Monday, 27 December 2010

Pack a Punch

I think we are coming to the end of an era. Bonnie marched up to me on Christmas Eve and fixed me with a glare somewhere between scorn, victory and disappointment. ‘I’ve got something very serious to tell you, Mummy: I’ve found the presents: You are Father Christmas!’ and she led me to a stack of presents in Alan’s wardrobe. ‘I think those are Daddy’s surprise presents for me!’ I whispered ‘Can you keep it a secret?’

It was a long night: ‘You can’t send me to bed; Christmas is a time to be with your family!’ (10pm); ‘I’m indigesting my food’ (11pm); ‘I don’t know whether I believe in father Christmas or not!’ (midnight, weeping); ‘I’m still awake!’ (1.30am).

At some point in the dead of night there was a commotion in the cellar, the crash of falling bottles, a muffled ‘OW! SH*T!!’…but there on Christmas Morning, set before the fireplace, were four piles of presents – magical!

The front room was transformed quickly into a trash can of wrappings, bells and bows, presents small and large tossed aside for the next one, and children lying down on top of the clutter, tapping and stroking their various squillion shmegabite this, that and the others. Alan made grateful noises about his (yes, his) stocking fillers, ‘ah, this edition of Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable…I don’t suppose the new one is much different…’ and tried to understand why the fridge magnet I chose for him ‘Fridge Pickers wear Large Knickers’ made me howl quite so uncontrollably. But soon I was getting twitchy about the mess so disappeared into the kitchen to get down and dirty with Jamie Oliver and ‘pack a punch’ into the maris pipers (‘smash those little babies (garlic) and chuck’em in with the big boys’), speed-peel the apples for a crumble, and of course teach Bonnie to knit right now (‘Father Christmas gets me the best presents’).

Alan was upstairs reading the ingredients on the toothpaste, in fact everyone was relaxing while I was doing my usual clockwork mouse impression, so I roared ‘What exactly are you all doing? Cathy and Johnny (neighbours) are coming in a minute, get dressed all of you, tidy up, teeth, hair, MOVE!!’ (Happy Christmas!), and funnily enough, Alan shot down the stairs a second later looking like that was exactly what he was about to say, and started yelling at the children who bawled: ‘I DIDN’T MAKE THE MESS - YOU’RE SO MEAN’ . Soon it sounded like he might ‘pack a punch’ into something else…

But just then our lovely neighbours arrived for a Christmas Drink, controversially arranged by Alan to start half an hour before we were due at my sisters for Christmas Dinner. ‘We can be flexible’ he’d remonstrated, meaning I should give in and ask her to stall the roast: ‘it’s Christmas – there’s no timetable’ he said (Oh?). I put it to him that he might not feel quite so flexible if he was the one with a duck in the oven already at the crispy stage and no guests in sight. But according to him, my inclination to show up before Ducky was cinders was anal rather than courteous so I delivered my own off-the-air Christmas Lecture, (and this one did ‘pack a punch’) on the subject of ‘I AM EXTREMELY ANGRY*!!*’ in the car on the way to my sisters, switching seamlessly to ‘Hello! Merry Christmas!’ upon arrival. We passed a very pleasant family day, all our lovely children getting a bit of the limelight - mine for stretching the hamster, hers for making the desserts, one a piece. A Merry Christmas To One and All!

Friday, 24 December 2010

We are Family

The serial Christmas Show-watching has drawn to a close. My highlights of the week:

1. Street-dancers, Secondary School Show - bums 'n' boobs, thrust 'n' jerk! - in the faces of the audience of middle-aged parents. Crikey.

2. Eleven year old boy band, same show, crooning ‘I lost my way, oh yeah, the lonely path, oh oh oh’ (‘Marmite soldiers for breakfast please, Mummy!’)

3. Inaudible Brownie Show ‘The Pnshs Oun’, that's all I know.

4. The shocking BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAST of Bonnie’s brass and wind concert: thirty beginner trumpets and clarinets in concert…but not in control. Very frightening.

Now it's just us, time to be together, reconnect. Snow underfoot (what a treat!), arms linked as we stomp across the Heath, then home to a roaring coal fire, tree twinkling, cocoa and muffins, ‘Mummy, do read us a story!’ ‘Yes, darlings, gather round!…Once upon a time...’ We are family.

Seriously, I entered the holiday so SICK of telling them all what to do since September (get up! go to bed! pick it up! eat it! stop eating! do your homework!) I decided to chill, man, after all this is the twenty-first century, things have changed - why would anyone want to make a horrible Christmas decoration when they could be shooting squeaky blobby things? ‘You can do whatever you like’ I said with the magnanimity of one who is about to get two weeks of quality time alone, and they vanished to log on. I closed the kitchen door: haha! I get it now!

But guess what – we can bicker with all the computers and tellies on, as well as off!

Mummy! It’s my turn on the computer. Alfie won’t come off!’
‘She can use the laptop!’
‘The laptop’s rubbish -tell him to get off!’
‘Wait! I’m in the middle of a level!’
‘Five minutes Alfie – be patient Bonnie!’
‘You always take Alfie’s side!’
‘No I don’t - I’m just trying to teach you to be a nice person, Bonnie’
‘You are teaching me to be a nice person badly!’
‘What about the wii, Bonnie – why don’t you go on that?’
‘Maddy won’t let me’
‘Hey - that’s because you always promise to put it away then don’t!’
‘That’s not true Maddy – you got it out first!’
‘You used it last, and it’s mine anyway!’
‘It’s not fair, I can’t buy anything because I haven’t got any money
‘Bonnie, that’s because you spend it all!’
‘No it’s because horrible Mummy fines me all the time for nothing!’
Hey Mummy! She took my chair, I only went to the loo!
‘It’s my turn anyway! Haha! OW! OW! Mummy! MUMMY!!! He hit me!!’
‘She stole my chair!’ and on..and on.. and on.

The screens rule came crashing down. ‘SWITCH IT OFF! AND THAT! AND THAT! OFF! OFF! OFF! NO SCREENS TILL 3PM!’

So Alfie set about entertaining himself:
‘I’m bored. What can I do?’
‘Read your book!’
‘I don’t know where it is’
Look for it, and look properly, don’t just stand still and swivel your eyes about!’
‘Mm.. I’m bored. What can I do?’
‘Empty the dishwasher’ (he is a Junior Citizen now after all).We negotiated a price of 75p
‘You should do chores anyway!!’
So he began, lifting one small plate: ‘Where does this go?’
‘In the left hand cupboard’
‘Where’s the cupboard?’
‘In front of you. Those are the cupboards’
‘What’s the left?’
‘The left cupboard. The cupboard that is on the left.’
(OK, calm down, you can do this).‘What hand do you write with, Alfie?’
‘Um…um…this one!’
‘That’s your left hand... So put the plate in the left-hand cupboard!’…
’Mummy, where does this go…?’ Jesus.

Bonnie can pass twenty minutes or so providing I’m prepared to hoover glitter off the ceiling, and I tricked Alfie into decorating a yule log by inviting a friend of his who likes that sort of thing, but he got his own back: ‘Look Mummy, Father Christmas’s head is in the chocolate butter-cream, and the reindeer’s on his bum ha ha ha!’ ‘Now now boys, don’t be silly!! Let’s just take Santa out and wash his head’.

We did have the snow: ‘Alfie you must stand at least one metre away from Bonnie when you throw compacted snowballs at her face’. But in the main, it’s been hard-going – and still three days to go..

Poor Alan’s working right up to Christmas Eve ‘Sorry Soph, someone has to do it’ (punching the air), and partying after work most nights with some TLA (Three Letter Acronym) or other: ‘RSM tonight – just got to show my face’ (home at midnight) – or worse still, ‘I’ll be home for something to eat’, slipping in as I’m letting rip the final tender goodnights ‘THAT’S IT – YOU’RE NOT GETTING A TUCK IN!’, to boozily fill me in on his plans to offer a human resources service to the entire galaxy by 2012, while I nod and think ‘I forgot the pink shrimps for your stocking’.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Build a Bear

I was BANGING ABOUT quite a bit by breakfast time today; the morning had begun cheerfully enough with a spot of housework, inspecting and sniffing clothes left for me on the floor and categorising them as ‘absolutely filthy’ or – the only alternative - ‘clean!’. Clean items were hurled vigorously at the relevant child’s bedroom door in the laughable hope that they’d pick them up and put them away when they came out of hibernation; the absolutely filthy stuff was bundled downstairs with me into the kitchen, where with some dismay I came upon a mixed up mountain of screwed up school uniforms, uneaten packed lunches made by me, revision notes, football boots (uncleaned by busy husband), important letters for parents to read and return the slip two months ago, etc etc - all dropped on the floor to keep me humming. The brain-mangling thought of asking the children to tidy their stuff up, and them replying ‘In a minute!’ for six years made me hang onto the wall for support. No, I’d be Nice Mum - ‘Quicker if I do it!’ - and started putting everything away. But in my experience there is an inverse relationship between shovelling shit and good cheer, so soon I was muttering ‘...I am just a drudge. They are animals!....Jesus!..’ working myself up into a lather as they slept on and on...

So when Bonnie came down for her cornflakes and placed a note regarding Christmas presents under my nose: ‘I want a pet – any pet to call my own’ (a dog – she’s had all the others) the answer was ‘No, definitely no!’ And Alan has provided bullet points: 1. buying Bonnie a dog would be rewarding bad behaviour 2. if you can’t find time to iron a shirt once in a while, how will you walk a dog? (and it will be you y’know!) a puppy would make raising Bonnie look like a picnic…but Bonnie wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer, so it was mind games (‘if you loved your child…’) and then a little picture to show how she felt - of a sweetie jar, but labelled ‘Mummy Posenings’(sic) carefully placed next to the first note. Nice one.

Never mind – Bonnie and I had plenty of time to sort out our differences for we were going to spend hours and hours and hours together buying her a Christmas present at Build-a-Bear in Covent Garden which if you haven’t been there is a soft toy shop where children ‘make’ (loosely) their own unique mass-produced bear: they stuff a (rather grotesque) empty bear skin, rub its heart against their own to show how much they love it, (gush), rub it on their ears so it listens to their secrets (gushgush), and give it ‘the kiss of life’. ‘I’m sorry’ I interjected at this point ‘is it dying then??’ (sharp look from Bonnie)).

Bonnie named her bear ‘Treasure’ (oh please) amended to ‘Max’ due to me raising my eyes to the ceiling, and then chose Max an extensive range of fashionable outfits and accessories. We queued with the other harassed Mums and Dads preparing to cough up, and the Grannies shakily writing cheques for God knows how much, thinking ‘bless me, that’s three million shillings and 29d – I had to make do with a walnut!’ We were even offered an extra Christmas Build-a-Bear for only £5!! instead of the usual £10 because we’d already proved we were stupid so maybe we‘d go round again and buy some more clothes for that one!

By the time we’d reached the Underground, Bonnie’d had enough of rubbing Max on her heart, ears, and wherever else - indeed she’d had enough of carrying him at all, so it fell to me to lug him and his wardrobe home, despite my bad back acquired in the name of love (and a good bargain) the day before; I’d bought a second-hand table football table for Alfie's Christmas present. ‘No, I don’t need any help getting it in the car!’ I’d trilled, (musn’t be any trouble!) then fought with the thing for half an hour, its rods sliding in and out of my hair and hooking my trouser belt, trying to look as if I was merely interested in all the packing options. Eventually I lay under the thing, raised it up on my back and charged at the open boot of the car with such force I managed to launch myself and the table up and over the middle seats, only casualties a few staples in my thumb, and a bad back.

That’s two presents ticked off already – easy!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Advent Calendars

Call me a silly old maid, but I do like a traditional Advent Calendar, definitely no chocolates, just little Mary or the donkey (clip-clop!) peeping out of a window to warm the cockles and give a flicker of meaning to this daft and directionless existence…The children, however, are willing to forego time-honoured tradition in favour of a cheap choc with their cornflakes.

Obviously, I don’t get my way, so we end up with both kinds, and sneer vigorously at each others’ calendars:

‘Chocolates first thing! YUK! Look at my lovely Nativity Scene!’
‘Bully for you, Mummy! You are living in the dark ages – everybody has a chocolate advent calendar these days! We don’t just want boring old pictures. Yum yum - this chocolate is delicious!’

Sometimes I break down and ask them for a bit.

This year, though, I had a plan: I’d ask Bonnie to make the Advent Calendar. That’d get her on side, and the others wouldn’t dream of hurting her feelings by buying chocolate calendars (this bit had me edgy, I’ll admit). We’d gather around her lovely home-made calendar each morning; what heart-warming yuletide image would surprise us today?! The Three Kings? The Star of Gabriel? I couldn’t wait!

‘Bonnie’ I said, pulling up a chair conspiratorially, ‘Would you do me a big favour? Would you make our advent calendar this year? Completely secret from the others mind you….’ She bought it hook, line and sinker, and set to with pens and paper behind a cereal packet at the end of the table…

Josie was tense and shouty, in the middle of GCSE mocks: ‘I know nothing at all. I don’t care how many times you say I’m good at maths, I am not. You are just making me more upset. And I need total quiet; how long are you going to be banging about?’

So I went away to offer Maddy some guidance with her crucial science test (GET UP!!). She’d flunked the previous one by being in her flute lesson instead (‘Wh-wh-what? WHAT?? Didn’t you say anything to your teacher?’ ‘You want me to learn the flute don’t you?’). I spoke crossly to the motionless lump in her bed: ‘You are not to leave the house until you have revised all thirteen chapters of the Science Revision Guide!’ Excellent – everybody sorted! Now I was free to go Christmas shopping.

Two hours later, frozen with indecision and full of loathing for Christmas, I returned home, to find a house buzzing with activity: Alan was under the covers with the radio memorising weather forecasts in case I tried to switch our so-called heating off; Alfie was sitting on a blank sheet of homework, googling ’Thirty ways to annoy your little sister’; Josie was weeping in the bath (‘All this work is killing me!’); and all that remained of Maddy was a note explaining that, unfortunately, she’d had to go straight to her sleepover party, otherwise she would have missed kick-off and therefore a tiny fraction of the TV and junk consumption planned for the next twelve hours. She was now uncontactable because her phone was in a bowl of rice(obviously) to draw out the moisture that had got inside it when she dropped it down the loo. But don’t worry - she’ll do all the revision whenever she shows up tomorrow, full of get-go after four hours’ sleep. Only dear Bonnie – never any trouble from her – was engaged in anything remotely constructive, still diligently drawing Advent Calendar pictures behind the cereal packet. I mounted her lovely little pictures, placing the stable scene in the 24th December window with a frisson of excitement.

Best laid plans and all that – sadly, my Advent Calendar scheme was scuppered at the eleventh hour; Bonnie was given a chocolate Advent Calendar at Brownies! (thank you so much, Brown Owl). It was only a matter of time until the rest of the children had chocolate calendars too…

Still, we all gathered round on December 1st for the Grand Opening of the first window of Bonnie’s calendar... and...there it was! MARY HOLDING BABY JESUS!!!

I sat down. Oh dear. ‘Can someone give me a chocolate, please?’

Friday, 3 December 2010

Forty Winks

The trouble with loving child-free hours with the kind of passion usually associated hours, especially now that bedtime for Josie and Maddy seems to be when-they-decide-o’clock, is that I have to stay up really late for a fix of unencumbered pottering. The resulting daytime sleep deficit means that I tend to nod off at important moments in my childrens’ lives. This does not look good on me.

For one, I accompanied Josie to her first 6th form Open Day recently, which entailed hopping and shuffling along (bags and coats were my job) in the wake of my lovely girl as she strode forth into her new life, delicately, shyly smiling around her and lobbing back showers of leaflets for the old crow to snatch at with a wizened claw. Eventually we sat down for the head teacher’s sales pitch - with a friend of Josie’s, also with mum in tow, whom I politely greeted (wishing I was more shabby chic than shabby shit) and blow me it wasn’t five minutes before I’d nodded off, head in lap!

I can only explain the next inappropriate sleeping incident as an unconscious refuge from a ghastly situation; I’d booked Bonnie onto a fashion drawing workshop with her friend only to discover that I was to be the fashion model (‘Do a pose! Hands on hips and throw your head back!’). Silk purse and sow’s ear came to mind (oh, Mummy, you don’t really look beautiful’); my best bet was a seated pose hiding awkwardly beneath my designer bonnet (accessories were provided). Next thing was a tap on the leg ‘You’re not supposed to be asleep!’ (the instructor).

Now then, playing Maid of Honour to Bonnie as she prepared for her Tudors assembly - the elaborately twisted hair, the phone calls to a friend (got to look the same), the white lies ‘that scarf turns your best party dress into an exact Jane Seymour lookalike, it really does!’ – were all par for the course. But when the call came from school because Bonnie had lost the whole costume on the way to school and was 'upset' (what d'you want me to do about it?) I was obliged to ricochet around (pant, pant) piecing together a duplicate costume, run to school (puff, puff) with it - I guess I was all done in by the time I sat down to watch the actual performance, and it was all snug and warm...before I knew it the Head was thanking us for coming!

So after all that, I was in deep doggy-do for having no recollection of the assembly at all. But never mind, at the next week's music concert, I made a point of waving like a nut to my little treasures on the stage - to prove I was alert and raring to watch, listen and learn. I needn’t have worried; the music centre’s policy of introducing children to improvisation before they’ve learnt to write their name, and the resulting tuneless peeps and toots (audience nodding and ‘digging’ it, of course), always causes a forbidden hysteria to bubble up in my chest which I have to close my eyes to control, certainly no chance of a nap. Nor at Josie’s concert the next evening, for I was just settling down for a little shut eye in the Senior Guitars when Bonnie began asking loudly and repeatedly for snacks, and jumping violently off the rickety scaffolding supporting the audience seating (thud) just as the extremely talented jazz trumpeter who was supposed to be inspiring Bonnie to practice her trumpet was doing his thing. She climbed up behind me and whacked me on the shoulders ‘BOO!’ and it was home time for us: ‘Go to bed, Bonnie’. ‘No, you go to bed Mummy - you’re the one who’s always ‘so tired’…'Yes, I should' I said, 'but I just have a little pottering to do first...’