Monday 30 March 2009
A short guide to taxi journeys from Cairo Airport
For the taxi driver:
Hang around the arrivals lounge at Cairo Terminal 2 late in the evening for the London flight to arrive.
Scan the passengers for potential fares as they arrive. Pay particular attention to families who look as if they were rather expecting to arrive at Cairo Terminal 1, where there is a state-sponsored taxi-stand. Narrow that down to families with small children and a buggy, who really can’t face the shuttle bus between the two terminals, and hang around incessantly offering them your services until they give in just to shut you up.
If you have prepared properly you will have parked your car in the furthest ‘close’ car park, which can only be reached by a seat of precipitous steps. The reasons for this will become clear shortly.
Of particular importance is to be able to quote a well-known marque when the fare asks you what type of car you drive. Peugot is a good one. No need to mention that it is 30 years old, falling apart, and does not posess rear seat belts until you all reach the car at the far side of the car park and they can’t face the walk back to the terminal with their luggage and buggy. The all important steps are of particular use here in helping them reach the right decision...
Ensure you treat all road signs, traffic signals and lane markings with cavalier disregard once your journey begins.
Should you yourself have a seatbelt pay no attention to it. In fact, the fashionable option seems to be to let it hang carelessly out the bottom of your door as you drive along, in 'Yes, I have a seatbelt, but why bother to use it?' kind of a statement.
Pay no attention whatsoever to the supersized rear-view mirror taking up most of the width of your windscreen.
Use your horn to indicate your intention to change lanes –indicators are for wimps or Europeans.
Similarly headlights; sidelights are all you need, it may be 1.00am but dipped headlights are only required when you want to flash the sucker in front to move over to make an extra lane so you can rattle past.
For the older child in the family
As you climb on board be sure to ask, wide-eyed, if you are going to die in this car because there are no seat belts.
For added impact, ask this loudly and in your father’s hearing (your mother will reward you later).
Then fall asleep and snore as if you have not a care in the world.
For the younger child
Stay wide-awake throughout the 45 minute drive to the hotel, asking repeatedly and at pertinent moments why the taxi driver is driving ‘like that’. Why, mama, why?
For the father
Preparation for this trip began weeks ago. No matter what your beloved spouse suggests, hold firm to your view that booking a taxi from the airport to the hotel is expensive and unnecessary. There is, after all, a government sponsored taxi stand at Terminal 1, Cairo airport.
Ignore her gentle reminders of similar situations in the past when you have ended up in death-traps disguised as taxis on Barbados and Mauritius, on one occasion being pulled over by the police and having them lecture you on the irresponsibility of taking a cab without a child-seat. You knew this. Why did they bother to tell you if it wasn’t to embarrass you? It’s not like you’re going to do it again...
On arriving at Cairo, fortuitously forget your previous telling off from the police in Barbados and in the absence of the state-sponsored taxi rank, find yourself a helpful local guy who offers to take you to your hotel for a cut-rate price in his limo.
On realising that to call the taxi a 'limo' is an act prosecutable under the trade descriptions act, decide to go with it anyway. You know there’ll be hell to pay with the missus but it’s late, you’re tired and what else are you going to do?
Ignore her muttered curses and exclamations as she holds tight to her children whilst the taxi driver weaves through the traffic and you sit safely in the front with your seat belt on. There is nothing you could say to make it better at this point, anyway...
Although if you do decide to open your mouth about the situation, the statement 'They drive like maniacs in Cairo. In a controlled way, of course.' may not be quite what it takes to get you out of the doghouse.
See the taxi.
Realise that you have been proved right yet again – and that you should have booked the damn cab via the hotel yourself...
Thursday 26 March 2009
The Easter Bonnet Parade, to be precise.
Cue 'The Archers' theme tune as you imagine 150 children parading round a school playground in decorated hats of various shapes and sizes. Or is it just me that happens to?
A couple of weeks back Boy #1 arrived home with written instructions - from the headmistress, no less - that the children were all to make their own bonnet so they could participate in this august event.
The letter took me back to when my primary school held a similar event, around 36 years ago; I recall my mother found an old hat of hers, stuck lots of crepe flowers on it, and sent me in to school in it. Job done. I didn't win, of course. (What, you didn't know this was a competitive event? Come on! Get with the program!) No, I lost out to Tina Smith who had some kind of Little Bo Peep creation sent over by family in America. The cheat.
In any case, I have to admit that when I read the letter my heart sank. I foresaw hours of trying to create the perfect bonnet (my boy is nothing if not competitive), only to be beaten hands-down by offerings from other 'more Chelsea' families who got their nanny, the cook, the bottle-washer and the driver to create something in their spare time. (See this post for how easy it is to be outclassed by those who simply throw money at a problem. Who would have thought a child of 4 could create their own Fortnum and Mason look-a-like hamper for the Harvest Festival and do such a convincing job of it that they won the prize for the best decorated offering? Bitter? Me?)
But then I reread the letter. 'The children are all to make their own bonnet' it read. Hurrah! The head of school is no slouch. She will recognise the handiwork of eager 5 year old hands, I thought. At last, the opportunity to rise above my baser instincts and let the best child win. In brief, I decided to 'step away from the bonnet' and let Boy #1 make of it what he would.
With just a little direction from me, of course.
We're - sorry, he's - going to win. I can just feel it...
Wednesday 25 March 2009
Not in the Bertie Wooster style, of using it as a word to answer a statement or question he did not approve of. You know, as in: "What do you mean Jeeves, that Great Aunt Maude doesn't agree that the worsted jacket should be worn with the cavalry twill trousers? Tut!" No, more in the style of clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth whenever he feels the need to be dismissive...
For example, this morning, Boy #1's headteacher said 'Good morning Boy #2!" as we walked in.
(Thank god he's already registered and has been accepted at the school....)
Then we went for a cup of tea with a friend. Boy #2 is recovering from slapped cheek syndrome (click the link if you want to know what that is, but it pretty much does what it says on the tin, with the added benefit of high temperatures, a waterfull of snot, and general headaches and bad temper), so is not feeling his best. "Hallo Boy #2!" she said. "Would you like a toy?" He looked vaguely interested. "I have - this - in my bag!" She pulled out a Star Wars figure and handed it to him. He looked at it, handed it back after his inspection, and rather than doing what he would normally do and saying "No thankyou. Plane, please?" you guessed it.
C3PO was not up to scratch, apparantly.
Now, the Potty family are off adventuring shortly. No names, no pack drill, and most importantly no dates, but in the near future we will be packing our bags and heading off somewhere more interesting than here for a short time.
In the usual way of these things, places that are more interesting than central London often have more interesting illnesses as well. So vaccinations were needed for the Boys and I. Namely, typhoid. Having left it to the last minute as usual I was unable to get appointments for us all to have our jabs at the same time, so Boy #1 drew the short straw and had his first on Monday. Boy #2 and I were booked in the next afternoon.
"It's quite a bad one, Typhoid" the nurse informed me quietly as I fished around in my bag for a chocolate lollipop to placate my oldest son and take his mind off what I was convinced would be only a tiny scratch. I don't think Boy #1 heard her but wow, did his reaction bear her comment out. Crying ensued on a fairly major scale. Followed by, for the rest of the evening, very sad behaviour indeed, and theatrical gasping whenever he had to lift his hand from his side or his brother came anywhere near him on the sofa.
Initially I was sympathetic. Well, the nurse had told me to be, after all. But by bed-time, when even putting on his pyjamas provided a performance worthy of a dying swan at the ballet, my patience was wearing thin. It was just an injection after all. How bad could it be?
Yesterday Boy #2 and I had our typhoid jabs. After initial tutting at the nurse, Boy #2 seemed to take it OK, though it's hard to tell through the tiredness, moaning and complaining resulting from his fast-disappearing Slapped Cheek. But me? OW! That arm hurts!!
Perhaps I should have been a little more sympathetic after all. Bad Potty Mummy.
As Boy #2 would say; tut.
Monday 23 March 2009
But I can't keep quiet. I have to tell you that I came out number 11 in the recent survey of Top 100 British Parent Blogs and Bloggers'.
Of course, I'm a natural pessimist, so in reality this list is a double edged sword. It's not a one-off, you see. They're going to update it 'regularly'. What does that mean, 'regularly'? In my darker moments I see myself becoming a slave to The List. 'I went down a place. Why did I go down a place (or two, or three, or ten or fifty?) What went wrong? Why does no-one love me anymore?'
Still, that's all to come, and for now I'm at 11. And I'm thrilled. And for all you stiff upper lipped English types out there, sorry. This was a temporary aberration - I promise not to mention it again...
Have you spotted where this one is going yet?
Then, when I got pregnant for the first time, I foolishly thought things might slow down a little - at least whilst I was on maternity leave. You know, what with being at home with a small baby who couldn't even speak yet.
As a friend of mine who was 6 months pregnant with her first baby once asked; how hard could it be? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! (Repeat to fade...)
The shock of the number of demands a newborn makes on you - or on me, at any rate - rather knocked me for six. The breastfeeding/bottle feeding. The sterilising. The changing. The burping. The worrying. The laundry - god, the laundry! The worrying. The night-time feeds. The worrying (did I mention the worrying?) The cuddling (not that I minded that one, you understand - that rather made up for everything else, in fact.) The 'I may not be able to speak yet but come over here and talk to me!' demands your child is mysteriously able to convey by the process of just opening their mouth and yelling. The visits from loving relations who simply want to spend time with their grandsons but in the process demand tea, coffee, and conversation you are ill-equipped to supply after having had no more than 3 hours continuous sleep since the little cherub arrived. And of course, there's the worrying...
As the children get older those demands decreased, thank heavens. But new ones took their place. I want the potty (not that I will EVER complain about hearing those words). I'm finished, wipe my bottom. Can I have a drink? Not water, apple juice. Not apple juice, milk. Not milk, water. I want a play date. Please. Can we have it today? But I want it today! Why can't you call X's mummy? It doesn't matter that it's nearly dinner time. I want a snack. Please. Can I have a rice cake? No, not that one, it's broken. Can we go to the park? Please. The one with the pirate ship? Can we take a treat? Can you reach that from there for me? Can we do some painting? Please. Can we paint our hands? Can you help me wipe that up? Can you tell Boy #2 to stop that? Can you ask Boy #1 to stop that? Can you come here? Can you? Can you????
I'm exaggerating, of course. But not by much. Frankly, the thought often crossed my mind that it would be nice to go back to work for a rest...
But, quit moaning PM, I got used to it. The demands became the norm, and I forgot the joy of ever being able to switch off completely, apart from on those 'get out of jail free' weekends that if you are lucky your parents give you every now and again. You know, when you leave your little darlings with them for quality grandparent time, whilst you and your beloved gallivant off to do something that involves sleep, alcohol and other stuff that follows when you've had enough sleep and alcohol.
So then, I became a little bit blase about the demands. They were just a fact of life in this brave new full time mum world. 'But I need more than this', I thought. So I started a blog. And after a while, I began to build up a network of blog-buddies - thank the lord. And then, a little bit after that, more demands started to arrive. Blogs are currency, it seems. They can be worth something. People pay attention. And the PR people found mine. Guess what, they wanted something too.
Now, sometimes their thinly veiled demands are ridiculous in that they are just not relevant to who I am or what I write about. 'Write about nappies', one hapless soul suggested. 'Ours, preferably.' 'Well, that's all very well, but I'm trying to break the habit', I replied. 'The clue's in the name of the blog...'. 'Write about our site selling clothes', another said. 'Why?' I asked. They didn't have an answer.
Others are not ridiculous in the slightest. One person emailed: 'Write about our vacuum cleaner - we'll show you how it works, we'll even give a free one if you like it'. 'Why not?' I wrote back. And I'm not sorry that I did.
And then, finally there are the good causes. Like the e-mail that recently came through from the NSPCC, asking me to visit their parenting site - yourfamily.org - and take a look at their latest campaign to teach children how to be responsible around alcohol. With all the pressures of living today, I think that this campaign could be a Very Good Thing, so I took a look and was impressed.
In addition to the drinking campaign, there are fun things to do with your kids, hints on how to teach them good manners (and don't get me started on the importance of that, living as I do in 'Entitled Children R Us-ville', aka Central London), and ideas on how to help them understand the value of money - and that's just for starters. I liked it; it was easy to navigate, bright and friendly, and didn't patronise. They've clearly thought about it, and haven't just thrown mud on the wall to see what sticks.
And just in case you are a PR person (not a blogging PR person btw; some of the best blogs are written by some) and have bothered to read this far (though why break the habit of a lifetime, really?), I suggest you read this post by A Modern Mother. She has brilliantly summed up what does and doesn't work for those of us who go to the trouble of writing and reading posts.
Guess what? Making demands doesn't. We have too many of those to deal with already.
Must go. There's a nose that needs wiping...
Saturday 21 March 2009
Me (mentally rolling my eyes): "No, I haven't."
Husband: "Well, can you just check in your bag? You were the last one to use them..."
Me (sure of my ground - I always put my keys in exactly the same place as I come back into the flat and have never lost a set): "What are you talking about? I always know where MY keys are. Why would I use yours?"
Husband: "Well, you did this time. Can you check? Please?"
Me (huffily putting my hand into my bag): "I don't know why I'm bothering. I'm not the one who lost the spare car key. I'm not the one who loses any keys. I'm... (oh, shxt)... the one who has to own up when she finds your keys in the side pocket of her handbag..."
Humble pie, anyone?
Thursday 19 March 2009
1. You, who used to blaspheme for Britain at the slightest opportunity, catch yourself using one of the following as a curse word, even when there is no-one around...
For Goodness' sake!
2. You find yourself turning round to point out the tractor blocking the road to your cherubs in the back of the car - and realise it's the middle of the school morning and there is no-one to view it's yellow JCB-ness but you.
3. You get more pleasure out of shopping for your children than for yourself. There is less trying on, no extra poundage/roll of flab/tummy sucking in issue, and most importantly, you can get a complete outfit for them in Gap without breaking a credit-card related (will they/won't refuse the Visa?) sweat
4. You know the words - dammit! - to Chuggington on C-beebies
5. You feel a sense of achievement when you catch yourself checking your childrens' school uniform for cleanliness and suitability for another day's wear when they take it off rather than first thing in the morning. This removes the necessity for last minute tumble-drying and / or yesterday's sock recycling. (Though isn't the latter better for the environment?)
6. You find yourself googling 'how to draw a horse' and being quite impressed with your own efforts in that direction. Hell, no-one else is going to do it, the original request came from your son who - five minutes in - rushed off to play Power Rangers elsewhere.
7. You remove a sizeable splinter from your younger son's hand without resorting to a trip to A&E. OK, so there was chocolate involved. Want to make something of that?
8. Both Boys are asleep in bed by 7.30pm having fallen for your "gosh, look how late it is! Off to bed now!" routine a dastardly half an hour earlier than normal. And you don't feel guilty in the least about fibbing to them.
Now. How do we get to Silver and Gold? Anyone?
Wednesday 18 March 2009
You might be forgiven for thinking then; 'Well, what is Potty going to write about now? Where will her source material come from? Will we subjected to a litany of gripes about the gym, the supermarket, and parking outside the nursery by those Yummies in big black 4x4's who STILL DON'T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE THE BLXXDY THINGS?' (Sorry, got carried away there...).
Fear not, that won't happen. (Or at least, no more than usual).
Boy #2 has the situation under control.
It appears that he has been pondering the forthcoming change of subject matter for some time, and is currently in the process of coming up with a smorgasbord of 3-year old delights for you to partake in.
Because this brave new world of potty trained boys is something of a double-edged sword. It seems that encouraging him to be independant in loo-related matters has also resulted in him discovering his teeth in other areas too. "OK" I can almost hear him thinking. "You want more independant thought from me? You'll get more independant thought! No more Mr Nice Guy..."
Last week I was stopped on my way into his nursery to pick him up. "Is anything wrong with Boy #2?" his class teacher asked me. "Noooo. Why?" I answered. "Well, he's been really naughty today. Refusing to do what he's told and shouting at all the teachers. It's really not like him." she answered. Swallowing my initial retort that it was exactly like him (at home), I promised to have a word - involving the threat of with-holding tv-watching privileges - and went on my way.
The talk worked, he's been good as gold ever since, but I can't help wondering if he was simply showing them what he is capable of, that's he's not afraid to use it, and preparing the ground for...
'You are invited to a Celebration of Spring' the invitation from Boy #2's nursery read. My heart sank. We already had a 'Celebration of Christmas' this term (yes, late, I know), which it had been decidedly tricky to get Boy #2 to participate in. Bribery by chocolate was involved in the end. And now, having thought that was all behind us for another year, we were to be treated to a repeat performance where, to cap it all, we were requested to dress our children as lambs, chicks, or bunnies.
Now Boy #1 'does' dressing up. Lions, knights, police-officers, pirates vets; he has even, on occassion, been known to put on the harness of his hobby horse and prance around the flat. Boy #2? Not so much. He will of course stamp around dressed up as Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder (aka 'Fixer Man' in our house), and any other suitably macho character, but ask him to put on anything that he doesn't consider manly enough and mayhem ensues. And so it was yesterday when I picked him up from nursery and started discussing the Spring Show we were going to later.
Me: "So it's your Spring Show this afternoon. Are you looking forward to it?"
Boy #2: "Nope." (Quite where he has picked up 'nope' from I don't know, but he seems to feel it is suitable for someone of his bloke-like qualities, uttering it in a deep 'don't mess with me, I am Fixer Man, have a toy Bosch power drill and am not afraid to use it' voice which he uses when he wants to be particularly emphatic).
Me: "Right. Well, are you going to sing us some songs and stuff?"
Boy #2: "Nope."
Me: "OKaaaay. Gran and I have made you a great rabbit costume. It's got a pompom on your bottom, a set of ears, and I've found the facepaints to finish the job. Isn't that exciting?"
Boy #2: "Nope."
And so it continued. When presented with the outfit at home, 'nope' deteriorated into 'Nooooooooo!', accompanied by many tears, body-stiffening, shouting and general chaos. The venue for the show was only around the corner from our flat and I had planned to walk there but within 5 minutes of getting home I knew it just wasn't going to happen, and shamefully, caved.
And before you think that I'm giving in to him and teaching him the wrong lessons about misbehaviour getting him what he wants, think of this; I get a similar - though shortened - reaction every time I try to brush his teeth. Now, teeth, I will fight for. Teeth is a battle I will not let him win; it's non-negotiable, even if I have to capture him and force him to open his mouth through tickling or other nefarious means so that I can do it myself.
But the 'Celebration of Spring'? When my little macho man had to dress up as a rabbit and hop around the church for nobody's good except making his drama teacher feel she had achieved something?
Not worth fighting for.
So I gave in. And five minutes later, when I found the victorious Boy #2 in his room playing with cars, what was he singing?
"I'm a little bunny, see me hop..."
Sunday 15 March 2009
And the pride I felt in them as they behaved even better than could be expected during our celebratory family meal in a local restaurant yesterday evening wasn't something I had thought of writing about, half an hour ago. (When I say 'even better than could be expected' let's not think too much about the restaurant patrons who later on sat at the same spot we did, and that they may be confusedly picking stickers of Pirate Dinosaurs off the soles of their shoes today...)
I was also not thinking of recording the fact that today Boy #1 and I made a 'secret' trip out to High St Kensington to buy 'secret' supplies to decorate the flat for tomorrow's festivities, during which he behaved beautifully. Especially whilst trying to dodge the other shoppers out enjoying the sunshine when carrying the 'secret' balloons back to the car for our clandestine trip home. (Note the use of apostrophe's around the word 'secret'. It's hard to keep anything 'secret' when your very excited 5 year old asks you - in front of the one person who is not supposed to know about their existence - when you are going to put the balloons and decorations that you have just bought up...)
And yet, despite all of these goings on, I was feeling a little short of inspiration. Even Boy #2's running narrative on the blood-thirsty activities of the t-rex that accompanied him to the dinner table was failing to make the cut. My heart was hardened to plight of the babies and mummies the nasty dinosaur was gobbling up for his tea, and the news that the day was to be saved after all by a kindly tricerotops rampaging over from the other side of the table to put an end to Rex's toothy reign of terror was like water off a duck's back. (Did you know that the tyrannosaurus' one fatal flaw was to have arms so short that when he got knocked over, he wasn't able to use them to get up again, instead being left to perish on his back like a dying fly? Neither did we before this evening.)
So in any case, there I was, logging on, and wondering why. Asking myself if there was anything that had happened I could possibly write about. Until I read Reluctant Memsahib's latest post.
It reminded me that sometimes (and don't worry, not too often), blogging is not about coming up with witty takes on standing in Holland Park playground watching puddles form by your still-not-quite-potty-trained three year old's foot, when your husband has left the bag with the change of clothes in it in the car, which is ten minutes walk away. Or about recording the John Wayne-like way said Boy swaggered back there, minimising the discomfort of wet pants in his own stoic and indomitable way. Though now I come to think about, that also happened this weekend.
No, sometimes blogging can be simply about bottling the memories of your children as they are now, at this moment, in this so-fleeting time; when Mummy is still the person they want to marry when they grow up, when parents have all the answers, and are Alpha and Omega and everything in between.
They're asleep now. I think I might just go and have a look, listen to their breathing, gently stroke their cheeks, and remember how lucky I am.
Friday 13 March 2009
But this is not a normal Friday afternoon. Instead of judo, I am currently bracing myself for an onslaught to the senses that has to be experienced to be believed, and which will leave me begging for mercy and longing for the peace and sensory deprivation of a flotation tank by the time I get home.
For yes, today, I am taking the Boys to a birthday party. And not just any birthday party, oh no. We are going to the Hell's Mouth of birthday party locations.
This birthday party is at... Gambado.
Apologies those who don't know what I'm talking about. To quote from a post I wrote 18 months ago (and that in itself is depressing enough; I've been going to parties there for that long..?) 'Gambado is a swanky play-centre in Chelsea Harbour with the latest in kid-centric entertainment, and a jungle gym big enough to lose a battalion of kids.'
This is nice in theory but when you are there with two boys it can be just a little... tiring . I can't count the number of times I've found myself frantically searching for them having not had sight of either for far too long, having to crawl into, over and through obstacles intended for people less than half my size. And the friction burns I've collected on my elbows from accompanying Boy #2 down the not-quite-slippery enough slides are not a thing of beauty, I can tell you.
I look back fondly to when Boy #2 was still small enough to find the ball pit exciting and at least I knew where to find him. Nowadays it's all about the slides, ropes, stairs and running from Mama. And in addition to the enormous Jungle Gym there are also kid-sized dodgems (imagine the potential for fisticuffs in the queue there with twenty entitled 3 - 7 year olds all waiting for rides on 8 cars, and you won't be far from the mark), and - I kid you not - a mini-carousel. At least once they're on that, I know where they are for 5 minutes.
It's an explosive mixture - crazy, hyped up kids, stressed out and exhausted parents - as borne out by a friend of mine who was there last year and actually witnessed a knock-down fight between two mums over their childrens' behaviour to each other...
Whatever happened to a gentle game of British Bulldogs in the park?
Heaven help me...
Update: We're back. Gambado lived down to expectations, and I have no more to say on the matter. Other than, pass me the corkscrew and of course;
The Empress is tired. You must leave her now.
(See Belgian Waffle for source of obscure quote)
Wednesday 11 March 2009
For some reason the moaning and complaining really get to me mid-week. "Why can't I have television as soon as I get home from school?" "Why do I have to change out of my school uniform?" "Why do I have to get out of the car NOW and come with you to fetch Boy #1? I want to sit in the driver's seat and switch on the hazards / windscreen wipers / anything that's going to give you a start when you put the key in the ignition in a few minutes..." "Why do we have to eat that?" "Why do we have to have a bath / brush our teeth / go to bed? I'm not tired..." (Invariably this last one is followed by the sound of snoring less than 30 seconds after heads hit the pillow...)
Most of the time, and always when we are in sight of the school gates, I maintain a jolly Butlin red-coat exterior, cajoling them along and out of their mood, often with the help of biscuits. But just occassionally the Pollyanna act starts to slip ('just' occassionally?). As this evening when I checked my e-mail late, tired, and quite frankly at a time when I would have been better off getting some much-needed beauty sleep.
But no. I had to do it. And there in the inbox was my latest in a long running if one-sided correspondance with Mr Johnny Boden. If you have a keen memory you may remember that in Autumn last year I foreswore all things Boden (for myself; the Boys are another matter, though only when the sales are on, I'm not a complete basket-case) when I realised that my mother-in-law also shopped there, and what was even worse, we even posessed similar items of clothing (albeit in different sizes). Do I like my mother-in-law? Yes. Do I want to be her? No. So since then not an item of clothing wrapped in pretty pastel polka dotted tissue paper has been delivered to my door.
Admittedly in these crunchy financial times this hasn't been as hard a resolution to stick to as I had feared. I simply remind myself of the great 'Mother-in Law in My Denim Skirt Debacle' and recycle the catalogues that come through the post without even looking at them, and bin the e-mails that poor forlorn Johnny still sends hopefully through to me. 'Don't you love me any more?' they may as well ask... Poor J. Oh yes, you dear man, I and no doubt thousands of others who have similarly foresaken you can read the subtext in your frequent e-mails offering us money off.
But Johnny, there are limits. Today's e-mail stank of desperation. Admittedly, alone amongst my friends I prefer watching paint dry to spending more than 45 minutes trawling clothes shops. Please, leave me in the coffee shop with a good book whilst you ransack Selfridges. I'll keep you a table. Just don't ask me to get involved with the actual purchasing.
And when I do shop, I operate a two-stage approach to buying clothes. First, having realised that bag-ladyness is just around the corner (normally as a result of prompting by my dear Husband in a subtle 'You really need to buy new t-shirts / a new dress / get new shoes without the soles falling off' kind of a way) I trick myself into being near or outside a clothes shop that I like. As in 'Oh, I'll just run into Paperchase and buy so and so a card and gosh, look, there's xxx on the other side of the road! What a surprise! Might as well just pop in whilst I'm here...' Then, I move onto a 'smash and grab' technique; if I walk in, like what I see and it suits me and fits, I buy it, and keep it. None of that fadding around with 'what shall I wear it with? Maybe I'll just buy it and return it if I don't like it when I get home...' (Cate, Christina, Sarah; you know who you are...)
Luckily for my bank balance I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been shopping in the last couple of years.
So yes, Johnny dear. I know, it's clear that when it comes to shopping, I need guidance. But even I know that there is one item of clothing above all others - with the exception of bras, which you definitely need to try on yourself - that has to be purchased in person, and preferably only after a severe bout of stomach 'flu and with flattering mirrors (Gap do the best in this area, I find) in the changing rooms.
You know it, Ladies. I'm talking about jeans.
And if you're reading this Johnny, this was a lesson I learned through trial and bitter disappointment over the years, more often than not in a pair of jeans that you yourself had sold me, probably at 25% off, just like you're promising now - do you never stop?. And always, contrary to my sky-high and misguidedly optimistic expectations, they failed to transform me into slim and lissom Sophie with the washboard stomach who according to your blurb 'likes: ice-cream in the park, and training and running in the rain...' (Ice cream in the park? The only cream that girl sees is face cream, based on the size of her behind).
Instead, the jeans I was struggling to do up - before I posted them back to you in a rage - would leave me all too clearly 'slightly too well-padded and sometimes even - horror - muffin-topped Potty' with the c-section and appendix-scarred stomach, who 'likes: Green and Blacks, and running from the rain...'
Monday 9 March 2009
There are the obvious ones of course; turning your heating down a degree or two, and making sure that if you have pre-paid mobile bills you use those minutes up each month rather than simply picking up the landline whenever you want to make a call at home.
Unfortunately that one is easier said that done for me: we live in a basement flat, my mobile is rubbish, and the moment I wander too far from the window click, the connection goes. So why move from the window, you ask? I don't know about you, but a rather demanding 3 year old screaming for chocolate / the television / contraband remote controls will usually send me racing for the bathroom to make a call in peace. And as our bathroom has no windows, well, guess which phone I normally pick up first? The end result is that I end up getting to school and nursery pick-ups early in an attempt to catch up on all the calls to my mobile that I've missed when I'm in the flat with a phone not in service. I always wondered what those harrassed-looking women frantically yabbering into their nokia's and checking their diaries in parked cars were up to. Now? I'm one of them...
But enough moaning. The Credit Crunchista Carnivale. I haven't gone as far as a girlfriend I visited this morning who has invested in her own bread-making machine (only 200 loaves and she'll have recouped her investment, hurrah!) or my beloved Husband who purchased a Nespresso machine last February, arguing that having been made redundant he would easily save the cost of it in money not spent in Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero. (We won't talk about the resultant caffeine highs here. But they're not pretty and I insisted he include some decaff in his 'varied' diet as a consequence...)
No, the most far reaching change I've implemented and which really has impacted on my spending is one of the most simple you could think of, and whilst it makes me feel elderly in the extreme to do it, is so embarrasingly easy that I can't imagine why I never did it before. Well, I did do it - but only on special occassions. High days and holidays. You know, when you need that little bit extra?
Have I made it sound naughty and exotic yet?
Not surprising, because it really isn't.
Each week, twice a week, I sit down at the table. I check my diary for our plans that week. I work out our evening meals for the next 4 days. I check what's in the cupboard. I write down what we need to make those meals happen, and then I go to the supermarket. And - here's the really exciting bit - come hell or high water I only buy what's on the list. (OK, OK, the odd bar of Green and Black's might make it through, but apart from that, I promise, I stick to it.)
If you have any sense, you've probably been doing this for years, but to be honest, I always thought it was something Norma Nomates did and which would remove all spontanaity from our diet. How wrong I was. Since I write my lists in a handy notebook I can now check what we ate last week and make sure I don't replicate it again too soon. (With the exception of sausages, of course, which as we all know are one of the main food groups for 3 and 5 year old boys).
Actually writing that down has made me shiver with a bit of revulsion; I knew that sharing this tip might make me feel 'middle-aged', and it certainly has. However, since technically, I am middle-aged, I suppose I just need to suck it up...
In any case, we now have less packaged pasta and a more interesting diet than we ever did before. Previously, I would wander round the supermarket picking up a little bit of what I fancied here, a bogoff there, and before you know it I would have spent more money than I needed to and have gone home to throw out exactly the same stuff that I had bought the previous week. Which had not been used and which had now gone off. So much for spontanaity.
Looking back I can't believe how slow to catch on I was to this basic housekeeping measure, but I swear, I just never thought of doing it before. Since I have, however, our food bill has dropped by around 30%. That's around £1,900 a year.
Who'd have thought that only buying what you need would save you money?
For what it's worth, that's my tip, then. Lists Rule!
Saturday 7 March 2009
And, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm also entering it into the Mother's Day competition that Melissa at 'More to Life than Laundry' is running over on British Mummy Bloggers for Mama Baby Bliss...
My Perfect Mother's Day
So it’s Mother’s Day on March 22nd, and I bet you think it’s yet another made-up tradition to help stationers sell more cards and garages sell more carnations, don’t you?
Far from it. This day has heritage; it’s roots in the UK go back at least as far as the sixteenth century, although not until Victorian times did it start to assume the form it has now. Then it became the date when domestics were given a day off to go and visit their families. Housemaids would travel home to visit their mothers, Simnel cake in hand (think; similar to traditional Christmas cake, but without the icing), before haring back to their employers at daybreak next morning to black the grating, iron the newspaper, and kiss the postman. (I have clearly been watching far too much ‘Larkrise to Candleford’).
Nowadays, Mother’s Day consists of a card, and possibly being let off the washing-up (which you just know you are going to have do again later to get rid of the grease spots on the glasses). And if lucky you might even avoid the grease spots hazard altogether with a family lunch out, assuming the credit card isn’t being crunched too hard…
And that’s very nice, of course, but really? Could Do Better. So this year I am giving due notice to all and sundry that My Perfect Mother’s Day would consist of...
1. …waking up secure in the knowledge that I have not – as has been known – forgotten to send my mother a card. (Clearly, this one comes under ‘note to self’ category). This will then remove the need for that traditional last minute panicked phone call to my sister (who handily lives in the same town as our parents), to beg her on bended knee to get me out of the proverbial and buy some flowers to drop in to mum on my behalf.
2. ... being presented with suitably relevant and low key gifts by my husband and sons (family please note; egg timers, a boxed set of ‘Best of Top Gear’ DVD’s, and a road atlas of Europe are not amongst the presents deemed acceptable on this occasion)
3. …being able to take as long as I like in the bathroom. To spell it out clearly; there will be no interruptions during the applying of eyeliner by Husbands looking for spare loo rolls or small boys flying Playmobil airplanes and/or needing their bottoms wiping.
4. …ignoring a healthy breakfast in favour of a large box of expensive chocolates. And not having to share them.
5. …the general absence of cooking and tidying up duties. Not that those things shouldn’t get done, you understand. Just not by me. Not on Mothering Sunday.
6. …the big one. The Holy Grail for all mothers everywhere, if my straw poll on the matter is anything to go by. Please; no humdrum decisions. I would like one day of the year when I don’t have to decide what the children wear. One day when I don’t have to plan (or cook) dinner, or decide whether today’s is going to be a dark or a light wash. I still want these things done, mind you, and I want them done properly… Just – again – not by me.
I’ve just worked out what would make My Perfect Mother’s Day.
Thursday 5 March 2009
I don't know what it is that happens to me. I mean well, I really do. But somewhere during the week, my preferred manifestation of 'Reasonable Sweetness and Light Mama' who was so cheerful and upbeat at the weekend caves and packs her bags. She heads off to an expensive spa to recover from the rigours of being so... so... damned reasonable, and Knife Edge Mama, teeth gritted in readiness, arrives. Conversations that at the beginning of the week were perfectly civil and full of loving understanding, by Wednesday afternoon deteriorate into one word answers.
Let's see how it works...
Sunday. I woke up as RS&L Mum and made myself and the Boys presentable. By 8.30am however, I was firing SOS texts out to girlfriends with kids when I realised I had made the schoolgirl error of not arranging a playdate 'all that long long wet day... ' (where's the Cat in the Hat when you need him, hey?) Luckily one of my friends took pity on me and arranged to meet us in Holland Park where, due to our being ridiculously early, the Boys and I marvelled over the peackock invasion and took sadistic pleasure in watching the pigeons trying and failing to raid the feeders meant for smaller birds. I explained to the Boys what the smaller birds were - robins, wrens, one brightly coloured refugee parakeet - though was unable to continue my natural history lecture when I was confronted with a Blue and a Great Tit and couldn't bring myself to say the names...
(Ah, that convent education)
Monday. Apart from the Festival of Wee that Boy #2 was clandestinely participating in, this was a relatively sane day. I was still Reasonable Sweetness and Light Mama (now to be known as RS&L Mama), and in the evening dealt with complaints from the Boys' bedroom that they were too hot / too cold / thirsty / itching / scared of the dark in a totally Reasonable way, appearing in the doorway to help to remove pajama tops / pull the covers tenderly over chilly shoulders / administer glasses of water / apply moisturising lotion / moving the night light to somewhere more prominent.
Tuesday was a gym day, so an extra 10 minutes in bed meant I was - amazingly - still RS&L Mama. The later start was due to my excellent and clearly obvious excuse of exercise to come, which meant I didn't have to shower. The resultant scary look clearly worked in my favour though as, on dropping Boy #2 at nursery, I advised his teachers' of the potty training status, using the parting words; "He hasn't wee'ed or poohed since he got up an hour and a half ago. Consider yourselves warned..." and got no comeback. I then scampered lightly to the car and headed off for an hour of being uncontactable by mobile.
By evening though, the poo had been spooned and RS&L Mama was pulling out her suitcase. The same complaints voiced from the Boys' room the previous evening were dealt with a little more tersely this time, with suggestions that Boy #1 remove his own pajama top /that perhaps a drink before bedtime might be a good idea tomorrow / bring me the lotion in the kitchen (where I'm doing the xxxx washing up - again - voiced under my breath, obviously) and that there is nothing to be scared of and the door is wide open enough already.
Wednesday; RS&L Mama left before dawn and her alter-ego Knife Edge Mama (KE Mama) arrived. By evening the pajama top was removed before bed / the subsequent 'too cold' comment was dealt with by suggesting the pajama top go straight back on again - without help / extra milk was given before teeth brushing (and that's it or you'll need to get up and go to the loo) / extra lotion was applied when the pajamas went on in the first place / the complaints about the dark were treated in the same way as the comment on the cold.
But then... Thursday? RS&L Mama returned! She rushed back from the £400 a day spa where she was socialising with footballer's wives and B-list celebs, when she heard the news that it had been an ACCIDENT FREE DAY and that Boy #2 even successfully asked to use the potty before he needed a poo for the second day running .
I know, I know, I should have mentioned it to you yesterday but was worried that it was just a (brace yourselves) flash in the pan - boom boom - and didn't want to jinx it.
No doubt tomorrow - since Boy #2 is not at nursery - Knife Edge will return but for now I am RS&L Mama and just savouring the peace and silence. Can you hear that? No, neither can I. No washing machine running for the second / third / 4th time in a day (delete as appropriate) to deal with the 'evidence' that potty training is in progress.
It's amazing how little it takes to make me happy these days...
Tuesday 3 March 2009
Once upon a time of course, it might have been different. Once upon a time pre-kids, that is...
But back to the article. The link will take you to a BBC piece discussing a radio programme called 'Am I Normal?' which this week is about the possible misdiagnosis of some - not all - women as having post-natal depression. It raised something that resonated with me, as it asks the question: 'Could it be that the medical profession is turning the normal - if difficult - psychological transition to motherhood into an illness?'
Now, I know something about depression. Various members of my family have suffered from it, and after Boy #2 was born the walls seemed to close in on me too. All I wanted was to go into the kitchen cupboard, shut the door, and turn off the light. There was too much static, too much white noise, just... too much. Thankfully, I wasn't so far gone that I wasn't able to pull myself as far as the doctor's surgery and mutter that I thought I might need a bit of help, and luckily that was exactly what I got. Not chemical help - which in any case I really didn't want - but counselling and support.
Now, 3 years on, I can look back at what happened a little more objectively. And I wonder if the suggestion above - of misdiagnosis - is right, when applied to me. I'm beginning to wonder if what I called 'post-natal depression' was not mislabelled. I have actually started to think of what I went through as less of a depression in the clinical sense, and more of a grieving process.
That's not to say that wasn't also depressed. But I think that the depression was less of the post-natal kind, and more of the 'I'm feeling sad because I have to say goodbye to a big part of who I am and how I identify myself, and yet I'm not supposed to show it' kind.
So before you throw up your hands in horror, I wasn't grieving at the fact of having given birth, no, not at all. I am eternally grateful that I have my two sons, that I did so easily and that they are happy and healthy. So 3 years ago, what on earth would I have been grieving at what was ostensibly such a joyful time? When I was in love with my new son and celebrating his birth?
Myself. I was grieving the loss of part of who I had been.
Let me explain. When I had Boy #1, I knew in advance that his arrival would change everything. I thought I was prepared for how much, but of course I wasn't, no-one really is. Nevertheless, some things carried on as before. When he was 7 months old I went back to work. It made me cry, but I did it. And there, despite the enormous guilt I felt at leaving my darling Boy in another's care, I rediscovered independance, and feeling a valued and respected individual. My job wasn't perfect, there were things about it that made my blood boil, but on the whole I enjoyed it.
When Boy #2 arrived, however, it very quickly became apparant - to me at least - that things were going to have to change. I firmly believe that for many people having one child doesn't need to slow you down too much. Your life won't be the same as it was before, but there will be some things that are pretty similar. Yes, you need to be more organised, and you need to be comfortable with the childcare you are using, but your career can probably carry on pretty much as before.
Child #2 arrives, though, and the wheels fall off, at least in my experience. There's not only a baby to deal with, but a demanding toddler as well. And in our case, the baby was sick, and the toddler was coming up with scary allergies. Plus, Husband was travelling, a lot. And if he wasn't travelling, he was working late.
Sure, I could have gone back to work, but it would have meant finding a different job since my role too entailed a limited amount of international flights; the nightmare scenario that kept playing through my head was of Husband being somewhere far-flung and my being stuck at some European airport with a cancelled flight as the hours ticked by towards the (shared) nanny's home time.
Before Boy #2 was many months old I had already started to consider the prospect of stopping my interesting and stimulating job and being at home with the children for an indefinite period. And what do you know; those thoughts co-incided with the advent of my 'post-natal depression'. So I'm wondering if the thrust of this article - in so far as it applies to me - is right. My life was changing, irrevocably. And whilst some parts of my new role were wonderful and marvellous, so too were some parts of what I was leaving behind.
I needed a period of readjustment, to take in my changed life and expectations.
It's ironic, I think, that whilst we are growing up, girls (or at least, I) were told 'You can do anything, be anything that you want to be.' And it's true, up to a point. But that freedom comes at a price. Whether you work full, part time, or not at all, your priorities alter once you become a mother; they have to. And it doesn't matter how much people warn you about this; you won't listen. Or not much. 'That won't be me' I remember thinking. 'Nothing will change...'
But suddenly staying late in the office to finish a presentation is no longer the easy call it once was. Putting yourself forward for a more responsible and demanding position that's going to be a drain on the time you spend with your family isn't the no-brainer it used to be. Popping out for a few drinks after work for a bit of team bonding rarely happens. Spending quality time with your partner or your girlfriends, just having fun, tends to get relegated to the 'once in a blue moon' pile.
I harp on about this, I know, in fact no doubt it's a recurrent theme through my blog. But I've come to realise that - whilst I don't want to go back to my pre-Boys life - it's perfectly acceptable to feel sad that parts of who I was, both good and bad, have gone. It's just that now I don't think of it as post-natal depression; it was 'a psychological transition'.
What was depressing was that nobody seemed to want to understand I was just bloody miserable that my days of going to the loo with the door shut were - for the forseeable future - at an end...
By the way? Totally over that now. Who needs privacy, a waistline, and a house without two small boys and a plethora of trains and dinosaurs, in any case?
Take a look - you won't be sorry: http://www.thamesvalleymums.com/2009/03/3-march-best-of-the-mummy-bloggers.html#more
And obviously the question above was rhetorical. Clearly it's taking off; where else could you record the things you never imagined yourself saying or doing when you were young(er), thin(ner) and in paid employment? Though admittedly, even then, I did still find myself clearing up other people's sh#t more often than I would have liked. However, what I did not envisage was that in the future I would be making such statements as "Don't poo on Mickey. He will not be happy" and still be admitted to polite society.
By the way, Mickey didn't really care. Which was lucky, under the circumstances...
Sunday 1 March 2009
Then, one day, I was googling for nut and sesame-free recipes and tips on how to deal with Boy #1's allergies, and I clicked unsuspectingly on this:
Pig in the kitchen blogspot
'Food allergy, food intolerance and food sensitivity support and information.'
The site I found myself in was a revelation, and not just for the fact that nut-free (in fact, practically everything free) cooking could look and taste delicious. The Pig can write. I read of her life as an expat in Paris with four (yes, count 'em, four) children, chuckled over her trips down memory lane, and wondered where on earth she found the time to put it all down on paper.
But she had started something. "I could do this." I thought to myself. "Well, not this, perhaps. Not with food. And not as well. But I could do something like it... I could write stuff down..." And then, hesitantly, because even then something warned me that I might be getting in deeper than I had planned, I started to explore her blog roll, and a whole new world opened up.
I discovered that there were a plethora of people 'doing this', and it was fun. It was rewarding. People were nice to each other. They gave praise where it was due, feedback when requested. Not something that you take for granted when one child is refusing to eat what he hoovered up yesterday, and the other is trashing the playpen. I was bowled over - and I wanted a piece of the action.
So I started to blog.
But now, the Pig has called it a day. I can't blame her. Time and again I talk to bloggers who tell me that blogging plays a very important role in their lives, but only for a limited period. That everyone will reach a point when they realise that the fun has gone, their juice is all used up, and it's time to move on.
So Pig, this is just to say that whilst it's totally understandable that you're stopping, you'll be missed. And any time you feel the need to post but don't want to start up your blog again, come on over and guest post here. I would be honoured, and really I think you owe the blogosphere that much, don't you? It's entirely your fault that I've been here bleating about potty training for nigh on two years, after all...
And assuming she doesn't take her blog down completely, if you've not ever visited, pop on over and have a look at Pig's fabulous recipes (all of which have full fat alternatives to the hypo-allergenic ingredients detailed as well) and her hilarious reminisences, whilst salivating over the pretty pictures.