Archive for the tag “parenting”

Unexpected benefits of boys

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

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

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

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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.’

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.

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’.

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

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The 12 Days of MOB Rule for Mothering Sunday

The 1st gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 2nd gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 2 hours between feeds & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 3rd gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 3 pups a’leaping… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 4th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 4 times of ‘Thomas’… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 5th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 5 gummy grins… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 6th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 6 muddy wellies… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 7th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 7 balls a’ bouncin’… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

 The 8th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 8 plasters sticking… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 9th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 9 sticks a bashin’… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 10th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 10 bottoms burping… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 11th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 11 black socks (mismatched)… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 12th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 12 beautiful boy hugs… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

Happy Mothering Sunday to all MOBs, MOGs and Perfect Pairs! May you be mercilessly spoilt and hugely hugged!

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.

The MOB goes live on Radio Wales

Last week I had the privilege of being interviewed about MOB Rule on BBC Radio Wales.

Water bottle and sweaty palms at the ready, Rob quickly put me at ease and we had an interesting and lively chat about boys, bodily functions and parenting issues. To listen click here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qzfr7 and, if you don’t have a spare three hours to listen to the whole programme, move the cursor to around 1hour10 in. When you get to Phil Collins you’re almost there!!

It’s only available for another couple of days so if you want to tune in, you’d better be quick!

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.

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