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!

Elf Day 2

Oh dear, Day 2 and already Edbie has gone too far.

Well, The Boss has.

I was away this weekend at Cub Camp with Maxi and Midi, leaving Mini in charge. The Boss only had to sort out 2 nights of elf shenanigans. We returned to hear that Mini had been too startled by Edbie to sleep in her own bed on Saturday night.

Naughty elf; naughty Boss.

elf on the shelf prank

Oops, you’ve dropped your hat, Edbie

elf on the shelf prank child's eye view

What Mini woke up to

A gothic Edbie

A gothic Edbie

 

The Return of the Rascally Rabbit

We’re now over a year into turning our front lawn into a fruit and vegetable garden, and have been enjoying harvesting our goodies very much. So, alas, has the local rabbit. We came back after a week away in the summer to find said bunny sitting in the middle of the pathway, fat and bold (and fluffy and cute, it has to be said…), munching on the last of my kale. It had troughed an entire 2 x 4 foot raised bed of kale and broccoli. The minxes barely repressed their glee at the sight of the decimated leaves and cheered loudly, while I chased that pesky varmint away. It dashed into the back garden while I huffed and puffed and abandoned the chase in favour of unloading the car.

The next day I waddled round to the compost bins at the back of the house to get rid of some of lunchtime’s veg peelings. I heard an ominous rustle behind the bins, so squeezed past to investigate. Last night’s rabbit was trapped between 2 slats in the fence! It had scraped a pile of dirt away with its back paws and rubbed all the fur off its sides. There was no blood, but it didn’t exactly look too comfortable. It must have been there since we’d arrived home and I’d chased it.

Now, I have to confess to considering roast rabbit for dinner that night, and went back to the kitchen for a big sharp knife. En-route, though, I thought about how scared it must have felt for those 14 hours and felt a rush of pity for it. Instead of fetching the knife, I put on 2 pairs of rubber gloves, went back out and tried to gently guide its back legs through the fence slats. No chance – its behind was too fat on my greens. So I gripped it over its haunches and middle and pulled. It slid right out then let out a scream like a banshee meets a scalded cat. I mean, I wasn’t expecting gratitude or anything, and I’m no “manky Scots git”, but I didn’t expect to be confronted with those long brown teeth.

(Oh come on, you can’t expect me to tell you a tale about a rabbit without a single Monty Python reference!)

Anyway, it jumped down, scampered off, and I forgot about it. Until I discovered that it had also munched all 10 of the carnations I’d cossetted and pampered and planted along the edge of the little fence I’d put up to shield the mess of my Steptoe’s Yard of a veg garden from the rest of the neighbourhood. Right down to the ground. I regretted my knife / gloves exchange, but got over it.

Our marauder wasn't as cute as these Photo: PDSA

Our marauder wasn’t as cute as these Photo: PDSA

Time passed. Killer Cat was a little more successful at keeping the wild rabbit away from the rest of my vegetables and the kale and lettuces grew back. The carnations and broccoli didn’t. Last weekend, the minxes came in from playing with tales of a rabbit that had lost an eye. I was quite dismissive (“Really? That’s nice, dear…”) as they guessed that it had been in a fight with a cat or dog. Then yesterday, I found a big fat rabbit right in the middle of the lawn.

“Shoo!” I hissed. It ignored me and hopped once in the general direction of my kale.

“Move along!” I chided, and walked right up to it. It just sat there, ignoring me. It did indeed look like it had lost one or both eyes. I was in a rush to get Midi The Animal Lover home from school for lunch, so stalked off in exasperation.

On our return, the rabbit was still there. Midi identified it as the rabbit the kids had been talking about over the weekend. I had a closer look at it. It was a very manky and unhappy little thing. I admitted to Midi that if I had any backbone and/or thought I knew how to do it without causing it further distress and pain, I’d kill it to stop its obvious suffering. As I didn’t, sadly we’d just let it get on with it. Midi had a long think about my attitude while she munched her lunch. Presently, she announced her judgement:

“Phone the SSPCA, Mum”, she said, “They’ll take care of it”.

Nooooo, they’re for things like baby squirrels and rescuing pets suffering cruelty and… and… well, they’ll not be coming out to wild rabbits with myxomatosis. Midi insisted I was wrong, and that the SSPCA representatives who’d visited the school last year had been clear that they would help any animal that needed it. She looked at me with her big, owly eyes full of compassion. So I called (03000 999 999 in the UK).

I spoke to a brisk and helpful lady who assured me that it wasn’t right to let the animal suffer any more, and talked me through finding something to put over the rabbit to immobilise, comfort and calm it (a big laundry crate). Five minutes later, my local SSPCA called to say they were on their way. Twenty minutes later, a very kind chap turned up in the van. He looked at the rabbit and agreed that it had myxomatosis and was suffering badly. He thanked me for the call, was happy at my admission that it was Midi’s idea from a school visit, and said he’d take it away and euthanize it gently with an overdose of anaesthetic.

Now, I can’t afford to pay vet’s fees to have called one out to come pick up and deal with the rabbit. And as I said, I’ve neither the skills nor the moral fibre to deal with it myself. Although the SSPCA are a charity, I’m sure the staff don’t work for free, the anaesthetic wouldn’t have been cheap and the man didn’t arrive on a broomstick: fuel costs a fair bit nowadays. So I’ll be making a donation to cover as much of that as I can.

Poor bunny. I guess I won’t have to be defending my greens against it or its burrow-mates now – I imagine they’ll be equally afflicted. And how did Midi react?:

“Poor Charlie-Felix Rabbit. I hope it rests in peace”, she said sadly. Then took a breath, and said brightly: “Oh wow, Mum, does this count as this week’s Good Deed for Cubs? Excellent!”

Trout Throws A Tantrum

I’ve often thought about what great friends I have and how lucky I am to have met them through our kids: first you share a ‘hello’ as you recognise them in the playground; then it’s a shared raised eyebrow and telepathic message of solidarity at one of our kids throwing a tantrum; then it’s a chat in the blisteringly cold rain while we’re waiting on our kids being released from school into our care again. Next thing you know, they know you so well that they can say *exactly* the right thing to make you feel loved and accepted and forgiven and back on an even keel again.

Today those words were: “Man up!”

Tissue Heart
Maxi had quite a morning – up around 0630hrs and making the most exquisitely beautiful hand-made bit of paper shaped in a loveheart for her Daddy’s birthday. And I mean hand-made – she’d obviously spent hours ripping up tissue, toilet roll and paper into the most tiny pieces. When I found it leaking a river of gungy gunk from under my laundry basket, I didn’t stop to reflect on the hard work, vision and sheer technically brilliant craftwork she’d shown. Oh no. I just saw my newly-mopped floor being stained and my long-suffering laundry basket about to go mouldy. (Of course it will. Instantly). I grumped and helped her put the heart-paper under a pot instead.

She niggled at both her sisters. She tormented Midi so much about things that make her feel sick that Midi refused to eat breakfast. She niggled some more, so Midi whacked her murderously. She set off a siren wail; not a cry of distress, but a proper, stroppy wail. It feel like nails down the blackboard of my tolerance. When I feel anger at my little girl’s cry, it instantly makes me feel deeply guilty as an additional, fun, free layer. Kind of like a depth-glaze to my cross-ness.

As an encore, Maxi decided to make Mini cry. Then she sat at the breakfast table repeating the same nonsensical phrase over and over and over and over and over again, twiddling with and rattling felt pens, even when I took them off her. She ignored me when I told her to stop playing and eat breakfast or she’d be late. At 0830hrs, 2 hours after getting up, she was still in her nightie. I marched her into her room, picked up her discarded uniform (oh yeah, the one I stupidly bothered to iron when I felt ill) and gave it to her roughly. At 0845hrs she was still in her nightie, singing something in made-up words and annoying her sisters. I shouted. She jumped and burst into tears. At 0850hrs I flipped out at her skirt: it fit her when I bought it 3 weeks ago, but at that moment she’d tucked the front down under her tummy, pulled the back almost to her shoulder blades, and given herself a Man-Beer-Belly. I’m strict with myself about not criticising the kids’ bodies, but don’t want to give her bullies any ammunition, so insisted she straighten her skirt. I didn’t do it very sensitively, so she stropped and wailed and flounced. At 0855hrs I sent her sisters out the house and slammed the door on Maxi.

I started marching to school, intending to entreat the care of the younger pair off on any willing parent while I ran back for Maxi. When she saw I was really walking her sisters to school without her, she magically got her stuff together and got out the house. Yes, I was that Terrible Chav Mum, yelling at her in the street. Again. No self-control. Adult tantrum. With a croaky throat.

I ignored her and walked to school with the other 2, then felt deeply shamed as she came up to me at the gate and gave me a kiss goodbye, looking and acting like nothing had happened. Oh God. Either she’s not affected at all by this horrible morning and doesn’t realise why I completely lost my temper or she’s so used to me being angry that it no longer affects her. Guilt. Anger. Guilt. Anger. Guilt. Guilt. More guilt. She’s just a little girl. She’s not behaving like this just to make me angry.

I wailed at some friends that I couldn’t cope any more. They applied Emergency Pal Aid and talked me into a better perspective in the playground and in the street for a while afterwards.

The irony of my friends giving me the parenting that I needed wasn’t lost on me. If only I’d applied the same loving help to my little daughter when she was in the same boat as me not an hour earlier… Still, I know she’ll be having a lovely, supportive and happy morning in school right now. And until I get another opportunity to practice not being wound-up about things not worth being cross about, I’ve got 2 birthday cakes to finish baking that’ll soothe my guilt till home-time.

Rinse and repeat.

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

Minxes Think They Know Better

7 Nov 2015

“So, kids, who do you want to dress up as on Childhood Hero day at school this month?” I asked the minxes on the way home from school.

“Midi!” said Mini, straight off. She didn’t even check out her sister’s reaction. Awwww! She really, really idolises her. In fact, this evening we’ve just been treated to a half-hour tantrum because Midi refused to sleep close enough to Mini on the floor. On the floor. Floor. Yep, they’ve taken to making a nest out of blankets and a rug on the floor so they can snuggle up together (bunk beds obviously aren’t close enough). I swear Mini’s going through a phase of Separation Anxiety with her sister waaaaaay tougher than when she went through that with me when she was an infant. Perhaps I should feel jealous…?

Family Skywalker: Queen Amidala, Whining Luke, Princess Layabout and Darth Vader without the mask

Family Skywalker: Queen Amidala, Whining Luke, Princess Layabout and Darth Vader without the mask. Maxi (Harry Potter) took the photo

Dressing Up: we took the kids out guising at Hallowe’en last weekend. It was their first proper time, going from door to door. The Boss and I taught them guising etiquette (only knock once, only knock on the houses with lit pumpkins / porch lights / Hallowe’en decorations, have a decent joke or song ready to go without being asked, don’t be greedy).

We came across a great idea: one mum left a bowl of sweeties outside the door with a note saying, “Sorry, we’ve gone out – please help yourself to sweeties from the bowl”. It was such a great idea that I raced back to the house to do the same thing so I could stay out with the family. Well, I need to be there to complete the set, really, because we went as the Family Skywalker plus Harry Potter: Mini was her favourite film character, Queen Amidala; Mini was Whining Luke Skywalker; The Boss was Princess Layabout and I was Darth Vader (without the mask). Maxi of course was Harry Potter.

Don’t let the cute photo fool you – not 10 seconds before the photo was taken I truly lost my bananas and was a shrieking, cursing shrew with the kids messing around and The Boss not even being dressed.

I blame our morning for my bad temper: the kids had each won their respective age groups at the local library for the annual competition. They’d been invited to the shire prizegiving. Now, I know that the minxes won because they were the only entrants, so I was under no illusions that the prizegiving would result in any further prizes, but I decided to go: it was rare that all 3 could go, plus parents; it would definitely be a different kind of experience for them; there might be a nice wee buffet lunch in it. So I accepted before really looking at where it was. I check the night before. Ninety minutes drive away. Good grief, had I been starving hungry when I accepted, or something?! So we had to leave home at the crack of sparrows on a Saturday morning to find a high school on the other side of the county.

Well, we got there in time and piled into the auditorium. The minxes amused themselves by counting how many people were there – just shy of 200. Busy! They helped themselves to the offered juice carton and biscuit and settled down. The speeches started: a man did the obligatory Health and Safety Here Are Your Emergency Exits thing and introduced a representative from the sponsor. She gave a speech and introduced the next speaker. She spoke for a bit then introduced the next speaker… In the middle of 7 (seven!!) speakers, an author spoke for an hour entertainingly about his books, but I felt that his jokes were pitched at a different level than the average age of the audience – I’m 44 and I’m just old enough to understand references to the shower scene in Dallas. When the 7th speaker came on just to do a Vote of Thanks (what?!) I’d really had enough and felt like kicking the chair in front of me. The audience of 90-odd kids did wonderfully well sitting listening for nearly 2 hours, especially as most were under 10, and especially as the mini juice carton and plastic-wrapped cookie were our lot. The kids all got a goodie bag made up of the prizes they’d already won lots of during the summer reading challenge already.

I understood the goodie bag when I heard the intriguing fact that there were 90 entries to the competition across the county. Hmmmm… the prizegiving invitation was for each prize-winner plus an adult. The hall currently held just under 200 people. I let out a loud snigger – pretty much every single entrant to the competition had won a prize and was here. So there were probably lots of prizes leftover from the not-too-well-supported summer reading challenge. Ah…

Still, on the bright side, the kids got one up on me. They’d been banging on about how they might see F, a little girl they met while we were holidaying in Shetland who lived in the same county as us. “No, no”, I’d insisted: “F lives in a town the other side of the county. It’s a very big place with hundreds of thousands of people. It’s likely you won’t meet F again”. They all folded their arms and looked stubborn. Well, they DID meet F – she was one of the overall prizewinners of the competition! It was lovely watching all 4 girls catch up like they’d all known that they would someday soon. I guess us adults know nothing, eh?

The minxes drew them; The Boss carved them. I think they were really trying to test him this year

The minxes drew them; The Boss carved them. I think they were really trying to test him this year

Which takes me back to Mini wanting to dress up as Midi, her hero. The Boss and I discussed how we might do that. “Put her in one of Midi’s owl dresses”, he suggested. I wondered whether we could get some plastic insects and let her carry them. “Dress her up like an owl and cover her in flies?!” he summarised. Ehhhhh, no.

Owly Nature Girl was in the bath yesterday and came out nonchalantly, blethering away about something or other. Except she had a big house spider crawling all over her bony little chest. She strolled into the kitchen to see me, letting it scurry down her arm and over her hands before she’d return it to her shoulder. “This is Lucy”, she announced (she names all the insects that seem magically attracted to her hands).

“Welllll….”, I warned, “If you annoy Lucy she’ll give you a big nip that will feel like a wasp sting!” Mini winced (she got stung on the cheek last month, the poor wee soul; Midi is still hurt about being stung herself this time last year). Midi quickly shook off Lucy. I insisted the spider stay indoors so s/he could go find its family and live in peace under the floorboards or something. Midi was happy with that, and wandered off to find some poor unsuspecting Daddy Long Legs (aka Plinky-Plonks) to love to death instead.

In other news: Maxi is still being plagued with tonsillitis so took the day off with a quick visit to the nurse in the middle. I finally raised a metaphorical 2 fingers to the speed of her formal education and let her fly free a bit. I just asked her if she knew what density meant. She spent a happy hour discovering the relationships between area, volume, density, mass and weight. We discovered that none of my measuring jugs or scales are very accurate. She likes my analogies of spaceships filled with astronauts, kit, computers, servers, etc. (Don’t judge me. I needed more coffee).

Last night The Boss pulled out his copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (? I don’t know, I’ve not read them yet – I’ve just started Anne of Green Gables on Maxi’s recommendation. She read it aged 5. I’m finding that it’s influenced her character and mannerisms more heavily that I’d realised). He told Maxi she could read it this weekend. So after a late lunch (that she made herself – she astounded me at how capable she was!) she settled down for a bit of a long read at her book. It was just as well – you could tell when the paracetamol was wearing off as she got paler and paler.

Maxi now also has a date for her initial ASD assessment. I’m still not very sure what it’ll involve, but I’m hoping it’ll include a check of the state of her mental health – this week’s shenanigans (not written about as promised to Maxi) have me more convinced than ever that she’s depressed enough to need actual, concrete help from outside the family. Having a mother with a less sharp tongue would also work wonders for her, too, I’m sure.

Anniversary Advice From a 7 yo

Anniversary Advice From a 7 yo

Talking of taking advice from a minx (Anne of Green Gables from Maxi – see above), Midi offered me encouragement and advice on my marriage on mine and The Boss’s 10th wedding anniversary. It’s now on display alongside the gold star trophy award I gave him for putting up with me so long.

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.

Shamone: The Definition

“What does ‘shamone’ mean, Mummy?” asked Maxi as I drove her home from Cubs, shrieking along to some Scissor Sisters song on the radio.

I took a deep breath, remembered that it was only me and Maxi in the car, and launched into a complicated explanation. I told her all about an old TV comedy and how that was based on Michael Jackson’s use of the word in ‘Bad‘. I explained that what made it funny was that a softly-spoken, religious man was being depicted as a foul-mouthed ghetto-language speaker.

“So”, I explained, “When lots of people say ‘Sha-MOOOONE!” like that, they’re imitating the Michael Jackson character in Bo’ Selecta, but missing out the motherf***er bit”.

Maxi nodded thoughtfully. “Doesn’t sound very funny”.

“No. I guess not”, I agreed.

“But what does motherf***er mean?” she asked.

Oh no… I am such a bad mother… Why did I give her such a detailed explanation?! So we talked about slang words for sex and incest and why I didn’t want to hear her use those words. “If you say them at school, you’ll get suspended. And if you tell one of your friends, their parents will go bonkers with us both. Ohhhhh, I should never have said anything…!”, I said, metaphorically wringing my stupid hands (I was driving. They stayed on the steering wheel. Honest)

Mummy's an eejit!

Mummy’s an eejit!

“Mum, if I wasn’t your daughter, I’d say you were an idiot”, said Maxi.

“And I’d agree”, I said sadly.

“So, basically, what you’re saying is that ‘shamone’ means ‘woohoo'”, said my clever little daughter. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”

“….”

That’s the second time this week one of the minxes has left me speechless.

You’d Think We’d Learned Our Country Walks Lesson By Now

You know how normally I blog about our outdoor pursuits elsewhere and only mention the epic parenting fails here? Well, settle down with a cuppa – this is a long one.

“Let’s go for a little walk”, The Boss and I suggested to the minxes. “Let’s go see what this bit of the map looks like in real life”, pointing to a gorge, a waterfall and a picnic site near the ruined Edzell Castle. We hinted at the possibility of ice-cream in Edzell afterwards, and promised Midi that it was nowhere near Glen Esk – the scene of our last couple of epics. And that’s all it took to persuade the minxes to come out walking on a blustery, chilly Saturday.

Pirners BrigAfter parking at the picnic site, we walked down the steep steps to the River Westwater and spent a while skimming stones and clambering all over the bright red sandstone. We’d have stayed longer but for spotting a little bridge further upstream. “Aha! Adventure beckons! Let’s just go explore the bridge”.

scary brigThe bridge – Pirner’s Brig – did indeed tick all the ‘perilous’ boxes: the floor was a wide-spaced metal grille; the metal sides wobbled and didn’t feel as if they were attached very securely; in fact, I couldn’t see how the bridge was attached to the sides of the gorge at all! Worse, there was a deep gap at the base of the sides that my panicky imagination could foresee one or more minxes slipping under and falling to their doom in the rapids below. (Please tell me I’m not alone in my hysterical inner anxieties?) Still, I put on my Let’s Have An Adventure face and bravely urged the minxes to walk ahead of me (just in case I bottled it at the last minute). As feared, the bridge also wobbled when we walked, so I’d score it a 7/10 on the Britain’s Scariest Bridges scale.

On the other side was a deep, dark wood. We could see 3 thin little tracks heading in different directions. Now, we knew that we only had a single bottle of water with us and a single plastic pot of chocolate snacks – the rest were in the car – but we weren’t going to be long, were we? The sight of mountain goat tracks heading out of sight uphill was just too intriguing – we had to go have a little explore. Oh ok – *I* had to go have a look, dragging the others reluctantly with me: they’d have been quite happy to go back to chucking stones in the river. It was only me who really wanted to see what the waterfall in the middle of nowhere looked like.

One track led straight to the deep, fast-flowing river (eep…!), one to a gate and a lumpy steep field, and the other led up along the side of the gorge. Normally I’d have balked at taking the minxes up such a narrow track with a steep drop on one side and slippery weeds on the other, but I’m still trying to stretch my Over-Protective Parent muscles, so I led the elephant train, Mini clinging tightly to my hand and Midi and Maxi using fallen branches as steadying sticks. Eventually it got too scary for me, so the minxes and The Boss huddled in the dank cold while I trekked on ahead to check out the footing. It looked like a bird track ahead! Halt. About Turn. We picked our way back to the tracks junction and decided to try hopping over the gate in case there was a track on the other side that met up with the gorge track.

easy trekking

Bar the odd fallen tree, the going was easy enough here for The Boss to let go of 2 little Minx hands and take a photo

Now at this point, we probably should have nipped back for more water and snacks. And maybe the map that was decorating the dashboard. But we were all in waterproofs and now all quite keen to find the elusive waterfall to make this un-fun walk worthwhile. It couldn’t be much further, could it?

waterfall

This is the ‘waterfall’. Sorry, my soul is just too shallow to appreciate this beautiful stretch of water

Maybe 20 minutes of careful foot-placing later, we found the waterfall. I felt cheated: it was more like a stretch of river rapids. Pretty, but no dramatic waterfall. Hmph. We decided to share the chocolate snack and water before heading back and crossing the waterfall off our list of places to return to. Rather than eat in the dark woods, though, we decided to walk a little further to the big empty field past the fenceline we could see and maybe rest for a bit in the sunshine. First we had to clamber over the barbed wire fence. Someone had built a stepover with boulders on either side of the fence and helpfully left a big stick leaning against it. I showed the girls how to use sticks to carefully balance over the wire, then they all had a go. Yes, this probably used up too much time.

bit steepAfter eating the little snack and almost finishing the water, we realised that we were all a bit tired and quite cold. None of us relished walking back the cold, dark, slow way we’d come. The thicker wood that flanked the track didn’t look too deep: perhaps we could walk up the empty field a little, then sling a left and walk around the outside of the wood, left again and back down towards Pirner’s Brig, then to the warmth of the car and hot coffee and lunch? Excellent idea – surelythatt would be much quicker? So off we plodded. In fact, Midi and I had a little race up the lumpy hill.

We go to the edge of the wood. Ah. The wood didn’t end there – just the fully-grown trees. The fenceline stretched on uphill with little saplings dotted everywhere. Explaining to the girls that the Outdoor Access Code meant that it would be wrong of us to trample through the plantation, we decided to plod on further uphill.

When the hill didn’t appear to stop any time soon, I trudged ahead to see just how far the wood extended for, beginning to get worried about how long this ‘short walk’ was taking. Far out of sight of the rest of the family, I finally came to a gate. And a road! Fantastic. With renewed energy, I trotted back to the family and beckoned them on. We got quite excited at the prospect of decent footing and forgot to think about basic things like watching where our feet went…

Midi tripped and fell against the gate as she was opening it. Oh no! Dislocated shoulder or elbow, again? No, thankfully just bruising, which she described as ‘my shoulder’s crumbled!’. Maxi moaned through leg cramp. Then Mini announced that she was cold and tired and wasn’t going to walk any further. Guess where the sling was? Yep, keeping the map, food and water company in the car. “Look!” The Boss pointed, “You can see the end of the wood over there. If we walk quickly we can hang another left there, get to the next gate, cross the bridge and be done. Just another 20 minutes. Not long now.”

Expecting a Tellytubby to pop out at any moment

Expecting a Tellytubby to pop out at any moment

Oh come on, you know us by now – it never works out like that, does it? We got to the end of the wood and discovered that the next field was entirely surrounded by a double electric fence. Could we cross it somehow? Ought we to? No and no. The Boss whipped out his phone and pulled up a satellite image of the area while we shivered in the now-harsh wind. At least the sun was bobbing behind clouds so it didn’t matter that we’d left the sunblock stick with the food and water(!). We could see a chicken farm just ahead and a farm track leading out of it that went roughly in the direction we wanted to go in. The satellite image showed a track leading in from this road, though we couldn’t actually see it because of the hedgerows. Hmmmmm. OK, let’s walk just a bit further. I had huge misgivings, wondering whether I should insist on us just turning back. I bickered with The Boss for a while in frustration and taught the kids some new swear words to horrify their teachers with next week.

We got to the access track. It was gated, and the gate was tightly fenced over so it was un-climbable. I looked around. Then up. I could see that the fluffy cumulus clouds had suddenly turned into thundery clouds with hazy icy edges and that in fact there was a wall of falling rain coming towards us. Oh.You.Are.Kidding.Me.On. Not again! Why does this happen every time we come here?! Sod the Access Code – I needed to get our kids to warmth and safety right now! I was up and over that gate like a skittishly panicky mother, then caught the minxes as The Boss threw them over to me. We strode down the track to the chicken farm. I half-expected to be met by barking dogs or an angry farmer. The smell of chicken poo got stronger and we were stepping in more and more of the stuff, so I suggested we walk along the very edge to minimise disturbing (we assumed) free-range chickens: I’d visions of us causing a stampede and mass chicken death and really being in trouble.

Instead, the chickens were all indoors, gently clucking. Would chickens stampede and panic if they smelled us? Could they smell us? Did they give 2 hoots what we got up to?! We didn’t take any chances and walked around the downwind side of the chicken-house. It was eerily quiet, with no sign of humans. Or dogs. We trotted happily down the exit track to the next field and gate, glad to be closer to the car.

Well, we WERE glad, until the hailstones hit. Big ones. Hurty ones. They stung us along the field to the top of the next hill. I spotted that the direct route to the final gate and Pirner’s Brig was along an exposed ridge, but decided to detour and walk in the shelter of the hill’s deep contours instead. Hoods up and hunched over against rain and hail, we tiptoed around cow-pats, fearful of meeting some overprotective cows and calves.

Finally we spotted the gate, the river and on the other side: the car! Ah, safety! But first, we had to cross some muddy puddles. Could we walk round them? The hill was too steep to walk around uphill; downhill would probably be just as mushy; ah well, it’s only a few minutes to the car – let’s go through them!

I instantly regretted my decision as I sank past my ankles in bog (natural springs, the map described it later). I had a hysterical vision of me sinking under forever leaving an indignant bubble. I subscribe to the belief that if you’re moving fast enough you won’t get wet, so sheer momentum took me across. Luckily Mini, who was still clinging to my hand like a flag in the wind, was too light to sink too far and she just got wet feet. One by one, we all discovered just how icy-cold the bog water was. I could tell by the 3 different tones of wailing that the minxes really weren’t happy at all. Situation Normal at the end of most family walks, then.

the least muddyOnce quickly over the gate, we slithered down the path to the Brig. Who cared about the steep drop to the river? Who cared about the mud? One last big bit of bravery to cross the bridge, then just a few strides more to the car. We giggled euphorically as we stripped off muddy kit in the empty carpark and guzzled chocolate and coffee and water. At least we’d been wearing fleeces and waterproofs so I hadn’t worried about hypothermia! But my biggest Note To Self: there really, honestly, genuinely is no such thing as “Och, we don’t need x, y, z – we’re only going on a teeny wee walk”.

Never again.