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 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_

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.

A Poem for Today

My last remaining grandparent died yesterday.  Old enough to remember a time when the gas lamps on the street had to be lit each evening, she faded away in a nursing home in the middle of the night.

Only taking water at the end, there was so little of her left that each bone in her hand was clearly visible, not an ounce of fat was left.  I am glad to say though, that I visited her a few days ago,and in between humming hymns with her eyes shut and saying the odd few words, she looked up at me and gave me the most enormous smile. Her mind had been in decline for a while, she may have recognised me, she may have thought I was another of her granddaughters, but I’m glad I made her smile nonetheless.

Supporting my grandfather in his career throughout her life, she never worked but was a botanist by education and I will remember her for her love of plants and gardening.  She was always proud to show my children her yellow raspberries and could not fathom my eldest son’s complete dislike for fruit. She had a maternal fondness for cats, birds, hedgehogs and any stray animals that came across her path and exasperated relatives by insisting the strays were still fed long after she had left her home and garden to be looked after elsewhere.  I hope I can always recreate her amazing tarragon salad dressing and potatoes with paprika. She would never allow my Grandpa his favourite puddings for fear of his waistline expanding but was zealous in the way she would drink a bottle of Cava, given half the chance.

I had been planning today to post a poem that my daughter wrote recently, as I saw it in print at the weekend and every time I read it it makes me see another side of my stroppy, feisty, seven year old blonde whirlwind. I am adding it here anyway, as somehow it still seems apt in the way it looks across the ages. So goodbye to my Granny, with love from me and one of your great granddaughters.

When I was little I noticed the waves looked like white horses galloping and tossing their manes

and though I am older now I still notice them riding the waves

and when I am older still I only sometimes notice them rampage in and out of the sea

and now I am very old I don’t go to see them anymore

but I sometimes look out the window and see them

they make me remember those happy memories by the sea.

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.

The most important numbers are not the ones you thought they were….

If you ever watched Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is 42. But for my 4 year old, it appears there is a more worrisome number. So for April Fool’s Day, and because so many people out there have made me laugh today, a quick post detailed from yesterday evening’s conversation with the youngest comedian in the family, which explains:

T: ‘Mum, I love you more than bogeys*.’ (*boogers for the non natives of the UK – this is not about golf or ghosts)
Me: Laughs. ‘That’s not very much!’
T: ‘Ok I love you more than pigs walking down the road.’
Me: ‘Keep going …’
T: ‘How much do you love me?’
Me: ‘More than the World’.
T: ‘Ok I love you more than the world x 100 million.’
Me: ‘I love you more than infinity. Now go to sleep.’
T: ‘I love you infinity x a million.’
Me: ‘Ok now go to sleep or the amount I love you will go down.’
T: ‘To 26?’
Me: ‘Yes to 26.’

See? 😉

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.

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