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!!

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.

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.

Lost in translation (or what my children actually hear when I’m speaking)

All these years I thought my children were wilfully ignoring me.  Now I realise that they are listening to what I say, it’s just that they’re hearing something completely different…

What I say:  I just need to make a work call.

What they hear:  You’ve got a five minute window to take revenge on your sister for something she may or may not have done earlier.

 

What I say:  I don’t care who started it.

What they hear:  The most important thing is who started it.  We will establish this based on who can shout the loudest.  And possibly by some name-calling.

 

What I say:  Please just try the cauliflower cheese; Mummy spent ages making it and it’s delicious.

What they hear:  Under no circumstances let even the tiniest morsel of cauliflower cheese pass your lips.  Mummy has only made it because she hates you.

 

What I say:  You need to start taking responsibility for packing your own stuff.

What they hear:  Mummy’s an idiot and forgot to pack the water bottle again.

 

What I say:  Put your coats on and let’s go.  If we’re not out of the front door in 30 seconds, we’ll be late.

What they hear:  Of course you can watch the end of the TV show before we leave.  Mummy will just drive faster and swear more.

 

What I say:  NO!

What they hear: Maybe.  Try asking me again, but in a moany voice.  Mummy loves the moany voice.

 

What I say:  Please can you tidy up your room.

What they hear: Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Having the same problem?  I’m liking the phrases they suggest on KidFocused – starting with ‘Try that again because…’ as in ‘Try that again because we are always kind to mummy when she hasn’t had a cup of tea since 10 o’clock this morning and looks like she might drink your blood instead’.  Obviously that’s not the example they give on the website, but I think you know what I mean…

 

Back to school: where did the holidays go?

BackToSchoolIs it only me who’s been caught completely by surprise by the end of the summer holidays?  It seems like only days ago that the entire holidays stretched before us waiting to be filled with sunshine and memories.  There were days out to be planned, play dates to be arranged and picnics to be prepared.  And just as I’m getting the hang of it, suddenly it’s time for the kids to go back to school again.

So now we’re into a whole new kind of planning.  Every item of school uniform must be laid out on the bed, tried on and sorted into piles: a pile for clothes that fit the eldest child; a pile for clothes that fit the youngest; a pile for clothes that are too small for the eldest, but too big for the youngest (put them to the back of the cupboard); and one for clothes that don’t fit either of my children any more (donate to friends with younger kids).

Then there’s a shopping trip for anything we’re still missing, followed by an evening of lovingly sewing name tapes on everything.  And, in case you’ve never done it, sewing name tapes on is one of the dullest jobs in the world.

The final item of school uniform is new shoes.  All parents know that children make a point of growing out of their shoes as often as possible.  Trying to keep your children in footwear that fits is like cutting an enormous hole in your pocket and then continuously filling it up with £20 notes.  It is an expensive and demoralising task.

And somehow, between the last minute shopping and the final playdates, a haircut must be fitted in.  I know, of course, that within seconds of arriving at school my children’s hair will look like a bush, and it will stay like that for the rest of term, but at least they will be presentable when they arrive in the playground on the first day.

This is also the point in the holidays when I generally have a bit of a panic-up that other, more diligent, parents have been practising the times tables with their children and reading War and Peace to them at bedtime.  I have obviously left it far too late to do any of that, and my children stare at me blankly as I call out maths questions over breakfast.

So now we are ready.  My children have had their hair cut.  They have uniforms that fit and new shoes waiting to be scuffed.  It’s truly the end of the holidays and the start of the new school year. I just hope that times tables are like riding a bicycle…