Local parent, researcher and writer, Maddie Wallace, continues her daily diary describing the experience first, of self-isolating, and now of being in lockdown with her children in Southsea. We’re at Day 74, and A Maddie’s youngest has initiated a new complaints procedure over a change in sun cream.
You know when you’re just sitting there, trying to work, and your five year old comes along and announces they’ve initiated a ‘complaints procedure’ in your house?
This is all because I put a different sun cream on her. It’s one of those all day, factor 40, cost a bomb ones, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
It wasn’t. Because it didn’t smell right.
First, she came for me – the cause of the problem. The evil genius who’d dared to use a different sun screen on her. I explained that while I was sorry that the sun screen had a smell she wasn’t used to, it was still a very effective way of making sure her skin didn’t get burnt by the sun, and not only that, but it’s better than the old one. She refused to accept this. I went downstairs and left her writhing about on her bedroom floor trying to rub it off on the carpet. Thankfully it’s a fast absorbing one.
Next, she went for her brothers, relentlessly annoying them and trying to pick a fight. I heard the whole thing from downstairs where I was working because I’ve been wearing the hearing aids again. She went on and on and on at them. To their credit, they didn’t do a single thing to provoke her during this onslaught; just laid on their beds deflecting insults with kindness. Eventually, she started screaming at them in frustration that she had nothing to scream at them about.
Then it went quiet. I could hear S and Z chatting in their room and occasional footsteps from A along the landing, back and forth into my bedroom. I wasn’t concerned; I figured that she’d stopped screaming at everyone so was probably just playing.
She appeared at my desk sometime later with an announcement: ‘I’ve started a complaints procedure in this house’ she declared. ‘The first complaint is on you, for using the wrong sun cream which makes me want to eat candy.’
‘Oh right,’ I said, rapidly watching any idea of doing some work disappear down the toilet of life again. ‘And how does this complaints system work?’
‘I’ve made the complaints on your bed. If you won’t deal with me telling you, you’ll have to deal with my complaints. And it’s all your fault,’ she exclaimed, like a mini Donald Trump at a feminist convention.
Anyone who knows me well enough to know what A’s complaints have consisted of in the past will be imagining the worst right now. I certainly was. A used to have epic, tragi-comic meltdowns. They started at around sixteen months, and straight away I was like Mmmkay, I’ve had four kids and this isn’t normal. By the age of two, her frustrations tipped over into meltdowns several times a day over the most innocuous things. Getting into a taxi, getting out of a taxi. Getting on a bus, getting off a bus. Getting in the swimming pool, getting out of the swimming pool. Being told no, being told yes. Buying her new shoes was an endurance test. She once stripped in the middle of Cascades in front of a crowd of Christmas shoppers while screaming ‘you’re not my mummy’, then got stuck in the sleeves of her vest and demanded I help her because I’m her mummy – much to the amusement of the spectators. We still don’t mention the word ‘airport’ in our house because it’s too triggering for us.
Then came the use of human waste. Initially she’d only make herself vomit. Not with the minor tantrums, but the epic meltdowns that went on for a long time would end with her repeatedly gagging in the back of her throat until she made something come up, and then she’d sob and beg for a hug, trembling at the strength of her own uncontrollable rage. By three and a half she’d added weeing and occasionally pooing on to the end of the epic meltdowns along with the vomit, which meant that by the time she’d completed her emotional and physical evacuation, and just needed to sit in my lap being hugged because she’d terrified herself again, I would need to clean up a disgusting mess instead.
I sought advice from the professionals. I was told naughty step, naughty spot, stickers, marble jars, charts, rewards and consequences – all the usual stuff you’d use with a child acting out. This was how I discovered how useless the normal parenting techniques are with her, because she’d want the consequence. Once you’d told her what the consequence of a behaviour would be, she’d do it even more and beg for the punishment, then have another tantrum when she got it. She’s intelligent, opinionated, stubborn, independent and argues with anyone, including herself. I can usually tell what kind of day we’re going to have as soon as she opens her eyes because if she wakes up arguing with herself, we’re in for a rough ride. Luckily, she’s also caring, empathetic, loving, kind and able to articulate her emotions, otherwise I might have broken down by now doing this on my own.
So yes, I went upstairs to see the ‘complaints’ that had been made against me on my bed with some trepidation. We’ve not had any sort of dirty protest for a long time, I was sure she’d grown out of it. Her meltdowns do still happen when she’s overwhelmed, particularly by sensory overstimulation, and they are violent and terrifying, but I thought we were past the puke/poo/wee combo. And her anger over the sun cream directed at me and her perfectly innocent brothers hadn’t sounded anything like the level where I’d expect to see excrement or violence involved. She was trying to pick a fight rather than losing the plot and had sounded coherent and stubborn, not out of control. Otherwise I would have stopped work and diverted her a lot sooner, because the fine line between letting her get something out of her system and her being genuinely upset is usually pretty clear.
My bed was full of teddies, jewellery and empty toilet roll holders she’d been saving to make a model.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
A stood next to me and swept an outstretched arm across the mess. ‘This is on you. My first complaint is about this sun cream. I don’t want to use it again.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to use it again either. It’s been way too much trouble. Can you tidy this stuff up please? And make my bed again.’
‘Sure,’ she said, picking things up. ‘Don’t change the smells again, please mummy. Because the different smell makes you look different to me, and I don’t like it. It makes me sad. You don’t look like you when the smell is wrong. Do you think we can build our own raft today and find the land of Honalee? I’d like to see Puff the Magic Dragon.’
And they want me to put her on the naughty step and employ the usual child discipline strategies with her. . .
Maddie is sharing her lockdown experiences every day on S&C – you can find each day’s diary and all of Maddie’s previous articles for S&C here.
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