Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Word on Christmas Cards

Two posts in a day? It must be the holidays.

The mince pies are wrapped, the presents are iced, the Christmas cards are baked and the gingerbread house is posted. Or a version of that.

But the writing of Christmas cards did offer another opportunity for reflection. Eddie decided (after a whole term in reception) that he would write his to all his classmates unaided overnight.  I have grave doubts about how many of them will have actually made it to their intended recipients, since, to give a flavour, this one was meant for 'Lucy':

But Gilby went one better and sent a card to God. Yes, he did. Left it on the gravel outside, assuming. I suppose, that angels might carry it up to heaven. Or a dove, perhaps. Wishing God 'lots of fun' at Christmas. 

Ironies on many levels. But lots of fun.

Currently Reading: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Another Year, Another Nativity, Another Indeterminate Furry Costume

It has been a few years since Gertie's starring role as the 'hopeless camel' in the Christmas production but, a couple of weeks prior to the end of term, Eddie  announced his important role in the reception nativity. He had been cast as... a donkey.

"Which end are you? Back or front?" asked his older brother, entering into the spirit.

Eddie was affronted. He pulled himself up to his full three foot height and puffed out his chest. "Actually, I'm a full donkey," he replied.

Tension mounted on the night of the performance. The tension of...could we get supper done in time to have eaten before the show? Who would babysit the bigger kids (tickets tightly rationed to a maximum of three per family)? The bigger tension of...would Hearth-Father make it from work in time to actually see the performance?

The nail-biting wait for Hearth-Father gave me time to peruse the programme and the cast list. Turns out Eddie was not just any old donkey. Oh no. He was the grey donkey. Oh yes: The full, grey donkey. 

A star is born. Or something.

Full Grey Donkey 2016

Hopeless Camel 2013

Since nobody had any lines anyway, it was rather a moot point about the colour of his donkiness. 

And, as an aside, there seemed to be a startling resemblance between the costume of the hopeless camel and the full grey donkey.

Currently reading: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Quite Nice Children, Really

I have written about this before, but spending time alone with any of my children is a revelation.

Our household is noisy and busy. Mornings are crazy, kit-frenzied affairs. Swimming, dancing, football, multisports, netball - they all feature on different days for different people. Each one requires 'stuff' that disappears somewhere into the ether between the last session and the next. It doesn't matter how organised we are. See my last blog post here for a picture of how organised we are. Breakfast orders are barked out and the breakfast table resembles Picadilly Circus.

And Eddie's voice, as a third child, has, through natural processes of evolution, reached decibels above that of his siblings. Its pitch can be migraine-inducing. Sometimes he makes noises like a Jurassic Park velociraptor just for fun. A genus of dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that existed approximately 75 to 71 million years ago during the later part of the Cretaceous Period regularly lives and breathes - and screams - in our kitchen.

The velociraptor analogy is apt because he is also extremely temperamental and you are therefore always only one wrong step or one wrong word away from getting your head bitten off. 'Terrible twos' bred thuggish threes, leading to ferocious fours and now frightful fives.

Ane he is not the only one. Often it doesn't feel as if we are getting actual human people ready for a day's living, but creatures of some sort. It is like herding cats, it is worse than trying to put a lid on a box of frogs, it is minding mice at crossroads and any other similar idioms you care to mention.

So it is refreshing when, in the relative calm of half term, I get to spend time with each of them individually. They are quite nice, on their own. I was surprised. They can talk sensibly without shouting. They are sort of like actual human people. Even Eddie. They have manners and are polite. They can sort of be interesting. Who knew?

Now to figure out how to break the pack mentality...

Currently reading: Nora Webster by Colm Toibin.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Misery Driving Obsessive Compulsion: Back to School

I hate this time of year: the dread of returning to work, coupled with the change in the weather that means that tans fade faster than you can say, 'back to school'.

And it is even more bitter-sweet this year as number three finally begins his formal education and my last baby dons a school uniform for the first time.

So now there will be three sets of school shoes to find, three coats, three school bags, three water bottles, three lunch boxes; three times the level of stress in the morning.

A miserable, wet Saturday afternoon has therefore driven me to this:

So, for approximately five minutes, I think we might be one of the most organised households in Sussex.

Currently reading: Restoration by Rose Tremain

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Home Alone: Lost in Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

Picture a four-year-old, bursting with excitement at the prospect of his first flight, waiting at the departure gate watching lots of planes take off.  He's jumping up and down, unable to believe that he is just moments away from going on one himself for the very first time.

We've never done this before as a family. Usually we pack up the car and drive through the tunnel to France. But this year is special. We are going 'all-inclusive', to the Red Sea. The hotel has a water-park!

Our row is finally called. We are right at the front of the plane. Eddie is beside himself now.

And then, suddenly, he is told that he cannot board the plane. With five months left on his passport, not the required six, the family holiday is ruined. (Even though we double-checked with the agent a month before travel...)

No matter, the agent representative reassures us. You can get an appointment at the passport office and extend your passport in less than four hours. If three of us get on the plane, Daddy can take Eddie to London, get it sorted, and be on the next flight out.  Holiday hiccup, but salvageable.We are last to board the plane. We have about three minutes to make up our mind. (Would have had three hours if it had been picked up at check-in.) Let's do it.

The flight is six hours. By the time Gertie, Gilby and I arrive in Hurghada, the passport problem will be solved. Hearth-Daddy and Eddie might even be on their way!

But no.  Because we were ill-advised again. It actually takes a week to get a child's passport. Only an adult one can be done in that short space of time.

So now I'm stuck with five suitcases (all our diving gear, plus Eddie's luggage as well as our own) and two despairing children.  It is Gilby's seventh birthday in the morning. It is our tenth wedding anniversary in a few days time.  How to make the best of this? What if we flew back and then went somewhere in Europe where the valid passport might still be valid?  We could still enjoy some family holiday time and Gilby could just celebrate his birthday a few days late.

But no.  Because the agent won't allow us to do that.  Hearth-Father can join us (at his own expense) but for Eddie, the holiday is over before it began.

Grandparents, friends and auntie to the rescue for ten days of being absolutely spoilt rotten for Eddie. Theme parks and restaurants and cinema and beach trips and arcades and toys and new clothes and sweets and fun, fun, fun.  Just not the same fun that the rest of his family was having. Because, as Eddie explains to everyone he meets, "My passport is broken..."

I'm still too cross to compose my letter of complaint to the travel agent, but it's coming...

Currently reading: Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The F-Word

Saying the F word is not big and it's not clever.

The F word being...'Foof'.

An innocent sounding word. Not even a word, in fact.

But in our house, saying this word is akin to being eaten alive by piranha fish. It is code for 'Please tickle me as hard as you can, immediately.' I dare not write it again, in case a little person happens to be looking over my shoulder. The origins of this word are obscure. Its potency and longevity are, however, not in doubt.

It happens at least once a day. Sometimes it is deliberate, sometimes someone is cajoled into saying 'f**f'. It always results in hysteria.

In other news, Eddie brought home his hand-made Fathers' Day card from nursery. The pre-schoolers are encouraged to dictate something 'personal' which is faithfully recorded by their key-worker inside the card.  I'm delighted to report that Eddie's reads: to daddy who is very good at play dough. When questioned, Eddie explained with a shrug that it was 'all he could think of'. Which made his father feel very special indeed. For foof's sake.

Currently reading: Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Friday, 3 June 2016

Saxophones, Mid Life Crises and Magic Dragons

I have recently taken a step towards a long-held ambition to play the saxophone. Not really sure why this particular instrument other than being a teenager of the 80s: surely the decade of the sax solo. I'm thinking of Haircut 100, the bit in The Lost Boys, Bruce Springsteen's Bobby Jean, and my personal favourite from INXS, Never Tear Us Apart. So, as I approach mid-life crisis territory it suddenly seems important to emulate these inspirations from my childhood.

From a 'murder mystery' evening, but this is perhaps how I am picturing my saxophone playing self...
I'm on lesson number four and so far so good.

Apart from the fact that suddenly, last week, I couldn't get a note from the thing. Now, my 'embouchure' isn't terrific, being a beginner, but I can usually make some sort of sound, and, let me tell you, now that I have learnt B flat I am capable of a mean (if slightly slow) rendition of Puff the Magic Dragon. So - what was wrong?

Something looked a bit bent out of shape at the top of the sax.  I had my suspicions, and quizzed the kids about whether any of them had been in to the study and touched it.

"Nope. I definitely wasn't there when it...dropped," Eddie reassured me.

Ok. So we have established that it 'dropped'. Well done, Eddie. Hoisted by your own command of the English language, aged 4. How much Eddie actually had to do with the 'dropping' remains speculation.

£45 of repairs later, the rules about not playing with Mummy's saxophone have now been firmly established. Puff continues to - well, if not quite 'frolic' then perhaps 'wallow'.

Currently reading: The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, translated by Ros Schwartz

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Ever Wondered What Darth Vader Would Look Like If He Went Swimming?


At least according to Gilby. 

A small insight into the mind of a six-year-old boy. You're welcome. No, I didn't have an answer, either.

Currently reading: Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes

Monday, 9 May 2016

Malfunctioning Jumpsuits

Eddie's latest obsession is with wearing a vampire bat costume that he got at Halloween last year.

For the last few days he has lived in it.  Including during yesterday's 26 degree heat. On the plus side, this meant that I didn't have to be overly concerned about sunscreen - since it covers more or less every inch of him.

Here he is, bottom left, wielding his devilish pitchfork. (He does that metaphorically, most days, but this is an actual one.  Or at least one made out of plastic.)

This morning, whilst getting ready for gymnastics (in obligatory bat costume - Grandfather was taking him, I didn't have to worry about explaining that one...) he noticed that the label said it was a 'jump suit'.

I was impressed. This reading lark is really taking effect.

Except that he had a major concern.  'So, it says it is a 'jump suit', but it doesn't actually jump.  Do we need to take it back?

Currently reading: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Monday, 2 May 2016

Food, Glorious Food and a Serious Case of Mouth Exhaustion

Food is a battleground.

If it is healthy, has a vegetable in it, is mildly spicy, in any way exotic or interesting, then it is very likely to be rejected, often without even being tried.

Eddie is the worst culprit, and will often say that he 'hates' something - even it that something was his favourite last Tuesday.

He knows that I get fed up with a simple, 'I don't like it', and so he tried a new one tonight:

"Mummy, I can't eat this.  My lips are tired."

I must remember that. And remember to use it as I reach for a third glass of wine.

Currently reading: A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

Sunday, 24 April 2016

What Eddie Did Next

Eddie has, outside of the house, been behaving as a model pre-schooler.  (Notice the qualifying sub-clause there.) The nursery has been praising his helpfulness and there hasn't been a complaint for a while. He was the also the holder of the 'gymnastics teddybear' for two weeks for very good concentration in class.

And, with the retirement of Michael Flatley, our own little Lord of the Dance has been working hard at his Irish dancing, and will perform in the dance team as part of the May Day celebrations. I was breathing regular sighs of relief.  He is five months from starting school and things are going well.

Except that yesterday he was in trouble again: For 'giving the finger' to a fellow dancer.  He is four. And a bit.

Whilst the child inside me found this amusing, the parent and the teacher was disturbed.  He can't have the faintest idea what it means, but he must know that it is frowned upon by adults and is choosing to do it anyway.  We were kept behind at the end of the workshop.

Parents of naughty children feel the shame that the naughty child ought to feel.

Currently reading: Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Night Terrors: The Return of the Dreaded Anthelope

I'm fascinated by the way that children hear a word and make up the (wrong) meaning for it. I was guilty of this myself as a child. Apparently, I told my parents repeatedly that there was a 'hippotmus in Teasy's bedoom'.

Mum, understandably dismissed the idea. Given that we were living in North London at the time, the notion that there might be a large mammal from sub-Saharan Africa roaming around upstairs was fairly remote.  I was, however, fairly insistent about its presence. And, fed up with not being believed, I picked up the 'hippotmus' and carried it downstairs in my clenched fist.

I opened my hand to show my disbelieving parent the 'hippotmus' at which point it stung me. Somewhere along the way I had inexplicably substituted 'wasp' for 'hippotmus'.

Eddie has woken up a couple of times of late in absolute terror.  He explains that he is being chased by a giant 'anthelope'.  Initially, I thought he meant 'antelope' and I tried to explain that this deer-like creature wasn't terribly scary.  There is obviously a similar disconnect though between the noun and what it represents because Eddie is insistent about the danger of  this anthelope and dismissive of the idea that it might be related to Bambi.

At some point the mystery of the dreaded anthelope will, I am sure, reveal itself.  Meanwhile, we must against the danger of this creature. Difficult to do that when you aren't sure quite what it is.  Perhaps anthelopes truly are terrifying.  Frankly, I hope not to find out.

Currently reading: Lilies on the Land, a play by the Lions part

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Holiday's End

The last day of the Easter holidays. Sigh.

About fifteen minutes ago, Gertie was practising her flute, Gilby had finished some reading (he's been inspired by a Tom Palmer football book) and was working his way through some maths problems (for fun) while Eddie was quietly doing some finger-painting.

"I've nailed this parenting lark," I thought to myself.

You know the rest:  Somehow this all morphed into a game of murdering Ninja death warriors and I now have two broken bits of furniture and one child in tears because they smashed their head into wardrobe doors.

"Best to write a blogpost," I thought to myself.

Currently reading: Virginia Woolf A Writer's Life by Lyndall Gordon

Monday, 4 April 2016

Non-Stop Party People

We are non-stop party people, oh yes.

This is not a hangover from the rave culture of the late nineties (oh how dim and distant that now seems). In fact, there is often not even a small glass of wine on offer for a weary parent. And they definitely aren't playing the sort of music I like.

No, it stems from the fact that three children means endless rounds of children's birthday parties at the weekends.

Only the two this weekend, which feels like a result.

The complication is that we have a radius of about thirty miles to encompass all the usual suspects in terms of venues: soft play, bowling, cinema, swimming, parks, garden centres (seem to be the new thing!) Pizza Express (other pizza restaurants are available) and people's houses.

Inevitably the three little people will be going in different directions - and at mutually disagreeable different times. Often there is just enough overlap to make it really stressful and touch-and-go in terms of making it to drop-off or collection, particularly when Hearth-Father is working at the weekend. Right child at right venue with right present can be a mission.

Still, all in the name of fun. Wouldn't want to be a party-pooper. Cheers.

Currently reading: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Storm Katie and the Easter Bunny

Good Friday saw us enjoying our first al fresco lunch of the year.  In the garden, tablecloths ahoy. The daffodils were dancing and the light was glorious. Might we even need some sunscreen? Summer was so coming.

Easter Saturday was wet and wild and the Easter bunny was definitely doing her work indoors on Easter Sunday itself.

By Easter Monday morning Storm Katie had done her work. Two fence panels needed replacing, the trampoline had battled the acer in the garden (it was a comprehensive victory for the trampoline) and we were without power for many hours. It felt like a return to the dark ages.

The only thing missing was the snow - I think that last happened at Easter in 2012.

Currently reading: Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Friday, 26 February 2016

And More on Reading

Just...a magical moment.

It may only have had thirteen letters of the alphabet in it, but, just in time for World Book Day one young man is mightily pleased with himself:

The journey begins...

Currently reading: Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Friday, 19 February 2016

On Reading

What if the English teacher, reading researcher and four-book-club member produced a non-reading child?

Gertie reads for England. I can't stop her. It causes late nights and all pocket money spent in the Lions charity bookstore. Thank goodness for them.

Gilby has to be bribed. Literally. Like - 'If you read me a chapter then you can watch another match on Match of the Day' (or play FIFA for half an hour, or anything else football related.)

Though I did catch him doing this:

Which I suspect means that he will take after his father in terms of reading habits.

Currently reading: Pica by Jeff Gardiner

Friday, 5 February 2016

One on One

That's over, then.

January's gone and good riddance. It's the month of the year I'm most rubbish at.  And, as I like a good list -  here's one to reflect on Things That I Failed To Achieve in January:
  • Keeping my temper with Gilby
  • Using the rowing machine
  • Losing even a pound of weight
  • Maintaining my blogging regime
  • Serenity - generally
But we did start to achieve something that I had tried for last year: spending time independently with the kids. It was a thought I had a year ago when Gertie fell down a mountain and was in hospital.  I had to spend hours with her in intensive care and had plenty of time to realise that we never did that - just take time out with them individually.  (Not the circumstances I would choose, but it made the point.)

So - under far happier circumstances this year - Gilby got a father-son trip to the Emirates to watch his beloved Arsenal play in the FA cup.  Thankfully it was a win (against Sunderland) so record intact.

Gertie got a mother-daughter trip to Birmingham to see the Strictly Come Dancing Roadshow. Not bad photos with the zoom lens.  (Last year's Christmas present - not quite as good as the car, but up there.) It manages to casually suggest that we weren't in row ZZ:

And Eddie...well, neither of us are quite brave enough to tackle him alone, yet.  But he does do a nice impression of a snooker player:

He came last at his feis, but goodness me he looks the part.

And he has his sister to keep him in check when they are dancing.
His time will come.

Currently reading: The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

January Blues

Hearth-Father is in the throes of some sort of mid-life crisis.

We have a rowing machine in our bedroom.

Alcohol is but a distant memory, 'carbohydrate' has become a dirty word, sugar is the devil's work.
In a thank you letter to friends who invited us for supper last weekend, I felt the need to apologise for our 'uncharacteristic sobriety' and promise that it wouldn't happen again. 'Microbiome' has entered our vocabulary.

In the sixteen years that we have been together I have never known Hearth-Father come home from work and not have a glass of cider. Men's Health magazine has a lot to answer for.

Time to take stock as we near the end of our self-imposed Dry January.

I should be pounds heavier in the bank from all of the money saved from not buying wine. Surely?
I should be pounds lighter in the flesh from all the healthy eating...?


And, for some reason, I seem to shout at the kids more.

Roll on February.

Currently reading: The Gut Makeover by Jeanette Hyde (in keeping with the theme)

Thursday, 21 January 2016

How Long Before Robot Gets It?

Junk modelling.

It's got a lot to answer for.

Every day that Eddie goes to preschool I find his 'picture bag' bulging with objets d'art. Jet-packs, light sabers, swords, shields, things cut from magazines and stuck, inexplicably, on thick cardboard. We need Pickfords just to get out of the building.

Each lovingly crafted item then comes in for further complex additions and embellishments. Tonight, for example, we had to make paper flames to protrude from the end of the Button Moon inspired rocket (itself made from two flowerpots, a cardboard tube and two tonnes of sellotape).

These are not neat little pictures that can easily be stored away for posterity. They are giant mountains of junk.  Take robot, for example, in the picture below.

So how long, realistically, should these items be on display? Is half an hour enough?

Our neighbours must think that we are super-green due to the amount our recycling has increased in recent months.

And I have got very good at feigning surprise when we can't find something the following morning.  Though I can't help casting a guilty look in the direction of the fire...

So, how long before robot gets it?

Currently reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

How Not to Receive A Christmas Gift

In the tumble back to school for the new year, we missed a haircut for Eddie.

Consequently he looks like a young Justin Bieber. Never an image I would have consciously sort, and bizarrely inappropriate for a four year old.

But that is the least of my problems.  I know that one of the joys of children is watching them speak their mind, but, when a close family friend arrived at the weekend bearing some late Christmas gifts, the conversation went something like this:

L: Happy Christmas Eddie! (Handing over wrapped present)

E: What is it? (Sound of tearing paper)

L: It's a hat. I thought it would suit you.

E: Ugh. I hate it. (Throws present up in the air and runs from the room)

L: (Laughs, awkwardly)

E: (Running back in) Anyway, are you having a baby?

L: (Shocked), I'm not.

E: Oh. Why are your boobies so large, then?

She didn't stay long.

Currently reading: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd