Monday, 31 December 2012

So What Cha Want?

On the Party Times blog it posed the question "What does 2013 hold in store for you and your family?".  My reply was that I didn't know, but hoped for health, happiness, and laughter.  As I don't normally make New Year's Resolutions there aren't any particular goals beyond not forgetting things like birthdays and deadlines, and booking our holiday far enough in advance that we have at least some choice of rain-soaked destinations from which to spend a week dodging showers and going to agricultural-based theme parks (Big Sheep or Farmer Palmer's anyone?).   Looking to the very long-term I feel certain about what I hope for, and am working towards, and on a day-to-day basis - well there's the 'Gruffalo Family Calendar' and the magic of Outlook to make sure that no balls are dropped or bills are missed but the coming year?  Hadn't given it much thought, until now.  So here goes, this is what I'd like:

If it ain't on here -
it ain't happening!

  • Laughter, loads of it, specifically of the 'tears streaming down face' variety
  • That our son and daughter continue to thoroughly enjoy pre-school and school and that they have lots of opportunities to be silly, funny, and carefree
  • That friends and family who have had bad health in 2012, have better health, or at least some respite from all the prodding, poking, and pills
  • That I've got my sums and savings right, and don't wind up with a massive tax 'surprise'
  • That we have enough money to enjoy ourselves
  • That we make the time to see more of the friends that make us feel happy, positive, and energised
  • That I come across a song that makes my hair stand on end.  A good example would be 'Welcome to the Jungle'.  It seems to set off some kind of primordial response in me.  Doesn't matter where I am - it's guaranteed to make me stop and empty my mind of everything except the sound of Slash's guitar riff.  I feel like I should climb up onto a rock and howl at the moon.  Spooky.
  • That I don't miss a massive hair growing in the middle of my face.  Like I did this year.  Sorry to mention such unseemly things but it was a uniquely alarming moment - how did I not see it growing?  After consulting with friends we are agreed it is something that really kicks in once you've passed thirty-five. Much closer attention will be being paid in 2013.
  • That on balance, we'll be able to look back and say 'it was a good year'.

So that's it, there's my list.  How about yours?  What cha want?

Soundtrack:  So What Cha Want by Beastie Boys

Saturday, 29 December 2012

I Believe in Father Christmas

Belief is a funny thing, a personal thing, and one that is thrown into sharp relief at this time of year.  Families that don't believe in God attend crib services and become teary-eyed on hearing 'Little Donkey', committed aetheists can be cajoled into putting their bum on a freezing cold pew for Midnight Mass, and everyone over the age of twelve pretends for the sake of the little ones that a jolly man in a red suit zips around the world on a sleigh pulled by animals devoid of wings to deliver their presents.  Factor in that our daughter lost a tooth two weeks before Christmas and we have had a festive season packed full of myth and make believe.

Our most magical moment came this year when we put the children's letter to Father Christmas in the fireplace.  Carefully written by our six-year-old and placed in the grate by our four-year-old, they mused on how it would reach Santa and whether we had left it too late (it was the week before, they had a point).  I don't know what distracted them but, for a moment, they looked away and by some incredible fluke, I managed to flick the envelope up the chimney where it caught on something and held fast (and still is - must remember to get it out before it comes back down, it would rather give the game away or make them think he didn't want their letter and I'm not sure we have enough tissues to deal with the flood of tears that would cause...).  I managed to stand up before the children turned around to see the letter had gone, but couldn't quite arrange my features to disguise my surprise at overcoming my left-handed lack of co-ordination in such an impressive way.  The look on their faces was priceless, and I think they took my open-mouth / raised eyebrows combo as confirmation that there was indeed magic afoot.  Eat your heart out David Blaine!

Christmas Dust. 
When porridge oats and glitter become one.

I know at some point they're going to rumble us, and that we'll have to confess to the staging, secrecy, and hiding of presents in ever more hard-to-reach places but on the basis of that one reaction, we're going to keep it going for as long as we can.  I wonder what the going rate is to hire a reindeer for next year........? 

Soundtrack: I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I Can't Get No Sleep

One of my friends had a beautiful baby girl a few weeks ago and recently posted the following on her Facebook page:

It made me remember how you don't appreciate just how brilliant sleep is until you are deprived of it over an extended period of time.  For us, it was brought home very suddenly and forcefully when our daughter was born and of all the things that we thought we were prepared for, going without sleep wasn't one of them .  The change from being able to make up for getting in at 3am by staying in bed until 2pm to being woken every two hours to then stay up feeding for an hour is pretty challenging and more than a little mood-altering.  I am not ashamed to admit there were more than a couple of dark moments mixed in with the joy of our new arrival.

I was counselled by friends and relatives to 'sleep when the baby sleeps' and, of course, completely ignored it because I was going to 'carry on as normal'.  I scheduled myself silly but when it got to the point that I got lost on the way back from a hospital appointment (in the village where our daughter was born of all places) and had to call my husband to direct me home I knew that I had to listen to what these smart ladies (and my body) were saying.

Sometimes we need a reminder that there are times our body needs to rest for very good reason.  Times when we should switch off the phone, the pc, the outside world.  My reminder was in the form of going round in circles in Wallingford for twenty minutes feeling like I had lost the plot.  For other friends it was crying in the supermarket, being reminded by a bus driver that they needed to take their baby with them when they got off the bus and for some ticking 'those' boxes on the questionnaire you fill out at your six week check-up with the midwife. 

But this is 'Reasons to be Cheerful' and so I will end with another, happier, reminder.  It was the joy of waking up after a delicious two hour nap that was gifted to me by my friend Nimisha when my daughter was about two months old.  She arrived with a box full of home made Indian sweets rich in sugar and condensed milk to recharge my depleted energy levels then joined forces with my mother-in-law to send me to bed while they looked after the baby.  It was exactly what I needed and absolutely priceless. 

So if you're wondering what to give a new parent for Christmas, give them the best gift of all - some sleep :)

Soundtrack: Insomnia by Faithless

Thursday, 13 December 2012

I Want to Run

Well-travelled and well-worn, a bit like their owner!
Oh running, where would I be without you?  This morning I was greeted by a beautiful frosty-fringed scene and pure clean air.  For someone who loves the combination of this kind of weather and a canter through the countryside, it was like catnip: I did the school run and then went for a run.

For most of us our first encounter with running is an enforced cross-country trek in t-shirt and shorts while being barked at by your PE teacher and prevented from dawdling by another teacher at the rear.  For me this meant a red-faced, stinging-thighed, chest-flapping experience.  As we were more concerned about fashion than correct sportswear, we wore plimsolls instead of good trainers, Top Shop bra-tops instead of sports bras and character t-shirts instead of anything that would keep us vaguely warm.  It was a terrible combination and not something that inspired many of us to carry on.

But carry on (and off) I did. I joined the local athletics club and after coming last in every race I was entered into, I was put in the walking race.  That's right - the walking race! Where you must walk fast, but not run, forcing you to waddle like a Pearly King with his thumbs in his braces dancing to 'My Old Man's a Dustman'.  It is a terrible look, a terrible 'sport', and I came second to last because someone else had to pull out due to injury.  Not a natural sports woman but not to be undeterred by this lack of prowess in the competitive arena, I decided to try to keep fit with a friend who, like me, mistook her teenage curves (that we would kill for today) to be lard, by running with binliners under our t-shirts because we knew that was what boxers did.  We didn't develop six-packs, we just got sweaty.  And rustly.  We looked and sounded silly, so we stopped.

I decided from there on in to stick to the gym, generally going at silly-o-clock in the morning for an hour with an ex-Army PT instructor who had decided what he really wanted to do was shout at out of shape office workers.  And then my mum had heart failure and I thought I'd give running another go by signing up to do the Reading Half-Marathon, partly to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, partly to help counterbalance the amount of curry and beer I was enjoying at the time, and partly to hopefully reduce the chances of it happening to me.  Nothing like the prospect of having to run 13.1 miles to force you out into the elements with (very importantly) the right footwear and undergarments.  Once I'd run my first mile without having to stop I was hooked.  I don't think I'd quite appreciated how good it would feel.

That's not to say it doesn't have its drawbacks: I've lost toenails, got lost, fallen over, fallen into a bog whilst trying to 'guess' a route through some woods next to the Kennet & Avon canal, had to run with the equivalent of a snail trail on my running tights after mis-calculating a spit (sorry), been bitten on the backside by a dog called Billy, had upset stomachs, headaches, and farted in front of a fellow runner - hard to hold in a trouser cough when in motion (apologies again but sometimes your body doesn't 'do' polite).  I've developed blisters, chillblains, almost fainted from dehydration and am now addicted to glucosameine to try to combat the clicking noise that my hips make but I will keep doing it because I've found nothing that beats the mind-clearing, freedom-bringing, good to be alive feeling that comes with a nice long run.  Think I might go for another tomorrow....

Soundtrack:  Where the Streets Have No Name - U2

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Sweet Child O' Mine

During the course of a pre-Christmas clear-out I came across a box containing the tiny wrist bands the children were issued with when they were born; little strips of plastic containing a lot of important information.  Along with the relief that I will always have a record of precisely what time they were born (I confess I don't remember - a bit busy experiencing the 'special' sensation that comes with childbirth - first time - and thinking "oh no!  I remember this part and it's really horrible!" - second time - to check my watch), was that they read 'baby of Toni Kent'.   

So fast were the tags put on that their names were not recorded - and after all those months poring over name books and negotiating!  They just 'belong' to their mother and exist as nothing else officially until you visit the registrar and hope that they don't make a mistake and register your little boy as 'Sue' or your little girl as 'Frank'. 

Then come the family tours and the visits to work which boost the spirits and make you long to return and where nobody complains if the baby farts loudly or vomits on their black suit and instead they congratulate you on managing to hold it together for long enough to get out of the house (even if you did have a little cry in the car, and another one in the loos, and you might have one on the way home) and how you've 'sprung back into shape' when in fact you have rolled your stomach up and stuffed it into a pair of control knickers.  They might also remark on how much your offspring looks like you.  Or not in my case, but that's ok, at least they won't ever be greeted with "ooh don't you look like your mum!" - I've yet to meet an adult that feels 100% happy with that 'compliment'.

And as the children grow they are testing boundaries and asserting themselves in ways that we hadn't predicted would happen so soon.  Conversations at the dinner table switch from what happens after you've swallowed your food to what happens after you die, to precisely how old Yoda is.  It is like being in constant preparation for a general knowledge quiz..and they don't always agree with, or accept our answers.   

Refusals of some kind happen on a daily basis: having their hair brushed, wearing something that looks vaguely smart (even weather-appropriate would do - our son wears shorts almost without exception), doing homework, and sometimes we are not even permitted to hold our daughter's hand on the walk to school.  At each turn we try to hide our frustration or sadness in the hope that they might do what we want or would like.  Behaviour can be encouraged or resolved with a trip to the reward chart or the threat of pocket money deductions but on things like their opinion on what they wear or whether they feel like holding our hand we know we have to let them make their own decisions - we are kidding ourselves if we think we're in charge!  Each day sees their personalities building and each year brings more independence of action and thought.  They are growing up, and away.

We carry them round and cuddle them tight calling them 'mine' and 'ours', take endless photos and videos and post status updates on their achievements, but they might grow up to be embarrassed by this, by us, and our delight in the minutae of their youth.  Remember the shame of your mum getting the baby photos out in front of your boyfriend or girlfriend?  The school photos that were all over the living room wall charting the never ending horror of the home-cut fringe?  I like to look at them now but it's safe to say that my teenage self would have been quite happy for none to have existed as I strained at the leash to establish myself as appearing completely unrelated to my family.

Much as we love our children and give them everything we think they need it's likely that at some point they're going to think we're cramping their style or being frankly rubbish parents.  So I will try to see these little disagreements and differences of opinions as reasons to celebrate their individuality, be happy that they are building their own personality and hope that we are laying the right foundations for confident, independent, healthy, happy little people to grow up and away (whilst secretly holding on to the hope that they will let us hug them tight and call them silly names well into their twenties!).

Soundtrack: Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N Roses

Saturday, 1 December 2012

I Read the News Today; Oh Boy.....

Not currently part of the
Key Stage 1 curriculum
(c) Private Eye
In the week that Lord Leveson released his report on press regulation and the media is awash with comment and opinion on a Free Press; our daughter has become a Free Reader.

To be a 'Free Reader' is a much coveted title at school; it means that you no longer have to follow a colour-coded reading book programme but can instead select any book that you like from the school library.  We are justly proud of our daughter, and delighted with her teachers.

Her confidence increased, she has taken to reading anything that she can see, whether it's intended for her or not.  As a result, she has given us cause to reconsider where we leave our reading material more than once this week. 

It began with her asking us who the man on the front of Private Eye was, then reading aloud the contents of his speech bubble.  She was disappointed to discover that the 'cover star' Lord Leveson is not related to Father Christmas because his outfit 'looks almost the same'.  It's a fair point but as interested as she was, we're not entirely sure she's ready for political critique and satire and so we've put it out of her reach.

(c) Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty
This was followed by our son pointing out that there was a picture in the paper of 'Mary and Joseph'.  It was, in fact, an image of three Afghanistani women.  Taken on its own, it is a funny and understandable mistake for a child to make but for the fact that the accompanying story was about the murder of a young girl for refusing an arranged marriage.  Our daughter wanted to read the story.  Another paper gets put out of the way.

So we have agreed to make sure that we put anything that's not for little eyes out of sight and we think that we're doing ok.  And then I go to a shop in a nearby village where there is apparently great demand for 'adult' magazines.  I don't know what the legislation is on front covers at this point in time but apparently as long as there are stars over a woman's nipples then it is fine for it to be in plain view; even if she is attempting to lick the star off or is pointing at another part of her constellation-covered anatomy.  

As a child, The Sun was the favoured daily paper of my parents so rarely a day passed where I didn't see which 'lovely' had her baps out for the delectation of the British public.  There was also always a stash of 'dirty magazines' left in the local woods (with the internet not yet invented people took to the wilds with nothing but a magazine, a hanky and a furtive look) so I did not grow up unaware of quite how fascinating the female form is to so many, but I don't want it for my children.  You could argue that the magazines are out of their line of sight but that is to assume that they never look up or around them and that is also to assume that they cannot read.  For whilst the woman's breasts came with the requisite stars, her bottom half was concealed by the legend: "Footy Fanny!"  There is a part of me that wants to guffaw at its absolute shabbiness but as a mother I am appalled that a shop in the middle of a housing estate, and next to a nursery, is putting magazines like this just one display away from CBeebies magazine.  Thankfully our daughter didn't get the opportunity to look in that direction, she was too busy being led away with me muttering something about "they've run out of sweets"....

I remember hearing a woman who had not learned to read until adulthood say during an interview that it had been like someone turning up the volume on the world.  Whilst up until that point she had plenty of spoken conversation; the wording on signs, in papers, on the sides of vans, cars and buses, and the back of tins and packets had always been silent to her.  After learning to read she felt they were shouting out to grab her attention, crowding her brain with messages and urging her to read more.  This is how it is now for our little free reader, and it's our responsibility to make sure as far as possible, it's only the good stuff that gets heard. 

Soundtrack:  A Day in the Life - Neil Young, Live at Glastonbury 2009.  Makes my hair stand on end this one.