Thursday 28 October 2010

It's Groundhog Daaaaaaaay....

So I started to pull together a post about where the time goes and dang me if I didn't realise that writing the damn thing was boring even me to tears.

(Note to self; if a blog post bores even the writer it is not good news. Abort, abort).

So I'll do what I always do when short of an innovative idea for a post; I will relate a conversation with one of my children...

It's 7.00am on Monday and still dark outside (heaven help us when the clocks have gone back this weekend). Boy #2 does NOT want to get out of bed - and I don't blame him. However, needs must, and in the interests of keeping things on an even keel, I remind him that at the end of this week we are heading back to the UK for half term and will be visiting family there.

He immediately perks up.

Boy #2: "So are we going tomorrow? Is it tomorrow? Is it? Is it?"

Me: "No, on Friday, after school."

Boy #2: "Is that today, then?"

Me: "No, on Friday. Today is Monday. We have today, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to go through before we reach Friday. So that's 4 sleeps."

Boy #2: "4 sleeps. OK. So is that tomorrow?"

Me: "No, first we have Monday (today), Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then it's Friday."

Boy #2: "Friday! Hurray! It's Friday! Are we going to England today?"

Repeat to fade...

Is it any wonder that my life sometimes feel like Groundhog Day?

Saturday 23 October 2010

I hate to say it, but Grit might have a point...

I've been putting off writing this post. Why? Well, because I suspect that if my virtual friend Grit reads it, she will probably - in the nicest possible way, of course - say 'told you so!' And the worrying thing is, she might be right.

So, what am I burbling on about?

Earlier this week, I checked on the afore-mentioned Grit, and was fascinated when she directed me to this animated version of a speech given by Ken Robinson at the RSA (that's The Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce if, like me, you had no idea who they are) where he argued very convincingly that the current form education takes - one first conceived 200 years ago - is no longer working for children assaulted on all sides by far more entertaining forms of input.

I watched it (and recommend you do too), and was fascinated. But secretly I was hoping that it wasn't really true, especially the bit where he talks about the systematic reduction of children's ability to think 'divergently' and creatively that happens more the longer they spend in formal education.

Then, 2 days later, it just so happened that I was scheduled to go into Boy #1's class to work with them on creativity. The format was this: I was to read the class a story I had written for my children a couple of years back, and then talk to them about how they might come up with their own ideas for stories they were putting together in a book as the class.

Well, they loved the story. (It was about birthday parties, so of course they loved it...) And then we started to talk about them making up stories for themselves. Now, I don't know about your children, but when my two role-play at home, the sky's the limit. They could be anywhere, be or do anything; fording a stream of boiling lava, jumping from ship to ship in a freezing ocean, fighting monsters in space. That is, I have to say, my experience of most 7 year-olds, and certainly of the ones from Boy #1's class when they come over for playdates, or when I see them racing around in the school playground.

However, something seemed to happen which limited their imagination the moment we started to talk about actually writing stuff down. It didn't happen to all of them, I have to say, (funnily enough Boy #1 was just as capable of imagining himself as Ben Tennyson in writing as he is in play) but it seemed as if for some children the only things they could envisage putting on paper were ones grounded completely in reality. No matter how hard I tried to persuade them that in a story anything could happen, they simply couldn't make themselves do it. It didn't matter that they might be superheroes in their spare time, or adventurers exploring the Amazon when they go for a walk in the woods; when it came to putting pen to paper in class, they could only write what really happens.

Even the secret that I shared with them - that amazingly, the story I had read to them had come completely from inside my own head, that elephants can't talk, and don't go to birthday parties (don't ask) - didn't seem to be able to break down the wall of 'we're in school now; so that means we can only deal with the tangible and the rational'.

Which I have to say, considering that I was supposed to be dealing with 7 year old children with over-active imaginations and at the height of their creative powers, I found pretty depressing. Although not quite as depressing as the close-down response from their otherwise excellent teacher when I foolishly mentioned my impressions to her.

But Grit, please don't say it...

Monday 18 October 2010

The day I decide to overshare...

My blog mojo is so low that it is currently catatonic. It's not that nothing is happening; it is, it's just that most of it - given the self-imposed restrictions on what I post - is unsuitable for The Potty Diaries.

But wait. What was that? Did I spy a life-belt in that first paragraph? Yes, I did, I did, and here it is bobbing towards me through the waves, all glossily white with red letters saying 'SS Potty Diaries' along the edge. (Give me a break here, it's been nearly a week with no inspiration; I'm allowed to get excited when some finally turns up, surely?)

'Self-imposed restrictions', that was it. Let's talk about that, shall we? Let's talk about what they are...

1. No names, no pack drill. This blog is anonymous. (Yeah, right, unless you happen to have bumped into me at some blog get-together, heard me speak at CyberMummy, have contacted me directly, asked me to participate in some pr junket, or similar. But apart from that, yes, I am completely anonymous).

2. No photos. Well, none of my children, anyway. Or my Husband. Or, indeed, anyone other than me. And not many of those either - well, I really think it's kinder not. Especially since I only recently started waxing the oh-so-subtle hair on the (can't believe I'm actually admitting to this in print) upper lip and, of which when I look back at previous 'before' photos, I can see the alarming evidence...

3. Nothing that I wouldn't want the person that I'm writing about to read in front of me. I know, think of all the mother-in-law anecdotes I'm missing out on here (although of course dear mother in law if you should ever read this, there are none, honestly!), but the thing is that once you hit 'publish' on a post it's out there. For EVER. Oh, you might think you can delete it but somewhere, somewhere, it's out there. So as much as I might want to write about the time that.... (ha! Got you going, right?)

4. Nothing that might put my family at risk. I'm not talking necessarily about hiding our exact location; we all know that with ip addresses etc you can't run, you can't hide. No, this is more about not writing contentious stuff about our current country of residence or the people in charge of it (check the top of the sidebar on the right if you're missing my point) which might attract the unwanted attentions of those formerly known by 3 initials (and who in fact are still known by 3 - but now different - initials) and who scared the crap out of George Smiley. It's not that the Potty Family lead a particularly exciting life, you understand, more that we are surrounded by people who do and blast it, there are some damn good stories there that I can never tell...

5. Nothing that might attract the crazies. For the reasons above. Lord knows, once we get back to Blighty, I will have plenty to say about a lot of things (or will if my vodka-soaked brain can still remember them) but for now, no. I'm keeping my own counsel...

6. Nothing libellous. Goes without saying, really, but it does rather conflict with ...

7. ...nothing too boring. Apart, of course, from the odd post about self-imposed restrictions on blogging.

Jesus. Is it any surprise my blog mojo has given up on me as a hopeless case?

So there you go. I've shown you mine; what are yours?

Tuesday 12 October 2010

It's Oh, So Quiet...

...except obviously, it isn't. At all. Which is why I haven't had the time post. Well, you can't say I didn't warn you...

It's busy busy busy here. As I remarked to a friend a couple of days back, I never thought it would be possible to have so much to do and not actually be paid for any of it.

I need to blog, though. I need to write stuff down. Because if I don't, all those memories, all those moments, will be lost. How do I know this? Well, it was brought home to me yesterday in my Russian lesson that the storage system in my head is perilously close to overflowing, if not already over-capacity. It appears that each new piece of information I absorb right now automatically requires the deletion of a file that was already in there.

Basically, yesterday's Russian lesson was torture. I found myself unable to remember very much at all. I experienced a kind of 'word blindness' as Mila (my long-suffering Russian teacher) was talking to me; taking each word that she said on a separate basis, I understood them. Put them together in a sentence though? Forget it. It might as well have been Dutch. Come to think of it, since I understand Dutch reasonably well, it was far worse. Mandarin, then. Or Finnish. (God knows how NotesfromLapland does that language, by the way).

This was quite upsetting (I think - god help me - that I may even have teared up a little), as up until now I have felt that - given the fact I do no homework - it's been going OK. So what's changed?

Two weeks ago I took the decision to start picking up the pieces of my erstwhile career in marketing. I've been getting pretty excited about it, actually. There are definitely opportunities for me here (if I can identify them and manage to make them fit with my somewhat unrealistic hope to remain nanny-less most of the time), and I've been having lots of fascinating meetings with people who speak a language - marketing - that, unlike Russian, I actually do understand.

Admittedly, it took a couple of false starts and rabbits in the headlights moments for my brain to start accessing the right parts of my memories, but before I knew it the terminology was flooding back as the right neural pathways in my brain fired up the right synapses and, bob's your uncle, I was spouting marketing bollocks like I'd never taken a break for 4 or 5 years...

However, it appears that my brain operates on a strictly 'one in, one out' basis right now. So; in comes the Marketing-speak, (better stop calling it Marketing bollocks as I suppose potential employers/clients might take a dim view of my referring to it in that somewhat derogatory way), and out goes what little Russian I had.

Let's hope it's just temporary. Either that, or I that I can at least learn how to say 'the computer says no'* in more than one language.

*Thanks by the way to Nicola at Some Mothers Do Ave Em for reminding me of that lovely catch-phrase...

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Code Red

So here's another thing that makes me realise I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto...

I was present at Boy #2's swimming lesson this morning when the school did one of their regular 'Code Red' drills. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, 'Code Red' is the call that is put out when there are hostile forces present on school premises. Terrorists, to you and me. During this type of drill, the school is locked down, the children are told to be as quiet as possible (if they're in their class they hide in a corner, blinds drawn, doors bolted), and the security team - for yes, that's what you get at expat schools (amongst others) in Moscow - tour the buildings trying the doors to the classrooms and making sure that should the unthinkable happen, the children are as protected as they possibly could be.

Doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

So, generally, I don't.

Didn't have much choice today though; I had volunteered to help Boy #2's class get changed before and after their swimming lesson, so when, about 70% of the way through it, the call went out, I was automatically part of the drill. The class of four year-olds was evacuated from the pool, hidden in a changing room, and asked to be as quiet as mice. And just in case the mums who were there on change-room duty weren't taking it seriously enough, one of the team of swim instructors who joined us seated himself on the floor and wedged himself side-on and back to the wall across the locked-from-the-inside door to ensure it stayed that way. (Why sideways on, on the floor? Well that minimises the chances of being hit should a bullet be fired through the lock, you understand...)

Well, they needn't have worried about our taking it seriously. You could have heard a pin drop. It was a sobering experience to be part of - and yet I can't help but be glad that for Boy #2's first Code Red drill, I was there with my arm around him. He wouldn't have been bothered either way, of course; it's not as if they explained to the children what was going on. As far as they were concerned, it was just a different type of Fire Drill.

But having his little swim-suit clad body pressed into mine certainly made me feel a whole lot better about the whole thing...

Sunday 3 October 2010

Are memories made of this?

Quite often, I look around at where we - the Potty family - currently are, and wonder: what will my children remember about this adventure? Will this be an experience studded with jewel-like memories that they will take out and polish up to show off to family and friends in years to come? Will they remember the ice-skating on Red Square, the boat trips on the Moscow River, the expat auction where Dad bought a picture of tractors? Will they remember the beggars on the street, the richly decorated metro stations, the tanks and 20 metre long missiles rumbling down Tverskaya on Victory Day? Will they remember the glittering air as the humidity crystalised on freezing days, the terrible traffic jams, the constant trips to Ikea?

Or will it just all melt into one 'Oh, I lived in Russia once, for a while' anecdote that gets pulled out every now and again when the latest president does or says something newsworthy?

I hope it doesn't. Because yesterday, we had a day that should be what memories are made of; a trip a couple of hours out of Moscow to the birthday party of a Russian acquaintance.

If I had speculated what it would be like and had written it down in advance, I would probably have deleted the file as too predictable. There was a long journey. There were horses being exercised by grooms in the paddock when we arrived. There was a warm welcome and pink champagne (admittedly, not for my sons), marble flooring, and home cinema where 'Prince Caspian' never seemed so lifelike. There were little girls racing around in curls and pretty dresses, and a handsome older son who was accompanying an adaptation of a Tolstoy play put on by guests on a grand piano. There was a group of family and old friends, between whom there was real affection, much toasting, and plenty of vodka being drunk in the birthday girl's honour. There were guitars and folk songs - mostly Ukranian - being sung firstly around the dinner table and later by the fire pit on the banks of a lake as the sun went down. There were fireworks - what fireworks! - organised by a group of loyal retainers, drivers gathered in a forecourt outside as the 4x4's mustered to whisk the guests back to Moscow, (watched over by a man with a gun), and a journey home in the utter darkness of the Russian countryside.

As a hook to hang some of a little boy's memories of his time in Russia, I think you'll agree, not at all bad.

Mind you, I wouldn't be at all surprised if what is remembered is not any of the above but a conversation I had with one of my sons. One of the guests at the party was a very friendly - and pretty - 13 year old girl who, because she spoke good English (rarer than you might imagine over here), was popular with my Boys. At a certain point she disappeared upstairs to get changed for the play that I mentioned above, and reappeared in a dress worthy of Pride and Prejudice. It prompted the following exchange:

Boy ?: "Wow!"

Me: "Yes, doesn't she look pretty?"

Boy X?: "Yes, she does. (Pause). I never saw her like that before. (Note: he had met her for the first time that day). She's got boobies!"

No prizes for guessing which of my boys this came from...