Monday, 15 July 2013

Screen Saviour

Last weekend, as part of my aim to be a proper self-employed person, I bought a new computer.

Previously I'd been using my husband's laptop, an exciting step-up from the Acer Notebook that I impulse bought four years ago so I could write a novel in Starbucks and look important on a train.

The laptop, to be fair, has been brilliant. Fran and I have finished our craft book for children and our first print run has completely sold out, we're taking wholesale orders and working on a new range. I now turn up to meetings without making a joke about the fact that we've called it a meeting and not just cake and a chat. I have spreadsheets called things like 'Sales and Balance Sheets' and 'Stock Inventory'. I filled in a survey and ticked the 'Work Part Time' box. I've sent 13 tweets.

So I thought I could justify taking the next big leap and working on my very own computer. With just my work stuff on it. And my music. And all my photos.

Henry's father spent a considerable amount of time the night before filtering pictures of laptops by computer-ish words like 'RAM' and 'LOWEST PRICE FIRST' while I pretended to be interested by intermittently pausing Mad Men and leaning over to look at the screen. I did want a computer, but I would almost definitely be choosing it based on it's colour and whether it came with any free stuff rather than a specification, whatever that is.

'Get a Mac!' texted my friend.
'More expensive and no idea how they work!' I texted back.
'Yeah, you don't need a Mac. Everyone thinks they need a Mac but it's all just marketing'

Bloody marketing.

And then we went to bed.

"There's an Early Learning Centre next door", I remembered as we all piled into the car the next morning. "One of us can take them to the play bit if it's a nightmare".  Meaning, obviously, that he can take them to the play bit and I can walk around the audio section fingering iPods.

PC World, it turns out, is not set up for family shopping so Henry's father went to show the kids the fridge freezers before a man called Dan came over to help me out.

"I'm looking for a computer...for my business", I said, trying not to sound like I was in a film.
"What do you do?" asked Dan
"I make books, they have lots of images and they've clogged up the one I've got now".

Made that up.

"Ok great, have you looked at the Macs?"

"I don't want a Mac. I know I use InDesign and make books, but I don't want a Mac, I don't need it."
"You use InDesign? Have you ever looked at having a Mac?"
"I don't want a Mac, really, a normal computer is just fine."
"A Mac is normal for designers."
"I'm not a designer. Honestly. Just a pc. A laptop will be great"
"They are really fast and great for graphics software"
"I don't want a Mac"
"I did a graphics design course and we used Macs..."


<pointing vaguely across the store> "There's one I've seen, it's fast, it's 16 mega...bytes...whatever the speed thing is..."
<starts walking> "OK, if you can show me...These are the Macs by the way..."


"Oh, right."


"Can I just...just out of interest, I've never really seen one... Big screens. Wow. They've got big screens haven't they? Where's the...Is it all just in the monitor??"

The massive, amazing, shiny, uber-cool monitor. 

"I mean, I don't want a Mac. They look good though don't they."

Suddenly, Henry's Father comes jogging through the kettles section looking flustered.

"Sorry darling, the kids got a muffin out of your bag and smeared it on the carpet. It's ok, they're demonstrating a Vax on it. Oooo is that a Mac??"

"Yes, I don't want one, I'm just looking."
"They're really good for designers aren't they?
"I'm not a designer".
"Wow...Is it all just in the monitor??"

Half an hour later I'm talking to Graham.

We are sitting in front of my new Mac.

I am so happy I am having to clench my fists to contain an air punch.

Graham is a man with a look on his face that says 'I hate people who know nothing about computers' but unfortunately has been selected as the one person in PC World who can make computers 'Walk Out Working' - the service reserved for people like me who Walk Out Clueless only to Walk Back In the next day to ask where the on button is.

Graham hates me. He hates that I can't remember any of my passwords and that I keep saying "...different to a normal computer" and using the sound 'oooooo' whenever a window folds down in that twirly way to the bottom when you minimise it. He hates me and he hates my children, who are banging Rangemaster oven doors two feet away and putting soft toys in the washing machines.

He clicks a lot and talks about docks and system preferences and livedrives and I nod and try to resist stroking the screen.

Just before I'm allowed to go, Graham asks to demonstrate one more thing.

"Can I just look at your phone, I can show you how your Photo Stream will transfer your photos straight onto other Apple products".

He takes my phone and opens a window on the Mac. A picture of a naked woman in a cornfield takes up the entire screen.

We leave.

"What the hell was that??" Henry's father hissed as we break into a jog towards the car.
"It was a picture of my friend who wants to be a glamour model" I said, as if that should be totally obvious. "I took a screenshot of one of her pictures to show someone..."

Luckily Graham did make the computer work because I can now obviously never go back to ask for help.

And I love it. All my work stuff is on it and I know where all my files are. Fran's amazing illustrations look awesome on the huge screen and my screensaver is a photo of a cake my daughter made with my Mum.

At least it is every 15 seconds, after  a photo of Henry eating ice-cream in the park and a woman in a thong on a sheepskin rug.

I'll make sure I sort that out before my next meeting.

Monday, 24 June 2013

See See TV

I got a phone call from the cleaning company this morning.

"Hello, it's Domestic Divas here"
"Hi there, how are you?"
"Fine thanks, look, this is slightly strange. I'm calling because, Bev, she came to do your clean last week and she mentioned that...well...she said she felt a bit awkward because she thought you might have been...filming her..?"

Poor Bev. I should have left a note but predictably forgot. I was filming her, but not on purpose. The cameras have been here all week as part of a research project I volunteered for about media use in the home. I believe I have been representing 'the North' and 'young families' so should probably take this opportunity to apologise to those of you who either live above the Midlands or have children under 5 - I have let you down...

The guy from the agency came round a week ago to interview me and set up the equipment.

"I've just got a few questions," he launched in cheerily, "about how you use media, phones, tv, the iPad, that sort of thing. I see you've got a smartphone, how often would you say you use that to browse the internet?"

"Um, quite a lot."

"Any particular sites?"

Daily Mail sidebar of shame. Facebook. Daily Mail sidebar of shame.

"Well I use Facebook quite a bit and other social media...Mainly for business purposes."

Massive lie. I use social media, like everyone else, to clog up 325 newsfeeds with phone photos of my children and make sarcastic comments on pictures of friends who are thinner than me enjoying themselves on holiday.

"And do you use the internet to search for information?"

Mind races. My last three Google searches were 'Lose a stone in fourteen days', 'Can you train to be a doctor at 32' and 'My toddler ate guinea pig food'. But I'm pretty sure that usually I look up things like wholemeal carrot and flaxseed muffins to make nutritious children's snacks.

"Yes, I do, mainly recipes",

"Ok great, and what about television?"

"Oh, we don't really watch television" I said gravely. "I mean, I don't like the kids to watch too much tv, I try and get them to do other things, you know, like crafts, or we go to the park. I mean they do watch it sometimes, but only really after 4. And before 5."

"Oh-kaaayyy..." (he's writing things down) "and how about you and television?".

"Me?? Oh, I don't have time to make dinner let alone watch tv!" I laughed, before realising I don't exactly look like someone who regularly skips an evening meal.

<serious face> "I have to work in the evenings."

It went on. I answered his questions. He wrote some stuff down. He told me I had to use the computer and my phone in front of the cameras as much as possible and open all my post there too. He left two cameras whirring behind the sofa from which there was no place to hide. I left ten minutes later with the children to go to a wedding for the weekend. I spent most of the journey swinging between relieved that burglars would be caught on camera and imagining fireman sifting through the ashes of our possessions to retrieve electrical equipment that had overheated while we were away.

When we walked back through the door on Sunday evening I realised we were off to a bad start. We are not big drinkers but even we know that when you have both a hangover and children there really is no other place to sit except the sofa. And inevitably Nick Jr. babysat the kids on tv while my husband and I sat self-conciously together on the sofa taking it in turns to talk about feeling sick. Then we went to bed at the same time as the children.

The next day I felt much better. But then the reality of having almost no stock for a fair in five days hit me quite hard. So Day 2 was mainly me standing next to the computer, one hand creating a poster of the alphabet and the other turning the pages of Usborne's '100 Animals' for Henry to point at. He was not happy.

I was wearing pyjamas by 8pm but was pretty sure this would come across fairly Sarah Jessica Parker-esque because I was wearing make-up and took regular breaks to look pensively into middle distance and fiddle with my hair. I had popcorn for dinner but remembered to eat it in the kitchen.

Day 3 was less successful. I was starting to forget the cameras were there and slopped around with no make up on, sighing and chucking things around to find lost invoices and business cards and toddlers.

The kids watched quite a lot of tv and I was stressed.

On Day 4 Henry's sister had a massive tantrum. Really, really awfully huge. Horribly aware I was being filmed I pretended to be Jo Frost for an hour, calmly and consistently returning my contorting, screaming 4 year old to the bottom of our stairs every 20 seconds and saying 'this behaviour is unesseptibleeee' in my best Essex accent (turns out this is actually quite a good tactic).

Day 5 was even worse. The children watched more tv, we were all tetchy and stroppy and on edge. I realised at 9.30pm I was wearing deeply unflattering pyjamas with no bra and watching Holby whilst inhaling a share size pack of Giant Buttons. I was almost there with the work but at the expense of my patience and sanity.

I sat with my post on Day 6, smiling broadly towards the camera but inwardly sobbing at my credit card bill. There was a flyer for Mini Boden. I spent Henry's entire nap on the computer browsing soft-fit trousers for boys and t-shirts with boats on them.

In the afternoon, as the kids ran half-dressed around the house smearing soggy malted milks on everything they touched, I sat on my iPhone and looked at photos of Pippa Middleton shopping in Waitrose and Nigella Lawson being assualted by her husband. I was tired and grumpy and needed a break.

The days rolled on. Friends came round, children played, children shouted and laughed and cried. I made phone calls to plumbers and printers, mothers and husbands. I swung, seemingly relentlessly, between storytime and the naughty step, crashing at 8pm on the sofa for five minutes before sorting price lists and framing and invoices and Twitter accounts.

And all the time the cameras filmed us, this week of sinking into what felt like a black hole of low-quality childcare and poor self-maintenance.

Until Day 7 when the nice man came back and took the cameras away. And then it was the fair and I sold books and posters and charts and smiled all day.

I went home and we sat on the sofa and ate fish and chips and watched a film containing nudity.

Today I did the school run by bike and took the children to the woods to look for fairies. I made a shepherd's pie. I joined in 'let's chuck water over Henry' at bathtime and ignored the puddles on the floor. I lay in bed with Henry's sister in the dark, idly discussing why she can't ever have hair as long as Rapunzel and how large a cake would be at a 100th birthday party.

And I have spent quite a large part of the day cringing at the thought of Bev, duster in hand, wondering if this is Big Brother 17, or whatever it is now, and she's this season's twist.

I explained to her boss and apologised for not leaving a note.

"And were you happy with the clean?" she asked before she went.

I glanced round the room at the week-old biscuit crumbs, smeary mirrors and dusty shelves.

"Fantastic" I said, "thank you..."

I picked up '100 Animals' balanced on my laptop, next to the tv remote and an empty packet of Giant Buttons.

"...thank you very much".

Thursday, 4 April 2013

How to Face Values

I got a phone call from my husband this week that started like this:

Me: "Hello?!"
Him: "Hi darling, it's me"
Me: "Oh, hi! God, thank god...Where are you??"
Him: "I'm in a pub..."

So many things I could have said next have since come to mind. All are witty and cutting. All are executed by a thin woman wearing Zara, clutching a salad. Unfortunately I was too relieved to say anything at all, wearing my dressing gown and clutching a Twirl.

The children and I had come in after a trip to the shops to find the house empty. Henry's sister ran up and down the stairs calling 'Daddy! Daddy!' to no avail. He's probably popped to the shops I thought, flopping our bags down in the hall and picking up coats and shoes.

Half an hour passed. I made a cup of tea and, hiding a Twirl from the children, gave him a call. His mobile rang out from the sitting room.

That seemed weird. And there was his wallet too.

And inside me, a teensy little bit of worry...

You see, Henry's Father has been looking for work for quite a few weeks now. It's the nature of his job as a contractor that he will sometimes have lots of work and sometimes have none. But when there is none you can never quite relax somehow. And it's hard for someone who is so used to using his brain doing Very Hard Maths all day, everyday, to suddenly finding himself at home reading Dear Zoo and cutting cheese sandwiches into triangles.

Maybe he is really depressed and I hadn't noticed, I suddenly thought. Maybe I've been so busy sitting at the computer turning faces for hard boiled eggs and shoes for jellyfish into a craft book that my husband has been sitting, sad and alone, all by himself in the kitchen with only his unemployed thoughts for company and I hadn't realised....Maybe he's walked out. Oh God. He's left us. He's left us! But left me his phone as a present. And his wallet. With all his cards...let me just...HSBC, Santander, that's our savings...I do know his PIN don't I..? I wonder how much a KMix is on Amaz...

Then the phone rang.

And I truly was relieved because I have been really distracted this week, amongst other things working on a reward chart for Henry's sister.

Since the introduction of pocket money three weeks ago I have found reeling off a list of Excellent Things You Have Done This Week really hard. Not because she hasn't done any, but because it's quite difficult to be very specific at 6.30am on a Saturday morning when a poor ceramic representation of a Disney Princess is two centimetres from my nose in bed. What I really need, I decided triumphantly, is a Reward Chart. Something to point at, something to show her. Something to prove to people who come round that we are showing off  deeply involved in the psychological development of our children.

And she needs it. I didn't realise quite how 'assertive' four year olds can be. Have the Government introduced 'backchat' as part of the Early Years framework? So far this week I have tried and largely failed to find appropriate and witty responses to:

  1. "I don't like any of your options" (suggesting things to do that aren't watching television)
  2. "I can't be bothered to do you a favour" (request to close a drafty door)
  3. "Beauty and the Beast is using my imagination" (suggesting things to do that aren't watching television, round two)
  4. "I'm not ever going to be your friend" (plea to get dressed)
  5. "No" (encouragement to share Easter Egg with me)
  6. "No, Mummy" (demand to share Easter Egg with me)
  7. "I SAID NO" (begging to share Easter Egg with me)
  8. "Can I have some" (plea to keep a secret from Daddy while eating Henry's Easter Egg)

So I wrote a list of things I think are important for a child to learn and that they should be rewarded for.

The first is to be Caring and Kind. So far, being a parent seems to be all about being caring and kind but through slightly stressy enforcement of made-up-on-the-spot rules such as 'I care about your face, please stop pressng it against the oven' and 'I care about you being a bit fat when you're older, no you can't have a bit of my biscuit.' Confusing.

The second is Trust and/or Honesty. Will struggle to demonstrate this; Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, where the Easter eggs really are (in me)...I must lie to them every day.

The third is Initiative, as in using it. This one will be difficult to reward as I've found that the best examples of initiative in a child occur after they have done something naughty; telling Daddy that Mummy said she could watch television is a massive lie, but a clever one. Minimising the impact of grease from cheese that has ruined the upholstering on our antique sofa this week by simply sitting on it - my child is a genius.

The fourth is Effort, or Trying Hard. Difficult for me to lead by example so much on this one as I tend to reserve most of my effort for the evenings when I Try (very) Hard not to watch Masterchef and instead sit down and do some work. Effort during the day is minimal; I'm trying not to eat all the stilton, but do it anyway and so on. Things that require genuine effort are totally lost on small children. For example today's attempt to have a conversation with John Lewis Customer Service while a one year old cries into my leg downstairs, a four year old is shouting 'I've done a poo' upstairs and I'm simultaneously separating several basket loads of clothes - most of which are not mine - into 'colours', 'darks', 'whites', 'lights' and the two garments, one jet black and one pure white that go under 'why-did-I-buy-this-thing-that-can't-be-put-in-at-40'. Where is my gold star please?

The fifth value is Helpfulness. A bit like asking them to be caring and kind but there's more in it for me.

The sixth is Trying New Things. With the exception of guinea pig food. Henry, if you're reading this...

The final value is Bravery and/or Confidence. It's vitally important to approach life with a sense of adventure, to embrace the challenges that we have been born to face, to learn to stand up, stand tall in the face of adversity and not be afraid to go for our dreams. And bloody well go to the loo without me having to take you - THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MONSTERS.

I've also realised you are never too old for a Values Chart to be stuck on your kitchen wall. I sometimes think, when I am on the edge of throwing my tea at the wall because Tesco substituted somerset camembert for a cornish brie in our delivery, or I'm fuming because somebody deleted the series record for Holby on Sky so I have to watch it on the iPad, that I need a little reminder of how to be a better example to my children.

And I'm glad Henry's father is at home, because while he is around there is an even greater chance of them understanding good values in real life.

It turns out that, although he was in the pub, he hadn't left us and then changed his mind.

He had gone for a run.

A run for the first time since he broke his foot some months ago (brave). He decided to go on a new route (trying new things) but got lost. Miles from anywhere he flagged down a post van (initiative) and got a lift to the nearest village. He had no money, water or phone so asked to make a call in a nearby pub to ask us to come and get him. He got a drink and said he would pay when we arrived (honest).

He had run 13 miles (effort) and was dehydrated and exhausted. He said thank you to me for picking him up (kind) and sorry for interrupting my Twirl* (caring).

When we got home he looked after the kids while I made dinner (helpful) and looked up his route on a map. It turns out that while he thought he was following the River Ouse, he was actually running around a pond.

He trusted me not to put that bit in my blog.

The chart isn't up yet.

*Blog not sponsored by Twirl. Probably owe me something though, for all the mentions...Happy to discuss, Cadburys?

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Make and Bake

I read an article on the BBC website last week that said it is good for children to be bored.
Boredom is good for creativity is the main argument, because it forces children to invent fun and find ways to entertain themselves. They interview Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize winner who divides his time between making ceramic vases and cross-dressing as a woman called Claire and who described boredom as "a creative state" and an opportunity for reflection, leading me to suspect that he has never met a child.
Children are the kings and queens of boredom. I don't mean very little children - Henry never seems bored. He is 14 months old and the house is his playground. He likes nothing better than to toddle into the sitting room, brazenly whacking everything he sees with a tube of foil he has stolen from the kitchen.

But somewhere between, say, 15 months and two, someone pushes a great big switch inside their heads that says 'Boredom - ON'.
And children have read the dictionary. Because rather than sitting quietly and vase-like to paddle in their own self-reflection they go like a bull in a china shop for the actual definiton of boredom which is:
'weary by dullness, tedious repetition, unwelcome attentions'
or as I like to translate:
'cleaning the kitchen, That's Not My Kitten and having a poo when in charge of a toddler.'
The article suggested not automatically putting children in front of screens when they are bored and letting them find their own activities. Which is all very well, but on days when I do manage to enforce our 'No Television Before 4pm Rule' I end up at 3.59 with a face like The Scream.
And as yesterday was the first official day of the Easter Holidays I had been starting to feel slightly anxious about how I was going to entertain my four year old while the baby rifles through the kitchen drawers and tips granola all over the floor. 
"I'm bored" said Henry's sister crossly, the second she finished her breakfast on Day One of the Easter break. "What can I do?".
Design your own vase? Pretend your name is Claire?
"Let's make some biscuits", I suggest with genuine enthusiasm eyeing the Peppa Pig Make and Bake Magazine I had impulse-bought in the Post Office on Friday.
Out of all the magazines for children it was impossible not to buy this one. For those that haven't seen it, they have basically placed a perfectly ordinary-sized magazine onto a huge carboard backing and then over-inflated the brilliance of the free gift by covering it in a lot of plastic and huge colourful words. The free gift was a child-size rolling pin and a spatula. The free gift which is, of course, not actually free unless you are stealing the magazine. The free gift which you realise you are very much paying for as you hand over £4.99. (To be fair, the first two issues are less than that. Issue one was only 99p. Issue two is £2.99. I suspect I will find myself in Tesco in August with issue 54 and a receipt for 350 quid).
"Wow, Sparkly Moon Biscuits!" I say, pointing to the picture on the cover. "Shall we make these?"
Of course we will. They're called sparkly moon biscuits! It's Peppa Pig! Such fun!
So we began at 9.00am with a quick scan of the ingredients:
  • 200g plain flour - definitely got
  • 30g icing sugar - really? not real sugar? ok, well, probably
  • 50g very soft butter - lift lid on butter dish. The average temperature of minus three outside coupled with no central heating in our kitchen means our butter is more 'frozen' than 'very soft' but I'm sure it will be fine
  • 200g white chocolate chunks - no. Raisins?
  • Edible shimmer spray - YES! We do actually have that, and that's the best bit! Mummy win!
9.05am: Wash hands, put four year old on chair to reach worktop, get out bowls etc.
9.10am: Measure out ingredients using digital scales to include maths lesson. Turns out we don't have icing sugar but confidently swop for caster. This is going brilliantly.
9.15am: Allow four year old to tip ingredients into bowl. Feel warm and wholesome.
9.20am: Follow instruction to mix ingredients together until they form a smooth dough.
9.23am: Stare at dry crumble. Mix again.
9.25am: Google 'children's biscuit recipe' on phone and click on trusty BBC Good Food link. Notice they use an egg.
9.27am: Allow four year old to crack in egg. Congratulate on perfect execution, remove visible shell from mixture and scoop yolk off worktop. Use hands to mix.
9.30am: Panic. Add milk. Instantly regret it. Consider another egg. Realise have made watery play-doh.
9.33am: Attempt to re-Google recipe but impeded by egg on screen. Mix again.  
9.35am: Double check preparation time really did say 10 minutes. Briefly consider suing.
9.37am: Accidently heavily flour worktop surface. Hands covered in egg; dismiss idea of scooping back into jar. Use teaspoon to scrape off the seven eighths of the mixture that is stuck to our fingers.
9.40am: As magazine came with free child's rolling pin allow 4 year old to roll out 'dough '
9.45am: Somehow find a way to say "that's shit, let me do it" without damaging her self-esteeem
9.50am: Use suggested glass to cut out shapes
9.55am: Look at magazine picture of child's hand using free miniature spatula to move shapes to baking tray
9.57am: Look at own child using free miniature spatula to scrape wet egg-circles off worktop. Think about suing again
10.00am: Remember have no chocolate chunks. Break news to four year old. Check I didn't say George Osborne has banned Christmas as part of the Budget. Try to make raisins sounds as delicious as chocolate using tone of voice. Fail.
10.05am: Grab coats, keys and wallet and dash across road wait for green man, to run into Sainsbury's Local for bag of choc chips. Out of stock. Panic-buy massive chocolate buttons. Dash home.
10.25am: Open share-size bag of chocolate and hand to four year old. Make mistake of blinking. Use remaining three buttons to decorate biscuits.
10.28am: Put in oven. Based on misleading preparation time, calculate biscuits will take nearly four hours.
10.30am: Open oven door every three minutes to prove biscuits aren't done.
11.00am: Take biscuits out. Compare to magazine. Start letter to solicitor in head.
11.05am: Get out shimmer spray. Notice it was Best Before May 2012.
11.07am: Use below-par spray to coat biscuits in shimmery gold listeria. Look at beaming four year old's face and realise this has all been worth it even though spray is now dripping on floor as did not Allow Biscuits To Cool On Wire Rack Before Decorating.
Do allow children to eat biscuits and skip lunch.
Spend rest of the afternoon getting confused between allowing my children to be bored and therefore ensuring they grow up to be Orange Prize winners and setting up activities to keep them entertained for five minutes so that I can do some work.
7.00pm: Children in bed. Consider feeling bored. Clean egg off kitchen wall instead.
8.00pm: Do some work. Feel creative. Thank Mother in head for allowing me to be bored as a child. Realise as adult have not felt bored all day.  
10.30pm: Lie in bed. Receive unwelcome attentions. In an attempt to avoid tedious repetition, start discussion on camping. Feel both weary and dull. Go to sleep holding hands but not before realising the recipe for happiness is probably just trying to live your life as best you can between a little bit of boredom and a dash of sparkly moon biscuits.


Friday, 22 March 2013

The North Face Divide

It was Parent Consultation Day at nursery this week.

As Henry's sister is barely 4, I assumed her teacher would just show me a few delightful paintings, tell me she was fairly average and ask if I had any questions.

Of course, if I was really honest, I was secretly hoping they would tell me that without realising it I have produced a mathematical/artistic/musical genius and they have been saving it up to tell me in person just so they could see my face.

I also suspected that a Nursery Consultation is not about the child at all, but primarily for the teacher to understand more about their pupil by taking a good look at her parents. In order to cover this, I got dressed in the hallway two minutes before leaving the house (thus ensuring that no one could stain me) and spent the car journey practising the faces I would need.

These included:

Extremely Interested In This Terms Topic On India Face
Understanding Everything You Are Telling Me About Phonics Face
Graceful Acceptance Of Your Compliments Re My Parenting Skills Face

And in the unlikely event of a totally unsubstantiated 'area for improvement', the Concerned Frown And Listening Carefully Face.

"She's settled in wonderfully", her teacher smiled, as we sat down in her office and I got my best Extremely Interested In This Terms Topic On India Face ready to go.

"Fantastic observational skills", she enthused, showing me a list of times my daughter had spotted a cloud that looked like a dog or noticed another, less observational child, choking on a felt tip.

"And wonderful colouring-in" she gushed, pushing a crinkled pile of unidentifiable scribble under my nose.

"She has a very mature vocabularly and is where she should be for recognising and using numbers".

I was just about to ask if that was 'where she should be' for a child prodigy, when the teacher said;

"However, I have got one thing that she might want to work on..."

(deploy Concerned Frown And Listening Carefully Face).

"She can't catch a ball."


"She can't catch a ball. During P.E., we look at their physical skills. And she can't catch a ball."
"Just a little thing really".
"Right, yes. I mean, that's just quite weird because I'm....I..(was shit at netball?? Can just about throw a tantrum??) My husband is really very sporty" (deploy unrehearsed Casually Accusing You Of Lying Face).

"Yes, don't worry, she just needs a bit more practice, she'll get there in the end."
 "Oh, and she also needs to help more at Tidy Up Time."

And that was it. The moment I was finally convinced, that genetics is A Thing.

On the way out, I bumped into Grace Hobbington-Dodsworth's mum. "Hiya!" she waved, jogging athletically across the car park."Bit late! Had to drop Grace off at her tennis lesson, massive queues at the lights..."

And so all I could think about on the way home were all those families who before we had children I thought we might be like - and quite a lot of whom I actually now know - who every weekend, regardless of freezing fog or torrential rain, don a North Face jacket and a Baby Bjorn and trudge enthusastically up massive hills, pausing at the top to feel the ice cold wind on their wholesome, middle-class cheeks and pull up their hoods to share a seeded cob and flask of tea. Their children's first words are either 'ground sheet' or 'National Trust' and they nearly always own an allotment.

These people's children can definitely throw.

"Right, we need to talk", I said matter-of-factly as I walked through the door.
"Oh, hi, you're back. Need to talk about what?"
"Tennis. Tidying up." I said, tripping over my pyjamas in the hallway. "And balls...".

"Maybe we should just do more stuff," their father shrugged later, watching me Google sailing lessons for toddlers on the iPad. "We could spend less time sitting inside and just...get out there", he said, sweeping his arms towards the fridge.

This was an insultingly simplistic suggestion after the good fifty five minutes I had just spent exaggerating the potential consequences of not being able to throw a ball on our daughter's entire life.

And, standing against the radiator, hands wrapped around a cup of tea, I peered unconvinced out of the window. As anyone living in Yorkshire will be able to testify, it has not got above 3 degrees any day this week. By the time we've all put on the 37 layers it takes to avoid freezing to death in the local park, it really isn't worth going out.

So for the rest of the day I tried my very hardest to make staying in a bit more...'sporty'.

I managed to include the occasional, "I've found your teddy...CATCH!" and "Let's clear up these toys...just chuck them in the box. Throw, just throw them in. From there. Stop walking. JUST THROW THEM".

And as I turned down the page where we'd stopped in our new bedtime story, 'Hitting Back - The Autobiography of Andy Murray', I smiled and kissed our wonderful little girl on the head and said good night. "I'm proud of you darling, you're doing so well and I love you for exactly who you are". Because I really do.

"You didn't buy sailing lessons then", their Father joked as I came downstairs. He settled into the sofa with a cup of tea and switched on the tv.

"Ha! No, of course not", I laughed, flopping down next to him.

Of course I didn't buy sailing lessons. None of us really like getting wet. We hate being cold. We'd much rather be inside, doing something together, just us.

So I've bought a tent.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Click Click DASH

There are two main problems I have found with working from home when you have small children.

One is, working from home when you have small children.
The other is convincing anyone else around you, including sometimes yourself, that what you are doing really is work.

It's hard to feel like I'm doing my best for women's equal rights in the workplace when I turn up to pre-school in the morning wearing yesterday's jeans and jumper, both of which have got porridge on them.

I can usually muster a smile and wave as Tallulah's mummy flies out of the nursery doors in her Whistles two-piece shouting "HI! HOW ARE YOU?! MUST DASH! LATE FOR WORK!" followed by Zachary's father, briefcase in one hand, bookbag in the other, with "Claire couldn't do drop-off today, she's in London for some training".

"Training in what?" I was desperate to ask. "Can I go?"

One Mum couldn't make Nursery Mums Night Out because she was stuck in New York on her way back from a conference. I, on the other hand, could make this condescendingly named social event, because my husband is enjoying being at home with his family after his latest contract came to an end* and I hardly ever leave the kitchen. In fact, most of my evenings are spent sitting in front of the computer while Henry's Father switches between Sky Sports and Actuary Jobs on his phone, making me cups of decaf.

I imagine most of the Other Wives are sitting at home with a large red, discussing their latest court case or highlighting all the companies in the FT they have worked for in the past week, whereas most of our evening conversations go something like this:

Me: Oh...shit. shit...
HF: What?
Me: <clicking mouse> ohhh..nothing, it's just these..moustaches...
HF: Moustaches?
Me: I can't get them to fit in the...thing...the circle thing...
HF: Oh.
Me: I just...I worked for the jellyfish...
HF: Jellyfish?
Me: <click click click>
HF: ...
Me: Bloody circle making isn't doing it...
HF: <mutters> I know the feeling...
Me: What?
HF: Nothing.

So I've given myself until the end of June to produce as much as possible in the way of new products. Then I will spend the summer trying to sell them.

If it works, then great. If it doesn't then I guess it doesn't really matter. It won't have been completely wasted time; Henry's Sister has started to sit next to me in the afternoons and make her own books out of folded printer paper, drawing beautiful little pictures and wrapping them up for imaginary customers. Henry likes to sit on my lap, pointing at illustrations and moving the mouse, albeit deleting half my emails and decaptiating on-screen jellyfish.

If I'm really honest, though, I have to admit, there is a little voice inside of me already practicing her best, carefree morning call, "HI! HOW ARE YOU?! MUST DASH! I'VE GOT BOOKS TO SELL YOU KNOW..!"

*desperate to be in an office again

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Belle Jar

Henry's Sister was four last week.

According to someone else, four is the age that you can start to give a child the responsibility of their own money.

Up until the age of four they just eat coins, but on the morning of their fourth birthday they become like the rest of us, able to make a well-informed choice between spending it on shit they don't need and keeping it in a bank account so they can afford the minimum payment on their credit card.

After a small 'discussion' with Henry's Father, we ushered her into the kitchen and sat her down on a chair. I held her little hands and looked into her huge pools-for-eyes, gently stroking her face and wondering where my little baby had gone.

"Mummy and Daddy have got something exciting to tell you darling". Her eyes lit up. "We have decided, now that you are four and a big, grown-up girl, that you can start to have pocket money!".


"Pocket money!"


"Pocket money!"

Stifles a yawn.

"Only if you're good, though", chips in Henry's Father, pointlessly, as we all know that come every Saturday, regardless of how many meals she has failed to finish, screens she has been glued to, tantrums she has thrown and arguments we have had, we will eagerly press shiny coins into her hot little hand and tell her how terrific she is.

We decided on the arbitary figure of a pound a week, mainly because that will accumulate funds quickly enough to be useful when I raid her savings for the crisps machine at the gym. And it makes the £16 I spent on a Disney Princess money box at the Pottery Cafe seem a little less like a massive, ironic waste of cash.

They know how to play it in there, with the tiny, four quid plaster bears on the top shelves and the big bloody unicorns at the average-height-for-a-four-year-old. And as Henry's Sister now has the, apparently unavoidable, OWDP (Obsession With Disney Princess) she ignored my argument that a massive wine goblet is perfect for storing plastic bracelets and went for the Belle that doubled as a money jar.

I felt quite proud when I went back a week later to pick it up. "Wow", I said as the sickly sweet, teenage pottery girl carefully unwrapped the jar in the shop. "You did that ALL BY YOURSELF! Just WAIT til we show Daddy...".

Of course she had barely done any of it by herself but I wasn't going to admit that as I smiled animatedly at our version of Belle, with her Stephen King death-stare eyes and hideous drag queen lipstick.

"She's so pretty!" lied the teenager, "and you can put your pocket-money in there, can't you?".

And so now she sits by the printer in the dining room, Beauty's ugly sister, fending off potential burglars while we sleep upstairs.

She so far contains a pound coin awarded for imaginary good behaviour and a ten pence that Henry found and tried to eat (he's not yet four).

I'm thinking of going back and painting the goblet. If I got a glass of wine for everytime I did something good in this house I'm pretty sure I would be constantly pissed.

And I'd definitely look a lot more like Belle.