Thursday, 30 October 2008

Half Term – Day 4 – Grandpa Came To Stay

I started my new job today and we had no childcare so I left Grandpa in charge. Grandpa lives in Spain and was visiting. The children love it when Grandpa comes to stay, we see him 4-5 times a year, and they slip back into their relationship as if they’ve never been apart.

Grandpa started the day by venturing downstairs foolishly thinking it was later than it was and was met by the 2 year old who recruited him for some early morning cutting, drawing, tent making and channel surfing. When I rescued him at 8am Grandpa proudly told me that he had given the 2 year old some juice and had worked out how to turn the TV on. This boded well for his childcare duties during the rest of the day.

I went to work at 9.45 and returned to an empty house at 3.15. Fifteen minutes later a cold and tired looking Grandpa followed by two cold but remarkably perky children arrived home. Grandpa had been busy. He had taken them ‘rock jumping’ this morning (loosely translated = dog walking near some rocks which the children hurl themselves off). They came home for lunch, then ventured out again to Salts Mill (arty shops and a very nice café – full of yummy mummy’s – as a friend points out “I feel really skanky when I go there”) which is down a very steep hill from our house and has a lovely bookshop.

Grandpa told the children they could have a book each. The 2 year old gathered several books and formed a tower whilst the 4 year old and Grandpa found a book from which you can construct ’29 beautiful paper butterflies and display them on models representing three different habitats’ – what was he thinking? On further examination you require a pair of scissors fit for the Borrowers, a glue stick the size of a pen lid, a stiff drink and the patience of a saint. When he comes to stay again he will spend most of his time creating 29 beautiful paper butterflies. He must reap what he sowed.

The 2 year old was forced to whittle his pile of 30 books down to one and picked a book on Diggers (no glue stick required). They went to a café, ate biscuits and drank Ribena (one of the things which makes the 4 year old hyper). On the way home they had a trip to a playground, fed the ducks and rather aggressive swan. The 2 year old nearly fell into the canal twice. It was OK though because Grandpa had a backup plan. If he had to dive in he would leave his mobile phone on the side in case he had to ring my husband to come and get them. I think an ambulance may be more appropriate in temperatures of 0°C.

The last part of his journey was a steep hill home which I usually avoid at all cost due to the whine factor and because it usually ends in me carrying one child, shouting at the other for walking at the speed of a snail and nearly having a heart attack at the top. So when he arrived home he was rather stressed and tired.

By 5.30pm he had started on the wine and by 6.30 had single handed finished a bottle and was moving on to the next (he doesn't normally drink much). Auntie K, big boy cousin and big girl cousin arrived for tea and we all sat down to eat. Grandpa by this point was discussing the finer points of cheap supermarkets and kept shouting “LIDL” in a German accent which somehow then moved on to him shouting “vichyssoise” in a French accent (French translation = cold potato leek soup) … which then within 5 minutes moved on to him shouting “MERDE” (no translation required).

Grandpa decided to put himself forward to be thrashed by the 4 year old at ‘Hop and Pop’ (Asda’s cheapo version of Frustration). He then collapsed on the sofa with some water and biscuits to watch a light documentary called ‘The Yamato’ about was a battleship of the Imperial japanese Navy durin World War II which was sent on a suicidal mission against more than 1000 US ships off Okinawa. This triggered him to speak in a Japanese accent for the duration of the documentary, but there was no further swearing.

As I was washing up tonight I came across the almost empty beaker that the 2 year old had been drinking from this morning with Grandpa. In the bottom was thick liquid. He hadn’t diluted the juice ... just given it neat.

He never ceases to amaze me. Last year during a visit we were in a busy bookshop when the 4 year old decided to satisfy her hunger with a banana. I was holding the 2 year old and several books so told her to go and ask Grandpa to do it. Across a packed bookshop he shouted “I don’t know how to peel a banana”. The shop fell silent as people stopped and stared at this man in his late fifties who was unable to assist his grandchild with a simple fruit based act.

When asked what she did during the holidays I hope the 4 year old doesn’t tell her teacher that Grandpa is ‘merde’ at Hop and Pop.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Half Term - Day 2 - Blindness and Bobbins

Unfortunately last night’s sneezing was not feline allergy based but caused by yet another cold, probably passed on once again by a friend of a friend’s, cousins, next door neighbour’s child. After enduring much snot before bed I foraged around and found some Night Nurse capsules. With neither a box nor the instructions for reference I took 3 and hoped for the best. I discovered this morning that one of the downsides of taking 3 rather than the 2 indicated on the dosage section of the box (I checked with a friend) is that I was unable to open my eyes when I woke up. I was conscious and able to move and speak but I could not see. I imagine this is a good way to be in the morning - if it weren’t for two children trying to prise my eyelids open.

Once I regained my sight we were up and off on our day out to Bradford Industrial Museum. We have been here many times before. It sounds terribly boring but we can quite easily string it out for a few hours and most importantly it’s free. The kids love the machines, vintage cars, bikes, buses and trains. During term time we often have the place to ourselves and the eager to please staff put the machines on for the children to watch.

I had agreed with my teacher friend, mother of three to set off at 10.45 so we would arrive at 11.00. Knowing her well I set off late. As I drove past her house at 11.05 she was still folding her children into the car. It turns out she’d started packing the car at 10.20 but a series of events including a down the leg poo caused delay.

Today there was an exhibition at the museum. Bradford Model Engineers Society, Centenary Exhibition to be exact which was a ‘magnificent display of over a hundred models made by members past and present’. Old men sporting large rimmed jam jar bottom glasses chatted amongst themselves and pointed enthusiastically at large notices saying ‘DO NOT TOUCH’. Why they chose half term to have this exhibition is beyond me, the 30 or so models were all but waving and shouting ‘touch me’ with their buttons, switches and flaps. It was all too much for my octopus armed children. I had visions of a boat creation which took six years to painstakingly construct out of matchsticks and a pair of tweezers laying on the floor in a million pieces.

We quickly moved on to the transport section which has a rope which you are not to go beyond. I decided to tell my children that if they went past the rope an alarm would sound and we would get into trouble. We decided to count the cars, I turned to speak to the 4 year old and suddenly a loud alarm went off. I turned back to find the 2 year old standing on the other side of the rope three steps from a Penny Farthing grinning right at me like a demon. Moving swiftly on once more we managed a fairly civilised lunch (as civilised as it gets with five children aged 4 and under) before moving upstairs to the textile floor.

Because my teacher friend, mother of three has a pushchair we have to go upstairs in an industrial lift which can only be operated by a museum employee. From our many visits before I know the drill; find someone wearing a badge and ask them to escort us up and then agree a time for them to come back to collect us. The woman who took us up agreed to come back for us 15 minutes later. The boys ran round and round the textile machines whilst my friend discussed the finer points of child labour with the 4 year old girls and told them how grateful they should be that they don’t have to crawl around, risking death and disfigurement to collect fluff from under machines (no doubt a conversation which will come back to haunt me some time over the next few days due to the 4 year olds obsession with death).

After 25 minutes we realised that the lift lady had forgotten about us. After 30 minutes, ten rounds of ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ and a dancing show by the 4 year olds, we realised we were trapped with a party of people escorted by an NHS worker and five restless children on the textiles floor. The NHS worker rapidly moved his group to another room when one of them muttered something about the children running around making noise in a disparaging manner. It was then that I realised that these people were probably on a day trip with their mental health worker and five unruly children could have pushed them over the edge. Who knows what damage a schizophrenic could have inflicted on our children with an 18th century bobbin. I went down the mill stairs to seek out the lift operator who had vanished. Another kindly worker released us 5 minutes later.

We went back to teacher friend, mother of three’s house for play followed by some phonics for the girls, train tracking for the boys, bun baking, drawing, CBeebies, bun decorating and fishfinger tea. A plethora of activity which is common practice when we visit; anything less and my friend would feel that she hadn’t satisfied our every need. She is Wonder Woman. When visiting our house her standards are lowered, they would be lucky to find a doll with all its limbs, let alone a paintbrush or enough fishfingers for five.

We returned home tired and happy. The children have gone to bed without argument but with several yawns. On putting their clothes in the wash basket I found that the kleptomaniac had struck again. Concealed in the 2 year olds jumper pocket was a £50p rainbow coloured Industrial Museum rubber … I’m just glad it wasn’t a Penny Farthing pedal.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Half Term - Day 1 - Impromptu Game Of Buckaroo

I took the 2 year old for a ‘settling in’ visit with the OAP childminders this morning. It went well apart from him settling in too nicely with their elderly Siamese cat. My boy loves animals. He lies on our laid back Labrador and tries to ride her like a horse, whilst she looks at him with a look of contempt before huffing and wandering off for some peace. He takes the same approach with cats which are obviously very different creatures. He has had several scratches from cats in the past but undeterred continues to try and ‘befriend’ them. I imagine the cat will leave home when the 2 year old arrives for fear of an impromptu game of Buckaroo.

After lunch we visited my oldest friend C. We have known each other for a grand total of 26 years which makes me feel old. I don’t see her nearly as much as I should. The children all played and ate custard whilst we discussed our children’s bizarre rituals. Her 4 month old daughter will only sleep with something over her face. I think it’s normally a muslin but anything will do, in this instance a tea towel was providing the curtain of sleep. Whilst there C managed to breastfeed her daughter and carry her 2 year old son on her back. I like a bit of mummy multitasking – I have nothing but admiration for my friend.

We came home after our visit and I decided to start being more of the wife my husband would like. Unfortunately I am unable to suddenly morph into Andrea Corr so instead I have managed to keep the house tidy for 2 weeks (something of an achievement for me). I have reacquainted myself with a duster and some bathroom cleaner. At times I am a little OCD about the whole straightening of the duvet thing but on the whole I feel I have achieved something. I decided to try and earn some ‘Delia’ and ‘thinking ahead’ points by marinating some ingredients for tomorrow night’s curry. The 2 year old ‘helped’ by splattering chopped tomatoes over the worktop and up the wall. The 4 year old drew more pictures of me with an abnormally large head and what looks like Lego hair. I am always smiling in these pictures and wearing a stripy jumper. Not sure what a psychologist would make of it. She broke off when I started grating an onion to explain the perils of onions to the 2 year old who then ran away and hid to preserve his eyes.

All in all a good day marred only by the 4 year olds tantrum on the way to bed, which paved the way for an early bedtime and by me sticking my finger in my eye after chopping chillis – so not bad at all really apart from the stabbing pain in my left eye.

I have started sneezing which I think may be caused by my allergy to cats – the Siamese one in particular. A stray hair must have transferred from the 2 year olds undercarriage and brushed past my nose.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Whispering From The Squatting Position

It’s dark, except for the blue glow of the nightlight. I am crouching on the floor wearing only a pair of big knickers, fumbling around in a large plastic box. My son is sleeping less than a metre away ... I am quite clearly mad.

It all started as I was brushing my teeth last night. I had a brainwave. A plan that would secure me extra minutes of sleep in the morning. I decided that I would put together the 2 year olds wooden train track (complete with signals and trees) whilst he slept so that when he woke at 5.30am it would be the first thing he saw.

He would then spend time playing with his train set instead of waking me, lying between my husband and I head down, asking that I tickle his feet for 30 minutes before I agree to get up and make breakfast in a grumpy fashion.

So it came to pass that I had to fumble around in the box, with limited sight, seeking out the correct pieces by touch for my masterpiece. We have quite a lot of track, it took time.

I was disturbed only once by my husband stood in the doorway looking at me in my large pants. I whispered my plan to him from my squatting position and he went to bed without any questions. He’s clearly used to this sort of unusual activity.

I admit I got a little carried away. There were tunnels, the track went under his bed, round one of the legs and out again. We had junctions, farm animals, trees and signals. I proudly admired my tour de force by blue glow and went to bed.

The ‘trainwave’ earned me an extra 30 minutes of sleep the following morning, but was overshadowed by the fact that it took me 30 minutes to assemble when I could have been sleeping the night before.

I’m now on a quest for a new morning distraction, it has to have the wow factor of not being in his bedroom before he went to bed and take me 2 minutes to arrange. I have made the following ‘extra sleep’ calculations … Mr Potato Head; 10 minutes, cars and garage; noise + 20 minutes, chunky farm jigsaw; 5 minutes before he loses interest.

I think I may have peaked too early, I should have saved the trains till last.

30 minutes of upside down feet tickling for me tomorrow.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Choice is not a friend of mine

I start a new job in less than two weeks. The hours fit in perfectly with school. I can drop the 4 year old off and pick her up again, it just doesn’t fit in with the precious time I spend with my boy. I’ll miss our trips to the café where he kicks off his shoes and picks the raisins out of toasted teacakes, reading books in a silent house before the school run, looking at quad bikes, road sweepers and diggers on the internet (transport porn) and shaking our maracas at ‘Rhythm Time’. I will not have any one on one time with my boy, my last child, and that makes me sad.

I will still be working part time as before, just more hours spread out over the whole working week rather than just over two or three days. I always wanted to work, but not to the detriment of my children (NB : I’m feeling emotional – on a more rational level I am well aware that my children will not be disadvantaged because I am working). It has always been important to me to work so that we can eat, have swimming lessons, not have to use public transport and not wear half mast trousers … the latter hasn’t always worked out, children grow at an amazing rate. Equally important is that I spend plenty of time with my children before they are propelled into full time education.

I am of course living in the ‘year of shit’ as I affectionately call 2008, so it wasn’t a surprise when just as I was accepting my new position my wonderful childminder gave me notice – she is moving on to pastures new and will be unable to child mind. This is the way things go; good news followed by bad. My unlucky streak has been going strong now for 8 months and I am hoping it will move onto to some other poor unsuspecting soul soon, I’ve had enough.

So, I have been searching for a new childminder. The last time I looked for a childminder I had my pick of nearly eight and several months to think my decision over. Now I have a week and a half, ‘choice’ is not a friend of mine. At times in the school playground I could have been mistaken for a crazy stalker as I pushed small children out of the way and hurdled over pushchairs to question one of several childminders in the school playground that I have been eyeballing. None of the childminders have any spaces (even the scary ones) … apart from one married couple who have been childminding for 24 years and I suspect have a combined age of 130. I worry they may not be up to the challenges I face daily with my bold ‘one speed’ adventurer. Fast is his only speed. On the other hand they may have a calming influence on him; like diazepam on a schizophrenic.

The week before I start work is half term – a whole week of quality time with both children. I’m sure by the end of that week I’ll be ready to let go – if only to release myself from the sound of two whining children.

I just hope that the 2 year old doesn’t finish off his new childminders, giving them a combined age of 130 at death and not letting them get to their silver anniversary of childminding.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A two pronged carving fork ...

“Do you know where the office drawer keys are” came the shout from our home office. My husband works from home. The office is situated between the kitchen and the living room and is frequented regularly by the children. It is the hub for his business. Important documents, cheque books and other vital items are kept in the drawers.

I didn’t have a clue where the keys were but I knew a 2 year old who more than likely did. I had witnessed him playing with said keys which were hanging out of the drawers at the time. Leaving the keys in such a desirable place is tantamount to leaving a big sparkly necklace in full view of a magpie.

Having been in similar situations to this on several occasions I realised I had to tread carefully. I have lost many items in the past; money, mobile phones and kitchen utensils to name a few by going in too heavy handed. Cross words or a face like thunder would not retrieve the keys. I had to be like Kevin Spacey in the film ‘The Negotiator. I had to play the game, talk him down to recover the bounty.

So I approached the 2 year old with caution and said in my best Mary Poppins-esque jolly voice “Do you know where Daddy’s drawer keys are?”

There was silence, he was thinking, weighing me up, working out if I was really jolly or whether I was going to frog march him to the naughty step. Staring at him with honourable and trustworthy eyes I waited with baited breath.

“Garden” he simply replied and continued about his business. He’d admitted his guilt with just one word, I wanted to bollock him but I was still in negotiator territory.

We have a fairly large garden with more hidey holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. I knew this magpie; I knew he would not put them in an obvious place. If I had said what I wanted to say … “Go and find those keys immediately and then return to the naughty step where you will stay until a week on Wednesday” then they would be lost forever; or, until, we’d had a trip to IKEA to buy a whole new drawer unit when they would miraculously appear just as the flat pack instructions were being sworn at and ripped in two … isn’t that what always happens? Law of sod.

So I morphed once more into my Mary Poppins alter ego and with a look of sugar coated glee said to him “Mummy would be absolutely delighted if you could find the keys”. That was all it took, he was off, like a sniffer dog. I watched from a distance not wanting to put him off the scent.

As he walked towards the playhouse I felt relief, a sensible hidey hole. Then he stopped short of the playhouse, knelt on the decking and pressed his face as close to the wet wood as he could, moving along the 1cm gaps between each plank until he stood up and announced in his solo-word style ‘Gone’ and shrugged.

Like a member of the SAS I moved in. Kneeling on the wet decking, which is quite unpleasant, I set about looking for the smallest glint amongst the soggy leaves which lay beneath. A few moments later I spotted the little buggers. My next task was to retrieve them. If I were a real member of the SAS I would have had a length of string with an elaborate magnet attached to the end which I would keep down my undercrackers for such situations. I had to improvise. A magnetic fishing game would have been invaluable at this point. Alas, this is probably the only toy we don’t have. Instead I had to resort to a two pronged carving fork.

Triumphant I returned the bounty to my husband who wasn’t as amazed as I would have liked after the aptitude I had shown. He was probably relieved that he wasn’t going to have to crowbar next month’s gig tickets out of the drawers.

If anyone is wondering what to buy the 2 year old for Christmas, a magnetic fishing game would be perfect.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

More belly laughter than I know what to do with

The husband and I have just returned from a weekend away without children. 48 hours of not having to worry if I have the correct combination of raisins, juice, wipes and nappies in my handbag. Not going to bed with a feeling of dread, knowing that I will be rudely woken at 5.30am by a child wielding a Dora the Explorer backpack in my face. Not having to berate anyone for beating their sibling with a fork/stick/wand/sword (delete as appropriate).

The husband and I began to unwind with each other. Our relationship seems to be under constant stress at the moment and we’re often relieved to have made it through another day without one of us turning into a dribbling wreck. Regular communication and affection are reserved for another time, a time when the madness has subsided.

We went away with three other couples. It was just what we needed. Lots of laughing, relaxation, good food, drink and most importantly excellent company.

We made several phone calls home to check on the status of the children who were having a ball. A picnic with Auntie K, the park, drawing, baking, shoulder rides with big cousins, swimming, chocolate buttons with Grandma … much more fun than they get on an average weekend. It was reported that they were both behaving beautifully and … well, it seems the 2 year old slept better than ever before, having to actually be woken up one morning. This has never happened at home … EVER. Bitter? Me? Absolutely!

Our last day was spent having a leisurely walk in the sunshine along the river and mooching round shops before heading home. I was excited to be coming home. Despite my grumbling I miss them terribly when I am without them. If I think really hard about it, I even miss plucking dried Cheerios out of the 2 year olds hair and arguing with the 4 year old about which shoes she should wear (pink princess flip flops that are 3 sizes too big will never be appropriate for a muddy dog walk).

They were delighted to see us too … and very tired. After the initial excitement it began; ‘it’ being the punishment. The ‘how dare you leave us, we’ve had a bloody great time, but YOU LEFT US!’ punishment. It was a titanic two pronged tantrum which lasted two hours. They rode the relentless waves of tantrum through tea and bath time before finally falling asleep. I don’t know how it started or what started it but it was definitely designed to cause as much grief and guilt as possible.

When they were asleep I felt a rush of both guilt and desire. Guilt for leaving them and messing up their routine; desperate desire to be back in our lovely cottage with more belly laughter than I know what to do with.