Archive for the tag “growing up”

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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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’.

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.

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.

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.

A Right Fug Up

So my youngest son, my ‘Feisty Fellow’ is 7. He is, he announces at the breakfast table as he waits for his porridge, a ‘donut.’ His brothers and I nod, knowledgeably. A donut. Course he is.

You see the problem is that there are some words, some turns of phrase, which my boys use and which I can’t quite bring myself to correct. Words which will forever evoke certain memories of their very young lives.

Take ‘vee-ve veel’ for instance. Any guesses? Let me give you a clue. We are in a cafe en route to stay with friends who live a hideously long way away. It is late, we are hungry and the menu is limited. We have chips. The waiter delivers bowls of crispy French Fries. ‘Any sauces?’ he asks. ‘Ketchup please,’ replies our 3 year old eldest ‘Sensible Son’. His 2 year old brother looks at the red stuff in disgust. ‘Vee-ve veel?’ requests ‘Binary Boy’. The waiter looks confused. ‘He means…er… olive oil,’ I clarify, a tiny bit embarrassed by his precociously odd tastes. The waiter returns with a bottle of Bertolli’s, Binary Boy drizzles it all over and guzzles his chips.

Did we correct his pronunciation, then or indeed later down the line? No. Why? Because it was cute, sweet, made us all smile. And so ‘vee-ve veel’ lives on to this day in the Evans’ house. As do catameringues, seeeriup (Golden, a special treat topping on the afore-mentioned porridge), ‘thumbs’ (of the numerical kind), ‘wirells’ (red or grey and found up trees) and Savil (that miracle antiseptic cream which cures just about anything). Should we correct our children’s minor verbal misdemeanours? Are we condemning them to a life of ridicule by encouraging, and perpetuating, our own in-house lingo?

The other evening, I was having supper with some ever-so-slightly posh people. We sat at the beautifully laid table, a large log fire crackling in the background.
‘Goodness,’ I exclaimed merrily during a lull in conversation, ‘it’s a right fug up in here!’

Silence. The hostess inhaled through her teeth, an elderly gentleman fiddled with his hearing aid.

I reddened, then burbled… ‘A FUG up… you know? Fug… like it’s really toasty and warm in here.’ They stared at me blankly as I continued to roast. ‘Well,’ I mumbled, sensing I was fighting a losing battle, ‘that’s what we call it in our family… it’s what my mum’s always said.’ Someone passed me the potatoes and I quickly muttered my thanks.

Anyway, back to the donut and Feisty Fellow.
I turn from the stove where I’m stirring porridge oats. ‘It’s a ‘grown up’ you are (nearly!) not a donut, I’m afraid.’
He looks a little disappointed not to be sugary, round and oozing jam, but is swiftly distracted by the appearance of his birthday breakfast.
‘Seeing as I’m a grown up today, can I have some seeeriup on this?’
‘I’ll get some from the cupboard,’ I say. He may not be a donut, but for the time being at least, he can still stay sweet.

***

What in-house lingo do you let go in your house?

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