Short and sweet.

When looking after children, whether they are yours or someone else’s, even a basic thank-you is rare.

Compliments are even rarer.

Today I am wearing a cobalt blue 1950s style summer dress. However, apparently it doesn’t quite cut it for my nearly 8 year old daughter.

‘Mummy, I don’t mean to be rude or anything’ (looks exactly like she’s going to say something rude) ‘but not those bits on the shoulders.’ ‘And one of them is folded over.’

I ask my eldest son. I get the scrunched nose and the ‘hmm yeah, don’t like them’.

If he who does not care about clothes is willing to pass judgement, then I’m definitely going to snip them off. They’re gone.

This experience doesn’t beat yesterday’s though. After two hours of swimming lessons, three sets of getting them through the showers (are you with me on why I want to go back to work?), I am sitting in my kitchen trying to get them to eat so that I can get on with cleaning up and get everyone to bed. Wine o’clock (or is it my laptop?) is calling.

This conversation with my youngest follows.

Me: ‘Come on, eat your fish, it’s good for your brain.’
(Thinks. Comes up with motivation through competition with siblings.)
Me: ‘It will help you learn to read faster.’
T is now eating.
Pauses. Looks hard at my face.
T: ‘Does it put those lines on your head?’

He's still a monkey.

He’s still a monkey.

Postscript: He did redeem himself later.

‘Daddy, Mummy is warmer than you. ‘She’s cuddlier than you’. ‘I love her more than you’.

You win some, you lose some…….

The travels on my plate.

There are some advantages to the Doctor in the house being away. Which he is, a lot.

Mealtimes are just for me. Fishfinger sandwiches were one of the first things I ever wrote about on here.

Last night however, was a bit more elaborate. I enjoy my food, relish strong flavours and sometimes a meal can take me somewhere else completely in my head. Yesterday evening had me eating tofu with ginger, pak choi and jasmine rice. It was delicious. The recipe called for Sake, and the heady scent of plums, or is it cherries, took me straight to a Japanese snow covered mountainside.

Somewhere like this...

Somewhere like this…

I have never been to Japan and one day I would love to go. When the silence closes in around me, when the children have gone to bed and the quietness of the house hangs around me like a cloak, I think of places I have been to or might go to in the future. Those ‘glamorous getaways’ that I am sent emails about and that I can only sigh at before pressing the delete button.

Cooking has never been quite the same for me since I had children. My eldest son, at nine, is convinced that most food is actually poisonous. Black bits, green bits, fatty bits, lumpy bits? All qualify food for instant rejection. Don’t even mention fruit. Don’t even talk about it.

Then there is my daughter, who will gnaw on bits of meat like some kind of warrior queen. Provide her with a piece of steak that looks so rare that it is possible that the cow only just walked past the frying pan before ending up on the plate, and you will be greeted with a beatific smile. The little one is somewhere in between the two of them. I can never, ever, make them all happy at once.

Sometimes I like to forget the need to take a deep breath before putting a family meal on the table. Instead of waiting for a vote out of ten, or a thumbs up or down, I will eat a Thai curry with creamy coconut and the twang of kaffir lime leaves, remembering the time I spent in Bangkok in my twenties.

I will smell the rich enveloping fragrance of a lemony, buttery roast chicken and recall Sunday lunches for fourteen at my Grandma’s house, getting slightly tipsy on homemade ginger beer, and being allowed whipped cream from a can on my ice-cream for pudding.

Hand me a paper parcel of fat golden chips and freshly battered cod and I will be instantly transported to a pebbly Suffolk beach, on holiday, the sea so far away from where I am now.

I can’t wait until my children really start to love their food all the time, as sometimes they show me they do. They are missing out. In a world full of diet shakes, calorie counting and low fat, low taste, are you?

The last laugh.

At the end of last week, I was readying myself for the afternoon’s entertainment when I received an email on my phone. May Pole Dancing cancelled.

As an ex civil servant, who spent most of the last twelve years writing, anything involving semantics amuses me.

However, if you are not familiar with the tradition of Maypole dancing, involving children holding on to pieces of ribbon and leaping round a large pole to folk music every Spring (see here), then you may not understand why I laughed. The school’s wording was unfortunate to say the least and caused me a momentary chuckle.

This is definitely just for the grown ups..

This is definitely just for the grown ups..

However, I did then think to myself that I don’t actually know in detail what Maypole dancing is about. So I looked it up. It seems there are quite a lot of theories on the subject. It turns out that one of them is that Maypole dancing is an ancient fertility rite harking back to the time when tree spirits were worshipped, and which originally would have involved a real tree having been cut down to make the Maypole.

My interest was piqued so I read on. You can probably guess what is coming next but it’s probably not a surprise to learn that some think the Maypole is a phallic symbol. A tall pole planted into mother earth illustrating the bringing forth of new life. All this sexual symbolism and the high jinks that went with it (dancing, round a pole, with flowers in your hair – I’m outraged) apparently led the Puritans to outlaw the custom in 1644. The ribbons, which came along in the nineteenth century with the modern formation dancing? Well apparently there’s still sex involved. This time the weaving together of two ribbons by the dancers to form a new element represents the joining together of two people and their resulting offspring. There are other theories but this is the one that appealed to a woman with a mischievous sense of humour and therefore the one I liked the best.

So it seems that it was indeed Pole Dancing that my children were being taught. I smiled. Sometimes the last laugh is on you. MV5BMTUzNjE0NjQ1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk5NzcxMQ@@__V1__SY314_CR3,0,214,314_

Something needling you?

There is one thing that is guaranteed to take me back to the feeling of being a tantrumming two year old.

Sewing. Or more generally any kind of arts and crafts.

The tools of sewing - sight of which always makes me wish I had some Valium.

The tools of sewing – sight of which always makes me wish I had some Valium.


My genes do not support the D- level of my abilities in this area. My mother could always conjure up an elaborate homemade costume for school at the last minute. Can-can dancer complete with crepe paper ruffles, matching hat and actual cans? Check. Bat made with bin liner wings incorporating bamboo skeleton? Check. She has knitted an actual farm complete with animals, thrown together a hobby horse in under an hour and fashioned a zombie bride costume at my daughter’s request. As for my sisters? One has an MA that reflects her talent in this area and the other a business, one element of which involves handmade toys. 

Meanwhile I can barely sew on a button. Sewing badges on to cub uniform brings me out in a cold sweat. My eldest son comes home to tell me I have sewed them on in the wrong place. I do that thing little children do – head on hands, face on the table. ‘I am not doing it again!’ I wail.

Like me he is a perfectionist and looks mortified at the thought of going to his beloved cubs with his badges incorrectly located on his sweatshirt. He knows however, that in this case, when I say I’m not doing it again, I mean it.

At school, I would regularly pass my basket weaving (oh yes, we had to) to my more talented friends to finish. As the end of the lesson neared and I was still struggling with crooked stitches, gaping edges and stuffing spilling out,  the offending item would be swiftly removed and completed in five minutes so that I didn’t end up in trouble. Wood and metalwork seemed easier but mainly because the teachers took pity on me and did most of my projects themselves.

I have tried though, I have tried. Last year I went with a group of friends to one of those cafés where you sit and make things and chat while you do it.  While all of us wondered what we were doing when we were sitting there decoupaging a pottery flip flop, the level of stress I felt when being made to thread beads onto a wire heart and fix it to a piece of card was unparalleled. The whispering of one of the staff members in my ear of ‘don’t give up’ was the last straw. I suddenly realised I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS. So I didn’t. To the amusement of my companions, I sat there, hands in my lap, face set in grim determination and resolved never ever to go back.

I know that sewing is on the person specification for motherhood and is even apparently still up there on the list of desirable requirements for wife-hood. I have always struggled with the fact that I don’t meet 100% of the criteria for either job. Sometimes though your expectations of yourself are too high. You get better at letting yourself down gently as you get older. So I’m letting myself off this and focusing on the fact that my fairy cakes taste just fine.

Monkey worries.

Baby_ginger_monkey

My 4 year old is worried. His 5th birthday is in slightly less than four months time and his mother has done NO PLANNING AT ALL.

Apparently, he would like to go to the monkey sanctuary we went to last Summer. This one is going to be tricky given that it is in the Poitou-Charentes region of France and we live in England. Fail number one. So I offer him the chance to go to another zoo with monkeys.

T: No, mum it won’t be the right kind of monkeys. And I can’t have balloons! (wails)

Okaaay I think, I’m losing the thread here.

Me: You can have balloons at home.

T: No, because they won’t be the right balloons and they won’t be the same kind of monkeys! You need to get the cards out mum. Or NO-ONE is going to come! (I’m sorry, is this a wedding? Have I missed the fact this has been advertised in Tatler?)

Me: Shush T, just think of the Chima lego and the Ninja turtle things you’re going to get. Don’t worry about your birthday, it is a long time away.

T: But I don’t know, I haven’t seen the presents yet! (Er, no.)

T: (goes for complete change of tack) I want to go to Jambinos.

This is a soft play centre and if you’ve read my previous post on the subject, you know what I think about those. Easy win though I think.

Me: Ok, that’s fine, we can go there.

T: But last time, I got lost in the balls and I couldn’t find my way out! (becoming increasingly high pitched again)

Finally, the penny dropped. Did I mention it was bedtime? I gave in and called in the big guns. Dad.

I’m 40, this is my last child and I still don’t always realise when they’re playing me like a violin.

Why do bowling alleys have condom machines? (and other mysteries).

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My spirits are lifted by the sea, the hills, a big expanse of open sky. Sometimes though to keep the children happy in the holidays, I have to go to places I’d really rather not. Two places I will happily wave goodbye to as they grow up: soft play centres (jungle gyms) and bowling alleys.

I do not know any parent who loves soft play. My local centre has its own Facebook page. This is possibly not their best advertising strategy seeing as the half term post they left ‘thanking everyone for coming to play and hoping they’d had a lovely half term’ was followed by no fewer than ten complaints and not one positive comment. It is a place where you go out of desperation, if you’re parenting alone at the weekend and the rain is coming down in sheets. The coffee is terrible. Whilst stories of used syringes being found at the bottom of ball pits are (I-am-hoping-to-God) just an urban myth, if you want the certainty of your children catching an unpleasant virus that they will take a week to recover from, soft play centres are ideal. On a busy day, if you could bottle the ‘essence of toddlers with nappies so full they are hanging round their ankles’ that permeates every corner of the place and sell it to take home and ward off burglars, you’d make a fortune. Still, your children will come home worn out, you don’t get wet and if you take ear plugs to drown out the screams of yet another child who has lost a front tooth coming down the giant slide, you’ll be absolutely fine.

So on to bowling alleys. I am scarily competitive with my children, but will write about that another day. Throwing balls at skittles though, whilst wearing clown shoes, in a place lit by neon lighting and dark enough to wipe out all sense that it could still be the daytime, does not float my boat. Then there is the sensory overload from the hundred television screens all showing different music videos (*can I still say music videos?) turned up to a volume that only people living in the next actual town could not still hear, combined with the overwhelming stench of carpets soaked in stale beer. The one I had the pleasure of attending last week also involving the staff playing mind games with us at reception. The conversation went something like this: ‘So it’s £8.99 each but we’ve got a special deal on at £6.99 with food’. ‘Oh, we don’t want the food, can we just get the deal and not have the food?’ (lunchtime was an hour ago). Cue receptionist looking really confused. ‘Um no, to get the deal you have to have the food.’ It ended up that we got the food as my friend and I didn’t want to be responsible for a member of staff having to leave work early with stress induced anxiety.

Last but not least, I fail to understand why bowling alleys feature condom machines in the toilets. Forgive me for saying so, but I’ve never been overcome with amourousness while subject to any of the above conditions. I have never, not once, felt the urge to shout ‘take me now husband, that shiny hard floor looks just right to lie down on and I’d really like to hear the word ‘STRIKE’ while watching a bit of Justin Bieber during the act’ that would require the emergency purchase of a strawberry ribbed one to avoid the obvious pregnancy that would follow. This is lucky, as otherwise I feel it could take the whole ’embarrassing mother thing’ that I usually enjoy playing on, a step too far. I would also have to give my children a lot more information than they’ve required on the act of human reproduction up until now.

There are many other things I question the need for in life. Don’t get me started on the existence of the baby wipe warmer, any item of clothing made in beige polyester or on Truman Show style holiday parks. Before I think of others, I had better ask if there is anything you won’t miss as life moves on and I will go off to calm down in the Spring sunshine while it lasts.

Death of the fairies.

My daughter has that look of Nanny McPhee at the moment.  In normal circumstances, if you can see past the attitude, which is almost a physical presence in itself, she’s all Rapunzel length blonde hair, broad grin and flashing Steve McQueen blue eyes.  At the moment though, all I can focus on is the one great big haggle tooth, going greyer by the day and hanging by a thread.  I am struggling to resist the urge to just reach over and give it a good hard tweak.  It’s a bit like that spot you shouldn’t pick at, but just can’t ignore.

When she sees that look come over my face, she bats me away and tells me to get off, in no uncertain terms. She knows quite well what I have in mind. I respond by telling her that the tooth fairy will be very slow to visit if she doesn’t get on with it.  She rolls her eyes and laughs. ‘Mum I am a bit OLD for that now you know.’ She’s 7 and I think I’ve managed to keep the fairies alive until very recently, but now they are definitely on their way out. I tell her that every time someone says they don’t believe, a fairy dies. I dramatise the death. The fairy’s light goes out, she gets paler and thinner, starving and in pain, clutching at her sides and groaning, she eventually collapses to the ground and fades into nothingness. And I tell her that everytime she says this, this will be all her fault.  Unfortunately she knows my sense of humour and just grins. I curse myself for not taking the opportunity to make the death gorier.

I love the fact that she has held on for this long.  Last year, her friends began to tease her for still believing in fairies. She was angry with me for keeping the myth alive and I didn’t know quite how to respond. Is it wrong to want to keep my little girl little for a bit longer? I dragged it out for a bit. On one occasion, she swallowed a tooth and was desperately upset that she wouldn’t get the cold hard cash that the fairy brings. Fortunately however, the tooth fairy is resourceful. She wrote a note explaining that one of her best friends the drain fairy had located the disappeared tooth after it had eventually made its way into the sewer, and had passed it on to her. It hadn’t been the most pleasant of jobs, but you know, friends do things for each other. When she found the note in the morning, C’s eyes lit up – and mine too.

She knows the truth – but we have reached an understanding now. She asks about the tooth fairy and about Father Christmas. A smile flickers over her face as I tease her with what is only ever a half answer.

Image

Photo of the Dan Baines Derbyshire ‘dead fairy’ from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/derbyshire/6545667.stm