Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Schoolgirl error

Oops. My boy was almost humiliated by his useless mother who was convinced that he went back to school tomorrow, but was helpfully disabused of this impression by some helpful school mum friends. Trouble is my boys' school loves to play musical chairs with inset days in order to bump up its attendance figures.

Don't get me started on quite why the teachers can't train during the aeons of school holidays they already spend out of the classroom, but if we are to accept the argument that teaching is so arduous that you need at least six weeks off to recover from a term of managing primary school children, which now I come to think of it isn't quite as preposterous as I first thought, the school regularly snatches back inset days from us parents chomping at the bit to return our beloved offspring to the classroom.

Quite what inset days are for I am not sure, perhaps the teachers simply sit around knocking back neat vodka and having a calming smoke in preparation for the new term. Well I know that is what I would need if I were subjected to a class of 30 under-10s day in day out. I am a jibbering wreck after just six weeks in the company of my four small boys.

Whatever it is they get up to, the school has decided to get smart and match up inset days with the days with the days their pupils are most likely to skive off anyway. In our area of North London that means that the we have two inset days booked for the end of next week, that conveniently match up to the Jewish New Year.

However, there is another inset day that is to be held tomorrow, thereby delaying the start of school by a full 24 hours. Not sure what the purpose of this one is, other than to make all of us who paid through the nose for full price holidays gnash our teeth. For if all three inset days had been tacked on to the end of the holiday, the children would have had this (infinitely cheaper) week off school and I could have gone to a tropical island paradise instead of having a wet week in Wales.

Ah well, at least my son was saved from walking up to a closed school gate tomorrow, and at least I am all up to date with uniform, thanks in part to the kind donation of a school uniform pack from the lovely people from Clothing at Tesco. In return for their generosity I have posted a picture of some of my goodies below and I am nominating fellow mummy blogger Adventures of a Lady in Training to receive her very own pack of school clothes.  Enjoy.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Driving rain, howling wind, grains of sand painfully whipping your face, toes dipped in the waves instantly blue with cold and the temperatures shivering in the low teens. The joys of a British seaside holiday.

As my boys huddled in wetsuits, shrouded in towels to keep out the cold. As we crunched on sandwiches gritty with sand, licked ice creams that were only marginally colder than the air temperature and watched as the black clouds above opened up their bellies to pour cold water on all notions of a sunny day beside the seaside, I vowed never to darken the shores of my native land again.

The thing is Britain may be beautiful, with is verdant fields, rocky cliffs, pretty bays and acres of sandy beaches, but it is also bloody cold and wet, particularly during the summer holidays. You might think that in August you would have an outside chance of good weather, but you would, of course, be wrong. We had to put the heating on during our week in a cottage in Wales, and I was more interested in ordering warming hot chocolates than a Flake 99.

This is not a summer holiday, this is an endurance test. My poor children can make the best of anything, and my eldest was happy to swim in the frozen waves, lips turning a scary bluish tinge after a few moments in the water, while the twins loved slinging pebbles into the icy stream that ran down the centre of the beach. But this is definitely not grown up fun.

For me a beach is about lying on a cushioned lounger, powder white sand hot between my toes, the sea azure clear and bath water warm. If I take a dip it is among flashes of bright tropical fishes, not at the risk of severe hypothermia. I want to drink cocktails, not a hot mug of tea, and I want a beach picnic to be charcoal grilled fresh snapper, not greasy fish and chips.

I think that our perception of holidays squews with age. The reason we found ourselves shivering in Wales at all is thanks to my dewy-eyed memories of childhood holidays spent on the very same beaches, walking along clifftops decked in wild flowers, endlessly hunting for marine treasures in the myriad rockpools, diving under the waves as we dared ourselves to swim ever closer to a creepy shipwreck. All these memories are bright with sunshine, but surely this can't actually have been the case? It was Wales after all.

I just hope that when they are older their memories of our Welsh holiday will blot out all the rain clouds and simply recall the one perfect sunny day that lit up our week of freezing rain.

Friday, 13 August 2010

My little wrecking balls

I am upstairs. The boys are downstairs. I can just imagine what will greet me when I descend into the pit of destruction that they will have created in my brief absence. I suspect my sons may possess a special talent for mess making never before witnessed in a civilised(ish) household.

This morning the twins played in our dining room cum playroom for all of half and hour, and by the time they were finished the entire floor was obscured by a mass of discarded toys. They then moved upstairs to continue their work and had soon emptied all the toy storage in their bedroom transforming the carpet into a plastic jungle.

Lunch time didn't stop them in their tracks. As soon as they had eaten their fill they began to dismantle the leftover sandwiches, mushing them into super sticky globs of food and lobbing them across the room, under their chairs and at each other. It was scene of devastation when I scraped them clean for the only period of time that they aren't making a mess - their nap.

Though I say they don't make a mess, but that's not strictly true. Every time I go in to wake them up all the toys from their cots are strewn across the floor with gay abandon, any blankets or socks are stuffed between the cots or down the side of the mattress, and if they have a messy nappy then more often than not its unmentionable contents will be adorning their once clean sheets.

I think it must be genetic though, as their big brothers aren't much better. They are quite brilliant at getting toys out, yet borderline moronic when it comes to putting them away again. They will drag out board games, Playmobile, DVDs, Lego, felt tips and toy cars and spread them in a thin, yet strangely painful when met with a bare foot, layer around the house.

I was amazed when a friend moved to Oz recently and she handed over some old toys to another friend who has just had a new baby, not by her generosity, but by the fact that she still had all the parts. Toys come into our house to be dismembered. I don't think we own a single set or game that retains all its constituent parts.

When my first son was little I used to diligently collect together all the bits and bobs of each toy and keep them all together in labelled boxes. Then one day he emptied all his worldly possessions onto the carpet and mixed them around like some deranged witch stirring her cauldron.

It was carnage. Mr Potato Head lost an eye, several jigsaws ended up missing vital organs in the chaos while I Operation's heart was broken for good. After that I kind of gave up and allowed my boys to surf on a tide of mess, just so long as it was all shoved into boxes and bags under the bed at the end of the day.

Now my eldest son's midsleeper bed is held up by a mountain of broken toys and the remains of dressing up costumes, as well as the sheafs of leaflets he insists on picking up wherever we go. While son number two is often mislaid whilst burrowing under his own bed in search of some long lost play thing.

As if to prove my point I must sign off now as my boys have just yelled up the stairs that twin two has been very naughty and has emptied an entire tissue box all over the living room....

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The conundrum of the school coat

There are times when my life seems to be spiralling out of control. When the deadlines and washing bunch up in mountains of Alpine proportion, when the food for lunch boxes is still in the shop, when the tea is late and the boys appear to be brought up by Cartoon Network. And then there are the times when I can pat myself on the back for my enviable organisational skills.

This is one of those times. I am stickler for purchasing school uniform well in advance, for which read sometime in July before they even break up. Why is this? Because the first year my boy went to school I blithely assumed that I could rock up in late August and buy everything I needed in a single shopping trip. How naive was I?

Other super organised mums had scoured the shelves months before leaving them as bare as a wheat field after a plague of locusts has swooped through. As I disconsolately picked through the few shirts, vests and trousers that hung lank and unwanted on the racks, finding nothing in my boy's size, I vowed that I would never get caught out like this again.

From that term onwards I was on the web scooping up three-for-two deals as soon as they popped up, cackling at how much cash I had saved. I revelled in having my pick of vests, shirts, socks and shoes in my boys' sizes. Small things please nowadays.

This year I have been lucky enough to have been given a helping hand in my quest to win the most organised mum prize by the lovely people at Very.co.uk. You see while the basics of school uniform are easy enough to come by, assuming you adopt my early bird tactics, the school coat is another matter entirely.

It has to be light enough to cover the early autumn, but warm enough to keep my boy toasty when the cold winter weather hits, it also has to meet the exacting standards of my eldest who could give Gok Wan a run for his money when it comes to being fussy about his clothes. To this end Very has kindly sent me a black fleece lined Animal jacket and very handsome he looks in it.

But my mini fashionista is more than capable of looking a gift horse in the mouth and turning his nose up at it, to make a cocktail of my metaphors, so it was with nervous trepidation that I tried it on his majesty. However, he declared the lining soft (high praise indeed from Mr Fussy) and said that collar wasn't scratchy (a big problem with little boy's coats apparently). He then proceeded to tear off around the house in it, taunting his little brother over his lack of a new jacket. I guess that means it passed the test.

So a very big thank you to Very for solving this complex problem for me. Now I just need someone to step up and sort out his shoes and we are good to go back to school.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Telly addicts

Oh darling television, how I have missed you so. From Cartoon Network for its soporific effect on my older boys, to the calming tones of CBeebies for the twins, how have I lived without my electronic babysitter for two weeks?

I know it is generally thought to be a 'bad thing' to allow your children near a TV set, and if you do dare to stoop so low then you should at least make sure their viewing is virtuous and strictly time limited. But I am sorry, I have no idea how parents coped before the advent of the telly.

I try to monitor how much they watch, and I do ensure that my boys have far more time playing outside or beating one another over the head with random plastic toys in the house, than they do slumped in a hypnotic stupor in front of the screen. But I think I would have lost the plot years ago if I couldn't have bought myself the odd 10 minutes (OK I admit it hour or so) with bribe of some quality screen time.

Whether it's keeping the twins quiet while I snatch a shower after breakfast, or pacifying the older ones when I absolutely must make that work call or hit that looming deadline, TV has saved my sanity, and professional reputation, on more than one occasion.

Of course this virtual entertainment is no substitute for spending time with the children, but I will say one thing for it, it has taught them lots of things I never knew. Son number two has an encyclopedic knowledge of the best deals available from domestic energy suppliers, and often pipes up with some random fact that he has picked up during his hours in front of the box.

His little cousin once impressed his parents no end by correctly identifying a particular constellation of stars. As they sat back congratulating themselves on having sired a genius, he revealed that he had picked up this particular nugget of information from Peppa Pig. So far from rotting his brain it had enhanced his education to a point where he may be regarded as virtually a prodigy.

So I am glad to be back home with this life enhancing tool, not least because its lure has enabled me to write this post in peace. Bliss

Monday, 9 August 2010

Welcome home

So we are back from our two weeks in the sun in the South of France and boy could I do with a holiday. We stayed in a lovely villa with a private pool, the sun shone, the wine flowed, the cheese oozed and the children were relentless. As anyone who reads this blog is aware, I love my boys, but my goodness they are hard work.

At home I have a support system of nanny, grandparents, school and a Early Learning Centre's worth of toys. On holiday I was stripped of all of these luxuries and left at the coal face of parenting for exuberant small boys. I am exhausted, worn out. I need to lie down on a beach for two weeks to recover.

During our 'holiday' we enjoyed such pursuits as fishing twin one out of the pool - which he fell into a grand total of five times over the two weeks - you'd have thought he have learned his cornering skills left something to be desired after the second splash landing, but no in he went again and again, only to be instantly scooped out by one of his ever vigilant parents.

Other fun and games included watching like hawks to ensure none of the boys sneaked down to the pool while we weren't looking, carting a disconsolate twin two around as he was only happy when glued to his mummy, screaming wails of despair at all other times, or refereeing incessant fights between the two older boys, whose favourite holiday game was baiting one another.

Then there was the fun hunt for high chairs. Despite staying in a child friendly resort, most restauranteurs looked at me as if I had asked them to serve up a dirty nappy when I requested two high chairs. The blanket response was a French shrug of the shoulders and a sharp 'Non' when asked for somewhere suitable for toddlers to dine.

The end result was many meals spent with both parents fielding wriggling toddlers on their laps, trying in vain to make a safe zone on the table cloth that was free of knives, glasses or any other sharp objects that could be used for damage and destruction of either property or people. I think the reason the English believe French children are so well behaved in restaurants is because the French are more sensible than to try to take them out to eat until they are old enough to understand reason and work a knife and fork for themselves.

As we drove around the delightful Provencal countryside, I was almost drooling as we whizzed past little vineyards offering desgustation of the local tipple, or shady courtyard eateries hidden away in delightful medieval villages. I longed to stop and hike to see the view at the top of some ancient ramparts or to splash my feet in they crystal waters of a deep green river.

Instead we went to a hot and dusty park filled with animated cartoon characters singing piped French pop, ate hot dogs while under attack from the vicious local wasp population and marvelled at the sugary confections on offer at the Haribo museum.

I concluded that perhaps the south of France is not the dream destination for a family with four small children. Next time round I think we will travel a deux to the delightful looking luxury hotel I spotted in the gorgeous village of Gordes, and the children can stay at home.