Monthly Archives: December 2014

‘I’m bored.  What can I do??????’

…so came the cry from my eldest daughter this afternoon – a full 3 days after Santa delivered a sack load of new entertainment.

‘Read a book’ I suggest.  This is my default suggestion – I used to be an English teacher and encouraging a love of reading is my number one parenting goal (well, possibly joint first along with teaching my children the correct use of the apostrophe, but it’s definitely up there).

‘I don’t feel like reading.’ comes the answer I am already expecting (my eldest daughter is – whether due to my encouragement, my genes, or just co-incidence – already a confirmed book lover.  However, she saves much of her reading for late at night when she should be asleep.  This should be no surprise to me as I have fond nostalgic memories of reading Heidi under the covers by torchlight, so I see late night reading as a rite of passage for any book lover worth their salt).

I let this one go.

‘Why not practise your flute?’ I venture(regular readers will realise this is clearly a joke suggestion: my daughter has a complicated, and not altogether happy relationship with her flute).

She didn’t even deign to respond to that one.

‘Well, why don’t you tidy your room?’ I ask.  Now you know, and I know, that this is really a rhetorical question.  No self-respecting 9 year old would choose to tidy their room however bored they might be, but I always think it’s worth putting forward the suggestion in case it works like the rule for new foods – offer enough times and eventually they will try it (or is it that if they refuse a certain number of times they definitely don’t like it?  I might need to check that rule – it could be a crucial difference!).

‘Well, you got lots of craft activities for Christmas, why not do one of those?’

‘Will you help me?’

Well we just got back from Grandma’s and I have lots to do so umm…no.’

‘I don’t want to do it on my own. Can I play on the ipad?

‘No.’ I say.  ‘Find something to do in your room.  Play with you new toys; draw a picture using your new pens; read one of your new books!’ OK so I am back to suggestion number one, but seriously, it’s a great suggestion! And what is it with children? Faced with an afternoon where all I needed to do was entertain myself and I could think of a hundred things to do instead of the mountain of chores I was tallying up on the ‘to do’ list in my head as we discussed Ana’s lack of suitable pursuits.  How is it that when we are trying to leave the house in morning, my children can be so completely absorbed in an imaginary world involving wolves and polar bears teaching each other Christmas carols that I can barely manage to drag them away and yet, when presented with an entire, precious afternoon to fill as they choose, they are stuck for ideas?

‘Fine’ I say.  ‘Well in that case, give me half an hour to finish these jobs and then I will help you tidy your room so you can sort your bountiful Christmas gifts into some kind of coherent order.’ (Well I said something like that, at least.  It may not have been quite so flowery, but re-telling is all about the embelishments, right?)

‘But, what shall I do while I’m waiting?’ she asks. ‘I’m bored!’

‘Well, why not…..’    I take a deep breath, mentally abandon my high-minded principles and give in to the inevitable – the fall back position….

 ‘….why not watch TV?’ I say.

Sigh. Finally, a solution that finds agreement.  So maybe I have, once again, broken that ‘Thou shalt not use TV to replace good parenting’ rule, but hey, it is Christmas….cut me some slack!  And what better cure for boredom do you know than a few episodes of ‘Come dine with me?’

We wish you a Merry Christmas…

You can plan for Christmas as much as you like: start shopping in the January sales (I didn’t); be efficient enough to book a slot for a Christmas delivery for your big supermarket shop (nope.  Me neither.); and festoon your house with as many lights, wreaths and homemade decorations as you can (well, I managed a tree and I call that success); but you can’t control everything, can you?

Despite the excitement of the big day, the kids (and let’s face it – the rest of us too) are tired and grumpy after a long, arduous term and arguments and irritability are bubbling under the surface ready to wreak havoc just at the moment when we are trying to capture some of that Christmas magic.

And illness.  You can’t legislate for that one.  What silly fool decided that winter was a good time to celebrate our most beloved festival?  Sure the streets look beautiful lit up in the darkness of a winter evening and Bing Crosby’s dream of a white Christmas is a very tantalising one, but I think those Antipodeans maybe on to something.  It may be strange to consider frolicking in the sunshine before tucking into the turkey (or nut roast in my case), but it certainly cuts the chances of a winter cold scuppering our fun by at least half!

I have just finished watching Brave with my youngest (at 11.30pm) after she was up once again with a temperature of 104.  We sat under a blanket taking it in turns to sneeze, surrounded by bottles of Calpol and boxes of Lemsip….some Christmas celebration this is looking to be!

But oddly enough, whilst I am annoyed that things may not be turning out quite as planned (even my poor planning did not include sit around feeling decidedly rough without even a desire to work my way through the tin of Celebrations), it still feels like Christmas.

Maybe I am being fanciful – goodness knows there are enough terrible things happening in the world at the run up to this Christmas period to make anyone wonder whether there is really anything to celebrate – but those tiny moments in the busy Christmas preparations: the Salvation Army band playing in town; sitting with a mug of mulled wine to wrap that pile of presents; listening to Fairytale of New York yet again and hearing the melancholy beauty in the lyrics – those moments make it magical.  Illness, bad temper, even terrible, sad news in the wider world – all this can be forgotten in those brief moments of joy and beauty.

Christmas is coming folks, and I wish you all a very merry one.  Be happy and surround yourself with loved ones and you can’t go far wrong.

Lost and (sometimes) found

Soft toys.  Such a source of comfort and joy (clearly I have heard so many carols, it is seeping into my writing!) for children (and adults) of all ages.  For some children there is one soft toy that stands out above all others as the ‘Beloved’:  it travels everywhere; becomes ingrained with dirt, tears and snot (requiring cunning solutions to enable its removal for periodic washing); and is the first port of call in situations where reassurance is required (starting nursery; going to a birthday party; staying away overnight.)

Now for my children, this never really seemed to be the case.  Don’t get me wrong, they LOVE soft toys; their rooms are full to bursting with them  and yet it is the thing they want to buy with their pocket money each and every time we visit a charity shop, car boot sale or tourist destination.  In fact, having momentarily panicked that Ana may have been lost forever under the mountain of teddies on her bed one morning recently, I have introduced a new soft toy quota whereby they may have a maximum of 25 soft toys each at any one time meaning that old toys must be passed on to new homes (via car booty or the recent school Christmas fayre where our old soft toys made up approximately 30% of the purchases on the pre-loved stall) in order to make way for new additions.  Yet, even I have found it impossible to stick to this rule and found myself siphoning off cherished giraffes and donkeys and a gorgeous round hedgehog from their baby days that held more nostalgic memories for me than they ever could for them.  These fellas did not make it to the pre-loved stall, but have instead, found a home in the bottom draws of my wardrobe, jostling for space with all manner of curios and keepsakes from my own childhood.

So given their love of all things cuddly, it always surprised me that both of my children seemed so lacking in loyalty when it came to their toys.  A bear highly favoured one day, would find itself discarded the next and replaced by a rabbit, which – in its turn – would soon find itself languishing forgotten and unloved under the bed.

A few toys however, managed to survive the gauntlet a little longer than the others and hold on to their place at the top long enough to create a slightly more lasting impression.  And much as I was pleased to see this new evidence that my children were capable of forming lasting(ish) attachments, I soon discovered that this brings with it its own problems:  namely the realisation that I needed to worry that we might lose this now cherished cuddly toy and cause untold damage to our children’s emotional well-being.

And, of course, that is just what happened….

The first incident, whilst notably traumatic at the time, proved to be merely a dummy run to glimpse the enormous potential for distress in this situation.  After a trip to Asda with Ana in the buggy, I realised on my return home that we had lost the imaginatively named ‘Bear’ who had, at this point, managed a fair few months at the top of the tree in Ana’s world of soft toys.  Being pregnant and slightly prone to emotional outpourings (although this is really not a far stretch from my non-pregnant state of being), I was distraught as I thought back over all the times Ana had shown her love for Bear (It was one of her first words which may have skewed the data on this as she called for him frequently, but – on reflection – this may have been due to a lack of viable alternative shout outs) and my eyes welled up with tears at the thought that my careless parenting may have deprived her of her furry soul mate. A call to Asda later and all my fears were dispelled when I learnt that Bear had been rescued from aisles and handed in to Customer Service by a kind shopper.  ‘Phew!’ I thought to myself ‘Let that be a lesson to me.’

But of course, it wasn’t…

The next time a loved cuddly was lost, it proved to be considerably more distressing for all parties.  We had been visiting my brother in Wimbledon and spent the day ambling around contentedly, ending up a reasonable distance from his flat where we had left our car.  Jumping on a bus to head back at the end of a long day, we took advantage of the unusual event of being on board a double decker and headed to the top floor.  As a consequence, when we arrived at our destination it was a bit of a mad scramble to get off the bus and (you may have already guessed this next bit) it was only after the bus had zoomed off into the distance that we realised that ‘Bumble Bee Baby’ had not made it to the exit on time and was headed off on a tour of South London.  Now Bumble Bee Baby (a baby, dressed as a bumble bee, naturally) was a reasonably new addition to the family, having been a gift for Faith’s recent third birthday, but he had proved an immediate hit and had accompanied Faith on all journeys ever since.  Unsurprisingly therefore, she was very upset to find he was gone and cried all the way back to my brother’s flat.  But it was when we left there and set off in our car that the enormity of the situation finally struck her and she realised that Bumble Bee Baby was really gone for good.  As we headed down the A3 and away from the scene of the incident, Faith’s unremitting flood of tears and increasingly mournful cries of ‘BUMBLE BEE BABY!’ tore at our heartstrings and by the time we reached home, it was as if we had lost a much loved pet.  Every one of us in that car, including 5 year old Ana, wished we could wave a wand and magic Bumble Bee Baby back into the arms of its owner, but this time, calls to the bus depot yielded no leads and Bumble Bee Baby was pronounced missing in action.

Soft toys.  A source of comfort and joy, yes, but also, at times, a starter lesson in loss.

Footnote:

Faith recovered pretty quickly from this incident, but the rest of us still bear the scars and often refer to the ‘day we lost Bumble Bee Baby’ as a measure of how traumatic an event might be.

The Dad Network

Time to eat all your words, swallow your pride.  

Today, we met the new boyfriend of a close friend.  A big occasion requiring us to be on our best behaviour.  On reflection then, not the best idea to take our often charming, but slightly unpredictable children with us…

And it all started so well:  jokes, laughter and mildly amusing children:  dinner was a relaxed, enjoyable event.  All indicators seemed to suggest that things were going well.  I secretly swelled with pride in the reflected glow of my cute off-spring….

…but, of course, it didn’t last.

We made the mistake of extending the event to include pudding and then things started to fall apart.  A squabble developed over who should have the pencil to draw (I should add the squabble was between the children, rather than the assembled adults!); our eldest daughter began to resemble our recently acquired Furby on a bad day (if you have a Furby in your household, you will recognise that this is a very bad thing); and suddenly our carefully curated ‘perfect family’ image started to crack.

Because we were in a public place.  Trying to appear to be good parents.  With nice, likeable, polite children.  So how do you proceed with a recalcitrant 9 year old in such a situation?

Well, if you are us, you proceed rather badly with thinly veiled threats and an attempt to demonstrate some semblance of control over our children’s behaviour, which quickly backfired making us look ineffectual and Ana look like the rude, obnoxious 9 year old that she really isn’t.  Everyone loses.

So why does this happen?  Why could we not have nipped this tiny outburst in the bud and continued in blissful contentment?  Well the answer lies in pride, I guess.  If you are trying to fool people into thinking your children are perfect and your parenting is exemplary, then any hint that this might not be the case inevitably results in panic and poor decision making.  Ana behaving badly – even momentarily – made us all look bad and made me sad that she was going to leave a bad first impression.

We all want people to like our children.  We want them to see the best in them.  To glimpse the fantastic, funny, friendly little people we know them to be MOST of the time. So when things go awry, we panic.

In retrospect, I know I could have handled things better and we would have all come away feeling like we had done our best to make a good impression.  But reality isn’t like this.  We are all flawed in little ways (parents and children alike) and we all make bad decisions.

And pride…well that never does anyone any favours, does it?  Maybe next time I will learn to swallow it, and enjoy my pudding instead!