G&T - 35-and-a-half months M - 13 months
As a parent, you spent a lot of time worrying about messing up your kids. Will a few too many cartoons every now and again stunt their learning? Will resorting to fish fingers one night irrevocably ruin their future diet? Will giving in on one too many argument create selfish, miserable adults? Well, no, probably not. But we worry anyway. But every now and again, your kids to something to remind you that you're not so bad as this parenting lark after all.
I live about 50 yards from a handy little shop, to which I can easily pop to grab any provisions. I say easily. That was before M could walk. When I realised I needed milk the other day, I got the girls all ready and started to put M in her buggy, but she put up such a fight, I thought I'd treat her by carrying her instead. She didn't see it as a treat. She struggled all the way there and back, desperate to gain her freedom and refusing to see anything but injustice in the fact her sisters were allowed to walk by themselves. The following day, I ran out of bread (I know, I know, why didn't I buy that the day before? Well, I have a lot of kids, you know. Things drop out of my brain fairly easily these days...) but this time I had a plan. The twins still had their little animal-shaped backpacks and a little (well, a lot) of searching (and increasingly frustrated mumbling to self) didn't reveal one of the clip-on reins, but did uncover a clip-on strap from an old handbag. So, I got the twins into their coats, and M into a ladybird backpack and an utterly adorable all-in-one rainsuit, clipped on the strap and set off, feeling smug about my own brilliance.
M will love the walk to the shops now. I'll get my bread, and we'll have fun...
Turns out, toddlers don't see being on reins as freedom. M completely refused to go where she was bidden, determinedly aiming for every open gate, constantly fascinated by the kerb and completely fixated on a little terrier being taken for his walk on the other side of the road. The 50-yard trip took a good ten minutes, with me cajoling, tugging, carrying and persuading, all the while desperately trying to also keep an eye on the twins, calling at them to stop, frantically paranoid that every passing car was suddenly going to swerve from the road and plough into the precious little girls just out of my reach.
But when I finally made it back into the garden, bread in hand and nerves in tatters, while the girls all splashed happily in a giant puddle in the drive, I realised something. I needn't have worried. Although I did have to keep shouting to the twins to wait for Mummy, they stopped immediately at every call, waited patiently at every kerb without having to be told, checked carefully for traffic and didn't even come close to stepping into the road, instead walking carefully alongside the garden walls. In short, they were perfectly behaved. Perfectly behaved because of me. Yes, they are good girls by nature, but their dad and I have always been careful to drill road sense into them, stopping and looking at every junction, always waiting for green men, no matter how frustrating the delay, and doing our best to instil a healthy respect for traffic. And it worked. I know plenty of people who shudder at the idea of letting their 2-year-old walk off the reins, but I have complete confidence in my girls. They know their limits and, more importantly, they have common sense.
It's not just out in the street either. When we do make it to the shop, we're their favourite customers. All the staff love the girls and we're always being told that the twins are the best behaved visitors they have. They are polite, attentive and friendly. Of course the girls argue when tempers fray, but they are very good at sharing and making sure their sisters get an equal share. T refused to deliver G a rice cake the other day as one of them was broken. Everyone had to be equal. I've always made sure the girls have as many choices as possible, as much control of their own lives as I can give them. They select their own clothes each day, decide between them what they'd like for tea, and I always give them the chance to hand back stolen toys or apologise and make up before I resort to the Time Out corner. Of course, it doesn't always work, and all three girls have the power to drive me completely insane. But I am so proud of them. And of their dad and me. When I see how clever and caring G and T are, and how M is shaping up to be just as sweet, I have to admit that I might just be quite good at being a mum after all.