Saturday 29 December 2007

The Big Issues

So, Christmas has been and gone; we had a good one, I won't bore you with the details which are no doubt very similar to many other people's festive breaks. It featured, in no particular order, too much food, lots of presents, family jokes, family spats, moments of great happiness, and others of extreme frustration. But here are a couple that I thought it might be worth sharing...

For the last couple of weeks, at Mass on Sunday, Boy #1 has been asking the Eternal Question.

"Where's God?"

Gosh, I thought, only 4 years old and already the big questions. It's a good thing my paternal grandmother isn't with us any more or she would have him signed up for the White Fathers before you could say St Bernadette.

Not wanting to befuddle him with too much information - and frankly, not being too sure of the answer to that one myself - I took the easy way out.

"God is invisible, darling. He's here, but you can't see him."

Boy #1 thought about that. "Is that because he doesn't want to disturb us?"

I giggled to myself, said he was probably right, and thought no more about it. But this conversation was repeated the following Sunday - and then again on Christmas morning. I gave the same woolly answer. It clearly wasn't satisfying him. Then, as we left the church after Christmas mass, he turned to me and, pointing at a priest we hadn't seen for a couple of weeks, said very loudly; "There's God! He is here, after all!"

Mistaken identity. Not so philosophical after all, then.


We arrived at my parent's house on Boxing Day morning after a 2 hour journey following an early start. Boy #1 needed the loo. He insisted I go with him as the bathroom in question has a light switch he couldn't reach, and then asked me to stay.

"OK, of course I will if you want me too. Why?"

"Because I need a poo, of course."

"But you don't need me for that these days."

The following was said through gritted teeth as he discovered that sometimes poo does not appear of it's own accord but needs to be helped on it's way. So, remember; gritted teeth, the space between each word punctuated by a thoughtful pause...



Give me strength.

Sunday 23 December 2007

Count to 10... and then again...

I'm pretty sure that there are no male readers of my blog. Well, make that absolutely certain, since I've never had any comments taking umbrage at my sometimes dismissive attitude to my Beloved, and let's face it, if a man could be bothered to read the drivel I type up he would hardly be likely to hold back if given an opportunity to criticise. (Or is that Women I'm thinking of...?).

However. If you are a man, and reading this blog, apologies in advance for this post. I am about to 'vent' (thanks Iota for this reminding me of this word, have been waiting for the opportunity to use it for the last couple of months!). And just in case you haven't guessed, the cause of my 'vent' is, you guessed it, men in general. And Husband in particular (to paraphrase a classic line from Bridget Jones 'The Edge of Reason').

Here are some things my beloved Husband has learnt over the last few days in the run-up to Christmas...

1. f you let an un-potty trained not-yet 2 year old Boy run around naked after a bath, he will wee on the floor. I can guarantee it.

2. Your wife will not be impressed. I can guarantee that too.

3. If you ask your 4 year old whether he wants to take his bike out 'now, or later' and the answer is 'now', replying 'OK, we'll go in 20 minutes then' will cause a rebellion. Which, I have to say, I think is fair enough.

4. If your wife is online 2 weeks before Christmas and says 'I'm just going to buy Boy #1's present', do not answer 'oh, let's get it ourselves. I want to see them in person first,' and then leave it until three days before the big day before bothering. There will be none left in the civilised world. And it will be Your Fault. (And yes, I know that the wife in question should have ignored his comment and gone with her gut instinct, ordering it anyway, but in an uncharacteristic fit of wifely agreement, I didn't do it.)

5. Newsflash: if you put a slab of pate into the fridge - unwrapped - and leave it there overnight, you will be knocked backwards by the fragrant aroma when you open the door to get your son's milk in the morning. It's not rocket science.

6. If you leave a packet of crisps and the remains of a tub of dip out on the side in the kitchen, do not be surprised if your wife, arriving home from an evening out with her mates with too much red wine and no food, hoovers up the lot. My body is only a temple when I'm sober.

7. Tiredness due to a week of office parties will not result in much sympathy from your wife.

8. If your wife has asked for specific cd for Christmas, do not be surprised when, after coming out of HMV on a family shopping trip empty handed, and then announcing that you still have one present to get, she guesses what that present might be...

9. DVD's for the children in the afternoon are a GOOD THING. (At least during the Christmad holidays).

10. C-beebies is blessed.

I could go on, but am feeling guilty now since despite all of this and a host of other things I won't bore you with, Husband is wonderful and in fact extremely helpful and hands-on with the Boys. So I should really count my blessings, and believe me, I do, every day. It's just that sometimes (like with the pate) I just want to scream. And I can't, because that's not the right way to run a successful marriage - at least in our house. (Although don't worry - he is aware of my take on all of the above). So, here I am. What else are blogs for, after all?

Thursday 20 December 2007

One for the road?

It's the first day of Boy #1's Christmas Break, and already I resorted to a DVD (The Incredibles - which means, of course, that Boys #1 and #2 are now Dash and Jack-Jack respectively) in the afternoon.

Bad mother.

Mind you, in my defence, this was after an action-packed day which started with a suitably picturesque sojourn in the garden first thing this morning when everything was prettily covered in ice. We don't get this often in central London, so I tried in vain to interest my Boys (I think the clue to my lack of success is in the name 'Boys' here) in the way Jack Frost had worked his magic; how crunchy the grass was underfoot, how the plants glittered in the morning sun (which, by the way, was so low in the sky it almost needn't have bothered getting out of bed) and how the veins on the leaves stood out in sharp relief with their ice highlights.

And then I thought; they're two and four years old. And they're Boys. What the hell are you playing at?

So we played a game of hide and seek or two, some football, they fought over who got to use which swing, and complained their hands were cold (which of course they would be if you won't wear your gloves, my darlings), before being driven back inside by the seasonal freezing temperatures.

Not before, however, we passed a cyclist sitting on his bike with his feet still on the pedals, leaning against a post-box with his eyes closed.

Boy #1, at the top of his voice: Is he DEAD, mama?

Me (struggling not to laugh too loudly): No, I think he's just taking a rest.

Boy #1, not bothering to lower the volume: But why is he sleeping out HERE?

Me (as the cyclist sighs heavily, props his eyelids open and wobbles off into the distance): I think he's probably just feeling a bit under the weather.

How do you explain 'hangover' to a 4 year old, by the way?

Tuesday 18 December 2007

On a wing and a prayer

Lunch today, with Boy #2 and I enjoying some quality time (Boy #1 was at nursery. Last day of term tomorrow, help...). After approximately 3 mouthfuls, Boy #2 decides he's had enough of this, and that he is going to climb down from his elegant but not very enclosing Stokke high chair and play with Thomas the Tank engine under the table.

Now, Boy #2 is not a waif-like individual. In fact, at 2 years younger, he is approximately 90% of his older brother's weight. So let's just say that his skipping a meal or two doesn't induce the panic in me that it might. But, nutritional concerns aside, it's not good practice to allow this type of behaviour, so I proceed to hoik him out and put him back in his chair.

The phone rings. I go and fetch it. When I get back, he's under the table again.

I can make this a confrontation, I think, or I can experiment in other ways of getting him to do as he's told. So, I start to whistle; The Wheels on the Bus. Cautious applause from under the table. By verse #2, I've started to sing the words (well, otherwise how would he know which action to do?). We've reached the wiper's on the bus going swish, swish, swish by the time he emerges. I throw in some extra gusto and a spot of vibrato for special impact as I lift him back into his chair.

He looks at me. Opens his mouth. Is he going to join in? I hold my breath.

"Mamma. Sssshhhh."

I'm crushed.

Let's draw a veil over my vocal talents and move swiftly on to my next favourite Christmas thing...

Last Minute Shopping

Now, I'm not talking about the sort of last minute shopping you fit in when you're at the supermarket a few days before Christmas and spot a must-have roll of gift-wrap. Ha! That is last minute shopping for pansies. I'm not even talking about on-line shopping two nights in advance, riding the roller coaster of 'will they / won't they deliver the mail in time' for the next 48 hours.

No, I am referring to the 'it's midday on Christmas Eve and I have yet to buy a single present' type of Last Minute Shopping.

I bet you think I'm mad.

I must admit, this has had to fall by the wayside in the last couple of years - children slow you down, and buggies are a nightmare on department store escalators - but pre-kids, I firmly believed this was the only way to do it. Leave the office after the final mince pie was eaten, rush to the nearest row of shops, and buy the lot, preferably in as short a time and as few stores as possible. John Lewis would be sufficent, actually, or Bentalls in Kingston upon Thames when I lived out that way. I could be in and out of there within 45 minutes when I was match fit. Pre-kids. (Did I mention that already? Because if I you're thinking of doing this with children in tow you are certifiable...)

And it's not that I had an exhaustive list, no indeed. The skill of the true last minute shopper is to not really have any idea of what to get the recipients, but to make whatever is available suit them. It hasn't always worked out, agreed. For instance, my brother got what looked like the same scarf 3 years running once, because my taste hadn't changed but my memory was impaired by the wine that had accompanied those mince-pies in the office. He had the good grace not to point this out; I only realised when in 2003 I found a photo of the 2002 present frenzy, with him wearing what looked the very same Ted Baker scarf I had just given him that morning...

But overall, it was a pretty sound strategy. If you don't have kids (did I say that already?), and a free afternoon when you finish on Christmas Eve, I suggest you try it. If you've got children, however... you would be crazy. Don't even think about it. Haven't done it all online already? You're toast.

BTW - I'm toast.

Monday 17 December 2007

Don't knock it 'till you've tried it...

So, I promised a list of things I like about Christmas. Obviously there are the common-or-garden ones; dressing the tree, mulled wine and mince pies, the Boy's growing excitement, the fuzzy felt Advent calendar I dig out every year, the opportunities to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, cold crisp mornings, the possibility (so rarely delivered) of snow, and carols etc. But I thought that actually I wouldn't bore you with those. No, I thought I would think outside the box here. So here is the first of my alternative Christmas Top Picks....

Brussel Sprout Soup.

Yes, that's right. Brussel Sprout Soup. Now, don't click away in disgust, hear me out on this one; I promise you might rethink your attitude to the humble sprout by the time I've finished...

My mother is a wonderful cook. No, make that fabulous. She's self taught; from the age of around 9 her mum left her to do most of the family's cooking every summer, whilst she went and ran the family business with my grandfather (they had a caravan park on the South Coast).

Unlike most grandmothers, I don't have fond memories of her apple pie or roast potatoes. My abiding memories of Nana's cooking are of being knocked sideways by the smell of roast pheasant as we entered the house; my grandfather liked to go shooting, and liked the resultant game well-hung. Past the point of hygeine, some might say. I also remember picking the shot out of said pheasant. And most memorable of all, I recall Nana serving a particularly 'interesting' soup one lunchtime. Very heavy, somewhat greasy, with a rather strange after-taste. We asked curiously what it was. "Rabbit pie soup" she said. It transpired we were eating the left-over rabbit pie from the previous day, pastry and all, tossed in the blender with some left-over gravy and a little hot water. British war-time cooking at it's awful best.

Consequently, the bar wasn't set that high for my mother when she took the reins in the kitchen. Against all the odds though, she is famous amongst family and friends for being a superb cook. But when she presented us with an unidentfiable green soup one Boxing Day many years ago, I must admit there were questions in the house, of the 'rabbit pie soup' genre. Being smart, she refused to tell us what it actually was until we'd tried it.

Mum's the only person in our family who actually likes Brussel Sprouts; for years we children were forced to eat a couple at Christmas lunch (waste not, want not). If it was on the table we were expected to try it. But once we left home, all bets were off, and we flatly refused to have any of the blighters on our plates. At this point, my father came out of the closet, and admitted that he too had never really been that keen, so one Christmas my mother found herself with a tureen full of Brussels Sprouts that even she couldn't work her way through. And thankfully for the ozone layer, she didn't try.

As would be the case with most mother's, simply throwing them away was not an option. Are you crazy? Whenever I visit my parents my first action is a 'search and destroy mission' in the fridge to remove all product well-past it's sell-by-date. (My father doesn't believe in them - but that's a post for another time).

So, she did what any self-respecting cook would do - in fact, what more of us should do, and scarily what I have found myself starting to do recently - she made some soup. With the stock left over from the ham she served on Christmas Eve. And wouldn't be drawn on the contents until we had actually tried it, and found that it was delicious.

We no longer begrudge Mum putting a tureen full of sprouts on the table each Christmas Day. As long as we don't have to eat them in their natural form, that is...

Thursday 13 December 2007

Missing in action: One Fairy Godmother

I think my Fairy Godmother has been abducted by aliens. Or something. So far this week:

The Boys babysitter, who comes once a week, every week, on a Tuesday afternoon to give me a whole 4 hours off, quit. Well, when I say quit, it was kind of a pre-emptive strike on her part. I had told her last week that after Christmas, when Boy #2 starts nursery, we won't be needing her any more since I will have a whole lot of time freed up. But of course we would still love her to babysit for us regularly in the evenings (on average, once every week or so). Oh yes, she nodded, that would be great.

Why, why, why, do I insist on taking people at face value?

On Monday morning I got a text telling me that she now has another job, so won't be able to cover the two Tuesday afternoons remaining before Christmas. And by the way, the agreement that she made to babysit two more evenings in the next 10 days? She can still do it, but has to start an hour later. Because of the new job. If I hadn't effectively already done it, I would have fired her. Like she would have cared...

Next up, a text on Wednesday morning, saying the cleaner was sick and wouldn't be coming this week. Now, I am as handy with a hoover as the next woman, and just as capable of giving the place a quick once-over so it stays presentable until she gets back. But what worries me is the ironing. Not my ironing, you understand - knowingly buy something that needs ironing? Are you crazy? - but the ironing that flows in a steady stream from the washing machine when Husband gets back from one of his trips. I have no intention of doing it. No sirree. Especially when I know perfectly well that, unlike sewing on a button, ironing his shirts is something he does frequently whilst travelling. But I'm not sure he's realised that yet... I just can't wait for that conversation...

Simultaneously, there were great plans afoot at Boy #1's nursery between various Mums about what to get a little girl who is leaving the class due to the family relocating from the UK, and for whom there was a party this afternoon. Lovely French Mum volunteered to buy joint presents from all the kids. Great, one less thing to add to my list.

But then Efficient and Slightly Scary in a Glenn Close styley German Mum jumped on board and issued instructions to each of us to supply an A4 piece of paper with suitable artwork from our children on it by Wednesday morning 9am, so that she could bind them into a suitable folder for the child leaving to take away as a 'lovely memento'. Warning bells started to ring. Shortly followed by tantrums on Monday night from Boy #1 because the crocodile he was trying to draw didn't have the correct legs (one was a foot, the other a paw. He said). We retired and decided to try again later.

At 9.30am on Wednesday morning, a text was sent round naming and shaming all the non-contributory children. Obviously, Boy #1's name was on the list. So this morning at 7.30am he and I were industriously sticking and pasting a suitable offering, having begged an extension until today. (Reminds me of being back at uni). We made it - just. Laid-back Danish Mum told me this afternoon that her daughter also had help - thank god. Control-freak Dutch Mum admitted that she more or less did it herself. And Manic Colombian Mum had forgotten all about it - but her son wasn't going to the party this afternoon anyway.

And so, to the party itself...

I've written about kid's parties on this blog before. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. But I have to say, this had to be the worst party I have ever (EVER) taken the boys to. Where to start?

  • 30 (yes, I counted them) kids in a flat of less than 60sq meters (the same size, basically, as most people's kitchens, sitting and dining rooms combined. In an all-pervading gloom due to the fact that most of the light fittings had been removed prior to the family's move. And BTW - before you start feeling sorry for them, this was not the flat where the family holding the party actually lived. They lived on the 2 floors above, but hadn't wanted the mess of the party in their own home.)
  • In addition the kid's mums and /or nannies (so, around 30+ adults. Just in case you hadn't worked that one out for yourself).
  • One bathroom. Let me say that again. One Bathroom.
  • An entertainer who was great but somewhat subservise and quite messy (the children ended up with balloon animals that they loved, and many of which also resembled - well, you can guess).
  • A grandmother who was on door duty - but not, being too busy taking photos of her darling grandchildren to trouble herself letting people in.
  • Ditzy Spanish Mum (the hostess), 5 months pregnant, in the midst of packing up her home and wondering how she got herself into this mess, trying to handle her 2 kids and 28 other people's children screaming like banshees and hyped up on tiredness and day-glo crisps.
  • Yet another cake with nuts in it. So one upset Boy #1.
  • Shortly followed by an almost concussed Boy #2 as he tripped over somebody's feet and banged his head on a door frame. If this post seems disjointed, it's because I am switching rapidly between my on-screen persona of Potty Mummy and my current off-screen manifestation as Panicky English Mum, and sneaking into his room to check his breathing every - oh - 10 minutes or so...

I should have listened to my gut and made our excuses at the beginning of the week. Oh, the sweet benefit of hindsight.

So, I'm asking again. Where did my Fairy Godmother get to? She's got my Christmas cards to finish writing, for starters...

Note: next post I am going to stop feeling so sorry for myself and tell you the stuff I love about Christmas. (But it probably won't anything like as appealing...)

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Oh no, he isn't...

Boy #1 went to the pantomime with his nursery yesterday. A great time was had by all, it seems. So great, in fact, that he now refuses to answer to his given name.

Boy#1 has become 'Prince Charming'.

Along with the other 7 boys in his class, I'm told. This could get confusing at circle time...

(And of course, Boy #2 is Buttons.)

Stop the madness! (I need another mince pie...)

Monday 10 December 2007

Christmas, Christmas, everywhere...

Christmas Anecdote #1

This afternoon I took the boys to meet Santa, who just happened to be visiting Selfridges as we were passing. (And I just happened to have tickets - who would have thought?).

They were delighted by the Christmas Grotto, the mechanical rabbits and foxes playing in the fake snow, (although not convinced by the clearly whirring reindeer), and loved the train which went twice round a track the size of a 10p piece before stopping 3 meters from where it started at 'Santa's Station'.

Boy #1 was excited enough to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas; a new scooter, a toy crocodile - no surprises there - and some games. He was also able to translate for his younger brother, who apparantly wants a 'traffic jam' (???? Knowing our luck and travel schedule, he will probably get it at some stage), and a doll for his mini-buggy (more of which later).

We then had some pizza nearby, they both behaved impeccably, and we headed home in a cab. Driving through Hyde Park, some earnest impulse to educate overcame me, and I pointed out The Albert Memorial to Boy #1. I should have known better.

Me: Look, see that pointy building over there? The one with the gold on it? That was built by a queen to remember her husband.

Boy #1: Was she a real queen? With a crown?

Me: Yes.

Boy #1: Why did she need to remember her husband? Was he at a meeting? Like your husband? (This is a habit he has recently developed; of referring to his father as 'your husband', and it's more than a little disconcerting. Where has it come from? Who knows...)

Me: No, he wasn't at a meeting like Papa (for the the benefit of the cab driver rather than Boy #1, who looks at me strangely). He died, and she was very sad about it, so she built that, over there. (Oh god, what have I got myself into?)

Boy #1: Why did he die?

Me: I can't remember, exactly. The doctors tried to make him better but they couldn't.

Boy #1: Were they too busy with other people? (Out of the mouths of babes)

Me: No, they tried really hard but he just didn't get well again. But because he was such a great husband and so helpful to her, the queen built that memorial. Can you say that; 'memorial'?

Boy #1: Yes. I can say that (But clearly couldn't be bothered to). What did he do?

Me: All sorts of interesting things (help, help, I can't remember anything suitable to be repeated to a 4 year old).

Boy #1 (perking up and suddenly showing real interest): What sorts of interesting things? Did he turn on the television?

Good grief.

Christmas Ancedote #2

Both Husband and I have repeatedly informed our mothers that this year, no multiple presents for the boys, please. One present for each of them, not too expensive, and if they want to spend more then they should get one for both boys to share. (Before you freak out, we have enough plastic crxp in the house to sink the Titanic, and of course we are ignoring this directive when it comes to the presents we give them ourselves - it's our right as parents and besides, I get to choose those bits of plastic crxp myself...).

The grandmothers were less than impressed with this development, to the extent that one of them, who shall remain nameless (but let's just say I am not related to her by blood), turned up recently with a bag full of presents for the boys that she had been going to give them at Christmas but now wasn't allowed to. So she gave them early, instead. This is what we're dealing with - so you won't be surprised by what happened next.

She then asked me for ideas on what to get them for the Big Day. I suggested an interactive globe, and also that since it was over £20, she should give it to both of them.

Horrifed pause. Both of them? Was I sure? But what would Boy #2 open? She hated for him to be left out...

He's not even 2, I said. His birthday's just after Christmas. I think he'll be ok with it (like he'll even notice). She agreed, unwillingly.

Then, a couple of days ago, at rush hour just before lunch when she KNOWS I'm running around like a headless chicken, the phone rings...

Mother-in-law: Hello Potty, I know you're busy. (Why ring, then?) I'm just on my way out to buy Boy #2 his Christmas present

Me, trying to avoid tripping up on a fire engine tactically parked across the kitchen door, and simultaneously dragging a starving Boy #2 who has attached himself to my leg in an effort to hurry up lunch (not quite sure how he thinks that will work, but there you go), whilst also laying the table and talk on the phone: Oh, right.

M-i-L: So, I wondered what you think he might like?

Me ( warning bells beginning to ring, and thinking that surely we already had this conversation, but too distracted to to connect the dots): Well...

M-i-L: How about some cars?

Me: No, he's already being given some of those. (Suddenly I start to pay attention, and it clicks. Well, if she wants to be sneaky, I can do that too). There is one thing, though.

M-i-L (scenting the kill, thinking I'm still distracted); Oh yes?

Me: Yes. How about a doll?

M-i-L, voice raised in horror: A doll?

Me; Yes, you know, a doll. That he can push around in his buggy. A Baby Doll. He always loves to play with them when we visit friends who's kids have them.


Me: Milly?

M-i-L: Is there a back-up?

Funnily enough, there wasn't...

Sunday 9 December 2007

Honest to a fault...

So, picture the scene...

It's Saturday morning. La Famille Potty is heading for a shop on High St Kensington, having dragged ourselves out of bed early (for the weekend, anyway), in order to miss the pre-Christmas shopping rush. We found a parking spot somewhere in outer Nebraska - bearing in mind we live a mile away it would probably have been quicker to walk - and the weather god decided that to serve us right for being so unenvironmentally friendly, he would do exactly what he had been threatening to do when we decided to take the car, and unleash a deluge from the heavens. But not, of course, until we were half way between the car and the shops, having decided that no, we wouldn't need our umbrellas after all...

I say: I've been thinking for a while now that I really must buy one of those barbour type hats for situations like this...

He says: God, you're turning into my mother

I say: Have you ever tried pushing the buggy and holding an umbrella? (we have a pantechnicon buggy, btw. A word to the wise - never leave it until the last stages of pregnancy to go buggy shopping, when pre-birth hormones and back pain make you take your eye off the ball for long enough that your husband can persuade you an 'off-road' version is necessary for the mean streets of Chelsea. On the other hand, we're still using it 4 years and 2 children later...)

Boy #1 says: Mama, mama! My gloves are getting wet! (We really need to get him on an Outward Bound course soonest.)

Boy #2 says: nothing. He is smugly silent in the depths of the pantechnicon, enjoying the comfortable tent-like sensation of being warm and dry whilst the rest of drip forlornly along the pavement...

We reach the shop, wet and cross. After sending a hapless sales assistant out the back to look for particular sizes we discover that oh, actually they're on the rail already, and the boys are half undressed at the back of the shop by the time he returns to tell us that there is no more stock, so he can't help us. Never mind, I say. We'll try and make do with these...

A hot half hour ensues, pushing and pulling Boys #1 and #2 into and out of various matching jacket and salopette combos (yes, I had better come clean. Not only do we drive to High St Ken, but we are going on that most environmentally unfriendly of holidays, a ski trip. Come on - it's Sunday and my husband has spent the whole day in the office; I have to have something to look forward to...).

We make a decision; Boy #1 gets the reasonably OK stuff as he is supposedly going to actually have a go at skiing this year. (Although given the moaning about wet gloves I'm beginning to wonder how successful that will be). We go for a larger size, obviously - so he may even get to wear it twice. Once when he has his first ski lesson this year and then refuses to go back again, and once next. Boy #2 gets the cheap stuff since all he will be doing is rolling about in the snow. Although given his adventuresome tendancies I have images in my head of his stealing his brother's skis and stomping off up the slope to show that woosy older brother of his how it's done...

(Don't laugh. It's more than possible... )

I take it up to the till point to pay.

Assistant says: That'll be £xx.xx

I say: Are you sure? (Thinking simultaneously; I'm sure that should be around £30 more and shut up! shut up!)

She says: Yes, £xx.xx

I say: I really think it might be more. I'm sure those salopettes are charged separately. (Thinking: What are you doing? Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!)

She says: I don't think so (clearly thinking; who is this wet crazy bxxch trying to pay more than she needs to?)

I say: You should check (Thinking: when Husband finds out, you are SO going to get it for this).

Husband arrives with the boys in tow, having spent the last 10 minutes trying to pull Boy #1 away from the cabinet with the goggles in. Boy #1 may not be your outdoorsy type, but he already knows how to accessorise... The assistant is grumpily checking her catalogue, and after 4 minutes of leafing through finally finds the right page. A queue is building up behind me, and I hear consternation and whispers of 'can you believe she's pointed out she should be paying MORE?'

He says quietly: You're not doing what I think you are, are you?

I think: Busted.

She says: Oh yes, that's right. That'll be £xxx.xx (note the additional 'x').

I hand over my credit card, waiting for the 'thankyou'. Which never comes.


And I am. SO in trouble... I tried to blame pre-Christmas madness, my dad's honest gene, and the fact that I have a pathalogical fear of being found out (which is probably all that the 'honest gene' ever is), but Husband's not buying it. He just thinks it's idiotic. He has a point - we've spent enough money in that shop recently; we deserve a discount...

But what would YOU have done?

Wednesday 5 December 2007

The 12 (Interminable) Days of Christmas

So, yesterday was the big day. Now don't be coy - I know you're just desperate to find out how the hottest event in Kensington and Chelsea went down, but fear not, I'm here to pass on the good bits...

I suppose I should explain what on earth I'm talking about. Yes, it was Boy#1's Nursery Christmas Show. For reasons known only to themselves (I think they have a new and slightly over-enthusiastic - no, scratch that - a completely over the top drama teacher. But then again, when aren't they?), the theme this year was 'The 12 Days of Christmas' and each class was required to go up and represent one of the verses. Boy #1 was a piper. Hence the kilt. Yes, you heard me - kilt (just in case you missed that nugget a few posts ago). But frankly, looking at the line-up yesterday, I think we got off lucky.

V1; The partridge looked as if the costume had been ordered from Angels Theatrical Costumiers, it was so professional. Except, of course, the partridge was 3 years old...

V2: 2 turtle doves - bulk standard coat hanger wings. I think the ground-swell of parent opinion was 'compared to the partridge, could do better'.

V3: 3 French Hens. Except it wasn't 3 - it was 9. Dressed in breton t-shirts, berets, strings of onions, and doing a turn singing La Marsellaise...

V4: 20 calling birds. Lots of room for variation with 20, as you can imagine. And not much room on the stage, so for healthy and safety reasons there were actually 2 'hits', so we got the same 'show' - 10 children dressed as robins, dancing to Rocking Robin - twice. Hmmm.

V5: 12 gold rings. Lots of gold lame, probably the easiest option as most mums seemed to have simply made a poncho out of sparkly material. Can't remember the turn they gave as I was struggling with Boy#2 who was trying to make a bid for freedom at this point, scattering raisins as he went...

V6: 16 geese a-laying. Hilarious incident with one little boy who's mum had clearly gone to town with his costume, even giving him a padded stomach for authenticity, hogging the limelight and elbowing all the other children out of his way to give himself centre-stage. He was eventually restrained by the teacher and given a good talking to on the sidelines. Was rather losing the will to live by this stage, to be honest.

V7: 8 swans a-swimming. This provoked naked envy on the faces of all the mummies whose little girls did not form part of the 'swan' tableau, as they arrived dressed in tutu's, twirling a pirouette or two to the famous bit from Swan Lake. Sometimes I'm so glad I have sons...

V8: 11 drummers drumming. This did what it said on the tin. Yes, the power-crazy drama teacher had instructed hapless parents to go out and find a drummer costume for their boys. To their credit they had made a pretty good job - and the imitation beaver-skin headwear had to be seen to be believed. Mind you, this being Kensington & Chelsea I was rather disappointed that there was no real fur on stage...

V9: 8 maids a-milking. Consisted of the girls from Boy #1's class complete with mob caps and sand buckets, singing 'Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary' and crying because they had lost their cow. This segued seamlessly into...

V10: 6 pipers piping. Boy #1 and classmates following an honest-to-goodness Scots piper, bag-pipes wailing, up onto the stage. (All sense of proportion had clearly been lost by the drama teacher when she planned this one). They did a little dance and then tried to help the milk-maids find their cow and followed up with a Scottish reel. Boy #1 was grabbed at this point by one of the girls (who was half a foot taller than him), and they then capered around the stage dancing the reel. Not sure who instigated the choke-hold, him or his partner, but it was a relief for all when the dance finally ended without injury...

V11: 7 ladies dancing. Dressed as flamenco dancers and performing that authentic spanish number - you guessed it - the Macarena. By this stage the audience had been flagging, but this perked them up. Or got them riled - not sure which...

V12 (Thank the lord): 7 Lords a-leaping. Boys dressed as frogs, capering onto the stage, leaping around and then dancing with the flamenco-clad lovelies. I was past caring by now, as were Husband and Boy #2...

All this took around an hour and a half, by which time the audience of eager parents had had enough, stampeding out of the venue before the final hymn was even finished. Never has 'O little town of Bethlehem' been treated so caverlierly outside Midnight Mass...

Other Points of Interest:
Boy #1's kilt stayed up. Thankyou, Mother-in-law. Your skills with the needle know no bounds. Really, I mean this; my home ec teacher at skill used to just tut and walk past my table as I struggled to make a patchwork cushion, so I am grateful, grateful, grateful, that you were able to step into the breach. (Husband and I once had a huge falling out when he asked me to sew on a button. He was horrified that I refused. I was horrified that he had had the nerve to ask me. Really - if he wanted to ruin a perfectly good coat he could just have let the boys at it with a pair of pinking shears)

I also had a fit of the giggles whilst standing in the queue waiting to be let in to the church where it was all happening. (Oh yes, they couldn't let us in early. I mean, who knows what might have happened? We parents could have ended up throwing pews and everything. Lighting the votive candles, using the holy water, you name it. There is no end to the devilry that could have ensued). I was having a perfectly normal conversation with the parents of one of Boy #1's classmates when a mutual acquaintance approached us and asked them "Do you like caviar?" Well, that's a conversation stopper if ever I heard one. And more to the point - why wasn't I invited to this apparantly swanky dinner party? Obviously, Dulwich Mum, had she asked me, my answer would have been "only Beluga, sweetie - and of course it does rather depend on which champagne you are serving..."

Monday 3 December 2007

Just chugging along...

This evening's menu:

Grilled fish
Baked potato
Steamed carrot and broccoli

(In my defence, I ate this too...)

Boy #1 (not even sitting down yet): I don't want the broccoli!

Me: You don't have to eat it. Just have the fish, potato and carrot and we'll forget about the broccoli. (This is not a strong negotiating stance to open with, I agree. What can I say? Carrot is such a recent addition to his diet that as long something on his plate with colour gets eaten, I'm grateful...)

Boy #1: Okaaay (Sighing heavily and climbing up on his chair, the weight of the world on his shoulders)

Boy #2 has, meanwhile, climbed up his chair, hooked his bib around his neck himself and has started eating single-mindedly. Thank god. Mind you, the day something comes between him and his food...

Boy #1: Wait! WAIT! I need to go the loo, I said!

Me: Fine, off you go. Try not to be too long, this will taste much better warm.

Boy #1 (settling in for a long discussion of the merits of hot vs cold food): Why?

Me: Well, because (oh, I see what you're doing) - oh, we'll talk about it when you get back. Don't you need the loo?

Boy #2 eats his first piece of broccoli. Then he spits it out again. I hook it out of his pelican bib and surreptitiously place it back on his plate...

Boy #1: Yes. Yes! I need the loo. I am Tommy Zoom, and I need the loo. Up, up and away! And you are Elastigirl. I know a song about Tommy Zoom, I will sing it to you... Tommy Zoom, Tommy Zoom, he can save the moon, Tommy Zoom, Tommy Zoom, he is coming soon...

Boy#1 punches the air in 'black power' type salute for emphasis as leaps down from his chair, waggles his skinny hips and assumes a menacing crouch position. Boy #2 stops eating his potato and begins to extract the broccoli from his plate; his affronted expression is reminiscent of a maiden aunt presented with a packet of condums. He then uses the broccoli to create a very natural looking forest around the model Boeing 747 (complete with opening and shutting doors) that has unaccountably found it's way onto the table. I put a stop to this particular party when the fish begins to join the vegetation.

Me: Boy #1! Weren't you off to the loo?

Boy #1: I am NOT Boy #1. I am Tommy Zoom! And you, you are Polluto. I can sing you a song about Polluto; Polluto, Polluto...

Boy #2 takes some potato and, taking advantage of the floor show, grabs the opportunity to shove it into the doors of the Boeing. Great.

Me (deciding to laugh rather than the alternative): Tommy Zoom, I thought you needed the bathroom.

Boy #1: No.

Me: No?

Boy #1, aka Little Lord Fauntleroy: I do NOT need the Bathroom. I need the Loo. Come along, Daniel (addressed to Boy #2. Daniel is Tommy Zoom's dog).

Me (head in hands as Boy #2 obligingly starts to get down from the table): Hold on a moment. Daniel hasn't finished his dinner yet. Why does Daniel need to go?

Boy #1: BECAUSE, I said, Daniel needs the loo. Don't you, Daniel?

Boy #2, nodding solemnly: Woof.

Good grief. Do you think they are watching too much tv?

Sunday 2 December 2007

Pale and listless...

The other day, I was going about my daily business and caught myself feeling - almost - happy. You could even say, content. This shouldn't be news-worthy, should it? But it is. Of course, I've had normal ups and downs like everyone does, and with one or two exceptions I haven't felt suicidal, but since I stopped working at the end of 2005 and was thrown into the fast-flowing torrent of full-time motherhood, I have struggled. A little. Well, quite a lot, at times. I can put it down to any number of things;

  • A second baby who needed an awful lot of care and attention for the first year of his life.
  • A first child who wanted a lot of that very same care and attention (don't they all).
  • A Husband who can't be there that much during the week as he travels internationally, a lot. (For example, our flights to Mauritius recently were on air-miles. That's a lot of flying. And if we had the time, we could do that twice a year. Business class. That's really a lot of flying. And don't get me started on carbon footprints...)
  • Having walked away from a job I loved but knew I could no longer commit to.
  • Living in an area where one-upmanship is a compulsory sport, and keeping up with the Jones's / Schmidts / Chirac's etc etc is impossible because not only are they in a different stratosphere financially but frankly, you wouldn't want their trappings of wealth even if you could afford it (I didn't have kids to hand them over to a nanny whilst I devote myself to looking 25 again, for example. Although I wouldn't mind it - looking 25 again, I mean).
  • Post-natal depression.

And so on.

Now I'm aware that plenty of people might look at a lot of that list and say to themselves 'I should have your problems', and I have to say that on the surface I would agree. (Must be that Catholic Guilt coming through - you can take a girl out of the convent...). But knowing that didn't make any difference - I still felt like a fish out of water, knowing this should be something I loved to do, but just not making the right connections.

So what's changed?

Can you believe it? It's so simple, I'm embarrassed. Lists, that's what.

When I worked, I lived by lists. I was famous for them. It was the only way I could keep track of the myriad projects I was running simultaneously. I had lists of lists. My lists had sub-lists. The single action of making a squiggly line through a completed job, or putting a bold tick through a block of actions could make a day worth-while. (Yes, I was also famous for being a little bit of a control freak. But I like to think that's what made me good at my job. And anyone who disagrees probably got dropped from one of my lists...).

When I walked away from the job, though, I also walked away from my day book. And I think that, ultimately, is what did for me. Now, I know that in the fog of new-babyhood, the last thing you want to be doing is sitting writing lists. I mean, for the first few weeks, what would be on it?

  • Remember to change baby
  • Remember to sterilise bottles
  • Remember to do laundry
  • Remember to buy nappies
  • Remember to bath baby
  • Oh, and remember to bath yourself (this one can get left off for days if you're not careful)
  • Remember your name

Not a very exciting list, is it? Who on earth would want to be reminded that that is what their life (admittedly, temporarily) consists of? Not me, certainly. So, I got out of the habit. And it's only recently that I've got back into it. But, oh, now I have; how could I have left it for so long? The wicked pleasure of checking your list and seeing almost everything ticked off... priceless.

Of course, I have ' stayers' on my list. Those jobs that get put off until next week. And then put off again. And then shelved again because really, they're not actually that exciting and - oh, you know what I'm talking about. But overall, things are actually getting done around here, for the first time in ages. Last Monday I even took the car in to get the wheels balanced - a very boring job I've been forgetting to get round to since August. But I put it on my list 10 days ago and, bam! It's done. Don't get me wrong - it's not that I want to spend my life ticking boxes or writing lists, but finally I seem to be getting a handle on things and taking back some control of my life. It's about time.

I think I may have found the secret of (my) happiness. 'Listless' is a word, isn't it?

I have been listless too long.