Saturday, 30 April 2016

Treasure in the garage and other discoveries.

So it's a bank holiday weekend and that's three days with the kids at home. The football season is now over so I haven't even got the day off when they go to watch non-league games with Hubbie. Today I had a few simple ambitions. I wanted to go swimming as a family. I wanted to get the new garden swing chair built and to have a nice family meal together.

This morning Hubbie took the boys to stay and play and I presented my radio show. We all got home and as it was sunny ate lunch outside in the garden. For some reason my boys decided this was how they wanted to be photographed.

I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to make my garden a haven in which I could relax and enjoy the warm weather. I've already refused to have a trampoline (advanced kiddy prison) as it would ruin the aesthetics of the garden. That's why taking holidays at Coombe Mill is so fab, the kids get to do all the trampolining and zip wiring they want to when they're there. It is still filled with kids stuff though. A den, a slide, a swing, a pirate ship (well the cat loves that too, so double bubble) and various bikes and paddling pool toys. So, in the last two weeks I've bought some things to make my garden a grown up space too. Today as Hubbie started to assemble the swing seat I thought, "ooh I can clear the garage," and proceeded to empty everything onto the drive. Big mistake. Huge. 

As soon as all the contents of the garage were out in the open the rain came down and we had to rush to get everything into the dry again. The upside was that Hubbie found a Sega megadrive and when Brown Bear spotted it he yelped, "Sonic" in delight. I found a DVD player to replace the one we have that appears to have given up the will to live. As a result Brown Bear was watching DVDs while I prepared dinner this evening. Blue Bear was a laugh riot during dinner - at one point I was laughing so hard I had tears running down my face and Brown Bear asked Hubbie what was going on. Blue Bear acted the goat even more when he saw the reaction he was getting.

After dinner we were tidying up and Hubbie was testing the Sega to see if it would work. As we stood in the kitchen I asked him where Blue Bear was. He spotted him at the front door. I went to see what he was doing and he was halfway out waving, "Bye Bye" and barefoot. Hubbie asked if he was leaving home and I said, "Probably, he has his car keys with him."

There are days when my boys bring such joy, laughter and bafflement. In case you're wondering why the latter. This morning I spotted Neo drinking this manky water in the garden. Clearly the filtered water I put into his drinking bowl is just not 'street' enough.

However you're spending your bank holiday I hope you enjoy it. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

Nothing Compares to Prince

Of all the celebrity deaths that have happened this year it was only when the news was announced that Prince Rogers Nelson had died that I received text messages, tweets and messages on facebook offering condolences. Hubbie told the kids, "Mummy is upset so be nice to her. When you're dried off from your shower give her a hug." In fact I was numb. A few days ago when his private flight had to land as he was ill I was already worried. I still didn't expect this news and it's come as a shock to many so soon after the wonderful Victoria Wood died.

Prince was the mixed race son of a musician raised in relative poverty and whose eccentric writing style / song titles ( eg. I would die 4 U) was apparently due to dyslexia. He wore heels and flamboyant clothing and was sexually explicit in his early lyrics and performances. In later life he became a Jehovah's Witness and chose to no longer perform the controversial material. In this later incarnation he would knock on doors and evangelise. Can you imagine answering the door to Prince and inviting him in to talk to you about his faith ?

His live shows were extravaganzas of dance, music and showmanship. He was multi-talented and nurtured the talents of many musicans and singers especially beautiful women like Carmen Electra, Sheila E, Wendy and Lisa and Mayte Garcia - who he also married. It was a live show that really turned me into an obsessive fan over 25 years ago.

When I first heard of him I didn't see the appeal really. He was short and a bit skinny and when asked why he wore heels he replied, "because women find them sexy." I just didn't see it. Then in 1990 I was working as a steward at Wembley Arena as a steward and I was paired with a lad who was a Prince obsessive. He kept convincing me how amazing Prince was and that it would be a life changing experience seeing him live. When I was offered work at some of his upcoming shows I took the chance to see what the fuss was all about. He wasn't wrong. At the end of the show when all the audience had left I was standing there looking at the empty stage wondering what I had just witnessed. My life would never be the same again. It really was amazing. At the end of the perfomance confetti fell from the ceiling and balloons with condoms attached the the strings cascaded onto the audience. I still have a jar containing that confetti.

Over the years I've been to watch Prince live many times and even managed to persuade my shoegazing Hubbie to go along to see him. If I've been to a Prince gig with you it's a sign that we're close as I don't share my love for him with just anyone. Being in the audience was more than a gig for me, it was like an act of worship. It didn't matter what he played or what he left out, I was there for the love of Prince. I was bereft when the O2 run of shows ended and couldn't wait to see him again. When he was doing those 'secret' gigs in London venues a while back I was gutted that I wasn't able to just drop everything and just pitch up to get tickets. I was, however, very lucky to get to see him so many times. He was an accomplished musician and could play pretty much every instrument to a high standard. The musicians who worked with him were pushed hard as he was a perfectionist, but he also wanted them to stand on their own as artists and would support them going on to their own successful careers.

Part of the reason for his famous falling out with Warner was because he wanted to release music more frequently than their publicity schedule would allow. Legend has it that at Paisley Park there are thousands of unreleased songs he wrote with the intention to release them on his own terms after he famously freed himself from record company control. If that meant a new album every year than that was what he would do. Whenever a new Prince track was out I'd listen to it repeatedly for hours, days even weeks. It would be lodge in my brain until anything else was irrelevant. Until the next one came along. Since I heard the news I've been singing, 'Sign of the Times' in my head over and over.

One of my life ambitions was to visit Paisley Park - he would host open days when you could wander around and maybe even see him too. I would still love to go to Minneapolis, but it just won't be the same now that he isn't there. My one abiding memory - apart from waiting with my friend Vicky for over an hour for a glance at him after the shows at the O2 - is of having seats so close that I could practically have touched him. I was standing next to Hubbie at the time - he had his arms folded and was observing rather than enjoying the show. At that moment I was entirely captivated by the man on the stage, not the man standing next to me. Sorry love. I think that Hubbie understood that I was in another dimension right then and he wasn't going to break that spell.

The only way I can think of to celebrate the life of Prince is to play some of the fantastic music he left us. So on Sunday evening from 6-8pm I'm hosting a tribute show on Croydon Radio and I'll be playing my favourite music by him. I'll wear purple and put on a raspberry beret and party like it's 1999.

Join me and Let's Go Crazy.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Happy Days

It's been a lovely sunny day today and I've loved spending it with my boys. I started out with early morning yoga with my boys, met Hubbie for lunch then had some park fun with Baby Boy this afternoon and a swim with Big Boy this evening. It made me think about the special things that make us all feel happy.

It's no secret that my boys are big fans of fire engines and a visit to the fire station is still their best day out ever:

For me and Hubbie any chance to spend the day together is fun. Especially when Big Boy takes a photo of us together:

The boys love to do things just like Daddy so Baby Boy wants to use a computer and Big Boy is keen to learn to play guitar like Hubbie. They are such cute mini-mes:

The boys also have their own interests. For Big Boy it's his love of Lego and for Baby Boy it's his obsession with his Scuttlebug or as he calls it, "bike."

And never forgetting this guy. Neo loves sunbathing, purring and cuddles:

Finally there are the things I love. Well all of these guys - of course - and the special things they do for me. Like breakfast in bed:

And the things I do for myself, like yoga on a sunny morning:

Oh and this song:

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Beware the lioness

I experienced a moment of parenting today that I haven't had before. I wanted to punch a young lad in the face. Someone else's child. I don't know this kid or his parents and I don't even feel bad about it.

Big Boy had a try out swimming lesson at a different pool and he did really well. He was by far the youngest in his group, but as I watched him turning his head and sweeping his arms doing front crawl I was so proud of how well he was doing. I've been taking him swimming since he was a baby so he's very comfortable in the water, but he isn't so keen on change. I talked to him on the way to the pool and said that all I asked was that he do his best. If he enjoyed it that was great and if not that was fine too.

All of this preparation was because we went to a dance class yesterday morning and he just wasn't into it at all. Another mum from school teaches ballroom and had invited the children to try a class with her so as a lot of the children from his class were going I thought it was worth a go. Big Boy has pretty good co-ordination and I've been practising yoga with both boys at home so they are pretty flexible too. He stood at the back of the room and reluctantly joined in, but after a while it was clear that he just wasn't enjoying it. I accepted that he wasn't going to be on Strictly any time soon and moved on.

So when he seemed to be getting on so well this morning I was delighted. Until after the lesson. All the children of different ages went to the showers and my little boy went with his shower gel bottle in his hand. He took off his swimming trunks and showered as he always does after swimming. An older boy standing next to him sniggered and looked over at his friends. They were keeping their trunks on and were clearly too cool to have a proper shower.

I was furious. I wanted to shout at those horrible, snide kids. How dare they body shame my 5 year old boy ? Who on earth did they think they were to laugh at my boy ? I helped him dry off and get dressed and he said,
"Mummy I took my trunks off, but no one else did."
"Maybe they don't know how to wash properly. You don't keep your clothes on to have a shower do you ?"
"No. Two of the boys were laughing at me."
"I know baby. That was rude of them. If I see them I'm going to talk to them about that."
He wasn't upset, he was just telling me what happened. I felt upset on his behalf.

I was determined to have it out with those nasty boys, but they all looked the same and as they came out dressed I had no idea if they had passed me already. Big Boy sat at the table in the cafe eating his Hula Hoops and I watched every face that left the changing rooms for a clue. In the end I accepted that if he was ok with it I just had to be too. I'm not. Of course I'm not. The tiger mama part of me that wants to protect my cubs from any harm or humiliation is still angry.

I told Hubbie about it when we got home.
Me: "If that horrid boy is there next week I'm going to give him what for."
Hubbie: "Maybe it's best if I take Big Boy swimming next week."
 - pause -
Me: "Ok, I think that might be best."

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

All the feelings, all of the time. I need a marmalade sandwich.

The house is very loud and fraught these days. The sibling rivalry between the boys has gone up a notch and it's really hard to know what to do. Baby Boy is becoming more confident by the day. His speech is coming along and his personality is as cheeky and endearing as his brother's. He is also having mammoth tantrums that are ear splitting in volume and completely unpredictable. At least he can now say, "more naa naa," "cheers," and does a cracking impersonation of a pirate when he's watching Swashbuckle.

It's much harder to work out what's going on with Big Boy as he is veering from hysterical to anger and then sad and remorseful. It's exhausting and combined with moods and throwing things in a temper I'm finding it all a bit too much. I've tried to help calm him, I've talked to him, sat with him and asked his favourite auntie to talk to him, but we don't seem to be making any progress. What I noticed was that given space to talk he does give away information, if we are smart enough to listen for it. The other day he overheard me saying, "you're so cute." to his brother and said, "why don't you say that to me ?" I do, but maybe not as much as he'd like. Then last night he asked Hubbie why he doesn't get to do the same things at bedtime as his baby brother. When we talked about it later we agreed that if he wants to go back to a 'baby bedtime' then maybe it's worth a try until he decides he wants to stop.

I was talking to a friend whose two boys who are older than mine and was crestfallen when she explained that they still bicker and experience jealousy. I had hoped that this would get better, but it seems to be an ongoing issue with vaying degrees of seriousness. At the beginning when Baby Boy came to us we expected some problems with them getting to know each other. There certainly were problems and they were far worse than I could have imagined. Then I found a few things that helped.

Big Boy and I watched the movie Paddington - a lot. There were some interesting parallels in the story of a young bear who lives with an elderly aunt and uncle because his parents have died and our boy who had lived with foster carers until he came to us. We talked about how scared Paddington must have been to leave his family and go and live somewhere new. How strange it was to live with people he didn't know and who didn't all trust or like him at first. The difficulties of learning how to fit in with a new family with different ways of being. So that helped to identify how his brother was feeling and I hoped to nurture some love and care for this new little boy in the family from the other little boy who was feeling left out.

It took time to also find ways to reach Big Boy and help him process his anger, jealousy and general sense of being less important now that there was a new boy in the family. Then we watched Inside Out and it gave us a new language to talk about emotions and how powerful and overwhelming they can be. Big Boy talked about how it feels like there is fire coming out of his head when he gets angry. How sometimes he just feels sad and he doesn't know why. The movie helped us both understand that however much we'd like to be happy all the time it isn't always possible. It also made me cry and when we watched it again recently he asked why.
"I feel sad sometimes and I don't alway know why."
"I don't know why I feel sad or angry Mummy."
"That's ok. So long as you don't hurt yourself or someone else it's ok to feel angry or sad."

We looked at some baby photos and videos of him the other day and I kept telling him that he's always my baby. Even when he's a man he will still be my baby. He laughed. I want him to know and believe that I can love them both and I care about his feelings. I don't want either of my boys to hurt or to be angry, but when they are I want them to have a safe place to go.

Now I just need to find a movie to help us talk about this stage and these emotions. If you have any suggestions please do let me know.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Parenting: past performance is no indicator of future success

Oh this parenting lark is mad isn't it ? Just as you think you have your kids figured out and it seems that the waves are settling and you may well be in for a calm and smooth crossing... The lightning flashes, the thunder claps and a whole new type of bonkers begins. We've had the screaming abdabs, throwing things, pinching, biting, threats and tears. And that's just me and Hubbie !

A sunny afternoon in the park with Baby Boy

We always have mixed feelings about school holidays. I used to look forward to spending days with my beloved boys, baking, lying in bed watching movies, going to the park, messing around in the garden. Then we had the long summer holiday last year and I changed my mind completely. Endless weeks of dealing with tantrums, tears, fighting, bad moods, refusal to take part in anything I'd book for them to do and generally just making me feel like a terrible person.

Big Boy on Brighton Beach 
I don't plan now. I take each day as it comes and have a loose idea of what we will do and nothing too structured. This has had variable results this Easter holiday. The first week I was laid up ill so Hubbie had to do all the childcare during his week of annual leave. It meant the boys went to the park every day - sometimes twice a day - and mealtimes were a bit ad hoc. Then last week I sent them to a sports camp most days to wear them out and then my lovely mum called to ask if Big Boy wanted to go over and stay there for a couple of days. It was a lifesaver. Baby Boy loves having us to himself and Big Boy gets spoiled by grandparents and auntie and uncle. It's a win win - for the kids.

Checking out the animals at Foal Farm
Then today after a particularly bad two days of meltdowns from Big Boy I asked my sister to talk to him. They are very close and have been since he was a baby, I thought if anyone could get him to open up it would be her. Afterwards I spoke to her about what's been happening and she hypothesised that he may well be feeling that while he's away Baby Boy is getting the better deal having Mummy and Daddy to himself for a few days. It had never occured to me that he might want to do that. I feel so stupid. Well, it's on my list to arrange for Baby Boy to spend some time with family so that we can have some exclusive Big Boy time.

So much still to learn. I'm so lucky to have a sister who can help me figure it out and he's very lucky he's got an aunt who loves him so much she is helping him and me to get this right.

The future's so bright my boys have gotta wear shades. 

Thursday, 7 April 2016

"I won't ever do that !"

When Big Boy was a baby we went to a wedding and he was by far the cutest kid there (ok so probably one of the only kids there, but still). Anyway we had been there all day and were only just sitting down to eat at 8pm - a full 2 hours after his usual mealtime. I had given him snacks and fruit, but he wasn't really up for waiting for his meal so I reached into my bag for a bag of organic carrot puffs. A non-parent sitting at our table looked at me, tutted and said, "Crisps ? Before dinner ?" I smiled weakly while feeling shamed and making apologetic noises. If someone dared say something like that to me now I'd retort pretty quickly, "I hope you included your blood type in the RSVP sunshine, you're going to need it."

Before I was a parent I'm pretty sure I would have thought something similar. In fact I had quite a few lines in the sand that I was convinced I wouldn't cross. You know the ideal parenting scenarios that we create when it appears someone else is getting it so wrong. Mine were a bit more generic than that, but parenting has definitely given me a more fluid attitude.

I never left the house sans eyeliner or lippy (I even used the word sans in everyday conversation - don't I hate myself enough for both of us). Now I'm lucky if I remember to brush my hair before I leave the house and rarely look in a mirror so make up is a poor cousin to the whole 'getting ready' drama.

Ok, I accept that drinking a hot cup of tea is pretty much a luxury now, but I swore blind I'd never microwave a cuppa. That is until I realised that I was averaging making 4 cups a day to every half I'd actually get to drink. It is with a heavy heart that I admit I did heat up a cup of tea instead of putting the kettle on again. I'm not proud of it and I don't plan on doing it again. Shuttup - it was an emergency.

Never in a million years would I ever have approached a police officer or a fire officer or waved at a train driver. Now it's pretty much a requirement of my daily life. Today as I walked to the tram stop with Baby Boy we spotted a fire engine so waved at the driver then went up to say hello. At the tram platform we waved at the tram driver and on the tram spotted some police officers and waved at them too. This is my life now.

To be fair I always carried wet wipes in my bag so I was pretty much pre-trained as a parent. I also thought I wouldn't feed my kids beans on toast and call it dinner. That the last thing I'd do would be to allow them to sleep in my bed just to shut them up and I was never going to call Hubbie, "Daddy." How little I knew.

I'll remember that next time I spot a non-parent judging me for taking my kids for a Happy Meal or for drinking a free Waitrose cuppa while they play in the park or for looking at my phone while Big Boy plays on his tablet on the train.

Good for you person without children. You still know everything. 

I am a doofus parent

Monday, 4 April 2016

Lessons I learned from my cat.

This evening I saw the cat lying on the sofa sleeping on a particularly fluffy blanket. He looked so relaxed and I had a few minutes to spare so I went over and rested my head softly on his body. I felt the warmth on the side of my face, the softness of his fur and the vibrations from his purring. It was a moment that I fully experienced and I don't often do that.

In the last few weeks I've been unwell. Firstly it was a bit of a cold and it was annoying, but not especially debilitating. Then it was a bit more full on and I was a bit flattened, but the boys got sick too so I parked it and took care of them instead. There's nothing guaranteed to make you get well faster than having to deal with children who are ill, grizzly and climbing into your bed at night because they don't want to be left alone.

So after a week or so of this it seemed we were all getting better. Then on the last week before school broke up for Easter I found I had tightness in my chest. Then the next day I felt really wiped out. Finally on the last day of school we all met up for an Easter egg hunt after school. We stood in the cold and drizzle waiting for the other kids, my boys were miserable and I was starting to realise that I wasn't quite well. Afterwards as we walked to the car park I banged my head on a low metal beam and the sound like an animal wailing in pain must have been heard for quite a distance. It wasn't a good sign.

On Good Friday I woke up ready to collapse. As we'd planned to visit my parents then Hubbie's we set off in the car. I went upstairs to lie down when we got to my Mum's house. I did the same when we got to the in-laws. Essentially I spent the entire Easter weekend sleeping. I couldn't stay awake for long and kept coughing too. It was pretty rubbish. During all of this I couldn't even enjoy any chocolate as I had given up for charity. As it was I couldn't eat much or taste anything so it was a moot point really.

It was so lucky that Hubbie was off work as I couldn't have handled the boys by myself. I stayed in bed and coughed a lot and slept a lot. Hubbie took the boys to the park, fed them and played with them. It's been the longest time I've rested since Big Boy was born. For the last year I've not stopped long enough to let myself get ill so this was a long time coming. The enforced rest gave me time to just give in to my body. I didn't swim for over a week. My fitbit recorded less activity than my cat achieves. In fact I took my cues from him and lay down and rested when and where I felt like it.

By last weekend I had completely lost my voice. The kids loved it as they could get away with so much knowing I couldn't say anything to them. Again I felt liberated. I didn't have to speak. I could just observe and listen. I noticed how much Baby Boy is chattering away to himself now. The mindless humming and singing that Big Boy indulges in all day became background noise and as he chunters away I realise that his Baby brother copies this and is finding his voice.

Like so many of us I don't take time to stop. I don't let myself take a break or let myself off the hook for daily chores or other things I tell myself I need to do. I'm not able to switch off easily. Giving in and accepting that I had to slow down gave me the chance to see how far my boys have come. It also allowed me to appreciate what I have in Hubbie who took care of everything while I collapsed in a heap of tiredness.

I've no doubt that things will return to normal before long. The school run, the swimming and daily fitness challenges on the fitbit. Scheduling decluttering time to get the house in order and meticulous meal planning. Just for now though I've enjoyed the slackness of it all. Taking my foot off the pedals is curiously satisfying.

Friday, 1 April 2016

One day in April that we'll never forget.

A year ago we were preparing for Baby Boy to come and live with us permanently. We took the cot out of the loft and made it up with nice sheets. We picked some suitable bedtime story books and soft toys to help him get to sleep at night. I collected a high chair for him to use and put the toddler cutlery into the drawer.

On each visit over the previous week we had picked up some of his things so we already had his clothes, toys and some of his favourite snacks. The space in our home that we had made for this little boy was ready. It was real and it was about to happen.

The day itself we were advised to keep things quick and not to linger too long so that he wasn't too upset by it. All of the foster family had already said their goodbyes. As we went to pick him up the teenagers were standing outside the room visibly upset. We asked if they wanted to hug him before we left, knowing that this would be sad, but they all needed closure too. I'm not sure he understood quite what was going on as he was passed around.

I knew it was going to be emotional. How can you care for a baby and watch him leave to go and live with other people ? The foster carers always knew he was going to live with a 'forever family,' but the reality of him going was never going to be easy. He was the first baby they had cared for and who they had prepared for permanency. They were protective of him and keen to see that he went to the perfect home.

What I wanted to tell them that day was what I know now:

  • You've done an amazing job with him. He has learned to trust, to play and he shows affection.
  • The good eating habits he has have come about thanks to you cooking him good food.
  • We won't ever let him forget how important you have been in his early life. At a time when it was crucial that he was cared for and loved you were there for him.
  • He did miss you at first. Of course he did. How could he not when he had lived with you for so long.
  • That first night when you sent me a message late at night asking if he was ok, it helped so much to know you were there.

As we left that day Big Boy handed over a picture of 'Auntie and Uncle' that he had drawn. We all smiled awkwardly as we headed for the door. There were tears in Auntie's eyes and I wrapped my arms around her with Baby Boy still in my arms.
"Thank you." I whispered into her ear with tears filling my eyes.
"You're his Mum now." She whispered back to me.
We hugged each other tightly until Baby Boy wriggled in discomfort.

"Ok. It's time to come home baby."

My boys