Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

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MY DAUGHTER is a stickler for the rules.

At parents’ evening two weeks ago we were told she is first in line to help tidy up at the end of the day, she sits up straight with her hands on her head during carpet time and she gets very cross if the whole class is punished for the rogue behaviour of one or two.

The school reward chart helps keep her motivated, with each good deed paying dividends with a move up the stars on a huge rainbow to reach the pot of gold.

But where my daughter excels at following instructions, my son will go out of his way to do the exact opposite of what he is told.

Take potty training for example. He knows what to do. We have been over it a thousand times.

I will leave him sitting in front of the television, turn my back for a second and then discover he has left his offering right next to the potty instead of inside it.

I tried to bribe him with some Thomas the Tank Engine pants in Tesco.

“I will buy these for you if you use the loo like a big boy,” I said.

“I don’t need these,” he replied. “I wear a nappy.”

“Why?” I said. “You know how to use the potty.”

“Yes,” he sighed in exasperation. “But I have to stop playing with my toys to use the potty. Nappies are easier.”

You can’t fault his logic and I could put his reticence down to sheer laziness but something tells me he just relishes his willful refusal to comply.

Every day at breakfast we have the same conversation.

“What would you like to eat?” I ask.

My daughter opts for porridge, peanut butter on toast or scrambled egg.

My son pouts, taps his finger to his lips as though deep in thought.

“Crisps?” he suggests.

When I frown or shake my head he tries again. “Biscuits? Chocolate? Cake?”

He then steadfastly refuses to eat the toast I put in front of him.

And more often than not I find him an hour or so later, with a chair pulled up to the kitchen counter, helping himself to all the things he has been refused earlier.

Last week I tried to hide the treats, placing them high up in the cupboard and out of his reach.

It didn’t work. He balanced a box of jigsaws on his little chair and used it to clamber on to the worktop. On tiptoes, he gently pushed the box of goodies with his fingertips until it came crashing to the floor.

I came running in to find out what had caused such a noise and found him happily gorging himself on the crushed custard creams.

His other recent projects of naughtiness include “washing” all his teddies in the toilet bowl, decorating the sofa cushions with red felt-tip because “white is a boring colour” and rolling in a muddy puddle in the street because “dogs do it and it looks fun”.

Some of you will find this sort of cheekiness endearing. Others will tut at what can only be the result of incompetent parenting. The outstanding behaviour of my daughter (in public at least) is usually a decent enough comeback for the latter.

And as for the former, believe me, when he offers up a grin with sparkly eyes and lisps out a “sowwy” I do find it very difficult not to forgive.

I am also a big believer that you should pick your battles. Sure, soggy nappies are revolting, graffiti-covered cushions are irritating and crisps for breakfast are not nutritional, but at least none of these things are really dangerous.

I suppose I am OK with him breaking the rules occasionally – as long as he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else in the process.

With this in mind I have put together a “Do Not” list he is learning to stick to.

Do not talk to strangers, do not cross the road without an adult, do not play with scissors or knives, do not put small toys in your mouth and do not destroy things that do not belong to you.

This list is relatively new, so I add to it whenever we come across another life-threatening situation of disobedience.

This happened earlier this week.

Both my children are having swimming lessons at iSwim in Clopton.

My daughter has listened intently, and despite being afraid of getting her face wet has picked up the basics and can now make it unaided for half a width of the pool.

My son, as is his way, enjoys the splashing about and playing with toys but, despite being utterly fearless, is getting nowhere fast.

On Friday I decided to take them both to the pool at Ufford Park to practise.

I was helping my daughter in the shallow end while my son bobbed along in his armbands nearby.

Two minutes later I noticed he was no longer by my side.

In one of those horrifying slow-motion moments I spotted him further down the poolside. He had ditched the armbands and was standing at the edge, grinning at me.

In one movement I scooped my daughter out of the water and plonked her on the side, and then launched myself with a splash towards my son.

It was too late. He had taken a running jump and was sinking before my very eyes.

Frantically I grabbed below the surface, finding an arm and hoiking it upwards.

He appeared, gasping and spluttering, as I pulled him back on to dry land.

“Do not . . .” I began.

But he interrupted.

“I won’t do it again,” he said, coughing.

We all like to push the boundaries. It’s human nature. And I have respect for my son’s spirit, his character; that he likes to experiment, to find out more.

Having said that, I don’t want him to live his life thinking rules are made to be broken. So it’s probably a good thing that occasionally he finds out for himself that some rules are there for a reason.

Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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