Wednesday, 6 October 2010

It's party time

October is a busy month chez FDMTG as boy one and two both have their birthdays this month, so I find myself in the annual round of chasing up RSVPs to find out if 1, 10, 20 or 30 of their friends plans to attend, tracking down elusive themed party decorations, expelling expletives over the cost of balloons - how can a puff of helium in a plastic bag cost so much - and generally tearing my hair out.

I am not sure quite how children's parties go so out of control. Back in my day parties were held at home, there was pass the parcel with just the one prize, pin the tail on the donkey, jelly and ice cream and a slice of cake wrapped in a napkin to take away.

Nowadays you have to hire a hall and a professional entertainer months in advance, order decorations, usually themed to go with some long defunct show or film that the boys are currently obsessed with, at great expense online and amass a party bag that would have constituted a proper present back in the 70s.

And I consider my parties to be relatively restrained by modern standards. I don't hire in face painters or a bouncy castle and my party bags are a modest collection of cheap toys and a slice of cake. My boys have left parties in the past clutching hardback books as going away presents that probably cost more than the gift they had given to the birthday child.

The problem is that I LOVED birthday parties when I was young, which is why I love throwing them now. I still remember the excitement of going to my friend Sara's parties. I loved her house with its pastel carpets and neat decor, I loved the excitement of ripping the newspaper layers off pass the parcel, the enormous anticipation to see who would be the lucky one to win the prize. The thrill if it was you who got to unwrap that small package of sweets.

I adored the wonky iced home made fairy cakes showered with silver balls and multicoloured hundreds and thousands, none of your fancy swirly iced cup cakes back in the day. The ham sandwiches on white bread, the Hula Hoops and Monster Munch, the joy of mixing jewel bright jelly into milky ice cream and sucking up the messy results through a straw.

I want to give my children those treasured memories of special days with their friends, though I am not sure that they have the same degree of appreciation as they are just so pampered. What was a huge treat to me, is just an everyday weekend to them. They got to parties all the time and each one is more extravagant than the last, so it is hard to tantalise their jaded palates.

I know this is my fault as a parent. I know I should get tough and make my children appreciate how lucky they are so they can experience the same excitement I felt over birthday parties. Trouble is I find it so hard to spoil their fun by rolling out my own version of the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch. So fingers crossed I will have pulled out enough stops to pique their interest this year, now I must go and track down a Dr Who birthday cake.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bye bye baby

My oldest boy is in Year 2, my middle son is in Reception and my twins are almost two. I think I can safely say that the baby stage is behind me now. While we still have dual potty training to negotiate and twin two is stubbornly refusing to walk, we are on the home run now.

In one way that makes me feel relieved and hopeful that I might one day stop feeling so exhausted all the time, but in another it makes me feel a huge sense of loss that my baby days are over for good. I relish my sons' growing independence, but in the past by the time my youngest child was starting to walk, talk and feed himself I was plotting my next baby. This time I am entering uncharted territory as I know there won't be the patter of little feet on the way ever again.

I have wanted babies since I was in my mid-twenties. I had a few bumps along the way what with a first husband who wanted nothing to do with children, or indeed me as it turned out, but I eventually had my first boy when I was 32, then the next at 34 and the final two at 37. So for the last decade and a half my thoughts have been taken up with the acquisition of babies.

I spent most of my 20s longing for babies and all of my 30s pregnant or dealing with babies, so what does the next chapter of life hold? I am a little scared to look as my mind is still firmly rooted in the breeding phase.

I still can't pass Mothercare without cooing over the tiny newborn clothes. I can't quite get my head round the fact that I will never have to stock up on those bright yellow packs of Pampers New Born nappies, though I feel less sentimental about those brick sized maternity towels that sat so uncomfortably in my post baby pants.

I am sure there are other mothers who feel a sense of release that they will never again have to waddle about swollen with child, that they will never have to battle with feeding a newborn, or endure the endless sleepless nights that accompany the arrival of a new baby. These are the mums who ruthlessly throw out baby clothes the moment their child has grown out of them, toss out the buggy the instant their toddler is up on his feet, and joyfully button up their pre-baby jeans as they turn their trim, toned backs on the messy business of child rearing.

I am not one of those mothers. I am still hanging onto my huge post preggy belly, along with a whole lot more baggage that came along with my babies. I know I won't have another child, I don't even want one, but what I do want is a blueprint as to what happens next? As my children grow up and I am forced to wave goodbye to all things baby? Will the nostalgia fade, or must I simply hold on till I can grab my grandchildren out of their mother's arms to drink in that sweet scent of newborn baby?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Our just desserts

They say that we get the children we deserve. Is that so? Well what I want to know is what did I do to deserve the hoard of mess making monkeys who have descended into my calm and orderly life over the last seven years?

I grew up in a house where tidying was scorned as somehow demeaning, with the end result that our house was usually extremely messy, if not to say dirty. There was the year when we had no sink, so the washing up mouldered in the bath waiting for someone to lower themselves to actually, you know, do it.

There was the ecosystem that lurked at the back of the kitchen cupboards, which once spawned a whole generation of baby mice. There was the teetering alpine landscape of papers and documents that was forever on the brink of a devastating avalanche.

There was the  DIY that just never got done; from the complex - wires dangling from the ceiling with light switches attached - to the aestetic - wallpaper that hung from the walls in desolate strips, revealing patches of the last owner's taste in interior decor. I think you get the picture. My parents were not house proud.

I however was a changeling, a cuckoo in this supremely untidy nest. I would close the door on the house of horrors and retreat to the neat as a pin sanctuary of my bedroom. I must have been the only teenager who voluntarily did my own hoovering, dusting and washing, all in an attempt to create a little oasis of tidiness amidst this desert of detritus.

I haven't changed. I still tidy up everything I used to make my lunch with before I take a bite, I still find myself getting a little bit twitchy when a pile of magazines is askew or the sofa cushions aren't lined up correctly. I will admit to drafting in help to keep these OCD tendancies at bay. I have a super tidy nanny and a cleaner twice a week, so while I tap away on the keyboard I know my house isn't gradually disappearing under a morass of mess.

But I am under siege from my own children. Or as they shall hitherto be known, the hoard of mess making monkeys. From the moment we began to amass baby stuff during my first pregnancy the clean lines of my home have become increasingly blurred by the ever growing heap of plastic crap that pursues children wherever they go. From the change mats, mobiles and bottles of babyhood to the Lego bricks that find their way into every nook and cranny and dismembered action figures of today, I am fighting a losing battle.

My children seem to be ruled by some primeaval instinct to spread toys around their territory. No matter how often I scream (or cajole or bribe) at them to put things away, they just don't seem to be physically capable of tidying effectively.

Though be fair the oldest has shown some signs that we may be related. When he was a toddler he would hold out his dirty hands out to me and cry 'Mucky, mucky', until I wiped them clean. His favourite activity was to then take the wipes and wipe all over the floor with them, thus revealing that I am not as good a housewife as I might like, as they always came up black with grime.

When I once took him to messy play at the local arts centre the poor child almost had a nervous breakdown. He looked at the paint streaked over his clothes and went into a tearful overdrive of 'Mucky, mucky', until I took him off to the toilets, stripped and washed him down. The teacher took me aside and said I should probably help him to learn to cope with mess a little better. I huffed in disgust as I pulled him out of the class, wiping furiously at the last remnants of paint stuck in his golden toddler curls. We didn't go back.

When he went to school he invariably came home with stickers for being good at tidy up time, which always made me laugh as despite his neater nature any mention of a similar routine at home was met with wailing protests and a grinding of play dough into the carpet.

But the other three deserve Phds in mess making. They can turn a beautifully tidy room into a sea of plastic toys, leaky cups, discarded raisins, smears of felt tip and ripped books in seconds. And their attempts at tidying up are from the classic male school of helping out. So utterly incompetent that you are compelled to snatch the toys from their dawdling hands and do it yourself.

In fact some attempts to tidy up from son number two are more likely to create mess rather than clear it away. Like when he decides to clean the windows with moisturised baby wipes, leaving smears of oily cream all over them, or when he insists on carrying plates to the dishwasher, slopping their contents onto a freshly mopped floor as he goes.

I dream of the days when I can tidy a room and expect to return to it sometime later and find it in the same pristine state. Now I feel as if my life is one long round of straightening up rooms, for as I am busily tidying up in one, my hoard of mess making monkeys is unleashed next door with predictable consequences.

So do I deserve these mess making monkeys? Perhaps it is payback for my priggish youth, when I am sure my tidiness served as a silent reproach for my parents' slovenliness. Or perhaps it is just because some greater power decided that I needed to be kept busy. Who knows? But justice will be served if their own children inherit their unmatched skills for untidiness and their wives are clever enough to leave the mess for them to tidy up.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Halloween comes early

As my oldest was born on Halloween almost seven years ago now, we like to go to town on what always was an essentially American holiday. He is lucky he was born when he was, back in my day you were lucky if you got to dunk for apples on Halloween. Now every house in our suburb has glowing Jack O'Lanterns grinning spookily from their porches, and glittering black tinsel dangling sparkling spiders draped across the door.

Every year we go trick or treating, another new invention imported from across the Pond, but one that I have grown to love as I will always associate it with my boy's birthday. I will never forget the year when we first took  his little brother. The sight of him wobbling off in his fat pumpkin suit, plastic bag in hand ready to his booty at each door was just adorable. And the grin on his face when he saw how many sweets he had amassed had to be seen to be believed.

As I am pretty sure my children don't read my blog - well certain in the case of three of them as they can't read - I will admit to binning the vast majority of sweets and then denying any knowledge of them when they asked about their whereabouts. Some mums opt for eating the sweets (for the good of their children, you understand). But as I  have spent the equivalent of at least two Caribbean holidays at the dentist replacing teeth already worn out by my own childhood sweetie habit, I feel it is best to rid the house of such temptation.

This year Halloween falls on a Sunday so I imagine the streets around our house will be filled with miniature vampires and ghouls begging for treats. I think it would totally flummox most of them if you asked for a trick. But I wouldn't try it with some of the misfit teenagers who knocked on the door last year - I wasn't even sure if their outfits were in fact fancy dress, or just what they wore to menace people on an everyday basis.

Courtesy of Tesco we will be well prepared for the birthday celebrations this year as they hosted a lovely event in London yesterday for a select few mummy bloggers (none of whose blogs I had ever heard of - blush - but I am sure they are brilliant and much more professional than my own little offering) to show off the new Halloween costumes and give a sneak preview of Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space.

Both were a hit with the boys, as you can see from the pictures of my little bats (though I am not sure if the oldest looks more like a bat or part of a 70s glam rock tribute band), but the film was a particular success with son number two giving it a standing ovation at the end. We've already watched our DVD again today, and I can see I will be royally sick of it by the time Halloween comes around.