Monthly Archives: February 2011

Monster Monster Party

I told Tom ages ago he could have a monster birthday party. He had a brilliant  jungle party at home for his third birthday two years ago, but the fifth is the first school one and a bit of a special occasion. I didn’t think of the logistics though..

Birthday parties are the part of parenthood no one prepares you for when you’re busy considering the obvious, early stuff like nappies and sleepless nights.

For a start, how are you supposed to know who to invite? Four year olds are a fickle bunch and the list of who’s their friend and who hasn’t been very nice to them varies daily. I’d really rather not invite any of the naughty ones, but how can you be sure which is which? Did you know that the parents don’t actually attend the party? In this age of blame, you are responsible for a church hall full of giddy children who are bound to fall and injure themselves / vanish / eat something they’re allergic too whilst in your care? I didn’t know that, my Mum told me – and made me feel really stupid for not knowing that already. Did you also know that it costs an unholy amount to hire a musty old church hall? And that you have to hire it by the hour and stick an extra one on the end to clean up vomit (because at least one child will vomit.) There’s that cost on top of platters of food that will end up either in the bin or ‘unwasted’ (covered in cling film by Mum, still shrivelling in the fridge a week later.) And children cry and throw tantrums if they don’t win prizes in games. All of this and no booze allowed. No matter how much you sometimes have to do things for the love of your children and even if it is part of what you sign up for, I really didn’t fancy any of this.

I started to look into soft play areas, which are generally smelly, desolate places beneath corrugated metal on battered industrial estates. Children like them though and the food is often thrown in. A quick Google for suitable North West venues revealed some sort of conspiracy among soft play area proprietors to spell their name as spectacularly wrong as possible, with a contest to throw in as many rogue zs as they can:

Antz in Your Pantz
Funizuz
Curly Whirleez
Giddie Kippers
Kiddly Beanz
Thingamajigz
Kidz-a-loud
Rascalz

(OK, I’m anal. But I can’t think of a possible reason for this phenomenon. Can anyone explain?)

I then discovered that the three earmarked party dates clash with Manchester United fixtures and that there was a very real chance I could fork out that money and dress Tom as a monster and loads of the kids wouldn’t even turn up. That would be really sad. It was all becoming rather stressful.

“Where have the other children in his class had parties?” asked Mum, calming me down during a particularly desperate party stress phone call.

I stopped to think, then realised. He has only ever been invited to one party since he started that school six months ago. It’s not that he’s unpopular, it’s that the other kids’ parents aren’t daft. They just send them to school with 35 bags of mini Haribo to dish out. I asked Tom how he felt about not inviting school friends and he said it was fine.

So it’s family and close friends, in the park if the weather permits, then all back to ours. A mini monster party, if you like. A civilised monster gathering. And in honour of the monster monster party that never was, his classmates are getting a boxful of these little fellas instead of the Haribo. Phew.

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Best Day Yet

"Everything's going to be OK Mum."

This morning, I dropped Tom off late at school. He was snorting stubborn, snotty sobs about a row we’d had over having his nails clipped. (“You are wrong. I do not need to have my nails trimmed before school. I will not let you do it. I will not keep still. Why do you have to do this to me? You’re really hurting me. This is awful. Why do you have to be so unkind?” etc.)

When I went to collect him this afternoon, he’d undergone a transformation. He was  ‘Star of the Day’. He grinned and pointed at his award. There were no tershtificuts left, so his teacher gave him a pirate sticker which he stuck proudly to his jumper (and, I’ve just realised, has now been pulvrised by the washing machine.) He was given his award for “sitting beautifully,” “ignoring someone when they tried to have a fight with me” and “asking a good question about pirates” (“What’s that special pirate sword called?”)

“I’m Star of the Day! I’ve never been Star of the Day before!”

Then I reminded him it was swimming lesson tonight. “I’m Star of the Day and it’s swimming night? This is the best day yet!”

Little things.

I caught him again, lying on his tummy on the living room floor, his tongue lolling out in concentration as he coloured in a comic. “I’m star of the day,” he whispered to himself two or three times before I abruptly ended Star Day and told him it was time for bed.

There he is on the picture, moments after he arrived five years ago. People go on about that being the best day, but it’s not really. You’re in pain, on drugs, confused, emotional, petrified and leaking blood, milk and tears. I like plain old days like today.

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Making the Most of It

“Make the most of them being that small.” People say that all the time, when babies are pink and clingy, when they’re shouting rubbish from their buggies and when they are toddling in front of you. People say it so much that you just smile and don’t really take any notice. I wish I had though.

Tom was on Half Term last week. I took him to the park for a bat box building workshop. (No birds allowed – see above.) On Friday, I took him to Experiment at MOSI.

“Do you know what I miss?” I said, as he shrugged his coat and his scarf off and I fumbled with them and my own.

“What?”

“I miss the buggy. I miss being able to hang our coats and bags and everything else on the back of it.”

“Oh.” He was off.

As he ran around, discovering vortex canons, turbulance domes and a cycling skeleton, I realised what else I miss: Tom not being in school and being able to take him out. I only worked three days when he was little. These days, by the time I get to the end of the week and my Mum or Auntie J ask me if I want them to take Tom at the weekend, I am so knackered that on autopilot, I usually say ‘yes.’ It’s ages since we’ve had a good day out, just the two of us. I took him in the gift shop and let him choose one thing and he picked a glow-in-the-dark Jupiter for his bedroom ceiling.

I took Tom to a Japanese restaurant for tea. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before: ‘guess the next dish to come along the conveyor belt’ provided ages of pre-tea fun, as did the at-table taps ( “Are you sure you don’t want any more water Mum?”) and the big screen cartoons. When dinner was served, he loved popping edamame beans out of their pods and grappling with the chopsticks. “This is the best restronaut I’ve ever been to Mum.” Who needs Wacky Warehouse?

After dinner, I went to the posh supermarket and treated myself to a bottle of red wine, which cost exactly the same as the not-so-posh wine from the corner shop near home. When I was faffing around looking for our ticket at the bus shelter, I dropped it. It landed with a sharp click and poured dark and fast into the gutter.

That wouldn’t have happened if it had been hung safely on the back of the buggy.

“Mum,” Tom said, on the packed bus, “You are an expert at dropping bottles of red wine. Remember last time you did it, in Morrisons?”

“Ssh, don’t tell the whole bus.”

I got him inside and tucked him up, but thankfuly I didn’t feel like the red wine any more. I was tired and content and I just wanted to go to bed.

I’m glad we had that afternoon out, because on Saturday morning, I woke with unbearable tootache and had to whisk Tom with me to the emergency dentist.

“How will the dentist be able to understand what you’re saying in your sore tooth voice? Even I can’t understand you and I’m your son.”

Afterwards, Auntie J came and took Tom to the match and kept him with her overnight as I took antibiotics and excellent painkillers that gave me weird dreams. (They worked very quickly and I feel almost normal now.)

Tomorrow morning, Tom’s back at school again. I’m planning an adventure for the next Bank Holiday weekend, possibly involving a teepee…

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The Jungle

The new Government want to charge people for claiming Child Maintenance. It’s part of a consultation called Stengthening Families, which is based on a far-fetched Tory ideology that one parent families are always the result of an amicable marriage split. Bear with me through the figures….

They want to encourage single parents to make a cordial agreement about the costs of raisng their children. If they can’t, the parent with care will have to pay an upfront charge of £100 (£50 if they are on benefits), as well as a deduction of between 7 and 12 per cent of money collected. The non-resident parent gets charged too, a surcharge of between 15 and 20 per cent on top of the maintenance they pay, further encouraging non-payers. You see, some people don’t want to contribute to the upbringing of their children. The Tories refer to charging the non-resident parent in the extreme event they do not comply and the order of a sale of property is required. Since when did everyone have the luxury of their own property? Not in my world, Mr Cameron.

I am aware that women can and do shirk the responsibility of parenthood, but here I’m referring to what I know. There is no umbilical cord to connect a male to his offspring; he can go off into the forest and look for another mate and it is the female who carries and bears the child and feeds and nurtures it. When you’re young and pregnant and scared, sometimes you wish you could run away and hide in the undergrowth, but you can’t because wherever you run the baby goes with you.

Thankfully, humans have evolved so that most males take pride and joy in fatherhood, even if they are not in love with the mother. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.  “I don’t want anything to do with it” is not a good enough get-out clause.  Sometimes, asking for  a small financial contribution (15% of earnings – or £5 a week if they happen to be claiming benefits) is the only way of making the man face up to his responsibility. But they’ll always view the mother as slightly nutty deviant, not stopping to think that it will cost her far more than 15% of her earnings to raise a child. These people are adept at ducking and avoiding the system. They know where to hide. Of course they’re not going to be traceable on an Inland Revenue check, because they’ll make damn sure they don’t work anywhere where they will. They will move regulary so they are always a couple of steps ahead of the CSA. These are the people that the CSA admit ‘will always slip through the net’, but these are precisely the sort of people who should be made to accept their responsibility.

The new proposals are short-sighted and simply not applicable to situations where one parent has vanished and doesn’t want to pay. No one should have to pay £100 to use a service from which some people will always be exempt, plus a deduction of maintenance received, on top of the cost of endless, anxious calls to 0845 numbers.

I gave up using the CSA. When children are babies, people say “Ooh, what about nappies?” and there’s a short gap after potty training, but then the school meals come. They cost £8.50 a week, so the sporadic fiver a week when it comes doesn’t even cover it. I didn’t feel beaten when I gave up, I felt free of a lot of futile stress and anger. I work hard and I can afford to keep a roof over our heads, for now. Granted, home’s not in the area I would like and we don’t have a garden, but it could be so much worse. I’ll never afford to buy a house and I’ll be eternally paying off terrifying credit card bills, but we’re lucky compared to some. Some people desperately need the Child Maintenance they are entitled to in order to raise their children. This is where children suffer. They shouldn’t be penalised because their Mum and Dad weren’t once married and one of them chose to disappear: the two scenarios simply aren’t comparable.

Mr Cameron, how are you supposed to come to an amicable agreement with your child’s non-resident parent when you don’t even know if they’re alive or dead?

Please write to your local MP if you think these proposals are unfair.

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