Writer Penny Stretton lives in Nottingham and is mum to Archie, 5, and Joni, who is 16 months.
Penny continues to enjoy the highs and lows of parenting her 16-month-old daughter Joni - this month mum and daughter struggle with an emotional rollercoaster and the coming of Christmas...
About three weeks ago, unbeknown to me or any of the family, an evil little visitor took over Joni’s body and turned our already spirited 16-month-old into a child with traits uncannily devil-like.
I had to double take a couple of times as I could have sworn she had sprouted a red pointy tail and was hiding a pitchfork behind her back.
Despite her wild child personality she’s always been smiley and jolly, but gone was her goofy grin, replaced by a snarling, snotty grimace and a constant head shake of ‘NO!’.
Gone was her goofy grin, replaced by a snarling, snotty grimace and a constant head shake of ‘NO!’
Her violent outbursts, usually reserved for mummy, daddy and big brother, began being doled out further afield. I was particularly upset and frankly embarrassed when she lashed out to kick her cousin at a local playgroup. Onlookers flinched then cooed with sympathy and commented that she looked poorly, but I couldn’t help but cringe a little at her unkind behaviour.
I blamed teething as her cheeks burned crimson and she writhed around, moaning every night and woke up tired and snappy.
One particularly exhausting afternoon, when she had thrashed and cried all day, we collapsed for a cuddle on the sofa together and as I nuzzled into her, I thought ‘ewww, your head stinks!’.
It was then I discovered the green goo oozing from her poor little ear and I realised with a sinking feeling she must have an ear infection - and she must bloomin’ well hate me for not helping her.
Guilt squeezed my heart as I dialled the doctor’s surgery and stroked her angry little face.
We bounded home later that afternoon clutching a golden bottle of medicine that promised to make everything better.
And indeed it made her better (for a while). So much so that she was determined to celebrate that night! As soon as the lights went out, the party was on! She sang her little heart out, she shouted ‘Hiya, Hiya, Hiya’ over and over again. Her pyjama clad feet bounced up and down in her cot and she eventually yelled her way into our bed, where the singing and bouncing continued.
I screamed silently into my pillow and turned to Dr Google, who presented me with thousands of other mothers online who seemed to suggest that amoxicillin could be responsible for the slight hyperactivity. I mean, you have to laugh right? Oh how I laughed, especially when after a week of manicness the medicine didn’t even fully work. HILARIOUS!
‘Joni, it’s so good to have the old you back’ I called as she ran off to put her brother in a headlock
We returned to the doctor’s a week later for a new treatment and slowly, but oh so relievingly (I was on my knees by now, I admit) my little girl began to return. She (we) slept two deep, full nights and she woke beaming and bouncing around, ready to grab life and grin at it all over again. She was full of kisses and knock you over cuddles after weeks of screaming and slapping. ‘She’s back!’ I declared, to anyone and everyone ‘Joni, it’s so good to have the old you back’ I called as she ran off to put her brother in a headlock.
But it’s not just the ear infection, because what happens after baby turns one, especially if they attend a nursery or similar, is that they seem to be constantly ill. If it’s not teeth, it’s rivers of snot, or an endless nerve jangler of a night-time cough, or a temperature that seems to have no culprit, or did I mention teeth? Do we really need them? Are they worth all the grief? Evolution needs to address this issue of teeth at some point.
In the meantime, Joni is now free to crack on with some Christmas spirit.
She has been in her element fighting over the tinsel her brother wore to school this week and only giggled when she wrapped herself in it too tightly and fell flat on her face.
And her smile returned just in time for her to be enthralled by the Christmas tree erection this week too. She stood, pointing and marvelling and the pretty lights and then ran to yank the whole thing over.
Top tips for keeping your one-year-old happy
Nuk nasal decongester
Nobody wants to deal with snot. But when your toddler is miserable and can’t breath for the stuff, you have to do something. I have used this little sucker device for both my kids and it does the trick.
Calpol Vapour Plug and Night light
I bought two of these recently for both Joni and my 5-year-old in the hope of us all getting some sleep. They worked really well to help soothe them to sleep while they had colds, plus they filled the whole house with a lovely smell! My older child liked the night light element.
Joni has been loving using an aqua doodle at nursery and because I have not been loving her using crayon and felt tips on the carpets, I’ve asked Santa to bring her her own one for the house. These are such a good no mess option for letting children of this age draw and paint.
I am a battered mother at the moment. A battered mother who should be fit enough to run seven back to back marathons given the amount of legging it around (in circles!) I do.
Joni and I are currently akin to a double act in a slapstick comedy.
She walks over and pinches my face, I wag my finger no, she slaps me, I shake my head, throw my hands up in the air, she runs off up the stairs, I catch her half way up and pull her back down.
Then we start all over again. Of course, she smiles and giggles sweetly through it all which is nature's way of making it all bearable, right? I tell her no and move her away but it’s very difficult to make her understand that her actions are unwanted! Which is funny, because suddenly she seems to understand everything else I say and she’s alert to every noise and movement in the house.
She’ll come thundering down the hall at the slightest rustle of a package
She’ll come thundering down the hall at the slightest rustle of a package thinking there’s a biscuit on offer and she responds to almost everything else I ask her. It’s amazing to see her run off and do things I ask her to - ‘get your shoes’ ‘pick that up’, ‘put that back’ or ‘put it in the bin’ (Mind you she puts everything in the bin - if something is lost, that’s where we look). Unbelievable then that she looks at us all blankly when we say ‘don’t hit.’
She’s had a busy couple of weeks, launching herself onto the local playgroup scene. I’ve learned more about her lately through watching her in social situations. It’s fascinating to compare her to my son, now 5, at that age. Archie was always so reluctant to leave my side.
We were barely in the door before she was off exploring
Joni couldn’t have been more different at our first playgroup session. We were barely in the door before she was off exploring. She whizzed around, stealing toys and grinning at everyone, ramming walls with walkers and falling over her own feet in all the excitement.
I discovered just how much she enjoys toys which have objects that can be put in and taken out of holes - I would imagine this is a typical one-year-old repetitive behaviour and it’s fascinating to see how long it keeps her happy for. She stood for a long time, playing at a toy work bench and popping the screws in and out of the holes. I admit I found it less interesting and attempted to lure her away with the offer of a biscuit. She followed, took the biscuit and headed straight back to the work bench with a glint in her eye. One nil to her.
Buoyed by our happy playgroup experiences I decided it was time to start nursery. I bounced around telling everyone ‘Oh I’m convinced she’ll be fine at nursery now, she barely looked back for me at playgroup!’ so I was not expecting to feel my heart break in quite the way it did this week.
It’s amazing that despite running off to play the second we arrived at playgroup, she seemed to instinctively know that nursery was going to be different. Although on the first two-hour visit she smiled and looked around excitedly, it was all from the comfort of my lap - until she finally found the courage to explore and I slipped away. She cried on and off but that was to be expected. On our second session she was quicker to go off and explore, a good sign, I thought and hopped out of the door only to hear her piercing screams as I did so.
Motherhood is pretty wretched sometimes
Next, came a half-day attendance. She screamed as soon as the nursery door opened. She clung to me like a terrified animal and my heart pounded, my eyes pricked and I considered telling the staff I’d just take her home. We sat down, her arms gripping my neck, her eyes telling me ‘no, don’t go.’ But I had to. I passed her to a staff member and left, mistakenly looking back as she screamed for me, red eyed and quivering. Motherhood is pretty wretched sometimes.
I’d been itching to get more time to dedicate to my work and yet that 4 hours dragged. I did work, but I missed Joni.
Pick up time arrived and she was sitting happily enough on her carer’s knee but looking a little frazzled. My heart crumpled as her tears came and she reached for me. We cuddled and the staff assured me she had had fun, she’d played outside and splashed in puddles, she’d eaten some lunch and her body weight in raisins. I held her to my chest and she sighed and blinked up at me.
Once we were back home together she napped. When she woke she got her own back on me by emptying a packet of crisps all over the house, pouring milk on the sofa and then going outside and sitting down, fully dressed, in a puddle. I think I’ll increase that half day at nursery to a full one.
Top tips for keeping your one-year-old happy:
Charity shop toys: My best buy this month was a fabulous £1.50 toy from the charity shop. Joni loves pressing the buttons and seeing the objects pop up.
Kitchen distractions: I was finding it impossible to get anything done in the kitchen. So, I have filled a box with items to keep Joni happy while I wash up - they include pegs, rubber gloves, small tubs she can open and close, bright plastic cutlery - I’ll swap out some items when she gets bored.
Toothbrush for teething: Joni loves chewing on a small baby toothbrush, it seems to help relieve teething troubles.
Now that Joni’s tiny baby stage is over, Penny has been wide-eyed and just a little bit exasperated at those post 12 month milestones unfold…
Since my daughter Joni turned one in July, she’s spent most of her time running around, naked except for one shoe, covered in food smears and wild.
And I seem to be chasing her way more than is normal, for one toilet related reason or another.
She will no longer happily have her nappy changed - she hasn’t got time for that.
We run around in circles - me shouting about poo, her screaming and wailing with delight.
'You've got poo on your bum, don't you dare get poo on my carpet, oh no! DO NOT get that poo on my new sofa!!'
You've got poo on your bum, don't you dare get poo on my carpet, oh no!
My poor 5-year-old, Archie, is enlisted to try to come up with some sort of prize-winning distraction technique while she squirms and lashes out on the changing mat. He invariably ends up storming off because he's copped a smack in the chops from her for his efforts.
If there was ever a time that nappy changes were easy or pleasant then those milk drunk hazy days are gone.
One thing that should not be ‘gone’ now is my sleep, right? Shouldn’t my one-year-old be sleeping through and waking with a rosy cheeked, Disney esque smile each morning by now? Is everyone else with a one-year-old getting a few hours’ shut eye? Because I’ve had less since she turned one than ever.
She has never been a good, even satisfactory sleeper (her brother slept like he was in hibernation for the first year so you know, I am being punished for that).
Joni has one 20 minute nap a day (two at a push but turning one has seen the second sleep nudged into the hole where naps go to die).
Night times have pushed my husband and I to the brink as she has always woken for reassurance on the hour. I can just see her wild, searching eyes in the dark, checking I’m still there.
I can just see her wild, searching eyes in the dark, checking I’m still there
When she turned one we said 'right, it's time for her own room and some tough love'. That's how I got my 'cot wrist' injury.
There have been some dark times, mostly involving me laying on the floor, arm awkwardly angled up and through her cot bars to soothe then getting stuck. I would lie there in a mute, exhausted panic trying to free myself but praying not to wake her. You can amputate my arm to get me outta here but don’t let me wake this baby, I would scream in my head to nobody.
'But she's one now' I protested through stubborn tears when my husband suggested we move the cot back in with us. 'She needs to learn to sleep in her own room, she needs to get used to it.'
So two nights and one very tired row later (plus a kind reminder from my mother-in-law that all her boys slept in her room until they were two) Joni moved back in.
I might have been frustrated about it, I could have felt I was failing at a 'sleep routine' I definitely did lament the lack of space in my bedroom all over again. But, as I lay sandwiched between my husband and the cot I let it go, because she was ASLEEP and I was praying I too would be shortly. (And I basically have Stockholm syndrome as it felt weirdly ‘right’ to have her cot trapping me into my side of the bed again).
Turning one also heralded a definite declaration on her part to always feed herself from now on.
‘I am one now Mummy,’ she announced through the medium of Weetabix splatter. ‘I absolutely know what I am doing’.
I am one now Mummy. I absolutely know what I am doing.
She is constantly covered in food and I am constantly wrangling her for a fork that is overloaded and nowhere near her mouth. All walls, clean surfaces and outfits must be sacrificed for her independence.
And yet I forgive the fork fights, the sleep deprivation and the poo chases because I admit now she’s one I've tumbled into an even deeper well of love for her.
Now that she shows us twinkly little glimpses of who she is. She is giving back (babies are such takers!) with sweet glances over her shoulder when I call her name, with a wide and wicked gap-toothed grin as she runs to hurl herself flat out at whatever it is she wants.
She’s pointing and wittering on in sing-songy babble and she’s in love with everyone and everything, showering them with wobbly hugs and wet sticky kisses (except when she’s smacking them, but I think that also means ‘I love you’).
So, hello my one year old wild thing….I can’t wait until you’re two so I can be strict and put you in your own room (Joking….kinda).
My three tips for keeping your one-year-old happy:
- Sand: On a recent day out we discovered that a sandpit kept Joni happy for well over an hour. When we returned home my (builder) husband made her her own little one. But whether you make it or buy it, a sandpit is a winner for your one year old. Pop it inside a little tent to keep it clean!
- Munchkin Click Lock cup with straw: This is the best toddler sippy cup I have found so far. No leaks, no mess and Joni loves it.
- Pyjamas: Sounds simple, but I was fed up of fighting to get a sleep suit on. Buying a pair of pjs was a lightbulb moment - and Joni looked super cute in her first pair.