Monthly Archives: November 2014

Be my baby.

My youngest daughter turns 7 on Sunday and this year, more than most, I am feeling nostalgic about leaving behind the early years of my children’s childhood.

Why is parenthood so bittersweet?

In all the madness and mayhem of life our children are constantly growing: moving away from those precious baby years and into childhood proper. And why is that so hard? Why does the memory repaint the past, conveniently glossing over all the challenges, traumas and sheer hard work of parenting babies and toddlers, leaving the over-riding feeling of loss that those days will never come again?
The joy and excitement that our children are growing, changing and emerging from their babyhood chrysalis into fully fledged little butterflies is tempered by the nagging feeling that we should have done more to cherish the times that have gone before: that we should have hugged our babies close a few more times and breathed in their unique baby-ness a little harder so as to have etched it in our minds to keep forever when we have left all that behind.

I remember how I felt with each passing stage. Sure, there was a tinge of sadness when we packed up the cot and passed it on to someone with a younger family; maybe I felt a little ache of regret when we no longer had a child in need of nappies; but in reality, I had my eye on the prize and the prospect of leaving the house without a nappy bag and change of clothes filled me with an overwhelming sense of relief rather than sadness.

I know I have inwardly whooped with joy on more than one occasion since my children were happily ensconced in backless booster seats and able to put on their own seat belts. The memories of so many frustrated occasions leaning awkwardly over the backseat trying to get the dratted seat belt into the clip are still clear enough in my mind to make me glad on a daily basis that I no longer have to face that task on a rainy day with an uncompliant toddler!

But still I ache sometimes to stand with my baby on my shoulder, rocking gently in that familiar motion, feeling their breath on my cheek.

When I tell other people this they sometimes ask ‘so are you broody then? Do you want another baby?’ But in truth, I don’t. I don’t yearn for another baby to take through those years anew. What I yearn for is the chance to have all the precious moments from my daughters’ baby years gathered in one place so that I could dip in when the feeling takes me and be back in that moment, just as it was, just for a second, just to make it real once again.

It is not another baby I yearn for, and equally I have no desire to go back and re-live those years again. I have moved on; WE have moved on. I love my growing children: I love seeing them becoming themselves, developing personality quirks that are unique to them. I love watching them learn about the world and begin to discover their own talents and interests. I love being able to chat to them about their lives, and my life and LIFE. I love hearing their voices on the phone and realising with a jolt that they sound so grown up.

No. The paradox here is that I want both of these things. I want them to keep growing and changing and yet I also want to be able to stay in the moment. All of their moments.
I want to capture those moments as they happen and keep them in real time so they are not lost in a haze of memories but stay clear and true.

It is not a baby I yearn for, it’s MY babies across all their lifetime. The past, the present and the excitement of the future all wrapped up in one parcel to treasure.

And that’s parenting: joy and excitement; frequent frustration; impatience to move forward and sadness to leave things behind.

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She works hard for the money.

Imagine – if you will – that you are at a job interview. The interviewer runs through the main tasks involved in the job you have applied for:

  • Cooking (often whilst trying to juggle four other tasks and mediate a blazing row).
  • Cleaning (fairly constantly and generally to no avail as the dust, dirt and debris will continue to magically appear, laughing in the face of your feeble efforts to dispel them).
  • Teaching (a full range of subjects, many of which appear to be at a higher level than you ever managed and use formula you have never come across despite making it through to adulthood reasonably successfully).
  • Coaching (to include offering advice and support on any sport/hobby or interest as well as cheer leading, post-match analysis and motivational speaking on demand).
  • PA duties (to include managing the diaries of a number of people all of whom have numerous appointments, weekly clubs and important deadlines, which will require your assistance to meet.)
  • Providing counselling; anger management and behaviour modification strategies as and when required (regardless of whether or not you feel able to deliver this service due to incompetence; exhaustion; lack of patience or general apathy).

Salary: £0.

Would you take this job? And if you were crazy enough to do so, would you be up to the task?  Because I most certainly am not!

If I run through the tasks outlined above, I am OK with the   cooking (even with the recent addition of marks out of 10 being awarded at every meal – an unforeseen consequence of avid ‘Come Dine with Me’ viewing); I just don’t bother with the  cleaning (and as such, fail to be irritated by the mounting filth) and I am happy to give the  teaching a go (what I don’t know I make up or google so it seems to work).

On the downside, I am a bit rubbish at the  coaching (I don’t make enough effort with the cheer leading aspect and am apparently overly critical: I call it truthful and honest, but it doesn’t go down too well!); I am really quite dreadful at juggling my  PA duties (over the last year, I have missed one parents’ evening completely; attempted to attend another parents’ evening a week early; missed the deadline for ordering school photos; and – only this week – encouraged my daughter to skive Rainbows in order to complete the homework she had known about for two weeks, but we had failed to do in time); and – probably most significantly – I am very poor at the   anger management and behaviour modification.  I find it incredibly hard dealing with angry outbursts (particularly when they appear completely irrational) and I am continually wracked with uncertainty about which behaviours I should be attempting to modify in my children:  should I really be trying to bend them to my will ALL the time?  When is it OK to let things go?  How do I know what I should address and how to address it?

Sigh.

So back to the job interview:  can I do this job?  Well, I am coming in at the entry level, but I am prepared to work hard and take advice so I am ever-hopeful.

Apart from the cleaning.

That’s unlikely to improve. Just so you know.

My latest post in Families Solent East.

After a challenging week with my eldest (the result, largely, of a busy weekend and a late night) I have reworked one of my previously blog posts for this article – How DO you make them behave? Please someone – tell me the answer!

http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/LOCATIONS/Solent-East/Family-Life/Parenting-advice/So-how-DO-you-make-them-behave

Into the Abyss: 

With evidence mounting over the past few years, I have now reached a position of complete certainty that – despite the cries of my younger self that I should ‘not go gentle into that good night’ – I may be outwardly demonstrating the inwards signs of becoming a true grown up.

I should have been more careful. I should have remained ever vigilant to catch those moments when my words rang in my ears as direct echoes of my mother from my childhood. When discovered buried beneath my attempts to appear young and on trend, I should have quickly cast aside these moments like burning coals and sought instead for a better phrase.
When watching TV with my daughters and finding the plot line of the latest episode of ‘Monster High’ confusing and nonsensical, should I have asked my children ‘what is this rubbish you are watching?’ No! I should have said ‘this is sick!’ (and meant by that ‘this is very cool’ rather than ‘I may soon vomit.’).
I should have done these things to stave off the inevitable march into adulthood…….but I haven’t. And why? Because I am now officially past it and happy to admit it.
The thought of saying anything is ‘sick’ and meaning it in a good way is just a step too far; a boundary I am not prepared to cross; the final frontier for me in my attempt to hang on to the coat tails of youth.
I give up now. I surrender. I am a grown up and happy now to accept this as my place in the world.
Maybe if things had stayed at the point of saying ‘my bad’ I could have adapted. After all, that is merely a contraction of the fuller phrase ‘I believe that was my error. Sorry about that.’ But ‘sick’? I can’t carry that off.
And seriously. Can anyone over the age of 30? Isn’t it like wearing a baseball cap backwards or having a snapchat ‘story’? Surely it is just an invite to young people to look at you in pity and wonder when you will just act your age.
Now I like to think I am reasonably youthful: I listen to new music; I adopt new forms of social media but increasingly, I realise that my concept of youthful does not match that of the actual youth. If I play my music choices to my 16 year old students, they are blank-faced and unimpressed. The new music I choose is not theirs.
I recoiled in horror when a student told me that their peers regularly post a photographic record of the minutiae of their daily life on a snap chat story. ‘Why?’ I asked? ‘Why would you do that? Why on earth would anyone else be interested in your breakfast choices?’
And that’s the point isn’t it. Every generation makes their own rules; builds their own vocabulary; sets their own social norms and, in doing so, effectively shuts out the generations above. And that’s as it should be. For we must all forge our own path to be that little bit different from those who came before us. My children will form a part of the next generation of teenagers to come up with their own phrases and idioms that even those much younger than I will find baffling.
As for me? I will continue to navigate my way through this every changing linguistic world. I may choose to adopt those youthful inventions that hold cross-generational appeal (I particularly like ‘Whatever’ and find many occasions to utilise this one) and laughingly reject others (my children’s love of the phrase BFF (best friends forever, if you are in the dark) makes me want to laugh and vomit in equal measure (does that make it ‘sick’ I wonder?!)).
But ‘it’s all good’. I am at peace with this new phase in my life. I will gracefully bow out of the arena and let the next generations take their place. I am sure they will be ‘sick’.

The long and winding road.

Over the half term holiday, I met up with a friend and we found ourselves discussing journeys with kids.  Specifically, lengthy journeys with kids. Now I may have mentioned my fairly gung-ho approach to parenting which often consists of momentarily questioning the wisdom of my plans with my children and then just doing it anyway and hoping for the best. I find that with long journeys, that is all you can ever do.  No amount of planning, preparation or clever purchases with ever take away the fact that you just have to suck it and see.  It might be fine.  It might not.  To segue seamlessly from Paul McCartney to Abba, you just have to ‘Take a chance’. And we have taken many….

1. When Ana was a mere 12 weeks old, we went on a family holiday to Cuba. An 8 hour flight away. Now can I just add here that exotic Caribbean holidays are not the norm in our house hold.  In fact, the very reason we were going when Ana was 3 months old was because I was on maternity leave from my teaching job and I knew this was my only chance to holiday out of peak season so I was going to grab it with both hands!

So back to the journey.  I read up a little about taking young babies on planes and noted the advice that you should try to get them to feed on take-off to stop their ears popping and that sucking on a dummy often helps too.  I dutifully purchased a dummy and Ana dutifully spat it out every time I tried to get her to take it.  No matter: we would try the feeding lark.  When the day came we headed excitedly to the airport.  After check in, we made what seemed a sensible decision to walk our buggy to the plane rather than check it in and suddenly we were on the plane.  As we headed to our seats there was a Mexican wave of falling faces (not sure that metaphor works, but I like the idea of it, so it can stay) as those seated around us realised they would be spending 8 hours in a confined space with a small baby.  The man in the seat beside us quickly managed to get himself relocated and even I started to think this may have been a bad idea.  BUT…for once, my story has a happy ending.  Ana was pretty darned perfect on the flight and as I passed the man who had jumped ship on my way out of the plane, I smiled in smug satisfaction that his fears had not been realised this time.  My smile lasted all the way to the baggage reclaim when we discovered that our buggy had not made it to Cuba but had taken a detour enroute….but that’s another story….

2. Undaunted by an 8 hour flight with an infant, we fast forward a few years to another epic adventure:

A 2000 mile drive across Europe to a campsite near Venice.

With a 3 year old and an 18 month old.

In a car with no air conditioning.

With no SAT NAV (I disapprove – paper maps are the only way as far as I’m concerned).

In the height of summer.

What could possible go wrong?

This holiday was my attempt to do something fun with the family, whilst also managing to visit an exciting city I had never been to (you notice I say ‘I’ here.  My husband did come with me, he just had very limited input into the decision-making!).

We set off promisingly via ferry and then a reasonably short trip through France.  After a lovely family meal in the evening, we were feeling like we had this long-distance travel thing down pat.  You think I would learn that smug pride is always a precursor to disaster, but I never do: our lovely meal was followed by a sleepless night with two small children in a family room consisting of a double bed downstairs and two singles on a mezzanine level with only a low wall to stop said children tumbling over the edge.  Suffice to say, we ended up with 4 people, getting no sleep in one smallish double bed.

We headed to breakfast hopeful of a more promising start to day 2, but the stifling heat in the car the day before (no air con remember) had clearly had a negative effect on Faith (18 months old and historically a very sicky baby – can you see where this is heading?).  So, bleary eyed and attempting to prepare to return to the ‘long and winding road’, we were all sat at breakfast in the hotel lobby (the kind where there is no service and you just help yourself to continental breakfast), when out of nowhere Faith was sick.  And not just a little bit.  She vomited as if she was competing in the national championships (or international championships, I guess, given that we were in Europe) and covered herself and me and the floor in sick.

Now, I mentioned it was an unattended breakfast, so Mike then had a panicked search for paper towels; hotel staff; anything to attempt a clean-up and all in front of the shocked – and possibly traumatised – hotel guests scattered around the room attempting to fortify themselves for the day’s journey (we may have spoilt that slightly for them – sorry about that!).

Meanwhile I was faced with a different problem.  We had been very organised and had packed the car pre-breakfast so I now had to unpack the boot (possibly a good time to mention that in a fit of money-saving panic, I had decided to fill our car to the gills not only with clothes, beach things and camping accessories, but also enough food to last us for the 10 day holiday so we would not have to buy overpriced food in the local shops.  We had, quite literally, taken pasta to Italy!).  Anyway, emptying the boot was not an easy task (particularly whilst covered with toddler sick) and I then had to riffle through our belongings to find something acceptable for us both to change in to.  We then had to go back to our abandoned hotel room to wash and change before finally (approximately an hour later than planned) managing to slink away with our tails between our legs thankful that we had not booked this hotel for the return journey and therefore never needed to see any of these people again (I imagine they too were thankful!).

This is by no means the only adventure of this journey, but I seem to have digressed somewhat so the other stories will have to wait for another time.   Let’s head to journey 3….

3. This journey took place last summer when we decided it was time to head out on another cross-Europe road trip: to Berlin, via Cologne, with a pit-stop in Dusseldorf on the way back. This time we were pretty confident that things would be different.  We had a newer car with air conditioning for a start (one of the other stories I failed to mention from the previous trip was that we broke our car on the way home and drove from approximately the Paris ring road, back to Portsmouth, via a cross-channel ferry, with the underside of our car scraping dangerously close to the floor.  It never recovered.), and our children were much older and more than capable of coping with hours trapped in a moving vehicle.

This time, the journey planning as far as Mike was concerned, was all about the music.  He spent hours (and I do really mean hours.  Night after night.) creating the perfect playlist of ‘music to drive to Berlin’ resulting in a 6 CD masterpiece (Yep.  You heard it.  CDs.  No new-fangled devices here) that mapped the exact journey times so that we crossed Belgium to the strains of Europop; zoomed down the autobahn to the sounds of Karftwerk’s homage to the German road system and finally entered Berlin accompanied by a triumphant electronica version of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’.   The children were surprisingly impressed with Mike’s creation, although I was dubious about the popularity of David Hasselhoff’s ‘Looking for Freedom’ (as sung on the Berlin Wall), which they insisted on singing for the rest of the holiday until it was playing on a loop in my head.

Whilst he had been planning the soundtrack to our adventure, I had been in charge of the accommodation.  This also involved being responsible for ensuring we were able to get to each planned stop.  Mike had control over the big picture route planning.  I was supposed to do the detail.  Once again, I don’t do SAT NAV.  I believe in paper maps.  But I am also not that great at following them. Particularly in cities I don’t know; in countries I am unfamiliar with.  (Again, I think you can see where this is headed…).

The journey, in the main, passed without drama (no sickness; no lost buggies) apart from the 3 crucial moments when we were trying to find the places we were due to stay.  For these few hours, things were fraught inside our little car and no amount of air-conditioning managed to cool the atmosphere.  Even the children knew better than to argue as the palpable tension caused by being lost in the suburbs of Cologne blew through the car. And then again in the suburbs of Berlin.  And finally in the suburbs of Dusseldorf as we headed home.

Alongside my inability to successfully locate hotels when required, I have a slightly unhelpful aversion to asking for directions.  I find it embarrassing and rather humiliating to have to admit to failure in front of strangers.  Nowhere was this felt more strongly than when we stopped (at Mike’s insistence, after 3 failed attempts to search nearby roads for the lost hotel) in Cologne to seek help.  Not only were we obviously lost; not only were we clearly arguing; but we had the temerity to stop people on the street, tell them we spoke ‘no German’ and then expect them to give us directions in English.  Naturally, they were able to do just that leaving me feeling crushed, once again, by my ineptitude – maps, languages, parenting….failures all round.  But hey, at least we have singlehandedly contributed to a spike in the popularity of David Hassellhoff’s musical masterpiece.  That, at least, is something I can be proud of as I sit contemplating our next great adventure down the long and winding road…

How to create a hastily cobbled together, poor quality attempt at Hallowe’en in 20 easy steps:

I am not a fan of Hallowe’en.  Not at all.  There are many reasons for this, but largely it is due to my inherent dislike of being scared.  I just don’t get it.  Why would anyone want to deliberately instil fear in themselves or in anyone else?  Now this may well come down to the legacy of a terrifying experience watching ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ at 12 years old which resulted in many years of abject terror at night and left me with a need to jump the 2 metres from my bedroom door to my bed every night (in case anyone was under my bed.  Although in retrospect, I fail to see why getting in to bed at all was ever going to leave me feeling safe however I had managed to get there!); a fear of sitting on the toilet (if you have seen the film, you will know why) and a general sense that this horror film lark was not in the least bit pleasurable or fun.

This dislike of all things horror has stayed with me into adulthood and, along with a refusal to watch anything remotely terrifying (including -you may have noticed from my last post – films such as Jurrasic Park, which apparently other people (my children included) seem to find totally terror-free), it has left me with an inherent dislike for all things Hallowe’en related.

As a parent, this leaves me in a dilemma as the celebration of Hallowe’en has grown in popularity, but I have steadfastly stuck to my guns and my children are aware that we just don’t do Hallowe’en in this family.

Until now…

Here follows my helpful instruction manual for any non-hallowe’en loving individuals who may find themselves suddenly having to wing it and cobble together something approximating a socially acceptable attempt at Hallowe’en celebrations.

  1. Return from a Hallowe’en free day out at 6.30pm and find yourself in the scene from ET where the whole town goes out trick or treating: hordes of children, happy laughter and neighbours smiling in their doorways.
  2. Take about 3 minutes to crack in the face of such a neighbourly sight and agree with your children that yes, maybe this year we can do hallowe’en ‘a little bit’.
  3. Approach own house with now very excitable children and reluctantly agree with the comments of the observant youngest child that yes, your house does already look quite spooky on account of the overgrown foliage in the front garden that resembles dense, rotting undergrowth.
  4. Rush into the house with children who are now desperately concerned they may miss the boat. Scrabble around in the dressing up box to find the witches costumes purchased begrudgingly for a hallowe’en party last year.
  5. Note that it may be necessary to up-grade said costumes when nearly 7 year old daughter appears in a dress that looks about the right size for a 3 year old.
  6. Rush out into the street with your children to begin ‘trick or treating’. Check with children what this actually involves. Do you need to take anything? What are you supposed to say?  Accept that TV has once again taught them everything they need to know and agree to just follow their lead.
  7. Realise you need to make your own house look more hallowe’en-like so dash out into the back garden to find the pumpkins the children made at their childminder’s last Friday.
  8. Discover pumpkin 1 has rotted into a sad heap and pumpkin 2 is following close behind. Grab pumpkin 2 feeling the damp squish of rotting pumpkin flesh dripping down your arm as you do so. Walk it through the house as fast as possible to avoid releasing too many of the fruit flies nesting in the mouldy interior. Dump sorry looking rotting pumpkin in the forecourt and promise children that this makes it particularly apt for hallowe’en given that rotting flesh is a frequent feature.
  9. Take kids up the road to begin trick or treating. Visit a few elaborately decorated houses and realise you need to up your game a bit as far as decoration is concerned. Rush back across the road – grab a tea light. Open pumpkin. Drop tea light into the murky depths attempting (but failing) not to put your hand near the grey, fluffy ball of fly-covered mould.
  10. Complete the trick or treating circuit of your road and confirm with the now very excitable mini-witches that this is the limit of their trick or treating adventure.
  11. Return to house and realise that the meagre supplies of chocolate you bought in for the odd potential trick or treater will never be sufficient to supply the hoardes of children that have descended on your road.
  12. Panic that any social gains made by taking your children up and down the road and smiling at the neighbours may be totally ruined if you then appear to be lacking in chocolate stocks yourselves. Sprint – literally (well actually literally a sprint for me, but probably more recognisably a jog to anyone else) – to the shop on the corner to resupply.
  13. Buy 3 bags of ‘trick or treat’ chocolate fingers (75p a bag. Seems cheap, but sure it will be fine). Get home. Empty chocs into a bowl (forget the elaborate hallowe’en bowls in evidence elsewhere – a soup bowl works just as well).
  14. Try a quick taster chocolate from the recently purchased stock (it is important to know what you are giving away). Gag in disgust and immediately spit out the hideous excuse for a piece of chocolate (75p a bag. Seemed cheap right?).
  15. Leave children in charge of chocolate distribution at the door. Instruct them to stand with the door open as many people appear to be passing, unaware that the mouldy pumpkin with an eeire glow is, in fact, an indicator that you are accepting trick or treaters.
  16. Listen whilst youngest child comes into the kitchen to report a boy who ‘took a handful of the chocolates instead of just 1’. Chortle wickedly knowing he will soon regret this decision (Karma my friends, karma).
  17. Realise that this event is going to go on far longer than you anticipated and resign yourself to the fact that your children will be continuing to cackle ‘Mmm-wa-ha-ha-ha!’ long past their accepted bedtime.
  18. Get children to bed, settle in front of the TV and become increasingly irritated by the not so little trick or treaters now knocking on the door every 5 minutes.
  19. Remember that you are giving them disgusting chocolate and feel slightly better.
  20. Get to 8.30pm, realise it is now over (phew) and ponder quite how to get rid of the rotting pumpkin corpses in the morning.

Et voila….perfect hallowe’en prep.

Remember to bookmark this ready for next year’s festivities folks.  And if there is one over-riding message to learn from my experience, it is to consider getting a gardener if the default state of your forecourt is deemed completely hallowe’en ready!