Thursday, 19 April 2012

Words, webs and weavings

"Oh, here we are, the waiting unknown..."*

Wow, what a long and busy few weeks. So much has happened, it's hard to know where to start.
I have been writing like a possessed thing - just not here, much to my disgust. 

What's been on my much that my head is overflowing and my thoughts keep getting tangled up and lost. A few strands stand out amongst the muddle...

A wonderful woman I know, a poet and one of those rare people who surrounds you with warmth and inspiration when you're near her, has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. It seems so vastly unfair that such a thing should happen to someone with a head so full of wonderful words and a heart so full of generosity. If wishes were words, this page would be full, just for her. 

The local spiders have been busy. I wonder if they look at their webs of a morning and congratulate themselves on a great work of art completed, or if they just think, 'right then, that's dinner sorted.'

Sadly, my uncle passed away a few weeks ago, and distance reared its ugly head once more - the impossibility of wrapping grieving loved ones in your arms and telling them how sorry you are is a sharp reminder of your position in the world; in more ways than one. 

Our hamster also died, and while it might seem like bathos to mention it here, it was a deep and sorrowful tragedy to my children, for whom it was the first ever taste of death, and who grieved it ferociously for 24 hours. 
It also brought up some interesting quandaries for us, non-religious parents that we are. I was unwilling to suggest to them that their hamster was in heaven; on the other hand, they are taught religious worship at school, and if the older one chose to find comfort there, I wouldn't have dreamed of squashing his beliefs. After the short, tearful funeral, a chimney cap that closely resembles a mushroom was placed above the grave to deter foxes digging up the hamster-laden chocolate box. There has been no mention of heaven, but it is now a fully established belief amongst the children that the hamster lives on in the mushroom. It's my duty to look out the window every night and check that mushroom and inhabitant are still 'okay'. Comfort is a funny old thing, and perhaps our minds will offer it up in any shape that makes sense to us at that moment.

Next on our giant and neverending list of to-dos we have a birthday party, two new family members in the shape of pet rats - sorry, Cysgu the hamster, a child's love can be fickle - and, well, many more random acts of being, I guess...

*Green Day

Friday, 30 March 2012


Are you a panic buyer? Well, stop it. You are the root of the problem. Take what you need, and no more. It's a good philosophy. Besides, 'they' are playing you like a finely tuned violin. Chill.
This public service announcement includes but is not confined to rumours of possible strikes and unexpected snowfalls.

Part of my problem with panic buying is the sheer inconsiderate, greedy, me, me, me  brain pattern people seem to fall into. And inconsiderate behaviour is a big bug bear of mine. Wouldn't we all get by much better if we considered people other than ourselves more often? I bumble about my life, often deep in thought, often chivvying children like a duck leading ducklings, but while I'm no saint (far, so very far from it), I sincerely do try to consider others even in my confused and chaotic meanderings. From simply making way for that other person walking up the pavement, to not ever parking on school and pedestrian crossing zigzags, or in disabled bays or parent and child parking spaces when the kids aren't in the car. I hoik my kids out of the path of other people, and clean up after my dog. Why, really, just why wouldn't you do these things? I don't understand. And thinking about the number of people I see blithely not giving a flying fig about the people around them winds me into a frothing rage. Of course, my neighbour would clear his throat and remind me that we had a bonfire while their washing was out last year, and sometimes park in an annoying manner, so I have to add the caveat that we all have our moments. But really. Tsk.

Does anyone else have huge, glaring problems in their houses that they walk over, around, or past, and never get around to fixing? A floor board in our kitchen has rotted into oblivion, turning the laminate floor above it into a kind of bouncy trampoline affair. Seeing as our kitchen floor is only about 6' x 6', and there is probably a crawl space under there that we could become unexpectedly intimate with, you'd think we'd put aside the time to deal with it. Nope. I step around it and occasionally boing over it, and think 'I really must do something about that.' Two months on, it's still there...I comfort myself by assuming this is normal.

My son did really well at his parents' evening, by the way. In the end three of us turned up to pump his teacher for information. He's well ahead in everything, and I didn't get in trouble for the lack of homework. Just as well, because while we did some last week, I don't think we've handed any in for the entire term. I wonder what my kids will say about my parenting style when they're older: well meaning but absent minded, I'm guessing.

Car boot sale season is on us once again. Hooray! For the Americans out there, this is when people fill their car trunks with loads of stuff they no longer have a use for, drive to a large field at a truly ungodly hour of the morning, open the trunk, and let other people paw through the stuff they've brought. Things sell for less than a fiver usually, so it's bargaintastic. We love car boots, though we're so lazy and disorganised we usually land a good two hours after opening (at least) and have to make do with the left overs. But the kids can come home with five or six new to them toys for a measly £1, so when they've been pestering for something new, what's not to like? Plus the books - oh, the books. So many books...
And on the subject of books I shall leave you, smiling contentedly.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Celebratory happenings

It's all about birthdays in my household at the moment. I just had one, and was fed a fabulous breakfast of pain au chocolat and chocolate chip brioche, given lots of baking goodies, bought a trampoline, and  - what? I know, it wasn't for me - surrounded myself with my best friends, who treated me like someone completely and utterly special, which reminded me how lucky I am to have them #proudtobeoneoftheseven

At the end of next month it is my son's turn (he'll be 7!) and his thoughts have already turned to massive Nerf gun battles with his guests and what shape his cake should be. His Dad and I are struggling with the perennial question of how many of his mates we allow over, and what is a reasonable amount to pay for party favours. Happily, we have a large garden which deals well with having children thrown at it, so there will be no soft play/ laser battle/ fast food joint price per head for us.

His Dad follows the month after with the big 40, and he, too, will be expected to fill the garden with his mates, probably have Nerf gun battles, and possibly even want a humorously shaped cake. We shall see.

We also have another #proudtobeoneoftheseven wedding this year  - it was the civil partnership of the century last year, also in our garden - although these friends have chosen a different venue for their celebrations. Probably for the best, because the licensing authorities may be after me soon for all these events...

We also celebrated the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus last week by breaking out the bin-able binoculars and tipsy telescope and failing to see anything clearly except by the naked eye. My kids could not get their heads around the fact that they were seeing actual planets, not just stars. Their wonder (the 6 year old) and bemusement (the 3 year old) made our evening, and they spent ages staring up into space. Thank goodness for another #oneoftheseven who loves astronomy and keeps abreast of these things (pictured above) or I would never have known it was there to be seen.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Stuffed squirrels in kilts, and the joys of having 7 parents

I went out for an actual night on the town on Saturday, including a pub, a restaurant, a bar and a nightclub - a hat trick! It might be as much as a decade since I last did such a thing. It was a huge giggle, and we were badly behaved, disreputable, and silly. It was a mum's night out, and some couples somewhere in this city may never have children after the restaurant conversation, across a table of 8 and fueled by wine, about childbirth and incontinence.
What is it about mums that when we get together in groups we want to relive the absolute worst parts of having children?
Strangest sight of the evening: In the first pub, in a glass case on a high shelf, was a squirrel that had been stuffed with a bottle of wine (why?!) and then dressed in a kilt (Why, oh, why?!). One of our group, resplendent in unfeasibly high heels, climbed up on the bar and took a photo, because we couldn't believe that's what it was. It was, as you can see. Any comments explaining this bizarrity gratefully received.

Tomorrow is parents' evening, and there is a possibility that my son's teacher will be facing not one, not two, but three and possibly four parents across the table all at once. I feel sorry for him already - he's a lovely guy. But it's great to have back up. I've alluded to this before, and one day, I will explain it. Meanwhile, imagine your least favourite teacher popping out to invite you in for that dreaded chat and being faced with seven parents all in a row. As one of them put it: #proudtobeoneoftheseven
I'm pretty sure I'm going to be in trouble (we're going to be in trouble), because I don't insist on homework. I do have a problem with children who are so young being given homework (he's 6). I'm also exhausted at the end of the day and feel like making the same faces he does when I suggest it. At least two of his other parents have said they didn't get homework until they were 12. I'm pretty sure I did, and I know I hated it with a passion. We're all university graduates. I think that proves something, but I'm not sure how helpful it is.

Today I am worked up about the Texas laws on abortion. Remember what I said about there being no place for religion in government? Proof positive. I'm right behind Mr Trudeau here, and the 'state rape' has me horrified: and that's all I'm going to say on the subject (for now)

Friday, 9 March 2012

Random thoughts caused by American politics

If uninformed comment on foreign politics leaves you cold, kick back and admire this beautiful amaryllis that's blooming on my kitchen windowsill instead of venturing any further.

Of course, we have our own political problems over here, but I have two reasons for taking a dismayed and wavering interest in American politics: the first is that I have family who are directly impacted, seeing as they live there; the second is that for better or worse, the teenager on the world stage that is America, holds a scary amount of influence across the world, and it helps to keep an eye on that kind of power.

The problem is, I can't give it enough mind space to really get my head around it. It's far too negative, and I struggle to find anything amongst it all I can get behind. This is probably because one thing I do feel quite strongly about, is that you should not vote in a political party that bases its campaigns on hatred and intolerance. And, er, hatred and intolerance seem to be everywhere in American politics. Maybe I'm not being fair, maybe that's just what we hear about over here because it makes good, salacious news. I dearly hope so, because frankly I'm left cold by the negative and nasty campaigning we hear about. How can you be expected to pick anyone you'd want to rule your country out of that writhing mess of negativity?

I don't think religion has a place in politics, and another thing that dismays me about America is the ugly face of religious intolerance in American politics. And it is a very ugly face. Misogynistic, too. At best it provides an insidious distraction from real political issues; at worst, it could actually end up informing legislation to the detriment of the populace. Doomful.
I heard an opinion the other week, just a passing snippet on the wind, no idea where from, but the gist of it was this: that America was not founded by people who wanted freedom from religious intolerance so much as by people looking for the freedom to practise their own religious intolerance. It's possibly a bit harsh. On the other hand it could explain a few hangovers that seem to exist to this day.

Take all of this with a pinch of salt. I mostly exercise myself over politics over here, that directly affect me. What American politics I hear about seem rife with the problems above, but it has all been embellished on its way to my computer, tv and radio by hungry journalists eager for a story at any cost. It's just a pity it's such a turn off.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Seat-of-the-pants Parenting

Today in the school playground while waiting for my son to escape the clutches of the educators (he actually has the best teacher ever, luckily), I was watching the other parents, the way we all do. Don't fib, you do. And you sometimes tsk to yourself in disgust at a poor show, and sometimes stand in awe at pure parenting skill in practise. If you're clever, you don't pass comment on the former, because the Law of Sod guarantees you a massive public parenting faux pas of your own shortly after.
I'm intrigued by other parents, and how they get through it all. There are as many ways to parent, it seems to me, as there are parents to do it.

I've decided I'm kind of a seat-of-the-pants parent. I read all of the parenting books I could bear while my first child was swimming around the womb. That wasn't an exhaustive list - I don't take well to lecturing and hard and fast rules, so that crossed a whole load of prescriptive parenting books off the list for a start. After the first birth, I occasionally consulted What to Expect in the First Year and Toddler Taming...and that's about it. I have a few others I bought in enthusiastic or terrified moments, but I've never read more than a few pages of any of them.

Of course, I have a plan: to finish with the same number with which I started (two) and for them to grow into happy, confident adults their dad and I are proud of. After that, it's all a bit hazy.

I also have rules, although as I've never written them down, they're a bit ad hoc, made up as we go along. They include: look at people when they speak to you; always say please and thank you; do it now because I said so and we can discuss why later; bedtime is religiously 7.30 unless I decide differently or you choose to debate with me, in which case earlier works just as well for me; no, you do not need to eat everything on your plate, but yes, you will try at least a few forkfuls of everything; treat other people with respect, and in the way in which you would like to be treated.  And discipline boils down to 3 straight chances followed by a time out. No imagination required for either of us.

There are rules for me too: I try only to yell rarely and for effect, because if I'm yelling for real, I've lost control, and if I've lost control, that means two young children must have it, and that ain't gonna happen on my watch. Besides, it's far more fun to see their faces when you you do yell if they're not used to it. And I've had to learn that you don't ever, ever, ever threaten anything you aren't willing to carry out; because by dog, if you've said that's going to be a consequence, it damn well better be exactly that, or next time they will remember - oh, they will - that you don't have the balls to actually carry out your threats. And as soon as they think that, it's game over. You learn fast not to say things like 'we're going to turn around and go home if you don't behave' if you're actually headed somewhere you were going to enjoy, like a cake shop...

And that's it. I think I'm doing okay, probably as much down to the great raw materials I've got to work with (lovely kids) as to my awesome skills. I rarely get to the actual time out part of time out, because they've usually backed down at one (please), or two (or else). The big one has good manners, a flair for chat, and a stonking vocabulary, and the little one is massively affectionate and outgoing. Their table manners can be a bit grim, and I'm dreadfully lax about homework, but perfection is well out of my reach, and I'm basically too tired to tick all the boxes.

I'm also well aware that just because there haven't been any major hiccups recently, doesn't mean there won't be some on the horizon. With children, I've decided, everything is a phase - the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Grab the reins, push down your heels, and hold on for the ride, because it will be something else in a day/ a week/ a month, and some other harried parent will be asking you 'how the hell did you get through that?' and you'll smile smugly and give good advice, unaware that the next great challenge is thundering around the corner heading straight for you.

Having said all this, I am not the only parent in this family, so I cannot take credit for all the brilliance, or even all the stupidity. My husband and I agreed a long time ago to do our best to agree on how to parent. We also agreed that when we don't agree, we do our disagreeing elsewhere. United front, always. But hey, why leave it at two parents? We don't. There are seven of us, eleven including grandparents, taking responsibility for these kids. Community parenting rules. But that's a different story...

Friday, 2 March 2012

It's where you came from...

There's a song by the Kings of Leon called Radioactive.  The lines that get me are, "It's in the's in the story, it's where you came from,"

Sometimes I disconnect myself from my past. I don't think it's a healthy thing to do - you are the sum of your experiences, and your genes. Your  past should be embraced, smiled over, come to terms with, or faced. But I can't help believe you shouldn't really ever forget it.

I disconnect, prosaically, because I am forgetful.
I think perhaps I'm so forgetful because when I left my old home behind, I left so many precious people behind, too. And not being rich, I perpetrated this crime where I split a family apart, and some of them will never see each other again, and some of them will never meet, and that, to me, is a little tragedy of family sized proportions.
See? It can be easier to forget.

Anyway, I was going through a rough time, feeling weak and lost and walked over when, one day, out of the blue, I heard this song. Maybe it could have been any song. The important thing is that it made me think of the place where I was born. And just like that, I reached back to my roots, remembered who I was, and where I came from. I felt the blood of the people who made me, and the backbones of the country I grew up in. I took those things, and I rebuilt myself, standing by the kitchen sink.

Funny the effect music can have on a person. It's in the story.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Blogging from the Bleurgh

 No, I haven't disgraced myself by forgetting or refusing or otherwise abdicating my responsibilities towards this little blog, honest. In my defence, I have been ill and in charge of ill children, and having been sent to bed by my lovely husband, I decided to stay there. It doesnt happen often. I'm still nearly mute - much to the delight of many, no doubt. My six year old is taking full advantage, anyway. Sadly, the three year old has incubated and hatched the germs and is plastered to my left arm as I write, boiling me alive with his superheated little body. It's a nasty little torture, being poorly when your kids are poorly. Nobody wins.

 I've been delighted to suddenly have all these people appear and tell me I'm not alone in having to shake and scrape the pen/iPad/laptop from my grasp every night. Ironically, the day after writing that post, my physio commented on my tingly fingers getting no better (trapped nerve) and asked if I happen to write or type or garden much(!). I hedged that maybe, possibly, I did rather a lot of all those things. Her response: "Well, stop it."
When I'd stopped cackling maniacally and she'd peeled me off the ceiling, we agreed that I should take breaks and perhaps do other things for the odd five minutes here and there. Then she promptly signed me off her books, and I'm pretty sure she locked her door as I wandered off down the hallway petting my iPad and assuring it that mummy loves it.

 Right, I have been informed that keeping two eyes and one hand on the iPad is not an acceptable parenting technique when I've so rudely fallen down on my Mummy Responsibilities recently with all that poorliness lark. I shall return when the scales have evened out (or they've gone to bed).

Sunday, 26 February 2012


Oh dear, 4 to 6 against the blog I started alongside this one. I think it's a lot easier to blog about gardening - especially when that's all I seem to be doing at the moment, sprinkled with childcare and peppered with the odd sleep.
My other excuse is that I've fallen foul of a cold and sore throat, and I want to splat on the sofa and feel sorry for myself, uninterrupted by even as pleasurable a responsibility as blogging on a blog I promised myself I would stick with for at least a month...
Oh, and one more excuse - compulsively writing takes up far too much of my time, I'm the first to admit it. I think perhaps I'm story-obsessed. I'm always reading, up to three books at a time, plus anything else I can get my paws on. Obviously that's not enough, because when I'm not reading I'm scribbling the longest, most involved story ever, peopled with characters I probably know better than I know myself. I have absolutely no plans to publish this story, ever. This is strictly for my own entertainment, so anything goes, which is fabulously liberating. I am never, ever bored, because I have an endless storyboard in my head if any other story is not immediately available. This is all fine as long as I don't get something caught up in my head that needs to get out right now, because right now is rarely a good moment to pop out a pen and notebook and start scribbling.
Hmm..I'm beginning to wonder if I should seek help..
Anyway, I would dearly love to hear of anyone else with this freakish compulsion, so comment, please, if you nodded along at any point. Otherwise I shall continue along in the probability that I am simply slightly bizarre in my own particular way.

Up until I got my beloved 'third child' - my iPad - these were the precious things that went with me everywhere. Now I need to add a photo of my iPad in its battered, butterfly-covered metal case. Stories on the go, anywhere and everywhere. Modern technology and beloved paper and pen. Contentment.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Springiness is happiness

Is spring sproinging at last? The lovely mild weather is bringing the greenery out, and yesterday morning my husband stepped outside and when he came in, he brought a waft of green and earth and growing things, and oh, that was good for the soul. Of course, I've been out, too, but somehow I notice the smell more when someone brings it into the house.
Suddenly I am feeling brighter and more optimistic, less prone to my winter drama queen mode. And that can only be good.

My older child is poorly at the moment, and has had day two off of school. He's the best patient ever - apart from waking his little brother up in the middle of the night to fetch us when he needs a drink. He takes everything in his stride, and I often think I could learn a lesson in patience off of him. I'm not a neurotic mother by any stretch, but this child has Keratitis in his right cornea, and every recurrence brings a risk of scarring. Eventually the scarring is likely to be bad enough to need an operation or it will result in blindness. The virus is set in motion by tiredness and illness, so I'm taking the poor mite's temperature every five minutes, shoving vitamins down him, and making him drink...juice, water, milk, anything that comes to hand. And through it all, he gives me his ear for the thermometer, lets me shine torches down his throat, and gives me matter of fact updates about how he's feeling on demand. What a star.
I'm a huge fan of Sheffield's Children's Hospital, I think they do a fantastic job. But we don't need to spend any more time there than we already do.

This week we've done loads in the garden. I have that sinking feeling that the weather will close in soon and spring cleaning fever will attack. Which would be fine if the damn house ever stayed clean, but today I mopped the floor and it was filthy - absolutely shamefully filthy - within 15 minutes. I'm tempted to sell the boys and buy in a cleaner...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Counting my blessings

Life is a funny old thing. We've been really struggling since last year when my hours and pay were cut by half and my husband lost his job shortly after. There's a lot of ranting I could do about the financial crisis and how Cameron's government is strangling the voluntary sector, but I'll save it -this is a positive post. Anyway, it's a terrible time in so many ways; there are massive blows to finances, to confidence, to hopes and dreams. Feeding and clothing everyone becomes a worry, even a week away in a tent seems excessively decadent (wait for the positive, it's coming).
BUT (here it is) two really important and life-changing positives have come out of all this worry and stress, and for that reason, I've found to my shock that I'm almost thankful for it.

The first is that we have found that when the chips are down our family and friends gather round to offer support, love and belly laughs - and what more can you ask from your friends and family than to know that when times are hard they will be there to pick you up and then make you fall down again in fits of uncontrollable laughter?

The second is a surprising but unspeakably valuable and precious thing: time together. We previously worked four days a week and full time respectively, which meant that with the best will in the world, our time with our children was limited to evenings, weekends, and a week in summer, a week at Christmas, and a few days around the annual vomiting bug. This is not unusual, most of us have to work to make ends meet. But there's always the guilt, the feeling that you have these precious critters and then abandon them to the care of others. It isn't, you tend to feel, in any way fair.
So, hard as it's been in many ways, it suddenly occurred to me (I'm a bit slow on the uptake) that we've had nearly seven months of walking the kids to school and nursery in the morning and home again in the afternoon, often hand in hand like soppy teenagers. We've been able to spend long hours with the little one that we never had with the big one playing with playdough, drawing and cutting, chatting, and praising his mega superhero skills. We've been able to spend time listening to the big one's rambling stories about everything and nothing, teach him how to make stuff like puppets, foster his enthusiasm for reading, and so many other things that are tiny but also really huge. And we've gone to parks, made dens, and generally been utterly silly all together. In a way I feel like we've learned to be a proper family through all this.

I think both children will look back on this time as a very important part of their early lives. I like to think it's brought them closer to each other, and closer to us. I hope it's given them time to really know and feel how much we love them and like to be with them. I also think it's been good for us adults to spend so much time together, with and without the kids (and usually I'm the one pushing him into his garage so I can write in peace). I think it's a real  pity that we could never have found the funds to take a year out and make this happen in a nice way. But hey, you count your blessings where you find them.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Recording random acts of being

As a compulsive reader and writer, my head seems to be perpetually full of, well, stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Far too much stuff. Most of it isn't very useful, but sometimes I think some of it might be worth recording, and you can make your own decision.
And perhaps some day it will give my kids some little insight into my head. If they can stand the thought.

Likely subjects include rants on grammar, musings on parenthood, government based grumblings, and bemused ramblings.

I'm looking forward to it.