We’ve reached Level 2.
It has a strange ring to it. It very much sounds like an accomplishment, like being deemed worthy to move on to a more difficult challenge. However, it’s a covid-countdown and we’re actually moving backwards.
Since the start of lockdown, our government school kids have, unexpectedly, been sent home for the second time last month. This pretty much translated to sending many moms into a war zone.
Since March, eager liquor buyers have also, without warning, been sent home a second time last month. This pretty much translated to sending many moms to the front lines unarmed.
Luckily both of those chaos-causers have been muzzled now. We still wear our muzzles too, but at least our kids are all getting educated by professionals again. And we can drink to that.
All three of my kids have been back at school successfully for over two weeks now, so I assume it’s safe to drop my shoulders and exhale.
We’re also pretty much back on track with the school nights’ routine. And that’s serious business.
I strongly advocate a bedtime of 19:00. I also seriously support a calm wind down time before bed – during which the possible high level enthusiasm of the day is ebbed by patient, peaceful parenting.
The reality is much different. Much, much.
After wasting the entire afternoon being “too bored and too tired to play anything” (translates to campaigning for some relaxing screen time, which is usually, ideally, not allowed during the week), the younger two suddenly experience a burst of energy. They play dark-hide-and-seek-touchers. It’s a combination of hide-&-seek and tag, but with the lights off. And instead of silently hiding until you’re found, you loudly jump out whenever you have the opportunity to scare the other one, and touch him (translates to an opportunity to punch your brother), which results in him becoming the seeker. It sounds complicated, but it’s pretty much a loud game without rules. I hate it. It causes lots of screaming, dangerously escalating energy levels, and rapid crashing at the end – usually with someone in tears.
The middle one is a stealth master and his scare tactics jolt me even from where I’m trying to pack lunch boxes in the kitchen. The youngest one is oblivious. He can finally reach the light switches and is just focused on turning all the lights off. The middle one intensifies his jump-roars to draw the youngest one’s attention. The aim of his game is obviously to reach the crash.
I give up on asking for quieter roars. There’s no taming a lion-on-the-hunt. I also give up on asking for the kitchen light to stay on. There’s no taming a four-year old. I light a candle. They’re like moths to the flame. The little one gets only half way through the first verse of the happy birthday song before not being able to contain himself. He blows out the candle. The middle one wants to light the candle again. The eldest one emerges from somewhere in the jungle at the sound of happy birthday and the prospect of cake. He now wants to drip wax on his hand until it burns. I am amazed. They calmly enjoy an activity that complements each one’s interest, without any competition. The middle one lights the candle and some other things, the eldest one scorches his hands with wax, the little one destroys the flame with misdirected blows and spit. It keeps them busy for more than half an hour. I savour the silence and try to not become too anxious about my children displaying strong signs of pyromania, masochism, and vindictiveness.
I verbally sound the bed routine alarm. I conduct a quick, but thorough sight and smell check to determine the level of bath they need. Timewise, there’s a huge difference between a quick handshower rinse, a hot soapy soak, and a proper top-to-toe scrub. Tonight, soaking will suffice. I thus kindly request that they don’t wet their hair. It’s very much like requesting a toddler to sleep late on a Saturday. There’s just no amount of voice force that can guarantee the required outcome.
I very briefly leave the bathroom to lay out pyjamas, choose clothes for tomorrow that aren’t too small, close windows and blinds, switch on heaters, pick up socks, pair shoes, redistribute toys between rooms, shoo the cat off the bed, kick some marbles into a corner, fully close drawers, properly rinse toothbrushes, unknot quadruple knotted shoelaces, shoo the cat off the bed again, smell some socks, remove perfectly clean clothes from their laundry baskets, check the time, confiscate snacks from their bedstands, prep their beds, and swiftly eat the snacks.
I return to find the middle child outside the bath. Points for relatively dry hair, but so is the rest of his upper body. I continue to wash him outside the bath, because, although his eyebrows are still full of sand, he insists that he washed himself and doesn’t need to get back in.
I remove the wet washcloth hat the little one made. His hair needs to be washed now, because the washcloth was a soap boat before it became a hat, and there are pieces of (what looks like) chewed soap bar stuck in his hair. For someone that enjoys making waterfalls over his own head (sometimes when not even in the bath), he is awfully outraged by getting his hair rinsed. Actually, I’ve mastered the art of not getting a splash of rinse water into a toddler’s eye, but sometimes this effort just isn’t worth the time. (Plus, they should listen when I request dry hair. And late Saturday mornings.) I quickly dump two large jugs of water over his head and endure the accusations of injustice.
I summon him to the dreaded hair drier. He insists that I switch it on ice cold. The hair drier doesn’t have an ice cold setting. I keep it as far away from his hair as possible and vigorously brush his hair to make up for the lack of wind. He bends down lower and lower until he is literally in the child’s pose on the floor. I make the silly mistake to blow air on his bum. He can’t get enough of this. I unplug the hair drier and fake a power failure to end the fun.
His hair is still wet, but we’re behind schedule. I move him into a wrestling death grip under my arm to brush his teeth. His lower body is riverdancing, but he knows better than to close his mouth. (It’s happened before that I continued brushing over the area where his teeth should be.) He swallows the first sip of water and spits the second. Every time. I give him the same speech about how he just swallowed all the plague and germs into his tummy, where it’ll hurt and make him feel sick. He narrows his eyes in disbelief. I narrow my eyes back in try-to-remember-that-next-time.
He is suddenly too tired to walk and collapses on the floor. He holds out his hand for me to help him up, as if he is 90 years older than his current age. It’s emphasized by real groans as he struggles to make himself as heavy as possible. I humour him and pull him along the floor for a few steps, then give up and walk away. He is four again and vigorously toddles behind me. I remind him of how tired he is when I help him into bed, but he denies ever admitting that.
We’ve rounded the proverbial corner. I start talking slower, in a whisper. I dramatically yawn to pass the contagion. I elaborate on how much I’d love to go to bed now. (This part is not even just for psychological effect.) I keep my movements slow, while choosing a soft toy as bed partner. I put it back before he finishes commenting on how it’s not the right one for tonight. I know the routine. It takes a few attempts to find one he approves of. Home stretch. I sing five Twinkle Twinkle songs, give his chosen amount of night kisses (grateful that it’s 19 and not 103 like last night). I finally receive permission to exit his room to attend to the middle one. I leave the door open just the right amount of space, but he still double checks.
One down, two to go.
The middle one is hungry. I remind him that we just had dinner. He reminds me that he didn’t finish his food. I remind him that it’s still there and I can go fetch it. He is thirsty then. I remind him that he’ll have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo if he drinks more. The little one calls. He needs to go to the loo again, now. The middle one calls. He wants to know if I think he’ll be able to build a teleporting machine when he is older, and how that will work exactly. The little one calls. He needs me to cut off the label from his sheet. The middle one wants to know about the teleporter again. The little one asked if the middle one got food, because then he also wants some. I go downstairs and return with plain buttered toast for both. They gobble it down as if it’s pudding. They want to wash their hands. I remind myself how much I wanted to have children.
All three bedrooms are finally quiet. I carefully double-check-listen, let out a breath, lower my shoulders, and do a quick victory jiggle.
Level 1 completed.