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Monday, 19 November 2012

How to Talk so They Listen and Listen so They Talk.

Having spent the last while ruminating on my parenting skills, it was made crystal clear to me the other night that I might be lacking a lot in terms of the moral compass, when I heard my youngest counting herself to sleep. Instead of opting for the traditional sheep or indeed any other childhood imaginings, she was counting "fucking hells", yep, as I was passing their room to cast an ear out on the pre-sleep chatter, thinking that bed time wasn't too bad, and that my children aren't as satanic as I'd previously thought, my ears picked up "one fucking hell, two fucking hell..." I looked at my husband and he looked at me and both our faces flashed fear and concern, but then, like any self respecting adult would do, we covered our faces, stifled massive guffaws and ran downstairs.

It's not just the younger on that makes us look and feel like absolute shams, the eldest plays her part too. At a recent party we went to, neither of them would sit down at the table and eat, neither of them would say please or thank you neither of them would stop shouting how they didn't like this or that until I was whisper shouting through gritted teeth whilst gripping their arms in psycho mode whilst other parents looked on and wondered why on earth I'd ever been blessed with functioning reproductive organs. It was just the last straw.

You're judging, I know you are, I'm judging, you can't help but judge. The panting Spaniels of the existent parent world swear too much in front of their children, so much so that it has found its own little niche in the "lullaby section" of bed time. Well done! Well, well done!

Having got over the initial hilarity, both my husband and me began to panic a little, but we soon rationalised it and normalised it and realised, not for the first time, that we really weren't up to the challenge of parenting and first thing in the morning we'd ABSOLUTELY call Barnardo's and make the problem theirs!

As fate would have it though, the next day in the post school playground a girlfriend of mine (also daughter's friend's mother) told us that she was reading a book, but not your average book, a book very much like The Holy Grail for parents of the book world. We stood and nodded and made her repeat the title at least a thousand times, committed it to memory, made our excuses and F1'd ourselves straight down to the nearest Waterstone's and simply bought ourselves a copy. You can do that, they don't keep it under lock and key, they don't question you and then hand the book over like " you really need this book, go straight to page 20 and that should sort you out, but just so you know, we have Social Services on speed dial, and we'll know if you don't read it..." With the shiny book under his arm, my husband came home and handed it to me, I devoured the first few pages, then came up to the bit where you have to ACTUALLY do exercises together. I coughed and awkwardly turned to husband read him the info and then tested him. He'd got it, far quicker than me, he replied with all the right things at the right time. Yet more humiliation for me who was reading it whilst thinking of what they'd have for tea tomorrow and how I was going to convince the eldest that wet uniform (that I'd forgot to wash that day) is very now and sooner or later everyone would be doing it. Eventually, I locked some stuff in, and so now all we have to do is apply the first exercise, it's easy. It absolutely works, you can level with your children and they level with you.

The problem comes with situation. That's the thing, you have to keep calm and deliver the lessons (when you remember them) in the same way, even if your child has taken to your curtains with scissors whilst bleaching the carpet. You have to be a deliverer of calm, which we all are of course. The good news is, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish actually makes you feel calmer, by virtue of the fact, that, if your parenting skills are anything like mine, you'll immediately see how virtually everything you've ever done with your children is irrelevant and by changing a few things your children might like and respect you again, it's worth a shot. 

Anyhoo, the point is, we can evolve and so can our children. we can get through this, it's not forever, we hope, and if a book can give you that little feeling of hope and have your children perhaps doing at least one thing you ask of them per day, it's got to be a goer, hasn't it?  

Thursday, 27 September 2012

New School Parent Conduct

So, first four weeks of school done, we're there, it's now just a question of keeping her institutionalised, at something other than Her Majesty's pleasure, until the age of 18. How hard can it be?

We are keen, as parents, we were in the starting blocks about a month before the race was due to begin. Heads down, fingers steepled, feet pressed to the metal. First day arrived, the gun went off and my husband and I were off. Playground chatter before the bell was ludicrous, my mouth was moving far faster than my poor addled brain could cope with, utterances were non sensical, mothers clutched their children to them whilst steering them to the other side of the world. Husband ran round talking nonsense to the men folk. We are the panting, out of control, super excited Cocker Spaniels of the parent world.

Second day, naive teacher types sent our eldest home with paper containing dates and times of meetings and socials with requests for volunteers. My husband and I ripped the sheet from the bag, scrambled for the calendar and divvied up the duties right then and there. Any self respecting parent would have ignored the letter at least for the first month, just to keep a sensible grip of their self respect. Not us, third day of term and my husband was knee deep in women, at the school's fund raising brain storming meeting, as a result he's researching a school bus and taking up architecture to design a suitable school swimming pool, good luck to him. I'm baking anything I can find just on the off chance we might have a visitor from the school. We're very busy!

We had our home visit, having the queen round would probably have been easier. Curtains were ironed, floors were ship shape and Bristol fashion. The dog was made to practise please and thank you as we ran around in a flurry of tidiness and cleanliness very, very much as close to godliness as is humanly possible in this realm. When the teacher and the teaching assistant arrived both me and my husband ran to our "natural" positions which meant neither of us opened the door, eldest child did the honours and ushered both teachers and dogs into the kitchen where insane mother was stirring nothing on the Aga and cool, calm, collected father was making coffee and tea simultaneously. Eldest child sat at kitchen table with teacher and did numbers and letters and parents and teaching assistant sat uncomfortably on the over plumped sofa cushions, trying hard not to spill coffee and or tea on anything whilst listening to the dog try and say please and thank you. A more natural scene you could not have conjured from anywhere. As parents, we made hobbits look run of the mill.

My husband and I have also signed ourselves up to to the "Fun run". There is no fun in run as far as I can see, but I'll be there with my sweat band round my head and leg warmers just above very nearly new trainers, punching the air at the start, without question of  a doubt. I'll probably collapse after about two paces, but it's not the winning, as we tell our girls, it's the taking part. Who cares if you lose all the respect of your peers in the process, you can always win them round in the playground with gabbled words of  absolutely no consequence to anyone whatsoever?

We had our harvest festival concert, to which I rocked up (unknowingly) cool as a cucumber, 10 minutes late. Was then informed that I was in the wrong place, couldn't find the right place so missed out and husband was left to Spaniel pant on his own. He wins brownie points though because he also signed himself up to cook at the "Back to School BBQ", where I wandered around spilling wine over people whilst trying to look thought provoking and nice, sociability does not come easy to me, but my husband manned the BBQ, so there's got to be something in that.

All in all, I am glad that my daughter is only four, because she'll probably not remember the complete incompetent retardedness of her mother. She'll be glad her parents (at least half of them anyway) showed up. She'll take the life lesson that Spaniel is better than Chihuahua, isn't it?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Play Dates...

I had no idea, until my eldest was about 15 months, that there was an actual name for children going round to each others houses, causing mess and mayhem for a couple of hours and then leaving. This title still fills me with horror as it makes me feel that something grand should be happening. The "play" I can compartmentalise and justify, that is what children do, but the date... Makes me feel like children should have spent in excess of 6 hours deciding on what they are going to wear, got their hair and make up just so, then put their selected outfit on and realised that something had to go, either the hair or the make up. That's just the child. Then I get to thinking that I am up against Excellent Parents (see Excellent Parents / Existent Parents) , in a world where competitive parenting holds fast. Existent parenting in this instance simply will not stand.

Of course we have real life friends who have real life children, and then it's just a question of having people over with their children and monitoring the bun fight that ensues, occasionally throwing a niblett of something in when they get bored and want another thing to massacre. This is not a play date, oh no, no, this is having friends over with their children.

A play date requires one parent stepping out of their comfort zone to let the other party know that they are keen for their children to interact with the other parties children out of school hours. Essentially you are putting the feeler out for "proper friends". It sounds mental, but it goes against everything we Brits stand for.

Organisation of the first play date is a mine field. You have to gather information from your children as to which child exactly they are talking about, then you have to cast your eye over them to see if you think you are going to be able to keep this child from being eaten or from desecrating your family home. Once you have assessed said unsuspecting child you then have to come up with a way of contacting the parents without plaguing their existence and seeming like you or your children inhabit only a friendless world. Approach the teachers, that's right, ask them if "Blah blah" might like to have a play date with your child, while they scrutinise you and check you for any outward visible signs of paedophilia, they'll provide you with some means of contacting "Mr and Mrs Blah Blah" and you're away. Just this bit is a triumph, you've got the key to the play date, but now, you have to use it.

My favoured medium, as the world's most socially awkward parent, is the text. the humble text allows you to be frank, short and not have to use the voice. But then you have to think about what to write, how to phrase this master piece so that it unlocks the gate that holds "Blah Blah". "I've seen your child at school, she looks really nice and seems to like my daughter, can she come and play?" doesn't quite cut it.  "hello it's Mrs Friendless, mother to child with no friends, your child looks like friend material, does she want to come round?" is a little off putting. The phone is in my hands, the screen is empty, the cogs are turning, quick, simple and good. Don't give too much away, sound pleasant and normal, minimal words maximum impact "hello, does Blah Blah want to come over?" That won't work, they won't know who I am, or where and when they're going. This is hell, go with "hello (mother of Blah Blah) it's me, my child's mother. we wondered if Blah blah would like to come for tea and a play on X at Xpm?" It's gone, there's nothing you can do.

Waiting is hell, you want so much for your children to have this sodding play date that you cover every scenario before collecting the unsuspecting kinders from nursery / school and then you've forgotten. The phone goes pling and it all comes back, they're going to be busy, and the fact that you clearly aren't, as you've suggested the date, means you really are the friendless wonder you think and they think you are.  "yes that'd be lovely, shall I drop her round at 4?" "yes, 4 would be lovely!" You don't mean it, you're in a tail spin already, what will we wear? What will we do? What will they eat? How will the house ever be tidy in two weeks? I then spend the next couple of days thinking of excuses about how to back out.

Surprisingly, we're still waiting for my youngest to have a play date. She's just gone back to nursery and she can't make up her mind who she wants round, they don't know at 3, or do they?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Back to School...

It will certainly not have gone unnoticed, by any of you who've had your children hanging around your feet for this interminable "summer", that we are getting closer and closer to that precious Back to school time, or as it has become to be know in my house, "thank F*********k for that"!

Some of you might well still have your angels demanding every second of your attention, draining your bank balance on stuff to keep them entertained as well as little extras on top of that to get them to co-operate. The time has come, or it is very soon to be here (assuming you have kids, that is), when you too shall be doing the running man as you see the back of your child's head as it is swallowed up by the school gates, and then moon walking to the car as you realise that life, as you know it, has started again.

Shoes. This seems to send most into a spin, probably one of the main reasons for the economic collapse as you have to remortgage to get the whole kit and kaboodle. We went  three or four shoe shops which in itself was enough to push you over the edge. Most of them, apart from the last shop, were rammed with parents and children all searching for the right shoe that will last, look nice, be loved enough by the child so that they'll want to wear them every day, and not cost in excess of a million pounds. Sadly, we had to run the gauntlet on this one with two children in tow. The youngest had taken on a new persona of bad jelly, a child that couldn't stand up straight, let alone walk, so we had to keep fighting her to get her scooter from A to A and a half. She became an eel whenever picked up, that move, perfected by children at their very worst, that leaves you clutching nothing but a fibre of clothing and thin air whilst your child writhes around on the floor letting the world know that your incompetence as a parent knows no bounds. Luckily, once we reached the golden sanctuary of the first shoe shop, both children were charged with an unbridled energy that left the rest of the shop agog at the relentless bad behaviour. Eventually after about 40 days and 40 nights a frayed looking elfin creature in lovely nude heels came over to us and quietly asked if we'd like some new children and a rest? I duly obliged, thrust my eldest towards her and she returned with one pair of shoes that would fit my long limbed elfin child. None of the shoes that she'd selected from the shelves to hurl at her sister were included in the offering and the shoe fitted badly anyway. Hooray, we were off to the next shop. The story was similar, other children and mothers moved in waves around the holy grail of school shoes and pandemonium ensued. By the fourth shop I had no life left, we climbed the stairs on our knees, using elbows as grapling hooks and at the top found the floor empty, not anything in sight, not even an unsuspecting frazzled shoe engineer. I now know why, we found the holy sacred shoes and they were about eight times the price of anywhere else where the shoes were limited and didn't fit. Did we care? Did we buggery, the shoes were snatched out of the ladies hands, money was thrown agressively onto a counter and I ran like the wind from the shop leaving a blazing trail behind me. Job done.

Uniform was slightly simpler, there are only a couple of items that we had to purloin from a specific place, everything else we found from various other high street outlets. Weirdly, it wasn't free, but after shoe-gate I realised that throwing money at a situation usually works well, theft is a little trickier.   

Once we had our treasured swag, we commandoed to the car, then home, where the treasure was laid out for all to see for a few days. People would come round and be marched straight up to the uniform and made to critically appreciate it, on paper, before they'd even drawn breath. "Look at that" we'd say, arms folded, like pirates who'd captured all the booty from the Armada, "that's our daughter's uniform, she's going to BIG SCHOOL next week!" The poor people of the world, shrinking away from the agressive, gloating psychos, would nod, put their pens and papers down and agree that this was probably the best thing for our eldest as we really shouldn't be in charge of anything, perhaps even not ourselves! It mattered not, we'd got uniform and shoe, a week and a half before the start of term.

Once the uniform was complete, life was normal again, that was except for the name tag sirens that lived within the uniform. They called at me for a week before I sat down with a rancid, shaky hangover to saddle the name tapes to the items with needle and thread. Then I found a marker pen and life was very different. That was it, it was complete, we just needed to get through the weekend and we'd be there.

The eldest started school yesterday for the first time. Uniformed pressed and fresh, shoes are shiny and new and her new school emblem is printed in bright white on the breast of her jumper. The effect is enough to melt even the coldest cockles. I was break dancing like a bad ass when I thought about it. I was also very, very, very concerned that I was depositing her into a system that I don't think I am 100% happy about. This is it now for 14 years... I don't think I did anything continuously for 14 years, the very idea makes me want to fall down and beat the floor with clenched fists. How the hell did we arrive here?

Regardless, we have done it! My eldest small has made her way into the world of rules, regulations, education, teachers and people who spend the entire day telling you what you should and shouldn't do. Things shall never be impromptu, but fall into the lap of weekends, half terms and school holidays. I am so proud of her for getting here but perhaps, just maybe we could do with a couple more years without this, could we?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Schools, who left me in charge?

Great Odin's Raven, what in the name of all things holy possessed someone to leave me in charge of two small children? Two small children who are getting older by the year and getting more and more unmanageable. Ladies and gentleman, it's that time of year, when children have to be ushered from the cushioning, rounded hay days of nursery into the manic system of actual schooling. They seem to have to go, despite formative schooling not actually starting until 7/8. There are ways of getting round this, home schooling is one, sticking two fingers up to the system and just letting them be is another. Unfortunately, I am not clever or organised enough for the former and I'm too conformitive on so many levels for the latter. The fact is, my eldest's time has come and I literally don't know what to do.  I feel like I have been caught in the outhouse reenacting some biblical scene a la "The Go Between". Some of you may think "you've had four years to warm up to this you moron" and you may be right, the fact is, four years really isn't that long when you think about the gravity of the decision you are about to make. These are the foundations for learning.

I know what I want to do, what any self respecting parent should do, curl up in a ball and hibernate until my child is seven or eight, or even 11, when I can have an actual discussion with her and ask HER whether she thinks this school or that school is better, and whether or not we should take this opportunity to go private or we should let her go boldly amongst her friends to the local state school, which, by the way, is very well regarded, OFSTED Outstanding no less!

To my mind, everyone seems to be talking about it. My ears and senses are on red alert at every moment in a public situation, to see if I can capture a glimpse or snippet of informative conversation that might lead me, with fanfare, down the red carpet to the right, correct and infallible decision. In supermarkets I am reading the backs of all packaging near people who may or may not be talking about Reception classes at any school. At the swimming pool my child may well be drowning or I might be spending an extra long time fixing my goggles because those two people there might possibly have the Holy Grail's answer to schooling and I can't miss it. My pace noticeably quickens if I am walking behind someone holding official school type documents that may say something positive or negative about either of the schools we have on our shortlist.  I have asked people what drink they might like and the answer they give is one school or the other, and the one they choose is unquestionably the right school. It is completely mental, but as we all know, nothing is rational or explainable when it comes to your little dahlings!

Not just being stealth and ridiculous about it, I have actually held real life conversations with people who have children. It would seem, though, that most people have the same idea; ease and functionality. This is very sensible, very sensible indeed. However, for some reason I am in two very different minds about this topic for my first child. She is flying the flag for the Hartley girls, pushing the boundary and wetting her toe in the possibly shark infested waters of educational institutions. My second child, I have no qualms about. When it comes to her turn it'll be a drive by, fling her out of the car to the state school, where I know she'll flourish or take everyone down with her.

We have ummed and aaaahed and occasionally oohed at this quandary, and actually, what it came down to was this; OFSTED Outstanding and private school shine means virtually nothing if the child in question is miserable. So, we have considered that friends are what matters for anyone at most stages of the game. Our eldest needs security, consistency and love, all of which can be monitored by almost anyone else better than us, so we have sent her with her friends to the local state school where she'll flourish and enjoy and we'll watch and learn and if it goes wrong at any stage, we'll pull the plug and move her, regardless of friends. There are no rules, there is no wrong or right, there are opinions and there's that time old fail safe, mother's intuition. I have said before, and I shall say this again and again, who in the name of Brian Blessed left me in charge of such a decision?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Communal Existence

Having returned from almost 3 weeks away, Jubileeing in Norfolk and two weeks in Greece on a Mark Warner, I have come to the conclusion that communal existence is something of a wonder/ simply the only way to go.

This is not something that must be taken lightly, you cannot just wantonly pick some people that you "really" like and head to the nearest estate agent to select a property that would match all your combined budgets / needs. One has to be more selective than this it would seem. At this point it would seem pertinent to mention that I am basing this science on communal existence with children and other people who have children. Although, should you be reading this and not have children, do please feel free to respond to this advice with others who don't have children...

As far as I can tell, children behave a lot better when amongst their peers, providing their peers are not hellish children who are best avoided at all costs. When children are at school, they sit down and eat without getting up and down from the table to smear food around and about or to hit their older or younger siblings. They do not seem to whine at anyone in earshot demanding all sorts of things that make the person in charge want to leave and get a new job that has nothing what so ever to do with little blighters. They remain at the table, on the chair and are dismissed at the appropriate time. I have to believe that this is to do with environment, not just simply because anybody else is far better at looking after my little cherubs than I am. Although I also know, that this is true, as most people have more luck with my two than I think I have ever had in their entire years on this earth (my children, not the other people).

So, over this three weeks away I have been watching and digesting and ruminating on behaviour, hours spent chastising v hours spent enjoying and I have, in the main, seen that my children are far happier and slightly better than totally out of control when they are in amongst a group of children.

In Norfolk, for example, there was another little boy, same age as my eldest, and his baby brother, and not one of my girls tried to kill the baby or maim the little boy. Sure, this is not Carealot and my children weren't massively transformed. They had their moments, but in the main, they were much more controllable and therefore manageable. We went crabbing, I pushed the frontier and headed out with my girls to low ground by the waters edge, where we were very near swallowed by quick sand and as a result nearly drowned in the water. This was TOTALLY my fault though. The girls just wanted to catch crabs, they actually wanted to spend indefinite amounts of time doing something as a group that didn't involve squabbling, whining, maiming or varying degrees of hell. They played, they interacted, they shared and they occupied each other. Yes, one day, hungover parents left them all to their own devices while they caught a few more parent winks, and the conservatory of someone elses house was painted, creatively mind, with the carefully stored, left over chocolate wedding cake. But I saw this as enterprising rather than malicious or naughty. When questioned, they all owned up, rather proudly, to their various rolls in "chocolate gate" as it has become to be known. But the point here is, they did it together, and they did it peacefully and quietly meaning that forty winks was possible. This is unheard of in my house. If forty winks are required my husband and I are used as human climbing frames, CBeebies is shouted for, breakfast and libations are demanded relentlessly until, bed becomes purgatory and we have no choice but to drunkenly stumble from bed to kitchen. We like to remain responsible at all times!

On holiday in Greece, despite my youngest nearly drowning (true story) on the second day, and in spite of monumental tiredness on the part of the children, play was conducted nicely in the main and hugs and kisses were issued liberally between respective kinders. In fact, it would seem that, the only time children really became unmanageable was when parents intervened and tried to usher children to do what they requested. At these times of course, there was another adult there to diffuse the situation so rarely would it get to a point when torture or abandonment were on the cards. When else do you get this apart from communal existence?

With communal existence you also have comparisons. There are times when frankly, your children are nowhere near as bad as someone elses, never mind that the children being compared to as the base line for dreadfulness are always mine! At some point in communal existence, unless your child is perma Beelzebub, your child will shine as angelic, you'll be able to smile smugly, nod your head at anyone who cares, and say "I did that".

Unfortunately this is not a fool proof plan and there are flies in various ointments, but the fact is, by the time you get to realise that, your child might well be being slapped by your co Communer's child and you'll have to worry more about that and less about the other. It's an idea, and surely, anything to get beyond the daily grind of children is worth it isn't it ?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Packed Lunches

So, before I get to the main business of complaining, something that I notice us English do with aplomb, I thought it pertinent to mention that I was married on the 6th of May. I now have a husband, my children are legitimate in the eyes of most things and everything after a wedding is a blissful anti climax. My children looked amazing, my, now, husband and I were polished like turds and everything after that was comparatively excellent. I loved my wedding day and intend to do it every year for the rest of my life, even, and it most certainly does mean, if it means bankruptcy.

More importantly, lunch boxes.

So, how we arrived here is fairly convoluted, as most things are with children, but it goes a little something like this.

My eldest, it usually is, second child complains less, is far more robust and if she feels she wants something she usually gets on with it, regardless of the consequences. Back to the eldest. For a while we had been having a bit of a nightmare getting her to go to school, it would start in the morning when she would greet us at Oh Christ hundred am, whingeing about the fact that she didn't want to go to school. Never mind if it wasn't a school day, every day's the same for little people, it would seem (children, not midgets, I know far less about the vertically challenged!) she would let us know before we'd even opened our eyes that she was not happy with us bundling her into the car and leaving her in the care of her nursery.

I shall take this moment to let you all know at this point that her nursery is filled with some of the most lovely people the world has ever known. There is a lady, teacher, in her nursery who calls everyone endearments, even when restraining someone who wants to paint someone else's eyeballs with a chainsaw. True story. There are lambs and sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, peacocks, play grounds, sand pits, woods, rabbits and all sorts of other stuff based at her nursery, the like of which I dream about, let alone other children dream about. My husband (eeeek) and I take it in turns to do pick up and drop off and listen to the hand overs and sneak in at weird times to make sure that they aren't being beaten in secret dungeons whilst we're not there. I know it's not happening. Her nursery is the stuff dreams are made of. How many of us would say "day at nursery you say? No, no, I'd much rather commute, make myself and other people do what they don't want to do in a horrible stark place and then commute home thanks."? It's not going to happen, she has it easy but she doesn't know.

Anyway, despite this resounding logic I decided to probe. I have a rule, ask said child at least three times what the problem is, at various different times and if the answer is the same, more often than not, then I have my answer. I duly followed this logic and back would come the answer "I don't like my hot lunch", "my hot lunch is not nice Mummy", "I like a packed lunch Mummy, jam sandwiches are nicer than hot lunch." I was despondent, I couldn't believe that their a la carte menu was the issue. A couple of weeks passed and it was still the same.

Now, I complain bitterly about my children, but like most, I love the little blighters and I don't want to see them sad or hear them upset, but at the same time, having hot lunches provided by the school and paid for by us was convenient. They were getting a good, healthy and well balanced lunch at least 3 times a week. This meant that we were all happy. But now my little bubble was bursting, my convenient happiness was my eldest's unhappiness, so much so that she didn't give a hoot what Old Macdonald had on his farm, nursery was rubbish and she didn't want to go. So, we arrived at the packed lunch.

It sounds so simple, packed lunch... images of lunch boxes and sandwiches and lovely little drinks and bits and pieces all gathered up in a lovely little lunch box type wrapping. But it's just not that simple. Cooking with various different ingredients in a timely and succinct fashion produces a whole, balanced, nutritious meal of food. You have a cornucopia of balance, nutrition and delicious at your finger tips in your kitchen. You can hide secret carrots and leeks and etc in a cottage pie, broccoli can be disguised as dinosaur trees next to macaroni cheese, as a parent you are in charge and as covert as you need to be in your kitchen preparing food for your unsuspecting offspring. With a packed lunch though, sandwiches disguise nothing, vegetables are vegetables and last night's vegetable laden cottage pie does not travel well or do such amazing things cold, especially when "hot lunches" at school have been vetoed.

Every night, before the girls go to nursery, on the days they go, I wander around my kitchen thinking about new and improved ways to get things into my children. My youngest doesn't like the common or garden sandwich so I have to make deconstructed sandwiches wrapped up as individual offerings. The eldest sees little point in raw vegetables so cucumber is shaped into things that I don't even know existed, we're on our second week and I haven't yet got to carrots, but Peppa Pig, I have it on good authority, cuts a dash in carrot form? Yoghurts and cheese are administered liberally and I scour the supermarket shelves for anything organic and healthy that looks like a sweet. It makes me sweat, shopping takes a decade and I try and put it off until I am literally left looking at a cupboard with nothing but chocolate spread and Haribo in it. They'd judge me, I'd be relegated, they'd know I was an existent parent as opposed to my carefully manufactured Excellent Parent.

I want to go on and on about this hell that I find myself in. My children do understand that the moment they stop eating their nutritious delicious packed lunches, they'll be back on hot lunches before they can blink, even if I have to go to school and whip them up myself! But, ladies and gents, dare I ask, am I just succumbing to the competitive parent in me? Is Nutella on Haribo occasionally such a bad thing? I don't know, I can't answer any of this I have packed lunches to construct, don't I!? 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

How do I deal with other peoples dreadful children?

It is important to remember, when reading this, that what I am saying in this blurb about other people's children, comes very much from the parameters of this quote from Ronnie's mother in the film Role Models.

"I am a lioness.  A black sheba.  I am a lioness, and this is my cub.  If you mess with my cub, I will claw your ass up until you shit sideways.”

I am less of a lioness and more of a sloth/grizzly bear at rest hybrid. I am also not black, so saying that in my white upper/middle class accent would make me sound less sincere and frightening more wigger with issues. But the sentiment is very much there. As I think is the case with most parents, our children are our pride and joy and any slight visited on them is slam dunked straight into the "oh shit" archives that I think we all harbour (not just me?) and hope we can keep at bay with protocol and that which society dictates, to a lesser or greater extent. For example, you aren't going to punch someone in the face for telling you that your child isn't as amazing as you undoubtedly (at certain times) think they are. Children that get on your nerves aren't going to be bound and gagged as soon as their parents backs are turned for long enough, no matter how you much you feel like this is the only course. Perhaps you are, but it won't be long before things spiral and you find yourself in a whole lot of inconvenience with people like the law.

This particular rant begins with my eldest who has come home from nursery on several occasions speaking about one of her "best good" friends in a light and breezy way, telling me through fake almost laughter, that "sometimes X plays tricks on me and tells me that I am her friend and that I am not her friend!" I from the front of the car have to loosen the collar of the article of clothing that is now strangling me and breathe deeply to stop my blood from cooking me (see Anger Management). The first time I heard this I simply delved into standard parent manual response and said that "that wasn't very nice and we should be friends with everyone and dee dah dee dah dee dah" text book. They're young and this really means very little, ha ha. The second and third time however, and god forbid there should be a forth, I no longer probe about the little friend in question, I saw a little flash of red and said, against much, much better judgement, that she should
"tell X that she isn't her friend anymore and that her behavior is mean and not very nice and really you should spend a lot more time nurturing your friendship with Y" to which the response was
"but A (the teacher) says that we should all be friends and play nicely together?" to which I responded "and A is totally right, you should be friends with everyone and play nicely, but if X says that again, you have to tell A and me and we can see if we can make sure that you are all playing together nicely!" This would be the dreaded fourth time...

But it's too late for this sloth/grizzly bear at rest hybrid, she wants to know how such a seemingly angelic child can be so search and destroy at such a young age? This is not a "trick" this manipulative evil that is directed at my cub, manipulative evil that I am not happy with at all, and to my mind, manipulative evil that can only be rivaled by Mine Fuhrer and the Third Reich!

I have met the mother of X and I have had X round at our house. Both X and her mother are wouldn't hurt a fly, sit in the corner, say very little but wow the company with humility and good manners, if not a little wet, type beings. But rather wet than tear your house down rudeness. They are pleasant and personable and seemingly good people. I am no human lie detector, but when it comes to my cub, there's no rationale, not dissimilar to Robert de Niro in Meet the Parents. I want to have this out, whilst they are strapped to a lie detector and a chair in a bunker under our house should they ever come round. I'll offer them drinks, and then as I proffer the biscuits I'll lure them down the stairs to my prepped room... Plan needs work.

Through my head, when I think about our next meeting, go images of me short arm jabbing bodies to the belly with a knee raise to the face, aggressive questioning through gritted teeth. But I am not Lara Croft and this is not Grand Theft Auto. This is law abiding Wiltshire, nursery school rantings from my eldest and a lioness who is way too idealistic about how things should go. This truly is not the end of the world and I know that I am verging on psycho. But psycho is more fun than text book.

X, although not as lovely as I had fist imagined, is really probably quite sweet and harmless and her mother may or may not be the she devil that I have emblazoned on the back of my eyeballs. In my mind now, she's a dreadful child, but maybe my eldest does see it as "a trick," and maybe X sees it as "a trick" too. So, unless I become a human lie detector and a Black Sheba/Lara Croft, I have to realise that I can't fight all their battles or choose their friends. In the same way that my father couldn't ACTUALLY shoot the first boy he caught in my room, despite waving a shotgun in his face! Is there any other way to deal with other peoples dreadful children, and really, just how dreadful are other peoples children?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Excellent Parents / Existent Parents.

Unfortunately for us, recently, our children have chosen the path to ill health and sickness over the last couple of weeks, with the much coveted and very underrated chicken pox, high temperatures and vomiting. Not all at once though, spread evenly over the weeks. Whilst every parent has to go through these things at some point, it still doesn't make it easier, enviable or delighting. Except chicken pox, which everyone wants their children to have but schools still tell you to keep them away, even though they have obviously caught the pox from the very vessels from which they are banned. Children and childcare is so delightfully and gloriously complex you just simply couldn't make it up. As always, I digress.

Over the few weeks that I have been away from blogging, I have traveled far and wide and stayed with friends and family and, by sheer coincidence, there has been a pattern in that which was in front of me.

I would label myself as an existent parent, by virtue of the fact that I have children, thus making me a parent and I am alive, thus making me existent. It's not hard. To explain... Days morph ceaselessly into weeks and weeks into years and so on, and all I really have to show for this passing of time is two children, albeit ill, who are alive. My house, rented, is not likely to be up for anything near Good Housekeeping standard awards (does such a thing even exist?). The only consistent thing about it is the washing (scattered everywhere) and the cooking, largely uneaten, located between Aga, plate, table and bin. We do disorganised chaos in spades. People come round and I am frantically trying to put things in cupboards that I know no one is going to open and then die from suffocation under the avalanche of stuff that falls out on them. I do not (contrary to my last blog) want to be imprisoned for manslaughter by cupboard related means, I don't have the time for one thing. Beds are made, albeit badly, and bathrooms are clean. It's usually pandemonium and stress levels mount to catastrophic levels.

The thing is, I like Clean and I like Tidy, I do, I just haven't met them yet, they stop by very rarely and after they've been, Unclean and Untidy whisk through the house like a tornado leaving me whimpering and bitter. I have great intentions. House and Garden Magazine nipping by to have a cup of something stylish out of something that matches and doesn't have a chip in it or worse, something that the dishwasher failed to mention that it hadn't cleaned off! Nigella and Delia whizzing by to taste the latest baked good that I have whipped up whilst redesigning the ground floor of my cesspit/house. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Gok flying through to check out the new craze of Yummy Mummy Couture I've thrown together during and for the school run. These are my aspirations, and yet I manage virtually no baking, food that only tastes good because by the time the marauding hordes sit down to eat it they can barely see for drunkenness and the clothes I stand up in I have usually found under the dog and can barely tell where he finishes and they begin.

Despite all of this, my children are often better dressed than me. Their hair is rarely to never brushed, teeth often smell of toothpaste, but sometimes I think that is because they return to it again and again as an attainable source of nutrition, once they have turned their nose up at my gastronomic offerings. Luckily, they have absolutely no frame of reference or I am pretty sure they'd be on to Child line at their earliest convenience booking themselves into borstal/foster homes. This to me, is Existent Parenting as it stands.

Excellent parents I have met on my travels. We seem to stay with them wherever we go. Their homes are temples, as are their bodies, their kitchens are a calm, tranquil place of good smells, tastes and virtue and their children are seen, heard and, dare I say it, ENJOYED! Scones have been made effortlessly in front of me, despite the technical glitch with the brand new mixer given as a Birthday / Valentines Gift by Excellent Father.  Feasts for thousands, as far as I can tell, where vegans, vegetarians and gluttons have all been catered for. Planned games and childcare flow seamlessly through our time spent with them enabling calm, order and Existent Parents to, well, exist?

Excellent Mothers are well dressed, looking good is obtained with minimal strife and all tasks leave me reeling with a great and burdening sense of retardation. How can you hold a sensible and interesting conversation with me and these others whilst not frappeing your finger, sauteing your nerves and ironing your children? Why is your washing machine not walking out the door telling you to F' off over it's shoulder? How come all the rooms of your house are identifiable as something other than a boot room or play room? How come the thing under our feet, that in this context I can actually call a floor, is not sticky and crunchy and or squelchy and recognisable as inside only by virtue of the fact that you had to come inside to stand on it?

Excellent Father's roll about the place on castors it would seem. Your glass, stomach, purse and brain are never void. Conversation is free flowing and humorous for the larger majority of the time, food and drink are administered regularly and without interruption, all the Existent Parent has to worry about is not spilling all of this down their front, which, let me tell you, is extremely hard. In a situation where Excellent Mother and Excellent Father are still together, the Excellent Father bolsters the Excellent Mother 100% creating utterly admirable parenting to the factor of gojillion. There is nothing one can do about this, it is fact.

I kow tow to all parents everywhere, be they Existent or Excellent. The fact is, we're doing it, we're doing it in a way that expectant parents and non parents cannot fathom. This is a club that, truly, given the chance again, we'd all vote for a few more years without. But, as luck would have it, we wouldn't want it any other way, would we?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Anger Management

Inside I'm drowning, on the outside I'm touching insanity. It's truly not a good look, or one that I am immensely proud of but, unfortunately, over the four years that I have been blessed with my little gems my, already, low tolerance has all but gone.

"put that down please, or you'll break it and then we'll all be very sad", "don't play that close to the fire because you'll burn yourself" "please don't use all the soap in the soap dispenser to wash the sink or there won't be any left to wash our hands with". "please could you put your coat on, it's cold outside and I don't want you to get pneumonia" "don't bite, push, kick, scratch, pill each others hair." "please eat your food or you'll be very hungry later and there are NO snacks!"  and so on and so on. It's endless, I have become worse than the mothers I used to hear screaming at their children, mainly in the supermarkets, telling them that the end of the world was neigh if they put another foot wrong.

As I write this, I know that another foot is going to go wrong and the friendly warning is going to turn in to nuclear bombing. Friendly warnings seem to serve no purpose, other than letting my children know that if they carry on there is at least one more level to get to before it's ear bleeding warfare of insane mother. At this point, they might decide that listening is perhaps the way to go, but only if the goal, they are trying to get to, is less appealing than the manic, screeching fishwife that is their mother. Unfortunately, it rarely is. So beyond screeching fishwife is usually where we end up. Anger takes over and patience goes on holiday to a far flung destination, where the weather's really nice and the children are immaculately behaved.

I am angry, very angry. I can feel it rising up from the soles of my feet. I look and sound like Alan Rickman as The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.  I know it's not right or good, but when you're doing something, usually to benefit them, and they are whingeing or perilously throwing themselves around, or killing each other, or stealing from themselves, or drawing, painting or printing on walls/furniture and or upholstery for the millionth time in 5 minutes, where do you go? How do you communicate your wants and needs to the people that one has created? How do you manage two little people that are genetically modified to be better than you, to be smarter, faster and all round more canny than you? 

The other day (after a particularly fraught car journey ensemble), my eldest told me that I would go to prison if I left her and her sister on the side of the road to fend for themselves. Yes, this may be true, Social Services might well be called and I might be deported to the nearest correctional facility, detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, but at that very moment in time, it ACTUALLY sounded appealing. 10 X 4, no children, no washing, no ironing, no cooking, no fighting, no nonsense for me to deal with and take responsibility for, HM Prison here I come! Not to do Prison down, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but to get away from screaming at my children and berating them for things that, with perspective, when it comes, aren't too bad, I'd go anywhere.

The trouble is, that young children, unless well behaved, take over ones life. You cannot leave them unattended for a second to get on with anything or they'll burn the house down, paint it with hand prints, cut all the dogs hair off, eat everything you have in your treat cupboard and then, at the end of it, you won't be able to get an answer as to why, because they aren't rational, they're not even responsible yet. Anger creeps in and ooh, hello Alan!

It's a siege and a quest just to make sure that your pride and joys are well adjusted, well rounded, appealing, intelligent, nice individuals. I want so much for them and us. I want them to be better than me, but the example that I give them is me. How therefore can I expect them to stand a chance and not be angry little psychos with more neuroses than the average mental asylum? It's a hell of a worry. But, as I have said, luckily nature is on hand, to make them better than me anyway, that's science, apparently.

So, may I suggest, and by this I am not preaching, I am really telling myself. One must sit back, relax and take time to let nature take it's course. Things happen because they need to? Ironing can wait, food can wait, cleaning, washing, walking the dog, paying the bills (within reason) can wait. Nothing can be achieved immediately, and if it is making one stressed then one will be impatient/angry and the outcome will be negative. If one has made it this far, and they are still alive, then one can make it through the next bit at a cruise? Let's try it, just for an hour, or a few minutes, it can't get any worse, can it?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Moving to the Country

So, it's been a veritable passing of life. Time has flown by so quickly and I haven't put finger to keyboard to write for so long, truth is, I have been living the dream.

Other half and I saw that life was ticking along nicely in the heady smoke of London and so thought we would do well to throw a whole tool box, not just a spanner, right into the works, and head out of London to the country where everything is different and where children, specifically ours, could be free to roam and ransack that which they would, while we stand back and sip something country in the meadow leading up to our cottage. We said it was "for the children" and, with hindsight, I now know that what that really meant was "that's the only really viable excuse that anyone is going to believe, especially us?"

I am London born and bred, and apart from everything that is wrong with me, there is very little wrong with me, so why not stay in London and bring my children up there? Apart from 8 years at boarding school in Dorset and every other weekend with my  mother, the country was somewhere that you heard people talk about. But no, that is what we all needed in our lives, a hardy helping of quaint old Dorset, where cows read books and farmers skip around the fields in their lovely shiny traaa'ers.

The move went very smoothly, we found our Cottage in the lovely village of Hinton St Mary, just outside Sturminster Newton, the metropolis of everything. The girls had a bedroom at the other end of the house to ours, the garden was adorned almost straight away with our newly purchased football pitched sized trampoline, puppy was purchased (to keep "older dog happy") and wellies were fitted to each and everyone's feet almost permanently. The first two weeks were amazing, people coming down from London to check that we'd not gone mad and were in fact embracing all that the country had to offer. We'd get leathered and regale them of antics with dogs and the local pub and villagers and space and "you've got to try this, this is what life is about!" They'd leave on the Sunday night and take a little piece of our soul with them, a piece of our soul that could barely be found at the bottom of the 3rd bottle of wine let alone the 5th.

Time passed in this way and sometimes we'd see no one for days, literally NO ONE. Man cannot live on bread alone, this is true, he can't. Man (from London) cannot live, with 2 children and a dog, and a puppy, on people weekending. Social networks were null, some people hadn't heard of the Internet, let alone Facebook. I think the clincher to my stay in paradise was being woken up at 6am by a wild, inbred, stuttering farmer shouting at me to move a car, that wasn't mine, so that he could move his space ship past the house that was, by  now fully scaffolded, so that there was nowhere to park in the whole of Dorset, let alone in the parking space outside my house. The children were miserable at their new nursery, where children were happy to chew grass for a whole morning, god knows what they did in the afternoon. Everything was a thousand miles away and not one of us was truly happy.

Not quite defeated, we decided that less urban was what we needed. The children needed more amenities. They needed children, they needed clubs and classes, they needed to be able to go to the shop at any time and get a pint of milk any day of the week. They needed TAKE AWAY... So we packed up and moved to Wiltshire, to this place called Salisbury, where the streets are paved with gold and people do things. Normal things.

We still have the large trampoline in the garden, but like most trampolines, it's gathering rust, because our children are at a nursery where they feed animals and go swimming and learn french. Mummy and Daddy can go and get a coffee that sounds like a physics experiment but it's standard. There are people down the road who know of this London place, but, like we are now, are happy that they left it,they are welcoming and we are friends. We see people everyday and the girls have friends again. We are 90mins from London and that's far enough. No one wants to go back there, but it's nice to know that it's there, always there should we need it.

So, should you move? Yes, you absolutely should, but to a place that you know and where people are happy to let you be one of them. Children? Do you think they care? Do they know that there is more out there? I don't know, but I do know that they are happy, and isn't that what all this is about?