Sunday 31 August 2008

'The Tiger Who Came To Tea'

How clear are your memories of childhood? I have to admit that whilst, if I put my mind to it, I can retrieve images of piercing clarity - like frosty white & blue mornings in the Autumn on the way to school, and the smell and taste of home-made treacle toffee eaten round the bonfire on Guy Fawkes - that a lot of the time memories of my formative years, although always there, just sort of muddle around in a mainly happy fog somewhere at the back of my mind.

There are bad memories, of course there are. The time I was caught out by my J4 teacher when she phoned my parents to check out my fabricated excuse for not doing my half term homework. The all-too-frequent bad report at the end of the school year ('could do better' was my motto for longer than I care to remember). The crushing embarassment of being a teenager with severe eczema round my mouth and in my hair, at just around the time I wanted to be noticed by boys for something other than what I was convinced looked like a dessicated coconut mouth. But overall, these were character building experiences, and whilst not enjoyable, I wouldn't change them. Well - maybe the last one. But only if I could throw in an extra couple of inches in height, naturally blonde thick hair, and blue eyes whilst I was at it...

Anyway, my point is that most of the details of my childhood are lost in the overloaded files in the sluggish computer that is my brain. They are there, yes - just not instantly accessable.

Yesterday, though, we took the Boys to see a stage adaptation of 'The Tiger Who Came To Tea'. They loved it. The slightly subversive idea that a ring on the doorbell could announce the visit of - not someone boring, like the postman, milkman, or grocery delivery boy (who of course nowadays would be the Ocado man) - but a real, live, enormous Tiger was fantastic to them. A Tiger? Coming to tea? Eating all the sandwiches, cake, and buns, and drinking all the water in the tap? How fabulously outrageous!

Boy #1 bounced on his seat, growling, roaring, and waving his tiger-paw glove (dug out of the dressing up box at home in preparation, and carried carefully all the way to Bloomsbury on our tube journey) at the stage. His afternoon was only marred by the foot-stuck-down-the-back-of-the-seat incident, and that the whole thing was over too quickly. Boy #2, at two years younger taking a little longer to warm up the whole experience, eventually worked out where in the theatre to look (the stage, rather than the child behind us misbehaving and horsing down popcorn), and was entranced - especially when the tiger danced to the radio... Though what he was most impressed by? Our journey there on the tube. Typical.

And me? I was swept away on a wave of nostalgia. If you've read the book to your children, you'll know the wonderfully dated illustrations that show life in 1970's Britain in all it's dreary wonder. Well, this stage adaptation we saw yesterday very cleverly picked up on that. So whilst the children were wide eyed with wonder and howling with laughter at the antics the tiger got up to when it unexpectedly turned up for tea, the adults in the audience were lapping up the visual cues to their childhood.

We were reminded how it was normal to have 'high tea' at 5.00pm, and that feeding your children now contraband cake and biscuits was the norm and consituted part of a proper balanced diet. That milk came in tall glass bottles rather than in disposable plastic cartons, and that Daddy's beer was just that; not lager, not pilsner, not alcohol free. Just - beer. And going out to a cafe for sausages and chips followed by ice cream was considered a real treat at the time the book was written.

Actually, that last has not changed - it's just that now we call the cafes 'brasseries' or 'gastro-pubs', the chips are fried in Duck Fat, and the pigs the sausages were made from had names....

Friday 29 August 2008

The Status Quo

What to write about Boy #1 starting school?

Perhaps I should start with how grown-up and gorgeous he looks in his uniform; despite the fact that it is admirably practical and suitable for a 5 year old (none of that blazer and tie malarky), he manages to make it look like something out of the Boden catalogue (as my sis e-mailed me to say, after I sent her a photo on Wednesday).

Or, I could tell you about the queue of chattering mothers outside the school at pick-up time every afternoon, all talking ten to the dozen in about 50 different languages to each other, their younger children, or into their mobile phones. I might drop in how scarily stylish some of them are - as of this afternoon, it seems that my tattered black Birkenstocks are decidely last year. Perhaps I should unearth the pair of ballet pumps I bought at the beginning of the summer and threw in the back of the cupboard as too conservative. For some reason, they don't look so conservative on the other mummies - though of course that may have something to do with the fact they are accessorising skinny jeans and rock-chic biker jackets, and have Chanel logos stitched subtly on the front them... Oh yes, and that these mummies have size 8 butts... (that's 4 to our American cousins, and unacheivable to me)

I might tell you about Boy #2's quest to lose himself in the maze of classes whilst I try to deal with dropping off his brother in the morning, or about his refusal this afternoon to leave the house today to collect Boy #1 until I turned off all the lights and shut the door behind me. Of course, he called my bluff and still didn't budge from the train set. It was only when I kidnapped James the Red Engine that he climbed willingly into the car, gravely informing me as he did so that once he grows up he is no longer going to be a crane 'pilot', but that instead he will now be driving the Polar Express. All in single words, obviously.

"Not. Crane. Pilot. No way."


"No. Drive. Polar. 'Spress."

(You can see how George Orwell's reduced vocabularly in '1984' might work actually, when communicating with a 2 year old. I mean, I understood him perfectly...)

But I'm just beating around the bush, really. What really matters about the school Experiment is that Boy #1 is not impressed. Day 1: not good - as detailed a couple of posts ago. Day 2: rubbish. If you passed a woman sat in her car and weeping into her mobile at around 8.45am yesterday, that would have been me. Not a good look, obviously - especially in Chanel logo'd Chelsea. And today? Husband took him today, and he started the campaign early - probably realising that his most sympathetic audience was staying behind, so he better pull out all the stops whilst he could - crying and wailing before he even left the house. Obviously, as soon as he got in the car - and out of my earshot - he was fine...

Now, I know that once he's in class he's alright. I know this, because we have had similar experiences before when he was at nursery, both when he originally started, and then in diminishing levels at the start of every term. It being nursery, however, I was allowed to remain outside the room whilst he settled, so I saw it for myself.

But he's at Big School now. And they don't have time for mothers to sneakily peek around the corner to check that their children are starting to regain their equilibrium. And to be honest, with Boy #2 to deal with, this mother doesn't really have the option of doing that, in any case.

So I will have to take it in good faith when at handover during school pick-up his teacher tells me Boy #1 has had fun today. In the car, on the way home, I'm reduced to asking leading questions like a second-rate detective to try and ascertain if this is, in fact true. So, what did you do? I heard you enjoyed gym - where did you have that? Do you know anybody's name yet? He sounds nice.... And so on. It's scary, doing this. It reminds me of conversations with my own mother when I started new schools, and how at the time, I never realised how much my one-word answers mattered to her...

I know he'll be fine. It's an adjustment period, that's all. And so when Boy #1 is uncharacteristically quiet, moody, or argumentative, I remind myself that he's trying to come to terms with the fact that life has changed irrevocably - without his permission - and that there is nothing he can do about it.

I would be pretty mad in those circumstances, too.

Calling all cars

Reluctant Memsahib has asked if we could link to this page:

She's working on a story and if you think, once you've read her post, that you have experiences she would be interested to hear about, has provided an e-mail address to do so.

If you haven't checked her blog out yet, I can't recommend it enough. Beautifully written, hilarious, thought provoking, sometimes tear jerking, but always eye-opening.

You won't be sorry, I promise.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Don't mess with the Boss

Take a deep breath - but do it quietly.

Boy #2 is sleeping.


Not without a fight, mind you, but it was always one I was going to win (for the moment, anyway). Because he may now be able to reach the dimmer switch by his cot to turn on the lights when he's supposed to be napping - but I can reach the fuse box.


Chocolate all round?

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Desperate times

I. Am. Knackered.



Weary beyond words (well - almost. Not completely, clearly).

Why? Well, it could be because Boy #1 started primary school today, which meant that instead of lounging lazily abed of a morning, as has been our habit for the last few weeks, I turfed myself out from under the warm duvet at a revolting 6.40am. School registration started at 8.00am sharp, you see, and in order to avoid what I knew would be the queue from hell (wailing children, impatient fathers, tearful mothers), I wanted to be there promptly.

However, due to a combination of factors including - but not limited to - slow-go on the breakfast eating front, Boy #2's refusal to leave the train set behind, his subsequent dropping of James the Red Engine down the drain by our front door, and a truck driver with the temerity to turn his pantechnicon around in the middle of the street on MY shortcut, we didn't get there until 8.10am. By which time the 'early' ship had sailed and there were at least 40 children (most with two parents in tow, some with the trump card of a grandparent as well) in front of us.

But actually, I'm fairly certain it wasn't the early morning or the pressure of making it to school on time that has brought on the tiredness.

I suppose I could also put it down to the emotional stress of dealing with an unwilling Boy #1 who, up until the moment he climbed out of the car opposite the school, had been showing cautious optimism about the 'adventure' ahead. (Well, that's how I had been billing it, anyway). Feet on the pavement though, and faced with the group of scary, slightly deranged looking parents on the other side of the street his nerve went, and I spent the next half an hour cajoling him into the building, wiping his tears and trying desperately to find answers to the question "Can we just get back in the car, Mummy?" that, whilst not including the word 'yes', also didn't force him to confront the awful truth that THIS IS IT - for the foreseeable future. Which of course it is, and which we both knew, but neither of us really wanted to face right then.

He stayed, in any case, and I left him in the capable hands of Miss K, his teacher, but not without his shedding a few tears. In other circumstances I might have joined him, but mercifully I was too busy wrangling Boy #2 at the time, who had decided -unlike his brother - that he did want to stay, and would somebody just pass him that box of cars from the top of the shelves please, and what do you mean we need to go home, this place looks like fun, and I can't believe it, I have to go and he gets to stay, you have got to be kidding, and NOOOOOOOOOO! all the way out of the building...

But I don't think it was that.

No, I know what it was. The winds of change have been blowing through the Potty household for a few weeks now. The alterations have been so subtle, you might not notice them at first glance; the old leviathon high chair has disappeared, and the spot where our Dutch version of a playpen used to be, is empty. (This is a bit of a nightmare actually, since as the boys and their clothes have got bigger it has done sterling service recently as an additional clothes drying rack). The pile of 0 - 24 months clothes that has been building up - for, well, 2 years, unsurprisingly - has disappeared, and plans (though no real preparations, of course) have been made to sell the double buggy on E-bay.

Yep, Boy #2 is growing up. And what really knackered me out today?

He refused to take a midday nap.

Normally Boy #2 goes to his bed with a smile and a laugh, clutching his cuddly blanket, and breathing a sigh of relief as I switch out the light, pull the blinds, and gently close the door. Today, though, was a different story. Perhaps it was some freak surge of testosterone, perhaps the chocolate coin he purloined off another mummy outside the school following this morning's drop-off, but for whatever reason, he was not going to sleep. "No way!" he said. "No way!" (It sounded cute last week when he first trotted that phrase out, but it's losing it's charm now, I have to admit.)

This determination on his part was helped by the fact he is now tall enough to reach the dimmer switch by his cot. When I went in to investigate the sounds of merriment, I found all lights blazing, and him bouncing around like a kangaroo, shouting 'Whoo Hoo!' at the top of his voice, and waving his blanket in the air for all the world like a morris dancer on acid.

40 minutes later, my 'ignore it and he'll crash' tactic clearly wasn't working, so I gave up the ghost and got him out of bed before dealing with the testerone-fuelled nappy he produced in next 5 minutes before leaving to fetch his brother from school.

But it's not the fact that he didn't sleep this afternoon that has so sapped me of energy. It's the fact that, aged 2 1/2, he might not EVER sleep again during the day. I remember, all too well, when this happened with his older brother. But Boy #1 was older - by at least 9 months - before he refused to take a rest. And whilst that was bad enough, at least Boy #2, at the time, was still a babe in arms, so one of them was still napping during the day. But now?

There will be no escape...

I'm praying that this is a temporary abberation. All together now: 'Hail, Holy Queen...'

Monday 25 August 2008

The Blue Coast

We visited friends staying in St Tropez this weekend. Now, before you roll your eyes and mutter something along the lines of 'That Potty, she doesn't know she's born...', hear me out. I promise you will change your mind - at least a little...

First off, it takes a special kind of short-sightedness to agree to fly out of that particularly hellish airport known to UK travellers as Gatwick South, whilst it's being refurbished, on an Easyjet flight to Nice, on a bank holiday Friday, dealing with 2 children under 5 years old on your own.

Especially when one of those children has a tendancy to run off laughing in passport control once you've disembarked. Struggling both to catch him and to deal with your older son and the 3 much-too-heavy items of handbaggage you seem to have collected, despite having promised yourself that this time you will travel light, is not fun. Or ladylike. Or conducive to keeping cool and remaining 'glow' free.

To be honest, I was travelling light - or at least, it seemed that way whilst said 3 items were festooned around the buggy, Boy #2 was seated securely in it, and Boy #1 was carefully gripping one of the handles.

The blighters take the buggy away from you at the aircraft door, however, and don't return it until the luggage belt after your flight. This leaves you to deal not only with a recalcitrent 2 year old who really doesn't fancy walking what seems like 2 miles between getting off the plane and arriving at baggage reclaim, but also with the afore-mentioned handluggage, regretting all the time not packing the Boy's sweatshirts in the suitcase before you checked it in - especially since it is 28 deg C in Nice, so not exactly sweatshirt weather.

All's well that ends well, however, and we met up with Husband who had arrived direct from Russia, to pile our combined bags into the hire car for the 1 1/2 hour trip to St Tropez. Except, of course, it wasn't. And we can't even blame the traffic. We missed the turn-off from the motorway due to - chatting. Pure and simple. And didn't realise until we'd gone another couple of junctions further and had a further 25 miles to go until we could turn round and go back. So, take your 1 1/2 hour drive time and double it...

So we got there late. But still, it was all OK. It was lovely to see our hosts again, their kids and ours resumed a healthy friendship immediately, and the evening was balmy. Added to that, the villa we were staying in was very comfortable, it had a fantastic 'vue' over the Cote d'Azur, and the wine was chilled.

It was only the next morning, as we headed for the beach, that I realised my biggest mistake of the weekend. Which was; not taking into account that I was headed for the coastal strip populated by the highest intensity of beautiful people in the world outside, possibly, Hollywood and Rio de Janeiro. In addition to which, the female half of our host couple is a size 6 - 8 (which means 2 - 4 if you're in the US), and she had already spent 3 weeks basking in the mediterranean sunshine.

To say I felt 'pale and interesting' was something of an understatement.

On the flip side however, the wannabes on the beach may have been gorgeous, but they didn't half look bored and hungry. I guess that there are only so many ways to dress a lettuce leaf in lemon juice and olive oil. Now, I would never say that eating properly is the only road to happiness - but it certainly gives you enough energy to work out what the others might be.

Pass me those biscuits.

Thursday 21 August 2008

Olympic Fever

It's been one long round of visitors to the Potty house this week.

First up? The Olympic Lion Gymnastic Team, rolling and posturing round the flat as they showed off their floor exercises. Every now and again the action would be paused as they roared threateningly at the spectators, baring their teeth and waving their claws in the air. A smaller lion prowled around the edges to provide the team with a show of support, growling at will and occasionally delivering a nasty lick when least expected.

Then yesterday, Usain Bolt dropped by, gold trainers and all. Well, actually, we were forced to imagine the trainers; he had to take his shoes off for fear of slipping on the polished wood floor when he showed us how he won the 200m in record time by running 3 times round the living room super-fast, finishing up with a flourish as he threw himself, exhausted, upon the sofa to mark crossing the finish line.

Then his younger brother ran a similar race, complete with proper starting position. He was obviously a tad slower, but more than made up for this by the hug he gave the crowd at the end.

And today, the flat and the garden were full of the thunder of hooves as the horses from the show jumping event paid us a visit; leaping, prancing, and whinnying to their hearts' content as they showed us how winning a gold medal should be done. And whilst they were at it, they finished off a particularly annoying monster who had been terrorising the neighbourhood.
Frankly, this was a blessed relief as my throat was getting rather sore from all that roaring, and a girl can only take being called a monster for so long...

I must stop switching over the Olympics between programmes on C-beebies...

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Ask and you will recieve

So I picked the Boys up from their paternal grandparents this afternoon. In that oh-so-gratifying way children have of greeting their erstwhile parents, neither of them wanted to leave. Boy #2 even went so far as to string a sentence together - well, 4 words anyway - to tell me as much. But then, would you want to leave if you were 2 or 4 and could draw the following comparisons?

Comparison #1

At The Grandparents: have your evening bath brought to you in front of the television so you don't miss a single precious moment of 'Lady and the Tramp' on video.

At Home: Click, as the tv goes off. "Into the bath. Now!"

Comparison #2

At the Grandparents: get taken to the local Pancake house in celebration of your Dutch heritage. You ask for a scoop of ice-cream on top of your sugar-covered pancake. You get it. Job done.

At Home: get taken to the local Pancake house in celebration of your Dutch heritage. Don't even bother to ask for the ice-cream. You know that the sugar covered pancake you've got is as far as you can push it...

Comparison #3

At the Grandparents: you go on a trip to the shops. You see The Early Learning Centre. You say: "I remember these shops from last time we were here, Oma. We were allowed into a certain shop (frantic gesticulations and pointing), and were allowed to choose something..." Oma's heart melts, she ushers you to the door of the shop. Later on, you show your mother your new Transformer when she comes to pick you up.

At Home: You go on a trip to the shops. You buy a loaf of bread, some Piriton, go to the supermarket, and go home.

Comparison #4

At the Grandparents: you ask for a biscuit. You are handed a chocolate and caramel covered rich tea delicacy. And then another.

At Home: you ask for a biscuit. Mum hands you a boring old child-friendly nut, sesame and taste-free ginger cookie.

But despite all these perfectly reasonable (and expected) grandparent indulgences, I knew I would get the Boys safely in the car. I have a secret weapon.

It's called digital tv and features C-beebies - and these satellite and cable-free grandparents haven't wised up to Free View yet...

Tuesday 19 August 2008


I've found myself getting uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the Olympic Games over the last few days. Not sure why; maybe it's because the BBC are making it so accessible with their digital multi-screen, maybe it's because in 4 years time London will be where it's all happening (heaven help us), or perhaps - and most likely - it's because 'Team GB' are doing so unexpectedly well.

But I would like to know...

...those outfits the competitors in the Women's Beach Volleyball Olympic Championships wear.

Are they REALLY necessary?

Monday 18 August 2008

Note to self # 796...

...Never - ever - get on the bathroom scales first thing in the morning after eating far too much of a delicious curry the previous night. Not only will it ruin your day, but it will force you to turn to the biscuit tin for comfort, thus compounding the problem...

Husband has flown off to Russia as usual this morning, and I've dropped both Boys off at their paternal grandparents for a couple of days 'holiday'. Much excitement therefore this morning as we packed and got ready to leave for the hour-long drive. Boy #1 was thrilled at the prospect of having a captive audience for his plays, marathon games of 'monster chase' and hide and seek, and Boy #2, whilst looking forward to all that and of course to providing enthusiastic applause to his brother's travelling roadshow, principally couldn't wait to get his hands on his grandfather's hand-made wooden train set.

When we arrived he stomped purposefully inside, as only a 2 year old can do, and planted himself firmly in front of the bookshelves where it was waiting - out of reach. He then proceeded to look beseechingly at his grandmother, muttering 'train, please! Train, please! Train, please, please Train!' at increasing volume until it was handed to him.

This train set looms large in his legend. I'm not sure if that's because he somehow recognises the intrinsic value of something that was made with love by his step-grandfather's father 60+ years ago, or whether it's simply that there is no other real competition in the wheeled toy department in the house. I suspect it's the latter - and hope the train set lasts the course. Boy #2 is not known as 'The Destroyer' for nothing...

So I'm in solitary splendour for the next day or so. 'More time off?' I hear you cry. Well - yes. But this time I am determined to mop up all the tasks I promised myself I would get done before term starts again next week. In brief, these are:

Sort out the boys' toys. This is code for: get rid of as much plastic crap and as many dust-collecting soft toys as possible - without making any noticeable changes that can be remarked upon and mourned when the little treasures get home, of course.

Sort out the boys' clothes. This is code for: pass on to others / charity all clothes that are too short in the arm and / or leg for Boy #2, and too tatty to be recycled from Boy #1 to Boy #2. I have decided that another term of being mother to the scruffiest sons in the class room, whilst desirable from an ecological stand-point, is not doing my own self-esteem any good. Well, not when it happens every day, anyway.

Order party 'stuff' for Boy #1's birthday. By this I mean party bags, themed plates etc. It would have been done ages ago but my son has been dithering between a Disney Cars and a dinosaur theme. His absolutley final word this morning was Cars - so I will go ahead and order Dinosaur as I know he'll change his mind again by the time it finally happens. And as long I don't comment on it he probably won't notice in any case. It's not like he's a girl, or anything...

Order party food for same. For the past 2 years of Boy #1's parties I've done this all myself. Well, enough, I say, enough! No more slaving away at 6am on the day of the party, putting 20 sets of sandwiches, crisps, home-made biscuits and the requisite tangerine into cutsey cardboard lunchboxes for the little cherubs to pick through and discard like so many faddy food critics. And definitely no more spending the 2 days beforehand making delicious shortbread etc for the yummies to pick at, when experience shows they will ignore it all in favour of a glass of mineral water or - if they are feeling reckless - a handful of grapes, thus leaving me to deal with the left-overs for the next week...

Take the car in for a service & MOT. Which before-hand entails giving it a thorough clean out since we are - yet again - in possession of the most disreputable vehicle in South Kensington. I'm going up there later in a hat, dark glasses, and with a chemical suit on, to get rid of the worst excesses of two small boys and their feckless parents; countless boxes of raisins, lolly sticks (organic chocolate only, obviously), juice cartons, diet coke cans (OK, that's me), crayons, chocolate bar wrappers (Husband's - of course...), and empty mineral water bottles. With luck, I should be able to see the floor of the car in a few hours...

Purchase Road Tax. This year I am determined to do so online, rather than forgetting about it until the last minute and having to make a mad last minute dash to the post office. Spending an hour queueing up with various OAP's paying their gas bill and tourists trying to send outrageously large packages home, with 2 small boys getting ever-more impatient and asking increasingly embarrassing questions about the size of the lady in front is not my idea of a constructively spent afternoon. (Though of course this is how it will end up).

Monitor mouse activity and if necessary, book Rentokill. Because, oh yes, they are back. I thought we'd got them, but spotted another little blighter making it's way back to it's bolt-hole yesterday afternoon. Luckily Husband was home this time, so I took advantage of this by getting him to pull the kick-board out from under the kitchen cabinets and take a proper look at what was under there for the very first time. (Pathetic, I know, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to do it until now.) Anyway, he didn't see any mice - because as I had already deduced, they have a hole out through the wall or the floor somewhere back there, but what he did find was no less than 6 - SIX! - traps left by our predeccessors. Clearly then, this is not a first-time problem for this house. This doesn't remove my revulsion at them, but does make me feel a little less like the girl at school called back in by the nit-nurse...

What Husband also found underneath the dust cabinets were a couple of very small - more or less empty - bottles of Eucalyptus oil, left open. Either we have very particular mice who like to keep their nasal passages clear, or the previous occupants of the house thought this would keep them away. Any light that anyone can throw on this would be much appreciated, by the way...

Anyway, I must stop blogging about it all, and just get on with it. Ho Hum. Maybe I'll just check on the Olympics first though...

Thursday 14 August 2008

You know you're doing a good job when...

Picture the scene.

Boys #1 and #2, saying goodbye to a friend who had kindly looked after them whilst I went to the gym to glow prettily for a hour...

Note: this glow was induced not by exercise, but by terror whilst using a fearsome new machine at the gym. It is supposedly a wonder treatment for wobbly tummies, but is in reality a torturous version of a treadmill, with not one but two moving conveyor belts. Yep, one for each foot, (and they both tilt up and down as you walk on them - not simultaneously or in the same direction, oh no, that would be easy), either or both of which - given my lack of natural coordination - will throw me off in an untidy messy heap on the floor if I take my eyes off it's 'treadles' for more than a moment.

...Boy #1 reached up to hug the friend as she left. She used to be his nanny, so he has known her since he was 6 months old. She is rather better endowed than I. You know what's coming, don't you? As I watched in hysterical horror, instead of pecking her on the cheek as normal, he plunged his face into her bosoms - and blew a tremendous raspberry.

Thank heavens for small mercies. At least he did it now, when after she left we could have a sensible conversation about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour - and not at her wedding, where he's a part of the bridal party in a few weeks time...

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Jingle bells, jingle bells...

It's Christmas here at the Potty household.

Well, it's not, obviously. But it felt a bit like it was, this evening.

Not because Boy #2 has done an abrupt u-turn and suddenly decided to use the potty. Oh no. No sign of that happening for a good couple of months, I'm afraid. Just over a year ago, when I started this blog, I wrote this in my retrospective account of potty training Boy #1.

'After ten minutes of watching him sit down, stand up, settle himself again, then re-check that it’s all tucked in (there are some times it’s better to be a girl, I knew there had to be), then standing up to flush the loo again, I was so desperate for the loo myself that I ended up sitting next to him trying to encourage him to by example.

At one point I got excited that the grunts beside me might result in some action, until I realised that the little gasps of effort were related to his shredding of the loo paper, which in the time I’d taken my eyes off him had gravitated from the cardboard roll to a heap of tissue on the floor.

And as I sat there surrounded by drifts of toilet paper and looking at the thread veins on my legs which mysteriously appeared along with Boy#2 (pregnancy is the end, really – even six months after it’s over you keep finding new and exciting calling cards it’s left on your body), I thought back to my pre-child days with some degree of nostalgia.

Self pity is hard to maintain though when your son suddenly makes a ‘shhhhhhhh’ sound to imitate the sound of a non-existent wee (thought he was going to follow up with ‘schweppes please’ at one point), and then announces he’s finished.

Needless to say, the potty was empty.'

Well, this evening I had the oddest sense of deja vu... Boy #2 announced that he wanted to sit on the potty just before his bath. Nothing new there - he does that all the time. But usually, he's fully clothed. This evening, ready to climb into the bath, he was not. As he sat down on the throne, I permitted myself a - foolish - moment of hope. What followed was a visible and audible effort to perform, followed by a delighted giggle. Surely not, I thought? It can't be this easy?

Of course it can't. The giggle was prompted by tickling sensation from the piece of loo paper he had used to line the potty. Which was - of course - empty.

He's soooo not ready.

So no, Christmas is not here as a result of the potty training fairy wafting her magic wand over our household.

Instead, Christmas made a brief visit to us this evening via 'The Polar Express'. (If you've not seen it, I recommend that you go online right now and order it. This really is a wonderful film, suitable for children of all ages, even 41 year-olds like myself).

Both my Boys sat transfixed. It wasn't the first time they've seen this film. It wasn't even the 3rd or 4th time they've seen it. But Boy #2 - who is, I must admit, something of a petrol-head given his fascination with anything on wheels - won the toss when they were given the chance to watch a DVD , and it was his choice. His older brother complained of course, but I got the feeling that was more out of a sense of duty than because he didn't want to see it.

So the three of us curled up on the sofa together and were transported to a land of wonder, magic, snow and ice. They were both so in awe, in fact, that I was able to cut both sets of finger and toe-nails without a murmer of distress. Now that's what I call a result. And by the time it finished, and we had danced out the credits - with the three of us twirling around the living room, me with one son in my arms and the other spinning like a top at the end of my free hand - I fully expected to glance out of the window behind us and see CGI picture-perfect snowflakes falling prettily over a winter landscape.

It was raining, of course. This is London in August, after all.

And now the Boys are in bed - and I have to go and clean the nail clippings off the sofa. Rock and roll, baby. Rock and roll...

Sunday 10 August 2008

Be warned - this post rambles even more than usual...

This morning at breakfast Boy #1 was intrigued to learn that he shares his second name with his beloved older cousin, J. He was even more enthralled to learn that this very same name is also the first name of his paternal grandfather and a maternal great-uncle. The icing on the cake was supplied when he discovered that his younger brother's first name was also passed down from his maternal grandmother and her father, his great-grandfather.

We're not talking of any unusual names here, by the way, and we don't have big hang-ups about our children having to bear 'family names'. But both Husband and I like the idea of 'belonging' to a family, of sharing more with our predecessors than just a tendancy to loud nose-blowing, or an obsession with hoarding useless items of furniture that should have been given to charity long ago. And it helped a lot that the names in question work in both the UK and in the Netherlands. And finally, that they were - more or less - the only ones we could agree on... I mean, Husband profferred Tybault as a realistic choice. You can see what I was up against... So family names it was...

In any case, this discussion on names led to the following conversation.

Me: "So, maybe when you're grown up, if you have children, you could give them a name you like from your family."

Boy #1 (pondering for a moment): "Maybe.... But I won't have children."

Me (oh god, what have I done? Is this my fault? It must be my fault...): "No? Why not?"

Boy #1 (in a laboured way, as if to say; isn't it obvious?): "Well, because I'm going to be a zoo keeper, of course! Like F's daddy!"

Me: "Well, yes, but you could be a zoo keeper and have children too. F's daddy is a zoo keeper, and he has children."

Boy #1: "Not with him, he doesn't. Not at the zoo."

Me (Health and Safety, very good...): "Ah. I see. But you might get married and your wife might want children."

Boy #1: "Well, of course I will get married. J - from nursery - will be my bride (her mummy tells me this is a forgone conclusion too, actually), and she will look after the children."

I was, of course, horrified, not just by his automatic assumption that all mummies stay home and look after the children, but by his use of the incredibly outdated expression 'my bride'. It sounded like something out of a bad black & white horror movie, or 'Mad Men' with it's look at life in unreconstructed pre-feminist America.

Muttering grimly under my breath about how I really need to get back to work to bring my children out of the 1950's and into the 21st century, we had a further discussion about all the different forms of childcare available, and how in some families the daddy stays home, how in others the children go to a creche or a childminder, and how in some a nanny looks after them.

Boy #1 was unmoved. He's still going to be zoo keeper. And gorillas are much more fun than babies.

For some reason what has stayed in my mind about this is not Boy #1's conclusion that because his mummy stays home, then all mummies stay home - he can be forgiven for that, since it's all he knows - but my horror at the prospect.

It seems that I still hadn't quite lost that gut reaction I was afflicted by - as a working woman, pre-children - that staying home to care for your brood is the 'easy' way out. That women who do this are probably just pulling a fast one over their husbands. That the life of a stay-at-home mum consists mainly of sitting around, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and arranging flowers. Interestingly, that is exactly - exactly - the phrasing my father used to use when he was trying to - jokingly -wind up my mother, and interestingly, it's stuck with me as the definition of a stay-at-home mum.

And yet, I know that was not the life my mother lived. And now I am one of those 'stay-at-homes' myself, and I can't remember the last time I 'sat around'. I don't drink coffee, or arrange flowers (why would you, when most of them can be bought pre-arranged these days?), though of course if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that eating chocolate is in fact a major hobby of mine. But overall, I know that staying home with the kids is in no way the 'easy' way out.

Of course there are fun times, and I do get to socialise with mums of my Boy's friends on occassion. I also have my hair cut regularly, get to go the gym 3 times a week, and even - sometimes - go out in the evening with my Husband or friends. But you know what? Working women without children get to do those things too - without the guilt that they should really be home in sack-cloth and ashes - and no-one tells them they have an easy life. Heaven forbid!

Apart from working mums, that is, compared to whom we all have it easy. Having been one myself I know that when you are trying to cram children and a full time job into your life, non-essential projects like self-maintenance and a social life tend to get somewhat disregarded, until your bikini line is down to your knees, your fringe is in your eyes, muscle tone is a distant memory, and your best friends only bother to text in your 'down-time window' between 5.30 and 6pm in the tube on your way home from work... (Is it any wonder I didn't go back after Boy #2 arrived?)

But you know, I made a decision this morning after that conversation. I've finally stopped believing that doing all these things - the gym, the hair cuts, the occassional interaction with grown-ups who want more of you in the way of a civilised conversation than a discussion of whether Bob the Builder prefers Muck or Scoop - should make me feel guilty.

Because I may not be flying off to and leading meetings with international clients, pushing a team of difficult creatives to deliver designs against a deadline, or issuing invoices for millions of dollars, but I do have a job to do. It involves constant laundry, tidying, school runs, nappy changing, bottom wiping, bathing, mediating, negotiation, cajoling, supermarket visits, household admin jobs, diary management, tact and diplomacy, mouse-killing, spider-removing, rubbish bag removing and recycling. And mostly it involves taking responsibility for the greater part of the day for 2 human beings in the making, and trying not to mess up turning them into decent people. And I fail to see how that makes my life an 'easy' one.

So say it loud and proud. I'm a stay at home mum. And I'm worth it.

(I would finish with 'Roaaaarrrr!' but Boy #1, fascinated with the Olympics, has trademarked that word to use when he finishes his 'Liongymnastic Displays' - which is actually what I intended to post about but will save for another time - so will just round off with a gentle 'squeak!' as befits a stay at home mouse like myself...)

Friday 8 August 2008

Why Blog?

Every now and again, someone asks me why I blog. There are myriad reasons, obviously.

To record the day to day fun and frolics of being at home with my Boys. I know that if I don't make a note of the little triumphs and frustrations that form much of my day-to-day life, I will forget them. They will fade into the background and simply become part of the muddled memories of this too-brief time. The day that Boy #1 shouted 'Bogey!' in the middle of a crowded supermarket, or the afternoon when Boy #2 treated his brother and I to an air-raid like tantrum on the way home from swimming would simply disappear somewhere in the mess along with the rest of the debris that floats along with being at home with two small boys.

What else? I blog to keep my mind active. Believe it or not, I used to have a pretty challenging job, one that I loved, and that kept me on my toes. Sitting down every day or so in front of a blank screen and trying to make something half readable out of nothing - well, it gives me a sense that I've achieved something other than laundry and wiping bottoms.

I blog to have something for 'me'. Something that doesn't involve sitting mindlessly in front of rubbish television, sucking in the worst that modern day fast food culture can throw at me. Something that, whilst often a direct reflection of my day-to-day existence, is not actually reliant on it, and which doesn't, by any stretch of the imagination, include all of it. (I would hate to think that in 10 years time my sons might take the time to read my posts and accuse me of telling you their most embarrassing moments. Believe it or not, I actually keep those secret. Mind you, in 10 years or so, they'll be teenagers, so they will probably accuse me of that anyway. I probably should write it all down. It would be much funnier...)

What else? Oh yes, that deep dark secret that I like to hide from myself but which is right up there with my other top reasons to blog; Ratification. Say it again! Ratification!! Yep, I blog because I like - no, love - to hear other people say they liked what I wrote. That I made them laugh. That they recognise those moments I'm writing of, can identify with them, and in some way, it made their day a little better. I'm not proud of needing positive feedback to complete my self image, but there it is. As a stay-at-home mum I don't get regular appraisals, pay rises, or bonuses. I mean, yes, I get appreciation from my beloved, and hugs and kisses for my boys, and mostly that is enough. I'm not asking for sympathy - I chose this role, and still believe it's the right thing for our family. But every now and again it's good to hear someone say something nice that is unrelated to the dinner I just cooked or the fact that my boys are behaving well.

And there are other reasons too, of course there are. But mainly, there is this one; I blog to read of other people's lives. Finding a blog 'out there' that I can identify with is such a treat. It's the flip side of my previous reason, I know. The knowledge that there is someone, often on the other side of the world, living a life unrecognisable to urban, settled, safe Me, who can articulate what I am feeling, or have felt, can lift my day.

So, if you have the time after this long and rambling introduction, read this. Reluctant Memsahib has written a post that I - and I suspect a lot of women - can so completely indentify with that it takes my breath away. It reminds me of the time when I lost my way, way before I blogged. When I wanted to go into a cupboard and shut the door, to just sit there in the dark, and blank out all the white noise and the fuss. But I didn't, and I can write about it now with only a momentary sense of the depression that for a short time dogged my steps.

I don't for a moment think that I will be lucky enough to never feel that way again. But whilst there are people out there who can define the moment, and help me understand it, I'm confident that it won't be any time soon.

So if you're feeling at all unsure of of your role in life, read this post - and then, make jam. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Thursday 7 August 2008

Potty Training: 0. Poo in the Cot: 1

So, we're all Home again. I picked up the Boys today and brought them back to London with me, and by the end of the 2 1/2 hour journey my thought pattern was much along the lines of: 'Time off? What time off?'

It's lovely to have them home though, and to know that their solid little bodies are sleeping only a couple of footsteps away. And how did we do? Well, in brief, the scorecard looks something like this:

Potty Mummy Results:

  • Filing achieved: Yes (and wouldn't you know it, half of the pile which I was firmly told is my responsibility is unopened post belonging to Husband?)
  • Bills paid: Mostly...
  • Tax return done: To the best of my ability...
  • Toys rationalised: Not. But the Boys are off again to the other granny in a fortnight so I had to keep something to do
  • Relaxing spa day with girlfriends: Absolutely
  • Shaming incident at the Spa when the pedicurist refused to spend much time on my feet due to unsightly veruca I've been meaning to deal with for far too long and and just not got round to: 1
  • Unsightly veruca now dealt with: 1
  • Unpressured lunch and dinner with other girlfriends: 1 of each
  • Mice poisoned: I certainly hope so but those little blighters are far too clever for my good, so watch this space

Boys' Results:

  • Grandparents even further in thrall to their delightful grandsons: 2
  • Free-roaming poo in Boy #2's cot incidents: 1 (don't ask details - I didn't...)
  • Wee on the stairs incidents (also Boy #2): 1
  • Embarassing 'where do babies come out from mummy?' questions asked in front of grandparents: 1
  • Complete and utter hero-worship of older 11 year cousin established: 1
  • Stream and mud combination incidents in the combe near my parents: 2
  • Hours spent outside in shorts, t-shirts and wellington boots running free and generally doing all the stuff they can't get away with in our garden square: approx 8 per day
  • Small boys upset at the news we are returning to London: 2

Overall then, I think it was a successful few days. But before I sign off, I'm going to have a bit of a rant. I mean, if you can't rant on a blog, where can you? This one is not a world shaking issue, but it is indicative of what a better writer than I would call a 'greater malaise'; that is, the throw-away culture we live in now.

Below is a conversation I had with a shop assistant yesterday.

Before I begin with that, I need to set the stage; I have a bit of a Mulberry habit. I can't help it, their leather goods are things of beauty, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. I must admit that their clothes are not really my style; too many 'look at me, I'm designer!' trimmings, bows and frills. But their bags? Mmmmmm.

Now, this habit is not really helped - or, alternatively, is considerably aided and abetted - by the fact that my parents live not 10 minutes drive from the Mulberry Factory Shop. If I could organise that you would hear choirs of angels singing as you read those words - Mulberry Factory Shop - I would. That's how bad it is.

And in a Factory Shop, what does one traditionally find? Yes! Bargains! Don't be mixing this up with cheap, though. Even in the Factory Shop (laaaa! sing the heavenly hosts) , Mulberry bags are not cheap, at least, not by my standards. 'Cheap' is £5 in TK Max. 'A Bargain' is an item that may still cost too much but which earns you £100 in savings when you buy it.

One of my girlfriends has a favourite motto: 'spend to save'. I think that should be engraved over all Factory Shop doors. Here's how it works: when your beloved asks you glumly how much you spent on your day out shopping with the girls, instead of 'fessing up to the total amount, you can say: 'Would you believe it? I saved £200!' Or similar....

So, in any case, I have a number of 'bargain' Mulberry bags. Mostly, I have to say, bought as birthday and Christmas presents by Husband, and usually following a pre-event trip to the shop and a few pointed, pained looks thrown in the general direction of the objects of my desire as I walk stoically out saying 'It may be a bargain, but it's still not cheap. Another time...' Then, wonder of wonders, if I'm very lucky, on my birthday a month or so after, ta da!

Sorry. I'm wittering again. In brief, the zip on one of my favourite bags broke. I tried to get it replaced in our local cobblers, but couldn't find the right zip to do it with, which led yesterday to the following conversation with the staff member in charge of repairs at the Factory Shop...

Me (after a long preamble where I stated that in no way was I blaming the manufacturer and of course I would be willing to pay, and if you can do this for me I promise promise promise I will never over-stuff the bag again...): "So, you see, I was wondering if you could replace the zip for me?"

Assistant (I learned her name but won't use it): "May I take a look? Ah yes. That's a 4mm zip. I'm afraid we don't do those any more."

Me (looking expectant): "So...?"

Assistant: "Well, I'm afraid we can't help you."

Me (still optimistic): "But I've just looked on the shop floor and you still sell the same bag - in a different finish leather, yes, but the same style and size."

Assistant: "Yes, but the zips are bigger." (By which she meant chunkier)

Me (starting to wonder if I had walked into a parallel universe as I entered the shop): "And you can't just use one of those?"

Assistant (in a very friendly, 'we're all in this together' styley): "Well, you'd think so wouldn't you? But no, if I send this back to the workshop they will say they can't do it because of design constraints, and send it back unmended."

Me (You've GOT to be kidding): "I beg your pardon?"

Assistant (as if to a small, difficult child): "Well, a different zip will change the look of the bag."

Me (don't you talk to me about design issues, sweetie. Have you dealt with Lucas Film whilst trying to get a minor change made to a Star Wars Figurine? Because that is a design issue. Not a chunkier zip in a handbag...): "But I don't mind that. I just want a bag that closes."

Assistant (with an air of finality): "Well, I'm sorry, but they won't do it."

Me (smiling fixedly): "As I said before, I'm only too happy to pay to get it repaired. How about simply selling me a zip of the right size?"

Assistant (I can't help you, this is upsetting, will you just go away?): "I'm really sorry, but they simply don't do it."

Me (through gritted teeth): "Well, please don't take this the wrong way, because I can see you would like to help, but in that case I will be writing to customer services about this. It seems ridiculous that I have this lovely bag that I can no longer use, when the solution is as simple as replacing a zip - which I know you have in the right length because there are a plenty already in use in the same style bags in-store. I will of course say how helpful you have been, W-."

A short pause whilst we face-off. I pull out my diary and write down her name. Then...

Assistant (looking alarmed): "Well, maybe you can just wait a minute whilst I make a quick phonecall. Maybe there is something we can do."

Me: Thankyou...

I will keep you posted on what happens next. If, of course, you give a damn...

Monday 4 August 2008

Cou Cou - c'est moi...

We were in Somerset this weekend, surrounded by green fields, alternately drenched in sunshine and rain, and as ever at my parents, eating far too much. I had to leave and drive back to London yesterday before I was no longer able to fit in the car due to an excess of food, wine, and relaxation.

The Boys, of course, had a wonderful time, but it has become clear that Boy #2 is outstandingly not ready for potty training. This revelation occurred when I left Husband in charge of bathtime. Afterwards my youngest son - whilst walking nappy-less between the bathroom and our bedroom, a distance of approximately 3 meters - wee'ed on the stairs. My mother, surpervising the journey in the vain hope of preventing this sort of incident, said the most comic thing about the whole experience was his expression of shock. She told me that he pointed at the wet patch with a degree of surprise that suggested he had no idea how it had got there - despite the fact that she had seen exactly how it had got there, not 20 seconds earlier. And it wasn't via a leak in the ceiling.

So, potty training is on hold for the moment. And thankyou Expat Mum for the hint about the water and white vinegar taking the smell out of most things - I will pass that one on to my mother.

And whilst I'm talking about 'interesting' moments, how about these two? Having showered and dressed on Saturday morning I went down to have breakfast with my parents. At which point, my mother asked me if I would like to borrow a hairdryer. I thanked her and pointed out that I had brought my own - which I had already used that morning. However, I realised later that perhaps she might have had a point regarding my general unkemptness, when whilst in Boots I asked for some not-so-cheap creams from the pharmacy for the Boys' eczema. The pharmacist looked at me. I looked at him. I had thought I was looking quite respectable. Not by Somerset standards, apparantly. "Are you sure?" he asked, in a caring fashion. "They're quite expensive, you know."

I clearly looked like a bag lady.

So now it's eerily quiet chez Potty. The Boys have stayed on for a few days with their grandparents 'on holiday', and back in London without them so - ostensibly - am I.

But the flat is empty without them, and whilst Husband is here, much of the time I am home alone with nothing but my 'to-do' list.

So I have done what any sensible woman should do when there is nothing to come between her and a long list of 'shoulds'. For today only, I have ignored the List, which includes such exciting items as; sort out the Boys' toys and donate unused items to charity; go through the shoe drawer and... donate unused items to charity; go through the pile of filing and, much as I would like to donate those unused items to charity, instead action all the outstanding items put to one side for much too long; sort out my tax return; and blah blah blah... etc etc etc.

No, today, I skipped off school and went to a Spa with two girlfriends. Hurrah! A lovely time was had by all. Though I feel I should mention, for safety's sake, that swimsuits which are unsuitable for doing lengths in at your local gym fare no better at a swanky spa during an Aqua-Fit Circuits Class. What can I say? The class was included in the cost of the day and so it seemed a shame not to do it; it was basically free. And so - more than once - was my chest, of the swimsuit.

When will I learn?