Wednesday 28 September 2011

What do SAHMs do all day?

SAHM (or Stay At Home Mums as they're known in the parenting biz) are often ever-so-slightly sneered at by WAHMs or WMs (that's Work At Home Mums or Working Mums - do keep up). 'Gosh, what do you do all day? I'd get so bored. I simply have to work.'

But by the same token SAHMs are very often quick to paint WMs as disinterested mums who put themselves before their children. I'm paraphrasing here. Just read the Daily Mail or go to Mumsnet to see the arguments in action.

Until very recently I've been a WAHM, in my opinion, the best of both worlds. You work AND are there for your kids and you can whip up a casserole while taking a tea break. Which means you get to wear The Halo of Smugness.

Now that I've replaced the W with an S in my acronym, I am realising what SAHMs do all day. Take today for example:

I got up, had coffee, put on some laundry, made the kids pancakes and apple sauce, got their school clothes ironed, bags packed and walked them up to school. All of which I could have done as a WAHM, only I'd have been checking emails in between.

Then I joined two other members of the PTA for a two mile walk to plot out a family fun day. After that, I came home, hung up washing and then headed up to the school to join them for community lunch.  I've since come back and had a long chat on the phone to my husband who is abroad, arsed around on Facebook for a while, am writing this blog post and am then off to town to pick up dry cleaning and get some BBQ food to celebrate our very, very late summer.

Then it will be time to pick the kids up, do a bit of homework, feed them, get them off to Beavers, back home and into bed. I'll spend my evening doing the ironing pile (which still holds no appeal, regardless of having less work to do) and watching some rubbish on TV.

So there you have it - an average day in the life of a SAHM. I'm sure there are SAHMs who also clean the house vigorously (I don't) and who exercise (I do) and who meet up with friends for coffee (something I've done a couple of times). They might even do charity work. But trust me, the day goes by in the blink of an eye and you're left wondering how on earth you ever managed to fit work in.

And don't get me wrong, it is pleasant. You can enjoy the sunshine (like today) and not wake up with a feeling of dread, thinking: Urg, I've got to do that presentation today. You have the freedom (certainly if you have school aged kids) to do pretty much whatever you like during the day - browse galleries, go shopping, spend hours in the downward dog pose at yoga.

But something is missing in all of this for me. It's a purpose. It's a point. It's knowing that I have to get up and get on with things because lurking at the back of my mind is that fear that I might end up being one of those mums taking their kids to school still wearing their dressing gown before coming back to watch Jeremy Kyle.

When I used to work full time in an office, I always used to wonder what happened out in the world while I was chained to my desk. I felt as though I was missing out on life. Now I have 'life' in spades, but it's emptier that I expected. Literally. No-one is around because they're all at work. I can feel this energetic buzz just brimming over the horizon where people are working and creating things and fixing things and doing things. And I'm not.

There are sacrifices that come with working. There are sacrifices that come with staying at home. The challenge is trying to figure out which sacrifice you're prepared to make. Tricky. Very tricky.

Monday 26 September 2011

Highly sensitive children - my lightbulb parenting moment

We're at a pub with friends for a Sunday lunch. Their baby is snoozing peacefully in his buggy. We're taking turns walking up and down, pat shushing, trying to settle our screaming baby. Again.

Toddler group. All the children are sitting on the floor singing the wheels on the bus, merrily making the actions. My son is sitting on my lap sobbing, trying to cover his ears.

We head off to a pre-school mini football class. The other children all shriek and run around after the balls having a whale of time. My son won't come out from behind my chair and when I finally manage to coax him out and get him to kick a ball to me, he cries if I take a step from his side.

It's his fourth birthday. We've hired a magician and he's got to dress up like a pirate. He doesn't want to be the magician's helper. He reluctantly joins in the party games. He cries when everyone sings happy birthday to him.

He's getting dressed for school. Or rather, he isn't. He's making a fuss and not putting his shirt on. Eventually I ask him why he won't put his shirt on. Apparently the badge on the shirt is scratchy. I get him a shirt without a badge on it. He puts it on happily.

It's the dreaded time of day - school drop off. I take him into the playground. He clings to me, like every other day for the last year. He cries. He says he feels sick. A teacher has to peel him off me. He screams and tries to escape. I have to just walk away and it breaks my heart. They assure me at pick up that he was fine once I left.

'Your son doesn't say much in class, but when he does, it is stunningly well thought out as though he has thought very deeply about the answer and is almost adult in his approach,' to quote his reception year teacher.

Monday afternoons, our worst day of the week. Swimming lessons. He shouts and yells that he isn't going. 'I hate it,' he screams. I get him in the pool, refusing to negotiate on this point. The swimming instructor tells off the little girl next to my son for not listening. My son bursts into tears, his lip wobbling for the rest of his lesson while his goggles fill with tears.

This is my son. I have written about him before:
What to do when you don't like your child
When we send him off to camp
School Battles

For seven years I have been at a loss to know what to do with him. Nothing seemed to work. I'd always known he was sensitive, but as he got older, it seemed to me that many really undesirable qualities were coming to the fore: selfishness, laziness, aggression, drama queen tendencies.

But last week I was in a book shop and saw a book called The Highly Sensitive Person. It just seemed to leap off the shelf at me. I didn't buy it but went home and googled Highly Sensitive Children. And hey presto, up popped a web site with a quiz in which you answered questions about whether you have a highly sensitive child. So I did it. And no surprises, but he ticked just about every box. I ordered the book - Highly Sensitive Children by Elaine Aron - immediately and have spent the last few days reading it cover to cover.

It made me weep. Genuine sobbing and an immense feeling of guilt. How could I not have seen this in my child? How is it that I'd never heard of this as an issue? How could I have made so many mistakes with him? I wished with all my heart that I could take back the years and do them over again.

In case you, like me, were not aware of Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs), they make up 15 to 20% of the population, too big a proportion for this to be so unknown. It's NOT a disorder. It is NOT aspergers or autism.  In short, a highly sensitive person absorbs more and processes everything more thoroughly. To quote the book:

"HSCs are born with a nervous system that causes them to prefer to observe all the subtleties in a situation and to process all of this information deeply before acting. As a result, HSCs tend to be highly reflective, intuitive and creative (having a strong sense of how things came to be how they are and what could happen next); conscientious and concerned about fairness and what others are feeling; and aware of subtle changes, details or 'what's missing in this picture'. The trait also causes them to be more easily overwhelmed and hurt, both physically and emotionally; slower to warm up or join in; and sometimes quiet and unwilling to speak (in groups).

They are more easily overwhelmed by 'high volume' or large quantities of input arriving at once. They try to avoid this and thus seem shy or timid or party poopers. When they cannot avoid overstimulation, they seem easily upset or 'too sensitive'."

So my crying baby didn't have colic. There was just too much stimulation for him out and about.

My clingy toddler and pre-schooler wasn't being shy or wimpy, he couldn't take in all the noise and activity going on around him. He was hanging back to observe, process it and then venture forth (normally at about the time he had to leave which then caused him frustration and brought on massive tantrums).

My little boy wasn't being a party pooper when he cried at his party - he just couldn't take all of it in and couldn't stand the attention of everyone looking at him.

He doesn't hate swimming. He just hates the shock of the cold water, the splashing from multiple children, the gruffness of the instructor's tone.

Imagine it. Imagine that everytime you hear something, it sounds louder and you spend more time interpreting what that loud sound is. And imagine if every time you put on a scratchy jumper, it didn't just niggle you but really felt unbearable against your skin. And imagine if you didn't want to put that jumper on but your parents got annoyed with you for making another fuss and insisted on it. And imagine being forced to not wait and observe a brand new school with brand new people and lots of new rules and information, but being forced to go in because the bell is going and that's just what you have to do. Hell on earth.

Since reading this book I have looked at my son in an entirely different light. I can feel so much more empathy towards him now. I no longer feel that he is 'acting out' just because he's trying to wind me up. He is just a little boy trying to make sense of a very loud, overwhelming world that his nervous system battles to cope with.

In the last few days I have changed the way I am with him. I don't shout. I don't even raise my voice. I have lowered my expectations as to what to expect of him. I've helped him more. I've been infinitely more patient. I've explained why things have to happen simply and clearly. I've let go of the sense that he's trying to do things to get at me. I feel greater pride in the things he does do - like reading a poem in church for harvest festival. And the change has been phenomenal.

He is a completely different child. A happy child. Someone who is finally comfortable and able to deal with things because it's getting presented to him in the right way. Because he is super sensitive, he can feel the difference emanating from me. There's less frustration and disappointment and anger coming from his primary care giver. He is picking up on that positivity and literally blossoming in front of my eyes.

I know it's early days and it's going to require a great deal of patience to maintain the level of calm, fair parenting that a child like this needs. And it is going to be particularly hard trying to prepare him for a world that is quite simply not designed with sensitive people in mind - particularly for little boys who are viewed as cry babies or sissys instead of the macho role required by today's society. But I now know how I can help him and can see the utterly beautiful gifts his level of sensitivity brings.

I only wish I had known about this before. I hate myself for misinterpreting and misunderstanding him all these years, for not having the patience needed, for caring too much about what the rest of the world thought instead of doing what was right for him.

I promise to make it up to him by doing my very, very best to help him thrive in this busy, crazy world.

If you are the parent of a highly sensitive child, please share your stories with me.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Civic duty

Ah yes. We have reached that age. And it's all going to go downhill from here.

Let me back up and explain.

As a younger person with a sky-rocketing executive job, there isn't much time to think about the larger community. After all, there are rungs of career ladders to climb, business travel to enjoy and post work drinks to consume.

Then you have children and you start to get sucked into things that you didn't even know existed. Like toddler groups. Who need people to run them. Your role of sleep-deprived attendee making banal conversation about the colour of poo starts to take on a more substantial mantle as you get suckered into becoming assistant toy packer-away person, then co-chair and then chair. 

When you finally manage to sucker someone else into taking on the job, your children head off to pre-school and kazam! You innocently think joining the committee might be a good way to meet the other mums and before you know it, you're running the pre-school lucky dip stall at the village fete and helping arrange 70s style discos. It's all good fun though and after all, it will help buy some new mats for the little cherubs to sit on.

Before you know it, your little darling has entered the realms of big school. All new parents are of course invited to attend the PTA meetings, and being a stupid concerned individual, you once again fall for the honey trap of thinking it's a friendly thing to do. You even convince yourself that they may serve wine at PTA meetings. (They don't).

In the blink of an eye you go from being a bog standard PTA member to co-fund-raising organiser person, rustling up bingo prizes and stringing up bunting at barn dances. 

At this point, most of this 'social involvement' seems to land squarely on the women's shoulders. Men, somehow manage to keep their heads well below the line of fire. 

Until their wives, fed up of the inequality of it all, force suggest they might want to get involved. And so they do. They join the local cricket club and spend every Sunday playing cricket. All. Day. Sure he offers to coach the kids occasionally but mainly it's all about him and the fun he's having playing cricket for the first time since his uni days.

That's how it was in our house, until the cricket club asked me if I'd like to be treasurer. Oh how I laughed and chortled and frankly lay on the floor clutching my sides trying to picture it (accounts and I don't really see eye to eye). Not to mention that it was slightly unfair that my husband was going to get to play while I get to do the work. So I said no. Well done me. And my husband, deeply embarrassed by his cackling wife swiftly volunteered himself for the job.

But it doesn't end there. No sirree bob. Word got out that a new Parish counsellor was needed for our village. Husband, enjoying his new social responsibility cloak, put himself forward. 

I'm now proud to say that not only is he treasurer of the cricket club and a parish counsellor, but he's also  (and you have to say this in a nasal jobsworth type voice) 'the secretary of the allotment sub-committee'. Oh how the evenings fly by.

But wait, that's not all. A 'friend' has just volunteered my services to do some marketing for the school, while another has become chief fund-raiser for the village hall and has every intention of roping me in. 

Just when I thought we could comfortably sit back and polish our civic duty halos, I get a call. Someone has suggested that I might make the perfect village rep for a new initiative to fight Grundon from putting up a huge incinerator in our local area, an area of outstanding natural beauty (you can read about it here if you like - might as well start doing my new job now). So I shall now be leafleting the village and attending meetings to find out how we might thwart this plan going ahead. I feel I might wear a special super hero cape for these meetings. With a mask. And possibly carry a sword made of foam.

And that is how we find ourselves. I am going to make us some business cards. His will read:

Cricket Club Treasurer
Parish Counsellor
Allotment Sub-committee secretary

Mine will read:

PTA Fund-raising second in command
Village Hall fund-raising second assistant
Village representative for the fight against giant smelly incinerator.

We have made the mistake of putting ourselves forward. We shall now spend the remainder of our lives trying to undo this error but no doubt becoming ensnared in the heady world of WI bake off judging, giant marrow contest measuring and church bazaar organisers. Just you wait and see if we don't.

Friday 16 September 2011

The lost art of doing nothing

So this week has been my first full week of being an unemployed Stay At Home Mum. I actually kicked off this new occupation last week but only had three days of it before weekend. And I spent all of that time in work mode.

I'd get up with the kids, rush around trying to fit all the chores in before they left for school so that I could spend the hours that they were at school DISCOVERING WHAT TO DO NEXT. This is a hard job. It's stressful. I spent hours looking at various courses to study, franchises to buy, browsing small business websites hoping for a nugget of inspiration, checking out job sites and generally searching frantically for inspiration.

I realised that I really wasn't achieving anything. I am none the wiser about what to do next. I am torn between wanting to earn money, wanting to spend time with my kids and wanting to do something I enjoy - the three are not mutually compatible.

When I wasn't searching for my future nirvana, I was doing random chores - like buying birthday presents for son 2, picking up windfalls from our numerous apple trees and listlessly doing ironing. I felt I ought to be doing something. All this free time on my hands, it felt like sacrilege not to be filling in every hour. It literally felt like I was wasting time, as though life is a huge egg timer, and every minute I wasn't doing something, was another grain of sand trickling away never to be gotten again.

This week I made a conscious decision to let the grains of sand pass on by without worrying about it. I'd like to say I was successful at doing nothing. I wasn't. But I did get better. I signed up a for a digital photography course so that I can learn to use my camera better. I started to teach myself web design (I gave up quite fast too). I spent some time mooching around the shops, letting myself get accosted by the sales lady at the Benefit counter because really I wasn't in a rush to go anywhere else. I got my eyebrows threaded (the lady who insisted on calling me sweetheart every five seconds also suggested I might want to get my top lip done - apparently I have a moustache). I got my hair cut and coloured. I had tea with a friend. I did lots of exercise. I arranged a birthday tea for my ickle boy. I joined a friend for a dog walk. Simple little things that I'd normally have foregone or crammed into one of my free minutes.

I am unused to having so much time. I feel drowned in the freedom of it. And I still can't get the niggly creature sitting on my shoulders whispering into my ear - find out what to do next - to shut up.

Perhaps my next step should be a visit to a Buddhist retreat where I can practice just being.

Monday 12 September 2011

How to hold a kids' army party

Earlier this year I did a post on how to hold a Harry Potter themed party for kids. Well, it's been party time again in the HOM household. So for any parent who has a little boy madly in love with all things military, here's how to hold an army themed party.

I should preface this by saying that I'm sure you could chuck a lot a more money at a party like this, but my philosophy when it comes to kids' parties is to do them for as little money as possible. In fact, it's a kind of challenge for me. How fun can you make a party without spending a lot of money on it?

This party was organised in under one week. I did it as a joint party with another mum, which made it even more cost effective and easier to run. The boys in question turned 6.

This is key. You don't want to be doing this party in your house. AT. ALL. You could do it in your garden if you have a reasonable size one (ideally one that you have neglected so it's somewhat overgrown). Or you could do it in a park. But ideally, you want to find a wood or nature reserve. We are fortunate enough to have a lovely, safe nature reserve near us that is entirely free to go into and is perfect for little boys to charge about it. Doing this party in mid-winter might be too cold, but it doesn't really matter if it rains and you're doing this party - because part of the fun is getting wet and messy.

I used MS Paint to create a camo background with simple text that said: Army recruits - your country needs you! with the details of the party following. It was emailed to everyone due to time limitations. Guests were advised to wear military/khaki/brown coloured clothes that they didn't mind getting wet or dirty.

What you will need
A dad or two dads to be drill sergeants on the day. Rather conveniently, my husband is ex-military but I think all blokes quite enjoy pretending to be soldiers every now and then, after all men are just little boys grown up. Of course mums can be drill sergeants too (that's our day job) but if you're going to act as drill sergeant, your life will be made easier if you have a helper who can get things ready while you're with the kids.

Lots of water balloons. These are cheap. However, filling them takes a long time and is a pain in the butt job. But this is the most onerous part of the party - the rest is easy.

A camp stove (not essential but useful if you want to have hot food)

Camo netting (not essential but adds to the effect - I got some fairly cheaply off ebay) or kids army tents. Again - I wouldn't rush out to buy these if you don't have them but if you do, it adds to the scene if you put them up.

Face paint (green/black/yellow)

How to run the party
Before our guests arrived, we created two 'camps'. Lucky for us, the location we chose already had one den that had been made with logs and leaves, so we just used that and added camo netting. The other we created in woods using ferns and fallen logs.

We set up the camp stove and created a basic 'mess area' where the kids would eat.

Upon arrival, we painted the kids' faces using the black, green and yellow paint to give them a camouflaged look. You can do this really fast with very little skill. We then sent the kids over to the mess area for a snack (cookies and bananas - energy food!) while we waited for everyone to arrive.

The kids then chose a red or yellow disc out of a small army print bag (the discs came from connect 4 and the army bag we had lying around the house). This put them into their respective teams for the day.

The drill sergeants then gave them a welcome talk along the lines of:
Welcome army recruits. The country is in peril and needs your help. You are here today to train to become an army private and to help save England from baddies. Throughout the day, we will be getting you fit, teaching you the skills you need to survive while on an army mission and to learn what real combat is like.
Your first task is to go to your respective camps and decide on a name for your team and use the sticks and natural things placed nearby to create some protection for your den as you will be needing the protection later this afternoon. HOWEVER, for this task you only have 15 minutes so you need to work fast. When you hear the whistle, report back here. Team captains to tell us their team names at that time.

The camps were basically already made - but they got to add a bit to them. After they'd done this, they returned to the base for basic training.
Basic training
The drill sergeants said:
To be a good soldier, you have to be fit. You need to be able to outrun the enemy and have the stamina to keep marching for days. It’s time to get some fitness in now.
The kids then had to do star jumps and push ups with lots of running back and forth in between, trying to see which team could get through the exercises first.

Assault course
Hot on the heels of the basic training was the assault course. Again, thanks to the marvellous location we had, we had a ready made assault course that involved climbing a stile, running around trees, leopard crawling along a ditch and under fallen trees and back to base. The kids got filthy and absolutely loved it!

After having a quick drink (my suggestion is buy squash and bottled water and have a jug made up and ready to go so kids can grab something to drink whenever they get thirsty - much cheaper than individual boxes of juice), we moved onto the scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunt
The drill sergeants said:
There are times when you will be behind enemy lines, cut off from your own men with no food or shelter. As a soldier, you need to know how to live off the land. We have created a list of items you need to find – each of these can be used to help you survive while in the bush. You have 15 minutes to find the items and return to base. When the whistle goes you must come back. Latecomers will have points deducted. Points will be awarded for all items found.

(I will say that we ended up not really bothering to do the point scoring but it's certainly an option if you want to make it more competitive)
In case you're wondering, the horse poo is to help fires burn for longer. But obviously little boys plus poo = hysterical giggles.

They returned to base camp for some grub - hotdogs cooked on the camp stove, served in camo napkins (who needs plates!) followed by crisps and a small pudding. 

After refuelling, we moved onto the next game:
Missing in Action
For this game, we bought a bag of cheap army men from Poundland and hid them in the woods. The drill sergeants then said:
While you were out looking for survival items, your fellow soldiers came under fire. Many are lying wounded and missing in action in these woods. Go find them and bring them back to this area. Points awarded to each team for each man found.

The kids then searched for as many soldiers as they could find in a time limit (the soldiers were then popped into party bags). After each game, the winning teams got given a sweetie.

Then we moved onto the last game - War!
The kids went to their respective camps where they put on 'ponchos' (bin bags) and found a tub of 'hand grenades' (water balloons). They drill sergeants gave each child one grenade at a time and they had to attack the other team while leaving some armed team members to stay and guard the camp. Let's just say everyone loved it and got very wet!

That was it - we made some simple cupcakes, which everyone took home with a party bag. We got camo bags and filled them with a army mask, 'grenade' throwing toy, parachute man, a small airplane, the army men they found in the woods and a bag of sweets. 

All in it cost us roughly £80 which we shared between two of us. You could spend less if you gave smaller party bags - like just an army whistle and mask. 

That's it. Hope it helps any other mums out there!

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Today is the first day of the rest of my life

So here I am. The children are back at school (hoorah!). My husband is at work. I have the house to myself. It's peaceful and quiet and lovely. This is what every day of the last few years has been like, the only difference was that I'd be working. Like a dervish.

I'd write out what I needed to fit into the six hours before my children needed collecting and then would attempt to squeeze all of it in. What's more, in September, my workload was normally astronomical as everyone returned from summer holidays and prepared for the Christmas season ahead.

But now, having sold my business, I'm not doing any of that. In fact, besides fixing the Dyson which had a blockage in it, putting on some laundry and doing an exercise video, I have absolutely nothing else that I HAVE to do today.

And it's freaking me out.

I never have nothing to do. I'm not one of those people who can do nothing. And at the back of my head, I have a list of things I could be doing, like fixing bicycle punctures and sorting out the photo albums and doing the paperwork filing. But none of those are urgent things. And perhaps that what I need. A sense of urgency rather than things to do.

There's also a small weight on my shoulders, which I imagine will grow steadily heavier, that I need to figure out what to do next. I need to get a job or start up a business or write a novel or go back to college or something. But I don't want to make the wrong decision and then end up regretting it. I do worry though, that indecision can quickly equal apathy and a lack of doing anything at all, which in turn equates to being poor.

But today is day one of being a lady of leisure. So I am going to give myself permission to just enjoy it, to revel in the feeling of having absolutely nothing I have to do. It takes some getting used to but I'm willing to give it a go.

P.S. you may have noticed a change in the look of my blog. I am not very techinically competent (possibly a new thing I could learn in all my spare time) so it doesn't look quite how I want it to. But it will do for now until I feel like paying someone to make a blog header for me. Let me know if you know of anyone who does that.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Diaries: then and now

Before I had children, my filofax (yes, back then we had filofax's rather than online diaries/blackberries/iphones) used to look something like this:

Monday: meeting with Microsoft client to discuss launch of Xbox, yoga at 7pm
Tuesday: media training for new start up client, team drinks at (insert trendy bar name here)
Wednesday: brainstorm for new business pitch, pilates at 8pm
Thursday: press launch for new Cisco router, dinner with girlfriends
Friday: company offsite
Saturday: girly shopping, pedi/mani appointment
Sunday: pub lunch with mates

It was all so glamorous and me, me, me.

I've just finished putting the details into our calendar for the forthcoming term. Note I said calendar. Not online organising tool, iphone or fancy diary. Nope. A calendar which features pictures drawn by my children and which is scrawled all over so that it's barely legible. It looks like this:

Monday: homework day, boys swimming at 5.15
Tuesday: PTA meeting, multi sports club after school, tennis for boys at 4.30
Wednesday: tag rugby after school, Beavers at 5.30 for son 2
Thursday: arts & crafts after school, dentist appointment
Friday: PTA cake sale, football training at 6pm
Saturday: taking boys to watch rugby match in Bath
Sunday: football matches for son 1, rugby training for son 2

It's all glamour isn't it? How life changes.

Sunday 4 September 2011

And so it's almost over

I woke up at 4.55am today. It's Sunday. For the life of me I can't figure out why my body chose being awake over having a lie in. But once I got over the initial annoyance of being awake that early on a weekend, I got up and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the house, something that has been thin on the ground of late.

Six weeks ago I wrote this. At that time I was dealing with two over tired children who needed a holiday from the rigours of school. It appears they now need a holiday from each other. And from me. And I certainly could do with a brief respite away from them, preferably in a padded cell with a case of wine.

It all started out well. We went to Turkey. They spent a week in a kids club playing with other kids. Bliss for all concerned. Then they spent a week on a boat with us. This had good moments, but keeping two young boys trapped on a boat for several hours a day, who simply want to play Uno but can't quite grasp the concept of the wind and its potential to make cards fly into the Mediterranean sea, can become challenging and patience testing quite fast.

After a brief visit back home to wash the suncream out of our clothes we spent a few days on the Isle of Wight, where they had other children to play with. And while there were the usual moments of four small boys all wanting to hit each other with one sword, mostly things were ok.

Then. We. Returned. Home. And we discovered that all of their friends were away. They came to the realisation that they had the following options for company*:
a) each other
b) their mother

I'm not sure who found this more distressing - them or me.

Here are some of the good things that have come out of the holidays:
  • We have actually played with almost all of their toys, even those ones at the bottom of the toy cupboard that haven't seen the light of day for years and should probably have been given away to charity a while ago. In the last year or so, I've found myself scratching my head and wondering why we bother with toys in the age of Nintendo DS and Wii because kids seem so disinterested in playing with anything that doesn't have a screen. But this summer, toys came back in fashion (largely so that their DSs could recharge).

  • Son 2 finally learnt to ride his bike without stabilisers. Admittedly he still can't turn or start by himself and you run the very real risk of losing a limb if you stand within 100 yards of where he's riding, but after hours of back breaking hobbled running behind him, he has achieved the magical art of balance.

  • We have re-discovered the joys of Enid Blyton-esque picnics. You know, plain cheese or ham sandwiches (possibly mine with a bit of picallily), boiled eggs that you dab in salt, home made cake or buns and apples picked from the garden. Completely opposite to M&S Simply Food style picnics of mini scotch eggs and smoked salmon on granary style sandwiches, and not necessarily something I'd want to eat daily, but they certainly are flavoured with nostalgia.

  • I've had the chance to be a domestic goddess. Our apple trees are groaning under the weight of a summer glut of fruit. And despite leaving a box of apples outside our front gate with a sign saying: please help yourself, we still have too many apples. So I have made spiced apple chutney and apple and blackberry jam (which has the consistency of tar - so if anyone has a pot hole in their local road which the council hasn't attended to do let me know as I have just the stuff for it). I've baked apple and walnut cake. And banana and walnut muffins. And lemon drizzle cake. And many other things that require eggs, butter, sugar and flour. All of which was fuelled quite simply by the need to stop playing Old Maid or Uno.
*We've had my mum and my sister and her two children to stay too so the kids have had other company, albeit it with far younger children. And it has been lovely for us all to spend some time with family who they seldom get to see. But for reasons unknown to anyone except the God of Mothering, my children seem to have found this additional company the perfect reason to display their most vile behaviour. Or perhaps I'm just more aware of their behaviour as there's an audience to view it.

If we stayed at home, they were bored and fought with each other. If we went somewhere, they were tired and over excited and fought with each other. If you bought them something, it wasn't quite right or they wanted more. If you didn't buy them something, I was branded mean and evil and probably the worst mother in the world. They seem to have forgotten how to do anything for themselves and every sentence they utter starts with the word 'Mummyyyyy'. This prefaces a whine because they're hungry or a bid for sympathy because their brother hit them over the head with a light sabre or a demand for yet another snack or, my personal favourite, the age old phrase 'I'm bored.'

So it is with much joy that they shall be returning to school on Wednesday. Of course we'll then start the all too familiar ground hog day of trying to get them dressed, teeth brushed, book bags packed etc but at least I'll get a good six hours of rocking quietly in a corner before they return home again.