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! 

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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.

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. 

Shuffle ball-change, clap!

Tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change, tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, stamp!

Boo’s had her first tap exam last week. As a result we’d had weeks and weeks of incessant dance practice. In the living room, in the street, on the school run, whilst splashing in puddles. Flap, flap, jump! Tap, snap, stamp, clap!

  

It’s been lovely though to see her perseverance. But, this isn’t a cutesy post about the importance of commitment to her art, but rather a post for all the dance mums and dads who feel they should probably be committed due to the strains of dance devotion.

Fame costs…

  

And so does dance school! There’s an audible collective wince whenever kids come out of a lesson clutching a bit of paper: exam costs, extra classes, special uniform, specific shoes, ribbons, socks, CDs. And just as we think we’ve stopped haemorrhaging money out comes the brown envelopes containing next term’s bill. Ouch!

You chauffeur awaits…

By the end of term we’re all knackered. Weekly normal classes are fine, but when extra classes raises the bar to three days on the trot you end up sat deflated in an overly-small changing room resigned to your fate. 

So There Was a Purpose to Girl’s World

Dress rehearsal and we rocked up with Boo’s hair in a French plait. Everyone else had their daughters’ hair in French pigtails! 

“But I can’t do two!” I wailed (a little over-dramatically, but it had been a long week). 

  
I never had a Girl’s World as a child. I was deprived of hair-braiding technique. But the assumption is that along as being an obligation-free lifestyle, with an endless money tree at the end of our gardens, we’re also professional-level hairdressers. Ballet buns are one thing (you can always use the vacuum for pulled-back perfection of the ponytail) but French plaits are a class above.

From dress-rehearsal to exam day Boo was my living mannequin.

The day before, I nailed it! I’ve never been so relieved. So was Boo’s scalp!

  
Just Call Me Ginger!

Having a child perma-tapping around the house has the same effect on my mind as the average Disney song: it infuses my perception by stealth until I wake up at 3am with it going round in my head.

  
I danced as a child myself (and as an adult too – I’d probably still be doing it if I hadn’t had two teachers retire on me, even though I have the body shape and flexibility of Disney’s dancing hippos). I know my way around a shuffle ball-change. At first I pretend I’m helping Boo by prancing around the living room with her, trying to encourage the syncopated rhythms. My excuse for tapping the routines out when she’s not there? There isn’t one. But I’d nailed the Boogie Woogie.

I draw the line at actually digging my tap shoes out. There is at least that. #dignity

Everyone’s Scared of the Dancing Teacher

  

The kids brace themselves before the lesson. But so do the parents. Miss K is not a patch on Abbey Lee on the Pyramid of Sterness, but there’s a tension around exams and shows. She wants the kids to do well, but you don’t get the best out of them by being nice. The kids want to do well for Miss K, but also don’t want to be called out for messing up. As parents, we sit and hope we’re not called in at the end of the class. Mostly we are. The tears are not always the children’s.

Ta-Dah!

Exam day, the day is sunny but the faces are solemn. Boo is “nervo-cited”. 

  
As she and her friends go in, those of us waiting in the changing room try to spy through the keyhole, trying to work out whose taps are whose. It doesn’t help ease the nerves.

And then the door opens and three grinning faces burst through.

  
And suddenly all the expense, the hours, the insanity seem to be worth it. We’ve a long summer wait before we get the results, but Boo and her friends are already winners.

Well done, dance parents – we made it!

Now just to get that goddamn Boogie Woogie out of my head.

Tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change, tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, stamp!

The Great Cake Bake Race

Initially I thought my last post may have been a little mean about the school summer fête. It’s not easy being a teacher, especially when you’ve got a government selling off schools to academy trusts and no one wants to invest in anything that doesn’t make a fast, demonstrable profit. You’ve got to buy pencils somehow.

…But then the school sent another of their charming letters:

  
“Cheeky Sods,” I thought. It’s the last thing I want to do at the end of a working week. Plus the Why not donate any spare cupcakes… really annoyed me. Of course no one’s going to make ONE cupcake. (Or maybe some people do!)

I was very much determined that a) we wouldn’t be making any cupcakes and b) we would give the whole shebang a wide berth.

Boo had other ideas: 

“I’m going to make an Alice in Wonderland cupcake for the summer fête.”

Oh balls!

I pretty much buried the idea though and last night Eve had commandeered the kitchen to make a birthday cake for her new boyfriend. I was pretty sure I’d got away with it.

Again Boo had other ideas and cried when she came out of school. With the fête less than 2 hours away the time went like this:

  
3.15: Placate Boo’s tears with the promise to make some sodding cakes. Inwardly panic.

3.20: Get home, give Noodles a kiss and head to the kitchen. Do an audit of required ingredients. Breathe a sigh of relief that we only need to get decorations…although I make a note to clear out the cupboards when it turns out the cornflour expired in 2014!

  
3.25: Sketch a rough outline of a cake that might look like it fits Boo’s Alice in Wonderland brief. 

  
3.30: Head out the door and into town. Purchases includes ready-made buttercream icing. Wise move! Thank you, Betty Crocker.

4.00: Back home – £27.78 worse off! – oven on, time to destroy the kitchen. Thankfully a plain sponge isn’t too taxing and 12 buns are in the oven within 10 minutes!

4.10: Along with Boo, eat excessive amounts of cake batter that’s leftover. I suppose I could’ve made extra cakes, but that would’ve meant two batches and I definitely haven’t got time for that.

Feel a little sick.

4.15: Get a bit excited that I’ve bought a hypodermic needle to inject jam into the cakes. (Sad but true.)

4.20: Noodles comes into the kitchen looking for me. I duck behind the counter and pretend I’m not there.

4.25: There’s a little voice squeaking in the living room. Noodles wants a big hug and Curious George. He has to settle for a little squeeze and Curious George. Why does Netflix take so long to get started?!?!

4.30: The cakes are out; they haven’t burnt (much). I start wafting them like a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off.

  
4.35: The cakes aren’t cool, but I start injecting them with jam anyway. I have no idea how much jam I should be using or whether it’s even working. Oh well.

4.40: Noodles decides he wants Thomas the Tank Engine instead of Curious George. Netflix takes an age to decide that this is do-able.

4.45: The icing gets unceremoniously piped. Raspberry sprinkles cover a multitude of sins. (Raspberry sprinkles also cover the entire worktop.) I figure as only one is being judged only one needs the whole works. (I also figure I can clean up later.)

4.46: Noodles wants the same bit of Thomas repeated again and again. I let him watch twice then leg it back to the kitchen for more piping.

4.55: The plumpest-looking cake gets picked for competition entry and is topped with every decoration going. Queen of Hearts playing card: tick. ‘Eat me’ candles: tick. White rose half painted red: Tick. White rabbit telling us we’re late: I wouldn’t have been surprised!

  
“We’ll tell them you made it,” I advise Boo. She nods solemnly. 

5.01: The cakes are packed, shoes and coats are on and we’re out the door. I’ve no idea how our entry got on – within half an hour (aka another £20 spent and a bump to the head later) Noodles has had enough. I gleefully accept the job of taking him home. I don’t have to face more tears when the professional cake-baker – sorry, the professional cake-baker’s daughter – surely wins.

Still, I spot a kid struggling with one of our offerings as jam oozes down his arm. “How’s your cake?” I ask. “I made that!” He gives me a “20 out of 10.” And I’ve done my mum duty for today. (As far as Boo is concerned at least. Teflon Man has moaned that I didn’t get anything for us to eat tonight…talk about never being able to please all of the people!)

At least the little people are smiling tonight.

  

And I’m pretty sure it’s now wine o’clock!

***

An update: Our cupcake won!!!

Totally worth the effort now – Boo’s brought home enough sweets to ensure she’s on a sugar high throughout the summer holidays. 

I think that deserves another glass of wine!

Playground Extortion

    
GROUPCALL:

The school summer fete – our Grand Summer Fiesta – will be held on the last Friday of term. All proceeds to the staff end of term slush fund. 

GROUPCALL:

We will be running a sewing club for the more dexterously-capable children throughout the summer term. The club will run every other weekday when the children will make items to sell at our Grand Summer Fiesta. Please pay £2.00 per session for the cost of materials. (Just be appreciative of the extra hour you’ll get to yourself and the fact you’ll miss the school run traffic.) Participation is non-negotiable.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a NON-UNIFORM DAY on Friday. Please donate DRY/TINNED GOODS ONLY for prizes for the Grand Summer Fiesta

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you for the donations of DRY/TINNED GOODS for our Grand Summer Fiesta. We would like to remind parents that only NEWLY-PURCHASED goods will suffice. Goods returned from the Christmas Extravaganza are NOT acceptable, even if it saves us from having to stick on a new tombola ticket.

GROUPCALL:

Please check out our website. Parents will be able to see the great fun the SEWING GROUP children had when they received their training from real-life sweatshop workers from India. We value the importance in establishing multi-cultural links and promoting a strong work ethos within a capitalist system. All products will be available to buy at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a SPONSORED WALK next week. Please collect as many sponsors as possible so we can buy refreshments for the Grand Summer Fiesta. Further sponsor forms will be available from the school office. The child who collects the most sponsor money will win a FREE RAFFLE TICKET!!! We appreciate this will make the children highly competitive. Don’t let your kid be a loser!

GROUPCALL:

We are looking for parents to donate PRIZES for our RAFFLE at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Laptops/Plasma TVs/Cars all gratefully accepted.

GROUPCALL:

We would like to thank Matthew Lewis’s dad for donating three plasma TVs and an X-Box as prizes for the raffle at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding another NON UNIFORM DAY on Monday. Please donate SWEETS – but NO CHOCOLATE – to be used as prizes at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Due to the children being slower sewers than expected, SEWING CLUB will now be for 2 hours after school EVERY DAY and throughout lunchtimes.

GROUPCALL:

SPORTS DAY will be held this week. Remember, due to data protection issues, NO PHOTOGRAPHY/VIDEO RECORDING will be allowed at the event. However, we will take shoddy photos ourselves, which you will be able to purchase at an inflated price at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Please donate TOYS to be sold at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Box-fresh toys only please. Toys and games already played with will NOT be acceptable.

GROUPCALL:

We send our condolences to Matthew Lewis’s dad who will not be able to attend the Grand Summer Fiesta as he is being held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for burglary. We will be holding a collection at the Fiesta to raise funds for his solicitor.

GROUPCALL:

Please remember that LOST PROPERTY will be available to purchase back at cost price from the Grand Summer Fiesta next week.

GROUPCALL:

Don’t forget you can buy your Grand Summer Fiesta RAFFLE TICKETS in advance from the caretaker from his cabin. Just £5.00 per ticket! Top prize: a BMW that may or may not have been Matthew Lewis’s dad’s getaway car.

  
GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a further NON-UNIFORM DAY on Wednesday. This time please donate CHOCOLATE items for the Grand Summer Fiesta. (If we hide it well enough Mrs Evans shouldn’t be able to eat it ALL by the time of the fete.)

GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta is only days away! Please use this weekend to bake fresh CAKES for sale on the day. Copies of The Great British Bake-Off Cook Book are available for purchase through the school office should you be in need of inspiration. Just £25.00 per copy (RRP £19.99).

  
  
GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta will be held this afternoon. Admission: £1.00 per person (babies under 6 months are free…although pushchairs and prams will incur a £2.50 space-taking fee). 

Bring plenty of cash to buy back all items you’ve donated already at your own expense. Hot dogs and cheap wine will be available from the kitchen at prices comparable to a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

  
Don’t forget your RAFFLE TICKETS – just £10.00 per ticket! 

Deputy Head, Mr Morgan, will also be appearing as Psychic Sue and will be ready to predict your child’s SATs results. The more generous the payment, the better the results!

Once we hit our target we WILL allow the school violin club to STOP PLAYING!!!

We look forward to seeing you there.

GROUPCALL:

Due to bad weather the Grand Summer Fiesta has been CANCELLED. All goods will be divided amongst the staff and PTA. There will be collection tins stationed outside each classroom at home time for you to relieve yourselves of any cash. Alternatively, please visit our JUST GIVING page for donations by debit/credit card/bank transfer/PayPal.

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you to all parents who so generously donated to the school. Please visit our school Facebook page for pictures of our staff night out. A great time was had by all! Have a lovely summer holiday – don’t forget to take over your child’s summer project homework ready to show off when we start back in September! Also look out for announcements of our Christmas Extravaganza preparation when we will raising funds for Mr Cartwright’s new liver!