Out to sea without a paddle

Regular contributor Joanne Isaac shares some insights into life with three children under nine, dispelling the myth of ‘the terrible twos’ along the way.

Out to sea without a paddle

I have three children who are eight, six and two. I have read a lot over the course of the past nine years about having and raising children. I study them on a daily basis in their natural habitat. I speak to friends and acquaintances alike who have similarly aged children. You would think that I would be an expert, that I would be confident in my ability to mould excellent human beings. I mean, people don’t take as many years to complete a PhD! So why do I still feel as though I am completely out of my depth?


If parenthood is an endurance event then I am barely out of the starting blocks. But boy, am I puffed out already!


Let’s start with the eight year-old. She is innocence and swaggering self-assurance. She is bright with life and woe is me (sometimes within the same ten minutes). She is love letters to her parents and hair-pulling and name-calling with her sister. She is industrially deaf when asked to do something and a moth to a flame when you are talking in hushed tones. If the art of distraction was an Olympic sport, she would win gold. She can navigate her way through inordinate mess, eat as much as a grown man and could lecture for a course titled, “Begging 101 – one hundred and one ways to manipulate your parents and get your own way”! And who would have thought that a tiny scratch could elicit such howls of despair in one human being alone? The out of proportion response to the slightest injury is in such contradiction to her normal, easygoing nature that I invariably end up laughing at her (which doesn’t assist in calming her down and helping her to gain a little perspective).


Eight is a good age though. You have a certain independence; you think you know how the world works; you enjoy pretty much everything (except homework and not getting your own way); you adore your friends, but still adore your family more. You have swathes of time to indulge in your personal hobbies, at the expense of your parents’ personal hobbies, although they no longer remember what their personal hobbies were! You run, sing, dance, do cartwheels, swim, read, laugh, watch TV, eat, sleep, learn and play. You talk a lot. Life is still (hopefully) uncomplicated.


Our six year-old is, of course, very different in many ways from her big sister. She is sweetness personified and master of the death stare (sometimes within the same ten minutes). She is a lighthouse of love and the town crier of our many failings. She delivers notes of adoration and then rips them up if you cross her. She is wily and crafty and rejoices when one of her plans results in the pay-off of an annoyed sister, a frustrated brother or a frazzled parent. She loves attention and will do whatever it takes to get it. She says “no” a lot but won’t take “no” for an answer. She hugs as though her life depends on it. She understands me better than I understand her, although I am working on it! She is so honest about her feelings that she has to be lectured before she receives a gift in case she doesn’t like it, although I think we took the lecture a bit far last year, since her response to every present was a robotic, over-acted, “I love it”. She loves shoes, make-up, pretty dresses and associated flourishes.


Six is a good age though. You have made it through kindergarten and can now read and write (to a degree). You are gaining confidence after a big year and are better able to control your emotions (or is that just my eternally optimistic brain talking?). You bask in the encouragement and compliments of your parents and teacher. You are stepping out of the shadow of your older sibling (or own self-doubt) and finding your own niche, your own talents. You play, dance, sing, hang out, watch movies, learn, eat and sleep. You talk loudly, a lot. Life should definitely be uncomplicated.


Two year-olds have a bad reputation. They are labelled in magazines as going through “the terrible twos” and people whisper conspiratorially to each other, “He’s two”, when they witness a toddler having a meltdown. Personally, I adore two year-olds. Our two year-old is laughter and sunshine, big eyes and bigger smiles, a wordsmith in the making. He is enjoying the moment and screaming to be heard. He is a sturdy adventurer and heartbreakingly vulnerable. He is a hugger and a wriggler, who is starting to get the joke sometimes. He is a sponge, a lover of life, a carpe diem kid. He is digging dirt, throwing sticks, investigating with intent – he’s the CSI of the toddler universe. He misses nothing. He laughs hard and falls harder. He says “Thankyou Mummy” and “Thankyou Daddy” with such beauty I almost weep every time he says it. He understands that he has his sisters wrapped around his little fingers. They compete for his attention and he revels in their love. He dances like a grandad, we call it ‘the bop and drop’. He is unfettered, secure and magnificent.


Two is an exceptionally good age. You are gaining some independence and at the same time receiving all the love and reassurance you still crave. You sleep, eat, have fun at the park, go to swimming lessons and kinder gym. You relax in front of ABC 4 Kids. You push toy cars around. You follow your Dad like the proverbial mini-me, learning what it’s like to be a big boy! You enjoy the attention of all and delight in the wonder on people’s faces as you conquer another word or stair or milestone. Life can be frustrating, hence the tantrums, but it’s still pretty awesome.


I think as parents we will always feel as though we have L-plates. Every age and stage will be the first time we’ve gone through it as parents. Feeling out to sea without a paddle is surely de rigueur! I will read more books, talk to more friends, lie awake thinking about the best approach for the unique personality and nature of each of our kids in a million different situations. I will worry, tear my hair out, get frustrated, cry and have some tantrums of my own.


This year though I will attempt to be more like them instead of expecting them to be more like me. They are great teachers if you watch and listen closely enough. I might even see if I can still turn a cartwheel! That should be good for a laugh or two.


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