I was, so I’m told, a very busy toddler. Before I was 18 months old, I’d eaten quite a lot of the stuffing from the mattress in my cot (followed by as much wallpaper as I could reach through the bars), managed to wedge my bedroom door shut while I was still inside (later having to be rescued by Mr-Next-Door on a ladder, with great glee on my part I may add), flushed my mother’s knitting down the toilet and had my stomach pumped. And all that on a good day.
I know all this because my mother used to regale everyone but everyone who ever set foot in our house with accounts of my amusing pre-school exploits. This included Great-Aunts (groan), and – infinitely worse – visiting school friends (shock! horror!)
At the time, cringing, I found it hard to bear. Mum didn’t mean to embarrass me, I knew; it was simply part of her upbeat demeanour and finely-honed sense of the ridiculous. To be fair, she was even-handed in her targeting and just as ready to dip into the equally vivid fund of tales of her own junior misdeeds. Which, to be honest, were without exception laugh-out-loud funny, and guaranteed to brighten your day, give you a pain in your ribs and make your cheeks ache for hours. Truly, she should have been in stand-up.
There’s no doubt that a cheery outlook on life and the ability to not to take yourself too seriously are valuable attributes to pass on to your offspring. But when you’re twelve and faced with an implacable onslaught of humour over the meal-table, it’s a challenge to maintain your fragile cool.
However. There’s nothing like having a baby to bring the generations closer, is there? Having reached the same age my mother was then, and with three lively under-sevens of my own in tow, I’m looking at things a little differently. And here’s why.
It’s only when you’ve crossed that daunting threshold of L-plate childbirth that you really appreciate what your poor mother went through bringing you up. And you have to admit, there’s a certain poetic justice in having done back to you the sort of thing you inflicted on her.
A sharpened sense of humour is one of the things newbie parents need to acquire first, along with their fledgling nappy-changing and dribble-mopping skills. It’s not an optional extra. Because although the retelling of it later can give everyone a good laugh, it’s certainly not funny at the time when you discover the toddler pouring your expensive perfume down the sink. Or throwing eggs at the cat. Or doing a streak during the Family Service.
No; if you couldn’t laugh at some of the things your kids do, you’d be weeping. Seeing the funny side certainly soothes the sometimes considerable ouch factor.
But here’s the thing. Surprisingly, I now find myself grateful (in some respects) for all those excruciating teatimes when I winced to hear Mum launch into, for the umpteenth occasion, the Amusing Anecdote about a spectacular potty-training fail at the top of a playground slide. (But you don’t want to hear about that one, do you?)
In a way, they were a kind of long-distance On-The-Job-Training. They have, in fact, given me valuable ammo in the war of attrition every small child wages with its parents. Yep; I know the Sort of Thing to Expect.
Navigating the Terrible Twos, the Thrilling Threes, the Frantic Fours and the uncharted and frankly bewildering waters beyond is less stressful in the knowledge that none of my kids has quite outdone me yet. And if that’s not grounds for general rejoicing, what is?
Which reminds me. Guess what my Mum did to the fairy cakes at her fourth birthday party ..?