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Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Then and Now

I used to decorate my tree with coordinated frou-frou
Now it’s full of school-made decs and topped with R2D2

I used to spend days shopping, with lunch and time to wander
Now, if it’s not sold online, it’s on my list no longer
I used to slowly wrap my gifts, whilst sipping on some wine
Now I have two ‘helpers’ and it takes me twice the time

I used to try new recipes like Nigella on the telly
Now I serve spaghetti hoops beside the cranberry jelly
I used to spend my Christmas Eve with good friends down the pub
Now I’m stuffing turkey, stockings and my gob with grub

I used to love the music: Nat King Cole and ‘Let it snow
Now, for the ten thousandth time, it’s Elsa’s ‘Let it Go!’
I used to have a lay-in, then eat breakfast in my bed
Now I’m up at 5am with two kids off their head
I used to love my Christmases, so civilized and merry
And sometimes I think wistfully of a quiet glass of sherry
But their first squeak of excitement is enough to make me sure;
I’d never swap my Christmas now for my Christmases before.

Monday, 15 December 2014

What shall we buy the children this year?

“We buy them expensive toys and they end up playing with the cardboard box. Next year we’ll just give them the boxes.” Says every parent every year.

Number of parents who actually give their child a cardboard box in lieu of presents: 0

A month before Christmas, we attempt to have a clear out of toys to make way for the new arrivals. Both children approach this process as if we were taking food from their mouths. Toys which have been lost down the back of the wardrobe for six months are clutched to their breast like a long lost friend; jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces are professed to be their ‘favourite’; dolls with missing limbs who have been skulking at the bottom of the toy box have allegedly been searched for ‘for ages’. Next year we are planning a midnight smash and grab under cover of darkness.

They refuse to understand that, as we have a regular sized house without elastic sides, we need to make room for the plethora of toys which they seem to want this year. As the boy has started to outgrow Cbeebies and they have begun watching channels with adverts, so their awareness of the multitude of purchasable plastic rubbish has increased. Every ad break is met with a chorus of ‘Can we have that?’ ‘Can we get that?’ and, quite often, ‘Can I have that? What is it?’

My five year old son is actually very difficult to buy for as he becomes completely obsessed with one character to the exclusion of all others, but this lasts for about two weeks before he is onto the next thing (I could make a cheap joke at the expense of past boyfriends here but I will resist.) In the last two months we have been through Spiderman, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles and now the Matt Hatter Chronicles. Buy his Christmas gift too early and we could be heading for a gift disaster of a size not seen in our family since the Totes Toasties Tsunami of 1997.

The girl, on the other hand, is easily pleased by anything and everything that Disney has ever mass produced. I honestly think I could scrape something out of the street and stick it in a Princess costume and she’d want it. This leaves me in a dilemma: I have an ethical and active dislike of Disney Princesses and their need to be 'saved' by a man whilst my daughter seems to gravitate towards them with awe. I try to steer her towards more suitable female heroines: Marie Curie, Amelia Airhart, Emmeline Pankhurst. Although even I have to admit, as she correctly tells me, that their dresses aren't anywhere near as pretty.

Add to this my husband, the armchair eco-warrior, muttering about landfill and the environment and you can see why I want to go to bed with a giant size selection box and a tube of Pringles (I knew it was dangerously early to start buying the Christmas food.)

Nonetheless, this month will see me trawling the aisles of ToyRUs, selling my soul in the Disney Store and cross-checking prices on Amazon with the best of them. Unless I can find myself a nice cardboard box to hide in . . .



Sunday, 2 November 2014

First Night

The ward is all quiet now
The lights are down low
The visitors and daddies have all had to go

The mothers are resting
Their babies asleep
One nurse at the station, a watch she will keep

We've had quite a journey
Intense and unreal
I've felt things I never expected to feel

Moments of excitement
Moments of panic
An ending not planned and incredibly frantic

But now it's all over
It's just you and I
I knew you the moment you gave that first cry 

I look at you sleeping
So still and so small
I am your mummy and you are my all.

Emma Robinson 2014

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Supermarket Sweep

I know last time I took you,
I swore it would be the last.
But we’ve only two fish fingers left
and the bread has breathed its last.

Please stay in the trolley,
it really would be better.
I know you want to be helpful
and be mummy’s little ‘getters.’

But mummy’s rather in a rush
to get this shopping done.
This is called a domestic chore,
it’s not supposed to be fun.

Don’t touch that tottering food display
and put back that DVD.
I know you have some money,
but they’re more than 50p.

That lady does have funny hair
but please don’t point like that.
And, no, we don’t need cat food
as we haven’t got a cat.

If you both behave yourself,
I’ll buy you each a treat.
I was thinking just some stickers,
not a lifesize Happy Feet.

Until we’ve paid, it’s stealing
if you start to eat a biscuit.
Oh sod it, yes just open them -
it’s easier to risk it.

Yes I can see the woman
with the tiny little baby.
She’s staring at you terrified,
of what’s coming to her maybe.

It’s rather hard to keep my calm
as people start to frown.
(Ironic you choose the frozen bit
to have a big meltdown.)

I want to kiss, mums that give me
‘I’ve been there too’ smiles.
And give us friendly knowing looks
as I belt around the aisles.

Trying to remember
what I must get from the Deli.
Really isn’t helped much
by you crawling on your belly.

So NOW you want to get back in
and rest your weary legs?
You’ve squashed the lettuce, crushed the crisps
and sat down on the eggs.

Let’s just go, we’ve got the bulk,
the rest of the list can keep.
No-one’s been ‘round here so fast
since Supermarket sweep.

Somehow we make it through the tills
and past the security men.
And I crawl towards the exit
crying, “Never, ever, again!”

Emma Robinson 2014

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Dear Dad

You taught me how to ride a bike and how to tell a joke.
To make up before the sun went down and that promises mustn’t be broke.
You taught me to be generous but also how to save.
You taught me books are precious things and showed me what was brave.

Not to sulk or bear a grudge, the importance of forgiving,
To never take a sickie and work hard to make a living.
That good friends and your family are the greatest kind of wealth.
(And that ever being rude to mum was dangerous for my health.)

And now as my own children grow, I wish that you were here.
With every milestone they achieve and more each passing year.
I wish that they could know you; I just wish that you were there.
I wonder what you’d think of them, my precious crazy pair?

But then I open up my mouth and it’s your voice comes out.
When I tell them to ‘breathe through your nose’ or “I’m right here, don’t shout!’
I hear you when I read to them (though my voice is not as deep.)
And I often use your Beatles songs to sing them off to sleep.

I make them laugh when they hurt themselves just as you would do.
The jokes I tell to make them smile were the ones I learned from you.
My arms that hold them, lips that kiss, were the ones you made for me
And sometimes in a smile, a frown, in them it’s you I see.

And then I know that you are here, in everything I do.
In every word and thought and deed, your influence comes through.
And I smile and know that you’re not gone, I still have what I had.
I’m the parent that I am today, because you were my Dad.

Emma Robinson (2014)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

"He gets that from you!"

“I love how babies look like old people. I saw a baby the other day that looked exactly like my grandpa, only taller.” (Jarod Kintz: This Book is Not for Sale.)

When you have a baby, one of the things people do is try to work out who he or she looks like. Emphatic comments that they have their mother’s eyes, their father’s nose and their great-grandfather’s eyebrows make you start to wonder if you have produced a baby or a 3D Police Identikit. Nevertheless, you find yourself scanning their face for bits that look like you, your husband or your parents. Any likenesses are particularly poignant when it’s to someone you have lost. When I put a hat on the girl the other day and she smiled up at me and looked exactly like my Nan, it was a precious moment.

As they get older, you realise that it's not just your looks they can inherit. Whether it’s genetics or learned behaviour, the personality traits of you and your partner start to materialise in miniature form. Sometimes this can be cute: my daughter sucking her thumb and twiddling her hair just as I did at her age; my son pacing the floor as he tells you something, just like his dad does; the fact that they both talk incessantly just like . . .

Sometimes, however, your less attractive traits start to manifest themselves. When the boy was about two, I realised that I needed to stop talking aloud to myself when trying to find my keys, phone or handbag when he hid himself in a cardboard box and said, "Where's William? Where's William? Where's that bloody William?"

(In my defence, I wasn't the first to introduce him to that delightful vocabulary. Weeks previously he had been 'helping' daddy in the garden when he appeared before me crying because he'd been sent in. When I asked him why daddy had sent him in he said, "I've been picking the bloody flowers again, mummy.")

Often you don't realise that you say or do something until they start to mimic you. Recently, I reprimanded my son for losing his temper with the iPad and smacking it in anger. Next day at work I found myself doing exactly the same thing to my computer when it wouldn't do what I wanted. The girl was trying her best to fit herself into a dress she had outgrown the other day and ended up pulling it off her head and throwing it across the room saying it was a “stupid dress.” I really must tell her father to stop doing that . . .

Eventually, they
 try to use your platitudes against you. My admonishments to keep trying and not give up came back to bite me when I told the boy I couldn't fix a broken toy and he replied, "But mummy, you can't say you can't do it until you've really tried.' They also repeat them to each other. Cue my three year old daughter standing, hands on hips, and telling her brother “How many times have I told you to stop doing that?” (His reply, incidentally, was “Four” – he gets his infuriating tendency to state reality from the paternal line.)

Obviously, we both try to claim the good traits ('I was always bright as a child') and point the finger in the opposite direction for the bad (although, whatever my husband tries to tell you, I have NEVER thrown myself to the floor in public because he wouldn't buy me a pair of shoes.)

This continues throughout your life. I think I resemble my own mum more with each passing year. Also my home looks more like hers as I have definitely developed the same taste in furnishings (although sadly the tidy gene seems to have defaulted somewhere along the line.) Since I've become a mother, this metamorphosis has accelerated: her words drop from my lips with alarming regularity: "What’s the magic word?" and “You need to drink more water” and “What you need are a few early nights.”

My own children’s habits and phases come and go and, as they grow and develop their own personalities and character traits, I wonder which of their parental similarities will disappear and which will remain. I live in hope that they keep their daddy’s blue eyes and thirst for knowledge, my clear skin and passion for a good book and our shared love of laughter.

 Once thing I do know, my daughter will resent me forever if she ends up inheriting my bum.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Nine Months

I’ve been taking Folic Acid
and stopped drinking any wine.
Your dad thinks it’s his birthday
(we do ‘it’ all the time.)
But little do I know yet,
the job’s already done.
We’ve started our nine month journey
and this has been month one.

Month Two, the test results are in
but so’s the morning sickness.
I’m desperate already to see a bump,
but there’s just a little thickness.
You’re our little secret just for now,
a glint in Daddy’s eye.
Although I want to burst out loud
and tell every passer-by.

Month Three and we can see you
in fuzzy black and white.
Our excitement is a cliché;
we show everyone in sight.
“There’s its tiny nose,” we point.
“How lovely,” they all said.
You’ve tiny fingers, tiny toes
(and a rather massive head.)

Month Four and now I don’t feel sick
and start to have some cravings.
Which consist of any type of food
if covered in chocolate shavings.
Then it’s time for a special moment
that truly fills me up with joy.
When I listen to your heartbeat
on the midwife’s clever toy.

Month Five and it’s time for another scan -
the cold gel makes me chilly.
Everyone is staring hard
to see if there’s a willy.
We don’t know if you’re boy or girl,
so nothing pink or blue
White babygros, white vests, white hats
and tiny yellow shoes.

Month Six: we’re in the final stage
and start to look for a pram.
Your dad is heard to mumble:
“These cost more than my first van.”
This month’s when I first feel you,
small movements in my tummy.
And suddenly it feels so real
I’m going to be a mummy . . .

Month Seven and my clothes don’t fit,
so I browse maternity collections.
Knickers you could camp in
and jeans with extra sections.
People say I’m ‘blooming’;
pat my ever-expanding tum.
(I know that you need padding
but why’s it on my bum?)

Month Eight I start to waddle
and I find it hard to bend.
I’m weeing like a racehorse
and I’m eating like his friend.
And If you’ve seen a beetle writhe
when turned upon his back;
You’ve got an idea of how I look
when getting out the sack.

Month Nine and I am desperate.
This waiting game’s a ‘mare.
Attempting any old wives’ tales
to get you out of there.
I’m fat and tired and impatient
with chronic indigestion.
I’ve tried pineapple and raspberry leaf
(but not the other suggestion.)

Month Nine plus one and I feel a twinge
that’s not a Braxton Hick.
I take a bath, switch on the TENS
and get your dad home quick.
I’m scared, excited, happy,
terrified and over the moon.
And suddenly, it dawns on me,
I’ll get to meet you soon.

The longest nine months of my life
and somehow I’ve survived.
The moment I’ve dreaded and longed for
has finally arrived.
And I try to take a moment
despite the cramp and coming pain.
Because one thing is for certain,
life will never be the same.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

I was going to be . . .

I was going to be the parent who never raised her voice.
Who cooked you fresh organic food, bought only wooden toys.

Today I’ve screamed a thousand times and threatened measures drastic.
You’ve had chips, three times this week, and our lounge is full of plastic.

I was going to be the parent with a craft box fully stocked.
Tissue, card and googly eyes: a Pritt stick ready cocked.

But I found I couldn’t make stuff; my creations were pathetic.
And glitter makes me want to drink until I’m paralytic.

I was going to be the parent who made your birthday cake.
But after one horrendous fail, I’m now a shop-bought fake.

I was going to be the parent who kept every childhood something.
But I seem to have lost your lock of hair and your baby book has nothing.

I planned on baby massage, baby yoga, all things artistic.
What you got was: ‘baby watch whilst mummy eats her weight in biscuits.’

I thought I’d be the parent who loved her child a lot.
Kept them safe, fed them well and cleaned their stinky bot.

But the love I felt when you were born just knocked my off my feet.
A love that makes me place my hand just to feel your heart’s soft beat.

I may not be the parent that I first set out to be.
But I’m the parent that truly loves you and forever that I’ll be.  

Emma Robinson (2014)

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

The School Run: A Slacker Mother’s monologue

(My humble tribute to the late, great Joyce Grenfell 1910-1979)

Hello William, is it really morning already?
Can you whisper, please, Scarlett is still . . . oh, now she’s awake too. Any chance you two want to go and play quietly downstairs whilst mummy lays here for another half an hour and waits for the alarm to actually go off?
Just an idea.

Right, what would you like for breakfast?
No, ice cream is not a breakfast food.
No, neither are Haribos. What about Weetabix?
You want Cocopops. How about Weetabix with a handful of Cocopops?
Because Weetabix is better for you.
It is not more disgusting than eating poo, actually.
No I haven’t ever eaten poo.
Because I just know.

If you eat your breakfast nicely, you can watch a DVD at the same time.
Yes, you can have Spiderman, William.
But you want Minnie Mouse, Scarlett. OK, how about we compromise and watch something else that you both like?
Do I take the fact you have thrown yourself onto the floor as an indication that you are rejecting that proposal?
Shall I just put the news on?
So we can agree on something then.
Are you really sure you want Mister Maker?
Both of you?
Well, you can watch it but there is zero possibility that we have time to do any craft this morning so if I let you watch it, you can’t even ask. Agreed?

What do you want in your sandwiches William?
No, not jam. You can have ham or cheese.
Yes, I know I let you have jam yesterday but that was because I hadn’t been shopping and there was nothing in the fridge.
Yes, that’s also why you had two Bourbon biscuits and a handful of Pringles. We are aiming for healthy today.
No, we can’t make a Mister Maker googly-eyed monster. We’ve already discussed that.

William, can you get dressed please?
Yes, Scarlett, I know you are a big girl and can dress yourself but trust me that putting both legs through the neckhole isn’t the best strategy.
William, your clothes are here, please can you get dressed? And if you could stop huffing at me that would help my mood quite considerably.
Scarlett, I am letting you do it. I’m just helping.
OK, you don’t want me to help. But when you garrotte yourself with your tights, you can deal with the social worker they give us.
William, if you don’t get off the sofa and start getting dressed this second, I am going to give away all the toys you have or will be given for the next ten years.
I do mean it.
Daddy will mean it too.
Yes, Scarlett, it really would be marvellous if you could put your mermaid costume over the top of your regular clothes.

What’s this in your school bag?
Homework? How did I miss this on Friday? When’s it . . . dammit, it’s due today. Right, William, I need you to draw a picture of all the fruit you’ve eaten this week, here’s the pens and paper.
I am aware I said no craft this morning but this is an emergency.
I have no idea what fruit you’ve eaten this week, which ones can you draw?
A banana and an apple would be fine. Here’s a red pen, do a strawberry as well. What about some purple grapes?
It doesn’t matter that you’ve drawn them as big as the apples, just say that they’re plums.
I know you haven’t eaten plums but they don’t know that.
I did say it was important to always tell the truth. How about I buy you some plums later and we can put the drawing in your bag now with a clear conscience?

How did it get to be 8:40? Shoes and coats. Shoes and coats. Where are your school shoes?
Well, where did you leave them?
Could you help mummy to look for them, please?
William, laying on your back and staring at the ceiling is not looking for them. Here’s one, under the sofa. The other one should be nearby.
Yes, it is entirely possible that the shoe fairy has taken the other one but it strikes me as unlikely. Here it is! Can you put them on?
No, your shoes are not stupid, you just need to undo them before putting them on your feet.
Fantastic, Scarlett, one Wellington boot and one dressing up shoe was exactly what I had in mind for you today.

Let’s get in the car.
Your teacher is absolutely right that it is better to walk to school but that would require us to be ready to leave more than two minutes before the gate closes. Don’t worry, we’ll park around the corner so that everyone will think we’ve walked.
It is kind of like fibbing, yes.

William, I’m going to let you out of the car first because I know that I can trust you to wait patiently on the pavement whilst I get Scarlett out.
William, can you get off that wall?
William, can you stop trying to rescue that dirty bird feather from the gutter?
William, don’t do that.
You’re completely correct, spoiling your fun is all I have ever wanted to do.

Let’s go. Looking where you’re going would be a real benefit right now. Stop at the kerb, please. Is there anything coming?
Then we can cross. Looking and listening.
That’s not looking and listening, that’s just shaking your head.

Scarlett, please keep up.
I know you like to do fairy steps but we’re on a tight schedule here. Can you be a fairy who takes big steps?
I’m sure they do when they’re in a rush to take their brother to school.

Here we are at last. Good morning Mrs Jones! Yes, we’re running late again!

Give mummy a kiss goodbye, William.
Get your hands out of your mouth please.
And out of your trousers.
Have a lovely day.

I’m just off to lay down in a dark room ‘til it’s time to collect you at three o’clock.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dear Teacher . . .

I know you're rather busy
First day back, there's just no time
A whole new class of little ones
And this one here is mine

I'm sure you have things covered
And have done this lots before
But my boy is very little
He hasn't long turned four

In his uniform this morning
He looked so tall and steady
But now beside your great big school
I’m not quite sure he’s ready

Do you help them eat their lunch?
Are you quick to soothe their fears?
And if he falls and hurts his knee
Will someone dry his tears?

And what if no-one plays with him?
What if someone’s mean?
What if two kids have a fight
And he’s caught in between?

You’re right, I have to leave now
It’s time for him to go
I’m sure he’ll learn so much from you
Things that I don’t know

Yes, I’m sure they settle quickly
That he’s fine now without me
I know he has to go to school
It’s just so fast, you see

It seems like just a blink ago
I first held him in my arms
It’s been my job to love, to teach
To keep him safe from harm

So, when I wave goodbye in a moment
And he turns to walk inside
Forgive me if I crumple
Into tears of loss and pride

I know as I give him one more kiss
And watch him walk away
That he’ll never again be wholly mine
As he was before today.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

It's all gone to pot(ty) . . .

When we potty trained our son two years ago, we prepared physically, mentally and spiritually.

We borrowed the Gina Ford Potty Training book from a friend (after the small fortune spent on useless books about sleep I now borrow rather than buy childcare books), bought an upstairs and a downstairs potty for the house and one for the car, waited for a week where we had a clear social diary and embarked upon Mission Potty Training.

This time around, with our daughter, it was more, “Bugger. We’ve run out of nappies. Shall we just do it?”

To be honest, she has been ready for potty training for months. The ‘experts’ tell you there are certain signs that a child is ready to be successfully potty trained: ability to follow instructions, ability to take their own pants down, ability to communicate that they need to use the toilet. When I tell you that she chooses and puts on her own clothes, orders for herself when we eat out and lays out a nappy, wipes and cream before laying herself on a changing mat, you may question who it is in this scenario that is not ready for potty training.

There is one reason and one reason only. This time, I know what I’m letting myself in for.

Nappies are so easy. With nappies, you don’t need a GPS reference for your three closest toilets. Although obviously you try to change a nappy as soon as it is necessary, you have more time to find somewhere to do it. Changing nappies isn’t pleasant, and they’re unhealthy for the environment and your bank balance, but they are the devil you know.

Day three of potty training and I needed to go to the shops to buy a birthday card. Slightly bored by her mother’s perusal of the shelves, the girl decides she needs to go to the toilet. Right now.

Cue panic stricken mother: ignoring queues of people to demand the shop assistant tell me whether they have a customer toilet (which of course they don’t, although I hear them being very sorry as I hot foot it from the store.); running at break neck speed to Debenhams because they have a toilet; waiting an interminably long time for the lift to come; dashing into the toilet; wrestling the potty out of the bag; yanking knickers down; putting the child on the potty. Then . . .

Nothing. Not a trickle. “No mummy, it won’t come.”

It takes every ounce of patience that I possess (not a very deep well to begin with) not to scream, “But you said you were desperate!”

Then begins the debate. “Just sit there until it does come.”

“But it won’t come.”

“Just try. Squeeze.”

(Pathetic squeezing noise.) “No, it won’t come.”

Eventually, I give in. Knickers back up, potty back under the buggy, hands washed. We go back down in the lift, back to our original shop and, yep, you’ve guessed it.

After the third unproductive trip to the toilet, I seriously begin to consider whipping out the potty in the middle of the shopping centre and accepting the disgusted looks from the more civilised people walking past. (I understand, I want to tell them, I was you once.) I am only prevented from doing so by the realisation that I would then need to dispose of the contents somehow.

As I’m sure you can understand, this kind of erratic behaviour is not my idea of a good time.

However, when she does manage to perform the requested task, her delight in her own achievement is infectious. I tell her that she is a good girl, that mummy is very proud and. as I watch her twirling around, proud in equal measure of her new abilities and her Minnie Mouse knick-knacks, I realise that a baby without a nappy isn’t actually a baby anymore. She is, in her own words, “a big girl now.”

And maybe that’s the real reason I’ve been putting it off.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Applying for school

Choosing a school for a child is one of the most important decisions parents make. The school - its teachers, curriculum, educational philosophy, and values both explicit and implicit - will affect the child's day-to-day life. It will help shape the child's personality, view of life, behaviour, and destiny as an adult. And it will also deeply affect the lives of the parents and the life of the family as a whole.'

Ronald Koetzsch (American Educationalist)

"Isn't it all just sand and water at this age?"

 My husband

Visiting schools fell firmly into my domain. My husband's reasoning for this was:
(a) I wanted to look around the schools, ask pertinent questions and assess what they had to offer our child
(b) He didn't.

To be fair, he made a good case for just sending the boy to our local school: logistically, socially and morally it was the obvious thing to do. I agreed with everything he had to say, then made arrangements to visit all the schools in our area on my own.

The first thing I noticed was that I got a gut feeling about each school as soon as I walked through their doors. It was very similar to when we were house hunting: some properties had it all but didn't click whereas others had a small box room and a crap garden but felt like home. I couldn't put my finger on it (and wouldn't want to because I know how many bogeys get wiped behind school radiators) but I always knew within 3 minutes whether this was a school I would send my child to.

Obviously the whole school is on best behaviour when the parental tours are being conducted. At no point do you see a child being given timeout, in tears because another child has whacked them or complaining about the boring work which they have to do. I tried to hang behind and peek back into the classrooms five minutes after we'd left but I didn't manage to catch them out.

At the end of every tour there was a time for questions. I would always hold back, hoping other parents would ask some of the questions on my list so that I was left with only a dozen or so. I didn't want to get a black mark next to my name before our boy had even started. Sometimes people would ask nothing (Really? There's nothing you want to know?), sometimes they clearly felt the need to seem interested and would ask something inane (What time is lunch? What kind of pencil case do they need?) and there's always some pushy parent who wants to know what the Gifted and Talented Policy is, what reading scheme they follow and whether or not they have a hotline to Mensa. (OK, that was me.)

There are obviously some questions that must be asked. If your child has a specific educational need (at either end of the ability range) you need to ensure it will be addressed. It’s imperative that you are fully confident that your child will be safe and cared for. You need to know that they have an effective Anti-Bullying Policy (any school that says they don’t have bullying would concern me. Bullying happens, you need to know how they deal with it.)

On the whole though, you are walking blind. There is no way to really know if this school will be right for your child until they are actually there and no amount of research, visits and grilling of parents in supermarket queues (again, all me) can give you that guarantee that you are making the right choice.

When it came down to it, we chose the school closest to where we live (cue smug eyebrow lift from husband) which I actually felt very happy about as it was one of the two schools I had most liked. I continued to try to feel happy about our decision when, about a month after we completed our online application form, Ofsted visited and put them into Special Measures. (It could only happen to me.)

There is then an interminably long time between the date school applications have to be in and when you actually find out whether your child has a place at your first choice school. This is usually the time in which you hear the most horror stories about the school you have chosen and Ofsted try and tell you what a bad choice you've made. (Like they know anything.)

Because we'd chosen the school at the bottom of the hill, we felt pretty confident that we would get in. Then, as the day got closer, we - and all the other parents we knew - started to feel less sure. It's our local school, of course we'll get in. It's extremely unlikely we won't get in, isn't it? What will we do if we don't get in? Before you know it, you're waiting up past midnight for the damned confirmation email to arrive.

Then it arrives and the relief you feel is immense. You haven't let them down, you've got the school you thought was best, everything is ok.

But, as the excitement subsides, another feeling creeps in to take its place. The realisation of what this actually means.

What it actually means is that your son or daughter is starting school in a few months time. The baby you were bringing home from hospital just a few heartbeats ago will be putting on a uniform and waving goodbye to you at the school gate. Your precious child will be spending six hours of every day with someone who is not you. They will make friends you don't know, learn skills you didn't teach and won't remember a word of it to tell you later.

You realise that this is just the beginning. The first step on a road that will lead to college, university, work and a life all their own.

You realise that you won't be their only influence any more.

That they won't need you as much.

That they are growing up.

That they are going.

To school.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Letter to my pregnant self

Dear Me (8 months pregnant),
You are going to have a C-Section. Yes, I know you believe you have a strong pain threshold, you've been to all the birth prep classes and read all the books. It doesn't matter. This child (I won't spoil the surprise and tell you the sex) is going to get stuck and there's nothing you can do about it. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about it.  Some women (yes, I know we're supposed to support one another but some girls didn't get that memo) will enjoy telling you how they managed the whole thing with the merest whiff of gas and air and that some women 'make a fuss' or 'didn't try hard enough'. I repeat: your baby will get STUCK, there is NOTHING you can do about it. Don't get angry with these women, don't come home and cry because you didn't have a 'real' birth; smile sweetly, walk away and pray that karma will ensure they get horrendous teenagers. 

(Incidentally, these are usually the same mothers who will tell you that their child slept through the night at two weeks old, ate a full roast dinner with a knife and fork at six months and was sitting on a potty, reading The Guardian, weeks before their second birthday. The advice above continues to apply.) 

Your child will not sleep alone for a whole night for a long long time. Give in to it, you will get more sleep if you do and life will be a lot easier. Don't spend all that money on 'How to get your child to sleep' books - you won't stick to their advice and you're better off spending the money on expensive make up to cover the bags under your eyes. You will want to kill anyone who tells you that their child puts themselves to sleep, stays that way all night and doesn't rise til 8am. Just wait it out, often their second child is not the same. Then you can make supportive noises whilst internally laughing your head off. Eventually your child will choose to sleep in their own bed and not end up in yours by 2am. Surprisingly, you will miss it.

 Breast feeding proves to be much trickier to get the hang of than you think it's going to be. You might want to start rubbing your nipples with sandpaper now in preparation. It does get better and eventually becomes pretty great. You will have friends who try to breastfeed and find it doesn't work out for them. Be extra kind to them; they often feel crappy about it, and you need to balance out the judgement they feel from the super mothers. 

 You are not going to write a novel whilst you're on maternity leave. I know you think you will have lots of time but what you don't know yet is that babies eat time when you're not looking. Your husband will ask you what you've done all day and you will only be able to remember two hours worth of activities. The rest of the day has been eaten by the baby. Don't stress: the novel will happen one day. 

Nothing I can say now will prepare you for how you are going to feel about this small person. Remember when you first fell in love and couldn't bear to be away from that boy for a second? Multiply that feeling by 100 and you're getting close. That doesn't mean you won't also feel exasperated, overwhelmed, emotional, angry, frustrated, isolated, terrified and exhausted (sometimes all within the same two hours.) It just means that, when they are asleep in your arms, you will look down and feel a passionate love that you could never have imagined. 

 In summary, I know that this is something which we don't like to admit, but in the coming weeks and months, you will need to accept that you are often going to be wrong. 

 Firstly, you will think you couldn't possibly be any more tired. You will be. 

 Often, you will feel overwhelmed and think you can't do this. You can. 

 Sometimes, you will think you are the only one who finds it difficult. You are not.

 Lastly, you will look at that tiny creature and think that you could never love another human being as much as you love that baby.

And then you will have another one. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

When the class toy comes home. . .

 Parents of preschool and above aged children will be aware of the practice of sending a class mascot home with each child in turn, so that they can take pictures of him (Her? It?) and themselves with a little write up about what they did together. A lovely idea to bring together the worlds of home and school and something a lot of children love to do. 

 When the boy was at preschool, I was pathetically eager to have the school bear home on a visit. A lot more eager than my ambivalent son, who could barely remember the bear's name. (Edward, in case you're interested.) 

 Unfortunately, my plans for exciting and artistic shots of Edward having the time of his life were scuppered when the bear came home on a Wednesday. Wednesday being the day that daddy collected the boy from preschool.

 Thursday evening, around 6:30pm, as we get the children into their pyjamas, husband says in passing, "Oh, I think we're supposed to take that bear back tomorrow."
Dramatic pause before I turn my head 180 degrees and ask, "WHAT bear?"
Husband, still unaware of his impending doom, continues, "You know, the bear they all take home. Edward, is it?"
Cue 45 minutes of me redressing the boy, dragging him outside with Edward bear (henceforth known as 'that bloody bear') to take photos of them bug hunting in the garden. Then, leaving husband to do bedtime (only the beginning of his penance), I quickly print the photos (lack of ink in the printer giving them a nice green tinge) and cut them out ready to stick in Edward's diary. 

Thinking we may have got away with it, I open the book to be greeted with the previous entry. Four pages of meticulously written text which described how Edward has been to the fire station, ate out at a restaurant, had a ride on a motorbike . . . probably found time to scale Ben frickin Nevis. No wonder the poor sod looked bored out of his brains at our house. 

Now the boy is in reception at big school and apparently there’s a new toy in town: Leo the bear has now commenced his home visits.

 This time I am planning to tell the truth. Our entry into Leo's diary is likely to read something like this:

 Leo watched TV for three hours with his friends W and S. He had chicken nuggets and chips for dinner. (No, make that homemade chicken goujons and potato wedges) He then ran around the house for an hour brandishing light sabers and making unfunny jokes about poo before mummy had a mini-breakdown and sent them all to bed. Leo was then stuffed unceremoniously back into William's bag after mummy had taken a picture of him which she could later superimpose onto pictures of really exciting places. 

 Because that's the kind of mother I am now. I don't need to impress anyone by pretending my weekends are full of exciting child-friendly activities that any bear would be lucky to be a part of.  I am confident that I can show the world what our leisure time is really like. I will not be intimidated into competing with the adrenaline-fueled excitement which accompanies the visits of a small stuffed toy! 

 Yeah, who am I kidding? We're taking him to Hawaii. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Craftily Creative

A recent study from the University of Illinois suggests that drinking alcohol does in fact make you more creative. This may explain why doing craft activities with my children makes me want to lay down on the kitchen floor and drink gin from the bottle.

I do not have a creative bone in my body. I have friends who are able to take toilet rolls, cereal boxes and tissue paper and construct scale models of the Tower of London. I am able to take the same materials and turn them into life size models of . . . toilet rolls stuck onto cereal boxes. 

I do try. I have a big plastic box full of sparkly pipe cleaners, tissue paper and stickers. Unfortunately, it appears that just buying the stuff is not enough; you then need to work out what to do with it. 

Mr Maker is my freakin' nemesis. I try my best to turn my children away from the TV before he makes an appearance. Both my children worship him, watching his creations with hushed reverence. Unfortunately, as soon as he is finished they look at me with eyes full of eternal hope and (misplaced) parental belief: "Can you help us make that, mummy?"

If, by chance, we happen to have all the resources needed, I reluctantly agree to try. (Any attempts to get out of it by telling them that I'm not very good at making things only prompts the boy to hoist me with my own petard, "You won't get any better if you don't practice, mummy.")

Despite following the instructions meticulously, it never ends up looking as it should. Anyone who saw our dinosaur with legs made of rolled up newspaper would no longer question why they became extinct: the poor creature could only stay upright for about 3 seconds. 

At least my children have obligingly low expectations. Although sometimes there is something more than a little patronising when a four year old tells you that you are "getting very good at cutting out." 

 My other sticking point, if you'll pardon the pun, is Mister Maker's obsession with 'googly eyes'. I'm pretty sure you'll find his brother is the UK distributor for the damn things. How the hell do you get them to stick to anything? Pritt stick (my non-spillable glue of choice) just doesn't cut it. If you use PVA they slide slowly downwards until the imaginary creature is looking out of its imaginary stomach. There is double-sided sticky tape, but if anyone out there has found a way to cut that small enough to fit a googly eye and still be able to peel the back off of the bugger, I will shake that person by the paint-covered hand. (Actually, they do stick to something. I was in the middle of admonishing a Year 8 for their lack of effort in class when the confused looking child said 'Miss, why have you got eyes stuck to your buttons?' It's quite difficult to maintain your authority after that.) 

 Also, what the heck do you do with all these projects after you have made them? I used to get away with filing them in the recycling bin pretty soon after they were made (don't gasp in horror, supermothers, this blog is not for you) but lately they have taken to want to display them for indefinite periods of time. Sometimes I can get away with persuading them that that particular collection of painted pebble monsters would look lovely at Nana's house, but most of the time they are adamant that they want to litter my lounge with them. My latest plan is to implement a genius idea shared by a friend who takes a photo of the current masterpiece and then 'loses'' the original. Now, that's the kind of creativity I can run with. 

 Back to that study from the University of Illinois: the researchers believe that 'intoxication may lower one’s ability to control one’s thoughts, thus freeing the mind for more creativity.' On reading further, however, they note that 'higher doses of alcohol were not tested, nor was the study done with female volunteers.'

 Never let it be said that I would stand in the way of scientific progress. Or that I am unwilling to offer my services to further the advancement of the human race. Anyone else fancy joining me in a bit of research? 



Monday, 17 February 2014

Don't invite the children!

I love my children.
I love going to large parties.
I do not love going to large parties with my children.
There, I've said it. Going out for the evening with my offspring is not fun.
My heart sinks when we get an evening invitation to a party and are told, very kindly, "the children are invited too." It triggers an internal battle between what I feel is expected of me (to bring the children) and what I want to do (leave them at Nana's so that I can actually enjoy myself.) 
Sometimes I forget the potential horror of it. "They're a bit older now," I tell husband, "they'll be fine this time." He shakes his head at my naïveté. Unfortunately he is always proved annoyingly correct.
The evening starts ok. We arrive, both children looking picture perfect. We find an area in which to base ourselves (husband already pulling the 'how loud is this music?' face), get ourselves a drink (arguing with children about coke vs orange juice before compromising on lemonade) and try to locate a friendly face in the crowd. 
We are then thrust straight into a balloon battle. The boy has a balloon fixation of huge proportions: he spots the balloons as soon as we enter the room and begins a war of attrition on my ears which consists of a repeated "Can I have a balloon now? Can I have a balloon now? Please can I have a balloon? When can I have a balloon?" He has no understanding of the fact that our hosts have placed these balloons decoratively around the room and do not wish a small child to rip them down and run around the room with them like a chimpanzee on acid. 
This is just the beginning. I may even have had a small chance of tuning out the balloon mantra if husband didn't then add a second acapella-style chorus about 20 minutes into the party with his own rendition of "How long have we got to stay? When are we going home? Shall I take the kids home and leave you here?" The male members of our clan are not known for being party people. 
At least the girl enjoys a dance (I have high hopes for the future where the two of us attend parties alone and leave the other two at home with a balloon each) but that brings a different form of stress in the fear that she will be trampled underfoot by an over-enthusiastic mummy putting double turns into the 'Uptown Girl' line dance. I know how easy this is due to my own experiences over the years clumping small children during the Macarena. 
Other people seem to manage quite successfully to attend parties en famille - chatting, laughing, even having a little dance whilst their children are off playing elsewhere. Whilst I admire greatly their relaxed attitude and faith in their offspring, I have a deeply embedded need to have visuals on my children at all times:  presuming that anytime I can't actually see them they are either destroying something, are being pinned down by another child or have escaped onto a busy motorway. 
This is a fear often vindicated when I do lose sight of them for more than 5 minutes. If there is a leg-breakingly high stage, they will be attempting to jump from it. If there is a wallet-bustingly expensive piece of DJ equipment they will be tripping over it. And if there is a tottering toddler barely walking who doesn't want a large balloon bounced on his head . . . you get the idea. At least at a large party the music is so loud you can't be heard threatening your children under your breath. 
The end of our evening is usually heralded by the over-tired tears of one or both children. Husband leaps on the first teardrop as evidence that we must go home and it is left to me to find our host or hostess and make our apologies. 
So, my friends, I would love to come and celebrate your birthday, wedding or anniversary. I will laugh and joke and dance and sing. Just please don't ask me to bring my children. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Small Child V2.0

Dear God

 Whilst I appreciate that you have been in the business of creating human beings for a long time now, I would like to humbly suggest some modifications should you decide to revise the current version of small child.

 1. Ear functionality - small child V1.0 seems to experience intermittent audio loss, otherwise known as selective hearing. This can vary between acute deafness and the hearing of a superhero i.e. an inability to hear the phrase 'Sit down and eat your dinner" whilst being able to hear the crinkling of a sweet wrapper from three rooms away. (NB Husband V2.0 could also benefit from this bug fix.)

 2. A glitch in brain synapsis which renders an incomprehension of the word 'no'. This incomprehension manifests itself when the small child continues to repeat a question if it is answered with 'no'. As in:

"Can I have sweets before dinner?"


"Please can I have sweets?"


"Pleeeeease can I have sweets?"

This can continue through several cycles and often ends with an incessant whining sound and leakage from the eyes.

3. Lapses in memory. This takes two forms: inability to retrieve information (("I don't know where I left your purse after I was playing with it.") and general memory loss (" I forgot that I'm not allowed to help myself with biscuits from the cupboard.") 

4. Shutdown malfunction. I have been reliably informed by several user manuals that you can program your small child to automatically shut down at a set time each evening. My model seems unable to perform this effectively and often requires me to perform the shutdown sequence several times. It also turns itself back on too early or at random times in the night. Also, the younger of my two models sometimes crashes mid-afternoon which makes the evening shutdown even more difficult. 

I hope you are not offended with my suggestions to improve your otherwise excellent model; those of us in the field can often experience practical issues which may not have been considered important in the design phase. On that subject, there are a number of modifications which would greatly benefit Mother V2.0: an extra set of hands, larger reserves of patience and the ability to concurrently cook dinner, supervise a craft activity and negotiate a peace treaty to name but a few.

 Otherwise, I am very happy with both of my small child V1.0 although I regret to inform you that I will not be purchasing further copies.

 Yours humbly,

 Mrs A. Mother