Bake It ‘Til You Make It

It’s been a harsh week or so. School is back and I’m pretty sure I’m topping the Worst Parent list already:

1) A request has been made for the Educational Psychologist to see both Noodles and Boo. I feel like we’re a walking, talking  Philip Larkin poem;

2) The school are struggling to support Noodles’ needs at the same time settling in 30 other kids…so he’s been moved to only doing half days. Part of me feels that it’s my fault for not preparing him better…but how do you prepare a child whose condition includes time blindness? The past is anything between 5 seconds ago and before the dawn of time with no differentiation; anything in the future is translated as happening NOW. I also realise it’s the fault of a tight-arsed foot-dragging local authority and a school inadequately prepared for what they were taking on, but yeah, the guilt is still there;

3) The fact that these unplanned half days are a pain in the arse when it comes to juggling things with work. (Think you’re frowned at just for being a working mum? Try it when you’ve got a special needs kid and you can multiply that by a hundred! How can you possibly devote yourself to advocating for their needs when you’re out earning money?!?! How selfish!)

(Meanwhile constant lateness because SP has to be dragged through the school gates, plus telephone calls plus meetings, plus lunch breaks timed to cover the additional school run equals a finite capacity for work-based sympathy.)

4) Receiving not one phone call but two because one child or other has been forgotten about and not picked up at the right time…on the SAME DAY.

Yep, I’m topping the Bad Mums list! Sadly though, I don’t look like Mila Kunis whilst doing so. 

  
But – but! – I’ve found the ideal way to drag your name out of the staffroom gutter and to (superficially) elevate your life to Level 10: BAKING!!!

The Great British Bake-Off is in full swing her in the UK (Selasi and Bejamina are my personal favourites) and as ever its appeal has been phenomenal. But then, what’s not to like? People who know how to whip up a genoise sponge or a creme pat without a recipe, a marquee, worship of carb-based goodies and national treasures, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Mel and Sue. It’s perfect!

  
(How well this will stand up once moved from the warm oven of the BBC remains to be seen – like an underbaked soufflé it could collapse if they mess with recipe too much – but for now I’m enveloped in the sheer comfort of it all.)

And inspired by this, I took to the kitchen with the intention of replicating the technical challenges. It’s been a while since I’ve baked, what with days only having 24 hours in them. But I wanted to be good at something. And can stirring sugar and eggs together really be as difficult as they make out? And if their recipes are truly as basic as they say and no one has ever heard of a dampfnudlen how come each baker ended up with almost identical bakes? After a weekend that involved homemade Jaffa cakes and Viennese Whirls, this much I learned:

1) Baking isn’t stress-free akin to mindfulness, but it does give you an excuse to hide out in the kitchen!

Sunday afternoon I literally hid in the kitchen whipping up my whirls whilst TM took over with all of Noodles’ requests. We never hear “Daddy” when “Mummy” is an option and – sorry, Noodles – it was bliss!

2) Jaffa cakes out of a packet are nicer than homemade ones. (Sorry, Mary Berry.)

 

There were 12, as per the challenge…but I forgot the photograph them for the locusts – my family – got to them.
 
Maybe over 40 years of nothing-but McVities I’ve been duped into thinking that, but biting into my own version, the sponge was too light and unyielding. Give me a stale sponge to my Jaffa any day!

(That said, I did enjoy making them. Peeling a sheet of jelly to reveal 12 cut discs was particularly satisfying. How can I make jelly discs a thing?)

  
3) Grannies have lied to us forever: jam making is a piece of cake!

I’d never made jam before, always under the impression that it required levels of alchemical ability far beyond my ability. Bullsh*t! Jam-making is essentially mashed fruit + sugar + boiling for 5 minutes + cooling. Et voila! Nanas, I’m calling you out on this!

 

Note the massive ironing pile overspill in the background. Oops.
 
However, the very act of making your own jam will have everyone treating you like a boss! So, actually, maybe I should stay quiet on that one and just take my place amongst the granny covan.

4) Taking baked goods to work will make you hero for the day.

  
Nobody minds if you rock up late if you’re carrying a tin of homemade biscuits. Dropped the ball with something? Distract them with the feathering skills and feed them until you induce a sugar-based coma. (I might very well attempt just that with a Bakewell tart come bank rec day!)

5) A good bake fools everyone. Even yourself!

Things can’t be that bad if you’ve managed to whip up a perfect batch of biscuits or a sponge as light as air!

  
6) Instagram will convince everyone that you’re living a Level 10 life.

A close-up of your baked goods with a flattering filter and everyone will assume you’re living the domestic dream. Such heaven can surely only be created in a kitchen worthy of the baking gods? Err, shhhhh. They don’t have to know the truth!

 

What you cant see are the crumbling biscuits and the ones with singed edges that didnt make the Mary Berry standard.
 
Unfortunately you do then have to step through the sugar haze back into the real world. Urgh! And I can’t share my creations with the school otherwise I’ll het roped into school fête bake sale territory (being duped by their sneaky tactics last time was enough). Or would 300 mince pies in the run up to Christmas ensure enough goodwill to secure Noodles an inclusive education? Maybe, if I soaked the filling in enough brandy (the true meaning of ‘Christmas spirit’) any nativity play misdemeanours by Noodles could conveniently not be held against me.

Yes, I think I’ll have to just suck up my position on The List of Shameful Parents. Meanwhile, if you need me I’ll be in the corner licking cake batter from the bowl. Now, you never see them do that on Bake-Off!

 
Or maybe you do! 

Advertisements

Tripping Up

You know how the Gluestick Family doesn’t do family days out very well? Well, it seems that school trips are hard-wired into our DNA to be a disaster too.

I don’t know why I ever thought it was a good idea to stick Boo on a bus with her school peers last week. Probably because she asked me to with big, excited eyes following a very exciting assembly months ago. (Getting to see a mummified cat seemed to be the biggest draw!) But after a concerned response to a lonely-looking Facebook photo and a call from the school to report bad tidings, I’ve now got a meeting scheduled to discuss Boo’s mental fragility.

(With Noodles starting at the same school with all his autistic quirks and challenges, we’re topping the list of the school’s Families in Need right now. I can’t walk through the school without a member of staff wanting to hold my hand or looking at me with concerned, sympathetic eyes like some collective Princess Diana tribute.)

I won’t go into details, but although Boo enjoyed the things they did on the trip, the experience as a whole was horrid. But, to make her feel better, here are the top five ways members of the Gluestick Family have failed at the school trip. May it give perspective to your tribulations, Boo.

#5: Sitting in the Damp Spot

(Blakeney, Norfolk – some point in the early ’80s.)

  
Aw, seals – aren’t they adorable? Back when school trips were less than ambitious (but also devoid of risk assessments) my school considered it a good idea to stick a bunch of under-7s in a wooden boat and send us out to see to see these cutesy animals. Except it rained. So a tarpaulin was erected over our heads, removing all possibility of seeing anything. 

  
If that didn’t suck enough, I got the patch of tarpaulin with a hole in it. By the time we got back to shore I was soaked. 

The only upside was being given a bag of Foxes Glacier Mints when I got home.

#4: Abandoned

Dieppe, France – 1988

  
One minute I was drawing some touristy feature of the town…the next I looked up and my teacher and group had disappeared without me! 

Thankfully another group had rocked up, the town clearly unable to accommodate groups of more than five children at a time. I joined them instead and all was good…for me. Meanwhile across town, this being the days before mobile phones, my teacher was having a small fit! 

Serves him right though. It’s not that hard to count to cinq!

#3: On the Rocks

Anduze, France – 1990

My sister’s turn this time and I was so jealous of her getting to go on the activity trip to the south of France. Even though I was the most activity-averse child going.

  
Jealous, that was, until my sister came back telling how they’d had to jump from a  cliff into a river. My sister knocked herself out on a rock as she landed in the water and would have drowned if the attractive, young science teacher hadn’t spotted her and hauled her to safety. Then I was really jealous.  Some girls have all the luck.

#2: Escaping Arrest

Athens, Greece – 2011

Indy this time. She and Eve and others in their Classics group were shopping around the touristy area in Rome. Nobody looks less likely to partake in criminal behaviour than Indy. But she must have been fondling the beaded bracelets a little too suspiciously as the next thing she knows the shopkeeper grabs her arm and accuses her of shoplifting. Maybe he noted her archaeologist’s eye and thought he’d seek small-scale revenge for the Elgin Marbles.

  
Indy was escorted to a back office whilst the rest of the group luckily ran off to find the teacher-in-charge (ie the only one who can speak Italian) rather than just running off. Unfortunately, the teachers ignored the frantic students and sat enjoying a coffee instead. Brilliant! (This bit I’ve only just learnt! Bloody teachers!) I’m not sure a Grecian criminal record helps when your long-term aim is to become an archaeologist, digging up bits of Europe in the search for treasure, but Indy was able to prove her innocence. 

#1: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Calabria, Italy – 1992

Three weeks in Italy and it’s amazing any of us made it back alive. Events included:

– A minibus driver, whose only English was “fishy fanny”, drove off whilst three of us were still climbing into the back of the minibus. If we hadn’t had the upper body strength to hang on whilst the others collectively yelled “STOP!” we’d have been face-planted in the gravel. 

  
– A beach trip that involved a pedalo, lifeguards and absinthe instead of a refund;

  
– Near-drowning whilst attempting to swim at the same beach, 1) because of a deceptively sudden drop to the seabed that created a perilous current and 2) swimming’s probably not best done after the consumption of absinthe;

– A night out to a middle-of-nowhere club with some local lads with very flash cars who decided to end the night with a road race around the country lanes near the beach resort we’d been taken to for the weekend. Said race was ended by a minibus road block (only a minibus driver as insane as Fishy Fanny would be insane enough to roadblock the Mafia!) and we were frogmarched back to the apartments with a lecture not to discuss the events with our parents when we got home!

And then I had the honour of giving a goodbye speech on the final night…in Italian. The start of the speech is still ingrained on my brain 24 years later: “a nome degli studenti turistico, desiolero ringraziavivi per tutti durante l’ottima tre settemane…” when what I actually wanted to say was “What the actual fuck?!?!”

And a bonus:

You don’t even have to be a pupil for a school trip disaster. For my sister (whose a secondary school teacher) her biggest fear is fire. So when an attraction at a theme park burst into flame (as part of the attraction, I hasten to add, not a really unlucky incident) she literally went into meltdown. Losing your shit in front of your students when you then need retain a sense of authority for the rest of your time away and back in the classroom, is not a good move.

  
And thus, little Boo, it’s no wonder you had a horrible trip. It’s a right of passage, unavoidably in your DNA. And just be glad that these days schools have to do risk assessments and your bus wasn’t allowed in the monkey enclosure at the safari park. It could have been a lot worse.

  
And a tip for the future, as your trips take you to foreign lands always learn how to say the following phrases: “Help!”, “I’m lost,” and “I wish to speak to my lawyer.” Y’know, just in case. 

* * * * *

Update: I’ve amended Indy’s experience in light of her comment below. 

Neither Seen Nor Heard

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the Net,

Facebook and Twitter posts parents can’t forget.

Daily Mail comments, vitriol and spite

“Thank f*ck the kids are back at school

We hate them in our sight.”

Six weeks of school holidays can seem like an eternity for parents, but more so it seems that the elongated experience of having children in the public sphere is just TOO MUCH for certain sections of society. Mostly the intolerant/ignorant/self-centred sections who can’t bear anyone other than other people just like them within their space. Since Brexit, these voices now believe it’s ok to be more intolerant/ignorant/self-centred than ever. Thus the holidays has seen an increase in belligerent voices bemoaning kids these days and poor parenting.

  
My heckles started rising following a report on The Pool on the rise of pre-emptive apology packs parents are increasingly handing out on flights, should they have the audacity to have a small child with them. Because, apparently, small children shouldn’t be allowed to mix in confined public spaces with grown-ups who may not like small children (even if the parents have had to pay an adult fare in order for their child to have such a luxury as a seat to themselves). It’s unacceptable for children to fidget in their seats (even though, actually, 100% screen time isn’t all it takes to keep a small child entertained for 8 hours and the amount of space on an aircraft is clearly too little if a toddler’s feet can spoil the day of the person in front of them) or to make a fuss because their ears hurt. People (who certainly didn’t deserve plastic bags of earplugs and boiled sweets) threw their dummies from their plane seats as the holidays wore on.

And you didn’t have to leave the country to anger the child-hating contingency. Just taking a child out was enough to envoke wrath. Daily Mail writer, Tess Stimson, felt no shame in snapping at a disabled child in a restaurant for banging a spoon on a table. The restaurant appears to have been the last hope saloon for those having a bad day, which made it ok for her to lose her rag…but then not for it to be ok for the kid’s parent to react.

Back in Victorian times children were preferably seen and not heard. These days it would seem people would prefer it if they didn’t have to be seen either. The very hell of ankle-biters getting in the way on public transport or in shops or in cinemas or restaurants. As Tess puts it, “If someone can’t control their child, they should leave them at home with a babysitter.” As though kids run amok 24/7 or parents can predict when/where/how things might go pear-shaped. That’s certainly not how I’ve ever experienced it. But for the sake of sparing the intolerant the experience of being near a child should they kick-off it’s best they just stay indoors attached to their technology?

Except then it’s wrong that children should be so attached to their phones and tablets when what they ought to be experiencing is the outdoors. Preferably the outdoors of the 1950s…in an Enid Blyton book…as though time travel into a fictional realm is ever an option for keeping the kids occupied in the holidays! Ever feel like you can’t win?

  

…far away from any adults who could be offended by the children’s chewing.

A poor mum in my local Morrisons couldn’t win yesterday. Her 3-year-old son was yelling that he wanted a lolly. Without losing her cool she stood her ground whilst also managing to keep her baby calm in its pram. “You’re doing a great job,” I told her as I passed, having had bad experiences in the very same shop myself. But at the other end of the store people were tutting and commenting.

“Well, that’s made sure I never have kids,” some blonde twenty-something flounced.

“Makes you wish for ear defenders,” the check-out woman snarked.

“Actually, I think the mum’s doing great,” I replied. “It’s not easy when they kick-off, but she’s not giving in. That takes some doing. I say good for her.”

“Oh God, the last thing she should do is give him a sodding lolly,” the checkout woman conceded. 

“Even if it means standing her ground despite the screaming. Yep.” And on behalf of that mum I had a big smug smile on my face as I left the store. 

God, I love people changing their tune in the face of reason!

  
Thankfully for Tess Stimson and her child-despising ilk they can breathe a sigh of relief that kids have gone back to school (although now they’ll grumble that the traffic’s so much worse around the time of the school run!). Maybe, with all this spare time, free from the tyranny of other people’s children and all the energy expended complaining online, they should take a look at the adults around them. The ones who get drunk on airlines and the ones who insist on having their chairs reclined for the entire duration of the flight; the ones on trains who have to take up four seats even though they’re alone and the ones who encroach on personal space with their manspreading; the ones who refuse to grow up and clog up the queue on the Dumbo ride at Disney (seriously, it’s a kids’ ride – move over to Orbitron); the ones who bowl down residential streets at 2am steaming drunk and screaming obscenities and the ones at 6pm in family restaurants who insist on loudly calling each other “c*nts” (I winced typing that, but not as much as I did standing next to them with Boo at teatime on Bank Holiday Monday). 

Old enough NOT to be clogging up the queue, even as a mouse!

Wherever you look there are annoying idiots clogging our streets. But because it’s a public place, they’re allowed to be there. Just the same as kids are! Either we all shut ourselves away in fear of grating on somebody’s nerves, or we suck it up and deal with it when somebody’s being an irritant. Kids aren’t born into this world as fully socially-functioning beings, and neither will they ever be if we don’t let them out…even if sometimes that doesn’t go so brilliantly well.
Those who still can’t abide the way parents today pander to their “gremlins” (to quote from a comments thread) might be best to ensure they cram everything into the hours of 9am and 3pm for the next seven weeks. Those people will still be intolerant/ignorant/self-centred muppets though, so if they could provide little ‘apologies for being a knob’ packs to dish out to all those potentially offended with their bigoted views, that would be appreciated. I look forward to receiving my bigotry-blocking earphones. 

Rewind

The start of September and it seems there are two types of parent: those who can’t wait for their kids to go back to school and those mourning the loss of the summer holidays. 

I can understand the first group of parents completely. Maybe it’s the hell of juggling work with childcare. Holiday schemes are expensive; holiday entitlement doesn’t equate to the amount of time the kids have off school; family generosity only runs so far; and it’s a rare employer who’ll let you stash the kids in the bottom drawer of the filing cupboard. It’s not an easy juggle. Or there are the challenges of having a brood around 24/7: the whines of boredom or cries of sibling disharmony; the perpetual requests for chaperoning/food/cash. It’s not hard to simultaneously begrudge teachers their six weeks holiday and consider it as the least they deserve for putting up with 30 needy/whingy bundles of perpetual motion/complete slothfulness each day.

But then I get where the second group is coming from too. We’ve been lucky to have a beautiful summer for once. When the sun’s shining and no one’s crying/sulking on a family day out. Ok, maybe the bliss only lasted for five minutes, but Instagram is there so that even if the days have had blips, all evidence will suggest that you’re living life in an Enid Blyton world (where Fanny and Dick are nothing more than names, rather than insults hissed between siblings in the back of the car).

  
And thus the world seems like a beautiful place. School feels like a cruel prison of thought control – let’s home school and let them learn via the resources of the National Trust!

But actually, there’s a third group of parents: those wondering where the hell August went!

Back in July the holidays loomed large. A familiar dread: what on earth are we going to do with the kids for 6 weeks? So how can we be here so soon?!

Week 1: Ticking off the to-do list

  

It’s vitally important not to let the kids atrophy in a summer of pyjama days and iPads. We will venture forth an expand their minds so that they return to school with abstract knowledge of medieval fortresses and scientific endeavour!

  
Week 2: Holy Joe, where did all of the money go?!

A week of days out, family restaurants en route to home and gift shop purchases and the coffers are suffering.

And, actually, for all of the entrance fees and audio guides, playing in fountains will always be more enthralling than a museum exhibit. 

  
Plus middle-class, middle-aged National Trust women have a low tolerance threshold for children having a meltdown. Perhaps we won’t be taking out that membership just yet.

  
Perhaps we’d better take it a bit easy. Let’s not stray so far from home – the park is lovely and the beach is up the road. Free fun! Or, at least free fun until Noodles discovers the pleasures of the seaside arcades! 

  
Week 3: Crafting (i.e. we’ll never get that sodding glitter out the carpet!)

The kids don’t want to go out in the car any more. Oh well, the odd pyjama day won’t hurt. (Besides, there are no more clean clothes left!) We’ll get the glue out instead and craft a present for Granny, maybe do some baking later. Probably best to wear old/dirty/scruffy clothes for that anyway. Just don’t answer the door to anyone!

  
But then the floor is sticky with PVA, there are paint smears over the walls and the mountains of washing are now sprinkled with glitter! The kitchen is no better. The sink is piled with bowls of melted butter and cake batter*. 

(*Who am I kidding! That cake batter bowl was licked so clean it barely needed washing!)

There’s a layer of flour and icing sugar on every surface and you regret not buying a proper guard for the Kitchen Aid mixer.

  
Moreover, everyone’s so full of raw cake mix that no one wants to eat the buns you’ve so lovingly created. Maybe Granny can have them. We can present them in the tissue box now so covered in rhinestones it looks as though it’s rolled in Dolly Parton’s dressing up box. She’ll love it!

Week 4: What do you mean Granny doesn’t want to have the kids stay for a week?!

And after we’d so kindly given her a rhinestone-encrusted tissue box filled with dodgy-looking biscuits. 

Oh well, we’ll get the school uniform sorted instead. Except the blazers should have been ordered before school broke up for the summer and no one’s stocking the size trousers we need. Do you think Noodles will mind wearing a pleated skirt instead? Just until the shops re-stock…just after Easter when the Back to School stuff gets launched again.

  
Oh, and must remember to send apology flowers to the shop girl in Clarks! No one deserves that sort of hell for minimum wage!

Week 5: I’m done!

Sod it! These holidays are an eternal roll call of parental tortures! We’re out of cash, patience and underwear. Pyjamas rule, hair rushing is overrated, bedtime doesn’t exist in the hope that a late night will result in a lie-in and tablets are our friends (both the medicinal and technological sort)! 

  
Besides, the kids need time to go feral. They’ll be shut indoors for 6 hours a day bending to the will of the curriculum soon enough. Although feral nowadays means they’ve embodied the spirit of the Annoying Orange rather than got dirty playing in the garden.

At least staying in means that all the neglected chores can be done. Except the whirlwind of two children means that things are messed up far quicker than can be tidied by one mum, let alone tackling the bigger projects that need doing. Perhaps I’ll just drink wine instead.

    
Just stay away from other people’s Facebook pictures of their Mediterranean holidays and kid-friendly festivals. They’re probably secretly hating it anyway. In fact, I’m sure an Amaro filter is secret code for this-might-look-like-perfection-but-is-actually-hell-on-earth.

Week 6: Wait, what?!

Woah! What do your an it’s the last week of the holidays?!?! But we haven’t ticked off all the things on our Summer Activity to do list!!! We haven’t signed up for the library reading scheme. We didn’t make it to that theme park. We haven’t done the BFG Dream Jars trail around London. We haven’t made those homemade Jaffa cakes and I haven’t even ordered the name tags for the uniform, let alone sew them in! Sharpie marker will just have to do. It’s worked every other year after all!

And so we cram in what we can. At least by doing it all in the last week they might remember something for their What We Did in the Summer Holidays assignment back at school. Although what we mostly did was sit in traffic with all the other frantic families.

 

The bank holiday traffic was worth it for more fountain fun!
 
And here we are, facing the final weekend before we all take pictures of our kids in front of our front doors. Noodles is about to start school and Boo is moving up to blazer territory. I want to freeze time, but also get a routine back. I’m very much done, but also very much not. Maybe if we could just rewind and do it all again just once? Then maybe I’ll appreciate these golden days of summer, rather than feeling guilty about going to work then guilty that I’m not at work. Maybe I’ll have a better plan and Noodles and Boo will spend less time in their pyjamas. Or maybe it would be just the same. After all, it’s always the same every year. I never quite learn to distinguish between a heartbeat and eternity! And thus the sun sets on another school summer break.

  
There’s only 7 weeks ’til half term anyway.  Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some shirts to label with Sharpie markers.