As Elsa approaches her third birthday, it’s time for me to take my annual look back at what I have learnt, whilst attempting valiantly to ignore my own high-speed trajectory towards middle age. A lot has happened since Elsa turned two and there’s plenty more changes on the way, so here are this year’s lessons:
You DO forget the Sleeplessness
Although this time last year Elsa was beginning to settle into a vaguely acceptable pattern of sleeping, the spectre of multiple nightly wake-ups was very much in living memory and still entirely raw. I naturally thought this would scar me for life and that I would never consign those 5am baby alarm calls to the same part of my memory dedicated to mid-90s Britpop B-sides and watching Scunthorpe United in the 1980s. It’s the area of the brain that, when you are reminded of the existence of its contents, you almost look back on with dewy-eyed nostalgia despite knowing full well how painful it was at the time.
However, we must have suffered at least temporary amnesia because Elsa is going to have a baby brother in February and we have just willingly signed ourselves up for the broken sleep all over again. I’m confident that we’ll be better prepared this time, that we’ll have more solutions readily at hand and, if number two is a ‘difficult’ sleeper, at least we’ll know that it doesn’t last forever. Of course, if it does seem to be lasting forever, Elsa will soon be old enough to deal with it, right?
Toddlers Are a Lot of Fun
Elsa played her first intentional practical joke the other day and I was so proud. It’s wasn’t like she rigged up cameras in a fake office and subjected the new receptionist to a barrage of custard pies – she’s not Jeremy Beadle – but instead, I came in to get her up one morning and she shot a sock-clad hand in the air and shouted “Daddy, where’s my hand?!” Goodness knows how long she had been lying there planning it, but it genuinely made me laugh out loud (as, I believe, the kids say).
Also, when they start to be more confident with their speech, you can teach them sayings that are of no use and that they don’t understand, but which make you laugh:
She’s Not a Baby Anymore
I have never previously held a position of responsibility. Professionally, no one has ever depended on me and that is why I actually quite enjoyed the days when Elsa was helpless and needed us for everything. Yesterday, I tried to lift her into her car seat and she scolded me, telling me she could do it herself. She was correct and it made me realise that, although I do really want her to be independent, I’m also a little sad about it. I’m being entirely selfish, but at least I admit it. That earns me some credit, surely.
The one area where she has not yet fully cut the apron strings is at soft play. For such a single-minded child, she still wants one of us to enter those havens of padded plastic with her or she simply will not go. Not only does this make me feel needed, but I also get to play on the slides, so long may this continue.
They Never Cut a Long Story Short
I love that Elsa’s vocabulary is growing at an astonishing rate, that she picks up new words and phrases all the time and that she likes to tell me all about her day. However, anyone who has experience of a toddler recounting a story knows that, if there is a tangent to be found, they will find it. It’s wonderful hearing her tales and the diversions she takes are so cute, but my one piece of advice before asking a toddler how their day has been is to make yourself a cup of tea. You’re in for the evening from then on.
You Become an Expert Negotiator
Soon after they gain the ability to speak, toddlers discover how to bargain and you need to be on top of your game to gain the upper hand. If you’re not FBI hostage negotiator level then you could easily fall foul of a wily two-year-old as I’ve learned from experience.
From birth, you attempt a number of methods to help your child sleep, which then all eventually get dropped. A nightly bottle of milk used to do the trick, as did the dummy, but they have gone by the wayside and, although Elsa sleeps really well once she has drifted off, sometimes she needs to be persuaded to try.
My favoured tactic is to hint at exciting things happening the next day and merely sow the seeds that, if she were to try to kip, they would seem to come around a lot sooner than if she spent the next three hours in her bed, singing Let it Go on a loop. Whether it’s the promise of playing with her grandparents or merely just being allowed to watch two episodes of Little Roy, her new favourite CBeebies offering, subtly weaving these references in can be enough persuasion to stop her jumping up and down on the bed long enough to drift off.
The easiest bedtime ever came last Christmas when she first made the connection between falling asleep, Santa stopping by and receiving gifts. She practically shot up the stairs, ready to nod off and I’m hoping for more of the same next month. It’s this that makes me believe that Wizzard’s I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day was actually all about the trials and tribulations of parenting.