Archive for the category “The FOB”

‘Three boys? How do you cope?’ and other insults!

Last week we escaped to Spain. In a move most unbefitting of the ‘plan at least 6 months ahead’ people both the FOB and I are, we double-clicked on Easy Jet and winged our way to some summer sun.

For four whole days I did not wear a wetsuit, for four whole days we had meals outside, for four whole days the boys washed in sea water and didn’t see a shower. The FOB read a paper, I read a book and, due to the presence of a 24/7 pool, I suspect the boys (don’t tell their teachers) didn’t read a word. We fried prawns in garlic on the barbie, and ate them to an accompaniment of persistent cicadas, grazed on never-tried tapas in a side-street café, gorged on slices of giant water melon, oozing pips and pink juice. With the odd obligatory glass of Rioja for good measure, our much needed mini-break was complete.

Thus it was that we arrived at Alicante airport on Sunday evening revitalised, brown and – in two out of three boy cases – barefoot. (Their only footwear had been ‘mislaid’ at the bottom of a particularly stomach-churning slide in Acqualandia water park that day… but that’s another story, for another blog.) Loaded with assortment of hand luggage only, we made our way through scanners, security and into departures. I grabbed a bench, near the queue for the plane, and we sank gratefully onto our seats and waited to be called.

‘Aged between 31 and 65?’ chirped a voice suddenly at my elbow.
I jumped.
‘Pardon?’ I said.
‘Aged between 31 and 65,’ repeated the voice, ‘just a few quick questions… now, then… married?’ The Voice thrust a survey in front of our faces.
‘Err, yes,’ replied the FOB, for want of a better answer.
‘Good,’ squeaked the Voice again, ‘And how many children?’
‘Thr…’ began the FOB. I interrupted.
‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘but what is this for?’
‘Oh, it’ll just take a few minutes, a few questions and you could win A HOLIDAY! Now then… ’
But, I thought, I AM on holiday, and to be honest, was looking forward to a few moments reflecting on the last few days with my husband. Not, I thought, increasingly infuriated, answering the unsolicited questions of this intruder.
‘No thanks, we’re fine,’ I said, pretty politely for a post-Burger-King airport on a Sunday night.
The Voice turned red, then turned away.
‘Never mind,’ she flounced over her shoulder, ‘I wasn’t looking forward to talking to you with them.’ She glared pointedly at my sons who were slumped on the bench chatting quietly. ‘How on earth,’ she sulked, ‘do you cope with three boys?’
I coughed. I spluttered. My maternal hackles rose.
‘Cope? Cope?! I, I, I… I love having my boys!’ I exploded loudly, for the benefit of the Voice, the rest of the departure lounge but mostly for my much maligned sons. And then I watched, open-mouthed and fuming, as she scuttled off to foist herself upon other unsuspecting tourists.

***

Half an hour later and we’d boarded the plane. And the smoke was merely coming out of my ears in small whisps now.
Sensible Son and Binary Boy settled down next to their dad, discussing the physics of flight before snuggling down to sleep. Feisty Fellow laid his head obediently in my lap and assumed the kip position for the duration of the flight. I stroked his salt-starched head, absent-mindedly. Would she have said the same to a mother surrounded by a glory of girls, rather than a MOB outnumbered by husband and sons? Would she have branded a MOG with the same preconceived – if inadvertent – insult? I allowed my eyes to shut, and we swooped into the sky.
Boys in pool

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.

I will NEVER turn into my mum… will I?

I had a lovely chat with a lady in Morrisons last week. For nigh on quarter of an hour we discussed friends (‘I saw x the other day, isn’t she doing well?’), work (‘Have you finished the renovations – I hear the house is looking lovely!’) and family (‘And how are the kids doing? You must be so proud!’). Supermarket catch-up over, she turned to leave. ‘Do send my regards to that husband of yours,’ she shouted over her shoulder, ‘I haven’t seen Chris in ages.’

Chris? My husband?!

‘Err, but… umm…’ I splutter at her back, but she’s already out of earshot. ‘Chris isn’t my husband,’ I whisper, ‘Chris is my dad.’

***

Since the Morrisons mistaken identity experience I have reflected on the fact that I appear to have morphed into my mother. According to research, it’s in your mid-30s that you look most like your parents, so, OK, I’m something of a late starter, but I have to – a tiny bit reluctantly – admit that the scientists seem to have a point.

Reluctantly because, like most of my female friends, I spent the majority of my childhood, and all of my adolescence, determined that I would never, EVER turn into my mum. I would NEVER pick up my kids from school wearing – ugh – gardening gear, I would NEVER squint at a remotely technical object and say – too loudly- ‘how does this thing work?’, I would NEVER make my children wear ‘sensible shoes’ instead of bunion-inducing patent leather pointies.

And the list of ‘never evers’ went on, and on. No, I would not be buying a wreck and spending years renovating it, only to move on just as soon as it was finished. I would not be starting up my own business which meant working all hours, and especially not with a husband who worked mainly away. And I would not be filling the house with strangers for the sake of ‘the business’ so that us kids could only use the garden when they weren’t in it. No indeed, I absolutely would not.

But I did, didn’t I? I have, we have, done all of the above.

Not only, it seems, do I look like my mum, but I also appear to have inherited much of her approach towards living life.

And as we up-sticks and move to Devon whilst our just-painted walls are still wet, as we embark on our new business venture (‘But the weekly commuting FOB’s very hands on when he’s home!’), as I skid through the school gates wearing gardening gloves and wellies, I realise that not only is history repeating itself, but that we are – quite probably – paving the way for another generation of mini-me’s.

‘I think I might run a hotel when I’m grown up, mum,’ announces Binary Boy as we reap the benefits of a left-over corporate lunch. He has not reached the ‘never ever’ adolescent age yet, and I think his enthusiasm for a career in hospitality may have more to do with the chocolate brownie he’s eating, than a desire to serve, but still. Still. The foundations may be being laid now for future choice.

And is following in your parents’ footsteps a bad thing? Probably – hopefully – not. I have, as a ‘morphed-into-my-mother’ never been happier.

As a MOB however, there is one thing I can guarantee.

The boys may – in their dotage – look like me, and they may even decide to do as I have done, but they will never – presumably – be mistaken for their mum. And if they’re mistaken for their dad? Well, call me a bit biased, but that won’t be so bad.

What do a midwife, an editor and a builder have in common?

So. ‘Bob’ has finally left the building. After just over seven months, ‘da builder’ and his team have moved out and moved on. They’ve bundled their hard hats, drills and man-size packed lunches into their vans and headed off into the sunset… to build something else.

‘Bob’ (mark 3, and mercifully nothing like the original ‘Builder Bob’ in ‘MOB Rule’) has been restoring  my ‘labour of love’: a Grade 2 listed manor house in coastal North Devon. Together with an army of experts, he has restored crumbling cornicing to its former glory, replaced rotten sash windows with conservation double glazing, put parquet flooring back where previously there was none. He has, in short, helped breathe fresh air into an old building, and allowed it to shine. I think even Kevin McCloud might approve.

At times since last September, I have felt like screaming. Come to think about it, I probably did.

Times like when the bridal suite roll top bath which we’d lugged up the spiral stairs, was unwrapped to unveil a large chip in the enamel, had to be lugged back down the stairs and laboriously sent back.

Like when the FOB and I spent the best part of three Saturdays, standing in shops, trying to decide which chandeliers would look best where. Decisions finally made, we’d find the lights were out of stock, and so we’d be back where we first began. And don’t get me started on ordering the bulbs – ‘one size fits all’ isn’t an adage which applies.

And like when I stood helplessly in the storeroom surrounded by tradesmen, all staring blankly at a veritable Everest of sanitary ware, as we realised that that specific high level loo pipe we’d ordered for all 11 loos wouldn’t in fact fit our walls.

Times like those I would have happily seen the back of our Beeny-esque ‘restoration nightmare’.

But even as I write this now in the almost immediate aftermath, I am struggling to remember the really bad moments, the times when I yearned to join my weekly-commuting husband in the safety of a London office, rather than spending my days in the cellar, staring at pipes. I appear to have post-project amnesia.

The last time I ‘suffered’ from this amnesia affliction, was when ‘MOB Rule’ was published. The moment I held that book in my hands, and sniffed its 280 pages, I forgot any of the pain involved in its production. The hours, nay days, I had spent staring at a screen, trying, for the sixth time, to restructure THAT chapter on my editor’s expert advice, disappeared like Hogwarts magic.

And it was exactly the same with the births of our boys. When, only seconds before I’d been swearing at midwife, as I’d gasped for more gas and she said I’d had enough, when she placed my tiny infant into my arms, the searing agony was swept away, leaving in its wake only exhaustion and total euphoria. Postpartum amnesia strikes again.Builder Bob Jr

In the aftermath of each ‘project’ people ask how it went.  And so I think of the house, the book, the babies and I smile sweetly and say ‘It was surprisingly smooth.’

‘Would you do it again?’ they ask, interested.

Another baby – I don’t think so, another book – perhaps, but another building project? Someone hand me the paper and find me a wreck.

What is middle-aged anyway? Lessons learned by a barely middle-aged MOB

On 1st April I turned 41. Yes, I know… April Fool’s Day… very appropriate etc etc. Believe me, I’ve heard them all and no, opening a huge box to find it empty is not (aged 7, or even now) hilarious.

Anyway. In the 12 months since hitting the big 40, I have learned some lessons. So. Here goes: my words of middle-aged MOB wisdom:

  1. No amount body brushing, depilation or fake tan will ever make my legs look smooth and brown. They are forever destined be pale and delightfully dappled.
  2. However ‘with it’ I think I am, I will walk into a room at least 3 times a day and wonder what on earth I came in there to do.
  3. As long as I race around like a demented duck, I can eat as much as I like and not put on weight. Even cake. And Mars Bars.
  4. I will open my mouth to say something really important. And then close it again when I realise I haven’t a Scooby Doo what I was going to say.
  5. When my son thrusts a school note in front of my face and I have to hold it at arm’s length, I have to accept the inevitable and visit the optician.
  6. Thereafter, I will perch said glasses on top of my head, and rampage round the house shouting ‘Who’s moved my glasses again?’
  7. I will never cook a roast as good as my mum’s.
  8. I will never make batch cake as good as the FOB’s gran’s. Childhood memories of great food always abide.
  9. Technically, I can enter the ‘veteran’ category in 10k runs. Technically.
  10. To my son’s friends (however youthful of appearance and spirit I may think I am) I will always be ‘ancient’.
  11. And yet the older I get, the less I view the age I am as old. The ‘middle-aged’ badge, I’ve discovered, is a very flexible friend.

What happens when the MOB goes away for the night?

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:

  1. He will drive right through puddles on the road just to see the splash.
  2. At the boys’ request, he will drive even faster through puddles on the road in order to see an even bigger splash.
  3. He will let them experiment with bonfires and burning sticks under the auspices of ‘learning’. The same theory also applies to any remotely dodgy activity which could be deemed even slightly scientific.
  4. He will embark on a boy bonding ‘team hug’ in the full knowledge that it will undoubtedly end in tears.
  5. He will allow, nay encourage, them to jump the waves. In the depths of winter, without spare clothes.
  6. He will suggest a race, regardless of state of exhaustion or frame of mind. And consequently, ‘good loser’ is not the phrase which springs to mind.
  7. He will watch as they re-enact ‘you’ve-been-framed-moments’ on the lawn on their bikes, reminiscing with a smile that he was exactly the same as them at their age.

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.

What does the car you drive say about you?

The other day we went to the beach. Nothing – since we moved to coastal Devon – particularly unusual about that. We can, like so many other members of the ‘boy brigade’, frequently be found on a stretch of sand, exercising the ‘pups’, whatever the weather.

We pull into the car park in our Citroen C8, the replacement for our too-small two-boy Renault Scenic. It has 7 seats and is nearly 2m tall. Avoiding underground car parks is a small price to pay for banishing boy bickering. Grunting to a halt, I park the ‘bus’ as it’s affectionately known – far enough away not to risk scratches or dents – next to a fellow beach-walker’s car. It is pristine, pink and apparently ‘powered by Fairy Dust.’ The ‘MOB mobile’ most blatantly is not.

Here is a list of what ‘powers’ our car:
Sand
Babybel shells
Plasters
Sandwich crusts
Balls/marbles/anything round that might bounce or be kicked
Breadsticks
More sand
An apple core
A rounders bat
Mud
And – just for good measure – a bit more sand

A friend had the misfortune of travelling in our car – once. ‘If you added water to this,’ she reflected staring at the floor, ‘you could make pizza!’ How rude, I thought to myself, how rude. But I have to admit she probably has a point.

Thankfully, I have never been a car person. My first was a Suzuki Alto, followed swiftly (due to decrepitude) by a Fiat Punto. And a secondhand Polo was as glam as it got. Cars, to me, are there for a purpose: they are a vehicle for transporting me and my kids safely and swiftly from A to B. And, on a good day, hopefully back.

Still, I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy when I spot a particularly gorgeous car. Not, I’ll admit, one that’s shocking pink and seems to be spouting flowers, but one that is quirkily interesting, funky, fun. A Beetle maybe, in racing green or blue. A stripy 2CV with headlamps which bulge like bugs’ eyes. A Fiat 500 (old model of course), with only 2 doors and a sun roof to boot. Cars which, I am acutely aware, would struggle to house me and my weekly shop, let alone a bevy of boys.

For now, therefore, I will continue to board my people carrier bus. Practical, purposeful and let’s face it, a bit boring. But one day… One day, when my boys have flown the nest and are buying 7 seaters of their own, the FOB and I will buy our car. And we will strap our vintage suitcase full of scarves and light sweaters to the back, and drive off into the south of France sunset in our MG Midget. Just one boy and his babe on board.

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?’

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
x

Why we SHOULD let our kids buy US presents

Last weekend we went to a carol service in our local church. The boys had been drafted in, in order of age as a King, a Shepherd and a Joseph. ‘This is the last time I dress up,’ growled eldest Sensible Son, as he struggled into his gown and crown. ‘Please can I just do a reading next year?’ I looked at his too-long legs sticking out of his too-short ‘dress’ and had to agree that he had a point.

Anyway. There was I, gazing in amused adoration, as Mary and Joseph marched up the aisle, overtaken by an errant 15 month old angel, when something the Vicar said made me sit up and listen.

Her child-friendly sermon had started out predictably enough. She’d talked about the joy of presents: about the joy being in the giving, not just the receiving. Absolutely, I’d agreed, nodding. Even before, but particularly since the births of my boys, the joy of Christmas for me is finding that perfect something you know will make someone smile. Watching the recipient’s eyes light up as they tear open their gift. Seeing them animatedly examine what you’ve bought them – albeit, in the case of very small children, for a few scant seconds, before moving, excitedly, on to the next.

‘But,’ she’d continued, going off standard Christmas-message-script, ‘it’s not only adults who love the giving. Some time ago, my son – then sixteen – taught me a valuable lesson.’ To paraphrase (as since then my memory has been addled by a mixture of Lemsip and mulled wine) she’d recounted how, that year (as indeed every year) she’d tried to dissuade him from spending too much of his hard-earned wages on buying presents. ‘We don’t need gifts from you,’ she’d told him, ‘your love and happiness is more than enough.’
Her son had turned on her eventually, with something bordering anger. ‘But mum,’ he’d countered, ‘why should you be the only one to have the fun?’

Bells starting ringing loudly, for me and my boys.

How many times, I pondered, had I told the boys that I had everything I wanted, and didn’t need any presents?
How often had I told them not to ‘waste’ their money on their mum, that it was enough for me to see their smiles?
How many times, I wondered, had I (inadvertently) spoilt their fun?

How many?

Sermon, and service, over, the lanky shepherd threw his lamb into Mary’s lap, and we headed to the back to munch mince pies.

***

Today the FOB and I took the boys, and their cousins, last-minute Christmas shopping.

And I watched the FOB bend down as Feisty Fellow whispered earnestly in his ear. Before, hand in hand, they headed off together in the direction of the Cook Shop. I don’t need any more spatulas, but that’s not the point.
And I stood, for at least a quarter of an hour, as Binary Boy fingered each and every product in the Cadbury’s outlet, humming and hawing over what item of chocolate his dad would like best. His dad doesn’t need any more chocolate, but that is also, not the point.
And I nodded my agreement as Sensible Son sped off, £10 note in hand, who knows where or why. Neither the FOB or I need any presents worth a whole £10, but that, as I understand all too clearly now, is not the point.

So when, on Christmas Day I add something far too expensive, and possibly unnecessary, to all that I already have, I will thank them and smile broadly. Because I will know that – they too – will have had their fun.

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