When Sir Robert McAlpine started building houses in 1869, I think it’s safe to say that there was little provision made in the blueprint for a ‘fairy room’ or a WC with enough headroom to comfortably house an enormous pink bow suspended from the ceiling.
Caitlin’s vision: some day all houses will be built this way
These are just two of the items my six year old daughter, Caitlin, deems a prerequisite in the des res of any young lady in this brave new millennium. She has designed this, by the way, as her entry into a competition to design a dream house by Tigersheds.com, the prize being a marvellous wooden hideout for the garden. Quite why the toilet features so prominently in her design has more, I suspect, to do with the general state of the family waterworks, than it does to any architectural whim.
Were Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud (MBE) to don his leather jacket and wander round, he’d no doubt be stunned by the room filled entirely by a fridge containing nothing but ice cream. Instead of marvelling at the quality of glass and aluminium, he’d be awe-stuck by the room filled entirely by a table for water and sand play.
There are rooms for ‘art’ (more Tate Modern than National Portrait Gallery) and ‘dressing up’ on a scale which would make Kim Kardashian clap her hands with glee. Like many 6 year old little girls, Caitlin thinks nothing of accompanying me to the supermarket in the guise of her favourite Disney princess – the identity of whom changes on the hour. There is a TV room with a screen worthy of our local multiplex and a mysterious ‘secret room’ – presumably in which to imprison her little brother. The house can also be exited by an emergency pole.
It is clear that sleeping does not appear highly on the agenda since there’s no bedroom – which bodes rather ominously for her teen years and food is provided out of the ether by mum’s incredible catering / reheating service.
I quite fancy living there myself.
This is Caitlin’s entry into the #TigercubHideout competition run by www.tigersheds.com inviting children to draw a picture of their dream home.
Ours is a pretty unprepossessing, some may say scruffy, front door. It does not, it has to be said, rank in the top ten front doors of history. These include (in a straw poll conducted in the queue at Tesco) the residence of master sleuth Sherlock Holmes at 22l b Baker Street, 10 Downing Street, the wardrobe entrance to Narnia (N.B. not supplied by IKEA) and the bridge doors on the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek. Then there are the doors to the Big Brother House (most likely IKEA) and, as voted for by Ieuan (aged 5), the doors at our local Pizza Express.
Is it our front door – or a portal to a different space / time reality?
Over the centuries, man has always had the urge to protect his home and property and though we have dispensed with a moat and portcullis, alarms, mortice locks, chains and CCTV systems are important weapons in our armoury against burglary and vandalism. Indeed these items are insisted upon by many insurance companies. Some Tory MPs even still have moats.
Our front doors stand sentinel 24 hours a day, being dressed up only for Halloween or Christmas – the latter being the only time when we actively encourage callers. I have, however, noticed a very strange phenomenon that takes place on a daily basis, whenever I enter through our front door.
From mild mannered and slightly harrassed wife and mother of two, I become ……SuperMum….. a creature forced to inhabit a different reality spanning numerous time zones all at once. My weapons are not, to quote Monty Python, “fear and surprise” (nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition), rather a collection of displeased facial expressions running the gamut from apoplectic to zen (the latter required a serious amount of vino to achieve).
When I step through the magical portal that is our front door, I acquire the ability to multi-task.This may often involve heating up a pizza whilst shouting but it’s still more than one activity at once, isn’t it? I am caterer, chauffeur, laundress and moneylender. I am seamstress, psychologist, tutor and nurse. I am regularly called upon to inspect malfunctioning body parts and required to mend toys with the speed of a ninja.
Working on my ‘Supermum’ look is very time consuming
It is a job whose description expands constantly and which tests my Supermum mettle to the full. And yet another, equally curious transformation occurs when I step back through that same front door on a Saturday night en route to our local hostelry. I become – incredible! – an adult (well, grown up) once again. The husband and I are able to talk about things occurring outside our four walls, knowing that our trusty front door will be keeping the kids and babysitter safe and warm.
I suppose given the protection our trusty front door gives us, an extra special Christmas wreath and possibly an extra Halloween pumpkin are in order. Now that’s a job for Superdad.
This is my entry into the Yale Door creative writing competition.
When I was young I used to share a bedroom with my little sister and, every night, would regale her with (as she recounts it) hilarious tales of her and my adventures in school. Now the clock has turned full circle and I am able to listen to my children (aged 6 and 5) tell each other stories with similarly comedic potential.
My two are always on the lookout for an adventure
To be truthful, this is because there is a rich vein of barely veiled lunacy residing in our family and its precious archives. At tea, my father used to tell us that the gherkin which resided at the bottom of our jar of pickled onions (nope, no idea why) was a monster similar to Nessie but very shy. I spent many a tea time staring at said jar of pickled onions trying to spot the beast. If conversation lulled, father would either take his teeth out or put the tea cosy on his head and pretend to be Napoleon. If mother annoyed him, he would simply place a tea-towel over his head and impersonate a budgie.
My sister and I would frequently get our own back on father, knowing, for example, that he was terrified of snakes and spiders. On one occasion we left a toy snake (an adder, quite realistic, from Bristol Zoo) in the upper branches of our apple tree whilst he was collecting the fruit. The resulting scream could be heard at the end of the street.
Mother was completely unphased by my father’s behaviour, probably because her father, a man we referred to as ‘Flash Harry’ was a legendary mischief-maker and storyteller in his own right. Harry was a bus driver in Plymouth who had been practically blind in one eye for many years. His favourite tale was how he passed his advanced bus driving examination despite his eyesight – hard to believe these days. He would also take my sister and me to look at the scrumpy drinkers collapsed in a heap in Plymouth Market and sing songs such as “Ain’t it grand to be blooming well dead” (Leslie Sarony, 1932) and claim he didn’t want a funeral, just to be stuck in a black bag and put out for the bin men. Nowadays, of course, he’d be stuck kerbside for a fortnight but that’s local government for you.
My mother’s grandfather was a quaint-looking little man who greatly resembled Hercule Poirot and who was an excellent violinist, despite having a wooden arm due to a farming accident. Her own mother came from a family of 11 and several of her uncles were bandsmen in the marines.
So you can see that when I have to reach into the wine o’clock reaches of my imagination to lull the kids into a state of happy peace, I have plenty of material to use. Not least my own, er, foibles and slightly worrying experiences – for example getting locked in a train toilet and having to pull the emergency cord (always a favourite tale), or during a ballet lesson as a young girl doing a pirouette (well, spinning a bit) and having one of the lenses of my black NHS specs fall out and smash on the floor.
My children love all things spooky so I claim to know all the magical healing powers of various gems and herbs. My daughter and I recently made up a ‘potion’, devised by Caitlin, which consisted of one entire apple, some springs of Rosemary and some wine vinegar plus a rock from the garden which we had left out overnight so it could be ‘charged with the moon’s power’. Is there anything truly more magical than a child’s imagination? They both love tales of the naughty goblins who live in the wood and are just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children who wander off the path (or annoy their mother one too many times….).
Halloween is always celebrated by draping lengths of pretend spiders’ webs throughout the house, together with black plastic spiders. We have a plastic full-sized skeleton we have named Mr Bones who joins us for tea. My father’s face last year when he came for a Halloween tea was truly a picture to behold, particularly since we had made sure that there was an ample supply of spiders artfully arranged in the bathroom. This time, though, the extractor fan muffled his scream.
Storytelling, to me, is a vital ingredient in a magical childhood because a good story carries with it lessons about emotions, family, morality and even spirituality. I was, and am still, an avid reader. I somehow managed to finish the school’s reading syllabus first out of my classmates and my English teacher, Mr Jones, would let me have free run of the book cupboard whilst the other pupils dutifully read through the prescribed texts. I can still remember reading The Shrimp & The Anemone (L P Hartley) in the warmth of the schoolroom, basking in the sun and watching the motes of dust from the blackboard chalk swirling in the air. I loved Gerald Durrell’s “My Family & Other Animals” and was lost on the moors with Cathy in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Books were places were magic resided – where stories revealed landscapes as surprising and wonderful as Narnia.
I also used to write avidly. My favourite English assignment was always the essay writing tasks and I have begun to write again. My first short story is posted on my blog here. I have in mind a children’s novel too – featuring a hedgehog and his friends on a magical journey to find an enormous gem buried deep underground which is the beating heart of his woodland home.
My children’s current opus is a series of ‘programmes’ entitled “Hulk and Puppy” where a very grumpy incredible hulk (played with practically no behavioural adjustment by Ieuan) is accompanied by a small, yappy puppy (played rather fetchingly by Caitlin). Each episode involves the puppy ending up in a scrape and a subsequent rescue by Hulk bursting in and smashing things. I am required to provide the voice over and plot development as and when required.
When it all gets too much for me, I just put a tea towel over my head …..
It was the kids’ first ever visit to the cinema today. We visited the Odeon at the Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff to see Disney’s Planes 2: Fire & Rescue. Not put off in the least by the fact that the film is a sequel and since cousin Georgia had come to stay for a few days and could be roped in as a bouncer / minder, off we trekked.
Disney’s Planes 2: Fire and Rescue
Now the first film I saw was in the 1960’s – Disney’s Cinderella with my mum. I remember it being a truly magical experience. In those days it was perfectly acceptable for a girl’s only life goal to be attending a ball and marrying a prince, no matter how lowly their pedigree. On this basis, Kate Middleton must have had wall to wall screenings of Disney movies practically from birth.
Planes 2 told the story of world famous air racer, Dusty who discovers that his engine is damaged and he may never race again. He joins forces with a veteran fire and rescue helicopter, Blade Ranger and his team and together they battle a massive wildfire. This is a movie about second chances and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero. Incidentally, I believe White Dee is undergoing something of a similar transformation in Celebrity Big Brother, but I digress. As usual.
We were greeted cordially by a helpful young man who duly rendered my purse lighter to the tune of approximately £40 (one adult, one teen, two under twelves) and then, having taken the precaution of smuggling a couple of bags of sweets in my voluminous and sticky bag (I carried a pot of honey in it during the Vale of Glamorgan Show and the seal broke), I swallowed hard as I paid £9 for two cokes and a bottle of water.
Into the blackness we went. It was the 13:50 pm showing and the cinema was blissfully uncrowded. There must have been less than 20 film-goers in there and most of those could only just walk. We sat through about a half hour of what seemed like endless adverts, trailers and then adverts again! Sadly, Pearl and Dean no longer feature so I didn’t have the chance to bellow “pa pa pa pa & etc” with the rest of the audience. Those were days (in my youth) of the Orange Maid Ice Lolly (so orange it glowed in the dark) or, if you were particularly reckless the Strawberry Mivvi lolly which had ice cream in the middle. Popcorn was always Butterkist and the drinks on offer, Kiora. Eventually the familiar certification screen appeared and we all settled down to watch.
Planes 2 does take a while to get going, although the thumping soundtrack kept spirits up. And, until the plot thickened, so to speak, we had to put up with my children’s usual comedy ‘let’s drive mum nuts’ routine. I’m sure you will all be familiar with this, but the highlights are, briefly,
* any drink provided will be drained within the first five minutes
* any bagged sweets will be the ‘wrong’ sweets
* Ieuan will be hungry
* Caitlin will have a tummy ache but deny needing the toilet
* After five minutes wrangling in voices hushed to violent hissing, Caitlin will deign to go to the toilet if one of us ‘holds her hand’ when she’s on the seat.
* Once back in her seat and settled down, Caitlin will announce loudly, a propos of nothing, “I feel lonely”
* Ieuan will demand to go home immediately.
Still we survived the 100 minutes running time without too much trouble. The characters, particularly Dusty and Blade are engaging and there are enough comedy characters and the odd adult joke to keep a family interested. I have to say that cinema and tinnitus aren’t a particularly happy combination but the ensuing buzzing was worth introducing the kids to the magic of film.
As we left the cinema, blinking in the bright daylight of the Red Dragon Centre, Ieuan spotted a very small merry-go-round with planes and cars and not daunted by being a tall lad, he tried to prize himself into a plane. Not willing to cough up the statutory £2 for a minute ride, he was unceremoniously removed by me and the usual pout ensued. “Mum”, he announced to the swelling throng in the Centre, “you’ve ruined my life”.
Some time ago now, the Channel 5’s series “Celebrity Autopsy” covered the tragic death of Karen Carpenter through causes related to anorexia. Her death was, it was claimed, due to cardiac arrest and a cocktail of various prescription drugs (some not prescribed). Her heart had been irreversibly damaged by her eating disorder.
I’ve written before about the challenges parents face to address the obesity issue with children. When is it appropriate to tell a child that they are ‘fat’? In this house, we ration ‘bad’ foods as much as we can and try to eat a healthy fruit and veg filled diet but it’s not easy.
Sugar is everywhere and, frankly, rather than bash us all over the head with endless lectures about what we should be eating, our Government would be better off, in my view, setting far more rigid regulations for acceptable sugar content in food and a food labelling system that is printed in a size which those of us who usually forget our reading glasses can actually see.
I was aware, through reading various news publications of internet sites actively promoting Pro-Ana (pro anorexia websites) and pondering what I would do if the ghastly spectre of this disease were to appear in our house, I did a brief, but startlingly alarming search.
Karen Carpenter (Source: clearpathtofitness.com)
What I found was almost a secret lifestyle club where bloggers write about their ‘thinspiration’ and egg each other on (probably the wrong phrase) to eat less than 500 calories a day and do ridiculous numbers of stomach crunches (in the many hundreds).
There are the ‘pro-ana’ rules which clearly state that if you cannot commit to making anorexia the centre of your life, then you are not a true disciple.
To give you an example, here are a few of them. Just a few – because pro anorexia websites are really not places where you want to spend much time…
Ana must be the centre of your life
Eat in front of a mirror, naked or in underwear if possible
Friends will only get in the way; avoid them until you reach your weight loss goals
When you resist the pangs of hunger it means you are not a slave to your body
Being thin is more important than anything
Bones define who we really are. Let them show!
Thin is perfection; I’ll die trying to achieve it.
You get the gist. Now it is clear that the authors of this nonsense are suffering terribly and deserve our sympathy and compassion.
We can argue endlessly about the influence of the Media and our Celebrity Culture. We have become a selfie nation – obsessed with our own reflections.
In Greek mythology, the hunter Narcissus was lured to a pool by Nemesis where he fell in love with his own reflection, and, unable to leave the pool, died. Hence, the term Narcissism – the tragedy being that the sufferer does not realise they are in love with an image.
Kim Kardashian published a book composed entirely of selfies. Girls Aloud bandmate Sarah Harding has been less than polite about Cheryl Cole who has recently been trolled for looking too thin.
‘Real Housewives’ the length and shallows of the NBC Network are posting pictures of themselves resembling what a previous colleague of mine (male) would refer to in terms of disparagement as a ‘rack of lamb’.
It’s all image – a desperate attempt to create an identity which ironically is paper thin and transient as this week’s diet plan. A triumph, generally, of style over content but a tragedy for those youngsters who buy into the ‘dream’ that thin is the be all and end all – and a quicker way to fame than getting an education and, if they are really lucky, these days, a decent job at the end of it.
The really worrying thing about the Pro-Ana ‘manifesto’ is that, on first sight, it reads very similar to the instructions for many of the fad diets we willingly consume in the ‘celeb’ magazines.
Drink lots of green tea to curb hunger pangs. Cut your food into small bits. Chew properly. Distract yourself from food. Exercise.
Commenters on these blog posts encourage each other, offer support about how to stay on the Ana path. It is an unique, but a highly dysfunctional social network.
You can see how easy it would be for an impressionable young person to be drawn into the murky depths because, actually, it’s not really about food.
At the heart of pro-ana is the quest for control.
If you can’t control the other circumstances of your life (and that is one of the inescapable challenges of the human condition), you can, in theory, control the food you put into your body and therefore the way you look.
It’s you versus your body, you versus your friends and family, you versus life itself.
Those in support of free speech will argue that pro anorexia websites have every right to exist. You cannot regulate the content of the internet. All you can do is make sure there are some territories you avoid – and encourage your children to do the same.
However unsettling these sites and blogs are, at least as parents we can arm ourselves with knowledge, learn the signs, counter the arguments. We can support those who promote a positive body image where that image is based on health, confidence and self-acceptance.
We can teach our kids that food is fuel for life but also one of life’s greatest pleasures if treated with respect.
We can teach them that there is a weight at which our bodies function best (and it is not the same for everyone I know).
Most importantly, we can teach them that being loved, respected and cherished has absolutely nothing to do with being thin.
I only recently became a stay at home mum. I used to work. In fact, I started work at 16 (Saturday girl in F. W. Woolworths) and left my last job (Practice Director & Head of Marketing for a local law firm) at 43 – that’s 27 years’ experience of the working world.
But since I became a stay at home mum, it appears this counts for little. Once you become a stay at home mum (SAHM), you experience subtle shifts in your friendships – particularly if your closest friends still work. Not only do priorities change but time itself seems to shift.
Baby Caitlin, born 2007
Irrespective of the fact that full-time childcare is bloody hard, albeit endlessly rewarding, work, it is seen by many mums as a privileged position – and in many ways, I can’t disagree.
No dreadful early morning commute, no adherence to petty rules and regulations, no mind-numbing office politics. But the truth is things are mighty different between the routines (and children) of mums who work and those who don’t.
Come the holidays, those children who are cared for by childminders seem to experience little change to their routines, save for the precious week or so holiday their parents are able to carve into their schedules (and fleeced nicely by the UK Holiday Industry for doing so).
It seems that children who are cared for outside their immediate family develop social skills quicker and benefit from a wider network of friends. These benefits also help the parents who probably get to know each other a little better since their offspring spend much longer periods of time together.
Working mums seem to be able to do more, to fit more into their days, to juggle. When the term ends I am always worried that my kids face a period of social isolation, deprived of their friends – even though I try my hardest to ensure that they meet their buddies over the holidays, I am aware that they usually have only each other for company.
Today, in particular, I have heard the “I’ve nobody to play with” refrain from Ieuan over and over again. It sometimes feels as if I am trying to force their friendships whereas ‘minded’ children appear better ‘networkers’ even at this age and seem to have no problem finding playdates outside of school hours.
When I used to attend Mother & Toddler Groups (which, hands-up, I found awful), there used to be a row of childminders one side of the church hall with the other side comprising grandmothers and perhaps one or two other Stay at Home Mothers (SAHMs).
Occasionally, (whisper it) a MAN would appear to the great consternation of the throng and would be duly scrutinized, ostracized, subsequently pitied and possibly given a cup of tea. The children would run amok, playing in that strange isolation made bearable by sharing a hall with 20 other screaming children, waiting patiently for their reward of a half cup of extremely dilute squash and a biscuit.
Needless to say, Ieuan was happier scaling the stacked tables and trying to dismantle the fire extinguisher to the barely muted ‘tuts’ of the childminders.
Yup. Stay at Home Mums, these days seem to be quite a rare breed. Particularly women embracing motherhood over the age of 40. This creates a further divide because the other SAHMs you do meet are, generally much younger than you are. I can hear you all shouting – “well, what did you expect” and, as an older mum, I know you are right.
The weird thing about being pregnant (at least for me), is that the entire focus is about getting the baby out safe, well and with as little pain as possible. I cannot for the life of me fathom those women who look down on mothers whose children were born by caesarian as if a ‘normal’ birth is some kind of badge of honour. They rank as low, in my book, as those who judge women who are unable or unwilling to breastfeed
My point is that I really had no idea of what was coming. I was not one of those women anxiously researching nurseries for junior. I had a major panic attack just at the thought of packing my hospital bag for the birth.
If you’re feeling the same at the moment, don’t worry – a pack of muslin squares, a couple of nappies, a babygro and some earplugs for you should cover it. You don’t really need an iPod of ‘birthing songs’ or an Evian spray for your face unless you simply must look moisturized at the height of physical discomfort or when you’re high on gas and air.
I also find that friendships with those who do not have children require careful nurturing. It is easy to vanish into the bosom of your family and their routines and not emerge for weeks, if not months. This is natural to you but incredibly rude to them.
Something as simple as a visit to the local pub for a couple of hours requires careful planning. You can forget spontaneity. If you need to pay a babysitter, time with your friends comes at a cost, which can be hard for them to accept (and some may even be offended by this). And when they visit, noise levels are carefully monitored and God forbid that they may accidentally drop the ‘f’ bomb in case junior is scarred or repeats it when the grandparents visit.
You can also resign yourself to the fact that many will view you as less intelligent because you do not work. Even surveys rarely have a box for ‘stay at home parent’. You may find ‘homemaker’ but generally you have to select ‘unemployed’ as the status option. Well, sorry, but I don’t consider myself ‘unemployed’!
Do I want to go back to work? Eventually perhaps. Working at home would be my preference but there seems to be very few stay at home mum jobs. Part of me thinks I should just relax more and take every day as it comes because I am very lucky to have the opportunity to raise my kids full time.
But there’s a tiny part of me that remembers who I used to be when I worked – and misses her.
When I was a child, our holidays were usually either in the homes of our grandparents, in Plymouth, Devon or we’d rent a cottage in one of the beautiful landscapes of the British Isles – the Lakes, Yorkshire or, closer to home, Dolgellau or Aberporth.
In those days, a theme park was an unheard of proposition. Going out to play meant zooming up and down the cul-de-sac on a Mini Moulton or a Chopper bicycle. The most hedonistic experience you could have at the fair ground was going down the log flume whilst consuming a boiling hot doughnut or, possibly, trying to eat candyfloss in a force 10 gale whilst sporting very long hair. The end result was not dissimilar to one of those troll dolls you could buy – or was it a gonk? I never did manage to work out the difference.
But one thing was a reassuring constant. It always rained. Always. Apart from the ‘long, hot summer of 1976’ which most of us, ahem, mature individuals can recall. So, the entire family would sport the lovely, crinkly and sweat inducing garment that is the kagool. Helpfully high visibility, even on the bleakest afternoon up Cader Idris or in the depths of the slate mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog, you could probably spot the Brooks family from space.
We moved like a day-glo orange unit, armed with dad’s rucksack, some cracked plastic camping mugs (which, mother is STILL using) and emergency Kendal Mint Cake (a minty, sugar based confection which tasted fabulous, resembled a brick and could probably knock you out if it were thrown at you). Sandwiches were cheese and tomato (irrespective of the fact that nobody really liked tomato). Crisps were those Salt ‘n’ Shake ones which were murder if you suffered from mouth ulcers and, since the tortured minds at Robinsons had not yet conceived the “Fruit Shoot”, we had squashy, plastic cartons of Kia Ora which was as orange as our kagools.
I tend to spend most school holidays in a complete lather about “how to entertain the kids”. I morph into an irritable, over-anxious Butlins Red Coat of a mother, bemoaning the fact that every venue seems to require a lengthy drive, satnav, and, of course, at least 50 photographs uploaded to Facebook within 30 minutes of returning home. (Here we are on the beach. Here we are eating an ice cream on the beach. Here we are digging a hole – on the beach). Guilty as charged, m’lud but I wish it wasn’t such a compulsion.
If their holiday Facebook statuses are to be believed, other mums seem to spend their time ferrying their offspring the length and breadth of this country’s entertainment venues within the first two weeks of the holidays. They must surely be inhaling Berroca (although it is more likely to be Pinot Grigio). They go abseiling, rock climbing, horse riding, baking, crafting, bbq-ing and face painting.
Well, in the first week of last year’s summer holidays we went to Tesco’s and let me tell you it was a disaster. Despite Ieuan managing to hold on to Kevin (his evil minion), Caitlin managed to lose one of her soft toy puppy collection which resulted in two trips to Cogan on one of the hottest day of the year and much wailing and tears (and that was just me). Then we went to Penarth Headland to some swings with a sea view. Caitlin fell off the swing so the rest of the afternoon was spent in the Heath Hospital A&E. (Cue the usual muttering from the Husband about us consuming far more than our fair share of NHS resources).
I’m beginning to wonder if I would have been better off busing them to Alton Towers and strapping them onto The Smiler for the afternoon. We didn’t have play centres like Parc or the Zone when I was young. If you got your face painted it was because you’d swiped your mother’s Avon lippie while her back was turned. Everything was much simpler, cheaper and probably safer.
So I think I’m going to buy us all kagools in case of inclement weather and take the kids to visit some of the finest pay and display car parks this country has to offer. It’ll be a thermos, cheese and tomato sarnies and ready salted crisps.
And you know what? I think they’d be just as happy. All kids really want is loving attention from their parents. And all I want is an extremely large glass of rioja! You can post that on Facebook.