Monday, 12 December 2011

Stuff the Scrooges

Tis the season to be tacky tra la la la. Well at least that's my opinion. I like to think that for most of the year I am a relatively tasteful human being. I can't stand polyester bedding, I think most of the sofas in the DFS ads are vomit inducing and I know my way around a Farrow and Ball paint chart. See I am a right classy bird me, well at least I am until the first strains of Jingle Bells begin to chime in the shops, because just as a full moon unleashes the werewolf within, Christmas releases my inner Essix girl.

I have a sneaking affection for those houses lit up like Southend sea front with a menagerie of glittering neon snowmen, Santas and elves. I know it's wrong, but I just can't help it my spirits from lifting as I spy a herd glowing reindeer perched atop a suburban roof.

I was particularly disappointed that a recent trip to New York was just that little bit too early to see the full glory of the city's Christmas decorations as I know the Americans know how to go over the top in style. I was gagging to see the Swarovski laden tree at the Rockerfeller Centre, but it was still shrouded in scaffolding as a team of workmen bedecked it's branches.

You see I have tried doing an understated Christmas. I have fallen for the trends for monochrome trees glinting demurely with pure white lights and a few carefully chosen, handblown glass baubles, I have wrapped presents in brown paper and twine, I have decked the house in nothing but holly and ivy, but the end result always disappointed my tacky soul.

If it weren't for my husband who restrains my worst excesses my house would be draped with coloured lights, my tree would groan under the entire contents of the John Lewis Christmas department, accessorised by all the trinkets we've picked up on our travels with the children, including the fluffy M&M decorations, the festive Mickey and Goofy figures and the entire set of Micky Mouse shaped baubles.

This year I have scored a small victory for Christmas kitsch and for the first time, with the backing of my oldest boys, we have persuaded my other half that it is acceptable to string blue and white flashing lights across the front of the house. Little does he know this is the thin end of the wedge as I have long wanted to fill the tree outside our house with lights and I think this is a step in the right direction.

I was gratified when the neighbours on both sides complimented my lights, and felt this was justification if ever I needed in my marital struggle to introduce a taste free zone at Christmas. This year blue and white fairy lights, next year a lighting up snowman (always the blasted garden centre hasn't run out again, see I told you they were popular).

Monday, 28 November 2011

The perils of fancy dress (and all things sparkly)

Just as in your 20s you are forever going to weddings, while in your 30s you can't move for new baby announcements, your 40s are filled with drunken gatherings celebrating this momentous birthday. I recently celebrated my own 40th with an achingly unfashionable knees up in the local community hall, complete with vodka shots, a sequinned dress, sky scraper heels and plenty of cheesy tunes.

My husband was tasked with organising the party, which went spectacularly well, in part due to the helping hands he got from myself, my sister and some of my best friends. But what taxed me was selecting THE OUTFIT.

For some reason I had set my heart on dark green and clearly I was ahead of the curve as this party season you can move but for green dresses, but when I was shopping last summer the shade I wanted was elusive. Eventually I tracked down a sequinned number along with glittery green heels, but it was a hard won get up.

But if I thought that was the end of searching for those hard to find party clothes I was sorely mistaken. A month or so after my party was an old schoolfriend's bash. A very glam affair studded with TV celebs, for which I selected a sparkly black and gold affair, but sadly the night was rather ruined by a tummy bug my children had generously shared with me just before the big night. I didn't disgrace myself, but I wasn't really up for a party.

But the party that has really set me a proper task when it comes to finding appropriate attire is that of a school dad. He designed an ingenious invitation that eventually revealed that we must all attend in sci fi fancy dress. Cue a stream of Princess Leia-alikes. But I am not sure I can pull off either the buns and flowing white robe or, even worse, the gold bikini, look.

My husband is now sure that I have spent more time researching my outfit than I will actually spend at the party and he may have a point. But I did get one helping hand from the fabulous Ellos. I can't resist a pair of heels and if they come in silver glitter all the better and all the more suitable for a sci fi party, which is why I was thrilled to discover their Silver Glitter court shoes. Wearing them I could almost click my heels and find myself back on Alderaan.

Now I just have to work my way back up my outfit with these beauties and inspiration. Am also thinking that they will get me right through the party season as I have plenty more 40ths to look forward to, including one the very next day, though I am not sure the all over silver look will work quite so well at a luxury hotel in Suffolk - but you never know.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Homemade with love

My mum always used to make my birthday cakes and, brat that I was, I would always complain that I would have preferred a shop bought cake like all my friends. I craved the tooth decaying sweetness of factory made sugar paste icing, the neon bright colours only a bucket load of E numbers can create and branding that would shame the Disney corporation. What I didn't want was my mum's half sunken creation coated in wobbly icing declaring Happy Birthday.

Which is why it is rather a nuisance that as a grown up I am somewhat addicted to baking. I am glued to every series of The Great British Bake Off and it is dangerous to let me and a credit card loose in Lakeland. I can't get enough of their pretty cupcake cases, I lust after their icing turntables, their innovative Push Pan was the answer to my cheesecake dilemmas and now I have to physically restrain myself from ordering their entire Christmas baking range.

The problem is memories of my own mortification when instead of presenting me with the Mr Kipling creation I craved my mum insisted on cooking for me raise themselves like evil spectres every time I present my boys with a slice of home made cake.

To be honest they have become a little blase and to them coming home to a house scented with cooling cake is pretty normal. In fact when I asked my little twin what he wanted as a present when I got back from a recent trip to New York his one word answer was: "Cake". But I worry that while I love nothing more than creaming butter and sugar, whipping eggs and smoothing icing, my boys long for garishly coloured creations direct from the shelves of the supermarket.

Which is why I was so gratified that after demolishing a chocolate chip loaf cake last night, both the older boys declared that they hated shop bought cakes as they just tasted horrible. Clearly my children have far more sophisticated tastes than I did in childhood. But it did make me feel warm inside that my own hobby does give them the pleasure I hoped it would.

Though they are my worst critics and should I make a slip up the are quick to tell me so. My son begged me for a chocolate cake for his birthday, but after slaving over the horribly complicated recipe, he proceeded to pick off all the icing, declaring it too rich for his tastes. My other boy was just as bad as after requesting a chocolate orange cake - not the easiest thing to create - he then decided that he didn't really like the flavour of chocolates and oranges. Grrr. It's almost enough to have me buying up a nice cardboard flavoured character cake for them next year.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hospital ship

I do love my children, I do, I do. It's just that when everyone is ill it is hard to like them. This week we have been struck down by a tummy bug - my least favourite illness. Coughs and colds I can cope with, but I do hate sick. I can deal with poo, although when it is dribbling down the back of the only pair of trousers we have with us on a visit to the park, I begin to revise this opinion. But sick is another matter - just the whiff of it has me heaving and gagging. Ugh.

Luckily my  other half has no such qualms and is rather a star when that plaintive cry reaches up the stairs: "Mummy, daddy, I've been sick". He limbers into action and clears it all away while I gingerly pat the ill child at arms length, using a vice like grip to ensure they don't get any closer to me with their nasty germs. Sadly none of these precautions was effective and I succumbed to the bug too.

If there is one thing worse than ill children, it is having ill children when you are ill yourself. I long for the days when I could crawl under a duvet and forget the world in a whirl of naps and Trisha until I felt well enough to grace the office with my presence again. Now, unless wonder husband is able to take the day off, I have to drag my sad carcass around after the children trying to take care of them while not collapsing in a soggy, self pitying heap.

The problem is that while I know it is my job and duty to care for them, I just don't want to when I feel rotten. I want to be LEFT ALONE. But my children simply do not understand this concept. The sight of my comatose body elicits an irresistible urge to jump on it and ask "Mummy are you poorly?" at the top of their not insubstantial voices.

Most of the time I pride myself on coping relatively well with having four boys. After all I am still here, and as yet  have not been certified, which surely deserves a medal. But when I am ill it all goes out of the window and I don my official bad mother sash. I scream and shout, slope off to try to avoid them and generally fail in my maternal duties.

Luckily I have a very understanding son. Yesterday as I was attempting to juggle all four of them in the park to give my long suffering husband a well deserved break a stranger came up to me and after marvelling at my bad luck in ending up in charge of four small boys commended me on what a good job I was doing with them.

Lovely to have a compliment, but I wondered, how in the hell would she know? I could be beating them and locking them in cupboards for all she knew after a chance meeting in the park. When I said this out loud (not the bit about beating and cupboards) my son said. "But mummy you are doing a good job". "Aww, thank you, but I would like to be a bit nicer and shout less," I replied.

Quick as a flash he returned "You are nice and you need to shout at us. Sometimes you have to shout because you are angry and you can't help it and other times you have to shout at us to discipline us so we aren't so naughty." Perhaps I can take off the bad mother sash after all.

Though I will admit that his little brother didn't look convinced by this explanation and instead pondered the question of whether I was a good mum for quite some time before admitting that he supposed I was good enough.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

All you need is love

I had feared that when my eldest turned eight the gushing tap of affection that has been overflowing since he was a tiny mite would just switch off as a surly, pre-teen claimed my precious little boy. But after a weekend of birthday celebrations I am happy to report that the rumours of the demise of my cuddly little boy are greatly exaggerated. While the sulky strops are becoming more frequent, they are certainly no worse than the toddler tantrums of yore and I am still feeling the love just as much.

Take his birthday party - an orgy of activities designed to appeal to small boys from quad biking to a high ropes assault course, all powered by copious amounts of chips and sweets hosted by the fabulous Essex Outdoor Activities. A great time was had by all boys who took enormous pleasure in crashing their bikes and dangling precariously from ropes hung high in the treetops.

Must admit not my idea of fun, but my day was made as I strolled behind the birthday boy and his best friend from school. The friend turned to my boy and said "Which person here is your best friend of all?" clearly fishing for compliments. My son replied, quick as a flash: "My mum". Awwww. When I relayed this conversation to my husband I pondered how long it would be before he was mortified by the very concept of his mum being his best mate, and even if he wasn't when he would rather die than admit it to a school friend.

I must say I am happy that the days when I become an embarrassment haven't arrived just yet. He still begs me to take him down to line up for class in the morning, although he did blush bright pink and shrug me off when I declared a bit too loudly "Love you gorgeous" as a parting endearment. Note to self, must keep sweet nothings to whispered tones in company.

Then there was his family birthday party on the big day, a Halloween extravaganza planned and executed single handed by mummy. Despite my aching feet and extreme exhaustion, it was all worth it when my lovely boy flung his arms around me and said the biggest thank you for the best party with a little shine of tears in his eyes. Suddenly all the hours of cooking, traipsing around party shops, pinning up banners and trying to get the blasted steaming cauldrons to steam seemed worthwhile.

I know my days as number one girl in their lives are numbered, but I am storing up each and every one to keep me warm in the chilly teenage years. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that even then, as long as no one is looking, my boys might still have a cuddle and a kiss for their old mum every now and again.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

All partied out

Belts have had to be tightened of late due to the dramatic fall in income resulting from the general decline in the media industry. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet (or should that be fingers?) of evil bloggers who write for free, leading commissioning editors to believe that content is no longer something that should be paid for as so many are prepared to give it away.

Well I say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and not having to dance to the tune of a features desk does have its benefits. The deadlines are more relaxed and I get to write about what I like, not the fluctuating weight of the stars of The Only Way is Essex.

In any case, I digress. I have been attempting in my vague and chronically spendthrift way to introduce some austerity measures of my own. To wit - don't shop EVERY day and downgrade from Waitrose to Tesco wherever possible (which is not often if you live in an area ringed by the invariably knowingly undersold supermarket). However my sterling efforts to snap shut the FDMTG purse have been undermined of a seemingly unending run of birthdays.

They kicked off with my partner in crime Mr FDMTG's birthday on the ill-fated 11 September. He has never felt quite the same about his celebrations since we watched carnage at the World Trade Centre from a hotel room in St Kitts in 2001, so I feel it's important to go all out to cheer him up amidst the mournful memorials that surround the date of his birth. This added up to a round of meals out and presents. Lots of fun, but it hit the domestic budget hard.

Then there was my big one and I celebrated hitting 40 by spending lots of cash on sparkly dress, shoes and jewels (from uber talented Helen White), while other half re-mortgaged the house to pay for a slap up party complete with 80s tunes, embarrassing dancing and vodka jellies.

Next up was little Mr M, who turned six with a grand total of three celebrations. There was tea with the family in our local Italian, then a trip to town for afternoon tea and the theatre to see Horrible Histories. Finally he had a go-karting party with all his friends. After all of which I was too fearful to tot up the total. I simply blush with shame at all this indulgence lavished on a six-year-old.

The final birthday before we enter into the carnival of Christmas (and guess whose turn it is to host the family this year?) is my eldest who turns eight on Halloween. Initially I thought having a small party with just six little boys would be cheaper than our usual bash for the entire class of 30. How wrong can you be? Boy insisted on an assault course style birthday. Not an easy thing to pull off in London, so we ended up booking a secret location in Essex to go quad biking and complete a high wire course at a cost I am too mortified to admit.

Then I thought we had been let off the hook as he requested a quite night out with mummy and daddy on his actual birthday. At last something that might not break the bank. But then he started to notice all the Halloween paraphernalia popping up in the shops and performed a swift U-turn, demanding a spooky after school tea with all his cousins. Sigh.

Bang went my resolution not to shop as I spied a 3 for 2 offer in Waitrose on Halloween decorations, and then there are the costumes, the cake, the food......

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hi my name is FDMTG and I am a shopaholic

You might not think it to look at us, but Angelina Jolie and I have quite a bit in common and it’s not just our dark good looks. We also have a set of twins each and far too many children – she has six, I have four, but mine are all boys so I think it adds up to the same thing.

Alongside our taste for extreme parenting, we also share a deep and passionate love of shopping as is made clear by the number of times she braves the malls with her children in tow. She clearly is a tough as alter ego Lara Croft as I know from bitter experience just how hard it is to indulge in a spot of retail therapy with children in tow.

Perhaps her secret is that she has the fine art of bribery down to a T. Of course it helps that she is a zillionaire film star, as if I were to give in to the demands of my boys on a shopping trip I would need a million dollar movie contract to cover my costs, and despite my claims of being Jolie’s separated at birth identical twin, Hollywood has yet to beckon. However, if you like Jolie and I can’t bear to be parted from the shops just because you are a mum here are my top tips for a peaceful hour or two of retail therapy:

1. Food – never underestimate the power of a box of raisins (or in particularly trying circumstances a packet of chocolate buttons). They can silence a toddler for a full 15 minutes – just enough time to try on those skinny jeans in River Island before the screeching recommences.

2. Sleep – a well timed nap can buy you hours of silence in which to browse. Just make sure that under no circumstances do you allow your child to sleep in the car on the way to the shops, you need them ready to nod off the moment they are strapped into the buggy.

3. Bribery - This has to be planned in advance or it becomes ruinously expensive. Before you even leave the house dangle the carrot of a trip to the toy shop at the END of the shopping trip. Then you can use the stick of cancelling this treat all the way through to quell wails before they become too ear splitting.

4. Entertainment - Pick your route carefully and you can distract the children with endless free entertainment pitstops. If you have boys, then gadget shops with TVs blaring are always a winner. You can let them drool transfixed in front of the latest 3D, HD screen while you idly browse the latest iPods and pads. Also never forget the value of the Early Learning Centre shops for smaller children. They can play with all the toys left out to tempt you to spend and then be dragged away without you parting with a penny. Finally if you have access to the wonders of Westfield there is a dedicated (if a little small) play area for you to use to exhaust toddlers while you plan your shopping strategy.

5. Bring reinforcements - Many hands make light work of children on a shopping trip. Preferably choose a companion who doesn't have children, but longs for some of her own. That way she will think it is cute when they regurgitate half chewed biscuit down her cashmere coat, be begging to practise nappy changing and think it is fun to stride round and round a shopping centre in a vain attempt to get the little darling off to sleep. But whatever you do don't choose an off duty mum to come along too as she is sure to leave you holding the baby as she relishes her own down time.

But if all else fails simply strap them up tight in their buggy and ignore the screams. This approach is clearly the one favoured by the majority of mums in my own dear Brent Cross as I cannot count the number of times the peace of a lone shopping trip has been shattered by some other mother's child left yelling and whining in its pushchair outside a changing room as she tries on endless outfits.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Saved by Skylanders

Half term. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of parents across the land. We have just got back into the swing of term time. We had at last djusted to the morning chaos of rushed breakfasts, mislaid school ties, forgotten book bags and last minute dashes back to the school gate with the recorder no one reminded us to bring on Wednesday. It might not be fun, but the payback is six and a half hours of peace and quiet until the hoards descend in search of biscuits, the TV remote and our attention (and yes I do mean in that order).

Then along comes half term. That unnecessary week off that puts us all out of kilter once again. Suddenly the boys are hanging around looking lost and aimless without the structure of a school day. All suggestions that they use their time off to play with the myriad of toys stuffed in the cupboards, or practise the musical instruments they claim never to have time to play during the term or indeed tackle that mountain of holiday homework are met with excoriating scorn.

The only solution that is acceptable to my picky pre-teens is a day out that requires a second mortgage to fund it. On Friday we had an inset day (don't get me on to them and the question of why staff training can't take place in school holidays when there are enough of them), so I decided to have a day out with my big boys.

We opted for the Dr Who Experience. It was great fun as we are all huge fans. We got to fly the Tardis, operate a Dalek and speak like a Cyberman - what's not to like? But add on lunch at Pizza Express and a couple of cheap toys and I was £100 lighter by the end of the day. If I carry on like this we could have gone away on holiday for less than it will cost to keep them entertained at home.

However just as I was about to lose the will to live before the holiday had even started, salvation arrived in the form of a big, brown paper parcel. I love a big box appearing on my doorstep at any time, but when it contains the solution to all my half term problems in one (or two) shiny cardboard boxes I am in heaven. For inside said box was a copy of the game my boys have been crazing me to buy them ever since they first saw it advertised. My husband and I have been fuddy duddy confused by their breathless descriptions of something that was a computer game and toys, but now it all became clear.

Skylanders is an ingenious mix of toy figures and a fantasy game. You stick your figure of choice onto the portal, which comes with the game and lights up in lovely pretty colours, its image instantly appears onscreen and you can play as that character with all its attendant skills. Now being an over the hill parent this is as far as I will go in terms of explanation, lest I show off the bottomless pit of my ignorance. But suffice to say that ever since it was loaded up onto the shiny new Wii that came with it I haven't heard a peep from my previously bored stiff children.

Even the twins demand to watch Skylanders when the boys are playing as it has the bright, colourful and slightly psychedelic look of a children's TV show. Though I have had to battle to keep all the figures safe as they are a magnet to sticky two-year-old paws. Despite this slight drawback I think the addition of real life toys to the onscreen games gives it improved longevity. Usually my boys have a way of obsessively playing games to the bitter end and then simply losing interest. This way every time we buy a new character the games develops a new level, and they can go back and play it all again with new powers.

The only problem now is that the boys want to collect ALL of the figures. Luckily we have another birthday and Christmas coming up and I don't think Santa will have any trouble coming up with something to put in our boys stockings.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Out and about

It has been forever and a day (well over a month) since FDMTG has been updated. But don't imagine that this means we haven't been busy. Although to be honest anyone who thinks a mum of four is ever not busy is clearly certifiable.

Not only is it birthday season, with four out of the six members of the FDMTG household celebrating birthdays in September and October, which means we have been up to our eyes in cake, candles and helium balloons, but I have also been representing the brand at various events.

So prepare for the plugging. Firstly I was asked (OK paid) to be a judge on the panel selecting the children to feature in the new Calpol ad. It was a surreal day a few months back when I was locked in an overheated room in a London ad agency watching children jump through hoops for the crazed casting director. Some sensibly refused to play ball, instead burying their heads in their mum's bosom or crying noisy tears of indignation while their hapless parent declared: "He's never normally shy like this", while others were surprisingly cute in the face of such adversity.

Having helped to whittle down the finalist from 24 to six, now the ad has been made with two sweet girls (one of whom was a particular favourite, but I shall keep her identity a secret to save her blushes). So well done to the winners, though as I said to the makers of Calpol on the day, surely there is no need to advertise the pink elixir? No right minded parent should need much persuasion as to its magical qualities. It is one of the few failsafe methods I have found to turn a screaming, crying, snot-coated child into a sleepy little angel I could once again contemplate loving. It's hard to imagine an easier sell.

My second outing was a little less successful, probably because it involved the children. Today I braved the tube with my two-year-old twins without the safety net of a buggy. It's not that I wanted to walk with them, but the alternative of lugging a huge double pushchair up and down stairs whilst also trying to wrangle the twins is nothing short of madness.

Surprisingly the tube journey was relatively pain free despite one change and lots of hard stares from joyless commuters who objected to the twins' breaking into the misery of their journey with their shrieks of glee on entering a tunnel or stopping at a station. But I think all the excitement of the underground wore them out, as by the time they reached our destination - the launch of a new range of In the Night Garden toys at The Rainforest Cafe, they'd had enough.

Not even the charms of Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy was enough to stem their tears when the animatronic rainforest animals kicked off an electronic cacophony of cries. All thoughts of Makka Pakka were banished by their abject terror at the 'scary monkey'. In the end their screams of 'I want to go home' became so ear shattering that I decided to cut my losses and head back to the tube.

Thankfully the boys' joy at seeing the train pull up made me realise that despite the event not living up to its promise, the day out had not been a total failure, not least because they slept for a good three hours one we finally made it back to the safety of our monkey-free house.

They did enjoy the goody bag too. No surprise there though as all my boys are chips off the old block. Just recently as I was discussing possible new careers that might actually earn me some money, as opposed to being a freelance journalist which frankly fails abysmally on that front, my eldest wailed: "You can't stop being a journalist mum, I like going to launches and getting free stuff". He's got my job sussed then.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

And the prize for most disorganised mum goes to....

I won't keep you in suspense as I scooped that one last night. Never mind that we had had seven weeks of summer holiday for me to label up the million new items of school uniform required by my two sons, or to get my eldest to do his homework, or to find all the lost school kit that had wandered off during the break. I still found myself running around like a headless chicken trying to fit all these tasks into about five minutes last night.

I am quite surprised that this only resulted in me leaving two of my sons in tears, I expected the full quartet to be in hysterics just like me. The fun kicked off when I finally opened up my seven-year-old's neglected book bag to discover what fiendish task had been set for us by his sadistic teachers as a goodbye gift from Year 2.

It was some nonsense about researching a famous Victorian, which naturally I could do in about five minutes with the aid of Google and Wikipedia, but when I suggested this course of action to my sanctimonious son he prissily pointed out that this was cheating and not something a well educated child like him could condone.

Instead of screaming "So what? We only have about 10 minutes before you have to be in bed, let's just get this done" like I wanted to. I bit my lip and waited while he torturously read and wrote out Isambard Kingdom Brunel's life story. Then I went into a tailspin when I realised that the twins had decimated our paper supplies with their obsession with drawin' and we had no A3 paper left with which to create his masterpiece. I was tempted by my friend's suggestion that an A4 poster would be more than sufficient, but we had already printed out all our pictures, which were too big to fit on A4 and the printer was predictably out of ink.

An emergency call to grandpa delivered us a pristine pad of A3 paper on which to glue my boy's tearstained work. My excuse for reducing him to tears with my banshee screams to hurry up is that the stains gave his work an authentically antique Victorian look. Not sure that covers making the two-year-old wail by yelling at him for innocently touching the homework in progress.

In the end I felt that my presence was perhaps not helping and I retreated upstairs to start labelling uniform. My god this is a thankless task, even though I have got being a lazy mum down to fine art and use stick on labels, whatever the manufacturers promise I know I will find all those painstaking attached name tags floating in the washing machine the moment I put any of the uniform into it. And even if they do stay stuck no one ever returns lost uniform anyway, whether there's a name in it or not, so really what is the point?

When I finally finished this Sisyphean task it was onto the next one which was actually tracking down all the mass of kit the boys need for school from book bags (fallen down behind the hall chest), to PE kit bags (buried under the coat mountain next to the front door) and their school coats (shoved at the bottom of the wardrobe).

Last but not least was finding some suitable object to send in in my younger boy's Talk Bag. I tried to get him to select something vaguely educational. "Why not take something from our holiday?" I suggest, trying to make up for my previous cheating lapse. But no, he was adamant that the only thing that would do was a yellow and pink spotted foam octopus bath toy. I was too worn down to argue, but there's a lollipop in it for any of his little friends who correctly identify the contents of that particular bag.

Still at least I was one step ahead of the friend who posted on Facebook as I virtually gnashed my teeth about homework. "What there was summer holiday homework?" Perhaps I should hand her the top spot on the podium after all.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Fickle affections

This morning I stumbled down into the kitchen, eyes still glued together, nightie flapping and slippers slapping on the tiles. A picture of tired maternal messiness, but that didn't put my golden Zach off. As soon as he heard my shuffling step approaching his blonde head bounced up, his green eyes dancing with delight as a gappy smile lit up his face. He threw open his arms and bombed at me, flinging them around my knees ecstatically shouting "Hello mummy".

Oh how my heart melted. No amount of tousled hair or pillow creases on my cheeks can put my boy off. How I love him and clearly how he loves me. Or so I thought.

Just ten minutes later, overcome by affection for my little boy I called to him "Zachy, I love you". He turned around slowly, a mischievous glint in those self same green eyes, and he began s to shake his head, burnished curls catching the light as he announces: "No lub mummy. Lub daddy". He then pointedly returned his attention to CBeebies making it clear he has already learned the value of treating mum mean to keep her keen.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


The sky arches expansively above me, pale blue softened by streaks of hazy white cloud. It dips down onto the gentle waves ruffling the surface of an emerald green sea. They break onto a wide golden beach that curves for miles in either direction.

Looking forward I strain to make out a rocky outcrop glistening with dark fronds of seaweed, so recently engulfed by the water fast retreating from the beach. Behind me are the towers of a power station, made toytown tiny by distance. They glower over their supplanters, gigantic wind turbines turning lazily in the breeze.

I watch as my feet make lonely tracks on the soft sand, each footstep perfectly measured from the last. My breath coming fast with the effort of running along beside the waves. I push myself to run as fast as I can from one patch of slimy seaweed to the next. I pull out my headphones to savour the sound of the wind rushing past my ears, the water lapping and slapping on the sand.

I train my eyes on some distant landmark and push my pace up a notch to reach it faster. As sweat drips into my eyes stinging them with its salty tang, my legs pulse beneath me keeping up a constant rhythm. I feel my muscles respond and keep propelling me ever forward to the next dune spiky with sea grass, to the next rock beached with its coating of slick barnacles clinging on until the tide rises once again.

I push my body onwards, my mind freed by this simple physical exertion to drink in the delightfully bleak and beautiful landscape. I am alone. It is the one luxury I crave amidst my busy family and the one that has been returned to me by rediscovering to my pre-children passion for running.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Best of British

I am slouched, nay collapsed, in a near stupor on my sofa this evening. The television is a blur out of the corner of my eye and my husband forms an equally washed out figure slumped beside me. The reason for our exhaustion? We have just spent the last week on our family holiday.

Gone are the days when this might have meant we would be bronzed, relaxed and refreshed. Now breaks are more about endurance than R&R and we are always impressed if we make it through without actually suffering a nervous breakdown.

To be fair this year's summer break has to classed as our most successful so far, despite taking place in the initially unpromising location of northern England. For a start despite many bleak predictions it only rained once during the whole week and at the time we were all tucked up in bed, listening to the pounding raindrops on the velux windows as we snuggled under the comfort of a crisp white duvet.

Secondly the twins independence is coming on in leaps and bounds, which meant that we could snatch the odd moment to sit down and take a breath in between tending to their needs, something that was unthinkable this time last year. That said the children were careful to ensure that their slaves, oh sorry parents, shouldn't get too comfortable.

The moment either one of us looked like we might actually be enjoying a little time to ourselves a small voice would pipe up demanding juice, food, help with endlessly putting on and taking off shoes or the repair of the house train set that was unbelievably even more unreliable and prone to engineering problems than the real British railway network.

But the good thing about taking children on holiday is their huge capacity for enjoyment. While we may trudge, unimpressed, around yet another museum or castle, wondering quite how much more of this there is to go before we can return back to base and sink a lethally strong G&T or ten. The kids are wide eyed with awe no matter how unprepossessing said attraction may be. Throw in a dungeon or a display of weaponry and the boys are in heaven, revelling in imaginings of medieval torture or ancient warfare.

Though sometimes their blood lust does become a touch disturbing, like the time when my seven-year-old stood staring at some caged fowl and asked: "What do you think it would be like to kick a chicken?" with genuine interest. I simply crossed my fingers that this wasn't an early sign that I am breeding a psychopath and dragged him off to inspect a menacing threshing machine.

Though perhaps I should be worried as another highlight was a tour of Alnwick Castle's Poison Garden, where the boys were struck dumb by the guide's gruesomely detailed descriptions of plants that kill. They were still animatedly discussing one with sap that can inflict third degree burns days later. Sometimes I do long for daughters who I fondly imagine would be more diverted by pretty flowers than deadly nightshade.

The youngest though is still satisfied with the simpler pleasures in life as, urbanite that he is, he was most enthralled by all the fields of sheep we drove past on our way to visit the sights. Every flock we passed had him bouncing in his seat yelling "Hello sheeps", before launching into an uncannily accurate series of baas that kept him bleating till we inevitably passed another field of sheep.

All in all a good, if tiring, holiday was had by all. We were tempted by the idea of letting the boys have a TV in their room at home, because we got a lie in every morning as they ploughed through everything from Casablanca to Jumanji, with a lesson in modern history thrown in as they discovered what a video recorder is.

The twins found out how to climb out of their cots, with the tooth achingly sweet result that one morning I discovered them carefully unpacking the contents of Jonah's ever present toy bag in order to have a picnic in bed. Awww. Though the day they decided to attempt to change Zach themselves wasn't quite a pretty. From the mess they made with wipes alone I am just grateful they never actually managed to access the contents of the nappy itself.

As for us parents - assessing the number of empties there were in the recycling bin when we left, it was evident we had had a whale of a time once the kids were in bed.

The really good news though, is that the end of our holiday means there are only another two weeks left before school starts again and I can stop trailing around child friendly attractions and leave the task of keeping them entertained to the professionals again.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Because he's gorgeous

The original point of starting this blog was to record my boys' childhood so it wouldn't get lost in the fuzz that is my memory. I still love clicking back and seeing just how unhinged I was when the twins were born. I am actually impressed I managed to string a sentence together, but writing my blog saved my sanity in those early months of being a sleep deprived new mum of twins.

Sadly as my boys have grown and I have had less time on my hands as the vagaries of life keep me increasingly busy I haven't kept as up to date with their little ways, which is a shame as the twins are at the most adorable stage, where words are finally being manipulated to some purpose. I think there is nothing more delightfully amusing than having a chat with a two and a half year old, except perhaps listening to them chat to each other.

Just the other day my darling Jonah was slumped, goggly eyed on his auntie's lap. Sleep was clearly high up on his agenda and his dark lashes were drooping to stroke his chubby cheeks, but when I said to him: "Are you tired?", his head snapped up, eyes wide open as he proclaimed: "No. I am gorgeous". Now it's a favourite game to ask him if he is sleepy just to hear his reply. Even better is when his twin overhears and pipes up: "I am gorgeous too".

Then there are the mornings when we lie in bed like the lazy parents we are being serenaded by a medley of songs ranging from Bob a Builder to Happy Birthday, taking in a spot of Bruno Mars along the way all drifting up from the twins' bedroom. It is one of the joys of twins that they don't start screaming when you fail to get them up at some ungodly hour, instead they simply chat and sing amongst themselves.

Then when I creep up and open the door I hear them crying "Is it daddy? Oh no it's mummy. It is wake time mummy, want breakfast." As they bounce like manic dogs at the promise of walks in their beds. Though today Zach stopped in his speedy progress downstairs to check "Is 'larm off?". What a conscientious boy, though he would be fine as the larm doesn't pick up toddlers, I guess working on the premise that there aren't too many members of the criminal underclass who are under three foot tall.

It's not just what they say that is adorable. Yesterday we went out with all the family boys and off the twins trotted hand in hand only to be joined by both their big brothers and their cousin. All five boys trooped off hand in hand. It was definitely an AWWWW moment for their two proud mummies.

So perhaps I have taken another snapshot of family life August 2011 style to return to and paw over like some precious gem when the boys are shouting and sulking teenagers.

OMG I'm a nominee

And also it appears a poet, but I didn't know it. OK I will stop now. I am quite flabbergasted (don't you just love that word?) that the humble FDMTG has been nominated for one of the Gurgle 2011 Awards. A big thanks to whoever it was that put my blog forward, you are clearly a lovely and extremely patient type as I am horribly guilty of neglecting it in favour of, you know, the children, work, life, the universe and everything.

Not only is it deeply flattering to be considered, particularly alongside such luminaries of the blogging world as MTJAM, who I admire greatly, but also to be put in the Best Mummy Blog Writer category. What an honour, and I am sure that the other bloggers who have been selected to do combat for this coveted award are also fabulous. But anyone who follows my blog knows I am totally rubbish at reading other people's blogs, because I am too lazy and too scared that they will be infinitely more professional than mine - not hard really that last one though.

Anyway, should you wish to cast your vote my way just click here. Not that I like begging, but please do vote for me as it would be too humiliating to be the only blog to score Nul Points.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Is really only day one?

If this is a sign of things to come for this summer holiday I think I may have to go AWOL. Today I took my two older boys out for the day, I didn't even have the twins in tow as my gorgeous nanny is working her last week before taking a month off to go home and see her family, and I am still fit to drop.

It is not that my sons are hard to take care of, it is the constant bickering that wears you down. They cannot have a conversation without it turning into a dispute. Should one declare that the sky is blue, the other will instantly jump in with a supercilious observation that actually if you look closely it is more of a muted white today.

The instant I take a seat there is a battle for boy supremacy as to who will take the coveted seat next to me. I used to be flattered by this, but now I am just exhausted by their constant jockeying for position. It is less about sitting next to me, and more about getting one over on your brother.

I imagine this is simply how small males relate. They are just like tiny loin cubs play fighting, or young male stags locking antlers, but at least in the wild their poor mothers can lay prone or wander off, leaving their young to it. I on the other hand am cast in the unwilling role of referee. Although I think that title is somewhat misleading, implying as it does that they listen to a word I say.

I am forever trying to get them to behave in some semblance of a civilised manner, but my efforts are in vain. They cannot speak at any volume other than ear splitting, which means that whenever we are in public I am forever shushing them. Sit them at a table and they are instantly wriggling and sliding off their chairs. Give them a drink and they are blowing noisy bubbles in it, dipping their hands into it and flicking it across the table, or knocking it onto the floor with a splintering crash.

Food is there to be played with, or eaten in the most gross manner possible. I don't think I have ever eaten out with my five-year-old without making intimate acquaintance with each morsel of food he is masticating as he is physically incapable of silence, even if his mouth is stuffed to the gunnels with grub. While even the seven-year-old thinks nothing of spitting out anything he doesn't like onto his plate in a globulous mess of half eaten goo.

Anyone would think they had been dragged up, when in reality I have drummed into them the importance of table manners from an early age. But like all men they are deaf to female nagging and all my admonishments float gently in one ear and out of the other, without making the slightest impression.

To be quite honest they can be an embarrassment to be seen with. I would be tempted to pretend that I am only the nanny apart from the fact that (a) I don't come across as half as competent and (b) the boys will insist on calling me mummy all the time.

Perhaps I should view the summer holidays are my chance to work on improving their behaviour, but with four of them to cope with just surviving might be challenge enough in itself.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Turn the volume down?

Before I had children I hated noisy kids. Those screeching brats that would ruin a nice, civilised adult occasions with by yelling and dashing about around you. I would cast evil looks at their seemingly oblivious parents, tutting away under my breath at their poor manners.

Now that I must travel everywhere complete with my tribe of four small children I realise that perhaps I misunderstood those parents. It's not that they didn't care that their children were disrupting everyone else's peaceful afternoon, it was that they simply didn't notice. Not because they were thoughtless or feckless, but because you have to learn to tune out the noise when you live with little children or you would lose your mind.

This weekend we made the foolish mistake of taking all our sons with us to Ikea in search of an elusive light bulb (don't ask). After a fruitless search during which both twins alternated between coming within a whisker of being run over by some oversized trolley carting a mattress out to the car park, or whining to be carried by their already overburdened parents, we gave up and went to buy hotdogs.

Even though the hotdogs contain such quality ingredients that they only cost the princely sum of 50p we still found that with so many mouths to feed we didn't have quite enough small change to cover our gourmet feast. So off my husband escapes to the cash point leaving me with the three rowdiest members of the brood to entertain in the rather unpromising environs of the cash tills.

Having played another few nerve racking rounds of dodge the trolley, I decided that enough was enough and took them off to a quiet corner to play with the toy trains they had been clutching all around the store. This apparently was the best idea as they happily engaged themselves in smashing them off a packing shelf and onto the floor, while squealing with delight as they poor trains crashed onto the concrete.

I heaved a sigh of relief. Everyone was entertained and out of harm's way, always a good outcome when out and about with small boys. But before my shoulders could sink back from around my ears I noticed the evil looks that were being cast my way by the other customers. Far from being relieved that I had found a way to keep my children amused and out from under the wheels of their trolleys, they were annoyed, if not to say extremely pissed off, by all the squeals of delight that were splitting the air as part of the boys' jolly game.

My ears have grown so accustomed to daily assaults from loud children that I hadn't even heard all the noise they were making, I was just happy that they weren't all dashing off in different directions in search of the most dangerous thing they could find. Noise is a small price to pay to keep the children all in one place and relatively happy.

But as I looked around it dawned on me that, rather than simply attempting to keep them out of everyone's way, I had to keep the decibel level within reasonable limits too, or else suffer trial by dirty looks from the entire clientele who wasn't accompanied by toddlers. Which given that most parents of toddlers are sensible enough not to take them to Ikea on a Sunday lunchtime, was most of them.

As I ineffectually shushed the boys, turning a vibrant beetroot red as they ignored their mother and screeched even louder, I sent up a silent prayer to all those poor parents who had been on the receiving end of all my venomous looks in my pre-children days: 'Forgive me, I knew not what I did'.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

To boast or not to boast, that is question.

My boys are clearly the best, I mean every mother knows that about her children doesn't she? While to others your offspring may look like a snivelling bunch of out of control monsters, to you the sun will always cast its rays from their backsides. It's part of the mummy job description. While others may cast a more cynical, nay realistic, eye over your brood, you will always have rose-tinted specs perched firmly upon your maternal nose.

Thing is when your children genuinely do well then what? End of term is report season and, well, this does rather tend to bring out the braggart in one. Now some mums are quite bare faced in their parental pride, one might say rather thoughtlessly so. To hold your little darling's report aloft screaming about all the praise that has been heaped upon him, while other parents frown at the row of D's adorning their own child's report card is nothing short of insensitive and rude.

However, it is hard to quell the desire to show off about just how well your baby has done. The only danger in this of course is that, God forbid, someone else's child might have done better. While you smugly tot up all the As your child has collected over the past academic year, some other mother might be able to best you, and that would be quite devastating to the competitive parent.

Perhaps this is why, while I allow myself a broad smile as I scan down their reports, I try to keep my boys' results to myself. Of course you will have guessed they did well by now (and where else can I show off if not on my own blog), and I swell with pride at all their achievements. Not least because my own report cards were not such an exercise in excellence.

When I ecstatically hug my sons for doing so well the motivation isn't unadulterated maternal pride, it is also a faint feeling of astonishment that these boys are related to me. While they associate report time with treats and rewards, I will never forget the cowering fear with which I awaited the return of my own mother and father from parents' evenings.

I knew I wasn't in line for any accolades, instead I would be grateful if I got away without a thump around the head for being so utterly sullen and stubborn about school. Best case scenario was ending up with a vicious row about what a disappointment/embarrassment I was to them.

While my sons teachers write about what a joy they have been teach, my own could come up with nothing but complaints about my surly attitude and lack of prowess at anything much. Moaning about my lack of enthusiasm twinned with a irritating talent for answering back.

My boys love school, I hated every moment of it, and didn't hold back in showing those poor, benighted individuals who had the pleasure of teaching me just how much I disapproved of wasting my days in academia.

So for me maternal boasting is underlaid by a feeling of wonder that I could have birthed such brilliant boys from such unpromising material. Though I do, in this respect, speak for myself as they have clearly inherited their academic abilities from the paternal side of the family as  my other half has an unblemished record of achievements throughout school and university.

Perhaps as the years go by I will become more accustomed to reading such good reports and become as blase as my sons. I might even become brave enough to try my hand at the ancient Jewish practice of kvelling, a skill I am picking up from a true master in the art, my mother-in-law, who never fails to show off her genius for it when talking about her precious grandsons.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Rainy day activities

With a view to entertaining the brood over the summer holidays I decided to compile my own list of the favoured rainy day activities chez FDMTG, but whatever you do don't try them at home.

1. Screaming. Oh how the twins love this one. Whether it is screaming because you have switched off the television, screaming because you can't instantly tune it into their favourite show or DVD, screaming because you have dared to suggest that they might eat something other than bags filled with dry cereal or screaming because you think the extent of their screaming signifies a need for a nap. Or there is screaming because it's bath time, or screaming because it's time to get out of the bath, screaming because they have been deprived of the one and only toy they want, or just screaming because it sounds so good.

2. Arguing. This one is perhaps more popular with the older boys. I think having perfected the power of speech is what has pushed this one to the top of the pops for them, and when cooped inside there is just so much scope to argue over things. They can argue over what to do, how to do it, who is best at doing it, who should be in charge of doing it and whether they even want to do it anyway. They can argue over who should sit where, over what to have for dinner, over who actually owns a specific toy, over what to watch on TV or play on the Xbox. Really the list is endless.

3. Injuring themselves. This is another favourite and is particularly fun when executed when their mum is way upstairs sorting the washing as an escape from the screaming and arguing. I will be peacefully folding T shirts and putting away the endless supply of pants my sons get through when suddenly a wail will rent the air. It sounds as one of my sons has mortally wounded himself and has but moments to live. I will dash, panicked, downstairs, to find a child lying face down on the floor sobbing. What can be wrong? 'He pushed me. On purpose', comes the petulant answer from the now dry-eyed boy. Oh for the love of God......I return upstairs to fold more pants.

4. Whinging. Now this one any parent will instantly recognise as it is a skill that all children hone from the moment they can whine independently. Clearly it is my fault that water is falling from the sky and I must be berated appropriately. 'Why can't we go out?' 'Why won't it stop raining?' 'I'm bored' and on and on until I want to dunk them into the rain butt just to shut them up.

5. Complaining. Closely related to number 4 this one is more specific. I have slaved over tea, attempting to make a dish that is both nutritious, healthy and that they won't turn their noses up at. The response. A predicable 'I don't like peas/meat/potatoes/food', that last one restricted to Jonah who shows early signs of selective eating disorder and if it's not chippies he doesn't want to know. Then the complaints about having to actually eat a significant amount of their healthy main course before diving into the puddings begin. Which moves us swiftly up to number 6.

6. Negotiating. I swear my oldest is set to become a top notch lawyer as he loves nothing more than ruthlessly negotiating a cut throat deal. Say he can stay up until 8pm and he instantly counters with 8:15, say he can read another page and he will be angling to finish the chapter, offer him another 10 minutes on the Xbox and he will wangle himself 20. Again he finds meal times fertile ground to exercise this talent, as when I say he has to finish his broccoli he will hive off several stems and then begin haggling over just how many he has to eat before he can strike a deal over how much chocolate he is allowed for dessert.

7. Being irritating. Another one that is commonplace amongst children. Why ask a simple question when you can trail around after me saying 'Mummy, mummy, mummy' at increasing volume? Why finish your breakfast quickly so we can leave the house before lunchtime when you can tarry over it so long that steam actually starts to come out of your parents' ears? Why put your shoes on when you could fanny around looking for an unnecessary toy instead? Why quicken your pace when we are late, when you can stop every 10 seconds to inspect every passing lamp post, scrap of rubbish or neighbours' drive? Why make life easy when it's so much more fun to make it agonising and frustrating?

8. Practising selective deafness. There is a scientific test for this one. Firstly ask your child in a loud voice to tidy up their room while they are busy watching a DVD and watch for any response. There won't be one of course, but we have to be rigorous in our experiment. Then whisper in tones so quiet that only dogs can hear you 'Would you like some sweeties?' and watch as they bound over slavering out 'Yes mummy, I'd love some sweeties'. Bob's your uncle and you have empirical proof of the existence of selective deafness.

9. Losing things. I am not sure if this one is specific to boys, but I know my house of men can't keep track of their most treasured possessions for more than a fleeting moment or two. My eldest has a precious bear who has been with him since birth, and you would think this would make him worth keeping safe. You would be wrong, I have lost count of the number of times I have had to play hunt Barnabas. He has been located in all kinds of places from the doctor's surgery to miscellaneous play areas, from inside a wellington boot to behind the sofa and all because his owner simply forgot about him.

10. Winding me up. A combination of numbers 1 through 9 adds up to a mother on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Of course with four sons to contend with they can split the tasks between them to cover all bases. So while one is screaming and whining, another can complain and negotiate, a third then loses track of possessions and time and the fourth member of the quartet hurts himself because he didn't listen to you. Oh the joys of motherhood.

Monday, 18 July 2011

We're not going on a summer holiday

I shouldn't moan, but our two weeks in Florida at Easter seems such a long time ago and I am finding it hard to work up much enthusiasm for six weeks spent tending to my children single handed. Much as I love them I find it much easier to spend time with them when it is divided into small, manageable chunks spread judiciously around plenty of time to follow my own various grown up pursuits.

We are braving the North of England for a week, but thank to its fabled summer rainstorms and chilly temperatures I hardly think this will turn out to be a bucket and spade break despite the beach being a moments walk away. Somehow a week spent in someone else's hired home just beyond Newcastle doesn't fill me with the same delicious anticipation as the prospect of a couple of sun drenched weeks eating gooey cheese and drinking cheap and robust rose in the South of France.

So as our break isn't much to write home about I am finding myself filling daily with a feeling of dread as the last week of term drains away. I am at a loss as to how to entertain children with disparate and often conflicting interest day after, sure to be rainy, day.

While the twins are usually happy enough chasing each other around the garden shrieking 'I'm gonna get you' at one another, or hoarding stacks of toys all over the house, or glued to Toy Story as it plays on an endless loop, the older children are only ever content if plugged into the Xbox. Well I say content, but actually peace only ever reigns briefly before they either argue viciously over tactics or simply go stir crazy with so much screen time.

This is usually the point where I foolishly decide I can bear no more of housebound boys and embark on some kind of ill fated expedition. Again if I were to only have a duo from my quartet of sons this is a simple enough task. The older boys are happy to go to the cinema, have mastered the art of tube travel and can be relied upon not to dash off in a crowded space never to be seen again. The same cannot be said for the twins.

My two two-year-olds are nothing short of a liability. Take your eye off them for a nanosecond and they are away. Or dripping in excrement the moment that you realise you forgot the nappies. Or screaming in bloodcurdling indignation as they scrap over toys. Or needing to be fed and watered that instant, and woe betide you if you make them wait for sustenance. In short they are not fun to take out of the house.

The strangest thing is that while the older boys are perfectly mature company when taken out on their own, when I take all four out suddenly they seem to lose all sense of reason and revert to toddlers themselves.

Say for example I were to try to negotiate an escalator with the twins, or some other similar suicide mission, one of the older children who normally can deal with moving staircases with ease will suddenly find himself tripping up and being dragged into its chomping jaws leaving me to make a split second decision about which child I would miss the most in the event of their demise. Perhaps the twins are quite right in their assessment of this particular mode of transport eyeing it warily and calling it an alligator - as if it really was in the business of snapping up little boys.

Once we have arrived at our destination things rarely improve. The instant we alight at a museum or other such form of entertainment everyone wants to dash off in a different direction and all those who are thwarted instantly start to whinge, moan and scream. If I try to force the twins to do the more grown up activities they wriggle and cry in the bondage of their pushchair, if I attempt to make the older boys do something suitable for preschoolers they are guaranteed to get too boisterous and end up distressing the poor pampered toddlers of more controlled and considerate mothers.

But it's when it comes to feeding them that I really begin to tear my hair out. They never want to eat the same thing. They all need endless help to get nourishment inside them rather than onto the floor, under their chairs or into their hair - even the nearly 8-year-old. Someone always needs to go to the loo halfway through so either we all have to troop off leaving lunch half eaten, or else I have to trust them to look after themselves, which often gets messy.

As you can imagine a day spent scaling such obstacles is about as leisurely as a dip in piranha infested waters, which is why I am counting down the moments until the summer holidays with as much trepidation as they boys are excitedly wishing them away.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Breastapo

Hurrah for Kym Marsh who hit out at the Twitics who slammed her for not breastfeeding her baby Polly. I have written in the past about my choice to bottle feed my boys and it's one that I am proud of. I put my hand on my heart when I say that formula feeding made me a better mum. I don't think that it's the right choice for everyone, how would I know what works for other mums, but I do know that switching from breast to bottle was the best decision I ever made.

I think it might help if mums were a bit more honest about the reality of breastfeeding. My own mum breezily told me she had taken to it like a duck to water, but then her memory isn't what it once was, and no one admitted what an horrific experience it can be. From the moment my newborn latched his vice like gums onto my poor nipple it was sheer agony.

From the painful, swollen lumps in my breasts, to the stinky leaking milk spewing onto my top, from the bleeding nipples to my son's unrelenting appetite, nothing about breastfeeding seemed in any way natural or pleasant. I tried breastfeeding counsellors, asked my health visitor for help, in short I didn't just give up, but in the end enough was enough and all our feeding problems were standing between me and falling in love with my little boy.

From the moment I fed my firstborn a bottle our relationship was transformed and I could become the calm and caring mother I'd always imagined I would be, cradling him in my arms as he drank in his milk, rather than stiffening at his hungry cry and wincing as he tried to suckle.

Perhaps breast is biologically best, but for me it was so emotionally damaging that any physical benefits were outweighed by the trauma it caused psychologically. I don't advocate that no one should breastfeed, or that swapping to the bottle would make anyone else a better mother, I just think that every mum should be left to make her decision about what is best for her in peace. After all it's hard enough mothering a newborn without every Twit, Dick and Harry second guessing all your decisions.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


I don't consider myself a particularly maternal woman. In fact I think my blog has made clear my opposition to many mummy type activities such as finger painting, playgroups and helping with homework, but one thing I wholeheartedly approve of is cuddles. Not just for me you understand, I like to dole them out liberally and I love more than anything to see my boys cuddle one another.

Now each son has a different approach to cuddling. Number one son is very keen, and even at the grand old age of seven won't let me leave him in the school playground without planting a smacker on my lips and giving me a huge hug accompanied by a 'Love you mummy'. God I will be gutted when he grows out of this habit.

Number two son is equally generous with his favours and if ever I try to beg a smooch from a less willing member of the clan he will instantly beetle up and fling his arms around me covering me in kisses. You can't whisper the word cuddle without him bestowing one upon you.

These two older boys even want to get in on the act when mummy and daddy make a rare public display of affection and dive between us demanding a sandwich cuddle. You can't imagine the weird looks I got when I called them over by yelling 'Ham' and 'Marmite' the other day. But it all makes sense when you understand that we parents are the bread and they are representing their favourite fillings in our family sandwich cuddles. Or at least it makes sense to me.

The twins took a while to catch on and would frequently rush off in fits of giggles if I held out my arms to them. Now twin one will dive head first at my crotch, arms flailing at the mention of a cuddle, with often quite painful results, but at least he means well. Twin two though is just as likely to get an evil glint in his eye and declare 'No cuddle mummy, cuddle daddy', turning his back on me and grabbing hold of daddy or any other available adult.

But when he does deign to give in and give me a hug, it's well worth the wait as he buries his golden head into my breast and snuggles in deep. He has learnt young the old adage treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Smug twin mummy

When I first found out I was having twins I thought it was some kind of sick joke. I am not one of nature's mothers and I was already finding it hard enough to juggle two little sons, without adding a double dose of newborn baby to the mix. I won't lie the first few months as the parent of twins is like tackling an assault course with the hangover from hell and was spent lurching uncomfortably from exhaustion to depression, to sheer terror at how we were going to cope.

If you had asked me back in the early days I wouldn't have wished twins on my worst enemy. Just trying to balance the needs of my two babies was so hard, without even mentioning their two big brothers who, I am ashamed to admit, were brought up almost exclusively by the television when the twins were first born.

But as fitness instructors persist in reminding us there is no gain without pain, and just as it is in an aerobics class so it is with twins. We have emerged from the inner circles of hell into a heavenly glade filled with two toddlers who can amuse each other. Result.

When my first two sons were toddlers I recall spending hours dreaming up ways to entertain them, from squidging Playdoh to finger painting, baking cupcakes and enduring endless kids classes, there was never a dull moment - for them at least.

If I stopped this frenetic activity they would instantly start to twine, bored, around my legs demanding attention. I could not sit with a cup of tea without them climbing into my lap, attempt to read a magazine without them 'helping' to turn the pages, or visit a friend without them whining for me whenever my focus drifted from them to the juicy gossip she was imparting. In short they drove me mad.

The twins on the other hand aren't really that interested in mummy. They may raise a hand and shout out a breezy hello as I pass, but they are far more interested in the in house playmate I so thoughtfully provided for them.

Just the other day I sat, Pimms in hand, as they happily played with our toy kitchen passing each other chicken nuggets through the serving hatch. I know this because they kept singing out to one another 'More more chicken nuggets'. I am hoping this is not a glimpse into their future career where the only skill they will need is the ability to recite the phrase 'D'you want fries with that?' in a tone that coveys an complete lack of interest in the response. Actually I suspect is more a reflection of the, ahem, varied diet provided for them on our recent Floridian jaunt.

Nothing I can do is half as interesting as what their twin is up to, and far from searching around desperately for something to catch their imagination, I am more scrabbling around to grab their attention. The lure of some boring adult is so much less attractive than the destructive antics dreamed up by a fellow two-year-old.

This has the upshot that I can drink tea, read magazines and even have lie ins unmolested by toddlers. In the morning we hear our twins chattering and squawking together in their cots. When we finally roll out of bed to breakfast them we discover the devastation they have wrought, but this seems like a tiny price to pay to be allowed to remain under the duvet until after 9am.

So now when a passerby exclaims that I have my hands full with my twins, I smile smugly and think to myself not nearly as full as that poor mummy with just one child snapping at her ankles.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Happy talk

I know it is wrong to have favourites, but I can't help it, my favourite age by far is two. Of course it is the age more usually prefaced by the word terrible, and often with good reason, but it is also quite terrific too.

You see for me people don't really come into their own until they learn to talk. Babies are cute and all but all that gooing and gurgling doesn't do it for me, even stroppy answering back is better than the dumb insolence of a newborn. I remember being terrified by the blank eyed stare of my firstborn son. I was convinced I had birthed the next star of the Omen and combed his tiny body for the mark of the devil.

But by the age of two I can't get enough of my chubby little angels. As the twins sprout new vocabulary every day their latest trick is to take me around the house David Attenborough style, giving me a wide eyed guided tour of the mundane. Everything they see they gasp and point at exclaiming its name with the same wonder the BBC reserves for a hitherto undiscovered sea creature or the coupling of some near extinct mammals.

Zach went through the contents of his entire toy basket, pulling everything out, holding it aloft and declaiming its name. 'Rocket', 'plane', 'choo choo train', 'honey toast' (note to self, must get around to tidying that thing out).

Once he had spread everything across the house to his satisfaction he then moved on to explaining the plot of Agent Oso to me. A complex matter involving many cows being transported in a trailer, which he summed up as 'Moo moo cows go brmmm brmmm'. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Developing language has enabled Jonah to give full rein to both sides of his slightly schizophrenic nature. In Hyde mode he may utilise his new skills to shrill out demands or refusals, increasing the decibels the longer it takes you to respond.

At breakfast time he will start with a polite 'Chinamon baggie pleath' (he has a slight lisp), asking for his usual morning repast of a plastic bag full of Curiously Cinnamon (Annabel Karmel eat your heart out - no really please do). Should you ignore him for a moment or two while attempting to feed the children who actually have to get out to school, though he will start to screech the same sentence over and over again at the top of his surprisingly loud voice.

However, just as you are about to put him out with the bins after the millionth demand, he will switch back to Jekyll and sing out 'Lub you mummy', his squidgy little face wreathed in smiles as he reaches up for a duddle. Cue mummy's heart splashing into a puddle at his tiny feet.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Terrible twos meets pedantic pre teens

It's been one of those Bank Holiday weekends. The ones where you long, you yearn, you would trade your most perfect pair of shoes for just a few childfree moments. On the whole I consider myself quite lucky as most of the time I enjoy my sons' company, but this long weekend, with the emphasis on long, not so much.

I think it is because we are sandwiched between two boundary pushing phases and any parent knows how much fun that is. The twins are two and just learning the best way to assert their wills. Jonah has settled on much shrieking and screaming of the word NO. Anything he doesn't want to do or have is simply prefaced by a shrill negative declaration, for example "No get dressed", "No go beddy", "No eat bishbingers", which is repeated ad infinitum until you give in to his wishes. I am sure you get the picture.

Zach is more likely to approach any situation of which he disapproves by taking an implacable, immovable stance, twinned with a death stare. So if you decide to move off from a certain location where he prefers to remain he will simply plant his little feet and fix you with a hard stare. Any and all parental whiles to get him moving fall onto very stony ground. You can try cajoling, pretending to walk off and leave him behind, screaming, shouting, begging, pleading and all will be met with a cold glare.

The only thing to do is to bodily lift him and carry him where you want to go, the downside of this is (a) he weighs a ton and (b) it is accompanied by blood curdling screams that convince anyone in the vicinity that you are abducting the poor child.

Now having mothered two two-year-olds before (albeit not at the same time) I was expecting this, but what I had not banked on was the contribution of their older brothers. To be fair to Max he is his usual clumsy daft self, but this does not detract from the fact that his affection for swinging sharp sticks close to tender eye sockets can be the cause of much distress as is his inability to follow even the simplest instructions or to carry out any task at any speed faster than an invalid snail.

Jacob however, has at the grand old age of seven decided that growing up means developing a highly (annoying) pedantic nature, to the point that after the millionth time of being corrected (or as he would point out not actually a million, more like 999,999) you could scream as loudly as a displaced Zach. Perhaps the best way to describe how all these particular elements of create a particularly toxic mix is to paint a picture of a typical exchange.

We are out for a walk. Jonah is firmly stating 'No sit the buggy', while wriggling out of his pushchair into the path of an oncoming cyclist. Zach is several yards back down the path refusing to budge, so my husband strides back to scoop him up, his protests ripping the bucolic country walk being enjoyed by those around us to shreds.

Meanwhile the older boys are engaged in some kind of battle that results in Max inadvertently injuring himself. Wailing ensues, notching up the decibel count even further. I rush over to find out what's wrong and Max announces that Jacob has hit him in the head. Jacob counters "Actually mummy I think you will find that I hit him in the ear, not the head". ARRRRGH.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

I hate homework

It all started when I was at school. That dreaded feeling in the pit of  your stomach on a Sunday evening, as you contemplated the mounds of reading, essays and sums you had conveniently shoved to the back of your mind for the rest of the weekend. That moment when you had to stop pretending to be engrossed in Antiques Roadshow and actually unglue yourself from the television and propel yourself to your desk.

It was horrible, and deadly dull. I think I can safely assume that I am not academically minded. The thought of the hours I spent locked in a dusty libraries while I was at university is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. The ever present sensation that I had never read quite enough (or indeed nearly enough) to write anything close to a coherent essay, and then just winging it and hoping for the best, was not a pleasant one.

I was pretty good at fooling people, and have an upper second class degree to prove it. However, I will admit that my head of department once took me aside and revealed that he could only decipher about half of any essay I had written as my handwriting was so atrocious, so he was just assuming the other half was as good in awarding me high marks.

When I finally threw my mortarboard aloft, dumped my graduation gown, and headed off into the world of work, it was with a sigh of relief that my days of cramming were done with. Or so I thought, as now a few decades hence I find myself locked into homework hell once again.

I am sure when I was at primary school homework amounted to collecting a few pretty leaves to show off in autumn and keeping a scant diary of what you got up to in the holidays. Nowadays even in Year One children are given work to do every week, and by God is it mind numbing.

I am not entirely sure who the work is pitched at, apparently it is set across the year so every child in every class does the same assignment, which leads me to believe there are some real thickies out there. My boy is seven and he is 'challenged' by such conundrums as 'Which number is half of 8?' and the tricky task of working out that tortoises are slow. Surely only a half wit would be stumped by such questions?

The plus side of this is that it means we can whizz through homework double quick - hurrah. The downside is that whenever I 'help' my boy I get so frustrated that I am tempted to just answer all the questions and tell him to hurry up and write them into the appropriate boxes.

I can't shake the feeling that homework is a waste of time. Mine and his. He, along with most of his contemporaries, is too bright for the work to be an extension of his learning, and I can think of better and far more educational ways to spend time with my children. It seems that I am destined never to see the point of extracurricular study, I just hope my sons don't find this particular blog post when I am battling with them to get them to revise for their exams.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Babes on the beach

The sand undulates, white as snow, silken soft down to a jade green sea. The sun's rays dust the gently rippling waves in diamond shards. The clear sky is a bright turquoise, the blue horizon broken only by the lazy flapping of a pelican scanning the waters for a mid afternoon snack. White yachts bob serenely out at sea and children hunt for shells at the waters edge.

The beach is dotted with royal blue cabanas, each sporting a oiled pair of legs sticking out from beneath the shade, some sleek and brown, others toasting an angry, livid pink. As I recline onto my own padded lounger, sunglasses perched on my nose, an icy cocktail sweating in the heat on the table beside me, I sigh and think: 'This is the life'.

That is in the scant nanosecond of peace afforded to me by my relentless offspring, before one of them arrives by my side, to climb, scratchy and sandy onto my toasting belly, knocking over that well deserved drink in the process. As they drip chill seawater down my back the demands commence.

The twins want 'More, more water' to be fetched from the sea, even though they are both sitting right beside it, while I am happily ensconced halfway up the beach. The bigger boys want me to miraculously rid the sea of all of its salt, as this makes their eyes sting, and check each wave for an approaching stingray. The warning signs telling us to do the stingray shuffle in order to avoid injury, having left them paranoid about all marine life.

A beach holiday with the boys just isn't the same as those far off breaks we had a deux. While husband and I attempt to relax and enjoy they idyllic surroundings, the children seem determined to thwart our plans. If they aren't asking for endless cups of juice they are complaining that it's too hot. You just can't win.

I am beginning to wonder how old children have to be before you don't feel as if you need another holiday the moment you hop off the plane on the way home from your last one.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The pursuit of nothing

I can see the irony in the biggest treat offered to me on Mother's Day being some time away from my children, but all parents know that the most precious prize is a few moments to yourself. From the moment your baby is born you are made aware of the fact that you are now on call 24/7. If you dare to attempt to sneak off for an indulgent cup of coffee, sandwich or 40 winks, your newborn will instantly pick up on this transgression and sound out a wailing, screeching alarm.

It is a bit like living in a prison camp, as you are only left to your own devices when you are working. It is a strange phenomenon, but babies will peacefully nap while you wash bottles, do the ironing or puree them some lunch, but the moment you crack open the chocolate digestives and the latest copy of Grazia all hell breaks loose. It's the same with shopping, traipse around Tesco and they will sleep like the dead, attempt to try on a new top in H&M and they spring awake, alert as a meerkat and noisy as a banshee.

As the name of this blog has probably given away I have four children, and I spend vast portions of my day trying to get away from them. It's not that I don't love them, it's just that they are so very relentless in their pursuit of my attention. To be fair to the older boys they do have the consideration to go to school, which at least leaves me the inside of the day to contemplate my navel in peace, but the younger ones are still at home, all day, every day.

I do have a nanny, which gives me much needed respite, but sadly I have to waste some of that potential me time will less pleasurable pursuits like working and chores. If I do venture away from my keyboard the twins will instantly descend upon me with yells of 'Mummy, mummy', which is cute for about 30 seconds before they smoothly segue into screaming demands for mummy to 'Dit down', get 'More app juice', find a missing 'Ball, ball', or carry out a messy 'Nappy change'.

I soon turn tail and remove myself back to the relative peace of my office. I tell you I don't know how full time mums do it. I would have to have a specially built sound proof, child proof box built into which I could retire and recharge, like a maternal flotation tank, lest I implode with the incessant stream of demands and chatter.

I would feel bad, if I didn't know that I am not alone in this ruthless pursuit of doing nothing. When my husband is at home at the weekend he is an angel with the children, but he also spends many hours attempting to slope off and spend some quality time with his iPad. I don't blame him, he has spent a week earning a crust and now all his free time is eaten up by caring for our tiny tyrants.

If he isn't sweeping up discarded breakfast cereal, he is filling up endless cups of juice, removing and replacing socks on the whim of the twins, fixing up the varying different swings that suit all our different ages of children, continuing the unending task of loading and unloading the dishwasher, making one of the million meals our children seem to consume every day. I can hardly begrudge him a quiet moment or two with can of Stella while the kids aren't looking.

I suspect the answer lies in some kind of remote control device for the children. That way when it all gets too much we could simply stab at the pause button, sit down, relax with a glass of wine or two, after which we could press play again and let the games recommence - or not.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Out on the town

I love London. But I do hate braving the city with toddlers in tow as our capital is far from child friendly. But this morning I was greeted by gloomy rain and the prospect of entertaining testy twins for the day.

My preference would have been to loll in front of daytime TV while they raised merry hell around me, only rousing myself to fetch a fresh beaker of app juice when decibel level of the request threatened to rupture my eardrums. But the cleaner was in and I find that someone buzzing about tidying up around you takes all the joy out of indolence. So I had to come up with a Plan B to entertain us.

There is always soft play. But I am convinced that if I have been a really bad girl in this life I will awaken from my death bed to an after life spent in a draughty warehouse filled with hyped up toddlers diving into pools of multicoloured balls and bouncing maniacally into each other on a sticky-to-the-touch inflatable castle. Forget wine and honey, in my purgatory I will be sustained by juice cartons, soggy chips and cardboard chicken nuggets for all eternity.

This is probably why I lighted on another plan that could only have been born out of desperation. I decided that, with the sterling assistance of grandma, I would take the boys into London to the Roar Roar Museum (aka the Natural History Museum). The twins signalled their approval of this madcap scheme by dancing a strange bobbing jig whilst simultaneously roaring at the top of their little lungs. This in contrast to the reaction when I revealed our destination to my mum, who went white. I decided to take her silence as acquiescence, rather than her being struck mute with shock.

Taking one toddler into London is rash. There are such myriad ways in which you can lose, maim or even kill a small child on the streets of the city, from dropping him down that gap on the Tube platform we are all warned so assiduously to mind, to him being ground to a pulp by the chomping black jaws of an escalator, to him dashing under the wheels of a passing black cab or being scalped by a passing tourist's backpack.

But taking two is nothing more than a fool's errand. The first, and probably most serious, problem is that you cannot take a pushchair with you as double buggies and public transport mix about as well as a surfeit of tequila shots followed by an early breakfast meeting the next day.

This means your toddlers have to walk, or be carried. Which really means they have to be carried, for after one or two steps on unfamiliar pavements, both twins decided that this walking lark really wasn't for them and both stood, arms outstretched above their heads demanding 'Carry, carry'.

Despite all my best efforts, which involved lots of shouting and pretending to walk off without them, they would not budge. Instead they simply made me look bad by standing sobbing noisily, parting the crowds of commuters, whose hardened hearts were clearly touched by the rivers of tears pouring down their chubby little cheeks.

Eventually we reached the museum, by which time both me and my mother were ready to drop, backs screaming in protest at carrying our heavy burdens. I was all for turning round and going home, but grandma is made of sterner stuff. She marched up to the information desk and, waving her Freedom Pass aloft, demanded a wheelchair.

Like an OAP Boudica there was no stopping her and the twins were soon nestled on her lap as I wheeled them all off in state. 'It's a taste of things to come', cackled grandma evilly, so I turfed her out and made her walk. We got quite a few strange looks as the twins endlessly climbed in and out of their transportation making it quite clear that it was entirely unnecessary for health reasons, unless you count their carers' sanity, but our wheeled chariot saved the day.

A good time was had by all, Jonah was introduced to the blue whale, which being made of fibreglass didn't gobble him up, Zach fell in love with many a stuffed bear, bear, and they were both terrified into silence by the animatronic T-Rex (I am thinking of investing in one for home).

When we left I was sad to leave our wheelchair behind, but the twins were a lot easier to handle on the homewards journey as they both fell asleep, lolling on their upholstered Underground seats like two drunks sleeping it off on last tube home.

Although I would caution anyone not to try it on their own, our day out on the town with the twins was a triumph, after all we all made it back in one piece and there was not a multicoloured ball or bouncy castle in sight. If that's not a result, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Doing the Disney diet

The boys are currently counting down the days until we jet off to Disney World, and while I share their excitement at going on holiday, I am more than a little apprehensive about how I will deal with the gargantuan portions of greasy food that usually accompany a break Stateside.

Over the last four months I have managed to shed almost as many stones of blubber and I really, really don't want to put any of it back on again as it was such bloody hard work shifting it in the first place. At home I have developed a disciplined approach, whereby I eat very little and haunt the gym floor to such an extent I am almost on staff.

But being away, in America of all places, is going to be tough. A normal break in Florida is saturated with trips to fast food joints, from Waffle House to Dennys. Breakfast is a stack of fluffy pancakes drenched in sweet maple syrup with a side of crispy bacon, the way only the Americans make it. Lunch is burger and chips theme park style and dinner is some calorie laden combination of cheese, fries, steak, pizza and ice cream.

It is no wonder that the US is home to the super obese. I know if I lived there I would require a mobility scooter to drive me from one feeding trough to the next. The trouble is that while I may be a woman of elegance and sophistication in many areas of my life (ahem), when it comes to food my tastes have not left the trailer park - at least not when I am on holiday.

I suspect it's that same foreign blindness that means you will happily toast yourself lobster red, wear unsuitably small clothes and drink luminous cocktails in a way that you would never dream of at home, that allows me to gorge on fast food that I would actively avoid in the UK. I would never kick off my day with an Egg McMuffin here, but in America it seems rude not to.

My eminently sensible other half tells me I shouldn't worry so much. But after spending months attempting to persuade myself, in the teeth of all the evidence, that I no longer crave fatty, sweet treats, I am terrified that just two weeks in the birth place of junk food will see me backsliding at a supersonic pace.

I am just hoping that if I spend enough hours pushing a double buggy around the baking hot parks, traipsing from visits to Mickey Mouse to rides on It's a Small World, I will burn off at least some of the excess calories I am destined to consume. But it's questionable whether I can take the unrelenting 'magic' of Disney without self medicating on comfort food.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Toddler OCD

Now I don't like to make light of such a serious condition, but I have grave concerns that twin one is showing increasing signs of OCD. My husband was the first to notice this worrying tendency as he wiped said son's hand for what seemed like the millionth time during our lunch out yesterday.

Between each bite my boy would thrust out his spotless hand and yell ''And, 'and'. We fast came to realise this meant 'Wipe my hand this instant you fools', by means of his increasing volume, frenzied shaking of the offending hand in our faces and requests for 'White, white', which is toddler for wipe.

Twin one has always had hysterical tendencies, his nickname as a babe in arms was Stroppy thanks to his constant yelling and he has yet to grow out of this particular phase. If you provide food which is not to his taste (for which read pretty much anything other than pizza and yoghurt) he will firmly zip his lips shut and swivel his head away a la Exorcist. The moment he is done with his food he declares 'Binished' and promptly goes to throw his plate from the tray of his highchair, you have to move fast before it and its contents hit the floor.

He has now also taken against nappies and spends most of his day yelling 'Poo, poo. Mappy, mappy', which translates as 'How can any civilised toddler be expected to walk around with anything other than a pristinely clean nappy? It is an outrage'. It does not, however, mean he has done a poo. As he won't calm down until he is changed, we are now going through nappies like they were going out of fashion, which I suppose in a way they are.

There is nothing that is expressed with anything approaching calm, if you ask him for a cuddle, you might get one, or then again he might look at you in horror and scream 'No cuggle, no cuggle', ask him to sit down and invariably you are met with a firm 'No dit down, no dit down', but the real trigger is bed. Just metion the B. E. D. word and he melts down, sobbing 'No beddy, no beddy', whilst beetling off as fast as his little legs will carry him.

He is just lucky he is unbearably cute with it, or he would just be downright unbearable.