Monday, 15 September 2014

A man down

The offending limb.
At risk of sounding like a terrible lightweight whinger, I don't cope well when the FDMTG team is down by a man. I know that many mothers manage single handed for all or most of the time, but when you are used to having a right-hand man and suddenly he's not there it leaves you feeling a bit vulnerable.

To be fair we have had a short dose of this before as Mr FDMTG is in hospital having more surgery on a skiing injury acquired earlier this year on a boys only trip. Foolishly I thought he deserved a break and he took me a bit too literally, coming home with a snapped shoulder which resulted in his first big operation. Following this he has had  ongoing niggles and he is now back in hospital having corrective surgery to hopefully put everything right at last.

The result of all of this is that while he tends to his injured arm, I am left alone to tend to our unruly flock. I will admit this was not something I was relishing, particularly so soon after the very long summer holiday.  Getting our boys out to school has always been a challenge, given that they seem to hear 'Hurry up and get dressed' as 'Please play with some Lego on your bedroom floor'.

What with tantrums over toothpaste incorrectly applied to the brush, the provision of unacceptable pants, a dearth of name labels and book bags that seem to come to life at night to play hide and seek, getting out in the morning is the polar opposite to a pit stop in an F1 race - in other words slowness is of the essence.

Don't even get me started on the momentous and ponderous decision it is to choose breakfast. Given that the choices are pretty limited - a few types of cereal or toast and one of three types of juice - you would think this would be a simple selection to make. Oh how wrong you would be. My middle son in particularly treats selecting his breakfast with the same reverence as you might making options on a Michelin starred menu.

He umms and errs over toast versus cereal, Nutella versus honey, porridge versus egg on toast - invariably plumping for the most time-consuming option. You can guarantee that on the morning when you had to leave the house five minutes ago he will opt for slowly home cooked porridge and a cup of hot chocolate. When this choice is abruptly vetoed and a banana is thrust into his had sulks are sure to ensue.

This is perhaps why I feel that extracting our boys on a school morning is at least a two-person job. Now the problem is compounded by two separate school runs, one for the older boys and one for the twins. Luckily we have drafted in a substitute to cover the driving, but it still means we have to be up dressed and fed before the mother-in-law arrives, as it wouldn't do to be found with our pants around our ankles and no food in our bellies.

Happily, despite my misgivings, the boys have stepped up to fill the shoes of our missing member of staff. This morning my two eldest boys woke me up to tell me it was time to get ready for school, AWOL husband having called the eldest's mobile to make sure mummy was up! They then helped their little brothers dress and brush their teeth, after which they made breakfast all round, unloaded and loaded the dishwasher.

I am not sure this was a smart move on their part though as now I know they can do all of this I am not sure I want to go back to my role as general morning dogsbody! Still it is nice to know that when the chips are down my little crew of boys are ready and willing to pick up the pieces.

So while the FDMTG household misses daddy terribly, he can rest easy in the knowledge that his boys rising to the challenge of having a man down.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Twas the night before school starts

And everything was stirring after six and a half weeks of late bedtimes and lax discipline.

I don't know about you, but this summer holiday seems to have been notable mostly for its length. Day after day of my children knocking about expecting to be fed and entertained has certainly taken its toll. There has been much shortness of temper and exasperation during this last week of the holiday. I think we are all ready for school to start again, not least because if I don't get a stretch of more than two minutes without hearing the wailing cry of "Mummmmeeeee", ring out around the house I will not be held responsible for my actions.

The problem, as I see it, is that families are creatures of routine. We can just about hold it together when steered from minute to minute by sheaves of letters from school telling us that Thursday is cello, Tuesday piano, Monday is football and Wednesday is swimming. When I am given simple steps to follow all is well, but when this is thrown to the four winds and it is me who is solely responsible for my children, chaos ensues.

This summer's shenanigans has been compounded by our house move, which has meant that my limited child entertainment skills have been further hampered by living out of cardboard boxes. Every toy or game the children wanted for the first half of the summer holiday was packed away in a box, and for the second half was strewn across the house as part of Operation Unpack.

My boys, I am sure, think I suffer from OCD when it comes to tidiness. I, on the other hand, justify the decibels reached when screaming at them to keep things tidy as the only thing that keeps us from being recruited for the next series of Hoarders: Buried Alive. So you can imagine how much fun it was chez FDMTG when the entire contents of our house was spread haphazardly across the floor of all the wrong rooms as builders picked their way indelicately about dropping dust and nails in their wake.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to having a boy free house that I can just tidy, without some helpful little soul deciding to undo my good work by setting up an elaborate game involving random pieces from a board game, some beads, several lego pieces and a toy giraffe, only to become enraged should anyone shift any of these vital items by a millimetre.

I do love my children (a mantra I have had to repeat under my breath with increasing regularity during this summer holiday) I suspect that after so many weeks in their close company, absence will make my heart grow much fonder.

I just want to pass the day without having to endlessly provide food and diplomatic services. It has amazed me how one meal segues seamlessly into the next when you are catering for small boys. It appears as if the moment the last mouthful of toast and cereal has been chewed, there are demands for sandwiches for lunch and the moment those crumbs have been scattered all over my pristine breakfast bar it's tea time - again.

Equally, while my boys love each other (a fact that I have had to remind them of on numerous occasions recently), what they love even more is to fight with one another and the only authority who can rule on any disagreement is the all powerful Mummmeeeee. As if I had any control over the actions of these small bundles of irrational impulses otherwise known as my sons.

So, while they deputy head of the twins' new school bemoaned how fast the summer holiday had flown by, I nodded sympathetically while grimly thinking not nearly fast enough!

Friday, 5 September 2014

The upside of exam stress

The way it used to be when he went to sleep with me. 
The last time I stroked my eldest son to sleep was when he was two. I still recall smoothing the damp golden curls from his forehead, watching his eyelids flutter as he drifted off. Listening to his breathing fall into the regularity of sleep and watching his grip relax on his constant companion, Barnabas the bear. I thought that I would never again experience this, as he grew older and lulled himself to sleep with podcasts and gory tales of zombies and vampires. Indeed nowadays it is not unheard of for him to fall asleep after me.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover one of the hidden side effects of exam stress. Tomorrow my boy has to sit four difference entrance exam papers for two selective schools, one of which he is really keen to get into. Test nerves began to bite at the dinner table, he'd had a disastrous session with his tutor when he'd completely messed up a mock paper and the tears pricked at his eyes as he worried that he would let us down.

I hate myself sometimes for putting a 10-year-old through this, particularly as there is no guarantee of success. But on the other hand I feel as if I have to let him have the chance to prove if he can do it or not. Personally I am more than aware that a good education counts for very little, but that doesn't mean I don't want him to get one so he can throw it away if he chooses to.

In an attempt to calm his fears I offered to read him a bedtime story. This was a sacred ritual from the moment we brought him home from the hospital until the day he learnt to read fluently by himself. I treasure my memories of reading Kiss Goodnight Sam to him as an uncomprehending baby while we rocked together in a nursing chair in his lemon yellow nursery. The best bit was always all the kisses I got to bestow on him at the end in my role as mummy bear. I can recite the words to The Gruffalo by heart and Percy the Park Keeper is a family friend.

The bedtime story was never quite the same once more children came along and I tried to read whist feeding another baby or fielding a toddler who was keener on eating the book than listening to what its pages held, so in some ways it holds particularly precious memories of my two years alone with my firstborn.

However I thought the days of reading to my golden son were long over, until tonight when he asked me to read E Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle to him. It was a bit different to the old days as he picked me up on any errors I made, but it was such a delight to snuggle up with him in bed and put on accents for the different characters. A delightfully unexpected step back in time, even if the child in bed beside me no longer fits into the crook of my arm, but is almost as tall as me.

As I read I felt his tension relax just as it used to when he was a tiny toddler resisting his nap. But when the chapter ended I felt his grip on me tighten. "Please mummy stay with me until I go to sleep", he pleaded. How could I say no?

I sat beside him on his bed stroking his back and once again listening to his breathing getting steadier and deeper, watching his eyelids closing and his body relaxing into the slumber that will transport him to his next set of tests.

Yes, I hate putting him through these exams and I abhor seeing him stressed, but I can't complain at the side effect of allowing me one more chance to soothe my beloved son to sleep with a story and a back rub. I just hope that this tells him that no matter what happens tomorrow he could never disappoint me. Just watching him sleep is enough to fill my heart with pride, everything else is a bonus.