Monday, 26 September 2011

Things To Do With Your Child #8 - Public Transport

Children are chauffeured everywhere these days.  Everyone seems to own a car, and they're bundled into them from the word go and taken from pillar to post - baby signing classes, sensory hours, rhyme time, playgroup, music classes, soft play, baby gym - it's never ending.  While I'm not denouncing cars (I can't drive, but that's my own choice, and if I ever pull my finger out and learn how to, my life would be much easier.  I can completely see how they end up getting used so much), or baby and toddler classes (absolutely not my bag and I don't think they're of any major benefit, but you've got to get through the days as best as you can, so if you like them, go for it), but I do think that an important learning opportunity is being missed out on here.  Walking, being pushed in a pushchair, going on buses and train journeys takes a fair bit longer than going by car, but the potential for learning is huge.  Think of all the things you can point out while you walk, all the tiny details that you miss as you whizz by in your car, the infinite number of sweet wrappers, blobs of gum and bits of debris that your toddler can study in minute detail as you bellow at them to "hurry the Jesusing hell up" like an irascible shrew in dire need of beta blockers.

Likewise, train and bus journeys may not be the most easy thing to undertake with a toddler in tow, but there's scenery to point out, new experiences to be had, buttons to be pressed, 'pull only in an emergency' cords to prevent them from yanking.  Above all, (most) children really enjoy a trip on a bus or a train.  It doesn't really matter where you're going to - the trip is the best bit at this age.  Go on - bite the bullet, gird your loins and hop on a peasant wagon occasionally.  It will be worth it. 


You will need:
A bus/train/tram of choice.
A destination.
A selection of shiny pennies for the fare.
Nerves of steel.

Risk assessment:
Child may lurch off seat due to sudden stops, however the greater risk is that they'll embarrass you horribly by remarking upon another passenger's body odour.

Amount of time it wastes in the never ending day:
Completely dependent on length of journey.  We usually manage to dispense with an entire morning in this way.

Today dawned with one of those glorious autumnal mornings full of dappled sunlight and dew on the grass.  It was a day for being outside and going somewhere different, so I decided to take Rory on the train.  It's a 40 minute leisurely stroll to the nearest station, but not a problem if we take the pushchair, plus, to get there you have to walk up a particularly idyllic avenue lined with horse chestnut trees.  We could stop along the way and gather conkers (I refer you back to the point about the dappled sunlight and the dew and stuff).  OK, so we'd only be going to Crewe (an entirely joyless place) to have a hot chocolate and a muffin in the cafe and then come back again, but that wasn't the point.

Here is where I shall mutter about "best laid plans" and "bloody toddlers".  Rory was quite taken with the idea of going on a train, having not been on one for  about a year, but then inexplicably decided that he would not be wearing any clothes today and would instead lie on the floor in a floppy, immovable mass of limbs.  It took 15 minutes for him to stop being a pain in the backside, then I lost the travel potty liners, and by the time I'd found them he'd removed his shoes and thrown them behind the TV.  Eventually we left the house and set off at a brisk trot.  All ideas of conker gathering in the sparkling dew were forgotten as I checked the time and broke in to a sprint, racing along the pavement with the pushchair bumping over cobbles, scattering pensioners to the four winds.  "WOOHOOOOO!" shouted Rory.  I said a silent prayer to the God of Dignity as I panted up the street; "Dear God, please let my thighs not be wobbling about too repulsively.  Please let this bra be supportive enough.  Please don't let me slip on a dog poo."  I hitched up my jeans as I ran, wondering how it's at all possible that they can simultaneously create a muffin top and slip down, revealing my pants to all and sundry.

We arrived at the station just as the train pulled out.  People on the opposite platform looked at me with sorrow in their eyes, and a fair bit of disgust as well as sweat had started to pool above my eyebrows.  The next train to Crewe was in an hour's time.  Fine,  we'd just go somewhere in the opposite direction.  I decided upon Alderley Edge, home to a lot of pink velour tracksuited footballer's wives and tweedy ladies who lunch.  I lugged the pushchair up 55 steps and down another 55 steps over to the other platform, having been informed by the ticket attendant that if you're wheelchair bound and want to go to Manchester, you have to get the train to Crewe and then get a train back the other way because the steps are the only way over to the other platform.  Nice.  The train appeared, we got on it, and Rory spent 15 minutes of bliss hopping up and down and chattering excitedly.

We arrived at Alderley Edge in good spirits, Rory having been made a fuss of by the ticket man. "Do you need to wee?" I asked, brandishing the travel potty.  "NO I DO NOT" came the reply.  I bundled him back into the pushchair, tackled another several hundred steps, and went in search of a cafe.  I bypassed Costa Coffee in favour of a little independent place, then wished I hadn't.  We weaved our way to a table at the back, and as I unclipped my boy from the buggy, I realised that he had urinated all over it.  Oh God.  A quick look around the room confirmed that I couldn't get the pushchair into the toilet. and it was occupied anyway, so, sweating still, I pulled him out, yanked off his trousers and pants there and then and flashed a mutinous look that said "come on, make my day, dare to tut at me" at all the other customers while I put fresh clothes on him.  The owner looked thoroughly delighted that we were using her busy cafe as a baby changing facility, and appeared positively homicidal as Rory remarked loudly that "there something very pongy indeed in here mummy" (I think he was referring to the freshly roasted coffee).  We shared an overpriced chocolate milkshake as quickly as possible, paid up and left, Rory sitting on an emergency plastic bag, wee dripping from the buggy in an insolent little trail from our seat to the door.

The journey back was uneventful but pleasant.  My son bounced happily in his seat, enjoying the wind in his hair through the open window of the train, and on the walk back home, we did stop and collect conkers, although entrusting Rory with the full bucket of them was a mistake as it only ensured that he had a full arsenal of weaponry to fling at the ginger cat from number 129 as we turned the corner to our street.

Now, why on earth would you ferry your child to and from a soulless class when you could have a morning like that?  And has anyone got the number of a good driving instructor?  

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Disgraceful Photo Shoot

We moved into our house nearly four years ago and most of the walls are still bare.  It's not down to laziness.  Well, it's not entirely down to laziness.  It's because I refuse to have anything on my walls that I don't love.  If a piece of art is a treasured gift or something passed down via older members of the family, or something we found in a junk shop and loved, or was done by a friend, then it fulfils my strict criteria.  Photographs are even harder.  Richard and I got married in 2007, but we still don't have a wedding album and the only wedding photos we have on display are a treasured few taken by my oldest friend who is a photographer (but couldn't take many photos on the day because she was on bridesmaid duty).  I'm crippled by indecision and by not loving the official photographs enough.  They're beautiful and our wedding photographer did a great job, but there's something missing that I can't quite put my finger on, and that's why I still haven't got around to making an album or getting them framed.

Likewise, we have hundreds - perhaps thousands - of pictures of Rory, but they've never made it to the wall. Visitors to my house may be forgiven for thinking that I don't care about family enough to have them on display, but it's exactly the opposite - they're just not perfect enough.

With this in mind, I decided that a family photo shoot may be the only way forward.  Now, when I talk about photographs not being perfect enough, I'm not talking about the lighting or the focus  or the expressions on our faces.  What I mean is that nothing quite seems to capture us as we really are, and I knew that nothing taken in an impersonal studio would capture us either.  Rich and I are very very silly and when two silly people get married and have a child, the child comes out silly.  Rory has laughed constantly since he was a few weeks old.  In fact, the three of us rarely stop laughing.  Our days are filled with funny faces, chasing around the house after each other and general messing about.  Our days are not filled with tidiness and order or routine or beautiful clothes or any other Cath Kidston perfect version of family life.  We are unruly.  We have uncontrollable hair.  We are not what one could ever call 'picture perfect'.

Enter Hannah Millard, a photographer whose work I have followed for quite a while. I've watched her raw talent grow and grow into something really rather special, and I knew that she was the perfect person to capture my family in all our domestic disgrace.  She's quirky and original and her beautiful wedding photographs and portraits are full of happiness and character.  We emailed back and forth for a few weeks, throwing around ideas for our collaboration, eventually emerging with a picnic theme with a difference.  An enormous, messy, disgraceful difference.  I won't say any more, I'll just leave you to look at some of the photos safe in the knowledge that our once bare walls are now spoilt for choice:

What do we think the odds are of Rory flinging a scone at a waitress next time we have lunch in a cafe?

Have a look at some of Hannah Millard's other beautiful work here and read her blog here.  Do it.  I can't recommend her enough.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I Can Cook?

My child doesn't eat.  Sorry, I mean he doesn't eat anything that he's supposed to eat.  He'll happily wolf down cake, chocolate, ice-cream and chips if they're on offer.  He's also partial to his toenails and the odd bit of playdough, oh, and the archaic crumbs that he finds between the sofa cushions.  He's never really been bothered about eating, even when he was a tiny breastfeeding baby.  It's just all too much of an inconvenience for him.  He has things to do, people to see, things to open and tip all over the floor that are supposedly childproof.  He's a busy man, you know.  God knows how he's managed to grow into a two stone toddler; all those bits of tissue paper from the bin and grass must be fairly calorific after all.

Unfortunately, he's rather too keen on junk food.  "My child doesn't really like fizzy drinks" say my friends.  Pff.  On the odd occasion that Rory's stolen a sip of lemonade, he looks like he's about to rupture something with the deliciousness of it all.  It's getting embarrassing now.  On waking the other day, before rubbing the sleep from his eyes, before the pillow creases had begun to fade from his face, he looked up at me and whispered "burgers" in tones far too lusty for a two year old.  He then sat in the pushchair as we walked through town shouting "Can I have more Monster Munch Mummy?" over and over again, making me look like the sort of wretched mother who knowingly stuffs her child with salt, sugar and E numbers night and day.  How many times have we fed our child Monster Munch?  Once.  One piece.  It was obviously so delicious that it's stuck in his mind as the pinnacle of all culinary delights as he requests it over and over again, usually in restaurants.

Of course, I do try to be a good mum so I don't give in to most of his demands and I attempt to serve up a healthy family meal every day of the week.  This is, without fail, ignored by Rory and often leads to a nuclear style meltdown.  "I NO LIKE MUMMY" screams my child, drumming his little feet on the floor.  " I am not your friend."  Of course.  How ridiculous of me to attempt to put nutrients into my son.  I am completely deserving of such treatment.  Tell you what - I'll stand in this corner and give myself a good thrashing with the wooden spoon shall I?  

Yesterday, after a perfectly acceptable lunch of pasta in homemade tomato sauce with cheese on top had been refused and turned into an epic battle, I decided that a different approach was needed.  Have you seen that I Can Cook programme on CBeebies?  The one with the presenter with the impossibly perfect hair - Katy whatever her name is.*  She's always cooking up food that looks like crap with kids and they seem to eat it (although they're probably rather handsomely paid to do so).  "Today's recipe is going to be....cabbage and broad bean soup", she says.  "Now doesn't that look yummy?"

"Mmmmmmmmm", say all the kids, rubbing their tummies with glee.

"You are WRONG, Katy", says Rory, pointing indignantly at the TV.  "Looks like yuck".

Never mind, she's got the right idea.  Involving children with preparing and cooking food is great for learning opportunities and encourages them to eat what they've made.  I do a lot of baking with Rory and he helps me to make sandwiches and things, but I've never involved him in making anything more complex than a pizza before.  Ah well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

We sang the hand washing song while we washed our hands (successful, even though I wanted to punch myself in the face for using the word "yucky").

"Today's recipe is....spicy sausage casserole", I say, fake smile plastered on my face.  "Now doesn't that sound delicious?"

"Hmmmm", says Rory doubtfully and puts his apron on.

Oh God, cooking a main meal with a toddler is a nightmare.  I managed to just about prise him away from fiddling with all the knobs that turn the hob on with the promise that he could hold a knife (just a butter knife - I'm not that stupid) and cut up the peppers.  He was very enthusiastic about that part - the knife brandishing, not the peppers.  The peppers remained defiantly un-chopped while he waved his butter knife about with a demonic expression of his face muttering "I stab you mummy".  How the hell does he know what stabbing is anyway?  Ripping the mushrooms into pieces was more successful.  Meanwhile, I was chopping up sausages and attempting to ensure that he didn't touch them as I have a thing about raw meat.  He then lost interest and did a runner up the stairs while I was covered in sausage meat.  By the time I'd got everything into the pan and had washed my hands, he was in my bedroom, rifling through my make-up bag and decorating his genitals with Benetint.  At this point I had to go and open the door to the Avon lady, who always manages to call round at the most inopportune moments.  "Umm, no I can't quite remember where I put the brochure" I said apologetically, trying (and failing) to block the view of the carnage behind me while my semi naked child performed a painted bollock fashion parade on our front porch.  No time to clean him up though, it was back to the kitchen from which was emanating a smell of burning sausages.  Rory was convinced to throw a handful of kidney beans into the saucepan, then entrusted with the Worcestershire sauce bottle (foolish, in retrospect).  He even crumbled an Oxo cube in the general direction of the pan, and it must be said that he snorted very little of it up his nose despite attempts to the contrary.

We then left it to simmer and embarked upon a clean up operation. When Rich arrived home from work, he entered a (semi) clean house to find his wife dishing up three steaming bowls of sausage casserole and a child devoid of any make-up on his balls.  It was a charming domestic scene.

So, did Rory willingly eat the casserole that he helped to cook?  Did he rub his tummy and say "yum yum" a lot like they do on I Can Cook?  Did he buggery.  He refused to take a mouthful and I had to resort to pretending that all his Brio Thomas the Tank Engine trains wanted to eat it ("Peep peep!  Can I have some of your delicious dinner Rory?"), and even then he refused until I put on a scouse accent for each and every sodding engine.

Well, Katy from I Can Cook, that was so not worth it.  As my child would say "I am not your friend".

*Ashworth - I've just googled her.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Things To Do With Your Child #8: Sensory Sandy Dough Stuff

I do have to ask myself why I always end up doing this sort of mess inducing activity a couple of hours before Richard is due home from work on a Friday afternoon:

Tough week at the office darling?  Never fear.  Step onto the oasis of calm and relaxation that is your home:

Today we will be making a sort of silky, crumbly, sandy sensory dough that I used to make when I taught Reception.  I think it's known as cloud dough, but that's a ludicrously fluffy name for something that spreads such a large proportion of filth throughout your house in such a short space of time.  Just take the above photo as a warning.  This is not an activity for the anally retentive.


You will need:


Baby Oil

An area of the house with no carpet in it. What are you still doing with a carpet in your house anyway?  Has your toddler taught you nothing?  I heartily recommend stripping it all out and coating everything with a big plastic sheet.  Actually, I've been thinking recently that a padded cell sounds quite pleasant; nice and cosy, child proof, nobody can hear you scream and all with the added bonus of being wipe clean.

Risk assessment:
Apart from not tasting nice if eaten, no major risk to health aside from mental disorders caused by the sight of it flying through the air in all directions and covering your soft furnishings.

Amount of time it wastes in the never ending day:
About an hour.

Put flour and baby oil in a large bowl.  You need 1 part baby oil to 8 parts flour.  I tend to use 4 mugs of flour to half a mug of baby oil, which makes plenty for one small person hell bent on grinding it into your cushion covers.  It's easy to make - chuck the two ingredients in the bowl and combine with your fingers (just like making a crumble topping) until it looks, as Nigella would say, "like damp sand".  You could do this with your child.  I didn't because we make an awful lot of apple crumbles and he's used to shovelling great handfuls of crumble mix into his mouth straight from the bowl.  Feel free to judge me now - I don't care, it keeps him quiet and stops him from engaging in his other favourite baking activity of smashing eggs from a great height.

This makes a crumbly dough that feels soft to touch, smells lovely and behaves like damp sand.  You can squidge it together (as demonstrated below by Mr Shark) and crumble it again.

We started off by making walls with ours and then knocking them down with the digger.

Then we did a bit of light sandcastle making with Rory's old stacking cups.

Then he dumped every available toy in the middle of it and scrabbled messily in it like a dog digging up a corpse while I sat and enjoyed the therapeutic effects of feeling sweet smelling silky sandy stuff squishing between my fingers, staring wistfully out of the window and remembering a time when I used to get paid for doing this sort of thing and my teaching assistant would clean up afterwards.  

All in all, a very nice time was had by both of us.  Rory liked how the dough changed shape and texture and used it in all sorts of games (mainly putting a couple of pirates and a happy land alien in the path of Thomas the Tank Engine and using him as a sort of murderous snow plough) and he joined with in the epic clean up operation afterwards with his dustpan and brush.  We would have continued to play with this for a bit longer, but the activity was brought to an abrupt halt when Rory (with delighted expression on his face) uttered the joyous words: "oh, I put some up my bum", sending me running upstairs for the baby wipes and emergency cotton bud.  That's the third time this week ladies and gentlemen.  The third time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Great Toilet Paper Incident of 2010

This post is brought to you by popular demand.  It's taken me a while to get around to writing about it as it's the sort of post that you need to work up to.  Today I am feeling strong enough to share it with you, so please enjoy it and be grateful that your child is not Rory:

The day had started so well.  With the help if an unprecedented surge of energy and a bit of Bob the Builder style self cheerleading ("Can I clean it?  Yes I can"), I'd managed to hoover the floors, clean the bathroom and - get this - wash and dry all the sofa covers without Rory causing too much damage to anything while I was busy.  He was nearing 18 months and still quite a handful, but I was able to leave him unsupervised for a couple of minutes as long as I was in the next room.  Such was the success of the morning that we'd also been to Aldi for some essentials (fruit, veg, toilet roll), and, buoyed up by  my achievements, I dumped the pack of toilet roll by the stairs to take up later, plonked Rory in front of CBeebies and took myself off to the kitchen to knock up a nutritious vegetable soup for Rory to ignore at lunch time.

It took me about 10 minutes to prep all the vegetables for the soup and get it bubbling on the stove, and throughout this time I kept a sharp ear out for Rory.  I could hear him wandering about occasionally, but otherwise all was quiet.

"What are you doing Rory?" I called a couple of times.

"Cleaning," came the answer.

I was satisfied with this.  He'd recently acquired a toy dustpan and brush and pretend cleaning was his favourite game.

Only, it turned out that that wasn't the sort of cleaning that he was doing.  On re-entering the living room, I discovered that he'd managed to get into the toilet paper.  I'd never really thought of toilet paper as being something that could explode, but it looked exactly like he'd stuffed the packet with dynamite and detonated it.  He'd done an impressive Andrex puppy impersonation with a couple of the rolls, which were festooned around the room in a cheery, convivial sort of way, and the rest of it he'd ripped into clumps and sprinkled with water from his sippy cup.  He had then used these makeshift j-cloths to 'clean the sofa'.  Toilet paper disintegrates when it gets wet.  And it sticks to things.  And it can cover quite a distance.  My newly cleaned sofa was covered in clusters and shreds of damp toilet roll, some of which had been forcefully ground in during his cleaning endeavours.

I erupted.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but you have to understand that I am a hopeless housewife and for once - just once - I was looking forward to my husband coming home to a super clean house.  I shouted and scolded and put him on the naughty cushion, then yanked the sofa covers off and shoved them back into the washing machine in a foul mood.  It took quite an effort to do the whole kiss and cuddle bit after his time on the naughty cushion was up, but I managed it, and then went and brought him his lunch.

At first I was annoyed beyond belief when Rory refused to touch the soup that I'd so lovingly made, but when he also refused to eat the bread and even turned down a strawberry yoghurt I started to worry.  He wouldn't even look at me and wasn't chatting away as he usually did.  I felt his head.  He was a little warm.  Or was he a lot warm?  I can never tell.  I took a good look at him.  Something was different.  His face looked puffy.  I felt around his glands.  Were they up?  I can never tell that either.  I decided that they absolutely, definitely were up and went into panic mode.  Mumps.  It had to be mumps.  Can't mumps be serious in babies?  Something about infertility?  Or was it meningitis?  Panic.  Twitch.  Oh God, I was horrible to him and he was feeling ill and he was only trying to help. Poor little boy. What a terrible mother.  I got straight on the phone to the GP surgery, where the following conversation took place:

World Weary Receptionist: "Hello, doctor's surgery."

Me: "Oh hi, I'm calling about my baby.  He's really not very well. We need to see a doctor today please, as soon as possible."

World Weary Receptionist: "What's your name please?"

Me: "It's Lisa Jarmin."

World Weary Receptionist: "Oh, Rory's mum?  He's the little boy with the toy meerkat who ate the antibacterial hand gel isn't he?"

Me: " was Rory who ate it, Les the meerkat was just an innocent bystander."

World Weary Receptionist:  (as if talking to very stupid small child) "Yes, that's what I meant."

Me: "Of course."

World Weary Receptionist: He's a character, that one.  What's he done this time?"

Me: "I think he's got mumps."

World Weary Receptionist: "Right, and can you tell me his symptoms?"

Me: "Well, his face is all swollen and he's off his food and he seems a bit hot to me.  He's not talking much either.  Seems a bit quiet, you know?"

World Weary Receptionist:  "And are his glands up?"

Me: "Yes.  Well, I think they are.  They must be because his face is so swollen.  Poor lamb, he looks just like a hamster with its cheeks full of f...."

I looked at Rory.  He looked back with an expression that very clearly said "I am about to introduce you to a whole new level of mortification."

Me: "Will you bear with me a minute?"

World Weary Receptionist: "Tut.  OK."

Me: "Rory, have you got something in your mouth?"

Rory looked at the floor and shuffled his feet in a delinquent manner.

Me: "Rory, SPIT. IT. OUT."

(Pause.  Spit).

Me: "Hello?  Turns out we won't be needing that appointment after all.  He had a wodge of toilet roll stuffed in each cheek."

World Weary Receptionist: "........"

Gin anybody?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Moon Dough Grocery Store Review

And lo, there was much rejoicing at Domestic Disgrace Towers. 

Yesterday, our postman turned up with new boots for me, a Bravissimo catalogue for Richard (eye roll) and – fanfare – a Moon Dough Grocery Store set for Rory and I to review. Yessssss!

We haven’t come across Moon Dough before, so there was a palpable air of anticipation as we opened the box.  A sensible adult would have read the instructions but as Rory was practically turning himself inside out with excitement, I just ripped open the Moon Dough packets and we dived straight in.

The box contained packets of red, yellow and white Moon Dough, a plastic cash register which MAGICALLY MOULDS COINS (note shouting to indicate appropriate level of excitement here) and various grocery moulds which either snap shut and open “Like a suitcase” (said Rory) or you twist to remove your creation.

We ignored most of it to start with while we got to grips with the Moon Dough, which is seriously addictive stuff to play with.  It’s very light, a bit like solid foam in texture, really easy to mould and shape and – stop the press – you can mix the colours together.  Well, it impressed me anyway.

Eventually, we had a go at making pretend groceries with the moulds.  Rory found this a bit tricky, but he’s a bit under 2 and a half years old, and Moon Dough is aimed at the 3-5 market, so I imagine he’ll find it easier as he gets older and develops his motor skills further.  He did manage it though, and when he discovered that you could put dough into the top of the cash register and turn the handle to make coins, he was sold.  (As was I, if only because it reminded me of the chocolate biscuit mill episode of Bagpuss).  He spent 20 minutes stuffing the dough in and turning that handle.  That is possibly the longest he’s ever spent doing anything apart from the time that he removed everything from the fridge and threw it in the bin when I wasn’t paying attention.

Between us, we managed to make the following items below:

(l-r) some coins, a baguette, a pineapple, a milk carton, an apple, a tin and, um, something unidentifiable and phallic.*

Groceries and coins made, we decided to play shops and argued about who was going to be the shopkeeper.  To solve the dispute, we gave Rory's meerkat, Les (don't ask) the little shopping basket and both served him, which worked pretty well until Rory ended up forcibly ejecting him from the shop for stealing a pineapple and threatened to call the police.  I do sometimes worry about my son’s imagination.

All in all, we declared this set to be a success.  We all liked playing with it (even Richard tore himself away from the Bravissimo catalogue), Rory was engaged for a good 50 minutes or so, there were loads of opportunities for role play and he asked if we could play with it again as soon as he got up this morning.  It was more or less mess free (although this may not be the case if you have carpet – I’d definitely  keep it on a table surface) and easy to clear up afterwards.  At £15.99, it’s not something I could afford to pick up as a treat for Rory, but we will definitely be telling Father Christmas about Moon Dough sets this year.

*Have had a look at the contents list on back of the box.  Turns out that it’s a chicken leg.  This seems obvious now.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Five Things You Should Know About Your Father

Rory idolises Richard.  He spends the last few hours of every afternoon asking me when Daddy’s coming home, and the second he hears his key in the lock, he’s primed and ready to fling himself around his legs with a gleeful shout of “Love you Daddeeeeeeeeeeee!”  Incidentally, the only time he’s ever told me that he loves me was when he was trying to convince me to give him some of my Chocolate Buttons.  This is infuriating as I am, after all, the one who endured nine months of nausea and thirty hours of agony, then was sliced, ripped and torn in unmentionable places just to bring him in to this world. I am the one who sat up all night breast feeding him every two hours for the first six months of his life, and I am the one who spends every day with him trying to keep him entertained and happy.  Richard waltzes in at 6.30, pushes a few cars around, pulls silly faces and chases him around the sofa then puts him to bed so he can have a beer, yet he’s the one who gets all the love.  I feel wronged.

So, Rory, here is a list of five things that I think you should know about your father.  Read them and weep:

  1. He wanted to call you Ulysses.  Seriously.  I had to explain to him that as we are both shortish, pale, need glasses and are slightly ginger, it was highly unlikely that you’d end up being able to carry off such a name. His other contributions to the baby name list were Wolfgang and Thurston.  You had a lucky escape my son.

  1. He was such a geek at school that he set up a club called The Weirdos, which would only accept the most nerd-like and unpopular people in his year group.  He was then ousted from the group by the rest of The Weirdos for being too weird.  This is one of the reasons that I married him.  The lesson here is that geeks are more fun and well rounded than the popular kids, although this just might not become apparent until they’re in their 20s.  Until then, you have to endure several years of misery at school, but it will be worth it.  As your father says, “I may have been a weirdo at school, but I still ended up marrying a girl with big boobs.”  Profound.

  1. Ask him about his trip to Paris many years before he met me, and the vomiting and the helpful lady who was “giving him directions”.  Just ask him.  This is the definition of inappropriate behaviour.  He told me about it on our first date, along with a lot of other unspeakable things.  Apparently I have the first date persona of a female Michael Parkinson and can get people to open up and tell me all their secrets within fifteen minutes of meeting them.  Hopefully you’ll inherit this useful trait from me and not your father’s propensity for naughtiness.

  1. He exists on a diet of sweets, cake, biscuits, pork scratchings, pizza and Lucozade.  He swills Coca Cola around his mouth several times before he swallows it.  He will cheerfully eat an entire Sara Lee Black Forest gateau for lunch and nothing else.  Despite this, he’s pretty healthy, on the slender side and only has one tiny filling in his teeth.  This is an example of injustice.  Do not copy him.

  1. He is a skinflint.  He resents spending money on anyone apart from himself and as long as he can afford his imported trainers, he is happy for his wife and child to walk around in rags.  Rags, I tell you.  OK, not rags, but you see where I’m going with this, right?  The man is too tight to buy you a little rail to stop you from falling out of bed.  That’s why I have to wedge you in with hardback books every night.  Yesterday evening while you were palmed off on my mum spending quality time with your grandparents, he took me out to see PJ Harvey in Manchester using tickets that he had bought rather than been given by a record label for a change.  When she was given a standing ovation at the end, your father refused to stand up because “I paid for these seats, I’m going to sit in them for as long as possible. And anyway, it’s not like I’ve seen Jesus or anything.  Bring me Jesus and I’ll stand up.”  If you want to go to university in the future, I’d start saving up now if I were you.

So Rory, that’s your beloved father in a nutshell.  I have to admit that he’s not all bad though.  He can charm the birds from the trees and sell ice to the Eskimos.  You seem to have inherited this trait, so use it well, but don’t become a drug dealer and don’t knock anyone up or you’ll have me to answer to. (Not that he’s done either of those things – I’m just saying).  Plus he loves us very much and we’ll always be on his team, which is a winning place to be.  In the days before you came along, I used to be his wingman, but it seems that that’s your job now.  Just try to remember your mother when you’re both flying high.

Go to Notes From Home to see what other people want their children to know about their fathers.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What Does a Child Bring to Your Life?

You're expecting me to gush about a feeling of unconditional love like no other and dimply smiles and heartfelt joy aren't you?  Those are the traditional thing that spring to mind when discussing a topic like this.  Well, that's all true, but that's not how we do things in these parts.  Lets just take it for granted that, yes, I adore my son and think he's brilliant, and now that's out of the way we can get on with the interesting stuff that you really want to know:

1. A large selection of plastic tat.  Before your child is born you will discuss with other pregnant friends and anyone who will listen the importance of traditional wooden toys and how you plan to never let any plastic rubbish over the threshold of your house.  You will purchase charming items like this:
and marvel at how seamlessly they slot into the chosen decor of your house.  Several months down the line you go to put the baby down for a sleep, slip on a half chewed Sticklebrick and land on a VTech Sing and Discover piano, which immediately starts playing to itself, waking the baby up and causing you to to sit, head in hands, snivelling and peeping out from between your fingers at the vast array of hideous, beeping, whizzing, flashing, all singing, all dancing technicolour plastic crap that has taken over your house.  Never fear; by the time your child is a year old you'll have surrendered yourself and your home to anything that keeps him or her quiet and out from under your feet for more than five minutes at a time, commercial plastic rubbish included.

2. Vomit.  Ah, vomit.  Get used to that cheesy stench because it's going to be following you around for a long long time.  You go into motherhood with the knowledge that babies spit up a little bit of each milk feed for a few months.  You grow to learn that it's not always just 'a little bit' and you will soon develop a good understanding of the word 'projectile'.  You will have baby sick in your hair, down your cleavage and in your knickers.  It will collect in crusts on your upholstery and there's about an 80% chance of finding a blob in your shoe at any given time.  This is to ease you in gently, because when they're on solids you'll be picking chunks of cauliflower cheese out of your bra on a regular basis.  You get used to it.  I have an absolutely crippling phobia of vomit, but I managed to deal with even the most epic of baby puke incidents, and even regurgitated food.  I still absolutely lose the plot over tummy bug hurling and have to draft in somebody else to deal with it, but I coped admirably in the face of the baby sick phase and if anybody ever feels like crafting me a small medal to reward me for services to a spewing child in the face of adversity, it would be gratefully received.

3. Exhaustion.  For the last month of pregnancy, you are convinced that you are desperate to get the baby out of you ASAP.  You're seriously uncomfortable, you can't get out of bed without someone to winch you up and there's likely to be stomach acid bubbling out of your nose at some point.  Damn it, you're knackered and hot and enormous and you want that baby out of you.  

When the baby is a couple of weeks old, you will seriously consider shoving it back up from whence it came just so you can sleep for a couple of hours.  This gets better as your child gets older, but you will never sleep soundly again.  Not everyone has the sort of child that causes the sort of tiredness that makes water fall involuntarily from your eyes with the effort of keeping them open, but all of them have the ability to run rings around you and leave you gasping, hollow eyed and wondering if feeling rested was all just a beautiful dream.
Here is Richard demonstrating eye bleeding exhaustion with a 4 month old Rory

4. Noise.  They come out crying and rarely seem to stop.  This is followed a few months later by a phase in which they learn to make a repetitive high pitched shrieking noise like a cat that's just been kicked up the arse.  Then comes babbling and jabbering, and then there's the screaming phase.  Eventually they learn to talk and then they never shut up, especially when you have PMT and a migraine brewing.  Most of the conversation will be about Thomas the knobbing Tank Engine (see below).  At this point you will begin to think wistfully of the cat that had been kicked up the arse phase. 

5. Germs.  Number one on the list of things that nobody ever tells you about having a baby is how they're always ill (although it's jostling for position with how it's a seriously good idea to stick a pack of maternity pads in the freezer before you give birth).  Rory spent the entire first year of his life sniffling, coughing, whining, overheating, going limp and floppy, puking, having diarrhoea and getting mysterious rashes.  Richard and I also spent the first year of Rory's life sniffling, coughing, whining, overheating etc, only we did it on three hours sleep a night.  I had no idea that small people were ill so often.  He seemed to pick up germs from nowhere and would generously share them with us.  The weekend that we all got the Winter Vomiting Virus remains the worst few days of my entire life.  If you think being ill is bad, then try looking after an ill child.  Then try looking after an ill child when you're ill yourself.  Then try looking after an ill child when you're ill yourself and so is your partner.

6. An Interesting Variety of Stains and Smears.  You see that pristine white wall over there?  Not for long you don't.  Children's artwork is precious, absolutely precious, but not so much when it's a mixed media collage of make-up, glue and faeces on your sofa.  And even though Rory impressed me deeply with his early knowledge of colours and geometric shapes, I was not filled with pride and joy when he toddled over to tell me that he'd drawn a green triangle on the television.  Likewise, the day that he lined his wax crayons up on top of the hot radiator was not a high point of motherhood for me.

7. Thomas the Tank Engine.  You will grow to loathe this odious little bleeder and his colourful chums.  "Well bust my buffers", said Thomas.  Oh, just cock off.

8. An extensive knowledge of CBeebies and Milkshake.  For the uninitiated, these are TV channels for small children.  I don't want to hear that your child is never going to watch TV.  Go away.  I give you six months before you cave in and about two months after that before you have formed an opinion about all the programmes and the presenters.  "Oh no, it's the spider episode of Auntie Mabel and Pippin again" you'll say as you wait expectantly on the sofa (it's called 'Come Outside' really, but we insiders all know it as 'Auntie Mabel and Pippin'.  Because we're cool like that).  You will also begin to leer at the presenters like a dried up old crone who's just been put on a mega dose of HRT.  Mr Bloom seems to be the current mummy favourite, with a slightly lesser but ardent following of admirers for Chris off Show me Show Me and Andy whatever his name is who does the continuity links.  Mister Maker rocks my sad little world.  I know it's wrong, I know it's dirty, I know he's irritating and he looks about 12 and wears a really bad spotty waistcoat, but oh my God, I totally would.  Sigh.

9. Miscellaneous: Headlice, a selection of sticks, leaves and stones that they find on their travels, headaches, scabies, rampant consumerism, bruises all over your knees from constantly being down on the floor making robots out of Duplo, toy car related injuries, marital discord, at least one trip to A&E in an ambulance, guilt, an empty bank account, an unexplained trail of ripped up bits of tissue that have been chewed.  I could go on, but I think that will do for now.  Children: Aren't they brilliant?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Things To Do With Your Child #7: Dressing up as a ninja.

Yeah, really bored here today.


You will need:

Two t-shirts. Not yours. Use daddy's as he probably won't notice that they've got stretched out of shape.

This web page so you can follow the instructions:

Toddler/child with really stupid sense of humour

No shame

Risk assessment:
Remove all pieces of Lego and toy cars from the vicinity before attempting any stealth ninja moves. We found out about this the hard way.

Amount of time it wastes in the never ending day:
How long have you got?

Lets just clarify one thing: I have not been teaching Rory about ninjas or any other form of violence.  As far as he is concerned, a ninja is a person who wears an amusing mask and sneaks about a lot, doing high kicks and making comedy noises.

This one was easy:

Followed instructions to turn t-shirts into masks for Rory and I, then embarked on ninja stealth mission around the ground floor of our house, jumping out at each other and pulling some first rate martial arts moves as we went.  Much hilarity.  

Not so much hilarity as we stood by the window while I adjusted his mask and realised that a horrified neighbour was watching from across the street, potentially under the impression that I was a masked predator smothering a child.  Encouraged him to give her a cheery wave to indicate that all was well.

Less hilarity still when I opened the door to a window and fascia board salesman with a t-shirt around my neck and attempted to conduct a conversation about why I wanted him to go away and never darken my door again when Rory the Masked Warrior suddenly sprang into view from behind the sofa, doing an approximation of a king fu kick and shouting "MINGE".  (Close to 'ninja', but not quite. Well tried son).  On the plus side, I don't think the salesman will be coming back any time soon.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The University of Life

I lay in bed this morning thinking about how it's the start of a new term this week and suddenly had the crushing realisation that it's been 14 years since I started university.  (I say university, - it was more like drama school with a degree at the end of it, but you get the idea).  FOURTEEN YEARS.  How can it be that long since I packed my suitcase with my mum's worst saucepans and an abundance of ill advised PVC clothing and set off on the road to studentdom?  I was just thinking about how it only seemed like yesterday when a little voice from the next bedroom started demanding "getting up and playing cars time now mummy" and informing me that he would be removing his pants imminently, which rather brought it home to me that there have indeed been fourteen years of adulthood in the interim period between starting my degree and now.

"How different and wonderful life is now", I thought.  I'm now a successful adult with a husband and a child and a completely different lifesty...oh, wait a minute.

Life as student
Life as stay at home mum

Drama student.  Waitress/chef during the holidays.

Stay at home mum who occasionally does a bit of writing or sews things to make people look pretty at weddings for cash.  Wiper of snot.  Dodger of housework.  General drudgery.

Living accommodation
Terraced hovel on street inhabited by Wakefield criminals and their savage offspring.  Heating didn’t work unless you kicked the boiler.  Colour blind approach to décor courtesy of Mr Khan (landlord), who was always in Pakistan whenever anything needed fixing.  Small colony of woodlice in the bath.

Semi detached 1950s shack which we bought with the intention of doing up.  This bright idea was put on hold when I unexpectedly became pregnant, so everything is half finished or not started at all.  Heating only works in short bursts, toilet doesn’t flush unless you have the knack, colour blind approach to décor (courtesy of previous owner).  No woodlice to speak of but large infestation of flying ants inhabit the kitchen from time to time.

Reliant on student loan and working all summer as a waitress/chef.  Still managed to afford to get hair cut at Saks every 2 months I seem to recall.
Reliant on husband and have to ask him every time I want something which makes me feel like a gold digger, so I don’t.  And we’re always penniless by a week before payday anyway.  Cut own hair.  It shows.

101 ways with tinned tomatoes and Smartprice kidney beans.  Pies from the local shop.  Pop Tarts. Sunday lunch at weird pagan Wetherspoons pub at top of road.

101 ways with tinned tomatoes and Smartprice kidney beans.  Occasionally gin.
Night Life
Cackling over cheap red wine with housemates, stumbling into taxi to awful club with sticky floors, entire night spent dodging various irksome men, falling into bed at 4am, naked apart from one shoe.

Occasional meal out with husband during which we giggle like excited 15 year olds who have been allowed out to the pub for the first time, get hammered on half a bottle of wine each and are back home in time for The Apprentice.  (Fully clothed).

The Walk of Shame
Involves waving to the milkman at 5am wearing very small dress and wondering where I’ve left my keys/credit card/moral standards.
Involves walking to the One Stop shop at 9am in pyjamas and flip flops with a similarly attired toddler, safe in the knowledge that I left my dignity on the labour room floor 2 years ago along with a fair proportion of my blood.

Good day: In college at 8.30am, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for dance class.  Classes and rehearsals all day, home by 6.30.

Bad day: Slumped on sticky brown sofa staring slack jawed at Supermarket Sweep, chain eating Ginsters pies.
Good day: Up at crack of dawn, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for playgroup.  Baking, playing cars and a trip to the swings follow.  Daddy home by 6.30.

Bad day: Slumped on sticky brown sofa staring slack jawed at In the Night Garden, would be chain eating Mini Milks but Rory takes a dim view of me eating any food on my own and steals them from me.

Bickering with housemates over whose turn it is to do the washing up.

Bickering with husband over whose turn it is to do the washing up.  Debating with toddler the necessity for wearing more to playgroup than wellies and a superhero cloak.  Berating toddler for sliding my debit card deep into the crack under the hearth again.

Sex life
Abundant.  Colourful.  Overly convoluted.

I’m sorry, what?
From vintage shops that smell of biscuits or crap places like New Look due to supposed lack of money.
Errrr, I made a new top out of a pillowcase a few months ago that makes me look exactly like I’m wearing…well…a pillowcase.  Does that count?  Everything else is years old and covered in Pritt Stick.

Can’t be bothered to put make-up on but still look good because I’m 20 years old with killer cheekbones.

Can’t be bothered to put make-up on and look like a hag beast because I’m 33 and haven’t slept for two years due to insomniac baby.  Cheekbones AWOL.

Bus.  Train.  Walking.
Bus.  Train.  Walking.  Thank God I don’t drive actually or I’d be a good few stone heavier.

Plans for the future
Graduate, be fabulous grown up with amazing career and generally brilliant life.

Sleep.  Obtain more gin.