Monday, 27 June 2016

Fathers' Day

Most normal women-with-children I know dealt with Fathers' Day by cobbling together some sort of homemade card/present offering from their small children, which looks like absolute shit but which you know the receiver will be forced to feign delight at. Those people with really evil intentions towards the father of their children maximised potential distress and ensured that said homemade gift had Display Qualities, meaning there was no possible way it would be permitted to put safely into a drawer and would instead have to be kept out for public viewing in a central position until such time as either a) the small children forgot about it (in my experience this happens NEVER), or b) someone took a mallet to it.

Either way, it would require minimal input and by 9am you would have entirely fulfilled your Fathers' Day responsibilities and could be back in bed with a bottle of gin, leaving said father to enjoy quality time with his offspring.

Because I am not a) normal, b) sensible or c) possessed with any kind of common sense whatsoever, I decided that I would open it up to Neil to do WHATEVER HE WANTED on Fathers' Day. Hindsight suggests that I should perhaps have added some subsidiary clauses to this offer. Whatever You Want... provided it doesn't require me to move, participate, or feign enthusiasm in any way, shape or form.

Neil decided he wanted to go to the beach.

Briefly... I thought this sounded rather nice.

'Lovely. We'll go to Sandbanks and pretend to be rich. What time would you like to leave?'

'6am.'

It was at this point it all started sounding rather less nice.

Sunday morning, or possibly still the middle of the night. It's hard to be sure. Neil was up, happy and joyous, encouraging us all on our way. 'Come on, morning, it's beach time! Time to get up!'

Mr Jamie sprang out of bed. I'm never entirely quite sure we are actually related.

Beth, as expected, was furious. 'WHY am I up? Why is Daddy so happy? It is NOT morning.' Absolutely no doubt about her parentage whatsoever.

And so we drove to Sandbanks. I have to say that, even though I could only open half of one of my eyes (it had been an interesting drive) and was yet to speak in words of more than one syllable, it did all look rather beautiful. If I had only been watching some other family experiencing it in a film, which I was watching at least 5 hours later than the actual time, it might even have been enjoyable.

Over the next 6 hours, the following things occurred:

Neil lay down on the beach... and fell asleep. Yes, it was Fathers' Day. Yes, I had told him he could do anything he wanted. IF ALL YOU WANTED TO DO WAS SLEEP, COULD YOU NOT HAVE DONE THIS IN YOUR OWN BED AT HOME, was what I wanted to say, but obviously didn't, what with us doing Whatever He Wanted and everything.

No one else came down to the beach for at least another 2 hours.

On an entirely deserted beach, Mr Jamie and Beth fought over the same, 1 metre in diameter, patch of sand with almost zero pause in proceedings.

I drank five bottles of Coke Zero in quick succession and still couldn't open my eyes properly.

Beth shouted at the sea. Repeatedly, aggressively, and at a volume level which sent even the seagulls wheeling away out of our vicinity.

Mr Jamie collected a load of dead crab legs and shoved their stinking remains into my face.

Beth found the shell of a dead crab. Mr Jamie spent the remaining 5 hours, 30 minutes telling anyone who would listen about how unfair it was that he hadn't found the shell of a dead crab.

It started to rain.

We ate some sandwiches, laced with sand.

Beth shouted ICE CREAM on repeat, until the last of my parenting morals had entirely deserted me and I went and purchased ice cream, in the pouring rain, on a beach so cold I could no longer feel my own face, purely to shut her up.

Neil suggested we could go home.

We all practically trampled him in our stampede to the car.

We spent the second half of Fathers' Day removing sand from every orifice and attempting to bring our core temperatures up from zero.

And do you know the very worst bit of all?

It was all really rather lovely :-)

(Though Neil, if you're reading this, just to be clear: next year we can do Whatever You Want... provided it's inside, in the warm, and doesn't start until after 10am... :-)  )

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Absolutely, categorically, 100% off topic... the EU Referendum

Advance warning: there is not a front bottom in sight. This is very much a departure from the norm when it comes to blogging...

Like a large number of us, I am shell-shocked by the events of the last 48 hours. In trying to process my emotions, I wrote this piece on Facebook, and subsequently decided to transfer it onto here. Would love to hear your thoughts.

"My view [on Brexit] has not changed. I still passionately believe we should have remained within the EU. I believe that leaving will bring to fruition a number of the fears of the Remain campaign, and fail to deliver against the majority of the hopes and promises of the Leave campaign.
Now. When I voted, I did so not for me, nor even for my children, but for what I believed to be the greater good. I could easily have taken the line of 'I'm alright, Jack'. (I have no idea who Jack is.) I am one of a small, privileged minority in this country. It is highly likely that I will be just fine whether we had chosen to leave, or to remain. There is an argument that actually says that, personally, I might end up being better off as a result of us leaving. And my children? Well, again, we're in the incredibly bloody fortunate position that they'll probably be absolutely fine too, regardless of whether we're in or out of the EU.
But my vote wasn't based on that. My vote was based on what I thought was the best thing for the majority, and for our country as a whole. Some of the people I was voting for are, ironically, some of those who chose to vote Leave. And, much as I don't agree with their vote, I can't blame them for doing so. The lack of actual Real Live Facts clearly communicated by either side of the campaign was absolutely appalling.
And so now, here we are, trying to make sense of this strange new world we find ourselves in. Those of us who voted to remain have been working through the grieving process: I've seen various displays of denial, anger, bargaining and depression, both in real life and via social media. And I am now personally working towards trying to find an acceptance.
It would be easy, right now, as someone going through that grieving process, to turn my back on this country. To disassociate with those who have voted to leave; to wash my hands of the whole affair; to leave the country entirely.
I am not going to do that. Because, having worked through it all in my head, I feel that, right now, right here, this is when my country needs people like me - you - us - the most. None of us, as yet, really knows what it means to leave the EU. 'Leave' is a very broad term. There is likely an entire spectrum of outcomes, from a country with huge metaphorical walls all around it who refuses to let any foreigner cross its border, to a country which actually, despite its non EU status, retains many of the values which are personally so important to me: diversity; acceptance; love. And, as I see it, my role - our role - is to now channel the passion we all displayed in fighting to remain, into fighting for the best possible outcome for a country which is redefining itself.
Please don't give up. Please don't let the grief turn into anger, bitterness and recrimination. We are better than that, all of us, and we are so much stronger together. It may not feel like it right now, but there is a bright future out there, there really is, if we can only fight hard enough to find it. Let's make it happen."

Friday, 24 June 2016

The strong arm of the law

An important part of being a parent is occasionally shamelessly lying to your children through your teeth in order to get them to carry out a task, believe what you're saying, or simply shut the fuck up. Mr Jamie was always a delight when I rolled out these untruths, rarely if ever questioning them and simply moving onto his next train of thought or activity.

Beth is a very different child.

On Saturday mornings, Beth goes to swimming lessons. Saturday mornings are not usually my high point of the week, since swimming lesson timing forces me out of bed at least 3 hours before I would naturally emerge.

Beth is also very, very loud.

This particular Saturday morning, she was begging me to let her sit in the front seat of the car next to me. I knew what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to put on ABBA's greatest hits which she would sing along to with vigour, caring not one jot for tune, lyrics or rhythm.

I decided I simply couldn't face it.

'You can't, I'm afraid. Children aren't allowed to sit in the front of the car.'

'But I did last week.' She misses NOTHING.

'Well, you're not allowed to any more.'

'Why? Did the police say?'

'Yes. The police made a new law, which means that children aren't allowed in the front of cars any more.'

'Otherwise you'll go to prison?'

'That's right.'

Me going to prison isn't always enough to get Beth to comply, but on this occasion she acquiesced and got into her car seat in the rear of the car. The journey passed without further comment.

Upon arrival at the pool, I went round to open her door. She picked up her swimming bag and was walking across the car park with me when she saw not one, not two, but three other children arriving in cars with their parents.

All of them, but all of them were - you guessed it - sitting in the front seats, where their car seats had been safely strapped in.

She responded within a nanosecond, hands on her hips, shouting towards them at the top of her lungs.

'YOU'RE BREAKING THE LAW. THE POLICE ARE GOING TO GET YOU. GET OUT OF THE FRONT OF THOSE CARS NOOOOOOOOW!'

I should have known: they always say that telling lies never, ever pays. And don't I know it!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Geography

About 2 years ago now, I was required to attend a work event up in Slough.

Now. Full disclosure here. Geography is not, and probably never will be, my strong point. I spent a disturbing amount of time thinking Sweden was in Africa. I am not the sort of person who you want to ask for directions when you're lost.

Knowing this, I never travel without a sat nav. And so it was, on this particular day, that I got into my car at home on the South coast. I switched on my sat nav. I entered the postcode of the venue in Slough. I set off on my journey.

Approximately one and a half hours later, I arrived without incident.

(Ha! Bet you weren't expecting that. Don't worry. You haven't heard the half of it yet.)

The day was a success, and at approximately 4pm I got into the car to drive back home. To the venue that I'd left, earlier that very same day.

Because my sat nav was playing up slightly, I decided to also make use of the sat nav functionality on my phone. Two sat navs, running in parallel. Returning home, simply reversing the journey I'd made that morning.

What could possibly go wrong?

For some time, the two sat navs appeared to be in dispute with each other. One telling me to continue straight on, the other telling me to reverse back on myself.

Hmmm.

I decided to settle on the advice of one and ignore the other. The first one pinged happily as I followed its instructions. The second one went silent, no doubt in a fit of pique.

I drove along.

After a while, the first sat nav became unhappy. It suggested I may want to reconsider some of its previous directions. Meanwhile, however, the second one had perked up, and happily suggested I continue along the main road out of Slough.

Which I did.

Shortly afterwards, both sat navs announced to me in almost perfect synchronicity that they had lost all GPS signal.

Excellent.

Fortunately, by this point, I kind of knew what I was doing. I'd seen signposts for Reading, which I knew was definitely going in the right direction. I didn't need sat navs. I would simply carry right along this wonderful, long road...

Meanwhile, Neil had arrived home, having collected the children from school and nursery enroute. Regrettably for him, he had forgotten his keys. Knowing I was on my way, and knowing how far away Slough is from home, he decided to sit with them in the front garden and wait for me to return.

Many, many miles away, things were not going quite to plan.

It had started off so well. I was going to Reading. I had the South coast in my sights.

But THEN. The Reading signs disappeared. Signs for mysterious, unknown towns I had never even heard of replaced them.

I kept driving.

And driving.

And driving.

Down that long, long road.

Then... something strange happened.

In the distance... I could see a bridge. Quite a large bridge, from the looks of it.

I felt sure I'd seen this bridge somewhere before. Now. Where had I seen a bridge like this before? And, more to the point, how come I hadn't seen it on my way up that morning.

I thought. I thought some more. And then a sign loomed up in front of me.

Oh FUCK.

Back home, it had started to rain. Beth, then aged 3, had not responded well to such symbolism, and had promptly wet herself. This was shortly followed by the Ocado man arriving with his delivery. At this point, Neil's phone rang.

It's safe to say it wasn't a high point in our relationship for either of us. Neil, not unreasonably, wanted to know where the hell I was and how long it was going to be before I got back home and relieved him of 20 Ocado bags and a urine soaked child.

I, on the other hand? Well, I was searching for the selection of words with best to tell my husband that I was currently, it's true, on my way back from Slough.

Unfortunately, for reasons which to this day fail me entirely...

... it appeared that I had somehow, inexplicably, managed to return from Slough...

... VIA WALES.

I am my own, very, very special brand of special.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The School Run

Because I am mad, I choose to manage my full time job in such a way that it also allows me to do the morning school run. I mean, I could happily put my children into Breakfast Club (which they adore) and avoid any part of the drop off routine... but why in the world would I choose to do that, when I get instead to experience THIS.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe the other parents see me coming and secretly chat amongst themselves as I approach. 'Here she comes. Let's do everything we can to make her attempt to deposit her child at the classroom door as difficult as humanly possible.' And, in fairness to them, they really do live up to that promise.

Now, I have to be fair here. Jamie and Beth go to a brilliant, brilliant school and the vast majority of parents are marvellous. But. But. There are the odd one or two who really, really push my not very extensive at all morning patience to the limit. (And no, it's none of you reading this blog. Calm down.)

For avoidance of doubt, perhaps we could just clear up the following, and make absolutely everyone's morning so much, so much better.

1) We are doing the school run. Not hosting a garden party. You don't need to engage absolutely everyone you happen upon in extensive conversation.

2) If you do decide you need to engage absolutely everyone you happen upon in extensive conversation... perhaps you could do so in a manner which doesn't block everyone else hurrying to drop their child off from getting past you.

3) Yes, my shoes are always ridiculous, always vertiginous, no, I can't really walk in them, and yes, they do bloody hurt, hence my eagerness to get the 'walking' part of my day over and done with. You are currently hindering this. Which will explain the look of fury on my face.

4) No one else on the school run gives a shit what your child has done in the 17 hours since you last saw them. Save the 'amusing anecdotes' for a time when you don't have to block the pavement in order to tell them.

5) We all swear at our children. Most of us wait until we're behind closed doors to do so, or, at the very least, don't do it at a decibel level so pronounced I suspect your kids would have still heard them if you'd left them at home.

6) Yes, I'm sure your toddler is incredibly cute. They're not, and you're wrong, but, y'know. Do you know what would make them even cuter? IF YOU STOPPED LETTING THEM TOTTER AROUND IN FRONT OF ME WHEN I'M TRYING TO GET THROUGH AND MOVED THEM OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY.

7) There are 30 children in Beth's class. If each parent spends 5 minutes wittering on to the poor, long suffering classroom teacher about their child as they drop them off, then that teacher will be there for 150 minutes. That's two hours and thirty minutes. SHUT THE FUCK UP.

8) No teacher, however devoted to his or her charges, wants or needs to hear a Match of the Day style highlights package of everything your child has done since they left their care the previous day. Please tell someone who cares. If you won't, then at least record your running commentary onto a memory stick instead and simply pass it to the teacher in the morning rather than holding the rest of us up while we wait for you to please, please stop.

9) If you really, absolutely feel that you must stand and deliver your eulogy each and every morning... then, I beg you, move out of the way of the open door and let the rest of us send our children through. My daughter's patience levels are on a par with mine, and she will push through your legs to get out of the British weather systems if you don't start to curtail your ramblings.

10) Don't even think of taking the risk of parking anywhere near me, if you know what's good for you (and your vehicle). Coordination in a small and crowded street: absolutely not my forte.

Just me?

Friday, 17 June 2016

Hair-raising events

Beth is generally not Neil's biggest fan, but ever so occasionally ventures over to the dark side and defects from me. Just how acute her defection had become, I was about to find out...

For some time now, she has been asking for her head to be shaved. I know. I know. This first came to my attention a couple of summers ago, when I was at work and Neil was looking after the children at home. My phone rang. "I just wanted to check... Beth said that you'd said it was okay if I shaved all of her hair off so that she can look like a boy. Is that really true?"

(Thank goodness he had the sense to call, that's all I can say. Thoughts of having to explain her 'grade one all over' cut to a school whose uniform regime makes North Korea look laid back... yep, horrendous.)

This evening, I was upstairs reading The Witches to Mr Jamie. For about the fifth time: we're both sufficiently impressed by my Grand High Witch voice (Angelica Huston, eat your heart out) to have made it worth multiple readings. Beth had used the opportunity to sneak off (like me, she has no interest in listening to someone else talking while the focus of attention is off her) and subject Neil to a grilling.

Tonight's topic? His hair.

'Dad... you know your hair?'

'Yes. What about it?'

'Well, this bit here doesn't really look very good, does it. Or this bit here.'

'Why don't you think they look good?'

'Because they're a bit sticking out. It would be much better if you just cut it all off.'

'But Mum doesn't want me to cut all of my hair off. Mum likes it like this.'

She barely paused for breath. 'Well, just get a new mum for us then. You're allowed to do that. You can get a divorce, and then you can have a new wife and this time, Dad, pick one who likes short hair.'

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Never ask a question you don't want to hear the answer to...

There has been one of those Facebook questionnaire things doing the rounds recently. One where you ask your children a series of questions and see what they respond with. I'd seen a few friends complete it, and all of their children's answers seemed really quite sweet. If you were a person who liked children, that is, who I am not.

For my own personal entertainment though, I thought I'd try it out on Mr Jamie and Beth. They both took it remarkably seriously; Jamie actually paced the room while Beth simply sat very still on the sofa next to me and stared into my face, rather like one performing hypnotism. (I wouldn't put it past her.) Here, below, is what they came up with:

What is something I always say to you?
Beth: 'Don't talk.' (Sounds entirely plausible.)

What makes me happy?
Jamie: 'When I do exactly what you tell me to do.' (Hmmm, not entirely... see previous 'shower-gate' post!)

What makes me sad?
Jamie: 'When I get all... URRRGGGHHH. UNNNNGGGHHHH. URRRRGGGGHHH.' (This came with actions. Upon further probing he revealed that apparently this was to depict him being annoyed, as opposed to him shitting himself in the middle of the room, which was my first thought.)

What was I like when I was little?
Jamie: 'Bossy.'

How tall am I?
Beth: '70 metres long.'

What do I do at work?
Beth: 'Listen to your boss, and do what he says.'

What am I not very good at?
Beth: 'Work.' (Her unfailing belief in my abilities is so tremendously gratifying...)

What do I like best about Dad?
Jamie: 'Absolutely do not write this down' - I lied seamlessly through my teeth, as per usual - 'but' - whispers - 'he's good looking.' Giggles hysterically.

Where is my favourite place to go?
Beth: (with barely a pause for thought) 'London with Uncle James.' (Nailed it.)

How old was I when I had you?
Jamie: (counting backwards in his head) 'FOURTEEN.' Pause for a recount. 'NO! No, not fourteen! Twenty four!'

How are you and me different?
Jamie: 'You're a boy and I'm a girl.' Horrified pause. 'NO! You're a girl and I'm a boy!' Reflective pause. 'Actually' - dramatic pause - 'you're a WOOOOOMAN.'

What is my favourite thing to do?
Jamie: 'Chill out. On the weekends, you basically just sit down. You sit down with a bottle of wine in your hand. No, don't write that down! Maybe just a glass of wine.' (Yes, that's right. I spend my entire weekends sitting down with a bottle of wine in hand. Actually, that sounds utterly blissful...)

Anyone else tried it out on their children? Let me know if anyone gets a less gratifying pen picture than I did... actually, I'm not sure that's even possible...

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