26 February 2009

Is It Just Me?

“You must be looking forward to half term” my friend said.

I tried to rearrange my expression which had been well on its way to ‘grimacing horror’, when I’d realised that she was actually being serious. Whether my sudden “mmm” whilst choking on my custard cream was convincing, I doubt.

I vaguely listened as she told me about the bird boxes she and Maya would be making on Monday, pottery-painting on Tuesday, candle-making on Wednesday, blah blah on Thursday. All the while my brain reverberated with the knowledge that there were real, live women out there who weren’t scared of the prospect of a week alone with their children. They were actually excited.

I looked at Chickie whilst my friend provided details of blacksmithing on Friday. He sat grinning atop his castle of sofa cushions. I counted 20 in total. I wondered where Maya was?

“What plans have you got?” she enquired, taking a sip of peppermint tea.

What had I got planned? Besides my stash of 35 Disney dvd’s, 20 packets of Percy Pigs and the Pro Plus? I struggled to remember and that muffled squealing noise wasn’t helping my concentration. “He’s going round some friend’s houses and he’s seeing Bolt on Thursday!” I replied triumphantly. She didn’t look impressed.

I wondered whether to explain that craft projects and Chickie didn’t mix. I had found he had little interest in painting anything other than his friends (and I don’t mean portraits). On the basis he ate ear wax, candle making was probably out. And handing him a red hot poker to play with went against all my natural survival instincts.

Movement from under the heaving pile of cushions sent Chickie tumbling from his throne. He cried heartily as Maya crawled through a small air hole at the bottom of the heap, her hair static and her face purple.

After they’d left earlier than scheduled, I kept seeing my friend’s eyes filled with genuine expectation that a magical seven days of fluff, love and gluing was there for every mother’s taking.

Were they? Or was I missing something? Perhaps I was approaching this week all wrong? I suddenly felt inspired. I’d once subscribed to the idea that motherhood could be a calm, ordered affair all tied up in a big, blue, gingham bow. Of course, that was before I’d actually had a child but she’d made me feel like it was definitely worth trying again.

I entered the week full of renewed hope. I would be that crafty mummy and Chick would spend a contented week carefully gluing sequins and beads onto pieces of felt. Or my tablecloth. And the curtains.

Perhaps a puzzle would play to his strengths? It started well. It ended badly with pieces of jigsaw being snacked on in between discussions about not eating cardboard.

But now pre-school is but a breath away and the twitch that I’ve developed on my right eyelid has begun to subside.
Thank you Walt Disney and Marks & Spencer - I couldn't have done it without you!

19 February 2009

Les Miserables

It was a day that had started early and hysterically. I could see my heart thumping through my winceyette pyjamas after picking up the phone to my sister’s frantic ramblings.

“Liz?” she gasped breathlessly. My heart stopped altogether as I imagined what could be coming. Dad better not have clambered onto that glass conservatory roof again? I’d kill him myself. Surely, after the telling off I’d given him, he could be left under no illusion about his physical limitations? What about mum?

“What is it? WHAT? WHAT!?!” I shrieked, pulling the phone away from my ear, scared of her answer.

“I’VE WON, I’VE WON!” she yelped.“WHAT?” Dad’s alive? You’ve won? Mum’s okay? Oh thank you God, thank you!” I kissed the phone.
“I’ve won!” she re-emphasised, clearly displeased with my lack of enthusiasm and trying to refocus me on her achievement.
“You’ve won what?”
“That Theatre Trip Competition I entered” she replied.

I couldn’t actually believe that she was surprised as she’d entered over 200 times, in a variety of voices using different names and addresses and even made her children ring on her behalf as she didn’t want to appear “pathetic” (think that ship might have sailed). Her phone bill probably cost more than the theatre trip itself.

“Congratulations” I managed, releasing my grip on the bedside cabinet, and slowly sinking on shaking legs, towards the bed.

My sister loves theatre trips and every family member has fallen foul of one of her “special theatre trip gifts” at some point or other. She’s so extremely thoughtful that she even buys a ticket for herself to ensure you don’t have to worry about who to take. The fact that no one else in the family actually likes the theatre doesn’t phase her at all.

My Brother-in-Law bravely raised this with her after enduring a gruelling three hour production of “Blood Brothers” – his birthday present. She was apparently “stunned” by the revelation that her husband of ten years didn’t like the theatre and surely no one would think she would purchase gifts for others that she secretly wanted for herself?

After buying her a bikini trimmer last Christmas, he knew he was on shaky ground so it fell to me to let her know that her husband wasn’t the only relative that didn’t like watching over-dramatic performances of ridiculously smiley people randomly bursting into song and prancing around for no reason.

My sister was agog – how could I, a blood relative, not appreciate the performing arts?

“I really prefer the cinema” I whispered, unable to meet her glowering eyes.

It would seem that was irrelevant as my birthday envelope was placed in my hands.

“A trip for two to see Chicago” I smiled through the pain. “How wonderful!”

My Brother-in-Law smirked at me from behind my sister’s back as she produced her own envelope containing our coach tickets and her ticket for the seat next to mine.

13 February 2009

Our unscheduled trip to France had been a flight of whim and fancy on my part.

As we entered Pas-de-Calais under the cover of darkness, it was only a matter of minutes before we were lost, repeatedly driving past a man balancing one legged on a 3ft wall, arms outstretched as if negotiating a death defying tightrope without the safety of a net. To be fair, when you’re that drunk, it’s quite an achievement. Each time we passed, he bowed theatrically, pleased that we appreciated his talent so much, we kept driving back for more.

The scenery wasn’t as attractive as I’d hoped, the chateaus and vineyards I’d envisioned replaced by giant sardine cans of industry. Sardine cans, it would transpire later, that were home to shops. Big ones!

We awoke the next morning to the familiar pitter patter of tiny feet and rain. An intolerable combination. Accountant’s sorrowful face as another day of trawling retail outlets lay before him was almost too much to bear. Thankfully, I’m highly skilled in the art of ignoring him, so shopping recommenced with gusto. When Chickie’s face took on a similar droop and I’d tried on enough pairs of trousers to realise that, in France, I was a size bigger and a foot shorter, I knew the gig was up. A nice lunch would lift our spirits and give us a chance to rethink activities.

“I think I’ve ordered a hamburger” said Accountant, having panicked under the waiter’s glare, ordering in haste. One circular portion or raw mince with a raw egg garnish later and Accountant realised a hamburger, it most definitely was not.

“What am I going to do?” he whispered, leaning in, keeping lip movement to a minimum so as not to attract attention from the adjoining table. Discretion being my middle name, I zoomed in with my camera to capture the moment. As the flash went off, two more pairs of eyes watched the show. Now under intense scrutiny and needing to act, he moved his hand slowly towards his fork. One lump of raw mince made its approach and in it went.

Whilst I appreciate that ‘Steak Tartare’ is a delicacy to the cultured, to the e-coli / listeria / cjd / salmonella (delete as applicable) fearing British Accountant, it holds little appeal. At this point, our French neighbours intervened, helpfully pointing out that the egg (raw) and accompanying green stuff needed to be mixed into the mince (raw) before consumption. Personally, I’d have recommended 30 minutes at 190°c before consumption, but who was I to interfere. Thanking them for their input and encouragement, Accountant knew he now had no choice but to eat it and, bless him, he did. The French ladies were very proud of their ‘big, brave man’ as they liked to call him.

The rest of the trip was spent monitoring big, brave man’s vital signs to ensure his bacteria burger didn’t require treatment with antibiotics.

05 February 2009

Just Desserts

It was high time my mother got acquainted with the highly disapproved of Chickie following her smug delivery of a reprieved toddler who had behaved impeccably at her house.
It’s annoying when you bemoan to your family that your child has been tormenting you endlessly with behaviour befitting an appearance on the “House of Horrors”. Then, suddenly, he throws the horns, cape and three pronged fork to one side, buffs his dusty halo, and spends his visit quietly plucking out the tune to Greensleeves on his harp.When it comes to parenting, everyone within earshot believes that they could handle the situation better than the screaming child’s mother, even if they’ve never spoken to a child before.
Hence, if baby is good at Nanna’s house, the good behaviour can be directly attributed to her calm and patient manner which was clearly just the approach baby needed to get back on track.Gloaty Nanna reeled off how he’d eaten all his dinner (specially formulated to contain exactly the right balance of soluble and insoluble fibre), filled his potty right on cue (thanks to dinner), slept through the night, even lying in until 8.45am without a murmur. Feeling betrayed, I praised my treacherous child for being such a ‘good boy’.When she came round the next day, she enquired as to Chickie’s spirits following his return. “He woke up at 4.45am and had a tantrum when I offered him a biscuit” I replied.
“He slept in until 8.45am at our house” she said.
“Yes, you mentioned that”.As Nanna pushed a chirping Chickie off down the road she was still enjoying a self-congratulatory repartee with herself about his reformation.
When she returned, an hour earlier than scheduled, she looked different.
“I let him out of his buggy for a walk” she gasped.
A rookie mistake of course.
She explained how she’d found him less than flexible when it came to getting back in. Forced to sprint the 100 metres after him, she finally cornered him in a lift. Whilst she prayed for breath, Chickie pressed all the buttons, including the alarm.
With the promise of ice cream, he agreed to accompany her to the cafe. Just as Nanna’s top lip touched the froth on her large cappuccino with extra chocolate sprinkles, Chickie finished his ice cream and began to twitch. Then came the writhing, then the shrieking. Nanna could see nothing wrong. “He’s 3” I answered in my head. “That’s what’s wrong.”As Chickie livened up the plans of all those enjoying a relaxing morning coffee, Nanna tried the Twinkle Twinkle routine that had worked so beautifully the night before. He sobbed uncontrollably. Amidst the glares of the entire cafe, Glam-Nan quietly collected her things and made for the door, which the pushchair got wedged in.“Oh no, that sounds awful” I sympathised, loving it.
The smug Nanna of earlier replaced by a dishevelled heap, collapsed on the sofa, with a big bit of froth on her lip.