Archive for the category “growing up”

Unexpected benefits of boys

20140210_114041I bought myself a new coat yesterday. It is warm, intact and it is clean and, because I want it to stay that way, it is pink. Another unexpected benefit of being a Mother Of Boys.
So, I went to hang up my pristine pink affair and found, to my horror, that there were no hooks left. Each and every hook in our house (and believe me there are many) has been filled with the following:
• Waterproofs (only they’re probably not entirely and the zip is bound to be broken. And we’ll only find this out as we are rushing out of the house)
• Winter coats (permanently filthy and, more often than not, damp. And if by some miracle, the rest of the coat isn’t, there will definitely be a handful of sodden sand in the pocket)
• School coats (in theory to be kept clean and only worn when on official business. In practice often used as substitutes for the above when it’s discovered they’re wet)
• Sundry other coats which we appear to have accumulated – rarely worn, probably ripped and really should be relegated to recycling

While I was writing MOB Rule I stumbled across this quote:
‘Definition of a sweater: an item of clothing worn by a son when his mother is chilly’
Well, I am substituting sweater with coat. Because in our house, despite the multitude of outside garments we appear to possess, getting the boys to put one on is akin to my going on a diet. Not worth the effort and unlikely to end in success.

‘Get your coats boys,’ I say, ‘we’re going for a walk!’
‘But it’s not raining,’ they retort, ‘we won’t get wet!’
‘No, not now it isn’t, but it might do later…’
‘But I’ve checked the weather online – it’s going to be dry all day.’
‘The forecast’s not always right you know… and anyway, you might get cold.’
‘It’s not cold,’ they reply, ‘in fact we’re burning!’
‘Of course you are – it’s warm inside the house but once you’re out…’
‘But mum,’ they say strutting in shorts and T-shirts, ‘we’re we’re mammals, we’re warm blooded – not like you, you’re… cold blooded!’
Guess that makes me a snake then, or maybe a cod.
‘Suit yourselves,’ I give up, slithering my ‘gills’ into my gloves. ‘On your heads be it.’
We head outside.
***
That day the weather forecast got it right. And to their loud satisfaction they remained bone dry. Last weekend, however, they got it wrong.
We are half way along the coast when the skies decide to dump their sodden contents onto our heads. The boys put up their hoodies but they do little to help. One by one, they sidle up to me and my rucsac.
‘Mum,’ they shout over the howling gale, ‘muuum… did you bring my coat?’
‘Might have,’ I dangle, delving into my pre-packed bag. They grab their garments and even zip them up. Cold blooded I may be, cold hearted I’m not.

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A festive guide to sibling squabbling

‘Muuuum! He hit me!’
‘But muuuuum… he punched me!’
‘Well, he hit me first!’
‘Only ‘cos he used a rude word’
‘Yeah, but only ‘cos he called me a BAD name’
‘Because he nearly sat on my arm…’
‘Only because he sat too close to me on MY sofa!’
‘Yeah, but he was whispering… and breathing… and ‘stuff’.’

This is, very obviously, a fictional scenario. In our house this Christmas, the boys will play beautifully together all the time, respecting each other’s needs and encouraging each other to shine. Err… ahem.
***
There are nearly two years between my brother and I. Two years and at least two universes. Because we are totally and blatantly and irritatingly different.

When I was eight, my parents bought a ramshackle pair of gable-ends in the wilds of Scotland and set about restoring the water mill to its former glory. This would’ve been a fantastic idea, had it not been for the fact that the building work required us to live on site in a caravan (a ‘built for two, occasionally three’-type van, not a swanky modern mobile home) for over 12 months. And even this would not have been so bad had it not meant me sharing a bedroom (I use the term loosely) with my BROTHER.

I had the top bunk in our 4 foot wide cubicle. To reach the chemical loo on the other side of the paper-thin wall, I had to slither past my brother (still sleeping) on the bottom bunk. Only he wasn’t. The minute he’d hear me begin to clamber out of bed, he’d stick out an innocent leg, dramatically impeding my drop to the floor. Then, whilst I was still recovering, he’d leap out of bed himself, race round the corner and commandeer the loo for his morning pee. ‘Muuuuum!’ I’d shriek, racing after him and banging, furious, on the door, ‘Muuuuum… he won’t let me go to the loo!’ My mother, six feet away on a pull down bed, would sigh, and pull the blankets over her head.

And so the day, and indeed the years, continued.
He liked computers, I liked horses.
He liked being inside, I liked being out.
He didn’t like my friends and I didn’t like his.
If he was into this, then I was into that.
We had absolutely nothing in common and we made sure that the world knew about our differences. Horrid Henry and his side’kick’ had nothing on us.
***
When I was 30 I had my first son. My brother had had a daughter the year before. Suddenly my brother and I had something in common. No longer did he live on planet mathematics whilst I languished on a humanities’ star; now, to our amazement, we inhabited the same world of nappies, bottles and too little sleep. For the first time, we could empathise with each other, could see where we were coming from, respect our rights and wrongs. We started, albeit very belatedly, to get along.

So this Christmas day, my mother (whom I realise, equally belatedly, must either have been a saint or astonishingly unaware) will smile when I sit calmly next to my brother, chatting pleasantly to him about this and that, and I, in turn, will smile too. Because I will know that my boys – no doubt kicking each other under the table – will not continue their sibling squabbling forever. If history, and my maths are anything to go by, I’ve only got another 22 years or so to go. I’ll raise a glass of festive cheer to that.

What do you mean we need a break from the old routine?

‘Why are you doing that?’ asks a friend.
‘Doing what?’ I reply, looking round.
‘That…’ she points at my bread and butter assembly line, ‘Making sandwiches for the boys.’
I shrug. ‘Because… I… err…’ I hesitate, lost. ‘Because that’s what I always do.’
‘Oh,’ she says, non-committal. ‘Right.’
I scratch my head, and cut some more cheese.
***
Later on that evening, after I’ve put the boys to bed (as I always do), I think about what my friend had said. Or, rather, what she hadn’t said. And what she hadn’t said, stuck.
Why was I making sandwiches for the boys? Why was I preparing their packed lunch?

At 8, 10 and 11 years old they are capable – more than capable – of wielding a knife and opening the fridge. True, their choice of filling might more often than not be jam instead of my healthier combination of cucumber and cheese, but, who knows, my years of five-a-day indoctrination might just rub off. And anyway the odd jam sandwich won’t kill them.
So, I have to ask myself, why am I doing for them what they could do for themselves?
***
When the boys were little, and I had three tots under four, just getting through the day was cause for celebration. With the Forces FOB weekly (if not three-monthly) commuting, I was to all intents and purposes a single mum and survival and sanity were top of my list of daily goals. Anything else – at that stage – was an extravagant extra.

So my days were executed with military precision: clothing was applied swiftly according to the weather, meals were despatched with conveyor-belt regularity and bedtimes were a predictable pattern of bath, book and bed. Deviation from routine would result in chaos, not to mention my missing the Archers, which was substantially more serious. But now, as time has passed, and the boys have progressed from toddler to tweenager, I have, perhaps, failed to take that important step back. Failed to get off that young-mum treadmill of ‘getting through the day’, failed to take time to reflect on what I’m doing with, and for, the boys and why.

The FOB, still weekly commuting and therefore with the benefit of seeing the daily routine with a Friday-fresh pair of eyes, is much better than me at spotting opportunities for the boys to do things for themselves.
‘Does he really need his teeth brushing?’ he asks as I stand over a pyjama’d Feisty Fellow. I cough, guiltily, and hand the brush over to my no-longer-baby boy.
‘I’m sure you can tie your own laces!’ he says to his middle son as I bend double to tackle Binary’s Boy’s trainers. I straighten up, rub my back, and middle son quickly crouches down.
‘You can sort your school bag out yourself, can’t you?’ he encourages now-at-secondary-school Sensible Son. ‘’Course I can,’ responds our eldest, ‘but you try telling that to mum!’
Eyes increasingly opened, I try, try to give our sons the all-important opportunities to encourage independence, to invest in their future as competent men.
***
The other night I stood in the kitchen staring at the stove.
‘Right, who’s up for making supper instead of me tonight?’
Four pairs of eyes, engrossed in a particularly amusing episode of Top Gear swivel briefly in my direction.
‘Ummm… errr…’ stutters the FOB, his arm draped cosily round Feisty Fellow. The other two shuffle their bottoms a little nervously.
Right then.
‘Budge up,’ I say to my boys plonking my bottom on the sofa. ‘Let’s see how long it takes for your stomachs to encourage your independence.’

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