Jack lies on the kitchen floor in his red pyjamas, legs and arms flailing, his face a puce, wet, dripping mess.
He looks like an overripe tomato.
“I want Fergus!” he wails, then hitches in a breath for more volume. “I — want — Fergus — baaaack!”
Despite all the episodes of Supernanny that I’ve watched over the years , I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried “bringing myself down to his level” (crouching down to make myself three feet tall), looking him in the eye, using a firm voice, putting him in time-out on the Naughty Spot, asking for apologies and hugs…
Nothing works. At nearly five, he should be growing out of tantrums, not more into them by the day.
The Naughty Spot, a mat outside the laundry closet, worked for about a month until a few days after Fergus left. Jack would sit on the landing quietly in time-out, and happily give me a hug and a “Sorry” when his five minutes was up. (I must be honest and admit here that it was usually more than the allotted five minutes, because I’d go off and do something else and forget he was there.)
I don’t want him to think he gets a reward for bad behaviour, but in this case, it’s unavoidable.
“You can stop that silly noise right now,” I say, sounding like my granny. “You’re going to see Fergus today because we are staying at Maggie’s tonight.”
The screams and kicking magically stop. For a second.
I put my hands over my ears as Jack yells again, this time with joy, and the twins in their high chairs yell with alarm.
“Go get dressed,” I tell him, raising my voice above the noise. “Your clothes are on your bed.”
* * *
“This storm looks as if it’s going to be a bad one,” Maggie had said to me yesterday. “We’re bound to lose power on this street, because we always do. Have you got a generator yet?”
I shuffled my feet and mumbled, as if she’d asked me where last night’s maths homework was. “No.”
“Then all of you should come and stay with me tomorrow night until it’s over, or until you get power back on. All five of you. No fun in a house in these temperatures, with three babies and no heat or hot water.”
“We can’t do that,” Oliver said, when I told him of Maggie’s offer. He has no idea what it’s like here without electricity. He’d been safely in England the last time we had a long power-cut.
” ‘We’?” I said. ” ‘You’ can do what you like, my love. Stay in a refrigerator if you prefer, should the worst happen. But the children and I are thinking ahead and staying in Maggie’s nice warm house.”
And after some grumbling, he agreed.
* * *
Jack comes downstairs, fully dressed but not accurately so. I turn his sweatshirt so it’s not back-to-front, and twist a sock round so that the heel is under his foot. His jeans, I’m relieved to see, are looser than they were two weeks ago.
After nearly falling out with Maggie over what she perceived as Jack’s weight issue, I was mortified, when I went clothes shopping for him a couple of days later, to find that the regular boys’ trousers I bought for him were too tight when he put them on at home. I had to take them back and exchange them for the ‘Husky’ fitting, for boys with more generous waistlines. Maggie and that awful paediatrician had been correct, and my son was indeed piling on the inches.
“Puppy fat,” Maggie said, when I apologised later for getting huffy with her when she had been correct in her observation. “Just puppy fat. It will go.”
I wasn’t so sure though — and I was totally at a loss to explain how he could be putting on weight like that. Since Christmas I have only given him organic food — lots of vegetables and fruit and lean meat and stuff like that — and any treats are on the top shelf of the pantry where he can’t reach them. I did this after smugly watching one episode of Supernanny on Christmas Eve that showed a sugar-crazed toddler running around and bashing his younger brother with a toy car, before realising that my own elder son, who earlier had been quietly stuffing his face with a Hershey bar, was pounding George on the head with a plastic toy hammer.
That was the day all chocolate and cookies went on the top shelf, and the Naughty Spot on the landing instigated. Also the day the toy hammer was confiscated indefinitely.
Today, thought, Jack is the picture of sibling virtue as we all plod through the snowflakes across the street towards Maggie’s house.
Maggie sees us coming, opens the door, and we are greeted by a whirlwind of pit-bull-Labrador. Fergus bounds around us, nearly knocking me and Jack over. He saves his biggest welcome for Oliver, of course, but even so, I swear that dog has never been so happy in his life to see me. Not even after several months in kennels while he waited to be shipped abroad.
When we are all inside and have stomped the snow from our boots onto the doormat, Jack stands on socked tiptoes and indicates to Maggie that he wants to say something in private. She bends down to listen while he whispers in her ear.
“I haven’t got many of those, sweetheart,” she says to him. “They’re a bit expensive, so Fergus only has them as a special treat on Sundays.”
Jack’s mouth droops, and I’m afraid he’s about to go into meltdown. He asks, “Is it Sunday today?”
Maggie laughs. “We can pretend it is, can’t we?”
His mouth becomes a normal shape again. Meltdown situation averted.
“What did he want?” I ask Maggie when Jack has run off to her TV den, where she’s put the DVD of Finding Nemo on for him.
“He wanted to give Fergus one of his special doggie treats, and I said he could. I think he misses that dog, you know.”
I know he does, and I feel guilty. I’d been so intent on getting rid of Fergus that I’d forgotten Jack’s feelings in the matter.
I tell Maggie this.
She frowns. “And yet he never bothered much with Fergus before, that I could see. Why all the fuss now, I wonder?”
Jack runs back into the hall to have another private word with Maggie. She shakes her head. “You’ll have to ask your mummy.”
Jack’s shoulders slump, and he slouches off back to the TV den.
“Ask me what?” I say.
“He wanted a cookie.”
“Ah.” I feel quite proud. “I think he knows better than to ask me that now. They’re strictly rationed in our house.”
Oliver laughs. “My mum did that to me once, when I was about 10, when she decided out of the blue that we should both go on a health kick, So I made myself jam sandwiches every morning before she got up, took them to school, and bought chocolate on the way home with the school lunch money she’d given me. She couldn’t understand why I kept putting on weight when all she fed me was cornflakes and salad.”
I roll my eyes at Maggie, as if to say, “You see what kind of a mother-in-law I have?”
Surprisingly, she doesn’t respond.
Later, when Oliver is busy taking our bags into the spare bedroom, she says: “Libby, you know I’m not one to interfere, and after our last near-argument about Jack, I’m reluctant to say anything at all, but…I have found that the more you stop someone from doing something, the more likely they are to find a way round the obstacle.”
I close my eyes. Maggie’s talking about Jack’s diet again, offering advice where it isn’t wanted.
“Thanks,” I say, and even I can hear the frostiness in my tone that makes the frigid weather outside seem tropical in comparison.
Oh dear. I do hope this storm isn’t a long one. I would like to still be friends with Maggie when the snow has stopped.
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