Monday 28 December 2009

From the mouths of babes...

We've been in the Netherlands with Husband's family celebrating what is apparantly our last ever (EVER) Christmas in civilisation (if you listen to the subtext beaming out loud and clear from my m-i-l, that is...). The highpoint of our trip was a visit to The Efteling Theme Park, a sort of pre-Disney Land fairy tale kingdom.

My mother-in-law has been planning this trip ever since her first grandchild made an appearance around 12 years ago, so this was understandably Big Deal for her. Consequently there were plenty of questions to the children (all 7 of them) as to whether or not they were enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, it seems Boy *2 did not recieve the memo about toeing the party line...

M-i-l: "So, did you enjoy that ride, Boy *2? Was it loek?" (Trans: cute, funny, enjoyable).

Boy *2: "Well... (I held my breath. This ride - the one she was talking about - was probably not what would normally have been his cup of tea. It featured elves, trolls, goblins, true, but it was also quite heavy on the fairy quotient). Yes, yes I did!" (I breathed a sigh of relief).

M-i-l: "And did you like all the magic?" (The ride took us through a fairy kingdom with various scenarios that might feature in your average elf's life).

Boy *2: "Yes... But... I was wondering. Who was controlling it all?"

Give me strength.

Sunday 27 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

It's hard to stay anonymous when you're typing in plain sight of your in-laws who are supposed not to know about your blog, (we're in Holland with Husband's family where I am shortening the 'family & fish go off in 3 days' rule by getting decidely snippy after only 24 hours), so you'll understand if I keep this brief.

Following on from last week's Best of British Mummy Bloggers round-up, here are the rest. Enjoy, as you ponder the wisdom of eating that last green Quality Street along with finishing the dregs of the port bottle, and then conclude that after spending the last 5 days with your nearest and dearest, all rules regarding controlled consumption are suspended for the duration...

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

Enjoy! (Normal service to be resumed next week...)

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Thursday 24 December 2009

This morning's definition of 'Panic'... realising you've forgotten your brother's Christmas present and that the town where you're staying is not likely to offer anything particularly exciting in the '£10 and under' price range your family has agreed to stick to for presents this year.

This morning's definition of 'Gratitude'... how you feel when your Husband returns from his foraging mission with 3 dvd's for under £10 all of which you know your retro-bro will love.

This afternoon's definition of 'Panic'...

is realising you've run out of wrapping paper, that the the nearest shop that sells it has just closed, and that you still have your sons' two 'big' Christmas presents to wrap.

This afternoon's definition of 'Gratitude'...

is confessing as much to your mother and finding out that she has plenty left over and is willing to share.

Happy Christmas all!

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Christmas reflections...

Christmas for many of us is a time that you might call 'stupidly busy'. We - or I, at least - panic over the most inconsequential things. Are there lumps in the gravy? Have I got enough mince pies? Did I spend enough on Auntie Flo's present? It's easy to get wound up by things that for the rest of the year might just be water off a duck's back. Throw your nearest and dearest into the mix and it can be a recipe for turmoil.

For example, I've just got off the phone to my mother-in-law who was panicking that Husband might be on the roads driving to join us in the west country on this cold, snowy, icy, foggy evening. Quite what she would have done if he had already been en-route, I don't know, but midway through our conversation, as I reassured her he was safe and sound at home in London, I found myself starting to get a little frustrated by what seemed a fuss-over-nothing call. But then, I was suddenly reminded of my walk out with the Boys this afternoon.

It was cold, and the low-lying sun had made little impact on the icy slush in the lane we were walking along. My parents - with whom the Boys and I are currently staying - live on the side of a steep hill, and as we toiled up it to post the last (alright - the first) of our Christmas cards (no-one ever said I was organised, least of all me...), I found myself gripping Boy *2's hand tightly and instructing Boy *1 to take care. As the few cars willing to brave the ice drove by, I shepherded my sons onto the verge and out of the way. Boy *1, at least, would have been more than capable of taking the same evasive action without any lead from me, and yet I still felt the need to protect and look out for him.

So as my mother-in-law was talking to me about her concern for her son during our call this evening, I suddenly checked my irritability. Was what she was doing so different to my probable over-protectiveness earlier on? Who's to say that the feeling of responsibility that comes hand in hand with bearing and/or nurturing a child should stop when they are 10, 15, 20 or even 25 years old? It may be that as our children get older our protective instinct becomes more focused - we worry less about cuts and grazes, and more about drugs and alcohol, for example - and it may be that some of us become more expert at hiding it from others, but from what I've observed, it never lets up.

I hope that I'm not a helicopter parent, but what I realised during that call this evening was that you can't turn Motherhood off, the good or the bad stuff. Being a parent is project that you will never get to see finished and which you can never - god willing - draw a line under, or shut the door on, saying; 'well, that job's over and done with'. So my mother in law will no doubt continue to make those vaguely annoying phone calls for as long as she can dial the number, and I will probably continue to metaphorically reach out a hand to steady my sons on the icy roads they might walk for just as long.

And yes, both of us should probably just stop stressing.

But since this constant hum of low-level anxiety seems to be part and parcel of the way we love our children - along with the day to day highs and lows that come from rearing them and interacting with their emerging personalities - I think the best I can hope for is that I can rein in the worst of my protective instincts and give my sons enough space to grow up confident and independant. And that the next time I get one of those calls from my mother in law, that I will remember the chances are, I may well be making them myself in years to come...

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Christmas snapshots

Snapshot *1

My parents are at the table, enjoying a post-dinner glass of wine.  Dad looks across at Mum as he opens the second bottle of the evening, and says:

"I think, when one of us dies, I'm going to have to give up drinking..."

Snapshot *2

I've spent the morning in and out of the snow with the Boys.  We have thrown snow-balls (well, not snow 'balls' per-se - since the snow is very un-Britishly too powdery and dry for that - more handfuls of the stuff scraped off the top of the garden table or up off the grass and which, to be honest, are far more effective than snow-balls at properly soaking your opponents), got freezing hands and noses, and generally revelled in the unexpected white pre-Christmas.  We are, frankly, snowed-up to the max.

After defrosting ourselves and drinking a warming cup of hot chocolate, I kit the Boys up again, ready to make a trip to the shops.  We walk to the door.  I open it, revealing the snowy scene outside again.  Boy *2, standing behind me, gasps.

Me:  "What is it, Boy *2?"

Boy *2:  "SNOW!!!"

Sunday 20 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

So we're nearly at Christmas. There are many reasons why I know this to be true; here are a couple:

1. I'm at my parents and have been drinking at lunchtime. This never usually happens (the drinking at lunchtime, that is, not the being at my parents), mainly because I know it's the fastest way to an afternoon spent snoozing attractively on the sofa and waking to a patch of dribble on my shoulder...

2. My parents' Christmas tree has already come crashing down. It's not Christmas until there has been at least one smashed bauble and various muffled curses from my mother as she hoovers up the shards of glass and pine-needles whilst bitterly regretting having made that 'final' touch to the placement of the pressies she had placed prettily on the branches...

In any case, enough lunch-time wine-induced wittering; it's time for British Mummy Blogger of the Week. I thought that this week and next I might do something slightly different, however. In the last year the number of members in the BMB ning have increased amazingly; we've gone from an original roll-call of about 3 to 832 at the last count, a lot of whom have joined recently.

In fact, when I started writing the Mummy Blogger of the week post last May there were 235 members, which means that if you're one of the 597 who've joined more recently you might not have seen the earlier Bloggers of the Week, so I've decided to list all of them out - over this Sunday and next Sunday - for you to take a look at when the thrill of Christmas specials on tv and 'tidying up' the edges of the stilton and cheddar finally prove to be too much. Enjoy!

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

Happy Christmas! (September, October, November and December will be listed next week...)

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too)

Friday 18 December 2009

Chilblains and their side-effects...

Growing up in an old and draughty house, as a little girl I used to get terrible chilblains on my toes. (Click on the word for a link if you're lucky enough never to have experienced them). Oh, that burning, itchy feeling was simply horrendous. The relief of taking my school shoes off at the end of the day so I could have a good old scratch is something I still recall today.

Boy #2 - unsurprisingly, sturdy little soldier - is unaffected by them, but of course (of course!) his older and more 'delicate' brother suffers. Normally I tend to brush off Boy #1's afflictions; with the exception of his allergies and eczema he's actually pretty healthy, and when he does complain the causes seem most often to be imagined, or the result of near-fatal encounters with the edge of the table or fallings-off the arms of the sofa. When it comes to chilblains however, having experienced them myself, I am very sympathetic.

Unfortunately it seems that there's not much you can take for them as a child unless - as his did last year - they get infected, and the doctor prescribes antibiotics. You just have to try and keep skin moisturised, legs and hands warm, and your circulation up.

So far this winter he only has the one chilblain and I'm trying desperately to keep it that way, so when at bedtime yesterday he complained it was hurting him I decided to bring out the big guns and - gasp - reached for a hot water bottle, which I part-filled with warm water.

You think you know where this is going, don't you?

Well, apparantly it was just what the doctor ordered, and within a few minutes he was fast asleep. I'm not sure if it actually made much of a difference in real terms but the novelty value alone was enough to convince him that I was taking the situation seriously enough (which is, let's be honest, what we all want when we're feeling under the weather). What a great idea, I thought. No medication, no fuss, no trip to the doctors.

What I hadn't given much thought to, of course, was the possibility he might wake up at 5.00am and realise the hot water bottle was now cold. And I hadn't even considered the possibility that instead of pushing it away and down to the bottom of the bed - like any reasonable adult (as in, not a 6 year old) might do - he would sit up in bed and scream the house down demanding that it be refilled.

So, no hot water bottle tonight. But on the upside, it's good to know that threats of the naughty chair work even in the dark cold of the early morning...

Thursday 17 December 2009

Yesterday's definition of 'Organisation'...

...was remembering that your younger son has a nativity play today, and that you have to deliver him to nursery complete with a dressing gown and a tea-towel for him to wear on his head so he can be a shepherd. (Good to know nothing changes, isn't it?)

Today's definition of 'Smug'... the feeling you have as you walk out of the door in the morning having actually remembered to take said dressing gown with you.

Today's definition of 'Apprehension'... what you feel on the school run when your son states categorically that he will NOT be wearing his costume in the nativity.

Today's definition of 'Relief'... when you realise that this is his nursery teacher's problem, not yours.

Today's definition of 'Just In Time Management'... arriving at nursery to discover that the performance you had thought was scheduled for 10.00am is actually at 9.00.

Today's definition of 'Resignation'... watching all the children assemble in their respective costumes and realising that amongst the host of assorted shepherds, kings and angels, the little refusenik in the red sweatshirt is your son.

And today's definition of 'Confusion'...

... is wondering who the hell the red sweatshirt actually belongs to, because you've never seen it before.

Boy #2 never fails to deliver, does he?

Tuesday 15 December 2009

It's beginning to look ....

...well, nothing like Christmas, actually.

(This post is inspired by Liz at Violet Posy's Christmas Decoration Carnival Tour... And I'm sorry Liz, but I suspect this one is going to be a bit of a disappointment; I am letting the side down in a major way...)

Unfortunately, the only place in our home that is looking at all festive is the front of our glass cabinet, where I have wheeled out a token recognition of Advent in form of our perpetual calendar. We've had it around 3 years now, so perhaps 'perpetual' is a bit of an optimistic description. I bought it when I was on a girls' weekend in Brighton and feeling that frisson of guilt I always get when I'm away from home without Husband and the Boys and enjoying myself. Luckily, the purchase of the calendar went some way to alleviating that - as did the vodka-soaked evening that followed it.

I'm not sure how many more Christmases the calendar will be pressed into service though; it's only a matter of time before the Boys cotton on to the fact that practically every single one of their friends has parents who aren't luddites and manage to score a chocolate from their much more up to date and totally non-advent specific calendar before school even starts in the morning.

You may be wondering why this calendar is the extent of our festive effort. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It's a Big Deal for me. Normally I would be baking tree cookies, have a wreath on the front door, be looking out the tree decorations, polishing the candle sticks and be considering a moonlight raid on the garden square to liberate some holly and ivy.

I would never do that, by the way. The thought of being apprehended by an angry set of garden committee vigilantes on the prowl for just such an incident, whilst vastly entertaining, is too much for me. Plus, my torch is rubbish and I don't have the right gear. I mean, you'd need to be all camoflaged up and wearing dark clothes and a balaclava and - is it showing that I really have considered this?

But I will not be checking the lights are working ready to put them up this weekend. I know, I said no tree - ever - until 3 days before C-Day but I do - amazingly - have a heart, and so I usually give in to the Boy's pleadings early, secretly loving it, of course...

This year, however, with our impending departure and the fact that we're in and out of the house like nobody's business over the next couple of weeks, we decided not to have a tree. I'm surpised to find that I miss it. More than the Boys, actually, who appear remarkably sanguine not only about the lack of Christmas cheer at home but about the fact that we're upping sticks and moving to a new country very shortly after that. I suspect that is because Husband and I are trying very hard to be matter of fact about the whole adventure, and not to make too big a deal out of the whole thing.

Or at least, not in front of them, anyway. 'Discussions' regarding delayed paperwork, negotiations with estate agents (both Moscow and London-based) and logistics are usually kept for after they're in bed. Which is a good thing because, you know how they say moving is the most stressful thing after a death in the family?

I don't know WHAT they're talking about.

Last minute dot com 'r' us...

So it's Boy #2's birthday soon. We hadn't really given it much thought (other than to organise presents, obviously), and I hadn't even considered having a party other than to think that it probably wouldn't happen as we will just have arrived in Moscow at the time.

But then the fact that he's been discussing his party since his brother's extravaganza at Gambado in September, dropping not so much subtle hints as great big suitcases full expectations of fun and cake, started to sink in.

Unfortunately this gives us something of a problem as his birthday neatly coincides with our arrival in Moscow, which whilst it will make for some picturesque snowy photo opps, also means we'll be a little short on a) somewhere to have a party b) guests to invite to it c) suitable supplies to serve at it.

So then we decided; a simple, low-key, understated party at home, nursery friends only, before we leave London.

Obviously, that's not how it's working out. At all...

Realisation #1: Half our stuff will be in boxes by the date of the party, and the other half will (god willing) already have left for Moscow. Hardly the best time to invite 15 rising 4 year-olds and their assorted hangers-on into your home.

Climb-down #1: We booked the church hall down the road.

(But I was definite; sandwiches only, and no entertainer. What's wrong with British Bulldogs and Pass the Parcel, for goodness' sake?)

Realisation #2: Well, if we're booking this church hall, why does it just have to be nursery friends? Especially since, being international jet-set types most of them will already have left for Christmas in their country of origin by then?

Climb-down #2: OK, let's invite kids of friends, too.

Realisation #3: When are we going to see our friends to say goodbye?

Climb-down #3: Hell, why not invite the whole family and kill two birds with one stone whilst we're at it?

Realisation #4: Better serve the adults something to drink too, I suppose. Can't just give them Ribena and the children's party food (which, by the way, was Climb-down 1.5; since they have an oven at the church hall there, let's serve sausages in bread rolls - isn't that simpler than making 20 lots of sandwiches?).

Climb-down #4; I'll do some mulled wine; it's Christmas, after all! (And I do like a warming drink on a cold day...)

Realisation #5: If I'm doing mulled wine, mince pies (what's Christmas without them?), sausages in buns for the kids, and trying to say goodbye to our friends pre-Moscow departure, when are we going to have time to organise the children to play Pass the Parcel and British Bulldogs?

Climb-down 5: It turns out that the only good thing about holding a party so close to Christmas - when most of the kids in the area have left the building - is that you can book pretty much any entertainer you like. Which is nice...

And whilst I have categorised this as a series of 'climb-downs' above, I prefer to see the whole event as a triumph of multi-tasking... Humour me. Please?

Sunday 13 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Boy #1: "Mummy, have you got the songs?" (Trans; please put The Jungle Book on YouTube)

Me: "No, no I haven't."

Boy #1: "Can you get them?"

Me: "Well, not right now. I'm doing something. (trying to write the British Mummy Blogger of the Week post, if you must know). Maybe later."

(30 seconds pass. Overcome with guilt at my neglectful parenting, I cave. Foolish girl).

Me: "5 minutes, OK?"

Boy #1: "OK."

He stands behind me, breathing heavily in my ear.

Boy #1: "I'm just going to stand here and watch you do that."

Me: "What, type?"

Boy #1: "Yes."

Silence, apart from me tapping away.

Boy #1: "I won't talk."

I tap away.

Boy #1: "I'll just watch you."

Boy #2 appears around the edge of the door: "What are you doing?"

Oh, for pete's sake... Let's just get on with it.

This week's British Mummy Blogger of the week, Not Waving But Ironing writes of her blog:

'It's about what on earth I'm going to do with the rest of my life now the kids are finally at school. I've already made an inventory of the contents of my chest freezer. I've cleaned the grouting in the shower with an old toothbrush. I'd love other mums in a similar situation to visit my blog and share their time-wasting, existence-justifying ideas with me.'

And if you're wondering what the signs of having let yourself go are, click here. But be warned - whatever you do, don't look at your hands afterwards....

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too.

Saturday 12 December 2009

One day...

One day I will not let it get to me when the Boys start and end the day with a whine.

One day I will stay serene and calm as the pre-breakfast energy-low hits just around the time I'm trying to persuade them that it is a good idea to let me use my icy-cold hands to smear moisturising cream into their eczema-prone skin.

(One day I'll find the right herbal lotion or potion to improve my circulation.)

One day I will ask them to put their shoes on for the school run, and they'll do it, first time. (No - that's never going to happen).

One day I will walk out of the flat for the school run cool, collected, and without the collar of my coat turned the wrong way out or hissing 'Just get up. The. Stairs!' at my sons.

One day I will drink coffee, and like it. The world of double plus plus latte's with mocha shots and fairy wings sprinkled on the top will be my oyster.

One day I will sit in elegant cafes on the King's Road, Chelsea, watching the world go by with newly-polished boots (fxck it - let's just make them new), skinny jeans that don't dig in at the waist because I just can't bear to admit I have gone up a dress-size again, fitted (but not too fitted, because that would be trashy) t-shirts from Joseph, as I talk knowledgably about World Events.

One day I will buy something from Pret a Porter.

One day it will fit.

One day I will click 'open' when my e-mail notifies me that a new piece of news has come through to me from The Financial Times.

One day I will understand the term 'sub-prime'.

One day I will be paid to write.

One day I will have something useful to write about. One day I will be able to walk away from bitchy comments left about pieces I have written on other websites in the understanding that it is not about my issues, but theirs.

One day I will groooooooooove to jazz. One day I will be able to pick a tune out of the discordant jumble of notes and not start itching every time the name Dave Brubeck is mentioned.

One day I will enjoy opera. Or at least, be able to stay awake through it.

One day the Boys won't erupt in the car on the way home from school when I say that no, they can't have a second biscuit because we are only five minutes from home and they can wait to have a sandwich there.

One day the reason there aren't any more biscuits won't be because I snaffled the rest on my way to collect them.

One day the Boys won't mutter and complain when I point out that they chose an extra ten minutes television over a second bed-time story.

One day they will choose that second bed-time story instead of the extra television.

And then, one day, they won't. Because they won't want any bed-time story.

One day, I'll miss the whining at the beginnng and the end of the day. And I'll be glad I loved it - really - whilst I was going through it.

Friday 11 December 2009

And THAT is why I write blog posts and not books...

I had a post all planned for this morning about party bags. It was a wonderful post, if I do say so myself. I had written it in my head as I battled Boy #2 unwillingly into his clothes, explained to Boy #1 why - despite the fact that it was indeed a wonderful den he had created out of the sofa cushions - that he needed to tidy to it up before he went to school, gave them both breakfast, and arranged an estate agent's viewing for later this morning.

Then I sat down and tapped my Pulitzer-winning post out pdq in the space of a couple of minutes. It was short, concise, touched on the various forms of entertainement the Boys have been treated to in the 50 or so birthday parties I've accompanied them to during the last few years, self-deprecating, and funny (or at least, I like to think so).

I was just about to put in the last sentence.

The phone rang.

I answered it.

Wrong number.

And by the time I came back to the computer to hit save and publish, Boy #2 had switched it off.

Oh well. I suppose the world can live without my pronouncements on party bags, after all. And honestly? I think this makes a better post...

Thursday 10 December 2009

Nonsense and Stuff

In the car this morning my two sons decided to act true to type...

Me: "So, Boy #1, what do you do at school on a Thursday?

Boy #1 (always loving a bit of drama and suspense when - most importantly - he is the one dishing it out); "I don't know. It's a mystery! We'll just have wait until we get there to find out..."

Me: "OK... And Boy #2? What do you have at school on a Thursday?"

Boy #2: "Sausages!"

Cutting straight to the chase, as usual. Good to know he's aware of what's important in life...

The whole move to Moscow thing is becoming a bit real today with estate agents calling to value the flat for lettings and international movers hassling us for paper-work, so once again I suggest that if you want to read coherent thought from me you check the following;

Powder Room Graffiti - where I'm musing on the dubious benefits of Skype's video-call facility

or Alpha Mummy at Times Online, where I'm revisiting and expanding on my thoughts from my earlier post on a Husband-shaped space in our lives.

Oh, and Red Magazine is running an article about the British Mummy Bloggers Ning this month, featuring an interview with the divine Susanna of A Modern Mother who set the network up. And yes, I am in the photograph. (Note to self - work on posture... Pilates, perhaps?)

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Attn Country Cousins

It's that time of year again.

No, not the time for Christmas cheer and last minute desperate searches through the 'present cupboard' (formerly known as your sweater shelf but which is the only place in your wardrobe the children can't see or reach), in the hope that you have something suitable when visiting friends break the cardinal rule - no unannounced presents - by turning up with Lego Pods for your children when you have nothing to give their offspring in return (oh, the shame!).

No, it's far more exciting than that; it's Circular Letter time!

Now, I appreciate that for you web-savvy folk in this age of Facebook and Twitter, when your nearest and dearest not only know what you had for dinner but how long the meal took to digest, this may seem a sweetly out-moded concept, but believe me, these little treats do still appear tucked into cards all across the land.

Last year I was particularly taken with the concept that an acquaintance encountered; that of writing a round robin letter from the family pet. Unfortunately, due to allergies (both to pet hair and to the work involved in caring for one), we don't have a pet - but I got around that by enlisting the help of the ever-obliging family of mice who were at that time making far-too regular appearances in our flat.

This year, however, times have changed.

After fierce battles featuring traps, poison and plastic buckets with our furry friends I had convinced myself that they were gone...

Attn. Country Cousins.

This may be a short missive. Stop. Hope all is well. Stop. Currently in deep cover under the Floor Boards. Stop. Human Family Above-Boards convinced we have been eradicated. Stop. Not true (Clearly). Stop. They are fools for even imagining it. Stop.

Our unit is currently working on a plan for global domination Above-Boards featuring adaptation of Human Children's Lego City Police Station. Stop. We are hoping that radio comms attached to the station's roof will link us in to High Command for further instructions. Stop. And that miniature microwave will prove useful in heating up my Cornish Pasties. Stop.

Have already appropriated Power Ranger Motorbike and Transformer Rocket which Cousin Brains is converting into all-terrain vehicle suitable for Kitchen assault. Stop. Grappling irons have been sourced likewise from Playmobil set in Toy Box. Stop.

Uncle Hannibal running boot camps under the Living Room Sofa for Rookies. Stop. Casualties slight to-date. Stop. If only he would stop making the raw recruits scale the bookshelves in search of paper clips and other deadly weapons they might be negligable. Stop. Death by impalement on Lego Shrapnel not pretty. Stop.

Floorplans for target gratefully recieved. Stop. Our condolences to Great Aunt Sissy on the loss of Uncle Bert in the operation to obtain them. Stop. Those solicitor's offices can be death-traps. Stop. Who would have thought that the shredded paper he was bivouacking in would get re-shredded? Stop.

Getting light now, Humans traipsing around Above-Boards and orders being barked to 'get Shoozon'. Stop. Wonder once again what they are talking about and why it requires such emphasis. Stop. One day we'll break their fiendish code. Stop. Must stop. Stop.

Signed, Private Ro Dent.

(Yes. I know it. I need to get a job).

Tuesday 8 December 2009

A Christmas carol, anyone?

Last night I took a break from explaining to my Boys why Santa may not be bringing them every single item in the Lego and Power Ranger catalogues, and went to a Christmas carol service at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It was to raise funds for Home Start who, 'through a network of nearly 16,000 trained parent volunteers, support thousands of parents who are struggling to cope. The families they help need support for many reasons including post-natal illness, disability, bereavement, the illness of a parent or child, or social isolation. Parents supporting other parents - to help build a family's confidence and ability to cope'.

Home Start is a fantastic charity and the carol service was a wonderful experience, even more so because we're leaving London so soon. Just to add to the sense of theatre, it was held in The Chapel at the Royal Hospital.

I experienced something of a Susan Boyle moment as it started. The Chapel Choir processed into the church by candle-light and as they entered, stopped at the doorway. One of their members, an unpreposessing middle-aged woman, stepped forward and nervously raised her hymn sheet in front of her.

I have to admit that at this moment, my heart was in my mouth for her. I mean, really, not having heard this choir before I had no idea what to expect. Obviously I should have known better, for she took a breath and, unaccompanied, sang the first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City', beautifully. Just as beautifully, in fact, as any boy soprano chorister that I've heard.

The lesson, I suppose, is not to judge a book by it's cover...

There were readings too; at one point the friend I was with whispered that it was rather like listening to a 'best of' on Radio Four. They included The Nativity sketch by Joyce Grenfell (a hero of mine - click here for a poor attempt by me at writing in her style), and a parody of 'The Night Before Christmas' written and read by Richard Stilgoe which unfortunately I couldn't find on Youtube, but which ended with the immortal words '...I must have been barmy, to end the night eating three Peperami.'

We were also treated with one of my favourite Christmas-themed monologues; 'The Journey of the Magi' by TS Eliot. If you've never heard it I can recommend it; it will give you food for thought whatever your religious inclination...

Monday 7 December 2009

Keeping the space free

Husband and I sat down yesterday and made a list of all the things we still have to do to make our move to Moscow happen in just over one month's time. Bugger, there's a lot of stuff on it. Throughout this planning process I found myself fighting back the stress-yawns that any type of house-move always prompts from me (it appears my 'fight or flight' instinct is in fact a 'fight or stay on the spot and take a quick nap' instinct), and I have to admit that it did occur to me - more than once - to wonder; 'Why are we doing this, again?'

I know too that this is a question that friends and family ask themselves privately - and not so privately, on occasion. I mean, we could just maintain the status quo; Husband flying backwards and forwards every week, the Boys and I safely ensconsced in London and just seeing him for 2 - 3 days every weekend. I could continue to hold the fort on the home-front whilst my beloved brings home the Russian bacon.

But that would be wrong on so many different levels, I can't contemplate it. Manic though the next few weeks are going to be, we can't continue as we are doing. Not only because it is important for our sons that they get more time with their father (and for our marriage that their parents get to spend time together too), or that the constant travelling - for him - and solo parenting - for me -is exhausting both of us, or even that moving to Moscow going to be a great adventure in our otherwise staid and middle-class life. No, the problem with leading life like this is, I've found, that when one parent is gone for a significant amount of time - in this case, approx 75% of the week, every week - it creates a vacuum.

All the e-mails, skype and telephone calls in the world can't hide the fact that there is a Husband-shaped hole in our family when he's not here, in London, with us.

That's bad enough, of course. But I'm aware - both from my own experience, and from that of friends who've found themselves in similar situations - that what happens subsequently, as the absences become more common-place than exceptional, is almost worse. The longer the situation continues the smaller that hole becomes, because as they say; Nature abhors a vacuum. So what happens is that the family left behind starts to expand to fill that hole. It's a coping mechanism, and there's nothing wrong with that. Except, of course, that in this instance the partner who is absent comes back every weekend, expecting to find the same space they left behind empty, open and waiting for them.

I recognise this. He recognises this. And we both recognise that it is not a long-term recipe for healthy relationship. So we're moving to Moscow.

On the plus side, every single thing that we ever thought 'I must get round to that someday / I must throw out / I must organise' is going to be sorted in the process. And I'm anally retentive enough to be quite excited about that...

Saturday 5 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

There must be something in the air; I seem to get riled quite easily at the moment. But I took time out from huffing about party bags (fine in themselves but I hate the behaviour they prompt in my children) and railing against chocolate filled advent calendars (what's wrong with festive scenes of robins and reindeers, huh? Never did ME any harm as a child, twitch twitch...), to watch 'ET' with my children this evening.

Unsurprisingly it was my younger son who was enchanted, firing questions at us about rockets, spacemen, aliens, and whether ET was waiting outside our house, and my older son who hid beneath a quilt, peeping out every now and again to protest about being forced to watch such a scary movie. Never mind the happy ending - which we assured him frequently was on it's way - we were apparantly committing a heinous crime by switching on such a horror-flick in the first place. I should have known, I suppose. This is a boy who gets spooked by 'Numberjacks' on C-Beebies, after all.

All the fun and games, prevarications, negotiations, confrontations and reconciliations, however, are still to come for this Blogging Mummy of the Week.

Myshka is not a new blogger, but is currently in the eye of the storm that is becoming a first-time mother. As someone who's mostly forgotten what that was like, it's fascinating to read her real-time observations, both on what's happened since her daughter was born, and on how she felt about it all before-hand.

I particularly recommend this post, where she talks of her change in perspective; I know I'm a soft-touch these days, but I defy you not to be moved. It certainly reminded me of what having a new-born can feel like.

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Friday 4 December 2009

What would you NEVER do?

I've found that one of the best things about getting older (yes, amazingly there are some that fall under the category of 'good, better, best'), is the fact that I have become less certain about long-held beliefs and started to realise that sometimes life is just too short and too uncertain to ever say 'never'. Even some of the most fiercely felt principles are 'adaptable' sometimes.

Sceptical? Let me walk you through how this can work...

For example, I have always said firmly that 'I will never drive a 4x4'. They're petrol guzzling, unneccessarily large vehicles that serve no real purpose in a town other than being a testament to conspicuous consumption, from my very prejudiced point of view. Living where I do (Chelsea-on-Thames), we're covered with the things like a rash, they're everywhere. Taking up two parking spaces. Cutting the corners on pavements. Being driven like weapons, and generally just pissing me off, to be honest.

That was my start point, anyway. However, as I've got older, my immovable statement mutated into 'I will never drive a 4x4.' (See how the rot sets in?) Because not everyone else thinks the same way I do (I know, it's crazy, but - sadly - true) some of our friends drive them. And sometimes accepting a lift is unavoidable. And boy, are they comfortable. Still wrong, of course, but every now and again, just about acceptable. Let's just hope that my balaclava'd comrades in the Anti-4x4 movement never spot me in the passenger seat...

Time moves on though, and recently my position has changed again. Now, it's 'I will never drive a 4x4 in London'. (Lo, how the mighty have fallen...) Because there's a possibility that once we finally get to Russia, expediency will win out and I'll find myself behind the wheel of one. I mean, there's the weather (ice and snow for 4 months of the year), the state of the roads (pot-holed, unfinished, constantly being renovated), the additional safety that driving a virtual tank gives you in an accident (I'll be driving on the opposite side of the road to the one I'm used to), and the uncertainty of the skill level of the drivers around you (I'm told that in Russia it's more normal to buy your driving licence than it is to take the exam).

Plus, I'll have been uprooted from my normal comfort zone, will be far from my beloved family, bessie mates, and unlimited re-runs of 'Friends' on E4, so who knows? I may just think 'Fxck it. Bring me that 4x4 - covered in chocolate. Because I'm worth it.'

I don't expect that to happen, by the way, but you get my point.

Anyway, this moving of moral goalposts is something I've written about on Powder Room Graffiti this week, with regard to an issue that often raises outraged hackles; that of the Fur Coat.

So, what would you NEVER do? I would be interested to know...

Thursday 3 December 2009

Let's take a Moment or two...

I'm having those 'moments' rather a lot, recently. The sort of moments when you whether you wonder which reality it is you're actually living in. Needless to say, they usually revolve around my sons. Here are a couple of Boy #2-related examples...

Boy #2 (from the back of the car as we drive through heavy traffic to collect his brother from school): "Did you see it? Did you see it, Mama?"

Me: "What? What was I supposed to see?"

Boy #2 (exaxperated): "The HOUSE, Mama. The house!!"

Me: "Well, which house did you mean, Boy #2?"

Boy #2 (sighing heavily and no doubt rolling his eyes at his mother's tiresome insistence on watching the road when driving): "The HOUSE! The blue one! The one covered with smoked salmon!"

Heaven knows what he was on about. I mean, I do live in South Kensington, but even here conspicuous consumption hasn't reached quite those levels...

And recently, every time I start the car, it jumps forward as it has been left in gear. Not by me, I hasten to add - never by me. No, normally it's Husband who does that. (Is it a Man thing, or a continental European thing, I wonder? In any case, it drives me crazy.) However, Husband - in case you hadn't noticed recently - is rarely in the country during the week at the moment. So how is this happening?

Boy #2, of course. He has made it his raison d'etre to do this. Every morning and afternoon, he climbs into the back of the car and, whilst I'm walking around to the other side to clip him in, nips in between the two front seats to slam it into gear. By the time I've wrestled him into his car seat, located the seemingly impossible to find clip underneath him, and discussed whatever is on his mind, I invariably forget to check the car is not in gear when I finally get into the front seat to start the engine.

I turn the ignition and we bunny hop, to his great delight. Not, so far, into a car parked in front of us (we live in area where off-street parking is but a distant dream), but it's been close a few times.

I keep having nightmares where a clerk at my car insurance company opens my claim form and says "You remember that woman in London who hit a car at 5 miles an hour and gave some poor bloke whiplash? Well, she's back. This time she's totalled an Aston Martin parked in front of her and she's expecting us to be believe it was the fault of her three year old son..."

Hmmm. I think I need to leave a post-it note on the steering wheel.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Top Tips and bad man-management

Right. It's Top Tip Time.

Here's the first; if you have a small child about you and want to get completely, utterly and totally into the Christmas spirit, wait until they're at school / asleep / on a visit to loving grandparents and wrecking their tree rather than your own, and visit this post at Sticky Fingers. Then follow the links to create a real live video message from Santa Claus to your tiny tot, to show them at some suitably festive moment. It works, I promise. Hell, it had me believing in him (and even tearing up, if I'm honest) and I was the one who typed in the information to create it.

And here's the second tip. Are you super savvy when it comes to caring for your home and running your family? I bet you are. I bet you have loads of money saving tips to pass on and share. My top tip, which I've written about before, is to make a meal plan and a list before I go to the supermarket. Oh, and not to take the Boys down the cereal aisle where they can get seduced by the free toys. I know - I'm a horrible, controlling mother. Especially since designing, manufacturing and distributing those very same toys was the best job I ever had...

Other than Motherhood, obviously. (Cue sickly sweet smile as I pick leek and potato soup off my cardigan).

Still, if you're not feeling particularly super or savvy this cold December day, there's always the supersavvyme website for back-up. In the interests of full disclosure, they hosted a fantastic blogger's meet-up for the British Mummy Bloggers at London Zoo on Sunday, not only providing yummy sandwiches and somewhere to shelter from the freezing wet weather, but giving us the rare and very welcome chance to chat face to face, which is why they're top of mind for me right now. Check out A Modern Mother's blog for photographic evidence of the event and proof that we do, indeed, exist in the flesh...

Right now though, there is one area of my life which I'm not feeling either super or savvy about. No top tips here - just a sad tale of bad management on my part.

Not long ago I wrote about my inability to deal with 'the cleaner'. Reading it back, I decided enough was enough, I was paying her good money - more in fact than the our previous, better cleaner - and the next week (when she grudgingly turned up on time and as agreed) I spoke to her about understanding that she had been ill but that I needed to be able to rely on her. I explained that since we were moving soon and would be showing the flat to potential tenants, it was important the place was kept reasonably clean and that obviously she could help me with that.

You would think that would be the end of the matter, right? That she would either accept those terms or say 'thanks, but I don't think it's working out, you need to find yourself someone else'?

But no.

Since then, she has been when she said she would, that's true. She has done a just about OK job, also true. Not a great job, as I still find cobwebs and dust in blindingly obvious places, but I can live with that.

What I hadn't reckoned on, however, was that in retaliation for the unwelcome news that she was expected to start earning her wage, she would start helping herself to my toiletries.


Time for a new cleaner, I think.