Tuesday, 12 June 2018

That's me

Last week I went to a public meeting held at LittleBear's school about the plans to expand the provision of primary schooling here where we live. I've mentioned the process once or twice before, but it's rather slipped under the radar lately. But I went to the meeting, which was filled with a variety of suits from the council who wanted to assure the local population that everything would be fine.

The headmaster and LittleBear's teacher were also present, but only to guard the door and ensure nobody who shouldn't be in the school got into the school, and make sure everyone left again afterwards. The consultation itself was the council's bailiwick.

It would be fair to say that the meeting was not an oasis of calm and joy. There were strong opinions, stridently expressed (and not, for the most part, by me). One person, appallingly, resorted to shouting at LittleBear's lovely teacher, despite her only involvement being to open and close the front door.

As is the way with such events, there was a form to fill in to express one's opinions at the end. I left still clutching mine, requiring a bit more time and quiet to marshal my thoughts on subjects such as cycle access, drainage and road-crossings adequately. The Headmaster observed me leaving with said form and told me that if I wanted to email my comments in, the email address given wouldn't be accepting comments until the following morning. "So you can go home and write your angry letter and wait till morning to send it."

I wasn't quite sure how to take that parting shot.

Was it a general, impersonal "you"?

Had the overall tenor of the meeting caused him to believe that all submissions would be angry?

Was he making the same quip to everyone who left?

Or, as only the most paranoid part of me thought, was this a direct assessment of the likelihood that I personally would be writing an angry letter?

Fast-forward to today...

I have just finished my letter to the council with my responses to their plans. It is seven pages, complete with graphs, diagrams, maps and photographs. And quotes from George Bernard Shaw, JK Galbraith, and the film Shakespeare in Love. It's probably wasted on the council.

It may, or may not, be angry.

It turns out I wasn't paranoid, and that LittleBear's Headmaster has me pegged.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Starting with a bang

Today did not start well.

Aside from the normal frustrations of a small boy who refuses to get dressed; and a cat who wants to stand three centimetres in front of where I want to put my feet, miaowing; and a kitchen covered in unexplained sticky patches; and breadcrumbs scattered the length and breadth of every surface and unpleasantly glued down on aforementioned sticky patches; and a heap of massive cardboard boxes obstructing the hallway; and yet another load of laundry to get in before heading to work; and not enough butter in the butter-dish soft enough to spread for my toast; aside from all of that, my day started on an even worse footing than normal.

I was unable to get at the toaster because of the box of beer in front of it. So I picked up said box of beer to move it. Unfortunately I hadn't had any coffee yet, and was therefore perhaps not quite at my brightest and best. I therefore failed to notice that the cardboard was not 100% intact at one end of the box. And thus it was that one of the bottles of beer made a bid for freedom, plunging straight down onto the tiled kitchen floor.

Fortunately it didn't break. Instead, the shock of landing bottom-first on the floor blew the lid off the bottle, fountaining beer spectacularly upwards. I stood in a spreading puddle of beer and didn't swear. That was perhaps the highlight of the event.

Beer sprayed onto the walls.

Beer sprayed onto the cupboards.

Beer sprayed onto the cooker, the extractor hood, the window, the sink, the dishwasher and the washing machine.

Beer sprayed into the toaster.

Beer dripped from the ceiling.

Beer also showered all over me. It permeated my shirt, skirt and cardigan. It oozed between my toes. It spattered across my head, dampening my hair down in an appealing fashion. And since it was already eight o'clock, once BigBear and I had mopped up the worst of the beer, there was no time to shower or change before heading to work.

So here I am at work, smelling ever so slightly like a brewery. And there I will be outside the school gates later this afternoon, smelling ever so slightly like a brewery. If you meet me there, no, I have not been drinking, though I have most definitely been Having A Bad Day and probably deserve to have been drinking.

I'm now looking forward to this week's newsletter from the headmaster featuring an imprecation to parents that they avoid arriving at school reeking of alcohol...

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Round and round the hamster wheel

Here we are,  still not going out. Still battling the vagaries of LittleBear's increasingly slender set of reasons he can't fall asleep. Let me give you an example from last week...

LittleBear goes to bed with the following cuddly toys:
  • 1 giant squid
  • 6 penguins
  • 2 sharks 
  • 1 seal
  • 1 owl
  • 1 wannanosaurus
  • 1 stingray
  • 1 pteranodon
He also has three "nanoos", which are his comfort blanket of choice (they are muslins, as I've probably mentioned, and he is indiscriminate in his love of muslins, so we have a drawer full of them that is imaginatively called The Nanoo Drawer.) One nanoo is for chewing (yes, it's pretty disgusting) and the remaining two are for cuddling.

On the occasion in question, some half hour after being put to bed, LittleBear required assistance in bed because, "I don't have enough things to snuggle".


A few days ago, we started a new regime of LittleBear being allowed to read to himself at bedtime and have his light switched out later than previously, in the hope that he'd be a little bit more tired and thus fall asleep more easily. This worked a treat for the first two days when we were at GrannyBear's house. Then we came home, and went straight back to the bad old ways, of finding something to start complaining about between fifteen and thirty minutes after being put to bed. Last night, "my knee feels funny", to which he received short shrift, over the monitor, and was told there was nothing we could do and he should just snuggle down and sleep.

Then came tonight, where I truly feel I excelled myself at this parenting lark.

"I feel funny"

"What sort of funny?"

"I don't know, I can't explain. There's something not right."

With an eye-roll and a sigh, off I went upstairs.

"Do you feel sick?"

"No. I just feel funny. I think it's because I didn't get my back stroke*."

This was the straw that broke the Mother Camel's back and I proceeded to be so tetchy, and so unsympathetic, and so annoyed at having my evening interrupted again that I reduced my little lamb to a whimpering, tearful little lamb. I told him I was sick of him making up stupid reasons to have me come upstairs again. I told him I was sick of not being able to sit down and relax and do what I wanted for once. I told him that I'd had enough and this had to stop. I was cross and horrible, and he was sad. Because that's a guaranteed way of making sure he's calm and happy and ready for sleep.

We cuddled and made peace, and he got an extra back stroke, and I assured him that I loved him completely and utterly, and would never, ever abandon him, and would always help fix any problem if I could.

No prizes for guessing which small boy was quivering and crying ten minutes later because, "I can't stop thinking about horrible things."

Fortunately, I was feeling sufficiently awful for my previous lack of maternal affection that I galloped upstairs and enveloped him in cuddles and kisses and soothed away the darkness with him.

The simple solution to the current impasse is clearly to relax about the whole thing, because LittleBear requiring one additional bit of reassurance before falling asleep is not exactly the worst problem to have. And if I stop letting it get to me, indubitably LittleBear will calm down too and everything will vanish into a miasma of hazy memories. But I'm finding it so much more effective to become unreasonably and disproportionately irate about the situation every single evening, and then lash out verbally at LittleBear. Because I'm that kind of awesome mother.

* Part of our bedtime ritual is that I gently rub LittleBear's back while talking to him. Just like his mother before him, he finds this immensely soothing. It is vital that the back rubbing occurs under his pyjamas. Given that this is how I used to settle him for a nap when he was little, I cannot be surprised that it's something he associates with calm and sleep.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Perfectly imperfect

As I sit before my steaming laptop, birdsong rippling through the evening air, with the gentle whispering of bubbles popping in my gin and tonic beside me, my thoughts drift back over today and I find it possible to look at the day from two standpoints. (And, to be honest, the further down the glass of gin I get, the further I swing towards one particular viewpoint. I'll allow you to guess which...)

I could be sitting here, feeling somewhat cross that LittleBear has summoned me upstairs to his bedroom on yet another spurious reason when he should be asleep.

I could look around the house and feel ground down by the heaps of lego on the floor, the partially complete Scrabble game spread across the carpet, the layer of dust on every surface, the sticky finger marks on the windows and the general air of dilapidation and dirt.

I could be annoyed by the tears that were shed by LittleBear when I didn't manage to immediately find a means for him to place the "Q" and the "Z" on the Scrabble board in a high-scoring fashion*.

I could be despondent that BigBear and I both ended up yelling at LittleBear at bath-time as he repeatedly and consistently did exactly what we'd just told him not to do.


I could feel happy and relaxed because my bears left me in bed this morning, and I didn't get up until half past ten. I then made myself an enormous bowl of fresh fruit and yoghurt topped with granola for breakfast, that was so tasty my LittleBear came and shared it with me, thus reminding me that I don't need to worry too much about his eating habits. (I could also feel slightly smug that I'd guessed this would happen and had made more than I needed so I could ladle some into an extra bowl for LittleBear without actually having to sacrifice my own breakfast).

I could feel a warm contentment that we had a lovely family day out, cycling together into HomeTown, with LittleBear obediently and safely following all our instructions as we navigated a variety of large and small roads, junctions, traffic lights, cycle ways and bridges. Once there we had an inexpensive meal out at a local eatery of long-standing that LittleBear loves, before a trip to a brilliant bookshop that's spread over four floors. LittleBear found the book purchase decision-making process so arduous that we were forced to have a thinking-pause in which we left the bookshop and sat beside some of the finest examples of gothic architecture in the country and ate ice-cream.

Ice-cream helps us think

I could feel privileged to live in a place where it's possible to cycle just under five miles into the centre of a bustling university town, despite living in a village with acres of fields across the road from our house. And once in said town there is a massive secure bicycle park in which to lock up our bikes, because it is simply assumed that people will cycle, and will need somewhere to put their bike. (This is the same bicycle park we used when LittleBear was still transported on the back of my bike, and which has a "borrow a pushchair" scheme run from the bike shop next door, allowing you to cart your small infant around town once you've got them there. This may still be the most awesome thing I found when I had a little boy on my bike.)

I could feel pleased that my LittleBear and his LittleLegs were able to cycle just over nine miles today, without a single complaint, allowing the world to open before us with all its glorious opportunities. With every passing week we are tethered less and less to the things that we can't do with a young child, and provided with more and more things that we can and will do because we have a young child with whom to do them.

I could feel proud that I have a LittleBear who is sensible and listens and who knows there is a difference between being told to stop making an annoying squeaking noise at bath-time and being told to stop before reaching the white line on the road. Because if he's going to choose which instructions to follow and which to ignore, I may be annoyed that he ignores any of them, but at least he doesn't ignore the one that would see him flattened by the traffic.

I haven't even finished my gin yet and I know which way I'm going to look at today.

* In the end, I managed Mezquit for him, on a double word score, which he then followed up by putting "Dread" across the end on a triple word score, with the "E" converting "Mezquit" to "Mezquite". Yes, we do resort to the dictionary a lot while playing. We have our own house rules for Scrabble. It's more Scrabbish.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018


Occasionally, I think I may be supplying my son with inappropriate reading material.

Last summer, on a trip to a bookshop, I gave him free reign to choose any book that he wanted. And he chose a book about the periodic table of the elements. Being of a scientific bent myself, this delighted me, and we have happily read sections of it together, and I've brought home bits of this and that from work for his box of "precious things". All children* have pieces of Molybdenum and Tantalum in a box don't they?

But now and then I have rather odd conversations with him...

"Mummy, is my shirt made of Tungsten? Because it says Tu in it"

Which shows an endearing grasp of the concept of chemical symbols, if not their details, and a simultaneous lack of awareness of the clothing brands of leading UK supermarkets.

"I like the noble gases Mummy. My favourite is Helium, because it makes balloons float. Hydrogen would be better because it's lighter, but it's more dangerous."

Can't argue with him there, and nor can the Hindenburg.

"Actually, I think I prefer Xenon and Krypton, because you can get more points for them in Scrabble."

Which is also true, and I confess to feeling a glow of pride when he put "Xenon" on a triple-word-score without any intervention from me.

I'm not entirely sure, however, that my enthusiasm for science and imparting its beauty and majesty to my son has the full backing of all members of the bear household...

On announcing that "everything in the world has holes in it**", LittleBear was asked by his other parent, "Has Mummy been telling you about science again?"

Meanwhile, on the occasion that LittleBear's homework involved finding items outside that began with every letter of the alphabet, naturally LittleBear chose "Xenon" for "X", as he had discovered in his marvelous book that there are trace quantities of Xenon in the air. So far, so good. And then he asked me to bring home a mass spectrum from work to go in his homework book. I started to feel we were heading into slightly alarming territory at this point. Feeling a few minor qualms about what his teacher would think of this, I slipped a little note into his homework explaining how we had reached this point, what with Scrabble, and a book about the Periodic Table, and me making mass spectrometers and all, and I apologised and attempted to explain that I'm not actually a deranged Tiger Mum after all. (I may be deranged in many ways, but not in the field of driving my poor child to learn atmospheric chemistry from an early age.)

Which is how it came about that LittleBear's lovely headmaster stopped me at the school gates one day to laugh at me, and tell me how much he and LittleBear's teacher, Miss M, had enjoyed me digging an ever deeper hole for myself with my note. Because nothing says I'm winning at parenting quite like being mocked by my son's headmaster.

* For the record I would like to point out that Tigger's daughter (aged 10) is attempting to collect as many different elements as possible, and Piglet's son (aged 8) is pretty hot on Tom Lehrer's son "The Elements", so while I may be odd, and my child may be odd, at least my friends and their children are odd too. We may just go off and be odd somewhere together.

** A slightly more in-depth approach to atomic theory than I'm prepared to go into here is required to assess this statement. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A learning experience

Last weekend, BigBear abandoned us for the day went to a football match, leaving me pondering what LittleBear and I could do instead. LittleBear was somewhat peeved not be allowed to go to the football match, but given it was 200 miles away and he doesn't like the sound of a hairdryer, let alone 25,000 roaring fans, we declined to give him the chance to go. I was somewhat disappointed not to be able to go, as it's now coming up for seven years since I went to a match in the flesh, and it would be nice to go again. So we deserved to do something fun together.

And so we did. I booked LittleBear in for a session at the local fun climbing centre. But, knowing my LittleBear as I do, I knew that fear and uncertainty were a potential risk, and that he needed a little compatriot to climb with, to encourage and inspire him. So we went with FearlessFriend and her younger (slightly more fearful) brother.

We sat through the safety briefing, with LittleBear on my lap, not quite brave enough to be separated from the security of my arms. With many glances over his shoulder and anxious frowns and shrugs cast my way, he made his way to the front to be fitted with a harness, before darting back to me to examine clips and buckles together. The safety briefing including the imprecation that non-climbers were not to enter the "arena" unless it was absolutely necessary and they were wearing a hi-viz jacket, and that unless you had a particularly small child who needed your presence, parents should stay firmly ring-side. And since FearlessFriend had NervousBrother, their mother (my friend) opted to be a hi-vized parent, while I looked after our bags and what seemed like 37 coats and jumpers.

And, as I suspected/feared, LittleBear was rather unsure of himself. In fact, on his first few attempts, he looked like nothing more than a frog that someone had nailed to the wall, unable to move any limbs as they were all splayed around him with no possible purchase to push or pull himself in any direction. I stood, out of range of instruction, virtually hopping from foot to foot, itching to give my boy some tips on how to use his reach and upper body strength in combination with his legs to ascend.

Climbing frog getting stuck
But, I was too far away for him to hear, and I was not one of the privileged few in the arena, so I had to remain on the sidelines, developing a nervous tic as I suppressed the urge to dash in and offer suggestions. And LittleBear barely got above his own height off the ground.

But then, he watched FearlessFriend romp to the top of a climb. And he watched other children, and how they tackled it. And he went and queued up to try something he preferred the look of. Before I knew it, he was finding his own techniques, and using his body with increasing strength and agility, until he made his way to the top of a climb.

LittleBear conquers the wall

He was not a natural at it, as FearlessFriend was, but he worked it out himself. And he kept trying, and he didn't give up, and he didn't need me to tell him what to do or how to be better. And he came out of the arena with a huge smile on his face, asking if we could climb every week, and asking if he could have his birthday party there.

And I need to remember this. I need to remember that he can and should try and fail, and try again, and fail again, and keep trying. And that he will find enormous rewards and pride in managing without me, no matter how much I want to "help". And this may be the hardest lesson I have to learn - when to step in, and when to step back. Because I don't step back enough at the moment, and I need to, because when I was forced to, he didn't sink, he flew.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Slightly going out

So here we are, a month and a half after our not-enormously-successful attempts to have a babysitter. And it would still be nice to go out, once in a while, and not traumatise LittleBear too badly. Fortunately, my dear friend Piglet has volunteered to step into the breach, being one of LittleBear's Trusted and Loved People*. Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, (nine years. Nine years?! How did that happen?) and we decided to take Piglet up on her offer.

We prepared LittleBear for this event, without making a Big Issue of it, just mentioning it and reminding him that this was Completely Normal. And he was fine, and unperturbed by the idea. At first.

Then came bath-time, which was fine.

And then we tucked him up in bed, and aside from a little clinging, it was fine.

And then, five minutes later, a gentle whimpering sound started emanating from the monitor. And yes, LittleBear was getting increasingly upset about the idea of us going out, and being left "alone". I jollied him along a little, and he stopped the greebling, albeit reluctantly.

Piglet arrived, and popped upstairs to let him know she was now in the house, and give him a kiss and a cuddle. And all was well.

So, finally, we went to give LittleBear a last kiss and cuddle before going out...

... and there was a pathetic little scrap, huddled up in his bed, tears streaming down his cheeks, begging me not to go.

I suppressed my rolling eyes, suppressed the wave of frustration, and also suppressed the gut-wrenching need to sweep him up in my arms and promise never to leave him. Because beneath those tears, I was fairly certain that actually he'd be fine. So, I reverted to my "jollying" tactics and talked about all the things he could think about and plan while falling asleep, and reminded him we were only a few hundred metres away really, and reminded him that Christmas had not been that long ago, when he'd had Piglet look after him for much longer, and it had all been fine.

We dried his tears, kissed him and left, hearts in mouths. Hearts in somewhat pursed and grumpy mouths.

Happy Anniversary BigBear.

We simply went to one of the local hostelries, and had a meal and a drink. There was a certain amount of tension and stress about proceedings as we both stoically tried not to think about our baby crying himself to sleep. But within half an hour there was a telltale burble from my phone to report that LittleBear had not let out so much as a whimper after we left, and was fast asleep.

And breathe...

We were almost having a nice evening until a random middle-aged man with his laptop came and asked if he could sit at one of the spare seats at our table, which rather put a damper on our ability to converse in peace and privacy, so after an enormous hour and half out, we trundled home again.

But at least we went out.

* This select band appears to currently consist of LittleBear's blood relations, and Piglet. When probed about why he didn't want anyone else to babysit, he started with "I can't explain..." before giving it some thought and informing me, "I don't feel safe when you're not here to cuddle me if there's something wrong. Piglet is good at cuddles." He has conceded that there is one other parent-of-a-friend that he would consider allowing to look after him. I guess that gives us something to work with.