Monthly Archives: June 2014

The lost lie-in

To begin with, I must apologise in advance to anyone reading this who is the parent of a small baby/toddler.  Stop reading now:  this is not for you!

In all likelihood you are incapable of drawing from your addled memory any recollections of what a good night’s sleep entails and the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation have, in all probability, rendered you incapable of speaking in meaningful, coherent sentences.  No, this foolish yearning for the sleep-filled days of my lost youth is likely to cause you to foam at the mouth and curse me for failing to appreciate my solid 7 hours sleep a night.  And you would be entirely justified in doing so…

…because basically, I am selfish and greedy.  Whilst I do (honestly!) recognise and appreciate the definite bonuses that come with entering a new era in which my children can go to the toilet unaided and make themselves a drink, I still secretly hanker (from time to time) for those carefree days where there was no such thing as an appropriate time to be up the morning after a late night.

In the world of parenthood, the idea that it is even possible to sleep after 9am unless you are seriously ill now seems incredible.  The only possible post-late night scenarios now consist of:

1) You persuade someone else to get up with the children/make breakfast.

This enables you to stay in bed but importantly NOT TO SLEEP because that is made impossible by the extensive noise caused by the small people living in your house.  These people have no respect for the concept of a lie-in and will either a) gleefully yell questions at you as you lie with a pillow over your head trying to drown them out or b) argue viciously with each other (whilst aforementioned alternative adult is apparently otherwise occupied) until you are forced to leave your bed to prevent WW3.

2)  You tough it out.

In the absence of a readily available alternative adult, you are forced to dispense with any notion that you might be able to have a lie-in (which, on reflection, may be preferable to scenario 1 as at least this way you don’t get your hopes up) and eventually drag yourself out of bed when you tire of listening to your children beg to be given breakfast (honestly, who do they think I am – their mother?!). In my case, this is often followed by my youngest daughter’s gymnastics lesson where I spend an hour sat at the gym with a very large cup of coffee trying to remind myself that I should stop pretending I am young enough to cope with a party lifestyle.

3) You TURN DOWN a lie-in when the opportunity finally arrives.

No seriously – you really do!

In this blissful scenario you are staying in a HOTEL with NO CHILDREN.  In theory, this means you could stay in bed until 2 minutes before check out time (which is often later at the weekends, so might get you as far as 11.58am)  BUT (and this is the crucial but) …this would mean missing a HOTEL COOKED BREAKFAST THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR.

So come on!!  Who are we kidding?  No amount of wistful hankering for lost youth is EVER going to make you miss that breakfast…

Make mine a full Veggie English and keep your lie-in, you youngsters!

You need to be where when?

Life is busy.  Work, friends, domestic chores; it’s just one mad dash from place to place.  So when you add in the complicated schedules of additional family members, it’s no wonder it becomes a bewildering whirlwind of plans and arrangements.

And it is ever changing.  Maybe if there was a nice, comforting consistency, I might be able to keep track, but no week is the same!

Take school, for example.  The start of each new week entails military precision planning and a hasty scrabble round the kitchen for dog-eared letters to see what needs to be taken in; what moneys are owed and what homework should have been done (this one is a lost cause in our house:  only this evening I found a Year 1 homework sheet hidden under a pile of Moshi monster drawings that was apparently due in a fortnight ago).

Then there are mufti days and dress up as a book character days.  Tasks which other mothers appear to breeze through effortlessly:  ‘just a quick Gruffalo costume I knitted from scratch last night complete with hand crocheted purple prickles’ kind of puts our ingenious ‘dress like the girl in the ‘Secret Kingdom’ book who has a pink dress and plaits’ strategy to shame.

Towards the end of every term the additional school-related ‘thing to remember’ increases exponentially.  PE kits for Sports Day; presents for teachers; cakes for the summer fair – the to do list is never ending.

This year, my eldest has also joined the school choir, who have an impressive schedule of external events to be part of.  It’s fabulous to see them involved in so many occasions, but I ashamed to say that I have lost all ability to add new events to our mad summer schedule and the letters about the choir events remain in our kitchen forlorn and unreturned.  Better, more efficient parents than I will have to take up the mantle and ensure there is a sufficiency of enthusiastic singing at the remaining events (and to be honest, if the cat’s chorus my girls and I managed to produce in church the other day is anything to go by, they may well be better off without our family’s contribution!).

And then there are parents’ evenings.  It would seem that the pressure to ensure I DO NOT MISS this important opportunity to find out how my children are progressing has a strange effect on my time keeping.  This year I managed to totally forget my appointment for child number 2, requiring a shame-faced trip to reception to make a new appointment for the second evening.

So eager was I to ensure that this did not happen again, that I wrote the appointment for child number 1 on my hand as an unavoidable reminder when her parents’ evening came round a few weeks later.  ‘Ha!’ I thought to myself as we made it to school in plenty of time for my 5pm appointment ‘I’ve got this one covered!’.  I was slightly perturbed by the confused reaction of the school receptionist when I announced I was here for my parents’ evening appointment, but she let us in and we headed for the classroom.  It was only the sight of the darkened and clearly unoccupied room that stirred a tiny sliver of memory that I may possibly have made a mistake here.  By the time we were headed back to reception to confirm my error, I had begun to realise that I may have jumped the gun a bit on this one.  And so I found myself, the very NEXT Tuesday, once again, writing a note on my hand to remember my 5pm parents’ evening appointment.

Well, better to go twice than not at all I figure!

So how DO you make them behave? 

Sometimes I really think I have missed some kind of key instruction in this parenting lark.  From an objective distance it seems relatively straight forward.  Your children misbehave and you instigate some kind of consequence: they then learn not to do it again.  Simples.

And yet it doesn’t really seem to be.  Because I have yet to stumble upon a consequence that works in any kind of long term meaningful way.  And I have tried lots – sensible ones that come fully endorsed by parenting gurus and mad irrational ones born of momentary desperation.

I have:

1) Taken all their toys and put them in a bin bag, making them earn them back slowly with good behaviour.

RESULT:  I had bin bags full of toys in my room for MONTHS and the children quickly forgot about them, choosing to play with empty boxes and do colouring instead(which is their general preferred play option anyway).  In the end, I had to contrive situations where they had been ‘good’ just so I could get the blasted things out of my room.

OUTCOME:  Fail.

(BONUS:  very tidy, toy-less children’s rooms.)

 

2) Banned them from TV/ipad/computer for a set time.

RESULT:  much the same as the above. Colouring + boxes = fun elsewhere.

OUTCOME:  Fail

 

3) Confiscated particular much loved toys and held them to ransom.

RESULT:  This one is my real bone of contention.  I use it probably more than most other strategies and yet it is completely ineffective.  So why is it my consequence of choice?  Simple.  Because in the heat of the moment when they are being unreasonable; intractable and downright frustrating, I am annoyed and upset.  And I want them to know that I am annoyed and upset and to feel bad for annoying and upsetting me.  So I take their toys.

And then they cry and shout at me.  So often I take a few more.

More crying and shouting and then hey….we appear to have hit a wall.  Because at this point, they are not rational and they are really never going to stop and think ‘hey, I should stop this and then I might get my toys back quicker.’ And if they can’t stop and think, then this strategy hasn’t got a hope of being successful.

OUTCOME:  Fail

 

4) Set up a token economy whereby beads can be earned through kind, helpful behaviour and then exchanged weekly for pocket money. Beads can also be lost through unkind and unhelpful behaviour.

RESULT:  Increases kind behaviour BUT appears to have no impact on reducing those mad outbursts of rash anger which are the main intended target of the whole process.

OUTCOME:  Mostly fail.

 

So why do all these strategies fail?

Well irritatingly, I think I know why they fail, but it brings me no closer to developing a strategy that won’t fail.

Earning tokens; removing privileges; confiscating toys:  these are based on some kind of rational thinking.  i.e.  ‘It is in my interest to behave in a desirable way as that will get me what I want and avoid losing things I want to keep.’ But all of us, big and small, become irrational when we are angry, or sad, or tired, or when we feel backed into a corner because we know we’ve done something wrong and we can’t make it right.

And when we are irrational, well unsurprisingly we don’t respond to rational strategies.  Instead we hit out; say horrible things; shout; scream and generally give free rein to our emotions until we have burnt ourselves out.  And in my experience, there really is no easy way to circumvent this process.

So what can we do?  Well, at the moment, I am lost on that one.  I guess we just keep trying new ideas in the hope of finding something that works.  And maybe just keep trying to remind ourselves that these small people are just that:  people.

And really, none of us are that great at being rational….are we?

 

 

My family and other parasites

Few experiences in parenting highlight the similarities between humans and other mammals more starkly than scouring your child’s head for nits.  Images from David Attenborough documentaries flash through your mind as you wonder quite how undignified things can get.

Well let me tell you in one word:  threadworms.  That’s how undignified it gets.  Peering closely at your child’s self-proclaimed ‘itchy bottom’, or gazing at their freshly deposited stools looking for signs of life takes some beating in the ‘surely this is not my job’ stakes.   A parent’s role has many wonderful aspects, but this is not amongst them.

Previous to our first nit infestation, I wondered naively if I would recognise these pesky invaders when I saw them.  And then when a large adult nit fell onto my eyebrow whilst driving to the beach one sunny Easter day, I realised my worries had been misplaced.  They made their presence known clearly enough!

But worms….they were a revelation.  I struggled to keep the horror from my voice as I told my then 4 year old child that yes, there did appear to be small creatures in her bottom.

And once you have discovered the presence of these unwanted guests what next?  Is there some easy, fool proof method to rid your household of them forever?  Ha!  As if!

Let’s take nits for starters.  There are many, many nit treatments and many, many types of nit comb, but however great the claims, all routes lead to the same unhappy conclusions:  that you will need to spend miserable hours dragging a comb through the head of a wriggling, complaining child.  The most recent infestation in our house ended unhappily with my eldest child screeching insults at me because the comb spiked her neck as she reared away from it.  But I have begun to realise that there can never be amicable dealings with those small beasts and their unwelcome offspring.

But treating worms should be easier right?  A one dose tablet or liquid and they are gone for good.  Well, yes….if you can get the required ‘one dose’ into the parasite-ridden members of your household.  Our first worm attack (what a pleasant list of firsts this is turning out to be!) ended badly when, after a trip to the chemist for a 4 pack of worm tablets to treat the whole family, we soon realised the error in our treatment of choice:  Chewable tablets.  Chewable foul-tasting tablets.  Chewable foul-tasting tablets that we were expecting our two small, reasonably fussy children to digest without complaint.

We held our breath as child number one managed to chew down her tablet grimacing and complaining, but we had no such luck with child number two.  Not known for her readiness to bend to the will of others, we knew this would be a tough one, but we were hopeful

…….but as we were liberally sprayed with the remnants of an orange chewable tablet, we had to face the depressing reality:  the various small creatures that appear to delight in making homes of our children, are pretty resistant to destruction.  The parasites are here to plagues us for some years yet, I fear!

Nostalgia has a lot to answer for.

As my children reach the age at which I am able to remember my own parallel childhood experiences, it is becoming increasingly apparent that things seemed so much calmer then.

I have strong, comforting memories of having tea and an iced bun in the bakery with my mum before going to chess club at the library on a Friday evening after school (yes, you heard me – chess club.  It was fun actually!).  In my head this was always lovely.  We had a nice chat, ate our cakes and all was right with the world. 

So why is it that I am apparently incapable of recreating this peaceful idyll with my own children? Even the shortest trip to a café will involve at least one snappy exchange, invariably triggered by my pleas for the girls to ‘sit down’, ‘stop shouting’, ‘pull that skirt down so the whole café can’t see your knickers’, ‘stop flicking cake at your sister’……and on and on ad infinitum. 

Occasionally I think it is my unwillingness to let anything slide that creates the problems in the first place, so I fight the urge to criticise and attempt to bite my tongue…..for about a minute.  Because now, in a public place, I appear to be allowing my children to behave like untrained monsters and the only thing worse than feeling like your children are out of control, is thinking that OTHER PEOPLE think your children are out of control!

My only hope is that things were not actually calmer in my childhood but rather our memories are highly skilled at editing out the small irritations of life.  If this is the case, then maybe my children do stand a chance of having comfortingly nostalgic memories of tea and cake with their mother and only I will remember the chaos and trauma……and I will keep those bits to myself.

 After all, nostalgia really is a wonderful thing….

 

 

That blasted recorder (or: wonderful musical hobbies).

I played the piano (pretty badly) as a child and watched the school orchestra enviously wishing I played an instrument that would qualify me for entry.  Having children therefore, provided the perfect possibility of living vicariously through them and watching them learn fabulous, orchestra-worthy instruments.

So when my eldest child finally arrived in Year 2 and brought home a letter about recorder lessons, my fantasies about her becoming a musical prodigy, moving audiences to tears with her magical playing, seemed on the verge of becoming a reality.

Of course living vicariously through one’s children is never really going to work is it?  They are their own people and they are frustratingly resistant to being moulded in our image (particularly our idealised, airbrushed image of what might have been). 

And so it proved with the recorder. 

After a promising start, with a special trip to a music shop to purchase the brown and white recorder that took me back to primary school, things went swiftly downhill.

Practice.  There’s the problem.  They need to do it and we, the parents, need to coax, bribe, bully or beg them to do so. 

But Ana was having none of it. If she couldn’t get it right first time (and I‘m betting even Mozart couldn’t manage that one), then it was game over.   The sporadic attempts to get her to practise invariably led to bouts of intense tears from Ana: ‘I am rubbish and I can’t play it!’ and frustrated rants from me: ‘Of course you can’t play it if you don’t practise!’ 

And then there was the issue of remembering to take the recorder into school on lesson days.  Given that I view remembering to take the children to the right place each day to be a major achievement, I felt Ana should take responsibility for remembering the recorder.  But it seems she is no better at remembering important things than I am (moulded in my image after all it would seem!).   Not for the first time, I discovered that we really do all fall into clichéd parent speak as I found myself declaring with irritation that ‘These lessons cost me £20!  If you don’t take your recorder in, then I might as well be throwing that money in the bin!’

Ahead of the end of year recorder concert, Ana and I spent night after night locked in a battle during which I tried (and failed) to stay calm, encourage and cajole her to try her best, but by now the writing was on the wall.

After the concert (a screeching cacophony of recorder squeaks accompanied by Ana’s listless miming) we agreed that she could drop recorder for now. 

Maybe next time she could take up the tambourine…

'Quiet or the reindeer gets it!'

‘Quiet or the reindeer gets it!’

In theory, becoming a parent would suggest being a grown-up right?  In my experience, this is not strictly true.  Being a ‘grown up’ is, to my mind, a mythical state of being.  A state in which one is able to make sensible decisions; create order out of chaos; and respond to the demands of parenting in a calm and rational manner.  Nope, doesn’t sound realistic to me either.

One of the aspects of being a parent that never fails to demonstrate my inability to be a proper grown up, is dealing with stroppy, petulant children. I can generally start off OK: ignoring the outbursts; addressing the behaviour and keeping my irritation in check, but invariably the mask falls; the charade fails and my inherent childishness seeps to the surface.

Responding to my daughter’s angry yells of ‘You’re not my friend, Mummy.’ with a mumbled ‘good’ not quite under my breath, is not a grown up thing to do.   I know this.  But sometimes it is just hard to stay in that ‘good parent’ role.

It is to my eternal shame that I did once threaten to pull the legs off my daughter’s much loved flock reindeer (a post-Christmas Paperchase bargain purchase) and that this threat was accompanied by some vigorous miming of how exactly this would be accomplished.  Like many moments in parenting, it was one of those times where you step outside of yourself, assess the situation and wonder quite how you managed to get to the point where you were issuing threats of violence towards the beloved toy of a 6 year old child.

As I say, sometimes it is hard to tell exactly who the grown up is anyway….