The truth about the summer ‘holidays’…

So there we were enjoying a family afternoon out at the much-anticipated farm park.

We’d read all about the two large play barns, copious soft play, café with decent (and compulsory) cake selection and packed daily schedule of activities.

You can just picture the tranquil scene…

After hubby checking his much-loved rain radar website (I’m saying nothing) I’d been assured that those pesky TV weather people were ‘completely wrong’ and the predicted torrential downpours would have cleared away hours before we were due to head out.

So of course following a relaxing car journey of constant bickering (us) and kicking and screaming (them) we arrived to hammering rain-drops, hair slowly frizzing itself into a pudding bowl and hours of sodden fun ahead of us.

Having initially headed in separate directions with one child each, Blue-eyed boy and I spent the best part of an hour trying to find the other half of the family with me getting more and more drenched and he having a whale of time kicking his legs and shouting his approval safe and dry under the buggy rain cover.

Once we did catch them up Mini-me delighted in taking me on several tours of the tarantula house where I revelled in the fact that I’d paid £15 to be separated from my greatest fear by thin sheets of glass in near total darkness.

Then hubby and I watched open-mouthed as some poor mum tried to deal with her children having simultaneous panic attacks after they’d somehow locked themselves in the lift, while two engineers worked frantically to free them.

And the final insult? The café, if it can call itself that, told us they had stopped serving toasted tea cakes more than an hour before closing because: ‘We’ve already cleaned up…’

Ah six weeks of summer holidays. The time of year that can warm the cockles of your heart and also drive you to almost leaving your spouse on a daily basis.

And it’s not as if I can yet claim to have been fully immersed in the whole parental stretch with no child-care. That looms large for next summer.

Yes I probably sound like a right miserable bugger. And yes I do love spending time with my children, and my other half. But I know it’s not just me who will breathe a sigh of relief when the eldest starts school later this week.

Now I do have friends who claim to love every single thing about the summer holidays and planning twice daily outings with their offspring over more than six weeks.

They embrace the chance for total, uninterrupted family time without a single minute of peace for themselves. They say they wish the holidays could last ‘for ever.’

Are they, in reality, lying to me, themselves and having mini hourly breakdowns in the loo I ask myself? Or is it actually possible to not occasionally count down until those precious few hours a week you get to yourself when the kids are ‘spoken for’?

If so it is a parental skill I have yet to master.

I have oodles of sepia-tinged memories to look back on and treasure this summer.

Strolling down Southend Pier in the sunshine and watching Mini-me playing on the beach, celebrating my dad’s birthday in Chiswick Park (while pretending not to check out Declan Donnelly at the next table) and just enjoying watching my two gorgeous kids become even closer mates than they were already.

But just as Mini-me is so excited about school that she keeps requesting to ‘dress up’ in her uniform, I am excited about a bit of structure coming back into our lives. And a little more time for me to have the freedom to work, read, drink a cup of tea – or even finish a train of thought or an actual sentence.

And that doesn’t make me a bad parent does it? Hopefully just an honest one.

Beware the dreaded ‘three-teens’…

Has anyone seen a three-and-a-half-and-a-bit year old?

Hubby and I seem to have mislaid mini-me you see. Our once always smiling, constantly cute toddler has been replaced by someone else – at least for 50 per cent of the time.

This indignant intruder exhibits behaviour we thought we wouldn’t be dealing with until well into the teenage years and it’s quite disconcerting.

There’s the continual, and I do mean constant, whining, liberal use of the word ‘no!’ often accompanied by comedy foot stamping, frequent screaming when faced with parental decline of ridiculous requests for never-ending snacks and screenings of Frozen at 8pm (Please, spare me!!) and plenty of hands-on-hip scowling with curled bottom lip for full ‘displeased’ effect.

Yes the Neat Freak household would currently be prime fodder for a visit from Supernanny. Although thinking about it she’d probably leave after a hastily slurped cuppa.

It is without doubt joyous to enter your offspring’s bedroom in the morning issuing good mornings and enquiries as to whether they slept well (even though their presence in your bed from 4 to 6am means you know they didn’t) to be greeted by a chorus of charming grunts. And demands as to when breakfast will be served.

Then there’s the heart-warming scenario of going to pick them up from nursery when you’re really looking forward to seeing them and hearing about their day and they run and hide in the corner, before telling you: ‘No Mummy, I want to stay and play.’

Add in an ‘early adolescent’ addiction to the iPad and various other appliances made by a certain famous brand and hubby and I are often to be found scratching our heads as to just how ahead of the behaviour game mini-me actually is.

Mini-me was without doubt a dream baby – slept well, always in a good mood, could be relied upon to sleep through coffee dates, meals out and also baby classes of any and all types.

‘You’ll pay for this later,’ we were often told, but despite occasional hideous tantrums, bizarrely without fail whenever we had to buy her new shoes, mini-me was also on the whole a fairly chilled out toddler.

But then we hit the ‘three-teens’…

Now people tell hubby and I that the current frustrating trend is because she’s so bright, and that feisty, independent and driven at three rising four will equal intelligent, articulate and driven in the secondary school years. (Presuming we haven’t been driven round the bend by then of course!)

Fortunately we don’t seem to be the only family dealing with the three-teens. In fact running around in a circle while issuing ear-piercing shrieks at the same time seems quite a popular hobby amongst mini-me’s little circle.

Also begging parents to order food when out and about and then either refusing to eat it, playing with it or using it as missiles.

Don’t get me wrong the old mini-me frequently resurfaces for periods of time before retreating back into the wheedling and whinging, so hubby and I are hopeful, if not confident, that the three-teens will soon be a thing of the past.

After all doesn’t the fourth birthday issue the arrival of the ‘constantly sunny’ phase?!!

Time to cross those fingers…

The ‘relaxing’ art of eating out with children

Last week some friends and I took the sprogs to our favourite local children’s café to sample lots of caffeine (us) and a spot of African drumming (them).

Yes mini-me, blue-eyed boy and I are very global in our choice of leisure pursuits don’t you know… (Not really, unless you count me shamefully watching Teen Mom 2 on MTV after they’ve gone to bed. Trash-tastic yes, but I maintain great entertainment with the added bonus of making you feel like the world’s best parent!)

Still the drumming sounded like a brilliant idea, something a little different and a good way to wear the rugrats out while we adults, hopefully, got to drink our still-hot beverages and catch up a little. (Otherwise known as having a good old mum moan.)

The trouble was that we’d forgotten that dining out of any description involving pre-school children can and usually does descend into total chaos. You know, of the food flinging, kiddie whinging, baby screaming, exploding nappy variety.

Now add an hour’s worth of percussion into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s anything but relaxing.

As usual my friends and I tried to maintain yelled conversations over the madness whilst wet-wiping various offspring, lifting luke-warm tea out of the path of marauding toddlers, doling out rice cakes to babies and averting potential toy injuries before they happened. I’m tensing up just thinking about it.

Then later we texted each other to say: ‘So nice to see you, sorry we didn’t get the chance to chat properly.’ And the fact is we never really do. In fact, the last time I really caught up with a friend was when Rachel, my pal from Light Monkey Photography came round – and that was only because the sprogs were playing nicely for the cameras!

Still, it doesn’t stop the other halves from casting aspersions on how we spend our days though, you know in those precious few hours between wiping arses, performing numerous household tasks and fitting work in as well.

‘I’d love to stay home and drink coffee with my mates,’ hubby has been known to mutter on various occasions to the soundtrack of me grinding my teeth in frustration.

‘God knows what they think we do at these meetings,’ one of the mum BFFs said in exasperated tones. ‘We ought to install ‘nanny cam’ to reveal the reality.’

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

As a mum I suppose you are just more used to the whole rigmarole of ‘café culture with kids’ so your tolerance level for dirty looks received from other diners and increasing numbness to treat bribery are naturally just higher.

(Incidentally my personal ‘treat equation’ for mini-me has been known to extend to three bags of pom-bears in the quest for good behaviour. Goodness, I do hope Gwyneth ‘mung bean’ Paltrow isn’t reading this – she’s bound to report me!)

Well, parental guru that I am, I say load yourself up with high-carb snacks, chuck some raisins in to make yourself better, and get them grazing.

With any luck you’ll manage to slurp down a cuppa and consume a chocolate biscuit in the space of three seconds and the outing can be declared a success. Hooray!

Never mind the indigestion pains. You’re used to it by now…

What’s in a baby name?

There are many little sparks that can light the tension touch paper when you’re expecting.

After all when you’re waddling around unable to see your feet anymore and coping with back ache, questionable digestion, zero alcohol and ankles the size of Christmas puddings of course any badly timed ‘helpful comments’ from the other half could cause you to blow.

Probably why so many couples end up falling out over which name to pick for their impending arrival then.

Do you opt for something ‘sensible’ or get more creative? Do you decide to take the path of least resistance and opt for a name that runs in the family? Do you accept the fact that as the woman is the one who is actually going to have to push a pot roast through her nostril, so to speak, she should get more say?

Yes selecting names is a controversial business. And according to hubby because he had to ‘put up with me moaning’ for nine months he had just as much say in the matter as yours truly. Fair enough I suppose.

The reason for these ramblings is that babcentre.co.uk has today revealed the most popular 100 baby names of 2014. And if you’re wondering Muhammed and Sophie are the ones topping the charts.

According to the ‘headlines’ Arabic names are on the up, Royal names are on the way down, Eric and Harper are on the rise thanks to Simon Cowell and Brand Beckham and no one wants to name their kid Miley now because of the Cyrus’ evil twerking behaviour.

Unusual names ‘en vogue’ this year include Wren, Genisis, King, Apollo and Braxton. Presumably the latter is reserved for those who’ve experienced phantom labour pains?!

When deciding what to call mini-me and blue-eyed boy, hubby and I weren’t exactly on the same page.

Ever practical, hubby liked to wax lyrical about choosing names that you wouldn’t have to go through life explaining and that you wouldn’t be bullied over. Plus, as he kept saying, in his opinion you don’t name a child on a whim of your own, you choose something they won’t be embarrassed by. One might imagine he’d take the same approach to choosing a fridge…

In fact if Which had customer reviews of names he could possibly have chosen on the basis of that.

I on the other hand made the very grave error of confiding in my mother which names I liked.

Not being backward in coming forward she professed strong opinions on both, said she ‘wasn’t sure’ which got me wobbling over the options, and then by the time I was due to pop said she’d ‘loved them from the start.’

Hmm, never EVER discuss baby name options with your mum.

In the end hubby and I opted for the only names we could actually agree on. At least there were two of them eh – and no we didn’t call our kid Braxton.

Parenting Wars: Battle of the Sexes

There’s a ‘fun’ little game hubby and I never seem to tire of. In fact we often seem to play several rounds in any given day.

You might be familiar with it yourself? It’s what I like to call the ‘my life is harder’ game. Yes, that’s the one.

You know where you’ve barely had a minute to sit down all day, have been dreaming of supping even a semi-lukewarm beverage, and then the moment you’ve finally got the rug rats into bed your other half calls to say he hasn’t had the chance to eat since breakfast and what’s for dinner.

You then proceed to mutter to yourself as you stomp around the kitchen wondering exactly how many tea rounds there were in the office today, whether he enjoyed having time to read something other than the back of a baby food pouch on his commute and cursing the fact there’s bloody football on the telly. Again.

Of course you choose not to recall the fact that hubby had to trudge to work in the pouring rain, that you did get to catch up with a friend (if that’s what you can call a snatched conversation as you try to rescue various offspring from the bacteria-soaked ball pit at soft play) and that other half is babysitting at the weekend so you can go out for a drink.

But that’s a given with parental bickering – especially of the mid-week, getting really knackered now variety – isn’t it? The whole point is that on particularly sleep-deprived, vomit-fuelled days your life is DEFINITELY harder than theirs.

Several bones of contention spring to mind at this point. All of which my mum friends would sincerely back me up on. I know because I’ve done my ‘mum market research’, otherwise known as having a good old bitch over coffee!

Firstly who wrote the rule that as a mum you’re the one person in the family who is never allowed to get sick? Or, if someone actually acknowledges that you have a slight sniffle – usually full-blown flu – as mum you are not entitled to a single snippet of sympathy.

No, your job is simply to get on with it. Or ‘man up’ as hubby so charitably described it the other day.

This when I was recovering from a sickness bug that would proceed to take down everyone we know while coping with both kids and he headed out for a poker night. Hmm, yes he did pay for that one. Mostly with hangover + screaming baby = tough, deal with it sunshine!

Second, the dad misconception that when you meet up with friends, with numerous offspring in tow, that a lovely ‘relaxing’ time is had by all, consuming vast quantities of afternoon tea and debating the news of the day.

To be fair hubby does admit his mistakes here when faced with a coffee shop and a plethora of small people at the weekend, but it’s all conveniently forgotten by Monday.

Third, since when did I say that I was happy to become some kind of housekeeper, chef, dry cleaner and professional ironer? Oh that’s right, it was allegedly a given when I got the first bun in the oven. Having been a career girl since my early 20s it’s only natural that the majority of household tasks should all fall to me.

After all who doesn’t love washing other peoples’ pants and cleaning up poo?!

Yes I like things neat and tidy. Doesn’t mean I clean the kitchen floor for kicks.

Anyway, I realise I sound rather bitter and twisted here. But hey it’s the end of the week and I had three hours sleep last night.

The good thing about the ‘my life is harder’ game is that it usually ends in laughter and an admission that ‘sorry, I’m being a bit of a dick.’ And bickering – of the largely good-natured variety – keeps you both on your toes.

Just don’t expect me to iron you a shirt okay?!

 

Waiting for Farmer Christmas

Do you often find yourself not so much frazzled but deep fried? As a mum with a toddler who should host her own chat show and a seven-month-old baby boy (who for blog purposes I’m going to call ‘mini-me’ and ‘blue-eyed boy’) I frequently find myself either dozing off during conversations or with my nerves totally shot to pieces.

Add to the mix my job as a journalist and copywriter with a slowly-expanding run-from-home business, all the usual house/life type chores, my other half’s hugely stressful career and my increasingly fleeting attempts to still have some sort of social life and it sometimes all boils down to a recipe for disaster. Or mental insanity.

The kind that even an evening with the West Wing’s Josh Lyman can’t even cure.

But often on ‘one of those days’ either mini-me or blue-eyed boy will drop a little gem of sheer, laugh out loud joy into my day – and those are the golden nuggets that make all the constant juggling and frequent bickering matches worthwhile.

So I thought I’d share a few of my little girl’s recent hilarious soundbites. She might only be three but on good days her material could give Michael McIntyre a run for his money. Of course I’m biased!

  •  Whilst racing home from nursery to shoe-horn in blue-eyed boy’s dinner before snack and bath time – and trying not to think about a looming work deadline which could possibly mean working until the early hours – my daughter suddenly piped up about Christmas. She loves it, as do I. But it turns out we may have some explaining to do when it comes to the Nativity.

‘Mummy I know who’s coming down our chimney – Farmer Christmas!’

  • Mini-me is obsessed with our postman and his red van – probably something to do with her fondness for Postman Pat – but it was only recently I discovered she believes that his work schedule is closely linked to the weather, rather than so-called ‘days of rest’.

‘Mummy the postman won’t be coming today. He doesn’t deliver on sunny days…!’

  • Her three-year-old evaluation of her baby brother being little like she once was, and me and her dad recounting tales to entertain her of when she was very small and explaining her baby photos?  ’Mummy, when I get older I am going to get really small like in the olden days.’ 

Clearly we haven’t done a very good job.

Then there are the general ‘one-liners’ that make me chuckle.

‘Mummy I think it’s time for me to have another birthday party.’

‘This is ridiculous Mummy!’ (Add hands on hips and scowl for full effect).

‘I’ve only got one pair of hands Mummy!’ (Hmm, wonder where she got that one…)