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…….

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Monkey worries.

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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.

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

 

In praise of the fishfinger sandwich.

I’ve been parenting solo this week. This will be the second week this month. As my husband would say ‘we’ve had a bad run of it’. This is the nature of his job and I’ve had to get used to it. As the children have got older, it has got easier; they don’t wake up in the night, they don’t cry themselves to sleep because daddy isn’t there and they are confident he will come home again.  As another local mother whose husband is often only there at weekends once said to me, ‘you get into a routine’. And you do.  I try to keep things as ‘same as usual’ as I can, making sure they still get  to football training, brownies, cubs and swimming. Even more so than normal, as in an average month I do allow myself to drop the ball occasionally. We don’t speak about dad much while he’s away. There’s a huge elephant in the room – but we’re ignoring it.

What I’m not great at though on these occasions, is looking after myself. I love food and I’m fussy about restaurants. But when I’ve just spent the last half an hour making three packed lunches, I can’t be bothered to whip up a gourmet meal for one.

Packed lunches – I hate them. I made my own lunch every day from when I was 14 years old.  Opening my lunchbox at school, I always wished I would find something other than a badly made door step sandwich (mum didn’t do sliced bread), oily with peanut butter, slightly squashed and sweating under the clingfilm.  I don’t know what I was expecting but somehow I always hoped that the packed lunch fairy might have been and furnished me with something slightly more interesting, having utilised better presentation skills.  Whipped goats cheese with sun dried tomato and a few rocket leaves maybe?

So when there are two of us at home, I make an effort. I don’t eat meat so the traditional (and easier) meat and two veg are out.  Mr N once ate guinea pig in Peru, I’m pretty sure he’s tried haggis and we’ve shared deep fried chilli crickets in Mexico so he’s not afraid of a few lentils and an experimental beetroot risotto.  But when you’re by yourself, it’s late and you’re tired, this kind of meal just isn’t going to cut it. There have to be some advantages of being by yourself.  Green and Blacks white chocolate and wine for dinner probably being one of them. Sometimes I just go to the fridge and gather together what is in there. It is picnicking in your own home and normally it wouldn’t be allowed. When I want something a little more nutritionally balanced though, I don’t think you can beat the fishfinger sandwich.  It’s the only time I ever eat ketchup but it’s delicious, reminds me of my student days and is somehow comforting. Go on, you know you want to.

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The end of parks.

There’s been a change in our house recently. We a are nappyless, buggyless and beakerless household.  In fact, if I admit it to myself, we have been for a while. After resisting it for so long, a couple of months ago I let go of the giant heap of scuffed plastic toys that cluttered up the playroom, collected dust and got in the way of the hoover.  The ones my children loved the most were often the largest, ugliest and brightest. They have always tended to leave the tasteful wooden toys well alone. So it’s not for the that reason I haven’t been able to eject them.

My youngest is growing up faster than the other two. He’s already left Thomas the Tank engines behind and loves the marketing genius that is Skylanders. He is only four, but already CBeebies is ‘so last season’ and he prefers the Japanese fighting cartoons his brother watches. He is small and slight for his age, babied by the older girls at school, but at home he is is clear that he can ride his likeabike as fast as a 6 year old thank you very much. I want to say to him ‘stop!’ as he misses out a whole chunk of childhood that my other two didn’t.

I have always worked since having children, part time at least, for a reason. I know that when you’re in it, those days at the park, sometimes completely empty except the two of you, felt like they would never end. But now I’m looking back wistfully at the small pleasures of feeding the ducks,  having a plausible reason to shout ‘fire engine’ as another one nee naws its way past and the long ago sharing in the excitement of the bin lorry arriving at the house, my crowd of little faces amusing the dustmen as they pressed themselves to the window for the weekly event.  Even now I still have to resist the urge to yell ‘coach full of old ladies’ when a bus load of cauliflower perms passes by. It wouldn’t go down well when at the garden centre.

Don’t get me wrong. When they were all little it was knackering -as in worn to the bone, dead on your feet, mind numbingly tiring. And sometimes, read often, pretty boring, especially on days when there were no other mothers (or fathers) to share it with. After the two hundred and eighth time you’ve helped put together that Dora the Explorer jigsaw, you could quite happily put it through the shredder.

But – I can feel the older two pulling away. I didn’t expect my daughter, aged seven,to start  to harass me for earrings, bikinis, or high heels, when at this age I was still content to climb trees and run about in polo neck and dungarees (well it was the 70s). She still does want to climb trees (thankfully) but the other stuff and what comes with it – the hip hands, the eye rolling, the attitude of a fifteen year old – where did that come from?

My oldest already wants to be out as much as humanly possible. Permanently attached to a ball (cricket, rugby, football – he’s not fussy), a ball and a friend are all that are required for entertainment. Parents not needed. He comes back when he’s hungry or when his watch alarm goes off, unless he is actually requested to spend time with the rest of us.

Don’t get me wrong, the retrospectoscope is a wonderful thing. And combined with the rose tinted glasses, you’re on to a winner.

But suddenly I feel like like Sleeping Beauty waking up after the 100 year sleep.  The children still – all – regularly cause me to smile and post their comments to Facebook. But I wonder how much longer I will get away with it.