This post is dedicated to the unsurpassed Aunty Mabel, her marvellous dog Pippin and the makers of the wonderful ‘Come Outside’. I would like to point out that, although I have been inspired by the title of one of the episodes, none of us got stuck in a cupboard, there was no fire, and no-one had to call in the emergency services. I would also like to say that, although ‘Useful Holes’ is the best title ever, the one about the toilets and the song about sewage is my favourite.
I was often asked, when my children were littler, which one of them I found the most difficult to handle. The expectation was usually, by their glances and expressions, that I would say Sam, and there was always surprise when I pointed my own eyes to my middle son. This is not to diss A in any way whatsoever, but an acknowledgement that he is a far more complicated child than his brother; where Sam is (generally) happy-go-lucky and laid back, A has a tendency to be anxious and nervy, a child who knows-too-much, a voraciously curious sort, always getting stuck in the bin or falling out of the front door when he was a baby.
Mind you, Sam isn’t exactly a piece of cake either. Difficulties generally arise when we attempt to get him to do something he doesn’t want to. For a long while, when we were going through a bad patch with school, getting Sam up the road was a major undertaking. I would arrive in the playground, just in time, with Sam, small A and baby L in the pushchair and people would nod and smile at me and say things like, ‘you’re always so calm’ and I would think I AM NOWHERE NEAR CALM! YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN ME TEN MINUTES AGO WHEN HE REFUSED TO PUT ON HIS SHOES! There were many days when Sam must have been glad to get to school just to get away from me, Cross Mummy.
When he was little I used charts to great effect in order to help with the thorny problem of getting Sam first into bed, and then to stay in bed. As a baby he was a great sleeper, but when he was two he endured a long-ish stay in hospital and upon his homecoming, we found that his sleep patterns had completely gone to pot. We couldn’t leave him in his bed to fall asleep on his own (he would follow us downstairs), and getting back to sleep after waking proved impossible. So I broke the issue of sleep-at-bedtime into three simple steps, made a chart, gave him a smiley face (or not) for each step, and three smileys meant a reward of some sort. It took a little while, but it worked. In the final analysis, what I was doing was bribing him, but guess what? We have a son who goes to bed, stays in bed and stays asleep, and we have had him for some years.
Nowadays I leave the making of charts and giving of stickers to the school. I willingly back them up when they consistently reward him for getting on and doing what he supposed to be doing, by pinning them up to the wall and religiously filling the pot up with Lego. We’ve been at it for eighteen months and guess what? We got a letter from said school only yesterday congratulating him on being awarded a quite astonishing number of marbles (platinum level, no less) for good behaviour.
I was once told by the best TA I have ever worked with, upon leaving the temporary job I had secured and moving on to another temporary job, ‘when I first met you I thought you were mad. But it works. It really does.’ I didn’t have to get too sneaky with that class, even. All I did was draw up a couple of charts for a couple of children with targets like Positive Mental Attitude and No Strops and we were away. I didn’t have to bend my mind too much to find that what worked for them was a relentlessly positive attitude of you-can-do-it-ness and an acknowledgement that children, even 21st century ones, like rubbing the board clean and staying behind to have a little bit of a chat with their teacher. The sneaky-ness I employed to get them to come along with me on an interesting journey into English and Maths was nothing compared to what I regularly employ at home.
The thing is, I don’t want to go through the whole rigmarole of chart ticking and stickers and smiley faces and prizes in order to get Sam to do simple things at home like come to the table, put on his shoes or go upstairs to clean his teeth. At home, I am consumed by all the household mothering tasks that make the use of charts a tarradiddle when I haven’t got any time and a million other things I need to do and I’m tired and grumpy. I, for my sins, just want him to do what I ask without too much drama.
So the issue of Getting Sam To Do What He Does Not Want To Do is one that has been the subject of many discussions between Daddy and I. They usually go along the lines of, ‘you’re too hard’ and, ‘you’re too soft’ (I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is who in that conversation). Eventually, though, after reading some Aesop’s Fables at bedtime, in particular the one about the Sun and the Wind having a competition to see who could get the man to take off his cloak, we came to the conclusion that the good-cop-bad-cop act doesn’t work. It was time to get sneaky. (Or creative, in teachery-speak.)
Now, one of the things that interests Sam is holes. Holes in trouser knees, holes in bags, holes in paper and card, holes in the corner of the kitchen chair covers (I’ll replace them when the children stop dropping their food all over them), the list is long. He’s fascinated by them. Maybe it’s the idea that there is some sort of dramatic story behind the hole – someone must have fallen over, there must have been plasters, that sort of thing. Whatever it is, if you are wearing something with a hole in it, Sam will be drawn to you like a moth to a flame. A bit like the way A was transfixed by my bad toe.
The other part of this little story is the fact that my husband very rarely wears anything that isn’t either battered in some way, or is full of holes, particularly his socks. Which is great for getting a reluctant Sam up the stairs.