Thankful

I know, I know – let’s not get all American about things, but Thanksgiving does make me pause to think about what I am grateful for – which is an excellent reflective habit to get into if you can. When I was growing up and I couldn’t sleep, my Dad said that it was a good idea to talk to God about things you were thankful for, and, because I did not have to share a room with four and a half small boys like my own sons do, I used to name all of the things I was grateful for out loud. It served me well, got me to sleep, and instilled a strong sense of perspective. When you start with the facts that you are thankful for your cosy bed, your soft pillow, your working roof, a full fridge, a stack of books by the bed, the safe street outside; you realise pretty quick you are in a very privileged position when stacked up against most of the world. That’s a really good thing to know and to carry with you.

Anyway. I am currently thankful for:

  1. Good television writing. We are watching Succession season two which has lines that make me guffaw, or shiver. I am thankful that there are people who can critique people in clever, sharp and damning ways like that, who tell epic stories for us while keeping us laughing. Storytelling is such a gift and I am thankful that I have such access to it. What a time to have wifi.
  2. These children of mine. Awful, delicious little ragbags. The baby is a perfect baby, as all babies are, the others are kind and funny and rude and naughty and fun, and the older ones are emerging into these complex, fascinating, annoying, brilliant people that I am so proud of. We have accidentally and quite cluelessly raised these boys who zip around London on buses and tubes, who make friends from Italy and Egypt and Russia, who sit exams and sing in choirs and play rugby and read manga comics and help look after their baby brother. They cook with me and they eat all together and at the end of the day they choose to sit close in our living room, deep in amongst the chaos of all those competing bodies. They let us to hug them and kiss them and tease them and teach them, and they argue about abolishing the monarchy and tell terrible made up jokes. What riches I have in them.
  3. Tea in the morning, brewed in a perfect teapot printed in gold and graphic dragonflies, and coffee after the school run with our flashy gleaming Rocket machine, then tea after dinner while watching TV with the boys. These are rituals that are much more than the sum of their parts. These are life affirming, slowed-down moments that brings us together for a short while. Tea-making for each other means we consider the other people in the room, deliberately and purposefully, punctuating the ends of the day with a kindness. Except when I make it, it tastes like brown water and plastic.
  4. London in Autumn. There are sample sales every day, the sun is bright, you get to wear your coat unbuttoned, things are cosy in the evening but you aren’t yet sick of the dark, red wine tastes better and running through the park in the morning is fast and properly exhilarating. Soup feels interesting rather than old people’s home-y and going to bed to read your book (Less by Andrew Sean Greer) at 9:30pm feels like a novelty. A cosy novelty. You bring out your puffy duvet from the back of the linen cupboard, your woollen rugs make sense, your jumpers get an airing and feel great and only slightly too hot and suffocating. OK, your paw paw ointment becomes a handbag essential because everyone has cracked lips and your eyes stream constantly when you walk to the tube and your mascara makes its way down your cheeks through your warm teardrops but still – Autumn! So cosy! So colourful! So squirrelly!
  5. Verna our cleaner. She comes twice a week to wipe things down and straighten things up and my goodness, she makes us all a much happier family.  She wipes out the fridge, changes the sheets, tidies up the couches, stacks things away nicely, deals with the recycling, makes the sinks gleam, and all these other things that make the flat seem twelve times bigger and everyone much nicer to each other. I wish for all the people in the world to have someone to do all that stuff for them. Not to overdo it, but I think she has made our marriage much better. More so than a date night, because, while they are important, you still get pissed off about the untidy red shelves in the hallway where Mark dumps his various acrylic work beanies which smell like scalp when you return from said date night, am I right? Whereas Verna sprinkles clean magic dust wherever she goes. I love her.
  6. Access to great things like the Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy. This city literally throws its cultural riches at you.
  7. Teachers! Oh my, the teachers. This week we have had teachers help both the biggest boys deal with bullies and one went out of his way to alert Mark and I with some concerns he has with my darling dingdong Noah, while the teachers at the new primary school keep being so loving and patient with Ned and Otis as they forge their way in to the still-new system. Such daily kindnesses right there.

In Pictures

Here I am in a Bella Freud sample sale jumper. Witness the joyful stripes! The cashmere mix! All for 80% off:

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The kids and I at Borough Market the day after the latest terror attack on London Bridge. We saw Police Commissioner Cressida Dick talking to stall holders with her terrifying bodyguard, casual and reassuring. Also the salt beef bagel was great:

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Excellent teen in excellent outfit. That’s all him, btw:

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Cutest baby in town crawling around the Turbine Hall at the Tate in velour trousers, just like his mother:

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So, tell me, Dear Readers. What are you thankful for?

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Op Shop

I have a very healthy relationship with charity shops, forged when my mother would take me to the Salvation Army’s Nearly New Shop for a rummage in the ’80s, back when I was small, skinny, and before my mullet got out of hand. When it was a perfectly reasonable Pageboy haircut, before puberty turned the shaggy shorter bits at the front into a big permy-looking halo of shame (I can’t find any photos of the actual mullet, but this is a marvellous one of me in my high school with HUGE glasses that you can have instead):

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Anyway, we would go, mum and I, and look around and though everything smelt bad and it was dusty and dark, it was laden with potential second-hand toy treasure. Later, when I was at University I bought many ’50s party dresses from retro shops on K’ Road and wore them to parties and for the occasional spot of dancing at The Box on High Street. In London, I’ve squirrelled out discarded YSL, Givenchy, Chanel, Isabel Marant and Christian Lacroix from various op shops and all sorts of peculiar sweaty smelling polyester frocks which can look quite designer-y if you choose well and which accommodate a burgeoning pregnancy bump as well as never crease. I know well of what I speak here. 

The Point, Though

There’s a great little Trinity Hospice shop near Queensway tube that often yields treasures, mostly from the book bit at the back. On Remembrance Sunday, I took half of the children for a walk to Notting Hill Gate so they could buy 10 donutty beignets from Paul Bakery, and on the way the Queen drove by us in her Bentley. We stopped and waited for the police escorts to send her through the streets and we were all in awe at her oldness and her realness and how close she was to us and our dog. Did she see Magic? Did she wave at us? Was she wearing some sort of diamond headgear? It was all too much queenly excitement for us all and we could only calm down by eating all the beignets.

Once we were over the drama, I went inside the Trinity Hospice shop to look for mid-century modern coffee table books or perhaps an unnoticed vintage Cartier ring while the kids and dog stayed outside arguing about Manga comics or something equally stupid. Then Noah came in and asked me in a breathless kind of way where Elton John lived and I said:

I DONT KNOW – MAYBE WINDSOR? MONOCO? – ANYWAY GET BACK TO THE BABY PLEASE

And ten minutes later, me laden with more books and a Juicy Couture tracksuit (more on that later), I exited the shop and went over to the kids lolling about in the bus stop and Noah told me that Elton John had just patted the dog. I said, looking frantically left and right for some signs of an ageing pop star with big glasses and a toupee:

WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?

And he said that was why he needed to know Elton John’s address and anyway, that was a whole ten minutes ago. We googled lots of photos because, having just seen Rocketman, I wanted to make sure that Noah knew Elton didn’t look like Taron Egerton. It turns out that Elton does indeed live in Holland Park a few roads away from where we were and Noah remained steadfast. It was Elton, he said. On the same day as the actual Queen! I really do love London.

And what’s more, that Most Special Day and that Most Special Hospice Shop gave me this:

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It has taken me 20 years to know that my happiness was going to lie in blue velour and diamantes. I am going to live in that little tracksuit number all Christmas. I might wear it out, even, with a BOOT or a HEEL. I am going to be the warmest and the chicest track-be-suited mid-40-year old in all of Devon, I imagine. Never mind the diamantes have come off a bit! Never mind it is snug across the bum! Never mind the children will be embarrassed and I am twenty years late to the jazzy tracksuit party! There’s a latent second hand 20 quid Juicy Couture princess in all of us, I think.

In Further Clothing and Accessory-Related News

I was out at The Cleveland Arms on Monday night at the pub quiz (as is our usual wont, and we very often win) and someone noticed my scabby wrists caused by the nickel allergy from the birthday Gucci watch. They said:

GET RID OF IT IF IT MAKES YOUR WRISTS ALL RASHY

and it was like the heavens opened and the angels sang and shone their light onto my atopic skin and I realised that yes, it was time to release my allergenic timepiece into the world of the potentially resold. It’s currently listed on eBay, as is my green £4000 Mary Katrantzou ball gown that I was going to wear to the book launch but which makes me look a little bit fatty in the arms. I will sell both those things, even if I die trying, and I will funnel the proceeds back into my paypal account so I can keep bidding on terrible 80’s YSL two piece skirt suits to wear to my non-existent office job.

Here is our new Petra Borner rug which has brightened up our lives and given us quite a bit of shedding wool to manually pick up once or twice a day:

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The baby, being a bit odd:

 

Most of the others on our way to Portobello Road on Saturday looking quite odd as well:

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Make Up Tutorial

That baby of mine works as an effective alarm clock in the week, getting me up at 6:30am pretty much on the dot every morning. This is obviously most excellent except for the weekends when it is a kind of mild pain the arse. It does allow me to drink coffee by myself without the others hearing the sound of the grinder and then whining about me making them hot chocolates, and I do get to start reading the last weekend paper supplements until Remi comes over to rip them, and I do then play with the baby for four or so minutes before I get a bit bored. From about 7am the boys all slowly traipse out of the bedroom, rubbing eyes and rumpled up in mismatching pyjamas, asking to play on my phone as soon as their eyes adjust to the light.

This morning I’ve been productive. I’ve shaped and baked a sourdough loaf, started a new one, despaired about the dishwasher backlog, wondered if we could afford a Saturday cleaner (no), made four hot chocolates (them) and two very strong double shot frothy flat whites (me), thought about going for a run (no), mused about a new social media strategy (can’t be arsed), read articles on adult autism, Thurston Moore and Felicity Jones, put the baby back to bed (lucky little bugger), put the washing on, eaten some cheese and checked Mark’s phone for anything interesting that I should know about (nothing). And it’s still only 8:38am.

Later, after I get increasingly cranky about the mess and get too hot and fret over the dog’s bowels, I will force everyone to Portobello to the food market bit under the Westway so I can buy really hot Korean buffalo chicken wings which I think about all week. The others all have their favourites too; Ned loves the Afghani chicken wraps, Noah goes for the crepes, Barnaby loves Korean chicken, eggs and rice, Casper opts for Cheeky Cheese Burgers with fries and Otis guzzles hot chips.

Here is what we look like eating crepes:

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The dog-running-away-problem, meanwhile, has been fixed because Karzan our handsome plumber friend took pity on me about the whole ‘mean bald men shouting at me’ situation and put a spring onto the gate. It slowly closes shut whenever kids/postmen leave the gate wide open, and Magic is too busy sleeping on the couch to realise he has about 15 seconds to sneak through before it closes shut. Viola! Our seven year long problem has been solved like…Magic.

In Other News

  1. Barnaby has decided to do the Duke of Edinburgh award so later today he is going to Hackney to volunteer his help with kids who have reading and writing difficulties. This gets him out of a history revision thing at school so it’s not all entirely altruistic, but it’s a start. Hopefully he will actually do as he says he is going to do and not, like, go to a cool Hackney cafe and just buy himself lunch.
  2. I’ve been to two press event launch things this week. One was all about eczema in kids and I showed the dermatologist lady my revolting wrist which is red and scaly and weeping and she told me it’s a nickel allergy – apparently I’m allergic to my new Gucci watch. Awesome. She suggested painting the back of the face with clear nail polish but I’m thinking I CANT IT’S A GUCCI WATCH. Instead, I’ll have to switch wrists when the scaling gets too gross. The second thing was a bit more exciting – we went to the penthouse at The Mandrake Hotel in Fitzrovia for a beauty event where I found myself a new lovely friend called Michelle from Fifty and Fab (we were the only ones over 35, I reckon). The hotel was all very ROCK N ROLL, painted black and confusingly laid out with wristbands at the door like we were going to a festival. Instead of an actual festival, we were taken to the top best room to watch Mary Greenwell (very famous and quite terrifying makeup artist) do a (very beautiful already and young) model’s face up, and listen to a skin doctor discuss best practices and learn about Imedeen which are supplements for the non-young ladies in da house. There were lots of very young beauty bloggers and influencers there and only about two of us who actually need Imedeen. I need Imedeen. I also need Mary Greenwell.  This is what I learned:

Drink water, sleep, don’t skip breakfast, buy a silk pillowcase, inject Profhilo, learn about your hormones, take milk thistle if you are going on a bender, take magnesium, leave three hours before your last meal before sleeping so that your body is skin repairing overnight instead of digesting, move more, ideally live in Bali, eat carbs in the evening, protein and good fats are your friend. Mary says to apply makeup with your fingers, to use brown eyeshadow everyday, to avoid the dark brow thing that everyone is wearing pretty badly, don’t contour, wear mascara everyday, don’t let your lipstick come half off over lunch because it looks awful, powder your t-zone and around the nose at the end of applying your makeup because it will stay all day and make sure your foundation isn’t too cakey.

They gave me some Imedeen capsules to take so I will report back. I am not entirely hopeful and suspect the injectables might be the only way to really claw back lost youth.

Speaking of youth – how sweet is my baby?

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Woeful tale (tail) ft. dogs and angry men

It is possible, entirely possible, that I am a bit oversensitive to other people’s criticism or perceived criticism of me and my parenting. This was very delicately pointed out by a friend of mine when I freaked out a few weeks ago because Casper (11) and Ned (9) weren’t served at a local food market because they had my card to use for payment instead of cash. I assumed they weren’t served because they were unaccompanied at 7am (in their school uniforms, with a handwritten note from me listing “Milk, Bananas, Croissants”, one of them clutching a reusable plastic bag to put the groceries in) but it looks like it might have been because the cashier knew the card wasn’t theirs, and therefore was perhaps stolen. The kids ran back home, she called me to check it was ok, and they ran back to buy their breakfast. So…extremely….conscientious of her, no?

I got really cross about it, of course, and felt that I was getting called out for sending the kids out into the world without me which is something that is seen by lots of people as quite a risky thing to do because of the Dangers Out There. I think the Dangers Out There are overstated. If the refusal to serve them was not about the Dangers Out There and was really about the kids having my card, I would argue that context is all. They weren’t buying fireworks or cigarettes, after all.

But in any case, it does seem as though I move through the world ready to take one glance or imagined ‘tsk’ as a full throttle assault on my parenting character. This has perhaps always been the case but got worse after a summer fiasco where I got myself into a handful of trouble because I left the baby in a tent for a few minutes with his brothers and a Child Protection Officer discovered the scene. It was brutal and public and shaming and terrifying and it has had real and lasting consequences on me, my sense of self, my confidence in my choices and in my parenting, and my friendships. So now, I am a totally unhinged about this stuff.

Cue yesterday then. A big bad day of getting-into-trouble-ness. The last day of the mid term holidays, after what has been a pleasant week with trips to Battersea Park for mini golf, long days in the sand at the Princess Diana Playground, walks through Mayfair, trips to Pret, Portobello and a full day in the rain making dens at Forest School.

We had plans to meet a new friend in Kensington Gardens, so there was some time pressure to get out of the flat by 10:45. After a week on holiday, this was a bit of a struggle – Ned and Casper were supposed to walk the dog but spent a lot of time ignoring the request or just saying NO, and Casper bookended that by fighting, screaming, talking back, arguing, knocking us all on the shoulder as he skulked past in a faux ‘wanna fight?’ kind of way, kicking things up and down the hall, chasing the others which lead them to hide in the bathrooms while he tried to kick the doors down. This was all while we were trying to get out of the flat and running out of time. Noah, meanwhile, was being lazy about his job hanging out the washing and pulled too hard on the line and broke the whole thing. There was wet washing everywhere, no way to dry anything, seven loads to do, and it was time to leave.

Casper wouldn’t let up with his constant assaults and I was getting angrier and angrier with him – I took his phone and said the next time he did something I would cancel the scout camp trip he was supposed to be going on this weekend. I asked him to drag the buggy up the stairs for me to give him a job and keep him occupied; he did it purposefully slowly and in the most difficult, passive aggressive way which meant that the postman couldn’t get through and I couldn’t get past to open the gate and he just made it all as hard, slow and awkward as he could. After I came up behind him and strapped the baby in, I exploded with rage – finally broken after the full morning of relentless baiting. I left the buggy and the gate still open with the other boys upstairs and asked them to watch things while I went back down to sort the fallout from our fight.

I apologised, though tried to explain that he has to learn to manage his behaviour better, especially when he can see that I am losing it. We were finally ready to get out of the flat but I saw there was a man waiting for me upstairs. It turns out that during the Casper drama, the dog had sneaked out past the kids who were watching the baby in his buggy (and also distracted by some impromptu hide and seek) and he had wandered down the road to his favourite rubbish bins. This man, someone I had never seen before, was all ready for me. He was furious – he had seen Magic a few streets away and had come back to our flat (not bringing the dog back, mind) to tell me that I was a terrible incompetent dog owner and the next time he saw Magic out on his own again, he was going to take him. I tried to explain, saying that I had asked the kids to keep watch while I was in the middle of something important and he said OH THAT MUST HAVE BEEN SO TOUGH FOR YOU in a very sarcastic kind of way and just kept repeating that I was incompetent and bad and that next time, he would take Magic away. He then took off, leaving me a shocked and embarrassed and upset but – there was a dog to find.

I sent the big kids off in one direction and I went in another. I found Magic, snuffling into some rubbish bags as per, and bought him home but the other boys were still on the hunt. I thought the two littlest had gone ahead to the park in all the confusion, so grabbed the baby and Casper and went there, incredibly late for our playdate, hoping to find them waiting for us. They weren’t there. The big boys weren’t there either, and didn’t have their phones with them, and probably had no keys for the flat.

Luckily, each big boy had a little one with them and they had scoured the streets for about an hour until they went back to the flat where Casper was waiting with keys.

In the afternoon, still upset about the random man who wants to steal the dog and who knows where we live and after feeling terrible about my inability to cope with Casper’s provocations, I was lying about all glumly and then a delivery man comes to give us a package and then the baby went to have a bath. A few minutes after, another man comes down our stairs with the dog. The delivery guy had left the gate open and Magic had slunk off again to the bins for afternoon tea. This new man had the same story – he had seen Magic out earlier and was beyond furious and told me that if he ever saw Magic out again he would call animal welfare and Magic would be taken from us. He said, just like the other guy, that we were incompetent dog owners and were a danger to Magic. I tried to explain that the delivery guy had left the gate open (there’s a big sign saying PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE) but he said that was my problem and I needed to sort it out. After he finished his tirade and stormed off, he bloody well left the gate open! I shouted after him THE GATE! THE GATE! and he turned around and I ran back inside because a) he was big, with a bald boiled gammon head and a face like an angry football hooligan and b) he knows where we live. When Mark got home half an hour later he was still standing at the spot he had turned around at. So now I think he’s gonna get us. And the dog. And you wonder why I think everyone wants to expose my crapness at looking after people and things?

PS I know we need a self-closing gate. I know.

In Other News

I haven’t yet been invited to anything where I can wear my £4000 Mary Katrantzou gown.

Mark has high blood pressure which makes me think we need life insurance. I hope it doesn’t mean that he sits down too much now.

I’ve been asked to contribute an essay on Motherhood for a new anthology. What larks! What irony! Anyway, it’s the first time I will be published in an actual book, so I am excited about that. You’ll all know the truth – that I am a bit crap – but for the essay, I’ve glossed over that bit. Out in March.

 

 

 

 

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Fresh beginnings

More on the Earnest Teacher Situation. About a week after Otis discovered his Magical Superpowers of Maternal Shame (whereby he gets his mother into trouble by grassing on her), I was asked to step aside and have a word after school with his teacher again.

This time, the issue stemmed from a PSHE day – PSHE standing for Personal, Social and Health Education. In this country, PSHE lessons start when the kids are four and they learn about hygiene and friends and personal space; it carries on over the years into more age-appropriate, thorny topics like puberty and sex. PSHE education for me is a non-issue because I believe that knowledge is power, and I don’t get very shy about talking about potentially awkward things. I want them to be informed about their bodies and its functions, and I want them to have the right messages regarding sex and porn and consent and love and pleasure (importantly, not just theirs…I don’t think we are taught to expect women to enjoy sex).  I haven’t had any of those moments with the boys where I feel unsure about how to answer a question or broach a topic because I figure life is like a farm and we are the cows and chickens and that life, birth, death and everything in between is just farmlife.  Beautiful, abundant, glorious, mysterious, scientific, Godly, good farmlife. Anyway, I digress.

So on the PSHE day, the five and six year olds were asked to write down any worries they have and post them into the Worry Box which the teachers then go through in case the kids highlight anything that seems peculiar and in need of further investigation. The teacher told me that Otis’s worry was very unusual. I internally rolled my eyes. It was this:

OTIS: “I am worried about Mum being in a cage, because she was kidnapped by a monster with very bulgy eyes and very sharp teeth and the key was buried underground. I couldn’t find the key and I only had ten minutes before the monster ate Mum. Then she was just bones.”

Cue the teacher deciding to check with me about this, and to ask why Otis might be worried about me being in a cage. I put on my most passive aggressive face and said I HAVE NO IDEA. Then she called him over and asked in a very sweet voice, “Why are you worried about your mum being in a cage?” Perhaps, she said, he was seeing something he shouldn’t be seeing?

I got a bit cross then. I said that with the best will in the world, a kid with four older brothers (three of whom are in secondary school), won’t be sheltered from everything. That, unlike many of the kids in her class, Otis has accidental exposure to things that will be undesirable from time to time, but that I could assure her I would do the best I could to keep him from seeing and hearing things he shouldn’t be. I said that context is everything. She seemed happy with that, but I walked away, cheeks ablaze, wondering what I had to do to prove to her that I wasn’t a Person of Interest. Also, wondering why Otis wasn’t being seen as a brilliant storyteller rather than a damaged innocent. I went straight over to the other school site and asked the teachers that I knew very well there  – 11 years well – why the new teacher had not spoken with them to check out how dodgy or not we were as a family. Because, at some point, you want to be able to get on with the job of childrearing without being nervous about the authorities. It is a hard enough job to do without being called in once a week.

SO

This, and the double-dropoff-two-school-sites thing and the stress and the drama and the morning shouting and the long ugly walk up the A40 to get to a school by 8:15 made me think it was time to go to the local school and so we did. The two middle littlest now go to the school that almost all the kids in our neighbourhood go to. It is tiny and it starts at nearly 9am and the best thing of all – the very best thing of all – is that it takes me 4 minutes and 38 seconds to get there. It means I have an hour extra in the mornings to go for a late 7am run and make coffee and read the paper and waft around in a dressing gown. It is like Saturday every day! I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago.

ALSO

  1. I went to a Mary Katrantzou sample sale yesterday and bought a green maxi dress that was once a princely £4000 but was reduced to £200. I will never need to wear a silk high necked floor length butterfly jacquard gown, but I can. I just might.
  2. I turned 42 last week. I was given a lot of chocolate, bought myself a bit of an ugly expensive present (I had a tense eBay situation where I thought I had put in a bid for a flowery Gucci watch at a maximum £310 but discovered, after I won it, that I had used a “9” instead of a “3”), went to Ottolenghi for brunch and had a fight with the kids who decided to use our furniture as the base for a knife-throwing competition. I’ve had better birthdays.
  3. The baby has slapped cheek syndrome and has cried most of the night for about a week while four teeth have ripped through his gums. We are done in.
  4. I have started making sourdough and have become a sourdough bore. See my Instagram stories for proof of this.

AND

Buckwheat sourdough(complete with stray hair):

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Baby on a swing:

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Otis in a synagogue:

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Baby eating an Ottolenghi cinnamon brioche on my birthday:

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What happens when you accidentally run SLOWLY in a penis shape:

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Yes, I Said

Here’s an embarrassing thing that happened to me yesterday. I went to pick Otis up from school, which is his old school but on a new site. Ned is still at the old site, so this week our mornings have been a bit ugly while I have tried to work out how to get to two different drop off points with only ten minutes between them. It means a 6am start for everyone so that we can find the shoes/locate the jumper/clean the teeth/feed the baby and throw everything into the buggy, grab the dog, and race up the A40, trying to work out which pavements have been closed off due to scaffolding so I don’t have to take too many time-consuming detours while the clock tick tocks relentlessly away, closer and closer to the gates closing and the yellow detention slips of shame being handed out.

The first day back at school this year was on Monday, which happens to have been Otis’s 6th birthday. We did the birthday things on Sunday instead – Otis chose McDonalds for lunch, we had his friends over, took them to the trampoline park and I made a typically ugly volcano cake (see below) which the children decorated with pound shop sweets and an entire jar of nutella:

On Monday morning, his actual birthday, we piled onto our bed at 6am for him to open his presents. Surrounded in discarded wrapping paper and robot snakes and small rubber things and a velcro sloth, he turned to me and said ‘I’m bored now”. This made me quite cross, understandably – it has been his MO of late (read: since he figured out the baby wasn’t going to go anywhere soon) to be rude and to do his best to push buttons (mostly mine), as well as take the opportunity to scare the baby, wake him up or poke something into his face so Remi can get just a little bit upset whenever our backs are turned. So normal, I hear you say, but also so annoying.

One of the other things Otis does is to refuse to get dressed in the morning, saying he just can’t and that he needs us to find him a shirt or tell him where his things are or to do up buttons. We help him up to a point, but don’t and won’t do everything for him. He obviously wants attention but there are a lot of people demanding my attention these days and I am a bit allergic to buying into that. I like the “ignore the bad behaviour and it might go away” school of thought, although that often looks like I am just extremely lazy, too tolerant and unfit to be parenting. THERE’S A METHOD HERE, FOLKS.    

Anyway, on Monday, after he wafted about feeling sulky because his present-joy was so short-lived, he pulled all his tricks (telling me his life was bad and he wants to live somewhere else, that I should just sell him on eBay, “losing” his shoes, hiding in his bed, refusing breakfast, not putting his uniform on, etc etc etc) and I tried to ignore most of it, but when there was only a few minutes to go, I freaked out (as I am wont to do) and we left the house in a dramatic shouty panic of near-lateness. I cannot stand being late to school because I am scared of the teachers and we had this new, near-impossible double drop off which had been plaguing me for months and I may have said something like “DON’T GO PULLING THIS *SHIZZLE* AGAIN! THIS IS *VERY* RIDICULOUS AND WE DON’T HAVE ANY TIME, YOU LITTLE *RATBAGS*” although probably (absolutely) using fruitier language.

So, we got to school on time (just) but I was full of rage and sweat and all in all it wasn’t my greatest parenting day. I tried to make it up to them both by a little post-school-trip to Sainsburys for birthday kinder surprises and dinner at GBK, so it all felt resolved.

THEN TO FRIDAY….

Otis’s teacher asked if I could stay behind and have a word with her. She pulled me aside and told me that the kids in her class have a special jar where they write about anything that might be bothering them. She told me that Otis had written a little note about how his birthday was terrible because “everyone had been rude to him”. She asked him about it and he extrapolated, telling her about how it was me who was rude to him, and that I shouted and swore at him on his birthday. She looked at me with the kind, sweet, naive eyes of a young 20-something who hasn’t yet had a child nor has had to drag the buggers and a dog 30 mins up along a polluted motorway, dodging cyclists and commuters and scaffolding, all the way to one school and then backtrack to the second, where they have been handing out late slips at the congested gate as soon as the clock strikes 8:30, even if you arrived in the queue at 8:28 but couldn’t get to the narrow gate until 8:31 because of the hordes of other clueless new parents who don’t know where to go because they’ve merged with another school which we all have to go to now even though we didn’t actually want to and even though it makes our morning routine much harder than it used to be (and it has always been bad). She has yet to experience this, and so she probably was quite surprised that a mother would be a bit crabby to her small boy on his birthday. I tried to explain myself, and said yes, he was right, there was some shouting.

“And the swearing?”

Yes, I said. YES THERE MOST CERTAINLY BLOODY WELL WAS.

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Sicilian Tales

We are having an intergenerational holiday. Some of us are 80, some of us are 7 months, most are somewhere in-between. It’s pretty good, though the pace is a little slower than we are used to. We went on a boat trip yesterday and the baby totally cramped my style, all crying and fussing and being a bit vomity, but then my 78 year old mother donned her halterneck one piece and stepped delicately from the boat into the fairly choppy Mediterranean waters and swam like a true Queen. My father amazed me by kneeling solidly on the boat floor (is that called a deck, maybe?) to play with the baby, long legs tucked under him, knees bent, no trace of the arthritic inflammation and scar tissue that I carry around. They’ve both swam from the shore in amongst bronzed Sicilians and kept up with us in stomping around the hill towns of Castelbuono and Collesano in 30 degree heat. They’ve learnt to share a pizza for dinner while the rest of us go a bit mental overdoing the calamari and gelato, calmly sitting just outside our overladen table of 14, one in a cheap camping chair bought from a cut-price supermarket so her back won’t hurt. They have given advice and observed and soothed and cleaned up and wiped down and been the very best kind of grandparents you might be lucky enough to have, still beating people at word games and fitting in with new teenagers and helping set the table. The baby hasn’t been half as useful, I tell you.

Watermelon session in the outdoor kitchen of dreams:

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So, the villa is a massive 80’s number with a weird mix of once-state-of-the-art appliances and broken tiles. The outside looks as if someone with a penchant for hard surfaces went halfway towards a grand landscaping scheme and then gave up. There are sweet cats everywhere who turn fiendish at night and claw their way into our croissant packets, and lizards which are too hot to scamper away. The villa is reached after a 15 minute terrifying hillclimb in the flashy little Fiat, of which we have three because our party is so big. The road hairpin bends and turns and winds and scrapes and finally you reach a twisted tree trunk and a very unlikely dirt road which leads you past a well-placed sign of Jesus at the most scary narrow bit until you come to the villa. The best bit of the whole property is the outdoor kitchen and the pool, the worst is the invisible bugs which have left our legs and shoulders full of weeping little bites. The view, over Cefalu’s Rock, looks like this:

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Odd interior:

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Excellent al fresco kitchen (wth pizza oven, obvs) which frankly will make every other outdoor area for the rest of my life seem a bit shit:

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Parents who keep each other afloat stay together:

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We’ve been to the beach three times. The first was the beach at Cefalu town, and was filled with more people than felt seemly. I quite liked seeing all the Italians wander around in bikinis, old and young and fat and thin, and the men in speedos, hairy and mostly very ordinary-looking except for the OTT brownness. There was none of that teenage thing I remember where you felt so fat and huge and ashamed of yourself once your denim cutoffs were shed. Here, everyone is fine and unremarkable.

Here are my two eldest and youngest sons, once of whom likes munching on sand:

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Dinner. Probably pizza and calamari:

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Remi’s enthusiasm for, well, everything:

My intrepid behatted travelling parents with their 14th grandchild in a hilltop town:

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A stop in Collesano for the best gelato I have ever had. It was fondant and pistachio – a dark chocolate with a pistachio white soft chocolate ripple. The baby went for a more restrained vanilla:

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Golden hour at Salinelle Beach:

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We’ve got another five days until we say goodbye to Mum and Dad who are going to do a bit of their own touring in Italy without the assembled crowd, and we won’t see them again until we move back to New Zealand to our new (old) house. We will head back on Saturday and gear up for school and September deadlines with fading tans and very dry hair and a lot of boring mail. They are all geared up to go, although Mum really wants to take her new supermarket camping chair with her because it is so comfortable. It won’t fit into her suitcase though, so her and dad are busy thinking about ways to pull the rivets and/or stitching apart to fit the bugger in. This particular line of conversation is doing my head in a little bit. Ah well.

And So It (Nearly) Ends

Each year I panic about the school holidays and each year I get to the end and feel a great sense of loss – of time passed and of childhoods that are running out – and wonder why I was so worried. Six weeks with your kids and parents and friends is really just a massive gift, and one that you won’t get in the same way ever again. This year, with teenagers and elderly parents and sore backs and screen time fretting and the baby being both cute and a massive pain, has been the odd mashup of different needs and values, of repeated trips to the supermarket for more tomatoes, of too many bottles of prosecco, cradle cap and possible bed bugs. We’ve needed phone chargers and nappies and special fibre powder to keep old intestines running smoothly. It’s been so lovely and so magical and restful and so final and I am so grateful for it.

We are soon off again, out of the villa, into our three rental cars, praying not to smash them up or scrape the paintwork too badly, to wander the streets of Cefalu to buy crap at the souvenir shops and to find even better gelato. There will be dinner overlooking the sea, halved pizza and local red wine and the baby will cry because it is past his bedtime. I  just wish it could last.

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