Santa No More

Maxi finally asked me outright, “Is Santa real?”

The Boss and I agreed long ago, when we created our family Christmas traditions, that if one of the minxes ever asked outright about Santa that we’d not blatantly lie to them: we’d either distract them if they were very young or it was very close to Christmas (“I think I can hear sleigh bells! Shhh!”) or come clean about the Santa myth if they were old enough or very persistent.

Maxi’s 11. It’s October (this wee bombshell hit on 25 Oct 2017). Moving up to High School this summer with a belief in Santa might be even more socially disadvantaging than just being our kid. OK then…

It’s not like it was completely out of the blue, to be fair. Last year, Maxi had asked me whether Santa was real. I’d replied with my usual, “What do you think?”to play for thinking time, then instead answered her second, back-up question: “Do you make the Santa videos?” I’d admitted that one and explained that Santa was too busy to make an individual reply to every child, so yes, the parents helped. And yes, I’d made the videos. I’d waited for her to re-ask the first Big Question, and I was ready to answer honestly, but she hadn’t.

So: I shut down the laptop, took a deep breath, pulled up my Big Responsible Mum pants and went for it. I asked my usual playing for time question (What do you think?) and half-listened while I frantically thought. I walked her into the living-room, closed the door, and steeled myself to crush the innocence of my firstborn.

Melodramatic? Hahaha. Well, only a bit.

(Recall Old Info) I started by asking her why she thought her parents made the Santa videos every year. She flanneled for a bit, playing for time herself, then eventually said that it was to make her and her sisters feel special and loved and in the middle of some wonderful magic.

Oooh, I think she’s helping me out! This might go ok!

(Analogy) Then I reminded her that Jesus probably did exist a few thousand years ago, and was probably a very, very nice man indeed, and that his ideals and stories had grown eventually into Christianity today.

(Relate to New Info) “In the same way”, I said, eyeballing her, “Santa probably lived once upon a time. He was probably a really lovely, giving man. He may or may not have been truly magic. And in the time ever since, the ideas and stories about him have been cherished and kept alive by parents all over the world who want to make Christmastime as special for their children as it once was in Santa’s day.”

Maxi snuggled into my arms and hid her face from me. Oh-oh…

(Re-state New Info) “So although Santa isn’t a real, live man anymore, he really does have millions of Santa’s helpers, all helping to make his magic come true. Except they’re not actually little elves: they’re parents. We all love our children so very much that we make Santa’s magic happen every year. We’re one huge, big team of Santa’s helpers.”

Her little shoulders shook and she cried. This wasn’t going very well.

(Check Understanding) “And now I think we have our newest recruit – you!” She sobbed. Aw, pants. This really wasn’t going well.

We hugged. I asked her how she felt. She admitted that she’d not been surprised, and that she was glad that I’d told her the truth, but she was sorry to know it.

I recalled how I’d found out about Santa when I’d asked my mum outright, on a dark, frosty 2 mile walk to the shops at night with her, aged 10. Unusually we’d been on our own so I grabbed the chance to ask – she’d probably engineered it! – and how I’d felt crushed and relieved and grown-up and trusted and shattered, all in the same moment.

I spent the next half hour bigging up parents’ role as Santa helpers. Maxi was worried that Christmas had lost its magic. I reassured her that although the innocent specialness of believing in Santa’s magic was finished for her, it wasn’t actually gone – it was just changing into a different kind of magic. I nearly wittered on about the Magic of Giving, but I reigned that whole crock o’ nonsense right in. I explained that she’d still wake up on Christmas morning and not know what she’d been given for Christmas. She’d still get a video from Santa that would make her feel loved. She would still feel excited on the whole run-up to the big day.

She thought for a while. “So do you do the elves?” she asked, smiling mischievously now.

“God, yeah!” I snorted, as her eyes widened. “That’s sooooo much fun! One of the best bits about Christmas”. I told her that she’d also still get to wake up every morning of December and rush out of bed to discover what they’d been up to because no, she absolutely wasn’t a helper on that team.

“Mum, how can you do all that to your house every night?!” she gasped in horror. Hahahahahaha! I didn’t tell her about all the alcohol involved…

We had a long talk about how she should handle her younger sisters asking her whether Santa was real or not  – they know I’m a Master of Distraction, and that Maxi never lies. Ever. Mini can imitate the ‘Lying Face’ her family and friends each make when they’re telling porkies, but she stated that Maxi doesn’t have one because she never lies. And she’s right!

I stressed that every parent weaves their own family Santa myth to best fit their children, to make their children’s Christmas as perfect and magical as they possibly could, but how those might vary. We discussed how, as a helper in Santa’s Grotto at the school fair next month, she could start being a Santa helper by being very sensitive to the slightly different family traditions and not give the game away.

Finally, Maxi asked who ate the mince-pie left out on Christmas Eve. She was quite crest-fallen when I told her that it wouldn’t be her; she was only a brand new Santa Helper and that this year, if she showed great promise, she might be allowed to nibble the carrot. Me and The Boss hate that part, so wahey, that’s the silver lining in this child’s milestone cloud!

And the title of this post? Well, fast-forward to minute 3:04 of the Proclaimers’ video and listen to the end. That was my earworm as I sat and told The Boss later what I’d just done, and that it was his job next time!

Day 9 – 11: the film reference

So did you get it? Here’s some big clues

Joan of Arc's Jazzercise Class

Joan of Arc’s Jazzercise Class

Beethoven in San Diemas

Beethoven in San Diemas

Genghis Khan running amok in San Diemas mall with a spurtle. Honest, it's a spurtle.

Genghis Khan running amok in San Diemas mall with a spurtle. Honest, it’s a spurtle.

Yep, they were all from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Party on, dudes! And be excellent to each other xxx

Day 11: completing the puzzle

Have you guessed the film that inspired days 9 through to 11 of Edbie the Elf’s Christmas 2016 rampage? We had a most excellent time coming up with the links. I think we could happily have made seriously oblique references to this film all month long. We only moved on because The Boss wanted to muck around with balloons. So did you get the film reference? I’ll tell you tomorrow 😛

Elf on the Shelf prank with breakfast cereal

Causing a rampage in the cereal cupboard

day-11b

 

 

The kids are now sure that Edbie the Elf is real because “There’s no way Mummy would have made a mess in the cereal cupboard and wasted food. No way!”

What they didn’t see was their gruff, strict, auld mammy chucking oats and Rice Krispies around with gay abandon the night before, then shutting the door for the first minx making her breakfast to discover the scene. If we’d more bowls, I’d have smashed some up to make it properly carnage-ous.

Day 9: a wee puzzle for you

I’m not going to tell you the film that inspired days 9 through to 11 of Edbie the Elf’s Christmas 2016 rampage. I don’t think you’ll get it from one day, but you never know. If it’s tricky, look at all 3 days together. It’ll be easier if you’re around the same age as me and The Boss and have a similarly juvenile sense of humour. Can you guess it?

Elf on the Shelf prank exercise class with dolls

Jazzercise class. I’m not even going to comment on Jessie’s expression, nor why she’s naked. I’m not even going to go there. Nope. (And it’s got nothing to do with the theme)

 

Quick Visit Back to Our Old Stomping Ground: Day 1

Friday 8 April, Day 7 of the Easter Holidays

We all felt sad about not getting out camping and were getting fed up rattling around the house – the week had started well with visits around and about but the weather forecast was miserable for the entire weekend. In occasional bouts of nostalgia and wistfulness, I sometimes check the forecast for the area where we used to live. This weekend it would be mild and dry there. A quick Google showed me I could get a nearby campsite place for under £15 for Friday night. It didn’t take me long to convince the rest of the family that we should go.

We loaded the car on the Thursday night and set off for Elgin before mid-morning. With that Historic Scotland membership still shiny and new and with the sun splitting the heavens, we made a bee-line for Elgin’s ruined cathedral. Despite Elgin being our nearest large town for 6 years, we’d never explored or even looked twice at the cathedral. Within 5 minutes of entering, I was regretting leaving our visit for so long! Elgin Cathedral made an even bigger impression on us than Melrose Abbey the week before, which is why I’ve written a separate post about it (I’ll amend this to add a link).

30 seconds before the tent was up and ready

30 seconds before the tent was up and ready

tent home

The nerd tent: bigger on the inside than the outside.

A quick packed lunch in the car and an emergency outgrown waterproofs purchase (Maxi and Midi are growing like weeds), and it was time to drive to Silver Sands campsite just outside Lossiemouth. As it’s mostly laid out for static and touring caravans, there’s only a little grass area set aside for tents. There was plenty of space, though: not many campers fancy pitching a tent in sub-5degC weather. We didn’t hang about: our little Vango Halo was up in a couple of minutes, every tent peg we owned holding it into the sandy ground against the wind! The minxes were delegated the job of jigsawing together the foam floor and placing roll-mats, sleeping bags and pillows. I tried hard to ignore the wails and screams that constituted kids negotiating who slept farthest from whom and closest to “Squashy Mummy”… Camp struck, we hopped into the car and nipped off down the back road to see whether the fish and chip van still visited our old village on a Friday evening.

We were so overwhelmed at seeing the fish van and some old friends in the queue that it took us a wee while to notice that the land it was parked on had been substantially prettified: beautiful plant beds and borders and decorations. Colourful, beautiful and a visual testament to great community spirit – the villagers had done the work themselves.

fish and chips by the seaWe strolled round the corner to the sea front to gaze out over the Moray Firth towards Cromarty while we ate our chips and creamy fish. All 5 of us sat silently, 3 minxes on one bench, us crumblies on the other, happily munching and smiling and reminiscing. Ahhhh, despite the chill, life just doesn’t get any better than this!

climbing wallTummies full, we walked back towards the car with a quick detour via the brilliant climbing wall along the side of the school. We should have driven back to the campsite then, but only got a few feet before all agreeing that we had to stop for a quick play at our old swing-park.

zip wireI think that was our mistake – by the time light was fading and we had to leave, we had 3 sad little faces in the back seat. Mini burst into tears and declared that she never wanted to hear the name of our old village again. “Never say that word again!” she sobbed. Amongst the family, she wanted us to rename it “The-village-where-we-used-to-live”. I think a lot of the tears and emotion were down to being so very tired out. However, I didn’t feel too even myself. I’d have loved to have said hello to our old friends, but I couldn’t really face walking up our old street and it would have been rude and too much of a surprise to just drop by unannounced.

Mummy's 'special' water bottle

Mummy’s ‘special’ water bottle

Back at the campsite, we quickly got sorted out. We could have been very distracted by the tvs in the wall of the bathrooms, but were too tired to linger over teeth-brushing. The girls sleeping-bagged up and collapsed in a big huddle. There were snores almost immediately. The Boss and I just about managed to stay awake to enjoy a shared bottle of Tiger beer (I volunteered to have my half in a water bottle – classy) before we squeezed into the huddle, too. For once, I enjoyed a little bit of insomnia, lying there listening to the wind rattling guy-ropes, the scree of the oystercatchers and the insistent swoosh of the waves, idly NOT planning the next day’s fun.

Camp Fail

Saturday 2 April: Day 1 of the Easter Holidays

The Boss and I had spent since Friday lunch-time packing, stuffing and loading and finally shoe-horned the kids into the car just before midday Saturday. One last check of the long, long list and off we set for 6 days camping in Northumberland! We’ve never been there and were looking forward to exploring it and hopefully enjoying the driest and mildest weather around. Except us being us, it never quite happens like that, does it…?

Princess Daffodil

Princess Daffodil

We arrived at the campsite, Waren Mill, around 4.30pm. The rain had stopped for a little bit but the fog hung in curtains over the sea, so undistracted by the hopefully gorgeous views, we got our pitch allocation, drove round to the wonderfully empty field, released the delighted and squealing minxes into their natural habitat, and quickly set to work erecting the behemoth tent (Vango Maritsa 500).

The little puddle in the bottom of the tent bag was a bit out of place, but as we unfurled the tent and poles and pegs, everything seemed fine: well, it had started to rain again. Like a well-oiled machine, The Boss and I took opposing sides and slotted the heavy poles into place. A bit of heaving and juggling and wishing we’d another 3 pairs of hands to hoist it (as yet too short and not strong enough to meaningfully help), and the tent was up. Hooray! Just as the rain really started to come down. We ordered the girls away from their daisy chains and daffodil crown-making and temporarily into the car while we painstakingly pegged out the tent, re-centred it on the placement as instructed, untied and retied the guy-lines, pegged them, meticulously opened and pegged the vents… Och, you get the picture. We know from long experience that time spent at the beginning getting it right pays dividends when the heavens open in the middle of the night. As forecast throughout the week ahead. Along with the hovering-just-above-zero temperatures.

As the rain decided to go from steady to heavy, I grabbed the tent inners and nipped inside to get them hooked up so that we could quickly all loll around our lovely, light, airy tent. The zip into the tent was jammed. I tugged. I teased. I yanked. I pulled steadily. I threatened. I shouted. I yelled. I growled. Nothing. I looked more closely: the zip seemed to be gummed up with what looked like wet silvery salt. Oh-oh…

I called The Boss over for reinforcements / moral support / possibility of blaming him. He tried everything I had (except for the shouting – he doesn’t really do Drama Queen). We remembered the tent has 2 other entrances, so he unpegged one and tried to unzip that. No go. With a “grrrrrRRRRR!” he finally managed to open it. I ran round, shielding the inners from the rain with my wet head and tumbled inside.

Dear goodness, the place stank! And the floor was wet. Very wet. This didn’t bode well at all. I called for the cloth we’d packed to mop up condensation in the morning. It just smeared the water around. I considered sacrificing a towel. The Boss came back with a penknife, so we left the puddles and prioritised taking turns to chip away the salt around the zip of the front door from either side. Chip, chip, chip, pull. Chip, chip, tug. Chip, yank. Like a pair of archaeologists we painstakingly dug out the zip. Finally, finally, we got it to open! We brushed off all the detritus and zipped back and forth, back and forth, freeing the teeth. It worked. Ish. Hooray! Right, now to investigate the water. And the smell.

Well, the smell was easy – every single seam was mouldy. All the once-clear windows were now entirely opaque. The zips at all the windows were jammed shut with similar powdery gunk to the front door zip. Ew!!! Maybe if the rain stopped and the wind started up, we could air the tent…? I looked at the rear ‘rib’ that the bedroom inners hook onto. Sodden. How could I get that dry? No new drips on the floor – good, at least it’s not leaking. Hopefully. I looked at the central ‘tower’ that the inners also hook onto and where we store our clothes in. Mouldy, wet through and actually disintegrating. Was I really going to connect the bedroom inners to this? Was I really going to sleep in here? Were we really going to subject our little kids to this?

I called The Boss indoors for an emergency conference. His wee face fell as he looked around: I didn’t need to explain. He suddenly frowned at me and asked if I was wheezing. Yes, my chest did feel very tight, but was that because I wanted to cry…? We looked again at the main sticking zip. Still sticking. I worded what we were both thinking: “What if we need to get out the tent tonight in a hurry and the zip sticks? That’s so dangerous.” We knew what we had to do, but decided to sit in the car with the over-excited minxes and discuss it in front of them, reluctant to actually make the final decision.

Maxi showing her happiness not 20 minutes before

Maxi showing her happiness not 20 minutes before

In 100% humidity, it wouldn’t dry out. We couldn’t sleep there overnight. We probably couldn’t sleep there ever again. We couldn’t clean it and we couldn’t replace the zips. And not being able to get out was too unsafe. We’d have to junk the tent and abandon the camping holiday.

“Can we salvage anything?” I asked The Boss, over the sound of 3 bitterly disappointed children howling. “Guylines? Tent poles? Inners? Pegs?”

“Just the pegs. The unbent ones”, he said sadly.

Right. No time for hysterics. It was already after 6.30pm (why, oh why, oh why could we not have discovered this before we’d spent 90 minutes setting the tent up?!). We were undoubtedly not the first campers this had ever happened to. Perhaps the campsite staff could suggest a cunning plan while we were still reeling in shock? The Boss called the Emergency Warden, who suggested staying in one of their wigwams or caravans overnight and sorting ourselves out in the morning. Brilliant! She promised to call back with the details.

Goodbye lovely tent

Goodbye lovely tent

In the meantime, The Boss and I set to work dismantling the tent and taking it to the skip. The girls cried and hugged each other. I felt a terrible heart-pang myself, remembering some of the fantastic holidays we’d spent in it: camping in the garden and horrifying the neighbours with the kids’ screaming and shrieking; our first family-of-5 camping trips; the camping that kept our family together 2.5 years ago (no-one was coping with The Boss commuting at weekends with his new job, so we spent the summer holidays camping at the campsite closest to his work).

Had it really been 2.5 years since we’d last used The Behemoth? We’d camped lots since. Right enough, we’d used the little 3-man tent instead each time. The Boss sheepishly admitted that he vaguely remembered putting the big tent away with a wet groundsheet that last time and waiting in vain for a dry day to put the tent out in the garden and dry it off properly. Normally I’d have screamed like a banshee at him, but the error was 3 years ago. Could I have promised back then to sort it out instead? A dim memory stirred in me, too. We were probably equally culpable. Why had we not got the tent out and aired and checked it before booking the trip? We normally would have. Oh yes – because it’s barely stopped raining since last August. Meh. How would we ever be able to afford to replace this? We said goodbye and thank you to the tent as we stuffed it in the skip.

unhappy kidsThe Warden called back as we sat in the car sheltering from the rain. Unfortunately they were fully booked. She was ready with details of how to get to the nearest Argos and outdoor kit shop and their closing times so we could nip off and buy an emergency tent. We thought about it as a family. Maxi immediately said that it would be daft to buy a little tent when we already had a 3-man one at home. I pointed out that a cheap tent wouldn’t cope with the forecast daily rain over the next week. Midi asked whether we’d get any money back at all. The Boss said no, it wasn’t their fault at all and they were only being helpful because they were kind people – we’d lost our money. Mini cried anew over her forgotten giraffe stuffed toy.

Damn. No tent. Bad weather. Upset family. I calmed the kids down and explained that things in life didn’t always go the way we’d planned. We could either sit and be miserable about it forever, or we could choose to make the most of it. The Boss and I agreed that we should eat first, discuss it all over dinner, then make a move, whatever that move was. The campsite had a restaurant on-site that we’d planned to eat at on the first evening anyway, so we did just that.

Over the next hour, we sat waiting on dinner, fielding ideas. Mini suggested that we go home that night to get Giraffe. We agreed that would be the most sensible and cheapest thing to do. But we didn’t want to. And the longer dinner took to arrive (the restaurant was very busy), the less likely we’d be able to make the 4 hour drive – The Boss and I were exhausted. Midi suggested that we stay in a hotel overnight then spend tomorrow having fun somewhere and going home tomorrow night. Aha, now that’s more likely! Then we could stop stressing about getting home at 1am. But we only had our budgeted spending money left. We sat watching the painfully slow wi-fi load LateRooms.com pages onto The Boss’s phone every 4 – 12 minutes (yes, I timed it).

LateRooms turned up nothing. The problem of having 3 children and not being able to afford 2 hotel rooms! We called the nearest Premier Inn. No, they absolutely would not let us share one room. Please? No. Pretty please? No. We tried a few other websites. Nothing. The phone signal waxed and waned and the wi-fi ground to a halt as the restaurant got busier.

We ate our fish and chip dinner and decided to set off before it got any later (it was 8pm) and just hope for the best. We let the Warden know we were leaving and thanked her profusely for trying so hard to help us out. As we approached the A1, The Boss’s phone picked up 3G signal, so he checked out the Edinburgh Premier Inns. He phoned the Musselburgh one direct. The lady on the other end said the same as her colleague in the more southerly hotel: that we couldn’t share, and that she only had one room left anyway. Voice cracking, The Boss explained that we were actually quite desperate, and told her our tale of woe. The lady sympathised. She talked to her boss. She relented and said she’d do her very best to get the room ready for the 5 of us before we arrived.

An hour and a half later, after a slow and difficult drive through thick haar fog, we arrived looking like red-eyed survivors from the rainforest. The lovely receptionist made us feel safe and welcome and commiserated with our bad luck. She even apologised that Mini would have to share with one of us. We didn’t care – we had a place to sleep that didn’t drip, creep, splosh,smell or give us asthma!

Don't care where you lot are sleeping - this is MY big bed!

Don’t care where you lot are sleeping – this is MY big bed!

Well, I say sleep – the kids slept well. Mini slept like a whirling dervish. Occasionally she’d punch me in the kidneys, slap The Boss, kick me in the stomach, rouse and demand that she be handed Midi’s Heffalump to cuddle, then kick the covers off and snore and splutter in The Boss’s ear. The Boss and I just clung to the edges of the bed either side of Mini and felt thankful for a room!

So, Pop Kids, what have we learned from this sorry tale?

  1. Always, always, always dry your tent. Somehow. Find a way. Just do it. Don’t ever leave it for 3 years.
  2. Always get your tent out to check it before you set off on holiday. Even better, get it out and check it before you pay for your booking.
  3. Always have a back-up plan; a proper if-all-else-fails plan. That doesn’t involve driving through the night in haar fog when you’re tired.
  4. Involve the kids when you have to make tough and upsetting decisions – they’ll feel less helpless and will burst with pride if you use one of ‘their’ (cleverly-planted and set-up) ideas.
  5. Bar one single person, everyone we asked for help and advice gave us it gladly. It was humbling and heart-warming. And I’ll tell you just how brilliant the kind Waren Mill Warden was in another post…

Doomed. We’re All Doomed, I Tell You

Emergencies have been on my mind a bit, lately: there have been the terrible floods across the country; there’s been the ongoing Middle East refugee crisis; I’ve had 3 near-misses on the roads with crazy, swerving, speeding drivers in the past 2 weeks; and we’ve been burning candles at home this past fortnight, which the minxes seem determined to either knock over or burn themselves on.

I was quite disparaging of the hysterical headlines about Storm Frank and it being allegedly ‘the storm of the century’, as one outlet gasped. Pah. Standard winter weather, but with a label on it! Then a friend of mine was flooded suddenly out of his home – his Facebook posts were heartbreaking. Today, too, I saw a photo on Facebook of the 105 year old Cambus o’ May bridge that spans the River Dee that we visited in September:

Now that is a LOT of water! Also today I saw photos of the village just the other side of the main dual carriageway from us: it’s under water. I think when disaster is close to you, whether in terms of physical distance or because it’s happening to someone you know, it makes you think and feel more.

So: whilst Family Trout is lucky enough to live somewhere where we’re unlikely to be flooded (though never say never), it made me think. The Troutlings are 5, 7 and 9. When was the last time we talked about emergencies? Over a year ago. What a wonderful opportunity! I thought.

Spoiler: this is probably how NOT to teach your kids Emergency Action drills.

I explained to the kids that we were going to agree a couple of Emergency Action drills that each family member would be able to carry out without thinking if the emergency ever happened. We all agreed that the time to think and talk about drills was now, when there was no risk (though that didn’t stop little voices getting more screechy and loud as they started to get keyed up…). I stressed that the chances of any of these emergencies ever, ever happening was really unlikely. They’d probably live to 250 without ever being in any real danger.

We talked about floods first because we’d been looking at pictures of people being airlifted out of our favourite campsite (! In hindsight, the kids probably didn’t perceive that moment as being a perfectly non-risk time to talk about possible future emergencies..). I explained that if there was a flood and we had to leave the house, we’d not have much time to think about what to take and what to leave. We discussed possible actions for each person (kids: grab one teddy, put on wellies and jacket and get out. Adult 1: get kids, grab Go Bag and get out to pre-agreed Rendezvous Point. Adult 2: spend maximum 2 minutes while kids are putting on wellies and jackets moving 2 pre-agreed family treasures to a top shelf, then lock up, get out and meet up). Easy. Straightforward. I got ready to talk about smart RV points.

“What about Killer-Cat?” interrupted little Midi.

“If we left her outside, she might not ever, ever come back!” wailed Maxi. “She might not find any food or shelter and she might die…!” Maxi gulped back tears and her chin wobbled.

Privately, I thought my beloved Killer-Cat would just have to take her chances. Publicly, I explained to the kids that we couldn’t take her with us. How would we feed her? Where would we let her go to the toilet? How would she feel stuck in a pet carrier cage for a week? In the face of 3 upset daughters, I quickly suggested that maybe my drill could include sweeping all the living room pot plants to the floor and quickly sticking some cat food, water and a cushion on the top shelf for the cat. The kids brightened up. Maxi stopped crying. I felt no guilt at all about lying.

Mini: “But what about all my teddies?” she sniffled “I couldn’t choose just one!” I explained that she could only grab one or none at all; she’d have no time to think about it. Now she was crying. That set off Maxi again.

“Ok, ok!” I yelled above the din of 2 crying minxes, “The adult staying behind for 2 minutes will put food out for the cat on the shelf and move all your teddies to the top bunk bed”. I mentally crossed my fingers. I knew that explaining to the kids that there’s no way I’d ever countenance risking my life to save their 10 million soft toys would just end in upset and no lessons would be learned. Then again, were they learning anything now, anyway? I was just frightening them.

I decided to change tack. Let’s go for an easy one: fire! I asked them how they’d know that there was a fire in the house (fire alarm, smoke, flames, a parent shouting, “Fire, fire, fire!”). I stated that their individual Emergency Actions were really easy: drop everything and get out the house. That’s it. Simple. Memorable. Achievable. Perfect.

“But what if we’re in the shower when the fire happens?” pondered Maxi. Doesn’t matter; get out, even if you’re naked. “But what if it’s snowing?” Doesn’t matter; get out, even if you’re walking through snow. “But what if it’s only a little fire?” Doesn’t matter; get out, better to walk back in sheepishly than not get out at all. “But what if there’s no-one at [Neighbour 1] or [Neighbour 2] or [Neighbour 3]?” Doesn’t matter; get out, get out, get out.

Ah me… Maxi refused to accept that when it comes to fire, there are no ifs and buts and maybes: you get out the house, run to the neighbour across the street and get them to dial 999. The harder she argued, searching for possible loopholes and exceptions, the more exasperated I got. No-one was learning anything, here!

I decided to change the focus. Let’s actually DO drills! Yay! We all got excited about that. Instead of setting off the fire alarm to emulate a fire (too noisy), we agreed that I would shout ‘Fire, Fire, Fire, Get Out [insert a minx’s name]’. That minx had to immediately drop everything and actually get out the house and we’d time them from me shouting to when The Boss could see them outside the house. The Boss and I wanted to make sure they could physically do everything: not pause to think, or fumble with the unexpectedly locked front door, or hesitate on the soaking wet doorstep. I wanted them to properly learn by actually doing.

Maxi was great: 12 seconds from command to splashing on the front path. She barely registered that the front door was locked! Little Mini was next. The instant that I cried the magic words “Fire, Fire, Fire, Get Out Mini!” she was off out her seat like a rocket, little arms pumping. Then she hit the locked door. She looked confused. She wasn’t allowed to unlock the door. She wasn’t sure how to unlock the door. Which way did the lock turn? She burst into tears. She wailed and shouted at the door. She screamed against her confusion. The Boss calmly coached her on the door lock until she was finally standing on the doorstep. 43 seconds. She got lots of hugs and encouragement and Well Done, Good Efforts from us both. Midi struggled with the door-lock too, finally getting out in 32 seconds. We gave them all a few minutes to calm down, talking about how we were going to do more drills over the next few weeks, then when they were ready we tried again. This time Mini managed an excellent 13 seconds and Midi an amazing 7 seconds.

Phew, that’s better – end on a success!

But of course, I didn’t leave it there, did I? Oh no. Another big mistake. Instead I let Maxi engage me in conversation about emergencies in general. Somehow we ended up talking about what we’d do if we saw someone drowning in the burn behind our housing estate. Mini the Innocent said: “I’d find a rope and throw it to them”. She looked confused when I asked where she’d get the rope from, and when was the last time she saw a rope by the burn? Midi The Big Hearted stated that she’d jump in to save them. She refused to believe me when I said that she would be better instead running to a house with a car outside to get help and dial 999; she wouldn’t be able to save a flailing, panicking person. So I decided to demonstrate (hint: BAD parental decision…)

“OK, Midi, come save me!” I said. “I’m in the water over here by the cupboard. ‘Ooo, save me, Midi, come get me!” and threw my arms around melodramatically.

Midi pretended to swim up to me. I mimicked a panicking swimmer and grabbed her, pushing her little shoulders down in a mime of trying to pull myself out of water. She burst into huge sobs.

Aw, pants. Stupid Mummy.

Over a long hug on the floor, she explained that I’d not hurt her, I’d just given her a big shock. So we talked about what panicking people do. I related for the umpteenth time all the different reactions of people (some trained, some untrained), in an aircraft evacuation due to fire that I’d been in many, many years ago. She laughed (hey, it’s the way I tell ’em…) but I think I finally got through to her that when you’re a kid, the very best thing you can do in any emergency at all is get yourself safe first, then get someone else to go help.

It’s hard for children, isn’t it? We drill them relentlessly from when they’re toddlers into not being selfish or self-centred, then we criticise them when their first instinct in a life-or-death situation might be to think of others before themselves.

Those of you with children: how have you taught your kids how to get medical help if you were incapacitated? How did you teach them fire drills? What do you keep in your Go Bag? Share your top tips and help me dig myself out of this Pit Of Emergency Doom I’ve dug!

Grumpy McGrump From the Land Grump

The Good

Essential item on The Trout’s list to Santa

Midi coughed at dinner and sprayed me and the wall and my food with a mouthful of snot-streaked milk. Mini rubbed her eczema-covered flaky face and hands over my jumper to scratch it, and left a few million flakes of skin on me, like a leper. Maxi howled over me after swimming, wailing that she’d failed her assessment because she’d not done half of it.

“I couldn’t hear what they asked me to do!” she wailed. Why not? “Because I was still halfway down the pool!”

Over a river of snot (hers) dribbling down my jacket, I repeated the monologue I give her every single week: if she’s too slow or distracted or absent-minded to do what they want her to do, in the time they give her, then she absolutely has not met the criteria to progress. There is no blame or fault. I will not ask her instructors to make allowances. They do not have to bend to her need to set off in her own sweet time, 3 minutes after everyone else.

I feel sorry for the poor child, as I’m only properly realising now that she honestly doesn’t have the ‘hurry’ or ‘time aware’ software uploaded in her brain that everyone else has, and also that I don’t have the skills to teach her. I just don’t. I’ve given up. It causes us all too much distress. I also fully understand the frustration and anger on the part of adults dealing with her in time-important situations. It’s easy for me to tell them that she’s not actually being selfish or precious or naughty, but it’s not easy for them (us!) to really, properly understand what’s going on in her head and cut her some slack.

The Bad

In tonight’s 30 minute journey from one small town on the east coast of Scotland to the next, I think I ran the gamut of the aggressive eejits who think the speed limit is a minimum limit. I ignored the white van towing a ride home on my rear bumper. I also restrained myself from shouting more than ‘Dickhead!’ at the moronic Jaguar driver who finally overtook, but on a solid white line in a known accident blackspot. I finally had a very petulant outburst at the BMW driver who tried to shunt me onto the dual carriageway, before he doubled-up in the central reservation and blocked my view out, then tried to undertake me on pulling off: I drove the remaining half-mile into town in 2nd gear, just for shits and giggles (mine). I wondered if the aggressive walrus would have a heart-attack? Obviously I hoped not. Ish.

I'll either send it to him as a Christmas present, or just use it as shower gel...

I’ll either send it to him as a Christmas present, or just use it as shower gel…

The Ugly

This morning I walked to the local shop with a pile of parcels to post. It was bitterly cold, but I took the time to look around at the beautiful winter sky. I watched a man open the main dog poo bin and remove the full poo bags with his BARE HANDS and sling them into the back of the Council wagon he was driving. While I repressed a bit of vomit, he drove past me and up to the shop, where he emptied their outdoor litter bins into his wagon, too, giving them a good old scoop out with his (still bare) hands. He then went into the shop, where he had a lovely big chat with the people in there. As I walked out, parcels posted, he made a joke that I stiffly replied to. “Awwwww, are you tired?” he chuckled and enveloped me in a big bear hug. He patted my jacket with his big rubbish- and dog-poo-touching hands. I detached, smiled that very icy smile that you need to have about 100 generations of British in your genes to properly do instead of punching someone in the face, marched home in a seething rage, and put the jacket straight in the washing machine. OCD? Maybe. But at least I can sleep tonight. Ewwwwww!

And that, children, is why we don’t touch our faces after shaking the hands of strange men. Or being shaken by strange, touchy-feely men.

Not a hand basin

Rights, Wrongs and Refugees

I think everyone’s seen and cried over photos of dead children and adult refugees, washed up on Mediterranean beaches. My friends seem to splitting into 3 mind-groups:

1.  ones who sympathise, but don’t see it as being something the UK should be involved in:

“Too many chancers amongst the refugees, wanting to come here for benefits and a free house”

“They should get help from the first safe country they get to – not us”

2.  ones who are heartbroken, but don’t see how they can help:

“What good is signing a petition? What can I actually do?”

3.  ones determined to do something concrete to help, collecting supplies, aid and money to be sent directly to refugees in Calais and the rest of Europe:

“Never mind an EU butter mountain – I’m adding to the Calais toothpaste mountain!”

“God, can you imagine having your period when you’re stuck living in an underpass with hundreds of other people, and you’re totally destitute?”

“If the Government won’t do anything, I will; I can’t sit and do nothing”

I’ve been starting to talk to the minxes about it. It’s difficult trying to hit the right level – baldly saying that kids like them are dying either because they stayed in their country or because they’ve not been able to get to safety when fleeing, is a bit much for a 5 year old to hear!

Why am I talking to my kids at all? Well, it came up in a long car journey conversation…

Midi’s feeling a little bit victimised by kids at school teasing her because her best friend happens to be a boy (“Oooo, you fancy him! He’s your boyfriend!”) Till now she’s chosen to ignore the silly tattle and rise above it, but is now finding it hard because in her eyes it’s relentless. So we talked about how sometimes it’s best to ignore stuff you don’t like, but sometimes you do need to stand up for yourself. We discussed things she could say back. I suggested statements she could challenge her tormentors with (and she said they were far too offensive and that I should keep my ideas to myself. I agreed that was a fair call!)

At the same time, Maxi was moaning about being stuck in the Rights Respecting Group at school, instead of the fun Gardening, Eco or Enterprise Groups that she’d hoped for. “We just get to make posters about UNICEF”, she grumbled. I reminded her about when she’d been in the Pupil Council as a P1 and had won the Headteacher’s Award for Citizenship – that she’d spoken her mind and suggested ideas to help others, and how proud I’d been (and am) of her empathy. I pointed out that she’d been able to shape the group somewhat, to make it more useful and fun just by voicing her opinions. (I also reminded her that she couldn’t judge the group on one short session, but that’s another story entirely).

I asked whether Maxi could stand up for Midi in the playground and talk down anyone teasing her sister. Maxi fretted about getting into trouble from her teacher for saying unkind things to other kids. “But what if that kid is being unkind to your sister?” I challenged. Maxi looked torn.

So that got us on to what happens when people collectively choose to keep quiet and just let wrong things happen. I told them about the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 60s. We talked about how many countries actually have to have laws now safeguarding people with different coloured skin, religion, sexuality, gender and disabilities because as a group, humans don’t seem to be brave enough to stand up to discriminating individuals and challenge their behaviours. We talked about how sometimes you have to weigh up the consequences of putting your head above the crowd and saying aloud, “That’s not right!” with what’ll happen if you just ignore it. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing, sometimes it’s not.

“You 3 children have been blessed with good brains. I hope I can teach you to use them properly and to judge right from wrong. I hope you can decide when to be brave and stand up and speak out against wrong-doing. If you do, I’ll always back you. Always. Even if you get into trouble”, I said. And gulped – I saw a suspicious light shining in Midi’s eyes, which may not be a good thing…

So then that took me onto refugees fleeing Syria in their millions, dying in their thousands, and why people in the rest of the world are upset and angry about it. Some people are angry about what their countries are doing about it, and some are angry about what their countries are NOT doing about. Who’s right? Who can know? We talked about what we can do, and I told them about some people locally collecting clothes, tents, toiletries, money, etc. I told them that the problem won’t go away by just sheltering the millions – there needs to be both short and long-term help. And sometimes it’s seems like such a huge problem that lots of people don’t know where to start or don’t think they can do anything, so feel frozen. And do nothing.

That then took us on to World War 2 (by this time we were home and sitting at the dinner table with a very perplexed-looking Boss) and how just escaping to the geographically nearest country didn’t exactly help lots of Jews… We talked about how Britain tried to be a bit understanding and did nothing at the start, then waded in, and what some of the consequences were.

didn’t talk about Britain and America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because we would have got bogged down even more in discussing when/whether it’s proper to impose your ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. That can wait for a few years (!)

I think most of it went over their heads, and I’m dreading to think what bits stuck and that they’re now parroting in school today. But for me:

Short-term – I’m donating some supplies locally.

Medium-term – I’ve signed petitions asking for my country to accept more refugees.

Long-term – I’m trying my absolute best to bring up my children, and therefore the next generation, to empathise with their fellow humans and to be brave enough to speak out against wrong. I hope they become wise enough to judge when speaking up is enough and when taking action is merited.