Saturday 27 August 2016

Boys will be boys. Or will they?

Yesterday, I sat in a sweaty church hall. I was one of around 50 parents desperately fanning themselves to keep cool in the muggy atmosphere created by summer sun beating down on the corrugated roof of a building packed with too many people.

As I shifted in my moulded plastic seat, my thighs sticky with sweat I noticed that the accouterments collecting around the other parents feet - lunch boxes, water bottles, spare shoes, unnecessary cardigans, reading books - were almost universally pink and sparkly. Fairies, unicorns and unfeasibly cute kittens were strong motifs.

As the mother of four boys, this should be a strange environment for me to find myself in. But I felt right at home. We were waiting to watch my middle son take part in a musical that he had spent the previous week rehearsing at a holiday drama scheme. As the other participants trooped onto the stage the reason for the sea of pink glitter became evident. He was one of just four boys - but that's just normal in my household. 

Ballet boys

My eldest and my youngest have both learned ballet and in every class they were the only boys standing, pirouetting or arabesqueing. For the two years that my eldest took ballet classes I was a mother alone holding a navy blue coat or chatting about superheroes as we waited for the class to start. 

I was the only mother who had to soothe tears because their child was not allowed to wear a beautiful pink skirt to dance in, but instead was relegated to boring black leggings, the only mother who had to explain gently why my boy had to dance with a flag, rather than the much more appealing glittery pom poms the girls got to wave around. 

It's been tough being the mother of boys, but not in the way that most people would imagine it to be. I have never washed muddy rugby kit, I have never shivered beside a football pitch, or even had to endure one on the TV, I don't have to deal with wrestling on the floor or with cuts and bruises from playground scraps. 

It's not easy being blue

Instead I have to buoy up confidence that it's OK to be different, that just because you are the only boy who loves pink and dolls, that's just fine. If you would rather read a book than kick a ball around it will probably be the best life choice you can make (that is unless you have the skills of a budding premier league player - see I don't even know an appropriate name to slot in here). 

The number of times I have been jokingly told that with four boys we almost have enough for a five-a-side football team, only to quietly think to myself that I am more likely to end up with a corps de ballet. 

It's not that my children don't show any male traits - they are messy, loud and addicted to computer games - it's just that they just don't fit any of those other obvious boy stereotypes. 

Think different

Not that it matters to me, as I watch typical boys struggle and fail in comparison to girls when it comes to exams and career success, I am wholeheartedly glad that my sons are much closer to the female of the species. At my eldest's end of term prize giving ceremony once again he stood out as one of very few boys who was honoured with an award. But I couldn't have been prouder to have brought up a boy who swims against the crowd. All those lunch hours spent happily buried in a book are really beginning to pay off. 

While I am all for girls being allowed to do just what they want, to play with trucks and become front line soldiers, perhaps the parents of boys should be equally keen to break down gender stereotypes, if only to ensure their sons don't get left behind playing footie in the park, while the girls scoop up all the prizes. 

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Why the summer holiday is the best time to be a working mum

When I was at home minding my brood, the summer holiday was a time that I would both long for and dread in equal measure. Six weeks of not having to get up to do the school run, of not having to track down swimming kit, shoes, and clean jumpers every morning, of no homework and no schedule was pure bliss. Six weeks of children moaning, bickering and endlessly whinging that they were bored if I ever dared to switch off the Xbox, not so blissful.

As the break loomed this year I had equally mixed feelings. It's my first summer as a working mum and, as the school term reached its chaotic end, riddled with concerts, picnics and prize givings, I felt nostalgic for those lazy sunny days spent with my boys. When I missed the mums' end of term get together in the park, I sat glumly at my desk wishing I was sharing prosecco and strawberries with my school gate mates. But when it came to packing for our two weeks in the sunshine, I was more than happy to use going out to work as a great excuse to leave that particular chore to my husband.

Foolishly he showed himself to be eminently capable, doing a far better job than me - remembering both tea and laundry detergent - so I have now designated him chief packer for the household. Lucky man. 

But it was when we returned that I really appreciated the true benefits of being office bound during the long summer holiday. As we unpacked what appeared to be at least six months-worth of dirty laundry, replete with shorts pockets crammed with pebbles from a faraway French beach, T-shirts liberally smeared with exotically-flavoured ice creams, swimming trunks still damp and salty from the seaside, I realised gleefully that for once it wasn't me who had to clean this mass of filthy clothing. 

As I checked that my phone was charged and I had my fob for the office door on my first day back at work,  my husband disconsolately asked me 'What should I do with them all day?' Not my problem I thought smugly as I remembered all the summers when I had to entertain my entourage of toddlers  and small children as he fled to the office. 

The hours I have spent wandering around farms staring at sheep who looked as catatonically bored as I was, or sitting through hours of animated film that left me anything but, or furtively reading thew newspaper on my phone, as I lurked on a park bench pretending that I couldn't hear my children's demands to be pushed on the swings. Or worse, doing battle with wasps and friendly dogs as my children hysterically screamed and flapped their arms as if Godzilla were bearing down on them with murder in his reptilian eyes. 

Of course there were golden days where we chased down dragons in the local woods, played epic Pooh sticks battles in the brook behind our house, munched on sausage rolls and strawberries in the grounds of splendid stately homes and froze fantastic concoctions to make syrupy sweet ice lollies that dribbled all over their tiny faces. But those glittering snapshots of delight were few and far between hours of fighting over toys or staring blankly at the TV. 

On balance I have to shamefacedly admit that I would choose a swift kiss in my way out of the door for those few children who have made it out of bed before I leave for work, followed by a peaceful day at my desk, over spending at least five and half weeks desperately thinking to myself 'When do they go back to school?'