Wanted: a guilt-free school summer holiday

School holidays

As we find ourselves heading into the fleshy part of the school summer holidays, that dreaded feeling has already set in. No, it’s not cabin fever nor is it a yearning for the days when a summer holiday was exactly that – a holiday and a child-free one to boot. What is it then? It’s the feeling of guilt that you should be out of the house doing something with your kids.

Despite having just returned from Disneyland Paris, our first plan-free day has put me in a tailspin. We’ve worn ourselves out chasing Mickey and what we really need is a day at home with our feet up and perhaps – dare I say it? – the telly on. But unforgiving Facebook and punishing Twitter have warned me that other people are out showing their kids a good time. Eek. I’ve just sat my two down on the sofa under a duvet with their breakfast and Disney Jr. I’ve put a load of washing on and run a deep clean on the dishwasher. But, do you know what? We’re all content and satisfied (apart from the 3-year-old complaining about two Doc McStuffins in a row).

My kids aren’t the going out types. When I ask them what they want to do, more often than not they’ll squeal “stay at home”. Imagine that accompanied by a whoop of joy and a fist pump and you’ll have a picture of how excited they get at the prospect of actually playing with their toys. They’re quite happy (I think) not to be dragged hither and thither. Throw open the doors on a hot, sunny day and you’ll most likely find them indoors stretched out on the floor with their heads in colouring books. I’ve read a lot of brilliant articles about the importance of letting your children be bored so why do I feel like I’m doing them long-term harm? And why does it make me feel so darned lazy?

I know that people aren’t out with their kids every day. I’m by no means critical of parents who have their holiday activities planned down to the last second – I’m jealous of them. I’m as keen as anyone to get out and about, especially as it can make for a more stress-free day. Crumbs on someone else’s floor; the great outdoors to absorb the high decibel output of a 3-year-old that otherwise shakes the windows at home; and perhaps, if you’re lucky, the kids will fall asleep in the car on the way home (without having been sick over the car seat first).

Balance is what I’m after. But on days at home I just can’t escape the feeling of guilt. It’s not as if I’m using the time to put my feet up. If it’s anything like a normal day, I’ll be fixing legs back on dinosaurs, sweeping up glitter, refereeing an argument or being forewarned there’s a poo on the way every five minutes. Guaranteed at the end of the day I’ll be ready to run out of the door roaring and baring my chest.

On the flipside of all the guilt, a day at home has its advantages. Dishwashers get cleaned, kids discover old favourites in the depths of the toybox and I get to drink vulgar amounts of tea without worrying about having to use the Potette on a public highway. Maybe there is some rest for the wicked parents after all.

Don’t look back: the art of forward parenting

Memories-Last-Forever

It’s amazing how easily you can blub when you’re a parent. Today I have welled up at a photo of two men meeting their baby for the first time, someone asking for ideas for a 7-year-old’s sleepover party and a video of a 3-year-old mastering cycling. Maybe it’s just one of those hormonal days. Alternatively, perhaps I’m spending too much time on the internet when I should be working – my sensitive side finding solace in human interest stories whilst rallying against a darned dull piece of paid work. (Which, incidentally, now won’t get finished today because I’m writing a blog post that no one will pay me for. Priorities, priorities.)

When I look at what’s moved me, I realise that it’s not just wonderful memories that can spark the tears. It can be the thought of the things that are to come: in this case, my son finally learning to pedal (still struggling with trikes – bikes are a long way off) and the day when my daughter wants her first sleepover party. The latter is probably not far off as she’s already organising in her head (I trust it will remain a pipedream) a pyjama party to show off her new bedroom furniture when it arrives. However, I’ve been assured that her guests “will go home at the normal time” and – as the boys she’s inviting are a bit “runny” – she’ll be putting up a No Running sign. 5-year-olds can be so sensible.

Parents get too hung up on not wishing away time. It’s easily done, after all who doesn’t long for the moment when their children start to behave like rational beings, have non-violent reactions to your use of the word ‘no’ and understand that, really, the iPad will not survive being thrown down the stairs/dropped in the toilet/jumped on. It’s cause and effect, darling, so you can stop bawling. Rather than worrying about time passing and the childhood years dwindling away, let’s expend some of that wasted emotional energy on savouring the moment and looking forward to what’s to come. That’s what kids do. They always want to be bigger, older, go to work like daddy, wear mummy’s shoes, learn that those last two points are out-dated stereotypes of gender roles, etc etc.

What’s done is done. No matter how hard you try, you can’t turn back time (even Cher failed). And there’s always tomorrow, as I tell myself after a day of particularly bad parenting. First steps have been taken, first words uttered, first poos pooped in potties – enjoy the memories but look forward to the next milestone as it approaches at a rate of knots. Talking of which, my 5-year-old lost her first tooth yesterday. What a momentous occasion. Another first ticked off the list, tainted with a little bit of sadness. But the joy of it? There are still another 20-odd of the little b*ggers to fall out! See, there’s so much more to come.

Sometimes the worst things in life are free

Tabloid newspapers

There are some things I like getting for free. Three for the price of two on shower gel, snifters of alcohol from supermarket promotions, good pieces of advice. Then there are the things that I don’t like getting for free: The Sun, for example. I thought I’d escaped being one of the ‘lucky’ 22 million households to receive a special ‘historic’ edition of said newspaper. But there it was sitting on my door mat. The slug trail it had left on the door and across the mat as it slipped in was invisible but still very much there.

‘This is Our England’. I bloody well hope not. First of all I object to being lumped into being part of ‘our’ anything if it involves a tabloid newspaper. Please don’t co-opt me into something without my permission. Second, if this is our England than I’m booking a passage elsewhere. I get the intention but I really don’t like the mindset behind it.

Rather than sprinting straight for the recycling bin, I decided to have a read. Perhaps, like the people asked on pages 2 and 3 ‘which characteristic best reflects Englishness?’, I respect fair play (47%) and am tolerant towards others (36%). Yes, I was surprised these attributes featured in the top 3 too – maybe I’ve got The Sun wrong all these years …

REWIND …

Maybe I haven’t got The Sun wrong all these years. I got no further than Page 3 (thankfully tit-free – naked ones at least) before my hackles were raised. Oh dear, dear, Desmond Morris, serious anthropologist – what were you thinking when you wrote your piece on Kelly Brook, “our favourite English rose”? A “contradictory combination” of English Rose and “Britain’s Sexiest Woman”, a combination “devastating when seen by a virile young male”. Oh please. Let’s hope Desmond never starts a career writing erotica as this first attempt is pretty dreadful. He’s wonderfully brilliant at putting Kelly on a pedestal but simultaneously manages to lay her out like a slab of meat. It’s a depressing study in objectification. At least they kept her boobs covered. Small things. (Well, usually large things when it’s The Sun …)

The Sun

If you’re a woman reading this, would you like to feel a little bit more alienated? Yes? Oh go on then, here’s a treat for you, especially if you consider yourself to be a ‘real’ fan of football:

The Sun

The offside rule is, for most people, hard to understand. If you are a woman it is especially hard to fathom. Thank goodness for The Sun trying to explain it to you here – if only you could drag yourself away from ogling Ronaldo’s legs and focus on the more cerebral topic at hand. Oh heck, don’t bother. You’re just a woman.

Before I’m accused of getting my large, padlocked Victorian knickers in a twist, there is one thing I admire about The Sun – the journalists. Their ability to write perfectly for the tabloid genre is mightily impressive. It can’t be easy but, if you approach it unashamedly, it’s probably quite fun. Journalism jobs with the national papers are incredibly hard to come by. Which young hack desperate for break would turn down a job at The Sun even if it meant producing content that goes against what they believe in? These are clever folk creating a clever product – it knows what it’s doing and who it is doing it for.

Perhaps I’m taking it all a little bit too seriously. If we could be sure that everyone who reads The Sun appreciates tongue-in-cheek then it would be more bearable. The sad fact is that there will be a large number of people who take the newspaper as gospel and accept it as a fair depiction of how attitudes towards women should be. ‘This is Our England’ – I sincerely hope it isn’t. Now for that visit to the recycling bin.

The wobbles

Wobbly teeth

We’ve just potty trained my 3-year-old son. No more nappies. Less junk to lug around when out and about (or there will be when we can stop taking out multiple changes of clothes ‘just in case’). Happy days. But it also brings with it a sprinkling (if you’ll pardon the urinary pun) of sadness as another milestone passes. Potty training is a significant stage as it finally marks your child’s transition out of babyhood. As every parent knows though, just when you think you’ve conquered one challenge, there’s always another one waiting around the corner. Just in time to soothe mummy’s throbbing ovaries, my 5-year-old has her first wobbly tooth.

It’s all too easy to dwell on the passing of the baby years and forget that there are plenty of new milestones to look forward to. A wobbly tooth might not seem to warrant as much relentless bragging about as a child’s first steps but in some ways it is more significant. As adults, we don’t remember uttering our first words but we do remember our first wobbly tooth (or at least a wobbly tooth). You may even be lucky enough to remember that stage when it’s almost out and you can twist it around 360 degrees on just a string of gummy flesh. Failing that, you’ll be certain to remember clicking it with your tongue. Perhaps you really did wrap string around the tooth and tie it to a door. For once, here is a memory-maker that’s not just for the parents.

Let’s not forget that the wobbly tooth also represents another opportunity for parents to weave a web of lies. From now on, it’s not just the Father Christmas myth that we need to keep alive – it’s the even more implausible existence of the Tooth Fairy (a being only slightly more plausible than the Easter Bunny). Maybe it’s because the Tooth Fairy promises merely a coin and not a pile of gifts, but it has been far harder to persuade my daughter that this dental diva exists. She knows that fairies (of the general sort) aren’t real, so why should this very niche model exist? She did seem won over by my suggestion that if you swallow a tooth, the Tooth Fairy has to search through your poo for it. There’s nothing like the hilarity of bodily functions to make you want to will something into existence.

She really has to trust me on this one. The fact that she isn’t so ready to trust me and accept the Tooth Fairy without question is another sign that she is growing up. Every milestone, albeit exciting, carries with it a hint of sadness. Or, if you’re more of a glass half full type, every milestone is something for you to relish getting your parenting teeth into – but I reckon you’ll still feel a bit wobbly inside.

The most moving post you’ll ever read

Brain
My brain.

I hold my hands up. This isn’t my usual type of blog post. You might be feeling kind enough to humour me. If not, I hear that a celebrity has had another baby – Google away if you will. For those of you sticking around, I’ll keep it shorter than usual.

Today, I was feeling somewhat poorly and sorry for myself. Throw in a dash or two of procrastinating over a piece of work and you’ll find me sitting in the garden with a coffee. It was much needed mental health time: sunshine, birdsong, trying out my newly purchased binoculars without alarming the neighbours, etc. But was I truly relaxed? No, not particularly. As usual my brain was careering along a railroad of thoughts; sometimes useful, sometimes not, but generally fairly random with no perceivable connection between each.

The most annoying thing (although useful in my profession) is that my thoughts tend to be composed. Not composed in the sense of together, but composed in the sense of being formed as if I’m writing them down on paper and making sure they are structurally and grammatically sound. I can’t even think freestyle. Most annoying. (Although perhaps not as annoying as the times I can only think in a perfectly rounded block of 140 characters thanks to overuse of Twitter.)

Without a crash course in advanced meditation, how could I force myself to ditch the chatter (albeit it beautifully drafted chatter) inside my head? I looked up at the blue sky and realised that it was the first time I’d done so since sitting down outside. And – oh look! – there’s a tree, a bird, stuff existing outside the bony world of my skull. It was my modest Eureka moment. For once I was actually telling my brain to STFU (Mum, you’ll have to Google that acronym) – there’s a bigger world out there and in the sunshine it looks darned beautiful.

What follows may seem bonkers and a sorry reflection of the state of my mind. I decided to draw a picture of what I could see. But this wasn’t to be a picture of the objects I could see. It was going to be picture of how things move: a movement map. That’s right, you’ve read it here first and I’ll remind you in a few years’ time when academics are writing books about it and employees are being forced to attend corporate residential movement mapping courses.

Here it is:

relaxation

It’s nothing special. It’s not artistic. It might look like something a toddler would bring home from nursery and you’d shove in a drawer until it was acceptable to bin it. Beauty inspired it but it was never meant to look beautiful. Yet it is strangely visual. It’s amazing that things can move so gently and yet, under the same breeze, so differently. (I hope, here, you haven’t forgotten your agreement to humour me.)

What it gave me was 15 minutes of peace. A short span of time where there were no negative voices sticking pins in my ears and I didn’t have to compose my thoughts in adherence with editorial submission guidelines. If you’re moved by it, try it. You might like it.