Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The fine art of kvelling

It is becoming clear to me that my children are exceptionally gifted and talented, and while The Daily Mail assures me this is no guarantee of success, I still see every reason to kvell about it. For the uninitiated kvelling is the Jewish parent's (usually the mother) habit of boasting about their offspring no matter how mediocre their achievements may be. As a shiksa I learned this skill from my Jewish mother-in-law, who in fairness has plenty to kvell about in her sons.

You see while the older two are plainly geniuses in the making, the twins are even more advanced (that is if you gloss over the fact that twin two at almost 20 months has still to take his first step). You see as well as talking - incessantly, if incomprehensibly - they are now reading too.

I found twin one standing on tip toes straining to pull a book from the embarrassingly disorganised and overstuffed bookcase. He was hooting 'B, b, b', which plainly meant 'book'. When I handed him the tome he was after he plonked himself down on his be-nappied behind, opened it up and started gabbling away. Obviously he knew exactly what he was reading out loud, and it was my own limited intelligence that meant I couldn't understand every word.

Then twin two joined in on the act. Sitting up in his big brother's bed, book in hand (upside down, but surely that just means it takes even more skill to read it), burbling away and slowly turning the pages. I can't wait to tell the mother-in-law all about how my under-two-year-old was tackling Harry Potter with such aplomb.

But it's not just with the written word that they are showing precocious skill. My nanny recently showed me a picture of them duetting on the piano together. She didn't mention how melodious it had sounded, but they looked impressive perched on the stool, fingers on the keys and gurning for the cameraphone.

What will it be next? Perhaps in one of their stints mixing mud and water in the garden they will stumble upon the cure for cancer, or maybe as they unpack the kitchen cupboards onto the floor they will model some complex molecular structure out of spoons and plastic beakers. They sky is the limit, so yah boo sucks to the Daily Mail, my talented children are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Ask the experts

Thanks to this blog and my contributions to Parentdish, I am sometimes referred to as a 'parenting expert'. I am not sure what this tag means. I have no qualifications in parenting other than having given birth to four boys, and so far kept them relatively free from harm. Perhaps that is enough though, as to me parenting has never been something academic based on ideologies and theories.

When my boys were born I learned first hand the meaning of unconditional love. I didn't think about it, or plan it; it just hit me like a train. I had brought these precious, vulnerable people into the world and it was my job to try to protect them, to be a port of call in whatever storms their lives will bring. To be their cheerleader, their shoulder to cry on, their champion and their biggest fan.

I am under no illusion that children need to be given boundaries and sycophantic love is in no way beneficial, but if my mother love can help them to feel safe in the big, bad world then I believe I have done my job. But that makes it sound like a chore, and I have found it to be more like an instinct. As I would shy away from fire, or avoid a precipitous drop, I love my children. It is built into me like the primeval urge that it is.

I cannot imagine giving birth to a child and simply not feeling that way. Or feeling that way but letting life get in the way of that emotional response. Perhaps I have been lucky that it was so simple and straightforward for me, maybe for others it is a hard fought battle that can never be won. That is so sad for all involved.

I make no claims to deserve the title of expert on anything in life, but I do believe that the one thing that qualifies you as a good parent is if you make sure that love for your child informs every choice you make. I believe we all owe that to our children, as we are the ones who chose to take on that huge responsibility by bringing them into the world. The only payback we can expect is to hope for their happiness and wellbeing.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Silence is golden

I went to visit a friend today who has an adorable three-month-old baby and what struck me most was the silent calm in her house. It took me right back to the peaceful early months with my babies, when they did far more sleeping than screaming. Everyone thinks that the new baby stage is the worst, and the sleepless nights are tough, but the serenity of a calm or sleeping baby is not to be underestimated.

I still recall the sedative effect of baby twin two. I could hold his body in my arms and instantly feel relaxed as he dozed in my arms. The feeling of his milky sweet breathe on my cheek, the supple slump of his tiny body on my shoulder all induced a blissful state of relaxation.

When the older boys were out at school and nursery and the babies were snoozing in their Moses basket the house was a place of infinite calm. An oasis of peace amidst a desert of rushing around doing chores, breaking up fights and generally attempting to run a household.

My house now is never this quiet, unless everyone is out. I can always hear the twins' toy disputes raging down below, or the trundle of the walker being pushed around at top speed, or the clash as all the children's cutlery is unloaded onto the tiled floor for the umpteenth time. Once the boys are home there is the screaming over the XBox, the yelling from the trampoline, the weedling cries of mummy as they attempt to tempt me from my keyboard.

And that's without mentioning the constant stream of people who keep my my domestic life afloat. The lovely nanny clucking and chatting to the boys, the cleaner bustling around the house, my mother just popping round to drop off a book and steal a cuddle from one of the toddling twins. It never ends.

I am thinking that my friend should perhaps sell tickets to us more harassed mothers as I am sure that half an hour in her peaceful house did me far more good than an age spent being pampered at a spa, with the added bonus of a delicious baby cuddle thrown in for free.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Quality time

"I want mummy". This is a cry that is commonly to be heard in my house. The boys behave as if I ration my time with them until the point where they are virtually starved of maternal affection. It's as if I am one of those old fashioned mothers who fills her time with luncheons and games of bridge, only breaking off for a brief goodnight kiss before the children are spirited back to some far off nursery with their starched nanny.

For goodness sake I work from home three days a week. I do every school drop off and often sneak off to do pick ups too. I pop down frequently in the day for a hug or a quick chat. I am not some distant figure who only looms large at breakfast and bedtime, and yet my boys act as if I never there.

I bend over backwards to fit in special trips with the older boys, taking them out for meals, to the theatre, shopping and days out. If push comes to shove I will always sacrifice work to be there for my boys.

I miss the boys all the time I am not with them too though, so perhaps I should have more sympathy for their feelings. Perhaps I should understand that all the hours we spend together count for nothing when held against those hours we spend apart. But it makes me feel so torn. I would love drop everything and be with them all the time, but we have bills to pay.

My husband was trying to explain this to our son when he burst into tears as I revealed I was going out to meetings on two days in a row, but this seemed to have him sobbing even harder. Even my mother said that the boys might prefer me to the money I earn - though I am not sure the mortgage company would.

I just can't win. I often wonder if by bending over backwards to deliver as much quality time as I can I actually makes things worse. The boys might be happier if I didn't keep randomly popping up whenever I have 10 minutes free. But I am too selfish to give up my stolen cuddles and I think that they would miss them too.

I suppose I will just have to carry on doing what every other mum does, muddling through whilst feeling guilty.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

First day at school

Yesterday was number two son's first day at school. In his inimitable fashion, when the time came for mummy to leave he didn't even look up from playing with the toy dinosaurs as he threw out a nonchalant 'Bye mum'. He simply oozes confidence and has a magnetic attraction for other children that I can't help but envy.

Within seconds of entering any new situation he has picked up a coterie of mates who hang on his every word. At a park he will be playing with children in an instant and a passerby would think they had been friends for years. This summer he did two weeks in at a summer school. Within a couple of days I was already getting invites for playdates.

What a contrast to his own dear mum who was as socially awkward as he is sophisticated. When I look back on my first day of primary school there is no comparison between our experiences. Where he sauntered in and picked up a conversation with his playmates as if they had been friends forever, I remember being paralysed with shyness and unable to even lift my eyes to look at the other children, let alone address a word to them.

You might assume this is because my son had been in nursery with at least a portion of his class, but I lived in a tiny village so there were virtually no strangers in my classroom. It's just that the whole idea of school filled me with dread, whereas he has been counting down the days before he could start 'big' school.

I suppose it helps that his brother is there, and it also helps that school has changed immeasurably since I went. Back in my schooldays the happiness of the children didn't even make it onto the teachers agenda. I remember being stuck behind a desk unable to do the simplest things like have a drink or go to the loo without asking for permission. Being terrified of the whole experience and longing for the moment my mum would pick me up and deliver me from this hell.

By contrast my son was most reluctant to leave once his first half-day was up. He was puzzled as to why he wasn't staying for a whole school day like his brother. On the way home he quizzed me as to when he would be able to go to school 'properly'.

I suspect a lot of the difference is down to personality, but I also think that schools want children to enjoy themselves too. Perhaps sometimes to the detriment of their academic achievement, but I remember being crippled by shyness induced by the bullies at my school, while my teachers turned a blind eye - if indeed they noticed at all.

I was kicked by the boys, had my hair pulled by the girls. I was mercilessly teased because my mum was the only one who took the suggestion that pupils might not want to wear uniform seriously. I would stand in my jumble sale pink jumper amidst a sea of deep green school cardigans and feel a prize idiot.

I didn't fit the mould of a petite and pretty little girl, and boy did I pay for that. School started badly and didn't get much better for several years. So I am very glad that times have changed and my own little boy declared his first day at school as 'fantastic'. Let's hope it's as much of a mark of how his school career will go as my impression on my first day was for me.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Party politics

I am the first to admit that I am no expert on etiquette. While some young ladies may have been learning deportment and how to deploy the silverware, I was more likely to be found in some low dive necking vodka, sucking on Marlboro reds and flirting with boys, but even I know that when you are invited to a party you should let the host know if you intend to turn up or not.

Well I guess there are some exceptions to this rule. Hideously drunken student revels do not require an RSVP as the more bodies necking lethal punch, snogging and vomiting in the garden the better is the best rule of thumb at those bashes. But in most other cases if someone is kind enough to invite you, or your offspring, to a party, then the least you can do is put pen to paper, or fingers to keypad, and reply, either in the positive or the negative.

But oddly, this little lifeskill seems to be one that many, many modern parents have simply skipped. Whenever I whizz out invites to my boys' birthday parties I will get some lovely parents who reply promptly, letting me know if their child can come or not. Then I get a few (who I will admit are more like me), who will let me know within a week or two of receiving the invitation. I think the latter is acceptable, as long as you give enough notice before the party.

But then there are those who simply don't say anything, leaving the hostess in a quandary as to what to do. Should I lay on food and party bags for all the non-replying guests, just in case they turn up on the day? After all I would hate for a child to go without sandwiches to chuck on the floor in favour of snorting up as many sugar-laden treats as they can lay their hands on. And I don't want to be faced with a weeping infant who is the only one not to go home with a party bag stuffed with plastic crap for them to instantly lose down the back of the car seat on their way home.

That said if their parents haven't got the common courtesy to simply let one know if their child is going to turn up or not, perhaps being left out would be a useful life lesson to learn - for the parents at the very least.

I think that perhaps one year I should employ a doorman with a list of those children whose parents haven't bothered to let me know they are coming. He could scan his clipboard and halt all the offenders at the door with a curt "You're name's not down, you're not coming in".

Sadly I suspect that such hard line tactics might lead to a slump in popularity for my poor boys. So it looks like I will just have to grin and bear it, and make sure I have a stash of spare party bags and sandwiches, just like every other year.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bathtime blues

Before I became a mum I thought I knew which bits I would enjoy the most and bathtime was definitely one of them,  probably because it was something I remembered fondly from my own childhood.  But I found that when you are the grown up bathing doesn't hold quite the same allure. 

In fact I have discovered that bathtime my least favourite times of the day, and the job that I will most eagerly palm off on anyone else foolish enough to volunteer, or simply be in the vicinity come the washing hour. While I liked nothing more than to while away hours slicking on foamy moustaches, slopping water over the sides of the tub and splashing my poor old mum, I hate being on the receiving end of water play. 

If I am in charge of bathtime it is a strictly time limited activity devoted entirely to cleaning the boys. They are in, washed and out before they can think of demanding bubbles or that I sculpt their soapy hair into outlandish punk styles. If I can fit in tooth brushing in under 10 minutes I am a happy woman. I know this is mean, but I just can't bear to witness the carnage that goes with a successful (from the boy's point of view) bathtime. 

The sodden bathmat, floor swimming in soap suds, their skin prune-wrinkled after hours under water. The towels dunked in the bath, leaving a trail of drips over the landing carpet, the hair still white with soapy bubbles that despite water being flung everywhere still haven't been rinsed out. I am a bath time killjoy. 

This has come as real surprise to me, as when my first son was a baby I loved bath time. When he was first born bathtime was like a religious ritual. I had had the importance of the bedtime routine drummed into me by so many parenting books nothing could disturb our schedule. I would reverentially bathe his little body, using all organic unguents, I would cuddle him up in a special fluffy towel to dry him, then anoint him with baby massage oil, and finally pop him up in his hypoallergenically laundered babygro. Of course he still screamed blue murder the moment we put him in the cot and refused to succumb to sleep, but I still quite enjoyed the whole process. 

But it's just not the same with four boys to cleanse of a night. They are unruly as seals playing in the surf and a million times more messy. Gone are the peaceful days of blowing bubbles and baby massages, now it's like manning a sheep dip. Still at least it adds another useful skill to my every growing CV. `