Saturday, 22 September 2012

Howe do you do... making a nice person?

Yesterday was a day for Surprising Sentences... “You don’t eat furniture!” being one, as I picked small shards of wood off Baby Girl’s tongue. Another was: “You don’t hit your sister in the head with the stair gate.”

When Ninja was new, I remember taking tentative steps into discipline. He was hitting My Officer Godmother on the head with a wooden brick. I told him firmly to stop, he looked at me, with an air of defiance and continued. I persisted to admonish him but eventually had to bite down on my knuckle, to stop myself from laughing.

Not because it’s funny to hurt My Officer Godmother; it was the look on Ninja’s face. The lack of concern that he was doing anything wrong, layered with my ineffective reasoning, in addition to not wanting to upset my progeny, mixed with the novelty of being the parent in this kind of scenario and finally the Mother Effect - that thing where having children skews your outlook to believe that your offspring are perpetually adorable. (An essential security measure for parents, ensuring you don’t try to disown offspring when it dawns on you that they don’t do anything you want.) These factors contributed to the ludicrous, comedic vibe.

Nonetheless, I didn’t show him laughing and as time goes on and I continue to teach him the ways of the world, I turn my back or leave the room if I feel that giggle bubble threatening to pop out of my throat... often just a cough will sort it.

Sometimes I have a flurry of frustrations bubbling inside of me but other times, well sometimes at least, I'm just not that cross but I have to show cross in order for his four year old mind to understand that something is wrong, right?

I’d like to transpose the conversation that went on around said Surprising Sentence.

To set the scene, I was in the kitchen making packed lunches. I heard the bang, which I recognised as the stair gate hitting the door frame, no doubt savaging the paintwork, but we pick our battles - they were in good spirits. One larger than usual bang and I stopped what I was doing and waited for what was either a) nothing or b) Minnow doing a silent inhale of agony, gearing up for a deluge of emotion on the exhale.

It was b.

Ninja said, “She hit her head”. Gathering Baby Girl up - spit strings perilously close, her cheeks moist and hot - unable to gather herself even for a second, I asked her what had happened. Ninja pipes up: “She doesn’t want to tell you”.

Hmm, suspicious. Minnow, inconsolable and rigid with shock, then convulsing in pain and finally flailing her finger at Ninja, she was brutal in her condemnation. After I got her the cooling gel pack that we call Mr Bump, which in fact is Mr Happy, not Mr Bump (surely they’ve missed something there?) and calmed her down, I turned my attention back to Ninja. I explain to him that I’m cross that he’s hurt Minnow, but I’m even more cross that he tried to lie about it. To ensure that he’s understood, I get him to repeat after me:
“ You must tell the truth, and you mustn’t hurt Minnow... OK? You must...”
“Hurt Minnow”
“No, you mustn’t...”, he jumped in with...
“Tell the truth.” For the love of God! The Mother Effect fails me!

And I am finally reminded, he is four years old. He hasn’t a clue what I’m on about. I’m not sure if he even understands the word “truth”. I see this is going to be a long process. I’m going to have to pretend to be cross quite a lot, and continue trying not to laugh, in an attempt to give him clear signs of what’s right and wrong.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Howe do you do... wet summers!

Dig out your mittens!

Of course it’s sunny! Of course it is, no sooner have our children’s noses crossed the threshold to the school playground and the sun pulls his straw boater down over one eye and folds his hands behind his head. I feel like screaming at him: ‘Do you know what you’ve done!’

On the very first day of the summer holidays I bought both of my charges a new pair of wellies. Firstly because the rain had form and no crappy weather was going to stop us having a good time. But secretly in the back of my mind, I hoped that this one personal exchange might have the Gods see fit to turn our fates into a long, hot, al fresco summer.

It didn’t work.

Something else that doesn’t work is looking at the weather forecast. For some time now, I’ve had the sinking feeling that Mystic Meg might be running The Met Office. And yet they do it so seriously - as if it’s true! They might as well be sticking farm animals onto their clever little maps because Pigs Might Fly!

This summer, there has been one fool-proof method of weather forecasting. In the morning, whatever the weather is doing, it is guaranteed to have done a one-eighty by lunch time. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT leave the house with just what you are wearing.



With this in mind, the longest days of the year were spent with an entangled embrace of extra clothing in every footwell of the car. You literally couldn’t go out without performing a risk assessment for spaghetti-strap shiver-chills, city-short flash-showers, or bejumpered arid droughts. Ultimately we had nothing in our wardrobes but spiders and swinging coat hangers.  We spent many a morning skulking round the hatchback in our underwear.

Furthermore health and safety warnings should have been newsworthy because driving in wet flip flops is just an accident waiting to happen.

Like no other time in my memory have the atmospheric conditions been so erratic, changeable, with no clear direction or goal. I feel quite sensitive to the weather; loving the vibrancy and guppy smiles of a balmy day or hunched while trying to shrug off a grey outlook. So it was a touch unnerving, I’ll admit; a bit like the world’s economy and so many other things that have endured its effects, it felt uncertain.  As with all impressive breakdowns, it made me ponder on whether it’d culminate into a hot and angry outburst or a melancholy cold front. I didn’t reckon on an angry deluge and what came to pass was a friend’s white wedding of blasted buttonholes, ravaged up do’s and The Boy’s chinos muddied up to his knees.

But you know, it hasn’t been all bad. What we’ve spent on cinema trips and countless visits to soft play areas, must have been off-set by not having to buy a bottle of sun tan lotion every week. And the hours of not applying it to wriggling limbs have been used wisely with more creative, indoor role-play in which I’ve been the starring role as: troll, baby, alien and finally witch... or was that just me?

And at least we’ve got our wellies! Bring on autumn, I say. There are so many great things to look forward to in autumn: hollowing out pumpkins; cooing over fireworks; Christmas tantalisingly close. It’s candlelight, crackling fires, decor of every convention, comforting colours; rich berry, burnt ochre, tarnished gold...

You’re never disappointed by the weather in autumn, there are no expectations, it’s always been drab, that’s why there are so many lovely festivals to distract us. We dress accordingly, doing our utmost to stay warm. Yes we can rely on autumn, a straightforward season, a true port in the storm (or just a storm). 

It may be 24 degrees outside but I for one am going right now, to hunt down a recipe for Gourd Stew and dig out the gloves and yards of elastic, this time climate, I’ll be ready!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Howe do you do... first day of school?


Our elders have a penchant it seems, of imparting loving advice that instils horror into the modern mother. At nine months pregnant: “Rest while you can, you’ll never sit down again mwahahaha!” to the swift tune change of: “Enjoy the baby days, they don’t last forever!” 

In seven days The Boy starts school. It’s a pivotal moment: “The baby years, gone so quick”, wizened old crones tell me; “It’s all over when they go to school” say the condescending masses; “They’re not truly yours anymore...” still more fervent cries.

School’s In Forever!

They say what we’re missing is a strong community of women around us, like they had in the dark ages. Really? More of this?

I am going to miss these days. I’ll miss the kids having the abandon to sing and dance, to shout hello to any passing paedophile; to have bums so small, they fall down the loo; their hysterical verbal blunders  and of course their utter devotion to me!  These things aren’t going to last, how can I stop their evolution?

Four and a half years ago, shortly after The Boy was born, I remember thinking, as my life had been tipped, turned upside down, that it’s only four years and I’ll get it back to a semblance of what it used to be. By that I mean that I will have the time to do what I want without the feeling that I’m robbing someone of something. And alright I begrudgingly admit it, it has gone quick.

So here we are. In the interim, I find myself changed. Predictable? Yes. Explainable? Let’s try.
Since my life was hijacked in 2008, and again in 2010, I only now operate on two speeds: intense hyper-power and blasting multi-task optimum-functionality. The thing with habit is, do anything for four and a half years, it sort of starts to feel normal. In addition to life moving at a pace that constantly borders on discomfort, I have enjoyed and endured the full remit of emotions: agony to insanity, hilarity to hysteria, sentimentality to... let’s call it chagrin. Oh and joy, loads of joy, that’s why Pampers and Aptimil adverts are chock full of women laughing their socks off. Oh hang on, no, they’re chock full of women mooning, cross-eyed and exhausted over their newborns.  

And that’s just me; there are now, two more beings running around, full of nascent emotions that need indulging or evading.

The result it seems is that I’ve been turned inside out and backwards and now, cruel fact of life, I feel a lump in my throat every time I glance in the direction of his school uniform.  I have relished this school holiday like none before, knowing my days are numbered. 

To add even more salt to the wound, the brat is only turning out to be a decent sort, all nice manners and loving words, kind actions to Baby Girl and remarkably self-sufficient. Why can’t they take the other one? The one that keeps screaming, “I’m NOT screaming!” at me all the time.

Now hang on a minute, that’s just reminded me, I’ve spent most of the last four and a half years whinging! It’s been hard, at times really hard. Mothering doesn’t suit everybody’s natural skill base. Let’s pause for a moment on those well-meaning elder’s comments (often conveyed with sixty years hindsight) and consider: 

There has been poo... a lot of poo, it’s been everywhere, between my toes, oozing out of the bouncer like a mud party and (courtesy of a helium balloon) it’s even been on the ceiling. There has been a whole library worth of words that have been wasted and useless as no one was listening. There has been less sleep than the statutory four hours the SAS require in order to stay alert. There have been frequent emotional crashes from all parties and more than a touch of physical discomfort. 

And what really is the alternative? Home school? It wouldn’t stop him growing up. There are people who don’t grow up, and with the exception of Peter Pan, they have carers, carers who might have a thing or two to add to my list of gripes, perhaps an even longer list of hopes and dreams for their charges, and who rightly find my school-mourning, frankly irascible.

So far I can hand-on-heart tell you that I’ve never wished him to be younger, “Please oh please, can we go back to the days of no nights?”, or the ones of “But why?” 

I’m actually really looking forward to learning more about my son, teaching him things that I have the experience and recollection of, like reading and writing, rather than peeing standing up and managing eternal bucketfuls of testosterone. One day he’ll tell me about a book he’s read, or a city he’s visited, or someone he’s met. I can’t wait. I love his take on the world, that’s not going to change because he’s grammatically correct. 

So nothing will change on September the 5th that wouldn’t change anyway, he will still be my son. He will continue to be charming and funny and lovable and with the exception of a few pubescent years, he’s always going to be in there somewhere, I know it.