Death by sparkly asphyxiation – in pursuit of the perfect party dress

I have accepted that I will never get back the body I had before children.  (Since I haven’t got it back in the first nine years after my youngest child was born, it seems reasonable to assume I won’t get it back in the next nine either.)  But I have absolutely not accepted the body I actually have.

I have adopted a sort of passive-aggressive resistance by buying clothes that are between my two sizes – too big for the size I was before children, but too small for the size I am now.  As a result, my wardrobe is full of clothes that can only be worn on very specific occasions – trousers that aren’t suitable for sitting down; dresses that can’t be worn if I want to eat; not to mention several outfits that work much better if I try not to breathe.

I blame cake.  Lovely delicious cake.  If there’s cake in the house, I’m going to eat it for every meal.  Who says that a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge isn’t a healthy and nutritious breakfast?  And carrot cake has got to be at least one of your five-a-day, right?  In the matter of cake, I am like Oscar Wilde – I can resist anything except temptation.

Only I may have let things go too far.  Now even things that used to fit are troublingly tight.  ‘Breathe in, mummy,’ said my daughter the other day as she battled valiantly to zip me into a dress that was patently too small.  Unfortunately I had been holding my breath for some time and was already puce from lack of oxygen.  The only way that dress was zipping up was if I cracked a rib or two.

size kate moss vanda

Too much for a wedding, or not enough?

And now a dear friend is getting married and I’ve been wondering what to wear.  There’s bound to be food, and dancing, and sitting down.  I don’t think anything in my wardrobe will accommodate all three activities.  If I buy something that’s a sensible size, it could see me through all sorts of Christmas razzmatazz; but it will also mean accepting that I am not, and never will be, Kate Moss.  And I’m just not sure that’s something I’m ready to give up on quite yet.

I want to look young, and sexy and cool.  I want to dance like everyone is watching (I’ve never been a shrinking violet) and feast like a lion gorging on baby antelope.  And all I need is the perfect dress to do it in.

So now I’m trawling the internet for something sparkly that’s just the right side of asphyxiating.  Something that says ‘I see you Christmas, and I’m ready.  Bring it on!’  Oh, and it will need to have a sturdy zip.  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Important lessons you can learn from canapes

I love canapes.  I love them the way Romeo loved Juliet, or Nigel Farage loves Brexit.  They are bite-size morsels of deliciousness, with the added benefit that nothing so small could possibly contain any calories.  I hoover them up at parties like Pac-Man eating Pac-Dots.

So imagine my joy when my old university invited me to a soiree at the Royal Society.  Doesn’t the word ‘soiree’ just scream ‘canapes’ to you?  And as if that weren’t enough joy, my bestie Liz was going too.  She’s the woman who spotted early on that I was a bit flighty, and assiduously safeguarded me through three years of drunken student antics.  In fact, she did such a good job that I sometimes think she should have been awarded my degree as well as her own.

Now I may be blonde, but I’m not completely naïve.  I know that I haven’t been invited to this illustrious event purely because university is missing me and anxious to know what I’ve been doing over the last decade.  They want my money, and they’re prepared to serve me any number of canapes to get it.  Little do they know, all my spare cash is ear-marked for fancy shoes, which closely rival canapes in my affections.

And so it was that I went along last night, dressed appropriately smartly and in a pair of shoes I thought would set the room on fire.  And, what do you know, there were a series of really interesting talks – the future of the interweb (hello, Dr Anil Madhavapeddy!), the science of fat (thank you, Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly) and how Muslim housewives can influence politics through exercise classes (interesting stuff, Dr Sertac Sehlikoglu); all rounded off with a few amusing anecdotes from lovely Tim Brooke-Taylor (I’m a fan).  Not to mention as much wine as I could drink.

And from the evening, I have learnt three important things:

  1. It’s really not my fault that I can’t resist cake. It’s totally, incontrovertibly my genes.  Science says so.
  2. I’m too old to wear fancy shoes two nights in a row. I was hobbling like the wicked witch of the west on the school run this morning – no wonder she uses a broom stick.
  3. I type this with great sadness, but the terrible truth is that no matter how many canapes you eat, they will never soak up the amount of alcohol you drink.

So much fun and so much learning!  It was such a good evening that I may even forego a shoe or two and make a donation.  It probably won’t pay for a new library, but it might buy a book or two. Long live education!

 

Thanks to Cooking With Julie for the picture at the top.  I need a woman like you in my life!

How to unravel mummy’s sanity – a guide for kids

The thing to remember about mummy is that she loves you very much, so you can try a selection or indeed all of these sanity-eroding activities and – once she’s regained her composure – she will still love you.  She may be stressed.  She may be exhausted.  She may howl at the moon and drink heavily.  But – and this is the important thing – she will still love you.

  1. Loiter aimlessly in the mornings. Mummy feels an obligation to get you to school on time, and it’s your job to challenge her compulsion.  Top challenges to her obsession with timeliness include: staring vacantly into space when you should be eating your breakfast; and playing hide and seek with your sibling instead of getting dressed.  Why not further spice things up by waiting until you’re half way to school and then announcing that you’ve left your bag at home?
  2. Never ever put laundry in the basket. Unless, of course, you have just tried something on, but decided not to wear it.  In that case, you should always put it in the basket.  A fun way to create extra laundry is to have friends over for a play date then get them to try on all your clothes and do the same.  I mean, if mummy didn’t have laundry, she would literally have nothing to do all day.
  3. Never eat vegetables. In fact, carefully pore through every plate of food looking for anything green and, when you find something, immediately declare the entire meal unfit for human consumption.  If mummy wants you to eat even one of your five-a-day, she needs to get much more inventive than carelessly chopping a few vegetables into your spaghetti Bolognese.
  4. Behave like the perfect child at other people’s houses. Tidy up.  Eat all your vegetables.  Tell your friend’s parents how much you love school.  Mummy will be completely baffled by reports of your good behaviour, but unable to tell other parents that you are actually a complete horror.
  5. Never do anything the first time mummy asks. I mean, if she’s only asked once, how do you know she’s serious?  Wait till she’s really yelling and then take the high ground by telling her you were about to do it, but because she’s shouting you’re not going to.  This might also be a good time to remind her that she should be using her inside voice.
    spirit crush 9a

    Because I said so!

  6. No matter how foul you have been to mummy, become an absolute angel as soon as daddy gets home. This will undermine the credibility of everything mummy says about you, whilst giving daddy an excellent opportunity to share his parenting wisdom.  Mummy loves hearing from daddy how her parenting could be improved.
  7. Start a fight with your sibling for no reason. The best time to do this is in the car, as that is when mummy is least able to figure out who started it and deal with it appropriately.  Mummy will be trapped in a sort of double jeopardy: she wants to turn round and conduct the Spanish Inquisition, but she doesn’t want to take her eye off the road and veer headlong into the oncoming traffic.  Honestly, next time you’re bored on a journey, just quietly lean over and give your sibling a quick pinch, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
  8. Save the best to last. When you think mummy really can’t take any more, when she has completely lost it and looks like she may never get it back, tearfully throw your arms round her and tell her you love her.  She will (almost certainly) forgive you (eventually) because, like I said at the start, mummy loves you very much.  And now you have laid the groundwork for starting it all again tomorrow…

 

The 12 essential steps for a great night out

1     Start your preparation early. In my case, by befriending someone much cooler than me called Liz at university, and then staying friends with her for the next 20 years.

2     Try to contain unfeasible amounts of joy when Liz tells you she has a spare ticket to the Sisters of Mercy at the Roundhouse in Camden.

3    Get permission from your partner to go. Ideally this should be signed in triplicate, in case he or she has a last minute change of heart.  Or one of your children breaks a leg whilst riding their bike.

4    Text all your friends that you’re going to see the Sisters of Mercy, so they know how cool you are. Then laugh uproariously when one of your mummy friends texts back to ask if it’s a good school, and should she also go to see it.

5    Root around your wardrobe for something suitably ‘gothy’ to wear. Sadly admit to yourself that your goth days are behind you, as you pull on some black jeans that you’re sure used to fit, but are now cutting off the blood supply to everything below your waist.

sisters of mercy

This is the Sisters of Mercy in the old days.  You know, before iPhones were invented.

6    Feel intimidated on arrival, when you see how many people your age are still living the goth dream and have come dressed head-to-toe in black and are wearing heavy eyeliner. Very heavy eyeliner.

7    Have a couple of sherberts to help you get into the swing of things. Well, I say ‘sherberts’ but really I mean ‘white wines’, because your days of drinking snake bite and black were over pretty much the same time as you got your first proper job.

Sisters Julie

Me living it up in the ’90s, when a plastic glass of green curacao was 50p for charity

8    Revel in the way everything about the evening feels exactly like 1989. Except for the bloke on keyboards – who looks like one of the dads at your children’s school.

9    Dance like a loon. Glory in the fact that everyone is the same age as you and therefore dances the same as you, not that funny modern dancing that you can’t really do.

10    Run like a teenager to try and get the last train home. Wish you’d worn your Fitbit – you’ve done loads of steps this evening!

11    Arrive home feeling slightly dishevelled. Re-heat the left over take-away curry your partner has left in the kitchen and gorge yourself before falling asleep on the sofa.

12    Wake up with a slight hangover and an overwhelming sense of wellbeing.

Thanks for another great night out, Liz! xxx

Sisters 2017

P.S. Yes, that is actually me in the picture at the top!!

Tennis whites, trips to the off-licence and other reasons to love Wimbledon…

I’m very partial to watching a bit of Wimbledon on the TV.  I mean, what could be more charming than a sport where people dress all in white and a score of zero is called ‘love’?  This year, I was so excited by it, I decided to get a few games in myself.  Obviously I’m no Serena Williams, but if I let gross ineptitude stop me doing things, I’d never have learnt to drive.

I rifled round the bottom of the wardrobe for my old tennis skirt, but the triumph of finding it was quickly dulled by the pain of realising it is now at least three sizes too small.  To rectify this, I went online and ordered a white one (for a respectfully vintage look) and a pink one (for tennis with a dash of rock’n’roll).

wimbledon leopard

This is Betthanie Matthek at the US Open taking the whole ‘tennis is the new rock’n’roll’ thing too far

The white skirt arrived the next day, but was too tight to zip up and so short it was practically gynaecogical.  The pink skirt arrived whilst I was out, and was delivered to the local off-licence.

It’s good to know that my neighbours don’t feel the need to buy alcohol before 10.30am, but it’s frustrating to make a special trip to a shop only to find it’s shut.  So the next day I had to make a second visit to the off-licence to collect the skirt I already knew didn’t fit. But the lady behind the counter didn’t want to give me the parcel because I hadn’t brought photo ID.

It could have been that I had an honest face, or maybe she was worried that my hysterical sobbing would put off the other customers, but she eventually relented and handed over a package so massive I looked like I was carrying a fridge-freezer home instead of a teeny-tiny tennis skirt.

And then my luck turned.  Due to high levels of incompetence on my part, it turns out I had accidentally ordered the size I should have ordered if I weren’t so dishonest with myself about the true impact of eating so much cake.  Happy days!

And now I have fallen in love with tennis all over again.  It may be that I play like an over-excited Great Dane – that is to say, with a great deal of enthusiasm but without any actual skill.  But that’s ok, because running round with a racquet in my hand whilst wearing an appropriately-sized tennis skirt makes me brim-ful of joy.  Every time I whack the ball and it lands in, I feel like I’m Roger Federer.

All I need now is the body of Maria Sharapova and a fridge full of strawberries and cream and it will be like Wimbledon has come to south east London…

PS  Writing this blog has reminded me of the brilliant joyful poem about tennis, love and Miss Joan Hunter Dunn by John Betjeman – if you’ve never read it, I recommend it!

Thanks to party.pack.co.uk for the pretty picture of strawberries and cream which comes from their page about how to throw a Wimbledon-themed party.  

Fetid trainers, missing gloves and mystery parcels: welcome to the average morning at my house

All those people who don’t have children, all they have to do is get up in the morning and go to work.  I bet some of them even manage to eat breakfast before they leave.  Sometimes I fantasise about the luxury of making and then eating my own breakfast!  In my house, I have already broken up two fights and emergency hand-washed a pair of school tights before 7.30am.  (For some reason we are always short of tights, even though I do more washing than the laundrette.)

So if you’ve seen me on the school run, or had the misfortune to sit in a meeting where I’ve arrived sweaty and slightly frazzled, let me tell you about a typical week in my house…

Monday:  Due to the unseasonally cold weather, my youngest daughter says she would like to wear her gloves to school.  She watches me search all the usual places gloves might be.  Then she watches me painstakingly empty The Cupboard of Doom, in which all things that haven’t been put away in their rightful place generally lurk.  There are many interesting and useful items in The Cupboard of Doom – some of which have been ‘lost’ for months – but my daughter’s gloves are not amongst them.  After ten minutes of diligent searching, and with the entire contents of the cupboard arrayed around me, I admit defeat.  “Perhaps you could wear mummy’s gloves instead?” I suggest.  ‘Or,’ says my daughter helpfully, ‘perhaps I should wear the ones in my pocket?’ “Oh yes, darling” I say brightly.  “That’s a great idea.  Why don’t you do that?”  Grrrrrrrrr.

morning tarmacTuesday:  When I get home from the school run, there is a card on my doormat from the Post Office saying I have a parcel.  I go to the Post Office to retrieve said parcel, but have to pay £1.50 as the sender has underpaid the postage.  As I turn away from the counter clutching the mysterious package, I notice that it isn’t actually addressed to me.  There is no return address on it, or information that might enable me to forward it to the person it is addressed to, so the kindly man at the Post Office says I should keep it.  When I open it, the parcel contains a small chunk of tarmac.  There is no note or explanation enclosed.  This is definitely the worst way to spend £1.50 I can think of.

Wednesday:  We leave the house a bit late, but cleverly make up time by scootering to school at top speed.  My youngest daughter is just about to run into school when I notice that she’s not carrying her school bag.  When I ask her where it is, she looks at me blankly for a moment, then says helpfully ‘By the front door at home.’  She is resistant to my suggestion that she might survive without it today, as it contains ‘important things’ that she will need later.  So reluctantly I scooter home, collect the bag and then scooter back to school. On the scooter trip home it starts to rain.  Later in the day I phone my husband and mutter darkly about how I literally have no life of my own and everything I do is subservient to the requirements of our children.  He makes a vague tapping sound at his computer and says he’ll have to phone me back later.  He does not call back.

morning heroThursday:  Despite both daughters vigorously assuring me on Wednesday evening that they have absolutely, definitely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, done everything they needed to for school, on Thursday morning both children announce that they may have slightly, somewhat, maybe a little bit, exaggerated how much of their homework they have actually done.  In an unexpected burst of commitment to their education, neither child is prepared to leave for school until said homework has been completed.  Resignedly I take my trainers off and make another cup of tea.  I might as well be refreshed for scootering to school at top whack.

Friday:  My youngest daughter can’t find her trainers and toady is PE.  Apparently she last wore them pond wading on a school trip, after which she put them in a plastic bag.  Questions about where she might have put the bag are treated as unreasonable.  After a brief search the bag is located.  It smells like a skunk has crawled in it to die.  My daughter is upset and disbelieving when I tell her she can’t wear the trainers, even though they are soaking wet and smell like a tramp’s armpit.  Eventually I persuade her to wear her sister’s trainers, which although they are slightly too big, are completely dry, and have the added bonus that you can’t smell them from ten paces away.  I put the fetid trainers back in the bag to tackle later.  #winning

morning breakfast

After school drop-off, I have breakfast in a café with my bestie Sarah and recount the challenges of my week.  Sarah nods sympathetically, even though her week has actually been much more challenging than mine.  We both agree that the other is a total hero.  I head home with my spirit invigorated and then I type emails, make calls and generally work like a demon until school pick up – because there’s only a narrow window of opportunity before the madness starts again…

7 questions that make normal relationships tick

Relationships are tricky things, aren’t they?  And great communication is one of the pillars that sustains them.  I recently read an article full of questions to help you better connect with your partner. But I won’t be using them any time soon, because questions about who would play me in a movie of my life are not the questions that make a normal relationship tick.

We all know that the real questions that matter are:

  1. Did you put the bins out? This is basic gamesmanship.  Whoever asks the question first has cleverly implied that the other person should have put the bins out.  That person is now obliged to shift their lazy arse off the sofa and put them out, whether they think it’s their job or not.
Couple questions Mark Wright

Last person to ask has to put the bins out.  Those are the rules

  1. Is this the best thing that’s on the TV? This is a euphemism.  What the question really means is ‘The programme you have chosen is utter tosh and I don’t want to watch it’.
  1. Where’s the remote control?  This question is like using the indicator in a car.  It signals that you want to change channel.  If you can’t find the magic buttons, it’s probably because your partner loves the programme that you have just dismissed as tosh and is sitting on the remote.
couple questions wrestling

Give me the remote control and nobody needs to get hurt

  1. Why did you do that?  I think we all know that this is not actually a question.  It’s a reprimand taking the grammatical form of a question.
  1. Could you unload the dishwasher?  Also not a question.  This is a politely phrased command.  Everyone in a long-term relationship knows that you fail to unload the dishwasher  at your peril.
  1. How do I look?  This is a question, but it’s a trick question.  There is only one correct answer and if you don’t know it by now you will probably never be able to hold down a stable and fulfilling relationship.

    couples questions Elizabeth taylor

    Was the dress code for tonight smart-casual or casual-casual?

And finally, a question that probably doesn’t feature in every relationship, but which is one of my favourites and which I give you for free to use at your leisure…

  1. Does anyone mind if I eat the last biscuit? Psychological warfare at its absolute best.  I mean, who would be so rude and selfish as to answer ‘Actually I mind, because I want to eat that biscuit myself’?
couples questions biscuits.jpg

Biscuits skilfully created by my children with the help of their Devoted Granny

Thanks to Great British Chefs, The Daily Mail and Millelac County Times for the photos in this blog and Devoted Granny for all the biscuits I ate.

3 reasons ’70s parenting sucked

There’s plenty to love about the ‘70s.  Big hair was in (helloooo Farrah Fawcett); the Bee Gees were rocking out; and a cheese and pineapple hedgehog was all you needed to turn your party from slightly drab to the height of sophistication.

70s beegees

Unfortunately the ’70s were also the decade that gave us men with their shirts open to the navel, black vinyl car seats, and some shockingly poor parenting.  If you still think that restricting access to the iPad is the worst thing a parent can do, take a moment to remind yourself about parenting ’70s style…

  • Today, you can’t leave a dog in the car without someone phoning the police about your irresponsible behaviour, but in the ‘70s, leaving your children in the car was the go-to solution for any parent who wanted to do a spot of shopping but didn’t want the hassle of trekking their kids about with them. This wasn’t bad parenting.  It was the norm.  And by the way, if you remember fighting with your siblings for who sat in the front seat whilst your parents hung out with their mates at the pub, you’re one of the lucky ones.  I was an only child, so normally there was just me, the car radio and a luke-warm bottle of pop.
  • In the 70s, tanning yourself to a deep shade of mahogany was the height of fashion, and sunbathing until you could fry an egg on your back was the quickest way to get there. It certainly never occurred to any of us, least of all our supposedly responsible parents, that lying in the sun until your skin turned crimson and went slightly crispy might be a bad thing.  My mother was ahead of her time in buying factor 4 suntan lotion, but some mums I knew sent their kids out coated in Baby Oil.  I blame every wrinkle I have today on my parents’ remiss attitude to sun protection.
70s tanfastic

Tanfastic lets the sunshine in.  It’s not loaded up with sunburn protection like old folks and kids want. Tanfastic is for you 15 to 25 year olds who can take the sun.  Especially if you want to get superdark.  Superfast.

  • Health and safety was not really a thing in the 70s, which is why people treated it as a genuine infringement of their human rights if you suggested that they might want to wear a seatbelt whilst driving.  If you needed to take a bunch of kids somewhere, you just jammed as many of the little blighters in the car as would fit.  My husband claims he once travelled home from a party lying across the dashboard.  I don’t have any evidence for this, but it would certainly fit with my experience of a squirming mass of children travelling sardine-style in the boot of some helpful mummy’s  estate car.  I’m genuinely surprised that so many of us made it through the decade without serious harm to life or limb.
SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything the safety-conscious parent could want: an ill-secured car seat with a steering wheel that will brain your child in an accident

All this and I haven’t even touched on some of the lesser offences committed by ‘70s parents.  Like dressing their children in shades of brown, as if they wanted us to look like a giant turd.  Or the fact that everything we wore was a fire-hazard, because in those days clothes only came in ‘flammable’ and ‘super-flammable’.

70s brown clothesSometimes I worry that I am failing as a parent because my children don’t eat quinoa salad or read Dostoevsky in Russian, but then I remember the ‘70s and, you know what, I’m doing OK.

Thanks to Scarymommy.com for the photo at the top, which comes from a hilarious article on 70s parenting.

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.