Monday 30 May 2011

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

We had a small rite of passage in our house this weekend. We sent son 1 (age 7) off to a two day, one night activity camp. He's had one sleepover at a friend's house before, but this was the first time that he was going away to some place entirely new and spending a night away. His friend went with him.

I had a very good reason for doing this. Yes, I thought it would be a lot of fun with the huge range of activities they could choose from (which he was hugely excited about doing), but most importantly, I wanted him to learn a little independence. He is perfectly capable of dressing himself, cleaning his teeth and even making a sandwich. If he chooses to do so. But he doesn't. He'd far rather have all those things done for him. It's also called Being A Lazy Little Sod.

I figured that sending him away for a night where he is responsible for getting himself showered, teeth cleaned, choosing his clothes out of a bag and eating his meals without his mother telling him to get his elbows off the table would be a good thing.

What I hadn't factored in was that this was son 1 I was dealing with. He has always been a sensitive child who takes a while to adapt to change. It took him two years to stop running out of school! However his recent, more confident behaviour (he even auditioned for a school play last week) lulled me into thinking that this would be something he could now manage easily.

Apparently not.

He's just returned home wearing the same clothes he went in (he swears he did change his underpants). While there he didn't shower, clean his teeth, change clothes or even poo. This information I managed to coax out of him after I'd asked him about the activities he took part in. But it was the way he snuggled in my lap, wrapping his arms around my neck, being very small that I knew things hadn't gone quite as cheerily as he initially made it sound.

Then he revealed that he cried at night because it was too dark and he couldn't find his torch. And he didn't shower because he was doing colouring at the time when the others were showering. When I asked why, he said it was because he had been crying so they took him to do some colouring. So I asked if he had only cried those two times. But apparently, he had cried for most of day one.

When I asked why, he said: "Because I was homesick."

And even in the retelling of this, his eyes were always on the verge of overspilling, but he was trying to not show it.

Part of me feels like an awful mother for putting him through it. But another part still thinks it was the right thing to do. No, he didn't do any of the personal hygiene I'd hoped he do by himself. But he did do lots of fun things, he did push his boundaries and he did realise that actually, home is quite a nice place and mummy is not necessarily someone you can take for granted. His surly teenage behaviour of two days ago has been replaced with a docile little lamb who just wants to be cuddled.

And cuddling him is something I am more than happy to do. Because I missed him with every fibre of my being. I've been away from him before. But not having him in the house while I was there made me realise just what a hole he leaves when he's not around.

So I guess we all learned something from the camp experience. I'm not sure when we'll all be brave enough to try it again, but we will. It did remind me however of the old Alan Sherman song. If you don't know it, click the link.

But right now, I'm off to look at my sleeping boy, snuggled in his own bed with the nightlight on and his teddy tucked under his arm.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Please say hello to me at Cybermummy

On 25 June, I will be attending Cybermummy in London. This is a big fat get together of all the mummy (and daddy) bloggers out there to learn new things and meet each other in the flesh. Last year I couldn't go because it clashed with a weekend of fun with real life girlfriends who I chose to spend time with over those I only know virtually, as I explained in this post.

This year, I'm going to be there. I'd like to say with bells on. But I'll probably just sneak quietly in instead.

And I'm not going there with a PR hat on either. I am there 100% as a blogger. I don't know what to do with this blog. The blogging world seems to be getting bigger and more complicated and requiring so much more effort. You need a blog and a brand and a Facebook page and be all over twitter and work with PRs and take advertising and bling up the way your blog looks.

And I haven't done any of that. I'm on Twitter (for business mainly) and on Facebook to stay in touch with friends. And my blog still sports the same shite blogger background it had when I first started it.

I need to reassess what this blog is about, whether I want it to be more, or whether I'm happy with it exactly as it is. Because if I'm truthful, it's simply a place for me to empty my brain of thoughts, get words out and connect with other like minded people. Nothing fancier than that.

But who knows, maybe I'll come back from Cybermummy all raring to go. And I'll kick the whole thing up a notch!

Or not.

I'm also feeling a bit nervous about going as I've not been massively active in the blogosphere of late, what will possibly moving country and making big life decisions. I join in the odd meme. I haven't vlogged. And even the PR people have stopped asking me to do things for them (which I am actually very pleased about.)  Even though I'm sort of a blogging oldie, I've disappeared from sight and probably aren't known to that many people. And likewise, I've not kept up with all the new bloggers who've come to the fore of late. I wonder how many people I'll  know there full stop.

So if you're going to be there, and you see me, please say hi so that I don't look like Norman No Mates.

Real name: Melissa
Also known as: Home Office Mum
Real job: PR person in the parenting sector (but this will be changing soon)
Posts you might know me for: The one about Vajacials. The one about doing whale impersonations on live radio. The one where I said I didn't like my child (I'm over that now by the way). And I'm also the blogger you may remember as setting sail across the Atlantic.
Twitter: @peekaboocoms (for work) and @melissatalago (for blogging)
Likes: wine and apparently too much food, according to my bathroom scales. Walking. Girly chats. Sailing. Writing
Dislikes: Coriander (also known as the devil's herb). Hangovers.

Picture: This is tricky. I hate pictures of myself. I hate pictures of myself even more when I'm carrying about a stone of weight more than I should. And all the pictures of me seem to have sunglasses on, which doesn't do much to help me be recognisable at Cybermummy. Like this one.

So this is the best (most recent) I've got cropped out of another pic, so a bit hazy and rubbish really.  But hopefully is enough to make me recognisable on the day.

Let me know if you're going to be there and I'll keep an eye out for you.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Gallery: My backyard

This week's Gallery theme over at Sticky Fingers is: My backyard. So if you are super nosey about what people's backyards look like, go check all the entries out.

This is our backyard in summer

And this is it in winter.

In summer we do this (naked trampolining obviously)

And in winter we do this

And when it gets flooded, it looks like this

Thursday 19 May 2011


Having worked in parenting PR for the last 5 years, I have read a lot about parents. All the new trends, the crazy products, the mumzillas. I've read it all and laughed at a lot of it. Including the stories about those parents who put their child's name on a school's waiting list while it was still in the womb.

When I was pregnant, I worried about whether they sold gaviscon in 5 litre bottles and how the hell I was going to get an 8lb baby out of a space not designed for something that size. Then once the baby arrived, I worried about ever sleeping again and what it would take to stop it from crying. Eventually once the haze of new motherhood cleared, I worried about going back to work and what I'd do with the baby.

It was only really when they started going to pre-school and I had to think about what happened next, that I thought about school. And at the time, it was a fairly easy decision. We couldn't afford private schooling. We had a good local school. Bob's your uncle. Fanny's your aunt. Bish bash bosh. And that was the decision made.

Fast forward three years. Child 1 is now approaching the end of year 2. Child 2 is approaching the end of reception. And they're doing ok. Sure child 1 spells everything phonetically, but he can read and seems fairly bright. And sure child 2 cannot hold a pencil properly and his handwriting is more handscrawl, but he's terrific at mental maths.

I've not thought about whether the school is good enough. They seem to be doing fine. But what the hell do I know? I got 5 Cs and a D when I matriculated.

Yet recently I chatted to someone who said that they were sending their children to private school from year 3 and that in fact lots of people did that. Really? Who knew? Not me, the Johnny Foreigner. And it was as though someone had suddenly said: 'Oi, wake up lady'.

So we had a chat, husband and I. We agreed that ideally we'd like to send our children privately for secondary school but to keep them in the local school for primary. It keeps them and us part of the community, it's a three minute walk, it's free (giving us time to save up) and it's got really small class sizes.

But then I found out that really there aren't that many private secondary schools within reach of us and even fewer that are remotely affordable. In fact there's one. Just one independent school I would like them to go to. After another chat, I found out that everyone in the area felt the same. That that is indeed the only independent school nearby that is affordable and good. As a result it is fairly selective about who it takes and it is pretty academic.

All of a sudden our plan of keeping them in the state primary seemed not that great. And all of a sudden it put a massive amount of pressure on us to investigate prep schools because year 3 is a good time to start at a prep. Later they've got even more catching up to do and they stand out as the new kid.

But the prep school will add a huge amount to the total schooling bill. It is a hell of a trek to get to. It really is my least favourite option. But it would almost certainly guarantee them a place in the secondary school. Unlike the 50% chance they have as a state school kid.

Yes folks, in column A we have a pretty certain future that our children will receive an excellent public school boy education but we will never be able to travel again, we'll live largely on beans, have a 2 hour commute each day for me to drop and fetch boys, and we'll probably never retire. And in column B we have being part of the local community, a 3 minute walk to school, spare cash for holidays and emergencies but only 50% chance that they'll get into the private secondary even with lots of private tuition at home. If they don't, we do have a good state secondary. But there really is no comparison between the two.

So here I sit, with a decision to make that really needs to be taken wisely. It's as though the blinkers have come off, the blinkers that those mothers who were pre-registering their newborns seemed to know about. Where the hell did they learn about it, huh? Is there a book somewhere called: How to give your child the perfect education from the moment they're conceived. There probably is. I'm glad I didn't know about it as I would have been even more neurotic about it than I am now.

Just when you think this parenting lark gets easier, wham! You're hit with the next big thing.

More wine vicar? Yes please.

Thursday 12 May 2011

Sticking my neck on the line...

I have debated a lot about whether to write this post. Mainly because the column inches the subject matter has received, means I'm probably not saying anything that hasn't already been said a million times. And given anybody who has written anything about this story seems to come under fire in a big way, I'm a little nervous. But I feel I want to say it all the same.

Madeleine McCann would have been 8 years old today. Her mother has released a book on the case to mark the occasion, revive interest in the case in the hope of new leads coming to light and to help raise funds so that they can continue the search for her.

I have not followed the case closely enough to know all the minute details which so many people seem to know by heart. I don't know whether the parents were involved or not. I think not. But that's based on my gut instinct rather than anything else.

What has astonished me is the vitriol this family has received. Partly, they are suspected of being in some way involved in her disappearance and trying to milk the general public of money in a bogus scam to boot. But mainly because of the fact that they left their children alone in a holiday apartment while they dined a short distance away. On this latter subject, there are two main schools of thought:

  • Those who think that they were hideously neglectful parents for doing this and should have their other children taken away/be jailed for child neglect.
  • Those who say: haven't we all made mistakes and they're paying in the worst way possible for theirs.
Here's the thing:
In May 2005, when I was pregnant with son2, we went on a Sunsail holiday to Turkey. At the time, son1 was 16 months old. One of the reasons the place appealed was because you could go out in the evening (remaining on site) using the baby listening service. This service meant that someone would go round to each of the rooms every 20 minutes or so, listen in at the door and if they heard nothing would move on. If they heard anything, they'd call the parents to check it out. And it worked. Frequently during dinner, a staff member would come and say: room 35, room 35 - your child is crying, and the parents would jump up and run off.

I can honestly say that it did not ever enter my head that something bad could happen to my child. People say: oh but children left alone could vomit in their sleep and choke and die. Yes they could, but they could do that in my own home and I'd be none the wiser. You cannot live life assuming the very worst will happen. It never, ever, ever entered my head that someone could break into the room and take my child. It felt safe. A British company run resort. It was advertised on the brochure - you go out and enjoy time as a couple, our listening service will give you peace of mind.

We weren't the only people who used that service. Everybody there did.

Similarly, we went to a resort in Cornwall when the boys were aged roughly 8 months and 2 and a bit. They had a baby listening service which was machine based. Like a baby monitor I guess. You'd put your children to sleep, and then you'd go downstairs and someone on the switchboard listened in. Again, everybody there had kids and everybody used the service. It was what you did. Seems barking now in light of what has happened, but at the time, and certainly at the time that Madeleine went missing, it was the norm.

Madeleine's parents didn't use a listening service or a baby sitter they didn't know. They ran their own listening service every 15 minutes. It just so happens that during that time their child went missing.

Now, and this is the bit that I might get flamed with a flame-thrower for, these baby listening services were offered at the type of resorts frequented by people who could afford them (I hestitate to mention the words middle class). Sunsail & Mark Warner - don't come cheap.

The cheaper holiday options - anything from camping, to self-catering cottages, to caravans to Haven and Butlins - don't offer a listening service (feel free to correct me here if I'm wrong on the last two). And there are probably far more people - regardless of class - who go on more affordable holidays where a listening service is not offered, that those who have. And if they haven't ever been to a resort where this listening service is offered, they will not understand it. They will think it is neglect through and through.

I think this vitriol is coming largely from people who have never used a listening service and therefore do not understand why it seems (or seemed) ok to use them. And that same demographic most likely despise the middle class couple of doctors who should have spent money on a babysitter instead.

I'm not trying to be a snob with this thought. It's just that I've been reading the hideous comments on various websites aimed at this family and have been trying to figure out how come I can so entirely understand why the parents might have thought listening at the room every 15 minutes was ok when so many people find it bordering on a criminal offence. And my only explanation is that I have stayed in one of those places and completely get where the McCanns were coming from.

In hindsight, I realise it was probably an irresponsible thing to do. But you know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. People used to think it was ok to drink and smoke when they were pregnant, until they found out that actually it wasn't. And that kids could bounce up and down on the back seats of cars without carseats or even seat belts not that long ago. Things change.

And if nothing else, the Madeleine McCann case has caused change - most of the resorts now offer night creches instead of listening services. So parents take their children to the kids club where they're either popped into beds/cots or can stay up and watch telly/play games while the parents still get some time to work on their no doubt neglected relationship.

I'm sure there are still places that offer a listening service and that parents will still use it. I won't be one of them. I'm glad my eyes were opened, I'm just terribly, terribly sad that it had to be at the expense of a little girl.

To Madeleine, happy birthday wherever you are.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

The Gallery: Chilled Out

I think I've joined in the Gallery only once because I'm slovenly. But I liked this week's theme: Chilled Out - so thought I'd join in.

I instantly knew which picture to post. It was taken on our honeymoon in Tanzania. We were in the Selous Game Reserve which is the size of Switzerland with hardly any people in it. Our ranger had taken us by boat up the Sands River, stopped on this sandbank, shooed the hippos and crocodiles away and we'd got out. He set up fishing lines for us and we stood on the warm sand, with the sun setting, sipping on Tusker lager, waiting for a nibble. It was bliss and utterly chilled out.

But it's not so easy to nip off to Tanzania anymore. As a parent you have to find new, less exotic ways to chill out. I discovered two ways this afternoon, sadly I have pictures of neither.

First of all, I downed tools. All of them - blackberry, ipad, computer, dishes, laundry, dinner ingredients - and devoted myself to playing calvinball with my boys. It's a great game - part cricket, part baseball, part tennis, part rounders. Instead of looking at my watch and thinking about the next thing I needed to be doing, I just threw myself into the game wholeheartedly. I have the bird poo stains on my jeans to prove it.

Second, after dinner, while son 1 watched TV, I embarked on a game of tickles with son 2. I can't remember when last I did that. I even played 'this little piggy went to market' and 'round and round the garden path', which I haven't done for what feels like years. And when we were both too exhausted to tickle each other anymore, we did tongue twisters. Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry. She sells seashells. Three flags flying freely. And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

And by the end of the afternoon, I felt very chilled out.

Perhaps that's the art of chilling out - it's about living completely in the moment, no matter what that moment may be.

See the way other bloggers chill out here.

Monday 9 May 2011

What men don't do

I am trying to determine whether the list I have compiled below is a universal thing for men, or just my husband. Please feel free to enlighten me as to how much of it rings true for your household:

Things men don't do
  • Change the toilet roll. That includes removing the old cardboard tube and putting on a new roll.
  • Taking the lint out of the tumble dryer.
  • Check which things can actually go in a tumble dryer. Like say a plastic raincoat or fine knit sweater
  • Open curtains
  • Put things in the dishwasher, rather than next to the dishwasher
  • Put butter or milk back in the fridge after using them
  • Check whether there are any red socks caught up amongst the white wash
  • Sort socks into pairs. They will put them into piles until the sock sorting fairies arrive
  • Put the things that have to go into the recycling bin, in the recycling bin, rather than washing them and leaving them on the draining board or putting them on the kitchen counter waiting for someone else to put them in the bin
  • Make any meal for children other than pasta with pesto and peas
  • Buy expensive pieces of art without asking their wives opinion (yes, there is a story there)

And in the interest of fairness and non-sexism, these are things that women don't do:
  • Adjust the clocks whether the clocks go forward or back
  • Polish shoes
  • Change water filters in kettles
  • Clean the fish tank
  • Close curtains
  • Keep a tidy desk
  • Put the lids back on things properly
  • Buy lightbulbs and batteries
So that's a little snapshot of our world. How does yours compare?