Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Weird Things My Parents Used To Make Me Do #2: Pom-Poms

One week before the school holidays are finally over and we're scraping the bottom of the activities barrel like only a knackered mum with 50p in the bank until payday can.  With this in mind, I donned my Desperate Measures hat and thought back to the stuff my brother and I were made to do in the 80s.  Baffling memories of trout farm visits aside, there was quite a lot of craft, although I use the term 'craft' loosely as some of you may remember the terrifying Humpty Dumptys that my mother used to make with us from a previous post.

What we needed was something quiet, something familiar and comforting, something we could do together whilst chatting amiably on the sofa, whiling away the hours of an unseasonably gloomy day.  Pom-poms.  We'd make a pom-pom.  My mum used to do that with me.  I must have been about Rory's age.  Such a relaxing activity.

Now it just so happens that I had a bag of leftover bits of wool waiting to be used up, so we were all set.  Here is a tutorial for those of you that wish to experience the same tranquility:

1. Locate cardboard. You will have to fish some out of the bin, I expect.

2. Cut out two circles of equal size, then cut out a smaller circle in the middle of each of the existing circles.

3. Allow child to choose first colour of wool.  Tie end of wool around the two cardboard circles that you have placed on top of each othe...oh FFS, I really can't be bothered to tell you how to make a pom-pom.  There's a reason I'm not a craft blogger, and that reason is that I can't be fannied.  Go and look at this one that someone's kindly done on Wikihow.

4. So, we've skipped to the point where your child is winding the wool around the cardboard.

5. Untangle child's fingers.

6. Untangle child's fingers.

7. Untangle wool.

8. Untangle child's fingers and wool.

9. Demonstrate yet again how to wind wool around a pissing bit of card, it's not hard is it?

10. Untangle child's fingers.


12. (20 boring minutes later) "There now, so you see, once you've got the hang of going OVER and UNDER, it's really easy, here, you just do this last bit and..."

13. Untangle child's fingers.

14. Get child to choose second colour.  Tie on to first colour and use gentle, encouraging voice to help them to build the confidence to try again:  "That's it, over and under, over and, you've got to pull the thread round to keep the winding close together, then over and under, over and under, over and...OH MY GOD, PULL THE THREAD ROUND.  PULL THE THREAD ROUND. I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT'S SO FUDGING DIFFICU...No. No. I mean, that's very good. Well done darling"

15. Send child off to find the scissors while you unwind everything they've done and do it again properly. Pom-pom making is a precise art with no room for error.

16. Pull self together and try to locate calm and encouraging voice again, but child is now wise to you and doesn't want to make a pom-pom any more.

17. Little do they know, they will be making the bastard thing whether they want to or not.  If it takes 3 days and you lose all your hair in the process, they will still make and finish a pom-pom.  You will not fail.

18.  Choose colour number 3.  Set them off again, heavily supervising to avoid unnecessary tangling.  this works quite well, but does not allow you to do anything else at the same time, such as send text saying "God I'm bored" to your friend.

19. Realization that this is not the calm, idyllic craft activity of your imagination hits at the same time that you notice that the bright orange quadruple loop Hotwheels track that's overtaken your living room is doing your head in, that the massive hole in your sofa seat cushion has doubled in size and that you are, in fact, living in squalor.

20.  Tension.  Disappointment in self. Repressed anger at child for being a bit cack-handed as feels like a symbol of everything else in life that you've failed to do in your years as a mother and housewife.  House still a tip despite best efforts, chicken nuggets for tea, hole in bathroom wall, no money until pay day, child can't make a pom-pom.  It's all bad.

21.  Have to abandon pom-pom attempt as feeling a bit tearful.

22. Leave child in front of telly while you bash out emotional email to husband which contains the words "squalid", "failure", "going mental" and "pom-pom" far more times than should be necessary.

23. Pause with finger on mouse, hovering over 'send' as you think of husband's working day being interrupted by insane email from wife, and of his thought process thereafter, which will involve memories of pulling all-nighters, getting drunk on cocktails and engaging in riveting conversation with his slender, glamorous wife in a lifetime long ago.  Now wife is sitting at computer snivelling into third round of toast and wearing a pair of jeans with a paint stain on and the top button undone, unable to cope with the emotional strain of making a little fluffy ball of wool with a four year old.

24. Delete email.

25. Steel self.

26. Return to hole-ridden sofa and recommence making pom-pom, doing most of it yourself, but occasionally giving it to child for them to do a bit.  You will NOT swear.  You will NOT swear.  OK, you will ONLY swear in your head.

27.  Finished.  Cut round the edge of wool and remove the cardboard to enraptured "ooohs" and "aaahhhs" from child.  Success.  Sort of.  You have a pom-pom.  Child is disproportionately impressed or maybe just humouring you. "What do you actually do with a pom-pom, Mummy?" asks adorable, tolerant child with huge wide eyes.  Fuck knows darling.  Fuck knows.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Walkers Mighty Lights Review

A box arrived the other day stuffed with 3 Multipacks of crisps for me to review.  It doesn't really get any better than that, does it?  No, don't curb your jealousy; getting free crisps through the post is my only chance to ever get to make my life appear aspirational and I'm going to milk it.

Obviously my first thought was to attempt to hide them all so I could stuff my face on my own give them a thorough taste test in private, but at the first telltale rustle as I removed them from their box, Rich and Rory were all over me like psychic locusts.


Anyway, details:  Walkers Mighty Lights are crinkle cut crisps in three flavours (ready salted, cheese and onion, roast chicken) which have 30% less fat than regular crisps.  They contain no MSG and are suitable for vegetarians.

You will note that the above photo only depicts the ready salted and cheese and onion flavours.  Um, that's because we ate all the chicken ones within about 5 minutes of their arrival.  Yes.  When did Roast Chicken get to be a popular crisp flavour, incidentally?  Why no salt and vinegar, Walkers? Hmmm?    Or...what are those ones in the pink packets? Prawn Cocktail or whatever? They'd be better than chicken, surely?  Anyway, we ate all the chicken ones so they can't have been that bad.  In fact, they tasted just about the same as any full fat chicken crisps, so can't complain.  We found the same with the other flavours - less fat didn't equal less flavour, and they didn't have a weird chemical smell of taste diety, so we were pleased with that.  I also really liked the texture; quite light and very crunchy.  I liked the Ready Salted ones best, but Rich and Rory showed no preference, simply shoveling handfuls of crisps into their gobs with no discrimination.

Basically, I haven't got much to say about Mighty Lights, but that's a positive thing because it means that Walkers have succeeded in making crisps with 30% less fat than standard that taste like...well, normal crisps.

If anyone's interested, I've had a look at the back of the packet and each pack contains 114 calories and 4.7g of fat, only 0.5g of which is saturates.  The ingredients list is pleasingly short, too.

The question I've been asked to answer in this review is whether I'd be happy to put Mighty Lights in my child's packed lunch box.  I think yes, I would.  But not regularly, and I'd probably still do what I usually do and only put half a pack in, because even though they have 30% less fat, what 4 year old regularly needs a whole packet of crisps to themselves as part of their lunch?  They're only small. (4 year olds, I mean, not the crisps.  The crisps are normal crisp sized) However tasty crisps are, they're still empty calories, and I'd prefer him to fill up on wholemeal sandwiches, fruit and yoghurt.  I do feel better about it knowing that they have less fat content though.

I would then, of course, leg it home and eat the rest of the packet myself because I have no self control.  I have issues.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Judgement is in a shoe box full of crap.

So, Rory's been given this task to complete for his first day of school.

"As part of the settling in process for your child in September, it is always nice to have something special from home in school with them," says the letter from the Early Years Team.  "We would like to ask you to work with your child over the summer to create a 'My Special Things' box, which they can decorate to make here your child can pop little items that remind them of home, such as a family photograph, a little note of encouragement and a small toy."

Horseshit.  We all know that this is not so much to do with settling in as it is an exercise in judgement. Believe me, I used to be a Reception teacher; I know these things.

While it is undoubtedly nice for the children to have something with them to act as a prompt for conversations about home during their first week at school, what the staff really want to know is the following:

1. How slack is the child's parent.
2. How much does the parent do with the child at home?
3. What is their home life like?

Woe betide the parent who forgets to bring the shoe box to school on the first day.  You get an instant black mark in the slack book for that. (Usually, the forgetter of the shoe box would be me, but I only live a 2 minute walk from school, so when I inevitably forget it and see everyone else standing there smugly with theirs I can just double back and get it.  I've got this one covered).  And don't think they won't be able to tell who forgot about it until 10 minutes before bedtime the night before. They Will Know.  PVA glue still a bit tacky under the glitter?  Tut.  Disorganized.  Sad-head-shake in your direction, sir and madam.  They will also be able to tell if you've decorated it yourself because it will be too pristine.  Yours is the child with the perfect french plait and the handwriting that can only be achieved in a 4 year old via threats and bribery, yes?  Oh dear oh dear, Mrs Try-Hard; you're on the 'fussy parent' list and you're not coming off again until you send your child to school looking like a normal 4 year old (slightly grubby, a bit scruffy, sleep still in corners of eyes, scuffed shoes) instead of a show pony.  Don't produce a shoe box at all despite reminders 2 days in?  Well, you might as well commit school run suicide.

But even if you negotiate your way through the above obstacles, you're not out of the woods yet.  Oh no.  Because you could be like me and settle down in week 2 of the holidays to decorate the shoe box with your child, let them do it all themselves, not so much as twitch when it looks really crappy and have a strategy in place for not forgetting it on the first day.  But your child still gets to choose what to put in it.  And that's why I've fallen at the last hurdle.

Having been at home with Rory for the past 4 years, and having done an awful lot of stereotypical lovely, old fashioned stuff with him - crunchy autumn walks, baking, blackberry picking, crafts, painting, games, junk modelling, trips to the park, trips to the seaside, days at the farm and so on - I foolishly imagined that he might choose to fill his box with a charming family portrait - one in which we all look normal, (although to be fair, there are not many of those in existence), perhaps a special shell from a day at the beach, a Lego man from long days of playing Lego with Daddy, his favourite cheese scone recipe, the rusty key we found on an impromptu nature ramble and one of the little books that he can read on his own.

Instead, he has seen fit to sum up four years of my parenting by filling his shoe box with a half empty packet of crisps, a Disney Cars DVD, a piece of paper on which he has written 'wee and poo' all by himself (is it too much to hope that they may be impressed with his advanced phonetic knowledge here?),  a book of 1950s pin-up girls - some of whom have naked bosoms - that he found lurking at the back of the bookcase, and a large assortment of Happy Meal toys.  All topped off with a photo of us all covered in jam and cream after a food fight.

I am escaping the labels of slack parent, pushy mum, perfectionist and too-lazy-to-care scally, only to land firmly in 'unfit mother' territory.  Unless I can re-write history and tempt him to include one of those shells that I insisted on taking home from the beach the other day.  And sneak the Happy Meal stuff into the bin.  And...oh forget it.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Fun Things to do in the Summer Holidays: #1: Stop Taking Your Antidepressants

Are the days all running into each other?  Children driving you mad?  Desperate for a bit of variation?  I've got a fun-packed tried and tested activity for you today, kids:

Going Cold Turkey From Your Anti-depressants*

You will need:
Some SSRIs, preferably ones that you've been taking for about 4 years.
A history of anxiety, OCD and post natal depression.
A small child.
Entirely inappropriate timing. I chose the start of the summer holidays when my son was in the middle of chickenpox.
An understanding partner.
A devil-may-care attitude.

What to do:
Ignore all advice about tapering down your dosage slowly because you are Special and Above Such Rules*. Simply stop taking them one day 'just because'.  Sit back and await the effects.

What will happen?
I can't speak for everyone, but if it's anecdotal evidence you're after...

Day 1. Feel a bit sick. Have a few head zaps.

Day 2. A bit more sick.  Feel like head is attached to a Slendertone machine on the highest setting.

Day 3. Brain is being repeatedly tasered, but who cares because I have SO MUCH ENERGY.  Who needs to sleep? Not me.  Not when I can redesign my entire house, clean every item in the kitchen cupboards, catch up on all my emails and bake a mountain of cupcakes with my child.

Day 4. Ooooh, cupcakes.  Hold that thought.  I am hungry. This is possibly because I've been painting the house for 20 hours straight.  Food.  There must be food.  Also, large headache.  Who wants to go to McDonalds with Mummy?  Lots of work to do.  Busy busy busy.  Good job I'm SUCH AN AWESOMELY TALENTED WRITER.

Day 5. Transcript of conversation:
Husband: "I thought you were just popping to the local shop to buy soap?"
Me: "Didn't like their soap.  Was Imperial Leather."
Husband: "So where've you been then?"
Me: "Now, I want to say Waitrose, but, hmmm..." *look of confusion*
Husband: "Well, you've got a Waitrose bag, so that's a start. Did you get soap?"
Me: Yes.  Ginger and Clementine flavour.  But also...MASSIVE MICROWAVE-YOUR-OWN-INDIAN-TAKEAWAY-MEAL-FOR-TWO.  THREE QUID."
Husband: "You're still starving then?"
Husband: "Shall we have that for lunch, then?"

(now thinking and talking almost entirely in capital letters)

Day 7. Everybody hates me and I'll probably never leave the house again, ever.  My child is irritating me beyond belief.  My whole body itches with desperately wanting and needing to get things done, but presence of child in the house and lack of money is slowing me down, resulting in an even bigger headache.  Brain still zapping away in a twitchy fashion.  Am hopeless failure and terrible writer.  Sobbing on the floor, surrounded by empty crisp packets and abandoned projects, paint in my hair.  Fridge very clean, though.

Day 9. Pffff, what was all that about?  Grow a pair. Rory, get your shoes on.  We're going on a tour of All The Parks. After that, we'll do several explodey science experiments, bake yet more cakes for Mummy to eat, de-clutter your bedroom, construct an epic Brio railway track, make some playdough, have a bubble blowing competition, phone everyone, do numbers and letters, make a 3 course meal for tea, and then Mummy's going to go out with her friends where she will discover that the combination of gin and head-zaps can make you fall off your bar stool.

Day 10. Churny stomach and cramps of doom.  This is new.  And definitely not in any way related to Bombay Sapphire.  I'm still up a ladder Painting All The Things though, aren't I?

Day 14. Survey house: Things are clean, rooms are decorated, albeit a bit experimental.  This is a good thing.  Take stock of family: Child is now free from chicken pox scabs and adores me because of all the fun things we've been doing.  Husband is smiling - probably because of all the cleaning and DIY.  Take stock of body:  Brain zaps down to a few mild ones a day, stomach still churning yet somehow still consuming enough food for 3 people.  Bizarrely, I'm sleeping far better than I've slept in 4 years.  Take stock of brain: Not too mad, which is pleasing.  A bit jumpy.  Not depressed, give or take a couple of "OHMYGODEVERYONEHATESME" days.  Crazy manic cleaning, decorating and supermum-ing calming down to manageable levels.

I think we're there.  I think I'm SSRI free for the first time since Rory was a newborn baby.  I think I might be back from wherever I've been for four years - somewhere that looked very much like here, but felt a lot like wading through treacle.  The can't-be-arsed has gone.  My energy's back.  My stupid ideas that don't always work are back.  I would imagine that, in time, my anxiety will be back too.  We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, though.

So...hello everybody.  Lets see what happens next, shall we?

* Do NOT go cold turkey from your antidepressants.  If you want to stop taking them, go and see your GP and get a proper plan put in place for withdrawal.  Withdrawing suddenly can result in some very serious symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and feelings in some cases.  I am an irresponsible idiot and not to be copied.