Albert Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result was the definition of madness.
Me, I think it sounds a lot like a job description for parenthood.
Actually, that’s unfair. There is usually a different result eventually, sometimes even the one hoped for, but on a day-to-day level it does feel very much as though raising children is an endless war of attrition, doing the same thing over and over in a kind of ankle-biting Groundhog Day (do groundhogs bite ankles?)
Looking back, I can see where my words, repeated often enough, have wrought change. At the time, though – right now, for example – the steady drip-feed of requests and reminders is more reminiscent of Chinese water torture. And I’m the victim.
The current Top Ten
1. Stop Sniffing
I know that at some point they will learn to manage a cold with tissues and handkerchiefs. In the meantime, though, I am treated to a five-minutely cockling and snorting of snot, an audible swallowing of mucus, a manual transfer of bogies from nose to lip to sleeve. Bleeech.
2. Yes, we do have to go to school
My youngest has been raised on the school run. He’s been trotted out in sling, pram, scooter or bike twice or thrice daily since birth. Yet we still have a battle each day at 2.55 when I have to convince him afresh that we can’t leave his big brother and sister at school overnight.
3. Pick up your pyjamas
This one is part of the dreaded Morning Routine, a hydra-like creature which throws up a new challenge each time the previous one is defeated. The general principle is always the same: please try to leave the room you’re vacating in a state similar to that in which you found it, rather than the set of an alien invasion movie.
4. Turn the TV down
I said turn it down. Down, please. TURN IT DOWN!!! Why are children compelled to watch telly inches away from the screen and at a volume which threatens the eardrums?
5. Flush the toilet
Mother’s Day is coming up, but my children leave me a gift several times a day. Lucky old me.
6. Yes, you do need to wash hands.
This is No3 again. Before any meal or snack time, when he gets wind of the fact that food is in the offing, he will creep up to me. Holding out grubby, germ-encrusted (see number one above) little paws, he asks piteously: “Are I alright?”
No, darling, you is not alright. You is a biohazard. Wash your hands please.
7. Be careful
This is the parental equivalent of those disclaimer notices you see in public places. Of dubious effect both legally and otherwise, they’re an attempt nonetheless to transfer responsibility. Yes, I know you were trying to cross the room on your fingertips without touching the floor, but I did tell you to be careful…
8. Play nicely
Similar in nature (and efficacy) to number 7. You know it is unlikely to do much, but by saying it (and saying it, and saying it) you hope it will give rise to a miracle. At some point before they all leave home.
Sometimes, I wonder if my children think that “No” is their other name. No, you can’t have biscuits for breakfast. No, you can’t come down the stairs on the wheelybug. No, you can’t read till midnight. No, you can’t play Minecraft while walking to school. I try to reframe it sometimes; try not to always answer in the negative. But as long as I’m the subject of such daft requests: No.
10. I love you
This is probably cheating. But all the others notwithstanding, this is the one I say the most. With a grin as we walk to school. With a hug after a falling out. With a smoothing back of hair, into a long-sleeping ear at the end of another busy day. It’s what I’m saying the rest of the time too, and it’s why I’ll never really tire of any of it. I love you. I love you. I love you.