Unconditional

Be grateful, kids, for unconditional love. Without it you guys would be sunk.

It’s what gets us through childbirth, even though we haven’t met you yet.

It’s what gets us through that first meconium poo. (The first real test of parenthood. It’s a strong person who doesn’t instinctively gag.) it also gets us through all the subsequent poos, including the most violently explosive, just-put-the-clothes-in-the-bin-and-open-all-the-windows ones. And the vomit. And blood. 

It’s what allows you to use our bodies until we break. From cracked, bleeding nipples from feeding you as an infant to back pain and arm ache from carrying you as a toddler. Its what drags us through the tunnel of sleep deprivation. It’s what motivates us to run aside you as our lungs burst as you learn to ride a bike. It’s what gets our knees through another search under the sofa to find your missing dummy/school shoe/favourite toy/escaped hamster.

It’s what sees us fight the forces of chaos and gravity as we pick everything up from baby toys to pieces of Lego and Loomz bands to plates and towels and mouldy bowls of cereal. (Why do kids only learn how to pick stuff up twenty years after they learnt how to drop things all over the place?)

It’s what gets us through the toddler tantrums. The screaming, the flailing limbs, the kicking and punching. The public judgement. 

It’s what causes us to shrug as any savings disappear in favour of a trip to Disneyland. Because the window for saving is bigger than the window for fairytale magic.

It’s what allows us to endure yet another trip to the park/playground/soft play area, the umpteenth viewing of your favourite DVD/reading of your favourite book (the one with the flakiest of plots and God-awful writing, but which fires your imagination like nothing else). 

It’s what sees us freezing on the sidelines of a football field or slowly go numb from the waist down during interminable dance recitals.

It’s what forces us to remember the lessons we learnt in school when confronted with homework-induced tears. It turns out there is a reason to learn trigonometry at school: to then cause major upset and stropping as we try to pass our knowledge onto you. It would be easier to teach compassion to the Devil.

It’s what gets us through a meeting with your key worker/school teacher/head teacher without lashing out or breaking down.

It’s what motivates us to keep restocking the cupboards and the fridge, even though we know we may as well just feed a plague of locusts.

It’s what sees us in a school car park before the crack of dawn, waiting to collect you from a school trip. 

It’s what makes us answer the phone at 3am to rescue you from whatever mess you’re in. It turns out that 3am is no more fun than when you were a non-sleeping baby.

It’s what gets us to drive you and your wordly belongings around the country until you choose where you want to settle. And pay for a goodbye meal for the privilege.

Yep, be grateful, kids – it’s powerful stuff. Because although you light up our lives with your smiles and enthusiasms, your warm hugs and hearty laughs, there are also plenty of times when we don’t actually like you much. It might last minutes (the duration of a tantrum or session of whining) or years (you’re meant to push as away as teenagers, right?). But luckily for you, underlying everything is that unconditional love. Ok, it’s what drives us as parents to brag about your achievements and post photos of you everywhere (also known as mum-you’re-killing-me embarrassment) but it also means we didn’t abandon you in a supermarket at the age of two. 

Family Days Out Are a Big Mistake #10: A (Bubble) Solution!

Contrary to the tradition of family days out being a BAD idea, last year we had a gloriously sunny day at the Fairyland Trust Fairy Fair in Holt. I know! It doesn’t normally happen to us, but I have proof! Filled with the miracle of such an occurrence we decided it was wise to do it again.

  
Like we could ever be that lucky twice!

First Boo got grumpy on the Treasure Hunt because Teflon Man took over the hunting for her (as she pointed out, she’s a big girl now and can do things for herself, thank you very much – a fact I’ll remind her of when she’s 18 and turning to Bank of Mum & Dad/Mum’s Taxi Co.) and Noodles had a meltdown because I couldn’t carry him through the woods any more without dying on my feet. He’s getting both big but also lazy!

  
He wasn’t impressed.

And then, because it’s bank holiday weekend and it’s England, the heavens opened.

 
That’s one rain-soaked picnic right there. Luckily Boo found a tree.

 
She declared it to be her favourite part of the day.

Stiff upper lips though, we weren’t going without a fight. Actually, Noodles would have left at that moment. ‘Time to go home now? Go home now. Go home now!’

Sorry, buddy.

But do you know what’s guaranteed to turn a toddler’s mood around? BUBBLES!!!

The search for bubbles was, to be honest though, fraught, what with TM offering their purchase as a placating tool prior to ascertaining whether or not there were any pots of bubble solution available. It was, after all, a fairy fair, so there were numerous stalls selling wings, vials of glitter, sorry fairy dust (the magic being how much they can get away with charging) and wands. Felt animals – ten a penny (well, one for ¬£6.50, but still they were literally everywhere) – lucky dips and fairy-related trinkets. But no pots of bubble mix. The opportunities were getting slimmer, the rain heavier. The search was getting a little frantic.

‘Bubbles! Bubbles! BUBBLES!!!’

And then, mercifully – BINGO!

One stall had pots of Frozen bubble mix. I could’ve kissed the stall holder. Noodles perked up in a heartbeat.

He no longer needed carrying, happy instead to chase the trail of bubbles settled on the wet grass. And he played happily with them for the best part of an hour whilst Boo took part in a crown-making workshop.

   
  

  
 What a difference a pot of bubbles makes!

Moreover, I quickly became The Bubble Lady. With every flurry there’d be an excited cry of ‘Bubbles!‘ from a child as they rounded the corner and they’d join Noodles in the chase. I loved how universally appealing something so simple could be. I pointed various parents in the direction of the stall.

If I had any savings I’d seriously consider investing in vast quantities of Fairy Liquid and research into the perfect bubble mix as I swear there’s a killing to be made. For all the fairy fun the joy brought by the bubbles was the most magic part of the day. Although, actually, Boo’s fairy crown was pretty impressive:

  
Still, it was surely the best ¬£1 ever spent and from now on they’ll be as essential a part of my day out armoury as the baby wipes! (Actually, looking at the state of Noodles’ face today, the bubbles might actually get more use!)

A Silver Lining

All I wanted was an hour or so to myself to run into town. With packed in bank holiday weekend plans, followed by work and school half term if I didn’t get things sorted today then it wasn’t going to happen until June. 83 pence worth of gas on the meter definitely wasn’t going to last until June.

I took responsibility for all things child-related until 2pm. Even though carting Noodles along to Boo’s dance classes is a major pain in the arse, not to mention the arms and back as 90% of the time he’ll refuse to walk and need to be carried. It’d give Teflon Man the chance to catch up on any chores or errands, giving me some time in the afternoon.

Best laid plans and all that. It wasn’t to be. I’d not even got the dull chores done before I got a phone call from TM summoning me home. Because writing some cheques takes all morning apparently (although I swear it looked like he was sat on the sofa watching a documentary on Shirely Maclaine when I got home).

So there I was, time to myself stolen away, once again watching sodding CBeebies. Worse, CBeebies repeats itself at some point each day and it was an episode of Tree Fu Tom I’d endured earlier.

But then I glanced up.

And then I looked up.

I liked what I saw.

On a weekend afternoon CBeebies provide a signing accompaniment to their programmes. Usually it’s either a slightly frumpy woman or a bald man. 

But during Tree Fu Tom it was neither. It was this man:

  
Hello there!

  
I’m pretty sure that’s the sign for, yes, do come right up close to the screen so you can get a better look at my gorgeous face.

So, I would like to thank the nameless signing guy for being rather easy on the eye and bringing a ray of sunshine to my grumpy afternoon. If I’d been in town I’d have missed him. It was back to the frumpy woman and bald guy after that.

 
I know. What’s that about?! 

I shall definitely be tuning in again next week too.

Enough to Make You Weep

Boo’s class have been reading Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man. ‘Not to be confused with the film,’ the teacher warned. So Boo told me off when I suggested we watch The Iron Giant. To prove my point (i.e. the teacher was referring to Tony Stark in a robot costume not minor violations* from the story arc by the 1999 animated adaptation – *I would guess, I’ve not actually read the book) I bought The Iron Giant from HMV.

‘Aw, great film,’ the cashier enthused (possibly as a result of his customer training). ‘You’re going to cry though.’

‘Err, yeah. Without a shadow of doubt.’

But then I am the sort of woman who cries at the SMA ‘You’re doing great’ advert.

At bedtime we put the DVD on. An hour and a half later I was crying like a baby. 

  
‘I go. You stay. No following.’ 

Oh my God, robot – you’re slaying me!

So, The Iron Giant is up there with the saddest kids films ever…which is probably pretty much comparable to the list of all time saddest films ever, except for the addition of Beaches. But which other films make my shortlist? Well, I’m glad you ask. (BTW, the order I list them in is the chronological order in which they first killed me.)

E.T. (1982)

  

The first time I remember crying at a film. Everything I watched up to that point had had a happy ending and yet there E.T. was breaking my heart. I felt as though I was the only one wiping away my tears as the credits rolled. It turned out my family was just heartless. Seriously, how did they not cry?!?!

Charlotte’s Web (1973)

  

As a ‘treat’ we got to watch Charlotte’s Web one morning at primary school. The whole school in the assembly hall, sat on the hard floor, our crossed legs going numb as we watched Charlotte save Wilbur’s bacon…and then die! And then hundreds of baby spiders hatching out and being adorable. Who thought that was a good idea?!?! It’s bad enough welling up in the isolating darkness of a cinema, but in the barely dimmed gloom surrounded by 200 other kids, well it’s not good! 

Mind you, it neither stopped me from eating bacon or freaking out at spiders, so maybe I wasn’t all that traumatised. I do still have an aversion to movie projections in school assembly halls though.

Watership Down (1978)

  

Arent talking cartoon bunnies meant to be cute and fluffy? So, it was a huge shock that the film was so brutal and scary and did I mention brutal? And then it made my eyes wet. I never want to watch it again.

My Girl (1991)

Oh my God. They killed Thomas!

  
And then they forgot his glasses! Still I couldn’t see out of mine for the tears.

The Lion King (1994)

I first saw this as a teenager, in the cinema, with friends. I was sat next to the boy I fancied. Trying to be cool I stifled the tears as Simba vainly tried to nudge his dad back to life before curling up in his paws. 

  
And then I glanced over to find the boy sobbing like a baby. And that’s when I realised that people do cry at sad films. So I cried like a baby too.

Dumbo (1941)

I was never all that bothered by Dumbo as a child. It didn’t feature a princess, the bit where Dumbo has the drunk dream was a bit scary-crazy and bullying is never nice. Really it wouldn’t have really registered as a film of note…until I saw it as a parent.

And there Mrs Jumbo was, caged and separated from her son, but still rocking him with her trunk and singing Baby Mine whilst all the other mums cuddled up to their little ones and my heart splintered into a million pieces.

  
Now I can’t bear to be in the same room when the scene is playing.

PS. Whilst searching for the above image I also came across the next picture. Damn you, Internet, my heart just broke again.

  

Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

 
Not a film to watch when pregnant. I blame my hormones for the uncontrolled crying over our post-cinema meal and the hour-long journey home. I’m not sure what Teflon Man’s excuse was!
 
I’ve only watched it the once. I’m scared that if I see it again I’ll not be able to stop crying again. But I’m also scared that it won’t have the same impact and the memory of those tears will be spoiled. Which is a shame as I did really love the film.

Or maybe I could just watch the start and then Leslie won’t die. Yes, that’s what I’ll do – I’ll save her by not watching the second half. Leslie needs to live forever.

Up (2009)

Five minutes of gut-wrenching feels. Thanks, Pixar. I cried here:

 
…and here:

  

…and here:

    
…and here:

 The rest of the film? Meh. But those five minutes? Sublime sadness. 

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Say no more. If you didn’t cry at least once* during this then your heart’s made of stone and I’m not sure why you’ve even read this far when you and I clearly have nothing in common.

  

*I cried several times, obviously. The incinerator scene was only the tip of the iceberg really.

  
Yep, that bit got me too. *Sniff*

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Over the course of the Harry Potter franchise many many characters died. Dumbledore’s funeral left me in floods, the death toll after the big battle in Deathly Hallows Part 2 was harrowing (although possibly not as harrowing as the steamy Harry/Hermione scene hallucinated by Ron in the woods in Part 1 – ick!). But the death that left me reeling the most was that of Dobby.

 
Why didn’t they just use some magic to stop him from dying?!?! Wizards, you failed us. 

Frozen (2013)

It’s par for the course for Disney to kill of a parent (although I guess the narrative of traditional fairy tales has a bit to do with that). But increasingly they’ve been going in for total  patricide (see Tarzan, Cinderella and Big Hero 6 for further proof, although I guess Snow White, Peter Pan and Mowgli set an early precedent for parentless main characters – Fantasyland would really be more appropriately named as The Orphanage, to be honest). So maybe I should have seen it coming, I should have been prepared. But nope – because despite our experiences we’re conditioned to believe that Disney equates to fluffiness and songs and happily ever after, forgetting that there can only be light if there was once darkness. And so it comes like a sucker punch every time. So I didn’t expect the ship to sink. I didn’t expect the king and queen would die. Like everyone around me, I was floored by the scene with Anna and Elsa say either side of the door, both helplessly lost and grief-ridden.

 
  

But surely you’d have to have a heart of ice not to  be. 

Cinderella (2015)

Disney again showing that they’re the experts in packing the grief into 2 hours of kids’ entertainment. Take one perfect, beautiful, loving family…and then KILL THEM OFF!!! 

 
So, boom, Mummy goes…and I cry. Then dad…and I cry. Then the king…and I cry. And then I cry at the happy ever after end, just for good measure. I was emotionally wrung out by the time stepped out into the light of the afternoon. 

It’s half term next week and I’ve sort of suggested a trip to the cinema to Boo and Noodles to off-set the agony of shopping. Except now I’m scared. Life is being enough of an emotional wreck at the minute, I’m not sure I can handle cinematic stresses on top. The Moomins should be a safe bet though right? Nothing happens to the Moomins, surely! 

  

Please let nothing bad happen to the Moomins, otherwise I can’t be held responsible for my reaction. If there’s a tsunami of tears reported across Norfolk next week at least you’ll know why. Could somebody pass the Kleenex?

Question

One for my American friends (because this has bugged me for an eternity):

Why do your dates go by month, then date and finally year? 

Doesn’t it make more sense to go by date, month and year, what with the day being a fraction of the month, which is then a fraction of the year? See, it’s common sense. Your way just jars.

You’ve messed up spellings (whilst we’re on the subject, exactly what issue do you have with the ‘u’ in ‘colour’?) and rejected other words entirely. It’s your country, it’s your prerogative to mess with the language all you want. 

You have a different date for Mother’s Day. To be honest, there I’m just jealous as you get to eat your chocolates without Lent-based guilt and the weather is more optimistic. Seeing a TM is usually dreadful at organising Mother’s Day perhaps I should adopt yours too to give him a chance for a do-over.

But month, date, year? You’ve taken it too far, just to do things your way.

Although…

Why then, do we put the hour before the minutes when writing time? If we’re ranking from smallest portion of time to the biggest for the dates, shouldn’t the time follow the same system?

And we’re not blameless for messing with time in the UK either. Because why – WHY – do we shift forward to British Summer Time in the summer so that Greenwich isn’t then on Greenwich mean Time? 

I’m too lazy to have proper OCD, but things like this literally keep me awake at night. If someone could let me know – and therefore let me sleep at night – I’d be eternally grateful.

And if there is no logical reason for your crazy date randomness then could it please be arranged for you to tidy it up?

Thank you. Xx

PS really I’m just annoyed that our dates aren’t working out as beautifully symmetrically as yours this week. One form of OCD-lite conflicting with another. Gah!

  

Roy Bear Tells the Truth

‘Oh, yeah, Noodles got given this bag at the end of nursery today,’ Eve informed me as she passed me a large The Hungry Caterpillar bag that had been hanging from the back of Teddy’s buggy and that I’d assumed was a new changing bag for him. Inside was a teddy dressed in a jumper and knitted trousers, a toothbrush, flannel and towel, pair of teddy-sized pyjamas and a journal. Roy Bear had come to stay the night!

‘I’ve come to stay the night,’ it said in the front of the journal. ‘Please could you draw a picture, take a photograph or write in the diary about the things I’ve been doing so that I can share it with my friends in nursery.’

There’s no way on Earth that Noodles would draw a picture and I have no way of printing off hastily-shot pictures, so (like the other parents) I’m left to write an account of the day. Unlike the other parents, mine shall be a work of ‘constructed reality’. (I know that the people mostly interested in it will be the nursey staff and the other parents. It’s already reading like a case of oneupmanship. ‘Got left in the bag and then Noodles showed no interest in me,’ isn’t going to cut it. And he’s already thought to be a square peg so it’s probably best not to add flame to the fire.) 

  

However, if Roy told the truth it would go something like this:

– Monday 11th March –

Jeez! Is there a support line for toy bear cruelty? 0800-TED TALKS maybe? I’ll give it a shot once everyone’s gone to sleep and us toys can wake up. (Toy Story wasn’t joking you know! It was cold hard fact, which is why you must NEVER EVER throw your kids’ old toys out or donate them to the nursery. It’s abuse everywhere, I’m telling ya. You people should be ashamed of yourselves.)

But onto me. Poor me. I couldn’t have gone back to the house ‘so big I nearly got lost’ after riding in the ‘shiny black car’ again could I? Oh no! I got used to that lifestyle far too easily, but today has been a trip from the stars to the gutter. What a comedown!

I mean, how can anyone forget about me?! I’m adorable! But whereas other families have taken me to the park for a go on the swings or  fed me ‘special treats’ of ice cream and chocolate (like these kids don’t eat these things every day? Pull the other one!) today I’ve just be abandoned! Left in my bag for hour after hour after hour. And on the hottest day of the year so far. And there I was – dressed in knitwear for crying out loud! – alone in the dark. I didn’t sign up for that!

It’s cruelty I tell ya! Cruelty!

You can take this as a formal complaint!

At the very least there should be a fine. I can spend the income on more weather-appropriate clothing. Who wants to wear a jumper more fitting of an 80s kids’ TV presenter day in day out? And those red trousers sit up higher than a pair of Simon Cowell slacks! Do you know how hard it is to remove a wedgie when you’ve got paws?! Has no one heard of Build-a-Bear? Man I could get me some sweet sweet threads from there! Sheesh!

  

But no wonder the mum panicked when she found out about me! I’d been abandoned, left to overheat and not even provided with an imaginary cup of tea from the play tea set!!! That in itself contravenes basic soft-bear rights. Disgusting!

But what’s truly shocking is that rather than tending to my stuffed toy needs the only thing she was concerned about was not being judged by the other mums/staff. Everyone knows that the other parents revel in finding out whose had chips for tea or who lets their kid play on the Playstation/watch CBeebies all afternoon. And tonight I didn’t even get anything to eat (not even the standard chicken nugget, when surely everyone knows bears prefer salmon, marmalade sandwiches, honey and picnic baskets!) or to indulge in lazy-parenting techniques. No, after today even the McDonalds-for-dinner-whilst-watching-back-to-back-DVDs parents look like goddamn Mary-frickin’-Poppins!

Except, the piece of fiction she’s come up with is shocking! Pure propaganda! Yeah, sure, I got taken to the supermarket with cutesy pictures of Noodles pointing out the buses down his street or counting the numbers down the aisles.

  
She even posed me in front of the goddamn honey!!! Did I get any? Did I heck! 

  

Never mind bare-faced lies; these are are bear-faced lies! Lies with MY face on them!

Because it’s all a lie all for the sake of looking like an engaged parent, rather than someone whose worked all day and whose childcare arrangements don’t stretch to after-school bear care. It’s a wonder she can sleep at night! Actually, she may not sleep tonight as she tries to print out said photos when it’s going to require transferring them from her phone to her laptop and then fixing the printer. Ha! Obviously without actual photographic evidence of our ‘adventures’ it’s just her word against mine. It’s how you tell the true yummy mummies from the rest. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before one of them sets me up with my own Facebook account for all of my selfies. Now, that’s how you go the extra mile in parental over-striving. They’re amateurs, the lot of them at the moment. Even the shiny car/massive house participant. If you want to be a Tiger Mum you’ve got to think outside the box.

Today though I didn’t even think I was going to experience things outside the bag!

As a result of today’s horrors, I would like to apply for a transfer. An international teddy transfer placement up in Alaska. My woolly pants will actually be appropriate for the winter months and I may finally get some goddamn salmon!!!

Roy x

Families Day Out Are a Big Mistake #9: You’d Have Thought I’d Have Learnt By Now

Why do I keep doing it to myself? Inspired by perfect pictures of other people and their kids doing outdoorsy stuff on sunny spring afternoons I think ‘We could – should – do that too.’ 

And thus it was that I set off for the bluebell woods at Foxley for an afternoon of sunny springtime loveliness. The Internet had made it sound delightful. 

  
But then the Internet can make Tinder or extreme radicalism or Dominos pizza sound like a good idea. I should have known better.

The best part of an hour to get there. The best part of the trip. Unless you like good music – we had Now That’s What I Call a Party! on the CD player. The playlist is terrible. But then I’m probably not its target audience.

  

No, Noodles and Boo are its target and every good record label knows who calls the shots on medium to long car journeys, if only because driving to the tunes of a school disco is preferable to the sound of whinging.

My eardrums may have been bleeding, but we arrived in one piece and with no one covered in vomit – well, that’s one up on last time! We really shouldn’t have got out of the car.

‘I don’t want to be heeeeeere.’ Boo whinged from the off. ‘I want to go hooooommmme.’

It didn’t then help that she promptly walked into a car’s wing mirror.

‘Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!’

Noodles was all right though. He ran off ahead, as is his style…

 …and then decided it was a good idea to launch himself at the biggest, dirtiest muddy puddles and to play with an electric fence.

When I’d let him do neither he joined in with Boo’s chorus: ‘Go home! Go home! Go home!’

  
The path was a bog. Both were in shoes (Noodles having trashed his boots at the beach a few months ago when depth perception of the sea and the concept of ‘paddling’ we’re both beyond him; Boo had left her wellies in the car). Boo freaked out at a butterfly. I called it a day.
We’d been there all of 15 minutes.

I decided to take them to Tesco instead. Ha! That’ll teach them! And at least their glum little faces fit right in with the other customers.

 
We did catch a glimpse of some bluebells in the woods. But was it worth the 2-hour round trip? Let’s just say next time I’m going alone.

   

And I’m not going to think my family as being capable of playing keep-up with the other families on Facebook. We’re clearly a different breed.