Archive for the category “chaos”

The MOB heads north…an interview in the Northern Echo on the ‘Rules of Engagement’

Recently I had great fun being interviewed by fellow (more multiple than me) MOB Ruth Campbell. We chewed the female-only fat and discussed the – ultimate – joys of boys. To find out more about the ‘Rules of engagement’ go to…


Why I will resolve to lose weight again this year after all

My spam box today is full of miracle solutions for getting rid of excess stomach fat. ‘Start the New Year with a new skinny you’ they promise. Ordinarily, I might be tempted. This year, however, thanks to non-stop illness over the Festive Season, losing weight will not (unlike most years since I was about 16) be top of my ‘resolutions-for-the-New-Year-invariably-failed’ list.

What then I wonder, should be my, and the rest of the family’s, resolutions this year? I pose the question at the tea table.

‘What’s your New Year’s resolution for 2013, Sensible Son?’ I ask.
‘Ermm… to not wind up my brothers,’ he replies, gurning brightly at his smaller siblings.
‘And yours, Binary Boy?’ I say, ignoring his brother’s contorted face.
‘To not be wound up by my brothers,’ replies middle son, flicking a glob of baguette at his elder aggravator.
I intercept the baguette and turn to smallest son. ‘And you? What are you going to do in 2013, wee man?’
‘Ooh, wee man, wee man, maybe be a pee man,’chant his bigger brothers.
Feisty Fellow jumps down from the table. ‘To not over-react when they wind me up,’ he shouts over his shoulder, as he slams the door.

Oh. That went well.

‘What’s your New Year resolution then?’ the FOB asks me.
‘Well…’ I say, eyeing the door and waiting for it to inevitably re-open, ‘I was thinking the 3 c’s… to stay calm, to question, to cuddle…’
‘Question’s a ‘q’ not a ‘c’!’ interrupts Binary Boy.
‘…not get CROSS!’ I finish. ‘Yours?’ I ask the FOB. Crossly.
‘Sorry?’ he says with his special kind of dreaming of roof-structures smile. ‘Oh… er, mine… yes … to listen. That’s right. To be more attentive.’

I sigh. Clear up the kitchen. Flash up the computer and hover over some spam. After all, apparently you can never be too rich… or too thin.

Happy New Year from the MOB and her boys

Calling last minute Father (and Mother) Christmas’: The Ultimate Gift Guide for Boys…for free

For anyone who missed out on the ‘12 Tweets of What to Buy a Boy for Christmas’, here is my complete list of suggestions in one printable page (to be sung to the tune of either ‘The 12 days of Christmas’ or ‘Pick of the Pops’):

1. A marble run
Hours of fun and still loved at 10.
2. Hama beads
I know it sounds unlikely but give them (especially animal shapes) a go.
3. ‘Best of Jennings’ by Anthony Buckeridge
A spiffing raucous read for kids and adults alike.
4. A chemistry lab kit
Supervise as he revels in violent volcanoes and sulphurous smells.
5. The Guinness World Records height chart
It seems I’m just less than the largest loo roll.
6. Geomag
It’s marbles Jim, but not as we know it. Magnetic fun for all the family!
7. Click clack track
Strangely mesmerising, we never bought one and wished we had.
8. Any fact-filled book by Mitchell Symons
‘Did you know?’ sessions will never the same.
9. UNO, Boggle Slam or a good ol’ fashioned pack of cards
Endless opportunities for bad behaviour.
10. Hexbugs, of any shape or form
Just make sure you include backup batteries.
11. Elefun
Certain chaos as boys trample everything underfoot to catch bugs in nets.
12. The Dangerous Book for Boys
Full of facts and fun for the males (big and small) in your life.

Failing any of the above, just give them a big cardboard box and some bubble wrap. Job done.

How to avoid the Nativity Nightmare

This year I have had it relatively easy.

Not, you understand, on the work/life balance front which has been frequently bordering on the ridiculous. No, easy in terms of the potential ‘Nativity nightmare’.

Because this year Sensible Son is ‘merely’ a narrator, thus requiring the wearing of only a passably clean school uniform. Binary Boy is ‘merely’ in the Choir, thus seemingly requiring the same as above. And Feisty Fellow, an appropriately typecast Curious Sheep, is merely to be be-costumed in his PE kit – black and white.

’Twas not always so.

A few years ago, the following festive scenario ensued:

Act 1: Enter on stage a son back from school.
‘You’re a what?!’ (mother)
‘A pig.’ (son)
‘A pig?!’ Since when has a pig featured in the Nativity?
‘Oh, and Miss said I need to bring in my costume tomorrow. White top, curly tail, pink tights.’
Pink tights?! Tomorrow?! Mother ponders the injustice of a world where a mother of three boys must procure pink tights. She picks up her mobile and phones a friend.

Act 2: A month later. Lights dimmed, audience hushed, rickety cot set up on stage.
Cue: A procession of small children. As the First Noel fades, Mary clambers up stage steps. Grasping the cushion that is threatening to fall out from under her dress, she looks round for her ‘husband’. Joseph is following at an appropriately manly distance – it’s not good for the street-cred to get too close to a girl – and is dragging a reluctant donkey. Back end stumbles over step and threatens to bring the whole cavalcade down.

‘Why’s dat cow wearin’ shoes?’ demands a front row sibling loudly, as the expectant couple and their donkey wobble their way across stage. His brother – Joseph, apparently – is alerted to the presence of his family. ‘Hi mum,’ he mouths, waving frantically. His mother smiles and quietly waves back.

Choir stands up; some even open their mouths. ‘Little donkey, little donkey….’ Manage the first verse before running out of steam. ‘Been a looooong time…’ A too tiny tot – should she actually be at school? – yawns loudly, the boy next to her jigs up and down obviously in need of a loo. Entire audience follow his every move; he eventually attracts the attention of the powers that be. Swiftly and surreptitiously, he’s escorted from the hall.

Meanwhile back in Bethlehem, a host of heavenly creatures arrive. Mary picks her nose, nonplussed, as trio of wise men deliver their gifts.
‘We bring yew frakn’sense, gold and fur,’ announces Melchior. Tittering in the back row. Balthasar whispers in his ear. ‘Myrrh…I mean myrrh!’ he shouts. Dissolves into tears and races from the stage.

Shepherds. The middle one – bedecked in regulation dressing gown and tea towel – has nits. Rakes at his head as his companions hand over their offerings…two lambs and what looks suspiciously like a dog. Mary and Joseph mutter their thanks.

All good so far, but where is pig?

Enter, stage left: a herd of pink porkers. Pants glowing like stars through too thin tights, they jiggle tails and wiggle butts to the tune of a farmyard carol based loosely on the Birdie Song. Disappear into the darkness whence they came.

Proud parent clapping, and the Nativity is over for another 12 months.


So this year my Nativity season, whilst potentially less entertaining, is decidedly less fraught. With no need for pink tights or other elaborate adornments, the dressing up box can stay shut and the tea towels by the sink. I need merely attend, and applaud expansively. Peace on earth…and hallelujah to that.

Nice ice baby?

In my capacity as a MOB, there are three things that I just don’t do. Well OK, probably a lot more than three. But last week it was three that sprung to mind.

As you may know already from my ‘Down Means Out’ post, this Mother Of Boys doesn’t do balls in the house. Or sticks, swords, or indeed anything that bears even a passing resemblance to the afore-mentioned objects. Despite endless promises to the contrary, these weapons of mass destruction always end in tears (most often mine) and so they are all on the ‘at risk’ banned offenders list.

You may therefore be coming to the conclusion that I am a) a control freak, and b) a killjoy. What I am about to say next will no doubt confirm your suspicions.

Because the third thing I just don’t do is ice.

Take last Friday morning, for instance.

For once, we achieve the unachievable and are ready to leave for school – on time and, even more miraculously, appropriately dressed. Coats on, gloves on, good to go. I open the back door and the boys tumble out and proceed to the car in a sensible straight line. Only they don’t, do they? Because there’s… ICE!

Like sniffer dogs they hurtle, hither and thither, racing from one rain-filled flower pot to the next. Noses to the ground they scuttle around, tapping promising puddles with their school-shoe heels. It was freezing last night so there must be some somewhere… we can smell it, sense it, so where, where?

‘Come on boys, let’s go!’ I yell jumping into the car, clapping my despite-gloves-still-numb hands together. ‘We’re going to be late and I don’t want you cold and wet even before you get to school!’

Too late – they’ve gone.

I turn to see the pack, as one, heading off in the direction of the trampoline. Slithering dangerously on frost-covered steps, they clamber onto the frame, destination, I see now, a glimmering pond. A yell: ‘We’ve found it – there’s ice, there’s ice!’, and they are finally holding winter’s treasure in their hands. Momentarily they brandish their trophy sheets head-high, before casting them to the ground in insane excitement. Sheets of ice splinter to the earth in a thousand sparking shards.

‘Come on, boys,’ I try again. ‘Put the ice down… your fingers must be frozen and you’ll all be moaning in a minute!’
‘We’re fine, we’re not cold,’ shouts back Sensible Son.
‘We’ve got gloves on, we’re cool,’ adds Binary Boy.
‘Oh, come on mum,’ corroborates Feisty Fellow, ‘we’re havin’ fun!’

Despite my protestations, I smile to myself. Maybe, I think, it’ll actually be OK this year. Maybe, unlike last year, we won’t have quite so many arctic meltdowns thanks to frozen extremities and sub-zero pain.
‘Well, fun or not, it’s time to go… COME ON!’
Sensing the game is over, my ice-hounds return, and climb, reluctantly, into the car.

We are half way down the drive before it starts.
‘My hands are freezing!’ moans one.
‘My socks are soaking!’ moans another.
A third adds his howls melodramatically to the throng: ‘Can we go back home and get new gloves – mine are totally wet and won’t be any use at school.’

I put the heater on full both to warm their hands, and so I can’t hear their wails. Somehow it warms the cockles of my heart to know that MOB Rule is right.

Boys just wanna have fun… and not necessarily with their mum

So, here I am. Three nights in London, with my husband and without my kids. I’m here for both business and pleasure: a Bloomsbury party for authors with publications coming out in 2013, a meeting with my publicist and lots of coffees with long-lost friends.

The obvious question when I first received the Bloomsbury invitation was ‘Oh my goodness… what shall I wear?’ Living knee-deep in Devon mud does not endow you with a wardrobe fit for drinks and canapés in Bedford Square.

Once I’d resolved that one (I would wear the same outfit I wore to a Bloomsbury bash last year, and from now on that can be my writer’s signature ‘trendy top’), the next obvious question was ‘If I’m off to London, who’s looking after the boys?’

A phone call to the in-laws later and that too was resolved. And so on Wednesday I put my suitcase in the car, revved up the engine and set off for the ‘Big Smoke’ without a backward glance. Only I didn’t, did I?

As a mother (and I can only imagine a father too) leaving your children ‘behind’, albeit in the extremely capable and loving hands of their grandparents, goes against the maternal grain. Even though some days my sons drive me literally up the wall, being away from them, and their lives, feels somehow… well, wrong. I know what they do when, and what they need in their bags to do it. I know every nook and cranny of their little boy lives. How will they cope without their mum?

The other day I was sorting out an old photo album and I found the ‘instructions’ which I’d written for the Grandparents of Boys (GOBs) on our inaugural ‘away from firstborn’ weekend. I started reading, got half way down the first page and stopped. I cringed.

11.00 Put baby in cot on back (black out blinds down, baby monitor on, door slightly ajar). Do not talk to him – leave him to settle himself.
11.30 Wake baby up. Change nappy (environmentally-friendly nappies in cupboard to the left of door – beware ‘willy wash’ – muslin provided for this purpose)
11.40 Play. If he gets upset, sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up.’ He doesn’t like ‘Incy Wincy’…

And on, and on. Four pages of five-a-day stipulations, strategies for entertaining, minute by minute schedules of every hour of the day. Four pages of rules and recommendations for the loco parentis Grandparents, who have, between them, safely and successfully reared five children of their own. Four pages of literally teaching grandmother how to suck (and probably boil) eggs.

And as the kids grew up, I continued to pen my missives of maternal wisdom – advocating strict bedtime routines and reminding them to remind them to wash. Fish pie on a Friday was always a must. Looking back, I am quite surprised the GOBs continued to be happy to look after the boys. With hindsight however, and based on the odd little snippet our sons have occasionally ‘let slip’, I realise that, entirely understandably, they took my well-meant advice with an extra-large pinch of salt. ‘Yes, it’s all good,’ they’d say on the phone when I’d call in the evening after the official boy-bed-time. ‘They’re all tucked up in bed – everything’s going to plan.’ I was sure I could hear laughter and shrieking in the background, but at the time I put it down to interference on the line.


On Wednesday I left a solitary page on the kitchen table. It read:
School drop off: 08.40; pick up 3.10.
Feisty Fellow has football on Thursday – his kit is in the bag in the hall.
Thanks and have fun. Hannah

So tomorrow when I get home and am greeted by slightly tired boys with chocolate-smudged smiles, when I get back to find all the cake eaten and the fridge still full of veg, I too will smile. Because I know that what’s important is that the boys have had fun. And amazingly they (and the GOBs) have had it, without any instruction from their mum.

Sensible Son keyboard, Binary Boy clarinet, Feisty Fellow drums. Silent Sunday?


Juggling balls

You know what they say about buses? About how you wait all day and then two come along at once, both vying for your custom? Well, that was me. Last year.

There was I, with three at school boys, scooting towards the big 4-0 and worrying about what I was going to do for the rest of my working life now that my full-time mother job had come to an end, when suddenly the buses turned up.

Bus no. 1 arrived in the form of the FOB and I deciding to up sticks and sons to take over, and adapt, the family business in Devon: the renovation of a beautiful country house as a weddings, accommodation and events venue. If it helps, think Restoration Nightmare on a much smaller scale.

And then, just as we’d boarded that one, bus no. 2 careered round the corner as, to my amazement and delight, Bloomsbury bought ‘MOB Rule’, thus turning my naval gazing hobby into an income-earning book.

So now here I am, juggling book, building project and boys. Unsurprisingly I no longer have the time or energy to worry about what I will do.

Mostly I just about manage to keep my ‘balls’ in the air, but being a ‘home worker’ at half term is, it appears, about as compatible as boys and soap. Take yesterday, for instance.

I was mid-cake-bake when the phone rang.

‘Hello?’ I barked, grasping my mobile with a char-grilled oven glove. The ginger cake was cooked, it just needed to cool.
‘Erm … hello? Is that, err, Hannah?’
Feisty Fellow ignored the phone, pawed at my jeans. ‘Is the cake ready?’ he whined – loudly.
‘Sorry, who did you want to talk to?’ I barked again, removing his fingers from my thigh. ‘I can’t quite hear you.’
‘I … I wanted to talk to … yes, it was Hannah … about holding our wedding with you. I emailed last week – September 2013 – a marquee on the lawn?’
A bell rang vaguely in the recently acquired ‘business section’ of my mainly maternal brain. ‘Ah yes… err – Kirsty, isn’t it?’
‘That’s right.’ She sounded relieved to be recognised at last. ‘Sorry to call you in the evening …’
‘No, don’t worry, it’s fin …’
‘IS THE CAKE READY NOW?’ demanded Feisty Fellow again, jigging up and down.
‘Will you please,’ I hissed, wedging the phone painfully twixt shoulder and ear, whilst attempting to cover the mouthpiece with one hand and cut up cake with the other, ‘wait a minute!’
‘Pardon?’ said my potential booking.
‘Oh, um … sorry, not you … it’s my boys – they’re always starving. You know how it is …’
Silence on the other end of the line. This young and free Bride-to-be, blatantly did not know ‘how it is’.
‘Well, anyway,’ I blustered, dolloping slices of cake onto plastic plates, ‘how can I help?’ I thrust the cake at Feisty Fellow, gestured for him to ‘scoot!’, and took myself and the phone to the relative sanctuary of the study.

Ten minutes later I had finished the call. Viewing arranged, details confirmed, booking, I thought smugly, in the bag. I congratulated myself, on managing to successfully combine the longer-term demands of a burgeoning business with the more immediate ones of my sons.

Smiling broadly I stepped out of the study, round the corner. Stopped – dead.

Three sugar-rush boys were playing a version of British Bulldog in our too-small-sitting room. Cushion feathers flew from improvised weapons of war; they squealed like piglets competing for slop. A saliva-sparkling cake tray sat abandoned, mid-mayhem.

‘What on earth?!’ I muttered taking in the scene. ‘EEE-NOUGH!’ I admonished above their screams; the noise gradually subsided and they collapsed, elated but exhausted, onto the sofa. I sighed, picked up the empty tray and took it to the sink.

Just occasionally, occasionally I wish I’d missed the bus.

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