Tag Archives: children

First trip to hairdressers makes Mrs Fidget sit still

IT was my birthday last weekend, and Bonnie and I were politely asked to “go off and do something for a bit” so some last-minute shopping and wrapping could be carried out.

Faced with the prospect of the weekly supermarket shop or a something more interesting, I decided it was time I put my daughter’s unruly locks in the hands of a professional instead of trying to trim her hair myself. (She never kept still, and squeals if she even catches sight of a hairbrush).

I’m not the most ardent attendee of the salon either. I can just about leave the house each morning without complicating affairs by having to ‘style’ my straight locks into anything more than a ponytail. I might stumble along to a different salon once a year for a trim or to have some highlighter foils put in, but that’s about as girly as I get.

Bonnie, approaching her fourth birthday, was delighted when I suggested she let a complete stranger cut her hair.

For the first time in several weeks, she really was as good as gold (she’s been extending those ‘Terrible Twos’ for at least an additional 10 months, the stroppy little madam).

The hairdresser, Emmy, was lovely with her, popped her on a booster with extra piled up towels so she could have her hair washed ‘backwards’ like the grown-up ladies. Not a single gripe from Her Ladyship.

She particularly liked the ‘up and down chair,’ admiring herself in lots of mirrors and having a proper blow-dry.

Add a couple of sweetie bribes and she thought she’d had the best afternoon ever and thankfully had most of my wonky fringe-hackings remedied. I can’t imagine she’s every going to let me near her with scissors again.

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Time for the book hoarders to let go

I’D just spent far too much of my Saturday cleaning out Jemima the Hamster’s two stinky cages when a load of heavy books landed on me.

I was not impressed. Closer inspection of the large bookcase in the boys’ room showed they’d wrecked it – mostly by shoving oversized books horizontally on top of already overstuffed, now broken shelves. It was like a precarious book-based giant game of Jenga.

Needless to say, the elder boys and I spent far too much of Sunday trying to fix the shelves and sort the books. It was way overdue. We hadn’t got rid of any books for 14 years and yet they rarely returned to any of them once they got past the bedtime story age.

But once they started sorting, I could sense they weren’t going to give them up easily. Rather than sorting them into piles – charity shop, recycling and back-in-the-bookcase – they both settled down and started to read. They might be barely into their teens but the room stank of nostalgia: “Aw, do you remember this one?” “Ah, there’s my ‘Where the Wild Things Are.” “No, it’s not yours, that was bought for me, I remember being read it. . . look, here’s where I ripped it. . .” and so on.

At one point the entire family was in the room, either having a long-forgotten bedtime story read to them, fighting over an out-of-date football annual or simply trying to sneak some of the tattier, drawn-in volumes out to the bin.

So I’ve inadvertently come across a way to get your children interested in reading: tip the contents of a small library all over their bedroom floor and then threaten to chuck it all out again. Which reminds me, I think there may have been overdue library books in those piles somewhere . . .

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Club Penguin’s back in the house

SOME years ago, when he was about seven, Our Dougie begged to be allowed to go on a new interactive webchat site called Club Penguin.

Back then it was a fairly scary prospect: letting your kids on internet ‘chatrooms’ and social networking sites (it was all MySpace, Friends Reunited and Bebo – Facebook was the underdog). MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) were just role playing games.

We had a home computer, but didn’t let the kids go on it much and certainly not without us sitting on their shoulder.

Then Club Penguin came along, a site which let 6-14 year-olds wander around a virtual snowy world as a Penguin, have a pet called a Puffle, take part in games to win virtual coins and meet ‘friends’. It was this latter part which jolted parents out of their comfort zone – after all, couldn’t any old perv’ say they were a ten-year-old and ‘groom’ your child?

No, said the site’s creators, who had developed the program precisely to offer a ‘safe’ online environment for their own children. It has real-time moderators, blocks on offensive language and any words which may give away any personal location information about themselves.  So far, so popular – Club Penguin membership shot up to 30million by 2007 and was bought out by the Disney Company.

Doug loved it. He wasn’t allowed to buy membership at first because quite frankly, I thought he’d get bored of it. But his school friends were on it too, and none of them seemed particularly bothered about meeting new penguins, they just liked the novelty of speaking to each other in real time via speech bubbles on their computer screens. 

After a while Doug saved his pocket money to buy membership (monthly, if I remember rightly, again, the boredom factor). This meant he could access more ‘shops’ and furnish his igloo home.

But eventually he did get bored. His older brother got busted for lying about his age to get a Facebook account, so he didn’t even bother trying and still hasn’t got an account (waiting to turn 13 this year).

Doug’s interest in online chat switched briefly to bad grammar and spelling via Microsoft Messenger, then more recently to actually talking to his mates while hooked up to a headset playing online multiplayer games on the Xbox.

This in itself is a terrifying thing. Anyone can play Xbox and talk online, unless of course they only choose the option to play with people they already know. I have walked in before to hear weird accents coming from the TV when the boys are playing online, but they turn the volume down and ignore the background chatter, preferring the banter with their own schoolfriends.

Several years on since those early Club Penguin days, times have changed for us all (and the game was hilariously parodied in Three Lions).

Jed hardly walks two steps without his mobile bleeping a new Facebook notification, Dougie spends Saturday mornings playing shoot ’em ups while chatting away to his comrades on the headset, then goes off to actually play them face-to-face in rugby matches. Even Bloke and I are never far away from our Twitter accounts.

So now it’s little Bill’s turn.

We spent several minutes on the phone with his friend’s mum the other night negotiating a meeting place in a Dojo courtyard in some part of Club Penguin world. At the grand old age of eight he wants a Club Penguin account, costing £3.95 for a month, £19.95 for six months or £29.95 for 12 months. We’ve been there, done that, so for now, he can make do with the free version.

Sometimes I find myself thanking my lucky stars I’ve been through the online revolution with the three boys first – I suspect if she were the eldest Bonnie would have been far more stubborn and devious about it.

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Son’s £70 phone bill an expensive lesson learned all round

IT’S a different world these days, isn’t it, when bills no longer plop through the letterbox, but drop soundlessly into your email inbox.

But in the same way that you’d put those envelopes to one side to open later, when you have more time, you ignore the inbox reminder.

If it looks on first glance roughly about the same as last month, do you need to look any closer?

The utility companies – those unavoidable gas, electric, phone, mobile, TV, credit card and water firms – are onto a winner aren’t they? We’re too distracted to check the bill, too busy to pay the bills individually, manually. We click the direct debit box and off our money goes into the ether.

But on one odd occasion between Christmas and New Year, the figure on the phone/TV/broadband company bill caught my eye: It was more than twice as much as usual.

All right, so we may have watched an ‘on demand’ film with the kids over the holiday, but we use pre-paid mobile minutes to call each other, so why is the home-phone part of the bill SEVENTY POUNDS rather than the usual six or seven? Have we been hacked? Has the phone company made a terrible mistake?

No, it was a much simpler, old-fashioned explanation: We have a teenager in the house.

My children find it hard to believe that we were teenagers once, when PC stood for Police Constable not personal computer, mail came through the letterbox and a mobile was a thing you hung above a baby’s cot.

But like today, being on the phone was one of the major ignition points for a family row. You were far more conspicuous of course, being stuck in the hallway or front room, tied into a conversation everyone in the house could hear because the one phone in the house had a cord that stretched about as far as your arm.

But I used that phone at any and every opportunity. I can even remember our phone number, back in 1982. It wasn’t hard: 203. Yep. Three digits to freedom from my family.

And I got into trouble for running up phone bills – although I can say with all certainty they weren’t anything like £70. Nonetheless, it would be me getting berated by Dad for being on the phone all the time.

And now, of course, I’m saying the same thing to my own offspring:

“Why are you on the phone, you just saw *insert name here* five minutes ago?”

“Who is ringing who? I thought you said you had no credit?”

“Why don’t you text? Or use Facebook? Or Messenger? Here, use my phone. . .” (OK, I made that last part up).

How on earth did our mostly-monosyllabic First Born manage to ring up seventy quid’s worth of calls IN A MONTH!

Yes, so I did tell him it was OK to use the home phone to call landlines at evenings or weekends as long as he hung up after 59 minutes, because it’s free to ring at that time if you don’t exceed an hour. But he ‘forgot’ the ‘landline’ part and has been ringing his girlfriend/mates ON THEIR MOBILES for up to 59 minutes at a time. (The itemised bill also showed he’d been calling at midnight, when he’s supposed to be tucked up in bed asleep, but that’s another issue).

Needless to say, we hit the roof, and he voluntarily coughed-up his £45 Christmas money to pay for his mistake. (Cruel, cruel parents). Landlines only from now on, and no midnight calls. Lesson painfully learned.

Don’t tell him, but we’re going to give him the money back in return for a series of tedious chores . . .

Happy New Year kids!

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Fun in the dark with fireworks, mud and toffee

“I DON’T like fireworks, we should go home now,” announced our three-year old daughter, ten minutes before the actual pyrotechnics even started.

By that stage we were already standing in a field, in the dark, having persuaded our youngest two off spring to stay close to us with various sweets, candyfloss and toffee-apple bribes.

The elder two and a friend had disappeared into the night, shouting promises to behave and clutching all our remaining cash.

“We can’t go, it hasn’t even started yet,” said Bloke. “Anyway, I thought you were excited?”

Indeed, for the previous five hours, after finding out we were planning a trip out to watch fireworks, Bonnie had punctuated every conversation with “I’m soooo excited!”

She’d bounced around the house getting her warm coat and wellies on. She’d chattered uncontrollably in the car on the way, and had oooed and ahhed over the raging bonfire that greeted her across the fields on arrival.  

Bloke and I were discussing how much easier it was to be enthusiastic about Bonfire Night when it wasn’t pouring with rain and freezing cold.

Then Bonnie switched from Being Excited to Being Whingey.

“Pick me up Daddy. I don’t like fireworks Daddy. I don’t like being here Daddy, I want to go home Daddy.” (I stayed out of it. I’d done Bonfire night on my own the previous year, with a pram, in mud, in the freezing rain).

What do you do when your toddler shows expresses fear? Do you cut your losses and head home?

Or do you stick it out, running the risk of giving them a firework phobia for the rest of their days?

Bah, you tell them not to be daft, explain what the fireworks will look and sound like, and stick it out, of course.

Bloke picked her up, and told her he’d cover her ears if the fireworks were too loud. After an initial burying of her face into his shoulder, she was persuaded to turn around and watch the pretty fireworks along with everyone else.

She soon got used to the noise, and by the time the initial few rockets had gone up, she forgot that she didn’t like fireworks. She was whooping and ‘ahh-ing’ away, while simultaneously smearing her face and coat with the reddest, stickiest toffee apple ever purchased.

Meanwhile Bloke’s back was aching from having to hold her at an angle so they could both look skywards, while unwittingly having red toffee rubbed into his jacket.

We rounded up the rest of the kids, who appeared out of the darkness, muddy from head to foot. They patiently explained that as the display was at Casuals Rugby Club, they’d felt obliged to play some rugby. . .

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We shouldn’t give first-time Mums elective Caesareans – we should give them more midwives and tell them to ‘man-up’

THERE’S new guidance about to be issued to the NHS which will allow all pregnant women to request a caesarean – even if they don’t ‘need’ one.

It appears that a growing number of first-time mothers think that having an elective ‘pre-booked’ caesarean – rather than having to have one on medical grounds – will help avoid the pain of natural childbirth and keep their figure.

I’ve been lucky enough not to need a caesarean having any of my babies (if I knew then what I know now, they’d ALL have been home-births).

Therefore maybe I’m not best placed to try to deter any new mums-to-be from thinking elective c-section is easier and safer. (But you know me, I’ll have a go).

Everyone I’ve known who has had to have a caesarean has said how frightening it was. After all, it’s a major operation.

You have to sign a consent form, and there are several people in the operating theatre, including surgeons, an anaesthetist, theatre staff, midwives and a paediatrician.

You’ll probably need a spinal injection; an epidural, and have your pubic area shaved for the incision. After experiencing the strange sensation of having someone rummaging around in your insides, you get to meet your baby.

More rummaging occurs as the placenta is removed and then your stomach has to be sewn up again, which, because it involves layers of muscle, fat and skin, can take around 40 minutes. The final layer is either stapled or stitched.

Either way, it’s a major, painful wound that will take several weeks to heal. For this reason most mums who have had to have a caesarean are kept in hospital longer than those who don’t. You will find it difficult to bend and lift, and will have to take painkillers for the first few weeks at least. You’ll still get the agonising ‘afterpains’ that come after all births as the uterus contracts and have to wear pads for bleeding. Did I mention that internal surgery also gives really bad wind?

You aren’t allowed to drive for six weeks after the operation, and if you do, your car insurance is likely to be invalid.

The World Health Organisation estimates that only ten per cent of women should be having c-sections yet in some areas of the UK it’s up to 30 per cent, notably in the ‘wealthier’ South East.

There’s a distinct difference between ‘too-posh-to-push’ and mothers who have experienced a very traumatic labour and have had to have an emergency c-section. These mums have some insight into whether a caesarean would be a better option, in consultation with their midwife, for any further births.

So why are so many first-timers so taken with the idea of caesareans? Is it really the image touted by the celebrity media?

Are we really now a generation refusing to even contemplate any pain, any inconvenience to our schedules, any changes to our body-shape by life experience?

How come women are so willing to undergo the surgeon’s knife and the associated pain and scarring of plastic surgery for their looks, yet not even contemplate at least trying give birth the way nature intended?

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Why has Halloween become the acceptable face of begging?

YOU’LL probably think me a party pooper, but I can’t stand Halloween.

Really, it’s not a ‘holiday.’ It’s an excuse to bleed for cash out of parents. You don’t even get a Bank Holiday out of it. It’s basically a celebration of expensive but cheap dressing-up outfits and even cheaper sweets.

But of course, the kids love it. They’ve seen the American films and TV shows that show Halloween as a great big sweetie filled night of pure joy, where their parents don’t just let them join in, they join in themselves. Bah. Maybe in America, but not in my universe.

Yes, yes, I know there are all sorts of ‘proper’ UK traditions involving October 31. It should relate to harvest and the changing of the seasons, and in Scotland and Ireland they make you dance a little jig or recite a poem to earn your fist-full of Haribo, but still . . . bah!

Our Boys will testify, I’m a completely stubborn misery guts over Halloween.

Over the years they’ve all tried to persuade me that Trick-or-Treating is normal, and that I should let them wander the streets of Semilong begging for confectionery or threatening householders. It doesn’t work.

The few times we have ever foolishly opened our door, all we’ve been faced with is a couple of pubescent boys with their hoods up and the usual pallid complexion of someone who spent the entire summer in a darkened room on the Xbox.

But what the hell has happened this year?

Not only did we accidentally end up at Alton Towers over half term during ‘Scarefest’ (most of the screaming came from Bloke on a tiny rollercoaster), but Bonnie was given a witch’s costume, Billy became a Vampire, and the kids were invited to three Halloween parties in as many days. Argh!

There’s one concession I do make for Halloween, and that’s growing pumpkins. But as they take five months to grow, you do have to remember to plant the seeds back in sunny May or June to get them to a decent size.

I don’t grow them to eat – there’s a reason the American’s add a tonne of sugar and fat to make pumpkin pie – I grow them so the offspring can watch while I unskilfully butcher a face into them. Then they can light them in the kitchen until the smell of singed vegetables becomes too much to bear. (Putting them in sight of your front door only encourages the door-steppers).

Nope. I’m still not swayed to embrace my inner ghoul and pester the neighbours.

By the time you read this Halloween will be all over for another year. And I can start being a miserable witch about standing in the cold and rain at Bonfire Night celebrations instead. . .

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New specs channel Billy’s inner Caine

OUR bespectacled third son had his annual opticians check last week, and decided on his new ‘look’ for the next 12 months.

Billy is remarkably stoical about having to wear specs, and is much better at it than I was at his age.

I feel guilty that so far he’s the only one to have inherited my rugby-ball shaped eyeballs – or double astigmatism, to give it the proper terminology.

It doesn’t help that his dad is just as squinty. Bloke appears to be ignoring the fact his eyes are getting worse with age, as he has now perfected the middle-aged man trick of peering under or over his glasses to look at things close up, refusing to just admit defeat and get bifocals.

Meanwhile Billy looks forward to seeing the nice Eye Doctor Lady, because he gets to wear the freaky glasses with the different lenses and compete to read as many letters as possible.

On odd occasions, Billy has expressed a certain sorrow at having to wear glasses, but it’s not because he gets teased, it’s because they annoy him. Sometimes they pinch his nose, and rub, and he has to takes them off for sport.

When it comes to choosing frames though, he’s bold (once he knows trying to get me to agree to Star Wars frames is futile). As much as I tried to steer him towards something light, he wants the heaviest-looking 1960s Michael Caine frames he can find.

So here he is trying on his new NHS specs. And yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve relented, and ordered him some very cool prescription sunglasses with a Star Wars frame too.

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After babyhood, prepare yourself for the shock and awe of the teenage years

PLENTY of people warn you about the impact a newborn baby will have on your life, but there’s a second phase of shock and awe to come which is less discussed.

When it comes to coping with teens, the conversation just becomes clichéd.

It’s true that they do, literally overnight, lose the ability to speak without mumbling and leave clothes and towels all over the floor. They do get spots and fill the house with a gagging fog of Lynx body spray (I’m sure if you have daughters it’s something like Impulse).

But who ever tells you how you’ll feel when they’re suddenly as tall as you, or have bigger feet than you?

Or when they start having friends whose Mums you don’t know from the school gates?

Or going to parties that don’t involve a bouncy castle injury and a piece of squashed birthday cake?

In a weird way, watching them grow up gives you delight and sadness.

Somehow the years between the ages of about two and 11 seem strangely simple, if a little manic. Even when I had four of them aged ten and under.

You know – most of the time – where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re up to.

Then suddenly, you don’t.

It’s easy, well, easy-ish, to allow them some independence. That mobile phone you finally relented on when they started secondary school, that might make you feel better because you would always know where they were?

Well, now it’s not only the ever extending leash, it’s the source of all the stuff you don’t know about. The Twitter feed, the faceless friends, the Facebook events, and freedom from family.

I can’t pretend I’m not jittery about seeing my elder boys grow up, grow away. And while I try to be cool, try not to hover, Bloke tells me I need to resist the urge to stop them making their own mistakes. I need to stop throwing up the metaphorical bumpers at the bowling alley.

I can’t help it, I still see my 14-year-old as that wide-eyed smiley baby who wouldn’t sit still for a moment.

Anyway, to revert to the clichés, I can still enjoy being an embarrassing mother. Apparently they are mortified when I get cross in shops, or try to hug them in public. Emptying their three-year-old sister Bonnie’s potty by the kerb when she’s caught short in the car is one of my specialities (needs-must), as well as wolf-whistling loudly in public spaces to get their attention. Strangely, they aren’t particularly bothered about the fact I write about them in these columns.

Slightly bruised by their casual list of my misdemeanours, I ask, “What about Dad, doesn’t he ever embarrass you?”

“Nah, Dad’s pretty cool.”

I give up.

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Homework ‘help’ is a battle of wills

HOMEWORK is a perennial problem in our house. Only a few weeks into term and they’ve all got their issues.

The elder two have to be threatened with a full-scale schoolbag search every other day in order to get them motivated, but eventually get on with it and get detentions when they don’t.

Meanwhile eight-year old Billy is fretting about getting more homework than he’s ever had to cope with before.

Previously his homework involved times tables, spellings and reading. Now it’s also ‘proper’ homework, worksheets and deadlines, for literacy and numeracy (that’s English and Maths to you and me).

And like his brothers, he’s finding brainwork clashes with his sport and social life. We have to sit him down and stop him getting distracted. (And getting distracted is his Special Skill). He’s not helped by the ‘help’ he gets from me either, as they seem to do sums in a far more complicated way than I ever remember and he ends up teaching me.

There is one person in the house who is delighted to hear the familiar cry of “do your homework.”

Bonnie drops everything and scurries off to collect paper and her crayon box and sits opposite Billy at the kitchen table, talking aloud about the flower that needs to be drawn.

She goes out of her way to distract Billy as much as she possibly can before having to be bribed away with promises of uninterrupted Cbeebies.

Someone needs to remind her about this early enthusiasm in a few years’ time, when she has to do homework for real.

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