My eldest daughter has never had a tantrum. That's not 'she's never had a tantrum apart from that one in the sweet shop when I said no to the Haribo eggs'. She's never had one. My middle daughter made a few pathetic attempts, but they were really rather useless, more of a wobbly bottom lip and a look in her eye that said I'd somehow disappointed her. They blew over in a matter of minutes - she's easily distractable. I spent the first ten years of my mothering life thinking I was awesome. I thought I had it nailed. I'd look on as mothers hoiked screaming children out of playgrounds and supermarkets, dragged or carried under an arm, kids so angry they were puce in the face. Smugness pervaded. I was good at this! My eldest would ask for sweets and I'd explain, no, not before supper. "Why?" she'd ask, her irritation beginning to rise. "Because, if you do, you won't eat your supper." "Oh, okay," she'd say, nodding sagely, disappointed, but in full understanding, her irritation ebbed, and then I'd give myself a smug little pat on the back.
Oh you foolish, foolish woman!
How unwise to be so very pleased with myself. How unwise to think myself skilled in all matters maternal. When my third daughter hit twenty months I discovered something. I discovered I was never a great mother; I'd merely given birth, by twist of genetics, to two rational, placid children to start with. These two fooled me, lulled me into a false sense of my own capability, left me belly-up and unprepared for the volcano of rage that was to consume our peaceful home. The Beast had arrived. (Mr J and I semi-affectionately call her The Beast behind her back. The Beast or The Tyrant or The Fascist. I wouldn't call her these names to her face. Not yet, anyway - I'm a believer in self-fulfilling prophesy when it comes to telling children what they are and aren't, what they're good or bad at - and frankly I need to play this one down. I can't take the risk of her living up to her own hype). She's a ball of fire, igniting at the slightest thing, and never backs down. She'll storm up the stairs, scream until her throat is sore, stamp her feet, thump the wall and slam a door, and if the slamming doesn't get the desired attention, she'll open it and slam it again, and that's all because I said no to Cbeebies. Don't get me wrong, it's not ALL the time. This same child loves to make people laugh, she chats, helps, and is gentle with the animals. She's angelic at school and loves to please. It's by no means a done deal that she'll end up in Borstal (though I have to say, after tonight's outburst, I might drive her there in the dead of night and deposit her on the doorstep with a label tied about her neck saying: 'Please look after this Beast'. From this point on, like Paddington, she will be adopted by a kindly family called Brown, who will name her after the place they found her, and then send their new daughter, Borstal, to eat sticky buns with Old Mr Gruber next door). She is five and already I'm worried for her husband, a man who might not even be born yet. He's got a whirlwind ahead of him. The wedding list will be plastic plates only - that or a heap of smashed Wedgwood to recycle. Yes, plastic plates, no knives, and a shed with a lock on the inside where the poor boy can take refuge while the cyclone is raging. We will hand her over with a health warning like the cute little Mogwai in Gremlins.
This said, there's something strangely exhilarating about watching this mite fight her corner so gamely. She will take all four of us on if she feels she must. Her courage is admirable. I know she'll never take any crap. I know she won't be walked over. This little fighter will grow up to by one helluva feisty don't-mess-with-me chick. Would it be wrong to admit I'm secretly proud of her? That with every slammed door and screeched: 'You're ruining my LIFE!' I feel a burst of admiration? I was a reasonably placid child. I wonder whether I missed a trick. In fact, I'm wondering whether to have a chat with the other two. Perhaps it's about time they both learnt to slam a door and stamp their feet, fight for what they believe to be right, even if that's 24/7 access to Mr Tumble.
Ten minutes after the final door-slam tonight my daughter appeared. She solemnly walked over to me and handed me a paper heart. Crudely cut out, with a single misspelt word on it. Sometimes the making up is the best bit, right?