Tag Archives: are girls different from boys

For the cheek-tweakers out there, a column to update you on our fab four


Bonnie, 8, Billy, 12, Jed, 18 and 16-year-old Dougie, whose childhoods were documented in local papers

MY 12-YEAR-OLD son is looking simultaneously horrified and delighted. His eyes are saying, “Get her off me!” while his mouth is showing a wide smile. His cheeks are being held adoringly by someone who could pass as his granny, but who is actually a complete stranger.

This mild-mannered mugging in the supermarket is not unusual for my children. They were once the subject of a weekly newspaper column, which detailed their early years and my often chaotic parenting. And unbeknown to them, they still have fans. Readers who saw them appear in print as chubby babies, naughty toddlers, and mischievous teens who still recognise them, although the column stopped when the paper ceased being a daily a few years ago.

“Look how you’ve grown!” beams the friendly stranger, leaving Billy unsure whether to thank her or correct her; because in his head he’s not grown enough, being one of the oldest but tiniest in his year at school.

Meanwhile the lady has moved on to ruffle the hair of eight-year-old Bonnie, now looking like a fully-formed human being rather than the wobbly toddler the reader remembered. “And don’t you look like your mum?” she asks. Bonnie has become used to this observation and doesn’t yet see it as the worst thing on earth (although no doubt that will change). I chat to the lady a little longer, filling her in on what our older two are doing and thanking her for keeping track of My Bloke’s career as editor of another paper.

As we bid our farewells to carry on shopping, Bill and Bonn start to question me along the lines of: Who the hell was that and why does she know so much about us? (They had been much younger when the columns ran and possibly thought that all children had their photos taken on a weekly basis.)

jed doug b

Jed, Billy and Dougie, the early years

We carry on the discussion back at home with the elder sons, Jed and Dougie, now 18 and 16 respectively, who make sure the younger two understand that THEY were FAR more famous in their day, as they had their tantrums, birthdays, school applications, parents’ evenings and every other form of embarrassing scenario detailed to the public at large on a weekly basis for more than a decade. Cheek-tweaking by strangers was a weekly occurrence for us, not just a one-off, they claimed.

But how would they feel now if I’d kept writing about them? My change of job from full-time journalist to university journalism lecturer meant that I didn’t really get to discuss parenting mid-range teens. It would have been just as they hit the door-slamming years, and I would have had perfect source material for a parenting column, with topics like girlfriends, puberty, under-aged drinking, learning to drive, going abroad on their own or, critically at the moment, exams. But is it fair to expose the lives of your children as a paid job?


Dougie, aged 8, baby Bonnie and Jed, at 10.

Social media would possibly have exacerbated their embarrassment even more, because ten years ago they wouldn’t have been so ‘shared’ via Twitter and Facebook, although they were online.(They don’t have their own social media open to us, quite wisely.)

Feedback was generally pretty good on the column, readers wrote letters and emails sympathising or sharing their own stories, and often it would be grandparents as much as parents who read it, because they could see how attitudes and styles of bringing up kids had changed so dramatically.

Unlike the plethora of parenting advice books, the column wasn’t there to lecture anyone about the best way to bring up kids, but to share experience and tips. Well, that was the intention anyway. I did get relatively regular letters written by someone claiming to represent the entire population of a nursing home who apparently detested me and spelled this out in no uncertain terms. Then there was the mother who wrote to tell me that she was so appalled that I didn’t give out party bags at one particular birthday that she was GLAD her children did not know mine. Ouch.

I’ve always found it curious how hate-mail tended to be from women, who you’d think would be more supportive of the sisterhood. But no, I’m afraid the most zealous critics were female. At least I can say they were engaged enough to be bothered to actually write, buy a stamp and take it to the postbox. Today we’d call them trolls.


Jed and Doug today

Is writing about your own children in advice columns over-sharing? (And yes, of course I’m aware that I’m sharing their lives again, as I’m writing this right now). Is there a difference between parenting advice columns and the ubiquitous Facebook posts of the landmark events (or otherwise) of proud parents?

OK, so I did sit up in bed and write a column for the newspaper about the arrival of our new baby daughter on the day she was born. But because readers had spent nine months following the saga of my fourth pregnancy it seemed only fair to give them the conclusion. And to be frank, I was so pleased that having a home birth had been such a monumentally better experience than going into hospital, I wanted other people to understand there was nothing to be scared of. Plus, I was slightly off my head on post-partum painkillers.

DSC_0068If there was a story in the news about a particular parenting issue, like childcare, or health issues, I’d usually have experienced it one time or another, and knew how lonely, confusing and demoralising those early years as a mum can be. Jed and Doug are only 19-months apart in age, and like chalk and cheese, so I’d had a pretty intensive apprenticeship as a working parent, at a time when you were only allowed 3-6 months maternity leave. By the time Billy and then Bonnie came along, I had four children under ten and had given up caring what people thought of me.
I just wanted to tell people all the things I wish I’d done differently. Or even, and we probably don’t do enough of this, detailing parenting tips that had actually worked.

Today the urge to write about the offspring is somewhat offset by being able to share pictures and updates to family and friends via Facebook (which I try and use just for personal stuff). I will occasionally get asked to write the odd thing for a parenting site or magazine and happily rant away on BBC Radio Northampton whenever they are short of a guest with forthright opinions on bringing up baby.

Jed is now 18, just coming up to his A Levels, learning to drive, playing rugby, going out on the town and looking at universities. yes, terrifying, I know.
Dougie is almost 17, in the year below, doing AS Levels, playing first-team rugby (his team are in the Nat West Schools final at Twickenham in nine days time, and he’s fighting to get back from his first ever injury).
Billy , now 12, has started ‘big school’, also plays rugby, and does street dance, loves to cycle like his looky-likey dad, has successfully ingratiated himself with the sixth form at school, despite being a year seven.
Bonnie, now 8, doesn’t seem the slightest bit bothered that she’s the only one left at primary school, where she does gymnastics, yoga, recorder, ocarina, swimming and unlike her brothers, has never had a bad report. She’s girlier than you might expect (so much for nature/nurture) and somehow rules the roost. They are often hilarious and sometimes idiotic and make us incredibly proud.

Meanwhile, if you see my kids out and about, don’t be afraid to give them a tweak of the cheeks. They love it, really.



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Transfer Day 2012 – the last of our offspring dips her toe into the school system

I’M sitting here wondering how The Girl got on at her First Morning At School. And realising what a wreck I’m going to be when she starts properly in September.

Today across most of the country is Transfer Day, when four-year-olds and 11-year-olds get the chance to visit their new classroom. Those already in the system, like our eight, 13 and 14 year olds, will be moving across school to a different classroom to meet their new teacher for September.

It’s supposed to give the newbies a little taste of school (whether it be a new primary or secondary) so when they start for real it doesn’t come as a shock. The Girl already attends a nursery attached to the school so is familiar with the basic setting. However, the benefit of familiarity doesn’t apply to all. Another little girl wandered over to me and The Girl this morning as we were waiting to go in and said: “I’m new and I don’t know anyone here yet.”

Bless her, and her anxious mum. She told us her name and Our Girl quickly dragged her off to meet the Girl Posse, all moving up from nursery and more than happy to have more females to swell their ranks. Potentially a life-long friendship made in a matter in seconds.

Transfer Day tends to be an icebreaker for the parents as well as the kids, at primary school at least. At secondary school, your 11-year-old is less likely to want you to hang around and kiss them goodbye at the gates. But at primary school, chances are you’ll come to know the other parents on the ‘gates’ rather well over the next seven years.

Most schools have an open day for new parents to give you an idea of what’s in store. There’s also a ‘home visit’ organised by the teaching staff, who come to your home in early September, before the official start of Reception Class, so they get an idea of what life at home is like. Yes, they’re checking up on you, but for good reason.

The Girl went off to sit on the carpet with her new class without so much as a backward glance, so I’m not worried about how she’ll cope. Nursery has taught her the basics required – sitting quietly on the book carpet with arms and legs crossed, going to the loo unaided, waiting your turn at the water table, hanging up your coat on a peg and ‘being kind’ to everyone.

The Girl starts school in September

There were very few wailers this morning, but the band of mums and dads hovering at the door knew that as soon as they were out of sight, they’d probably be forgotten as the excitement of the new situation and the care of the professional school staff distracted them from the unfamiliarity of it all.

Another ‘mum of many’ and I, leaving our youngest daughters in the care of their new teachers, admitted it seemed harder this time knowing that it would be our last Reception class transfer day, as neither of us have, or plan to have, any more children.

“I have a feeling it will be me in tears in September,” she said. And I suspect I may be joining her, discreetly, over a box of tissues.

I’ve never really suffered more than a lump in the throat when handing over the boys to the compulsory education system, which will consume their lives for the next 14 years. But waving off The Girl will mean I’m also waving goodbye to a part of my own life; the part filled with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, nappies, tantrums, and the delight of having a little person who throws themselves into your arms without any self-consciousness because You Are 100% Theirs.

However, having been this three times before doesn’t seem to have made me any more efficient or organised. Somehow, somewhere between school and home, I’ve managed to mislay all the paperwork I need to fill in and the school uniform I bought at open evening.



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The unsociable adult

My sons have been going to cricket on Friday evenings for several years now, and I still feel like the newbie.

At first I used to stay while they played, buying the younger offspring a bag of penny sweets from the tuckshop/bar and sitting on the club house step to watch the player-offspring miss catches or be swamped as they walked out to bat by the enormous pads, gloves and helmets.
It occurred to me this evening, sat freezing in the wind as the eight- year-old and 13- year-old trained, that I didn’t know a single other parent there. Not anyone’s name, or even their kids’ names.
Yes, I know a few of the coaches, but there’s a huge bunch of parents who sit together and drink and chat for over two hours every week. They all seem to know each other, probably from school or living close to the ground, whereas we live in the town centre where the neighbours are either teenagers in bedsits, students, or pensioners.
I’m not after pity, despite sounding like a complete saddo.

Mostly now I go and sit in the car and catch up on emails on my phone, or nip to the shops for whatever essential food items I forget to buy earlier.
Daughter, 4, meanwhile, manages to find new friends every where we go. She simply saunters up to the child most similar in age and asks if they want to play. Sometimes they say no. So she tries again and usually within five minutes she’s kicking a ball about or swinging upside down from railings. The boys have to do little more than produce a football to have a posse of new pals in seconds.
While they’re socialising, I’m in the car, feeling like Hilly No-Mates.

I didn’t used to be like this. When and why do we stop wanting to make friends?

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Yo! It’s a 13th birthday treat

WE now have two teenagers. Those of you who have read my family saga for several years will be no doubt thinking the same as us – where did the time go?

And we’re also thinking: why can’t we understand a word they are saying? And why won’t they pick up the things they drop all over the floor?

Tuesday was Dougie’s 13th birthday. My cuddly little angel of a baby is now officially mumbling his way into adulthood and reminding me he’s old enough to get a Facebook account.

And my, how the tastes of teens have changed. For his birthday ‘treat’ he asked to go to Yo Sushi. Yes, a sushi bar, with a moving conveyer belt of mini dishes rolling past. A potential disaster with children, as you are charged for the plates you’ve picked.

I had visions of them all grabbing, sticking their fingers in or sniffing, and turning their noses up. Instead they were all fabulously behaved, perched on high stools, eating far more adventurously than expected and having a great time.

I’d highly recommend it just for the fun, although beware the bill – all those fun little dishes are colour coded, and while they all cost between £1.80 and £5, that deliciousness adds up. Limit your pinks and greys!

Oh, and the kids loved the dessert plate called dorayaki, but all hated the pink Mochi. It made a welcome change to one of many Pizza Hut visits.

The nearest Yo Sushi is in Milton Keynes. Perhaps we could get one closer to home . . ?

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Why a scar on a girl’s face is different to a boy’s

OUR boys are always nursing some injury or another – stop! Don’t ring social services, they are boys, and they play sport.

I wouldn’t want to generalise and say boys get more scrapes than girls, but having three sons one after another it seemed from the moment they could walk they were scraping knees and elbows. While we’ve been lucky enough so far (*touches wood) to avoid any broken bones, Jed has a large scar on his elbow plus one on his eyelid, Dougie has several on his knees, plus one on his eye, and Billy Whizz seems to be attempting at every opportunity to get a scar of his own.

But while the boisterous boys will expend their energy on the rugby pitch, their self-appointed princess of a sister has her own daredevil streak and is constantly trying to climb things that shouldn’t be climbed or stand on tall objects.

However it was rugby that gave her a major cut recently, not playing it yet, but falling flat on her face while we were watching Dougie play. For some reason she didn’t put her hands out to stop herself and ended up with a cut on her nose and a grazed chin and lip.

While I was obviously concerned, I found myself fussing about potential scarring, and guilty that I was more worried about our daughter having a scar than I’d been about our sons. Boys can wear scars and scabs with pride. Girls get neurotic and self-conscious about them. Especially when they are right in the middle of your nose.

She’s not bothered, although when I said she mustn’t pick at it or she’d get a scar on her nose, she was instantly concerned. I’d forgotten that to a four-year old, Scar is the baddie in the Lion King . .

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Interesting graphic about girls and science

Girls in STEM
Created by: EngineeringDegree.net

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Princess turns into Dirt Girl as worms become new pets

AS previously mentioned in these ramblings, our four-year-old daughter Bonnie is not absorbing the influence of her rowdy elder brothers and becoming a tomboy.

Quite the opposite. Much to my surprise and bewilderment, she can be the girliest of all girly-girls. She’ll always choose a floaty dress rather than trousers, will chat away about ‘pretty things’ with her pals, the Disney Princesses, and will pronounce, over-dramatically, “I’m scared” about everything from dinosaurs to the dark, (when she clearly isn’t).

However, she did me rather too proud at the weekend when I finally got a blessed hour or two to tackle some over-due gardening tasks.

Worm girl

Turning the compost heap has been on my to-do list for about a year, and as I shoveled the upper layers into a wheelbarrow, she spotted dozens of creepy-crawlies running, wriggling and slithering for cover.

I expected her to decide that she was scared of beasties but to my surprise she delved right in with her bare hands, gleefully collecting fat brandling worms and letting them wriggle about on her palms.

My requests for her to carefully put the worms back because they needed to be away from the sunlight fell on deaf ears – they were ‘her’ worms. They would be her friends. I had images in my head of finding dead worms in her doll’s house or chest of drawers.

I explained that to the worms, she was a giant – “I’m not a giant, giants are big” – and that she might be scaring them. Only then did she reluctantly give them up to go back into the compost heap.

That’s when she spotted the prehistoric-looking centipedes, running for their lives. She jumped, and hid behind me, unwilling to share my enthusiasm for the speedy bugs. “I’m scared of those,” she announced.

I’m keeping quiet about my similar dislike of moths . . .

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Not keen on playing happy Sylvanian Families

I’VE managed to keep all but one Barbie doll banned from the house. Make-up is still the preserve of grown-up ladies and not little girls. But my goodness, why didn’t anyone warn me about Sylvanian Families?

Daughter, just turned four, was given a dolls’ house for her birthday, and some money to buy some people to live in it.

So we headed to Earl’s Barton’s famous Jeyes Pharmacy. Like the Tardis, this is no ordinary chemists but has an extraordinary warren upstairs of dolls’ house merchandise..

After trying to stop Bonnie touching tiny, delicate, miniature furniture and fittings in the Dolly Lodge, an amazing emporium for older collectors, we wrestled her out of the door and fell into a room filled almost entirely with Sylvanian Families toys. If you aren’t familiar, these are tiny toy animals dressed in clothes. And there are LOADS of them, costing about £15-20 a set.

I tried to get her to look at some peg-doll style wooden dolls’ house people, but she only had eyes for the rabbit family, the dog family, the monkey family, et al. While I tried to steer her towards the rabbit family (seven members, better value), she wanted to spend her cash on the four-strong hamster family and an extra pink hamster baby.

I have to admit, I find the whole SF look a little disconcerting in the 21st century, as they are a little wholesome and Stepfordian. Where’s the Emo teen hamster? The working mother hedgehog dressed in a suit rather than a pinny?

Still, they do fit perfectly in her dolls’ house.

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Will the ‘princess stage’ inhibit my daughter’s ambition?

Bonnie and Rapunzel

WE were reading a bedtime story about what Piggy Wiggy was going to be. The relative merits of employment as a doctor, firefighter, pilot and explorer were all debated.

Inevitably, I asked three-year-old Bonnie what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“A fairy princess,” she said, without hesitation.

“Yes, but when you aren’t being a fairy princess, what job would you like to do?”

“I’ll be a princess, and a fairy,” she explained slowly, as if I was slightly dim.

Bonnie is stubbornly determined to obtain every Disney princess doll, outfit and handbag available. Mostly unsuccessfully.

She hasn’t even seen all the films, but she knows who they all are. There’s Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Tiana (the Princess and the Frog), Snow White, Jasmine (Aladdin), Mulan, Pocahontas, Ariel (The Little Mermaid) and Cinderella (who until the arrival of Rapunzel, was Bonnie’s favourite).

There are also the unofficial princesses, in the form of Alice (in Wonderland), Tinkerbell and even the very foxy Maid Marian from the animated classic Robin Hood.

People with daughters tell me that this is just a phase that all little girls go through, but I don’t remember this onslaught growing up. Apparently the Princess franchise was only dreamed up in 2000, because Disney sales were taking a dip.

Should we be worried though, if our daughters strive to be pretty and well-dressed rather than clever and brave?

Boys don’t get verbally judged every time an adult addresses them. They might get “little man” or “Tiger.” Girls will get told they’re pretty, or that their outfit or hair is gorgeous, and get called ‘Princess.’ None of this, of course, is deliberately intended to stereotype them, it’s just the way we talk to girls.

There are those who think its damaging to allow our daughters to even be exposed to Disney’s addictive Royalty. Girls might do better than boys in exams, but the amount of teens I’ve met who aspire to marry a footballer or claim they need plastic surgery before they’ve even finished growing shows the toxicity of the superficial.

How many teen girls you know could tell you who Marie Curie was, or what Karren Brady does other than appear on the Apprentice? But I bet they could probably tell you the colour Ariel’s hair and complete biographies of all the Kardashians.

I know a Dad of girls who banned any Disney princesses in the house because he didn’t want them to think that life was all about finding your prince and getting him up the aisle.

I also know a Dad who banned his sons from having toy guns or any ‘violent’ characters like Transformers (and his offspring are about the most aggressive children I’ve ever met).

It’s true that all our boys had their phases – dressing up as Spiderman for an entire month or imagining themselves as Transformers – it passed, although they all still have their Bart Simpson moments.

I don’t want to stop Bonnie enjoying her Princess phase. We just have to balance all that pink fairydom with exposure to other, less sparkly things too. She’s already leaning more towards Lara Croft, chasing her brothers around the garden dressed as Cinderella and brandishing an AK47 pump-action water pistol.

I have my limits. You won’t find a single Barbie in our house, not until she gains at least two stones and gets a PhD.

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Bonnie’s besotted by baby (but she’s not getting one)

A MONTH or so ago, Bonnie and I went for a picnic in the park with my heavily pregnant pal, the local newspaper snapper Louise Smith.

Three-year-old Bonnie spent a lot of time trying to work out in her head whether it was really possible for a baby to be inside the massive bump of a tummy that Louise was lugging about. For a few days afterwards, she kept asking if the baby was “out-yet?”

Once newborn Baby Lydia was, indeed, ‘out,’ and the new parents had settled into the reality of post-labour-sleep-deprived-neurotic-hell, we went to visit.

And instantly, Bonnie was besotted. Two-week old Lydia was the same size as her own dolly ‘babies’ but unlike them, she did stuff.

She moved. She gripped Bonnie’s finger in her own tiny fist. She stared at Bonnie and Bonnie stared back, with an enormous grin on her face.

Bonnie tried to ‘dolly’ her. She brought jumpers and blankets, tried to cover her up in layer after layer as fast as Louise and I could remove them. She asked Lydia questions in a sing-song-talking-to-baby voice and once she’d established that Lydia wasn’t going to talk back, chatted away as she did to her dollies.

I eventually prised her away, and in the car on the way home, she announced: “I want a baby,” a statement that I’m sure has terrified generations of mothers.

I explained that she would have to wait until she was a grown-up lady before she could have a baby of her own (while secretly hoping it would be at least 20-odd years before I had to deal with that particular milestone).

The following day she changed tack: “I want a sister.”

No darling, that’s definitely one wish that I won’t be indulging. Four of you is quite enough. Now, where’s that dolly of yours . . ?

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