Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Exiting the corona cocoon

It has been a confusing time. In some ways, I've found the last few weeks of relative freedom more challenging than full-on lockdown. As we emerge from our Covid chrysalis, we are coming to terms with a 'new normal'. There are different rules/guidelines to navigate and we are a still long way off from going to the theatre, throwing raucous parties, or even going on a foreign holidays (despite all the talk of air bridges).

A field at sunset, full of white and red poppies
Hoping for a sweet summer
From talking to friends, a fair few of us are questioning the lifestyles we had pre-lockdown and are hopeful of a fresh start. And there are people (like me) who are feeling unsettled and unsure about what the future holds. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

House frau rules ok

Ever since I gave up full-time work to look after the kids, I've resisted - whisper it - becoming a housewife. The plan, back in 2003 when my daughter was born, was to raise the kids, write novels and freelance. On the whole, things turned out pretty well. Most of the time, I buried my neurosis that I had opted into domestic service. Writing books has brought me fulfilment while also affording me the flexibility to spend lots of time with my kids. As they got older, I've taken on more work.

Sun shining through the daffodils
Sun therapy in the garden helped me feel better
Then along came the Coronavirus. For the first time, our home became both the centre and the outer edge of our world. And who rules over this dominion? Me. During the past few weeks, I have flexed every domestic muscle in my body to keep my family fed, healthy and occupied. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Summer blues

As I watched my son lope off to catch his school bus this morning, I shed a tear. It was a discreet tear alone in the car - a quiet acknowledgement that my boy is growing up and that the summer is over. No one saw; I didn't embarrass him.

Two eyes from Blenheim Palace
One eye on the past and one on the future...
On our way to the bus stop, we had overtaken a nervous first year, walking alongside his mum. A whole year has passed since my son set off for his first day at senior school, his face set and his shoulders hunched. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Vive l'ind├ępendence!

This time last week I dropped off my 15-year old daughter at school for her French exchange trip. In the dark, lamp-lit morning (4:30am), seeing her onto the school coach felt like a surreal experience. In a haze of orange street-light, I was sending off  into the unknown, to stay with a family I'd never met before. Instinctively, I didn't want to let her go, even though my head was telling me this was a good opportunity for her.

My daughter at ease with her new independence!
On the quiet drive home, I gave myself a stern pep talk. As a good parent, I needed to allow my daughter her independence and the freedom to try out new experiences.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

In the pink

A friend and I were discussing what I should buy her little girl for Christmas. We hit upon Lego. "Friends Lego, the pink stuff?" I clarified nervously. She grimaced apologetically: "Yes, I think she'd like it. It would make a change from all her brother's kits." We both experienced that twitchy, self-correcting thought - in this 'woke' world of new feminism, should we really be buying our girls pink Lego?

A bouquet of pink roses
Are pink roses just for girls?
The fact is my daughter enjoyed her pink Lego back in the day and I suspect this little girl would too. I'm guessing the 'Friends-themed' Lego range wouldn't have expanded as quickly as it has, if it didn't sell. The treehouses, camper vans and art studios, all decked out in pastel shades, are clearly designed to appeal to a feminine sensibility. Heck, I probably would have loved Friends Lego too as a child, had it been around then. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The power of chocolate buttons

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Little One stamps the pavement outside our house with her new Startrite shoe. "Don't wanna go to school," she wails. "Got no friends."

"School sucks," agrees her older brother, "but you have to go, otherwise the police will come and arrest Mum." 

Sign saying: All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt

I glance across at him to see if he genuinely believes what he's just said. It appears he does. Wow! Those white lies I used to tell him have still got some mileage. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

School's out

Over the past days I've danced to Rita Ora, cheered on the English football team, watched a class of eleven-year olds sing their hearts out and cried too many tears. It has been an exhausting, emotional rollercoaster of a week. By Sunday afternoon, I was quite done in.

My son on his last day at Primary School
The last day at primary school
Two decadent nights at our glorious Henley Festival on the banks of the Thames, an English defeat and my son leaving primary school were evidently too much to cope with. While the festival was brilliant in its own way, the big event for me was the end of primary school (yes, it was all about me).

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Watch the step-change

My life is about to change. As of September, I will have two kids at secondary school. I will no longer be a mum of young children. Yikes! Where did those years go? Cue midlife crisis.

Garden statue with her arms raised in jubilation
Freedom at last?
But before I plummet into mourning, I am trying to convince myself that a new, exciting era is about to dawn... Yes! More freedom! I will no longer be wholly defined by my relationship with my children. As they become more autonomous, so will I.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The history teacher

Hermaphrodite Mum 
Three kids and a single mum

It's a sight to make every mother's heart sink: your child, curled up with her headphones on, watching YouTube on a mobile phone. It gets worse. Your child has already spent most of the afternoon hooked up to Netflix and has evidently forgotten about her school exams next week. 

Quiet One: lost in blah-blah land
©  Dreamstime.com
I direct my most penetrating gaze at Quiet One, but she's lost in some virtual place, halfway between denial and blah-blah land.

Finally, I raise my voice. "Shouldn't you be doing some revision?" I shout. 

The earphones are pushed back a smidgeon and she looks up at me with an indignant frown. Then she humphs and slides off the chair. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

The little things

My 10-year old son and I are playing a game at the moment: the 30-day Happiness Challenge*. I bought it after he finished his entrance exams for secondary school. A bit of light relief. So each day he plucks a 'happiness challenge' from a little box covered in smiley faces. Two weeks in, he's been smiling at strangers, looking back on old photos and walking barefoot in some rather soggy grass.

List of 'happiness' challenges
My main objective is to keep him on a positive track after the stress of all the exams. Like many of us, he can get lost in the more negative aspects of his day. Apparently, this is a common human trait. "Our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt to the negative," says social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood in a TEDx talk. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

Christmas drama queen

Hermaphrodite Mum 
Three kids and a single mum

 "Are you alright?" asks Middle Child anxiously.

I am beached on the sofa, one hand massaging my temples. "Yes, I think so. It has been a long day."

Christmas decorations hanging on the Christmas tree"Were you working?"

"No, love, I was finishing off the Christmas shopping."

"Oh, is that all?"

I take a deep breath. He's young and inexperienced. How would he know what I've accomplished in the last few weeks? How I have written 80 Christmas cards, bought and wrapped in excess of 50 presents, hauled a six-foot fir tree into the house, dragged two boxes of decorations down from the attic, booked in three online food shops for Christmas and New Year, as well as all the usual drudgery, and... 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Tidings of goodwill

It has been a bumpy ride, this run-up to Christmas. My children are excited to be on holiday and the house is filled with light and festive paraphernalia, but outside our cosy bubble there are so many tragic events blighting the world. Guilt is my primary emotion. How have I, and everyone I love, been granted such good fortune?

Refugees in southwest France
Val (centre) with asylum seekers and other volunteers
Even as I write, parents of a friend (Sam Jonkers of Henley's Jonkers Rare Books) have been visiting child refugees at a reception centre in Realville, southwest France. Val and Malcolm Johnstone retired to France some years ago and have been hosting older refugees at their home near Toulouse. The kids in the reception centre recently learnt that their asylum applications to join family in the UK had been turned down. It is a case of hopes dashed after months of suffering and hardship.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Meditations on a festive theme

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

My children still believe in Father Christmas - even the eldest one, aged 12. It amazes me that I have managed to hoodwink them this long, without inadvertently spilling the beans. To be honest, it's killing me. I just want to shout: "HE DOESN'T EXIST!" It's me - my darlings - your dear, old mama, who excels in wish-fulfilment. 

Christmas tree with presents around it
When to put up the tree?
But, of course, I can't. There is magic and excitement to be maintained. If I told them it was Mummy filling their stockings each year, their little eyes would roll over with disappointment and ennui

Instead, I adopt the psychology of a serial adulterer, secretly hoping to be found out one day. I use the same wrapping paper for the stockings fillers as I do for the 'main' presents around the tree, in the hope that they will rumble me. I even leave price labels on sometimes. Last year, Middle Child idly remarked, "Oh look, Father Christmas shops at John Lewis. Isn't that funny?"

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Bring them home

This week I have decided to write a letter to my local member of parliament, John Howell, asking him to help hundreds of child refugees who are eligible to come to the UK but are left to languish in Calais.

Dear Mr Howell, 

In February this year you kindly wrote to my son and his fellow members of the so-called Secret Society of Nature to congratulate them on raising funds for the World Wildlife Fund. Needless to say, the children were thrilled to receive your letter which recognised their efforts to save endangered animals from extinction.

A refugee family asks for help
© Prazis | Dreamstime.com

Today I am writing to you about the child refugees in Calais. While we have a duty to look after our wildlife, we also have a moral obligation to protect vulnerable children and young people, particularly those who have fled war or violence in their own countries. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

Drama in the night

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

"Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!" was King Lear's famed reaction to the storm. "Where the hell are my children?" was mine last week as I lay in bed listening to rolls of thunder shake our house to its very foundations. 

Lightening and thunderstorm in the night sky
Where are the kids?
© Jaroslav Noska | Dreamstime.com
Normally, a rollicking, good thunderstorm never fails to bring all three children running into my bedroom like rats deserting a sinking ship, but last week as the storm bellowed outside my open window, there was no sign of them. My first thought was: Oh well, I'll just go back to sleep! But then I started to panic. What if Walking Toddler was a gibbering wreck, too frightened even to call out my name? What if one of them has been struck by lightening unbeknownst to me?

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Game on

"Come on Mummy, you can do it!" Could I though? Could I really? It turned out I could. Hop, skip and a jump along the towpath, ignoring the stares of the more sedate grown-ups out for a walk. That's all there was to it. Yes, I know, we are not talking about rowing across the Atlantic here, but for some reason I seem to have lost the ability to play with my children. Now the summer holidays are upon us, I am struggling to re-discover my inner child.

A boy's feet with a crab in a bucket - crabbing!
Recovering the lost art of entertaining the kids!
A whole year of working freelance, finishing off my novel and squeezing out the odd blog post has left me devoid of play skills (and I mean the physical, get-down-on-the-floor, act-like-an-idiot mode of play). When my kids were little, I wasn't too bad at it. Apart from that first culture-shifting moment at a Monkey Music class in Earlsfield, where I realised that parenthood now required me to sing ridiculous songs and swing my arm like an elephant's trunk, I generally managed to get down to my kids' level in those early years. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

At the zoo

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

The children came back from their dad's place this weekend full of the joys of spring. As I got supper ready, I listened stoically to their excited tales about going to the Land of the Lions at London Zoo. Apparently one of the male lions came right up to the glass partition and looked like he wanted to gobble up Walking Toddler! Imagine that? What fun! Oh, and Daddy managed to film it all on his iPhone. Wonderful. I can see it now: YouTube sensation as toddler becomes lion fodder at London Zoo. 

Male lion at London Zoo
Walking Toddler as lion fodder!
Seriously though - I am glad we have reached a point in our lives where our kids are happy to spend time with either parent. Ex-husband and I can pat each other on the back for being civilised grown-ups and managing our divorce in a mature manner...

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A woman like Sally

People watching: 
Sally Curson, founder of Face Matters skincare

As I grow older I find myself becoming obsessed with little details such as wiping the kitchen surfaces and tidying away stray felt-tip pens. It is not a trait that I am proud of - in fact I actively fight against this instinct to control and order my immediate surroundings. Somehow it feels so unBohemian, so suburban, and worst of all it implies a disregard for the important things in life.

Sally: 'Focus on the important issues'
Nevertheless, most mornings, my son and I have our habitual disagreement over whether he has made his bed, drawn his curtains and hung up his pyjamas. My daughter, cut from the same genetic mould as her neat-freak mother, never waits to be asked. "But Mummy, I really don't care if my bed is not made," wails my son. "I like it all messy." Still I persist in urging him to follow my rules.

A few weeks ago, I met a woman who takes a different view. Lying on a couch, my face wrapped in warm flannels, I found myself in conversation with Sally Curson, a beauty therapist and founder of the Face Matters anti-ageing skincare range. She gives facials at Fenwicks in Bond Street and runs a successful business selling beautiful, silicon-based products (which I have recently reviewed for my lovely friends at CountryWives). 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Family plc

My feet have hardly touched the ground since 2016 kicked off in a burst of fireworks over the banks of the river Thames. Once the kids were back at school, I threw myself in a maelstrom of overdue paperwork, house tidying, novel-editing and publicity work for the Henley Youth Festival. The kids only went back at the beginning of last week and already it feels like a month!

Kids performing at the Henley Youth Festival
Credit: Cheryl George
Sometimes friends ask me: "Now your kids are at school full-time, when are you planning to go back to work?" How does one answer that tactfully? Here are some multiple-choice responses.

Monday, 2 November 2015

A pox on failure!

It has become fashionable to extol the virtues of failure. Our children need to flounder; they need to experience the blood-rushing slam of disappointment! In some ways, it is a bit like trying to catch chicken pox. No one wants the inconvenience or the pimples, but it is a rite of passage. For how else can our kids build up emotional resilience? The old public school system would have filed it under 'character-building', along with draughty dormitories and short trousers in winter. I even catch myself saying to other mothers: "Failure is good for them, you know." But who am I trying to kid? 

A signpost indicating success and failure in different directions
Does failure lead to success?
©  | Dreamstime.com
As the next round of common entrance exams come around, many parents face a dilemma: whether to push their children to aim high (investing time, effort and pride) at the risk of watching them fail to secure a place at their favoured school. The poet Lemn Sissay has a saying: "Reach for the top of the tree and you may get to the first branch but reach for the stars and you'll get to the top of the tree." But what about those of us who aim high but still end up in the lower branches?