Thursday, 28 April 2011

Captain Eggpants

The school’s Easter Egg Competition is a creative, fun and frantic affair where children decorate a single egg or a whole scene of eggs (that’s the keen guys, who also sit on the top table for Maths and English, and who bring things in to show every day). The children may be helped, controversially, by their parents, causing much bitching amongst the parents who insist their kids muck it up all on their own: ‘I can’t believe an eight-year-old made that solar-powered spaceship from three thousand blown eggs’. Amusing titles are de rigeur – for instance ‘Eggs Factor’ (I’m already laughing) or ‘The Olympegs’ (catch yourself!)

I hoped to be retelling the ups and downs of supporting a wilful nine year old’s emerging creativity in the eggy line, perhaps a collaboration with friends encompassing both teamwork and imagination! However Bonnie took her usual ‘I decide what I do and when’ stance to murderous degrees, and wasn’t going to be bamboozled into some silly egg painting a couple of days early, when there would doubtless be a perfectly serviceable slave on hand with nothing better to do than run around boiling eggs, super-cooling them and leaping about fetching materials at 8pm the night before show-time. This timeline allowed her to focus on the more important matter of her school disco outfit for later in the week, in case she were scouted for a touch of modelling somewhere between our house and the disco.

I screeched on regardless. ‘How about ‘Dog Eggspert!!’ HA HA!’ - as she rumbled through the clothes she already knew she had. ‘Mummy my new pants will match the dress but I have no jacket to go on top at all’. ‘Bonnie you are nine years old. You should be playing in the park, having fun – making your egg entry - not trying to look like a supermodel!’ (old bag) ‘Oh stop going on about the egg competition, Mummy!’ said she. ‘I’m doing Captain Eggpants OK?!’ I squirmed at the lack of pun. Captain Eggpants?? My idea was so funny and brilliant...

I went off disconsolately to boil a single egg which she grabbed (without admiring my boiling skill - no cracks) and started sploshing paint onto while it was still steaming hot. ‘WAIT!’ I shrieked. ‘Use a pencil to draw your design first.’ ‘Mum, mum, MUM!’ she whined ‘I can’t draw the waistline on it. You do it.’ But I was feeling bloody-minded (no praise for the tenderly boiled egg). ‘Yes, you can’ I said, ‘Just put a little dot half way up the egg, like this, then turn it-’ ‘I CAN’T DO IT – YOU DO IT’ she shouted, ‘OR DO YOU WANT IT TO BE RUBBISH?’ She slapped the paint on and tossed the egg at me to hold for an hour while it dried so she could look through her nail varnishes. I put the egg down (reasonably) carefully but somehow it ended up in the dog’s mouth and the paint was licked off. Suddenly the egg was the most precious thing Bonnie’d ever made and there was howling. I fixed it up ‘Good as new!’ but then it was knocked off the table and smashed up for good. ‘I’ll just boil another - you can make it even neater this time!’ I sing-songed, as if it were a marvellous stroke of luck that Captain Eggpants had been sucked by the dog then dashed on the floor.

It being past nine by now, I felt Captain Eggpants’ could go without his signature red cloak but obviously it was a waste of time voicing this opinion. ‘This is exactly why I asked you to start two days ago’ I muttered. ‘You’re the one who’s entering this egg competition and here’s me at midnight charging around...’ ‘You’re the one who wants me to enter!’ she said, which shut me up. I stuck the red cloak and my finger onto the egg with superglue, but Bonnie disagreed with the positioning and in trying to slide the stuck-on cloak down the egg, my thumb ended up up Captain Eggpant’s bum with a nail full of boiled egg and no ideas how to make this seem fine. I quickly hid his bottom in an egg-cup. ‘How about I do your nails now, sweetie?’

Friday, 15 April 2011

They might think we're POOR!

The Easter holidays have arrived, and it’s time to decide whether I can hack having the children at home squabbling over Archie for free, or whether I should book them onto some self-improving activities that they don’t want to do (it’ll be fun!) when they could be lying in bed, playing computer games and lying about how they were doing their homework, actually.

A friend asked if Bonnie was interested in a four day high quality orchestral course – ‘Uh no!’ she said after a second’s reflection. But I felt she’d enjoy it once she got there, until I checked the website and at £135 decided that actually, free time was what she really craved. ‘I’ve just texted back that’s it’s too expensive’ I said to Bonnie. ‘Mummy!’ she said, alarmed, ‘they might think we’re POOR!’

‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, ‘What if they did think we were poor? You don’t judge people by how rich they are! Wouldn’t you be relieved if one of your friends said that they couldn’t afford something? There are children in the world who don’t even have enough to eat!!’ I was off.

They’d switched off, but I hadn’t. ‘You have no idea what poor means; we are very lucky we can go on holiday each year – to Wales or somewhere else nice!’
‘Big deal – everyone else goes to America or somewhere’
‘Well we choose to spend our money on different things.’
What do ‘we’ choose to spend our money on? I never get anything.’
‘Children’ I intoned, ‘this life of ours doesn’t pay for itself – there are bills to pay, food to buy...the car needs fixing...and we spend money on making your lives rich in experiences and the learning of skills.’ Unless it’s too expensive.
‘Why don’t we ever go out for meals, mummy?’
‘...You will look back and remember learning ballet with your friends, excitedly preparing for the Christmas show.....You will always remember the concerts you took part in...’
‘I want to go to Disneyland – everyone’s been there’
‘You will remember the holidays you had walking in the countryside with your family – that’s much better than buying a new top from Primark every week – isn’t it?!’
They looked at me as if I was completely mental.

‘How come you can afford to spend thousands of pounds on Daddy’s new teeth??’ ‘Well...everyone has their vanities’
‘How come you spend loads of money on Daddy’s golf membership’
‘Er...Daddy works very hard to pay for this nice house and for all the nice things we do, so he is allowed to play golf and enjoy himself too!’ It made me sick to say it.

‘I’m going to buy a laptop with my own money,’ said Maddy. ‘I need it for my homework’ ‘Very funny’ I said, ‘You’d be watching junk all day. I do not give you permission’. ‘It’s up to Daddy – he earns nearly all the money and he said maybe.’ Splutter.

Alfie gave up and went back to surfing the internet for £200 mobile phones to play games on, which he is under the delusion he will get when he goes to secondary school, despite being too scared to phone anyone (‘someone might answer’) and too confused to text, although the keyboard going this way instead of that way is crucial. ‘Alfie, I’ll get you a basic phone and if you use it properly, we’ll see about getting you a posher one.’ But the way he looked at me, I could see his social cudos would be in tatters. It’s complicated.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

First Strike

Bonnie had her violin exam on Monday so the preceding weekend was always going to be especially joyful. ‘Bonnie’ I said, ‘as your actual exam is on Monday morning, you will have to practice on Saturday and Sunday.’ ‘OH MY GOD’ she said ‘YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS YOU PROMISED I NEVER HAVE TO PRACTICE AT THE WEEKEND YOU TRICKED ME!’ and she fell face down on her bed, marking the end of the conversation.

We had a nice chat about it, ‘it’s for your benefit’ and ‘hate’ figuring heavily in the conversation, and after I’d emptied my soul onto her lap, she mentioned casually that she’d lost her exam music anyway. ‘What do you mean?’ I spluttered. ‘Haven’t you been playing your pieces all week?’ ‘YES!’ she said, looking shifty. After all, if you dispensed with the music, you didn’t have to do all those annoying bowing and dynamic instructions, and you could make up your own notes.

Alan was pretty busy wistfully re-filing his photo collection from before he met me, but no exam music was a calamity, so I sent him off to my sister’s for a copy, as her daughter was taking the same exam (but had miraculously not lost her music). It seemed a waste of potential free time for me to send Alan alone, so I told him to take the dog and Bonnie - ‘they’ll enjoy it!’ (I will) - forgetting that the dog doesn’t walk, he only slides, so Alan had to carry him and that did his dratted back in. He had, regretfully, to spend the rest of the weekend in bed with the newspaper, apart from a drink with his mates in the late afternoon because pain is worse if you are lonely, much better if you can get out to the pub ‘just for a quick one’.

Upshot was my weekend was spent being passive-aggressively ‘good’ about the bad back (‘You need to rest, it’s completely fine, I’ll do EVERYTHING’) and helping everyone do their homework while they shouted at me (‘how should I know what a verb is?’ ‘I can do my homework wrong if I want to!’), kicking people out of bed, into bed, off screens, cajoling Bonnie into practicing by threatening her with no food or oxygen, and trying to spend quality time with each child while the rest tapped me on the shoulder and fought with each other.

By Sunday night I’d had enough. ‘Who’s going to pick that toilet paper off the floor? WHO?? ME! You treat me like a skivvy’ bla bla bla, usual lack of self-control leading to troubling thoughts about suitability for motherhood. When I rose on Monday morning, nicely knackered from my weekend, instead of providing a calm and positive atmosphere for Bonnie’s debut in the examination room, the time seemed ripe for Spring Heating Wars (Round One) to commence.

Don’t get me wrong, I had not planned the first strike; despite the mild weather I obediently whacked the heating on at 6am in order that Alan would not get narky and could roast in bed while I sweated through my chores downstairs. But when I went up with room service (cup of tea) and discovered that he was up but still hadn’t switched the heating off, (the switch is in our bedroom) I burst out ‘IT’S BOILING IN THIS HOUSE – WHY HAVEN’T YOU SWITCHED THE HEATING OFF YET?’ ‘I’m not up,’ said he (which was surprising as he was vertical, washed and primped) ‘and don’t shout at me first thing in the morning!’

Round one to him (moral victory) – but he did turn the heating off the next morning.

Friday, 1 April 2011


I am keen on Puppy Training, I mean very keen. I’m the swotty one who went to the first class without the dog so’s I could take notes. You see I’m scared of dogs - behind every cutie-pie there’s an American Pitbull straining to get out and eat my hand for breakfast! So I need to be in control, or I’ll be cowering in a corner and Archie will be the one wearing the trousers as well as eating the shoes.

I have already faced my doggy demons. Guided by various American videos, I have placed my hand between Archie’s teeth, waited for him to start munching then roared ‘OWWWWWWW!’ This will teach him not to bite, hopefully while there’s still some flesh on my fingers. If that doesn’t work, I have to reinforce the message by bearing my teeth, looking in his eyes and GRRRRRRRRROWLING fiercely. GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

At puppy training the first lesson is that all family members are above poochkins in the pecking order; so when the children rise of a morning, they should not dive upon Archie and shower him with love-talk (‘Archie darling! Hello Archie! You’re so cute Archie Parchy - I love you!’) for ten minutes, then throw me an aside ‘I’m bored of Branflakes’. No, they should greet Mother and each other ‘Good morning brother!’ ‘Did you sleep well, little sis?’ before Archie even gets a look in. All of which is well-nigh impossible because they hate each other, but we’re working on it.

Anyhow, I was on the phone to the puppy-trainer, Sue, about plops, before the first session. Praise the good and ignore the bad, she said. ‘Yes, I know, I know,’ I said and explained I’d been swooping on Archie mid-poo and charging into the garden with him, his four little legs wiggling in the air, and me yelling ‘GOOD BOY’ as the product landed outside the back door. Sue was silent for a minute then said that my zeal would terrify him into pooing in secret places and that I should ‘keep calm’. I should ‘name it’ wheresoever it may fall (‘Poo!’ point and smile, gritted teeth), and merely congratulate the successfully placed ones (which is where standing outside in the dark freezing your b------- off comes in).

So the garden door is now permanently open, to calmly encourage the chances of success, though Alan The Dog Expert keeps closing it because he gets chilly (‘Don’t sit about then!’ I say. ‘There’s the hoover’). ‘Take him out, take him out!’ he says in the next breath - ‘then he’ll learn to poo outside!’ DER. ‘Excuse me’ I say, ‘what do you think I’m doing every five minutes from 6am to midnight?? Stop shutting the door. GRRRRRRRRRRR!!’