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.