“What would you like to be when you grow up Evie?”
“A princess or maybe I would work at ASDA with Mummy so we could see each other every day and have dinner in the cafe.”
“That sounds like fun. What about you Jem?”
“Just a mummy. Or maybe a space man.”
“Hm. Ok. And you, Scarlett?”
(Long pause). “I would not like to be a fairy because when I was flying I might stop flapping my wings and then I would fall down from the sky and I would die.”
Poor Scarlett. She seems to have developed something of a morbid fixation recently. Last week I was greeted daily with sudden out bursts of “I will be sad when you die, Daddy” accompanied by clinging cuddles and a deep frown across her forehead. The week before it was questions like “Why do people die?” and “Who will look after us when you are dead?”. Not the kind of question you want thrust upon you unexpectedly.
Yet despite my best attempts at calm reassurance – “Oh, I won’t be dying for a long time yet, sweetheart”, “Just imagine how full the World would be if no one ever died!” and “There are lots of people who love you and would look after you but you needn’t worry; me and Mummy aren’t going to die any time soon” – her obsession shows no signs of abating.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so honest when the question of death was first raised a few years ago. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife so it seemed dishonest to tell my children anything except that when you die, your mind is no longer there and your body stops moving. Of course, I tried to couch it in a way that wouldn’t upset a two year old but despite my best efforts there was a period of a few months when they wanted to know more. It started with questions like “Will you die?”, “Will Mummy Die?”, “Will Rara die?”, “Will Nana die?”, and then moved on to “Do birds die?”, “Do dogs die?”, “Do trees die?”, “Do lamposts die?”, “Do cars die?”…
All of which I would try to answer truthfully and yet reassuringly. “Yes, but not for a long time”, “Everything that’s alive dies eventually, but don’t forget: new ones are born, too”, “No, lamposts were never alive”, “No, cars were never alive either. Well, except for leather seats… um, never mind.”
J blames Disney. The only TV our girls ever watch is a weekly Disney film. And is there a single Disney film that doesn’t involve death – generally of one (or both) parents?
In any case, matters weren’t helped by our visit to the National Coal Mining Museum over Easter. We took part in a guided tour through an old mine works, 140m below ground which the girls had been very excited about, thrilled at the thought of being deep underground and of houses, cars and people all being above their heads. Only the guide’s gallows humour was rather lost on three four year olds; so when he joked, as we rattled downwards in a crowded lift, that only last week the rope had snapped and everyone had died, except the guide, Scarlett began to look worried. And when he told the tale of another mine where the shaft had collapsed and hundreds of men and boys had suffocated to death, she grew more nervous still. Shortly afterwards, he joked to another child that if they heard rushing water not to try following him, he’d have long since legged it up the escape tunnel.
Jem didn’t seem to be affected but Evie was – she said several times, after the we returned to the surface, that she didn’t like it there and didn’t think we should come back. And, as for Scarlett, it just filled her with more questions about death. “Why do you die if you have no air?”, “Do people really die underground?”, “Would you die if the lift fell off its rope?”, “If all the houses and cars and people walking above us fell down would we die?”.
I can only see two ways to deal with this. Either just keep answering her questions truthfully and honestly… or change her name to Wednesday Addams.
Fergus’s eyes flickered open; he yawned, stretched and rolled over to look at the clock.
He blinked once, then again, trying to make sure he was reading it correctly. “3:05″. “3:05″? “3:05″! He was supposed to be at school picking his kids up five minutes ago!
By 3:11 he had dressed, ran to the car, ran back to get his keys, ran to the car again, driven to school, found a parking space (easier said than done), ran to the classroom and joined the back of the queue behind the last parent before nonchalantly greeting the teacher and collecting his girls (who made him wait for a further ten minutes while they pottered around collecting pictures, coats, cardigans and old pieces of fruit from their drawers).
If it hadn’t been for the fact that in his haste to dress he had failed to fasten his belt buckle correctly, leading to his trousers falling down as he sprinted past a playground full of mums and kids, it would have been a superb recovery.
It can be hard to avoid clichés when you’re a parent, and although I do normally try to do so, this time shan’t. Here goes…
Don’t they grow up fast!
Walking up to school with my little girls in their oversized uniforms, I felt like time might have been an elastic band. It had passed slowly enough over the last few years of being at home with my gils much of the time but on that day – whack! Someone had let go of the other end and what had seemed a long time a few weeks ago was suddenly nothing. Time had compressed into birth, babies, first words, walking, school.
OK, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but… sorry, I was about to try an explain more before remembering that this is a cliche for a reason. It happens to all parents. That’s why all parents say it. I’ll move on.
How about some pictures.
The girls were nervous as we got ready, just as they had been in the weeks leading up to school starting. But J and jollied them along, never sure whether it was them or us we were reassuring.
And then we arrived. And they were off, exploring all the exciting new toys and activities while Ja nd I tried to catch them so we could get a kiss goodbye.
I guess it was us we were reassuring after all.
“What are you playing, girls?”
Jemima stands in the centre, while the other two rub lego all over her. I can’t quite figure out what they’re pretending.
“I’m Snow White”, says Jem.
“Ah, so you two must be the dawrves?”
“The prince and the… someone else?” I venture.
“No,” says Scarlett. “I am Cruella de Ville and Evie is the Wicked Queen, and we are skinning Snow White.”
Snow White, on cue, screams, “aarg! My skin! I have no skin on!”
And there was me thinking Disney films were supposed to be a good influence on young children. I wish I’d never asked.
The Lanyard by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
My own mum, I realised as I read this poem, still keeps some of the things I made for her as a child - a crooked pot that won’t hold water, a skewed embroidery – and my dad showed me a file he had of drawings I’d sent to him when I was a boy on the night before I got married, pictures of tanks and soldiers, dinosaurs and him as Superman. Of course, when I was six or eight or ten years old, I soon forgot about these little gifts, just as my girls’ now do. Their drawings are their most precious possessions one moment and discarded on the floor the next.
But that is, I suppose, part of their value for a parent; that they were once so precious to someone who is so precious to you. And they chose to give it to you.
Although the child has moved on, you have, in that tattered piece of paper with its drawing that you thought was a camel but is actually an octopus, something magical – an anchor to a time you don’t ever want to have passed. Children grow up so fast but in these little gifts and creations we give ourselves a window to moments we are often too busy appreciate at the time.
And, of course, what parent doesn’t crave their child’s affections. To grow up is to undergo a gradual separation from your parents as you explore and immerse yourself in the wider world. So when a child turns back and says “I love you” or makes you a gift of their most precious possession, of course we are touched. Our love is reciprocated. They haven’t left us yet.
And even when they do, we have their gift still, an anchor to a moment that was as precious to us as their gift was to them, before they gave it away.
Although my girls have very much settled into preschool now, they’re still very much loners. If you can call a group that. Perhaps cliquey is a better word. In any case, they have so far resisted nearly every effort J or I have made to encourage them to integrate with the other kids.
Generally we’re met with a firm, “We don’t like playing with the other children. We like each other. ” And arguments like “but you can like each other and the others, too, you know”, are met with hard looks.
I see other girls try to join in once in a while. But they don’t generally manage to penetrate far into whatever game is currently on the go and soon wander off to try something less difficult to fathom (like astrophysics). And who can blame them. Even I have trouble keeping up with the intricate and ever-evolving games Evie, Scarlett and Jem come up with.
The games even have their own baffling names. Suggestions like “Let’s play Bima-Glower” might be met with an equally confusing “No, let’s play Bima-Ginna-Glan-Glan-Boo… but without the jumping bit”. At which point they all fetch princess dresses, pirate swords, farm animals (toy) and start running around singing One Day My Prince Will Come from Snow White.
I guess it stems from them playing together from an age when most toddlers aren’t capable of shared games but even they have trouble explaining the lexicon of terms, games and songs they’ve developed over their short lives.
Boys trying to join in have an even harder time. It seems that over the last few months, the girls have come to the conclusion that boys are naughty. All of them. Naming any of the little boys in their preschool is met with a list of transgressions.
Still, I prefer them being overly close to resentful of one another. The main reason the other kids can’t join in is their closeness. They don’t need other kids to be able to play so they haven’t really had to learn to do so.
Which, of course, isn’t to say that they never fall out. Evie, in particular, is becoming a stickler for the rules and gets really upset if the others do anything naughty. Scarlett likes to have things “just so” and can be reduced from happiness to devastation by something as simple as her intricate game being accidentally touched by someone else. And Jem becomes very bothersome towards the others whenever she feels tired or poorly. Most of the time, though, they are happy together.
Only once has one of them said something that fed into two of my worst fears as a dad of triplets – thet they’ll be forced into competitiveness by their similar age and appearance, and that two might gang up on the other. We were sitting round the kitchen table a week or so ago when Jem told me that she liked Evie better then Tettie.
“What’s wrong with Scarlett,” I asked, with curious disapproval
“Because she’s not as pretty as me,” Jem announced.
“Well, I don’t think that’s true,” I replied. “You’re all pretty. And besides being bothered about how pretty you are is vain, like the wicked queen. And what is it you like about Evie, then?”
Jem thought for a bit. “I like that she’s not quite as clever as me.”
“I’m Snow White!”
“And I’m the Angry Sisters!”
It didn’t take long for the all-pervasive Disney Princess marketing machine to thunder into our lives. One day your taking your little girls to see a panto of Cinderella or relaxing the rules on TV and letting them watch Snow White, and Bam! Disney has you by the alice band.
Or rather, they’ve got my little girls; who’s captivation with princess dresses, “clip-clop shoes”, handsome princes and evil stepmothers was ignited so fast I can’t help suspect it was there all along.
Of course, the fact that while Evie is firmly Cinderella and Scarlett refused to answer to any name but Snow White, Jemima floats happily between more active roles gives me some comfort. One day she’s Buttons, another The Prince, or The Old Woman (of poisoned apple fame) or an Angry Sister (Cinderella’s) or even, on occassion, both Angry Sisters.
Still, I’ve met enough three and four year olds now to realise that fighting this thing is probably futile. Their preschool has a rack of obscenely fussy, luridly coloured dresses. Each party we attend is populated by at least three each of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and, um, Awake Beauty (?). The other little girls all seem to know most of the films. There’s no escaping it.
My reservations come from the nature of these stories. The heoines (if you can even call them that) are just so incredibly passive. They may have the fairy tale named after them but few of them actually do anything except act dutifully and get persecuted by fate (generally in the form of their stepmother). The virtues they promote are so subservient. Both Snow White and Cinderella start off being reduced to house maids and the fact that they accept this role with a smile and a song to every passing bluebird (whaty is it with Walt Disney and bluebirds – they’re everywhere) is seen as a virtue. No standing up for themsleves or making their own way in the world for these girls. They get knocked about by the cruel winds of fortune for a bit then some prince comes along and gives them the chance to live happily ever after. Are these really good role models for 21st century women? Sleeping Beauty is so passive she spends most of her story asleep. Snow White mops a few floors, escapes one murder attempt, is taken in by some midgets in exchange for more housework, then is bumped off successfully on the second attempt. Cinderella is little more than a pawn, first accepting the dictates of her sisters and stepmother, then the fairy godmother. At least Beauty has a bit of vim about her, taking her father’s place in the beast’s castle. But even then the best she can manage is to sacrifice herself.
Watching my girls play illustates it perfectly. “Let’s play Snow White,” suggests Scarlett before collapsing on the floor. A moment later, looking a little bored, “she opens her eyes and informs her sisters,” I’ve eaten the poisoned apple. Jemima – you be the Prince and kiss me.” Despite being the main character in the story she doesn’t get to do anything until the Prince comes along.
Where’s the heroine who is strong, brave, stands up for herself, forges her own destiny, goes out and gets a prince if she wants one?
No, as much as my little girls are enchanted by them, I can’t help but feel distinctly uncomfortable about the messages they’re imparting. And that’s withut even touching on what a bad idea it is to tell triplets stories about having two ugly sisters (as in Cinderella and the story version of Beauty and the Beast).
Phew! Finally, I’ve managed to get my blog back online. Sorry for the long absence. I was just too busy to fix the problem recently.
I’ll endevour to post some more soon. The girls are apoplectic with excitement over Christmas being just one week away.
Now they’re singing:
“Shall we get out of bed,
Because we won’t get
to the tune of Once I Caught a Fish Alive.
I’m listening to them chat and sing to one another one the baby monitor, and can’t help finding that particular snippet hopeful.
It’s their first night in Big Grown Up Girl Beds tonight and, as you might have guessed, we are employing the most powerful of all incentives to encourage them to stay there all night… ice cream.
Hm. It’s five minutes later and I’ve just come back downstairs. Evie saying “stay in bed, Mima,” in a worried voice was all the clue I needed. When I went in, Jemima was stood by the window flapping the curtain to make shadows. I put her back in bed with a firm reminder of what’s at stake, what constitutes naughty behaviour (getting out of bed and pulling the curtains) and what good behaviour is (you guessed it – staying in bed and not pulling in the curtains – hey it never hurts to give clear messages).
Unfortunately, it appears Scarlett doesn’t need to leave bed to pull the curtains, forcing a second trip into their room to explain that pulling the curtains is without getting out of bed is also naughty behaviour. Hm. I sense a lawyer in the making.
Anyway, now they appear to be playing a game where they take it in turns to count to ten quicly. Apparently this is hilarious when you’re three. Oh, well, as long as they’re in their beds while they do it.
Their beds. Although not even full-sized, they girls looked tiny in them, lying on their new pillows, under their new duvets, suddenly seeming so grown up and yet too small to be so.
I don’t think that any of them understood what was going to happen properly until tonight. Not even when we all went out to buy duvet covers last weekend. They were just interested in the pictures.
We’d laid out the varous designs on the floor for them to choose from: butterflies, fairy princesses, pink stars and rainbows, pink love hearts. Sure, they were excited as they each carried their choices to the tills, but I don’t think they connected the blue space alien, robot and dinosaur designs they’d picked with a complete change in their sleeping arrangements.
Not until this afternoon when they saw the beds all made up and their rickety, old cots gone. They were so enthralled, in fact, that Tettie asked if she could go to sleep in her bed there and then, although it was only three in the afternoon.
The question is, will all three go to sleep in their beds here and now… at half past seven?
As we walked to pre-school today, I reminded the girls about a couple of things we’d discussed over the weekend.
On Friday, they’d related how a boy had told them that they weren’t allowed to play in the wendy house. From what I could gather they hadn’t paid him much attention and gone ahead and played there anyway (democracy in action!). Nevertheless, I had made sure they understood that it wasn’t up to other children what they could and couldn’t do. Just to be sure they’d remembered, I asked them,
“So… What do we do if another child tells you you can’t do something?”
“Ask a playleader”, they all replied. So far so good.
A little later I asked another question.
“And what should you do if one of your sisters is crying?”
Not quite the answer I was looking for this time. “No,” I said firmly, “you should look after her. You should give her a cuddle.”
Now no-one replied. They all just looked at me in that way, the one that makes me wonder if I might have just spoken in Outer Mongolian. Oh, well. One out of two’s not bad.
When we arrived Jemima immediately shrank into herself, one hand clutched, vice-like to the leg of my jeans, the other at her mouth as she sucked furiously on her thumb while casting suspicious looks at the playleaders and other children. But she thawed as we played with a few toys, the sand and, finally, did some drawing.
Thinking I saw my chance, I gave each of them a kiss goodbye.
As I kissed her, Scarlett just asked, “Will you be back after story time?” and seemed happy when I told her I would. When I kissed Jem, she just shrugged and continued to draw with her free hand (my jeans had finaly been released but the thumb sucking was yet to stop). Evie, however, began to cry, her features collapsing into the very picture of abandonment.
She dropped her pen, threw her little arms out and ran towards me…
…then past me…
Evie threw her arms around her sister’s neck as I slipped away towards the door, not wanting to prolong the painful goodbye any longer.
I stood outside the door for a moment, hoping I’d hear her crying stop. Instead I heard Jemima begin to sob, too, so I left before my resolve broke.
I would only be prolonging their upset by going back in, at least that’s what I told myself as I walked back home.
I hope they settle soon. I’m not sure I can stand the guilt much longer.
I took this picture just before the girls and I walked down to their first day of pre-school. Each has thier best skirt on, as well as the colour of bobbles they have chosen so that the play-leaders don’t get mixed up while learning who’s who: pink for Evie, purple for Scarlett and blue for Jemima.
So here we are, the girls and me, sitting around the table, eating tea. Evie is playing her current favourite game, pretending to be a baby and making her own foghorn-like version of a Baby’s cries while Jemima holds her hand and guides her fork to her mouth. For a few chews, the bellowing becomes mercifully muffled before resuming with even more gusto than before.
“Shall we talk about pre-school?” Tettie asks.
“Sure. What about pre-school would you like to talk about?”
“We did play cooking and drawing and cutting and Mima cried.”
“And I cried, too, because I couldn’t find you,” Evie adds, “And the teacher said ‘he’s inside’.”
Which is a pretty fair summary of our morning; the girls’ first at pre-school.
We were a little bit late so there were a lot of kids and their parents there already by the time we arrived. You could tell the new kids by the parents hovering nearby with brittle smiles, pouring out overenthusiastic words of encouragement. The girls were shown their coat hooks, each with thier own symbol – a rose for Evie, a sweety for Jem and a cherry for tettie – and, having hung up their jackets, they then took a name badge, also marked with their symbol, and put it onto a wall chart alongside the names of all the other children who were there that day. The play-leader talks them through it all but they won’t speak back, just returning her sunny charm with hard mouths and harder stares.
But within moments, Evie had spotted the sand play area, and Tettie the table where children were threading brightly coloured beads. Jem, though, stayed clinging to my leg until I went with her to the bead-threading table. We played there for a while and slowly the girls got drawn away to the other activities – dressing-up clothes, a play kitchen, water play – while I tried to let the play-leaders take over, standing quietly near a wall, only replying with a smile when they looked over.
A few times Jemima insisted I join her in whatever she was doing, which I happily did. But I’d slip back to being to my wall as soon as her attention was consumed.
The third time it happened, I found myself having my own first-day moment; looking up from the toy cars we’d been playing with, I realised I was the only parent left.
Nerves gripped me, although not for the same reason it would most toddlers. In that moment I felt like an intruder. The kids and play-workers all had a reason to be there. Should I have left, too? But then Evie looked over and smiled and I shrugged off the feeling. My girls are very young to be going off with strangers. I’d stay all day if I needed to.
After a couple of hours, the kids were allowed outside. Evie, Tettie and Jem scattered into the yard, drawn to slides, scooters and ride-on toys. I sat down on a crate in the corner and watched them play, happy that they were gaining confidence but also a little sad that they were so enjoying this taste of independence.
A few times they wandered over to ask me something. I tried to encourage them to ask the play-leaders instead but their voices are so quiet and when they did that I had to repeat whatever they had said. Still, at least they were saying something.
For a while I chatted to some of the other kids, making them laugh with silly conversations about whether you eat trees and tigers, and by making the funny faces lemon juice makes you pull. I even popped back into the building to chat to the play-leaders about how J and I didn’t want our girls ever to be referred to as “the Triplets”. No-one seemed to have missed me when I returned to the playground.
Eventually, Scarlett came and told me she needed a wee so I took her inside. Then, once finished, we went and did some cutting now there was less demand for the scissors. And that’s when I heard the crying.
“Daaaaaadeeeeeeeeeee!” I recognised Jemima’s panicked wail, counterpointed by Evie’s deeper sobs. Both girls ran into the room and looked around. Jemima’s face was red, her cheeks tear-streaked. Evie was crying, too, although less than her sister. Presumably it was Jem’s tears that had set her off. Both girls were holding hands.
They didn’t see me and turned to run outside again. I caught up with them before they’d taken half a dozen steps, scooped both of them up into my arms. Evie settled quickly but Jem was distraught, repeating “I couldn’t find yooooooooouuuuuuuuu!” over and over again.
So much for growing confidence.
Poor Jem. She’s been very attached to me these last few months. Even as Evie has become less clingy, Jemima has turned more so, claiming the Daddy’s girl crown that Evie has held for so long. If she wakes in the night, only I can calm her down. She asks me not to go to work when I leave here with her grandparents on Wednesdays. When she falls, it’s me she runs to.
Eventually I calm her down with cuddles and jokes and quick changes of subject and we all do cutting together. But she doesn’t leave my side for the rest of the session. And I can’t bring myself to leave hers either.
Less than a week to go now until my little pirate crew takes its first shore leave; Mad Dog Evie, Red Scarlett and Jem Lad will set of on an adventure of their own, away from the watchful eye of Captain Dad.
You see, pre-school begins next week. For three hours each day, my three girls will be experiencing their first taste of school life, with all its highs and lows, unfamiliarities and excitements. And all without me or J there to watch out for them. I’m sure the fact that there’s three of them should make me worry less, but it doesn’t. They’re still so young. Only a few weeks ago they were still two years old.
And it seems so unfair that I should be losing them already. Their due date was in September. But by being born prematurely in August, they have jumped ahead a whole school year. That’s one less year of piratical plundering, one less year of fun, one less year I get to keep them to myself.
And I know it’s selfish to not want the bubble around us to be popped. They’ll probably love the whole experience. We have fun at home but don’t get to draw, paint, glue and cut as much as I’m sure they’d like to. Pre-school will give them an environment where they will get to engage in activities I’m often just too busy to supervise.
And they can make friends, learn, be stretched. Learn independence.
And then, one day, far away in the future, they’ll sail away, find their own first mate, recruit a crew of their own.
It’s surely every parent’s responsibility to teach their children right from wrong. How to treat others with the same dignity you would expect from them. Not to lie, steal, cheat, hurt or otherwise abuse the property, persons or emotions of others. To give as well as take, to acknowledge that others have feelings and rights, too.
These are not easy things to grasp when you’re just turning three years old. It’s just not in the nature of small children to look past their own immediate environment. Both the future and other people come second to whatever need or activity holds their attention at a particular moment, and it’s up to the adults in their life to guide them from this state to one where they will be capable of guiding their own children towards responsible adulthood. It’s up to us, in other words, to civilise the little barbarians in our lives.
And in this it strikes me that multiples have a natural advantage. From the moment of birth they are learning to share. At first it’s the attention of the parents they must share, as well as learning to accept that they must sometimes wait for feeds and changes.
Then, as their awareness grows, they must learn to share toys and play time; interacting with another person who is at exactly the same stage of development providing the perfect opportunity to figure out how to make the situation work without one or another sibling being much stronger or older than the other.
And although they are getting there (”I don’t mind sharing with my sisters” being one of Scarlett’s recent catchphrases), it’s always us, the parents, who are there to settle disputes, to point out rights and wrongs, to guide their learning.
Which brings me on to the subject that has been troubling me of late. On our recent holiday, it struck both J and I that the time when we could go for cheap days out would soon be ending. As it was, we generally only had to pay for adults, under threes being allowed free entry into most activities (another advantage of young multiples).
We love taking the girls out for the day and even when not on holiday, tend to do something most weekends. So the thought of cutting back on the number of trips we make was upsetting. Of course, it next occurred to us that no one would necessarily know if the girls remained two for just a little while longer than their actual third birthday. Not long, you understand. Just another ten, maybe twenty, years. OK – maybe not quite that long, but you get the idea.
Yet there was one obvious pitfall to our cunning plan. What would happen if we asked for two-year old tickets in the girls’ presence? Surely one or another of them would pipe up to correct our mistake. And so we warned them not to worry if sometimes Mummy or Daddy told people that they were two years old when they weren’t really. It was just “a joke”.
As with so many things at that age, they took in what we said without question. Only – and this is the bit that has been troubling me – it wasn’t a joke. It was a lie. And one that, for them, was both obvious and serious, because the difference between two and three is a big deal when you are the three year old in question.
As I reflected on our conversation, I realised that what we were essentially telling them was that their Mummy and Daddy lie, that it’s alright to lie and, even worse, we were involving them in the lies that we were telling, encouraging the exact same behaviour that at other times they are punished for. Talk about mixed messages!
Looked upon in that light, I can’t help thinking that an extra few quid in the pocket is too steep a price to pay for both confusing my children and failing in my own responsibilities as a parent. It may seem trivial but in my (admittedly limited) experience of parenthood, it’s all about small steps – small lessons learned each day. I find my children respond best to simple messages conveyed with consistency and that, despite being young, they have a sharp nose for any incongruity in those messages.
So it is that while, as triplets, my daughters may have a small natural advantage when it comes to learning the harder lessons on the path to becoming civilised, without J and I must mark the way for them with our own actions, it will do them little good.
And I guess they’re not the only ones benefiting from this recent bought of conscience. No, I’m not referring to the owners of local attractions who will get three child entrance fees added to their daily takings. Having to act responsibly for the sake of my kids has made me shine a light on my own morality. What value do I place on truth? How do I rate it in relation to the other things I value? When is it OK to lie? How should the issue be handled around children.
It’s obvious, really. How can you shape the values of others without examining your own values first?
As we pull together the final preparations for the girls’ third birthday this weekend, it strikes me.
Can it really be three years? As I look at my little girls, I feel torn by a paradox. On one hand, I find it hard to credit that so much time has passed. Shouldn’t they still be my little babies? So many days have gone by that I won’t ever get back. This fatherhood thing is all going too fast. I want to slow it down, to have time to reflect on what’s happening.
But then again… so very, very much has happened. Life has never been so intense. I’ve been through more emotions and had more new experiences in the last three year s than in twice that time before parenthood. I’ve been challenged, and I’ve grown. Life was easy before parenthood, and while easy is nice, it gets you nowhere. Only when pushed do you get to learn who you are, as you rise to the challenges you’re facing.
So much has passed, yet time has flown so fast.
“There’s a monkey? Over there?”
“A monkey. Over there.”
I peered throught the bars of the gate we’d just left the lakeside through. I could see ducks, a goose, some fishermen, a few ramblers. No monkeys though.
What did she mean? A picture of a monkey, of course! I looked again. Nope. No pictures of monkeys. No pictures of anything even remotely simian. I looked for patterns in the reeds, for treestumps. Nothing. I got down to her eye level but it was no good. I couldn’t see a monkey anywhere.
“Show me, Evie,” I said, pushing the gate back open.
She was getting a little frustrated by now, pointing and saying very loudly and very clearly, “a monkey”, in what it occurred to me was a rather good impersonation of English people abroad.
We all followed her. She continued to point furiously as she approached the lakeside.
I exchanged looks with J. Of the three girls, Evie has the greatest tendency to be a little off-the-wall. Was she just being silly?
We were two feet from the ramblers at the lakeside now, all four of whom were watching us with interest. “A… Monk… Oh.” Evie laughed. “It’s just some people.”
I followed her gaze, looking up at the woman rambler in front of me from where I still crouched at Evie’s eye level. She was middle-aged. Her face was a quite wrinkled. Her hair was shoulder length, brown, and the exact same hue as her jumper. She also had on brown trousers and boots.
Evie was still pointing.
I smiled at the woman and ushered Evie on to the lakeside. “Look, girls. Fishermen.”
“Can I have another nut?” Tettie asks me, as we all sit around the garden table. She’s finished hers quickly. Her sisters sit quietly on either side, mouths still busy crunching away.
I look at her and raise one eyebrow, hoping my expression will be enough of a prompt. It isn’t.
I wait a moment longer then give in. “Ask nicely, please?”
“Please,” she immediately replies, which would have been sufficient until recently. But we’ve moved on now, and are trying to get please added to requests to start with, and so avoid this whole ritual of asking for a “please”.
“Uh-uh,” I counter. “All together.”
But instead of “Can I have another nut, please”, all three girls reply in unison:
I should know by now that it’s not that easy.
Thought I’d post a quick update. Evie is doing much better now.
For the last few weeks she has been terribly worried about anyone touching her shoulder, flinching away and saying “pick up on a bum bum” whenever anyone went to pick her up. And if J or I forgot, she’d scream and cry so hard it was heart breaking.
So concerned was she that she wouldn’t even play Jem and TYettie’s current favourite game – climbing onto the windowsill and leaping like monkeys over the back of the sofa to land on the cushions.
Speaking of which, her sisters’ jealousy also seems to be subsiding. At first they were merely curious. Then they were concerned, asking Evie “Are you well yet?” and “Are you better, Evie?” throughout the first few days. And after that they both started developing injuries of their own, letting out anguished cries of “Hurt a shoulder!” and “Need to see a doctor!” the more attention Evie got.
Evie hasn’t been vying for the attention she’s got. She’s quieter than usual and more anxious. For the first time she’s stopped sleeping well, waking up several times most nights, crying.
When we were talking about their upcoming birthday, Tettie and Jem got really excited at the prospect of getting a present.
“What would you like if you could have anything in the whole, wide world?” I asked them.
“A great, great, great, great big Igglepiggle,” Jem said at once. As you might guess, she’s not one to think small.
I don’t think such a thing had occurred to Scarlett but she jumped in quickly, as if the chance might slip away. “A really, really, really, really, great, great, great, great big Pakka Pakka.”
“And you Evie?” I thought I new what was coming. They’ve divided the main Night Garden characters up between them. Evie’s is Upsy Daisy. I was wrong.
She cuddled her teddy, Beer, close and began to suck her thumb.
“Just want Beer.”
A little later as we were about to go bed, we talked briefly about our wedding, telling the girls that they would have special dresses to wear just like Mummy, and that there would be a bouncy castle and all their friends there.
Evie looked sad again. “I will be all alone when you get married,” she announced and clutched her bear tight again.
We never did manage to understand what she’d misunderstood, poor thing. I just hope that her shoulder healing makes her anxiety fade, too. Her fall has been a big shock. I’m just glad things seem to be getting back to normal.
I keep seeing it replayed in my mind’s eye. Scarlett and Jemima running off, laughing, towards our bedroom. Me and J turning to follow them. I shout, “Come back, you two! It’s time to go downstairs and get dressed.” I think I might have called them pickles or, maybe, monkeys. The usual post-bathtime chaos. In the corner of my eye, I see Evie starting off downstairs on her own.
Then she falls.
I don’t remember if she screamed. I do remember her cartwheeling forwards and landing on the side of her neck, arms thrown out sideways. Then over again, arms and legs still flailing. And bang! She hits the wooden hall floor with the back of her head.
Everything stops. I’m frozen, looking down over the banisters. Suddenly the stairs seem incredibly steep.
I glance over at Jemima and Evie, reflexively checking that they’re alright. They haven’t even reached the door to my bedroom yet. Everything has happened so fast that they’ve barely taken two steps. They look round, still laughing; but quieter now, as if they can sense something has happened.
At the bottom of stairs Evie draws in a massive breath and breaks the silence with a scream that makes my stomach tighten. Jan thunders down the stairs to pick Evie up. I scoop up her sisters.
“What’s Evie done, Daddy?”
“She’s fallen, love. She’s fallen down the stairs. Don’t worry. She’ll be all right.”
I hope to myself that I’m right.
By the time I’ve carefully picked my way downstairs, a crying J is sitting on the sofa holding s o tightly to an inconsolable Evie it’s as if she’s in danger of falling all over again. Tettie and Jem stand watching as I put my arms around them both.
I shudder every time it comes back to me; I forget what I’m doing; I find myself staring into space as I see my little girl tumble and thump down those stairs.
We spent most of that evening in A & E. The doctor we saw wanted her to stay up for a few hours to check she didn’t start being sick or show any of the other more serious effects of a head injury. Evie had calmed down by then. In fact, she was remarkably perky, playing with the toys, chatting away happily. Probably because of the attention she was getting. We realised, as we sat in the children’s waiting room, that this was the first time in her entire two-and-three-quarter years of life that Evie had been alone with both her mum and dad for any length of time. I can’t say that thought alleviated my guilt very much.
Nor did the doctor asking flatly whether it was normal for her to be allowed to walk down steep stairs on her own.
I told the doctor that I was worried about her shoulder, but she could reach up when he lifted a toy so he didn’t pay much heed. When I’d first held her, her shoulder had felt horribly loose, like it wasn’t in its socket. But by then it was back to normal and although she said it hurt, we assumed it must just have been bruised.
That night she slept in her parents bed, between J and I, where she couldn’t possibly fall out.
A couple of days afterwards, she was back in A & E. Her shoulder had been making her cry at night (I’d last been woken with “Daddy! Shoulder hurting! Need to see a doctor!” cried over and over). She screamed if any weight was put on it when she was lifted. This time the hospital x-rayed, which revealed a break in her collar bone.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so pitiable as her sitting there having her arm strapped up in a little sling.
I’ve had a few comments recently asking if I’d post a more recent photo. To be fair, it’s about time I did. The girls have changed an incredible amount in the last few months. Every month sees them grow upwards by an astonishing amount. Trousers that were too long a few months ago are now ankle swingers. Age 2-3 clothes rarely fit. Puppy fat’s long gone.
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This is from a day out me and the girls went on to possibly their favourite place in the World: Tropical World. Terrapins, bats. Crazily huge Amazonian fish. Meercats. They know every inch of the place by heart, rushing through it, dizzily excited by the prospect of what’s coming up, at such a pace that we’re through the whole experience in half the time it takes most families.
On the day I took this picture, we’d got to Tropical World so early, in our excitement that we were there an hour before it actually opened so instead went exploring and found a fountain (or “mountain” as the girls call them) in the grounds which kept us entertained for a while. Until, to be more precise, the game of seeing how close you could get before the gusty wind sprayed the water into your face had us all shivering with cold.
Fortunately Tropical World is (as you’d expect) nice and warm inside.
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And here they are having their favourite story read by their one of their favourite people: Rara.
Rara is what they call their grandad, a leftover nickname from when “grandad” was too much of a challenge to pronounce. Actually, it’s generally said “nanarara”, nanna and grandad being conglomerated into some kind of super-relative.
Nanarara came to visit today as it happens despite it being Monday. They come every Wednesday to look after the girls during the middle part of the day so I can do the half day of my two and a half part-time days.
When I announced that they were coming over breakfast, everyone’s faces lit up. What a fantastic surprise. Then a worry crept in.
“Are you going to work, Daddy?” Jemima asked.
Three questioning faces turned to regard me.
“In a minute,” Evie pronounced on my behalf. They know the routine.
So when I said, “No”, they all looked astonished. “Not today, ” added, quickly. “Daddy’s at home all day. And Nanarara, too.”
The grins returned. Mine the widest of them all when Scarlett announced, “I love you, Daddy. I love you at home all day.”