Hostess trollies and trifles

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Sort of. Although we’re not even in December I am starting to feel a frisson of excitement about Christmas. I have already tuned the car radio to Heart Christmas, I’ve clocked the epic amounts of Stollen in the shops, which I’m trying not to accidentally put in the shopping trolley, and I’ve already lit my Now That’s What I Call The Smell of Christmas Yankee Candle. I am scratching the surface of yuletide preparations.

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Today’s trip to Boston (currently enjoying almost cultlike status due to Rob Lowe filming in town and seen carrying a tray of pork products) kicked off the wave of nostalgia. It has been a while since I’ve been home; maybe a couple of months. But in that time my Nan has had new teeth, new ears (or at least new hearing aids) and a pesky benign tumour in her saliva gland which has caused a bit of concern. She’s 97 on the 7th of the Dec and the gift-finder option of Not On The High Street doesn’t cater for someone of her stature. Today she looked frail. Today she looked her age (although she was still made-up, obvs).  As a way of cheering her up, we talked about the plans for Christmas. We will be going over for Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year. Mum is over the moon. The option of travelling to Peterborough wasn’t on the cards and she’s pleased that we’re spending time together and not ‘belting off’ as she put it.

We’ve agreed that we’ll bring the crackers (red or gold colour scheme, please) and I’ve said to Dad we’ll also bring the booze. Mum has already cracked on with preparations and the freezer is heaving with nearly 200 mince pies, made to the family recipe. As Mum says, ‘It’s good to have them on standby in case anyone drops by. Nothing better than a warm mince pie’. All bus routes have been diverted to the two bedroom bungalow in Boston should anyone get peckish from now until Jan 2nd.

It’s been quite a few years now since we lost Gang, Nan’s husband. The memory of him still lives on. I used to love the smell of his big fat cigars and his Grecian 2000. His singing and his ability to mix me a luscious snowball with way too much Advocaat for a 10-year-old to sip on from their drinks cabinet, which was quite the thing in those times. I always used to sneak a few maraschino cherries out when no one was looking. Different times.

Christmas Day lunch was always served at 1pm and the collection of mismatched chairs always made me smile. The grown-ups got the normal chairs and the kids got what was available. I remember my older brother practically pivoting on a stool at the table, wrestling a pig in a blanket onto his fork whilst I was at eyeball level to my plate, arms outstretched over my head trying to nail some turkey on a fork, like some sort of Krypton Factor Challenge. Food was always served from the hostess trolley. A device which is still in circulation somewhere within the family.

Old traditions have been replaced with new ones but some still remain. We always have a game of Estimation, where my husband is convinced we change the rules every year. A trifle big enough to feed a small holding comes out around 7pm, just as the Rennie’s are kicking in.  The trifle has one layer of jam sponge at the bottom, barely holding its shape due to the sherry infusion and there’s always a layer of strawberry Table Cream (made with evaporated milk, never blancmange) and then there’s Dad’s lethal gin and tonics  (see Mother’s Day). So, although Nan might not be as sprightly as she once was I hope that she’ll always know how happy my Christmas’ of old were.

 

The Seventh Gate of Hell – With Wotsits

Yesterday was S’s 8th Birthday party.

A few weeks ago we’d asked her what sort of party she wanted (immediately shooting down the idea of having it at home). Multiple options were suggested by S. Some more outlandish than others. We eventually settled on the same format as last year; hire the sports hall up the road, book a children’s entertainer, feed them a selection of highly refined carbs and send them on their way after two hours. This seemed like a perfect solution.  Except that a lot can change since last year’s party. Notably the mix of children in her new class has bought some new shiny, older faces. And bigger bodies.

The party prep was positive. We arrived at the venue and the room had been set up. Hell, they’d even opened up the bar. The Entertainer was struggling with his pop-up banner (I can so relate) but he had arrived ahead of schedule. I’d spent most of Friday night buttering two loaves of bread, filling with cheese, ham and tuna mayo. Sausage rolls, cold pizza slices and cheese/pineapple sticks were impaled on tinfoil covered grapefruit halves. Wotsits were decanted into paper bowls and mini rolls and doughnuts distributed as evenly as possible. Once all the food was spread out on the table which was meant to seat 30 children it looked like there wasn’t going to be anywhere near enough food. With 20 mins in hand T was sent off to whip up more sandwiches and raid Budgen’s for more crisps. I decided it was best if I ordered a large Boodles and tonic.

Whilst all of this was going on The Entertainer had started to get a sweat on. He tested ‘1,2,3’ more than ‘8,9,10’ times. The theme of the party was ‘Spookylicious’. He looked more ‘I’mhavingastrokeylicious’. My spider sense started to tingle.

By this time guests had started to arrive. Kids wielding plastic axes and scythes, fake blood pouring out of mock wounds seemed to be quite the norm. There were quite a few kids that I had never met before. The new kids on the block. Then a kid arrived who, from now on, shall be referred to as ‘YLS’ – You Little Shit. He was the ringleader, the trouble maker, the twisted firestarter. My wits were sharpened instantly.

The Entertainer put on his mask and things kicked off. Quite literally. Parents of the new kids on the block on the whole decided to take flight, the words ‘it’s a drop off, if you like’ were still hanging in the air before they were drowned out by the sound of screeching tires leaving the car park. The music was at the same sound levels of the Band Aid concert at Wembley. I told the Entertainer three times to turn it down but he couldn’t hear me. Really?

He basically couldn’t control the kids, the sound levels or his perspiration. Once his mask slid off his face to reveal an expression of ‘I wish I’d tried harder at my GCSE’s’. He was wracked with fear, desperation and exhaustion. It’s only the morning after that I can feel some sympathy for him.

In the meantime YLS was really going to town. I’ve never been to party or held a party where I’ve had to physically split up boys from fighting, remove whistles from mouths, remove a football from someone or felt like tasering a small person, until last night. He made some girls cry, he made some other boys upset and he made my ovaries shrink to the size of a pinprick. Of course, he knocked over a water jug soaking some kids and plenty of second batch sandwiches. Of course he (and pals) jumped on all the balloons, of course he never said please or thank you and of course he burst into tears when his Mum came to pick him up and hurry him away.  

I think that S had a nice time. She seemed happy enough. Because we were mainly on Little Shits Alert we didn’t really see her. She came home with her arms filled with lovely presents from kind and generous parents, she ate cake and went to bed in tears crying that she didn’t want to get older.

I wanted the party to be a chance to hang on to childhood fancies – games, cake and dancing. Turns out the party was all that, along with a supporting cast of well behaved friends she’ll hang on to for many years. Next year it’ll be cinema and pizza with a couple of pals.

I think it might have been The Entertainers last gig. Wise.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

Summer of love

Red wine. That’s how it starts. For the last 5 months I have been more than happy to turn my back on vin rouge. I happily courted white wine from May – Sept and then suddenly, as if someone had flicked the switch on the house thermometer, I could not bear to look at her any longer. My affection had turned to the dark side. All of a sudden I wanted comfort, fluffy socks. new throws for the sofa, candles that had a suggestion of winter but didn’t get me high on cinnamon. Without the shadow of a doubt I had entered Autumn.

This year it has crept up and taken me by surprise. I like to feel prepared for most situations. The usually manifests itself in over thinking things to the nth degree, worrying about stuff that will never happen but a slight comfort that I know what to do in a zombie apocalypse situation in summer or winter. Both require slightly different skill sets.

Summer this year was unique. It was hot, long and on for the most part fun. The first half of 2018 had been a shocker. Every fibre and sense of humour muscle tested to the max. However, when July opened her glorious arms with day after day of sunshine she somehow made everything better.  The onset of the school summer holiday last year bought anxiety and edginess – how would we juggle work with life? How could we be present in both worlds? How the eff do we parent? That’s what school/nursery is for right? They’re the professionals.

This year everything felt different. We were organised – play-camp , play dates, meetings, Skype calls, deadlines; the curveballs that came along were handled in a much more relaxed manner than before. Nothing was less important than what it had been a year ago, but the way in which I handled it had changed. One of my best friends had said that this summer had felt like it did when she had been a kid. It reminded me of Katie aged 7. I bloody loved being out on my bike. Even when it was just up and down the drive. I felt so grown up when Mum gave me 20p to go to the shop to get a pint of milk. I loved being in my nightie and out in the garden as Mum and Dad ‘watered up’. I loved sneaking another ten minutes at bedtime looking out of my window and wondering why I was being asked to go to sleep when it was obviously the middle of the day. I loved watching my Mum trying to catch the last few rays of sunshine in the back garden, sprawled out on the fold away bed exhausted after a day looking after us lot. I loved my memories of family.

So, I decided to go ahead and book a holiday. Last year’s holiday abroad was a disaster. I had no guarantee this year’s was going to be any different but I went ahead and booked it anyway. It was the best thing I could have done. Every day was filled with laughter, water, fun and ‘save this to the memory bank’ moments. Earnest requests for ‘come and play’ were greeted with a ‘hell yeah’ rather than ‘just a min’. Situations where I would have wigged out (everyone gives their kid a mobile/tablet at dinner time and screw the data) were just accepted rather than fought against, and many late nights were spent on the veranda actually talking with my husband about everything from sorting the world out to ‘why did blancmange go out of fashion?’ The sum of all parts made a summer that I don’t want to let go of just yet. A time where S will remember her Mum and Dad going down the waterside and having cricked their necks then laughing all the way to the bar. A time when I never wanted them to go to bed for fear of them waking up older. A time when I never wanted the days to end.

So, for now I’ll put the heating on but wear a summer dress and be grateful that 2018 saw a summer of love and maybe signalled a new direction for the coming months.

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Sleeping with the enemy

Type in ‘sleep deprivation’ into Google and you get the following results:

What are the signs of sleep deprivation?

How many hours of sleep do you need to be sleep deprived?

What lack of sleep does to you.

And my personal favourite;
Can I die from lack of sleep? (Spoiler alert: It’s possible that given enough time, sleep deprivation can kill you. While no human being is known to have died from staying awake, animal research strongly suggests it could happen.)

It’s widely accepted that when you have a baby one of the biggest things you have to get your head around is the lack of sleep. Mentally you’ll be ready for the night feeds, the nappy changes, the milky vomiting-like-an-exorcist episodes. It’s all part of the baby gig.

As they get older there’s a whole new series of shit storms  adventures to navigate, but you’re hoping that by now the sleep issue is sorted. Unfortunately, for us, there was one very small person in the household who hadn’t got the memo.

This was a typical night:

Bath, milk, stories. Kiss everyone goodnight, then up to bed (this is E, not me BTW).
E ‘Just stroke me mummy’
Me: ‘OK, but just for a min’
I go to leave……E then clamps on to my arm in what can only be described as something akin to a boa constrictor.
M: ‘E, Mummy has to go now, she needs to have a wee/dinner/work/gin/conversation with Daddy’
E: ‘OK, You’ll come back ok?”
M: ‘Yes, in a bit’

6/10 he’d fall asleep.
20 mins later the screams from E’s room for me were enough to make your blood run cold. It was like someone was murdering him. T would go in and that would make things worse. ‘I WANT MUMMY’ over and over again. So, I’d go in. I’d then stroke him until he was asleep. I would then have to try and navigate my way out of his room, avoiding the creaky floorboards, the squeaky toys and possibly changing the biodynamics of how the oxygen was circulating in his room. One slight change would result in an Armageddon-style meltdown and the whole process would have to be repeated. I wonder if one of his earliest memories of me will be of one hand stroking his arm and the other hand alternating between a glass of Pinot and me with the phone in my hand.

Some nights were better than others. After collapsing in bed at night he would sense that I was in a deep sleep and once again kick off. A quick and easy fix was to put him in bed with us. He’d sleep, I’d sleep and even T, pivoting on 2inches of the mattress, would sleep. However, as with most quick fixes this behaviour carried on for way longer than I’d admit to.
Something had to be done. I wasn’t keen on the whole idea of controlled crying. It sounded like something Daniel Day Lewis would do, so instead, I’d explain that I’d leave him but sit on the stairs and slowly try and extract myself from him. It still didn’t make any difference to the nighttime appearance. I was beginning to wonder if we should just get a bigger bed.

Enough was enough.

Armed with Jo Frost’s ‘How to Kick Your Toddler Into Shape’ Book I used her technique to the letter. I wrote notes, made a sticker chart, used a timer, dug deep even after the 5th time of putting him back to bed (hilariously he shouted ‘not again’ as I left the room) and we are now on our fourth night of sleep training success. He goes to bed straight away. He has woken a couple of times but we’ve stuck to the plan and he goes straight back to sleep. In the morning he burst through the door to tell us that he ‘slept in his bed all night!’. He couldn’t be happier. He’s not the only one.

Of course, I’m annoyed that we didn’t do this sooner and I’m sure that there was a small part of me that did like the night time squishy cuddles. But when those cuddles turn into a foot in the eyeball and a near loss of sanity then squishy cuddles can do one.

Here’s how we did it

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Congratulations to everyone who has children that sleep through the night. To anyone that might be struggling, please use this technique and don’t be afraid of messing your kids up. There are so many other ways, on a daily basis, for that.

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Smug Mug

KidsYesterday I experienced what can be described as parenting nirvana. From the moment we three rose out of the one bed (T- away as a local booze/meat festival with pals) until we all rested our heads the day was sprinkled with magical moments. Not only that but I managed to somehow crowbar in washing, ironing, crafting, half a work-out and made a homemade chicken and vegetable pie. Hell, even my Insta game was on-point.

Things were so lovely that I even attempted to take both kids to the cinema, on my own. An actual film. We made it to the end, although E took a break about 6/7 times. I’d say we watched about 65% of the film. To be honest, that’s all they needed to make (Hotel Transylvania 3 – avoid).

Throughout the whole day both children had behaved brilliantly. They were polite, well mannered, kind to each other and funny. The sun shone, swings were swung and all was well in the world.

When we all clambered into bed together last night I cuddled up to E, stroked S’s hair until all I could hear was the soft snores of them both. The next emotion I experienced is one which is resented by all parents. It is the no-no of the parenting world. I felt smug.

Waking up to the sound of the washing machine on a fast spin, I was naturally optimistic that Sunday would be a carbon copy of yesterday. Just without the expenditure. Silly me.

Today is nothing like yesterday. So far (it’s not even 10am yet) both kids have been on various types of naughty steps, I’ve picked boiled egg from the sofa and carpet, they’ve screamed, shouted, slapped each other, E has had his fingers in every orifice on his person and electrical items in the house, S is annoyed as I’ve told her she’s not allowed to turn her room into an aquarium with a real-life whale, E  only wants to eat biscuits. The fresh fruit that I prepared for snacks has been physically thrown across the room. We now have lickable walls, ala Willy Wonka.

I’m hoping as the day pans out that things will calm down. I’ve planned on making a roast dinner (how hard can it be?) so that when T comes home weary from the site of too much sausage and queasy from too much cider, he can sit down and look upon his perfect family smiling back at him. At this rate, he may come home and I may go straight out in search of my own sausage and cider.

The point is that no two days are ever the same and no child is ever consistently good or consistently bad. But whatever you do, never, ever think about feeling smug. It will kick you in the butt.

Wish me luck.

P.S. I’m writing this now as I’ve stuck them both in front of the Disney Channel.

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Sunshine Funtime?

Summer in my twenties and early thirties were very straightforward. Book a 2 week holiday somewhere hot, next to a beach, bars, clubs and restaurants.  Days would be spent reading, lounging, swimming, drinking and eating. Nights would be spent exploring the local culture. Or similar.

I used to love spending as much time reclining on a sun lounger as possible. The holiday would start off with a Factor 15 then on the last day drop to TREX. Skin cancer was not mentioned and the only tanning cautionary tale at that time was the face and decolletage of Judith Chalmers.

Fast forward to this week where it’s reasonable to say that we’ve been experiencing a proper English summer. Days have been filled with sunshine, the grass is fading to the shade of potato waffle, tarmac is cracking and we’re about to hurtle into a carbon dioxide shortage. We are 10 mins away from a hosepipe ban.

Sunny days with children look like this: Operation Soleil

  1. Suntan lotion – Factor 50. Obviously, there’s the fear that they will, in fact, develop rickets as F50 disables harmful UV rays. Bandy legs and floppy elbows are a small price to pay against the sunshine WHICH WILL FRY YOUR CHILDREN WHERE THEY STAND.
  2. Hats – Don’t just have one. Have 10. Hats spend most of the summer hiding only to be found once you’re digging out the Chrismas decs. If you can get one which resembles the uniform of the French Foreign Legion all the better. A staple gun or duck tap will be needed to keep the hat on the little buggers head.
  3. Water. Every 10 mins it’s advisable to offer water. You will waterboard your toddler. Fact.
  4. Allergies. The first sneeze will be ignored. After 5 sneezes you’ll automatically think that your child has hayfever and have them chugging away at the Piriton. Don’t be too sad about this. It’s helped many a child nod off.
  5. Ice-Cream – You’ll want your child to have a Milk Maid. They will want a 99 with two flakes, sprinkles, chocolate and strawberry syrup. After the initial lick around the circumference of the ice-cream, they will then look to discard this treat on the floor instantly attracting a swarm of wasps and ants. Be on the lookout for a dog or duck.
  6. Pooing. After you’ve slathered Factor 50 on a screaming protesting toddler, then pouring them into the equivalent of a surfer’s dry suit, your toddler will instantly want to have a poo. Hearing the zip go up on the outfit has a loosening effect on their bowels. You will temporarily wonder, what harm will it do if my child shits itself?
  7. Shade – you will become a human shade sundial. You will look for it everywhere, you will wonder if you can ‘make shade’ using a discarded fleece from the boot of the car. You can’t.
  8. Relax.  By the time you’ve completed all of the herculean tasks of dealing with children in the sunshine, they’ll have got themselves annoyed with someone or something. They want to go inside. They want to watch Netflix. You will wipe off the sweat which you are now bathed in, wiping suncream in your eye, tripping over the glass of water, slipping on the upturned ice-cream and happily give them the remote watching them punch in the password you were sure they didn’t know.

Chin up. Soon be autumn.

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Backpacks and bereavement

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been trying to come to terms with the sudden and unexpected death of my mother-in-law. The daily routine, for what it was, span off the plate and out of the window replaced by hushed tones, guarded conversations and sudden and shorts bursts of tears.

She passed away on Saturday morning. We spent some of Saturday wondering how and when to tell S. This would be her first significant death. The bloody goldfish was still hanging around.

As with all things we decided it was probably best to do some research and take advice from people far more qualified and grownup than us. There are lots of great resources. We decided to tell her on Sunday, allowing some time for us to process the news in the meantime.

Most 7 year olds spend a lot of their time getting into mischief of varying degrees of severity. When we said to S that we wanted to talk to her about something serious and important her face dropped to the floor and I really thought she was about to confess to some major league shenanigans. However, she sat tight lipped but with a worried expression. T delivered the news, summoning strength of character that I’ll never truly be able to thank him enough for. He said it straight and direct. Granny has died. We’re all very sad. We’re not sure what’s happened. It’s ok to be sad too. With that her eyebrows furrowed, she looked to T, then to me and then burst into tears. Big fat, crystal clear tears, the sort that break your heart.

In panic at seeing my daughter so upset and wanting to protect her from anymore sadness I jumped in with a ‘you know that backpack from Smiggle that you wanted for your birthday? Well, Granny wanted you to have that now. She didn’t want you to wait and she wanted you to have it.’ It was the opposite of a text book approach to how to deal with this situation. She wiped her tears away, strapped on her trainers and was ready to go into town. She couldn’t understand what had happened or why. Tbf neither could we. She wanted to know who was going to take her camping, as Granny had promised she would do. We said that we would (shame Granny wasn’t partial to a spa, but there you go).

Watching her as she sat in the back of the car I noticed a far away look in her eyes. Processing such big information it’s hard and difficult.

We spent a fortune at Smiggle, a backpack as well as various pens and general gubbins.

You never really know how much you affect your children in the long run. You try and do the right thing, say the right thing, act in the right way. Fingers crossed we’ll all grow from this experience and help each other through it. That’s all you can really hope for.

In the meantime I’m really hoping that Smiggle quickly go out of business.

For D. X