Stuff and nonsense

A friend wants to borrow our ‘ready bed’ and I’m feeling smug. Not only is it clean and works but I know exactly where it is in the garage.

Getting to the box in question is another matter. I squeeze in, past the lawn mower, over the camping equipment and across the bikes, scooters and scoot bikes, dislodging the hula hoop as I go, tripping over a Peppa Pig inflatable hopper and spiking myself on the swingball set. The box itself is under three plastic sledges and a car seat.

I wrench off the lid and pull out … a bag of pine cones. Ah yes, collected one holiday with optimistic plans for an Ideal Home-style Christmas display and now mouldy. No sign of the ready bed.

Next stop, the cupboard on the landing. On tiptoes, I open the top door and a quilt immediately drops on my head. I retreat to my bedroom to get a chair to stand on to stuff it back in again. To do so, I have to remove all the stuff already on the chair – a  knitted cardigan for a newborn baby, a top waiting to be handwashed (which has been worn twice while in the queue – and actually, might stretch to a third outing, now I look at it again), a tea towel, a school top waiting for a label to be sewn in and a dinosaur. I stagger to the cupboard with the chair, wrestle the quilt back into its cupboard and jam the door shut. I return the chair to my room and dump all my stuff on it again.

The pointlessness of my actions so far are all too obvious. The amount of debris that must be waded through to complete the simplest of tasks in my house is frankly soul sapping.

You could decorate entire rooms with the number of Teenage Ninja Turtle colouring pages my sons churn out. As it is, they attach them carefully across the join between the fridge and freezer so that shafts of paper fly across the kitchen every time I make a cup of tea.

Depending on witnesses, these are grabbed from the floor and stuffed in the bin or, if a little sad face is watching, slapped onto the ‘pending’ pile of ‘paperwork’ and immediately lost in a black hole of school photo order sheets, Ben 10 watch designs, bills, 3p off your next shop from Sainsbury’s vouchers and expired 2 for 1 deals to Legoland. Every now and again a passing remote control vehicle attacks the foundations of the pile and it cascades back to the floor whereupon my eye starts to twitch.

Even the bathroom is not immune. Where once there might have been a few pleasant smelling and looking bottles there is now a tub or tube for every ailment and eventuality. Industrial sized Sudocream containers, enormous ‘family sized’ shampoo and bubble bath bottles, three different toothpastes, head lice treatment (just a precaution, obviously) a box of ‘funny face’ plasters which don’t stick and a bumper pack of skin coloured ones that do. Not to mention a packet of baby wipes on every surface, a random pair of pants in a dusty potty and the inevitable single sock.

And don’t get me on to toys. Really. Or Harry’s bottle top collection.

But back to the ready bed. I have a sudden flash of inspiration – literally, a vision. A black garbage bag. The garage. There it is, next to the hedgetrimmer. Thank God, because the only other option was the loft and the thought of that was having an odd effect on my ears.

I head for the sofa, swipe three remote controls, a newspaper, a lego tower and a note from Harry asking me if I want to be a witch or a wizard onto the floor and slump onto the cushions, instantly setting off a distant siren.

Somewhere in the toy drawers, there is an emergency.

My dinnertime dictatorship

It is suppertime at Bomford HQ. The boys have shuffled, protesting, from the television to the dining room. I have broken the news. It is tuna curry.

“Yes! The best meal ever!” says Harry, six, in a surprise development.

Alec’s face crumples. “Pooiest meal in the whole wide world,” he says, climbing despondently onto his chair and assessing his plate.

Economical with his language, he glances over at his twin brother, Kit, four.

“Ugh, Kit?” he inquires.

For once, it is not a double ‘ugh’ as Kit is already tucking into his meal. Two out of three – not a bad strike rate.  We only have one meal that they will all happily eat and I save that for swimming night, for obvious reasons.

Alec, four, immediately leaps off his chair clutching his trousers. “Need a poo!” he splutters before sprinting from the room.

Kit’s fork clatters to the floor. It has gathered a shriveled raisin and a hair clump by the time I retrieve it from the far side of the room. Reluctantly I leave to fetch him a clean one. One potato, two potato…. three –

“Mummy! Kit threw his rice at me!”

“No!”

“You did!”

“Harry nappy baby bum!”

“Please be nice,” I shout pointlessly from the kitchen.

Next, the sound of a chair scraping the floor and rapid patter of footsteps. A wail.

“Mummy, Kit hit me!”

Oh to be Mr Tickle. With those extraordinarily long arms of his I could probably throttle both of them from where I stand.

There is a sound of muffled straining, a gush of water and Alec is back in our midst looking mournfully at his now congealed curry.

Alec before mealtimes got complicated

Alec before mealtimes got complicated

Welcome to my “nursery of democracy” as the family dinnertime was christened by a food writer recently. Yes, that cradle of civilization where my sons learn to socialise and together we develop our family culture while catching up on each other’s news. Presumably all while eating food topped with a smiley face fashioned from a couple of olives and an organic carrot.

In truth, our mealtimes owe more to North Korea than the free world.  Bribery, threats and blackmail are often employed simply to get the boys as far as the dining room table, let alone actually putting food in their mouths.

So while other households grapple articulately with the complexities of modern life over their spaghetti bolognese, my family is stuck in the starting blocks, barely able to transport fork to mouth or bum to seat without encouragement of an official nature. As dictator-in-chief, my job consists of blocking the exits, providing helpful reminders that food is often nicer when it’s hot and confiscating anything which could be fiddled with, broken or used as a weapon. If there is a lull in this role I then crack down on excessive table drumming (Harry), burping (Kit) and repetitive joke telling (Alec). I admit that this approach does not leave much room for discussions of a more philosophical nature, except perhaps to ponder on how quickly bedtime is approaching.

It is no doubt a relief to everyone when I finally leave the dining room, laden with half empty plates, the boys’ food intake quotas eventually met.

Harry follows me into the kitchen in an attempt to get first dibs on the Pretty Peachy yogurt, safe in the knowledge that once selected, both Alec and Kit will want it and therefore refuse to eat anything else.

I would point this out to him, but I am standing by the bin with most of Alec’s tuna curry in my mouth. I motion to him to return to his seat with less authority than I’d hoped for.

When I return to the dining room clutching an apple and some jaffa cakes, Alec’s face brightens.

“Best mummy ever!” he shouts.

“You don’t really know that for certain Alec, ” Harry cautions, sensibly.

“Mummy ever,” repeats Alec, defiantly. He senses there could be a jaffa-related bonus if this loyalty to the leader continues.

Kit’s apple is eaten and he is now dismantling his jaffa cake. Flakes of chocolate litter the floor until all that is left is the orange jelly in the palm of his hand. Finally and joyfully this is stuffed into his mouth.

“Can I get down?” shouts Harry from the lounge.

Dinner is officially over – it must be, the room is empty.

An hour later and I am switching off Harry’s bedroom light and heading down the stairs.

“Mummy?”

I emit a non-committal grunt.

“I’m huuungry..”

The Art of Noise

When a stranger in the street tells my children to keep the noise down, even I have to admit it’s time to take out the earplugs and start fiddling with the family’s volume control.

I was not as affronted as you might think by the lady’s intervention. Humiliation and acute embarrassment being something of a regular feature these days, I was mainly just grateful that somebody had made the noise stop. As, no doubt, was the rest of the street.

The racket in question was a heated discussion between Harry, six, and me about whether or not he was shouting. (“I started off politely and then I worked up to shouting,” he bellowed). At the same time Alec, four, was pawing at my knees babbling excitedly about a hole that British Gas has just dug in our road while Kit had stopped, rolled up his trousers and was trying to get my attention focused on a tiny cut he’d sustained a week ago. In short, it was chaos. I hadn’t really noticed, because that is the norm in our house.

As we returned home, chastened, I realised that in the last six years my noise tolerance has risen dramatically. Admittedly, having twins who between them cried continually for approximately a year hastened that process and no doubt hardened Harry against the more subtle aspects of communication as he spent his formative years attempting to make himself heard over his brothers’ wails. Alec and Kit learnt from an early age to block each other out and rarely disturbed each other with their crying. One night I went into their room after Alec had been repeatedly howling to find Kit fast asleep with his fists clamped over his ears.

Batman and spiderman

Noisy? Us?

Over the years I have perfected the art of selective deafness –  a common condition amongst parents –  which allows you to function and retain your sanity by blocking out whining, crying and shouting below a certain level.

While most normal people associate white noise with a washing machine, a blank television screen or maybe even a dolphin’s cry, for me, it has become the sound of small voices raised in grumpiness, injustice or tiredness.

I am able to chat pleasantly to a fellow mum, completely ignoring the cacophony of competing voices below me until the level reaches a tipping point (usually when I can’t actually hear the person I’m talking to) at which stage I snap: “Will you be quiet. NOW!” before turning sweetly back to my startled companion and resuming the conversation.

On holiday I blanked it out so successfully that as I read to Alec in his bottom bunk, Harry was actually being strangled by Kit on the top bunk. It was only when his cries turned to splutters that I realised the potentially life threatening nature of his distress and intervened.

Obviously I try not to ignore my children all the time. Although I spend a large portion of the day begging them not to shout and fight, I do also defend their right to shriek and squeal.  Hell, laugh even. They are children, after all.

So when my neighbour requested that the boys relocate from our back garden to the park on the first and possibly only sunny day of last summer I feel my husband was fully justified in pointing her in the direction of our local library. Had they still been yelling at 8pm then maybe she would have had a point. But they were tucked up in bed and our house was silent as it is most nights, which I think buys us quite a lot of daytime shouting tokens.

I don’t pretend to be saintly where other people’s noisy children are concerned either. I was furious when a baby howled through Wreck-It Ralph – only the second film Harry has ever seen at a cinema (that’s if you count Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked) and I was equally dischuffed to be seated next to an eight-month-old at Harry’s first proper classical concert.

Which brings us back to my problem of how to return our noise level to something approaching socially acceptable. It is a point I attempt to discuss with the boys over dinner. Half way through my clearly over-long explanation of why the shouting must stop Harry suddenly leaps from his chair, adopts the pose of a guitar-playing rock star and shouts “Oooo, sexy lay-dee!” before returning to his seat. Alec erupts with laughter and shrieks “Mama Mia!” while Kit resorts to his fallback angry tiger impression for good measure. I pause, waiting for a moment to resume my chat.

I’m still waiting.

That Sinking Feeling

One of the things that no one warns you about when you have children is that one day you will find yourself sitting with a sweat-soaked back beside an over-chlorinated swimming pool watching your beloved son bash a fellow bather with a float – at your expense.

And yes, several lifetimes ago it may have been pleasant to splash and sing ring-a-ring-a-roses with my new baby, but now, six years on, the pool experience has lost its lustre. Or in my case, gained it since I rarely last five minutes in the changing rooms before turning the kind of shiny puce that makes people reach for the nearest defibrillator.

I’ll be honest, in an ideal world I wouldn’t barricade myself into a windowless cell with my three children, strip them to their pants and then attempt to pull a balloon over their heads. I probably wouldn’t choose to follow that up by sitting in an inhumanely hot room wiping sweat from my eyes while gesturing wildly at my ear and mouthing “LISTEN” as my son attempts backstroke while the rest of the class is practicing log turns.

Alec and Kit swimming

Alec and Kit swimming

But hey ho, that’s the sacrifice a swimming mum makes. A sacrifice which I’m convinced actually takes years off your life. (No hard evidence yet, I’m currently amassing proof.)

Of course, this is the one activity that my children have always been enthusiastic about. Last week I had to bribe them to go to the park on a sunny day, but where swimming lessons are concerned, no amount of snow, illness or maternal feet dragging will stand in their way.

I admit that much of the stress is self-imposed. Knowing that only a 20mm plastic partition separates us from half the children’s school peers and their parents does put something of a straightjacket on my usual parenting techniques. And with shouting, threats and crying ruled out, frankly, where’s left to go? (Actually, hissing can work, but not for long.)

The children, naturally, are attune to this slight relaxation in the norm and seize on it mercilessly. As soon as we enter our family cubicle, Harry, six, throws himself on the baby changer and lies there legs akimbo. This serves two purposes – it infuriates Alec and Kit, four, and puts him in a perfect position to aim sneaky kicks when I’m not looking. Plus when he gets bored he can use this as a step to launch himself at the top of the cubicle and look into the one next door. Usually all he can see is Alec or Kit who are peering up from under the same partition. Occasionally they get a more interesting view.

While Harry is being a baby, I get the twins into their swimming gear, wrestle on their wretched hats, retrieve items of clothing from the tops of doors, fend off goggle snapping, take them to the first of approximately 25 toilet stops and steer them to their class. Alec and Kit then spend half an hour fighting and hugging on the side of the pool, interspersed with some light floating and splashing.

Harry and I watch their performance before returning to the cubicle (via the toilets), getting Alec and Kit dressed again while Harry prepares for his class. At this point snacks are consumed (my secret and only weapon). Harry then has his lesson while I read to Alec and Kit in a bid to prevent them from throwing themselves in the water or trapping limbs down the plastic collapsible pool-side seats. I glance up only when I hear the instructor bellow, “put that float down!” and make appropriate hand gestures to a baffled Harry.

In between all this I speculate endlessly about when I can give up the lessons. I haven’t established a hard and fast rule here, but the bar has been mentally lowered over the years. Initially I felt once the boys had got a strong swimming technique I could retire from the scene, now I shall back out once they can all do a width with armbands, or possibly paddling a raft.

Except that obviously I won’t. Like every other harassed and overheated poolside parent guilt keeps me rooted to my damp chair. Children must be able to swim, that’s a given. Mine will be no different – even if their progress does make Neanderthal man’s mastering of table manners look like an overnight sensation.

Until that joyful day, I’ll keep the snack box topped up, perfect my silent disciplinary technique (which involves holding up pictures of beloved toys and drawing a finger menacingly across my throat) and crucially, keep my very own buoyancy aid to hand. Well, one of us needs to stay afloat.

Harry swimming as a tiny baby

Harry swimming as a tiny baby

Ducking school trips

Alec and Kit’s first day out with nursery. Mine too. I’ve never been able to go on trips with my eldest son Harry, six, because I’ve always had Alec and Kit, four,  to look after – a fact he is not slow to pick up on.

As he sizes up their picnics, the injustice of the situation hits him.

“They’ve got chocolate mini-cheddars!” Harry shouts. “That’s not fair.” A pause. “That’s not even allowed!”

I assure him that although there is some brown writing on the packet, this does not mean they are chocolate. It’s too late.

“You’ve never been on a school trip with me,” Harry shrieks. “Why do they get to go with you and I don’t?”

“It’s not fair! I’m never going on another trip unless you come with me.” Somewhere a door slams. As his school trip is next week I am doubly guilty at my impending parental no-show. I can’t fault his argument.

Our emotional hurricane passes.  Alec, Kit and I slope off to nursery, praying we are not boarding the coach as Harry and my husband pass on the way to school.

We needn’t have worried. Half an hour later, we parents are still milling around in the playground awaiting our instructions. The teachers emerge and remind us of the rules: No eating or drinking on the coach, no chocolate, fizzy drinks or sweets and toilet breaks at designated times only (slight concern over that one).

We head for the coaches – I spot a few parents dumping banned items in the bin. I am now slightly panicky about our dodgy looking mini-cheddars.

We are off, only half an hour late. Alec and Kit’s teacher, Mr M, walks down the coach checking all is well. “Who’s driving the bus?” asks one little girl worriedly.

Less than five minutes from school and a parent brazenly hands her son a chocolate bar. We nearby law abiders marvel at the audacity of breaking two rules with one action (see above). Mr M is still prowling the aisles and  notices the child’s tell-tale chocolate dribble. The half eaten bar is removed from his mouth. Mum is given stern look and finger wag. Everyone shifts uneasily in their seats. Obviously I won’t be giving the boys chocolate, but surely I can feed myself obesity-inducing rubbish? I resolve to eat my Penguin bar in the toilets later.

With some relief we arrive at the London Wetlands Centre without further confiscations. We deposit lunch boxes in a container and have our first toilet stop. We discover there are two toilets. Half an hour later we are still standing in a queue outside the toilets. We’ve missed the first otter feeding slot and are 10 minutes late for our stint in the playground. A mother who was at the front of the queue is starting to mutter audibly about the slowness of those at the back. Inevitably,  the last child in the queue has had an accident. We nod sympathetically and let off an inner howl as valuable playground time ticks away.

Finally we make it. Highlight of the playground is a telly tubbies-style tunnel with one entrance and, it transpires, six exits. Remaining 10 minutes of playground time is spent rounding up all those missing in the tunnel.

Next is lunch. We find our spot by following a trail of Ribena to a small patch of muddy floor overlooking a boggy lake. It’s the closest we’ve got to wildlife so far.

Later we are met by a wetlands guide who takes us to his yurt to tell us about ducks. He has pictures of food and asks the children to tell him whether it is eaten by ducks or humans. “Who eats this?” he asks, holding up a picture of a pizza. “Harry!” shout back Alec and Kit.

He tries again by asking what animals live at the Wetlands Centre.

Hands shoot up. A confident little boy is chosen.

“Giraffes”, he answers.

We then troop round to the duck pond and each child grabs a handful of pellets to lob at the ducks.

On our way out we pass the otter enclosure. They only come out at feeding time, we are told. It is not feeding time.

Our itinerary says we now have 45 minutes of “free time” which is spent wandering somewhat aimlessly with parents staring zombie-like at the café and children eyeing the giftshop. We loiter in the middle where you can neither eat nor spend money. At 1.50pm we reconvene and are the first group back on the coach. At 2.10pm everyone else arrives.

“We’ve been watching the otters being fed!” a little girl announces as she clambers on board. The front-of-the-toilet-queue mum utters a series of banned words.

The return journey is spent in virtual silence, with children and carers alike either asleep or semi-comatose with exhaustion.

Safely back at nursery, we stagger off the coach.

“What did you do?” asks Harry nonchalantly.

Alec and Kit jump around, desperate to be the first to tell him.

“We fed the ducks!” they shout in unison.

Bye Bye Buggy

A few minutes after my husband and I emerged from the sonographer’s room holding the twins’ first scan picture in our shaking hands, the full implications of what lay before us hit me.

“Oh my god!” I said as we waited for the lift. “We’ll have to get a double buggy.”

It was a sobering moment. Or at least it seemed like one – we hadn’t yet twigged that we’d also need a new car and a new house.

Until this point, my attitude to parents wielding double buggies had been an unattractive mix of smug revulsion. I admit it, I pitied them. Running over peoples’ feet, jamming themselves in supermarket aisles; frankly, taking up too much space. The possibility that I would one day join their harassed ranks had never crossed my mind.

For about four minutes we toyed with a single buggy plus sling scenario, but even in our shocked state we were forced to face up to the fact that with a toddler to contain as well as the twins, this was simply not an option. Worse, we realized that once we’d secured our whopper we’d have to add a buggy board for said toddler. A traveling circus would get around less conspicuously.

That was October. In February we were standing in a hangar containing our pushchair of choice – the Mountain Buggy Double Urban. We gingerly pushed it around, sending display items crashing in all directions, although pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to manoeuvre, albeit into other things.

The sales lady “collapsed” it and stood back triumphantly. The buggy was approximately two centimetres lower, but apparently no smaller. Compact it was not.

Half an hour later, pockets lighter, boot considerably lower, the buggy was ours. Life with twins had begun.

twins in buggy

Babies in the buggy

It is fair to say that over the intervening four years, the buggy has attracted almost as much attention as the twins.

“Stand back!” people yell, flattening themselves against walls or stepping into the path of buses to let us through – even though the buggy is narrow enough to fit through pretty much any normal door and certainly along a pavement. “Blimey – have you got a license for that?” has been heard. More than once.  “Bet that keeps you fit!”, people comment. (It doesn’t by the way – my upper arms still resemble blancmange despite propelling the damn thing up a 1: 2 hill for years.)

I have, of course, come to love our buggy and bridle on its behalf when people carp on about its size or shove their feet under its wheels. It is loads easier to push than the Maclaren I used for our first son, and having surrendered our house to a mountain of toys, highchairs and plastic feeding bowls some years ago, what difference did a buggy blocking the front hall for three years really make?

The last six months have seen the buggy and I gradually separate. Nervously, I left it at home for the school run. My twins, Alec and Kit, are not known for their co-operation on this hellish journey. Prizing a stubborn Alec off the pavement while Kit sprints into the distance is not an uncommon occurrence. Without the buggy to threaten them with, how would I manhandle two three-year-olds to the school gate? In short, slowly and with much whining and cajoling from all sides.

However, as much as the double buggy enhanced our lives when Alec and Kit were smaller, I cannot describe the joy at finally being liberated from it. Suddenly, interest in us was reduced by about 90 per cent. Nobody noticed us, or felt the need to comment on us, to us or about us. At last, Alec and Kit were just like any other little boys.

So, with Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday over, it was time to make our separation permanent. The buggy was brought out from the garage one last time. It emerged gleaming and pretty much unrecognizable from the only deep clean it has ever had  – my children had been happily nestling in filth for years, I discovered.

double buggy farewell

Farewell to double buggies

The boys and I looked at all the old photos of them as babies in the buggy before they clambered, giggling,  into it again for a final picture.

They stood waving as I drove it off to my local twins club sale. The end of an era.

Four hours later I was home. With the unsold buggy.

Double buggy anyone?

Birthday Cake

Rainbow cake

Rainbow cake

As Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday party approached, two issues loomed. Could I get away with a single birthday cake between them for another year and could I pull off a successful celebration with – deep breath – no party bags?
The answers, thankfully, were yes and yes. As ever, there was the complication of themes: Peter Pan v Ben 10 one day, Ice Age v Cars 2 the next. The ideas changed so frequently that they were eventually abandoned in the certain knowledge that they would have veered off course before the ink was dry on the invitations.
Most importantly, the cake. Last year I attempted Spiderman. It took me almost five hours to transform a perfectly good sponge cake into a mangled blue and red monstrosity. My cake appeared to depict the nightmare scenario of Spiderman’s headfirst plunge from tall building to pavement. Even our group of three-year-old party goers gasped when it was wheeled out.
This year I vowed there would be no midnight sobbing over another birthday cake.
The boys were non-committal in their demands which made it easier to not only impose my own ideas but to postpone for another year having to make a separate cake for each of them. Until it is explicitly demanded, I am ignoring one of the cornerstone suggestions for maintaining a twin’s identity. I’m already saving for the cost of righting the psychological repercussions. Obviously we have separate renditions of Happy Birthday and each boy blows out his own set of candles, which at the moment seems to make them both happy.

Meanwhile, Alec liked every cake I showed him and Kit only wanted a Halloween-style orange pumpkin cake which I ruled out ostensibly because it is March not October but in reality because it looked downright difficult.
On the quiet, I searched for something eye catching, yet relatively simple and finally stumbled upon a rainbow cake. The picture looked amazing. A deceptively simple white-iced exterior which, once cut, revealed a cake of six brilliantly colored layers, held together with plain white frosting. Genius.
I showed the picture to the boys. “Pretty!” said Alec. “Ugh!”, said Kit.
Following the lead of generations of politicians, I completely ignored the dissenting opinion and pressed on regardless, assuring myself that he didn’t fully grasp the concept.Balloons
My recipe, from Edd Kimber’s “Say It With Cake” (http://www.waterstones.com/wat/images/special/pdf/SayItWithCake_recipe_card.pdf), was slightly fiddly and required buying a third 20cm baking tin and considerable quantities of gel food colourings, but following it to the letter, my six garish cakes looked not only edible, but quite professional. I abandoned the white chocolate icing suggested in the recipe on the grounds that it required a sugar thermometer so was guaranteed to exceed my technical capabilities and opted instead for Hummingbird Bakery’s failsafe Vanilla Frosting (http://captivatingcupcakes.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/hummingbird-bakerys-vanilla-frosting.html). A mere hour later, my cake was iced. I wasn’t crying. In short, a miracle had occurred.
For some time before the big day, I had been gradually easing in the idea that there would be no party bags, but I admit I was not brave enough to go completely cold turkey. Instead of the usual bag full of plastic rubbish, I opted for a single bit of rubbish. Let’s face it, you’ve got to give the children some incentive to leave. I bought gifts priced between £2-£3 for each child and put them in a box which acted as a lucky dip – accessed only once each child had their coat on and was ready to go. The only condition was that they had to open it when they got home – to avoid comparisons with what anyone else had got. (Inevitably someone flouted the rules and was apprehended trying to shove a half-wrapped parcel back into the lucky dip in the hope of getting something better the next time).
For the most part, each child got one reasonable toy to leave with and, while still expensive for the 17 kids we had at the party, was on balance a better and easier alternative to the annual tedium of compiling party bags.
But back to the rainbow cake. Once the double Happy Birthdays were out of the way, my husband dramatically sliced open the cake. This year, instead of the odd stifled sob and embarrassed intake of breath, there were cries of delight and a clamor of small hands for a piece of their own. Parents asked in disbelief whether I had made it myself (come to think of it, that did happen last year), and were genuinely impressed by the results.
Triumphant, I looked over at Alec and Kit, proudly heading the birthday table.
“Ugh!” said Kit, helping himself to his third slice.

Welcome to my world

Breakfast is served. By which I mean three bowls are dumped on the table, sometimes accompanied by spoons. Loud references are made up the stairs to time, school and hurrying up. This is repeated.

Damn, my belt-tightening trip to Aldi has been busted. Harry, six, eyes  his “cheerios” with suspicion. “They look like dog biscuits,”  he says, before shoveling in a large spoonful.

“ Mmm, delicious”.

Kit, three, is working through his breakfast checklist. Critical factors include  colour of bowl, position of banana in relation to Weetabix and volume of milk up the side of said Weetabix. A nervous pause. His lower lip is unjutted. Eating commences.

His twin, Alec, arrives head first down the stairs bellowing “hot milk!”, before clambering up onto his chair and falling off the other side.

The other two roar with laughter sending Alec into a fury. “Harry’s a wee wee poo poo head”, he explodes, unleashing the worst insult from his thankfully limited arsenal.

All three boys

All three boys

“Fart bum!”, replies his brother.

“Poo poo head!”

“That’s enough”, I mouth, inaudible above the exchange of toilet dredging.

Alec leaps down off his chair and aims a punch that  lands on Harry’s knee. Harry swiftly returns one to his ear.

“That’s enough,” I repeat, aware that the volume has exceeded the recommended level for good parenting.

Quiet is temporarily restored. Alec returns to his chair rubbing his ear. Harry belatedly remembers to say ‘ouch’ and looks smug. I pretend I can’t hear the hissed ‘fart bums’ ricocheting across the table.

My husband comes in with his coffee, having abandoned his attempts to listen to the radio in the kitchen.

Alec rubs his ear again hopefully, this time with his Weetabix-coated spoon which  drips a trail of slime down his nursery sweatshirt.

“Daddy’s the lemon!” he shouts, triggering the daily scramble to avoid being the last to finish. Kit begins whimpering at the mere thought of being today’s victim.

Harry is already down from the table and riding round the room on a fire engine designed for an 18-month-old. It is our most popular toy. Inexplicably its batteries are still in full working order. We finish our breakfasts to the sound of sirens wailing, accompanied by the odd ankle shunt. In other words, in relative peace.