4

Girls ahead of the pack?

“We need to think about packing”, I tell the family about a week before we go on our summer holiday.
“But packing’s so boring”, says middle son, yawning. “All I need to take are my loom bands, my DS and my book of ‘One Thousand Science Facts’. Done.”
“And what exactly are you going to wear for two weeks?” I reply. “Your book of ‘One Thousand Science Facts’ won’t help you much in the swimming pool, that’s for sure.”
“Why do we have to pack so early anyway?” grumbles teenager. “It’s not like we’re going away tomorrow. And anyway we don’t do need to take much. We’re only going on holiday.”
“No”, I reply as calmly as I can. “You’re right. We’re not going away tomorrow. But you know how I hate leaving everything until the last minute. And you’ll be surprised what you need for a two week holiday.”
“I’ll pack”, pipes up teeniest, who for several days now has been strutting around the house in his new Spider Man armbands and swimming trunks, just in case the holiday swimming begins before we’ve even left the house and got on the plane. “Can we get the suitcases out of the loft straight now?”
An hour and a half later. Suitcases are out of the loft. So are last year’s Christmas decorations, a basket of old toys the children thought they might like to reacquaint themselves with, a camera tripod which teenager has taken a fancy to and a box of school clothes which will fit middle son very nicely in September.
A few days later.
Teeniest’s suitcase contains Spider Man armbands which we finally persuaded him to take off, swimming trunks and a pile of Christmas decorations. I might have to pack for him – he’s only four after all.
Middle son’s consists of loom bands, DS, book of ‘One Thousand Science Facts’, swimming trunks and a pair of goggles. I might have to give him a hand too. All he’s thinking about is weighing his case to check the airline luggage weight restriction.
Teenager’s is empty – along with husbands. No help on offer here I’m afraid.
Daughter’s is overflowing. Clothes, sandals, toiletries, make-up. She’ll have to lay everything on her bed then cut it by half.
Mine’s nearly done. Clothes for hot weather, clothes for cold weather. Clothes for dry weather, clothes for wet weather. Shoes for walking. Shoes for going out. Shoes for the poolside. Medicines for temperatures. Medicines for insect bites. Medicines for dodgy tummies. Swimming towels and extra swimming towels. Washing powder (new ones might react with our skin), suncreams and of course English teabags… Lucky I’ve got the biggest suitcase. You never know what you might need.
Night before we go on holiday. We’re all finally packed. Teenager took about ten minutes. Beat husband by a whisker.
Just time for middle son to check the 20kg airline weight limit per suitcase.
Husband’s and boys’ suitcases are well under. Daughter’s is fine now too, surprisingly. But mine’s over. Damn.
“Told you we shouldn’t pack much”, says teenager.

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2

First time at the flicks…

“Would you like to go to the cinema?” I ask teeniest, having spotted a great new children’s film about to show at our small town theatre.
“Will there be trains there? Or cars?” he replies excitedly. I suddenly realise that we haven’t ever taken him to the cinema before and so he has no idea what it actually is!
“No, no trains or cars”, I say with a smile. “Going to the cinema is a bit like watching a film on television, only the screen is much bigger.”
“Oh”, says teeniest, brain whirring.
“You usually get treats at the cinema as well”, I add. “Drinks, sweets, popcorn – things like that.”
“OK. I’ll go”, he replies immediately, rushing into the hall to look for his shoes. “Can we go straight now?”…

Three sleeps later and it’s cinema day.
“You said there was a big TV”, whines teeniest when we get to the auditorium. All he can see is dark red curtains which are hiding the screen.
“You’ll see it in a minute”, I say, trying to find our seats. As soon as we sit down, he’s up again. He’s found that banging the seat down as hard as you can, then watching it bounce up again is a great game.
Curtains open, lights dim and the trailers start.
“Who’s got the TV remote?”, teeniest shouts, as he kneels on his seat and peers around the cinema in the dark to try and find the lucky person.
“No-one, darling”, I whisper, trying desperately to get him to sit down again and be quiet. “There’s a man at the back who projects the film onto the screen. Now let’s just watch the trailers”.
“Trailers”, he repeats incredulously, standing up again. “Why didn’t you say there were tractors here? You said there were no cars…”

Film eventually starts. Teeniest starts fidgeting. I think he’s still looking for the man with the TV remote. Then he says he needs a wee, so we dash to the toilet.
Half an hour passes. I try to get into the film.
Teeniest, meanwhile:
* Munches noisly on a bag of crisps
*Sucks furiously on a drink carton straw, making slurpy noises just as the film gets to a quiet scene
*Says he needs a wee again (I realise he’s taken a liking to the handdryer in the ladies)
*Gets glared at by the grown up in front whose seat he has been continuously kicking
*Starts searching through my handbag for a red toy car that he insists he brought with him and has to play with NOW.
Once again I try to ignore him. The film is getting to a good bit. I know it’s a children’s film but even I am quite gripped.
“Mummy.” Teeniest starts prodding me again.
“Mummy,” he announces loudly. “I think I like coming to the cinema…
But when’s the film actually going to start?”

2

Brace yourself…

Moodswings, meltdowns, eye-rolling, door slamming…
We all expect to spend time dealing with problems like these when our children hit their teens. Yet there’s another very time-consuming matter for us parents which happens when the kids reach about this age. But it’s one I hadn’t really been warned about, and it took me a little by surprise. Braces.
Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely grateful for the expert orthodontic treatment my children are receiving, which will ensure they end up with lovely, straight teeth. But with our orthodontist situated a fair drive from home (and I know many other parents face the same problem), and with teenager and daughter both undergoing treatment at the same time, I just wasn’t prepared for how much time would be taken up ferrying them to and from appointments for impressions, adjustments and new fittings, not to mention the emergency bookings when a wire unexpectedly comes loose. Nor was I ready for some of the practicalities of braces and the impact they would have on general family life.
So here is my mini guide – THE JOYS OF BRACES – for parents of other children who are having, or are about to have, their teeth straightened.

Toothbrushes – you will need to buy a whole range of different toothbrushes for all that brushing, interdental cleaning, gum cleaning. Oh, and don’t forget the plaque disclosing tablets, fluoride rinse – and cleaning tablets for removeable braces.
Haribo-type sweets – strictly off limits, as is toffee, chewing gum, and any other hard foods. Back to those days of eating apple and raw carrot chopped up really small, but hopefully you won’t be doing the chopping yourself this time round!
Embarrassing – there’s nothing like food getting stuck in braces. The secret – so I have been told – is for the brace wearer to keep a travel toothbrush and travel mirror with them at all times!

Jitters – lots of these in our house when it came to thinking about braces, especially just before they were fitted. Questions like “What will my friends say?” “Will I still be able to talk?” “Will I get teased?”
Over-the-counter pain killers – definitely stock up on these, just in case the aches and pains get really bad, especially when the braces are first fitted. It’s amazing how a tablet, a few sympathetic words and a hug can usually make everything seem a bit better.
Yellow, pink, purple, blue? – a big dilemma, especially among girls, is what colour to choose for the fitted brace.
Straws – the only way to drink pure orange juice without ruining your teeth when you have braces on is with a straw, so we’ve been told. Currently, we’ve got striped straws, spotted ones, fluorescent ones, shimmery ones in our cupboard. Youngest child, aged four, loves it…

Oh no, how are we going to make that appointment? – a common question parents ask themselves when their children have braces. Especially if the only slot available for the day you want is slap bang in the middle of it. How on earth do you get time off work again, never mind the issue of your child missing lessons?
Fizzy drinks – sorry, but these are off limits too, apart from the odd sneaky can when the going gets really tough.

Boredom – my children’s, when waiting for an appointment. I, meanwhile, am usually found slumped in a chair trying to calm my nerves, having got stuck in traffic, spent ages trying to find a parking space, and then legged it to the surgery, convinced we were going to miss our precious slot.
Rubber bands – usually found on the side of plates, under the sofa, in the bath, in jean pockets. These tiny little white bands, which often come with fixed braces, seem to be everywhere…except actually on the teeth.
Adjustments – you just have to accept that sometimes you may have to make an hour-long round trip to the orthodontist for a minute-long brace adjustment.
Calendar – you need a big one, with lots of space to write in all the appointments. We’re lucky enough to have text reminders as well, but don’t forget to check your phone.
Extractions – be prepared that your child may not only need to wear braces, but may also have to have teeth taken out at some point if their mouth is too crowded. But best not to tell them that bit until you really have to.
Saying thank-you – we moan, we swear, we scream. Us parents, I mean. But how quickly we forget those countless trips once our children have had their braces removed and their fantastic, straight teeth are revealed. We then spend ages writing long thank you cards to our orthodontist, which are pinned up in the waiting room for the next lot of frazzled parents to read. Now it’s just the retainers we have to deal with…

1

No space to listen

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” Catherine M Wallace

I love this quote by Catherine M Wallace. Reflecting back on the past few weeks, listening to the children is not something I have been particularly good at. I am hoping I may be able to change that during half term.

“Did you know our fridge killed a star?”, says middle son, reading his latest book on space at the kitchen table while I frantically whip up some fairy cakes for tomorrow’s school cake sale and throw together a bolognese sauce for tea at the same time.
“Really darling”, I reply vaguely, wondering how I am possibly going to get everything done before cubs at 6.30pm. “Talking about the fridge, could you just get the eggs out for me please.”
“The thing is…” he continues, totally ignoring my request. “The thing is that our fridge is partly made of iron, right? Well. This book says that stars burn on fuel. First hydrogen, then helium, then heavier and heavier elements until eventually they burn iron.”
“Oh no!” I shriek, dropping flour all over the floor as I sprint across the kitchen to the hob. “They’re burning. The onions are burning. They’ll be ruined!”
“Mum, you’re not listening to what I’m saying”, states middle son glumly. “I said stars burn iron, not onions. Then the iron absorbs energy.”
“I want a star. A chocolate one”, squeals teeniest, spotting a bag of chocolate stars which I had been planning to use to decorate the cakes. Until now he had been quietly sitting in the corner of the kitchen unnoticed, pulling the 100 cupcake cases out of the packet, one by one, then lining them up, and carefully placing a marble in the middle of each one.
“Stars aren’t chocolate, stupid,” says middle son, trying to snatch the bag of stars off teeniest. “Stars have iron in them. When gravity crushes a star it explodes and the iron…”
“I’m going to explode in a minute”, I scream, as teeniest tries to hold onto the packet of stars for dear life, then promptly drops it and its contents all over the floor. Stars, cupcake cases, marbles are everywhere. This was not in my plan.
“I’m not going to tell you the rest”, says middle son indignantly, about to strop off. “You never listen to anything I say. You’re just not interested.”
I start to feel a bit bad. He’s so right. I haven’t been paying attention to any of his explanation.
I lie.
“Fridges…Burning…Stars…Explosions… I’ve been listening to every single word. It’s just that I’m a little bit busy right now. Please tell me the rest.”
Middle son immediately cheers up. “Well you see, when a star explodes, the iron is attracted to the earth, becomes part of the rocks – and when the miners dig it out it is used to make our fridge. So basically our fridge killed a star.”
“Brilliant”, I say, making a real effort. “Fantastic. I never knew any of that. It’s really interesting.”
Suddenly I realise the time. Nobody has been fed yet and the cakes haven’t even been made. We’ll never get to cubs at this rate. Yet again listening goes out of the window.
“It’s great to know that fridges kill stars”, I say, trying not to sound impatient. “But all I’m really interested in right now is you actually opening ours and getting the eggs out for me…”

6

Dear Father Christmas…

Dear Father Christmas
I’m sorry my letter is so late this year, but for some reason life has been a bit hectic in recent weeks.
The good news is that my wish list for Christmas is very straightforward.
The bad news is that as I’ve left it so late you might find some of the things on it may be out of stock. I fear there might be a few other parents who are after the same things…
Here goes.
Please may I have:
A patience gene – with all the preparations for Christmas mine seems to have disappeared somewhere along the way, and I need a new one – fast
A good night’s sleep – children feeling sick in the early hours, husband coughing all night, me lying awake worrying about how I am going to get everything done. All I ask for is one night when I get my much-needed seven or eight hours without any interruptions
A spare sense of humour – for all those times mine fails me. Recently this has included the time I went on a Christmas shopping trip only to burst the front tyre of my car when accidentally mounting a kerb, managing to get all the children into bed early one night so I could wrap their presents – and then running out of sticky tape, and buying some beautiful twinkly lights, spending an age arranging them carefully on the tree, gathering the family together for the grand switch on…and not as much as a flicker. Nothing. Faulty lights.
The ability to be in two places at once – there have been difficult decisions to make recently with the nursery nativity play and work on the same day, two separate school concerts organised for exactly the same time, and a mums’ Christmas do and husband’s office bash on the same evening.
A couple more hours in the day – to sort out the Christmas credit card bill, work my way through the pile of ironing which is currently staring me in the face, and maybe, just maybe, having the time for a long, relaxing bath.
Oh, and one more tiny thing please.
A plan – wrapped in tissue paper and put in a pretty box, with a beautiful bow on top, I would like a detailed plan on how to successfully manage this parenting thing until at least this time next year.
Thanks in advance for your generosity. Merry Christmas!
A very ordinary mum x

A big thank you to everyone who reads mumtwothreefour and who has given me so much encouragement and support – as well as sharing their own parenting experiences with me – this year. I hope you all have a very happy (and possibly even relaxing!) Christmas with your families.

3

Finding it a job to work

What do you mean ‘you’ve got a job?’, says teenager incredulously.
“A job”, I reply. “You know, that thing where you get up, go out to a place of work and actually earn some money.”
“But who’s going to look after us?” says middle son, turning a bit pale as he takes in the news. “I thought your job was looking after us.”
“It is.” I reply as I try to give him a reassuring hug. As usual middle son – who doesn’t do kisses and cuddles – is too quick for me and manages to sidle away before I can get my arms around him.
“But I want to do something else as well as looking after you.” I continue, as they all watch me with mouths wide open. “Something I’m good at. Something where I will feel valued and useful. Something where I’m not just in the house all day.”
I keep going while I have a captive audience.
“It might mean some of you have to go to breakfast club at school a few mornings a week, and possibly after school club on the odd occasion. But the job is only part-time, so I’ll still mostly be around when you’re at home.”
“Great”, says middle son, totally forgetting his fears of being abandoned. “They have chocolate cereals at breakfast club, and you get to go on the computer. When are we starting?”
“I want chocolate cereal”, pipes up teeniest, heading for the cupboard to see what he can find, only to be greeted by boring old cornflakes, weetabix and porridge.
“Does it mean you have to go and buy some new outfits”, asks daughter hopefully, already planning a girly shopping trip into town. “Let’s face it, your clothes aren’t great are they? My friends’ mums look really elegant when they are going to work. And they wear high heels.”
“Maybe”, I say, looking down at my baggy jumper, shabby jeans, and bright purple crocs, and trying to imagine how I will look dressed any other way.
“How much money will you earn a week?” asks middle son. Knowing how fond he is of juicy sums I expect he is getting ready to calculate how much that will be a month, a year, and probably a decade.
“I’m not sure yet”, I say, wondering if anyone is going to at least congratulate me on my good news. “Anyway, it’s rude to ask people what their salary is.”
“Dad told me what HE earns”, middle son brags, looking gleefully at his older siblings.
“No he didn’t”, says teenager. “No he didn’t”, says daughter.” “No he didn’t”, joins in teeniest excitedly, thinking this is going to be a good game.
I walk away from the argument, trying to focus on the beautiful bouquet of flowers husband bought me, the lovely card sent by sister-in-law and the supportive texts sent by friends when they heard I’d got a new job.
Much, much later.
“Mum – I’ve just got one question for you,” announces middle son, appearing a little irritated that he hadn’t thought of it earlier.
This ‘place of work’ that you say you’re going to. When we’re at breakfast club, or after school club or wherever we are. What will you actually be doing there?”

0

Ta-ta toddler years!

You’re on that long, crazy rollercoaster ride called raising a toddler, with all its chaos, unpredictability and hair-raising moments. You want to cry, shout, scream, possibly even run away at times.
Then, suddenly, almost before you know it, you’re starting to come out the other end. Hissy fits in the supermarket (toddlers, not yours) become fewer and further between, attempts at trying to reason with the little person become slightly more successful, and the ‘NO, NO, NO with foot stamping’ reply is heard a little less often.
Here are some of the other ways that I know we are finally waving goodbye to toddlerhood in our house – and by the way, toddler will now be referred to as ‘teeniest’ in this blog, as although he thinks he is at exactly the same stage of life as teenager, he is still very much the weeniest in the family.

Nursery rhymes have been dumped
Much to the relief of the rest of the family we no longer have to listen to countless renditions of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ on long car journeys. Now it’s ‘Horrid Henry’ instead

Loo paper actually stays on the roll
Finally the bathroom game of ‘let’s see how fast I can unravel the whole roll of toilet paper onto the floor’ seems to have lost its daily appeal

Comfort blankets are a no-no in public
Instead of being dragged everywhere with us, ‘Clothy’ now remains firmly behind closed doors, but has definitely not been thrown out just yet

‘I want’ has become ‘Seriously I want’
Fancy words such as ‘seriously’ and ‘actually’ and ‘probably’ have started appearing in sentences for the first time

No fakes for me
Toy phones or plastic money are no longer acceptable. Only the genuine article is good enough, even if it means pinching teenager’s mobile from his school bag or holding the pound coin from the shopping trolley in a tight little fist and refusing to give it back

Pink is for girls
Only a year ago we couldn’t leave the house without a rather fetching baby-pink spotty handbag in tow (full of cars, of course). Now? Even socks with a tiny pink or purple stripe at the top are thrown on the floor in disgust

Tomorrow, tomorrow…
‘Tomorrow’ used to mean anything beyond NOW. But the penny has suddenly dropped that references to the future come in all shapes and sizes. Days of the week are the favourite at the moment – even if Friday comes before Monday and Wednesday is at the weekend

It’s boring
Not long ago a walk to the park, a ride on the shopping centre escalator or even a few minutes watching cars go over the speed bumps in our street was the best thing ever. Now? That’s soooooo boring. Can we go to a swimming pool with super-spirally slides instead?…

Buggy’s banished
No more quick snoozes in the buggy while mummy dashes around town with a long list of errands to get through. No more sitting in the shopping trolley with a big iced bun while she does her weekly food shop. Now I absolutely insist on walking everywhere or pushing the trolley myself.
What’s more, there’s no more nipping into a parent and toddler car space for mummy at the local supermarket either. Oh, to have a toddler again…