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A Mother’s Day message to my kids

I am sure this Mother’s Day I will be greeted with some gorgeous homemade cards and some presents lovingly picked out by the kids (with the help of daddy’s wallet). I am looking forward to a trip to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast and maybe a roast dinner (courtesy of the hubby who is housebound as he is on call for work).

I love Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day – I know some people see them as a cynical ploy by the card manufacturers to get us to spend a fortune but I am all for anything that makes us stop for a minute and appreciate those around us.

But this Mother’s Day what I really want is a few things that money can’t buy (and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone). So Megan and Henry this is what I’d really like on Sunday:

  • Can you please sleep in past 7? I know you can do it as I have to drag your bodies out of bed every weekday morning but come the weekend you have more energy than the Duracell bunny
  • Can I have a bowl of olives, bag of crisps, sandwich, chocolate bar or drink to myself? I know sharing is good but I literally get nothing to myself so today can you not ask to try whatever I am about to put in my mouth! 
  • Can you put your shoes on, coats on, clean your teeth and leave the house on the first time of asking?
  • Can you ask Dad to get you a drink, tie your shoes or reach you something from a high shelf? He is just as capable as me!
  • Can I have a bath (or even a wee!) without hearing a little knock on the door?
  • Can you stop dropping things on the floor when you have finished with them? Just for one day it would be nice to not have to pick up after you! If my back breaks you’ll be the ones pushing me around in my old age so it’s worth your while!

And finally can you give me an extra big hug and 20 extra kisses each because I love you both so much and you make me very proud to be your mummy.

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It just doesn’t add up!

 

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I was never very good at maths. I work in words and thank God every day that there’s a calculator close at hand. I knew I would find it hard when my kids started bringing home maths homework – testing my brain (and patience) as well as theirs.

What I hadn’t counted on was having a sobbing seven year old, distraught at not being able to do her times tables (especially under the timed test conditions they insist on at school). When we were at school we leant tables by rote – yes, it was boring but it worked and to this day I can pretty much get through the basics from memory. But my daughter’s school don’t teach it like that and my daughter, who lacks confidence at the best of times, has decided she can’t do it and as such as shut down her very capable brain to the idea of 8×8.

I know it’s important that she knows this stuff so I am trying to build her back up and find a way to help her but it is so tough especially when all I want to shout is IT’S NOT THAT IMPORTANAT! She’s seven for god sake. She works so hard at school and is never off sick so when she comes home she should be jumping ‘til she’s sick on her trampoline, making up games with her little brother, dancing ‘til she’s exhausted in her bedroom and experimenting with her make up on her Barbie dolls. She shouldn’t be sobbing herself to sleep because 9×8 is a mystery to her.

I support schools 100% in everything they do, educating kids is hard, especially when you have to find a way of helping 30 kids at different levels reach the same goals. But what I find hard is this pressure that is uniformly put on these tiny souls. It might work for the confident kids who thrive on competition but some, like my daughter, are breaking under the pressure and it’s heart breaking.

As a parent I want to help her (and support the school) but I’m not a teacher – I don’t have the tools or the patience to understand how I can help. Ideas sent from school to try at home are all well and good but trying to tell my daughter ‘this is fun’ when she has tears running down her face is just too difficult for us both. We have post it notes round the house reminding her of the basics, have watched some very groovy teachers singing their way through the tables on You Tube and still we are no nearer ‘getting it’.

I don’t know what the answer is but this definitely isn’t it! Any suggestions of how to help get these blooming times tables off the pages and into my daughter’s head would be gratefully received!

 

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Confused and (not) crafty

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I come from a very arts and craft family. My grandad, uncle and brother are exceptional artists. My sister-in-law is a great cake decorator, my mother-in-law is the craftiest woman you could ever meet (if you know what I mean…) and my husband takes more care wrapping one present than I would wallpapering a room (if I had any idea where to start). Sadly all these artistic genes passed me by.

I have great ideas but trying to put them into practice is another matter entirely. I am not exaggerating when I say I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. I can’t sew or knit and regular readers of this blog will know how far from Mary Berry my attempts at baking are.

Somehow I have managed to reach the ripe old age of 42 without a single arty bone in my body but since having kids, this lack of natural flair has become more of a problem. This is yet another thing they don’t tell you about having kids – suddenly you are expected to be able to paint, draw and craft like a first rate member of the WI!

My daughter, like most little girls, loves craft and is obsessed by Blue Peter. My son’s adoration of Mr Maker, Matilda Ramsey and I Can Cook is unrivalled. We have had many aborted attempts at creating what they have seen on TV throughout the years, but things always reach a peak at Christmas and birthdays when very kind, generous and well-meaning people buy them craft sets.

My kids look at me with fear as we open another box and I try to make sense of the instructions which are clearly aimed at under-12s. Bless them, my two have got used to the disappointment of never seeing the finished product or making do with some botched attempt that bears no resemblance to the picture on the box. So here’s a rundown of what I helped ruin this Christmas:

  1. A cardboard model of Big Ben WITH NO INSTRUCTIONS. Yes all the pieces were numbered so they could slot together but the only place this was slotted was the recycling bin
  2. Grow a fairy garden – no sign of grass seed sprouting so fairies may have to live in a mud bath
  3. Santa and snowman pompoms – created the world’s smallest pompoms and how do you successfully glue oversized felt features onto wool?
  4. Nail art. Daughter’s tiny nails, fat nail brush and me – was always going to end in disaster
  5. Wonky Rudolph ears – I just don’t have the patience for neat cutting out
  6. French knitting – a very English mass of knotted wool and some very choice muttered phrases (which may well have been French)
  7. Glitter by numbers – glitter does not go where you want it to no matter how gently you shake it!
  8. Make your own friendship bracelets – another mess of threads and a set of instructions which bore no resemblance to the equipment provided
  9. Hair crayons – this was quite successful and daughter ended up with blue streaks in her hair – we also had blue streaks on both of our clothes and all over one of my good towels (when did I become someone with best towels???????)

So my New Year’s resolution is to stop helping and let the kids get on with these art projects on their own. They may not get it right but they can’t get it as wrong as me!

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Google has killed Santa!

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Megan is only seven so I didn’t expect to be having ‘the talk’ for a few years yet. I hadn’t really thought about how I would approach the subject or answer her questions and I am yet to discuss with my husband how we present a united front when things get tricky.  So I was far from prepared when she innocently asked the other day “Mummy is Santa real?” My heart stopped, my mouth went dry and I reacted with a knee jerk “Of course he is! Who else could it be?”

My mind was racing as I tried to work out how and why she’d discovered the unmagical truth so early. It turns out she’d overheard some older kids at school (she has my journalistic ability to be tuned into one conversation whilst deeply engrossed in another) saying that the man in red was really your mum and dad.

Argghhhh! I am an old romantic when it comes to Christmas, I love all the pomp and ceremony and traditions (new and old) and I am just not ready to let the Santa myth go yet.

The problem is Megan is very mature and has inherited more than a little of my cynicism so convincing her that Santa is real is going to take some doing. She’s also terrible as keeping secrets so once the cat’s out of the bag, Henry (4) will have his Christmas miracles shattered too.

So I laid it on thick about the magic, the elves and the Santa cam and how it would be impossible for mummy and daddy to get all the presents bought and wrapped without her knowing. At first I thought she’d bought it.

But then came the words that are enough to strike fear into any Christmas elf’s heart “I’m going to Google it!”

WTF!!!! When did kids get so savvy that when they doubt their parents they head to the PC? I suppose I’m lucky that she sticks to the rules and always tells me when she’s going online and what she’s going to do so I was able to forbid her inquisitive perusal of the popular search engine at least for one night.

Once she was on bed I thought I’d check out Google for myself. I was more than confident that those clever tech people who seem to work in a children’s playground would have pre-empted this question and at this time of year and would have done something clever to ensure the question was answered positively with a festive pop up or graphic. But sadly it seems the Christmas spirit hasn’t reached Google towers and the results make a very depressing read for a 42 year old mum, never mind a seven year old who would still like to believe.

So I am spending the next two weeks in a bizarre juggling act. Encouraging Henry to dream the dream about Santa whilst distracting Megan from thinking too much about it all (and keeping her off Google) I know they have to grow up but I had hoped the magic would last a bit longer and I’m disappointed that technology might just be helping to put a nail in Santa’s coffin.

How have you ensured the Santa myth continues just a little bit longer? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

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London – where the streets are paved with gold!

We have just returned from an exhausting but exhilarating first family trip to London. The kids have been asking for years to go and Henry, four, has been obsessed with Big Ben since he saw it on  the TV so they were very excited to be visiting the Big Smoke. We had the best time and so if you are planning a trip with little ones to the capital here are a few quick tips…

London can be a big place for little legs – jumping on a tour bus is a good way to see all the sights, or if you have a clear day The Eye gives you a bird’s eye view of the city. We only saw Buckingham Palace from the air but to be honest that was enough – next time we will do the whole Changing of the Guards thing but this time waving to HRH from the air was good enough for us.

Using the tube is a big adventure but it’s still tiring. Kids love trains so going on the underground is very exciting. Who needs the fairground when you have long escalators, loud trains and buskers? But be warned, there’s still a lot of walking to do when you get under ground and if the escalators are broken, the novelty can soon wear off.

Not everything costs a fortune. If you have a dry day head to the South Bank and just walk. There are loads of street entertainers (and we found them a lot friendly than the ones in Covent Garden), there’s play areas, market stalls, musicians and even the park benches are a work of art. You also get to see a lot of the famous sights wandering along and the kids will be so distracted they won’t have a clue how far they’ve walked.

It’s worth buying Corn Flakes – or whatever else you can find that has a buy-one-get-one free offer for the main attractions. You often see vouchers for the Shrek Experience, Madam Tussauds, Aquarium and the London Eye. If in doubt just cut them out and keep them. The attractions are fab but they cost a lot of money so any help you can get is well worth it. Blue Peter badge winners can also get in free (with a full price paying adult) to lots too.

Fill your bag with snacks and puzzles. If you are planning on doing the main attractions you will end up queuing. Even if you want priority tickets you have to queue to get them before joining a (smaller) queue to get in. Anything you can take with you to keep the little ones happy whilst you wait is a must. Mine were, on the whole, really good but when the inevitable moaning started I told them it was good practice for visiting Disneyland in a few years!

Learn to say ‘no’ to photographers. Most of the family attractions have photographers dotted around making sure they capture the moment as you pose in front of a blue screen backdrop. On your way out, they then attempt to sell you all the shots in various formats for a lot of money. If you like these posed cheesy shots then great – the photographers are very good at what they do but it doesn’t take long for the money to start adding up. The other issue is you can get stuck in queues waiting to have your photo done. When we went to the aquarium we were in a bit of a rush (train due and kids desperate to see the penguins) so I just told the lady in charge that we didn’t want our photo taken pretending to swim underwater and she ushered us through to the main attractions. It is nice for the kids to pose with characters but the blue screen thing can get a bit dull and expensive so don’t be afraid to say ‘no’!

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Disney on Ice Frozen – a show with the warmest of hearts

Some things were just made to go together – fish and chips; salt and pepper; gin and tonic and of course Disney’s Frozen and ice dancing. You can imagine how delighted the production team behind the annual Disney on Ice tour were when the Frozen phenomenon first hit our shores – no Disney film has ever been more suited to an ice rink.

There was no shortage of mini Elsa and Annas (and a few Olafs) at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena waiting to see their heroines perform and they weren’t disappointed. Following a quick warm up and a tutorial on the snowman dance, Mikey, Minnie and the gang introduced a galaxy of dancing Disney princesses, stars of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Lion King for a big number about love. Then it was onto the main show, after last year’s dip into the Frozen story, this time we were treated to the whole tale- and what a treat! From the kooky ‘Love is an Open Door, the terribly cute trolls and an impressive inflatable snowmonster, to the show-stopping big number from everyone’s favourite snowman and a dancing reindeer – the show was an avalanche of entertainment. “Are they real?” asked four year old Henry “Of course” I replied!

The excitement was palpable as we all readied ourselves for Elsa’s big ‘Let it Go’ moment at the end of the first half. We weren’t disappointed as Elsa gave us a powerful and emotional dance backed by hundreds of tiny fans (and a few bigger ones!) screaming out the lyrics at the top of their voices. It was a real goosebumps moment and lovely to see so many children totally swept up in the moment.

Unlike in previous years, where we have been treated to snippets from other films in the second half, this time it was all about Frozen. The tiny fans, who had probably seen the film a million times before, reacted as if it was their first time – shouting at the baddies, cheering for the goodies and laughing in all the right places. The great thing about Disney on Ice is there is something for everyone and you only had to look around to see families from two to 92 having a great time.

The whole story was told at pace with great sets, beautiful costumes, perfect dancers and just the right amount of Disney magic to ensure snow in October in Newcastle! It was amazing how they managed to slim down the story, without losing the plot or any of the songs and they retained every bit of the excitement, tension and humour of the film. The principal dancers were the best I’ve ever seen, supported by an amazing cast of extras who did some impressive costume changes and didn’t put a foot wrong.

Every year Disney on Ice promises us the very best in entertainment, and yet again they more than exceeded my expectations. For my kids the countdown to winter (and more importantly Christmas) begins when we step out of the arena, still high on Disney magic, into the cold, dark night. This year was no different. We sang all the way back to the car, and all the way home – and the kids fell asleep with the biggest smiles on their faces – that’s the magic of Disney.

To buy your tickets for the tour click here.

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I attended Disney on Ice Frozen as a guest for review purposes.

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Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Jones!

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Last week there was a segment on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 show where parents were discussing the alcoholic drinks they had smuggled into various school halls to get them through the hell of watching another kids’ performance. It was all very light hearted and did make me laugh (there’s little more mind numbing than watching other people’s children) but it also made me a little sad.

You see my seven-year-old refuses to let me, her dad or anyone else she knows watch her on stage. I have crouched at the back when she has performed in the school nativity, hidden between pews during the harvest festival and been banished to the wings for her annual dance shows. Not been allowed to be included really hurts. I thought watching the school play, the choir recitals and the two left-footed dance shows would be all part of the joy of being a parent for me and my husband. We want to be a part of her new adventures and show how proud we are. Instead we have to drop her at the door and leave or is some cases literally turn our backs until she has finished (cue some very odd looks at the village fete when her hip hop class took it the stage).

This stage fright even extends to her swimming lessons – I am the only person allowed to sit on the side of the pool as she slowly but surely learns her strokes. If ever I can’t take her she will only get into the water if her dad or grandparents leave once they have handed her over to the teacher.

It sounds indulgent but I really don’t know what to do. One year we decided to be brave and me and my husband sat (unannounced) in the audience of the school nativity play. All was going well until she spotted us and then the tears started and her sobbing ‘we wish you a merry Christmas’ became the talk of the school gate! So now every year I have to explain to her teachers that we aren’t an unsupportive family, in fact we are giving the best support we can by not being there.

Next Saturday is her annual dance recital – which is meant to be a chance for us parents to see what the girls get up to in class. There’s no costumes, no big numbers in fact it’s pretty low key but as ever we have been banned. It breaks my heart that we can’t be there with all the other proud parents but if it’s a choice between seeing her confidence grow a little by getting on stage and missing out or her refusing to take to the stage I know what we have to do. I do wish one day we will be able to stand and cheer with the other families.

Has anyone else experienced this situation – I’d love some advice or suggestions about combating it.

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