Monthly Archives: February 2014

The slowly deflating vessel that is the Homework Dinghy

dinghy_homework

Homework. Does that word not make anyone’s eyes roll and a small groan involuntarily escape from your throat? Well, to be fair, I never had that reaction to homework. I was what is known in the trade as a girly swot when I was at school. I wasn’t the brightest, the fastest, the loudest (I know, hard to believe that one), the tallest, the smallest. I was just… there. But I did work hard, because I loved school, and loved homework. Or rather hated the idea of being crap, ergo I worked hard. Which by default probably made me the nerdiest. But me and my pencil case were quite happy in Nerdom, and we should probably leave them there, with their colour-coded exercise books and sticky-back plastic covered homework diary, as I am starting to sound like a right weirdo…

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, homework. Not that I think it is called homework anymore. Like most things in education since I was there with my neat little plaits and black patent shoes (I really need to stop mentioning my nerdy past) everything is now called something else. Like parents’ evenings. I don’t know what parents’ evenings ever did wrong, but they have been expelled from the educational lexicon and are now roaming the streets, probably gleefully Snapchatting pictures of themselves holding their ASBOs.  These days, you attend a ‘consultation’, as if you are going to be fitted for a dental brace.

I believe homework is now called ‘parent-supported learning’, although this might just be for reception year children and as a hint to parents that their child’s education is not the sole responsibility of the teachers and would you please stop playing Candy Crush and get involved, and that means now please – don’t make me count to five, no put down that bloody phone and come here. After all, not even the nerdiest girl in Swottingham would spontaneously do her homework aged five. (well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t). And parent-supported learning, it turns out, when translated into Parentese means ‘parent-enforced-with-gritted-teeth learning’.

When E started to bring home books and word sheets to practise, I admit, I felt a frisson of excitement. The inner-nerd was roused from its long slumber and opened one eye, looking for a nice long list of spellings to practise. I was glad I was going to be an active part of my son’s learning. I have a love of reading that I found at an early age and I was keen for him to experience the wonder of being able to step through the cover of a book and be immersed into the landscape of someone else’s imagination. Okay, so Sid’s Nits was probably not the landscape that dreams are made of and where imaginations are ignited, but one digraph at a time. (Oh yeah. Get me with the Jolly Frigging Phonics Lingo. I am Phonics Mum. Hear me roar. That’s r-or-r).

And some days, when I mention that it’s time read his book, he smiles, and we sit down, and he reads the cover, and all is well with the world. Granted, I don’t find it the most relaxing of activities. Firstly, there is all that bloody fidgeting. Bloody hell, I never realised what a sodding fidget my son is. Before the first page has even been turned, he has slid off his seat, or turned his legs to the side, or started to sway back and forth, or sometimes all three. Then he stands up, and as he sounds out a word that he doesn’t know, he rocks back and forth sideways like a bear I once saw at London zoo whose long-term captivity in a place far away from home had sent him utterly doolally. And each time he leans to his left, he bumps me. But, he is reading, and that is the main thing, I think, as I grit my teeth and brace myself for another collision with the human metronome. I think about stapling his trousers to the chair, or sellotaping his cuffs to the table, and then I realise he has clambered onto my lap so that I am now attempting to read over his shoulder whilst my face undergoes the equivalent of a chemical peel courtesy of his brillo-pad-esque hair. But, on good, days, we get all the way through to the end and I am left with the knotty task of writing something intelligent, insightful and informative in his reading record, tiptoeing along that very fine line of not being too complimentary  (because you can imagine the teacher reading it and sniggering at your inability to spot that you child is actually a total dunce at reading) and yet at the same time, not too damning, (because I have to read what I write to E and I don’t want him to know that I think he should really have grasped the difference between and b and a d by now). Somehow it feels inappropriate to do what I really want to do which is to give him a mark out of ten on his fidgeting innovation: ‘E has found he can fidget using only his tongue and eyebrows, which I was really rather impressed with’ so I finally write something both complimentary yet faintly damning to please everyone involved.

And then there’s the bad days, where it is a close run thing as to who hates doing the homework more. From the outset, I can tell it is not going to go well. First, there is the Swap Negotiation. ‘Can I do it later?’ ‘No’. ‘Can you read it to me?’ No. ‘Can I watch Scooby Doo instead?’. ‘Have a guess…’.

This is closely followed by the Begrudging Sit, where no attempt at all is made to look at the book, and then the Extreme Fidgeting kicks in, where I am lucky not to incur a flail injury, culminating in the  ‘I have forgotten absolutely everything I have been taught about reading’ reading. I sit, chewing on the table edge, wondering if I should abandon the Homework Ship altogether. Forcing the issue is just going to give the whole homework thing added stress, but letting him off the hook… well, it’s too nice for my liking. So on we sail, zig zagging our way through the choppy Sea of Sulks, getting splashed in the face by tricky words that he refuses to remember even though they appear twenty eight times in the space of twelve pages and with both of starting to feel queasy.

But in the true spirit of the old adage that ‘grumpy children necessitate mothers’ inventions’, I have enough of the slowly deflating vessel that is the Homework dinghy and make up a word game, involving all the words he is struggling with, written on big bits of paper, laid on the floor in a circle with my son standing in the middle. It is at this juncture that I start to worry I have just created a very real manifestation of a reading nightmare for him, trapped by ten menacing, indecipherable words, but I am slightly high on marker pen fumes so I continue. I say the word, he has to jump onto it. Hey presto. It is the perfect Fidget Arse reading game. We play for ages, and he only slips over three times, bangs his head once and stubs his big toe on the dishwasher a few times. Now, I kind of like homework again. And it opens up a whole new opportunity of reading record comments for me: ‘E did great today, and once we had returned from A&E he still remembered the word ‘said’. Well done and don’t touch that bandage!’

SOUND THE BEGGING KLAXON! I am genuflecting as I type, which is not easy, I can tell you. I can barely see the screen and I think I have a piece of Star Wars Lego under my right kneecap. But I am in this position to ask, to beg, you to place a little vote for Mothering Frights on the MAD Parenting Blog Awards. Hop on over to www.the-mads.com once you have copied this address: www.motheringfrights.wordpress.com and it couldn’t be simpler. Well, not voting could be simpler, but that would mean I have fractured my knee cap for nothing, wouldn’t it?

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We interrupt this blogging broadcast…

Greetings. We interrupt this blogging broadcast to bring you what is quite frankly, an utterly shameless and downright pathetic plea for a vote. The MAD Blog Awards 2014 have rolled into Blogtown, sound system turned up to eleven, all gyrating hips and flamboyant headdresses. And there is no point beating around the homemade drum, I quite fancy hitching a lift on that float, baby.

Last year, I managed to creep onto the finalists list. I think the large-brimmed hat and fake moustache helped. (Mind you, give it another few years and the way my facial hair is going, I won’t need fake one). I was extraordinarily chuffed – uberchuffed, if you will, although that sounds a little like a train that has exceeded its speed limit, or a woman with an exceedingly large va… oh, never mind. So this year, I would love to do the same, but I can only do that with your help. And when I say help, I mean vote. Here: www.the-mads.com

And here are a few reasons to help you decide if you can be bothered to go to the enormous lengths of clicking on the link to place your vote:

1. As part of last year’s finalists prize, we got to go to Legoland and see an exclusive viewing of Lego Chima 4D. What is 4D, we pondered? It turned out it was a) getting drenched b) getting smoked out and c) getting two small children petrified to the point of hysteria. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the experience was slightly marred by a very damp 4 year old, shivering and whimpering and attempting to climb into my rib cage via my throat. I would love to treat them to an experience that doesn’t scar them for life this year and you can help www.the-mads.com

2. On that same trip, we had been in the aforementioned amusement park for approximately 25 minutes before totally losing one child. He was found again, safe and sound, and I got to write out ‘I must try to remember I have two children’ one hundred times. It would probably be a good thing to enjoy a finalists day in the presence of both children, all of the time. So vote here: www.the-mads.com

3. My blog. Obviously, I write my blog as it is a darn sight cheaper than therapy. But along the way, as I stumble along the rocky, potholed path of parenting, without a map or any sense of direction, taking frequent wrong turns down labyrinthine cul de sacs and quite frankly scary looking dark places, I hope you have enjoyed the ride. And if you have – if you have raised a smile, or rolled your eyes, or laughed, or snorted, or tutted, or said to yourself ‘thank Christ there is someone more crap than me at this parenting malarkey’, then perhaps you would consider it worthy of your vote. www.the-mads.com

I think three is enough, don’t you? No? Okay, then, how about…

4. If you vote for me then I will give you free chocolate buttons. For life. You know, the giant ones. Actually, no. This is a lie. I don’t even have any chocolate buttons (*toes an empty, crumpled packet of chocolate buttons further under my desk surreptitiously).

So, it’s crunch time. Just click on http://www.the-mads.com and click on the big, green Nominate Now button. You will have to vote for a blog of the year, and then you can vote for as few or as many categories as you wish. Voting closes on March 24th so saddle up that mouse and mosey on over there.

So, for example, you might want to put the gorgeous Gourmet Mum in the food category (www.gourmetmum.tv) whilst popping Mothering Frights into the Entertaining category.

So get yourself a cuppa, a Jammy Dodger and a couple of minutes and get on over to www.the-mads.com to vote. You won’t get any chocolate buttons, but you may well get an inordinate sense of wellbeing.

THANK YOU


Hacking our way through the knotty concept of reality

mill_falcon

Having recently watched the original three Star Wars films, my five year old has become preoccupied with what is ‘real’ and what it not. It is interesting that incessant viewings of Octonauts, where a polar bear, a cat and a penguin sail the oceans in search of perilous situations from which to narrowly escape has never provoked so much as a murmur of doubt about the verity of what he is watching, but there’s nowt so strange as a five year old, as I am wont to say. In a West Country accent, for some reason.

“Is Luke Skywalker real?” E asks me one morning as we walk to school.

“Well, the man who is pretending to be Luke Skywalker in the film is real, but Luke Skywalker is just a character in the story.” Already I feel on shaky ground and as usual woefully under-equipped in the brain department to do this question both the justice and the clarity that an enquiring mind deserves.

“Is Darth Vader real?” I am sorely tempted to say that yes, he is real, and that at night he creeps into the bedrooms of boys who have been naughty to chop their hand off with his light sabre, but I resist. Just.

“No,” I reply. “He is not real, but there is a real man in a Darth Vader costume.”

“Is C3PO real?”

Sodding hell, if we are going to run through the entire cast of three Star Wars films I may have to kill one of us. Or at the very least, chew on a light sabre to stave off the impending insanity.

“Nope. Man in a costume.”

We walk in silence for a while.

“So is Chewbacca a man in a costume?”

Bingo. “Yep.” If I squint, I think I can just make out the end of this conversation, sparkling attractively in the distance.

“But how does he make the railing sound?”

The railing sound? What railing sound? Do railings actually make a sound? Do they let out an existential scream of despair at the perpendicular futility of railing existence that only five year olds can hear?

“Err… railing?”

“Oh, not railing. Wailing. A wailing sound,” E replies.

Oh, right.

“Well… I think the man inside makes the sound. Or, in films, they can put sounds and music on afterwards. Maybe they did that.” I give myself a solid six out of ten for that answer. I’ve provided him with two options, plus a little bit of information he might not have otherwise known, and a possibility of ending this ever-more taxing discussion as a bonus. Sod it. It’s a seven and a half, at least.

“No, mummy. I think what happened was that they recorded the noise before and he had a microphone thing in his pocket and a button, and when he wants to make the sound, he presses the button.”

This is the thing with my son. I don’t think he asks me questions any more to find out the answers. I think he asks me simply to watch me squirm for a little bit, to see how ridiculously implausible my answer is, before telling me what he considers is the right answer. After all, when he poses me a question most days, it is only a matter of seconds after I have delivered my insightful and intelligent answer (by which of course I mean hastily thought out and ill conceived) that he suggests we check on the iPad.

Either that or it is a question of such ludicrous unanswerableness (yes, his questions have forced me into bastardising the English language just to describe them) that he surely knows I will never provide a satisfactory answer. Such as yesterday’s start for ten: “If I fell down a deep chasm with a hundred and eighty two lunch boxes, how long would I survive?” In retrospect, the correct answer as ‘I don’t know’. But I only realised that after I had enquired as to the purpose of the lunch boxes (to break the fall, or provide sustenance) and the contents thereof to ascertain if they contained water to drink or just chocolate buttons.

I find myself wondering if Chewbacca actually had any pockets, before E is at it again.

“Is the space ship real?” Hmmm. Now this is a little more tricky. How would they have made the Millennium Falcon? Would it have been a model, or computer generated? I guess that depends on when it was made. When was Star Wars made? And I suppose Chewbacca could have put the sound button in his pants if he didn’t have any pockets…

I realise that this all an epic waste of brain power, because a) I have no bloody clue, b) I could tell him that it was made of blancmange and it would be no less accurate than any guess he considers to be true and c) the whole pants thing won’t work, because who wants to see Chewbacca rootling around in his hairy undies just to emit a wail?

“I think it was probably drawn on computer,” I finally say.

“Yes, that was what I was going to say,” E replies. “I knew it was pretend.”

Excellent. So whilst it has felt that we were struggling to hack our way through the knotty concept of reality, it seems we have stumbled out the other side, blinking rapidly in the sudden daylight, with a grasp of what is real and what is not. I am pleased.

We walk a little further. I wonder why they made Chewbacca sound like someone had just stepped on his testicles? Actually, does he have testicles? I bet they’re bloody hairy. Maybe his wail is a recording of a heinous swearword slowed down enough to be indecipherable to all but Chewbacca, who is chuckling  inside that costume at the thought that his answer to everything is ‘wanker’. Okay, I probably need to stop thinking about Chewbacca, I am starting to scare myself. I go back to thinking about how my son has grasped the idea of what it real and I smile.

“So how do they get a drawing of a space ship to fly through actual space?

Oh bollocks. This could take some time…


A good old poke with a light sabre

I have mentioned (I say mention, it may be more accurate to say moaned) about my son’s reluctance to divulge what he does at school. I am not sure the term reluctance does sufficient justice to his ability to be utterly tight-lipped; at the point at which he realises I am fishing for information he metamorphoses from a five year old who can talk about how long you might survive if you fell into a chasm with 182 lunch boxes, into a monosyllabic moron, much like I imagine his future sixteen year old self will be. It is now a regular game that we play on the walk home from school: I ask what he did, and he says he’s forgotten. I ask what his favourite bit of the day was, and he says lunch. I ask him what else he enjoyed, and he says playing. Well, it passes the time as we trudge up the hill.

And I think that E is now just starting to realise that there is some truth in the old adage that information is power. Last week, as I watched him playing with his brother, I told him:  ‘if you are thinking of poking your brother with that light sabre, I would think again.”

He looked at me, slightly incredulous that I seemed to have read his mind. “How did you know that I was thinking that?” he asked.

“Because mummys know everything,” I replied. I like to big up my role as omniscient being of immense power. I’m saving up for a cape to complete the look. I would wear my pants over my trousers, but no one wants the gusset of a middle aged woman to be on public display.

There is a pause as E stares at me.

“So if you know everything then what did I do at school today?” he asks with a smug grin.

I stared back at him, feeling the foundations of the parent / son relationship shift almost imperceptibly under my feet. Just twelve months ago, I was his mummy who knew everything.  And he also knew that I had a failsafe back up, called the iPad, where I could seemingly magically summon up the answers to anything else, from how you make glass to why there is a hole in a bagel. And it was my iPad, and I was doing the typing, so by default, I still knew everything.

But now, he not only knows information that I don’t, he feels the power of withholding it. And as I thought about it, this moment seemed to represent quite a step in our relationship. One where I didn’t know everything about my son. One, where I hand over just a slither of power. One, where  even the bloody iPad won’t help.

I pondered this for a while longer as I looked at him return to his play. And what I was left with was the fact that no one likes being bested by their five year old offspring, so I gave him a good old poke with the other light sabre and may have accidentally stuck my tongue out at him. Well, I never claimed to be a mature omniscient being. So pass me those pants, will you, because gusset or no gusset, I am going to have to crack on with the whole Omniscient Being plan. I fear my days are numbered.