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It’s my son’s party and I’ll cry if I want to

3 Jul

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To continue from my last blog post theme of me being loud and dramatic on birthdays , here’s my latest offering published on The Motherload, a fab, down-to-earth parenting blogzine, all about how an embarrassing crying incident at my son’s birthday party launched my *complicated* relationship with children’s birthday parties. Enjoy the read (click on the following link):

It’s my son’s birthday and I’ll cry if I want to

 

 

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It’s my birthday and I’ll shout if I want to

29 May
How did my birthday degenerate in such spectacular style, I thought to myself at around 4.30 pm this afternoon.
Two of my three little ones were howling in unison – 1.5-year-old was following me around the flat, roaring and practically pulling my skirt off in her urgency to get me to pick her up which I couldn’t do because a) I didn’t want to and b) I was trying to gather up water bottles-nappies-wipes-shoes-socks-coats-more stuff so we could leave the house to go out for an early supper for my birthday (my birthday treat to myself).
3.5 year old was howling histrionically as I had apparently dropped a shoe on her tender little hoof and it hurt – A LOT.
This is not how birthdays are meant to be celebrated, I observed ruefully to myself.
I then did exactly what all the parenting bibles tell you not to do. I started shouting – quite loudly – at both of these two little people – to STOP SHOUTING.
I SHOUTED AT THEM TO STOP SHOUTING and it felt quite cathartic, so I CARRIED ON SHOUTING A LITTLE MORE.
Baby seemed quite startled at this show of noisy force coming at her from my direction, and this temporarily  stopped her howls.
I shouted SORRY VERY LOUDLY at 3.5 year old about the foot incident and shouted again NOW YOU HAVE TO STOP SHOUTING COS I SAID SORRY.
I then carried on grabbing random stuff, while shouting in a maternal guilt-tripping way that they are too young to understand that they were RUINING MY BIRTHDAY . I may even have stamped my foot (yes I am turning 5 today).
Finally ready to leave the flat. Trip trap trip trap down the stairs to the ground floor. Drag the buggy out of the hallway and outside.
And then finally, breathe in some fresh air and we were all in transit, either in buggy or on two feet, heading towards the restaurant with the tantalising image of chips with ketchup by the bucketful awaiting us.
And peace was restored.

The swimming lesson

24 Jan

Parenting, I have discovered, sometimes feels like a series of gruesome trials that one must self-effacingly go through for the good of one’s child/ren (see previous posts on soft play hell and survival guide for parents of children entering their first year at school as examples).

Trials often involving complex logistics and vast amounts of stuff you are obliged to lug along with you. And every time your child gets one year older, behold, a new, more ominous trial looms on the horizon.

(Parents of older children often give you advance warning by recounting the horrors to come but as a defence mechanism, you generally block your ears shouting out repeatedly “I’m not listening I’m not listening I’m not listening” until they change the subject.)

So now to the latest trial to assault my sensibilities: The swimming lesson for big boy (aged 5).

The first Sunday morning arrives. Armed with bags of stuff, we (that is, me, plus three little ones, aged 5, 3 and 1, thanks to dear OH conveniently working on Sundays) leave at a respectable hour, I think.

Heart sinking #1:

We arrive at the school where the swimming lessons take place and my spirits immediately plummet.

It seems just to get into the car park and find a spot will require nerves of steel and the need to behave in an entirely uncivil manner.

The entire parenting populace of NW London has apparently all signed up for the same swimming lessons at the same hour. It is mayhem. Drivers of brash SUVs squeeze in and out aggressively and there is zero good will to behold.

Grimacing, I wait my turn and eventually a tight spot becomes available.

We still have a few minutes until the class starts. Breathe, I say to myself.

Not seeing anything actually resembling a swimming pool nearby, I ask another parent innocently, where actually is the swimming pool?

Heart sinking #2:

She points to a corner of the car park and says ‘down the steps there’. Armed with a little one in a buggy, the word “steps” are a discordant, jarring noise to my ears. I drag my three children over “there” and my dread and horror become palpable. In the era of accessibility, the swimming pool building is apparently at the bottom of a steep hill and the only way down is via an apparently endless, steep flight of steps.

Grunting and muttering expletives, I start bumping buggy down the steps, cautioning the two bigger ones to hold on carefully. A kind parent comes to the rescue as I’m halfway down and helps me bring the buggy down the remaining 423 steps.

Heart sinking #3:

Into the swimming pool building and everything goes pear-shaped again as we squeeze our way into the changing rooms.  Firstly, we have to remove outdoor footwear. So convenient, especially as I have omitted to bring with any flipflop/Croc-type footwear. (Great, so now we will all come home with verrucas too.)

I use the word “squeeze” for good reason. Apparently the entire parenting populace of NW London must also battle it out for a spot in a changing room designed for about 2% of the quantity of human beings currently inhabiting the space.

The buggy is clearly not a desired object in this space, neither by me, nor by the glaring individuals around me.

By this point, the start of the lesson, 10 o’ clock, has come and gone, and I bark at big boy to get changed quickly.

We turn the corner and finally enter the swimming pool area.

Heart sinking #4 (this is the very worst instance of sinking, I can guarantee)

I am immediately assaulted by a tremendous wave of heat and noise. It is, according to a friendly, more experienced, parent, who confirmed this for me later on, akin to Dante’s Inferno.  There are swarms and swarms of squealing children in the pool with an army of blue-T-shirt clad swimming instructors. There is a crowd of disgruntled parents hovering by the side of the pool. There are absolutely no pleasant or remotely roomy places to park myself and my two little ones who have to wait while big boy does his stuff.

And the heat, did I mention the heat.

There is nothing tolerable about this, I mutter to myself, carrying my fabulously heavy one-year-old whose cheeks are already turning bright red. We are all wearing winter clothing, apart from being barefoot.

In the veritable sea of little people splashing about in the pool, I eventually identify big boy’s swimming class, and drop him off.

We are ten minutes late for a thirty minute class.

I collapse on a narrow bench with the other two, and feel sweat prickling from every pore in my body. Baby is in danger of becoming dehydrated. I rip layers of clothing off all of us, and play Teletubbies and The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round on an endless loop on my mobile phone in a vain attempt to prevent her from wriggling off me and toddling straight into the swimming pool.

The hothouse nightmare finally ends 20 minutes later.

We stagger back to the tightly packed changing room. I dump baby back into the buggy. I attempt to shower big boy and become half drenched in the process.

We finally step outside into the cool wintry day again. I breathe in deep breaths of fresh Mill Hill oxygen and feel an all-enveloping sense of gratitude for fresh air, the universe and all things good.

I then remember the 748 steps we have to climb to get back to the car.

 

 

An afternoon in soft play hell

7 Jan

It’s two days before the end of the winter holidays and bucketing down outside. Any inspiration for coming up with yet another edifying cultural activity to take the little ones to long gone, there’s nothing for it, an afternoon at soft play hell beckons.

Naively convincing myself that surely a lot of other schools must have already gone back, I blithely drive into the car park of a large, popular soft play located not far from us in North West London.

And then proceed to drive straight out of the positively rammed, full to beyond capacity car park immediately thereafter, my heart plummeting fast.

Out of the corner of my horrified eye, I see something that looks like a queue spilling out into the rain at the entrance to the soft play, but quickly convince myself that surely this must have been a mirage.

We park at the first available spot several hundred metres away in a nearby giant supermarket car park. We trudge back up, bumping the buggy over the potholes and    humps in the road, inching our way round large puddles, all the while as the skies pour down on us.

We arrive at the door to see there is indeed a very real, very tangible queue of harassed looking parents and their restless offspring spilling out into the rain.

Notice on the door to soft play hell:

dav

I look in my purse, I have approximately 37 pence made up of 1 p and 2 p coins in cash, alongside an armada of credit cards crying out to be used.

Cursing all manner of deities, I wearily trudge off again, this time down a dreary alleyway snaking round the backside of the giant supermarket with my three bedraggled small people in tow in search of a cash machine.

Cash duly acquired, we enter soft play.  We are welcomed with gaiety:

dav

Glaring at the beaming cherubs in this painted scene, I dutifully shuffle along in the mother of all queues until it’s finally our turn to cough up cash-only cash in order to voluntarily enter soft play hell.

And we’re off. Instantly we are swept up in an intense cacophony of noise, children’s screams, loud music, heat, bright flashing lights, lurid Christmas decorations abound. Sensory overload.

A densely populated, heaving mass of humanity has packed itself tightly into this primary-coloured vision of dystopia.

Children streaking by, children wailing, children squealing, children chasing each other, children sliding down, children climbing up, children tumbling, children laughing with delight, children crying with undelight. All breeds of children. Big ones, small ones, pocket-sized ones, wild ones, dreamy solitary ones.

Tables packed full of families chowing down burgers and chips, slurping on lurid-coloured ice slush drinks, crunching on packets of crisps, chewing on chocolate bars, as far as the eye can see.

dav

Mum in question (me) feels existential pangs. Is this what it’s all about? I wonder for the enth time. I spot another mum in the throes of her own existential moment, sitting alone at a table absorbed in pencil sketching on a piece of paper.

I try to stealthily ignore large signs plastering the place stating that outside food may not be brought in and feed my children vaguely healthy lunch fodder brought in from outside. Soft play manager (#dreamjob) catches us red-handed within three milliseconds of said forbidden food items appearing. Disallows continued consumption. Groan. We’re all hungry. Off we troop to food station and fork out for the necessary supplies of crisps and confectionary.

I put my one-year-old down next to the table to crawl around at my feet. Take my eye off her for one second as I sip my cappuccino, look down again and she’s gone. Panic stations. Will I ever find her in the mêlée? With intense relief I see she’s zoomed off as quickly as her four paws will carry her over to the ball pond and is trying unsuccessfully to dive in.

Phew. Save her. But then, with dread in my heart, I realise exactly how the rest of my afternoon is panning out: From then on I am entirely at her beck and call, and must obediently trail after her up and down and round and in and out the bouncy, slidey, baby-friendly side of the soft play apparatus. Feel a brief moment of hilarity-cum-despair when I am forced to get down into commando crawling pose to lower my non-baby-sized self under a particularly height-restricted bar overhead in order to keep up with fast-moving toddler ahead and prevent her from tumbling down a slide face-forward.

You gotta laugh, it seems.

At such points in one’s life, one must be grateful for small mercies:

Small mercy #1: My two larger offspring go off to the main soft play apparatus to climb, slide, chase each other to their hearts’ content and do not require my participation in any of these activities.

Small mercy #2: Management of soft play emit frequent reminders over loudspeaker that visitors to their den of pleasure must not overstay their two-hour visit, or else will be charged an extra fee.

Our two-hour visit mercifully draws to a close.

We reclaim our footwear and stumble out into the chilly grey gloom of an early January afternoon in London.

As we head off home, my five-year-old says, totally spontaneously (and before his tiger mother has a chance to roar any command):  Thank you very much Mummy, we had so much fun.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

 

 

Double buggy rage and other buggy blues

7 Jun

To continue on the parenting theme begun in my last post, today is the day for a guilty confession:

My name is Rebecca and I suffer from a bad case of buggy rage. 

(But officer, don’t judge me, anyone in my position would be guilty of the same crime, I swear!)

I am blessed to have three children under the age of five. This means that most of my gallivanting around the world in the last few years has involved a large multi-occupancy three-wheeled GT vehicle – but not one I travel in, oh no: this is one which relies solely on my own pushing power – aka a double buggy.

I began my double buggy career being a meek, nervous newbie gingerly steering the unwieldy contraption along narrow pavements, in and out of slightly too narrow shop doors, and up and down and all around town.

Scroll forward a couple of years later, and I am a whizz at zigzagging along the pavement effortlessly pushing the double buggy along one-handed. But this is where the problem begins. Inexplicably, other passers-by do not realise they are meant to get out of the way when I come hurtling forward. And this is the root cause of my buggy rage.

Not only do they not move out of my way, out of spite, I swear, they actually slow down, or stop entirely, JUST in front of my buggy. All types of humans are guilty of this, so it’s not limited to a certain demographic. Old ladies with walking sticks, children, mobile phone conversers, groups of people, single individuals, canine individuals, they are all culprits.

After innumerable encounters of this kind, I have concluded that they must be doing on purpose, they are all out to get me. There’s no other explanation for this.

There is a bus stop near where I live which I have to pass regularly, and the people waiting at that bus stop are without doubt the most unbearable offenders of this buggy obstruction. They ALL without exception conspire to stop and wait RIGHT in the middle of the narrow strip of pavement JUST as I appear behind them with my buggy. They loiter right in my path with their immense pieces of luggage / their giant-sized dogs / talking into their mobile phones. And then, as I call out politely for them to excuse me please can I get past, they move in sickening slow motion one or two steps to the left or right, which means, either there is still not enough space for me to get past, so I have to holler again, or worse still, there is JUST enough room for me to get through, but to do so requires me squeezing the buggy past painfully slowly for fear of causing injury.

Reader, I confess, I no longer care about causing injury. I now actively wish to do harm to these vile buggy obstructers.

While we are on the subject of buses, I have another cause for my buggy rage. This is when I need to take a bus journey and I have to haul the double buggy onto the bus using the middle doors. Because it is a large contraption piled high with little people, bags, blankets, water bottles, with rice cakes and breadsticks flying in its wake, everyone on the bus stares at me as I attempt my acrobatics to mount the vehicle.

But wait, you’d imagine all these unencumbered humans would LEAP up to help this hapless mother. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? But no, this is how the sequence works: I struggle, they stare, I struggle some more, they stare some more, and JUST at the point when my one-woman haulage system has completed its heaving, and the buggy has successfully been raised into the bus, one helpful person sometimes finally gets off their tush and asks me so helpfully: “Do you need any help?” GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

And once on the bus, puffing and panting, between gritted teeth, I still often need to sweetly ask those unbearable people invariably blocking the buggy / wheelchair section of the bus for no good reason, to kindly move out of the way.  Again, slow-motion movement from said individuals.

There’s much more to be said on this subject, I’m just warming to the theme, but I need to head off now. Just don’t get in my way, ok? And you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

 

Survival guide for clueless mums of school-aged children

27 May

We are three quarters of the way through our family’s first “official” school year, and I am still getting my clueless head around the demands of the daily school run-playground-classroom-playground-school run grind.

In a spirit of  generosity, I will share some of my hard-earned wisdom for those embarking on this treacherous journey come September this year. In no particular order:

  1. Limited parking spaces near school turns parents into frenzied dog-eat-dog monsters. No solidarity, no polite giving way to other drivers, just pure go-for-the-kill ferocity. If you wish to survive, arrive half an hour early to bag a good spot, or expect to park at least half a kilometre away.
  2. Some other mums are simply never going to be friendly, some may even inexplicably blank you. I have been puzzling for some time over the lack of friendliness / plain coldness of some other mums and I can’t quite work out why nor what the point of it is. (In one nursery setting, where there were really not enough children and their respective parents to justify claims of ‘not knowing’ who other parents were, one mother regularly blanked me. In spite of  this, muggins-me still insisted on smiling and saying hi nearly every day as we passed each other going in and out of the nursery. She did eventually thaw but this period only lasted a few days, and then she was back to blanking me again. Go figure.)
  3. On the other hand, you may encounter other mums who over-share semi-intimate details of their lives within one minute of meeting you. This also leads to some awkward moments but is definitely preferable to the blanking scenario encountered in #2.
  4. Your child’s nursery / school teacher will at some point make you feel as if you should go stand in the naughty corner. If you are perennially disorganised like me, chances are your child’s teachers will give you that look or make a few pointed comments at some point or another during the school year due to you having committed one or another of the following parental crimes:  you’ve once again brought your child in late making them miss important class activities SUCH AS THE ANNUAL CLASS PHOTO / you’ve forgotten their swimming kit / you’ve forgotten to dress them in the right colour  or what not for a special activity etc etc (yes all real-life misdemeanours committed by this atrocious mum).
  5. Following on from #4, you realise that you don’t really change your wicked ways once you become a parent of school-aged children. Sadly, your failings as a human being persist even once you are a parent and ought to know better. I don’t quite know what I was expecting of myself, but after this many months of this school year have elapsed, I’m afraid I have come to the conclusion that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. I was late and did my homework at the last minute / after the deadline when I went to school myself, and now I’m often bringing my own children late to school.
  6. Forget spontaneity, playdates have to be set up weeks in advance. Feeling as if it might be a good idea to get my children to interact with their school and nursery peers, I’ve been valiantly attempting to arrange playdates. Ignoring my inner murmurings of ‘why is it always you initiating these dates?’ (and yes, it transpires that there are more than one or two similarities between playdates and the romantic variety), I have been rebuffed on many an occasion by super-busy fellow London parents. To avoid feeling too desperate, I have established a policy of no more attempts at ‘chatting up’ a parent after two rebuffals. (Luckily, I’ve discovered a few other last-minute, more spontaneous parents out there with whom we’ve had quite successful playdates. Phew.)
  7. There you were happily listening to Radio 4 every morning, but then you commit the fatal error of buying your child/ren a CD to listen to in the car on the way to/home from school. Children love mindless repetition, I have discovered. They WILL want to listen to said CD ad infinitum / ad nauseum  / ad unbearablum. You will be obliged to accidentally-on-purpose lose / scratch said CD at some point to avoid the need to commit an act of mindless violence.
  8. It’s okay if neither you nor your child really enjoys their own birthday party.  Just like when I was a shy child and found my own birthday parties an ordeal, it’s acceptable to be secretly wishing your own child’s birthday party to be over – especially when they seem overwhelmed by all the attention themselves.
  9. You may feel secretly proud of your child when they tell you they were a ‘cheeky monkey’ with their friend at school that day and got into trouble with their teachers. You will of course have to tell off said child and instruct them to behave better henceforth, but inside, you may be secretly beaming with pride at their feisty character.

These are just a few randomly scribbled discoveries I have made. More to come, but in the meantime, bed beckons. Good night!

POSTSCRIPT: I should end off by saying there was a happy ending to the missing the class photo debacle. Given we are in the digital era, the photographer was able to take pictures of my son and one other child who was also late and Photoshop them into the class photo. Phew again.

Postscript 2: To clarify, I’ve got away with the lack of punctuality this year as we are still in the pre-school nursery year. Come September it’s reception, and I’m going to have to seriously pull up my socks and learn how to be on time. Or bad mum is going to be really in trouble.

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