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Thursday, 8 December 2016

#27 On Taking Shortcuts With Children

This may have been a bad idea

'There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.' (Anon/gazillions of parents and teachers)

'Laziness breeds efficiency.' (My husband)

‘I think this shortcut may have been a bad idea.’ (Me)

Shortcuts, corner-cutting, killing two birds with one stone; call it what you want, in childhood we are taught that it’s lazy and short-sighted; in adulthood we learn it can be very necessary unless we want something totally to consume us.

I’d argue that parenting - another massive life job - neatly dovetails both schools of thought. For examples of parental efficiency, consider the time and effort saved when we feed our nippers the occasional (!) ready-made food pouch; when we coincide a car or pram trip with nap time. Parenting demands corner-cutting because it entails far more work than we have time (you can also see here for a host of other parenting 'hacks').

But back to that first quote; can time and effort always be saved, or are some shortcuts bound to end in tears? And in any case,  how do we know when we’re being cleverly efficient or just lazy or disorganised? Spotting the difference takes subtlety and discretion. I don't claim to have either, but here's what I do know about what hasn't gone so well for me.

Leaving Baby on Change Table

She’s lying on her back peacefully, cool breeze wafting round her bum. I need a new nappy and realise they are in the cupboard. Three metres away. It’s not that far and she’s just going to lie happily for a split second, right? Not even notice I’ve moved.


One, she’ll flip herself over the moment my hand moves away. Two, I lied that she’s been lying peacefully. In fact she’s wriggling like a gleeful little eel beneath my hand, as usual, and I don’t actually know what part of me believes this will decrease once I stop holding her down. Just to see what she’d do I stay right next to her while I let go. Surely she can’t be that foolish I think, and then I see her flip to her stomach and scrabble to the edge of the change table where she all but dives off the precipice head first.

Yes she can, and what the hell was I thinking.

Verdict: a no-brainer on how not to brain your baby

‘Just one more thing’

You’ve been round all the shops, your infant is overdue a nap and protesting and you convince yourself you need to cram in just one more thing while you’re there. In less than a minute they are purple and rigid in their fury and the delicate Nap Possibility window has shut firmly. And you still have to negotiate packing the car/pram and making the journey home.

Verdict: Cut the trip short right now. ‘Might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb’ is never applicable with children. Claw back from them what good-naturedness you still can before it’s too late.

This one usually ties in nicely with:

Double pram up escalator

You’re in a shopping centre, both tots in the pram and, as usual, time and good will are short for all three of you. Hell, just for extra fun you might also be battling with your toddler to stay awake; why not. Anyway, you need to get to the floor above or below. The lift would be the obvious choice, but it’s miles back in the direction you just came from. It’ll also take about three years to arrive at your floor in any case. Guiltily, you glance at the escalator that is right there. Yep, the one with the ‘no prams’ sign. But how hard can it be? Single prams are easy once you’ve got the technique down, right?*

Not so with the double pram. Recently I seemed to forget just how heavy Son had become and as I reversed myself+vehicle onto the escalator, an almighty tug almost whiplashed me as the floor dropped away. The pram was tipping downwards and I had to lean back and pull with everything I had, my heart booming in my ears as I felt the pram slipping, slipping, my Birkenstocks bang-slapping hopelessly on the metal stairs. You can probably guess what images were flying through my head, and they worsened until I felt a sudden bump at my heels and saw we’d reached the top. We wheeled away, my kids none the wiser. Me? For the next twenty minutes I walked with jelly legs and a horrible floaty sensation.

Verdict: I am now the wiser. Take the bloody lift.

Running a red light or ‘amber-duration-denial’

Still amber, still amber, more gas, more gas...

Should be obvious but it’s surprising what running late can do to one’s sense of logic (you may be sensing a theme here). Feeling lateness-guilt / being scowled at, versus a hefty fine or maybe even a bit of death.

Verdict: No, no, no, no, no.

Overestimating Son’s maturity

I am aware that there is a social norm of placing small children under adult supervision in one’s absence. Generally we observe this in our household. However, I admit that I sometimes slightly abuse Son's love of his sister and treat him as a carer. That said, 'During my quick shower please watch your sister while the pair of you sit in my plain sight’ is one thing; what happened the other day was quite another. Let's just say that it involved squeezing the double pram out of our new front door while Son held it for me, hearing it slam and then having my memory fail me in two ways. One: I had left something important back inside which I decided to rush back in and get, leaving the kids outside. Two: I’d clearly overlooked the fact we’d moved house. That is, as Son stood there blinking at me it was not in the leafy driveway of our old, quiet suburb, but on the pavement of the urban main road onto which our new front door opened. And as trucks clattered past I was reminded of this fact, and of the recent theft of my bike (from our back garden) in this new ‘more vibrant’ setting.

Yes, squeezing us all back inside would be a nightmare. So, I realised, would the potential outcomes of a three and sub-one-year old being left outside on an inner city street. I made my peace with the object indoors being left where it was.

Verdict: You’re not in Kansas any more. And even in Kansas I’m not sure three-year-olds are left in charge of babies.

...And Underestimating it

So I’m all for doing the hard yards with discipline, engendering an environment of mutual respect and all that, but sometimes when you need quick results bribery or blackmail are attractive options. Until you realise what a smart-arse your child is, that is.

Me: Why are you downstairs? I just put you back in bed. Get up the stairs.
Son: No.
Me: (Dearly missing my glass of wine) Come on. Maybe boys who go upstairs get chocolate eggs the next day. Your favourite.
Son: No.
Me: Eh?
Son: (singsong tone) No thank-you.
Me: (muttering to self) Shit, he’s even being polite. (to Son) Oh come on. It’s late.
Son: Uh-uh.
Me: Right, then I’ll have to take one of your Paw Patrols.
Son: (A benign shrug) OK. (Gestures generously to his doorway) There they are.

The bedtime routine issue is probably worth a blog post all by itself, but suffice to say that many of my short-cut approaches have not been effective.

Better find me some new ones, then. That’s about as much as I’ve learned from all this.


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