You wait years for your children to start speaking, imagining all the wonderful conversations you'll have when they can finally communicate in words rather than just pointing and saying 'ba!' How you will have intelligent discussions over the breakfast table, rather than spending the time dodging flying Weetabix and wiping the jam off your jeans. How your children will be well-versed in classics, politics and morality and that this education will start when they are pre-schoolers listening attentively to your every word. They will be able to hold forth on any topic. They will be able to think for themselves.
The reality can be very different. What really happens when your children start to speak is that they then decide to shout very loudly at each other and at you. Rather than all copying the oldest, the four and two year olds mimic the one year old and they all chant in unison bashing their spoons on the breakfast table: "Ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma" as I fly around pouring juice into beakers and milk into bowls. They don't want to discuss Brexit.
Here are some things that they do, however, like to do with their new found words:
i. Give their opinions (endlessly):
From giving them the wrong coloured breakfast bowl ("red one, red one"), the wrong towel ("blue one, blue one"), the wrong pants ("I don't want it Gruffalo pants"), the wrong coloured Zoggs swim toy ("purple one, purple one"), to the wrong type of toothpaste ("I want big girl toothpaste" - from my son), I fear I will never get this right. However, I can start to make things easier for myself, not by remembering the correct variations of crockery, swimwear and toiletries, which alters daily, but by ceasing to court their opinion at all. This avoids conversations such as the one below, which my two year old son and I have regularly:
"How about pasta for lunch today?"
"I don't want it pasta"
"I don't want it peppa shapes."
"I don't want it ham samich."
"I don't want it pitsa."
ii. Repeating words and phrases:
They have learnt a new word - wonderful! Their brains are like sponges, soaking up their surroundings. They even invent their own phrases and speak in nonsense sentences - all great for their developing imagination, surely. Then the four year old starts talking about bogeys all the time and magics up sentences such as this:
"I'm going to the bogey shop. I'm going to put my bogey in the bogey basket and go to the bogey shop" (collapses on the floor in hysterical laughter)
And the two year old thinks up a favourite nickname, in his case 'smackybum' which he calls everyone from his sports teacher to his grandfather.
"You're cheeky," says grandad.
"I'm not cheeky, smacky bum."
iii. Describing (mainly bodily functions):
Then they start to be able to describe the world around them and begin to use adjectives. A real leap forward in terms of their conversational prowess, you might think. For example, the other day my toddler was digging around in his nose, found a particularly disgusting bogey and then handed it to me saying,
"That's a sticky one".
"Thanks," I say, suppressing the urge to wipe it on his tracksuit.
When I go to the loo, he follows me in, stands right next to me and then peers down behind my back into the toilet bowl,
"Doing a poo?"
"Just wee wee?"
He proceeds to pull half the paper from the roll and starts to polish my bare left buttock.
Yesterday morning, yes at breakfast again, a large raspberry sound ripples through the air, reverberating the radiators, loud enough to mask the music on the radio for at least three seconds. We all look at the two year old.
"From. My. Bum." he announces proudly as my daughter collapses into fits of giggles and the one year old joins in, so as not to be left out, even though he doesn't really understand.
iv. Criticising your parenting:
In my experience,this happens at around age four. Phrases that my four year old daughter has said to me in the last few weeks include:
"You're not my best friend."
"When I talk to daddy, daddy talks to me, but when I talk to you, you don't talk to me."
"You're always talking to me. Stop talking to me."
"Just don't look at me."
"Mummy, you're always on your iPad" (when I'm looking up a recipe in an attempt to make them something other than pasta for tea.)
And, my particular favourite:
"Mummy, you make everyone sad".
Just when you think all is lost, the older children start to call each other "my darling" for at least twenty minutes before hitting each other again and my daughter says "Mummy, please may I have a napkin please mummy" (as her Granny has taught her that young ladies use napkins).
At breakfast time, the Weetabix is still flying across the table but on the whole, they are eating their cereal and toast. No one is talking. It is bliss. I have given up on discussing classics, politics and morality. Surely Oscar Wilde was right when he wrote that "only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"?
I make a vow never to try to talk during breakfast again.
Tabitha blogs at www.madmotherintheattic.com
(Photo credit: Siklos, circa 1982)