Monthly Archives: February 2016

A big week


It’s not often we have so many things going on in one week and I only have control over one of them. This is not a situation I am comfortable with. Yes, I am a self-confessed control freak. And I do not like waiting for other people – or computer programmes in this instance – to make decisions for me and those I love.

Tomorrow is secondary school allocation day and we will find out if A is going to be attending the same school as T from September. Although I am 95% certain that she will get a place under the sibling rule, I am not taking anything for granted and will not be resting easy until I have the email confirming it. As well as the 5% doubt for our own situation, it is going to be tough to hear from friends who have not already got an older child in the secondary system. These families will undoubtedly be running the gauntlet of continuing interest lists and, potentially, the appeal boards. A’s class is roughly half-and-half younger siblings and eldest/only children. It’s going to be a tough time for all involved.

Also, this week we will find out if T has been lucky enough to be allocated the subjects he has chosen for GCSE. We have made it through the weeks on the schedule that were allocated for contacting parents of children who were thought to be aiming too low/high with their subject choices. Now it is all being fed into the computer to work out timetabling. If that goes in his favour then T will be happy. If not, then we will have to have some meetings with the school to work out what he can do and hope that we can make it as close to his original plan as possible.

The only event that will be planned and, hopefully, a success is A’s birthday on Thursday. I always think it is a shame that kids have to go to school on their birthday. I was lucky enough to have a birth-date that falls in May half term week so was always off school for my big day. K is the same with his birthday falling well into the summer holidays. T is sometimes lucky and has finished school for the summer before his birthday and other times he has a few days still to go depending on how the term runs. A, however, is always at school unless it falls on a weekend. She isn’t too bothered by this, as she gets to see her friends and wear a big badge announcing the occasion to the world. This year K is unfortunately at a meeting until late so won’t be home for when school ends, as he has managed to do in previous years. There’s not much time in the morning for presents so she will have to wait until after school – it seems very unfair to make her wait until K is home  – so we will go over to G&G’s for cake and gifts to make it a bit more special. I’m finishing work early so I can put the last minute touches to the cake that I plan to bake on Wednesday night. This year I have been tasked with an Emoji cake which I am banking on being a darned sight easier than the Jerry cake of last year – remember the giraffe head/face I was asked to make and just about managed? Surely a big yellow-iced round cake with a couple of black circles for eyes is manageable? At least that’s what I thought until last night when she asked if she had mentioned that she would quite like it to be the one where it is sticking it’s tongue out…..I now need to add pink icing to my list. And hope that I can make a tongue. Or something at least resembling a tongue.

It’s going to be a long week with lots of waiting for emails and letters. I am very glad we have a lovely birthday in the midst of it all, to take the pressure off of the less certain items on the agenda.


Lights, camera, action!

A will be turning 11 next week. She’s never been one for big parties or a lot of fuss and didn’t know what she wanted to do this year, so when my work colleague offered me a free photographic studio session (that she had won in a school raffle and would not use)  I jumped at the chance. The session was for a makeover and photo shoot and she could take a friend. The first friend she asked was not able to make it so next on the list was new friend, S. We were told that the girls would have half an hour each for hair and make=up and then an hour with the photographer for the photo shoot, during which they could wear different outfits. An 11 year old girls dream. (Well, probably wouldn’t have been mine but I’m not the one in the picture here).

Yesterday was the day of the big event. The two girls have been getting very excited and busy planning outfits and wondering what it would be like. I picked them up from school and we headed to Willows Farm Village where the studio is based. They were very quiet in the car – too excited to speak? Nervous maybe. We were a little early (who? me? never?) and the girls had a quick muffin and drink while we waited. I’m not sure why but food always offers a nice reprieve from a bit of a wait so I was glad that I was armed with refreshments. The girls perked up a bit and became a bit more chatty but I was getting worried that it would be a bit of a low-key photo shoot if they carried on like this. The photographer introduced himself and then they were taken through to a little room to get their makeovers. The lovely young lady that was in charge of making them (even more) gorgeous got to work on A and curled her hair into long wavy tresses and then applied some very natural but noticeable make-up. She looked so grown up! Then it was S’s turn and she opted for the same look but with their very different colouring (A is fair and blonde and S is dark and exotic) they made a great contrast. But they were still very quiet. It was such an alien experience for them (and me!) I think they were a little bewildered and subdued.

Next stop the photo studio where the photographer perused their outfits and agreed with them what they should wear so that they complemented each other in the shots. Music was put on – The Vamps (of course!) – and they got ready. As soon as the changing room curtain was closed around them to get ready, the chattering started and they were soon in full strength pre-teen mode. Why was I even vaguely worried? They emerged from behind the curtain and they looked fabulous. All legs and hair and cool clothes. The photographer began with some shots of them together to get them used to being in front of the camera and they were very quickly posing away with hands on hips and big smiles. It was fun and easy and they were brilliant. He made them laugh with silly jokes but treated them like the bright girls that they are and asked them what they thought of different ideas.

They changed outfits – dresses this time (S’s mum works for Monsoon and S had an amazing fifties-style tea dress which looked beautiful; my girl was slightly more understated – I wonder where she gets that from? – but looked equally lovely in a dip-dye denim tunic) with bows in their hair and bare feet. Different poses and more smiling. Nothing too grown up: just good fun and some lovely moments. Another outfit change and some different background colours; a wind machine and some silly faces – grumpy, cross, happy, goofy, pouty. They loved it. It was all over too soon but I suspect there will be lots of amazing pictures and it will be hard to choose just one or two.

I felt positively ancient sitting opposite these two glamorous girls whilst they ate their McDonalds “treat” tea, with their lovely, glowing faces. I don’t let A wear make-up very often, and then only a flash of mascara and some lip-balm, so this was a real treat for her. I have to admit that I didn’t like her looking so grown up and felt a little bit sad that she looked so much older than she is. But, it was only for a few hours and it was all washed off at bedtime. She was pretty horrified when she saw how much came off on the cotton wool pads, and I don’t think she will be nagging me for blusher or eye-shadow just yet.

It was a great experience and they talked non-stop on the way home, and I suspect they will continue talking about it for some time to come.






Photographic memory

The decorating is done. It was painful and laborious and K is knackered but both kids rooms look fab and they are chuffed, so the plan succeeded.

In the first quiet moment of the weekend, I put the laptop on yesterday afternoon to make a start on the 2015 photobook. I started making photobooks a few years ago and it’s great to have an album to look back on of the whole year. Like most people I often snap away on my camera phone and occasionally on the digital camera that I had for my 40th birthday. Unfortunately, I keep the latter in a drawer in the sideboard and regularly forget to take it with me, unless it is a special day out or a holiday. Luckily, my phone camera is pretty good and it’s perfect for those unexpected moments that I want to capture and look back at. I prefer to be the one taking the pics rather than being the subject, and I take a lot of pictures. I then weed out the bad ones, upload the good ones to the laptop into folders ready for the creating of the annual photobook.

Only, this year I seem to have made a massive error. I thought I had uploaded all of the pictures on my phone after our summer holiday. I still have a few on there that I have used on Instagram (they seem to linger longer) and some that I like to look at now and again. But when I came to start selecting the pictures ready for the book I couldn’t find them. Not one. I started to feel a bit worried but was sure I couldn’t possibly have deleted them from my phone without downloading them. I spent a frantic half hour trying all sorts of options with mounting dread. Even the teenager couldn’t help me and I finally had to admit to myself that I have barely any photos of last year saved anywhere.

I have to admit that I sat with head in hands and had a little weep. It sounds dramatic. They are only photos. I still have the memories in my head. I still have a few select photos on Instagram and some on my blog and some on the digital camera. But the bulk of the pictures are gone forever. Twenty fours later I am still feeling very sad. I love photos, especially the ones when the person isn’t aware that you are taking it. The one’s where the kids are just doing and not aware of me with my camera clicking. I don’t take fantastic pictures – I’m not a professional – but I get a lot of pleasure from looking back and remembering. And I want the children to be able to look back and see the moments that we have shared. Although we remember a lot of stuff, we don’t remember everything. A photo can jog that memory and take us back to that moment in time.

My lovely A made the best response to my upset. K and T, forever practical, both implied that it was no big deal; that I should remember to take my digital camera out with me (“after all that was what it was bought for”); and that I should stop worrying about it. Oh, yes silly me. All forgotten. Isn’t that exactly the reason I am upset?! But not my lovely A. She sympathised. She understood my reason for being upset. And she said “Don’t be too sad mummy, we will make plenty more amazing memories this year. And we won’t ever forget the ones from last year. Not really.”

I am determined to cobble together some semblance of a memory book for last year. Thankfully, last summer I was still diarising a lot on my blog so I have lots of information and stories to look back on. It won’t be the same, but it will be something. And I have another year to look forward to, and another and another.


The dawning of the teenager

We’ve been living with a teenager for almost seven months now and I have to say “so far, so good”. Of course, there is more eye-rolling (or eye-raising in this case – apparently not everyone can roll them right up and round) than there used to be; we have encountered slightly more what-were-you-thinking? behaviour; there is more muttering and more – I don’t like to call it arguing – but well, arguing. However, in direct comparison to other people’s stories of the overnight transformation of their offspring into grunting, hairy, cave-person-like beings we seem to have had a slower start. More time is spent in the bathroom; more time is spent in his bedroom; more time is spent out of the house. In fact, perhaps that is why we seem to not be too troubled – he’s never here!

To stop myself from getting all complacent and believing that the teen years will be a breeze, I have to remind myself that we will soon have to contend with the teenager-in -waiting.  Now, this one can definitely do the eye-roll thing. Oh yes. I suspect that there are vlogs available to show how this can be done to the best of one’s ability. Let’s face it, YouTube is now the go-to place for anything you need to learn. Even T’s orthodontist just this morning advised me to look up T.A.D on YouTube to watch the screw procedure (to put my mind at rest about A’s impending appointment). Why anyone would agree to having this filmed and then broadcast for anyone to see is beyond me. Although, there was a fairly amusing one titled “TAD romance” – a spoof of the Lady GaGa song Bad Romance. But, I digress.

This weekend we have been clearing the kids bedrooms in preparation for the decorating marathon that is due to commence on Wednesday. A’s room is very small (as she likes to inform us at regular intervals accompanied by the plaintive cries of “why can’t you just get the loft converted?”) and the current set-up is not going to work when she starts secondary school and has homework to do and even more stuff to accommodate. So, we have taken down the mid-sleeper bed (too childish); the Paddington Bear poster; the flower wall-light; the Sylvanian Families have gone to live in the loft for a while and the too-young-for-me bags have gone to the charity shop. She’s basically left with a room resembling a squat. Fine for a few nights, which is hopefully all it will be before the grand unveiling of the new room. A has requested that she not be privy to the ongoing project but that she just gets to see it in all it’s glory when it’s completed. So she’s going to G&G’s for a sleepover. I am seeing myself in a Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen or Nick Knowles type-role and hope that she cries at the beauty of it. It will certainly be a much more grown up, teen room and I hope that we haven’t set the ball in motion too early. Who knows, she might go to sleep in her new room and emerge a fully-fledged teen two years too early.

The signs are already there. I have been home alone today. Not unusual, if it wasn’t the half term holidays. I’m used to T being out all day, apart from food breaks, but in the last few months A has been “playing out” after school with her new friend quite a bit and her phone is in much more frequent use, with WhatsApp group messages between the Fab Four (I wonder if any of them knows where the name originates?) and Instagram pictures to upload. Today, she went to her friend’s house and texted me to say they were popping round to the craft place to see if they could do some pottery painting. She returned at the stipulated time for lunch closely followed by her brother and then an hour later they were both gone again. Yet another sign of the way things will be in the months and years to come. I am less and less involved in their lives and have to stop myself from clinging on to the small glimpses of the little children that they used to be. For example, A still likes me to read with her now and again before bedtime (although we are graduating to much more grown up material and bedtime seems ridiculously late); T still does the hug thing and we still have our Smallville sessions (thank god there are at least another 4 seasons for us to get through); and they are still enough under my control (mwah ha ha) for me to be able to force them to go for walks with me (if I promise a hot chocolate and/or bacon sandwich at the end of it). All is not yet lost.








Parents vs. actual People

For 13 and a half years K and I have been “Mum and Dad” and we are chuffed to bits that we are parents. Not every day, that would be unrealistic, but on the whole we are glad that we we able to have children and become parents. When you first hear your child call you Mummy or Daddy, or whatever variation you use, it makes you feel like you have never felt before. You feel more special than you ever imagined possible and you try and make them say it as often as you can without appearing unhinged.

The novelty does wear off a bit. The constant “mum” “mum” “mum” can be a bit wearing when you are tired or trying to pee, or both. Then they get older and don’t say it as much as before, unless it’s in conjunction with asking for food or money. Ah, not really, they still say it just as much. But when they say it now it doesn’t have the same level of need attached to it. Nor the immediacy that it used to be pronounced with – all parents are familiar with the over-enunciated “muuuuuuuuummmmmmmmyyyyyyyy” that only toddlers and small children can produce when they feel they need you to do something for them RIGHT NOW. No, teenagers and pre-teens are more likely to say it in a FFS what does she want now sort of way and normally accompanied by some eye-rolling. How things change.

With this change comes a new-found sort of freedom. T and A are of an age where they can be left alone in the house, even if only for short periods of time (A more than T – he is happy doing his own thing for a few hours or even half a day or so). For example, at the weekend A was involved in a talent show with Guides. I say the word ‘talent’ fairly loosely, as I’m sure you can imagine. We were only allowed 2 tickets and, as much as I would have loved for T to be able to support his sister in performing the Cup Song he was mightily relieved to be let off the hook without appearing unkind and happily agreed to stay at home while we went to watch. After dropping A off for a rehearsal, we had some time to kill. On our own. Just the two of us.

This was quite hot on the heels of a night out on Tuesday night, so we were almost giddy with the prospect of more time alone, albeit only enough time for a coffee in a busy Costa. It’s quite a different feeling being out on your own in the daytime. Evenings out alone are fairly regular-ish (although we quite like going out with the kids now that they don’t spit food everywhere and don’t need to go to the loo every five minutes) and are very enjoyable, but there’s something about being out alone in the daytime that feels quite un-parent-like. The first few times we did it – popping out to Homebase or somewhere equally thrilling – we didn’t go for long and I spent the whole time clutching my phone in case they rang to say the house was on fire. But as time has gone on, I still have my phone close to hand but it’s possible to be more relaxed and actually enjoy the moment. I can hold K’s hand (if I want to) and no-one gets annoyed or jealous (A) or embarrassed (T). I can talk to K without someone interrupting. I can order a coffee and not huff and puff at the cost of hot chocolates and frappes. I can order a coffee and not have to order any food. But more importantly I can feel like I am just J. Out with K for a coffee. Not Mum and Dad. Just J and K. Actual people. For a little while.

But, as much as these short time-outs are lovely, they will become more and more frequent as time flies by and I know that there will come a day when they won’t be time-outs any more; they will be normal life. I’m glad that we’re going to be Mum and Dad for quite a while longer (we will always be mum and dad but you know what I mean..) and I will not wish the time away. The time-outs just make me even happier when I am back being Mum.


Shocking, but so important

One day last week T and I were chatting about a film his form had watched in PHCSE (not entirely sure that’s the correct acronym but for the uninitiated it’s a Health, Personal, Citizenship and two other things lesson that they have once a week) and how he had found it all a bit shocking. T doesn’t really do “shocked” so I was keen to hear more. He went on to say that it was about a teenager who had been groomed over a gaming server and subsequently murdered by another, slightly older, teen. I wrongly assumed that this had happened in the USA. Not sure why I thought that, but I imagined I would have heard of the story if it had happened in the UK. (Again, not sure why as I rarely read newspapers or listen to the news.) I think what he found shocking was that the perpetrator was another teenager and not an adult. We all tell our children from a young age not to talk to strangers and when we think of paedophiles or people ‘grooming’ children we imagine older, loner types or 80’s TV stars.

Coincidently, last night K and I were just contemplating going to bed when the TV announcer introduced a “shocking true life story of a teen murdered by another teen” or words to that effect. It was the film that T had seen in his lesson. I quickly hit record on the zapper but was so immediately engrossed in the film that we ended up watching it there and then. I am very glad we did as I suspect it would have been one of many programmes that we end up with on our planner, that we never get chance to watch and over time gets deleted without ever being seen. I am very glad that I have seen it and I am very glad that T has seen it. All teens and pre-teens (old enough to cope with the content) should be shown this film.

If, like me, you haven’t heard of this horrific case, then the victim was a 13 year old boy who, along with a group of friends, began using a server to play Minecraft and other games on (not being very technical I don’t really know how these things work but I gather that there are servers all over the world that host games and allow gamers to use their storage to play on). They played alone at home in their rooms but together in an online world, a virtual games-room, and chatted through headsets and generally just messed around. Sounds very familiar doesn’t it? This is the world our young people live in and this is how they interact and we have to just accept it. The boys involved in this case appear to be normal, fully-functioning, progressing at school, well-rounded kids and at one point early on in the film I said to K that I actually felt quite reassured that these boys were so well-rounded in spite of the fact that they were “gamers” and spent a fair amount of time online. I restrict T a lot. And I mean, a lot. He rarely plays online and only ever with 2 other friends – actual friends that he spends 6 hours a day at school with. He doesn’t have a console in his room and has to ask to use the one in the lounge. (Please note that I’m not saying this is the right way or that I criticise any other parent for how they deal with this side of things.) But even so, I felt reassured.

As the film progressed, the boys were joined online by another teen that they didn’t know. He was slightly older than them and didn’t live in their area. In fact he purported to be living in New York where he had his own company and the server they were using was hosted by him, etc, etc. They took him at face value, although some later became suspicious. He joined in their online gaming and spoke over his headset to them and befriended them. He then began isolating one boy in particular (the victim) and talking to him privately, encouraging him to ditch his friends, saying they had slagged him off behind his back. Typical grooming behaviour. He tapped in to family issues and encouraged him to distance himself from his family. When it looked like the family were winning he lured the boy to his flat and murdered him.

The victim was 13 and the perpetrator was 18. The victims friends are all now around 15 and were filmed talking about the events leading to his death. Understandably, it has had a profound effect on them all. It could have been any one of them. They have lost a friend in the most horrific way. They feel they should have done more to stop it happening.

The victim’s mum is broken. She described herself as a “shell of a person who is only living for the sake of the younger ones”(the boy’s siblings). She tours schools and tells her son’s story. I think it should be on the curriculum. I know that this is a very rare crime and that this is all the more shocking for that very reason but it happened and it could happen again. Can we ever really know who our kids are friends with? We can’t meet every person they come into contact with at school or online. We can only make them aware and this shocked T enough to talk to me about it. That can only be a good thing.

(The programme was called Murder Games: the Life and Death of Breck Bednar and is on iPlayer.)



The agony of parenthood

I’ve found lots of aspects of parenthood hard. Sleep deprivation in the early days (and even now occasionally); the never-ending demands of small people who think you exist solely for their purpose; the losing bits of myself slowly over time….the list goes on….

But, by far the hardest part of parenthood is seeing your child hurt or worried and only being able to stand by, holding their hand, and hoping that you are helping in some small way. The absolute agony of not being able to make things easier or less painful is just overwhelming. Even now, after 13 years of practice, I find this the worst thing.

A and I were back at the L&D today for another orthodontic appointment. We were both 99% certain that today was the day that train tracks were going on. Last appointment, back in October, we left with the instructions to “get that last wobbly tooth out and we’ll be good to go”. Well, the tooth came out, with a bit of help and a lot of screaming at the dentists – another extraction as the new one was growing through the old one and the old one was fragmenting. How can one child be so unlucky with their teeth?  – and the new one has started to properly appear. So, we were both a little disappointed (OK a lot disappointed) when we were told that it all looks good and next time the train tracks will be going on. Shame. But there was more to come.

The consultant then went on to explain that they will need to use some mini-screws. Excuse me? Screws? I don’t think I follow you.. Yes, mini-screws that go into the bone between the teeth, allowing them (the ortho team) to “encourage” the bottom, currently impacted, teeth to grow up and into position. Sorry, I’m still processing the word ‘screws’. Actual screws? Made of metal with sharp pointy bits? In her mouth? I hope, in vain, that my face didn’t show the horror I was feeling in my entire body. It was very hard to ask the questions I wanted to ask as A was sitting right there and I couldn’t bear to make her any more worried than she already was by hearing me say things like “will it hurt?” and “SCREWS????? SCREWS?!!!! How do you get them in there?” So, we were given a leaflet and told to make an appointment with the clerk. At which point A went very pale and said she felt sick. My poor little chick.

We managed to get back to the car and I tried to calm her down. Clearly she was going through a gamut of emotions – fear, disappointment, fear, worry, more fear. I tried to convince her that this was a better outcome than we had anticipated when she was first seen at the hospital – back then it seemed inevitable that she would need surgery – and that the consultant has trained for years and does this sort of thing every day. I tried the old ‘mum favourite’ of “try not to worry about it yet, it’s ages away” (the next available appointment is in May) – and that she should try and put it out of her mind. Yeah right.

She finally stopped feeling sick and said she wanted to go to school. I wanted to take her home and sit and cuddle her for the rest of the day. So, I dropped her off and went home to read the leaflet. Unfortunately, 10am is not an acceptable time to have a large vodka so I had to read it with just a decaf coffee to calm me. I’m still trying to put it out of my mind – it if was meant to be reassuring then they really need to work on it. A LOT. Far too many statistics about how often the screws break during insertion, and how many fail and break mid-treatment. So, I have hidden it in the diary along with the appointment card. And I am going to try and take my own advice and not think about it.

I hope that I can be brave for her and help her when the date comes around. I would take her place in a heartbeat and wish with all my being that she didn’t have to go through this. She got the gist of the conversation (if you can call me mumbling incoherently at the consultant a conversation) and knows that there will be needles involved. She’s a brave girl but she has had enough extractions to know that I will be lying if I tell her that it won’t hurt. And, I won’t lie to her. There’s one thing (probably the only thing) that I have stuck to as a parent and that was my vow to always tell my kids the truth – normally in a softly padded, age-appropriate manner, but truth nonetheless. But, I won’t show her the leaflet. That is my horror and mine alone. (Although, I might force K to look at it later.)

So, the agony of the standing and watching while your child is upset and scared and in pain goes on. Can I put a positive spin on this one? Perhaps she will be a braver person because of it. Perhaps she will be so pleased when she looks back in ten years time with her perfect teeth and that it was all worthwhile. I just hope that she will know how much I love her and that I will hold her hand for as long as she needs and will never leave her side.

Let’s wait and see.