Being Mum: It seems the higher my voice gets, the easier it is to drown out.

My kids’ experiments with fascinatingly soggy toilet paper yield only further questions

I think I have fallen down the rabbit hole occupied by my two boys. Here, I’ve discovered a wondrous world occupied by dozens of white squid-like creatures. While they may look like shredded pieces of toilet paper on the bathroom floor they are actually jumping and laughing sea animals. We like to watch how they shrivel up when you “accidentally” splash water on them as my three-year-old washes his hands by putting the tap to the maximum strength.

It seems my children have finally broken me and they’ve used one of the most powerful tools of torture to do so – prolonged sleep deprivation.

The tiredness at first turned me into cranky Mammy. She came out when seemingly simple non-play activities like using the bathroom, eating breakfast, getting dressed or taking a drink of water, became time-eating, mess-creating games.

One of the torture chambers was our poky understairs bathroom where I would regularly supervise my newly toilet-trained boy while holding his wriggly baby brother. My initial attempts at calm logic failed. I repeatedly appealed to his inner eco-warrior. “Do you know what that toilet paper is made of?”


Answer: “Yes, trees . . . but Mammy, you can get more in the supermarket.”

So out came cranky Mammy, in that nasal high-pitched tone reserved for giving out. A voice that always sounds like a stranger to me. “Put that toilet paper back. I don’t have time to clean up that mess.”

It seems the higher my voice gets the easier it is to drown out.


Then last week I came across a video of an old speech by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, which made me take a pause. “Kids are born scientists . . . they are always doing things that are by and large destructive. That’s what exploration kind of is.” Then came the clanger. “We don’t have enough parents who value the inquisitive nature of their own kids because they want to keep order in their households.”

So I took a breath and entered the world of my three-year-old scientist (and his four-month-old assistant). Making a mess in the bathroom turned into the toddler equivalent of Newton’s feather and coin experiment as the torn-up paper “squids” were tossed on high from the toilet seat. Some were given names and little voices as they floated on to the floor . (I’m hoping the results of the testing is soon known, but in the meanwhile the quilted tissue has been replaced by value paper on our shopping list.)

I held back when my preschooler emptied a box of Snap cards on to the kitchen floor (with no intention of playing Snap). In my head I was yelping “who is going pick them up?”. But the boy had an idea. It turns out the boxes were the same size as his feet. Soon he was wearing two “ice-skates” and doing pirouettes around the room. And so it became an experiment in friction. I resisted saying “stop it, you’ll fall” and I cheered from the sidelines. He soon discovered that indeed there is little friction between our tiles and cardboard. Lying on his back he banged the boxes together. I grabbed two spoons for myself and suddenly we were learning acoustics – from louder louder louder to quiet quiet quiet (this part needs a lot of practice).

Great concentration

The boxes, discarded on the floor, were swiftly picked up by his baby brother who had been lying nearby watching with giggles and great concentration. I held back from my instincts of taking the box away for fear of a paper cut. The baby conducted his own test in “what does red cardboard taste like?”. If the copious dribbles in the now-soggy box are anything to go by, the answer is “yum”.

But while Mammy is allowed enter and play in the children’s wonderland laboratory there is a big but. It’s like being personal assistant to a rock band duo. You can come into their wild creative world but you also must have everything on their endless backstage rider to hand at any moment; you must simultaneously let them lose track of time but never miss meals or bedtime.

And while the preschooler will help you to clean up his experiments the chances are he will start another one half way through (so it is always quicker to wait until they are in bed).