The life changing magic of getting the kids to tidy up

The boychild is 100% obsessed with Halloween crafting.  He’s been getting up at the crack of dawn all week and ferreting about with coloured paper, lolly sticks and pipe cleaners before the rest of us are even awake. This morning it took so long to wrestle the scissors off him that I had to throw myself on the mercy of another parent to deliver him to school while I ran for my train.

The resulting decorations are mounting up on the mantelpiece and it’s only a matter of time time before I’ll have to start hanging them in windows.  I had to stage a minor intervention when he started planning spider webs made out of bin liners.

So… it’s been ages.  What else is new since July?

We’ve implemented a New World Order for family mealtimes. No longer are we feeding the kids separately in the kitchen – they’re now eating with the grown ups.  This means that their diet has gone up in the world (it’s less about sausages and ketchup and more about sea bass and Cavolo Nero). Ours has, alas, gone down (it’s less about poncey stuff and more about simple fare).  We’ve also become slightly more carnivorous as both kids seem to be partial to roast chicken Sunday lunches. Some days the craving for hot chilies gets a bit much and we have to cook a separate adult dinner in the slow cooker.  (The rest of the time it is churning out rice pudding like the magic porridge pot).

The hardest part of eating together in the evenings is getting proper meals on the table in the tiny window of opportunity between getting home from work and Hubble going face-splat in her plate.  G’s answer to this problem has been to introduce a weekly meal-planner that has become our lord and master.

THE REGIME knows which days require a 10-minute stir-fry and which days we can manage a 30 minute oven job.  THE REGIME requires matching Ocado orders every weekend and knows what we already have in the freezer.  THE REGIME frowns upon the parent who forgets to check it before work and thus fails to defrost the salmon. It’s been over a month now and there have been no uprisings against THE REGIME. It is proving to be a strict but benevolent leader.

The kids also have a REGIME in the form of listed chores for each child.

Boy’s daily tasks are:
– Make bed each morning
– Feed the cats before and after school
– Set the table for dinner
– Clean the place mats and table after dinner
– Hoover the flat (only at weekends)

I might teach him the art of good dishwasher loading next.

Girl’s tasks are more symbolic than useful:
– Make bed (poorly) each morning
– Crawl under the table after dinner and pick up all of the dropped peas
– “Help” mummy to pair socks and sort knickers (she loves this job)

Happiness, when you are three, is a multi-pack of Princess kickers. That and new shoes. When I told the girl that I’d ordered her some new shoes and wellies she went completely rigid and balled up her fists and literally shook with glee for 5 seconds before she could speak.

The reaction to my knitted Weasley jumpers was a tad less gleeful.  I finished Hubble’s jumper ages ago and she likes it but it only just fits.  It was then a slog and a half to finish the boy’s one (second jumper syndrome).  I finally finished it last weekend and his immediate reaction was “it’s itchy!

Er… yes, it is. I can’t deny it.  That yarn was a terrible aberration in my stash.  I’m going to try and soften it with fabric conditioner and then I’ll force him to wear it with long t-shirt sleeves underneath. Bah.  Pics later. My newly cast-on project is a Hubble hat made of gorgeous extra fine merino and I’ve remembered why I was a  yarn snob in the first place.

In other news, the boy dropped the big Father C Question over dinner the other day, right in front of Hubble. One of his little pals at school is quite a scientific sort of child and has been telling everyone in no uncertain terms “there’s no such thing as Father Christmas or the tooth fairy. It’s complete nonsense and the presents are all from your parents“.  So boy looked me in the eye and asked outright for the truth. You’d think G and I would have had time by now to come up with a prepared answer for this – but, er, we didn’t.  We sat there like rabbits in headlights, making indistinct noises and muttering “Well, what do YOU think?

G eventually saved the day by saying “Anyone who doesn’t believe in Father Christmas needn’t hang up their stocking on Christmas Eve“.  That seemed to draw an end to things but I’m certain he’ll ask again and I’m still no wiser as to what my answer will be.

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Accio wine

IT IS THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS!

I’ve been counting down the packed lunches in anticipation of the joy of next week, when I’ll only have to get one child ready in the morning and won’t care about the non-urgent laundry piles or whether we have sliced ham in the fridge or whether boy has done his homework.

Glee!

I’ve been warned that next year is when parents everywhere will be rapidly Googling “modal verbs” and “frontal adverbials”.  For now I simply look forward to 6 weeks without anyone bellowing “SHOES!!!” on loop at 8:45am.  And not having to run the daily dog gauntlet outside school, which involves boy being forcibly extricated from a wall of hounds and hurled through the school gates. I swear – the sillier the dog, the more impossible it is to keep the boy moving. And there are a lot of silly dogs in SW London. He goes into complete meltdown before pugs, whippets and chihuahuas.  (For full disclosure,  we only just made it on time yesterday after I was unable to walk past a spaniel puppy.)

Girl is going to continue at nursery over the summer, apart from when we’re on hol.  G’s sanity demands it as he’s doing most of the summer childcare.  I weep a little when I remember that we’ve still got another year and a bit of nursery fees but we might as well revel in the ten-hour childcare while it lasts.

As if she wasn’t already enough of a handful, the girl has reached the age of sass, in which she retorts back at you whatever you say.   “No, Mummy – YOU’RE a naughty girl!”  *sigh*  I am getting her a t-shirt with ‘though she be but little, she is fierce‘ printed on it.

Pottermania has reappeared in our house this month after boy finally badgered me into reading ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban‘ to him.  My vague noises about waiting another year were pathetic, really, because I have no willpower whatsoever.

We’re just getting to the really exciting parts near the end – it’s so long since I read it I can’t remember the detail of the Voldy bits but it hasn’t proven to be too scary so far. Boy is very excited by the quidditch and doesn’t seem overly traumatised by the dementors. I’d forgotten how funny it was – we were both laughing out loud at the part when the marauder’s map was being rude to Snape.

I’m pretty sure this is where we’ll stop because the next book is likely to go totally over his head. I seem to recall a lot of teenage flirting and secondary school angst.  (I wonder what goes through the heads of  6 year olds who’ve read all of the Potter books.)

Meanwhile little Luna Lovegood still has all this to come…  bless.  She’s currently obsessed with the Mr Men books and managed to insult a visiting neighbour last weekend by pointing at him and saying “You’re Mr Small!”   (Pot, meet Kettle.)

Earlier this week the boy entered a reverie of nostalgia when he happened upon an old playlist of Italian kids’ songs on Youtube that he used to be obsessed with.  “Mummy! Do you remember when I was little?  I used to love these!!”  (I swear it is 8 seconds since he was last playing them on loop).

So we all had to relive the joy of  ‘Mi scappa la pi pi‘ (about a small child who needs a wee at the worst possible times).  And ‘Gatto Nero‘ and  ‘Il coccodrillo come fa‘ (croc version of ‘what does the fox say’).  Unfortunately, if you leave this playlist unattended, Youtube eventually finds its way to this crazy racist children’s song which looks like something from the Jim Crow Museum, c1920.  The perils of the internet.

He’s been at a celebratory sleepover last night with one of his school besties.  As a result the flat was strangely quiet this morning and G and I got an unexpected lie in until 9am.  (When we eventually surfaced we discovered that Hubble had stealthed into the kitchen and was sitting up on the surface with the reward sweetie jar, stuffing jelly tots into her mouth).  Her reaction to being caught was a look of triumphant glee as she waved the now-empty jar.  Shame is simply not a word in her vocabulary.

Well, I suppose that’s enough of my empty rambles.  This duvet day won’t see to itself…

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A post in which I get excited about booklights

I’ve been meaning to post this little fly-by for my book-loving pals (if that’s not you. look away now, there’s nothing to see here.)  I’m only going to ramble on for 5 mins about my mini-obsession with book-shaped reading lamps…

The love affair started with this one that Jimmy and I ordered online for Father’s Day. We customised it to look like his favourite book and it’s about the size of a smallish hardback. I like it so much I’m tempted to get one for my side of the bed…  if only I could decide on a title.

The light is a warm white and you can open it just a crack to get a little bit of light, or wider to get a brighter, concertina type effect.

G’s only complaint is that the charging socket is in an annoying place, along the bottom edge.  If they’d put it at the back of the book we could treat it like an in-situ bedside lamp and leave it plugged in the whole time with the book propped up. As it is we have to lie the book down while it’s charging.  (No idea how long it goes between charges as it’s still quite new.)

The kids don’t know it yet but they’re each getting a mini spell book version for Xmas.  The mini ones are sized for little kids’ hands and they glow in different colours, which you change by opening and closing the book. My photo doesn’t show it clearly but the one on the left is actually navy blue – the other is purple.

They’re pretty cute and I’m sure the kids’ll like them, though I don’t think the print quality on these covers is as high quality as the Penguin-lookalike.  The purple one definitely looks better than the blue one (sorry boybot!) but god knows how long it’ll survive once it gets Hubbled.

Not that I’m obsessed or anything, I made a couple of tiny vids to show them opening and closing (you’ll have to forgive my grainy old phone cam).

Here’s a link to the Penguin-looking one and here’s the mini spell book.  The prices seem to change by the week (I have a feeling they’re being imported from the US and the UK company hasn’t yet worked out how much to charge.)

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Hey little sister

What is this? Two blog posts in one week?  It must be football season. Normal lack of service will be resumed imminently.

It is the golden hour, when children have been dispatched to bed and I am not yet asleep in my chair.  The hour when G and I usually attempt to chug wine and watch unsuitable telly, in the vain hope that we won’t be visited by children claiming to have run out of water / injured themselves with a book / fallen out of bed, etc.

Any child who stays in bed and remains silent gets to put a star in a jar the next morning. Ideally they’d be lying motionless, reciting their times tables and reading educational books …but we are realists. As long as they remain quiet and elsewhere, that’s good enough for a star.

This system started out quite well but is being eroded slowly by sibling rivalry and pro-active star-thwarting.  Cue voices drifting down the stairs:

“Mummyyy, James is not in bed!”
“Mummyyy, the only reason I’m not in bed is Matilda pulled my covers off!”

“Mummyyy, Matilda spilled water on my bed again!”
“Mummyyy, James is not letting me cuddle Mario!”

“Mummyyy, James is playing with a balloon!”
“Mummyyy, Matilda gave me a balloon on purpose, to stop me from getting a  star!”

Oh, for the love of Netflix!

And then, when they finally tire of being horrors to one another, I hear their sleepy voices  saying  “I love you” before they fall asleep. The mind boggles.

In other boggling news, the boy has earned a new karate belt this week.  (To quote a fellow mum, this is “Karate” in the loosest possible sense.) I attended a grading once and there was very little evidence of “wax on, wax off“. The reality looked more like expressive dance for the under 10s, in which the children earned belts by flailing in roughly the right direction or by waggling their bottoms up and down in an interpretative form of press-ups. The teacher also seems to have invented extra belts, with striped ones to be earned in-between the real belts. (I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that there’s a fee every time they go up a belt).

Most weeks they finish their class with a game of dodgeball and boy is surprisingly good at this, having the body mass of a piece of string. I usually peer through the window at pick-up time and witness him dancing flamboyantly around the room with his karate suit gaping open to the waist. It’s only a matter of time before I send him in with “marry me” scrawled across his concave chest.

In girl news, her glued-together forehead seems to have healed ok. We’re still waiting for the glue to fall off and then we’ll see whether there’s a scar.  It currently looks like a tiny patch of bird poo.

Bless my gung-ho little monster – she is supremely unbothered by all of this and remains twice the daredevil her brother was at that age. I predict many injuries ahead.

My favourite Hubbleism of the week is this: “Daddy, when I’m big I’m going to be an idiot!”  

That’s my girl.

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Whistle and I will come to thee

Oh joy and jubilation!  The birthdays are over!

I swear this year’s birthday season went on for ever, due to endless postponements and delayed parties (which somehow still happened despite all of my best party avoidance tactics).

It started with G’s birthday in May. Here I discovered my new secret weapon in the form of Betty Crocker devil’s food cake mix (topped with toy cybermen and a light-up tardis). I shall never bother measuring out flour again.

Then, back-to-back, came Hubblemas.  This occasion enabled the girl to double her army of sinister naked dolls.  I think a few local dogs may have been deafened during the opening of these.

Tilly’s cake was a “decorate your own” one from Waitrose which was a bit meh and nowhere near as nice as Betty. Luckily all she cared about was getting her hands on the Little Mermaid swag on top.

The girlbot’s party happened a couple of weeks later and involved taking 6 tiny children to see ‘What The Ladybird Heard‘ at The Rose theatre, followed by lunch at Zizzi. This is my idea of a DREAM children’s party. Only 6 children and none of it happening at my house. Perfect!

Then we had a momentary lull until mid June, when Father’s Day did its usual trick of sneaking up in the same week as the boy’s birthday. Both were postponed again to allow for G’s work trips (apologies for any delayed thank-yous)I wheeled out Betty Crocker again for the boy’s cake – a very nice lemon cake – and Hubble helped me to decorate it.

At long last the boy’s party finally happened yesterday.  Thanks to the weather this was a simple affair – no entertainers, just a picnic in the park with outdoor games and races …and a surprising performance from G. I swear I never suspected that G had a PE teacher inside him (I know nothing about his school days).

What happens when you give a man a whistle?*  He somehow had the entire horde under control for an hour or more, with teams and relays and everything. He was duly rewarded with beer when it was all over.

Boy excelled himself at the three legged race. Heaven help the child who ends up strapped to the leg of Captain Amble on Sports Day.

Now it’s all over (hooray!) and I can go back to being a feckless, idle recluse. And G’s trips are all done for the year, so now I’m just counting the days until school breaks up and we can have six whole weeks devoid of homework, uniform, packed lunches and school drop offs. Bring it on!

* G threatened to use the whistle 0n me this morning to get me out of bed. It is now in the bin.

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Revolting children

Good evening WordPress!  Long time no blog, etc…

I’ve been on single parent duty for the last week or so, and it has all gone surprisingly smoothly, notwithstanding the occasional moment of justifiable parent rage.   My only major failing in G’s absence is forgetting to put the milk bottles out every single day. Clearly this is man’s work.  The milkman’s in for a bit of a shock when G gets back and deposits 36 empty bottles on the doorstep.

We get the manbeast back tomorrow for a 24-hour laundry interlude between trips. Boy and I will have to pause our diet of unrelenting showtunes and allow dadmusic back on Spotify.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve thoroughly indoctrinated Thing 1, to the extent that he forced his last two playdates to listen to the soundtracks of ‘Matilda’ and ‘Oliver!’ on loop. I suspect the next poor soul will be subjected to ‘The Greatest Showman’.  Thing 2 is also in the early stages of showtune indoctrination, though this is not aided by boy and me singing “How do you solve a problem like Matilda?” at her for days on end.

Answers to that on a postcard, please.

Last bank hol weekend it was baking hot and I decided to take them both to Kew Gardens for the day. After the eternity spent preparing a picnic and making sure everyone was fed, dressed, sun-blocked and devoid of wee-wee, we finally left the house… only to discover a mountain of toys and bric-a-brac lying on our front pathway and in our downstairs neighbours’ garden. (Thank god The Complainers moved out – our current neighbours are delightfully conflict-averse, no matter how much abuse we subject them to.)

It turned out that Hubble had used 20 mins of “quiet time” to throw miscellaneous things out of the living room window.  I had to send the boy back upstairs to poke socks and books off the porch roof with an umbrella, in order to retrieve them and get it all back indoors before heading to Kew.  I swear if it weren’t for the daily sight of her edible little legs in ankle socks, I’d have sold her by now – for a lot less than seven guineas.

But at least there are moments like this…

And Kew was glorious! Behold another photo of my fake Instagram life…

In book news, the boy has suddenly – overnight – discovered the joy of reading fiction. It’s all thanks to Julian Clary.

Getting him to read his school books every week is like pulling teeth. And, no matter how gripped he is by the cliffhanger in whatever bedtime story we’re reading aloud, he rarely feels the urge to carry on and read another chapter by himself after I’ve left.  The books that he reads for genuine pleasure are usually animal fact books and joke books and I take the *thunk* of an encyclopaedic tome hitting the ground as my cue to go up and turn off the reading light.

But, last week, we won a copy of the latest ‘Bolds‘ book by Julian Clary and I’ve never seen such fevered enthusiasm.  I read the first couple of chapters aloud, after which he rocketed through the remaining 24 chapters by himself in about 2 days.  He’s now gone back to the earlier books in the series to re-read these to himself (and to shout Mr Bold’s jokes endlessly downstairs from bed). He even turned his back on the telly during Eurovision’s finest to read more Bolds. I am delighted!

Meanwhile I’ve started reading ‘My Naughty Little Sister‘ to Hubble and I can tell that she’s feeling extremely conflicted about it.  Every story is a litany of Hubble-like disobedience and mischief, interspersed with commentary like “Wasn’t she a naughty little girl? ” and “You would never do something like that, would you?” and she stares up into my face with intense suspicion, radiating an air of She sounds like my kind of girl! and I *know* what you’re up to!

As she has no idea of dates we’ve decide to postpone her birthday by a week so that G can be home for it. Her wish list this year has included rather a lot of dolls and ballerina-related things. I swear this isn’t nurture… though I must confess it has been a secret lifelong ambition of mine to buy a pair of ballet slippers for my imaginary daughter, so I was delighted when the real one actually asked for some.

Meanwhile she’s accumulating an ever-growing army of sinister plastic “babies” with mad hair, whose sole purpose is to lie around naked and to stare at me from unexpected places, late at night.

G is also away for his own birthday so we’re postponing that one too. We shall celebrate double fake birthdays next bank hol weekend.  As usual, I have no idea what to recommend when people ask me what he wants, but booze in general seems to be a splendid choice.

Last year I bought him a Heywood Hill book subscription which, if I’m honest, is not the most economical way to buy books, but it’s very nice to get a gift-wrapped book sent to you every month, each of which has been carefully selected by a bookish human based on your specified tastes. I think think they did really well in choosing for G.  Once or twice he was sent a book that he’d already read (a risk) but they surprised him quite often with something apt that he’d not thought of. And, on several occasions, he had to rapidly remove a book from his Amazon wish list after it turned up in the post from Heywood Hill.

I wonder if there is a Heywood Hill equivalent for beer or dadmusic… or identical black t-shirts.

Well that’s probably enough rambling for now.  I need to go and post the children into bed as rapidly as possible, so that I can cram in 2 eps of Line of Duty before falling asleep in my chair…

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Riddikulus!

Seriously…  this hairdo came in a box labelled “Draco Malfoy wig”.  I demand my £7 back.

All hail the joyous annual spectre of World Book Day.

I know it’s still over a week away but I was actually feeling quite smug and prepared for WBD this year because girl has forgotten that she went as Red Riding Hood last year (hooray for re-use!) and boy has a Harry Potter costume that he’s only worn once.  But…  balls to that.  The school has issued an irritating announcement that the children have to dress up as villains this year. Grr!

Hence I have endured a daily haranguing from the boy for a Draco Malfoy outfit.  I can’t convince him otherwise, despite the fact that he is the living embodiment of Harry Potter.  The only way this small, skinny oik with dark, sticking-up hair is going to look like Malfoy is if someone can brew me some emergency polyjuice potion.

Bring on the Doris Day wig.

I’ve tried in vain to convince him to go as The Trunchbull, on the basis that she’s always played by a man on stage. Does nobody share my desire to stride around all day calling small children squirming worms of vomit?

Oh, sigh.  Never mind that I DO NOT HAVE TIME for this.

As for Hubblepot, I have her red cape and basket at the ready. My only task is to avoid putting other ideas into her head.  (I will also avoid last year’s insane whimsy of putting delicious treats in the basket. What in god’s name was I thinking?)

She’s as adorable and feral as ever.  It feels like 5 mins since she joined the toddler room at nursery but she’s just been bumped up to the preschool room. According to nursery, she is a lovely, caring and empathetic girl.  The biting is ancient history.  In other words, she has decided to keep EVIL as a weekend hobby.

G and I are torn on a daily basis between bellowing and guffawing at her flagrant deeds. Even as I type, I can hear the aftermath of her throwing a book at her brother’s head upstairs.  And it takes a stronger poker face than mine to tell her off for pulling the boy’s chair out from behind him and laughing when he lands on his bum.

Occasionally G and I like to imagine how they’d fare in the apocalypse. Suffice to say we give it 1 week before the girl has eaten her brother, enslaved her parents and foraged all edible goods from the neighbourhood.  Bless.

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