The Honey Monster

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It’s a bit ironic really that I’ve written a blog called the Marmite Kid about Jonah, my son, considering his idiosyncratic relationship with food.

We’ve moved on from telling people that he’s a fussy eater to saying that he has special dietary requirements because we tend to find that shuts them up a bit more.

I find that people have a weird thing about food and kids. Having a healthy appetite and eating everything and anything in sight is seen as a mark of achievement. Parents of fussy eaters can be made to feel that they are somehow failing if their child won’t wolf down whatever is put out in front of them.

I have two kids, one, Evie, who will eat pretty much anything (except porridge and bananas) and one who won’t, Jonah. So therefore, how can my parenting be judged?

Personally, I pay very little attention to it. As a former dancer, I was surrounded by people watching what they put in their mouth, but after five years of teaching dance at the Rhodes Farm Clinic, a unit for young people suffering from eating disorders, I understand that sometimes you should not put so much emphasis on food.

The best thing about Jonah’s diet is the reaction it causes in other people. We recently went to a McDonald’s party and the host was dumbstruck that all Jonah requested was a bottle of water. No milkshake, no chips, no burger, no nuggets, just his usual lunch, which of course I brought with.

In fact, meal times with Jonah is pretty straightforward. For breakfast he has a big bowl of porridge with honey. For lunch, honey sandwiches on brown bread (no crust), a fruit stick, crackers, custard creams, pom bears, yogurt and a bottle of water. Dinner is a bit more adventurous with a sausage (skin off), beanz, cucumber or even pizza.

Snacks are fine as he likes apples and strawberries and I never leave the house without a bag of crackers or brioche. Although he is partial to a little bit of milk chocolate, what he won’t do is consume the crap that most kids have on a daily basis. Offer him sweets and he’ll simply say, “No, thank you.”

Consequently, he is actually very healthy (according to the doctors), his teeth are shiny white (according to the dentist). So it is only other people’s strange reactions that we have to deal with.

The other day, Evie said to me: “Mum I feel sorry when people offer Jonah a sweet because they just don’t understand why he doesn’t want it.”

Jonah’s relationship with food is very likely to be based around control and him feeling scared and out of control if he is given something new to try. The child development doctor we saw said that you can try showing the child the same food up to 15 times before they are likely to accept it but in her opinion this approach didn’t even work with her own children.

So what is the answer I asked her: “When Jonah is older and is at his girlfriend’s house and her dad says eat up your greens, the chances are he just will,” she said.

But one of the things she did ask Jonah was if he had been on a plane. And the reason being was because for fussy eaters, parents often stop exposing them to new situations because they are worried about if they will eat anything.

This is totally understandable but shouldn’t stop your child from enjoying all that life has to offer. This summer we went to California for a month and carted around with us four boxes of porridge, six packs of crackers, custard creams, pom bears, fruit sticks and a whole load of honey!

Little did we know you can buy most of the items in California. And we also discovered another brand of porridge that passes muster. Life is full of surprises.

Daily Mail headline

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We’ve all seen those Mail Online headlines, you know, after you’ve read and refreshed the celebrity section for the tenth time that day and you finally move to skim the news section.

Five year old boy gets excluded! Nursery bans toddler! That sort of thing. Terrible parents you think to yourself. How on earth could it come to that?

Well, let me tell you. It sort of did happen to me, although exclusion was replaced by softer words such as ‘half-day timetable’.

Starting ‘big’ school is not always easy for every child. Some cry for their mums, some are overwhelmed or some like Jonah have fears that they simply can’t express. Unfortunately for Jonah those fears manifest themselves in ways that simply can’t be tolerated at school.

Every reasonable adult would agree that hitting, kicking, pushing or just general fighting can’t happen at school. Although many appreciate that kids do fight at home with siblings or friends, this behavior is just not manageable in school.

So there we were, 10 days in and I was ‘frog marched’ in to the classroom to be told that Jonah got into a fight with Year 2 boys (the scrawny reception kid he is he was never going to win that one), and a decision was taken that he must now be on a half-day timetable.

Now to say I was shocked is a bit of an understatement. I thought I was going in for a quick teacher chat, not an ambush.

Me against four members of staff hardly seemed fair and they had time to prepare whereas I was simply picking up my kid from school with no prior warning.

Now, I’m not saying it was the wrong decision to make but the ramifications for our family were pretty huge. In one respect, we were lucky. As freelancers we can work wherever we like so we were able to shuttle to and from school six times in one day!

But as freelancers, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. I was also concerned that simply removing him from the situation was not going to address any of the problems. And being told that time would help is just too risky a strategy for me. Plus the feeling that school could not cope with Jonah was a huge concern.

Little did I know at the time but this was the start of entering a whole new and strange world of Special Education Needs (SEN). It was also time to be one of those pushy parents that I’ve always slightly loathed. Because the reality is if your child is not fitting into the system then they need help and that’s not always readily available.

One year on and I’ve learned more than I thought possible about child development. We’ve had in depth discussions with specialists who have told us that in their view schools just can’t cope with young boys who mature later than girls.

We’ve had speech and language assessments which Jonah passed with flying colours, although he was described as giving ‘odd’ answers. One such as his wanting to know how long the session would take, and using our first names when asked who he lived with – all perfectly reasonable if he wasn’t a five year old.

We’ve had sessions with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS ) where our amazing support worker probably helped us more than she did Jonah, and I’ve learned lots about the way an average primary school operates.

But above all I’ve learned that everywhere you look, there are kids that will potentially slip though the net.

Bright, inquisitive minds that could one day find the cure to cancer are in danger of being turned off learning if their schools and family are not working together properly.

Jonah is luckier than some. We his parents are reasonably intelligent, articulate and are gathering as much information as possible to steer him through school.

Communication is key and with the introduction of his home/school book we can support his teachers with the behavioural work he is doing in the class and playground. So one ‘cross face’ in his book means no iphone game time at home.

But what about all those kids whose parents don’t speak great English, or those who haven’t the confidence to speak to the teachers? How many ‘naughty boys’ are just those that need to be taught in a slightly different way?

Having a ‘difficult’/ ‘spirited’ child is a lottery. I’ve met people who have had four easy kids only to have number five turn their lives upside down and people who have put off having more children after not being able to cope with the first.

But the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is don’t pay too much notice to the good stuff schools say about your child and don’t beat yourself up about the bad stuff.

Your family knows more about your child than any school ever will, and parents, above all, are the crucial factor in shaping your child’s future.

The check shirt

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I blame Woody from Toy Story.

That fantastic film that captures the hearts and minds of children and adults alike has caused somewhat of a wardrobe malfunction in our house.

Because from the age of about 3.5 when Jonah first got into these films, all he will wear is a check shirt. (Trousers too, that would be too weird to just wear trousers.)

When it first happened I didn’t really get it and would wrestle him into a jumper or T-shirt only to cause him to have a huge tantrum.

Only when he was able to articulate more he could explain to me that he just preferred shirts.

This would cause disagreements at home. My mum couldn’t understand why I just let him wear his beloved checked shirts when we had a whole wardrobe of clothes for him.

But as someone who also loves clothes, on a very superficial level I thought, why not let him wear what he feels comfortable in. Or in his own words what he felt was smart.

But looking back at it, I think it may also be about him having
control over this one area of his life.

So I would say quite simply, pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff. And perhaps even go with it a bit.

The joy when I found check shirt pyjamas was something to behold. In fact we have check shirts for every season and anyway he looks good rockin’ the cowboy look.

Plus it could have been worse, he could have wanted to be Buzz Lightyear!

Chop-Chop Man

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I’ve just Googled ‘How to stop a toddler running off’. It’s giving me very sensible advice about how to keep your child safe and how “Most of the time, if you don’t yell or run after him, he’ll stop on his own, turn around to see your reaction, and run back to you when he sees you’re not coming after him.”

That has NEVER happened with my son. EVER.

I’ve seen my husband sprinting like an Olympic athlete to try and pull him out of the road and pretty much tried every trick in the book including using my belt to physically tie him into the pushchair – don’t judge me on that one.

So on a family holiday to Italy, I knew that I would need to get inventive in order to keep him alive. For the first few days we took turns being on Jonah alert, basically making sure we were in tip top condition to bolt after him at any given moment. But it wasn’t just about him running off, there was also the issue of being destructive pretty much everywhere we went.

So we had one child, Jonah, who really shouldn’t set foot in any of those pretty tourist shops stuffed with delicate things that children love to touch, and another, Evie, who was desperate to buy a souvenir.

So what’s a mum to do? In my case it was inventing ‘Chop-Chop Man’. This was sort of real as in the front of one shop was a whole suit of armour with a full size axe, perfect for capturing small unruly boys.

Of course when I returned home from holiday and told my friends they all shrieked with laughter and said how cruel I was. But it worked, it worked, he was so freaked out that for once he stopped running off.

But what I didn’t realise was that it was the start of a whole host of things that scare him, which multiplied when starting school. The irrational fears could spring up anywhere and at anytime.

One summer he loved a talking tree at an amusement park but by the winter it made him tremble with fear and a refusal to enter the park. This was tricky as we had promised Evie we were going. So we had to circumnavigate the park to find another entrance and then run like lightening past anything that slightly resembled a tree.

Then there was Panto. A lovely experience for any child and especially for Jonah who went to see Snow White with his whole school and his sister, Evie, who was performing as one of the dwarves.

Knowing Jonah could get quite freaked out I went to see Evie perform the first time and took a mental note of everything that could possibly scare him. The witch, the dame (strange man dressed up as a woman) or perhaps the loud music. But no, none of these things bothered him as much as the ‘dummy’ (mannequin) on stage. Why a dummy, who knows but try shopping with a child who doesn’t like dummies – they are everywhere!

So now when I see children having a tantrum, I don’t assume they are being naughty. Jonah often has a tantrum because he has seen a dummy or talking tree or something else that has caused him to have an irrational fear. With growing self-esteem and confidence, these fears are gradually disappearing, but it’s taking time.

In hindsight, perhaps Chop-Chop Man was not my finest moment but sometimes needs must and we did what we set out to do in Italy, keep Jonah alive, oh and have a holiday too.

Escape artist

Sleeping bag

 

Baby sleeping bags, otherwise known as grow bags seem to be de
rigour these days. Nothing quite so satisfying as snuggling your little one up in their weird duvet/dress combo ready for a night’s sleep.

When we had Evie, we seemed to acquire quite a few of these in
various shades of pink but they were hardwearing enough to still be in good shape when we had Jonah.

Now whether it was the pink that he objected to (surely a one-year old is not that sensitive) or perhaps it was the whole I’m in a weird duvet/dress, Jonah did not like these things. But we persevered because we were assured that they were the key to sleeping through the night.

Most of the flimsy ones with poppers at the top were just useless. After a sweaty struggle to get him in it, within a few angry flailings, he would be out again and we would have to repeat the same painful process (the pain was all ours) all over again.

But then I found one that I swear even Houdini would have had
issues getting out of. his one was industrial strength with a huge zipper at the front that required a two-man effort to do up. No silly poppers and there was literally no way anyone was getting out of that thing, or so we thought.

The 3am shouting started but we were determined to let him cry it out for a bit, he was safe in his grow bag in his cot, eventually he would just lie back down and go to sleep.

But we were wrong because what we heard next was a loud thud
and a sort of victory grunt. We ran in. here was Jonah in his vest and nappy on the floor mid tantrum and in the cot the grow bag, zip still done up. he boy had got out of it escapology style.

To this day I have never worked out how he did it. Did he manage to undo the zip, pull it off and do it back up to freak us out or was he that angry about being in it, he acquired superman type strength to get out of it? We will never know I guess but that was the night we decided no more cot, we will face whatever a toddler in a bed could throw at us.

Love or hate?

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Ok, so why this blog and why The Marmite Kid?

This is for my 5 year old son Jonah and also for his older sister Evie who may one day look back and understand why mum and dad were a bit cranky some days.

Jonah is affectionate, creative, sensitive, dynamic, energetic, bright and good fun. He is also a challenging little boy at times. He can be pushy, aggressive, quick tempered and not always focused, apart from with anything Lego related.

That first lovely year of starting reception has been without doubt one of our family’s most challenging times. But it has forced me and my husband Gordon to really look at ourselves and make us if not better people, at least people who are willing to learn and develop.

But it has also been an incredible eye opener and led me down some very interesting paths, questioning our education system and why some of the brightest kids simply can’t fit within it.

It has also been incredibly funny, in a ‘if I don’t laugh I will cry’ sort of way and perhaps this blog can help other families with their very own Marmite Kid.

Originally this was just going to be a blog about my son and family but the more I spoke to people the more I realized that there are lots of Marmite Kids out there, you know, you either love it or hate it.

When you have a difficult child, quite frankly it is easier to pry into other people’s lives as you are in no position to judge so others tend to open up to you.

Children, behaviour, education systems and parenting are without doubt hot topics of conversation. This is just my take on what it is like to parent a child that just won’t sit on that naughty step no matter what Super Nanny may say.