Years ago, when you were young and drunk, you would sometimes overhear middle-class people in shops and other places where they allow families to roam freely, threatening their children with something called ‘time out’, and you would laugh scornfully and vow to never let yourself sound like such a total dick in public.
But as with all the things you said you’d never do (talk into a mobile phone, wear anything from Hobbs) you somehow managed to let your guard down. These days you could trounce any parent within a mile of a Giraffe cafe with the arsenal of embarrassing parenting words and phrases you’ve learnt to use.
It began when you read all those baby books and said things like dream feed and tummy time to your health visitor as part of your wider strategy to make her think you were doing it right. Although you thought they sounded a bit twattish, these were at least terms with vaguely medical connotations. It was only when you began to grapple with the challenging behaviours of your toddler that you truly took on the arse-clenching terminology that would really make you sound like a dick.
You may, for example, have signed up to a parenting course at your local Children’s Centre. It was called something spewy like The Wonder Years, and it was here you first learnt to brief your deviant four-year-old on high-minded concepts such as special time, time out, quiet time and other time-based terms. This usually happened while the out-of-control child was next door in the creche, whacking another kid over the head with a lump of Brio, all under the watchful eye of the work-experience girl, who seemed curiously unaware of the powerful new time-centric commands you were learning in the next room.
Discovering that to control your child you basically just needed to say a word with ‘time’ either in front or after, always with a soft voice, filled you with the conviction of someone born-again and you trotted home to implement your new regime of positive words and phrases. You didn’t care if you sounded like a dick, this new language was going to bring a great peace upon your home. Excitedly you drew up posters proclaiming golden rules that were unfathomable to adults, never mind the four-year-old, phrases such as kind hands (real meaning: don’t hit people with your Brio) and gentle voices (stop shouting and telling me I’m a poo-poo). And although you asked him to help you, your spirited child just drew big black lines all over it and stuck the happy faces in the wrong place, so you had to do it all again when he went to bed to make it look nice.
So convinced were you of the power of your new found words and phrases that it would be grounds for divorce if your bewildered husband (who secretly still thinks smacking is OK but wouldn’t dare admit it lest you should hit him with a saucepan) said any of them wrong or, even worse, too loud. It would not be unusual to hear yourself shrieking: ‘YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO SAY IT IN A QUIET VOICE!!!” while the child you were positively parenting took his willy out and weed in the shoes next to him on the stairs. And God forbid he should ever call the time out step the naughty step, for using words such as naughty is, as we all know, negative re-enforcement and there would be none of this in your new world order.
This is not a naughty step
And as they grew, and you began to take them on play dates (you gave in and just fucking said it) and learnt to ask your husband in all seriousness if it was wine o’clock, and discussed free range children and painting your house with Mole’s Breath, you grew so accustomed to talking like a dick that eventually you forgot you were doing it at all.
Fortunately like most of the harrowing things that happen in the early years of motherhood, it seems speaking in these tongues is just another phase we go through. Now the kids are at school and have new ways to piss you off – lying on the floor in their pants five minutes before it’s time to leave the house, losing all their new uniform on the first day of term – you’ve reverted to the traditional high-pitched shouting of phrases such as ‘how many times do I have to tell you’ and ‘wait till Daddy hears about this’ along with threats to do terrible things that everyone knows you are too tired and busy to ever follow through. It’s not a nice way to talk, but at least you don’t sound like a dick.