How do you explain to excitable five year olds that it is a good thing to be honest, but that there is a fine line to be drawn between honesty and rudeness? In the face of rather dominating older sisters [in the best possible sense], only son has developed a feistiness that can backfire on him in certain situations. He has decided that if sisters do not cooperate with him the best ploy, particularly with daughter one who adores him, is to withdraw all affection. “You are NOT my best sister,” he shouts, hoping to crush daughter one into submission. It does kind of work except when his sisters back each other up and he ends up with none of them as his best sister.
Only son’s sisters are very good at words, most particularly daughter one. Daughter two has given up on ever being able to get the better of her so can only withdraw or resort to guerrilla tactics. Daughter three just keeps out of the line of fire. It is very hard for a five year old to understand teenager-speak – even for a parent – and daughter one is a big fan of irony. You can almost see only son’s brain explode under the strain of trying to figure out what she is trying to say and whether it is a not my best sister moment or she is “just kidding”. Mostly, though, daughter one is in her own world of GCSE-induced stress. “I can’t eat,” she said the other day. “I’ve got a Spanish oral in three days and I feel sick.” I’m not sure we are going to survive the next year.
Anyway, back to only son. He surpassed himself in the honesty stakes at the weekend. We went to see some relatives and only son didn’t have much of the lunch. He spent the afternoon racing round the garden and then decided he wanted ice cream. Instead of asking, he took a proactive approach and got the ice cream out the freezer. This is probably my fault because he has grown impatient with my “just a minute” approach to life which is based on having to deal with multiple requests at the same time. There was only a little bit of ice cream left and he got caught red-handed. “I want ice cream,” he said rather too definitely. “Please,” said the person who caught him before telling him off for helping himself. Only son ate his ice cream and went back to running around. Half an hour later he came back in. “There’s nothing to eat in this house,” he said very loudly. “This is the worstest house EVER.”
I told my mum of the event and of several politeness workshops I had attempted in the immediate aftermath. “But he’s the politest five year old I know,” she said.
It is true that he can be exceedingly polite and diplomatic – he has just told me that his best friend was really bad today and got 10 minutes on the carpet and then threw in as an afterthought that he got two minutes. Not so bad compared to 10 minutes, he said. Smart boy.
The problem is he is either extremely enthusiastic and excited about something – he and his best friend are like two bottles of shaken up Sprite – or extremely unhappy. There is no middle ground. He can go from it being the best day ever to the worst day of all time in seconds. We went to pick up daughter three from a friend’s house earlier this week. Only son was very excited because it was night time and he had noticed the shops were all shut, apart from Tesco Express. “Could we possibly stop in Tesco Express on the way back and get a Kinder minion surprise egg because I really, really need one?” he asked. I said it was a possibility if he was good. “But that means you mustn’t chat to daughter three’s friend’s mum, mum. We’ll just get daughter three and leave, ok?” “Do you think I talk too much?” I asked. “Yes!” he replied. We got to the friend’s house. I started chatting to the mum. Only son shouted very loudly “Remember, mum, I said NO chatting. We need to go NOW.” I think several more politeness workshops may be necessary.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.