Tuesday, 30 December 2008
However little known the feelings or views of his wife may be on first encountering this plan, this truth is so well fixed in the mind of the Husband that all cupboards are considered his rightful property until negotiated otherwise by his Beloved...'
My sincere apologies to Miss Austen for paraphrasing the opening passage of her wonderful novel, 'Pride and Prejudice'. Which title, by the way, is a pretty good summary of Husband's and my respective attitudes to his recent project of getting the Boys into the same bedroom; Pride, from him, for making it happen, and for amongst other things; making trips to the skip and the storage facility, negotiating Homebase in the holiday season and last but not least, installing 4 shelves that have actually - counter to expectations - stayed up. Prejudice, from me, because I didn't get to plan it...
They say opposites attract. Whilst I think that this is not always the case, there are certainly aspects of my personality and Husband's that seem to confirm that it is.
For example. I like to live a tidy life. A place for everything, everything in it's place. Obviously two small boys have forced me to modify this somewhat, but overall it's the only way I'm able to live without itching. The keys always put back in the same spot. The milk in the same shelf on the fridge. Washing hung the most efficient way. Anal? Perhaps. But it's the only way for me to keep a lid on the chaos. Sure, if you live a bedsit and have few possessions, this level of control is not necessary or desirable, I agree with that. But once you acquire a Husband (especially MY husband) and children, you have to make a choice. Either you spend hours fruitlessly searching for the smallest train / lost glove / vital piece of lego each day, or, always put them back in roughly the same place and save yourself the trouble.
Husband, on the other hand, comes at this from the opposite end of the spectrum. When we met, his start point was that if something is dropped on the floor, then it can't fall any further - and should be easy to find. Now, he's moved on a little from there, just as I have moved on a little from an over-regimented life, and most of the time we meet somewhere in the middle. I tolerate the nest of shoes that breeds under his side of the bed. He ignores my putting stuff into useful piles (prior to ignoring it entirely and leaving it there - useless but tidy - for the next week / month / year).
So it always come as a nasty shock to me when he has one of his periodic 'I can't live like this anymore! We are going to sort things out - NOW!' fits, and then actually - horror! - does something about it. One of his favourite sayings is that you have to create chaos to remove chaos. Which is what has happened here in the few days before and after Christmas.
I would have been very happy to muse on the possibility that the boys go in one bedroom together and what needed to be done to make that happen for weeks. Oh, alright. MONTHS! Anything to put off actually having to do something about it. I would have planned it meticulously; worked out where to buy the right boxes to put stuff in on the new shelves once we eventually got round to booking a handyman to come and put them into the cupboards; pondered which quilt to buy for Boy #2's new bunk when I finally got to the point of organising the new mattress; and gradually got my children ready for such a tumultuous move etc etc.
Husband, on the other hand, parachuted in from Mars for a few days over the Christmas break, decided that now is as good a time as any to make it happen, and just did it.
God, that pisses me off.
(But thankyou, my darling. You are a wonder, a marvel, and I promise to get that year-old insurance quote sorted out by at least the beginning of February. Or March, at the latest...)
Monday, 29 December 2008
Though actually, given how tight my waist-band is right now, there is no excuse currently good enought for a tall skinny hot chocolate, blast it. Of course there are plenty good enough for repeated assaults on the biscuit tin, but let's skate over that for the moment...
Husband, Boy #2, I and Captain Adorable travelled back from my parents' in Somerset this morning. I beg your pardon? Who's Captain Adorable? Oh yes, Captain Adorable, the son formerly known as Boy #1, but who has recently decided to answer only to the new name he has chosen. Not sure how that's going to go down on the rugby field in years to come, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...
On a more serious note, we're fast approaching the end of a rather tumultuous year. I summarised it here at the beginning of December. I have to say that when Husband called me last January and told me he was one of the earliest casualties of the crisis in the banking industry, I certainly didn't imagine for a moment what would follow. I assumed that he would have few months off, we would get a proper holiday for the first time in - well, for the first time since he started in that world - and that he would be back in the thick of it come the end of the summer.
It hasn't worked out quite like that. Oh, he's been working yes, bloody hard, and sometimes even getting paid for it, but corporate banking life - and the security that comes along with the horrific hours and lack of family life - seems a long way away from where we are right now.
This last year has been a salutory experience, for both of us. For myself, it has helped me to focus on what's important. My Husband. My Boys. Our life as a family, and facilitating that. Being supportive, honest, and open, but not always saying the first thing that comes to mind. Having some place other than my home where I can achieve creativity (thankyou, Blog-land). Good friends and family who will help me work things through and never once say 'I told you so' - and being able to return that favour. Having a sense of Self, and staying true to that.
And most importantly of all, knowing what is right - and doing it.
In the front of my diary for 2008 I copied out two quotes from Marcus Aurelius. I'm about to transpose them into 2009. I'm human, I know that at times they will seem unnecessary and irrelevant, especially when I'm racing around trying to maintain my cool with Captain Anything-but-Adorable and his side-kick Boy #2 (aka Captain Cutesy-unless-things-aren't-going-his-way-or-the-train-has-fallen-off-the-track-again). But I'm hoping that, as in 2008, these quotes might inspire me from time to time, when the walls start closing in and life doesn't seem all that it might:
'Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already.'
'Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.'
And since those are both quite worthy, here's one of my own;
'There are few situations in life that won't improve immeasurably with a bar of Green and Black's Chocolate in your hand.'
Friday, 26 December 2008
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Monday, 22 December 2008
What has brought this realisation on?
Is it the fact that I am a married woman of nearly 42 years old, with 2 adorable sons, a handsome and caring husband, a home that is in reasonable nick, a gym membership I actually use, and an unhealthy Marilyn Moore habit?
(Unhealthy, by the way, in so far as I dream of her clothes but can rarely actually bring myself to part with that much money for a jumper which I know will bobble the moment I wash it... And then, on the rare occasion when I find myself in the shop and the demon Consumerism takes hold, I go completely over the top and buy all the stuff I've been craving for the last 6 months in one fell swoop. Only to get home, feel slightly sick at having spent too much money, and then wear the clothes to death - when they bobble, as I knew they would...)
Anyway, is it any of those things that makes me feel like a grown-up?
Nope. None of the above.
What has actually made me realise that I may finally be counted as an adult is the fact that it is only 22nd December, and ALL MY CHRISTMAS WRAPPING IS DONE!
I thank you, and good night. You will find me taking my ease by the Christmas tree sipping a grown-up drink like whiskey on the rocks, knocking back the Werther's Originals, and discussing the parlous state of the Pound:Euro exchange rate...
Sunday, 21 December 2008
Give it a few days though, and I can imagine the mayhem at 5.00am when Boy #2 gets bored with staring at the slats above him and scales the ladder to torment his older brother. Or when Boy #1 decides to start leaning over the edge to drop unpleasantness and insults on his younger sibling. How do I know this? I do have a sister myself, you know. And we used to share a room.
Not for long in bunkbeds mind you; they were soon separated, very probably because of the sort of behaviour I outlined above. And actually, as soon as she could properly put her foot down, we didn't share rooms at all; aged around 11 my younger sister got the hell out of our shared bedroom as quickly as she could to the room formerly known as 'the study'. Can't think why. Might have had something to do with the rotting sandwiches I used to hide in the back of our bedroom cupboard, I suppose. Though surely not... (and if you're reading this, Footballer's Knee's, I would really appreciate your not enlightening me in the comments box...).
Anyway, the deed is done. My Boys are in together. And should you be thinking of making a similar change to your household's sleeping arrangements, I have compiled a short list.
Things you will need to move your sons into the same bedroom...
3 weeks notice to finally get round to purchasing the mattress you have been telling your Husband you will order for around 2 months now, but which just hasn't been top of your to-do list. Perhaps because your overall sense of foreboding suggested some of the points which follow...
A whole working day to sit at home waiting for the delivery people to drop said mattress off. Because we all have that time to spare, right?
A further week to get round to going to the storage facility where the bunk bed not currently in use has been waiting for it's call-up papers.
Two very excited small boys on the day of the collection.
A Husband who decides on the way to collect the bunkbed that a side-trip to B&Q is a good idea on the last Saturday before Christmas.
Whilst the DIY safari is taking place elsewhere, you will also require a photographic memory to recall just how to dismantle the cotbed that you have put up and taken down probably 4 times in the last 4 years, but which is now suddenly a job you have no recollection of ever doing before.
A pen and paper to write down instructions for the next hapless individual to do assemble the cot (we are giving it to charity). Oh, and a digital camera, to look at when the job is done and the drawings and instructions are finished, and say 'Gosh, it would have made sense to take photos rather than to draw those crappy sketches...'
A sense of humour for when Husband gets home from the storage facility with the extra bunkbed, and can't find the screws to put it together.
A sense of calm when, after 2 hours tearing the flat apart looking for the missing screws, you realise there is in fact a box missing. And it is back at the storage facility, 40 minutes drive away.
An entertaining tv programme for the Boys to watch and to keep them out of harm's way whilst their parents finally put the bunkbeds together. Something with blood and guts on Animal Planet usually does the trick.
A sense of resignation when, within sight of the finish-line Husband realises that the beds have in fact been put together wrongly and that you will both be forced to perform a complicated and potentially fatal operation of the frame of the bunkbeds to rescue the situation. This operation involves a screwdriver, an umbrella, and a fair amount of swearing. Oh, and muttering. Of course.
And finally, the cruellest cut of all; the realisation that what everyone has told you is actually true; putting sheets on bunk-beds really is a bxgger.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Someone needs to tell the residents of South Kensington this is the season of brotherly love. In Boots yesterday two late middle-aged ladies behind me succumbed to Grumpy Old Women syndrome. One of them tried to queue barge and was - quite rightly - told by the other that she was there first. "I know that!" came the reply in a cut-glass English accent. "I've got eyes! I can see, you silly old fool!"
Really. This really happened.
Well, Lady #2 wasn't going to stand for this and replied frostily. "I am not an old fool. You are, trying to push in like that."
Lady #1 didn't know when to let up; "For God's-sake, I was just standing to the side. What's the world coming to when a person can't stand to the side of a queue? You stupid woman."
Lady #2 replied "It's people like you that make life so difficult. Stop being so aggressive!"
Lady #1: "Stupid cow!"
Lady #2: "For pity's sake! Stop it!"
At this point, even with my back to them, I could tell they were squaring up to each other, and could hear handbags being hefted, and zips being shut ready to transform them into lethal weapons. British stiff-upper lip and reserve notwithstanding, this was going too far. We were in Boots! I turned around, took a deep breath, and said to Lady #1: "I think... I think... you may be over-reacting. Just slightly."
"Over-reacting? OVER-REACTING! She started it! Didn't she? She started it. Over-reacting..." And Lady #1 - the original queue-barger - subsided into a simmering mass of rage. I turned back to the pharmacist who was handing over my prescription, who was looking at me - me - with something akin to pity and complete astonishment. And it was only at that point I realised the sheer stupidity of getting involved in an argument with two ladies who were queuing up to collect their medication. For god only knows what conditions...
I'm not sure I'm safe to be let out in public.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Now, I live in basement flat, in the middle of London. Not being the type of person who likes to take a dog for a walk accompanied by it's poo in a bag (no, I save that for when Boy #2 needs a nappy change at an inconvenient moment), or indeed the sort of person who wants to arrive home after a trip out to the olfactory knowledge that my cat has poohed in the litter tray (again, that smell is a privilege reserved for my son), we don't have pets.
(Having just read that paragraph through it seems that poo looms large in my psyche. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the name of this blog may also be a reflection of this. Should I be talking to someone, do you think?)
Anyway, I digress - as usual. We have no pets, so there is no letter.
But wait! Perhaps we do. What about The Mouse(s)? We give it/them a home. We provide a clean and relatively secure environment(discounting the poison, obviously). We even provide - goddammit - snacks, in the form of tree biscuits.
Here, then, is a circular letter from our mouse(s)...
Dear Country Cousins,
Hope all is well with you, and that the Kestrel family down the road still have conjunctivitis.
We are all fine here. Well, I say 'all fine'; Grandma asked me to find out if you have had sight of Uncle Petey recently? He was last seen popping out into the Sitting Room for a snack a couple of days ago, and hasn't come back yet. There are reports that he made the long journey across Main Road trapped by a newspaper and a bucket after failing to get out of the way of the People - he has slowed down a lot, he's been eating so much that he's not as quick as he used to be - and that they abandoned him there in the Garden to a cold and lonely end rather than kill him in sight of the Mini's, but I can't believe they would be that cruel. No, I'm simply hoping that he got tired of Grannie's moaning and squeaking about the congestion charge in the drain outside (those rats at the council really are the limit!), and headed off to you for a spot of R&R. If you see him, can you let us know?
Other than that, life is pretty good. The Mini's continue to leave us liberal food supplies under the Dining Room Table, and She Person is so busy chasing them around trying pointlessly to get them to tidy-up / put their shoes on / take a bath that it's pretty easy to sneak out for a quick meal when her back is turned. She has taken to leaving the Kitchen Door shut when she goes out, which is inconvenient, but since He Person takes no notice of directives like that, leaving doors open (and lights on - which is nice) every time he enters or leaves a room, we're not usually confined under The Kitchen Units for long...
He Person has been here a little more than usual recently, which can be inconvenient. We wouldn't mind - he's got such a heavy tread we can hear him coming for miles - but he's so often in the Kitchen restacking the dishwasher, fixing himself coffee, or raiding the Biscuit Tin (oh, for the chance to reach that Elysium!), that it interferes with our trips out to the Mini's Rooms searching for dropped crumbs and chocolates.
The Mini's are both growing (who knew People could get so big?), and showing an admirable disregard for keeping their food on the Dining Room Table, so we're all getting a little more portly than we should be. Luckily The People have installed a gym in the shape of a Christmas Tree for us to work out on, but I think any benefit for poor Uncle Petey was negated when She Person made those tree biscuits; he simply can't resist the smell of ginger. The number of times Grannie had to stand at the bottom of the Tree and threaten to make him sit and listen to that dreadful music from the mouse deterrent signals if he didn't 'come back down right now...!' Mind you, I think he quite likes that dreadful noise; he's been a bit odd ever since he volunteered to taste the funny-smelling stuff in the trays that appeared all over the kitchen floor one night. He wasn't half sick for the next couple of days - so the rest of us steered clear. It's still there, under the Kitchen Units. One of these days I'm going to go up to She Person and ask her when she's going to get round to moving it; it's downright dangerous, if you ask me. Someone could really get sick.
Anyway, must go. There's an interesting looking sealed box with a hole just the right size for me under the Dining Room table. It smells deliciously of tuna, so I want to take a look inside. Auntie Flo was going to investigate it earlier on, but I've not seen her in a while so she probably hasn't got round to it yet. Must have gone out...
Love to Nancy and the kids,
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
It was an interesting morning today. Boy #1 and I dropped his brother at school, which in itself was a bit of an epic trip. I nearly lost it on the Warwick Road; my two back-seat drivers were sending me crazy...
Boy #2: "Go! Go! Go! Faster!"
Me: "I can't, Boy #2. The lights are red..."
Boy #2: #"Go. That. Way!"
Me: "Boy #2, I can drive, thankyou."
Boy #2: "Put. Your. sun. shade. Away. Mama!"
Me: "I need it down to shade my eyes, the sun's very low today."
Boy #2: "Ow! OW! Sun. in. my. EYES!"
Me: Y"es, I know..." (I turn right)
Boy #1: "Why are you going this way, mama?"
Me: "Because there is heavy traffic, so I'm trying a shortcut... blast." (or something to that effect)
Boy #2: "Truck! Rubbish. Truck. Mama! In. The. ROAD!"
Me: "Yes, yes, I know..."
And so on.
By the time I got home with only Boy #1 in tow, I was not in the most relaxed frame of mind. I pulled up the blinds in the sitting room, and as I did so, noticed that some of the remaining tree biscuits - the ones on the slightly lower branches - had definitely been tampered with. Little bite marks in the edges of the tree-shaped ones, missing points on the stars.
I was not best pleased.
However, at the back of my mind, there was a seed of doubt. I have two boys who could easily have done this, yes. But when Boy #1 denied all knowledge, looking at me with his big grey-green eyes as if butter wouldn't melt, I actually believed him. Mainly because, in addition to two hungry boys there are other small creatures in this house that would make short work of a biscuit or two.
I've been in denial, but it's time to face up to it.
Those pesky mice are back. And they are no doubt delighted with the snacks I've been so carefully leaving out for them.
(Needless to say, any broken tree biscuits that had formerly been stored in the tin for future consumption have now been thrown out. Along with my illusions...)
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
... you walk into a too-quiet sitting room to find your sons looking shifty, and have the following conversation...
Me: "What are you two up to?"
Boy#2: "We. are. Eating. It!"
Boy #1: "No we're not. We're not eating. No, no we're not..."
I glance around the room. There still appear to be cookies on the tree - even on the lower branches. The hare-kare cookies that mysteriously hurled themselves onto the floor overnight and which I prised from small fingers before breakfast to put in the biscuit tin are still there. And there are no rogue chocolate wrappers on the floor.
Me: "What were you eating, Boy #2?" (no point asking his older brother, he's never going to confess)
Boy #1: "Nothing!"
Me: "Boy #2?"
Boy #2: "We. were. not! Not!"
Now I have a dilemma. Boy #2 often uses the positive when he means the negative. As in "Want. to. go. outside." can mean either; 'get me outside now or I will be forced to jump all over your bed in my mucky shoes', or; 'You will no more get me outside than you will get me to chew fish.'
Considering the evidence - no screwed up wrappers, no missing tree cookies - I decide that whilst there is every chance the two have been up to no good, I can't prove it, and move on.
Can you believe that at ages 5 and 3 they already know how to put one past me?
You also know it's Christmas when you have this conversation - which happened seconds after I pressed 'publish post' on the example above...
Boy #1: "Mama? Mama? The string has gone!"
Me: "I beg your pardon?"
Boy #1: "The string! The string has gone!"
Me (This has got to be a string on a tree cookie...); "Well, what happened to it?"
Boy #1: "I don't know."
Me: "Where is it? "
Boy #1: "I don't know."
Me: "How did it come out?"
Boy #1 (You guessed...): "I don't know."
Me: ?"Well, where's the cookie?"
Boy #1: "I don't know... Oh, actually, I do. It's here." (He holds up a sad looking star missing one of it's points and, what do you know, a string).
I gave him the cookie to eat. Bad mistake; there will probably be more strings mysteriously disappearing the next time he feels peckish, but what the hell, it's Christmas, and they are cookies after all.
And at least if he eats them it means I can't...
Can you believe it? 30 seconds after I pressed 'publish' for the second time:
Boy #1: "Another biscuit fell down!"
Enough. This one went in the tin. Does he think I'm stupid, or what?
Sunday, 14 December 2008
The tree is up, and the cards are being blu-tacked to the book shelves in the time-honoured way I learnt from my parents. That is, with just enough blu-tac to stay up when you install them, but not quite enough to make it through the night. Then, when you walk into the sitting room in the morning, they are lying like 'ex-cards' - cards that have had enough and simply can't take being forced to co-exist next to all my rubbish chick-lit novels any longer - all over the floor...
The advent calendar previously referred to here is in full swing, and amazingly we are still on track to install the Infant Jesus in his manger on 24th December. So far Boy #2 has resisted velcro temptation and left the little characters where they should be - on the calendar, trekking their way each day closer to the stable. Heaven help me if the Boys realise that each of them (palm trees included) have loops on the back to allow them to be used as finger puppets. We would have shows like 'The Three Kings go on a Train' and 'T-Rex and the Shepherds' to sit through every night...
Did I mention the Tree is up? I did? It's just that this fact astounds me. Growing up, my mother was - and still is - adamant that Christmas Trees go up on Christmas Eve. Not before. Never before. An early Christmas tree was tantamount to admitting that you don't make your own mince pies, as far as she was concerned (well, she probably wasn't, but that's how it seemed to me). 'Not Us', if you know what I mean. So for years, after I left home, that's when the tree went up. 24th December, not a minute earlier.
Children change all that though, don't they? The levels of excitement about Christmas have been building here for some time now, and what with the majority of Husband's family arriving for lunch yesterday and a Boy who couldn't quite understand why everyone else got their tree so much earlier than us, I caved and agreed we would put it up before the guests got here. Which was when, scenting an easy kill, Boy #1 started to make 'additional demands'...
1. Father Christmas doesn't only have a mince pie when he does his rounds. He has cookies. Where are our cookies to give to him? (Note to self: make nut-free cookies).
2. Trees look lovely all decorated, don't they mama? Especially when they've got cookies on them. We are going to have cookies on ours, aren't we? Mama? Because at school we talked about Christmas trees, and everyone said that they always had cookies. And I said we did too. Because we did, last year, didn't we? (Blast. He remembers the cookies. Note to self: Make cookies tonight).
3. And they have to be decorated cookies, don't they? Otherwise they just look boooooring.... Last year our cookies looked beautiful, mama! (Who was that woman in charge last year? She clearly had too much time on her hands. Note to self: Make and ice cookes tonight).
It was at this point in the proceedings on Friday afternoon that I made the mistake of asking Husband, who was in charge of catering arrangements for the next day when his family visited for lunch, what he had planned for pudding. Nothing, it transpired. Not because he had thought about it and decided that after the Indonesian Rijstaffel (trans: Indonesian feast) he was making no-one would have any room. No, more because - well, he just hadn't thought about it.
This was Not On. One of his family is famed throughout the land for her desserts. I may not be particularly concerned about appearances but the thought of the 'what a lovely lunch, and no I really didn't need any pudding' comments that would follow if we simply turfed them off the table once the rice ran out were too much for me.
With plenty of eggs in the fridge and the chance of an early-bird trip to Sainsbury to pick up some strawberries and cream, Eton Mess was the sweet of choice. Though of course, meringues need to be made the night before, so...
4. Note to self; make meringues after the cookies have been baked and iced... Easy, right? What could go wrong? (As it turned out, getting the wrong type of cream, that's what - but barefaced cheek and a little nerve will get you through most situations and we had liquid Eton Mess instead - and no-one was any the wiser. Or, if they were, they were too polite to mention it...)
That same evening I fielded a call from my mother-in-law, demanding Christmas lists with menaces.
5. Note to self: make Christmas list...
So in between baking the cookies, making the meringues, icing the cookies and panicking because I couldn't find the decorations (what fool put them out of sight on top of a cupboard in Boy #2's bedroom? In the same place they always go? Aaah yes. That would be me.) , I wrote one. It makes for sobering reading - not because it's practical, or sensible, but in fact because it's neither of those things. So far it consists of 4 cd's (Katy Perry, Razorlight, Lily Allen - even though I know that's not out yet - and The Kaiser Chiefs), anything sparkly, pretty, and over £50 from Melissa McArthur on the Kings Road, and - oh, here is a sensible one actually, somebody pass me the Big Slipper - a 'One Touch' can opener.
It's not exactly... inspiring, is it?
I'm almost 42 years old. There are a whole load of things that should be on that list that aren't. Like... a pa to organise paying the bills on time and before the final demand drops onto the door mat. Like... a course in how to prepare and cook fish properly (now that's what I call grown up). Like an alarm not just to tell me when to get up in the morning, but when to go to bed the night before. New tea-towels. Place mats. Perhaps an unchipped glass vase or two. A safe to put our important 'stuff' into in case of break-ins or fire. Important 'stuff' to put into a safe, for that matter. New boobs. A tummy tuck. The universally-desired extra hour in the day (or, in my case, extra hour at night - for sleeping).
6. Note to self: Make lists. Get organised. Grow up.
Friday, 12 December 2008
Me: "So, are you packed?"
Her: "Oh, just about. I've got a couple of things to do, ironing and stuff..."
Me: "Why don't you just iron when you get here?"
Her: "Oh, not ironing for me. No, for R (her husband, who was staying behind)."
Me (blankly): "I'm sorry?"
Her: "Well, he needs shirts..."
Me: "You are joking, right? Why can't R iron his own shirts?"
Her: "Well, he's not very good at it (she pauses as I snort), and - and - if I don't do them, he'll take them to his mother to do!"
Me: "And this is a problem... why?"
Her: "Well, I don't like her to, she'll think less of me, and she only lives around the corner and I don't want her to... well, then she'll be here every moment and... "
Me: "You're mad. If your mother in law offers to do your ironing, let her for chrissake. It's not like you don't have enough on your plate already (s-in-law is just pregnant for the second time). Why make more work for yourself?"
Her: "I don't know..."
Me: "Listen to me. I have been with your brother 14 years and never ironed a single one of his shirts. He is just as capable of making an inadequate job of it as I am. Luckily for him, the cleaner now makes a better job of it than either of us, but still... there are limits. I cook, I clean (in-between the cleaner's visits, admittedly), I do the shopping, I look after the children, I do the school runs and the taxi-service, I do the admin, I do the laundry, I do whatever needs doing outside, and pretty much everything else. The least he can do is iron his own shirts..."
Poor Sis-in-law. She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I mentioned in my last post that I've been reading Wife in the North, and am currently going through a phase of 'Oh my god, that's me!' about every second page. I've lost count of the times that I've read something and had to stop myself highlighting the passage and racing in to Husband (when he's here, that is), shouting 'Look! Look! Look at this! That's why I get so cross!'
Now, obviously my Husband has not forced me to abandon my beloved London town and move hundreds of miles away. (Though it's not beyond the realms of possibility). No, I'm talking more about her observations on men and women's different approach to family life. For example...
'I believe there is an army of angry women out there. Each rage different but a common theme - the high-earning husband, clever, ambitious and obsessed with work. This obsession drives the man to work through nights and weekends, year after year..... Throughout this time, his resenting wife will do that thing commonly described as 'picking up the slack'. This generally translates to 'looking after the children'. Morning, she will get up with the children to allow her husband to have an extra hour lie-abed to make up for how late he stayed at the office. 'This job is killing me,' he will tell her, his eyes closed. His staggering wife, already clocked on for her all-day/all-night shift....' (Judith O'Reilly, Wife in the North)
This book is by no means all so grim. Much of it is hilarious. But she does tell it how it is, and it's been a while since I sat down and thought of it like that. In much the same way as Wife in the North, I don't want my husband to change. He is who he is; I knew that when I married him. And he does pull his weight within our family. That's not the issue here.
What is the issue - and apologies for repeating myself, as I know it's an old recurring theme with me - is that sometimes it just gets right on my tits (there is no other way to put it) that all my experience, education, and work-related abilities are sitting at home fallow for the forseeable future. I know, I could go back to work. Believe me, I've thought about it. But with a travelling husband this is the best way for our family for now, there is no doubt in my mind on that matter. And besides, I enjoy being home with the Boys. Well - most of the time I enjoy it. Some of the time it's just about OK.
And let's not talk about the rest...
Thursday, 11 December 2008
I looked at her blankly. My son? Really? I mean, he's affectionate and loving at home, but I hadn't heard this one before - not outside the family, anyway... I left the building a little puzzled, and promptly forgot all about our conversation as Boy #2 did a stunt tumble down the front steps in front of the scary headmistress, no doubt consolidating any concerns she has about him. Click here for the back-story on that... (And fyi, he was fine after his spectacular head over heels - I was the one freaking out. )
Then, this afternoon, a different teacher stopped me. "Boy #1 is gorgeous, you know that? Guess what he did today?" I hesitated. "Uuummmm?" "He came over, gave me a big kiss, and said 'I love you, you're so pretty, you're just like a flower.'"
On an different subject, I just started reading the book of 'Wife in the North' by Judith O'Reilly. You may have noticed that I've got a link to her blog on my sidebar; if you haven't, and you've not read it, I can recommend it. But I have to admit I was sceptical about the book. I mean, making a book out of an autobiographical blog? How would that work? Surely it would lose something in the transition?
I am hooked. I cannot put it down.
Judith O'Reilly has achieved something I'm not sure I could ever do. I could regurgitate some of the blurb on the cover about it's being 'funny, poignant and beautifully written', and it would all be true. But it is the raw emotion of what is essentially her diary that stopped me in my tracks. She describes her emotions so clearly, no messing about, and in such a terse yet illuminating way that I feel I am there with her.
Perhaps I'm so moved by this because Husband and I have been debating making a similarly fundamental change to our lives by moving to Russia, or perhaps it's simply because she is brave enough to do what I'm not, and tell the whole story, warts and all, I don't know. I would love to know if whilst the original blog was being posted her husband was aware of it and of what she wrote. I salute both of them if yes; her for being so bloody honest about her feelings and for writing about them so succinctly, and him for sticking to his guns and persevering with his plans. Though I must admit that if I had been one of her London friends, I wouldn't have been able to understand why she upped sticks to Northumberland, I'm afraid. (What a surprise then that I'm not that keen to move to Moscow...)
In any case, I'm about 30% of the way through. There will not be much laundry, tidying or writing of Christmas cards done in this house until I'm finished...
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Today, though, my hair is lank, skin dull, and there is a bonfire on my chin.
Not sure why this is particularly bothering me at the moment. Long gone are the days when I would check my reflection on the way out of the flat to make sure I was presentable enough to meet the world. This is mainly because I got bored with spotting food stains, chocolate smears, baby puke and worse, when I didn't actually have the time to do anything about it. I would then spend the next few hours painfully aware of my lack of elegance, and wishing I had factored an extra ten minutes into my schedule before leaving the house... So I did what any sensible woman would do under those circumstances, short of slopping around the house in a painter's smock to protect from child-related splash-backs. I moved the mirror away from the front door, and simply stopped checking.
I'm ashamed to say that over the last couple of years it's not impossible for me to have gone through the day without looking in the mirror once (after putting on my mascara, of course. I mean, things never got that bad.) But recently, I've started to pay a little more attention, perhaps because of my fitness campaign, perhaps because the baby fog finally lifted this year. Whatever the reason though, the news is not good. It's not always doom and gloom, I hasten to add. Sometimes I can look at my reflection and think 'OK... OK. You're not doing that badly. In fact, you're doing quite well.' But today, it's inescapable. I am 41 years old. I look it.
And so does my Spot.
It's taken up residence on the edge of my chin, arriving the day before yesterday following a particularly heavy intake of Green and Blacks. Top Tip: never buy two 35g bars telling yourself they will last for a while. Or until the weekend. Or until tomorrow, at any rate. We all know that one bar is never enough, and Will Power is someone who moved out of my home some time ago when faced with chocolate-in-residence.
So, I conjured up the Spot as a result of my own actions - which makes the whole teenage skin complaint thing so much more embarrassing. I have been lucky throughout my adult life; a few breakouts whilst I was teenager, but no real acne to date. I always thought that was some kind of celestial reward for having had to endure eczema of excruciatingly embarrassing levels on my face between the ages of 14 and 16 - just about the age when skin like dessicated coconut is going to boost your self-image sky high, and the prospect of a boyfriend seems impossible when you're covering your skin in cortisone lotion morning and night.
Now, being prone to eczema is just luck of the draw. It happens. You can control it, but you can't remove the genetic tendancy to get it. Spots, however - particularly chocolate related ones - are more often the result of an issue in lifestyle, like too much sugar. For example.
Which is why I should step away from the chocolate.
I know this, I get mad at myself when I overindulge. And guess what I do when I get mad? Eat. And not apples...
My heart sinks. Boy #2 is fascinated by trains, they form a major part of his world, and feature heavily in role play, story-reading and telling, and in his imagination. This question, then, is something of a mine-field. It could refer to a specific toy he's looking for; heaven knows we have enough Thomas and related toys to stock a small gift shop. Or, it could refer to a 'generic' train that is a frequent subject of discussion, and which doesn't actually exist anywhere other than in his mind. He knows this train's schedule off by heart, he knows where it's running to, he knows who's on it (usually, his papa), and most of all he knows when you give the wrong answer.
I go for the obvious reply first. "Is it in the sitting room on the track?"
Boy #2: "NO! NO! It. Is. NOT!"
Not an actual toy then... "Is it... at the station?"
Boy #2: "No! - Yes! YES! It is at the station. Doors - opening. Papa. Climbing. On."
Phew. Got that right then...
Boy #2 (Man, I let her off way too easy...): "Where's it going?"
Me: "Uuuummmm.... the airport?"
Boy #2 (aha! Wrong answer, bozo!): "No! NO! Train. going. to. the. boat!" (Another pet topic of his).
Me (great, a chance to change the subject away from that blasted train. Let's go for an easy win here): "OK. Is that a Sydney Harbour Boat?"
Boy #2 (wow, she's good! How did she work that one out?): "Yes! Yes. It. Is!"
He bustles off to find a boat in the toy box and there is a moment of calm. Then;
"Where's the Other Train?"
Monday, 8 December 2008
So anyway, after a brake-screeching arrival outside the school 5 minutes before register started (result!), Boy #2 and I made a speedy visit to the supermarket, went home to drop off the shopping, and then climbed back into the chariot that is our clapped-out Skoda to drive down to Chelsea Theatre on the Kings Road (more of why in a moment). On the way, a car turned out into the road in front of us and I had to put in an emergency stop (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). No biggie, no stress, I just stopped. Quite quickly, yes, but without any drama.
Or at least, 'without any drama' is what I thought.
From the back seat, however:
Me: "I beg your pardon?"
Boy #2: "Shoooooooot, Mama! Ssssshhhhhhoooot!!"
How can I kid myself these substitute curses sound so innocuous and acceptable when I say them, but when used by my nearly 3 year old - in the right context and, I might add, in the right tone of voice - it sounds just as bad as the worst swear word you ever heard?
(We were on our way to the Chelsea Theatre, by the way, to see a performance of 'William's Monsters' - developed by the same team who did the stage version of 'The Gruffalo'. It was BRILLIANT. If you have the chance, I highly recommend it. Boy #2 was transfixed for a whole hour, and I was smiling from the moment it started. I'm hoping to get tickets for Husband to take Boy #1 once school's out, it was that good.)
This afternoon, I took the Boys on a playdate. We were in new territory, we hadn't been to visit these girls before (for oh yes, they were girls). I was a little nervous, it had to be said. Two Boys in a girls-only very pink environment, with girl-focused toys? It could have got ugly.
I needn't have worried. The Boys behaved impeccably. Initially I thought this was because there were trains in evidence (my younger son will forgive any number of dolls if there is a locomotive in evidence), but as we left I realised that there was more to it. These girls are petite, well-behaved - at least, whilst we were there - and above all pretty. And the Boys, without being prompted, kissed them as they said goodbye.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry...
Sunday, 7 December 2008
Flown more miles in his life to date than I had flown in the first 30 years of mine...
...visited more countries so far than I had in the first 20 of mine...
...eaten squid approximately 20 years earlier in his life than I did...
...eaten avocado approximately 15 years earlier than I did...
...eaten papaya approximately 27 years earlier than I did...
...and that my older son, having achieved all of the above by the age of 5 (though obviously not knowingly eaten the fruit or veg), had also visited 5 separate continents. It took me 41 years to achieve the same thing.
Pretty cosmopolitan, huh? And yet. Boy #1's favourite food? The dish he prizes above all others, that always elicits 'You're the best mum in the whole world!' exclamations, and which he gets perhaps once a year at home (though slightly more often if we go out - I mean, you want to order something the children are actually going to eat, right?)...
Fish and chips.
Friday, 5 December 2008
Me: "How's sorting out your expenses going?"
Husband: (Heavy sigh). "I'm getting there. But God. It's just so like... so like... manual labour."
I look up at him from where I am kneeling on the floor on my hands and knees, hanging up his just-washed socks on the airer. "REALLY."
Wednesday morning, 8.05am, the street outside our house. It's 0 deg C. The car is covered in a thick layer of frost. The Boys are complaining about the cold. I've just started the engine to get the blowers working inside it, have fastened the little cherubs into their seats, and unearthed the de-icer aerosol - thinking, gosh, aren't I clever to have remembered about this? - from the boot.
I liberally spray the front windscreen, wait a few seconds, and decide I should probably start the windscreen wipers to get things moving.
Should you ever be in this situation, sit inside the car to do this. Do not reach in through the open door and flip the lever whilst standing by the driver door. That way a faceful of de-icer lies...
When heading for the kitchen late in the evening to tidy up, alway ensure you make plenty of noise as you approach the closed door. That way the mouse (singular? I can only hope) has plenty of warning to jump under the kitchen units without being seen. If you don't do the clompy clompy thing, you will see it, shriek like a (much younger) girl, wake your sons, and spend the next hour - once they are asleep again - worrying about your house being taken over by rodents. Which of course it is, but we live in London and frankly, if you live here and think you don't have mice? You probably still believe in Santa.
6.45am, Thursday morning, just after the alarm went off. A sobbing figure appears at our bedroom door...
Boy #1: "Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah..... gaaaaaaaah....!!!!!"
Me (Husband is in the bathroom): "What on earth is the matter, darling?"
Boy #1: "Zwarte Piet..... Sinta Klaas.... the carrots in the shoes... He didn't come!"
Oh. S. H. I. T.
Stoking the fire ever higher in the pre-Sinta Klaas excitement for Saturday, Husband had suggested the Boys each leave a shoe by the fireplace with a carrot in the previous evening. This is an old Dutch Sinta Klaas tradition, and the idea is that one of the Sint's helpers, Zwarte Piet (see this post for details of who on earth I'm on about) visits and, if the boys have been good, leave the shoes filled with sweets and biscuits.
Guess what we forgot to do before going to bed the previous evening?
We did manage to rescue the situation, thank heavens. Unbeknownst to me, Husband had heard the commotion, realised what it was about, sneaked out of the bathroom, done the deed in the sitting room, and came back to our room without being spotted... (James Bond 'r' Us). He pointed out in his most authoritative tone that it was still dark outside, and Zwarte Piet could come anytime before daylight. He couldn't get there earlier because he had to come all the way from Holland, remember? Boy #1 looked sceptical. Suddenly...
Husband: "Sssh! Ssssh! Did you hear that?"
Boy #1: "What? What, Papa?"
Husband: "There's someone on the roof!"
Me: "No. No. You're imagining it... Wait. What's that?"
Husband: "Yes - there it is again!"
Boy #1: "I hear it! I hear it too!"
And what do you know? When he and his sleepy brother went into the sitting room 5 minutes later, Zwarte Piet HAD BEEN!
God, I love blogging. When I started writing this post 30 minutes ago, I felt as if I was drowning in the tedious same-ness of being a Stay At Home Mum. Don't misunderstand me, it's my choice, I truly believe it's right for our family that I be here, but sometimes? Sometimes, as I take yet another load of washing to the machine, unpack yet another supermarket shop, make another school run, or tread shoe-less on yet another sharp and spikey metal die-cast toy, I just want to bang my head against a brick wall. And then run screaming into the nearest office, shouting "Employ me! Please! I'll do anything, even spreadsheets!"
Now, though, having written all this down, my sense of perspective - and my sense of humour - have returned. So, I'll say it again.
It's all a matter of timing.
(PS - I hadn't planned on that last bit. But I hope you'll forgive me - I think it works).
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Unless, that is, you happen to have been at my son's Christmas show this afternoon, in which case you would have seen all of the above plus dancing snowflakes (with sparkly silver wigs - of course), shepherds, and a very glamorous Mary - complete with tiara and party dress, though missing the baby Jesus (who I imagine was home with the nanny, this was Chelsea after all) - and Joseph all on one stage at the same time...
It was, dear reader, fab-u-lous. After 3 years of nursery school festive extravaganzas, where Boy #1 spent the first two productions sitting on the edge of the stage weeping in his teacher's arms, and the last enjoying himself but being hissed at by an over-excited drama teacher in the wings to stay in time during the Scottish reel, I must admit that our expectations were not high.
This, though, was a whole different ballgame.
The children had been working on the play since the middle of October, and it showed. I don't think I would ever have expected to see fifty 5 year-olds so comfortable with themselves when faced with a hall filled with waving gibbering adults, sniffing loudly, and firing off cameras at the slightest chance their child might speak. And yes, I'm afraid I probably should include myself in that description, by the way. I didn't actually cry with pride, but it was a close thing. I even went so far as to pull out a hanky, ostensibly for a still-snotty Boy #2, but really for myself. Just in case, you understand...
For those of you hoping for some kind of coherent plot though, forget it. There was one - sort of - but it didn't bear much relation to any kind of nativity I've ever seen.
What? You want to know anyway?
Right... Joseph and Mary were having dinner out - as you do, in Bethlehem-sur-Chelsea - surrounded by other diners, being served by waiters, when all of a sudden a bevy of pink-haired angels arrived. The angels did a dance, everyone sang a song, one little angel - Whoops-a-Daisy - was singled out as always being in trouble, and instead of doing an important job (cue song from the other angels), was only allowed to count snowflakes. The snowflakes arrived and did a dance. Cue song. 3 shepherds and their sheep turned up, followed by the 3 kings, dressed fantastically as Elvis all in white (his 'Las Vegas years' wardrobe, I believe), and sashayed around to 'A little Less Conversation, a Little More Action'. (They brought the house down. Obviously). Then another song (by this time the stage was quite crowded), celebrating that Whoops-a-Daisy had finally got it right, and End. Tumultuous applause. Another song - in French, apparantly, though not like any Francais that I had ever heard - and then after yet more tumultous applause, the cast danced to 'Young Hearts, Run Free', and then it was home in time for tea...
Unfortunately the reports of front-trotting had been exaggerated and it didn't make the final cut (if indeed it was ever included in the first place), but even without that Boy #1 was a revelation to us. He was bouncing around on the stage, singing along (even when he perhaps shouldn't have been, but you can't have everything), shimmying down to the beat, and putting expression and feeling into every phrase.
All joking aside, I have to say that the way that all the children behaved - self-posessed and confident without being in the slightest bit precious or arrogant - and the relaxed and happy atmosphere did more to convince us that we had chosen the right school for our son than any end of term report could ever do.
So I will leave you with the song that has refused to leave me since this afternoon. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Congratulations Grit, you got 42% of the Carnival votes, which makes you the winner by quite a lot. (And yes, I did have to work out that percentage on excel. You want to make something of it?).
Anyway, if you would like to re-read the wonderful post Grit submitted to the most recent Best of British Parent Bloggers Carnival, click here, and enjoy.
Now, I've been tagged. 3 times in the last 2 days, actually, so bear with me whilst I try and sort out who wants what information - this may get a bit confusing. Rather like the time my mother asked me to put the t-towels away and to clean the bathroom, and I ended up cleaning the bathroom with the t-towels. It was only when she realised that I had included the loo in my cleaning endeavour that she lost her sense of humour about the whole thing...
Right. Funnily enough all three tags / meme's involve the number 7, so here goes.
Jo Beaufoix got in first, with the following tag to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month (see the link on the sidebar here if you have a spare moment to help make a difference). Here's what I - and the 7 people I nominate - have to do...
1. Put the logo in your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who shared it with you.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs
4. Add your link to the list of participants below
5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blog.
Simple enough. Assuming of course I can insert the logo without completely messing up the text format as I normally do, but I guess you will be the judge of that...
Next up, Carol B, a new visitor, who has tagged me to reveal 7 random things about myself. I have done this before but it's been a while, so I will assume you are as forgetful as I am and do it again. Although obviously, I will think up new things. Obviously. (And you would have to be really anal to trawl back through my posts and try and find the original. I'm counting on it, actually.)
So, here we go. 7 Random Facts. Sorry, I mean 7 Completely New Random Facts...
(Apologies to those of you who have been good enough to keep reading this blog for a while - some of these facts may seem slightly familiar...)
1. Aged 8, my parents gave me a pair of folding scissors in my Christmas stocking. Not smart of them really. They realised this when I cut a hole in the curtains. In my defence, it's important to test these things out on materials other than paper, and the spot I chose couldn't be seen when the curtains were open. When they were shut, however, the sun shone through onto the dining room table like a spotlight onto a stage.
2. After a particularly nasty break-up I got so drunk with two girlfriends that I was still inebriated when I reached the office the next morning. I had to spend 2 hours sleeping under the boardroom table before I was sent home... (not my finest hour)
3. I met Husband on a blind date. Really. You saw it here first; they can work.
4. Aged 17 - this one is really going to date me - I was so appalled by the news footage from Ethiopa that the next morning I collected £200 for Oxfam, by going round every class in school first thing in the morning and refusing to leave until they had handed over all their spare cash. The only reason I got away with it was because I had only moved to the school 3 weeks earlier, so had no reputation to trash...
5. I learnt to drink vodka working in the Student Union bar of my college because it was - we thought - the only spirit that you couldn't smell in a glass of lemonade, so could help yourself to when the bar manager's back was turned. Even if the myth about the smell were true (it's not), he probably spotted his bar staff getting increasingly drunk on glasses of clear liquid. I think he probably worked it out.
6. Husband and I once met Matthew Macfadyen and family on holiday. Very nice guy - much fatter in real life. (His wife Keeley Hawes, however, is disgustingly beautiful).
7. I have no waist.
And finally, Nappy Valley Girl tagged me, also with a 7 related meme... but it's getting late NVG - can I do it tomorow? (Also, let's be honest, I can't cheat on this one with a previous post, it's going to involve some thought, so I need an extension on my homework...)
Now, to minimise work for everyone (and most especially me) I am going to break with tradition and tag the same 7 people for both of these, and they are, in no particular order:
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Husband: "You've both been such good boys on the way back from school that I think you deserve some snoepjes (sic) from your Sinta Klaas bowl." (Non Dutch readers, don't worry - explanation follows...).
He fetches the two little bowls down from the highest shelf in the kitchen, where they are stored out of reach for good reason. And it ain't 'them pesky mice'. I wait for him to allow the Boys to take a small selection of sweets before returning the bowls to the shelf. Instead, he sits them down at the table, each with a bowl in front of them.
After 5 minutes of intense concentrated eating from my two sons, I decide enough is enough and go to the table. "OK, choose two more each and we'll put the rest away."
Husband: "Come on, they hardly ever get sweets. Let them have some more..."
I leave them to it, and 5 minutes later hear Husband exclaiming in surprise at how many more sweets have disappeared and commenting on their lack of self control.
I refrain from pointing out that he (and I, for that matter) are more than capable of demolishing a jumbo bag of crisps / sweets or packet of biscuits in less time than it's taken the Boys to eat a handful of sweets. They're 3 and 5. They would have more self control than us because...?
English and Dutch
Before I start with this I must say that the Dutch have a great many wonderful and venerable traditions. They are proud of their heritage - possibly to a fault - and don't take kindly to outside criticism, so I may be laying myself open to death threats here, but what the hell...
I'm sure you know that the jolly old man in red and white we all know and love as Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus, in some part at least owes his origins to the Dutch Sint Niklaas, known affectionately in the Netherlands as Sinta Klaas. The Dutch original, however, is a very different kettle of fish to our benevolent Mr C. For full details read this, and prepare to split your sides laughing at Jaywalker's description of the Belgian version of Saint Nick.
Now, there are many good things about the Sint. He is a little bit stricter than our grandfatherly pushover. Possibly the Dutch Sint is not quite as strict as the Belgian version referred to by Jaywalker, but he's still The Boss. So when you threaten kids with the with-holding of Sinta Klaas's gifts if they don't behave, they know that you're not kidding. He's tough enough to deliver on that threat.
Also, he's not as materialistic as our consumable-mad Father Christmas. His celebration (on the night of the 5th December), is less about expensive presents, and more about family getting together and making or singing something for your loved ones. (I know, I shuddered in horror when I heard that too. Thankfully the Boys are still too young - or at least, Boy #2 is - to go there. I reckon I can get away with no crafts and song-writing until next year, at least...). Nowadays, of course, mass-marketing has put paid to the home-made element to a certain extent, but even so, it's all a little more down-to-earth and less manic than the flurry of ribbon and wrapping paper we experience on the 25th December.
So far, so good. The Sint (traditionally said with a 'The Godfather' - who, frankly, is probably based on Sint Nicklaas - inflexion, and a similarly respectful tone of voice), has Helpers. Just like Mr C. Except not. Because The Sint's helpers are not gleeful elves and dwarves (which, now I see it written down in black and white is actually not that blameless), but Zwarte Piets.
The Zwarte Piets descend on Holland when the Sint arrives, dressed in his red and white bishop's robes, with his white horse in his boat from Spain (don't ask me to explain why that is, I'm hazy) towards the end of November. Their 'job' is to keep an eye on the children. They caper around in the arrival parade after the boat docks in The Hague, following the progress of the horse-back Sint through the streets of the capital, throwing sweets and biscuits into the crowd, playing the fool, and threatening people with sticks if they don't behave. Sometimes they even carry sacks, which badly behaved children are told by their parents are for bundling them up in and sending them back to Spain if they don't smarten up their act.
The Sint means Business, all right.
The Piets then hang around (or at least, if you are 7 and under, you are told they do), and essentially spy on the young population of the Netherlands on the Sint's behalf until 5th December. If they catch you misbehaving before that date? Forget it. No sweets and biscuits in your shoes left by the the fireplace for Sint Niklaas to find and fill with goodies. No presents. Just a lump of coal or two, and maybe a stick if you've been really bad. (Note: modern parenting being what it is, the Dutch have diluted the punishment somewhat and come up with a sugar version of coal. Which actually tastes quite nice....)
So far, so actually not so bad. But.
But. If you speak any German at all - and let's not beat about the bush, even the Dutch admit to a certain number of similarities between the two languages - you will know that 'zwarte' means black. And here is where the whole thing falls down a bit. Because, wearing a 21st century approximation of 17th century costume (usually executed in an attractive shiny synthetic finish), with black curly wigs on their heads, and a jaunty little colour-coordinated cap, the Zwarte Piets are invariably blacked-up white guys (usually students).
When I tell my friends about this custom, it is at this stage they usually say something like "I'm sorry?" And I say 'yes, you did hear me correctly. Blacked up white guys.'
I love the Dutch. I'm married to one. I would be happy - no, delighted - to live there. But come on, jongens. You don't think that this bit of the Sinta Klaas tradition is just... wrong?
Monday, 1 December 2008
If you want to vote for the Carnival winner you have 24 hours left to do so - click on this link to go to the relevant post if you haven't had the chance to read them all yet (and why would you? Working your way through 28 posts is not the work of a moment, I can vouch for that myself...)
Current standings? At the moment Grit is coming out in front, though Nappy Valley Girl is hot on her heels, and Single Parent Dad is also showing good form.
So go on, you know you want to play favourites. Make a comment and make a carnival blogger's day....
(I hope to post details of the winner on Wednesday).
Now, believe it or not, it's the first day of Advent. The Boys and I pulled the advent calendar out of the Christmas decoration box earlier this afternoon, and after a slight scuffle it was decided that Boy #1 gets to go first on the odd days of the month, and Boy #2 gets the even days. Obviously, Boy #2 disregarded this ruling forthwith and went through the pockets of the calendar, pulling out any and all figures that took his fancy, and using the velcro on the back of them to stick them anywhere but the calendar itself... Democracy is a wonderful thing in the season of Goodwill, I tell myself as I try and shut my ears to the squabble, wonderful.
Not sure I will still be telling myself that when we reach December 24th and the baby Jesus figurine is missing from his little '24' pocket, stuck instead to a cushion or a fuzzy dressing gown never to be seen again however...
But in any case, December. Good grief - what happened to the rest of the year? Well, let's see...
January - Boy #2 had chicken pox and Husband was made redundant from his job at The Bank. Our initial panic was followed by acceptance, followed by 'thank god they're going to pay out', followed by the ultimate statement of denial; 'It's not that hard to find work. How long can it take?'
February - Denial ski holiday. Boy #1 distinguishes himself by not being the loudest cryer on the nursery slope.
March - Yet more Denial. Husband and I take a trip away without the kids, also skiing. Husband hurts his foot 4 days before we leave, so spends the 3 days of our ski-paradise trip sunbathing at the foot of the slopes. Meanwhile, I enjoy the freedom of going up the slopes without having to worry about lost hats, loo stops, and dropped gloves. Oh yes, and without having the kids with me either. (Boom boom!).
April - Still no work for Husband, but planning for our imminent trip to Australia distracts us from the darkening economic skies. On the up -side he is spending more time with the Boys than ever before, and as a result, their Dutch is coming on in leaps and bounds. This is great, but means the time when I cannot understand their whispered conversations gets ever closer...
May - Australia. Bliss. (see May blog posts).
June - Husband starts a 6 month project working 3 days a week in Russia, whilst I finally face up the fact that the porktastic lady next to my boys in our Australia photos is, in fact, me. As a result my gym challenge to go 3 times a week for a year starts. My eating habits, however, remain the same. (A tactical error, in retrospect).
July - The Great British Summer kicks in with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. The holidays are spent in wellington boots and raincoats, and playdates are hard to come by as Expat Central's residents desert our shores for their second homes in France, Italy and christ-knows where. (And no invititations to visit, I note...)
August - still British Summer - or it would be, if you could see it through the rain. But finally, a weekend trip away from the wet to the warmth of Provence, where I am totally underwhelmed by the difference my 2 1/2 months of thrice-weekly gym trips have made to my waistline. Perhaps a trip to St Tropez with it's beautiful beach bunnies was not the best way to build my self confidence?
September - Husband still shuttling backward and forwards between London and Moscow. The possibility of a move to Mother Russia can no longer be disregarded. And Boy #1 starts school with accompanying tears, guilt trips, and gnashing of teeth. He's not too happy about it either.
October - we (or rather, I) take our heads out of the sand, face up to reality and make a fact-finding trip to Russia where we decide a move there could work. The next day, due to the economic outlook, the Russian contract stops. The best laid plans and all that...
November - stress beyond belief. The Russian company are dragging their feet over payment. Since June Husband has been travelling back and forward and staying in hotels at his own expense. The possibility of a complete change of life-style comes knocking at our door as the t-crossing and i-dotting prior to payment gets dragged out beyond endurance by the various parties involved. Eventually, though we are paid, and the wolf retreats from our door - but he's still out there.
December - Advent. Thank God. Finally, something to feel cheerful about. Boy #1 returns from his Sunday catechism class with images of Jesus's love spinning round and round the room like a top that never stops. What the teacher actually said was 'Jesus's love goes on and on, from one person to the next, and it keeps on giving.' Boy #1, however seems to have more of an impression of a whirlwhind you could trip up on. Hmmm... (Better not mention that bit in the blog and give the doubters more to laugh about...)
Overall then, 2008 - whilst not over yet - has to-date been an 'interesting' year... As a result, I am taking no bets of any kind for 2009.
Sunday, 30 November 2008
I've been pondering Economics. Not just any Economics, oh no. The most important kind - at least, in my current situation. Home Economics.
I can't speak for everyone of my age, but Home Economics was a subject that did feature in the curriculum at school. Not hugely however, and once you got to 13 it was no longer compulsory, to the extent that it was viewed as one of those subjects you took if you weren't particularly - how can I put this? - bright. Not stupid, exactly, but not very bright. It tended to be the lower streamed pupils at my convent school who took it on past the age of 13. You know, those of us (note the 'us') who were condemned to take 7 rather than 9 or 10 O-levels. (Oh, the shame, the tearful explanations to parents, the embarrassment of telling your friends that you wouldn't be joining them in Higher Maths. Thank god!)
Anyway, enough dwelling on the past. I was talking about Home Economics, and it's secondary citizen status. Despite it's grandiose name - because, let's face it, it didn't seem that relevant to girls of 14 who's dearest ambitions were to be a doctor, physicist (neither of them me), or a meterologist in the Royal Navy (dear god, why? Because I liked the maps, that's why. I didn't do it, obviously. You needed to be able to add up and draw isobars for that sort of thing...) - it didn't actually teach us very much that was useful.
A few things stuck; how to chop an onion (don't laugh, to this day people are impressed when they see me do it), how to do backstitch - barely - and how to wear a too-large school uniform apron by folding up the waist-band. No need for that nowadays, can't remember the last time an apron was too large...
So there we were, school-leavers at 16 or 18 years old, still wet behind the ears, with no real inkling of how to look after ourselves in a 'home-making' sense. Oh, we could conjugate French verbs. Add using bases (well, some of us could), and tell you that Pool was the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney. We could even make sarcastic remarks to the boys we fancied from the school down the road. But fend for ourselves? You only had to take a look at my room in university to see that that was still some way off...
To be honest, things didn't really improve much for the next 20 years. I got tidier, obviously. I learnt to cook. Ish. I familiarised myself with a hoover and an iron. But really, it wasn't until I found myself home full time that I began to discover the short-cuts. You know, the things that, once you do them around the home are so glaringly obvious that you can't imagine why you didn't do them before. Perhaps most people do, perhaps they took notice when their mums tried to instruct them, but I'm afraid it all washed over me a haze of Cyndi Lauper, Spandau Ballet and Human League.
Now, it was at this point in my original post that I put a list of a few 'things I wish I had known earlier' in the housekeeping department. But I just reread them and frankly, you would have more fun watching paint dry. Apologies to those of you who have already waded through, and the couple who kindly left comments; I don't know what I was thinking...
Instead then, let's have a few of the following. A list of Things you were told would make your homelife easier and which absolutely don't, and which, in the interest of Home Economics, you should never have shelled out for... Like:
1. A cot-top changing table for your new-born. We had one. We spent money on it. And, of course, we never used it - not once. Why would you when you have a much more stable TABLE next to the cot. (I once nearly got myself thrown out of Peter Jones when I interrupted a salesperson in full spate who was trying to palm one off on an unsuspecting mother-to-be, when I suggested that it was a waste of both money and space if there was a table in their baby-to-be's room. I'm not quite banned from the baby section but it was a close call...)
2. A hand-held dustbuster. Easy to use, I agree. Useful to have around. But have you ever tried to clean one of those babies out? Gah! I'm retching as I type (and yes, I know I should do it more often but somehow there is always something more pressing on my list...).
3. A coffee machine. No! TWO coffee machines! Perfect - except I don't drink coffee. Husband does - of course, he's Dutch - but for the 50% of the time he's not here they sit on the counter top taking up space and mocking me as I try to use the remaining 2 cm square space roll out pastry (not often) or unstack the dishwasher (far too often).
4. A wine cooler. What bottle lasts long enough to benefit?
5. Electronic mouse deterrents. We have 2. And mice.
This list, of course, is just a beginning. If you would like to add your own items to it, you know where the comments box is...
Thursday, 27 November 2008
For example, on the way home from school today...
Boy #1: "Why did the seagull fly up in the... No, that's not right. You say it, mama."
Me: "Why did the seagull -"
Boy #1: "No! No! Not seagull! Seaweed! I said, seaweed!"
Me: "Are you sure? (heavy sigh from the back seat). OK, Why did the seagull - what?"
Boy #1: "What?"
Me: "What did the seagull do?"
Boy #1: "Oh. Why did the seaweed - seaweed, mama - fly up in the sky? You say it now."
Me: "Right. Why did the seaweed fly up in the sky?"
Boy #1: "Because it wanted to be an airplane, silly!"
Cue Boy #1 and Boy #2 laughing like drains in the back of the car.
And so it continued. Did you know that the cow jumped over the moon because it wanted to...? Or that the chicken crossed the road to be an astronaut?
After a while, these 'jokes' start to get quite funny. Really.
Or is that just hysteria setting in?
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
You know the the sort of e-mail: Dear Potty Mummy,... working on a project for our client, ...blah blah....blah blah blah, please read me, blah blah blah, please blog about me (ha! This post showed them!), blah blah blah, etc etc.
And then... it got interesting.
'We’ve created a calculator tool for people to be able to work out the value of their own household economy – and see which member of the household does the most valuable work. It’s a brilliant way to settle arguments – or even to start them – about who does what around the home.'
Well. Well, well, well.
Suddenly, I started to pay attention.
And I defy any stay at home mum to have the will-power not to take a quick peek at that calculator tool.
I looked. I tapped in my hours per household job. I didn't even exaggerate. Well, not by much, anyway. Apparantly, my worth to the 'house-hold economy' is 315% higher than that of most of mums - but I'm not getting carried away by that: I stay home, I do most of the child-care, and I have two sons of 5 or under. Anyone with any sense knows that this is the most time-intensive period of a parent's life if they are the main carer. That's not to say there is more intrinsic value in being a parent to young children than there is to being a parent to older kids, in fact if the feedback I get from all my friends and family is true, the older they get and the less they see you, the more they need you when they do.
But, if you put a monetry cost per hour on what I do, it's actually quite well paid. If you get paid.
I shall be asking Husband for a pay rise when he gets back, is all I'm saying...
On another note, Boy #2 is currently home sick from nursery. Not anything serious, just this nasty cold/flu virus that's going around and which you just have to get through. Thank heavens, we are now past the nightly vomit-fest of a few days ago and he is recovering, albeit slowly. Now, don't get me wrong; I value my child-free time highly. Those 3 mornings a week when I get to go unencumbered to the gym, the supermarket, to run errands, to do stuff around the house (and of course to blog, but let's keep that as our little secret); they are like gold to me.
But Boy #2 is just so... Boy #2-ish. Obviously, when ill, he's a snot fountain. He's tired and cranky. He's demanding. He wants me to read book after book after book. He moans. Frankly it's exhausting - if I had the time I might have to come down with something myself just to recover. But I can't begin to adequately describe the feeling of contentment that washes over me when he and I are curled up on the sofa reading 'The Polar Express' or Thomas the Tank Engine. His neat little head resting in the hollow of my shoulder, his chubby little hand resting on my leg, his sniffly breath in my ear (well, maybe not that last bit - but it's part of the package right now); all are serving to remind me that being a mother to small children is so fleeting, so transient.
If it's possible to enjoy looking after a mildly unwell 2 year old, I am doing.
Who'ld have thought it?
Note: For those of you wondering about my decision on whether to review products and services sent to me by pr/marketing agencies, the jury is still out on that. The reference to the calculator tool at the beginning of this post was not paid for; I simply thought it made interesting subject matter...
Monday, 24 November 2008
There are 28 links below to posts from British bloggers (in no particular order), all of which are great. Some are quite simply hilarious, others will make you think, and still more will tug at your heartstrings.
If you would like to vote for one in particular as the stand-out submission, simply leave a note in my comment box and I will post in around a week with an update on who 'won'. No prizes, I'm afraid, other than the satisfaction...
And finally before you get stuck in, if you are interested in hosting one of the carnival posts yourself, click on this link and see just how it easy it is...
Frog in the Field writes of the fun of being introduced to the in-laws in: http://froginthefield.blogspot.com/2008/05/we-have-had-number-of-special-visitors.html
Reluctant Memsahib takes a look at how marriage and having it all aren't necessarily intimate bed-fellows in : http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com/2008/11/18/having-it-all/
Samantha Smythe writes on the perils of allowing your soup to become a living entity in: http://mumsnet.com/blogs/samanthasmythe/2008/11/17/the-farty-soup-guide-to-life/
Part Mummy, Part Me writes on the frustrations of marrying parenting and work and a nitty problem in: http://partmummypartme.blogspot.com/2008/10/nits-just-not-fair.html
Iota tells the story of how her 6 year old learnt his own, special, pledge of allegiance when he started school in the US: http://blogiota.blogspot.com/2007/09/pledge-of-allegiance.html
A Modern Mother recounts how resorting to bribery with your children might not be ethical - but it works, in: http://www.amodernmother.com/2008/10/mummy-is-not-clever.html#more
Nappy Valley Girl tells us why she won't be sending the kids off to boarding school in: http://nappyvalleygirl.blogspot.com/2008/10/boarding-call.html
Bush Mummy writes of how the simple of act of taking a shower in the morning, isn't simple at all...: http://thebushbabies.blogspot.com/2008/10/cry-for-help.html
Majajibba tells us how those baby urges can creep up when you least expect them in: http://appletree.typepad.com/fourrooms/2008/11/thinkin-id-start-this-post-with-some-witticism-about-how-my-biorhythms-must-be-looking-a-bit-limp-at-the-moment-i-clicked-ov.html
Little Mummy takes a look at a new website for families and wonders if there's space for everyone in the blogosphere in: http://www.littlemummy.com/2008/11/10/ukfamily/
Mud in the City writes about the perils of internet dating in: http://notenoughmud.blogspot.com/2008/10/banker-faller-at-first.html
Jaywalker at Belgian Waffling writes of the fun of being a parent and said with her submission note: "Promise you'll give me one of those bbc style health warnings "with strong language right from the start...". Consider yourselves warned...: http://belgianwaffling.blogspot.com/2008/11/les-cakes-du-mal.html
Footballer's Knees tells us how her crush on Nigella may be more off than on in: http://footballersknees.blogspot.com/2008/11/nigella-i.html
Ella at Most/Least considers how stay-at-home motherhood is grossly undervalued, both by Society, and herself (I have SO been there, Ella) in :http://mostleast.com/2008/11/03/motherhood-is-rewarding-but-undervalued/
Paradise Lost in Translation tells us of the perils of driving in Albania in: http://paradiselostintranslation.blogspot.com/2008/10/tiranan-tractor.html
Single Dad writes of how the differences between boys and girls are starting to be taken seriously by the educational establishment in: http://singleparentdad.blogspot.com/2008/11/boys-will-be-boys.html
Mya takes a look at her recent trip to the UK and the perils of eating stall-bought soup on Bonfire Night in: http://missingualready.blogspot.com/2008/11/hanging-up-my-suspenders.html
Working Mum tells us of being ambushed by choice in Tesco in: http://workingmumonverge.blogspot.com/2008/10/anyone-else.html
You think you've been flooded by decisions? Take a look at Nunhead Mum of One's post on: http://nunheadmumofone.blogspot.com/2008/10/decisions-reached.html
Grit takes a wry look at Home Educating in: http://gritsday.blogspot.com/2008/10/10-reasons-not-to-home-educate.html
Expat Mum writes about the satisfaction that comes from beating the system in: http://expatmum.blogspot.com/2008/10/rebate-schmeebate.html
Rotwatch muses on AA Gill, growing your own veg, the X Factor and the Mountain Marathon Race in: http://rotwatch.blogspot.com/2008/10/growing-pains.html
Milla at Country Lite shares the delights of supermarket eavesdropping with us in: http://milla-countrylite.blogspot.com/2008/11/less-is-more.html
Charlene at Thames Valley Mums mourns two lost child-free hours in: http://www.thamesvalleymums.com/2008/11/another-missed-party.html#more
The London Mums Blog wonders whether the marketeers at J&J really thought it through before they released an ad guaranteed to upset every mother who has ever used a baby carrier in: http://www.londonmumsblog.com/2008/11/hey-mums-do-you-wear-your-baby-as-a-fashion-statement.html#more
And lastly, here's an exerpt from my Potty Diaries, on why nativity plays ain't what they used to be: http://potty-diaries.blogspot.com/2008/11/rockin-around-christmas-tree.html