Wednesday 29 September 2010

Settle down, children...

So the Boys and I are shortly to attend what their school optimistically calls 'settling in conferences'. For any British readers out there, or for anyone else who has not come across this term before, it refers to a 20 minute session where parent(s), child and teacher sit down and discuss progress during the 4 week-old school year to-date, chat about any issues that might have reared their ugly heads, and agree on goals for the next 9 months or so.


I'm sorry, but - What?

I guess what are really talking about is a parent / teacher evening with the child in attendance. Which seems to me rather besides the point. I mean, what teacher would be able to speak frankly about a child with them sitting next to the parent? In fact, what parent would want them to? I mean, maybe, perhaps, this would be a useful exercise if the Boys were a few years older, but at 4 and 7 I'm not convinced that this is anything other than window-dressing of the 'look how much we care about your child' kind.

However, I'm going with a (partly) open mind, as is Boy #1. I'm sure his settling in conference will be fine. Boy #2, on the other hand, has decided to treat this occasion with his usual devil-may-care attitude. For some reason the reception class (that's PreK, if you live across the pond) were provided with a questionnaire for their parents to fill out for them. This consisted of two key questions: Q1: What am I good at? and Q2: What do I want to learn this year? Each was accompanied by a box for the child to draw a picture that might illustrate their answer.

Well, we tried, we really did. But my younger son - never a sheep - flatly refused to follow instructions on the pictures and instead drew his favourite form of transport in each box, using feather-light pencil strokes that are almost invisible to the naked eye (I wonder if his teacher has CSI-style enhancement techniques available to her for use in such cases?). And when it came to actually answering Q1, he decided the only thing he was good at was 'playing'. I doctored this slightly and added 'making friends' (both things, I'm sure you'll agree, are key to a 4 year-old's success, and which - in my considered opinion - he actually is good at).

Q2, on the other hand... Well, you try getting a testosterone-charged PreKindergartner to tell you what they want to learn at school this year. Short of shining a light in his eyes and contravening the Geneva Convention, there was no way I was going to get any answer other than 'But I don't want to learn anything, mummy! I just want to play!' So I did what all of us creative-types would do in that situation; I changed the question.

Out went; 'What do you want to learn at school this year?', and in came 'What do you want to learn... this year?' Funnily enough, that yielded results. Once mandatory attendance at school was no longer part of the equation, Boy #2 showed his true colours and admitted his real ambition.

And I wrote it down. (Well, why not? They did ask...)

What remains to be seen is how his teacher deals with the answer. Oh, and what I wrote down was: 'This year, I want to learn to drive a motorboat, and ride a quad bike.'

At the very least we'll find out if she has a sense of humour or not, I suppose...

Note: In Boy #2's defence, these ambitions are not as far-fetched as they might seem. We're living the expat life and things that might be an impossibility living in central London seem to happen disconcertingly often out here. For example, 3 weekends ago he was on the water next to the driver of a motorboat (who was, in his considered opinion, not making half as good a job of piloting it as he - Boy #2 - would have done), and 3 older children in our compound do have quad-bikes and frequently offer him rides. (He's only managed to take them up on it the once, when my back was turned - but that's a story for another post).

Tuesday 28 September 2010

So it seems this 'life' thing requires application...

Is there anything more depressing that waiting for feedback? Scratch that, actually; I know there are. I just can't bring myself to write about those things right now, hence the long and unaccustomed absence from BlogLand on my part.

I will be back, I promise. It's just that right now I'm tied up in this 'developing a life off-line' business, and unsurprisingly it's keeping me rather busy. In the meantime though, if you are missing my particular brand of nonsense, check out this post on Powder Room Graffiti that went up today.

(I should just add; the fantasy court-case described on PRG no way bears any resemblance to the home life of our own dear potty. None at all, your honour...)

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Apologies for the break in transmission...

So. Two things have happened. Firstly, I seem to have lost my blogging mojo a little. Well - a lot, actually. You might have noticed. And secondly, even if my blog-Mo-Jo were up and about rather than languishing on a beach sipping mojito's somewhere, it also appears that Real Life is starting to get in the way of blogging. What the hell? I thought that when both Boys started school there would be acres of empty space in my day, that I would find myself tapping away at the keyboard for long tranches of time, and that I would become ever more productive on the writing front.


And again, HA!

It hasn't worked out that way. This is partly due to having got myself involved in a couple of things at the Boys' school which seem to be taking up rather more of my days than I envisaged, but if I'm honest that's not all there is to it.

I've long promised myself, you see, that when Boy #2 started school properly (as in, full days, which finally happened last week), I would at last begin to properly experience Moscow. We've been here 9 months now and due to the fact that up until now I've mostly had my younger son in tow, I still feel a little as if I could be anywhere. But now that's changed I want to make better use of the limited time we have here to get out and about, and get under the skin of this city. I don't want to waste the chance to experience something so completely 'other' to my beloved London; just imagine if, in 10 years time, I mentioned in passing to a friend that I lived in Russia for a while, and on being pressed on what I did there I could only answer 'much the same as in London, really; a bit of work, looked after the kids, went for coffee with my mates, helped out at the school, shopping, laundry, housework...' I'm not slagging any of these pursuits off, you understand. But you can do them anywhere.

So I have set myself a task to get out of my normal routine whilst I'm here. That could mean having a cup of tea with Russian rather than English people, visiting a gallery or museum off the beaten track, cross country skiing in the forests outside town (once the snow comes, obviously - which I'm assured will be in 4 - 6 weeks, hurrah...), taking a Russian language exercise class, or simply walking through the city and finding the opportunities to take photographs like this one...

So don't hold me to it, but I guess what I'm saying is that posts might be a bit thin on the ground for a while. I'll still be here, you understand. But living life, rather than just writing about it. And who knows? Maybe my errant Blog MoJo might look up from her magazine on the beach in Mauritius, glance in my direction, and decide it's actually worth coming back over here for a look-see at what I'm up to...

Thursday 16 September 2010


Is there anything quite like:

Being woken half an hour before the alarm goes off by your younger son shouting "I need a poo! I need a POO! INEEDAPOO!!!" at the top of his voice?

Treading on lego shrapnel with bare feet in the dark, as you negotiate your way through his bedroom to try and get him to be quiet and not wake your long-suffering neighbours?

Discovering by the time you get back to bed after the loo incident that it is now only 20 minutes before wake-up time, and there is no way you will manage to get back to sleep before it's time to get up? In short, you have been cheated of 30 precious minutes of sleep.

Finding that not only are your socks too thick to wear under the boots you had planned on putting on, but that your only remaining pair of - shudder - pop socks has a hole in the heel?

Being greeted by a rainy Autumnal Moscow day.

Attending a meeting about a forthcoming craft fair at the school and suddenly realising you have spoken out loud what you were thinking, and have inadvertently promised to try and collect 200 pine cones to allow the children to make attractive Christmas (sorry! Holiday, HOLIDAY!) tree decorations?

Still, life does provide the odd compensation...

Monday 13 September 2010

Grey is so NOT the colour...

It's an evening of short posts, I'm afraid. But I really wanted to show you a couple of pictures.

I remember when I first visited Russia, back in 1995. I have to say that my expectations of the architecture I would see were not very high and I assumed, based on various gritty films that I'd seen, that the prevailing impression I would receive in person would be much the same; paint-peeling tower blocks, impressive and intimidating Stalinist monoliths, and grey, everywhere.

Surprise surprise, even 15 years ago Moscow wasn't like that. Sure, the monoliths and crumbling tower blocks were there, but so were fanciful palaces and cutting edge modern architecture. Now of course, capitalism has done both it's best and it's worst and there have been both improvements and architectural atrocities committed in the name of progress. However, even having lived here for the best part of a year, I imagined that outside of the cities utilitarian design would be all one would see.

As ever of course, Russia does love to prove me wrong...

These are some typical cottages that I photographed in the Tver Region (about 4 hours north of Moscow) this weekend. The area is not what you might call wealthy and yet, grey and utilitarian? I don't think so. (Pay particular attention to the window frames and please note; I did not have to search for examples like these; they were ten-a-penny...)

Help Wanted...

It seems like I'm shouting a lot about charitable causes these days. I'm not going to apologise for that, but I do understand that 'charity fatigue' is real and that we all experience it from time to time.

However, here's a short film from Unicef about Pakistan that I was forwarded today and I think is worth watching. (And I do think it's amusing that they sent me this one, what with it's featuring the quite watchable Ewan McGregor and all. What am I - an easily pigeon-holed Mummy Blogger or something?)

Thursday 9 September 2010

Observations #102

It doesn't do to make too good a job of it when you are asked to write the minutes for a PTO meeting. Otherwise all future written communication will suddenly become your job...

Getting a group of lateral-thinking women together to plan a school event (like, for example, a Craft Fair) is all very well and you will end up with some very creative ideas. Just bear in mind that when you try to translate your notes to write up the minutes it may take some time to join up all the dots, what with all the jumping around from subject to subject that you will do during said creative discussions.

There will always be one woman who is as much concerned with the colour & design of the team t-shirt as she is with making sure the event runs smoothly.

The 'C' word is not a four letter one in the school my son attends. The 'C' word, never to be uttered in the school for fear of upsetting the authorities who have chosen to ignore it (along with, let it be said, all other religiously based festivals no matter what the faith), is 'Christmas'...

...Consequently I am planning on making a trip to the Christmas department in Selfridges on my next trip back to England to buy as much offensively festive kit as possible, and may even do the school run from end November onwards in a Santa Claus bobble hat.

Keep your head down and take a step backwards when your son's class teachers ask for helpers. Do not under any circumstances stand there waving your hand in the air, admit to having written some children's stories and then offer to read them to the class. Or you will find yourself nominated 'Writer in Residence' and in charge of steering the children's first creative writing lessons. (It's 'put your money where your pen is' time...)

That low key party you've planned for your son's 7th birthday? There ain't no such thing as a low key party for a 7 year old...

Monday 6 September 2010

In which I admit my involvement with the PTO...

Yesterday evening I spent a very pleasant hour or so catching up with some neighbours over a glass of wine. All of our children go to the same school so it wasn't surprising when that entered the discussion.

I can't quite remember how it came up, but one of my friends mentioned the PTO - a force to be reckoned with, and not an organisation you mess with at this school.

Many expat communities these days are full of ladies (and they are mostly ladies, though I hate to generalise) who formerly had quite high powered jobs and who now as 'trailing spouses' (god I hate that term, especially since it applies to me) find themselves with plenty of time on their hands and no project to use it for. So when these ladies are looking about for something to do, if they have school-age children they often fix on the PTO as a place to expend their excess energy and creativity. This can only be to the advantage of any organisation on the receiving end of their attentions, of course; the women concerned are often highly organised, no-nonsense go-getters who make things happen. And Moscow is no exception.


From the outside I have to admit that these ladies can seem a little... intimidating... at times. Which is why I had to laugh when my friend and I had the following conversation...

Friend: "And then of course, there are those dreadful things organised by the PTO. Like the children's Craft Fair, for example. It's awful! All pre-fabricated stuff, no proper creativity involved at all. Stick on a sequin and you're done. Where's the craft in that?"

I start to laugh, somewhat hysterically.

Friend: "What? What?"

Me: "Guess what I'm doing over the next couple of months?"

Friend: "...What?"

Me: "Organising something for the PTO. And guess what it is?"

Friend (the awful truth starting to dawn) "...What?"

Me: "The children's Craft Fair..." (more laughter)

Money can't buy these moments.

Note: I did then get some very helpful hints on how not to organise a craft fair, and also some tongue-in-cheek suggestions on how to manage my PTO 'career' (their words, not mine) to ensure world domination in the shortest possible time. Suffice it to say that I was quick to explain that was not my objective; the only reason I got involved with this particular event was because I was told that as the first fair in the school calendar it was over quickly and I could then rest on my laurels for the remainder of the year. I'm not kidding myself, of course. Like that's going to happen...

Sunday 5 September 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Evening all...

Every Sunday when I sit down to write this post (oh, all right, most Sundays, when I'm not swept up in back to school fever like I was last week, for example), I take a look through my secret-oh-so-secret notes to see which of the new blogs I've checked out recently I would like to nominate as this week's reading. And then, just to check I haven't missed anyone new, I visit the British Mummy Blogger's Ning member's section and take a look through that and visit a few more.

Normally that takes a while. (Suffice it to say it's a good thing I only have access to Russian tv as I have no distractions to lure me away from the task in-hand. Well, it's either that or watching my way through the last series of '24' again and since I didn't stay awake the first time I watched it, well, thank god for blogging is all I can say...)

However, this evening on my visit to the BMB member's page I hit paydirt with only the second blog I visited...

We're at that stage in Boy #1's education where reading is moving from being a chore to him to something he loves. I'm a bookworm myself so it's a delight to me to see him with his head buried in a book, even if it is about Ben 10 or PowerRangers rather than something more edifying (he is only 6, after all). So any hints on finding new books for him to read - or for me to read to him - are gratefully received, which is why when I read this blog I was immediately interested.

Natasha Worswick writes that her blog is:

'...about lots of things really, but it tends to focus on children’s books (the ones I’ve enjoyed or not), the publishing industry, children’s marketing and tracking my son Milo’s reading habits.'

I liked her post about hospital books, and ideas of titles you can use to entertain children on long journeys. And as for the link to the Q&A page of Andrew Stanton's site - brilliant. I will definitely be adding his books to the Boys' collection.

For the British Mummy Blogger's Ning click here. (Note: it says 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Friday 3 September 2010

Sisters Under The Skin #blogladesh

If you are are a member of the British Mummy Bloggers community, I imagine that by now you will have picked up on the fact that 3 British bloggers have travelled out to Bangladesh with Save The Children to see for themselves the work that is being done there - and the work that still needs to be done. And if you are on Twitter, I can't imagine there's much chance of your having avoided the wealth of tweets with the #blogladesh hashtag that have been circulating for the last few weeks.

I'm not going to write here about their experiences; why paraphrase what has already been written about so honestly? You can keep up to date with their posts and tweets on their trip here, on The Save The Children site.

No, I just wanted to say how incredibly proud I am of these bloggers and what they are currently doing.

When I first heard about this trip I have to admit to feeling both envy that I wasn't going, and more than faint sense of apprehension on their behalf. To be pulled so far out of your comfort zone, to be confronted with the effects of poverty in such an in-your-face-manner, and to do that from behind the lucky side of the have/have-not division, well, that's got to be hard. I'm met all of these women; they're not saints, they're ordinary mums with families and jobs that they need to attend to, and yet they rose to the challenge offered to them by Save The Children and are out there right now, seeing it, feeling it, writing about it, for all of us who can't be there.

Why? Well, in the words of the Save The Children website:

Every year almost 9 million children under the age of five die. We can change that. Passionate about our work, our bloggers will be tweeting, creating video and photogalleries and writing about their experiences live and direct.

How you can help

Nick Clegg will be at the UN Summit in New York at the end of September with a crucial opportunity to ensure world leaders re-commit to the Millennium Development Goals - which are currently way off track.

Make as much noise as possible. Follow our bloggers on their journey, watch their videos and re-tweet their story.

Press for change. Help us collect 100,000 thumbprints. Together we can stop the scandal of 9 million child deaths a year.

I've shown my support and signed the petition at Press for Change; and if you haven't already, I hope you can find it in yourself to do the same.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Ask not for whom the bell tolls...

I'm running scared of the resumption of my Russian classes with Ludmilla. The first one has not been scheduled yet but, as sure as I'm going to not have lost any weight on my 'thinking about dieting but doing precious little about it' regime this week, I know it'll be soon. As a result I'm trying to reverse some of the damage that a summer of being out of Russia had done on my already negligible command of the language, and to that end have resurrected my dusty copy of 'Learn Russian with Rosetta Stone'.

I am now having great fun providing free entertainment for our neighbours (who can see straight into our uncurtained dining room where I do most of my computer-based stuff,) as I sit here with headphones on, shouting at the laptop along the lines of 'That's what I said, dammit! I said 'yellow bicycles', you bloody machine!' and frying my brain for as long as I can stand when Husband is out for the evening...

This does mean however that the hours between the Boy's Bedtime and my own, when I was previously free to witter at will into the ether, are now somewhat curtailed hence the lower frequency of posts.

Something tells me you'll live.

In the meantime though, here are some of the highlights of Boy #2's first couple of days at school:

Running full tilt down the corridor outside his class with outstretched arms, and hitting his rather round teacher in her rather well-padded stomach. Not the best impression to make on your first day of school - although I do think she could have taken the whole thing slightly better...

Saying to me, as we left together after his lunch time pick-up (a little first two week 'present' the school gives the parents) and I tried - unsuccessfully - to take his hand; 'The children here don't hold their mummy's hands, mama.'

Ah well. It had to happen sometime, I suppose...

(I'm comforting myself with the fact that on the other hand, Boy #2 has now stopped giving wet sloppy raspberry kisses and has started to give proper ones, along with hugs, when we say hello and goodbye to each other at the door of his classroom. It's a fair trade, I suppose)