Friday, 29 October 2010


‘Autumn half-term already?.. how wonderful..’ I thought. ‘I can spend even more time with the children. Let’s kick-start the fun times with a family outing, and what better place than the Imperial War Museum, especially as Alfie’s ‘studying’ World War Two at school; we can be good parents and support the learning!

I put the idea to him this morning and he was surprisingly keen: ‘It’s really annoying at school; just because we’re like children we always have to learn like what children did in the war – what they ate, what they wore, it’s so like boring...We never get to learn about the killing and the fighting!’ So proud of him.

It did mean taking Bonnie somewhere she hadn’t chosen of course, but we couldn’t always kowtow to her, just most of the time.

An hour later, I was growling ‘BONNIE!! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?’ and flying after her, laden with coats, sweating, as she nipped in and out of pillars at the museum. ‘YOU!’ she yelled ’YOU ARE THE PROBLEM! OW! YOU’RE HURTING ME! I DIDN'T WANT TO COME TO THIS BORING MUSEUM IN THE FIRST PLACE!’

So instead of engaging with the exhibits, the torpedo sound-effects, The Battle of Britain footage, and Alan’s erudite commentary of course, we were actually engaged in The Battle of Bonnie, who stationed herself twenty metres away, retreating if we tried to capture her, but shrieking ‘don’t just abandon me!’ as loudly as she could, if we walked off. She’d keep this up until we left, or bought her something from the shop.

Obviously you can handle the antics of an eight-year-old when you have forty-five years of life experience, fifteen of childcare, in the bank…it’s only for variety that I hop daily, hourly, between strategies; there’s Ms Calm (hush now, tell me all about it); Ms Feisty (let’s get this sorted!), Ms Easy Going (whatever..), Ms Boundaries (I’m going to count to 3..’), but mostly there’s Ms F*K!!SH*T!!!!

Oliver Sacks advises counter-intuitive ultra-love in cases of really abominable behaviour. We are to offer the miscreant a weekend of early-life close cuddly love to ‘reboot’ the child back into good behaviour (now booting I could do). Something – intuition perhaps? – told me that counter-intuitively giving my child a big bear hug when I most felt like throttling her was not going to sit easily with my sense of fair play, but although a whole weekend of being fake was more than I could stomach, I was up for strategic spurts of ultra love.

I started the first day with a twinkle in my eye: ‘Hug??’ but was given a wide berth, in fact all my overtures the first day back-fired: ‘If you could have anything you wanted for tea, what would it be, darling?’ ‘McDonalds’ ‘Oh, well I didn’t mean going out..’ ‘We never go out, not like everyone else...’

The second day I planned a love-in on the settee, sitting close while she watched TV and slithering down until I eventually, pathetically, laid my head on her lap, looking up her nose, like a dog wanting its’ tummy tickling. I got a bit of a pat, then she said ‘Mummy, I can’t breath, get off me,’ and went to play next door, leaving me alone with Dennis and Gnasher.

Day three and she asked to make ‘cakes or brownies’ with me! Ultra-love was paying off! We were REBOOTING! It was only five minutes until we had to leave for Brownies, but I counter-intuitively agreed to make cakes in a ridiculous timescale, and skidded around the kitchen gathering butter, cocoa, sugar at break-neck speed. We’d just covered the counter in cocoa powder and flecks of hard butter, when she cried ‘This is rubbish, Mummy - there’s hardly any mixture! There are thirty Brownies and they need one each!’ and started sobbing. At this point I realised I’d mis-heard at the outset: she’d said ‘Cakes for Brownies’. So this was not about wanting to bake with Mom, it was about parading into Brownies, platter in hand - ‘Look at me – aren’t I the Bee’s Knees?!’ ‘Oh forget it!’ I said, hurt and disappointed, and chucked the spoon down with more force than I ought, making her jump, and undoing all the ultra-love with a seriously intuitive ding dong of vitriol and self-pity which was neither Ms Calm, Ms Feisty, Ms Easy-going, or Ms Boundaries, just Ms Shamefully Bad.

No, counter-intuition wasn’t for me. I returned to the world of random parenting some time ago. I think it was Ms Unconditional Love who put in an appearance at the end of that museum trip and bought a small gift for Bonnie from the shop to reward her bad behaviour. Or was it Ms Inconsistent...?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Driver's Dream Day

Sometimes I wonder who’s the child around here: ‘I want my special 50th birthday surprise this weekend, not six months after my birthday’ said Alan. He was positively pouting! He made a great fuss of rearranging the covers, turned over with a big bang (we were in bed) and made as if to go to sleep.

The Birthday Boy was tired and fractious – too much excitement in one day; work had made a huge fuss of him, balloons and cakes, then a family meal out, the present opening ceremony…and now it was a whole year until his special day came round again. It wasn’t fair! ‘OK, OK,’ I soothed, ‘You can have your birthday surprise this weekend…but now it’s sleepy-time; you’re overtired’ and I patted him to sleep.

The birthday surprise I had planned was a ‘Drivers Dream Day’ – he’d drive a Ferrari around a racing track, then be driven ultra fast as a passenger by a professional, and then we’d both be thrown about in a jeep. A meal out and a night away with his loved one (me) would top it off…a gift of preposterous lavishness in my view, but there’s a history…

In the early years, I knitted him socks, painted him pictures, shyly waiting for an appropriate exclamation ‘Ah! You knitted me socks - they are unique and demonstrate true love’, but instead he’d look confused and a smile would play about his lips, almost a giggle. ‘Thankyou’ he would say, awkwardly (‘you cannot be serious!’) and that was the last I saw of the socks. Some of the paintings made it to low grade walls, upstairs loo or some such, others straight to storage until a polite interval had passed until the frames could be reused; whereas in my austere upbringing, a single modest but thoughtful gift in familiar wrapping paper was a fitting climax to a birthday (thankyou Mother, I was hoping for a new dictionary!), in his, the splurge factor demanded big, posh, shiny stuff – Moet Chandon! Leather bound volumes! Swedish furniture! Thick wrapping paper, curly bows, silken flowers.…

In the event he was delighted with his Drivers Dream Day (though I’m sure he’d have accepted Monaco, if Pro-Drive Birmingham hadn’t been available) and he whizzed around like, well, a 50 year old in a Ferrari. I crossed my fingers - he made a respectable 120mph top speed, upped to 130mph in the retelling - and I took photos of him next to his wheels (cut off his head, but I was forgiven on this special occasion). We were still awash with day; no food loop - fridge, counter, cooker, table, counter, fridge, counter, cooker - to fill the hours; no sweet chirpings - ‘Mummy I’m bored what’s for tea he hit me Mummy Mummy answer me!’ - to fill the silence, so we sat and talked.. We discussed the children of course, the grandparents, which is the same conversation, but also the future! the past! fiscal policy! (joke). We were positively chattering!!

We got back, unpacked and had a cup of tea, and when I heard the adverts in the front room, I thought I’d let the children welcome us home, so went in to see them. ‘Hello everyone! We missed you!’ ‘Hello, Mummy’ they said ‘just move to the side will you? – this advert’s so cool.’

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Take It Easy!

Sundays. Homework - Aaaaaaargh!!! I had my breezy homework voice at the ready today: ‘Alfie, can you get your homework out, please?’ He clutched his head with his hands. ‘OH NO NO NO!’ and threw himself headlong onto the kitchen floor where he remained. ‘Get your bag please.’ I was terse. He didn’t move. ‘Bag Alfie!’ ‘I can’t reach it…oh.. oh..’

Eventually stage one was complete; he got the bag, and I took out the homework out (it’s only fair). We were delighted to find THREE pieces of homework for Alfie to immerse himself in. If he needed a little help, all the better, I could find out what he was up to at school: fantastic!

First up, spellings (heavy phonetic slant (funetick slarnt), but we have to choose our battles). Next, oh joy, make sentences out of them! What with a) thinking-and-coming-up-with-nothing b) writing Mummy’s ‘suggestion’ and c) rubbing it out and then writing it in English (including an interval for throwing it across the room), I was more than happy to let Alfie knock out one long and meaningless sentence with all twenty spellings in it, and if the teacher didn't like it, they could see me outside.

Maddy was slumped in her dressing gown (it was only noon) snipping pancake into one centimetre squares, arranging them in patterns on her plate, sprinkling teensy bits of sugar onto each one, then selecting one at a time to pop into her mouth, an activity designed to make breakfast last until steam came out of my ears, there being no escape from homework today. She’d spent most of the previous day loosely ‘doing her art’, resulting in one single (but very nice) pencil line, several back-episodes of Ugly Betty (‘I’ve got to catch up’), some internet purchases (‘You want me to get Daddy a birthday present, don’t you?’), and a chocolate cake (wholesome activity, wrong time). ‘Maddy, can you finish your art now?’ I ground my teeth. ‘Oh, I rubbed it out’ she said dreamily, ‘I didn’t like it.’ ‘WHAT??? That was a whole day's work!! Well get on with something else, come on! Just tell me if you’re stuck..’ So she called me after a bit: ‘If you mix hydrochloric acid and zinc hydroxide, what do you get?’ ‘Well, let me see..’ I said, ‘Er, hold on..zinc’m sure we can um..have you got a book…?’ but her phone was jingling, and took priority of course, so I returned my attention to Alfie.

The slow, even breaths and closed eyes told me that he was keen to begin his ‘research’ task; ‘find and draw a ‘Sedar Plate’’. ‘Look it up in a book first’ I said (‘We’re not allowed to, my teacher said we had to use the internet’). I dragged him over to Alan’s awful Childrens’ Encyclopedia Brittanica 1952 edition, stacked for easy access behind the old videos. ‘Use the index!’ I chirruped. He half-heartedly nudged at the pages with one hand so he could still suck his thumb. ‘It’s too heavy, it hurts..’ he whined ‘Alfie, make an effort – use two hands you silly boy!’.

I cut my losses and skimmed the Very Lengthy History of Judaism Not Including Sedar Plates while he groaned on the floor (‘Why can’t I use the computer like everyone else?’), interest levels slipping sub-zero, then I rocketed up the stairs to fetch our fancy new ‘Wow’ picture encyclopedia: ‘Ssssssssssssssedar – what letter do you think it starts with….?’ I reminded him how the alphabet went and he managed to find the S’s, when suddenly my heart skipped a beat because there, in the index, was ‘Sedar Plate’ as clear as day! He turned up the colour photo of it, annotated, and I could hold back no more: ‘IT’S THERE! IT’S THERE IN THE BOOK! WE’VE FOUND IT!’ I yelled, hysterical, tearful. Josie came running ‘What’s the matter? What happened?’ ‘Shall we photocopy it?’ shouted Alfie, riding on my brilliant mood. ‘No, your teacher is definitely going to want a drawing of this lovely photo, labelled by hand!’ I said, and galloped off to fetch pen and paper. ‘Take it easy, Mummy’ he said, ‘you need a rest from all this homework!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Very Rewarding!

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but we have taken the plunge and embraced the convivial family evening meal! The full a la carte is back on of course, which means tipping out the fridge and cupboards on to the table and getting stuck in; and for me, it means being butler, chef and general drudge as usual, but also eating and looking as if I’m listening to the conversation as well. But surely the laughs, the debate, the refuelling amongst those you love, will repay the effort ten-fold - this could be very rewarding!

Conversation is tops:
‘Soph, I had a very productive DMT meeting with the LGO sub-committee today – Bonnie, I said I don’t want a ponytail, take the ribbon out!‘
‘Mummy when you make this stuff can you not put all those kinda like green bits in it, then I won’t have to pick them all out-’
‘Maddy, why are you holding your spaghetti up to the light?’
‘I’m checking there’s nothing in it.’
‘Sorry Alan, very productive what?…Alfie! Don’t you dare put your cucumber under the chair – PICK IT UP NOW!’
‘I can’t reach…can you get it?’
‘Bonnie knitting needles don't go in tomatoes!’
‘Plate in the sink please’
‘Oh my God, that’s so unfair! I’m only taking my fork!’

Current affairs thus mulled over, it’s first to the top of the stairs gets to put Alfie and Bonnie to bed (which used to be the short straw) because the other sucker’s got the entire contents of the fridge and cupboard to put back in again, and the whole kitchen to clean up, including fifteen items of crockery and cutlery per child because each food must be served separately so that nothing touches anything else, obviously.

At least I had a stage for my latest dramatic outburst. I spoke my opening lines gulpingly (so’s I could barely swallow my mash):

‘Has anyone noticed that I am very unhappy?
I can’t go on any more,
Asking you to do your jobs,
For you to then ignore’

There followed a moving soliloquy describing the life of Poor, Poor Mum (“Practice! Do your homework! Go to bed! Get up! What’s that doing in the middle of the floor? Brush your teeth, I shouldn't have to tell you! Turn off the telly! Pick it up, who do you think is going to pick it up if you don’t – me!..”). I explained that Poor, Poor Mum kept this jabbering up fourteen hours a day minimum, but that YOU ( and I cast my eye around the table, very effective) just move off out of earshot, rendering Poor, Poor Mum increasingly dispirited and stompy.

I think I pulled it off. At any rate, everyone came in with ‘Sorry, Mummy, sorry, sorry’ and there was alot of patting of my arms, and hand-squeezing, which led to me cancelling the seriously shouty climax I'd planned. A daily checklist of chores was drawn up, which everyone agreed to observe in a responsible and cooperative manner - it's all been very rewarding.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Learning Slippage

The radio had me choking on my wheatabix this morning when it informed me that middle class children enjoy the benefit of educational forays to museums and art galleries with their parents throughout the year whereas less fortunate children (my children would say more) suffer ‘Learning Slippage’, dilly dallying at home causing the brain to go to mush (thanks alot), and requiring relearning on the Monday of what they were supposed to have off pat on the Friday.

‘Your mouths are still blue, children’ I said, surveying the evidence of serious Learning Slippage the day before, when I’d bought myself some time ‘allowing’ them (pushed them out the door) to go to the corner shop for magazines. They’d returned with mock sorrow: ‘They didn’t have the magazines we like!’ This had compelled them to buy a shed load of sweets (slippage!), the centrepiece being ‘Lickety Lips’, a roll-on deodorant-style bottle filled with electric blue syrup to smear over (and stain) the inside and outside of the mouth. ‘That is revolting’ I’d said, delighted it would last for ages and let me finish my e-mails.

I may have a case of Learning Slippage myself, because I don’t actually see how going to the V&A to make a cloth bag or some such is going to help my son remember how to spell ‘stashun’, nor how skidding up and down that slopey bit at the Tate Modern will improve anyone’s simultaneous equations, but I’m willing to be told, and anyway once the radio has begun terrorising me with good parenting directives it’s only a matter of time before we have to go out on one of “Mummy’s awful trips’.

I peeled my mug mat, the National Gallery Free Family Events programme, off the table: ‘Watercolours! We can learn to paint with watercolours at the National Gallery!’ ‘OH NO!’ roared Alfie, ‘YOU CAN’T MAKE ME DO IT!’. But I had the bit between my teeth, and go we did, armed with the promise of extended TV upon return, and arriving at the gallery in time to play in the cloakroom, which is how I garotted my forehead on a coat hook with such force that my vision went weird and I had to sit down quietly for a bit, pushing Alfie and Bonnie forward to join all the bright girls and boys listening to the rules: ‘Don’t touch! And make sure your parents don’t wander off! haha!’ I was still seeing stars as we sat down before the chosen Gainsborough for some interactive teaching, in fact I rather embarrassingly nodded off (knocked out?) somewhere between ‘use of perspective’ and ‘colour tones’, but I rallied to encourage Alfie with his ‘initial study’ (‘that’s a fantastic table, Alfie!’ ‘It’s a dog’). The visiting artist demonstrated how to ‘develop’ the study by building up watercolours in blocks, and all the high achievers set to, carefully mixing colours and eyeing each others’ artwork.…all except Alfie, who decided the best way to sidestep the imminent humiliation was to have a little fun, as with his cross-curricular ‘Portrait of a Tudor Man’ which might have made the class display if he’d resisted adding a pig’s snout at the last minute. So in the workshop, he poured all the water and paint allotted to our table over his initial study (the dog/table) and stirred it wildly to a batter, singing loudly all the while, a challenging smile thrown at me as he wrung it out and lobbed it in the bin: One nil to Alfie.

Happy and fulfilled after this splendid educational foray, the children waited a polite thirty seconds after we got home before switching on for the promised Learning Slippage and I trotted off to my quarters for me-time with the radio and the rock hard wheatabix. ‘MUM! THE TELLY’S NOT WORKING!!’ It was doing that flickery thing that makes you epileptic. Oh Lord, grant me Learning Slippage, and grant it now. ‘Leave it to me’ I said, frantically unplugging all the plugs (‘Thanks a lot! Now we have to go right back to the beginning of the programme!’) and sticking them in again, which is how clever old Alan fixes it. ‘It’s broken, children.’ I said, reaching for the pills. Bit I jogged it accidentally, and all the lights flashed on. It started humming…and so did I.