Now that I’ve been a parent for almost 7 years, during which time I’ve lost the majority of my hair, had the rest of it go mostly grey, and had my nerves frayed to the fullest possible extent, I feel qualified to share this list I’ve been compiling with you. It’s a collection of fundamental rules that all children who have moved beyond the baby phase start to live by.
I call this list ‘Several Truths About Raising Kids,’ or, if you want an easier way of remembering it, the STARKs. We could go one step further and call these STARKs Laws – it doesn’t actually make any sense, but it sounds extremely official and makes me feel a little like Newton. Not the unit, the person.
1. Children are born with ears but don’t be fooled; They actually don’t work. Speaking to children about unimportant stuff like getting dressed, brushing their teeth, picking up the pile of books they’ve thrown into the garden, or not pouring the glass of water they’re holding over your laptop will not be heard. They will continue on as if you don’t exist and your laptop will be as good as dead. Perhaps you could place it in the garden with the books and get some kind of ‘it’s-my-garden-but-it’s-also-my-office’ kind of arrangement going on. How chic.
With this point said, there are certain terms that will make it through the ear of a child that will be successfully processed by their brain. ‘Ice cream’, for example, or ‘iPad’. Naturally you’ll assume that you can slip in additional, important information with the words you know will get through. But, I repeat – do not be fooled. Telling your child to ‘stop hitting windows with that bat or you won’t be getting any dessert’, accentuating that key word in an attempt to get the whole message through, will only result in the child walking over to you expecting dessert on the spot. If you think you can tell them they won’t be getting it until after dinner, and only if they eat it all and if their behavior is exemplary, please refer back to the point 1. And remember they’re holding a bat.
2. You will get wet. A lot. If you’re outside in the rain your child will slow their movements to a snails pace, and you’ll be left standing around waiting for them to catch up. If you’re outside and it’s stinking hot your child will speed up causing you to run around manically to keep up with them. The basic thing you need to understand is that if you’re leaving the house you should expect to end up all kinds of drenched before you get to where you need to go.
Do I need to mention bath times here, or is it well-known enough that children will turn the smallest volume of liquid into something resembling a scene from Waterworld? Ok, good.
3. If you pack a change of clothing for your child, you needn’t worry about any ‘accidents’. If you don’t, you do. This point comes with one caveat – if you pack spare clothing and smugly think you’re prepared for any eventuality, this will backfire. You’re child will sense your preparedness, there will be two accidents, and you’ll be out of spare pants and back to square one. You MUST pack that spare set of clothing with a pure, clear mind so as not to alert the instincts of the child. Safest bet – just don’t bother at all and accept the inevitable consequences.
4. Children pick up on your need for personal space and will do anything to prevent you from getting it. No one knows why, they just do. They smell your need to escape like a wolf smells fear. If you think you can casually wander out of a room and then nip to the toilet for 30 seconds, think again. That child will hunt you down, and a closed door will not help. I suggest gathering paint samples that match the colours of your toilet doors – you’ll need them for touching up the scratch marks.
There may be times when you do find yourself alone, and your child is sitting quietly playing with a toy or reading a book. In these moments you’ll consider sparking up a conversation with your friend or your significant other, checking Facebook, or even picking up a book of your own. Any of those moves would be a huge mistake. The only reason the child is playing quietly is to make you THINK you can finally have a conversation with another adult, and they’re tracking your movements like a hawk. If you move an inch those toys and books will hit the ground and that child will be in your face so fast you won’t know what’s hit you. Practice being calm, still and silent. Like a statue. It’s one of the most valuable skills a parent can possess. If you can do it for 10 minutes, good. If you can go 30 – you’re winning.
5. Give up on folding laundry. Or, if you want to attempt it and actually keep it folded, you’ll need to do it when your children are asleep. That is, between 1:30am and 2:15am. If you do it when they’re awake it’s like holding a red flag to a bull – that washing will be scattered to the four winds before you can blink. Probably into the garden with the rest of your belongings.
6. Injuries to you as a parent are inevitable, so get used to them. I can’t speak for women (mainly because I’m not one), but if you’re a man know this – your child knows very well that your groin is the go-to impact spot for the best reaction and most damage. I play cricket, so started wearing a protective box as part of my casual attire years ago. I highly recommend investing in a good quality one. Not just for when you’re playing rough-and-tumble games with your kids, but also for when you go for walks in the park, or supermarket shopping. You’d be amazed at the damage a bag of apples can do when swung on the right trajectory.
7. Children don’t sleep, ever. I often hear parents say they ‘just need to focus on getting through the early months, and then we’ll finally be able to get some rest’. Ahh, no, this does not happen. There’s always something that keeps children awake and has them calling out at night. For example:
Their Buzz Lightyear toy is cold and needs a cover on. “No, not THAT one, daddy, I want a real sleeping bag that’s just the right size for Buzz. Not in the morning. NOW, daddy, he’s COLD. Make one daddy, MAKE one.”
Their brother is sleeping and they can’t and that’s not fair, and they need to wake their sibling to discuss the lack of fairness and what should be done about it. They’ll need you up to mediate, and I suggest you wear whatever protective gear you’ve got.
They’ll simply need a quick sip of water. “Not the water that’s already by my bed, daddy. FRESH water. Nope, that’s too fresh daddy. I need slightly OLDER water. Ahh, yes, that’s rig…uh oh daddy, I spilled my water. All over myself, my pajamas, my bed covers and my pillow. And your laptop. And that water was just PERFECT, too.”
The most accurate sounding returns to sleep I’ve heard from parents are the ones when their children are around the age of 30.That sounds about right to me. Don’t fight it – just give up on the idea of sleep for the foreseeable future.
8. Despite everything children throw at us, there is always coffee. Parents must always keep our caffeine levels high. The general rule I go by is this – if I’m halfway through my current cup then I should probably get another pot brewing to ensure it’s ready for when I’m finished. This keeps me on a schedule of fresh coffee roughly every 12 minutes or so, which I think is about right. Anything less and I risk becoming a dribbling mess on the floor, the lack of caffeine meaning I would have forgotten to put on my protective box leaving me completely vulnerable to impact from a fast flying Buzz after his refreshing full nights sleep in his cosy handmade sleeping bag. Always remember – coffee is key.
What STARKs have you learned?
Related post: 10 Things You Don’t Know About Kids Until You Have Kids