According to Malcolm Gladwell, a writer and philosopher, the key to success is 10,000 hours – you become a master at a skill once you’ve practiced it for 10,000 hours.
According to that theory, I should be a master of parenting. My two older kids were eight and six by the time my youngest daughter was born, which means I’d been parenting for a total of lots and lots of hours. (I’m a master of parenting, not of mathematics).
And I did a reasonably good job with my two big kids. I made the odd mistake (and about twenty thousand mistakes that weren’t odd at all), but my children are gorgeous and fairly well behaved. Okay, so they play rather more computer games than is strictly good for them (using ‘rather’ in the sense of ‘hundreds of hours’) and eat slightly fewer vegetables than recommended (in other words, they only eat potato). But they’re wonderful people, and I’m proud of them.
So why, when I decided to go again, did I make such a botched job of Number Three?
Boo, who is now nearly four, is the light of our lives. She was born three weeks before my beloved sister died, so provided immense comfort and joy to us all at a very dark time. The child dances to music in her own head, tells me she loves me a hundred times a day, and tells jokes that make no sense, but have us falling on the floor laughing.
However, she also wakes me up every morning demanding chocolate milk, and politely informs me that she’ll kill me if I don’t get it for her. She scribbles in her siblings’ homework books, and was recently discovered painting every toy in her room (and much of the furniture) in lipstick. She rejects all wholesome food presented to her and asks for bubble gum and ‘special treats’ from 9am onwards. And if her father and I don’t give her what she wants she goes to one of her siblings, and if they don’t give her what she wants… Actually I don’t know what would happen. They always do.
Boo is cheeky and wilful and stubborn and loud. And every time she misbehaves and is spoken to harshly, she sobs, cries “But I love you, Mummy!” as if that solves everything. Then, if I don’t forgive her immediately, she proceeds to vomit on the carpet.
I know that we have spoiled our youngest child terribly. I know that the 10,000 hours went out the window when we saw her round little face with those enormous eyes. I know that we have a great deal of work ahead of us if we’re to put her back on track. But it’s okay. Even masters of parenting make mistakes. And besides, we’ll definitely get it right with Number Four.
Except that we can’t have Number Four. Boo says she likes being the youngest, and that she doesn’t want any more babies. And in this family, what Boo says, goes.
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