Archive for the category “school”

Dear Duchess, You have all this to look forward to…

RAC saviour 2So the summer holidays are here. Six looong weeks of industrial-scale eating operations, of broken Crocs and too late nights, of persuading the boys that life is viable, and can even be pleasant, without resorting to a screen.

Week 1.

‘What shall we do today folks?’ I ask brightly. (It is, as I say, still week 1). ‘Beach? Canoeing? Walk?’ I look outside at the clouds which are threatening rain for the first time since June. ‘I know, let’s go for a bike ride!’

This appears to be a good idea. The boys, stupefied by morning CBBC, even manage a nod.

‘Are your bikes good?’ I say to the sofa. ‘Anyone need to pump up tyres, oil… ? No? OK, right, we’re good to go.’

45 minutes later, I have packed some snacks, bottled water, found the bike pump and pumped up tyres. Binary Boy’s bike, it appears (belatedly) was not ‘good to go’.

‘Never mind,’ I say, sweating profusely from the exertions of re-inflating a flat-as-pancake tyre, ‘we’re off now.’

‘Finally!’ mutters Sensible Son. We hoist ourselves aboard.

The first 12km go well; really well. Meandering through pine forests oozing perfume, careering over bridges with rivers below, tooting through tunnels at top noisy speed. We arrive at the turnaround café and sit, munching on chocolate brownies in a smattering of rain. The FOB and I smile at one another: five and a half weeks more of this won’t be so bad.

Pit-stop over, we mount our bikes and prepare to depart.

‘It’s all downhill home from here boys!’ encourages the FOB. They yelp their approval.

‘Yes, so be careful guys – and don’t go too fast!’ I add – to their backs. Three boys, on bikes, are already out of sight. The FOB and I set off at a more appropriately middle-aged pace.

We round the corner. There is a long straight stretch of track in front of us, Sensible Son and Binary Boy are in the lead, scattering stones. Feisty Fellow peddles like Wiggins, desperately trying to keep up with the pack. ‘Wait for meeeee!’ he shrieks. And now, as I watch, he swerves unaccountably and violently to the left, before following an out-of-control trajectory into… a ditch. Sudden – silence.

‘Oh my God!’ I screech, roaring to his side, and fearing a repeat of Lesson 8 – or worse. I arrive at the ditch, hoik the bike off my son, and pull him – sopping – from what appears to be a bog. He stands on the track, fetid water cascading down his legs, mud and muck oozing from every orifice. ‘Are you OK?’ I ask him, wiping grit from his face with the sleeve of my hoodie. He nods, slightly shocked, but thankfully physically fine.

‘I’m soaking,’ he understates. I eye his top, contemplate the return journey.

‘Here, put this on!’ I say, stripping off my own T-shirt from under my hoodie. I have a distinct sensation of déjà- vue of being half-naked in a petrol station in France in Lesson 6. Today is turning into a repeat of lessons (not) learned from MOB Rule.

This emergency over, we remount our bikes. ‘Take it easy this time,’ I admonish, but they’re already off. Experiential learning is obviously not an Evans’ strength.

We round a corner once again. Sensible Son and Feisty Fellow are just visible in the distance, Binary Boy is on go-slow-cycling behind.

‘Well done for biking sensibly!’ I say catching him up. He looks at me mournfully and points to his tyre. It is, once again, flat as a proverbial. I look at the tyre, I look at the FOB. We are miles from anywhere and this puncture requires substantially more than our sticking plaster pump.

‘Sensible Son and I will bike on to the nearest cycle hire and see if they’re open,’ says the ever-practical FOB. ‘It’s only about 3km up the road.’ In the absence of other options, I nod my approval.

‘We’ll keep moving to meet you,’ I say, ‘hop off and push your bike, Binary Boy.’ He hops off, attempts to push the rubber-bound tyre. Fails. I sigh.

‘You ride my bike – carefully,’ I say, as he clambers aboard and wobbles off. I bend low to grab his handlebars, and thus we limp on.

***

Two hours later we are home.

The cycle hire saviour arrives in the form of a teenage lad bearing a smile, a spanner and the ability to replace an inner tube in five minutes flat. The RAC has a lot to learn from the Tarka Trail SOS crew.

Feisty Fellow completes the bike ride without further ado, and is verging on ‘merely moist’ as we puff up the drive. ‘Do I have to have a wash, mum? I’m actually quite dry!’ I shoot him The Look and he scampers to the shower.

I, meanwhile, am struggling to stand upright: muscles protesting painfully from pushing a too-small-bike and frozen forever from a lack of clothing layers.

So, all in all, it’s been a good day.

‘What are we doing tomorrow mum?’ asks Feisty Fellow as I kiss him goodnight.

I roll my eyes and rub my back. ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing,’ I say, heading, at half eight, for Radox and bed. There are times when I can understand the US obsession with kids’ summer camps.

Red Noses for kids…last minute mania for MOB!!

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Why I don’t look forward to World Book Day

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.’

Noooooooooooo.

I would do anything for love. But I won’t do THAT

Like most mothers, I imagine, I would do anything for my kids. Because I want to make sure they’re as happy as possible. And, in the ten years since I became a mother, I have discovered that, to achieve this happiness, I am capable of doing things which – pre-kids – I didn’t think I would, or could.

Take morning sickness.

In many respects I am proud, and pleased, to take after my mother. In inheriting her propensity to during-pregnancy violent-vomiting, I am not. Pregnant with my first, I was less ‘blooming’, more ‘wilting’ as I spent the first trimester, and much of the second, within retching distance of a loo. My bed was my home, anything edible my enemy, even smelling – let alone sampling food – made me feel like I’d crossed the English channel in a Force 9 gale. ‘How much longer can this go on?’ I’d moan, clutching my tender stomach and making my way slowly up the stairs to re-adopt the almost permanently prone position. I was, to all intents and purpose, utterly useless.

Six months after the birth of firstborn Sensible Son, I was, once again, with child, and thus, inevitably with morning sickness. Only this time round it was different. The symptoms unfortunately, were just the same: the inability to eat, the drunken-sailor feel, the desire to spend the vast majority of my days in bed. It was only my reality that had actually altered. Because now, of course, I had a tiny baby to care for who was blissfully oblivious to the fact that, when he woke his mother for 2, 4 and 6.45am feeds, she felt like she’d downed more than a couple of bottles of Claret the night before. A small person who didn’t much fancy waiting patiently for his mashed banana and avocado mush whilst his mother plucked up the courage to open the fridge door. An infant for whom staying in his cot all day gurgling whilst his mother quelled her queasiness in bed, was about as likely as him sleeping through the night. Whether I felt like it or not, my baby needed feeding, changing, entertaining. And so, of course, I got on with it. Not always, I’ll admit, with a smile on my face, but got on with it nevertheless. I coped; I overcame.

And this ability to ‘overcome’ for the good of my boys continues as they grow.

So I dry them on the beach first, and then worry about my always-frozen self.
I read them a bedtime story despite having a head which pounds like Big Ben.
I get them to school, fully dressed and on time, whilst feeling rough as rats with flu.

But, I have discovered this week that there is a threshold of ‘overcoming’ I cannot cross.

Because youngest Feisty Fellow’s topic this term is – birds. And I don’t ‘do’ birds.
I’d go further. Ever since a large gander named Sid leapt on top of six year old me, I have been petrified (with a capital ‘P’) of our feathered friends. I run away from sparrows, can’t share a pub garden with ducks, struggle even to touch a picture of a bird in an innocuous boy book.
So.
‘Mum,’ says Feisty Fellow excitedly, brandishing an RSPB leaflet, ‘Can we visit one of these bird sanctuaries so that I can study the birds?’
I shiver. Consult my petrol tank of maternal ability to overcome. And, to my embarrassment, find it woefully empty.
‘I’m a… um… little bit err… busy,’ I bluster unconvincingly. ‘Why don’t you take dad?’

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.

Putting the ice obsession to good use

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Boys Rule… That’s what they think!

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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.

The ironing pile penance of 3 days away

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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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