Get your paint out or surrender to toddler smears – it’s your choice

To paint over the smear or to give up on having smear-free walls are the choices. Either option will bring you peace of mind

Toddlers seem to possess a sixth sense when a particular effort has been made . . . which is why a freshly painted kitchen wall will be the darling little one’s next obvious target. Photograph: Getty Images

Toddlers seem to possess a sixth sense when a particular effort has been made . . . which is why a freshly painted kitchen wall will be the darling little one’s next obvious target. Photograph: Getty Images


Q There is a hideous stain on our kitchen wall left by a combination of our toddler attacking it with a pen and my subsequent attempts to clean it up with Cif which has left a massive smear of orange on what was a white wall.

When I look at the smear I also look at the wall surrounding it and realise it would be a very small job to paint over it all. But instead of just going out and buying the paint and doing it, I stare at the smear every day, wishing it away along with these days of toddler chaos. I am irritated with myself and I know you will probably say just do it but why is it so hard to summon the energy?

How do I get gritty with myself? Help me please GD.

Disgruntled lazy mum of two

A I genuinely relate to this one. As I read your email at my kitchen table (which doubles as my office) and scanned our own kitchen walls, I noted – and not for the first time – that not one of them is free of toddler smears.

In fact, all the walls in this house from toddler height downwards are a distinct dull mottled grey against the whitish wall above: covered as they are in paw prints, red biro, felt tip pens that a well-meaning aunt let them “play” with, vomit, the whole shebang.

Red biro offence
I remember the first offence: red pen scrawled across an entire wall in our bedroom and spending an exhausting afternoon online investigating solutions, and testing them out with varying degrees of (un)success. And of course, screaming at my husband for leaving a red biro within their reach.

We had this house redecorated before we moved in with our then three-month-old twins. Three years later, it is quite obvious that we shouldn’t have bothered, looking as it does, like it hasn’t seen a lick of paint in a thousand years and been inhabited by a herd of very dirty baby elephants, such is the state of the decor (not to mention tired/broken soft furnishings, sofas, beds, cupboards, oven, fridge, bath, shower . . .)

It could all be thoroughly depressing (and it has been), especially if I was still spending valuable time trying to make it all better. Which I no longer do.

Other than the occasional sigh, I try not to look at all the smears and the dirt and the general brokenness, and instead make sure the lighting is always kind and reassure myself that this time will pass. But I digress. These are your options:

1. Deal with the smear
How? Summon your inner bitch, ideally after a brutally gritty run in the rain, and get her to direct you towards the nearest purveyor of paint and necessary accoutrements. Buy paint that requires just the one coat – no mother of toddler has the energy for two.

When said toddler goes to bed, get the masking tape stuck down (compulsory), dust sheets too, turn on some soothing music/book/telly/whatever, and get stuck in until the job is complete.

NB. Before passing out with exhaustion, make sure you hide the paint and brushes in case your darling toddler wakes early and tries to “help mummy” while you snatch an extra minute in bed. Or else find that you have lost, not only your sense of humour, but another five hours of your life repainting it the following evening. Or,

2. Surrender to the smear
How? Leave smear, relax about any future smears, embrace the word “smear” in all its toddler glory and, when feeling depressed about anything smear-related, remind yourself that it is, after all, only a smear; and that in the grand scheme of things matters not a jot.

That when all the little ones are six (or possibly 18 in my case) there will come a time when redecorating is no longer a waste of time, money and energy, and smears will no longer pose a threat to your sanity.

It is all in the powerful act of choosing and then taking the necessary action that unlocks our mojo once more.

The reason you are staring at that smear wistfully on a daily basis, and feel totally unmotivated to do anything about it is probably because a part of you is saying “What’s the point?” And that part – so sayeth the Grit Doctor – has a valid point. It really doesn’t matter whether you choose option one or two, what does matter is that you choose something.

You see, once one wall was ruined in our house and I wasted a day trying to remedy the situation and then another wall got smeared anyway, I realised that this was a battle I was not going to win. Yet.

My experience is that toddlers will be toddlers and an integral part of toddler DNA, it would seem, is to trash everything within striking distance, with a special power to identify and destroy items of high financial and/or sentimental value.

Furthermore, toddlers seem to possess a sixth sense when a particular effort has been made, be that food lovingly prepared which they stubbornly refuse to eat, or a favourite vase . . . which is why a freshly painted kitchen wall will be the darling little one’s next obvious target.

Ruth Field is author of Get Your Shit Together and Run, Fat Bitch, Run

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