge. He either wakes up during the night or wakes up before dawn. Seeing as the prospect of getting up and getting Noah through breakfast before 6 a.m. makes me want to throw myself from the roof tops, I allow him to watch YouTube on my phone. By the time I have reconciled myself to the fact that the day must begin, Noah won’t get off the phone. Once this struggle is over and we are standing downstairs in the kitchen having a discussion about breakfast, Noah demands pancakes. If pancakes are not on the menu either because (a) we have no eggs (b) he had pancakes yesterday or (c) I really can’t be bothered to make them, a full-on screaming fit ensues. Once he has calmed down, I have to coax him to eat more than 30% of his breakfast. A month ago he was a vitamin addict. He relished the moment when he got to eat his Bassets chewy vitamin every morning. Now, he refuses to eat them. He doesn’t like them. Urgh. Yuck. They are disgusting. I got him a different flavour; the response was the same. I find slightly sweaty, slightly sticky gummy vitamins under the sofa, by the front door, on his train set etc. etc.

The day continues in this vein. Getting washed, getting dressed, putting his coat and shoes on, lunch, dinner, tidying up, bathtime, bedtime. Every time we’re in the car, Noah insists on winding his window down for “fresh air” even when we’re on the motorway. Every time we’re in the car, Noah takes his shoes and socks off and refuses to let me put them back on. We’re late for absolutely everything.

It’s all one big challenge. It’s a battle. And I’m the one that’s losing.

It was the vitamin fiasco that kicked off events last Thursday. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to it as Black Thursday. On Black Thursday, I lost the plot. Noah has had a cough and cold hanging around for over a week so I decided I was going to make him eat his bloody vitamin. He refused. I cut it up and mixed it in his porridge. He refused. I paused the TV and told him I’d turn it off if he didn’t eat his vitamin. He poured his drink all over the floor. He wouldn’t sit on the naughty step. He wouldn’t stay in his room and think about what he had done. I didn’t know where to go next. He was hitting me and pulling my hair. He refused to get washed and dressed for nursery. He took things off of the sides in the kitchen and threw them on the floor. So I lost it. I went berserk. God only knows what the neighbours thought of me, screeching through the walls at my three-year-old like a demented banshee. In the end, he didn’t go to nursery. We sat on the sofa, both of us emotionally exhausted and held each other. All over a vitamin. I never want to be like that again. I have always been one to choose my battles with Noah. I often let things go. Isn’t that better than finding yourself pushed over the edge of your patience?

Noah is not responding well when he doesn’t get his own way. Today, he tried to show the postman his lightsaber and the postman only gave a fleeting response before continuing on his way to deliver the post to the rest of Brentwood. Noah threw himself to the floor, kicking and screaming. Yesterday, I bought him a little packet of Star Wars cupcakes. He had one and asked for another one. I said no. “You’re not the Mummy I love,” he said. My heart stopped dead in my chest. “What?!” I asked, aghast. “Only joking,” he said quickly. “You are the Mummy I love.” But still…

The end is in sight. My husband moves back to England in three weeks’ time. Life will calm down for Noah. For all of us. I am home. I am where I want to be. I repeat this to myself like a mantra.

On the plus side, Noah has taken well to is his new nursery. He has lots of friends and has already been invited to a birthday party (where he was the only boy). I felt sick in the lead up to his first day. I took him in there and had to stay for ten minutes whilst I signed some forms. He was subdued. He stood silently beside me. When it was time for me to kiss him goodbye, he was pale faced and miserable but he didn’t cry. He didn’t tell me not to go. I left and watched through the window as he went to join the others for circle time and sat there quietly whilst they were singing. He would one hundred percent have rather been going back to his old nursery in Vienna with his old friends and familiar surroundings. Being in a situation where you don’t know anyone is hard for adults, let alone three year olds. I hate changing jobs and having to get to know everything and everyone all over again. But sometimes we have to do these things. And as I stood there watching Noah through the window, I realised that he saw this too. He was feeling a little bit apprehensive, a little bit lonely, a little bit lost. And he just got on with it. I have been proud of my Noah since the day he was born – he is mine and he is a marvel – but as I stood and watched him through the window that day, I saw that rod of iron strength inside him that some people have and some people don’t. I admired him. I respected him. People who have this iron strength will be okay, no matter what life throws at them. When they get knocked down, they can get back up again. It’s a gift. My job as Noah’s mother is to make sure he never loses it.

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In his new nursery uniform

P.S. I have not tried to force Noah’s vitamins on him since.

P.P.S. He still isn’t doing a thing he is told.

The Adventure of Saying Goodbye (to Vienna)

Three more sleeps.

On Monday, the packing company came and packed up eighty boxes of our stuff with minimal disaster. It is now half way to England. My main concern is that the new Christmas decorations I bought will be smashed in transit. But they, like most things in life, are replaceable. Noah took the packing up of his toys fairly well. He grasps the fact that his toys are too big to take on the plane and will be at our “little house” in England when he gets there. There was a minor issue that went like this:

9 a.m. Sunday Morning. I am piling up Noah’s toys along one wall of his bedroom.

Me: Noah, do you want to keep Aylan here or do you want him to go in the big lorry with the rest of your toys?

Noah: In the big lorry.

Me: Are you absolutely sure?

Noah: Yes. In the big lorry with the rest of my toys.

Me: You won’t see him until we get back to England.

Noah: That’s okay. I want him to go in the big lorry.

Aylan, in case you were wondering, is a large teddy bear brought for Noah on our last trip home by my Mum and Dad. My Dad named him Aylan after the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned. He liked the idea of Noah looking after a refugee. Anyway, I put Aylan in the pile to be sent back to England with the rest of Noah’s toys (a) because he would take up a lot of room my suitcase, (b) because it’s stressful when Noah is carrying an enormous teddy around the airport, not least because we are always losing toys at airports and (c) because Noah seemed pretty adamant that Aylan should be packed with the rest of his toys…

4.30 p.m. on Monday, 10 minutes after we had waved the lorry off with all our stuff inside (including Aylan)

Noah: Where’s Aylan?

Fifteen minutes of wailing ensued.

 

Moving abroad for two years is many people’s idea of a dream. Usually, when it comes up in conversation that I live in Vienna, I’m met with responses such as “Wow! How exciting!” And I am the miserable cow who shakes her head and says, “Not really.” For me, it was never going to be easy. My husband knew that when he applied for the job. I am a home bird if ever there was one. Back in May 2013, the job came up in Vienna and my husband presented me with a written proposal listing all of the benefits of going for it. It wasn’t the first time he had broached the subject of doing a foreign posting. I phoned my Mum up and read her out the proposal. Because my Mum saw the £££ signs and (reluctantly) said go for it, because I had just gone back to work after maternity leave, because I wanted to work part-time and couldn’t, because it was a good opportunity for us financially, because it was my husband’s heart’s desire, I agreed. We formed a pact: I would try living in Vienna as long as Noah and I could come home for one week every month and stay with my parents. Last year, every single time I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad at the airport, every time I waved goodbye to them here, it was with tears in my eyes. I am not given to public displays of emotion but, quite honestly, I felt like my heart was breaking. My husband’s posting shouldn’t actually end until next October, but I knew with absolute certainty that I couldn’t do another year here. Have I cried myself to sleep every night for two years? Of course I haven’t. Have I been depressed? No. Although I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and drunk a lot of Gruner Veltliner to see me through. Have I made my husband’s life a living hell? Probably. Sometimes. Do I regret agreeing to come here? Actually, no.

Over the past six weeks, I have felt an over-whelming sense of relief every time I thought about how close I was to moving home. I felt as if I was crawling towards 19th December on my knees. I even planned what I would put as my last Vienese Facebook update at some point in August.

And yet…

I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel a sense of loss. And actually, it’s quite a strong sense of loss. How can this be? I’m flabbergasted by it. I should be excited. I should be deliriously happy.

It all comes down to change. I don’t like change. I don’t embrace it.

 

Last week, I was washing Noah’s sand toys in the bidet (what else is it for, after all?), when I had a bit of a moment. I looked at his buckets and spades and diggers lined up to dry on a towel on the bathroom floor and I felt winded, I felt bereft. The sadness I felt surprised me. Where had it come from? I am not sad to be packing up our things and moving back to England. As I took a deep breath, I realised that I was sad about what those sand toys represent. They represent a part of Noah’s childhood. The park that we live on represents a part of Noah’s childhood – all those hours we have spent there being cooked by the sun or being frozen solid in the winter. I felt the same when I got his pram and his highchair out. These things are obsolete. My Noah is done with them. He is not my baby anymore: he is my clever, strong minded, curious little boy. When we moved here, Noah was 20 months old, he spoke in nouns, he beat up any child who came within a mile radius of him, he had a little white rabbit comforter called Booby that he took everywhere, he couldn’t scoot or ride a bike. Now he is nearly 4, he loves Star Wars, he doesn’t know who Booby is, he wants to have conversations about what happens when you die. The fact is, Noah has spent more of his life in Vienna than he has in England. It feels a little bit as if, when I get on that plane on Saturday, I will be leaving a part of Noah’s childhood behind. Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes emotions are.

 

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January 2014, at our park

The other thing which makes me sad about leaving is that I am taking my Noah away from the life he knows. I am taking him away from the kindergarten he is happy at, from the friendships he has formed, from the enormous flat he can ride a bike around. Of course, even if we stayed until the end of my husband’s contract, we would still have to take him away from these things. I think I am seeing this through my own eyes rather than a three year old’s. I know what it feels like to leave your home and I am projecting those feelings on to Noah.

“How do you feel about moving back to England?” I ask him frequently.

“Alright,” he says. “I can’t wait to go to my new nursery! It’s great!”

I realised just how often I must have spoken to him about this when he turned to me yesterday and said, “So, Mummy, how do you feel about moving back to our little house?”

Noah is 3 years old. His language is developing every day but it is by no means advanced. He isn’t capable of telling me how he feels about moving back to England. He isn’t capable of understanding it himself. He pooed in his pants every day last week which is something he never, ever did whilst he was potty training well over a year ago. Is that relevant? Is he channelling his uncertainty about moving back to England by pooing in his pants? Or is he just being a sod? He certainly isn’t doing very much of what he is told at the moment. Even phone calls to Father Christmas and threats of him losing presents doesn’t seem to hold any sway with him. He’ll be okay. I know he’ll be okay. I know this experience won’t damage him in any way. But I still feel sad on his behalf, especially when I see him running home from kindergarten every day, hand in hand with his best friend.

 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “What are the top five things you’ll miss about Vienna?” “There aren’t five. I will miss absolutely nothing about Vienna!” I exclaimed. But that’s not true. I will miss living on the park, I will miss my husband being home in time to play with Noah, I will miss the wine, I will miss the Sachertorte, I will miss the public transport, I will miss that most things are within walking distance, I will miss the space we have in our flat. I will miss the lifestyle we have been able to afford. I will miss my friends.

 

I know I am doing the right thing going home; I couldn’t bear to imagine the alternative. I have had a hard year in lots of ways. We all have them. Going home is faced with its own challenges: unpacking, cramming all of our stuff into a two up, two down cottage, finding myself a job. I am surprised to realise that I will have to adapt, to settle back in. But I am looking forward to starting up my life again in my beloved Essex. I have not liked living in Vienna but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it as a place. There is a grace and a grandeur about it. I respect it. But there’s no place like Essex.

Auf Wiedersehen Vienna, from my Noah and from me. Over and out.

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There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
My Noah and Me

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The Adventure of Living with Mini Maker

Six weeks ago, I glanced at Noah and did a double take. Not only was he sitting down with a colouring book in front of him, miraculously, he was actually colouring in. Up until this point, Noah’s interaction with colouring books involved him picking up a crayon (usually black) and scribbling all over the picture on the page, then turning to the next page and doing the same until the whole colouring book was one mass of scribbled out pictures. To my dismay, I found Noah could actually colour in amazingly well for a three year old. And thus, Mini Maker was born.

Noah is a child who develops obsessional phases with things. As quickly as these phases come, they are gone again. Once he had an obsession with clementines and would eat at least five every day. When he was eighteen months old, he had an obsession with sticker books. “Stick-stick” was one of his first words. I was spending about £30 a month on the things and that was me limiting myself. His latest obsession is arts and crafts and, like most of Noah’s obsessions, this one is relentless and exhausting.

Every day when I pick him up from kindergarten, he presents me with a pile of drawings which he claims are for me. When my husband gets home from work, he is then presented with the same drawings which are now for him. Sometimes, the kindergarten make things with the children to adorn the walls. Noah has issues with this. He doesn’t want to leave things he has made at kindergarten, he wants to bring them home the very same day. A couple of weeks ago, I arrived to find cardboard owls hanging from the ceiling. Noah pointed out his one and wanted to take it home. “You can take it home next week,” the practitioner told him. A meltdown ensued. The owl was removed from the ceiling and has since been sitting on our bookshelf. We spent most of that week making owls at home. We must have made ten owls, one of which was taken back into kindergarten and presented to the pedagog.

Whenever we go back to England, my Aunt buys Noah a present. When we returned in October, she had bought him a whole bag of arts and crafts goodies – colouring pencils, stickers, a sharpener, pencil case, coloured paper, scissors and, Noah’s favourite, “MY VERY OWN SELLOTAPE!!!” I left him with my Dad while I went to look at a primary school we are thinking of sending him to. When I left at 9 a.m., Noah and Dad were at the kitchen table making things with pompoms and pipe cleaners. When I returned at 11 a.m., Noah and Dad were still at the kitchen table making things with pompoms and pipe cleaners.

I stalk Pinterest for ideas. It’s like being a teacher all over again, planning my lessons with Noah. He knows his own mind when it comes to his artistic creations. He knows his own mind full stop. He won’t be guided and our creations are never Pinterest worthy. The week of Halloween, we did potato stamping in the shape of a pumpkin. But Noah didn’t like the pumpkins having eyes and mouth so he painted over them. We also did finger-painting around a bat shape on black paper. This was a particular favourite and he asked to do it again a few days later. When he said, “I want to make a bat,” I thought he said, “I want to make a rat,” so I cut him out a giant rat shape. This caused a meltdown until I finally understood what he meant. Then he painted the rat too.

If I hear the Mr. Maker theme tune, I have to shoot across the room and pay full attention because, at some point that day, I will be asked to replicate whatever it was Mr. Maker made.
Noah: Can you draw me what Mr. Maker drew this morning?
Me: What was it?
Noah: That thing that Mr. Maker drew this morning!
Me: What did Mr. Maker draw this morning?
Noah: I don’t know. Do you know?
Me: No, I don’t know. What did it look like?
Noah: A fridge with feet.
Me: A fridge? A fridge that we put food inside? With feet?
Noah: I SAID I WANT THAT THING THAT MR MAKER DID DRAW THIS MORNING!!!!

Obviously, I am delighted Noah is exploring his creative side. I am delighted that he has proved himself capable of sitting down and doing an activity calmly for a prolonged period of time. But as well as the fact that his constant desire to make things is intense, it is also problematic in other ways. Firstly, it’s expensive. I bought him a big pack of paper and set of felt tip pens (never again) in IKEA and they were used up within a week. I’ve also bought him countless craft kits – wooden elephants, paper boxes, foam dinosaurs, Christmas cards. Second problem: it’s messy. Last week, I was on the phone to the council about reinstating our parking permit and Noah was painting at the kitchen table. He spilt an entire pot of blue paint on my Mum’s upholstered chair. I had to phone her in hospital to break the news. Today, Noah started to paint the outside of the paint pots. I told him to stop so he roared in outrage and threw the purple paint pot at the white kitchen wall. He has several tops I cannot get the paint out of to save my life. But my biggest problem is that I am running out of ideas. We have already made Christmas cards for everyone we know. Maybe we should make Happy New Year cards too…

Maybe my Noah will be a world famous artist one day. Maybe he will win the Turner Prize and I will be interviewed about what he was like as a child and I will be able to regale journalists with these tales. Most likely, Noah will have grown out of this phase by Christmas and all the craft kits I have stuffed his sack with will remain unopened, left on the shelf to grow dusty because that is the way things go with a three year old. Or is that just my Noah?

Mini Master Maker
Mini Master Maker


The Twinkle Diaries

The Adventure of Toys, Toys, Toys and Treehouses

Christmas.
I know. It’s 14th October. It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas. And yet, it’s difficult to avoid it. Vienna does Christmas in style: renowned for its Christmas Markets, it has a reputation to uphold. Advent calendars and decorations are in the shops already. Noah’s eyes boggle in excitement at the shiny red and green splendour of it all. And it’s still 10 weeks away.
Noah’s Chirstmas list is all written, decorated and ready to be posted to Father Christmas next week when we are in England (because Royal Mail will send a reply). This year will be the first time he has asked for things himself. To be honest, I am a bit dismayed – I had so many good ideas for what he’d like! But my baby is growing up and God knows he’s got his own mind, so this year, it’s over to him.

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About a month ago, we had the following conversation on the way to nursery (thanks to a certain episode of Peppa Pig):
Noah: Mummy, please can I have a treehouse?
Me: You can’t have a treehouse. We haven’t got a garden so we haven’t got any trees.
Noah: In Nana and Papa’s garden, I mean.
At three and a half years old, the boy sees exactly how the land lies. Noah went straight to the heart of the situation: if anyone was going to get him a tree house, it would be my Mum and Dad. So my Mum commissioned me to make Noah a star chart. She had a long list of things Noah had to do to get stars. At first, she told him he would need 300 stars, but she later changed it to 100. To add to the confusion, she was calling the stars “brownie points”. This Skype conversation mostly went over Noah’s head. My Dad would get Noah a treehouse tomorrow as a just because present (just because you are my Grandson).
Anyway, Noah now has a star chart with a skewered picture of a treehouse and Father Christmas (drawn by my own fair hand) at the top. He gets a star every time he does something good, but a red dot goes over one of the stars when he does something naughty. When he is threatened with a red dot, he says, “I don’t really want a treehouse. I was only pretending.” He is mostly being good at the moment, which is just as well because the treehouse has already been sourced, payed for and delivered. I just hope it doesn’t snow this Christmas, otherwise we’ll be spending a lot of time outside freezing ourselves to death whilst Noah delights in his new treehouse.
My husband and I have already bought Noah a Playmobil farm house, tractor and some animals to go with it. Playmobil is quite big over here. I bought it on Amazon.de because it worked out £30 cheaper than buying the same products in England. However, as I paid for it, I realised I had somehow signed up to the German Amazon Prime. I went to cancel it but realised I’d actually been a member for 6 months and the €49 had come out of our account in May. Damn and blast bloody Google Translate! How had I missed that?! Now I am desperately racking my brains to think of things I can buy to make use of the free delivery before we move back to England.
Thankfully, Noah doesn’t watch children’s television channels because we live in Austria, so Noah hasn’t seen any toy adverts. He has, however, been watching the Toy Genie on YouTube, and for the past two months has been saying, “Oh! I wish I had all these Paw Patrol toys!” in a small, hard done by voice, as if he doesn’t have a palatial bedroom crammed with toys as it is. So another thing on his list is Paw Patrol toys and I am having a bit of an issue with these. Firstly, he wants all of the pups with their vehicles. When he was dictating his letter to Father Christmas, he expressly reminded me to write down the names of each pup, just in case Father Christmas didn’t know what they were called. Each pup with their vehicle should cost about £13. Oh, if only life were that simple. It appears these fairly reasonably priced toys are being discontinued. What is replacing them? Super-duper lights and sound Paw Patrol trucks which cost £25 each. There are six pups and Ryder, the boy who looks after them. If Noah’s wish is to be fulfilled, that’s £175 on Paw Patrol toys! Some shops still have the old ones, although on Amazon they’ve put the prices up to £20+. So I am doing what any concerned mother would do: trying to buy up the old ones whilst they are still around. What does this mean? It means we have already blown our budget for Noah’s Christmas presents. Oh, yes, and he also wants the Paw Patrol “house” as he calls it.
My husband and I have conflicting philosophies surrounding Christmas presents. My husband’s stance is thus: Noah has a room full of toys, many of which he never plays with. Noah does not need a lot of toys for Christmas. If people want to give him something for Christmas, they should buy him something small and then give him money for his savings account if they so wish. My husband is a sensible man. He is a practical man. He is not a material man. He thinks of the people in this world who have nothing. And he’s not wrong. I am sure many readers would agree with him. Last year, Noah got so many presents, he got fed up of opening them. My head tells me husband is not wrong…

But my heart says otherwise. I can’t agree with him: it’s just not me. It’s not what I come from. When my husband declared that Noah doesn’t need “sacks and sacks” of presents this year, my family were aghast. What? No sacks? He usually gets a sack from us, a sack (treehouse sized) from my Mum and Dad, a small sack from my sister and a sack from my Aunt and Nan. It was my Nan who actually started the sack tradition. My Nan was a single parent at 20 years old with twins. She had no family around her. It was the 1950s and she was a housekeeper. In other words, she was skint. But she saved hard to make sure my Dad and my Aunt had a sack of presents every Christmas. Despite my husband’s moral barometer, my family will not be deterred from buying lots of presents (sorry dearest). My husband’s family get Noah lots of presents too so I really don’t know where he gets it from.
How much should children get at Christmas? It’s a controversial matter. Out of curiosity, I googled how much do you spend on your children at Christmas and was taken to a handful of parenting forums. I discovered that it really varies. Some parents were saying £50, some £500. There is no right or wrong answer. Partly, I suppose it depends on how much you have. I think we have spent enough now, but I keep seeing things and thinking Noah would like that.
Also, should Chirstmas be about getting lots of presents? What is Christmas really about? I’m a Christian: I know what Christmas is about. I’ve also heard sermons on what it shouldn’t be about.
But this is my stance: treehouses are built for children. There are websites full of different treehouse designs for children. So if some children in this world are lucky enough to be born into a family who can afford to buy them treehouses, why shouldn’t Noah be one of them? Part of the magic of Christmas for children, is wishing for something and then getting it. Dreams coming true for three year olds is all about toys and treehouses.
My husband worries Noah will be spoilt. His theories are noble and perhaps mine aren’t. But as we were growing up, my sister and I had everything we could possibly wish for. We are nicknamed “The Princesses” by the rest of my Mum’s family. Although I have been privileged, I don’t come from a wealthy background; I come from a very hard-working one. My Mum is 64 and frequently works 12 hour days. My Dad is always crusading around the country for the greater good of mankind. My sister and I may well be Princesses, but we are good people and we work hard and we value everything we have ever been given. Being spoilt is not always about how much you are given in your life, it is about what you think you are entitled to. We are living in a material world and I am a material girl. And I want to give Noah what I can.

Noah and his sacks last year
Noah and his sacks last year

The Twinkle Diaries
Mami 2 Five

Noah’s 10 Strange and Slightly Annoying Habits/Obsessions of the Moment

I don’t want to moan about my son. But I am going to just a little bit. I am fully aware that Noah is a remarkable little person. I am fully aware that for every annoying habit he has, he has an even bigger endearing trait. He is three years old, I tell myself. Most of the time, I am patient. Most of the time, I try to see the world from his perspective. He goes through phases and some of these phases are trying. It’s just a phase, I tell myself. It will pass. He will grow out of it. But still, I’m just a teeny tiny miniscule bit exhausted.

Here are Noah’s top 10 favourite things to do at the moment from the least to the most annoying:

  1. He has taken to sleeping in his slippers. These are blue, slightly too big, and have Mickey Mouse on them. In itself, this habit is quite endearing. When I check on him before I go to bed, all I can usually see of him is his little slippered feet sticking out under the duvet. God love him, I think with a smile. What is annoying about this is the tracking down of the slippers just as he is climbing into bed. One is usually easy to find; the other often proves elusive.
  2. He has started biting his toenails. Surely he will grow out of this as he gets bigger and less supple? Unless he is hypermobile like me*. He then complains his big toe hurts and needs cream on it. If this happened once, or even twice, a day it would be okay…(*Please note – I do not bite my own toenails.)
  3. He insists on wiping his own bum after doing a poo. Bum wiping is not one of the aspects of motherhood that has come easily to me. I’d love it if I didn’t have to wipe his bum for him anymore. But he doesn’t do it properly which means I have to intervene which usually means me chasing him around the flat with the toilet paper. Sorry for talking about poo.
  4. He is obsessed with plasters. Last week, he insisted on wearing a plaster on his finger every day because it “hurt”. At first I indulged him. It was easier than having to suffer one of his tantrums over it. But then he used up a whole packet of plasters and I was a bit worried his finger was going to shrivel up. So I suffered a 45 minute tantrum where the only words were “I want a plaster” over and over and over and over a hundred times until, exhausted, he fell asleep. What were the first words out of his mouth in the morning (at 5am)? “I want a plaaaaaaaaaaaaster!”
  5. He is “afraid” of the Big Bad Mouse. One of his current favourite reads is The Gruffalo’s Child. Every day this week, he has drawn a picture of the Big Bad Mouse when I pick him up from nursery. The Big Bad Mouse is also under his bed. Apparently, this is why he wakes up at night. I have tried to explain to him that the Big Bad Mouse doesn’t exist, it’s really only a little mouse. I remind him of the story of The Gruffalo. But it seems that intertextuality is too difficult a concept for a three year old to grasp.
  6. He watches videos of adults playing with toys on YouTube. One is a man (American) who opens toys with his daughter. He usually opens some sort of plastic egg that has sweets and a toy inside. You can hear him eating the sweets as he gives a running commentary on the toy. Annoying. But he has nothing on the woman (also American) who plays with Paw Patrol toys. Her favourite expression is “Super cool!” In today’s video she had buried the Paw Patrol figures in a sandpit and was digging them back up again. What the duck?
  7. He puts all of his toys in bags. I can only find half of his pirates. Most of his train track has disappeared. Where are the cars for his garage? All in random bags. He often wants to take these bags out with him. Can he carry them? No. This was the conversation we had this morning as he was stuffing Happyland people into his Postman Pat bag:

Noah: Mummy, can I take some toys to nursery?

Me: You can take one toy.

Noah: I want to take lots of toys! (Gets Postman Pat bag and starts to fill it)

Me: That’s enough! You won’t able to carry all that. I’m not going to carry it for you.

Noah: I can carry it because I am Superboy.

Did he take the whole rucksack full of toys? Yes. Who carried it? Me.

  1. He pulls my hairband out of my hair. Seems like an innocent enough thing but this infuriates me. Every mother in the world feels some level of harassment when they are trying to leave the house in the morning. Right? First I have to coax Noah into the bathroom for a wash. Then I have to grapple him into his clothes whilst he won’t stand still for a second. Then I have to find a pair of matching shoes (the pair that he actually wants to wear). It is when I am kneeling down trying to get the shoes on his feet that he makes his move and whips the hairband out. This annoys me because (a) it hurts (b) I have to go back into the bedroom and brush my hair back into a ponytail and (c) he won’t give the hairband back to me and hairbands in my house are like gold dust.
  2. He refuses to scoot on his scooter. He wants to be pulled along by his scooter pull rather than scoot. On the one hand, it is safer because I know he isn’t going to accidentally scoot in front of a car. But it also means he is always bumping into the back of my heels, falling off when we go round corners or ploughing in to things.
  3. He acts like a baby. As in he talks in a baby voice. A lot of the time he doesn’t actually speak at all, just makes whinging baby noises and points at what he wants. He can keep this up all day. I have become one of those mothers in a shop snapping at her child, “Stop acting like a baby!” But when I say it, I don’t mean stop being immature, I really mean stop acting like a baby.

I am not being negative about my Noah. Not really. All threenagers are hard work, right? I know that these habits/mild obsessions mean he is developing his character. And what a little character he is. Whilst these 10 things annoy me, they also make me proud. But not number 10. Or 8 and 9. Or 2…

I’m saving these anecdotes up for when he gets married. And yes, I am planning on doing a Mother of the Groom speech.

Do you remember when Noah was three and wore his Mickey Mouse Slippers to bed? Ha ha ha. Do you remember when he wore a plaster on his finger for a month and the finger fell off? Ha ha ha.

My Noah, you are my treasure.

A few toys to take to kindergarten.
A few toys to take to kindergarten.
The big brown circle with legs is the Big Bad Mouse. The blue things are Darth Vader and his men (last week's obsession). The shadow is my arm taking the picture.
The big brown circle with legs is the Big Bad Mouse. The blue things are Darth Vader and his men (last week’s obsession). The shadow is my arm taking the picture.

You Baby Me Mummy