Meet Olly Grumpalot (my not so adorable 2 year old)
I wrote this post on a day that I was being emotionally pummelled by my 2 year old son, Olly. This is not a unique situation for me - read on for the big picture - but I decided rather than responding with the usual range of unsuccessful tactics, I would try something cathartic, and this is it.
I’ve no doubt that parenting is a voyage of self-discovery, constantly taunting us with our limitations, as people. I mean, having been in the midst of an utterly crappy cold, I am expected to function as normal, when all I want to do is tell my kids to bugger off and leave me alone for five minutes. I know how awful that sounds and I’m really not a bad mum, I am quite simply human. The tale of Olly below will attest to that and will hopefully help anyone in a similar situation because you won’t hear anyone at mother and toddler saying, actually, what a miserable sod my child is. But I digress…..
With due date imminent, I took myself off to my local beauty salon for a well earned (and desperately needed) pedicure. While joking with the owner that immaculate toenails seemed somewhat pointless given I’d have little chance to admire them (my feet, last seen at the five month stage), we got on to the subject of babies in general. She had a son, toddler age, who had been (in her own words) a “nightmare baby” until the time he could walk. She put it down to frustration at his limitations and confided that he had grizzled and gurned his way through year one of his life. I was completely taken aback and secretly horrified. How awful for her that her only experience of motherhood had been so trying. Of course, she went on to say, he was like a different child now and had been since he took his first steps, striding into independence with a beam of triumph.
If only I had known that my own experience would be remarkably similar.
Olly was born without incident and weighed it at a healthy 8lb6. He fed beautifully (for the first two weeks) and slept well. Then came the projectile vomiting. I consulted with my health visitor followed swiftly by my GP and a locum and the word “reflux” became like a mantra. Gaviscon was prescribed but the effects were barely noticeable and Olly began to vomit the entire contents of his bottle after almost every feed. Once in a while, my many internet searches had thrown up (pardon the pun) “pyloric stenosis” (followed swiftly by the promise of its relatively rare diagnosis). It never occurred to me this was the culprit and it was only when I made a last minute, desperate dash to the A&E in complete despair that he was diagnosed, at just four weeks old.
Olly was admitted immediately and put on a drip. We were to wait on an appointment at the London Royal where he would have the operation, which was completely curative. I’ve no idea how I functioned those few days on the children ward. I was witness to cases far worse than my son’s and was constantly humbled by those children and their parents.
Olly’s operation was a success and in the seven hours preceding his op I cradled him in my arms while he slept. I think it was right there that we formed a special bond - together we had endured - just Olly and I (my partner had been absent for much of the time looking after our two year old daughter).
I thought of nothing else but going home and settling Olly into a routine but in doing just that, my previously peaceful and contented baby had all but vanished, replaced by a cranky grizzly chap that I barely recognised. Once we ruled out post-op discomfort and sheer hunger, suggestions for his behaviour were few and far between and when his dalliance with PS was a distant (if not unpleasant) memory, I was faced with the awful possibility that my child might just be…..miserable.
I ask you, how many adverts feature a baby with his face screwed up in disgust, a constant whine escaping his lips? No chuckling or gurgling for our Olly, he was permanently tuned into grumpy mode.
You might be wondering if there was a medical or psychological reason that we hadn’t explored but according to the specialists, no. Call it a phase or a magnitude of frustrations (on both sides), but don’t call it a health issue.
How the impact of Olly's misery was far reaching…. My usually accommodating parents were less keen to babysit because he was even grumpier when left with someone else, so getting a break was not at all easy. My partner Matt and I bickered about our situation constantly because, in his mind, Olly was just a constant source of annoyance as his grizzling and grumbling hit varying notes throughout the entire course of every weekend (when Matt was at home). Somewhat predictably, I would jump to Olly's defence whenever Matt would make a negative comment, regardless of whether I had been doing the exact same thing only moments before (he's my son and I look after him so I have carte blance to moan!!) Our daughter Jess was perhaps the only person to enjoy all the negativity surrounding Olly because she was held up as a shining example to aspire to and Matt took much more pleasure in her company so, competitively speaking, Olly was a non-starter.
Teething was my main argument for Olly's discontent (yes, I needed to find an argument, a reason for his behaviour, no way was he Victor Meldrew in a babygro!) Both Olly and his sister were late starters with teeth, both sprouting their first at around the ten month stage so consequently he would have a growth spurt of several teeth at the same time (with red cheeks and drool to prove it!) Then, when he started part-time nursery at one year of age, he picked up all sorts of bugs (which proved to be quite an education for us - slap cheek syndrome - I mean, who knew?!) and these ailments were also just cause for a healthy dose of moaning on Olly's part.
But, unlike my nail technician, whose son had blossomed into a cheery chap once he established his somewhat wobbly independence, Olly's attitude only marginally impoved with the onset of toddling. But I was prepared to take any improvement as a massive bonus, if it meant that my ears stopped ringing for just a few less hours each day, it was progress.
As his ability to communicate improved, so too, did his overall demeanour. Having only uttered the words "mama" or "dada" on occasion (eschewing further expansion of his vocab), he was able to express his needs through pointing and some vigorous head nodding (or shaking!) and we muddled along quite nicely. His temper, when roused, was pretty explosive but he changed beyond all recognition in a matter of months and became an absolute joy to behold, to my daughter's digust!
Oh don't get me wrong, she was happy to have a willing participant to play with, someone who wasn't constantly primed for a moanfest, but with "New Olly" came perhaps (and somewhat unfairly) her fiercest competition.
You see, seeing Olly smile and laugh and play in good humour, quite literally made my spirits dance. My face would light up and I would be enraptured with whatever he was doing, however seemingly insignificant. I had endured over a year of complete despair, grappling with feelings of frustration, helplessness and (inevitably) guilt for feeling such emotions in relation to my own child but that bond I mentioned a while ago had never faltered, good days or bad and here was my reward (finally!)
There was quite simply no way for my daughter to compete because I felt like I was seeing my son for the first time, getting to know him all over again as this happier character emerged and it was an all consuming affair. Don't get me wrong, I tried desperately not to show how enamoured I was with New Olly, or make her feel any less loved as a result, but she was aware he had morphed into an entirely different child and was at odds to cope with that. However, these days she takes advantage of his good mood too by enticing him to play games that will inevitably end in battle!
But when isn’t parenting a series of conflicting emotions – and why is it that when one child is on good form, their sibling seems to be slap, bang in the middle of a crap stage?