Crazy summer days

It’s that time of the year again. The paddling pool is out, we risk being late for school every day as I attempt to apply suncream to one small octopus-eel hybrid masquerading as my youngest daughter and conduct a ten-minute search for both children’s sunhats, and husband was hosing Anna down in the garden at 9.30pm last night as she was hot, sticky, fractious and totally unable to sleep. I love the idea of summer – salads in the garden, ice-creams in the park, floaty dresses, and trips to the seaside – but the sad reality is that I think I’m just a bit too pasty and British to be able to cope with temperatures over about 22 degrees celsius.

Not to mention the fact that as soon as school is back after May half-term, Anna’s social calendar, and therefore my to-do list, goes stratospheric. Now she’s at pre-school, Sophia is in on the act too. This is what we have in the diary, so far, for this week and next:

  • Paddling pool playdate here with Anna’s friend
  • Arranging to meet a woman who lives on the other side of Walthamstow so that we can exchange Lego cards on behalf of our children
  • School trip to museum, Anna to be dressed in Victorian schoolgirl costume (that will be fun for her on the Tube in this weather!)
  • Wear Yellow to School to support Cystic Fibrosis research (remember to take money, and lend a yellow t-shirt to Anna’s friend)
  • Cake sale at school to raise money for World Wildlife Fund (need to bake a cake)
  • Hospital check-up for Sophia
  • Leafletting to advertise Pre-school Summer Fete
  • Pre-school Summer Fete (need to bake a cake for the cake stall, and provide an example of our family’s ethnic cuisine for the International stall. Umm, fish fingers?)
  • Merton College Family Garden Party (alright, to be fair, this is actually mine and husband’s social activity. The theory is that we get to catch up with some of our oldest and closest friends while our respective offspring play contentedly together in the ancient and beautiful garden, continuing our wonderful friendships into a second generation. The reality is probably that we manage to exchange no more than three interrupted sentences over the course of as many hours because our time is occupied with attempting to prevent our respective offspring demolishing said ancient and beautiful garden and/or each other. However, there will be Pimms.)
  • Trip to opticians to have Anna’s new glasses fitted
  • Another playdate
  • Anna’s friend’s Eid party
  • Primary School Summer Fayre (need to bake a cake for the cake stall, take in a bottle for the bottle tombola, a chocolate item for the chocolate tombola and sort out some books and bric-a-brac for, yes you’ve guessed it, the book and bric-a-brac stalls).

I’m also being ceaselessly badgered to arrange a time for another of Anna’s friends to come round so that they can hold the Fairy Queen tea party they’ve been planning in minute detail. And, on top of all this, those pesky children still insist on being fedEvery single day. At least three times.

However, there are also advantages to summer. We are eating every meal outside, which greatly reduces the hoovering. The laundry dries really quickly. If you ignore the plethora of primary coloured plastic with which it is littered, the garden looks lovely. And yesterday, in Mega Mummy Win of the Week, I got Sophia engaged in water play which involved her repeatedly filling a beaker with water and then pouring it over my feet and legs. Sheer bliss.

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Vote positive

Much as I would like to believe that this general election could result in a change of government, it sadly looks fairly unlikely. However, I truly believe that actually voting has never been more important. vote pic 2

Even if we can’t change the government, let’s go out and cast votes for candidates who want things to be different. Candidates who believe in diversity and co-operation rather than division and hate. Candidates who believe in fair and progressive taxation used to ensure that everyone has access to the help and support they need. Candidates who are passionate about opposing cuts to, and privatisation of, education, the NHS, social care and benefits. Candidates who know that doing everything possible to halt climate change is the only way to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren.

Vote for positivity and hope rather than negativity and fear. But, most of all, vote.

 

 

Beside the seaside

It’s an appropriately grey, rainy and blustery day for the first day back at school, preschool and work after a (mainly!) sunshiny half term at the seaside.

We rented a cottage in Hastings for the week, and had the most idyllic time imaginable. I’m surprised Hastings isn’t better known as a holiday destination, because it is perfect in every way, from the narrow, higgledy-piggledy streets of the Old Town lined with independent cafes and delightful antique shops, to the dramatic cliffs rising up straight from the town, their tops a lush carpet of wildflowers leading to the South Downs beyond, to the waves crashing on the beach and the fishermen pulling in their catch, to the traditional family holiday amusements of fairground and crazy golf it has everything you could want.

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We spent hours on the beach, paddling, wave jumping, hunting in rock pools, searching for pretty pebbles and shells, burying each other’s legs and damming streams. The children were both in their element. The miraculous thing about a seaside holiday is that, even though we took practically no toys (Anna had her Kindle and her favourite soft toy, Sophia had a handful of picture books as well as Mouse and Bunny, who are indispensable sleep aids), and we bought a couple buckets and spades, and they were both totally content with these for the whole week.

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We had a morning at the fair, and an afternoon playing crazy golf (which by some fluke I won, managing no less than two holes in one!), and then a couple of day trips out to National Trust properties in Sussex. Bodiam Castle is the ultimate child’s storybook medieval castle, complete with moat, and we got there by steam train! Bateman’s is  Rudyard Kipling’s old home, and dreamily beautiful. June must be one of the best months to see an English country garden, and this one was spectacular.

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I was feeling totally fed up with cooking and housework at the beginning of the holiday, and really needed a break. I was a bit worried that self-catering meant that I wouldn’t get one, but I needn’t have worried. We had fresh sourdough bread and pastries from the local organic bakery for breakfast each day, picnics for lunch – either humous and oatcakes or sausage rolls from the same bakery and a bit of cucumber and some cherry tomatoes to keep scurvy at bay, and then dinner was either fish and chips, a Waitrose ready meal courtesy of the Ocado delivery I booked for the first day, or something really simple like locally smoked mackerel and salad which was well within husband’s limited culinary capability. All delicious, no-one starved, and I have come home with a renewed enthusiasm for cooking. As for housework, well, we were out pretty much all day every day, so things didn’t really have a chance to get messed up.

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I find being by the sea so therapeutic that I have come home refreshed, calmed and energised. Oh, and determined to start a fund to buy a second home in Hastings Old Town. Maybe if I start saving £2 coins…?

United we stand

fred rogers quote

I am writing this looking out of the window of a local cafe at a busy urban street scene in central Walthamstow. People from hugely diverse religious, cultural, national backgrounds going about their business – shopping, waiting for the bus, meeting friends, going to work, taking their children to the park.

I am also fighting back tears after reading the heartbreaking account of what happened in Manchester last night, and thinking of the families who will never know another ‘normal’ morning like this.

Life feels so fragile and frightening when horror like this occurs. It is incredibly tempting to retreat into ourselves, closeted away with our families and friends, shutting ourselves off from that scary world outside. I feel that temptation. When the attack in Westminster happened last month it was a real effort of will to get on the Tube with Sophia the next morning and carry on our usual routine. But this instinct to retreat is not the right one. Life is fragile and precious, so all the more reason to live it fully. We know and trust those closest to us, but when a dreadful event like this happens, what becomes immediately clear is the abundant kindness and humanity of strangers. People from Manchester and surrounding areas (including my hometown, Liverpool) have opened their homes, given lifts, made tea and offered whatever helping hand was necessary to those who needed it. There are queues of people wanting to donate blood this morning.

There is much speculation as to whether the suicide bomber will turn out to be a lone individual or part of a wider terrorist network. Obviously that matters for the police as they try to prevent more such attacks, but for us as worried onlookers, I don’t think it does. Whether through badness or madness or both there will always be people who do or advocate terrible things. But they are the exceptions and the outliers, and in no way represent the communities they come from.

When we have talked to Anna about terrorist attacks – figuring it is better she hears about them from us than convoluted versions on the school grapevine – we emphasise that whenever anything bad happens the people who try to help and heal always far, far outnumber the people who tried to hurt and kill. Whether that be hospital staff working through the night, or emergency services putting their own lives at risk or call handlers keeping witnesses and victims calm while they wait for help to arrive, or ordinary people opening their hearts and homes to those who need it.

Political campaigning has been suspended following the attack, and I very much hope that signals a sensible and grown-up approach, which doesn’t try to lay blame anywhere except on the man who detonated the bomb. Be deeply suspicious of leaders or politicians who try to stir up blame and hatred against immigrants or religious communities or any other wide group of people for the actions of a few, because divided countries and communities are weaker ones.

The best way we can show solidarity with the victims, the survivors, the bereaved of last night’s attack is to follow the example of the people who reached out their hands to help. Smile at a stranger, put some money in a charity collection tin, go and donate blood or register on the organ donation website and, above all,  teach your children the truth – good people in the world by far outweigh bad, and we are all stronger when we stand united.

Choose Your Battles

‘Choose your battles’ is the mantra in our household at the moment. Sophia has a will of iron, and if her ideas on what should happen and my ideas on what should happen don’t coincide then we have a problem. A big problem. A problem who, although under 3 foot with huge melting brown eyes, peachy soft skin, wispy blonde hair and an angelic smile, takes only a split second to turn into a tomato-coloured, screaming, screeching, thrashing, wailing termagant.

To be fair, this is usually caused by some gross stupidity or unreasonableness on my part. Only this week, for example, I asked Sophia if she would like a bubble bath. She enthusiastically agreed, but was then understandably furious that these bubbles went onto her skin when she got into the bath. I obviously should have realised the magnitude of this issue and forewarned her. And how could I possibly have given her pasta for dinner, when she doesn’t like pasta? Granted she had cheerfully, even voraciously, eaten pasta for around 60% of her meals since she was about 8 months old, but I should have realised that she doesn’t like it now.

Obviously I want to avoid these meltdowns as frequently as possible, but there are many times when I can’t. Unreasonable I may be, but she is not going to go to pre-school in her pyjamas, or watch Charlie and Lola for five hours solid or put my iPhone in the bath. Nor am I very keen on her communicating her views on where she wants her sister to sit by dragging her there by the hair, or going out in the pouring rain with no coat on, or swinging on the stair-gate. Her teeth are going to be cleaned twice a day, and she does need to hold my hand when she crosses the road and she must be fastened into her buggy so she doesn’t tip out onto the pavement.

With all these red lines which I have to try and stop her crossing, more and more I find myself murmuring ‘choose your battles’. In a perfect world she wouldn’t drop food onto the floor, or hide the green tops of the strawberries she has eaten down the side of the sofa, or dip her finger into her milk and use it to draw patterns on the table. I don’t know how much our neighbours appreciate her compulsion to walk along every front wall of a suitable height, or climb up and jump off every step to a front path. And wearing wellies to pre-school on a cloudless day when temperatures are reaching 20 degrees celsius isn’t necessarily ideal. I don’t want to turn her into a spoilt brat by pandering to her insistence that her snack is served on the red plate not the blue plate, or letting her have said snack on the sofa (all the better for hiding bits of strawberry bits) rather than the high chair, but equally, in the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? Is it worth a full-scale bells and whistles tantrum which leaves both of us tear-stained, frazzled and exhausted?

I’m trying to restrict my restrictions to things which might harm her or someone else, or which set up really bad habits we might struggle to break later. I have broken many rules which I set for myself when Anna was a baby – such as no television in the mornings, except in case of illness. Now, when it’s a Saturday morning and 6.30am and I’ve already been up for an hour, and Sophia is begging to watch (yes, you’ve guessed it) Charlie and Lola I just can’t be bothered to argue. Choose your battles. Letting her watch some telly then means she’s happy because she got what she wanted, I’m happy because I get to potter round the kitchen making banana muffins for breakfast while she is contentedly engaged, before slumping on the sofa next to her for a quick Instagram, fix, and the whole family are happy because they then get to eat the muffins. And the idea of imposing a ‘one toy away before another comes out’ is a distant memory.

Part of me thinks this is fine, sensible even. Why deliberately make both of us stressed and unhappy over arbitrary rules when there’s no need to? Especially as, because of the need to get Anna to school and various other activities on time, I already spend a lot of time telling Sophia that she has to stop playing to come and get dressed, get ready, get into her buggy and go out, so maybe it’s not a bad idea to cut her some slack the rest of the time. On the other hand, I can also see that it might be a slippery slope to total household anarchy, and that this is how youngest children get a reputation for being spoilt!

And then, of course, there’s the times when she sits on the sofa and ‘reads’ a story to her teddies, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and it’s impossible to believe that she could ever have a tantrum at all.

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What do you think? Is my ‘choose your battles’ mantra a sensible and pragmatic approach to coping with a  strong-willed toddler, or a lazy parent’s excuse for failing to put their foot down?