Another Side

Ok, a confession: I have another blog. (Another two, actually…but this isn’t the post for talk of memorable meals.)

I gave up on this blog for a bit because life became not very funny as we waited for Noodles to be diagnosed with Autism. There aren’t many puns to be had out of a cycle of assessments. And chuckling about public tantrums wasn’t so funny when the child in question was doing so because the world was just being one big struggle.

By the time we finally got his diagnosis this March my head was whirling. I realised I was going to have to decide how much I’d want Noodles to be shaped to conform to the norms of society versus the way he truly is (which is stubborn, single-minded and brilliant – in a lot of ways I wish I could be more like him rather than him more like me). So I started a blog to sort my head out. Thus Living With Edges was born. (BTW Noodles became SP – my Square Peg in a world of round holes – and Boo became Amy, because she said that that’s what she would be called if she had a choice.)

It’s more niche than things here, but some people found me and I have a little band of followers. Im not posting here to boost that number; I don’t expect follows or even for anyone to give it a glance. 

But at the same time, in light of Mental Health Day, my last Edges post was about the realisation that I perpetuate the stigma attached to mental health issues through inaction. (I told you it’s not a giggle-fest over there.) But if I want mental health issues to have acceptance they have to be normalised. And so I thought it was important to post here too: just to say how amazingly proud I am of Noodles.

  
It’s not always easy, but at least we have a better understanding of his issues now and so we’re trying to find a way that suits him as an individual and us as a family. It takes a lot to be different, but he does it with style. 

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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! 

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. 

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.

Til Death Do Us Part

Teflon Man and I celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary last weekend. Twelve years. It was a beautiful day, but I do often regret not choosing a new kitchen instead.

  
But we wouldn’t have celebrated the installation of a new kitchen with a fancy, child-free trip to London, so there’s that. Flash hotel with petal-scattered bed and free champagne. We downed the champers and swept the petals aside…to watch the Olympics (Tom Daley in teeny speedos is all I’m saying). Then a sublime meal in a posh restaurant followed by cocktails in the fancy-pants hotel bar…then a sleepless night due to indigestion! Ah, the romance!

 

After 12 years marriage, the dark is definitely our friend!
 
Sunday morning, our anniversary proper, we exchanged gifts amid the marshmallow-plump duvet. We’ve only ever done cursory gifts for our anniversary mostly in line with the traditional gift list made up by who-knows-who, but which at least offers desperate partners some sort of direction and reminds others that a gift is to be expected!!! (Apart from our third anniversary where the combination of a 9-day-old Boo and a lack of breastfeeding facilities In town meant that I returned home in tears and without a present for TM. But I had just created his child in my body, so I got away with it.)

Some years are harder than others (Year 4: Fruit – a tip: go for a nice, expensive bottle of wine rather than, say, a bunch of bananas) and with the purchase of a bread tin followed by a kitchen knife possibly TM is incrementally buying me the kitchen I could’ve had all those years ago. But this year was easy: silk. I gave TM a tie (which, it turned out, looked suspiciously similar to the ones worn by the waiters at the posh restaurant. I promise I bought it in advance and didn’t haggle with the maitre’d whilst TM was in the gents.) Luckily for TM, I didn’t present it à la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

 
TM meanwhile bypassed the option of lingerie (always a good move as he’d only be bound to get the size wrong, which would only lead to upset whether too big – ‘he thinks I’m fat’ – or too small – ‘I am fat and he wishes I was thinner. Or he was too busy eyeing up the sales girl when he bought it.’) Instead he chose a Hermes style silk scarf. The sort that sophisticated, mostly French women pull off effortlessly, whilst the rest of us mortals struggle with complicated Pinterest instructions to have even a clue what to do with it.

  
I don’t even know how to fold it into the required shape before tying it. But it least it was impossible to get the size wrong.

Back home though I had a bit of a panic. Optimistically assuming that we’ll still be together for our 13th anniversary, I realised that we had now ticked off the major fallback gifts for men: cotton, leather, wool, and silk – hankies, wallet, socks and tie. Only cuff links remain (seeing shaving cream and aftershave isn’t an option on the list) and silver isn’t for another thirteen years!!!

Next year is lace. It’s going to be a struggle. The gift-giving sector of the market is struggling here. I did a Google search and it isn’t pretty. My retinas are still recovering!!! Don’t even go there!

  
  

But it gets worse. Either the list-makers knew they were scraping the bottom of the barrel when lacy g-strings for men became a thing (seriously DON’T look!) or by 15 years of marriage we’re meant to know our other halves well enough to go it alone. I know my other half well enough to know this is a recipe for disaster!

(Exhibit A: remember this?)

  
From 2020 (after lace, ivory and crystal) my anniversary presents are doomed!

And then it struck me. Marriage can be murder, only with a longer sentence for a single decision and we’ve essentially chosen our cellmate (even if sometimes we wonder what the hell we were thinking!). 

  
In which case, the natural filler for those gift blanks are surely the murder weapons from Cluedo.

  
What woman wouldn’t be pleased to receive a spanner after say, sixteen years of marriage. It seems appropriate if you’ve come to think of your husband as a bit of a tool. Some seem like appropriate gifts already – the candlestick more so than the lead piping perhaps. 

  
And could it be an incentive to treat your partner with more respect than a second/third decade of marriage might engender naturally? ‘Perhaps I won’t call him a “cockwomble” out loud in case he stabs me with the anniversary dagger.’  (But then I don’t live somewhere where handguns are kept in bedside tables as standard, and actually, in those places where they are, altercations still happen but tend not to end well, so maybe not.)

But it’s at least a direction for suggestions until someone decides ‘luxury kitchen upgrade’ deserves to be on the list (which it totally does!). Traditionally anniversary gifts can already be appropriated as murder weapons…and surely it’s not just coincidence that I have Cell Block Tango on perma-loop in my head when TM is around. Isn’t it then a natural progression of gift ideas?

One warning though: once you’ve collected your full set of household items/murder weapons (plus some fine-bone china as we stick with tradition for 20 years of wedded bliss) just beware of any invitations to stately homes to celebrate. Or grab your candlestick and head to the library – all’s fair in love, war and anniversary gifts after all.

  

The Lazy Parent’s Guide to Sleepover Parties

Boo turned 9 last week. Halfway to adult – gulp! Last year’s party for her 8th was an unbeatable beast of a celebration: we hired Elsa to entertain the kids (and the adults! – just look at my sister’s enchanted face!).

  
It was wonderful, but I was aware that Boo was on the cusp of out-growing childhood parties, so decided we’d go out with a bang.

Knowing that her celebrations would be more low-key this year, I asked Boo what she wanted to do. She uttered back a word that sends chills through your average parent: “I want a sleepover, please, Mummy.”

The twins only had one sleepover. A game of balloon volleyball resulted in a broken lightbulb all over the sleeping bags, more things got broken (including my spirit) and I staked outside the living room door as we hit the small hours becoming increasingly grumpy until they relented and went to sleep. And then they had the audacity to burst into my bedroom demanding birthday presents at the crack of dawn. Before I could utter the words “Never. Again.” as I closed the door on the final devil child/guest the twins turned to me: “We never want another sleepover again.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to second-time round parenting, the ‘been there done that’ card is rendered null and void. I couldn’t deny Boo’s wishes on the grounds of her her sisters’ past misdemeanours. I decided I would take every reasonable step to make it as stress-free as possible. Here’s how you can too:

1) Ignore Pinterest

The thought of having a bunch of tween girls in my house for 17 hours was enough to bring me out in hives. What the heck was I meant to do with them (given that sleep would be limited and all games of balloon volleyball would be banned).

So I did the obvious and looked at Pinterest for inspiration. Except, whaaaat?!?! Indoor tents, glow-in-the-dark facepaint to ruin said tent and manicure stations worthy of my local salon.

  

Then there were helium balloons to be popped on the hour with a surprise activity in each. That would be 17 activities to think of and source…and fund! (AlthoughI’m guessing the 3am balloon would contain the message “GO THE HELL TO SLEEP!!!”)

 
I clicked the exit button before I ended up ordering coordinated pyjamas and decorate-your-own slippers and asked Boo how she wanted to fill her time (without letting her step anywhere near Google for ideas).

We bought Twister and Zootropolis and teeny tiny nail polishes. I got away with buying £5 air beds from Tesco rather than constructing Bedouin tents. Boo was still happy and I was less frazzled/bankrupt. 

2) Invite Conservatively

Whenever I told friends and family that we were having a sleepover in the run up to P-Day they’d wince. “How many have you got coming?” Numbers play a big factor. Each child equates to at least 1.5 times the likelihood of tears. Luckily we only ended up with three guests. 

Time played favourably in our case. Unintentionally, admittedly, I didn’t get round to handing out invites until the day before the end of term. Five children got invited with zero chance of substitution then when people couldn’t come (which is always inevitable when the party’s slap bang in the middle of the holidays). One child couldn’t make it, one child didn’t turn up. #win.

  

3) The Importance of Good Timing, Part 1

Party day and usually I’m up at the crack of dawn to get everything done before the guests arrive and then wanting to cry when my house hasn’t been turned into a magical palace by early afternoon. (Seriously, one year I even bought paint with the intention of making our front door more appealing before the party. The paint still remains in its tin.)

But the joy of the sleepover (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d say!) is that you’ve literally got all day to get ready with no need to invite guests until dusk. Parents are too grateful to be getting a night to themselves to be peturbed that they’ve got their kids all day and you’ve got time to paint the front door if you wish (although I’d advise indulging in a lie-in in preparation for the late night ahead).

4) Do Not Micro-Manage

Only a fool would arrange a sleepover for kids who need a constant stream of activities. The reason Boo loved the idea of a sleepover was that it made her feel all grown-up. (Bless her little tween heart.) But being grown-up is making your decisions  

  
 Make vague plans for some essential sleepover activities (DVD session, manicures, Truth or Dare, pillow fight, ‘midnight’ snack) and then let them crack on at their own pace.

  
Bonus tip if your daughter is in the Brownies: encourage them to use the party as a chance to earn their Hostess badge. They’ll be responsible for invites, activities, feeding and tidying. All you have to do is keep an eye on things (no maxing out your card on Dominos deliveries for midnight feast fulfilment) and sew on a badge once everything’s done. Result! 

5) Lessen the Workload

Think smart when it comes to activities and food. 

Rather than spending the afternoon covering myself in buttercream in order to provide a stack of cupcakes, I let the girls decorate the cakes themselves. Thanks to the judicious supply of sprinkles and popping candy this kept them occupied for two hours! Mind you, it’s going to take months to get every last spilled sprinkle from our dining room carpet. Oh well, it was a sacrifice worth making.

  
Rather than panicking at the last minute that I hadn’t got Boo party ready (or brushed her hair!) I left it for a makeover session. Boo may have emerged looking even messier (the creative nail art vision of 9-year-olds definitely exceeds their dexterity) but I saved myself even more time and effort.

  
And rather than becoming all Monica Gellar OCD over finger sandwiches and sausage rolls I ordered in pizza and fried chicken. Boo loved it – “I feel like a teenager!” – and rather than lift a finger I just had to tap my thumb. 

Laziness in the guise of being a cool mum. What’s not to like?

6) Call It a Night

The given of the sleepover party is that it will be less sleep, more party. The girls were allowed to stay up late.

I hit my limit before they did. With them settled but still awake I headed to bed, telling them where to find me. They did. At 4.15am! Ridding them of a slug that had decided to join in the party wasn’t my idea of fun at that time, but at least I’d managed to catch some zzzzs first.

7) The Importance of Good Timing, Part 2

Do you know who isn’t fun? Sleep-deprived children! (Especially if you’re a sleep-deprived adult.) But do you know whose best at dealing with grumpy, over-tired children? Their parents, who’ve had the benefit of a night off! 

Allow said parents the benefit of a lie-in (their gratitude will know no bounds as they skip to your door high on the effects of an unbroken night’s sleep) and then pack all guests off before the sleep-deprived grumps kick in.

Midday worked well for us. Everyone left whilst they were still happy and it was far enough into the day to crack open a well-deserved bottle of wine without feeling like an alcoholic. 

So we did it! A sleepover with zero tears, tantrums or insurance claims. And for less effort than a normal party! Boo’s already decided she wants another one next year. 

My Daughter’s Trainers

   

With recent and not so recent terrorist attacks, the world doesn’t feel like such a safe place at the moment. Not that it’s ever been a bubble-wrapped world, but each week at present seems to bring an atrocity that no one could have expected. People out enjoying life, whether on a beach, at a concert, watching fireworks, in a shopping mall…doing normal stuff and then suddenly not. 

School’s out for summer and discussions of holidays and days out come with a side of caution. “But what if…?” enters conversations. “Aren’t you worried about…?” “But if we don’t go the terrorists win.”

(And I know that the threat to holidays and day trips is such a first-world issue, a tiny tip to the whole mess of a situation that affects millions in far more fundamental ways. I know and I feel ashamed of my petty concerns.)

Immigration issues and the possible expansion of the EU to include Turkey definitely influenced the Brexit decision. “But if Turkey join, we’ll essentially have a border with Syria.” Racism has been more blatant since the vote, racist attacks have increased. Red-top newspapers seem more than happy to tar all Muslims with the same brush. Watching ignorant reaction to the news is as depressing as watching the news itself.

I want to feel positive about our world. Most people are good. Most people want to live their best lives and can identify the difference between a militant extremist group and the 99.93% of the faith who equally want to live their best lives without harm.

But at the moment it’s hard. It’s hard with the abundance of images and comments.

And then yesterday I was washing Boo’s trainers. She was off on Brownie pack holiday and needed her trainers, but they were covered in cow poo.

Earlier in the week we’d taken part in our local Race For Life. Set on the Houghton Hall estate, the location was beautiful. It was also home to Brittish Longhorn cattle, sheep and deer. Even though the herds had been penned for the event, the ground was spattered with pats. In 26° heat, they were steaming! 

  
“This is vile,” I thought as I scrapped the dried poo from the treads of the soles. The white stained green and the hot water brought back the stench of the dung. But it also made clear my stance on ISIL.

The event had been great. 1500 girls and women ran, jogged and walked the 5k route to raise funds to save lives. We strode forth, our Pink Army, despite the heat, despite the pats, despite a desire to plant ourselves around the refreshments stall and do a sponsored ice-cream feast instead.

  
The whole field wasn’t bad, only small parts of it. We avoided areas that would have led to certain poo coverage. 

Nevertheless, there wasn’t a single one of us not effected by the poo in some way. Splashed calves, soiled shoes, a photo request that inadvertently led to the combination of a small child and a large pat!

It would have been more pleasant if the poo hadn’t been there. But it didn’t stop us from completing the route, it didn’t make us not want to do it all again next year. The beauty of the field far outweighed the mess and the smell of the pats. The sense of achievement and good achieved by our fund-raising made the world feel good. 

 Doing something felt better than not doing it. Staying at home would have kept Boo’s trainers box-fresh white, but we also wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves as much as we did. 

Nobody knows when or where the next attack will be. Nobody knows who will be affected next. But we can’t shut ourselves away on the off chance that it will be us. Heed guidance, but do stuff. Keep seeing the world as an inherently good place. There may be cow pats out there, but they don’t define the field.