Last week, a retired child psychotherapist and a consultant psychotherapist were staying in the cottage next to us. I made a mental note to myself: "Do not shout at the children. If you do want to shout at the children, remember to shut the windows." I was doing really well until the phone rang just as I was putting everyone to bed. Usually, I let it ring but I thought it might be my husband so I dashed downstairs and answered it. I saw first the pyjama-clad four-year-old and then the six-year-old tear out of the front door and into the garden. They were carrying cleaning products. When I put the phone down, I swept up the rompered baby and went out. I was careful not to shout. I called loudly: "Boys." I called slightly more loudly: "Boys!" They emerged; the four-year-old, beaming. He always beams when he has done something that will drive me to distraction. I said: "Right. I want the washing up liquid and the washing powder tablets back. Now." The six-year-old looked pained. "How did you know?" he wailed. "I know everything," I said. "I know everything you think. I know everything you do. Forever." I thought: "I really hope the psychotherapists can't hear this."
We opened up the wooden gate and stepped down into their garden paradise. The four-year-old went one way; the six-year-old the other. Realising his tactical mistake, the four-year-old veered over to his brother. He beamed at me again as he ran past to join his ally in all misdeeds. We peered over the stone wall at the bottom of the garden. The cleaning products had been thrown over the wall into their den in the cow field which backs on to the garden. The foaming bottle, the box and its contents were nowhere near where we were standing; they were laying among the trodden down nettles, over where the four-year-old had been heading. I said, through tight lips: "I want them picked up. Please."
Babe on hip, I cut across the grass to the point the four-year-old had been aiming for originally - a patch of garden close to the greenhouse. Here, a narrow entrance squeezes you between glass and golden privet leaves; the garden room enclosed by thick hedges on two sides, a greenhouse and a stone wall. Or what was a stone wall. It is a private place; curiously attractive to children. My hopes of ice-packed sundowners, sitting on an old wooden bench in this garden scrap have come to nothing. It is a superhero den. It has a tree which the boys use to scramble into their other den in the nettlepatch. My boys do not like to waste their superhero energies though. They decided it was taking too long to use the knotted rope and the rope ladder between the two bases. The quickest route would definitely be through the wall. The boys, with help from two small friends, had used sticks to scrape out the lime mortar and carefully pulled and tumbled out the stones. The hole in the wall was enormous. From ground level to just underneath the first rank of stones; wide enough for two small superheros, if not three, to emerge from their weedy control room at the same time. Aghast, I watched the four-year-old scrambling back through the hole with the washing-up liquid. Stones arched above his egg fragile head, resting on nothing but neighbours and innate good will. I said: "You are kidding me? What have you done? What were you thinking?" They wanted "a shortcut." While they worked with their sticks, they were pretending they were in the mouth of a big dinosaur taking out its teeth so it couldn't eat the little dinosaurs.
Later in the adult twilight, children in bed disgrace, the consultant psychotherapist assessed the latest outrage. She said: "You realise this is all about boundaries don't you? You didn't say 'No' to their other den when they wanted you to, so now they have pushed it further. They have literally pushed through the boundary. They want you to say 'No'." I said: "I say 'No' to my kids all the time." So much for keeping a low profile I thought. I told her about the dinosaurs. She said: "Hmmm. So they think there is a monster in their life somewhere." I changed the subject. To their thieving. Bad choice. They have slipped into a habit of stealing biscuits, chocolate, sweet stuff. I had thought because they did not get enough sugar in their little lives. The retired child psychotherapist hazarded: "Perhaps they feel they are not being nurtured enough." I groaned inside. I said: "What about the cleaning products though?" "Yes," she said. "That's an interesting one. They are stealing what they think is important to you, they are stealing a piece of you." I said: "There is no way they associate me with cleaning products."
I boy banned them from my Eden.