Tag Archives: family

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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Tears and tantrums (mostly mine): it’s uniform-buying week

WE’RE meant to be shopping for school uniform. I’m leafing through the endless racks of black trousers in BHS when I realise I’m talking to myself.

Two of the boys are across the shop wrestling over a tape measure while another and his sister have managed to climb on top of a Thomas the Tank Engine toddler ride in which they’ve already lost 50p.

Their coats and bags are strewn across the floor which other shoppers are having to step over. I shout. It’s all rather embarrassing.

One of the boys is ordered into the changing room laden with eight pairs of trousers in differing sizes, some of which are unhelpfully security tagged together in pairs, so when he emerges to show if a pair fits, he’s dragging its twin along like a bedraggled, dusty tail. None of them fit properly.

The shop assistant stares, unhelpfully, as I try to fold them back onto their hangers.

While another son grumpily enters the changing room, daughter decides she’s going to take every adult shoe off the rack and try them on. When this game is stopped she starts the wailing and flopping routine, refusing to walk or be carried.

Son emerges having decided the first pair of trousers he’s tried are fine and throws them into the basket. I look at the label: £16 for one pair. I send him back in with a £7 pair, knowing I’ll be spending most of the year sewing up hems and gussets wrecked by breaktime football. They fit. We buy two pairs. Then two more, cheaper, in M&S.

Here we go again then, one week to go before they’re back at school and the hell of uniform shopping is firmly upon us.

With three offspring in school, two of whom seem to grow every time they leave a room, it’s an expensive time of year – especially if you’ve just reduced your working hours for the holidays. I think this September’s uniform will have cost me over £300. And I’m a make-do-and-hand-me-down-bargain kinda mum.

It’s not just the cost, it’s the stress. I know you’ll tell me it would be a trillion times worse if I had three girls, but let me assure you, traipsing around the shops with bored and grumpy boys isn’t fun either.

I’d hoped that Dougie’s compulsory school uniform would last more than a year. It hasn’t. His blazer has a weird bleach mark across it, his tie is mutilated, his PE kit is either lost or too small. Along with Jed’s new kit, the official stuff is going to cost the best part of £200 when the shop opens this week.

Shirts are easier. Multipacks for boys are between £7-10 and Bill’s yellow polos cost a fiver for three. Job done.

But then there’s the annual trouser hell. Girls seem to have lots of styles and stretchy fabrics. Boys are stuck with flat front or pleated in stiff Teflon coated fabric. Two sizes – skinny or enormous.

Shoe shopping for our boys seems to have a basic formula.

The conversation usually goes:

Them: “I like these.”

Me: “They look like trainers. You aren’t allowed shoes that look like trainers.”

*repeat several times and get home empty-handed.

There have been some successes. A speculative TKMaxx run stocked us with rucksacks, coats and shoes for Jed. Dougie is still shoeless and Billy’s, bought at Easter, may have to last a little longer.

If you witness me having a nervous breakdown in a shoe shop later this week, keep walking, there’s nothing to see. . .


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Advice on getting baby to sleep in a cot

I HAVE a couple of friends who have just had their first babies and are going through the whole ‘getting them to sleep’ minefield.

No one can adequately describe what it’s like to suddenly have your entire life ruled by a squawking little person who simply won’t do what you think they should be doing.

Until you’ve endured sleep deprivation – the proper sleep deprivation of a new parent, rather than pulling a few all-nighters on the beers – then you just can’t empathise enough.

The new parent is bombarded with advice. They might seek it out by investing in a ridiculous amount of contradictory parenting ‘help’ books. They might have well-meaning relatives and friends who tell them it HAS to be done this way or that.

They might have very clear ideas before the birth that are forgotten when the squidgy, delicious, adorable, utter nightmare of a baby rocks up. And as for twins or triplets? You parents deserve sainthoods.

So, you’ve just about got used to a feeding routine.

You start wondering, 10, maybe 12 weeks in, perhaps I should try using the cot?

And then they scream the house down when you do.

For the first six, ten, 12 weeks, you’ve been letting them fall asleep on you, or in a Moses basket in the front room, where you zone out in front of the telly with exhaustion. I know this, because I did it myself.

Our eldest didn’t ever go down in his cot awake because we never really tried in the early weeks. Bloke would have a ritual where he did that strange, shuffling sway of the new Dad, babe on shoulder, humming to some weird American Indian chanting CD.

We’d get Jed to drop off in our arms and then delicately, put him down in his cot asleep, terrified he’d wake again. The swaying embrace is what he’d got used to.

By the time number two came along we perfected a bouncy chair technique to get him to sleep. So he didn’t like going in the cot either.

By number three, you’d think we’d have learned. But Billy wouldn’t sleep on his back, even if we put him down asleep. He’d wake up immediately and wail. So we did something we’d been told not to by the health visitors. We’d lie him on his side, sometimes propped up with a rolled up cellular blanket along his back to stop him rolling.

It seemed to work, and as they got bigger all the boys slept on their tummies. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone this, because it was such a no-no with regards to advice on reducing the chances of cot-death.

When we wanted to start trying to get them to go to sleep at a specific time it was painful, and upsetting, and knackering. But we had to keep trying. We had to keep going in, stroking their hair, leaving them to wail with anger at not being picked up. And eventually, after many nights of sitting guiltily outside the door, hearts breaking as they cried, exhausted, thinking it would never end, they got into a routine, and they slept.

Yes, sometimes, we’d put them down too late, or let them fall asleep on us watching TV, but mostly, putting them down and letting them cry worked. It felt bad, but it worked. We were less knackered, they were less knackered, and soon we had three happy boys who would all go to bed at allotted times and sleep through the night. And they still do, 13, 12 and seven years on.

Then Baby Bonnie came along. If she fell asleep, we put her down in her cot. When it was nap or sleep-time, we put her down awake in her cot and she cooed and babbled her own way to sleep. It was remarkable how different it could be.

There’s a whole heap of debate about trying to establish a sleep routine. In an ideal world, and you may be lucky, you can put a newborn baby straight into a cot from birth and establish some sort of schedule for eating, playing and sleeping. If that’s you, then I envy you.

There tends not to be a one-solution-fits-all with babies.

There are tricks you can try.

I didn’t bath my babies every night, but a nightly wash and a soft sing-song before putting them down makes them recognise what’s coming. (We’ve been singing ‘My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean’ each night for three long years.)

Putting a t shirt you’ve worn in the cot can help, as they ‘smell’ you nearby.

After a feed, wind them, wind them, and wind them again. Keep their room dark, they need it as a sleep trigger.

When they fight sleep, stroke their eyebrows. It makes them close their eyes.

Don’t let them into your bed when it’s sleep time. By all means, bring them in when the alarm’s about to go off, but don’t let them get used to sleeping with you each night. It will not end well. You will soon have confused and angry toddlers sharing your bed. Your bed should be for you, and their bed for them. We had a gate across bedroom doors not just to stop them falling down stairs, but to keep them out of our room.

After all these years, I still check on my babies every night, replacing their kicked off covers, putting legs back in beds, marvelling at how big they’ve got, not missing those sleepless nights.

Routines don’t really need to be established in the first couple of months. You just go with the flow. But if you can make the cot a familiar place at the earliest opportunity, then life should, should, get easier. I wish you luck, patience and sleep.


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The relief of not being caught up in the agony of school applications

THIS is the first time since 2007 we haven’t been wrapped up in the autumn stress-fest that is secondary school admission applications.

I can’t say I’m missing it.

If you have a child in Year Six, the final year of primary school, then you have to apply by November 1, at 5pm to get a place at school for next September.

Don’t imagine for a second that you will automatically get the school you want. That’s not how it works these days. I’m sure I’ve bored you enough over the years with my grumbles about catchment areas (and how ALL schools should give priority to families who live within three miles). I didn’t get first choice with son 1, appealed, lost, sent him to school that then closed and reopened as academy. A year later, son 2 applied and got a place at school that previously rejected us, under alleged ‘random selection.’ *sighs.

Son 2 was asked to turn up at his over-subscribed school to play rugby from 6pm-8.30pm (under floodlights). They don’t usually train at this time but I guess it looks good to prospective parents. I watched lines and lines of would-be pupils and their hopeful folks trudge around the playing fields in the dark, feeling utter sympathy, knowing that most of them will be disappointed next March when the places are allocated.

Don’t only visit the school you really want. You have to put down three choices, so visit at least three schools. Imagine how difficult it would be for your child, if they’ve been allocated a school they’ve never seen. Not many appeals are successful.

Be open-minded. Talk to other parents, make notes, and get a ‘gut-feeling’ about each place. Don’t look for faults at your ‘second-choice’ schools, and don’t ignore them at the one you’ve already decided you want.

Open days are running for a few weeks, and if you really can’t make their date, ring and ask if it’s possible to make an appointment before November 1.

Above all, take your child with you to the school. And listen when they tell you what they think. You may not agree, but it’s your child who will be spending the next seven years there.

n All open days are detailed in the admissions booklet you will have received with your application, or you can check online via the county council website.

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And the family went south

WE’VE been hanging around with celebrities recently. Y’know, sportsmen, singers, politicians, actors, French aristocrats from the 1700s and the like.
And yes, they were just as dumb and wooden as you’d expect. Well, dumb and wax to be precise.
Having last visited on school trips in the 1980s, Bloke and I took our offspring to Madame Tussauds.
Things have changed a lot in recent years. Apart from the queue of tourists down Marylebone Road. I’d book in advance, but more about that later.
When you’ve handed over your buggy and manhandled your squirming toddler into a control hold,  you visit the A-List Party, where the likes of Brad and Angelina, Posh and Becks, Johnny Depp and R-Pattz are hanging around being mobbed by gangs of  schoolchildren and Japanese tourists. 
It’s a surreal sight. Lots of waiting while people in front of you pose for pictures. Lots of trying to explain to your own children that we’re not taking pictures of them with every single figure in the place.
Baby Bonnie wasn’t happy. “No like Big Dolls,” she whimpered, while her brothers were stroking wax cheeks and trying to stick their fingers up wax noses. She clung to her daddy like a limpet and only released her grip when she saw the opportunity to have a quick dance on a floor with flashing disco lights. This allowed for Daddy to be photographed with Helen Mirren, who looks like she’s ignoring a stalker.
We wandered through each room, from cinema stars to sportsmen. Billy was delighted with the very accurate Steven Gerrard, but not so convinced by Becks or Johnny Wilkinson. Quite a lot of your visit is spent saying: “oh that one’s quite good,” or “it doesn’t look anything like them,” with a lot of “isn’t he/she short?”
Bonnie perked up when she saw Tinkerbell and Shrek, while Bloke got to stand by his heroes John Wayne and Christina Aguillera.
Curiously, the photos Bloke took of me and Jose Mourinho, me and Robert Downey Jnr, and me and Justin Timberlake came out all blurred.
Jed, our eldest, was only prepared to let his cool demeanour down when he saw Jimmy Hendrix, while our middle sons embraced the whole experience, chatting with Britney, being disrespectful to George Bush and Hitler, and moaning very loudly at being too young to go through the Chamber of Horrors. Which, I must explain, is nothing like the one you’d have seen if you went several years ago. Now it’s an interactive walk-through thing called Scream with actors dressed up trying desperately to scare you.
It’s not for the under 12s, so the only one who could go through was Bloke, while I sat waiting (and waiting) with the disappointed and bored kids. Bloke said we didn’t miss much, saying the old static exhibits of serial killers behind bars had been far more memorable.
We all got into sawn-in-half black cabs for the rather cringeworthy Spirit of London ride (think Disney’s It’s a Small World ride done with Churchill and Babs Windsor).
If you were expecting the old Planetarium to be included, forget it, it’s gone. Now there is a brand new 4D-specs cinema show, featuring a (very lazy) plot with all the Marvel comic book characters. You have to pay extra unless you include it in your ticket price. It’s not quite as slick as the ones at Disney, but you do get the effects of things flying at you, with air and water sprays in your seats to add to the illusion. The boys loved it, while Bonnie shot out of her seat onto Daddy’s lap and refused to wear the far-too-big-for-kids glasses.
We were done is less than two hours, and successfully distracted the offspring from the many sweet/icecream/novelties stalls on the way round.
Now, back to the tickets. It costs A LOT to take a family to Madame Tussauds.
It is certainly worth searching online for the various combination offers, two-for-ones and late-arrival discounts. To go in half-term as we did would have cost £110 pre-booking online with a family ticket and an extra child, or £123 on the door. (£28 for adults, £24 for kids, £99 for a family of 2+2). That’s an awful lot of money for a day-out when you’ve paid train fares too. The whole shebang is now owned by Merlin, who run just about every major attraction from Alton Towers and the London Dungeons, to Legoland and Warwick Castle, which is why it’s worth shopping about for family deals. You can half the price by going at 5pm, but it does seem you need to get around fairly sharpish as things start to close at 6pm.
You can find out more and book tickets by visiting http://www.madametussauds.com. I couldn’t for the life of me find a telephone booking number.

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