musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Sock it to them! — October 17, 2019

Sock it to them!

So for those of you not in the know my house is full of hormones. A swirling maelstrom of hormones. A tornado of ‘-ones’ and ‘-ens’ rampaging through our lives for the most part unchecked blundering into feelings and harmony and those envisaged moments of blissful family life such as a quiet board game by the fire or a bracing walk in the countryside with disastrous consequences.

An awful lot of it is testosterone, two thirds of which is emergent and not totally under control or assimilated into shocked bodies. And a third of which is newly prompted into action by the other two thirds. There is a lot of posturing, chest beating, banging of heads and egos and territory marking going on.

There is also some gradually rising oestrogen and some gradually reducing oestrogen as if there is only so much available for our family and Youngest is stealing mine.

It’s a melting pot. On some days I swear the hormones are tangible like some sort of ominous, heavy Victorian smog where beasts lurk around every corner.

I have developed a maxim in order to help me navigate this swirling maelstrom. And that maxim is ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’…

And this basically entails ‘picking my battles’…

So yes it is infuriating that Eldest leaves a bowl every morning in the front room recently bereft of cereal but unable to find its way into the dishwasher. And yes on some days I take a picture of that bowl and Whatsapp it to him at school. With an ironic Smilie. But most days I don’t. For instance if Eldest has a particularly difficult Biology test in period 1 or is recovering from being pummeled physically and metaphorically in a rugby match the previous evening.

I have some non negotiables such as physical violence. I never let that slide. Disrespect to adults. Again a non negotiable. Kindness to siblings and friends. Again important, although not always achieved in the case of siblings- but I pick that battle I go into war over it. Using fingers to eat chips? Yep annoying. But not the end of the world. Not a battle to fight if Youngest is screamingly nervous about a football trial.

I have 3 teenagers/ pre teens. School has, well, several hundred. The melting pot has metamorphosed into a huge crucible on the smelting yard floor. And yet school seems to sweat the small stuff.

Maybe there is a thought process that says small stuff under control means big stuff follows. And they are afraid of anarchy. Or maybe they are all control freaks…

Here is my pet ‘small stuff’ hate. Socks. School is cracking down on socks. Socks must be black under black trousers. All mine wear black trousers including Youngest who will no longer wear a skirt after being told off in Year 7 for wearing a Junior School skirt to Senior school. Another ‘small stuff’ rant I am quite willing and able to have if you have the time? You do? Excellent.

In Junior school skirts are elasticated and flared. They make moving around the playground easy. Especially if one has a penchant for playing football. Youngest had such a skirt. It still fitted (and was within the regulation one inch of her knees). I am eco friendly. And tight. So I did not buy her a new Senior school skirt. Which are straight, have no waist adjustments and prevent ease of movement until they are a darn site higher than the regulation one inch maximum above the knee.

She got into trouble. Which if you know Youngest at all you will know throws her off for days.

I am not sure why Junior school skirts are so frowned upon. It has been suggested it is because they are easier to ‘look up’. Which in turn suggests to me a stern word about the ‘big stuff’ is required with all males in school. But I think it is probably just a ‘small stuff’ battle again. So Youngest is in trousers.

Any way back to socks. The school has a thing about ‘business attire’. I think black socks come under this. I believe this is wrong on a number of levels.

One: not all children (and lets face it we are dealing with children here) aspire to ‘go into business’. What does that even mean? Investment banking? Are we saying that to make it in the world one needs to conform? Really? In an era where employers are crying out for creativity and original, critical and higher level thinking?

Two: business attire is not what it was. My husband works in a traditional business. He now has to hot desk. People wear shorts. He, the epitome of respectability and up tightness, has started wearing chinos and an open collared shirt to work. To be honest it shocked me. But this is how the world is changing. For the better. Otherwise we would all still be wearing bowler hats.

Three: I often see teachers at the school not in ‘business attire’. For instance tie and jacket less in the heat. And before the ‘summer uniform’ rule has been invoked. Shock. If you are going to enforce a banal rule all those in that institution need to up hold that rule. Or it isn’t a rule.

Four: artists should be artists, dramatists should be dramatists, musicians should be musicians. Athletes should be sweaty. Engineers should be oily. Etc. My son is an artist and a musician and a sports player and a biologist and a historian. Only some of those work well in a suit and tie.

Leaving all that aside I can get my head around school uniform. It levels people. It prevents clothing shaming. It is cheaper if you have boys and do not have to fork out £25 per blouse and can bulk buy from Primark.

But I cannot get my head round the plain black socks. It is so not up there in the ‘battles we should be having’ stakes. Socks are an easy way to express ones personality without being too ‘out there’. Socks allow one’s hormonal teenagers a frisson of rebellion without hurting a soul. (Ha ha). Socks are fun. Socks pose no danger to anyone, not in a lab or a workshop or on a pitch. They make excellent stocking fillers. I need those.

So I turn a blind eye to my children’s sock choices. I may go so far as to say something to school if they get into trouble over their socks. I actually buy them fun socks. It’s a thing we have.

So there you have it. I think school should pick its battles. And not sweat those socks. There is enough sweat in all those socks already. And any way have you ever tried matching 3 pairs of almost identical black socks that only vary, slightly but crucially, in size once they have been through the washer? Thought not.

It Drives Me Crazy… — January 27, 2019

It Drives Me Crazy…

 

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I have wanted to write this post for a while but never really knew how to start. I still don’t really so I guess I am going to have to hold my nose and just jump in…

Bringing up three kids was never going to be easy. Parenting isn’t easy full stop however many you have. Over the last few years parenting mine has been particularly difficult. They are growing up, hormonal, teenage. All those cliches.

But in addition to that 2 of them have suffered from and still do suffer from mental health issues.

I am not unusual. The statistics surrounding the numbers of children and teenagers suffering in this way is frankly frightening. Regardless of the reasons (and they are no doubt multidudinous) we are, in this country, in the midst of an epidemic of youth mental illness. Statistics published recently state that 10% of 5 to 16 year olds suffer from mental health issues. That is three children in every average sized school classroom.

And yet the help out there is woeful. Totally woeful.

The NHS can’t or won’t provide anywhere near sufficient resources to tackle the issue. 75% of those suffering have not had any help at all and on average it takes 10 years to get the treatment young people need, when usually their issues have brought them to a crisis point.

Over stretched NHS resources send children away because their self harm isn’t bad enough, or they haven’t yet attempted suicide enough times, or they are not painfully thin enough. That is the reality of mental illness provision in England today. That is real. That happens to young people every day.

I struggle to understand how, as a society, we find it acceptable to not provide proper NHS support for the around 22% of fourteen year old girls who self harm for instance. Whether that’s better research into causes, treating people with the issue or providing preventative care.

I wonder how many headlines there would be if 22% of 14 year old girls suffered from cancer and nothing was done? Or indeed they were turned away by the NHS until their cancer was ‘bad enough’ as so often happens to those with mental illness.

The spotlight on mental health has got a little brighter in recent years with the input of royalty and sufferers speaking out but funding for the area is shockingly poor. Not only in the NHS but also in the charity sector. Research is pitiful. Suicide is the single biggest cause of death in both males and females between that ages of 20 and 34 and three quarters of those people will have started with mental ill health in childhood. Research into mental health currently runs at 6% of the UK’s health research funding and is around £8 per sufferer per year as opposed to £178 per cancer sufferer and £110 per dementia sufferer…not even in the same league. Of this pitiful amount less than 30% goes into children’s mental health research despite 75% of cases starting in childhood.

We donate and run and walk and put on national events on a huge scale for other types of disease. But mental illness seems not to have gathered such a following. It isn’t well publicised. It isn’t high profile. It isn’t big business. It is just a canker in our society which is still brushed under the carpet. Or worse not believed in.

I can tell you categorically that mental illness is real. It ruins lives. In an on going way. Not only for the sufferer but also for their families.

Who wants to hear their teenage son decide he would be better off dead than deal with the noise in his head a moment longer? Who would not believe that? Or want to help?

We were lucky. In our area there is a charity, CHUMS, which provided both my children with 4 hours of counselling (all they can afford to provide per child) and helped me learn to help them myself. Without them there would have been no way to get my children help; they were simply not ‘ill enough’ to get NHS treatment. Those 4 hours were precious. It hardly felt like we touched the surface. But still they were four hours that got us from the edge of cliff and back to a path we could manage, albeit a precarious one.

Without it I would have been left in the same boat as most families in the UK with children with mental health issues. Not being able to help my child out of their pain and anguish. Not knowing what to say. Feeling powerless to help my teenager deal with his totally crippling stress, anxiety and rituals which were literally ruining his life. The impotence I felt at times would have continued to overwhelm me.

Thanks to CHUMS he and I have some idea how to deal with his issues. It is still a daily and on going battle which shouldn’t be underestimated. And we are not alone.

To say ‘Thank you’ that same son is cycling a Coast to Coast 140 mile route over 3 days at Easter to raise money for that charity which I can honestly say saved his life.

He is trying to raise £1000. Which is a relatively a small amount but it’s a struggle. We are hoping to get there.

If you are reading this and can help with a donation, however small, please go to his Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/Matthew-Harrison21 where you can read his story in his own words.

He and I and other families will be very grateful.

Thanks.

The Beginning of the End… — December 3, 2018

The Beginning of the End…

 

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And so the inevitable has happened. Eldest has acquired a girlfriend.

I really don’t know how I feel about it. At all.

On the one hand I am pleased for him. I have always maintained that he would benefit hugely from a close relationship which isn’t founded on taking the mickey or benching or rolling around in mud… and that’s just his siblings. His friendships with his male peers are even weirder…

Eldest is a deep thinker. Immensely caring. Thoughtful. He has a lot to offer and a lot to gain from a close friendship with a girl.

But on the otherhand it feels like the beginning of the end.

My time as the main female in his life is in its death throws. I know it happens to us all. I just wasn’t ready yet to have a rival for all that love and affection.

Being the mother of boys is an immense privilege. They learn how to treat women from you. They learn to understand how we tick. They worship you. When they are little they run to you in a way daughters don’t. It seems odd but that is how it has always been with mine.

And letting go even ever so slightly hurts. Just a little bit, but it hurts.

So make the most of those hugs and kisses and special times when warm fuzzy heads nestle in your arms and sticky hands clasp at yours for before you know it they are  6 feet tall and you have to stand on tiptoe to steal an occasional kiss.

My beautiful boy. Let’s hope I have equipped you to be the best boyfriend you can be. You are certainly a wonderful son.

Love Mum x

Inspirational… — March 19, 2018

Inspirational…

 

Four years ago (when she was a tiny seven year old in Year 3) Youngest achieved a surprise victory in the Year 3 and 4 House Cross Country race at her school.

Well it was a surprise to us, maybe not to her.

We had no idea she could run. She has always been fit by dint of the amount of team sport she plays but we had not seen her run in a competitive race before.  At her previous school Sport’s Day races had involved bean bags and hoops.

The House Cross Country race is an annual mass start affair with the younger Years 3 & 4 racing over about 2k and the older Years 5 and 6 running around 3k. The whole school running together. From the best runners to those that struggle. All take part and give it a shot. Quite impressive.

Following her victory and liking the weight of the gold medal Youngest decided to set out to win all four of the races that she would take part in during her time in the Junior school. I distinctly remember her telling me as much on our way home in the car.

This seemed to me like difficult personal goal for a 7 year old. Leaving out the actual running even the time frame was daunting. Four years. And the fact that she didn’t actually ‘know’ how to run.

So I told her it would be tough. I told her that in Year 5 especially when she would have to race against the older and bigger children in Year 6 and over the longer 3k distance, it would be a tall order.

I tried to manage her expectations.

I shouldn’t have.

Today she achieved her goal with a fourth marvellous win in her last race in the Junior school. Not only winning the girls’ race but coming 5th overall against all the Year 5 and 6 boys too.

Mission accomplished.

My daughter never fails to amaze me with her grit and determination.

She doesn’t like running. She doesn’t like the time in her own head. Which can be a scary place. And yet she has dragged herself off to Park runs when time allowed between her other sport to hone her running skills.

Since that first year the weight of expectation has been heavy. Her own fear of failure huge. She is sick with nerves beforehand.

She puts everything out there on the field.

Runs against bigger and older children.

Trains. Tries. Visualises.

This is why I believe she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Talent is a small part of the picture.

Desire is a some of the battle.

Hard work is everything else.

My daughter is quite simply inspirational.

Eldest… — January 28, 2018

Eldest…

So there is likely to follow an unashamedly schmaltzy and over the top piece about my son. I am allowed. Just this once.

Soon my first born son turns 14. In fact next Tuesday.

So what can I say about Eldest?

That he is becoming a lovely young man. Standing nearly six feet tall. Strong and handsome. And that this is hard to believe. It seems like yesterday that he was a babe in my arms. A 14 month old learning to walk with a sock in his mouth. A toddler with a sturdy, determined gait caring for his new brother. A pre schooler quiet and shy. A small boy learning to ride a bike and play football, playing his first notes on the piano, making friends, learning to read and write. A ten year old struck down by appendicitis. A young man changing schools and bravely starting over.

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That he is empathic and friendly, unhappy when anyone is left out, able to get along with different ‘sets’ of friends.

That despite the onslaught of hormones and puberty he has on the whole remained respectful and kind and fun to spend time with.

That he is still a mummy’s boy. Happy to have a kiss goodbye (surreptitiously) in the school car park. Snuggle on the sofa and accept bedtime hugs.

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That he likes Vera. And Batman. And Arrow. And will bore to death anyone who happens to be in ear shot about Marvel films.

That he is a fiercely loyal sibling. Despite the usual fracas and bickering underneath he ‘gets’ his brother and sister. He coaches his sister in football. Wrestles with his brother. Bosses them around far too much. Loves them.

That he loves history. Has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the World Wars. Likes museums and art galleries.

That he is a dedicated and talented musician. Playing the cello with feeling and passion. Practising every day to meet his own very high standards. Playing in groups and performing in shows despite crippling nerves.

That he is his own worst critic. Nothing is ever ‘good enough’.

That he has always been the inventor of games and the ringleader in playtime. From home made trebuchets, to duvet surfing, to extreme hot wheels.

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That he reminds me of me.

That he likes to cook. Although time does not allow this as much as it should. That we still laugh about the carrot and orange soup and the lemon ‘flop’ meringue pie.

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That he has an amazing work ethic. In every area of life. Always tries his best. Listens and learns.

That he is an artist. With creative ideas and talent to match. Taking himself upstairs to draw and producing art to be proud of.

That he takes perceived criticism much too much to heart and forgets all the praise and accolades and prizes.

That he is a team player. Loving his rugby and hockey. Working hard to get onto and stay in the team. Not a monopoliser of the limelight. But quietly doing his bit. A vital team member.

That he always notices. My new hair cut. New clothes. That he will call and chat to his grandma with love and affection. That he makes you feel appreciated. That he buys thoughtful gifts (except for that sabre toothed tiger).

That, although serious and on occasion earnest, he can be silly and loud and exuberant. Not as much as I would like. That when he smiles the sun comes out.

That he has always been an eating machine. And that recently he has found the turbo button.

That he loves the outdoors. Camping and cycling and Scouting and mud. Can map read (ish), start fires, hike, orienteer, climb. That he is adventurous; facing his fears after a thorough risk assessment of course.

That he worries too much. About making the grade. Being good enough. Hitting some ‘ideal’ of what achievement is about. Driving himself to extremes.

When really he has always been better than good enough. He has always been amazing. And always will be.

Love you son. Just as you are.

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Happy Birthday!

Mummy

x

And…. — October 6, 2017

And….

grammar

So today I found myself doing this.

Sitting in the car on my driveway pretending that dropping my daughter at football had taken longer than it had. Why? I hear you ask. Well I will tell you.

I was avoiding homework. Not mine you understand. My son’s. Middlest’s to be precise.

I find myself mystified at his English homework. As does he. To be honest I understand more about his Spanish homework than I do about his English and I do not speak a word of Spanish.

Facebook friends will know that yesterday Middlest prepared for his upcoming Spanish speaking test which requires him to discuss someone else and then himself. He shared what he had written and I actually understood a fair proportion of it just because I have absorbed a fair amount of Spanish via a process of osmosis (interestingly Eldest has been studying osmosis in Biology so now he gets the metaphor) during the 3 years one or other of my children (at the moment two of them but soon all three) have been learning the language.

For instance I understood the following:-

Se llama Homer y es amarillo y gordo. A Homer le gusta la hamburgessas y porjo. En su tiempo libre Homer baila con su amigo Mo, tambien Homer le gusta bebe cerveza.

Well I understood it once I remembered amarillo was ‘yellow’ (and not a destination in a song about Marie) and had googled ‘cerveza’. If you don’t have rudimentary Spanish there is a translation below. Apologies to any Spanish speaking readers- this is my son’s second full year of Spanish so I can not vouch for the accuracy of the passage but I think he gets the general gist across although his grammar may be a bit off.

And that, my friends, is where our problems really begin. Middlest has been told today of a certain number of English grammar tasks that he needs to complete on a program called ‘Doddle’.

I cannot begin to explain to you how misnamed this program is. There is literally nothing we have come across on Doddle that is in any way a doddle. Last year it was some incomprehensible biology. I didn’t do biology beyond year 9. When I was at school one could drop a science and spend one’s time doing more fun and interesting lessons like Art. This was not considered a ‘bad thing’. Dropping science is now considered a ‘bad thing’. It is no longer possible in the English school system to avoid biology and all its  difficult spellings.

I could rant on for hours about how wrong I think this is. And I speak here as a degree level chemist offered PhD placements (I didn’t take one, I was sick of being poor and smelling like a combination of a morgue and a dodgy, unemptied waste bin) who didn’t get beyond human reproduction in biology. I did Art and Music instead and had a lovely little break in my timetable when I could indulge my creativity. But, no, now biology is compulsory and I don’t even think they get to cut anything up.

Earlier Eldest wanted to run past me what a palisade cell does. It was all I could do not to bolt for the hills screaming silently. Instead I just mashed the potatoes a bit harder and tried to look vaguely intelligent. I understand what osmosis is but I don’t want a detailed account. I don’t need it for my metaphor.

Anyway where was I. Ah yes English grammar. Doddle.

So before leaving to take Youngest to football Middlest had stumbled his way through a section on apostrophes (not apostrophe’s people just not).

Now I get apostrophes. I was taught that at school. Although I have to say that I was only actually sure about it’s and its last year when I finally made myself learn the difference. Now I write a bit for public consumption it seemed important. It’s really not OK to spell its/ it’s wrong by getting its apostrophe in the wrong place is it?

But still generally I understand apostrophes and I see the relevance of teaching a new generation that it isn’t OK to tell someone on Facebook ‘your OK, chin up’ really it isn’t.

He managed the 90% pass mark but only because I taught him the rules as he went along. That’s the thing about this Doddle. It’s not very good as a teaching method as it doesn’t actually teach anything unless you get the question wrong. Faced with a 90% pass mark and not wishing to spend an hour on the uses of one punctuation mark it seemed easier to teach it to him myself rather than him having to take the test again.

Then he decided to look at Connectives and Conjunctions.

Oh my actual god.

I was lost on the first page. The difference between them anyone? No anyone? I mean it shout if you know. I didn’t and I still don’t.

The test then went on to ask about some other sorts of connectives/ conjunctions which involved words like sub-ordinate and co-ordinate and adverbial and something else-ial and blah blah blah-ial and the punctuation associated with each.

Suffice to say I have not in all my 47 years absorbed any such information by osmosis.

The test did not enlighten us much. He did not achieve the pass mark. And if he sat it again I am not sure he would next time. I certainly wouldn’t have passed it. I got that same glazed over feeling I got when I was faced with that palisade cell earlier.

Also I am not sure that there is a point in this knowledge. I write a lot and I may not be the best writer in the world (for I am overly fond of ellipses (and indeed subordinate clauses)) but I can certainly use at least three connectives/ conjunctions, whether adverbial or of time and place, in a sentence without being able to name them.

I believe I just have.

It is possible that there are grammar nerds and English teachers out there who gleefully spend their spare time underlining the different sorts of connectives/ conjunctions in their favourite work of literature with different coloured Sharpies. But I doubt it. The grammar nerds would no doubt prefer to trawl Facebook calling out abusers of the apostrophe. And those English teachers would probably prefer to spend their allotted curriculum time discussing those works of literature with their students. Which is most likely why this drivel has been set as homework.

So cheers English department. I told Middlest to leave his score as it was. And to explain to anyone who has a problem with that that he still does not understand it. But that he can use connectives/ conjunctions in his own writing. Quite adequately.

Like Middlest said, “It’s just the word ‘and’ at the end of the day!”

Spanish translation

His name is Homer and he’s yellow and fat. Homer likes hamburgers and pork. In his spare time Homer dances with his friend Mo, Homer also likes to drink beer.

 

 

Baby, I don’t care… * — August 3, 2017

Baby, I don’t care… *

* I love a bit of Transvision Vamp…it’s my age…don’t ya know…

Time for another pondering about teenagers. You may remember from Early to bed, Early to rise  that I am the ‘proud’ owner of precisely one teenager and that there are many things that are frankly irritating about such ownership.

Today we shall be examining one of these irritating things- self consciousness.

I have always been an embarrassing parent. Apparently. When my children were small they actually liked the fact that I was embarrassing, actually they didn’t call it embarrassing when I was dancing like a mad thing to ‘I am the music man’ at the kiddie disco on holiday. Every night. Or doing karaoke. Or enjoying the slides at an aqua park by running full pelt up the steps to get to the front of the queue dragging them behind by their hands. Or whooping the loudest at Christmas shows and summer concerts. Or enjoying scrambling over cargo nets at soft play centres or indeed in the tops of trees at high rope courses. Or screaming loud encouragement from the touchlines. Or putting love notes in their lunch boxes. They called it fun. Over the years this has gradually changed from fun to ambivalence to down right embarrassment.

So really this blog isn’t about my teenager’s self consciousness but his mum consciousness…

it is a shame really that he is hitting the peak of his social embarrassment right when I am hitting the peak of not giving a flying fuck about what people think of me. Quite literally I don’t care. At all.

Obviously I don’t want people to think I am a bad person. I am careful about things that matter. Such as manners and respect and friendship. But for the trivial stuff I just don’t care.

I don’t actually remember being embarrassed about my parents. Maybe they weren’t that embarrassing. Certainly my mother and father were not into disco dancing or shouting from the sidelines or whooping.

However I do remember being self conscious. Hiding myself under layers of clothing. Crossing the road to avoid other teenagers. Standing in the gloom at school discos. But then I was an awkward teenager. Not cool, not popular, not sporty, put firmly in the academic geek pigeon hole with the added quirkiness of double bass playing.

This is not something any of my children are. They are bright, certainly, but also popular and sporty and empathic and good friends and musical and general all round good eggs. And anyway geekiness is no longer a bad thing.

I can’t really remember when my self consciousness disapperared. I certainly had some in my twenties at university and during my career. Maybe it was around the time that I had kids. When all dignity and modesty was lost during the physical process of birth. It was maybe a realisation that if I was strong enough to build three human beings and bring them into the world it shouldn’t really matter if I have varicose veins.

And so I stopped worrying about stuff. I bought shorts for the first time in years. It was liberating and still is. I will dance first at discos. Sing first at karaokes. Join in stupid pool games. Whoop.

I have always hoped that I had instilled this ‘don’t care’ attitude in my offspring. Yet still Eldest is acutely self conscious. It is probably an age thing. I do remember and so I do feel for him I really do.

But not enough to stop dancing to Hewy Lewis and the News in the front of a four by four jeep with Paco our Spanish driver on yesterday’s safari. Whilst being filmed for the DVD. We didn’t buy the DVD by the way although lots of my fellow travellers did. Sorry guys…

Eldest actually tried to hold my arms down. I have discovered that I am much stronger than him when the Power of Love is playing.

He will have to suck it up. I am not for changing. Life is short. I want to dance. And sing. And whoop.

One day he may too.

I do hope so.

 

Fun Free Tuesdays…. — July 13, 2017

Fun Free Tuesdays….

Hello everyone. I am back. Did you miss me? Well of course not. Sorry I have probably lost you. Let me explain.

Yesterday was Tuesday. The first Tuesday of my children’s 8 week summer holiday. Still none the wiser? I will continue.

Now I love having my kids at home. Mostly. But there are some things about having my kids at home that I find really difficult. And one of those things is the constant battle to get them off electronic devices.

Childrens usage of electronic devices is one of those subjects which divides parents. A bit like breast v bottle and letting them cry it out or not.

I am of the camp that believes that electronic devices are inherently ‘evil’. This view is founded on no real evidence at all and is just something my gut tells me. It is probably because my childhood was in the era before computers smaller than the size of a room were invented.

I envy my mother. She had it much easier with us. The TV was our electronic device. We had one in the house. During this fortnight it was permanently tuned to the Wimbledon Championships. My mother ruled the air wave choices.

In the summer holidays once the morning television programming for children ended at around 10am there was nothing else worth watching until around 4pm. Even then the offerings in the morning weren’t great. Has anyone ever in the history of ‘Why Don’t You (switch of your television set and go and do something less boring instead)’ ever done that? I know I didn’t. Mostly because the activities they portrayed as more fun than watching them portray them were either; games involving the whole gang of circa 20 kids which me and my sole brother could not hope to replicate; or craft activities using sticky back plastic. Which wasn’t allowed in the house.

So my mother had no worries that for the vast majority of each day my brother and I would be doing wholesome activities mainly outside. Activities such as playing  under the embankment of the bypass avoiding the local flasher or running each other over on bikes. Simpler times.

Computers made an appearance in my teenage years but the time taken to load Killer Gorilla or Frogger into the computer from the tape player (don’t touch the volume at all) was so long and often unreliable that the pay off was not really great enough for me to bother.

I tired to think what I did all summer when I was Eldest’s age. My mother asserted that I still played out in the street. She reminded me of the American exchange children who came over which was probably the summer I had turned 14. She remembers me rushing outside after every meal to ‘play out’. That wasn’t really what I was up to but I didn’t want to burst her ‘wholesome activities’ bubble….

In other teenage summers I read a lot of trashy fiction. And stole my brother’s afterburner and met my mates up the woods to drink weak beer from tins.

So it is more than likely that my inherent hatred of my kids spending all day on small screens derives from my desire to see them undertaking wholesome activities such as these. Rather than watching other people open Kinder eggs or packets of Pokemon cards. It is highly likely my 13 year old has moved on from this somewhat. I don’t ask.

The upshot is that I spend a lot of time policing electronic usage and falling out with them about it. Setting time limits never really works. The time elapses and then they ‘just want to finish this video’ or ‘if they leave the game now they will be penalised and lose a legendary something or other’ or ‘oh mum everyone else plays solidly all day you know’. Etc etc. I once heard Middlest comment through his headphones that he had to leave a game and in response to his friend’s reply he said ‘I know she is sooo annoying’….

And so during my run up to this eight weeks holiday a thought had been ruminating. The thought that we should have one day a week completely free of electronic devices. Myself included. Thus cutting all time limits and arguments off at the pass.

I decided in their last week of term to float the idea. I was slightly trepidatious if I am honest.

Youngest was very much up for it. This was not really a surprise. Youngest is 9 and has just finished Year 5. As such in the Harrison household she has achieved the age of  i-pod ownership. The i-pod she possess is obviously third hand. And as such is glitchy and of limited use. Whatever. She manages to play a few games such as Word Cookies and an advanced form of that 1980s one with a ball and a wall to knock through. And she can message her friends but only at home when she is on the internet.

As such she is still the one trying to get her brothers away from You Tube for long enough to play in the garden.

Middlest went white. He asked me what on earth he was going to do. I pointed out that this time last year he did not have a phone or an X Box. That didn’t help. Apparently last summer was a desert of boredom punctuated by small oases of fun which had usually cost me over £100.

Eldest was surprisingly very much up for it too. Eldest is old enough to understand that he struggles to moderate his phone usage. And needs help to do so. Of course on a day when I do ‘help him to manage his usage’ by telling him to ‘put the damn thing away for five minutes’ he does not see it quite like that. And we usually fight.

So to him a day totally without his phone would be a day of moderate usage without the arguments. Hopefully.

And me. What about me? To be honest I wasn’t too worried. The kids had reluctantly agreed to me having my phone for calls and essential texts only. I believed I could resist face book and twitter for a day. My main concern was not being able to open the on line version of The Times newspaper Polygon puzzle, which my father had got me addicted to on our recent visit. But I consoled myself with the thought of a ‘double polygon Wednesday’.

So on Monday evening I hoovered up phones and deposited them in my bedroom along with my I pad. All completely turned off.

I came down at 8 am having overslept to find Middlest booting up the X Box. He had conveniently forgotten that ‘no electronic devices’ included his games console. We had a small contratend.

Over the day on which I had deliberately planned no activities which would have set me back £100 certain things happened.

We all overslept.

They all came to my exercise class with me and ran around the field a few times before joining in (at one point we were all doing press ups in a row much to everyone’s amusement) and declaring it ‘quite hard’.

We went to Sainsbury’s for a snack to undo all our hard work and had actual conversations.

Youngest got her adult colouring book out and did an amazing page of colouring.

Middlest survived. He helped me cook the lunch. And enjoyed chopping and peeling carrots. He read an entire book. He tried to argue that I couldn’t afford phone free Tuesday (or fun free Tuesday as he had rechristened it) as I was going to have to buy a book a week. I pointed out that we have a perfectly decent library.

He helped me cook as he was avoiding Eldest and Youngest who, to a plan of Eldest’s devising, were setting up a hot wheels car track out of his bedroom window. This involved much arguing but once they got it sorted much fun. The fun was somewhat curtailed by the window cleaner turning up.

Eldest got out his sketch pad and new ‘How to Draw’ book purchased with the book token he got for winning the Year 8 Art prize and tackled eyes and then did a decent portrait. Even if the ears are too high.

We got our haircut and they all read wholsomely in the waiting area. Youngest regaled me with animal facts from her encyclopaedia during my cut and blow dry.

They went to a friend’s house whilst hubby and I went out briefly and had fun playing nerf gun wars. Youngest and I watched an episode of the Crystal Maze circa 1990 which apparently looked ‘so old’.

They all went to bed happy,

Middlest extracted his phone from my bedroom before retiring to ensure it was charged and ready for an intense catch up as Wednesday dawned.

The others want to add another day.

 

 

Elly (or maybe Elee, or Ellie or even Ely…) — July 4, 2017

Elly (or maybe Elee, or Ellie or even Ely…)

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May I introduce Elly (or Elee or Ellie or possibly Ely…I haven’t written his/ her name down before weird huh? We’ll settle for Elly I think).

Elly is a very, very important personage Chez Harrison.

Elly was purchased for Middlest by Eldest (well by daddy but chosen by Eldest) the day after Middlest was born. And he/she (we never did determine the sex of Elly it has remained a fluid thing to this day) has been a constant and well loved fixture in Middlest’s life ever since.

He has been everywhere with us. Florida, Norfolk, Spain, France etc. Elly is not allowed out of the house except to make these holiday trips for Elly is a ‘bed elephant’. He was not carried around when Middlest was a baby but until recently Middlest had not spent a night without him.

That only changed this year when Middlest announced he was not going to take Elly on Scout camp. A bit of me died. Middlest has always been a strong character not prone to caring what others think and so I saw this caving in to peer pressure as a sad turn of events. But no actually Middlest had decided not to take Elly:-

“For his own safety. People throw cuddlies around mum! I can’t risk that with Elly” all delivered in a shocked tone.

Generally Elly is packed last. He is on my ‘pack in the morning list’ along with Oo Oo (Youngest’s monkey) and deodorant and toothbrushes. He goes in hand luggage as Middlest does not want to risk turning up at a hotel without him.

Elly is nearly 12 years old. And he looks it. His fluff disappeared a long time ago. His eyes are scratched. His ears flop and his seams sag. To my mind this makes him even more adorable. I empathise with Elly. He looks how I often feel. Tired, slightly put upon but well, well loved.

To say he is precious is an understatement. I cannot contemplate what would happen if we ever lost Elly or he fell apart. It does not bear thinking about.

The fact then that, as we speak, Elly is whizzing around in my washing machine is more than a little worrying. He is ‘safely’ encased in a pillow case. But even still. I am awaiting the end of the cycle in a state of trepidation.

In the early days when Elly was often sicked on or worse he was no stranger to the washing machine. And I didn’t bother with a pillow case. But now he looks like he might not survive the ordeal.

Part of what makes Elly so special to Middlest is this lack of washing for Middlest is a very sensual person. He has an incredible sense of smell. In fact it is quite possible he may grow up to be a ‘nose’ or a perfumier. (He also has a way with words so I guess he would be quite good at the sort of pretentiousness often displayed by those wine tasters on the 1980s show ‘Food and Drink’).

Middlest likes to build up a good scent on things. Like a dog. In fact there are only two sorts of smell tolerated by Middlest when it comes to bedding. One- line dried sheets and Two- his own scent. If I dry his sheets indoors he complains until a few days have gone by and he can smell himself on the sheets again. Luckily for him I am quite slovenly housework wise, especially in the winter when drying the normal day to day laundry is a challenge never mind sheets as well, and so he gets ample opportunity to smell himself. Weirdo.

So for all these reasons Elly has not been washed for …a long time…

Today, as the sun is out and I can produce that other allowed smell- line dried sheets, I stripped Middlest’s bed. Elly was there as always curled up under the covers where he had recently been left by Middlest when he finally managed to pull himself out of the duvet.

Elly was crusty. Yep crusty. Middlest has a very specific way of hugging Elly which comes from his thumb sucking days when Elly was an intimate part of that ritual. (Eldest swears blind those thumb sucking days are not actually over and sneaks in a lot to try to catch Middlest on camera in the act). Elly spends a lot of time around Middlest’s nose and mouth and I can only assume that is where the ‘crust’ emanates from… It’s best not to think too hard…

Wherever the crust comes from Elly smells like extremely concentrated Middlest.

Despite my slovenly housekeeping even I had reached the limit of Elly crustiness.

And so I have risked a wash.

Middlest is going to be furious. I will try to line dry Elly but I know that won’t come close to compensating for those years of ‘me-ness’ he has built up.

I can only hope Elly survives the ordeal. For if a lack of ‘me-ness’ is bad a lack of Elly at all would see me permanently ostracised.

47 minutes to go. Wish Elly and me luck…

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What Fresh Hell Is This…. — June 11, 2017

What Fresh Hell Is This….

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Don’t worry dear readers. This entry is not about the UK elections. We aren’t talking about them here. It causes friction. So if deep political insight is what you are after please jog on. Watch Newsnight. Read the Daily Mail…or something.

A few weeks before half term Youngest came home and mumbled something about joining a school club. Youngest is quite savvy when it comes to requesting things and she usually asks very quietly at some key pinch point in a busy evening and takes my ‘sorry dear’ as assent.

In any event the club was at lunchtime and so had no direct impact on me. I was feeling slightly guilty as her club levels always drop in the summer term as the football season limps to a close in a flurry of tournaments and presentation events. Additionally this term, for some reason, school had dispensed with after school training for rounders/ football (this term’s sports of choice) for her year group. Why still remains a mystery. But the upshot was she was coming home every night on time and only venturing out again on Mondays (yep that football was continuing) and Wednesdays, oh and Fridays. So I was feeling under clubbed.

Anyway she went to her club. She seemed to enjoy it. I asked her about what she was doing and then got distracted by something else (probably Latin revision or a French aural exam or prising a teenager off an electronic device or suddenly remembering Eldest’s piano lesson with 3 minutes to spare) and forgot to listen to the answer.

I caught ‘posters’ and ‘may not get through to next half term’ and gleaned that there was some sort of competitive element to the club whilst still involving felt tip pens.

I did catch ‘it will be after school after half term’ which increased that impact on yours truly whilst simultaneously assuaging my ‘lack of clubs’ guilt. I decided to let this go. I was clearly missing my boomeranging backwards and forwards to school of an evening.

Half term came and went in a pleasant blur of those football death throws, a lovely trip to the seaside to visit my dad, some hockey, some successful shopping and a migraine. That wasn’t so pleasant.

I only had Youngest for most of last week (please read Sorry if you want to know why) and so I was able to listen more fully to her when I picked her up from this club on Wednesday night.

It transpires that the club is called the ‘Fiver Challenge’ club. Members have, you guessed it, a fiver to spend on set up costs and need to make as much profit for charity as possible. By selling stuff. Which must not be edible. Youngest and her mate had got through to the final four with the idea of making emoji cushions.

Now in common with most 9 year olds Youngest has no concept of money. And so she had not costed out this plan. At all. My head, of course, started working overtime pondering how to buy all the materials required to make enough emoji cushions to make any profit at all for five pounds. I asked Youngest to come up with a list of requirements. This is what she came up with; yellow, red, black and white felt. I added to this stuffing, sewing cotton in various hues, black embroidery thread, a glue gun with glue and labour.

As even a reel of cotton is about £1.85 I was quite unsure how all this was going to pan out. I have stuffing (from my previous knitting escapades. I have a really rather fetching knitted Christmas crib scene in my loft complete with sheep (well a sheep I got fed up after three kings, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, a manger and of course the baby himself and so the shepherd has quite an easy job herding one sheep)) and also some left over embroidery thread from my cross stitching days (although not really in very useful colours, they will have to make do) some cotton from general sewing (although no yellow) and Eldest had offered to be the sweat shop labour as long as he only got to make turd, devil or (bizarrely) heart emojis. That left all the actual fabric. And yellow cotton.

So after a morning driving her on a 2 hour round trip for a one hour football thing we decided we had better go out and see what could be done. I had a brain wave. Charity shops. We cruised into town to go on the Charity Shop Crawl which I usually only undertake when a ‘dressing up’ day has been announced at school. Tudors, Victorians, elves, Florence Nightingale etc. I thought maybe we could source some old bed sheets or cheap T shirts in the right hues.

I think it is fair to say that Charity shops have gone up market. I could easily find a prom dress or fair trade chocolates or next years Christmas cards but only one of my usual haunts had bed sheets. And then the yellow sheet I found (reasonably priced and would have made umpteen cushions) was too pale for Youngest. Not emoji enough. I couldn’t find a T shirt under four quid. I can buy them new for that. From actual sweat shops.

We left empty handed. And decided to try Hobbycraft. They came up trumps with cheapish felt and we bought as much as we could for that fiver. I also bought that yellow cotton and decided to pretend I had had ‘it in’. I only actually ‘have in’ black and white (for name label sewing) and colours that match scouting uniforms, that is bright blue and green. Plus weirdly red. Not sure why I have red. That will be good for sewing on tongues though.

Then the children decided to raid their T shirt drawers. I put back all the T shirts they still actually wear and ones I have bought this year but that still gave us a number in the right colours. Brown for turds, purple for hearts and devils (I challenged them on this, purple hearts? but then Eldest sent me one so I relented), green for a sick emoji and 2 yellow T shirts from when the boys had had house events in the Junior school. I had kept them so Youngest (in the same house) could wear them and then the school brought out a house branded shirt only sold at the school appointed uniform shop and those T shirts became redundant. Thanks god I had not got rid of them. The white T shirt (ghosts) that Youngest found in her drawer is size 6 -7 and has Eldest’s name in it so I can only assume he wore it in PE in Year 1. He is Year 8 now. Mental note to self- must go through the T shirt drawers more often.

So then the fun of turning this mountain of fabric into items children may actually wish to purchase could really begin. We spent several more precious hours making templates, drawing round them and cutting felt before we could even begin to sew. And then I was merely required to try to remember how to do blanket stitch (which I can never remember how to do, go on try I bet you can’t either) to thread needles non stop for two hours, start them off and finish them off (after having unpicked at least 5 stitches to allow me enough thread to actually finish off even after telling them repeatedly how much thread I need to finish off) and sooth Youngest when she drew blood. Oh and cut out sunglasses. In those 2 long hours Youngest and Eldest sewed precisely one cushion each.

And just so you know hand sewing T shirt material is really really difficult.

The pop up shop is in 2 weeks. I may have died of over needle threading/ knot undoing /finishing/starting offing by then.

Oh well I haven’t got the glue gun out yet. I like the glue gun. That will be a highlight. As long as I can find it. Preliminary searches have not gone well. Is it possible to lose a glue gun? I’ll let you know.

Cheers school. Again.

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Cushion number one.

 

 

 

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