Monthly Archives: October 2014

The fear factor

There’s always a dilemma with kids isn’t there?  Always a decision to be made where the answer is not clear cut.  The list of parental quandaries is endless:

Do we ban all cakes, sweets and chocolate knowing the dangers of a sugar-laden diet or could that actually backfire and make our children run into the sugary embrace of the nearest doughnut as soon as they can escape our clutches?

Do we encourage them to go on the monkey bars at the park knowing that a broken arm is a real risk or is it good to get them to dance with a bit of danger (albeit in the relative safety of a bark-strewn playground)?

And do we rigidly stick to the age classifications on films and trust that the experts know best in terms of recognising when our children are ready to face a bit of fear?

Now I am, by nature, a very obedient person so you would think that my answer to the final question would be a resounding ‘yes!’  You would think I would welcome the arrival of a panel of experts to take this one decision out of my hands so I can prevaricate over the many other decisions parenting brings (particularly given that my decisions often leave me feeling I may have ‘chosen poorly’ in the manner of the baddy in ‘Indiana Jones and the last crusade’.).

But no!  This is not the route I have chosen.  Instead, I have elected to walk the wobbly tightrope between the worry of being over-protective leaving my children insufficiently prepared to cope with the scarier moments in life and the danger of exposing them to scenes that will leave them waking terrified in the night leaving me guilt-ridden at being the author of their nightmares!

And why have I chosen such a precarious route?  Why not – in fact – just leave it to the experts?

Well mainly because I discovered early on that what adults (however expert) think children will fear and what children actually fear are not the same thing.  In fact, it is nigh on impossible to predict what scenes, events and film characters will trigger a small child’s fears because it appears to be completely irrational.

Take my eldest daughter:  the only film to have ever caused her significant trauma is the PG-rated kids’ animation Robots.  Marketed at children.  MADE for children even and yet the one film to tip her over the edge.  The fear-inducing scene in this instance was a moment where it seems that the lead robot might be broken apart.  Despite the fact that he escapes and everything turns out fine (of course), Ana woke up night after night for weeks afterwards in floods of tears, utterly distraught and babbling incoherently about the fact that the robot was nearly killed.

Now I took this as a sign that my eldest daughter was of a particularly delicate constitution as far as film fear was concerned (no great surprise as she is, after all, a girl after my own heart) so from this point on I carefully vetoed any film that had any potential for causing nightmares and was suspicious of any film above a U rating.

We muddled along in this way for a year or so until Ana started reading the Harry Potter series. By this time, a number of her friends had become more adventurous in their film viewing and she was keen to follow suit.  I resisted the pleas for months, certain that they were not yet ready for Potter levels of scariness until eventually I capitulated and agreed that they could watch the first film when Ana had finished reading the book.  As we switched on the DVD and settled ourselves on the sofa, I nervously envisaged the nights ahead filled with wakeful, terrified children….but my fears never materialised.  A giant snake; a dark lord and an underlying sense of menace and my girls did not even break a sweat.  Nothing.  Not a flinch.  These girls are made of steel.

And so we end up at this evening’s events where I took the possibly hazardous step of watching Jurassic Park with my 9 and almost 7 year old daughters.  I warned them that it was scary and I gave them a head’s up each time we reached a scene that I deemed potentially nightmare-inducing, but once again, I had misjudged the lie of the land and underestimated their capacity to let the man-eating rampages of realistic dinos wash over them without impact.  Instead it was me who ended up shrieking with fear and trembling behind a blanket whilst my children comforted and soothed me – patting me gently on the shoulder and telling me ‘don’t worry, Mummy.  It’s not real.’

It seems my fears may have been misplaced.  The children were never the ones who needed the protection of film classifications: I did.

Just wait until later when I wake them up in the night crying hysterically after a nightmare about velociraptors.  Then they’ll be sorry they goaded me into watching a 12 certificate film….


Insane in the brain!

Why are there some associations our brains refuse to learn?

I get the childbirth one.  From an evolutionary perspective, the idea that the mind dulls the memory regarding the true pain of child birth makes sense. Without this capacity there would be no siblings and the horror stories from those who have gone through childbirth would presumably put off all but the very brave from even considering reproducing. So well done brain……trick the poor fools into thinking it didn’t hurt that much and the future of the human race is secured.

What is less understandable is why this same trick of the brain occurs regarding visits to Swedish furniture stores. No matter how many fraught, stressful, agonising hours we spend there and no matter how many times we leave the store vowing never to return lest our sanity finally fails us, given the passage of enough time we find ourselves considering a trip to buy much needed new furniture (how can we need more furniture?) not only without trembling in fear, but actually with something approaching excitement.

We daydream about the transformative effects shiny new storage will have on the disaster zone that is our homes (well mine at least!); we look forward to a relaxing meal in the restaurant; and – if my husband’s words are to be believed as we headed out early this afternoon bright eyed and full of expectation – we imagine that we are going to have ‘a lovely family day out.’

Yep. That brain trick sure fooled us!

In reality this is what happened (and, let’s face it, what always happens):

Having negotiated permission to take her new build-a-bear bunny (see previous entry ), Ana promptly managed to lose one of the bunny’s bunny slippers (yes, seriously – it has its own bunny slippers) literally minutes after entering the store. This then entailed a frantic search; a chat to the nice woman at the entrance; and a scouting missing back to the car before the slipper was finally discovered at the foot of the display map and reunited Cinderella-like with its bunny owner! Crisis one averted.

Given that it was now mid-afternoon and we had not eaten lunch, we now headed to the restaurant where – in a failed attempt to negotiate the various queues, aisles and sections with a trolley of trays – I managed to reverse into a teenager carrying a tray almost knocking her dinner flying. This did not go down well with her parent and after apologising profusely, I slunk away to a far flung corner to eat my dinner without further incident.

So we are in and we are fed – now to shop. Now, as normal, we had set out with the express intention of purchasing only those items on our carefully curated list and nothing more – one desk, one chair, one chest of drawers and some cheap wine glasses (to replace the 6 I have carelessly managed to break across the past 2 months). Now you know (and deep down we also knew) that this kind of focused shopping is just not going to happen in this environment. For a start, when the chest of drawers we had previously been totally set on, was lined up next to a whole host of other possibilities, we caved (as always), scrapped our initial plans and started again from scratch – cue 20 minutes in the bedroom section planning, re-planning and then planning once more before eventually deciding to buy not one, but two chests of drawer both more expensive than the original…. Quelle surprise!

And then it happened…the freakish, time-theft that occurs sometime after entering this shop where you suddenly look at your watch and realise that it is at least 2 hours later than you believed it was.  You have actually be wandering around for 3 hours already and still haven’t made it to the bit where you pick up all the giant boxes containing the furniture you will still need to cram into the car; leave lying round the house for an indeterminate length of time; and then finally attempt to construct with careful reference to the devilishly complicated instructions….


And just when you start to think this couldn’t get much worse, the previously happy (if irritatingly bouncy) children you brought with you in a foolhardy attempt to ‘have a lovely family day out’ begin to flag.  Tempers fray; tears start to fall (theirs, not mine…yet) and if they are anything like Faith, the final stage of this breakdown involves lying face down on the concrete floor of the warehouse sobbing uncontrollably after her father (he of the aforementioned ‘lovely day out’) asked her not sit on the fragile boxes stacked on the flatbed trolley – how unreasonable!

As we made our way to the checkout, the prospect of an unfeasibly cheap ice cream on the other side acting as the only thing keeping the family together, I pondered on the clever trick of the brain that had led us, once again, to this point of utter dejection.

Making our way to the car, it suddenly became apparent that we were not the only victims here.  Surrounding us in the lift to the car were a sea of miserable faces.  As we exited the lift, the man in front of us nearly took out the woman next to him as he forcefully dragged his trolley out of the door (presumably so desperate to escape he had lost all motivation to be polite).  In the car park, a sullen woman stood stony faced waiting for me to move the trolley partially covering the trolley park space and I realised that the brain trick must not just work on me and that every person, in every seat, in every car leaving the car park had the same thought….’Don’t ever let me think it is a good idea to come back here!’

Well, at least, not until the brain has, once again, performed its cruel trick….

Whose homework is it anyway?!

So I may have mentioned on more than one occasion, that I am most definitely in the decidedly lazy (and unquestionably selfish) camp where parenting is concerned.  I find it enough of a challenge to marshal my charges haphazardly through the maze of life, so any additions to this workload leave me running for cover!

Given this background, you would probably not be surprised to hear that finding my children have homework fills me with fear.  But this is often less about the trials of the additional work and more about the fact that I am uncertain of the rules:  completing homework is not as straightforward as it may once have been.  In the past (well in Victorian novels at least!) children were made to sit in silence and complete their tasks without so much as a quick query for clarification.  Now though, the boundaries are blurred.  Parents are allowed to help, advise and assist.  Indeed, sometimes this is actively encouraged, leaving a considerably grey area and a whole host of potential pitfalls for keen, supportive parents (so not me then!):

Option 1: Take full control of the homework task. 

Now this option may be chosen for one of a number of reasons.  It may be the case that the parent in question is eager for the child to ‘get this right’ and is therefore taking no chances, but I am guessing that far more often it is because the homework task is just too appealing and our over-eager parent just wants to do it themselves for the sheer fun of it.

Take Ana’s project on WW2.  The students were instructed to research WW2 and then they could create something to show the findings of their research.  Now Ana is the proud owner of a ‘geeky dad’ who spent his childhood years coin-collecting; train spotting and – significant to this story – making air fix models.   So, give him the slightest whiff that there may be an opportunity to inculcate his off-spring with a love of similarly geeky pursuits and he is off and running!

Cue a lovely father-daughter trip to the model shop to spend an inordinate amount of money on a model spitfire, paint and glue.  Both parties returned flushed with success and with a beautiful glow of nostalgia mixed with excitement and then….the spitfire and associated paraphernalia lay abandoned on the kitchen side for 2 weeks as the business of life pushed aside the best laid plans and homework remained forgotten.

Fast-forward to 2 nights before the project is due in and suddenly father and daughter have some serious work to do.  When I finally sent my 8 year old to bed at 9.45pm on a school night,  I returned to the ‘work bench’ (AKA dining room table) to find a harassed; irritable 40 something man facing the fact that some activities always seem better when thought of fondly from a comfortable distance.

By midnight, as he sat painstakingly painting stripes on the tail of the spitfire, I think he may have begun to learn the first rule of homework club…..don’t bite off more than you (all of you) can chew!

So we move to ….

Option 2:  leave them to it.

This option suits the lazy parent (naturally) but it does require just a slight degree of remote supervision such as can be provided when your child creates a power point masterpiece on the computer in the dining room, whilst you go about your usual business (hastily scrabbling together some tea from the leftovers in the fridge whilst simultaneously sorting out the mountain of ironing and trying to address the problem of the wet washing currently turning to mould in the laundry basket).

Both the project at hand and your general entertainment will benefit from occasionally scanning the work under construction and it is entirely possible that your child – freed from the shackles of your sensible advice and guidance – may produce a masterpiece of the highest calibre.

This has certainly been the case in our household this weekend as Faith has been completing her Science homework to ‘write instructions on how to look after a pet’.  Faith, being of a slightly quirky nature, decided to go with the general theme of the task (instructions in cat care) whilst taking an occasional wander sideways to add a bit of colour and variety.

As a result, she has produced a power point gem that has left me in awe of her unintentional comic genius and her homework is (in my view) ten times better than it would have been had I ‘helped’ her.

look after your cat

black cats

So the moral of the story?  If you want to return to your childhood…do it in your own time and leave the homework to the kids!!


‘Can’t deal, can’t bear’

My eldest daughter’s birthday has rolled around once more and tomorrow she turns 9 (yes, that does make me feel old, as it happens.  Thanks for pointing it out.) so today, after near-on a full year of planning; begging and promising, I took four excited girls to a bear shop to spend an hour ‘making’ bears (instead of, you know, just buying one).  And what a revelation this was:

  • On entrance we were greeted by a man with a bear in a backpack….on his back. And already, this was starting to feel slightly surreal.
  • We chose our bears (well, the children chose bears, at least, I just acted as bear-related advisor) and then we explored the range of options regarding ‘sounds’ and smells’ that could be inserted into our bears. All four girls rejected the growls; giggles; heartbeats and even the ever-present ‘Frozen’ lyric, which remained on an almost permanent loop whilst we stood in the queue causing me to consider all the ways in which I might be able to forcibly ‘let it go’ without being thrown out of the store.
  • Next, we stuffed the bears with stuffing; and a heart; and our love; and some wishes….ahhh…. (Argh!!)
  • Then we made a birth certificate for our bears….ahhh (and gave the lovely store people all my personal contact details just in case they want to harass me to make more bears).
  • And finally, the pinnacle of the visit; the USP of the store and the reason the girls had sensibly chosen cheaper bears (and rejected the sounds) thereby releasing equity from their bear budget to pay for……..the clothes and accessories.

And what a choice of clothes and accessories there was!  Your bear could be a ballerina; a princess or an ice-skater….the imagination truly knew no limits within this room of surreal bear-creation and I, for one, was lost for words.

Let me just select for you a handful of the sights I found most compelling…

  1. Boxer shorts. For teddy bears.  Just wrong.
  2. Wigs. Again…for bears.  Just disturbing.
  3. Vest tops; ra ra skirts; wands; suitcases…no bear need ever be short of their desired outfit or accessory ever again.

I know what you are thinking. I am not 9 tomorrow and this is not aimed at me, so I should stop looking through my cynical adult eyes and try to remember what being 9 is like.

And you are right.  The 9 year olds (and the 6 year old) all LOVED it.  They made their bears with love and they chose their accessories with care.  This WAS for them and they thought it was great.  When we got home, Ana debated whether she should reveal the wish she had wished for when she put her heart into her bear. She finally decided to tell me and (bad mother that I am) I had to choke back my guffaws when she announced that she had “wished for bunny (her chosen bear) to find love.”

And there you have it….so very wrong and yet, so very right all there in one bunny wish.