Friday 28 September 2012

Life, Laundry

It's a wonderful thing, this expat lifestyle. It causes you to cross paths with people from so many different backgrounds and cultures in a way that you might never have done if you'd stayed put in your country of origin.

After a while, you notice certain similarities in lifestyle and expectations between different nationalities and begin to understand some of the reasons behind them. The French, for example, really do eat a more civilized diet than some of the rest of us. The Italians really do have a flair for interior design. And the North Americans often have a way of doing barbecues that those of us who grew up in slightly rainier climates can only look upon and marvel.

Now, I like to believe that family life in Western Europe is equipped with the majority of the modern conveniences a 21st-century family would need, from Wi-Fi in every room through increasingly huge fridge-freezers to 200 channels on the TV (very few of which carry much worth watching). And Moscow life, in most expat homes, is much the same. Sure, there may be a higher level of dirt to clean up (inescapable when there are power stations inside the city and so many cars on the roads), and it may take longer to get things done simply because this is such an enormous city, but overall the home-based domestic burden is not so dissimilar here to the one I coped with back in London.

Take the laundry, for example. "Back home" we have what I would call perfectly acceptably sized washers and driers, and the same is true here. Or at least, they seem so, to those of us who have never lived in the U.S.

But North Americans seem to have something of an obsession with the laundry facilities here in Moscow. New arrivals — if the subject comes up — express disbelief at the size of the drums in washing machines and tumble dryers that are standard in Moscow homes, complaining that they have to do the laundry every day just to keep up with their family's demands.

I was always confused by this particular complaint because, well, yeah. That's what you do — what you have to do — with two or more children, isn't it? It was only when a (non-North American) friend told me of her experiences in the U.S. this summer, when she came face-to-face with the laundry facilities in some average American homes, that it finally started to make sense to me. These machines, she tells me, are so big that most families can do an entire week's coloured wash in one go. So big, in fact, that her 6-year-old son could fit inside. (Don't try this at home, folks.)

Which, I have to admit, does rather put the daily juggling act that those of us living in Moscow need to do with our whites, coloureds and darks, into perspective.

OK, North American brethren. Finally, I get it. You are officially allowed to be flummoxed by the laundry situation.

This post first appeared on my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' over on The Moscow Times Online.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

This post is probably only of interest if you blog... if you don't, and are still reading, don't say I didn't warn you.

It's over.  That children's story competition I entered, I mean.  Needless to say, I didn't win, and that's fine; I enjoyed writing the story and learned a lot about how to use Facebook in the voting process (in itself, not before time, I might add), so it definitely wasn't a wasted experience.  I certainly don't expect to win any competition that I enter; to do so would be nice, but there are plenty of writers out there who are far more creative and imaginative than I am.  I know that, and am OK with it.

However, I learned something else apart from how to use another type of social media as a result of this particular competition, which is that in future I won't be entering any contest in which the winner is decided not on the merit of the entry, but on number of 'likes' their entry gains on Facebook.  In hindsight, I should have spotted from the start that this was not a good fit for me; I don't 'work' Facebook the way some people do, never have and probably never will (although after this I do now see the benefits of it in a way I didn't before), so going into battle with only 50 or so followers for my (assumed) name was probably never going to be a success.

This type of mechanic is always going to be more of a beauty contest than about which was the better story.  That is not, of course, to say that the story which won was not better than mine; it's all subjective.  I prefer the story I wrote, of course I do, but the winning entry is very different to mine and if the decision had been made by a panel of judges, they may well have reached the same verdict that the voters on Facebook did.

However, the fact remains that it was not an objective group of people reaching the decision on which was the best story so much as individual bloggers mustering support through their readers, family and friends and asking them to visit the relevant page and hit the 'like' button.  And then how motivated their supporters were to do that.   And then, about the entrants tweeting, posting, and re-tweeting pleas for support until we (or at least, I) felt sick of the whole process and painfully aware of how this type of mechanic cynically exploits our individual will to win to drive traffic to the relevant site, whilst simultaneously spreading the name of the competition sponsor across the web.

You may wonder if this post is the result of sour grapes on my part.  Would I be writing this if I had won the £500 prize?  Honestly?  Probably not.  But I do think that the ultimate outcome - that I won't be entering any more competitions which select winners based on the number of Facebook 'likes' received  - would be the same.

I suppose that ultimately I'm writing this for two reasons, the first of which is to suggest to PR agencies that they may pull writers in once to do this, but are unlikely to get the same people interested in doing it a second time.

But mainly, I think I'm writing this to share my experiences and to open the debate for bloggers as to whether this type of subjective popularity contest is really an effective use of their time and creativity.  Because I know I've got better things to do than post and tweet 'Vote for Me!' - and I'm pretty sure that you have better things to do than to read those posts and tweets...

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments box), please...

Monday 24 September 2012

Our schedule? Over-extended? How very dare you...

I just took my sons for their first Tae Kwon Do session.  I've been putting it off for the last year because it's relatively late in the evening and I didn't want to push it with Boy #2 needing to be in bed at a reasonable hour, but for one reason and another we decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot today.

I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again; I do not come from a sporty family.  It's not that we didn't like sport when I was growing up - it's just that, well as a family, we weren't very good at it.  I believe the technical term is, in  fact, 'a bit crap'.  Sure, I tried.  I dabbled with judo, with badminton, with swimming, and even, in my twenties & early thirties, field hockey, but of them all only the hockey stuck and even then I just bounced along at the bottom of the club where I played.  Whenever a new less talented team was introduced, that was where you would find me, running up the sidelines, more often than not off-side, and always on the right as I was incapable of hitting the ball anywhere other than to the left of me.

Admittedly, I ski, and love it. I don't do it particularly well, but I do it.  Although I think you only have to read this post here to get a pretty fair sense of the level to which I'm capable of cutting a dash on the slopes.

Based on all that, you would think the prospects for any kind of sporting fixture, let alone Tae Kwon Do making itself a regular part of our already too-busy schedule would be slim.

But no.

Boy #2 (the child I was expecting to find it too hard / boring / too much running / not featuring any public transport opportunities) loved it, and Boy #1 - although initially a little less fulsome about the experience - has also expressed an interest.  (I discovered his lack of enthusiasm had more to do with not being able to instantly wear one of the cool white outfits - which you earn the right to wear over a few weeks - than it did with not actually enjoying himself.  It's all about the accessories...)

This is fine, indeed I'm delighted as it is excellent fitness and extremely disciplined, except for one thing; it appears I have become that thing I said I would never be, the mother who's children have scheduled activities every day after school.  Between them after school the Boys cover off, in no particular order; lego club, maths club, art club, piano lessons, guitar lessons, Dutch school, football, swim team and now Tae Kwon Do.  Oh, and homework - which really should be at the head of the list.

They're six and nine years old.  Whatever happened to just coming home from school and simply messing about until tea time?

Wednesday 19 September 2012

I'm proud - but not THAT proud...

This is a hard post for me to write but you know what?  I'm just going to come right out and say it.

Please vote for me in the Feather & Black children's story competition.

Not because I'm asking you to, not because you think The Potty Diaries logo is pretty, not because you've met me at a blog conference.  Please vote for me, because I really believe I have written the best of the entries (currently numbering a grand total of 3) that are linked to on the Feather & Black Facebook page.

What I'm asking is that you go here, check the three stories out (all linked to in different posts on the F&B facebook page which can make it complicated to find them, I'm afraid), and if you think mine is the best, click the 'like' button underneath the screen shot of The Potty Diaries.

I'm not saying this lightly.  I think I have a fairly good sense of my own self worth and my abilities.  There are times when I have specifically not canvased votes for things that I've been entered into, as here, when I really did not believe I was the best candidate for the prize, and said so.

But this time?  This time, I've taken a good look at the competition and think I should be in with a real chance.  So please, if you have a moment, compare the stories and if you agree with me that mine is the best, 'like' it.  Or, you know, if you don't, vote for another one instead.

Why am I coming right out and saying this?  Because whilst I am sure that if I don't win this competition, it will be on the basis of merit (as in - the other bloggers' ability to spin a good yarn), I will kick myself if it's for other reasons, like the fact another blogger has a wider circle of Facebook friends and is better at self-pr than I am, and I just didn't go for it enough because I was feeling shy and retiring.

Oh, and did I mention that aside from the self-ratification of having a winning story to my name, the prize is £500?  Worth stepping out of the shadows for, pushing my natural reticence aside, and banging a drum about, I would say.

At the risk of repeating myself once too often, click here for the Feather & Black facebook page to see all the stories*.  Then vote for the story you like best by going to the bottom of the screen shot of the respective blog (on the same Facebook page) and clicking 'like'.  It's worth knowing that if you click 'like' anywhere else on the page other than in the box linking to the story you choose, your vote will not count.  I know, it's complicated...

Thankyou for reading.  Now I'm going to go and say penance for the sin of self-publicity...

* You can also read my entry by simply clicking here , and can follow the links from the bottom of that page to see the other stories and to vote on facebook.

Monday 17 September 2012

Feather & Black Midsummer Nights' Dream Blogger Challenge

Nearly three weeks ago, I wrote about being asked to participate in Feather & Black's Midsummer Nights' Dream Blogger Challenge.  Feather and Black sell children's beds and all manner of gorgeous bedroom furniture, and have asked a number of bloggers to write a children's story based on a series of prompt images which they've posted over at their Facebook page.

Once all the participating blogs have posted their entries, visitors to the Feather and Black's Facebook page will be able to see all the entries and vote for their favourite, and the one with the highest number of votes will win £500.

Needless to say, I would be delighted if you would read my (probably far too long) entry below, and then consider visiting the Feather and Black facebook page and voting for me by clicking on the 'like' button in the box showing the screen shot of and which links to The Potty Diaries.  (If you click the 'like' button anywhere else on the Feather and Black page, your vote won't register for me).  And who knows, if you enjoy this story, maybe your children might, too.

First off, though, here are the picture prompts...



And here, my friends, is the story...

The Magical Bookshelves

Issy and Spike loved to go to Grandma’s house for the summer holidays.  She lived in a house that seemed stuffed full of magic; hidden staircases, quiet corners, and mysterious books that seemed to push themselves out from the shelves as if they knew – just knew – what it was that the children wanted to read about at that particular moment.

If Issy wanted to read about valiant princes and fearless princesses, a book telling a story about that very thing that would somehow be sticking it’s dusty spine out from between the others on the shelves just when she wanted it.  If Spike wanted to read about dinosaurs, cowboys, and pirates – all in the same book – then amazingly, the very book would appear.

It was as if the stories were being written especially for them.

“Grandma” said Issy one evening as they were getting ready for bed.  “Is there something special about your books?” “I should think so!” Grandma replied.  “I’ve spent years collecting them and would never part with them.  Why do you ask?”

“We wondered how it is that there always seems to be a story exactly right for us” said Spike. “At the library I look at lots of books, but it always takes me much longer there to find the one I want to read than it does here.”

“Ah,” said Grandma.  “I was wondering when you would notice that.  Would you like to know how it happens?”  “Yes!” they chorused.  “We would!  How does it? How does it happen?”

Grandma looked at them, seated either side of her on the sofa, and put an arm around each.  “Well, I shall tell you.  But you must promise not to tell anyone else, not until one day when you are sitting here with your own children and they notice the same thing.” “Why, Grandma?  Why can’t we?” asked Issy.

“Because, my dears, it’s magic – and magic always has to be kept secret, or it wears out.  And also because, well, most people don’t believe in magic these days.  Which is sad, but that’s just the way life is...”

Not really understanding, but realising that the only way to find out the secret was to promise, they both solemnly agreed to keep the magic to themselves.

“Very well” said Grandma.  “Here it is, then.  Just for you two; 'The Tale of the Magical Bookshelves'...

“Once upon a time, many years ago, there lived a little girl.  She was an adventurous sort, always getting in trouble and never without scratched knees and dirt under her fingernails.  She loved to spend her days out on the beach near her home, watching the ships in the distance, climbing up the cliffs, and exploring the rock pools.

She was always out there, whether the sun was shining, the mist was settling, the rain was drizzling, or the wind was howling.  Her parents despaired because, although they loved her and were happy for her to spend so much time outside they also wanted her to learn to love reading, so she could learn about the world elsewhere as well.  But Jess – for that was our heroine’s name – was convinced that books and stories were boring and that nothing on paper could compare to the fun she was having outside.

One afternoon in late summer, Jess was walking alone along the shore-line.  It was nearing tea time and her friends had all set off home, but Jess decided to go for one last scramble up a jumble of rocks sticking out from the point.  It had stormed heavily the previous evening and the jigsaw of granite blocks was covered with flotsam and jetsam from the pounding waves the night before.  Pieces of driftwood, strands of seaweed, and luminous shells were caught in the cracks of dark grey rock.

She decided to climb to the top, where she knew that there were some hidden rock pools.  After a storm there were sometimes interesting things to be found up there, so she clambered up, snagging her fingernails, scuffing the fronts of her shoes, and grazing her elbows until eventually she made it.

As she stood there looking at the yachts on the distant water, Jess felt thirsty.  She was just wishing she had thought to bring an orange from home with her when she heard a voice. “Hello.  I thought I was alone up here, but here you are, too.” Jess looked around quickly.  There was nobody there.  Who had spoken? Had she imagined it?  Then she heard the voice again.

“I’m over here.  By the pointy rock.  Can you see me?”  Jess rubbed her eyes;  she still couldn’t see anything.  But then, as she walked closer to a curiously shaped triangular piece of granite, she became aware of a rock pool that she hadn't noticed before at it’s base.  It was about the same size as her bath at home, and was lined with feathery looking dark green seaweed. Lying floating in the pool was a boy, a little bit younger than she was.

Well.  I say a boy.  Because that’s what the top part of him looked like; dark haired, blue eyed, with a cheeky expression on his suntanned face.  But instead of legs and feet where you and I have legs and feet, this boy had a fish’s tail.

Jess gasped.  Then she squeaked, “What are you doing here?  I mean, how did you get here?  I mean, what are you?  I mean...”  Her voice trailed off.  She didn’t know what to say.  The merboy looked at her, grinning widely.  “You know, they always told me land-kids ask stupid questions but I never believed them before.  Now, though, I’m wondering if they were right.  Shall we start again?  Good afternoon.  My name is Felix and I’m a merboy.  Now – it’s your turn...”

Jess blushed.  “So sorry.  My name is Jess and I’m – well, I’m just a girl.  Well, a land-kid.  And I’m sorry to be rude but I never met a merboy before...  What are you doing here?”

Felix sighed heavily.  “Ah, well, it’s silly, really.  I got carried away playing with the white horses in the storm last night, came too close to the shore line and was picked up by an enormous wave and washed in here.  Hurt myself in the process” - here, he pointed to a gash running down one side of his glistening green and gold tail – “and whilst it shouldn’t take too long to heal, I can’t leave this pool and slide over the rocks until that happens, or the wound will open up again.  So I’m stranded for at least 4 days until the next spring tide and let me tell you, even though it’s been less than 24 hours, I’m already going mad with boredom.  I don’t suppose you know any stories, do you?”

Jess grimaced.  “I’m not very good with stories, I’m afraid.  More of an action sort of person...” Felix, trying very hard not to look disappointed, nodded understandingly.  “Me too, normally.  Just thought I would ask.”

Suddenly, Jess had a thought “Wait!  Wait – I think that actually, I might be able to help. Can you read?  I can bring you some books.”  Felix looked at her.  “What do you mean, ‘read’?  I can read the currents, if that’s what you mean. I can read the signs of the oceans, the stars at night, the patterns of migrating fish and birds.  Is that what you mean?”

“Ummm, no, it isn’t. But don’t worry.  I don’t do it very often, but I can read.  So I’ll come back tomorrow morning with some books and I will read them to you.  And then you’ll have all the stories you can handle!”

That evening, Jess’s parents were amazed to see her combing the book shelves.  “Jess – are you looking for something in particular?” her mother asked, watching her pull out one volume after another, glancing at the first page, frowning, and then adding it to a growing pile on the floor.

“Yes.  Yes, I’m looking for something interesting.  Something not boring!  And all these books seem so boring.  I don’t know where to start...”  Her mother reached past her and pulled out a battered volume from the far end of the shelf.  Then she opened it on the first page and read out loud “’Aladdin was a little Chinese boy.’  How’s that for starters?  You used to love the story of Aladdin when you were smaller – and in this book, there are lots of other interesting stories too...”  Jess smiled at her mother.  “That’s exactly it! How did you know...?”

The next four mornings saw Jess disappearing off to the beach straight after breakfast each day, with a book tucked under each arm and a picnic lunch in the rucksack on her back.  She read to Felix all day until her throat was sore, and Felix lapped up every word, exclaiming in wonder at the twists and turns  of the stories, and always asking for her to read “Just one more page, Jess.  Please?”

Slowly, slowly, his wound healed up, and by the end of the afternoon of the fourth day, the scar had closed completely.  The glossy scales on his beautiful tail looked as if they had never been scratched.

“It’s high tide tonight” he said, as she packed up her books and lunchbox before heading home as the sun set out over the sea.  “We must say goodbye to each other, and I have to go home – back to the wide open ocean.  My family will have been missing me.  But just think what stories I’m going to have to tell them, and it’s all thanks to you.  How can I repay you?”

Jess thought about it.  “You know, I think you already have, in a way.  I’ve loved reading these stories too, and I never would have done if it weren’t for you.  So I don’t think you owe me anything...”

Felix looked thoughtful.  “That may be true.  But I want to do something to say thankyou.  I’ll think about it, and you never know – maybe I’ll surprise you.”


It was windy and stormy that night and Jess and her parents could hear the waves pounding the beach in the distance, but the next morning dawned clear and still and she raced down to the beach as soon as she got out of bed.

Almost holding her breath, she scaled the granite rocks on the point.  The bath-sized pool was empty, with nothing to show that Felix had ever been there.  She looked out to sea and imagined him waiting for high tide and then hoisting himself out on to the rock and making his way across the granite, before flipping over the edge and disappearing beneath the stormy waves.

Reaching into the water, she picked up a striped pebble that glistened as it dried in the sunshine, and went home for breakfast, where she put it safely on the bookshelf and settled down to eat her toast.

Later that same day, Jess found herself missing something.  “It must be Felix”, she thought, “I must be missing him.  But there’s something else, too.  What is it?”  Without realising what she was doing, she made her way to the bookshelves.  “It’s reading” she thought.  “I want to read.  But what?”  She looked at the books, lined up neatly like soldiers, waiting for her attention.  One of them seemed to be sticking out a little. She tugged at it. ‘The Tales of Huckleberry Finn’ it read along the spine.

From that point on, Jess’s parents marvelled at the change that had come over their daughter.  She still spent a lot of her time on the beach, but now she took a book with her.  And somehow, she never needed to ask for their help on which one to choose; indeed, interesting books almost seemed to fall into her hand.  It was as if the years when she had thought reading was boring had never existed...”


“And that, my dears, is the end of the story” said Grandma.  The children looked at her, wide-eyed.  “Was that you, Grandma?” asked Spike.  “Were you Jess?  Did you meet a merboy and read him stories?”

“Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?  Now, time for bed.  Up you go.  Into your jammies, I’ll be there in 5 minutes.  And on your way up past the books, maybe you can choose one for me to read to you.”

Issy and Spike paused in front of the heavily laden shelves.  A brown and yellow striped pebble sat neatly on one of them, and just next to it the edge of a book jutted out from between it's neighbours.  “Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling” said Issy.  “Let’s have that one...”

The end.

If you enjoyed this story and think it should win the Feather & Black competition, please visit their facebook page here and click the 'like' button at the foot of the image of my blog. Please be sure to click the 'like' button on the post that links to The Potty Diaries as otherwise, your vote won't register for me.


Sunday 16 September 2012

It's not you, it's me...

Dear Lie-In,

this is a hard letter to write, but I'm just going to come straight out and say it; I think it's over between us.  I know, I know; we had good times with each other.  Not regularly for the last while, it's true, but over the years we've notched up a lot of hours in bed together.  And they were good times, weren't they?  No, don't answer that.  I know they were.  Sure, there were Other Obligations often knocking at the door but we managed to ignore their siren call for many years and make sure that we got to spend quality time together often enough to keep our relationship still fresh.

But it's different now.  Yes, I told you after the kids arrived that I would still have time for you and I did manage to snatch a few hours here and there but let's be honest - it just hasn't been the same, has it?  Don't deny it - I know you felt it too. And now that the new school term has started along with the football season and who knows what other activities in the pipeline stealing me away from you at the weekends, well, I think it's time to face the music and just admit that we can never be what we once were to each other.  It just isn't going to happen this side of half term, and that's the truth.

Yes, sure, I know you would wait for me if I asked you to, but I just can't do that to you.  You need to be free; to go off and spend time with all those teenagers and students out there.  They won't appreciate you, of course.  They'll take you for granted but I think that in some way, that's what you want, really; to be such an integral part of someone's life that they can't imagine Saturday and Sunday mornings without you.

So, go.  Go with my blessing.  And as I stand at the side of that windy football pitch on a grey and chilly Saturday before 9am, I'll remember our relaxed times together and hope that someday - maybe on a November weekend, when it's dark outside, sleeting a storm, and the children are still recovering after a too-late viewing of 'Cars 2' the night before - our paths might cross again.

Thanks for the memories,


Wednesday 12 September 2012

Living with ghosts

Nobody told me that when you sign on for this Expat life, you need to be ready to live with ghosts.

Not the shrieking, wailing, chain-clanking kind that knock on your doors and windows keeping you awake at night.  No, these are gentler than that; they are the echoes of people you’ve met during your expat tenure in this city who, since you’ve arrived, have packed up and moved on, leaving you with some memories, an email address, a skype number, and the hope that your paths might cross again in the future.

I suspect that most cities with a sizeable expat community go through exactly the same process but I’m not sure they have such tangible ghosts; serial expats amongst my friends tell me that Moscow seems to attract a certain kind of person who, once gone, often leaves a space that is hard to fill.  Living here is not necessarily the easy option and many Moscow expats are – in my experience -  adventurous, open, and willing to reach out to others who might be going through a difficult time, in recognition of that fact that in this challenging city it could be any of us needing help next time around.

It seems to me that the concept of ‘paying it forward’ is alive and well in the Moscow expat community.  When I arrived here nearly 3 years ago I experienced this for myself, to the extent that I was sometimes suspicious of it.  ‘Why are they being so nice?’ I wondered.  ‘What do they WANT?’ (I come from London, don’t forget.  You can live next door to a person for years there before you actually get round to saying hello...)

Here, however, people acknowledge that whilst this is a fascinating place to live, Moscow is not without challenges and many try in any way they can to help new arrivals have soft landings. In itself, this is wonderful, but it does mean that when, in the expat way of things, those people who reached out to you move on to their next posting, they are missed.

For some reason I see these ghosts more often in the Autumn.  It’s probably because the it’s the start of a new school year and the summer change-over – the leavers leaving, and the new arrivals arriving, both in time for the beginning of term – is pretty much complete.

So I walk past houses now empty of a good friend, past playgrounds no longer ringing to the calls of my children’s playmates, and catch a glimpse of someone in a restaurant who could be the identical twin of someone I used to know, and I feel the Moscow expat ghosts walking beside me...

Monday 10 September 2012

It's his birthday and I'll cry if I want to...

Boy #1 is 9 years old today.

Nine. Years. Old.

How did THAT happen?  I swear it was only yesterday that I was thinking about getting pregnant, then - once I was pregnant - found myself suffering from waves of nausea so bad I couldn't even think about looking at discarded gum on the pavement let alone be anywhere in the vicinity of frying onions.  Then, once the first trimester was over, blissfully wobbling through pregnancy thinking that having a baby wouldn't change me, not at all, and see you on the first day maternity leave is finished...

Surely it was just last night that I lay joking in the delivery room with the doctors (yes, joking - you gotta love those epidurals) about feeling like a cow and asking which was Tristran and which was Siegfried Farnham, before having Boy #1 pulled forcibly out of me - with something that resembled a hoover - and handed to me with powder-blue skin and the biggest eyes I had ever seen gazing straight into mine.

And wasn't it just this morning that we fled the noisy, over-crowded maternity ward with Boy #1 snuggled like a little bear in his maxi-cosy, to the safety of our own flat where Husband and I sat down on the sofa cradling him softly in sheepskin and asked each other, without saying it out loud;

"What now?"

Here is 'now'.  Here, with a happy, healthy, beloved and loving son who delights his parents (when he's not driving us crazy), who is an amazing older brother, and who brings so much to our lives that they are inconceivable without him.

Happy Birthday, Boy #1.  If I were any prouder of you, I would burst.  Love, Mama x

Friday 7 September 2012

On Growing Up

'Boy #2 has some listening issues' one of his PE teachers wrote in a report some time ago.  'He must learn to engage more and participate in class and he will get a lot more out of his PE sessions.'

Oh dear.  And yet, not.  My son is an independent individual, and if he thinks someone is wasting his time or that what he's being asked to do is without point (racing non-competitively from one side of the gym to the other, anyone?), it can be hard to convince him to get involved.  I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for his attitude; even at 5 - when this comment was written - he didn't suffer fools gladly and there's a certain element of character in that, I think.

But we spoke to Boy #2 about it, put it behind us, and in the next module he had a new teacher with whom he got on better.  And with whom, if I'm honest, I got on better, too.  The guy who made the original comment was not easy to deal with, and I felt he lacked sympathy with the children's point of view and certainly used the 'critical parent' model of motivation for the kids rather than the rewarding them for good behaviour.  He seemed very quick to assume the worst about the pupils - and my son didn't deal with that well. But we all moved on, and last year there was different teacher, so it all worked out fine.

This year?  Back with the original sports teacher.  I must admit to being a little concerned when I realised this and when, on Monday, Boy #2 admitted he had been put in time-out during his PE lesson for not looking at his teacher when he was supposed to be listening to instructions, my heart sank a little.  My son did have an explanation for this of course; he even went so far as to demonstrate that he could hear me perfectly well whilst looking in the opposite direction, but after a conversation about being respectful and how it was polite to look at people when they are speaking to you, he seemed to catch on.

Yesterday, there was another PE lesson, and this morning in the playground we ran into Boy #2's teacher.  "Is that Boy #2 under that hood?" he asked.  "I just wanted to say how much he's matured this year.  Better at listening, better at taking instruction; I have to admit that when I checked the attendance list after class I was actually surprised to see his full name on there because I did not expect him to behave so well."

Hmm.  Praising the kids (even in a back-handed way), admitting he was wrong, and doing it in front of the child concerned so that they can hear it too?

It looks like Boy #2 is not the only one who's done some growing up in the last year...

Wednesday 5 September 2012

And in other news...

Both the Boys are now well and truly back in school; we're just over a week into the new term, and things seem to be settling down considerably after a summer of European nomadism.

Boy #1 is chafing a little under the yoke of daily homework but is getting on with it manfully - most of the time.  He's been given 100 multiplication questions each day this week so far, but before you gasp at a still 8 year old dealing with that AND an English comprehension exercise, you should know that they were all on the 2 x table.  Consequently, he breezed through them in less than 15 minutes which a) completely validated my efforts to keep his maths head intact over the summer, if I do say so myself and b) led to an admission on his part that actually, perhaps the time we spent doing that was not completely wasted.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a result.

Boy #2 is now well into Grade 1 (Year 2 for those in the British system) and whilst I have yet to see evidence of homework for him, there are other ways in which he is showing his new 'grown-up' status.  Joining the local soccer league for the first time last week was one of them; if I've ever seen a small boy prouder to put on shin pads, football boots, and team strip before racing around the pitch for 40 minutes or so as one of a tight knot of players who followed the ball everywhere like flies around honey (whilst the rest of the pitch was eerily empty), I can't remember it.

There are other ways he seems to be growing up, too.  Yesterday he told me that the girls in his class use 'the kissing defence'.  I've yet to get to the bottom of this one; defence against what, I wonder?  Boys being boys?  Or are the girls in question following that old adage that the best form of defence is attack?  Who knows.  Whatever, it put me in mind of a conversation a friend had with her 5 year old son recently.

"I'm going to marry Susie" he told her seriously.  "Really, darling?  That's nice."  "Yes.  Well - she's not who I originally wanted to marry.  First I wanted to marry Paul.  But we changed our minds when we realised that if we did that, we would have to adopt."

Thankyou very much, I'll be here all week...

Saturday 1 September 2012

On Mixed Blessings

Sometimes it feels as if you'll never be free of them.

Your children, I mean.

From the moment they're born it's as if they are surgically attached to you, needing feeding, cleaning, comforting, every waking hour of the day.  You rarely consider it a burden, of course (or at least - rarely during daylight hours.  At 3.00am it's a different story altogether - it can seem pretty burdensome at that time of the morning).

And when you do think about it, you remind yourself that this is not going to be for ever.  "It's only until they can crawl / walk / are potty trained / can talk / start nursery / start school" you think.  But for each milestone they pass - going to the loo unaided, feeding themselves for a whole meal without requiring a complete change of clothes (for them and you), describing for themselves which book they want to reach down from the high shelf - it seems as if there is always a next one to be reached.

There IS always a next one to be reached.  And few of them seem to result in your being needed less; they simply result in your being needed in a different way.

For example; you may not need to wipe your child's bottom clean any longer, but you are required to come up with new and interesting ways to get them to eat their vegetables - or new and interesting ways to keep from exploding with frustration when they won't.  You may not need to push them in their buggy when you walk down the street, but you need to help them understand how close they can be to the edge of the kerb on their scooter and still be safe at the same time.

Or, you may not need to play peekaboo for four hours straight to stop them kicking the back of the seat in front on that long plane journey, but you need to be able to come up with some kind of reasonable explanation for why you aren't emptying your entire wallet into the pockets of a homeless beggar hanging around outside your hotel when you reach your destination.

And when you do these things you know progress is being made, and that you're passing milestones, but you don't seem to get any closer to your ultimate destination as a loving parent; that of raising a well-balanced, responsible and independent  human being who can live without you.

This week, though, it happened.

I no longer need to drop my younger son off at his classroom door in the morning, or pick him up directly outside it.  It's not that I have absolutely needed to up until now; he's capable of getting there by himself from the front of the school and has been for a while, it's just that until now, we both preferred it when I walked him to the door.

But this term, his older brother has started to do it.

And I'm not needed.