World Book Day: challenges for the uninitiated

All good mummies know that Thursday 2nd March is World Book Day, when little people everywhere celebrate the joy of reading.  They observe this splendiferous day by wearing costumes that their mummies (or daddies – let’s not gender-stereotype here) have lovingly hand-crafted on their sewing machine in the attic.  Or, in my case, bought from Amazon.

world book day 1.PNGBut the real problem is, no matter how much effort you put in, there is always some committed parent who has done better.  At my children’s school last year, there was a little boy dressed as Around the World in Eighty Days.  (Seriously? Are six year olds reading Jules Verne now?)  His body was an enormous globe and by some feat of technical wizadry he had a tiny hot air balloon magically floating round him.  What was the parent who made that thinking?  Don’t these people know they’re making the rest of us look bad?

In fairness, there are also a wide range of parents who are panicked into dressing their child as any character, whether it appears in a book or not.  If you see any kids turning up as characters from Star Wars, you know their mummies have just done a spot of last-minute rooting around the bottom of the dressing up box.

Before my children got wise to it, there was a happy interlude when I managed to convince one daughter to go as a witch three years in a row.  It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment, but it did have a lot to recommend it as (a) she already had a perfectly good witch costume left over from Halloween and (b) there are actually a surprising number of witches in children’s literature.

But once your children are reading books without you and start choosing their own characters, that’s when the real trouble starts.  Last year my youngest daughter wanted to go as the feline detective Atticus Claw.  I confidently ordered a tabby cat costume and requisite bandana in plenty of time, but when nothing had arrived at 4pm the day before World Book Day, I had to accept it probably never would.  I then spent two hours driving round South East London in the rush hour acquiring all the bits and bobs needed to fashion the costume myself.  It was not a happy time.

world-book-day-teacher

Even teachers are in on it.  At least, I hope that’s a teacher…

This year my youngest daughter has let mummy off the hook by choosing the main character from  ‘The Girl Who saved Christmas’.  It may not be very seasonal, but I am delighted on two counts: firstly because this is a very good book, and secondly because the main character wears dungarees and a t-shirt.  Items my daughter already has in her wardrobe!  Happy days.

My other daughter has chosen to be Storme from The Long Way Home. Not only have I never heard of it, but I’m reasonably confident it hadn’t even been written when I was a child.  Worse than that though, my daughter is insisting that there is no actual description of what Storme looks like in the book.  As a result of diligent questioning on my part, I have found out that Storme lives on a farm.  I have therefore decided to go with an outdated stereotype and send her to school in dungarees and wellies.  I’m feeling pretty confident that if my daughter is reading the book and doesn’t know what Storme looks like, no one is going to challenge her on whether what she’s wearing is right or not.

Two children demonstrating their interest in diverse books from every season, whilst happily dressed in items they already had in their wardrobe?  That’s what I call #winning.  So, to committed (and less committed) parents everywhere, I wish you well with your costume, may your children live long and read much!

 

Thanks to Barnsley Chronicle for the photo at the top.

 

Homework makes me crazy, but not for the reasons you might think…

This week I am taking issue with homework.  Specifically my daughter’s grammar homework on gerunds.  Ordinarily I have an almost insatiable appetite for grammar, and gerunds are a particular favourite.  (Refresher for people less obsessed with grammar than I am: gerunds are when you use an -ing word as a noun, as in ‘My dancing is a constant source of embarrassment to my children.’)

grammar-keep-calmI particularly love them when they are in Latin.  Think of all the great Latin phrases that have gerunds and are still in use today…  Modus operandi (or MO) meaning ‘way of operating’, a phrase beloved of all TV cop shows.  Nunc est bibendum (now is the time for drinking), popular with Latin poets and care-worn mummies everywhere.  You might question how popular the phrase nunc est bibendum actually is, but I’m very excited by gerunds nonetheless.  (And if you’re wondering, yes, even I know that makes me a bit weird.)

But my excitement at my eldest child’s homework quickly dissipated when she got to gerund Blankety Blank, and the last sentence she had to fill in was:

My dad’s job is BLANK, but my mum does all the BLANK.

This is not good.  This sentence does not lend itself to empowering answers about what women can achieve. It does not lend itself to answers like

My dad’s job is watching re-runs of Top Gear, but my mum does all the high-powered lawyering (I don’t by the way, but you see what I mean).

This sentence lends itself to answers like my daughter gave, answers in which my job apparently counts for nothing because what I do is ‘all the cooking and washing’.

grammar-ironingThis made me full-on, head-spinning crazy.  I ranted that I have obviously wasted my time trottering away at work all day, because clearly it’s only the cooking and washing I do that counts.  In fact, I went so crazy that even my husband (who actually works very hard, and hardly gets to spend any time watching re-runs of Top Gear) looked slightly afraid.

But this is a serious point.  The conjunction ‘but’ is used to create a contrast – ‘my dad’s job is…, but my mum… (by implication doesn’t have a job).  Or, to put it another way ‘this homework taught my daughter about gerunds, but it misled her about what I do all day’.   Even though I hope I am role modelling being a smart working mum, it only took one sentence in my daughter’s homework to reduce me to a domestic servant.

I think there are a couple of things we can learn from this:

  1. I have an obsession with grammar that is bordering on unhealthy. (Although if you think loving grammar is a bit ‘special interest’, you should probably know about my fetish for Victorian cemeteries.)
  2. Children are influenced by everything around them. What they learn now sets their expectations for the future.  So let’s not give them homework that implies men have jobs and women don’t.  Let’s not tell them stories in which girls are passive princesses while boys save the day (I’m looking at you Early Learning Centre).  Let’s expand their horizons, not narrow their aspirations.

If you don’t think this stuff makes a difference, read this article about the impact of ‘labelling’ things blue for boys and pink for girls.  Luckily organisations like Let Toys Be Toys are challenging the stereotypes (and also have an insightful and often amusing twitter account). It’s certainly an eye-opener about how many limiting messages girls are presented with.

Lastly, returning to the grammatical theme of this blog, I know you don’t need it, but I would like to leave you with a final reminder: grammar is powerful – use your conjunctions with care!!!

 

Thanks to Good Housekeeping for the picture at the top of the blog (it comes from an article arguing that children have too much homework), Huffington Post for the ironing image (it comes from an article about how women have jobs but still do all the housework, and Not just another millenial for the ‘Keep calm’ poster.

Stop bog snorkelling and get bonding: parenting is a team sport!

Raising children is a journey with no clear destination and only a fairly limited and often useless map.  That is why friends with kids are invaluable.  It feels so much better to share your challenges with other people who also have no clue what’s going on.  Over the last few years I have shared so many challenges and had so much support from friends with children that we have forged bonds of steel.

gang-julie-sarah-amelia-ball

Gang of three: How we want people to think we look

We are like the Royal Marines of parenting.  No man left behind.  If you’re running late and your child needs picking up, if you have to drop one child and collect another from different parties at the same time, if you’ve lost the flipping homework book and have no idea what the little darlings should be doing, and, most of all, if you’ve had a rubbish week and need a glass of wine, WE ARE HERE FOR YOU.

gang-julie-sarah-amelia

How we actually look

And naturally, like all highly specialised crack teams, not only are we trained to control an angry seven year old at twenty paces, but we have also developed our own vocabulary, a sort of linguistic short-hand of key information.  So if you want to get with the gang, you’re going to have to learn the lingo.  Here’s a couple of phrases to get you started…

  •     Personal grooming: you always need a haircut

Origins of the haircut:  Just because you have children, you can’t let attention to your appearance slip.  Which is why it seemed perfectly credible when one of the dads slipped out of a children’s party claiming he was ‘going for a haircut’.  He returned four hours later and sheepishly confessed he had actually spent the entire time in the pub with a mate.

How to use it in conversation: Do you actually have to work late the night my mother’s staying, or are you going for a haircut?

  •     Driving skills: do a Catherine

Origins of the Catherine:  My lovely friend was so busy yelling at her kids in the back of the car, that she entirely failed to notice the rockery looming ominously at the back of the parking space.  Luckily she was alerted to its presence by the sound of her boot caving in under the pressure. (No children or animals were harmed in the making of this phrase.)

How to use it in conversation:  I don’t want you to get upset, but I may have caressed a post on the way out of the car park.  It’s more of a light graze than a full-on Catherine.

  •     Wage slave: trotter-trotter-trotter

Origins of trottering:  As part of a fulsome description of how hard she had been working, one of our friends started typing manically at an imaginary keyboard much as a demented pig in a punk band might play the drums.

How to use it in conversation:  I’d love to come for a quick drink or ten, but I’m stuck in the office trottering my life away.

  •     Coping mechanisms: Honking arsenic

Origins of honking arsenic:  We can thank autocorrect for this one.  Whatever my friend was actually trying to text was unclear, but her meaning was plain – her mother-in-law had outstayed her welcome and my friend needed rapid and permanent relief from an increasingly oppressive situation.

How to use it in conversation: Getting my kids to do their homework is draining the will to live out of me.   If I have to make them practise their lines for assembly as well, I’ll be honking arsenic.

Now you know enough phrases to seamlessly slip into our gang and act like you have always been there.  Use this information wisely and you could be joining us on our next night out.  If you’re really canny, you may even be able to persuade one of us to pick your children up afterwards…

 If you’re now feeling wistful about the joys of friendship, why not read my blog about How to be a great friend.

PS Thanks to our wonderful BBC for the photo at the top!