Every year, round about World Book Day, my heart sinks.
Not, I hasten to add before I am thoroughly lambasted by the book-lover-brigade, because of the focus on all things written. No, I am 100% in favour of a Day dedicated to celebrating the written word, having spent a large chunk of my early adolescence upside down on the back seat of a Ford Cortina devouring Agatha Christie. Probably best to keep that story for another light news day.
No, my heart sinks because I know that, with the unfailing inevitability of a moany Monday following a too-late-to-bed Sunday, the boys will skip home from school brandishing ‘The Letter’. ‘The Letter’ which merrily encourages them to ‘dress up as their favourite character from a book’ in return for one shiny pound. And I have no problem with the pound , indeed I would happily part company with a significant amount more if only there wasn’t the ‘creative’ element involved.
The conversation goes something like this:
‘I don’t know who to go as!’ (boy)
‘You’ve read loads of books… which is your favourite?’ (mum)
‘Oh, I don’t know!’ (boy)
‘Well,’ (mum, helpful), ‘why not someone from Starfighters, Famous Five, Harry Potter?’
‘We don’t have any Starfighters’ costumes, no one would recognise the Famous Five and absolutely EVERYONE does Harry Potter!’
‘Well,’ (mum, slightly less helpful), ‘what about Horrid Henry – that could be fun. You could go as Henry and your brother as Perfect Peter!’
‘Horrid Henry is for KS1 mum, not KS2. And anyway, there’s absolutely no way I’m going with HIM!’
‘Ooooh, for goodness sake!’ (mum, thoroughly exasperated and out of ideas) ‘Look, you think about what you want to be and let me know when you’ve decided and we’ll come up with something.’
‘Maybe I won’t bother this year…’ (boy – muttering). ‘Dunno what to go as anyway…’
Morning of World Book Day
‘But I thought you said you weren’t going to dress up this year?’ (mum, one leg in car, one leg out, about to put the key in the ignition to head off for school)
‘I didn’t MEAN it mum… oh, everyone else will be dressing up and I’ll be the only one who isn’t and Miss said there’s a prize for the best costume and I’ll look silly if I don’t….’
(Mum, sounding not unlike Horrid Henry herself): ‘Arggggggghhhhhhh!’
There follows frantic scrabbling in the dressing up box resulting in an odd assortment of tweed caps and recycled Victorian topic garb.
‘Perfect… there you are: Oliver Twist. Now get into the car and LET’S GO!!’
‘Oliver who?’ asks boy, but knows better than to push it. ‘OK…thanks. Er… can I have my pound?’
So this year, I awaited World Book Day with the usual trepidation.
‘Bring a book you’ve enjoyed and finished with into school to swap’ read the instruction on the crumpled letter thrust into my hand. Genius! Fantastic! We can do that! Giddy with relief, I nigh on dance for joy.
But boy proffers another piece of paper.
‘As you may be aware, next Friday is Red Nose Day. The children are invited to… dress up as their favourite character from a book in return for a pound.’
I went away on Saturday night. By myself, to a friend’s birthday party. No boys, no FOB, just me on my tod. I had a lovely time, catching up with old friends and having a good natter.
On Sunday I came home. I walked through the door to a pretty clean house and an appropriately rapturous welcome.
‘Did you have fun with dad?’ I ask the boys, at least one of them wrapped around my waist.
‘Yeah… it was great!’ boy 1 enthuses, ‘he made us an awesome supper!’
‘Yeah,’ adds boy 2, ‘we had sausages, eggs, bacon, beans on toast… a proper fry up!’ I sniff the lard-laden air in mild despair: pray tell, where’s the five-a-day goodness in that?
‘And,’ adds boy 3, ‘we stayed up really late. I went to bed after 9pm, and the others went even later than that!’ His brothers shoot him a looks-could-kill stare, but boy 3 blunders happily on, ‘Dad let us do all sorts of things that you SO wouldn’t!’
Oh really? Now this is interesting.
In the nearly 11 years I have been a MOB, I have learned that the FOB and I – whilst mostly highly compatible – do differ in some of our approaches to parenting. Differences which merely confirm my long-suspected belief that men are indeed from Mars, whilst women hail from a neighbouring, but oh-so-alien planet. Here is a list of things the FOB will willingly do for his sons, and I will not:
And therein lies the Mars/Venus moment. Because the FOB is a boy and I am not. Things that come naturally to him, and his sons, fill me with horror and fear. Of course I want the boys to have fun and I am definitely more Tomboy than Barbie myself, but does fun really have to involve so much Savlon, mud and madness? Apparently, according to dad (and them) it does.
A FOB friend told me about his own ‘Dangerous Days’. Days when, in the absence of mum, he and his sons would daringly embark on all sorts of stuff. They’d have fondue for supper, sparring for meat with angry sticks, or make their own candles, dipping wicks, and the odd finger, into molten wax. Once, he told me gleefully, the MOB had returned home to find a climbing wall snaking its way up the entirety of their stairs.
Maybe, I think, eyeing the still-to-scour grill with resignation, maybe I got away lightly with just over-tired boys and a fatty full fry.