Thursday, 28 March 2013

Playground politics - Fight or Flight?

This week my daughter was given a choice at school – move off the bench she was sitting on or get kicked. Her options were charmingly laid before her by a boy two years older – and considerably bigger – than her. To my shock, she did as requested and moved. Her pluckier friend however remained at the bench, and interestingly did not receive any punishment for doing so.

When my daughter recounted the story I was quite cross, since her sister had recently witnessed a friend being subjected to an equally unpleasant experience in the playground, and I had told them both after hearing about it that they should try and stand up to people like that. I had basically told them that it is okay to push someone away if they are hurting you or a friend – particularly if it is a boy, and especially if it is an older boy. Scream and shout at them, I instructed, tell them they are not allowed to push you around. Call a grown up and make sure the bully is caught.
No time to learn Jedi mind tricks - get him!!!
But the subject is a sensitive one. Of course I would be mortified if I was called into school because either of my girls had been in a fight, despite practically giving them a green light to bash a bully if needs be. But equally, I can’t bear to think of them being afraid of another child – even a mean one that could actually harm them. Is walking away – even if it is an option – really the best solution? Or should you stand your ground and see what happens? Should you fight fire with fire  – and is 'telling' on someone enough?

If I'm honest, if I thought for one second that they were being bullied or intimidated by another child, I’d have to be held down myself when I saw the parents at pick up. Although I’m sure adults ‘calling each other out’ at the school gates is neither a good example to set, a solution to the problem – or the politically correct way to handle the situation, it would be my gut reaction. And it would certainly make for an unusual front page in the local rag

So how can I teach my children to effectively cope with bullies? Especially when I’m not even sure I can cope with them myself. Because let’s face it, intimidation isn’t just restricted to school playgrounds. How often do we as adults find ourselves doing things we would rather not, saying yes when we want to say no or shying away from a situation because of another person? It happens at work, within families, among friends, in relationships and in everyday situations from the guy peddling dusters at your door to a stranger pushing in front of you at the supermarket. It might not all come with the threat of violence, it might even be cunningly wrapped up as emotional blackmail, but it comes down to the ‘bully’ getting his or her own way because you are afraid of the ramifications of a confrontation.

And perhaps that is why it upsets me so much. I know I have backed down, left good jobs and missed opportunities to avoid upsetting and dealing with difficult people – people that do a good line in overreacting. I can’t bear to think that my girls will go through anything like that later in life – from some miserable idiot that blocks a promotion through jealousy to a boyfriend that doesn’t cut you lose until he has secured his next deal. I don’t want them to feel that anxiety in the pit of your stomach when you know you are putting up and shutting up. I want kick-arse kids – but ones that miraculously don’t get themselves into trouble because of all their ‘tude.
The ultimate blagger - Mummy is too polite to ask him to leave (The Tiger Who Came to Tea - Judith Kerr).
Which leaves me up the do-do creek – without the proverbial paddle. But I guess this is just one of the many paradoxes of parenting. You want your kids to be gentle souls yet tough when needs must, to be self-confident not self-centred, you want them to succeed in life but not be burdened by the worries of practicality, you want them to laugh and play but to study too, to take those risks life presents yet somehow never taste failure.

Basically, you want the impossible for them, because you love them impossibly.

Have you had to deal with bullying – or do you worry about toughening up your kiddo to deal with real life? Is it wrong to hit back – and does ignoring intimidation really work? Help me out by adding your comments and experiences below.

Friday, 22 March 2013

We’ll always have Paris

It’s safe to say that hubby and I did not enjoy our first holiday as parents. We booked a ‘cottage’ for two weeks in Wales (you can see we weren’t thinking straight) when our first daughter was just shy of six months. What fools!

We packed our car like we were moving house. We took a travel cot and all madam’s usual bedding including a lovely soft cot mattress, a high chair (not a travel one mind but our large leather one from home despite the fact there was one in situ), a pushchair, the baby carrier, dummies, tons of toys and books, nappies, wipes, plenty of kiddie clothes to cover every eventuality – and yes, the teeny tiny baby herself.
All aboard the holiday express!!
In fact I was so overwhelmed by packing to meet the imagined needs of my offspring that when it came to gathering my things, I sort of zoned out. I headed up to Wales – yes Wales - with a pair of flip flops, my trainers, a few t-shirts, shorts and a pretty dress in case we went out (ha, ha, ha!!). Note the lack of outer garments.

But despite there being a heat wave in the UK (which we could conveniently observe by watching Royal Ascot on the telly); Wales was cold, so cold. I had to buy not just a jumper, but a hat, scarf and gloves since we were actually rather close to this mountain called Snowden (you may have heard of it, I understand it is quite well known). I refused to buy a coat only because it was summer for crying out loud.
Pack your bags
And crying out loud was another charming feature of the holiday. Our daughter just would not sleep in this unfamiliar environment. All night, every night she screamed. While I was used to not sleeping by then, and pretty much since then, the husband had never had it so bad. After a week of the torture we were broken people and begun to discuss cutting our losses and going home. We would still have a week together, at home, in the sun, with the chance of some sleep, we reasoned. It sounded good.

In the end we decided to stick it out. And fortunately for us, the weather improved and the baby settled down a bit. We were able to have some good days out – memorably at Conwy Castle. We also found a kiddie friendly cafĂ© to eat cakes in. Oh, cakes, my friends in times of need.

Looking back it was a steep learning curve. I’ve certainly never packed as much stuff again – and now I drive a Mini I can get everything myself and the two girls need for an entire week into it and still have leg room. We also know to hang the expense and get more than one bedroom – at least one of you needs to survive until the morning. I also tend to pay a bit more attention to the area I’m visiting if I’ve not been there before. Never again will I find myself navigating thick fog while dressed for the beach.
Plenty to do
One far more successful holiday was a trip to Paris when the baby had somehow morphed into a pre-schooler and was now accompanied by a two-year-old partner in crime. For a city it is incredibly child friendly – with loads of indoor and outdoor attractions. Apparently this is because there are lots of working families in Paris, but typically those families live in apartment blocks with little or no garden space of their own. Consequently the government does a very good job of providing such facilities both during the working week and weekends. And it is of course also home to something even more important to two little girlie girls – Disneyland Paris.
Look! - Tigger is breakdancing outside Sleeping Beauty's castle...
So we have just booked another week in the City of Love. We’ll take the Eurostar and navigate our way to our apartment in the Latin Quarter. And if we can’t carry our luggage easily or pull it along – it’ll be left at home. In the mornings the kids and hubby will head out to buy pain au chocolates, by lunchtime Daddy will be sampling du vin, and by dinner Mummy could well be sporting Minnie Mouse ears. Sparkly is best.

Chocolate for breakfast!

We plan to sail toy boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg pond, get interactive at the Cite des enfants, check out the Eiffel Tower, La Louvre and the Pompidou Centre (minus the child-lost-in- the-lift situation we experienced last time maybe). We’ll eat macaroons at La Laduree and browse in Bon Ton and maybe get a book in Shakespeare and Company. Good times. And I’ll be sure to pack a jacket – in case of freak weather.
Climbing on the culture
And of course we will go to Disneyland Paris because it is amazing and there are real princesses to talk to and you get to ride on a magic carpet and fly in an elephant and go on a boat where little dolls sing ‘it’s a small, small world' endlessly and then there’s a parade and you can see all the princesses again and boo at the baddies…

Hopefully the girls will enjoy it just as much as I will!!!
Sail away with me
Do you have any holiday disasters to share – or any advice to avoid them (I probably need it…)? Let me know in the comment box below!

Friday, 15 March 2013

The school run = no fun

Recently I had begun to dread the mornings. Not because I’d rather pull the duvet back over my head and catch another 40 winks (I’m a parent, I’ve long since given that fantasy up) but because it has become an ordeal to get my youngest out of the front door within the allotted time frame.
Yipee! Another day in Paradise, minus the paradise.
I seemed to be caught up in a never-ending cycle of nagging and threatening, then screaming, then apologizing for screaming, then bargaining then back to screaming again. And to be honest it was exhausting. Tears were often involved. I feared fine lines could be deepening with every twitch of my furrowed brow.

To add to the overall sense of stress, my little Goody-Two-Shoes would be at the door, clutching her book bag, tears welling in her eyes, anxious not to be late for school. Meanwhile my Rebel-Without–A-Cause might well be naked save her ballet pumps, insisting her teddy needed a drink and that it couldn’t be rushed, hair unkempt, teeth unbrushed. There was definitely some negative attention going down!

The only thing that kept me sane was knowing that once the little cherubs where handed over to their teachers, I could go off to my BodyCombat classes at Castle Royle and kick some imaginary butt. And because I have to drive to get there it stopped me from just necking a G&T to cope! (Anyone remember that Harry Enfield sketch where the parents had bottles hidden in cereal packets and the suchlike? I understand it now...).

‘This can’t go on!’ I said to myself (no one else listens) and I decided it was high time I tried to outfox my clever little cub. While I was mulling my tactics over, I happened to babysit for a friend that had a copy of The Incredible Years. Despite the overly optimistic title (unless it means it is incredible that more children are not offered for adoption?) I had a little read and it helped clarify what I needed to do.

Rather than overload The Rebel, with a barrage of instructions I whittled down my demands to just two reachable targets that I hoped would address the worst areas. These goals were to be out of bed by 7.30am, and to take no longer than 10 minutes to get dressed into the school uniform (The Rebel is not a fan of the uniform as you can imagine and would rather wear her shiny leggings and denim shirt of a morning). The book also suggested that kids less than five years of age need immediate rewards, rather than delayed ones.

Rather fortunately I then happened upon a brilliant Lego Friends sticker book when I was grocery shopping – and got a nifty little digital kitchen timer too. Later I sat down with The Rebel ready to begin the negotiation process. I explained that I was not enjoying the mornings and that the situation was going to change. I used my serious face, which sadly makes me look much like my mother. I outlined the two targets and showcased the sticker book. Two targets achieved, meant two stickers in the book.

I also revealed the timer and the amazing powers of time measurement it possessed. Yes, shocking isn’t it? Time is finite and does indeed run out. Every. Single. Morning.
Behold! Dora & Boots have mastered the concept of time...
And good news. The new regime has worked surprisingly well, and in fact this morning we got the personal best record of dressing time down to just three minutes. I have mostly been telling the Rebel that she is a ‘super dresser’ with the sort of fixed smile I see on the faces of the mentally ill. But I must also pat myself on the back for using the ten minute counter to demonstrate the ‘number bonds' of ten, just a little maths revision I like to throw in there. Hey, I’m on fire!

We have also built on our original targets and added a third requirement of being back downstairs by 8.30am. Third target reached? You guessed it – a third sticker in that book.

It’s not much I know, and to non-parents this sort of trivial detail must seem utter madness. But it has greatly improved my mornings and those of Goody-Two-Shoes too. And hopefully The Rebel will grow up to understand how to meet a deadline and plan ahead, surely valuable life skills? If nothing else, she should be a whiz at adding up to ten…
Have you got any tips on how to trick, I mean guide, a child into changing their behaviour? Let me know in the comment box below. I'm always open to new ideas as I fear I may meet more challenges further down the road...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The one where I get a Liebster Award

Whoop whoop! I have been rather kindly nominated for a Liebster Award by the this little house blog.
The Liebster is an award chosen by bloggers for other blogs they’ve taken a liking to. It works like this: I answer 11 questions set by my nominator, add 11 random facts about myself then choose 11 other blogs to ask another 11 other questions of. After that those blogs go on to do the same.
In lieu of a red carpet, designer dress and an acceptance speech, I would like to first thank Claire at this little house – and get straight on to answering those questions
1. If you were stranded on a desert island what would be your 'must have' item?
Sun block. I burn within five minutes of the sun appearing in the sky. But since I live in the UK it’s not that much of a problem…
2. What is your biggest fear?
Fire. Which is probably why I could never get into smoking as a teen. The thought of a tiny little fire near my face was too much.
3. What is your earliest memory?
My Dad coming into my bedroom with an air rifle to kill a spider. I realise now he was taking the mick.
4. If you could live in any era what would it be?
The 1920’s, assuming I was rich and thin enough to enjoy it to the max.
5. What is your biggest vice?
My iPhone. I think I’d run back into a burning building to check it (see #2 for relevance).
6. What would be your dream home?
One that automatically tidied and cleaned itself.
7. What fact would people be surprised to learn about you?
I doubt if I could surprise anyone, I’m an open book.
8. What is relaxation to you?
Massage, but no talking thank you.
9. Biggest regret?
Refusing to take the Oxbridge exam because (I quote teenage Vanessa) ‘I’m not posh enough to be at Oxford or Cambridge’. Doh!
10. Favourite all time film?
Gone With The Wind.
11. If you could be anyone for a day who would it be?
Santa Claus – on Boxing Day. How good must that feel?
Eleven random facts about me
I’m vaguely related to ‘80’s songstress Kim Wilde.
I have high arches.
I can’t parallel park.
I have a real problem pronouncing ‘choreographed’.
I love marzipan.
I fantasize about getting a whippet.
I didn’t drink tea until I was in my twenties.
I don’t like the sensation of having wet sleeves.
My wardrobe is colour coded.
The only mobile number I know is my own.
This weekend I’m going clubbing dressed as a nun.
And finally, the blogs I nominate for a Liebster are (in no particular order):
And the eleven random questions for my Liebsters:
1.    What did you have for tea last night?
2.    What was your favourite item of clothing as a teenager?
3.    Cats or dogs?
4.    Congratulations, you’ve been canonized – but what are you the patron saint of?
5.    Do you owe anyone an apology?
6.    A new government policy says we must all open a shop – what will yours sell?
7.    What is the worst way to spend a Sunday?
8.    Name and shame the first/only person to break your heart
9.    If you could choose your own name, what would it be?
10. Who decides where you go on holiday?
11. What annoying song can you NOT get out of your head?
Go forth and blogify!!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Do you believe in fairies?

We all had a bit of a shock last Sunday. My elder, usually very agile, daughter went head over handlebars on her bike, knocking out her front tooth and cutting her lip. Luckily it was only a baby tooth that was already on the wobble and no serious damage was done, but there was a lot of blood and a lot of crying (enough about me!!!). And to add insult to injury, as she hit the ground, she’d eaten mud.

I'm not convinced this bear is adequately qualified
It was a far cry from the weekend before, when she had been running around in a fetching new party dress, the belle of her birthday sleepover. As she turned seven, and opted for a small gathering rather than a big party, and a green rather than pink outfit, I had begun to realise just how grown up she was getting. And since I’d been watching the parents on ‘Child of Our Time’ rather sadly explaining how their pre-teens really didn’t need them in the same way, thoughts of being dumped by my bigger baby weighed heavily on my mind.

I’ve always considered being a mother is like being caught up in the sickest love story ever. Here is a person that you would instinctively fight tooth and nail to protect, someone that you would die for. And to begin with your baby only has eyes for you. So, you fall hopelessly in love with each other, with everything beyond that barely existing. But if you do your parenting properly, the tiny, perfect bundle you brought into the world merrily leaves you. And you help teach that little turncoat all the things it will need to do just that. Every day of its life, your offspring gets less and less dependent until one day that ‘baby’, packs up its bedroom and leaves you altogether. And you are supposed to applaud each and every step on that journey outta there. Ouch!

Personally the bit I am dreading the most is when my little dreamer gets her heart broken. At the moment she’s so trusting of people and truly believes everyone follows ‘the rules’. I wonder if any young suitor will be safe from my vengeance if I see her sobbing uncontrollably face down on the bed. No seriously, I need a lawyer now to start planning my defence well in advance. I’m learning what I can from TV about forensic evidence already so I can cover my tracks adequately. A rainy day is great day to commit a crime for example because fingerprints are less likely to remain and footprints tend to get blurred (you can have that one for free). It rains a lot in England boys.

But of course I also want her to grow and develop. I want her to travel, and discover skills and talents way beyond those I ever have. I want her to study and love with a passion, to be healthy and happy, take risks and feel exhilarated. But I don’t want her out raving until dawn breaks, vomiting in gutters, wasting her energies on boys that aren’t worth it, trawling developing and dangerous countries and making some seriously bad decisions along the way. So I’m between a rock and a hard place. Oh, and I’m a massive hypocrite.
Even fairies have to grow up...
But last weekend she was definitely my baby again, wrapped up in her duvet on the sofa, with an ice lolly for the swelling, cheering up at the news the tooth fairy would probably rustle up a little something extra because of the trauma. When she went to bed, she wrote the tooth fairy a little note explaining what had happened, hopefully asking for a raise.Of course the tooth fairy wrote back in her teeny, tiny writing, leaving some magic fairy dust along with the bad luck bonus.  And even though she came rushing into my bedroom at 6.20am the next morning to tell me all about it, as long as she still believes in fairies, I’m happy.

Do you long for the days when your child is less dependent – or do you dread an empty nest? Do you fantasise about a time in the not-too-distant future when you can take a ‘comfort break’ alone, but not want your babe to grow up too much too soon? Let me know I’m not the only one with mixed feelings in the comment box below!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Looking for some 'Pinspiration'?

I have a new string to my bow. I am now a bona fide ‘Pinterest Pro’, in that I set up and manage Pinterest accounts for organisations.

I admit on the surface Pinterest looks to many like a load of pretty pictures of clothes you’ll never wear, recipes you’ll never cook and abs you’ll never achieve!! But I love it.
What would Minnie do?
And, I’m not the only one. Pinterest is having a growth spurt – last December stats showed its growth was up almost 40-fold in just six months. This means its fan base has developed almost 5 times faster than that of sites such as Google and Twitter. In fact it’s now the third most popular social networking site, behind Twitter and Facebook.

Pinterest works like a virtual pin board. Once you have an account you set up your own boards and pin images or videos to them, either from a website or by uploading an image you have on your phone or PC. Generally your boards are topic-based – like plans for your kid’s next birthday party. Any pin on Pinterest can be repined by others using the site, and all pins link back to their source, which means your pin can go ‘viral’! You can follow other pinners, maybe your friends, or complete strangers who share your interests. There is also the option to ‘like’ a pin or comment on it.
Barbie could choose an Action Man...
A massive majority (97%!) of Pinterest users are female, and the site is way ahead of the competition when it comes to converting pinners to purchasers (59% of Pinterest users have purchased an item they saw on Pinterest). It’s basically marketing gold!

But more than that – Pinterest is fun! It’s like shopping without leaving your house and the ensuing credit card bill, it can give ideas on interiors without first filling your house with glossy magazines, it can make you laugh and make you cry. You can plan, dream and motivate yourself.

My first Pinterest ‘client’ is a dog breed organization – The Hungarian Vizsla Club – a not-for-profit group that exists to ensure those that are considering buying a puppy or dog of this breed know what to expect, find a reputable breeder and care for that dog correctly throughout its life. It also runs a welfare section that will take in vizslas that can no longer stay with owners. It will pay vet bills and care for that dog until rehoming is possible. This helps take the strain off national charities; that are inundated with abandoned and abused animals.

Through the Pinterest account I am managing for the Club, I hope to ensure people buy healthy pups from breeders following appropriate guidelines and really understand what a vizsla needs in terms of care, exercise and environment. Sure, there are pretty pictures and jokes, but they lead people back to the Club as a point of contact. Sadly, puppy farmers often advertise successfully via the web, and I hope this helps to offset their influence online.

With these thoughts in my mind, this week’s creative writing project is a short story for an anthology that is accepting submissions on the way the lives of humans and animals intersect. It’s a work in progress at this point, but focusses on the healing affects rescue dogs can have on those that adopt them – and in this case – vice versa. My open-hearted, dog-obsessed elder daughter is the inspiration for the little girl in the tale who truly loves her new pet.

If you haven’t already set up a Pinterest account, maybe now is the time? Let me know what your board might cover in the comment box below, the more offbeat the better. Matryoshka? Interspecies buddying? Street art? If you build it, I will come…