Monday 29 September 2008

Roll up! Roll up!...

...for the greatest answer to baby-broodiness you will ever hear of!

Oh yes indeedy, laydees! Are you reaching that 'certain age'? Do you find yourself casting wistful glances at cute little bundles of joy you pass on the street? Does the smell of newly washed baby cause you to cast all thoughts of caution to the wind?

In short, are you finding yourself afflicted by baby hunger when you know it would be madness to give in to it?

Fear not! I have the answer! No longer need you find yourself momentarily blinded to the pitfalls of re-entering the baby fog for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even (Madame Pig) a 5th time when confronted with those little packages of sweetness known as babies!

'What is it?' I hear you ask. 'Tell us, dear Potty! What is the answer? How can we rid ourselves of these pesky hormonal urges? Show me how to lock that dastardly Mother Nature out of my well-ordered 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 (add more numbers as appropriate) child household once and for all?'

The answer, my dears, is simple.

Take your 2 year old to a wedding.

Smile smugly as you enter the church, congratulating yourself on your foresight in bringing cars, colouring books and trains to keep your little poppet amused during the important parts of the ceremony. Beam gently at the young mum in front of you cradling a bright-eyed and beautifully behaved 5 month old little girl, and watch indulgently as the little trollop (the baby, that is, not the mum) makes eyes at your husband...

Sensibly refuse the offer from the church warden of a bench halfway up the church, reasoning that the back of the church might prove less noticeable should your older little angel be caught short.

Grimace understandingly at the family with the badly behaved little one a few rows in front, thinking 'gosh, we're lucky my boys are used to going to church. At least we can rely on them to behave themselves'.

Glance surprisedly at your little darling as he throws his cars noisily to the floor and tries to post his train down the radiator behind your pew.

Whisper calmly as your husband's son begins to wriggle free of your grasp, making a bid for freedom in the direction of the children's corner you didn't notice when you made your foolish choice of seat, but which is now in plain view and which it has become Boy #2's dearest wish to visit.

Wait for the first hymn to begin to scuttle over to said corner, half-inch a Postman Pat soft toy and bring it back to him in the certain knowledge that this will keep him happy for the next 40 minutes of the service.

Watch in disbelief as he discards it and demands Minnie Mouse - very loudly - at a quiet moment. (For pete's sake! Does he even know who Minnie Mouse is? Has the babysitter been putting on the Disney channel?)

Send his older brother over to fetch requested doll in hope of a quiet life, only to...

Shrink as he waits for the priest to stop talking long enough to shout 'I want Bob the Builder!' at the top of his voice.

Calmly ask him to be quiet, and recoil, as in just as loud a voice as before he answers back 'Why? Why?'

Mutter under your breath that this is quite enough thankyou, as you scoop your younger son up and whisk him out of the church, only to...

Teeter precariously as your patent leather heels sink 3 centimeters deep into the grass of the wet churchyard whilst you chase your cheeky 2 year old in and out of tombstones.

Curse - not so quietly - as you ladder your tights (would like to say stockings here but I cannot tell a lie, they were control-top) on a rose bush.

Curse - a little louder - as you realise that the unpleasant smell you have become of aware during the chase is in fact emanating from your not-yet-potty-trained son.

Whisk him away for a change session in the back of the car, and once you get there, realise that you have left the change bag - along with the toys, books and snacks - on the floor under the bench. In the church.

Stomp crossly back up the path in your muddy shoes, smelly boy in tow, to retrieve said bag.

Sneak back into the church for furious whispered exchange with confused Husband who professes no knowledge of the bag until it is located behind his legs.

Steam righteously back to the car with smelly boy and the bag to change the nappy.

Tiptoe back into the service with younger son after delivering a brief lecture on behaving himself at his ex-nanny's wedding, to be greeted by older son bursting into tears when his request for a biscuit is met by blank incomprehension on your part as to how 5 years of 'no food in church' could translate into 'can I have a snack now, please?'

Glance at husband in complete frustration.

Crack up in a fit of hysterical shared giggles that you are powerless to control as it dawns on both of you simultaneously that you - yes, you - are the parents least likely to win the prizes for well-behaved children at this wedding, and that there is...


So that's it, laydees. Want to cure the baby hunger? Take your existing children to a wedding...

No, no, put your chequebooks away. There will be no charge levied for this priceless information. Think of it as a gift from me to you...

Friday 26 September 2008

Future shock

You know how in my last post I said I wouldn't be picking my son up from school on foot again? Well, the best laid plans, and all that...

We did it slightly differently today, though. Instead of walking to the nearest park as yesterday, where I had handily parked the car for the remainder of the trip home, this afternoon we were forced to walk the entire way. It's a fair step: the way there, without Boy #1 (but with his brother in the buggy) took all of 25 minutes. That's quite a distance when you're 5 and you've had a long week at school.

Anticipating this I had bought each of the boys (and their mummy too, of course), a decent-sized cookie to take the edge off the first 10 minutes or so. "It's for extra energy" I told them. "What, the raisins too?" asked my eldest poppet, curling his lip at the thought that he might unwittingly eat something wholesome. "Yes, the raisins too. Try them, you never know, you might like them."

Shock number 1: he did like them! Not a lot, it has to be said, but they were eaten without further complaint. Which only goes to show how tired he must have been feeling at that point: his resistance was clearly low...

The subsequent sugar hit fuelled us along the pavement for a while, with only a few pauses for complaining and fretting that the pavements weren't smooth enough for his scooter to coast on at optimum speed, but eventually, as I had known it would, the energy rush ran out. Our pace became slower and slower. Comments about how far we'd come and how he couldn't go any further increased in frequency. It didn't help that Boy #2 was still munching on his cookie at this point, sitting in his buggy like a little pasha, and taunting his brother with the remains of his treat. As we were on the home straight by this time though, I was hopeful we would all make it back in one piece.

Suddenly, we ground to a halt. "What is it, Boy #1?" I asked in my sweetest and most reasonable voice (aren't blogs great for rewriting the past?). "Come along, we're nearly home!" Amazingly, this was in fact true. So near home that we were by the girls prep school around the corner from our flat. It appeared that it was the sound from the playground (it was break) that had stopped my exhausted son in his tracks. "What's that?" he asked. "A girl's school." "Oh."

Slowly, he began to move again. As we drew level with the school gates, his gaze became fixed on the girls inside. So fixed, in fact, that as he continued walking and pushing his scooter, not watching where he was going, he ran into the gate post...

Far from being perturbed by this turn of events, however, Boy #1 made the best of having found himself an audience. He got back on his scooter, crouched low over the handle bars, literally growled (think Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones, revving the engine of his flash car as he picks her up for their 'mini-break'), and sped off down the street, leaving his admiring audience gasping at his derring-do.

He's 5. There may be trouble ahead...

Still, I shouldn't complain. At least that flash of dash got us home.

Thursday 25 September 2008

It's remarkable!

We picked Boy #1 up from school on foot today. Won't be doing that again, oh no...

I was pushing Boy #2 in his buggy, and a visiting friend was supervising Boy #1 and asking pertinent questions about his day. As we reached the Kings Road a rather large gentleman turned down the road we were just walking out of.

Boy #1, at the top of his voice, announced in an interested and informative tone: "Look! Look! A REALLY faaaaaat man!"

How to deal with this? He spoke the truth. The man was fat - remarkably so. You would notice him walking down the street, no doubt about it. But good manners mean that this is not something to be mentioned.

For some reason (and it's not particularly relevant, but it makes a good side-story so indulge me) it reminds me of the time, around 20 years ago when one of my co-workers was wearing one of those 'body' suits that were all the rage. You know, the ones that looked like a tight-fitting top tucked into your skirt / trousers, and which were usually worn under a jacket with padded shoulders (Miami Vice-tastic). The hidden 'extras' were the attractive baby-gro flaps that kept the top so smooth and wrinkle free and which popped together 'down below'. Good idea if you liked the body-conscious look. But bloody uncomfortable, as I remember, and if they were the slightest bit tight, required some interesting contortions in the loo to refasten them... Donna Karan has a lot to answer for (apparantly they were her invention).

Anyway, how did we know my colleague was wearing one of these contraptions? Because clearly, when attending to her toilette, she had failed to master the popper mechanism, and the back of the suit was hanging down over the top of her skirt.

All day.

We could all see it. We all knew that if that were us, we would want to be told. But nobody could quite bring themselves to mention it. I finally plucked up the courage to tell her at around 3.00pm, and when she returned from her red-faced rush to the ladies and asked how long it had been visible, I lied heroically and said I had only noticed it in the last few minutes. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Nothing would have been gained by adding to her mortification had she realised it had been an all day baby-gro situation...

So anyway, as usual I digress. Back to our children and their absence of a filter between brain and mouth. Or is that just 5 year olds? Or, in fact, just my 5 year old?

If you are anything like me, the adage 'seen and not heard' is not used in your house. Our children are people, and as such are encouraged to say what they are thinking. Politely, yes, in a timely manner, yes, but we want to know. We want open lines of communication rather than stunted silence (though every now and again a little quiet would be welcome), untrammelled creativity (well, untrammelled as long it involves paper rather than the walls, floor, or material furnishings), and above all we want to foster an eager curiosity in the world around them.

Which means, as every parent knows, you have to take the rough with the smooth, roll with the punches, and deal with interesting questions about nipples and why men have them as well women, for example. (That was tonight's bathtime poser. Anyone know the answer, by the way?)

I might prefer that sometimes they did it less loudly, less emphatically, or with less whining, but I want my sons to ask questions and to comment on the world around them. It's an important part of their growing up.

Which takes me back to this afternoon. What would you do in response to Boy #1's remark? As tempting as a swift clip round the side of the head might have seemed at the time, I chose to stop the buggy and very briefly - and matter of factly - discuss with him why commenting on someone's weight was not really a very polite thing to do.

And then, once my sons' backs were turned, I'm afraid to say my friend and I cracked up.

Kids. What a joy.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Lies, dam'd lies, and dental appointments

This post was going to be called 'of rear ends and dental floss', which, you have to agree, is a pretty catchy title.

It certainly would have snared some pretty interesting visitors.

But I started to write, and somehow that title skewed the content of the post, I can't imagine why. I began to tell you all sorts of things about my mis-spent youth, knickers of choice, and other personal histories which frankly are best left undisturbed. At least, in writing.

So instead, here's a snapshot of my morning. Please laugh - I had to...

Imagine, if you will, a Kwikfit store, somewhere in central London. It's 8.31am. The bell on the door tinkles prettily as a stunningly attractive late 30-something brunette sashays in. (In a certain light, she looks just like Juliette Binoche. In the dark, that is). She makes her way to the counter where the following exchange takes place...

Brunette: "Could you take a look at my car, please? I think there's something wrong with the exhaust as it's sounding like a Ferrari - which it isn't."

Manager (as if): "Certainly ma'am. Which car is it?" (gesturing hopefully outside at any of the number of expensive models parked on the street)

Brunette: "That one, over there."

He wilts, visibily. "The........ Skoda?"

The Brunette holds her head high: "Yes. I'm afraid so..."

The long and short of our conversation (for yes, dear reader, that stunningly attractive late 30-something brunette was, in fact, me)(Oh alright. Early 40-something, if you're going to be like that...) was that my beloved purple nightmare needs not only a new catalytic converter, but a new exhaust as well, and that the grand total for this injury would be in the region of £470...

Before 9.00am? Before even a can of diet coke, a hot chocolate, or a cuppa?

I don't think so.

So, I thanked the gentleman for his expert opinion, declined his kind offer of a free machine coffee whilst I waited for the work to be done, and drove off to seek a second opinion, from Ray, our helpful mechanic who services said purple nightmare yearly. Imagine the following delivered in strong Greek accent.

Ray: "What you want, see, is this, you want a new cat, because it's broken, right, and if you bang it, like this, you hear it - you hear that? - so we need a new one for you which I don't have but I will call him right now, the man, and see if he has one, but wait, I don't know which model, because your Skoda, right, your Skoda can have one of two, so I need the chassis number (I just look it up on the computer right now don't you worry I got it), and then we know, but what you don't need, see, is a new exhaust, because this, right, this is not broken, it's got 3, 6, 9 months, maybe a year left in it, and I know your husband he don't want to keep the car that much longer so why pay, right, if you gonna replace it soon, so don't you worry PM, all will be OK, and I won't charge you what those cowboys at Kwikfit quote - no don't tell me what it was, I don't want to know - but I better it by a lot because I not going to fit new exhaust just because I can. OK?"


The long and short of it is that it's still going to cost too much money, but we're going to do it anyway, because the incessant rattling and roaring is driving me crazy, worrying Boy #2 who now accuses me of crashing the car every time he hears it ("Mama! Listen! Don't crash! Car!"), and leading Boy #1 to glance around expectantly for a Ferrari every time I accelerate...

So, that was my morning until 10.30am, at which time the Ferrari/Skoda and I arrived at my dentist's for an appointment with the hygeinist.

Now, there are times in life when it's acceptable - almost expected - to tell a little white lie or two...

  • Gosh, no, I never diet!
  • Exercise? Me? No, the baby weight simply dropped off through breast feeding and running around after the children...
  • Don't worry about it! I'll easily find another babysitter (at 4 hours notice?)
  • No, no, bring your mother. The more the merrier!
  • Boy #1's feeling a little under the weather today - otherwise I'm sure he'd wolf down this risotto with chanterelle mushrooms just like the other children...
  • I never eat chocolate...

You get the picture, I'm sure. But there are other times in life when it is impossible to lie. Like, when you swear blind to the lady with the scales that you have been eating sensibly - but you've put on 2 lbs. Or, when you stand in the kitchen at home wondering when the little taste of ice-cream suddenly turned into an empty tub.

Or, in the dentist's chair. No place to hide - or lie - there. Not with the hygeinist putting you through seven kinds of hell whilst she removes all the scaly evidence that you made empty promises when you said on your last visit you were definitely going to floss at least 3 times a week from now on...

I think she was a little disappointed in me. If possible, it hurt even more than usual this time. She probably did that just to teach me a lesson. In a kind of 'no more Mrs Nice Guy' style. She needn't worry though. I've learnt my lesson. I will floss, every day.

Starting tomorrow.

Monday 22 September 2008

Mothers, know your limits...

Aah, Mondays. Don't you just love them?

Husband rushed off to Mother Russia first thing, and this was my morning until 10.00am:

6.45am: Got myself out of bed, washed and as presentable as it is possible to be on too little sleep and a surfeit of wine from 2 days prior. Got 2 boys dressed and in the correct outfits, dealing with 'My short's are too rough, mama!' from Little Prince #1, and demands from Little Prince #2 that I reconstruct the lego airplane he had just smashed. I would have, but since it took Husband 3 hours to build the thing in the first place, and since I had only a window of 5 minutes spare in our morning schedule, I thought it was a little ambitious to begin at that moment...

7.30am: Organised breakfast for the three of us, making sure to:

a) give correct bowls to correct Boys to avoid an outbreak of warfare
b) limit number of toys Boy #2 takes to the table
c) capture Boy #2 on his way to replace the toys I have removed
d) find and put Boy #2's socks back on

7.35am: Spoonfed Boy #2 his breakfast, since otherwise we will be at the table until lunchtime

Looking quite civilised so far, isn't it?

7.40am: Spoonfed Boy #2's sinister stuffed cat (taking up valuable table space) it's breakfast, since apparantly all cats eat weetabix, taking great care not to get food on it's whiskers as this will prompt crying and protestation. Not from the cat.

7.41am: Get food on the cat's whiskers. You know what happens next.

7.42am: Wiped mouths and faces (though of course, I forgot my own).

7.44am: Supervised Boy #1's toothbrushing.

This is where it all starts to get a bit frantic...

7.46am: Captured Boy #2 from his hiding place under the table and brushed his teeth.

7.47am: Wiped both sets of mouths and faces again.

7.48am: Retrieved and replaced Boy #2's socks, requested putting on of shoes.

7.50am: Found school bag and coats

7.52am: Requested putting on of shoes.

7.53am: Insisted on putting on of coats.

7.55am: Retrieved and replaced Boy #2's socks.

7.56am: Insisted (loudly) on putting on of shoes.

7.59am: Shepherded Boys out to the car, remembering on the way to pick up school bag.

8.00am: Once Boys safely buckled in, went back to house to re-check front door locked. (As ever, it was...). Unlocked it anyway to pick up school bag left inexplicably inside.

8.02am: Drove to school, dodging mafia-black 4x4's on the way and telling myself not to take Boy #2's request to stop singing along to the radio personally.

8.15am: Dropped off Boy #1, dealing with horrendous return to 'don't leave me, Mama!' form, not handled very well on my part, and feeling dreadfully guilty as a result

And - relax....

8.35am Arrived home with Boy #2, put on today's washing, sorted yesterday's and started the dishwasher. Made the beds, completed a much too brief tidying up of the flat, and whilst glancing in the mirror, realised I had toothpaste attractively decorating my mouth...

8.55am: Retrieved and replaced Boy #2's socks.

9.00am: Took Boy #2 to the shops complete with scooter (dismantled and stowed in the back of the buggy approx. 20 meters after we set out).

9.30am: Peeled his sticky little face off the front of the glass cake display cabinet in the bakery, and hoped nobody noticed the smears (or indeed the croissant he manhandled before I removed it from his grasp and put it back in the basket...)

9.35am: Wheeled him home whilst inhaling a skinny hot chocolate (today, I deserved dairy...)

9.40am: Bribed younger son back into the flat with the promise of a Baby-cino. Husband normally makes these for him, but I figured I was up to the challenge.

9.55am: When I delivered it to him at the table, he sampled it and said:

"Baby - chee - noooo. Not. Like. Papa's."

Well, that told me...

And if you fancy a laugh (and an explanation for this post's title) watch this Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse sketch:

Sunday 21 September 2008

Hair of the dog that bit you

Walking up Park Lane, on our way to a friend's 40th birthday party yesterday evening:

Me: "Let's try not to get too drunk this evening."

Husband: "OK. Let's try..."

5 hours later, on our way home in the taxi:

Husband: "This is a bit of a long way round isn't it?"

Me: "What do you mean?"

Husband: "Well, why is he taking us down Chiswick High Road?"

Me: "What are you talking about? This is Knightsbridge. (silence) Did you hear me? Wake up! I said, THIS IS KNIGHTS.... oh, for Pete's sake..."

Husband is feeling just a little bit shabby today. (I, needless to say, am as fresh as Spring snow...)

Friday 19 September 2008

That's another fine mess you've gotten me into...

Why do I do it to myself? I'm an intelligent woman (or at least, I used to be). I know my limitations (or at least, I used to). I don't make commitments I have no intention of honouring. And yet, when a friend of mine mentioned that she is planning on starting her own business offering group fitness training sessions in a park nearby, what do I do?

Did I say "oh, that's nice" and move the conversation swiftly on to a safer subject, like religion or politics? Did I suddenly realise the time and make a swift exit, pleading an urgent appointment with a plumber / builder / the school nit-nurse (no, it hasn't happened yet, but it's only a matter of time in a central London fee-paying school, apparantly).

No. I did none of those things.

I said; "What a great idea! Let me know if you need any help, won't you?"

Now, I am not getting hot under the collar at the subsequent brainstorming sessions that followed, the website that I ended up building for her (which in itself is hilarious, because I am a complete novice at such things), or the crash course I gave her this morning on how to open more than one window simultaneously on her computer and how to bcc her e-mail recipients without typing every single address from her online address book in manually. (Yes, believe it, there are people over 30 out there who, if they have never worked in an office, don't know how to do these things. And frankly, why should they?)

No, actually, doing those things was extremely rewarding. I loved every minute of it. It was so refreshing to do something unrelated to nappies, laundry, and wiping snot other than my own off my shoulders. And enabling someone else to achieve their goal is very fulfilling.

What I am getting a little worked up about is this; now that I've helped her set it all up, guess what?

She expects me to go.

And to be honest after all the work, so do I, dammit. But hang on. This is me we're talking about. What was I thinking? I've signed myself up for an hour - that's 60 excruciating minutes - of interval training focusing on stamina, strength building and flexibility in Hyde Park! I know, I know. I go to the gym. More often now than I ever thought I would. But at the gym, you are surrounded by like minds, all plugged in to their i-pods or similar, none of whom make eye contact with each other, because if they do they might see the look of horror on the other person's face when confronted with the red, 'glowing' mess that more than 5 minutes of exercise turns them - well, OK, me - into.

But this? This is in the park. With tourists, visitors, locals walking their dogs. It is, in short, IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE. What was I thinking?

I clearly am potty.

As Boy #1 would say, 'time to get your sports breasts on, mama...'

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Here endeth the lesson

So, children, what did we learn last weekend?

1. Always - but always - stay tuned to local radio when approaching the Eurotunnel turnoff on the motorway. That way, when there is a freak accident (for example, a train catching fire inside the tunnel) that just happens to co-incide with your weekend trip and which closes the tunnel for the forseeable future, you will be aware of it 10 minutes before you are due to exit the motorway. You can then cruise past, laughing smugly, on your way to Dover and the still empty ferries...

2. Never laugh smugly - until you have actually booked a place on one of those ferries.

3. Do not get annoyed when trying to book a place on the ferry if the operator at the end of the phone refuses to sell you a crossing to Calais. She is just doing her job. It sails to Dunkirk, numpty.

4. Never assume that once you roll off the ferry in France your problems are over...

5. Get as much sleep as you can early on in the drive through Belgium to Holland. That way, when the car breaks down at 10.00pm in the worst rain you've seen outside a monsoon and drifts slowly towards the inside lane, you will be fully alert and not dribbling like an idiot when Husband asks you to steer the car as he pushes it to the hard shoulder (in said pouring rain).

6. Always remember to extend your AA membership to cover mainland European trips before you leave the UK. FYI, once you break down sur la continent without cover, you are screwed and it will cost you a fortune.

7. Always remember to take two winsome and beautifully behaved children with you, to smile prettily at the tow-truck driver when he picks you up, prompting him to call ahead to the garage and have a mechanic on standby to fix the broken-down car on the spot at midnight.

8. Carry local currency - lots of it - for tipping said driver and mechanic. We didn't, so couldn't, which I regret as they were so helpful...

9. Never lose it when confronted with the bedsit that the mechanic is suggesting you spend the night in if he can't fix the car. Remember that your sons think bunkbeds are a great adventure, you can always shower when you finally make to the hotel sometime the following day, and that you have no proof - only your suspicions - that there are fleas in the blankets....

10. Keep smiling; if you do this your sons will too and frankly, that makes the whole thing so much easier at 2.00am when you finally arrive at the hotel after a 5 hour journey that lasted 10.

11. Do not drink too much screwtopped red wine at the wedding party the following evening. Red wine and tiredness usually result in falling over at some point.

12. Count yourself lucky if that falling over happens away from public view.

13. Do not get upset if the dj at the party has never heard of Pulp's Common People. This is darkest Holland, after all, what did you expect?

14. Stop drinking - now.

15. If you must drink, make it water.

16. Oh, for Pete's sake. I said water! Is water red? Does it taste like wine?

17. Do not expect your Husband or children to show you any mercy the following day. Or the day after that...

Monday 15 September 2008

Wrangling Boy #2

Me: "It's a problem."

Husband: "What is?"

Me: "Boy #2, at his brother's pick-up from school. You know, I told you about it. He hates it, and I don't blame him. If I were his size, I wouldn't be too happy about it all either."

Husband: "What are you talking about?"

Me: "Well, you know. The queue of mummies waiting to pick up their little darlings. Everyone's taller than him, milling around, and filing into the school at snail's pace, it takes ages - sometimes up to 10 minutes to get through the door."

Husband: "What does he do?"

Me: "What doesn't he do? He runs away, effectively meaning that we queue jump - you know I hate that... (Husband snickers - I can see him thinking 'That's my boy!' The Dutch don't do queuing, as a rule).

Me: "When I pick him up to stop that happening, he squirms and squeals, and as we stand on the school steps waiting to go in he pretends to be a train, hooting and whistling. Except that to anyone who doesn't know he's supposed to be a train, it sounds instead rather like a banshee."

Husband: "Well..."

Me: "Oh, I'm not finished. This is usually next to the head teacher who stations herself there every day and on whom it would be helpful for him to make a good impression since we haven't actually registered him at the school yet... "

Husband: "Well he's not even 3 yet, so..."

Me: "...And when we do finally make it inside, he normally decides this is the perfect moment to pretend to be a dog and crawl up the steps to the collection point, causing major traffic jams and hazards for the children and parents leaving - all of which, yet again, is in full view of the head teacher... I mean, I know he's not even 3 yet, and shouldn't be expected to behave perfectly, but, EVERY DAY?"

Husband: "But still..."

Me: "And then, when we make it to the front of the queue, and I'm busy kissing Boy #1 hello, Boy #2 takes advantage of that to make a bid for freedom amongst the coat racks and I have to hunt him down like a madwoman, trying all the time not to burst into hysterical laughter and scare off all the relatively normal mummies who I haven't had the chance to get acquainted with yet..."

Husband: "Have you thought of leaving him in the car?"

Me (momentarily stunned into silence - but only momentarily): Are you mad?

Husband: "Why? What could go wrong?"

Me: "Have the social services call on us, that's the least that could go wrong. It's not as if I can park opposite the school entrance, for a start, I normally have to park around the corner."

Husband: "You can lock the door, he'll be perfectly safe."

Me: "Really. Really? You know how he can free himself from the straps on his car seat? And open the window? And how he then likes to shout 'Merry Christmas!' at passers-by at the top of his voice? (Not that it's intelligable at that volume, but still...) So it's not like he's staying 'inconspicuously' in the car."

Husband: "Hmmm..."

Me: "Yes, hmmm...."

Husband: "It's a problem."

Sunday 14 September 2008

Top Tip...

....NEVER drink wantonly, and to excess, red wine from a screw-cap bottle.

I deserve my punishment.

More about family weddings, Eurotunnel, breakdowns on Belgian motorways at 11pm, driving rain, nut allergies, and Eurotunnel (again - or is that 'never again'?) soon, I promise.

But for now, I have to go and moan quietly somewhere dark and not too far from the loo...

Tuesday 9 September 2008

5 is the magic number...

There's something about the number 5 - and multiples of it - that invite reflection. Not sure why it's any more significant than 4, or 6, but for some reason it just is. It's totally undeserved, of course. You can imagine, in the Numberjack household, 4 and 6 getting all antsy with their sibling. 6, on learning that 5 gets to be celebrated as 'significant' yet again, lets rip;

"What's so special about you? It's not like you're an even number, or anything. OK, so two of you make 10 - what's clever about that? Add me and 4 together, and we make 10 too. It's no biggie. Don't we qualify for some big hooha?"

"Yeah!" pipes up 4. "We like celebrations, just like everyone else... But nooooo, it's all about 'the 5'. Well, we're sick of it. We're off to partaaay with the evens. See how you like that! Later, dude..."


5. It was 5 years ago tomorrow that Boy #1 was born. 5 years ago tomorrow morning, in fact. Which means that 5 years ago tonight, I was still sitting on our beat-up green & white striped easy chair, watching SATC whilst it was still cool. I had just started my maternity leave and had the whole thing all planned out. I was going to spend the next couple of weeks relaxing; my baby would be born on time and with as little intervention as possible; and who knows, maybe I would take up the offer of a birthing pool if one was available. After a straightforward birth, I was going to breastfeed successfully, jump straight back into my skinny jeans, and maybe even walk home from the hospital. I mean, we only lived a 10 minute stroll away. How hard could it be?

(Note to other mothers reading this: if you snort too hard you will make your nose bleed. Just a piece of advice).

I had just done the first day of my 3 day intensive NCT (ante-natal for non-Brits) course, and my mind was in free fall;

"Do I really need to buy everything on the long list they gave us, of the things that they suggested we take to the hospital? Will honey-flavoured ice-cubes really help? Do we even have a thermos flask to put them in? Maybe I should actually unpack the box of baby stuff that my sis (far more clued in than I) ordered on my behalf from Boots when she got tired of waiting for me to do it myself. As if there's a rush, really! Though perhaps it would be a good idea to pack 'the bag' that everyone talks about as being so important. You know, the one that is supposed to be waiting by the door, ready for you / your partner to pick up as you swan calmly out the door on the way to your perfect, preferably drug free delivery.

"Time enough tomorrow. For now, let's just get lost in the wonder that is Carrie's wardrobe...

"Oops! God, I can't believe it - I've wet myself. Stretch marks, heartburn, and now this. Will the indignity of this pregnancy malarky never end? Won't mention it to Husband, let's just scoot down the corridor...

"Sooooo. Made it to the loo - but it's not stopping. Hmmm. Maybe - maybe - I haven't wet myself. Ah. Not sure now whether to be relieved at the lack of stress incontinence or panicked by the thought that 'it' might actually be happening. It isn't, of course. My due date is not for another 15 days. I haven't even finished my ante-natal classes. We don't get to final stage delivery until tomorrow! No, it couldn't possibly be early. No-one in my family is ever early. EVER.

"But it's not stopping.


Now, I'm not going to take you through the whole grisly process. Suffice it to say that my dreams of a straightforward delivery were just that - dreams. I would no more have set foot in a birthing pool by the time I was admitted (nearly fully dilated, I might add) a couple of hours later, than I would have gone through the whole thing without an epidural. And there were plenty of interventions. Nearing the end of it I felt so much like a cow that I asked the two obstetricians who had temporarily lost sight of their arms which was Siegfried and which was Tristran Farnon (drugs are a wonderful thing for restoring your sense of humour - and follow the link if you don't have the faintest idea what I'm talking about).

But ultimately, the most important thing was that Boy #1 arrived, intact and healthy. I still remember now the look in his eyes when they handed him to me seconds after he was born, blue, bruised, and silent with shock. And the weight of his tiny body curled up sleeping on my chest, like a little bear, a couple of hours later. That's still my nickname for him now at times; Little Bear.

5 years ago. It seems like a lifetime - it is a lifetime, his - and yet it is as if it were yesterday.

Sunday 7 September 2008

The Birthday Party - Part Deux

I heard of an interesting concept whilst at a friend's house for dinner yesterday evening. A mum she knows, sick of dealing with the plastic crxp that gets given as presents to her children at their birthday parties, has taken to writing the following (or something like it) on invitations:

'My children have plenty of toys. Please don't bring any presents to this party, it's enough that you can come and join the fun. If you feel you really must give something, we have bought X a birthday piggy bank, and feel free to contribute up to £3.00'

What do you think? Is this a revolution in birthday parties, freeing parents of competitive present buying, children of asking their guests to hand over the goods as they walk through the door, and harrassed mothers of finding homes for yet more non-recyclable plastic toys every year? Or is it just ridiculously anal, controlling, kill-joy behaviour on the part of the mother?

Answers on a post card please...

And speaking of birthday parties, Boy #1 had his yesterday. I must admit that the day did not dawn auspiciously. My relief at the fact that for the first day in what seems like weeks I was not woken by rain spattering on the windows was swiftly dampened when Boy #1, overexcited at the morning ahead, spilt a cup of milk over our bed. Not wanting to fall behind in the laundry stakes, I threw the bed-linen into the washing machine and started it. Five minutes later Boy #2, who after downing his milk in record time, had rediscovered a half-eaten carrot that he had squirreled away somewhere the previous day, and then proceeded to eat too quickly, threw up. All over himself, the kitchen, and Husband in his heavy duty dressing gown.

Faced with another load of laundry and no empty machine to put it in, I then looked at a floor that also needed rapid attention, and remembered that whilst I had made it to supermarket to buy bread for sandwiches for the party, I had not remembered to replace the floor cleaner or the bleach which had run out the previous day when I was clearing up Boy #2's eggshell mosaic effort whilst baking the birthday cakes.

All this before 7.15am. (For future reference, at a push, Toilet Duck diluted with water will do the trick...)

After this rather sticky start however, when we finally got to it the party was a roaring success. The Ecology Centre at Holland Park did us proud again, and twenty-two 4 and 5 year-olds listened attentively whilst they were given instructions on how to pond-dip in safety, before proceeding to soak themselves, each other, and any adults foolish enough to be standing nearby. We then proceeded deeper into the woods and went 'on safari' looking for mini-beasts. Not a stone, worm, earwig, snail or spider went unturned, but all were returned alive (though perhaps not well, after their ordeal) to the wild after being thoroughly examined and exclaimed over.

Sandwiches, tangerines, and chocolate birthday cake were all devoured by an amazingly well-behaved group of children (fresh air is the best appetite builder), before the activity co-ordinator delivered his piece de resistance at the end of the party and pulled out a Royal Python for them to get up close and personal with. (It was amazing how many grown men suddenly declared themselves in need of a little fresh air at this point...).

As ever, I hideously over-catered, despite having halved the amount of food we took for the adults after last year's short-bread debacle, when we were eating it at home for weeks afterwards. (Scratch that - I was eating at home. And it didn't take weeks.) So, having learned last year that the yummy mummy brigade wouldn't go within sniffing distance of anything remotely fattening, I had decided to play it safe and simply take fruit for the adults to snack on.

For Pete's sake. Three bananas got eaten. THREE! We will be eating fruit salad for some time, needless to say.

And then, of course, there were the presents, unwrapped at home. (By the way, should you be going to any children's parties any time soon please please please fasten your card to your present with superglue. I pride myself on my amateur detective skills, but even so we always seem to be left with one present unaccounted for...) Plastic crxptastic, most of it, but of course Boys #1 and 2 were delighted with the haul. And despite the fact that Husband and I were less so, and that if I stand on even one more piece of tiny plastic from various Lego, Duplo, Transformers, or Power Rangers kits in my bare feet again I will not be responsible for my actions, I do think that a piggy bank full of coins just wouldn't really compare to mountains of brightly coloured 'stuff', for a 5 year old.

There's time enough for minimalism in their futures, I think.

Friday 5 September 2008

Am I tired, do you think?

I think I may be losing it. Today, in no particular order;

I almost forgot to include butter in Boy #1's two birthday cakes. Not a complete disaster of course, but I would never normally leave any fattening ingredient out of anything I was baking. What's the point? If I want low-fat I can buy it in Starbucks... Anyway, the almost-oversight may have had something to do with the fact that Boy #2, not in nursery today, was 'helping' me make the cakes. This may have had something to do with his assumption that the second of the two cakes was exclusively for him... The apple doesn't fall far from the tree in his case, that's all I'm saying.

His 'help' consisted mainly of;

1. Continually asking to be lifted up to see even better than he was able to do so from the mini stepladder he was already standing on, usually at the most inconvenient moment.

2. Stirring the flour in the mixing bowl until a cloud of it floated up and coated everything - including us - in a fine layer of white dust (and let me tell, there is enough grey appearing in my hair due to Boy #1's school protests already, without help from his younger brother, thankyou very much).

3. Getting hold of the empty eggshells and helpfully stuffing them into his father's coffee machine in very small pieces.

4. Retrieving said eggshells from the machine, and then breaking them into even smaller pieces before spreading them over the floor in an interesting random pattern.

5. Hijacking the mop I then used to clear up the mess, and running it over the entire flat tutting as he did so, like one of those ladies from 'How Clean is Your House?'

6. Licking the bowl.

Actually, when I look at it like that, it's amazing that I did - eventually - remember the butter at all...

Then, thinking I was being ever so clever, I called Boy #1's judo centre to check if term was starting today. No answer - but it was lunchtime, so I thought I would just check the website. On the website; Class this afternoon at the normal time. I rooted around and found his judo kit, put it ready in plain view in plenty of time. Unfortunately this gave Boy #1 the chance to notice I had never got round to sewing on the badge he got last term, prompting weeping, wailing, and pleas not to go. I ignored him. We left.

We walked half way there, and then I remembered the bag with the judo kit in it, that was still sitting - in plain view - on the table in the flat. Tick, tick, tick went the clock, 7 minutes to go. We raced back to the house, Boy #1 complaining we were walking too fast, picked up the bag, piled into the car (sod global warming when the chips are down), raced to the centre, making various illegal right turns to do so (sod road signs when the chips are down), and amazingly found a parking spot right outside.

Hang on a minute.

Right outside?

How can that be?

Normally this stretch of road is heaving with badly parked matt-black 4 x 4's, bottle-blonde mummies at the helm chattering incessantly into their mobiles, and uniformed children pushing their way into the centre, scattering cartons of Innocent Smoothies and low sugar biscuts as they go.

I'll tell you how it can be. There was no blxxdy class, that's how it can be.

And to cap it all, when I got the boys home and made a quick dash to the loo, I found my flies were already undone. And probably had been through school pick-up at lunchtime...

Thursday 4 September 2008

Yet more despatches...

So. News from the Potty Home Front (for which read; no real news):

1. Boy #2 is continuing his campaign of civil disobedience. The Naughty Chair saw active duty again this evening - before he even sat down at the table for dinner - as a result of an unfortunate incident involving the Polar Express being hurled from a great height as I carried him, protesting at the unfairness of being forced to eat, to the table. There were no reported injuries on board, but the engine had to be recoupled to the carriages in a tricky and complicated operation completed in record time whilst he sulked on the NC around the corner (i.e. 2 minutes). There is some improvement, however; today we managed to get the total time taken for him to complete an entire 2 minute session on the chair down from 20 to 10 minutes.

2. Boy #1 is still kicking up a stink about the 'Big School' Experiment. I foolishly thought there was reason for hope and celebration yesterday when we managed to complete the drop-off without a single tear, but this morning he remembered that he was supposed to be unhappy about it and laid on the full works, even going so far as clutching at my coat sleeve as I left. I'm struggling to find anything amusing to write about it, actually.

3. Planning for Boy #1's birthday party this weekend continues apace. Out of the 26 invitees, 20 have said yes, 4 have issued regretful refusals, and 2 still haven't got back to me. Which, I have to say, is a bit off. I mean, I've heard of keeping your options open, but surely it's a simple yes or no to a couple of hour's free entertainment for your 4 year old on a Saturday? If we had been at the school longer than a week, I would stake out the classroom and try to apprehend the relevant parents, but seeing as I don't know who they are, and that that is a ridiculously controlling and anal thing to do, I'll just assume they are accepting...

That leaves only one thing to deal with; The Smartie Situation. Can you believe, when I went to the supermarket this morning to buy ingredients for the birthday cake(s), there were none to be found? I mean, what's a Smartie-covered chocolate cake without the Smarties? I'm hoping to track some down tomorrow - otherwise there could be riots in South Ken this weekend with disgruntled 4 and 5 year olds rampaging through the streets demanding their coloured candy... And oh yes, I remembered to buy forks. (See last year's post on birthday parties to find out why...) .

And before you ask, would I be so foolish as to think I can offset the turmoil created by the start of term by creating a Perfect Party, where my little angel can bond with his new classmates and put the nerves of the last few days behind him? Of course not...

And now I have to sleep. The new school term is just over one week old, and already I'm exhausted and full of admiration for all the mummies who have done this before me without losing their mind, sense of humour, and natural hair colouring. And without eating their own body weight in Green & Blacks or Krispy Kremes...

Wednesday 3 September 2008

A tale of 2 e-mails

For some time now I've been trying to persuade my sister to write a post for my blog. This is mainly as a result of pure laziness on my part, but is also heavily influenced by the fact that she is absolutely hilarious in print (and in person). She hasn't had the chance to do it yet - get her, with her full time job and busy life - so, with her permission, I bring you an e-mail exchange between us that happened yesterday...

The names have been changed to protect the innocent...

From me to her:

Hi Sis,

got your message re: Boy #1's birthday present. I know he would like some of the following but if you would prefer to get him something else that would be fine too:

Talking books (fairy stories, adaptations of movies etc etc)
Anything Power Ranger related (he's never seen it but there you go)
Anything Transformer related (I think he would really like something that transforms into a dinosaur but doubt that exists, so whatever you think)
Colouring books
Playmobil stuff

That's it! Got to go now - school run calls (my life is just SO glamorous...!)

PM x

From her to me. (No salutation. Typical.)

Excellent re. Power Rangers, was thinking how I’d like to buy him an outfit, as Son J had a succession of them from ages 4 to 8. I have to confess, Boy #1 did watch an episode with Son J when he was down, I cannot tell a lie – it was I who cut down the cherry tree. I chaperoned and made sure it was suitable. Think of it this way – our Olympic Taekwondo (had to look up the spelling) hope became interested in the sport after watching Power Rangers as a child – so perhaps in 2016 Boy #1 could represent Holland in their first medal attempt? Certainly not Team GB, as the name alone makes me violent. It’s in the same category as low slung jeans and flip flops for men, kissing on both cheeks, calling strangers ‘Hun’ or ‘Babe’, any reality TV programme with voting, clapping in church, speaking to your child in the third person (or, for double points, speaking to your child in the third person in a public place, very loudly and for the benefit of any childless people who may be watching i.e. ‘Darling, what would you like for dinner, let Mummy read the menu to you – how about sea bass like Mummy and Daddy and/or Posey/Flora/Poppy/Jolyon had on the yacht?’), those terrible plastic clogs which should remain in operating theatres, over-organised hen nights (they’re not dying for God’s sake, they’re just getting married, and will probably be divorced in 18 months), golf, children’s thank-you letters issued at the end of the party when you arrive to collect your child (with a group photo of all the attendees), beautifully iced fairy cakes at the school cake stall, any Cath Kidston product, small dogs, women of a certain age at work who wear low cut blouses open to their navel to show off the new boob job, Secret Santa and finally, of course, BMW X5s with tinted windows and cream leather seats. In fact, any BMX X5.

Am exhausted now, off to have a lie down. I’ll order the Power Rangers outfit and will have it delivered to yours.

Note: I was thinking of putting Sis's e-mail into paragraphs . Then I decided it worked better in it's original 'stream of consciousness' format. James Joyce would be proud, though I hope you didn't get word blindness...

Tuesday 2 September 2008

The Naughty Chair and other fairy stories

So, the Naughty Chair has moved into our house. It may seem like just an ordinary chair to most people. In fact, it is just an ordinary chair - to most people. You can sit on it, drink your tea, eat your lunch, or even - if you find yourself with some unexpected free time and an impulse to organise on your hands - go through your pile of admin and consign that one pile into smaller piles. You know; 'dealt with' (in the nick of time, normally); 'to be dealt with' (I'll do it tomorrow - honest); 'rubbish' (if Johnny Boden sends me one more catalogue I shall scream); and 'oh thank god, that can go in husband's pile' (which rather speaks for itself).

Can you tell that both the Boys were back in school today, by the way?

Anyway, back to the chair. It's an ordinary dining table chair. But to Boy #2, it is 'That Naughty Naughty Chair'.

We don't use it every day. We don't even use it every other day. But when we use it, all our neighbours and the passers by on the street know about it. This is not a house with a handy step, you see, that can be relabelled 'the Naughty Step' in times of need. It's a problem, when you live in a flat. If I was more organised - i.e. the sort of person who never let her admin pile build up - I would have gone out and bought a mini step to be consigned to a corner, to be sat upon by small bottoms in disgrace, somewhere out of the way. Clearly, I'm not that person. So we are reduced to simply moving a chair from our dining table and putting it by the front door. Which is why everyone in a 500 yard radius knows when Boy #2 is sitting on it.

Well, I say 'sitting'. Standing, often. Hanging off the edge, occassionally. Swaying backwards and forwards on, sliding off, falling off. The actual 'sitting' bit doesn't happen as often as I would like. He hasn't quite got the hang of the whole naughty chair concept yet, you see. Or at least, he pretends not to have.

This evening, for example, during dinner.

Boy #2: "Train. Need train."
Me: "Boy #2 - stay at the table please, and finish your dinner."
Boy #2: "Yes. Train first."
I should say here that Boy #2, given the opportunity, will amass as many toys as possible on the table around him to amuse himself whilst he eats. We don't have that wide a table. Food gets spilled, cups get knocked over, people - namely, me - get wet. So I try to discourage the greater part of the toy chest adorning our meal times.
Me: "No, not train first, Boy #2, come back to the table!"
Boy #2: "Wait! Wait! Thomas! Polar Express!"
Boy #1: "Do you want your train set, Boy #2, is that it?"
Me: "Please, Boy #1. Don't encourage him. Boy #2, come back to the table" (note the fact he is very much not sitting at the table by this time. A word from me and he does as he likes). "If you don't come back to the table you will have to sit in the Naughty Chair."
Boy #2: "Noooooo! Not the Naughty Chair!"
Me: "So sit down please."
Boy #2: (running laughing and giggling into the sitting room, clearly thinking the danger of the Naughty Chair has receded). "In a moment!"
Me: "That's it. Naughty Chair, now."
Boy #2: "Noooooo!!!!!!"
General moaning and groaning whilst I carry him - and the chair - over to the front door.
Me: "Stay there please, until I come and get you."
I sit down, determinedly not looking at him. When I glance at Boy #1 I see him laughing at his brother who is by now standing on the chair trying to pull himself up the coat rack.
Me: "Sit down please Boy #2. Boy #1, stop encouraging him and eat some fish, please."

Time ticks past.

For those of you who have been living in a vacuum since SuperNanny started her reign of terror, and don't know how this form of 'discipline' (yeah, right) works, the idea is that you install the child on the chair / stair / sofa somewhere away from the action for the same amount of minutes that they have in years. So, Boy #1 gets 4 minutes, Boy #2 gets 2. If they leave the allocated spot early - and this is the kicker - you have to start the clock all over again. Whilst initially this may seem like water off a ducks back, they do eventually get the message that this means they are in serious trouble, and protest. In Boy #2's case, extremely loudly. At the end of the allotted time, the person who has put the child there goes over, asks them if they understand why they are there, asks for an apology (if not already offered), kisses, hugs, makes up, moves on. Punishment over.

It works - sort of. Boy #2 will normally behave if threatened with this. As they get older though, I can see that this probably won't continue to cut the mustard. But anyway...

1 minute, 30 seconds later - Boy #2 gets off his chair and runs to the table.
Me: "Boy #2 - back to the chair."
Boy #2 laughs.
Me: "Mama is not laughing. Sit here until I come and get you."

Time ticks past. But only for a minute, before I look up from the table, and see he has pushed the chair up to the door and is dismantling the letter box.

Me: "Boy #2. Please sit still."

He gets down again and walks over to a book, picking it up and taking it back to the chair. This is not what the Naughty Chair is all about, so I have to remove the book, endure his wrath (never get a flat with wooden floors if you can help - the sound bounces all over the place) and start again.

This goes on for 20 minutes before he makes the full 2 minute time period and we can move on.

Repeat after me: I AM a good mother. I CAN control my children. I DO know where the corkscrew is.