In my almost four years of parenting, I've learned a thing or two about communicating with three-foot-tall and under beings (except for Bolshy the bulldog; I am still hopeless at getting him to listen to anything I say).
One thing I've realised? I'm not a 'goo-goo-ga-ga' kind of mother - baby talk just isn't me, even when I am talking to a baby.
For better or worse, I speak to my children using the lingo and turns of phrase that I use in adult conversations (although the maturity level of my discourse with friends is debatable), which is why my 17-month-old, Liv, points to her bum whenever she's done a poo and gleefully shouts 'Butt! Butt!'
Is it bad that I find that cute?
Chatting to the girls like they're my gal pals also explains why Liv's older sister Diana regularly uses hyperbolic American phrases like 'I'm freaking out!' (this is in the context of me getting the princess card she likes in Memory games), 'No way, Jose' and 'Isn't that TOTALLY AMAZING?'
The downside of this is that D sounds like an hysterical Valley Girl with a British accent; the plus side is that she is really positive with people. Which I think is a good thing.
I am big on praise (especially with girls, and especially with praising things other than their looks and what they're wearing - but that's a whole other other column !), and I think the girls are starting to pick up on these uplifting vibes: 'That lady's tattoo is just lovely, isn't it, Mummy? When can I have one?' D will ask, semi-regularly, substituting tattoo for purple hair/neon pink lipstick/multiple piercings.
But I know that praise loses meaning when thrown out all the time, so I try to be constructive about it rather than excessive: 'Thinking of using items you already own as an impromptu Elsa costume - especially the socks as gloves - was really creative, but it might be a bit sunny for the woollen hat today, sweetness.'
This is tough at an age when they are also learning how to wound with words: when Diana doesn't want to go to bed, her new technique is to tell me that she loves Daddy much more than me, or that she doesn't love me at all.
I want to cry inside but instead I smile, tuck her in and tell her that's fine but I love her and Liv equally. And then I pour myself a massive glass of wine and think about all of the terrible things I have to look forward to both of them saying to me in the days, months and years to come...
Of course, unlike conversations with my friends, I need to be an authority figure to the girls. I still laugh to myself whenever I attempt to sound like a grown-up who is calm, cool and collected in the face of Liv dunking her hand in the dog's water bowl or Diana refusing to go to the toilet before we're about to get in the car, which takes a surprising amount of coaxing considering she, without fail, will need to wee the second we walk out the door.
Often, in these scenarios, when calmness fails, I use my trump card: 'No playdate/birthday party/Elsa doll until you tidy your room/wee/take your sister out of a chokehold that would make a WWE wrestler proud.'
I hate to admit it, but this form of communication (threat-meets-bribe?) tends to be effective when used sparingly (and until we've run out of birthdays/playdates/Elsa dolls to look forward to. When that happens, game over).
It also works a lot better than random frustrated shouting, which every parent has done at some point or other but which never achieves the desired result. Even worse, it earns you a pained look from your child and an evening of beating yourself up because you feel so guilty you lost control and shouted at the people you most adore.
I'm also finding that my vocab is changing as my daughters' is expanding. I spell things out all the time to avoid mentioning names or treats that D would pick up on when she's not meant to.
I have forgotten how to curse, which is probably a good thing, and I've also found new words to ban that bother me more than any four-letter obscenity, like 'fat.' I was horrified to hear it come out of my three-year-old's mouth a couple of months ago, and I'm trying hard to explain that it's not a nice word and we won't be using it.
Which brings me to the word I probably say most now, having never really said it before: 'kind.' I literally say it 50 times a day, because I like it. It's succinct but not over-the-top and it gets the message across: 'That was so kind - lovely!' makes D beam; 'Why would you do that to your sister? That's not kind,' is usually met with an apology and a sheepish look.
Here's the thing: I love watching Mean Girls, but I do not want to be living it.