…is that some days I can’t think of anything to say except the gloomy grouchy stuff (writes Dot). And things are getting to us a bit at the moment. In particular they are getting to Ken, and they are getting to Hugh, and between them they set a pretty miserable mood around the house. The building work has been going on a bit too long now and Ken can no longer stand it. It’s almost over, but these final stages are slow and frustrating. The kitchen is in but unusable (because the electrician hasn’t been yet so nothing has power. The sink works but that’s it). Ken isn’t happy with the way first the plumber and then the builder dealt with moving the pipes for the boiler: a horrible mess of pipes going round the corner, now covered over with insulating board so it will be impossible to access it without smashing into the wall. The coving in the dining room was damaged in the course of knocking through from the kitchen and insulating the outer wall, but the estimate we’ve had for fixing it is more than we now feel able to pay. (Plus Ken wants no more new workmen coming into the house.) The living room is still undecorated and dusty and horrible and the dyson has given in because it has choked up with the dust from the building work. There are various rough edges and unfinished bits round the new door and the new windows and we’re not sure the builder actually means to tidy them all up. He seems pretty sick of the job, just as we are.
Meanwhile Hugh is being extremely difficult. There are positives: I’ve started making a point of doing some crafts with him (his fine motor skills are poor and need work; plus it’s fun) and we had a lot of fun over the weekend making Christmas cards with sticky-backed felt shapes. We had a family trip to the swimming pool yesterday and, with the aid of armbands, he was able to kick and paddle his way along without either parent holding him – not for long, and moving very slowly, but we all got a great buzz of achievement out of it. But for much of the time he is being overpoweringly awkward and angry and negative, and it’s very hard to deal with. Trying to play with his sticker book with him: “I can’t do it! It’s too hard! I’m no good. I’m useless. You do it.” This because he has a bit of trouble lining the stickers up straight. I’ve been taking him to Sunday School, but I’ve finally given up because every week he is more reluctant to go and there is less and less of it he’s prepared to engage in. He doesn’t want to join in the song; doesn’t want to hear a story; doesn’t want to be in the play; says it’s boring. He won’t sit in the circle with the others, even with me. I decided at last that I was only making things worse by dragging him along each week and it was time to take the pressure off; but it’s disappointing in a lot of ways, not least because we’ve been hoping to send him to the Church of Ireland school and the children at Sunday School are the ones he would be going to school with next year.
Another thing that’s very hard work at the moment is the way Hugh constantly runs off or, alternatively, goes on a sit-down strike when we’re out. He’ll be walking along reasonably nicely for a while, but then he’ll decide he wants to go in a different direction to the one we’re going in, or just that he can’t be bothered to wait, and off he hares ignoring instructions to stop. We’re really making a point of tackling it (it’s a dangerous habit as well as annoying) but it turns every outing into a fight; sooner or later there’s a battle of wills and a tearful angry child strapped into a pushchair or (if the pushchair has been foolishly left behind) some treat withheld or privilege revoked. And when told off he reacts very badly: he’ll try to punch us, or throw something, or knock Frank’s precious helmet off, which always produces a wail. Alternatively he goes for rejection: “Daddy, you’re not on my team”; or, worst of all, self-hatred: “I’m not special any more”. I hate to think that he feels so rejected when he’s told off, but we can’t just let such behaviour go, and nor can we refrain from ever going anywhere lest it give him an opportunity to do something we’ll have to tell him off for. Last time I took him to the playground I talked to him beforehand about how it was important to stay close to Mummy and how we should all walk along together – trying to be pre-emptive and positive. It didn’t work.
Frank is easier because he’s so much more cheerful, but even he does a good line in whinging at the moment. And he’s always picking up things he shouldn’t touch, like the builders’ equipment, and going in cupboards and making horrible messes and drawing on the walls.
So, we are a bit of a miserable bunch.
But! we have booked a trip to New Zealand for Christmas. And while, on the one hand, I sort of worry that we’ll turn up and make such a bad impression that our kiwi relatives will never want to see us again, on the other, I think having some time together in a pleasant place free of builders and mess and anxiety could do wonders for everyone’s temper and even Hugh’s behaviour. I’m sure a lot of his acting up is the product of disruption and insecurity, not to mention a reflection of our own short fuses. He seems to be settling well into his new playschool and making friends, but he told me this evening he misses his old school. (I wish the other boys from playschool were headed for the Church of Ireland school next year; but none of them are.) Roll on Christmas.