Monthly Archives: September 2011

Hit The Road, Jack

I have made a Spotify playlist with Tom. He has chosen the songs for it and named it. It’s called The Magic Playlist Waterfall Collection and we’ve just been blasting it out while we do the brand new nightly tidy of the living room.

Tom was dancing wildly to The Lovecats when one of those massive spiders that everyone’s talking about shot out from under the sofa and across the rug. I froze, pretending not to be frightened. I’ve been doing this since Tom was a baby, hoping that one day he will heroically scoop up any arachnids we find in the house and dispose of them. I just didn’t think he’d be ready to do it so soon.

“It’s MASSIVE,” Tom said, in awe.

The spider had frozen too, on the edge of the rug.

“Erm. Just keep still,” I said, switching off the music and not taking my eyes of the beast.

“I know what to do!” Tom vanished upstairs and came back down with the water glass from by my bed in one hand and a scrap of loo roll in the other.

Gallantly, he strolled over to the spider and plonked the glass on top of it.

“There.”

“There?” I was watching through splayed fingers.

“Yes. All I need to do now is put this toilet roll over the top of the glass and we can go and set him free outside.”

“Who taught you this?”

“Nan.”

“This is brilliant Tom!”

“Oh, actually…”

“What?”

“Well… he was a fast fella.”

“Hey?”

“Hmmm, the glass has gone on top of him.”

“What do you mean, gone on top of him?”

“Well half of him is under it and half of him is outside of it. His legs are sticking out. I think I can see blood!”

“Oh, God. Is it moving?”

“No. I think he is absolutely dead.”

I cranked the playlist back up as we resumed tidying (working around the upturned glass – I wasn’t ready to deal with that.) Tom was singing along to Hit The Road Jack; bopping around as he picked up felt tips and marbles.

“Well, I bet that spider is having a good dance in Heaven now,” he sighed, then carried on tidying to the music.

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Curly Cs

I’ve made a pig’s ear of Tom’s hair.

“Someone hurt my feelings today,” he said, during nit check last night.

“Who?”

“Horatio.*”

“What did he say?”

“He said I look like a girl.”

Here we go again.

“Do you want short hair? It really is up to you.”

“No, I like it being curly. Anyway, Verity* stuck up for me.”

Verity was elected the female Class Rep last Friday, so I reckon she’s a pretty good diplomat.

“What did she say?”

“She whispered at me. She said ‘Don’t worry, but I think it might be because your hair is a tiny bit long.'”

It has been looking quite voluminous lately, especially round the ears. I decided that a quick trim wouldn’t go amiss, just to thin it about a bit. Last time I took him to the barber, he scalped him and when I took him to a hairdresser, they charged fifteen quid. I snipped a bit around his ears and his fringe, asked him to turn around, thought it looked a bit wonky and then chopped off a bit more, but then that was too much so I had to lop of a bit more off the other side to even it out. It was a bit like the time I decided to shorten a perfectly good dress because it felt frumpy. In fact, I think I used the same pair of massive red scissors. The taxi was on its way and I ended up having to go home early after catching sight of myself in a shop window and realising that I was wearing what was essentially a top. I was gutted, but I had only ruined a dress and a night out. This was my son’s hair.

“Oh look, they look like curly Cs!” Tom said, pointing at the floor.

There on the bathroom lino were hundreds of golden curls.

I wanted to cry.

“How does it look?” said Tom.

“I think I’ve cut too much off.”

Mum! I said I didn’t want it short.”

“It’s still long. At the back.”

I plonked him in front of the mirror in my room and blow-dried it, pulling down the stubby strands at the front to try to lengthen them.

“It looks OK!” he smiled at his reflection and turned his head from side to side.

Bless him.

You don’t know what a mullet is, I thought.

When I picked him up from school today, it did look really mullety. He had a short, blunt fringe that went round to his ears and then loads of blonde curls cascading past his collar at the back.

There were even more curly Cs on the bathroom floor this evening and it still doesn’t look great. It’s not the end of the world, obviously, but I do feel like an idiot.

Next time I’ll bring in the professionals.

*All names have been changed (I am pretty sure there is no one called Horatio or Verity in Tom’s class.)

 

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My nitty twenties (again)

They warn you about the stinking nappies and the sleepless nights. You’re prepared for teething and fevers, terrible twos tantrums and endless hillocks of washing.

But no one tells you about the nit checks.

I emptied Tom’s book bag on Saturday morning and out fluttered one of those slips that Tom thought was a letter about the bug museum. Two weeks into term and the meticulous and time-consuming ritual of nightly nit checks resumes. I always feel like Tom’s a prime suspect, because most of the boys in his class have very short hair and the girls all have their hair tied back.

“Please will you check him for nits?” I said to Mum, when I dropped him off later that day.

She winced. “That’s your job.”

“Please. I only found the slip on the way out of the door.”

Mum took the comb, a torch and a magnifying glass to Tom’s head that evening.

“If they’re anywhere, they’ll be behind my ears,” Tom helpfully informed her, “But check the top of my head too; you might find one there if he’s decided to have a walk from my left ear to my right ear, or from my right ear to my left ear and he fancies a different walk so he has decided to go over the top of my head instead of round the back. For a change.”

There were no nits, eggs or nymphs. There were no lice nestled behind Tom’s ears or taking a scenic hike across his crown.

After school on Monday, I checked again – just in case there had been any new arrivals throughout the day. I sit on the toilet seat and Tom sits on the floor and I spend ages soaking his hair in conditioner and combing through it, cranking up the wind-up torch every time there’s a possible sighting.

“Keep still!” I shout, which is a guaranteed way to make him shake his head and move.

“Mum, I hate nit checks.”

“I hate them too but –  hang on.”

“What is it?”

“I think I just saw something.” (I don’t know why but I whisper when I say this.)

“What was it?”

“I don’t know. Keep still.”

“What is it?”

“Hang on.”

“What is it?”

“Oh for Christs’s sake.”

“What was it?”

“The shadow of a strand of hair that was lying just above the strand of hair I was looking at.”

“A what?”

“Oh, nevermind.”

“What did you say it was though?”

“Nevermind. Keep still.”

“What is it?”

“Maybe a nit. Oh, maybe not.”

“What was it?”

“Shh!”

“Why do I have to shush? Nits don’t make noises.”

“Shh.”

“But – ”

“Have you been playing in the sand pit today?”

“Yes. Someone threw sand at my head.”

“Great. Ooh – hang on.”

“What is it?”

“I think it’s an actual louse.”

“Let me see!”

“Oh no, it’s a piece of fluff.”

After I put Tom to bed, I have a shower, slather on loads of conditioner and rake through my own hair with the nit comb. Last night, I think I was doing a nit check in my dreams. And on a bus yesterday, I was so convinced that I had nits that I thought the person sitting behind me must have been able to see the lice sitting on top of my head having a pinic and a rest before their descent to the other ear.

It’s actually driving me mad.

*Neither of us has actually got nits.

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Pride and Bad Shoes

I only threw the buggy out a few weeks ago. It was under the stairs, hidden beneath loads of other stuff. It’s not as though I was hanging on to it for sentimentality or anything, I’d just forgotten about it. Then I had to drag it down the hallway and wriggle it out of the front door to Mum’s car and I remembered when that was what I did every day.

I’ve been clearing out the house and there are loads of baby memories: foil blisters of Karvol capsules, abstract paintings, bibs in the dishcloth drawer and dogeared board books. After filling scores of bin bags and the boot of Mum’s car, I think the house is finally clear of most toddler-related paraphernalia (apart from the paintings; they stay.) This is the home of two grown-ups now.

“I won the pupil countstill,” Tom mumbled when I picked him up from school yesterday. He was in the sort of after school mood when he doesn’t want to talk much and says “Oh MUM!” if I want to know more about his day (It tends to get progressively work throughout the week and is at its worst on Fridays.)

“What’s the Pupil Council?”

“Oh MUM!”

I turned back to the playground to go and ask his teacher.

“Has he told you his news?!” she asked, as soon as she saw me.

“Yes, he has, but I don’t know what it means.”

The teacher explained that the school had decided that infants should be involved in decision-making as much as the juniors. Every week, the elected councillors must collate comments, concerns and suggestions from their classmates and take them to a meeting, where they will be noted and raised at the staff meeting. There are two councillors for each year; one boy and one girl. The teacher explained to the children the traits that are required for the role and then they elected two classmates. Tom got seventeen votes.

“Actually it was eighteen.”

“Eighteen?”

“Yes, Jonathan the Crocodile voted for me.”

“Who is Jonathan the Crocodile?”

“He’s a puppet but his vote still counts.”

“Right.”

How much sense a five year old can take to a meeting like this is beyond me. I was involved in that kind of thing at university and it was all complaining about tutors being late for lectures and the price of the bad food in the canteen. I can’t wait to hear some of the points raised. I’m not sure if Jonathan goes to the meetings as well. I keep imagining Tom with a little clip board, clearing his throat and announcing that Year One are demanding as many toys as the nursery kids have. It’s ridiculous but endearing and I am very proud. Although if someone had told me when I was pushing that buggy that Tom would be a Pupil Councillor in a flash of time, I would have laughed. When you have children, time just goes.

I am reading an extract of the book tomorrow on the literature stage at Bad Shoes Festival in Chorlton. I am on in Electrik at 4.30. Come down, there’s a lot more art and music and reading going on and it looks set to be ace. Read more about it here.

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From Shropshire with love

“So, how was your first day in Year One?”

“Great thanks Mum. We had to tell the class our favourite bit about summer.”

“What did you say?”

Two festivals, one camping trip,  a lovely stay in the countryside, loads of walks in parks, swimming, sports camp, the seaside and the cinema; I was intrigued to find out which bit of his busy summer Tom had chosen as his favourite.

“I said my favourite bit was when we looked after the house in Russia. It was in Russia, wasn’t it Mum?”

“It was in Staffordshire, near Shropshire.”

“That’s what I meant. Shropshire.”

“What did your teacher say?”

“She said “Wow! I’ve never been to Russia, what is it like?””

“What did you say?”

“I said it is really beautiful.”

“Please will you tell her tomorrow that you meant Shropshire, not Russia?”

“OK. If you remind me in the morning.”

“OK.”

“Mum?”

“Yes?”

“She also asked me to tell the class my best thing of all from my whole holiday in Russia.”

“What did you say?”

“I said the best thing in Russia was the yummy chocolate milkshake, but I drank it too fast and my mum got cross because she thought I was going to get dire ear. But in the end it was OK because my tummy was just a bit upset and the dire ear didn’t come.”

Excellent.

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Back to school

“How many days until I start Year One Mum?

I’ve been asked that question a good few hundred times over the past five weeks. Whatever my answer, Tom’s response is always “Yesss!” followed by lots of jumping and chanting.

“Year One! Year One! Year One!”

Year One will actually be Tom’s third year at full time school and he’s getting quite into it now.

Summer was brilliant this year, but it vanished fast. I’ve packed the camping stuff away. There’s a bit of a chill in the air and the back yard smells sour from the fallen damsons in the alley. I feel something like unsettled. Getting ready for the start of school makes me nervous about the playground. Then there’s the reminder that Tom is properly growing up; that in the same flash of time that has passed since he was born, it will be time to look at high schools. It felt as though I had the back to school nerves and Tom had escaped them.

But today, we were walking to the corner shop when he stopped suddenly and stared at his shoes.

“Mum, are you sure I look old enough to be starting Year One?”

“Definitely. What makes you ask that?”

“I just don’t feel like I look old enough.”

“Well you do and you are, even though I can’t quite believe it myself.”

“Why can’t you believe it?”

“You’re just getting big very quickly,” I said.

After the bedtime story tonight, I flicked off the light and walked out of the room and he called me back.

“What is it?” I said.

“I am ank-shush about Year One.”

“Anxious is a big word, where did you learn that?”

“I don’t know, I just know it.”

“Well, you’ve got nothing to be anxious about. You’re doing brilliantly at school, just look at that trophy.” I was desperate to reassure him; you don’t ever want your child to be worried about anything.

“I really really am very ankshush.”

“What about?”

“Well, I’m worried that my writing won’t be good enough.”

“Welcome to my world,” I wanted to say “I was up until five am on Saturday morning thinking exactly the same thing.”

Of course I couldn’t really say that.

“You have nothing to be worried about at all. Your writing looks great so far. And the whole point of school is that you learn, anyway.”

I hugged him and left him when he promised me (with a big grin on his face) that his anxiety had gone.

Handwriting or book-writing; it’s all nerve-wracking stuff. I wish I could go back to school with this half-finished manuscript. I wish there was someone to write in the lines and mark my mistakes and give me a tick and a smiley face on the bits that are good.Writing a book on your own is difficult. There’s no way of knowing if your writing is good enough.

I’m off to write Tom’s name in his new school stuff with a marker pen, because I forgot to buy the little name tags he normally has. Now that writing definitely isn’t going to be good enough. Sorry Tom.

Are there any parent writers in Manchester who would be interested in setting up some sort of weekend writing group that somehow fitted in with childcare and work? Could the children all play in a room while we discussed our work? Or if we could get babysitters, we could do it in the evening? Please get in touch if you’d be interested.

Bye Summer 2011, you were ace.

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A Sooper Time

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy Just So Festival. What’s a festival without loud music and late nights? How could a packed line-up of kids’ activities be any fun for a (slightly cynical) grown-up?

Nevertheless, Just So seemed the perfect place to meet up with my good friend Alex and her new(ish) baby. Alex mended my hair straighteners with masking tape when we lived in student halls, listened to me regularly breaking down when I was pregnant, cleaned travel sick off Tom and our hire car while I buggered off on a diving trip in Australia and allowed me to be her bridesmaid despite an unfortunate incident with fake tan. She’s a very good friend, so the arrival of Sophie in April was emotional and exciting. It was about time Tom and I met her and what better place to do it than at a festival designed especially for children?

When we arrived in the early evening, Alex and I got a ticking off from an other mother for making a racket and pitching our tent too close to her posh yurt. We decided we had better go for a walk, but everyone else seemed to be turning in for the night. It was quiet, dark and ever-so-slightly eerie. Still, we had each other. And the children. And six cans of warm cider.

That first night was disturbed by a chorus of screaming children.  I know, I know- it’s to be expected at a children’s festival but… wow, it was really quite something. Every time one stopped, another one took over. In the morning, when I heard “Morning campers!” echoing from a speaker across the campsite, I did begin to wonder what we had let ourselves in for. As it happens, the PA was just a very efficient way of letting everyone know what was going on. And there really was a lot going on…

The Palace Picture House played the Wombles - and Bagpuss!

Lantern making, kids’ parkour, den-building, film screenings, storytelling, pirate training, photography workshops, sandcastles, ice cream eating, bug hunting, painting, science experiments, bath bomb building, puppet shows; Just So’s organisers had thought of absolutely everything. The site was magical, with a level track that meandered around a forest, each glade or clearing home to another set of colourful tents and stalls. There was plenty of food to choose from and it was cheap as far as festival grub goes. The toilets had the inevitable Portaloo scent, but they had skirting boards, washbasins and posh soap. It was refreshing to be able to let Tom go off to the loo on his own without worrying about him wandering into a Portaloo of doom.

This festival wasn’t all about Tom though, we had a tiny baby to consider too. Nature makes you quickly forget the ins and outs of new motherhood (I had almost forgotten that muslin squares exist) but Alex, practical as ever, tackled camping with Sophie with ease. I thought Tom might get bored around Sophie, but he loved being on ‘baby duty’; showering her with kisses, calling her ‘cute’ (she really is) and waving toys in her face. The babies had a choice of baby massage and baby yoga and lots of free products to try. Best of all was baby bathtime, where dozens of fat, chuckling babies were treated to a bedtime soak (and I nearly died of temporary broodiness.)

The main stage, complete with viewing tree

On Saturday night, the live music was excellent. I’d never heard of the big band who were playing, but they were funny and good. The ‘main stage’ was set at the bottom of a gentle hill, perfect for sitting on and watching the children dance and fight over enormous balloons. It made a change not to be worrying that I’d miss a must-see set because I was on mum duty (Echo & the Bunnymen at Kendal Calling is still a sore subject.)

After the dancing, Tom collected firewood for the big bonfire and we watched the pretty lantern parade through the site. At the end of the evening, we retreated to the warmth and comfort of the ‘Breastfeeding Boudoir’, which was nowhere near as petrifying as it sounds. A gorgeous teepee with a fire pit and comfy rugs, it was the perfect hideaway in the woods. (The advantages of having a lactating person in the camp*.) Tom played in the glade with his new friends and Alex and I had a good catch-up, both of us mums now, both of us properly grown-up.

The campsite was much quieter on the second night. Alex cleverly observed that this was probably because all the kids were knackered after such a fun-filled day and had gone out like lights. Either that or we were out like lights for the same reason and didn’t hear them.

We had to leave on Sunday morning, but I would have happily stayed another night. By then, I was getting used to wandering round the enchanted forest. Tom is quite mature and sometimes I almost forget his age. When I saw him grinning and wrestling the Gruffalo for a cuddle, I was reminded that he’s only a little boy – and Just So is the perfect place for little boys and girls to be completely free.

There were no late nights and no must-see gigs, but Alex and I agreed that Just So was the most grown-up festival we have ever been to. Tom’s verdict was obvious from the postcard he wrote to his nan (below.) Sophie was unavailable for comment.

* Alex only consumed one of the six cans of warm cider.

(Our tickets to the festival were not free, but we did receive a discount. Everything I have written is true.)

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