Archive for the category “routine”

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.’

5 moments of motherhood to savour

Sensible Son is 11 today. And today he is (literally and metaphorically) boarding a bus and heading off with his mates, for a week-long residential in the ‘big smoke’.

Naturally, he is super-excited about the prospect: ‘We’re going to the Rainforest Café for dinner, having breakfast in the hotel, we’re even allowed to take sweets… and stuff.’ The educational benefits of the Science Museum and the V&A appear to have slipped his tweenager mind. And, of course, I’m excited for him too. Well… kind of.

I’m excited for him to step out into the wonderful world, to board that bus armed with only a spare pair of boxers and a redundant flannel. It’s just that I wonder how on earth his going came round so soon. One minute, it seems to me, I was puffing through contractions watching Harry Potter and the next I’m waving goodbye to my almost-taller-than-me son. If it’s not deemed ‘uncool’ to wave them off that is. Life, it seems to me, is speeding past so fast.

When I was younger I stumbled across William Henry Davies’ poem, ‘Leisure’:

‘What is life, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare’

And as I gallop through my life as a mum, I realise – frequently – that I’m not that great at sitting down, let alone standing still in the sun and taking time out ‘to stare’. I find myself – too often – not necessarily savouring that moment, focussing instead on the junk they need to start collecting for next term’s topic, on the next school trip when they all need a packed lunch, looking forward to the next steps, instead of savouring the now.

I remember one afternoon about 8 years ago, standing in my kitchen, making supper. I had one baby on my hip, one boddler on the floor and the toddler wandering about with a needs-changing nappy. ‘Make the most of it,’ said a ‘been-there’ family friend smiling at the chaos, ‘it doesn’t last long!’

Thank goodness for that, I’d thought to myself at the time. But now… Now, I realise, a little sadly, that she was right.

So, at the risk of turning into a ‘been-there’ bore, here is my top 5 list of motherhood moments to savour:

  • Babygros

OK, their legs never bend the way you want them to, and you always get to the bottom popper before realising you’ve popped it wrong… but my goodness, they’re so scrumptious on a newborn baby. And a onesie doesn’t have as much appeal.

  • Breastfeeding

Yes, there’s that excruciating agony of the misaligned mouth and the months of sodden shirts and grey breastfeeding bras… but, ahh, that magic of a tiny finger entwined with mine, and a thin leg kicking gently in replete delight. That bright-white balcony bra can wait.

  • The grabbing of legs

I know it’s always at the most inopportune moment, that they sidle up to your thigh and attach like an octopus… but the 100% trust and need in those chubby arms is astonishingly special. A long limb slung casually round the shoulders isn’t quite the same.

  • ‘Dear Zoo’/Peepo/insert here the current ‘every-night-book’

Granted, it’s difficult to muster enthusiasm for ‘they sent me a…ooh…now what could it be?’ every night… but those chuckles, the appreciation of met toddler expectations and the snuggle-up peace of a bed-time book should not be underestimated. Creating avid readers is the ultimate investment in their education and in your future evening emancipation.

  • Mother & toddler groups

Yes, when you’re looking after little ones it can feel like some days you’ve done nothing but drink coffee and chat… but those hours of maternal bonding over Gina Ford will probably lead to forever friends. And you’ll never have such a great excuse again to eat cake and natter while you ‘work’.

My life according to Radio 4

In the beginning, there was ‘The Archers’.

In order to ‘achieve’ The Archers, Operation ‘Boy Bedtime’ had to start – on the dot – at 6pm. Played and fed, I would stow one baby on the left hip, hold the toddler’s hand with my right, and march them upstairs, hoping that Sensible Son would follow on obediently behind. Baths, pyjamas, books, (for one) boob, then bed.

‘’Nother story… pleazzze,’ Sensible Son would plead, pushing his luck each and every night.
I’d eye the clock, knowing that indulging would seriously jeopardise the all-important intro. ‘Not now, my sweet, more stories tomorrow,’ I’d say, pulling his door to, and preparing to flee.
‘My ’ungry!’ Binary Boy would announce, as if this was anything new.
Once again, I’d look anxiously at the clock, before racing to the kitchen to grab a banana. Thrusting it at my hollow-legged son, I’d kiss him on the cheek before retreating once more in the direction of the landing.
‘Waah!’ Feisty Fellow would wail, even though he had, officially, already been put down. Breaking all the rules, I’d race to his cot, give him a two minute top up to zonk him back out, before cat-burg’ling away, and out of his room. He’d snuffle, sated; arms above head like a surrendering soldier.

And so, I’d make it, with not a second to spare. Adopting the position (horizontal) I’d stretch out on my bed, switch on the radio to indulge in the latest Ambridge shock horror. My decadent reward for another manic MOB day.
***
I can’t remember the first time I missed Linda Snell. Like so many aspects of motherhood, it’s all a bit of a blur. It just happened, I suppose, one day: the inevitable.

As the boys became a little bit older, Operation ‘Boy Bedtime’ took a little longer than before. With the addition of daily doses of Biff and Chip (even the books without words seemed to take some time), with Binary Boy needing pre-bed pees, and with Feisty Fellow on solids, no longer ‘on tap’, there came the fateful evening when I switched on the Archers to find it all over. I’d missed the vital compost cliffhanger; there was no point tuning in tomorrow. I’d trudged downstairs and watched East Enders instead.
***
Now, of course, with the boys ten, nine and seven years old, the Archers, and even East Enders, are programmes of the past. Operation ‘Boy Bedtime’ has become reluctant sporadic showers – ‘Yes I know you’re not visibly dirty but you still need to wash’ – followed by copious comings and goings up and down stairs.

Feisty Fellow, on the whole, still abides by routine, and with a fair wind, and on a good day, is in bed before eight. Binary Boy, on the whole, will take himself off after eight, to burrow in a book. ‘Have you still got your light on?’ I shout up the stairs, sometime after nine. There’s a shuffling, then a click and it all goes dark.
Sensible Son, however, teetering on the edge of morning ‘can’t get out of bed’, stays up later and later at night. ‘But mum,’ he moans, ‘none of my friends go to bed before ten. And anyway,’ he plays his Top Trump, ‘I want to watch the News.’

Admitting that at least his entertainment is educational, I leave Sensible Son to it, and take myself to bed.

The ironing pile penance of 3 days away

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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.

Down means out

Today I’ve been thinking about inheritance. Not, in case you’re wondering, the kind of inheritance which means you don’t need to worry about paying the mortgage, or makes you the proud owner of Great Aunt Bessie’s socks. No, the hand me downs I have been pondering are more along the lines of what you inherit emotionally.

My Grandmama (of underlined thank you letter fame in ‘About the book’) was a MOB of fine standing. With not just three, but four strapping boys to her name, she had both her house, and her hands, full. Together with my Grandfather (think Father Christmas re-incarnate) they lived a slightly bohemian existence, first as school teachers and later on as youth hostel wardens. They also, obviously, lived in different times.

Their 1940s and 1950s boys were left outside in their prams to ‘exercise their lungs’, walked miles across the fields to catch the bus to their school and were banished from the house sometime after breakfast and only allowed back inside when it got dark. With no television, the wireless was the focus of family life, practising ‘Singing Together’ songs a highlight of the week.

Our 2000 and something sons are – in so many ways – being brought up, in another world.

My feeble attempts at ‘controlled crying’ just made me feel ill, if I park a smidgeon further from school than the usual five minute wander, a rebellion ensues, and on the occasions (many) when I do kick the boys out into the garden, I nevertheless want to know exactly where they are and when they’ll be back. And contemplating life without a TV (albeit with appropriate modern-day screen-rationing in force) is like imagining a Devon cream tea without the clotted cream. I know, I know, utterly ridiculous.

Amidst all the differences however, there are elements of ‘Grandmama’ which still survive. And these elements are known in our house as ‘Grandmama’s Rules.’ Thus:
No. 1: No sticks are allowed inside the house. (I have, in a bid to minimise lunacy, extended this to swords and balls and anything which can be ‘brandished’.)
No. 2: No toys at the table. (Or actually, anything that is not there to be eaten or drunk. Anything else will be fiddled with, faffed with or knocked over. All of which distract from the operation of eating.)
No. 3: Down means out. (If you get down from the table, you’ve obviously finished and therefore you leave the kitchen. This is admittedly a little trickier to police in our open-plan abode.)
No. 4: Do not use the towels as hankies. (I have to accede that this has never had to be implemented. The boys refuse to use a hankie – towel or otherwise – and prefer to sniff, incessantly, uselessly and loudly, instead.)

So, in our house – and I know at least one other household where they have adopted many of the above – Grandmama’s legacy lives on. The fantastic thing about the fact that these are her rules – and not mine – is that I am not to blame for banishing fun. And of course, the other fantastic thing is that the rules can be added to, amended or adapted as the situation requires: the perfect answer to every tricky MOB moment.

Surely an emotional inheritance worth its weight in gold.

How to guarantee an extra hour in bed

So. The clocks go back tonight. Or is it forward? I always forget.

Once upon a time, I had a little phrase to help me remember: ‘spring back, fall forward’ but then I got confused and thought it could just as well be ‘spring forward, fall back’. As Libby Purves excused her lack of solar expertise on Radio 4’s Midweek the other day, ‘I did humanities.’ I’ll second that.

Anyway. The clocks change tonight.

Part of my reason/excuse for not remembering if it’s forward or back is quite possibly due to the fact that, since the arrival of my little darlings, the change from summer to winter time makes not a blind bit of difference.
‘Oooh,’ squeal excited folk, (often without kids), ‘the clocks are changing – an extra hour in bed.’
‘Oooh,’ I retort, trying very hard to sound pleased for them and not in the slightest bit bitter, ‘how lovely for you.’ An extra hour in bed? About as likely in this house as a half-eaten bar of chocolate.

Because my boys, whilst mostly lovely, have never been great at staying in bed. True, they’re not bad at all at the bed-going process, but once asleep they struggle to stay abed for any significant time. Sleep is viewed as ‘wasted playtime’, star gazing is far more popular than snoring and if they are still asleep at anything with a 7 (or in pre-school days a 6) in it, it is either a miracle or they are probably sick.

When they were tiny, and I was still under the delusion that I could somehow change their nocturnal tendencies, I would anticipate the time change with alternately excitement and dread.

When the clocks went forward, I could revel in being somehow ‘normal’.
‘Oh yes,’ I could join in at convivial coffees, ‘my boys stay in bed until 7am’. This unusual sensation would last a couple of days, before we’d somehow revert back to ‘please let them sleep til after 6’ type.

When the clocks went back, however, I would plan the forthcoming change with Quartz precision. ‘So,’ I would dictate to my sleep deprived self, ‘if I put them to bed an hour later the night before, then surely they might just possibly-pretty-please sleep in for just a teeny bit longer on the day.’ It didn’t work. I tried 1,2,3, and then unlimited, extra hours of staying awake in the desperate hope that it might have some kind of effect. To my eternal disappointment, the late nights had zero impact on my regular as clockwork kids. After too late nights and too early morns, the FOB and I on the other hand, were absolutely exhausted.

Now some ten years later, I have finally worked out how to approach the changing times. I have discovered the secret of the extra hour. What I do is… go to bed an hour earlier.

So, if you are able to re-programme your offspring and somehow wangle that extra hour in bed tomorrow morning, then I have nothing but admiration for you and trust you’ll enjoy your kip. In this house however, we’re off to bed now, the clocks will stay put until we all get up, and tomorrow will just be a very long day.

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