Monthly Archives: June 2015

A handful of warm and lumpy vomit

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My son was coveting a Transformers toy recently, no doubt having seen them advertised on the television. You know the sort of advert – where the screen is filled with an image of a toy transforming into a six foot tank shooting real lasers at the touch of the button, whilst a line of text that should technically be read by microfiche reads ‘Toy does not turn into a tank or shoot real lasers. Some steps have been removed. Your child will receive this toy and may harbour a nagging sense of disappointment for the rest of his life’.

Mind you, Transformers do seem a handy bunch. After all, they are robots in disguise. They are disguised as a car, to be precise. Or sometimes a freight lorry. My son did have a Transformer once, called Optimus Prime. Together, we managed to transform it into the aforementioned lorry over the period of an hour. Call me old fashioned, but a disguise that takes the best part of 60 minutes to change is not an unqualified success. Let’s face it. Mr Benn can facilitate an entire outfit change by taking off his hat, so those bloody Transformers need to buck their ideas up. If a mode of transport if proving tricky, then perhaps they should be a little less ambitious, and transform into something a tad simpler. Like a stick.

So, as I was pondering those Transformers, something struck me. For once it was not a flying Play Mobil person, as my 3 year old was not in the same room as I. A thought struck me. Forget Bumblebee (and let us just pause to consider if a rotund, stripy insect that regularly flies into closed windows and will only sting if REALLY, REALLY bloody annoyed is the best name they could have come up with). It is parents who are the ultimate transformers, because we can transform into pretty much anything that the situation demands of us. There is no situation too sticky, too precarious, too vomit-inducing, or too snotty to resolve. Just casting my mind back to the last few months, my transformer skills have included:

– A sick bowl. Who hasn’t held their cupped hands out in front of a poorly child, who thirty seconds ago was adamant they were not going to be sick and then with the next breath starts to wretch uncontrollably? And not only do I transform into a sick bowl, I then carry this handful of vomit, warm and lumpy, with its unmistakable fragrance, across the hall to the bathroom without spilling a drop.

– A human tissue.  With absolutely no moment’s notice, pretty much any item of clothing that I am wearing can transform into a tissue. Shoulders are a particular favourite with my three year old, who takes the opportunity of being picked up to lay down a silvery trail of snot across my shoulder. I don’t know what’s worse: having snot on my shoulder or other people thinking that I let slugs walk over me.

– A domestic sat nav.  I can transform into sat nav mode at will, usually in response to the question: ‘Where’s my hoodie?’ Or ‘Have you seen my front tooth? I left it on the toilet.’ Yes, I reply. In the bedroom, past the pile of books, left of the toy chest, under the teddy. Now you have reached your destination.

– A bank. Can I have my pocket money please? Can you buy me that magazine please? Can I have that pound that was on the table? Not only do I transform into a bank, I seem to be slowly transforming into a walking overdraft whilst my son increases his wealth. On the upside, I know where he keeps it so can always borrow a couple of quid back. Not that I would ever do that. No. Hardly ever.

– A teacher. Let’s do your reading. Let’s do your spellings. Let’s do some maths. Shall we do a wordsearch? I can transform into a teacher at the drop of a reading journal. Look, it’s a split diagraph. If I buy a tin of beans at 55 pence how much change will I get from a pound? Which of these three items is heaviest? I am one interactive white board and thirteen weeks holiday away from being fully qualified, surely?

– Google. Many times a day, I transform into Google (other search engines are available, but let’s face it, they’re not as good). ‘How many cars can one factory make in a day?’ ‘How do you make glass?’ ‘Why are there holes in bagels?’ ‘What do nits look like?’ How many street lights are there in this country?’ If there is no access to actual Google, then I have carte blanche to make up the answers. So if my son ever tells you that there are holes in bagels so that knights could practise their archery, or that nits have three orange eyes and fourteen legs, you know why.

– a pack horse. Walking to school, my son merrily skips along whilst I am encumbered by a school bag, a PE kit and a tennis racket. He then makes me carry his cap, shortly followed by his jacket, and possibly his jumper. And at the weekends, it gets no better. Instead of a school bag, I get to carry a bloody great scooter instead. And if it’s not their clobber, its crap that I need to carry to cover any child-based eventuality: wipes, nappies, spare pants, cattle prod, pop-up nuclear bunker…

Optimus Prime, you are an amateur in a world of parent transformers. We laugh in the face of your pathetic attempts to transform into a lorry in an hour, whilst we change from Chef to Lego builder to nail cutter in the space of five minutes. Mr Prime, you have a lot to learn on the transforming front.

 

So, I would love to know what your particular parental transforming skill is?

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My shameless attempt to swiftly back pedal into the fairy kingdom

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“Look me in the eye mummy. Tell me the truth. The tooth fairy is you, isn’t it?”

The world seemed to momentarily stop spinning. I felt the weight of parental responsibility bear down on me, its hot sticky breath with just a trace of day-old gin making me hold my breath. This, I knew, was a pivotal moment, one of those moments when you can triumph as a parent, showing your mettle in the face of a six year old boy who had somehow got wind of the fact that the tooth fairy, with her habit of carrying enough pound coins about her person to drown a small kitten and her ability to pass through closed windows, may not be real.

I did a lot of thinking in those few silent seconds that followed my son’s question, consisting mainly of other questions to which I had no answer. Should I lie? We all know lying is wrong, but in this instance, involving fairies and a tooth, is it actually okay to lie? If I tell the truth, will I be robbing him of the magic of childhood? Is the tooth fairy really part of the magic of childhood, or is getting a pound from your parents to put towards the new Lego Mixel actually significantly more magical? Am I just perpetuating a load of nonsense because my parents did to me, and their parents before them? If my son stops believing, does the Tooth Fairy die? Actually, I knew the answer to that one, I’m not that bloody thick.

The rational side of my brain shouts at me: “Tell him the bloody truth! Fairies? What a load of sodding twaddle.”

The single brain cell that represents the romantic side just tutted, and muttered “I never get my own way round here. I would kill you all in cold blood if only I could stop running gaily through this sunny meadow of buttercups.”

Finally, I opened my mouth and some words came out. “Yes. You’re right, the tooth fairy is me and daddy.” So let’s face it. I didn’t so much triumph as crash and burn under the laser-beam stare of a boy who got a sniff of the fact that he had been labouring under a well crafted conspiracy theory with wings for many years.

My son looks back at me, silent, with eyes wide. “Really?”

“Err… no, of course the tooth fairy is real.” Even I am embarrassed at my shameless attempt to swiftly back pedal into the fairy kingdom.

“No it isn’t,” he replies defiantly. I have given him a glimpse of the truth, and he is not letting it go now.

“No, Okay, it isn’t.”

E ponders for a bit. “So you’ve been lying to me?”

Bloody hell, this is really turning into a conversation to remember.

“Well, things like telling children about the tooth fairy isn’t technically lying. And anyway, it’s more fun to believe it is a fairy who takes your tooth and leaves a pound.” He looks sceptical under the weight of more lies.

“Of course,”  I continue unwisely, “I might be wrong. The tooth fairy may be real after all.”

My son looks a little confused. To be honest, there is so much double-bluffing and counter-briefing going on, I am a little confused myself. It is at this point that I make a mental note never to pursue a career in MI5.

E wanders off. I can’t tell if he is crestfallen at the confirmation that the tooth fairy is a great big scam cooked up by evil lying parents, or he needs a poo.

I wonder if I have done the right thing. It just felt that I had to tell the truth at the moment my son was boring holes into my face with his big, blue, innocent eyes (okay, okay, I am laying it on with a trowel in a pathetic attempt to justify myself, I know). But perhaps I have done him a disservice. I hatch a cunning plan. I decide to leave a note from the tooth fairy under his pillow. It’s a high risk strategy, given that it could either convince him the tooth fairy is alive and well or will totally confuse the hell out of him.

Just before I go to bed, I sneak into his room and slide my hand slowly under his pillow to retrieve the tooth. No tooth. Bugger, I whisper quietly, and delve further. E stirs and I freeze. I could really be doing something more useful at eleven o’ clock in the evening than this. Like going to bed. E settles, and I push my hand further in. His head lolls to one side as I am now practically lying on the bed, my entire arm engulfed by a Star Wars pillow. I roll my eyes at Chewbacca and retreat.

I call for reinforcements, but M cannot locate the sodding tooth either. Bugger this, I am knackered. I shove a quid under his pillow, dismiss all thoughts of a fairy note, and piss off to bed.

I feel a tap on my arm and I slowly open my eyes. The luminescent figures of 4:23 swim in front of my eyes. Bloody hell.

“Mummy!” E looms over me. In the grainy half- light of my bedroom, I can see him brandishing a pound coin, holding it up between his fingers in victory.

“Oh good,” I mumbled. “The tooth fairy came them.”

I could almost hear his eyes rolling as a response. “I tricked you! I put another pillow at the other end of the bed and put my tooth under that. If there was a tooth fairy, she would have known. And you didn’t. I knew there was no such thing as the tooth fairy!”

And that, dear reader, is why I shall always strive to tell my son the truth about those cultural lies we peddle simply to confuse our children and make them resort to the sort of underhand trickery that means you are completely outwitted by a six year old and that makes you look like an utter idiot

Watch out Santa. I’m coming for you…

 


Like Lego, but with less knobbly bits (or 5 reasons why I love Minecraft)

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I do not claim to be an expert in Minecraft. For those of you with social lives, or perhaps with kids too old to succumb to the blocky siren call of this gaming phenomenon, Minecraft is a game where you build shit, and knock shit down. It’s a bit like Lego, but with less knobbly bits and with one distinct advantage: never has a parent stepped on a bit of Minecraft in bare feet and shouted eighteen rude words in one breath, all of which basically mean ‘holy fuck that hurts’.

There are people who have expanded on my pithy definition of Minecraft, calling it a sandbox game. They refer to the fact that the game territory is a blank canvas, on which the player is only limited by his or her imagination (or that of the Minecrafter that they have just watched on YouTube). Again, Minecraft wins hands down over an actual sandbox, seeing as you don’t get sand in your gusset when playing it.

But these are not the only reasons I love Minecraft. Let me clarify: I don’t love Minecraft, with its crude, tessellating building blocks, people with cubiod heads and impossible navigation tools (eight times I tried to walk through that bloody door. It’s ridiculous). But I do love what Minecraft is teaching my 6 year old son, who is an avid fan.  I feel a list coming on…

Lesson 1: Hone your skills. E’s first attempt at a dwelling was… well, to his face I think I described it as ‘ooh, interesting…’ and after he left the room as ‘a bit shit’.  He was inordinately proud of this shabby hut, with no windows and a single bed inside. Until about three days later, when he went back, knocked in a few windows, added a huge glass extension and a rather elegant chimney. It was like watching a very cubey episode of Grand Designs unfold before my very eyes. Minecraft has taught my son that whilst practise does not always make perfect, it makes you create something much, much better that would sell for around half a million on the open market.

Lesson 2: Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Minecraft is the perfect demonstration that the pursuit of perfection is a somewhat futile exercise. My son learned this as he returned to his des res creation after four days with fresh eyes and the experience of sitting through a really annoying nerd show off his Minecraft palaces on YouTube, and decided it was a bit rubbish. So he knocked it down and started again. To make something perfect. And yes, there is a pattern emerging here.

Lesson 3: The value of research. Watching endless videos of other Minecrafters take you on a tour of their buildings, like a crazed estate agent who has had too many Haribo, may seem like a waste of time. But in fact, this is theoretical research in action. E would never have been able to build that disco room had he not seen another Minecrafter use glow stone to such effect. And what is life without the ability to build a disco room at a moment’s notice?

Lesson 4: Beware of fire. E’s next creation was a huge timber framed house, split over four levels, with over twenty rooms, a loft conversion and a granny annexe. The floors were built of glass, under which E had created a huge lava pool. Already, this is beginning to sound like the opening scenes from an episode of Casualty, and sure enough, the next time he went to play, his lovingly created building was engulfed in flames. He pleaded with me to help, but being a Minecraft virgin, all I could do was stare helplessly at this voracious inferno. I did try and throw a tea towel over his Hudl at one point, but to no avail. Only after E had stopped sobbing, many, many, many minutes after the remaining annexe was swallowed up by pixellated flames, did two lessons get learned. One: don’t play (or build) with lava. Two: timber-framed houses are just bloody asking for trouble.

Lesson 5: If you can’t loop the loop an obstacle, build a slide instead. “I’m going to build a loop-the-loop roller coaster,” E announces as he settles down with Minecraft. I leave him to it and return half an hour later to check on progress. “I can’t do it,” he says glumly. “I don’t know how.” I say something profound and not at all annoying, like ‘ just keep trying’ and disappear.  Some time later, I ask him how it’s going. He informs me that despite many attempts, he could not get the roller coaster to loop the loop. “So I built a really long slide, instead.” And there you have it: the answer to pretty much all of life’s problems: a really long slide.


Eating. Farting. Laughing. Shouting. Jumping. Fighting. Running. Shouting.

KerpowEating. Farting. Laughing. Shouting. Jumping. Fighting. Running. Shouting.  Life with two small boys, summed up in eight short words. And yes, I do know that the list has two occurrences of shouting. That’s because they do a lot of it. In fact, probably twice as much as they should.

I am not about to embark on a character assassination of boys. After all, I married one and then gave birth to two (not simultaneously, I hasten to add). But I do often ponder about a family of male offspring, usually when a mother of girls makes a snarky comment about boys being a bit retarded and way too noisy. “Oh, sometimes they can be delightful,” I reply loudly over the bloodcurdling yells of my children, trying not to notice them in my peripheral vision, one seemingly wiping a bogey on his sleeve whilst the other jumps up and down with his tongue out. “Really… delightful,” I add and slink away to hang out with mums of boys who think nothing of having a fifteen minute conversation about the colours of light sabres and blowing off. And curiously, these two topics of conversation are not as mutually exclusive as you may think.

And of course, let’s get the farting out of the way quickly. They love blowing off. They love hearing someone else blow off. They love talking about blowing off. It is all HIL. AIR. I. OUS. Enough said, I think.

We should probably get the whole volume thing out of the way as well. I know some parents who have the two-pronged Indoor Voice / Outdoor Voice rule. Whereas our family has a single guideline for speaking: it’s the Standing on Top of a Mountain and Trying to Get the Attention of Someone Standing Way Down Below rule. It’s much simpler to remember, I find. And I really don’t mind the noise my children make. They are boys: and like many other boys throughout the ages who have expelled decibels from their mouths like their very life depended on it, they are bloody noisy. I find this simple scientific equation sums it up quite nicely: E + T = V (energy plus testosterone equals volume). No, I don’t mind at all. Just so long as I can sneak off into another room and pop my headphones in, they can whoop and holler ’til the cows come home. Or the neighbours pop round.

But my boys do seem to have an issue when it comes to understanding the function of some objects. They see the sofa as a trampoline. They see cutlery as drum sticks. They see cereal bowls as formal headwear. My dressing gown belt is a laser beam, whilst a plastic hanger is a bow and arrow. A tin of beans is a bowling ball and dried pasta is suddenly confetti. Toilet roll becomes bandages, sticks become rifles and socks are close-combat missiles. They seem a tad confused, but not as confused as I, who return to the kitchen after five minutes’ absence  to find the floor covered in pasta, socks, an assortment of hangers and two boys writhing around in the middle of it all, hooting with laughter and bashing each other round the head with swords. Which are in fact an empty kitchen roll tubes.

As most mothers of boys would agree, living with boys is not too dissimilar to owning dogs. The only things you have to ask daily, without fail, are: Have they had their exercise? Have they had enough to eat? Have they had a poo? And Have you given them a quick tickle and a stroke? And if you can answer in the affirmative to these four questions by bedtime, you are pretty much ROCKING IT as a mother of boys.

My friend related a conversation to me from a recent party she attended
, where a mother of a girl stated quite matter-of-factly that she was worried about her daughter starting school, as being with boys would damage her daughter’s  (unsurprisingly highly developed and sophisticated) intellect. The word ‘bollocks’ springs to mind at this juncture. It is true, much of education lends itself to what I consider to be attributes mainly held by girls: listening and sitting still. And I have to admit, my 6 year old will not win any listening prizes any time soon (unless the competition involves me standing fifty foot away from him and whispering ‘do you want some chocolate?’, in which case he would wipe the floor with everyone else and return home victorious). And when I read with him, it is like watching a ferret trying to stand still on hot coals whilst someone tickles his sphincter. Yet he learns with the best of them…even the girls. And let’s face it, school is only one aspect of their education. My sons are also schooled in the ways of the ninja. They know twenty-three different sound effects for a gun. And they can empty their plate of food before you’ve had time to season yours with pepper. All of which is an exhilarating and exhausting blend of joy and insanity.

So, to Boy-Hating Mother I simply say: SMELL MY BLOW OFF.