All posts by Crumbs & Pegs

Confessions of a spanking good half term

Chips photo

As I get more and more school holidays under my belt, I feel less of a need to justify why we didn’t conquer Mount Everest or deliver newborn lambs in half term week. Bloggers write an awful lot about their guilt in order to seek reassurance from their peers and be a Better Parent. Mostly it’s self-flagellation. It’s not about the well-being of the kids: it’s about measuring yourself on the yardstick of perfection that is waved in our faces by the internet and social media. It’s time to grab that yardstick and snap it in half.

Let me tell you this: what you’re about to read wasn’t written to make myself feel better. It was written to make you feel better – to let you know that it’s okay. Really, it’s alright if you didn’t take a photo of your kids frolicking in snowdrops and apply Instagram’s Vintage filter with a smidgeon of a vignette. (Vintage because that makes life look retro and kids were so much happier in the olden days when they could race across open fields and only return home for tea, etc, etc, blah blah blah.)

It’s time to stop using other people’s Facebook timelines as a must-do-or-I’ve-failed guide to activities to cram into the school holidays. Your children will not be disadvantaged in their future life if you choose iPad time over roller skating the Inca Trail. Another episode of Paw Patrol will not cast them onto the educational scrapheap. (Many apps are highly educational and played alongside Candy Crush and Panda Pop will balance your child out as comfortably mediocre.)

Here’s a fancy infographic for you. It’s the first time I’ve done one and I can reassure you that no children were harmed in the time it took me to do it. They were not knocking over pans of boiling water or sticking their fingers in plug sockets as they revelled unsupervised.

half-term-infographic-copy

There you have it. I’ve done my little bit to make parents feel moderately better. (And that’s only half term – just think of what you won’t achieve in the summer holidays!) If I were to now fall off the sofa and die, the old Cheerio in the rug that I inhale with my last breath would be utterly worth it.

Help – my child wants a hamster!

Pet hamsters for children

Egads! My 7-year-old wants a proper pet. Not a kitten or a puppy – we’ve come out the other side of her dog phase with thankfully nothing but the ability to spell Chihuahua. She wants a pet hamster. We’re not completely new to pets having had goldfish for a while. We’ve done the fish naming, the renaming, the wearing off of the novelty, the renaming (again), the dying, the crying and the burying in the back garden. But a hamster? That’s a proper bona fide pet with personality.

No disrespect to the fish. They need more care than I ever imagined or indeed signed up to. Long gone are the days you could win a goldfish at the fair and simply pop it in a bowl of tap water with a bit of gravel. In favour of fish, their tank has a filter to keep it clean between my irregular interventions with a siphon and we enjoy a pretty hands-off relationship. Hamsters, on the other hand, require handling. They wee in jars and trample it through the cage on their knobbly paws, finger painting with their own urine. They poo tiny pellets that are – to us short-sighted folk – undistinguishable from sock fluff until you give them a little squeeze or sniff. Hamsters bite, escape, demand a never-ending supply of sunflowers seed and toilet rolls and get wet tail.

Despite all this, we’ve not said ‘no’ to welcoming a furry friend into our home. We were already resigned to the fact it was going to happen before my daughter found this ‘helpful’ video on YouTube:


 

The advice in the video explains some unusual behaviour we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, namely my daughter’s sudden interest in being helpful. Our first thought was that pocket money was the motivating force, but we were one step behind: responsible behaviour + chores = pocket money = BUY OWN HAMSTER, SO THERE. There had been warning signs. The jar next to her bed labelled ‘money for hamster’ is perhaps something we should have taken more seriously.

Thanks to the internet she’s done her research. (And all without inadvertently stumbling upon anything relating to Richard Gere.) In fact, she’s become a veritable hamster guru. Her friend took me aside before a recent playdate and asked not to be made to watch hamster videos – it’s a fine line between guru and bore. Did you know that mesh wheels are bad for hamsters’ feet? No, nor did I. Did you know that it’s good to feed a hamster cucumber on a car journey to keep it hydrated? No, nor did I. Neither did I envisage that we’d be taking our hamster in a car with enough regularity or for such a distance that we’d need to worry about Hammy shrivelling up.

There, it has a name. Hammy. It’s practically boxed up and on its way out of the pet shop now. But we wouldn’t call it something as unoriginal as Hammy. My daughter had something in mind a bit more Kardashian, a bit more Hollywood: Sadness. (She has also earmarked the names Misery and Silence for her children. And I was surprised when she asked for a wall in her bedroom to be painted black?) Fortunately, Auntie Jackie, the other all-knowing hamster guru in our family, successfully vetoed Sadness and so Precious is now top of the list. Clearly, a good old-fashioned human name isn’t what the modern hamster aspires to. What psychological damage did I do to Oscar, Amy and Henrietta, the hamsters of my own childhood?

I owned several hamsters. They live such a short time, it’s amazing how many you can cram in if you don’t mourn too long. They were all loved and well looked after but strangely they still haunt me. When stressed, most people dream about being chased or sitting in an exam they’ve not revised for. I dream about having forgotten to clean out the hamster. A mere whiff of worry and hello hamster anxiety dream. That’s deep psychological damage I’m about to unearth.

Here’s hoping hamster ownership doesn’t prove to be a nightmare.

 

 

 

Stretching the maternal elastic

Child standing on beach

“When your youngest starts school you’ll get really broody.” That’s what people told me and I expected them to be right. Just when you think you’ve passed on your last babygro, there comes a niggle inside that makes you want to snatch it back. As the weeks ticked down to my son starting school, I was anticipating a hollowness that I’d need to fill. It turns out that the reality was quite different. I wasn’t losing my baby boy after all – I was learning to share him.

My eldest started school shortly before her 5th birthday – the oldest in her academic year and, without doubt, ready to be there. Her brother, however, seemed far from prepared to start his journey. Still chubby-cheeked and throwing monumental tantrums, he was my baby and doomed (sorry, son) to be preserved as such. It wasn’t about their difference in age though. Let’s be honest, it was all about my apron strings and how ready I was to cut my son loose (or at least to accept he would only be hanging on with one hand whilst the other hand busied itself with growing up).

I’ve mummied and (s)mothered him. I’m not ashamed to admit that. He’s an unabashed mummy’s boy (although show me a boy who isn’t) and could never, ever cope in the big, wide world without his mamma at his side. Or so I told myself.

Then came his first day at school. I didn’t need to be dragged from the classroom door. I wasn’t beating my chest or producing reams of tissues from my pockets. The world didn’t end. When my son stepped through the classroom door, he clutched his bag and his water bottle like a little man, not a baby. It was then I knew that letting him go was for his own good. For four years I had kept him to myself, not wanting to believe he could function without me. It’s hard to accept that you need to share those you love to help them grow, even if that might mean them growing away from you.

We’ve reached the end of the first half term and my son is well on his way. We’ve each had tears. For me, it was when I dressed him in his uniform for the first time. For him, it was the day when his new best friend didn’t arrive at school. Seeing your child locked into the education system is daunting when they are only 4 years old, can barely get themselves out of a jumper and are borderline self-sufficient bottom-wipers.

Have his new adventures stopped him being a mummy’s boy? Of course not. I’ll be defending my right to keep the maternal elastic taut for many years to come. (One day I’ll have to share him with his future partner – a thought that already makes me bristle.) He still comes into our bed every night. I’m still his first port of call for cuddles, back rubs and – more frequently than I’d like – bottom-wiping.

Sharing him with the world has made it even more precious when he comes back to me. He exists and thrives without me. However hard it is to see him do that with the help of others and without me, he is learning to be his own man.

The Syria crisis: just imagine if it was you – #SaveSyriasChildren

refugee crisis

Surely no one can fail to be affected by recent images in the media of the desperate plight of refugees trying to reach Europe and safety. Terrible as these images are to see, they force the rest of the world to recognise that this isn’t only a political or economic issue – it is about real people. Ordinary people who had homes, families and livelihoods are at the heart of this terrible situation. If you think about it then, yes, it could have been you. And if it was, how would you feel if those who could help hesitated or simply didn’t help?

For me, the crisis in Syria isn’t just about a foreign country. It is about the people I met there. In 2002 I spent two weeks in Syria visiting the major cities and towns and, of course, ancient Palmyra. It is a country I rate as one of my favourites, where the constant refrain of “You must come back when you have children!” led me to believe that one day I would return. Sadly, it is now unlikely that this will be possible in my lifetime and if my children ever get there it will be a very different place.

What strikes home when I watch the news is that the lives of the Syrians I met have been turned upside down. Sadly, I have no idea if they are alive or dead. Is the hotel where we stayed in Aleppo still standing? Most likely not. But what happened to the hotel owner whose sideline in pharmacy I will be forever grateful for after I fell ill and he supplied the drugs that brought me back from what felt like the brink of death? Or the hotel staff who brought me rice and potatoes for days when I couldn’t get out of bed? These were people who didn’t hesitate to help me when I needed it.

At every stop we encountered people who made our visit special. There was the family in Hama who welcomed us to their table and shared a feast of pomegranates. What happened to them? Hama had already experienced a terrible massacre in 1982 when an uprising against the government was quashed by the then president Hafez al-Assad. Some sources put the death toll at as many as 40,000. It was something no one dared speak of in Hama and there was no evidence or recognition of it ever having happened. Back in 2002, the men in the photograph must have thought that they had already seen their fair share of bloodshed.

Syria crisis

What happened to the amazing guide who showed us around the funerary towers in Palmyra? Was he there to witness the devastation when IS blew them up today?

Syria crisis

Then there are of course the children who in 2002 thought they had their whole life ahead of them. Despite living under a dictatorship it was at least a time of peace with the prospect of a future. It is horrific to consider what these children must have seen in the last few years and the fear they have endured. Are they still there? Have they ended up in the camps in the countries bordering Syria? Are they currently trying to board a train in Budapest?

Syria crisis

As an individual it may feel as if there’s little you can do. However, there is lots that you can do from the comfort of your own home. Please don’t turn a blind eye. Do something to help. Anything. Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.

You can donate to Save the Children’s Syria Crisis Appeal online here or to donate £5 simply text SYRIA to 70008. (You can find Save the Children’s terms and conditions here.)

 

 

 

Book review and giveaway: My Stinky New School

starting school

It’s that time of year again. The time when, amidst overturned boxes of toys and washed out camping holidays, parents’ thoughts start turning to September. If you’re a parent who is getting ready to send a little darling to school for the first time then you are probably oscillating between dread and joy. Perhaps you’ve passed through denial and are looking for ways to ease the transition. For me, as with solving so many things in life, that means turning to books.

We’ve read about Topsy and Tim’s and Maisie’s first days at school countless times now, so it was a delight to be asked to review something new. My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott introduces your child to the prospect of something potentially scary with humour and beautiful illustrations.

The book tells the story of Toby as he starts school and tackles worries about making new friends. According to Toby, his new school “stinks of pigeon poop, ogre armpits, and sadness”, yet he makes it through his first day thanks to a string of characters: spacemen, aliens, pirates, mermaids and dinosaurs. Throw in “astro poop” and bad smells and you have everything a 4-year-old loves.

At the end of the day, Toby claims not to have made any friends. Really? When my kids have done any activities without me, I ask “And did you talk to anyone?” and the answer is always “No”. Yet without fail, it eventually emerges that they did indeed make friends without realising. The same is true for Toby who, through sharing his wild imagination with other children, leaves on his first day with a wave to his troop of new pals. This bit does need some explaining to 4-year-olds (who tend to take things literally) but with a couple of reads they soon grasp the idea.

My Stinky New School is a lovely book to add to your arsenal of preparing-for-school-tools. Just make sure your child isn’t expecting there to be any real pirates at school. They’ll either be racing into their uniform several weeks too early or refusing to go without a cutlass.

My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott, Lion Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99. For more information visit the publisher’s website.

WIN!

I’m giving away a copy of My Stinky New School. To enter please scroll down and leave a comment telling me who you’d most like to meet – dead or alive, famous or infamous – who would it be?

The closing date for entries is noon on August 18th, 2015. Entries from the UK only. Only one entry per person. The winner will be chosen completely at random.

Disclosure: A big thanks to the publishers for giving me the opportunity to review the book and give away a copy.