Saturday, 17 November 2012

Learn from them all

The best advice I was ever given came from my Grandmother (Nanny B) who said "You don't have to make all the mistakes yourself, child, it's totally acceptable to learn from other people's too."

She was totally right, and it's something I've tried to keep in mind since passing messily through my turbulent teenage years and something I want to pass on to my own children. 

I feel, often - as I'm sure we all do - distinctly flawed, and like I'm failing at this being a parent thing. At being a good friend. At being a nice wife. 

Recently I saw someone tweet a link to an article in the Daily Mail written by a woman who, after beginning to feel somewhat dissatisfied in her marriage, had decided to simply be nicer to her husband. To stop snapping at him, making demands as soon as he got home, to make more effort to speak to him about things, and to just generally be nicer to him. Unsurprisingly the knock on effect was that he was, in turn, nicer to her, their children were nicer to each other and generally the overall feel of the house was far happier - and far from being bored of her marriage she remembered all the things she fell in love with, and she and her husband made time for one another again. 

The story seemed quite straightforward, and after a stressful summer and some long talks here it felt familiar. Not that my husband and I were bored of one another, or that we were close to breaking up - not at all - but we had a long year and were tired, and had been going through the motions of our days without making the time to cuddle and laugh together, and it was beginning to show. 

We, too, had made the choice to spend more time together, to make more effort to speak to and communicate with and enjoy the company of each other. It instantly made our home feel home again, and the children can see the difference and talk to us more. 

We hadn't slid far enough for there to be real cracks, but looking at how we were (or rather weren't) communicating I could see how couples can begin to slide apart without even noticing it happen. 

So reading the article I remembered Nanny B's wise words, and learned from someone else's journey - and have been trying to be a nicer wife, more conscious of my husband and how his day has been rather than expecting him to take over if mine has been hard and being irritated if he feels tired himself! 

In all the stories, the wedding is the happy ending - the couple just drift away to some magical world of happy ever after - but that's such nonsense. The wedding is the beginning, the story happens after that - and you have to take care to be active in the story of your life, or it happens around you and somehow you get left out of your own tale, and none of your characters see you.

This is how I want to parent, too. I want to be an active, interested, caring parent. There are days when it's all too easy to put on the TV and get on with the endless lists of housework, food shopping, cooking, menial tasks that can take the entire day and seem pointless because they are following you around making more mess and getting hungry all over again, and though you're all in the house together you haven't really spent any TIME TOGETHER. 

I see myself doing it and make excuses, and it makes me sad because my children are such great company, so whilst I know that all those jobs need to be done I am making more effort to play, to listen to them, to talk to them, to be involved and interested in their games. 

I want to be an active participant in my life - and it's so easy to be too busy for that. 

image from

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The things you swear you will NEVER do...

Before I had children there was a list as long as my arm of the things I would never, ever do. 

No TV, no sweets, no crisps or cakes or sugar or junk, lots of organic veg and one to one time and reading and classical music. 

I would teach them the wonders of natural, wholesome living, I would love every second of being with them, I wouldn't ever complain about being woken in the night because every second with them is a joy and I would breastfeed until they turned two. 

I wouldn't buy them cheap clothes or toys, only the best. I would never, ever give in to a tantrum - but they wouldn't have them anyway because we would have this amazing, earth mother bond where they never heard or knew about shouting or crying and I interpreted their needs before they ever got distressed. 

I would use cloth nappies and do elimination communication. 

I would expose them to the theatre and live music, which they would sit quietly through and appreciate. 

I would never, ever smack them, ever ever ever. 

If you've had kids you'll know how well we did with that list. You'll have had one similar, no doubt, and you'll have gone through the same STEEP learning curve that we did, and realised that actually you'll do just about the opposite to everything on that list. 

Right now, as I type, my kids are watching cartoons and eating a biscuit, and drinking orange squash with god only knows what chemical sweetners, and they are happy, and I am drinking a cup of tea that is STILL HOT and nobody has shouted yet. Yet. 

However there was one thing on that list that I still swore by and tried my hardest to stick to.

I will never, ever smack - ever, ever, ever. 

I will admit that I have lapsed - I have, on occasion, slapped a hand - away from a hot oven, a hot drink, my eyeball when the nails are digging in, the inside of the loo, a strange dog. I am not proud of it but admit that it has happened. 

I will also admit that on even fewer occasions there has been a smack - just one - on a bottom (padded by clothing, and not hard enough for them to even NOTICE, never mind cry about) for heinous crimes.

This week, though, there was The Spanking. 

This week I, for the first time in my parenting life, genuinely spanked Jellybean.

We're lucky - for all that they have their moments and push their luck sometimes, or play up when they're tired, we have good kids who know when to stop playing up and shush. We've got nice boys - boys, and sods on occasion, but overall nice boys.

This week though Jellybean has been NAUGHTY. 

The highlight - or rather the lowlight - was on Tuesday. We went to the library. I had to go and do something boring at the bank first and because they had been so good whilst I did that and waited so nicely we went to the library - a joy and wonder - to choose TEN WHOLE BOOKS to take home for a week. 

There was lots of laughing, and reading, and slight rowdiness and shushing, then lots of picking books, laughing more, charming the librarian and being excited by getting these new books home to read even more. 

Then I looked down to put my card in my purse and pick up the books from the desk. 

When I looked up, three seconds later, Jellybean was gone. I guessed he'd headed for the door outside because Midget Gem was heading that way, laughing his head off (his usual reaction to Jellybean doing something naughty). I couldn't see Jellybean. 

With my heart in my mouth and a sudden sweat I ran for the door, grabbed Midget Gem and burst outside. I looked left, I looked right, I couldn't see him. Running towards me a young man in headphones. "Another boy? Red top?" - "YES - WHERE?" 

He pointed around the corner - towards the road. I dropped the books, I ran. I caught Jellybean about to step into the road at the crossing (which had A RED MAN, NOT A GREEN MAN) and he saw me coming - laughed - and tried to run away. 

I saw red, I grabbed him and lifted him by one arm into the sky and SHOUTED at him - oh boy was I angry. So angry. He laughed. "Don't you DARE laugh, you NEVER, EVER run away, you NEVER go on the road alone, EVER, you could get KILLED".

Did he say sorry? Did he look upset at the shouting? Did he hell. He laughed at me again, and spat at me. 


I do not think smacking a child is right - but at that moment I pulled him across my knees, crouched by that road, and I spanked him. I spanked him, with Midget Gem standing beside me and headphone man bringing me the books I'd dropped. I spanked him with a street full of strangers watching, and judging me. I spanked him and if he did the same again I would spank him all over again. 

Sorry, me before kids. How little you knew. How young you were. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday - created by Mocha Bean Mummy, now hosted on Love All Blogs

So, Liz Jones then.

Today twitter (and no doubt Mumsnet) and bloggers across the UK are ENRAGED by that there Liz Jones, queen of the daily fail, champion of internet trolling. 

This weekend Mumsnet hosted their first (I think) blogging conference for parent bloggers. These are always a big hit, always packed, and always contain SOME controversy among the thousands of tweets, blogs and opinions. 

Rather cleverly, Liz Jones managed to get herself invited (despite being neither Mum nor blogger) and, rather predictably, scored herself the content of yet another massively controversial, and massively successful, daily mail article.

Now. The fact that she writes for that rag is in itself enough to show that she lacks considerably in the 'morals' and 'decency' departments. 

But come on. The woman is a genius. 

Her job is to write coherent (just) content for a newspaper who rely on hits to their pages to increase their revenue from advertising. Mumsnet have, coincidentally, a similar deal - the more people who visit their websites the more money they make. 

Thus the more traffic that Liz Jones brings to her page the more likely it is that they will give her more money to produce even more vitriol and drivel at a later point. 

The thing is that she is GREAT at this. I mean, she sold her soul to make a living, but she does it well. She knew her audience, she knew which buttons to press, and she knew who to target to bring the most attention. 

She knew exactly what patronising, childish statements to make to enrage the crowd she was discussing. She knew what interests to belittle. What topics of conversation to scorn. 

She ridiculed our interests, our activities, our family lives, our children, our every single action, as a collective. 

It worked. This morning ALL of us were talking about her. All of us read it. Everyone has an opinion. 

My opinion might not be popular - and it's this: she's great. Awful, but great at what she does. She is utterly brilliant at her job. 

It's just a shame that it still fails to make her happy. Ah well. 

Chocolate Christmas cake recipe

I've never made a fruit cake, or a Christmas cake, before - and I decided that this year I would make my first ever. 
Flicking through the Sainsbury's magazine (which, to my embarrassment, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE) I spotted an advert from Dr. Oetker for various items from their range, with a recipe for a chocolate Christmas cake. 

Well. I love Christmas cake. I love chocolate. Who wouldn't want a mixture of the two?!

I had most of the things it asked for in the house, and with a couple of minor edits to the recipe could go right ahead and make it - so that was that decided! 

What the recipe asked for:

200g (1 cup) of dark muscovado sugar
175g (1 cup) chopped butter
500g (1 ready measured big bag, handy! Or 2 big heaped cups) of posh mixed dried fruits. 
100g (half a pot, or quarter of a cup) of halved glace cherries
Zest and juice of one orange
100ml of brandy
100g (half a cup) chopped pecans
100g (half a cup) ground almonds
3 large eggs
200g (2 bars, or 1 cup) melted dark chocolate
200g (1 cup) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground mixed spices
1 tsp ground cinnamon

What I actually used:

1 cup dark muscavado sugar (phew, had some) 
1 cup chopped butter (always)
500g fancy dried fruits (thank you recent health kick and porridge addiction)
1 pot of glace cherries, not halved (too sticky, and a nice bonus when eating it at Christmas) minus the few Midget Gem stole as I baked
100 ml calvados (apple brandy) and a big slosh of port (which is just like orange juice, right?) 
100g sliced almonds, crumbled up a bit
100g chopped walnuts
200g melted dark chocolate (weeping as I did so for the lack of evening munching later) 
1 big cup of plain flour (sieved by Jellybean, so messy) 
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground allspice (that's the same as mixed spice, is it? Who knows) 
1 and a half tsp cinnamon (I wobbled) 

The method:

In a large, heavy bottomed pan mix the sugar, butter, fruit, cherries, (orange juice and zest) port and brandy. Stir on a high heat until it begins to boil, then reduce so it's simmering. Keep stirring for ten minutes. Enjoy the delicious smell. Feel Christmassy and like a PROPER WIFE AND MOTHER. 

Turn the heat off and leave it to cool down for 20 minutes. In this time watch Eastenders on Iplayer and make lunch for small shouting humans. Drink coffee. Sneak a tot of brandy in to your mug. (What?! I was TESTING it!) 

In a big bowl mix the (pecans) walnuts, (ground) almonds, eggs, and melted chocolate. Try to resist a big spoonful (raw eggs are bad for you, or something) have a small spoonful (mmmmmmm).

Dump that into your pan of delicious boozy fruits and stir in well. Add the flour, baking powder and spices and fold together carefully. Let your toddler stir. Wipe the surface. And his hands and face.

Preheat the oven to 140c. (Line a 20cm square tin with two layers of brown paper.) Realise you have no idea how big your square tin is. Assume it's about right. Realise too late you have no brown paper. Improvise with that magic non stick brown thingy you got in the pound shop that stops things sticking to baking trays. 

Pour your mixture into the prepared tin. Swear a bit when the lining stuff folds over and you slop cake mix all over the outside. Rescue it. Pour the rest of the cake mix in. Use your very exciting new bendy spatula to scrape the pan out so that all the mix makes it into the tin. Flatten the top carefully. (Add a layer of brown paper over the top with a 2cm hole in the centre so it won't burn as it cooks) hope it won't burn as it cooks. 

Try to pop the tin in the oven. Swear a little again. Get your oven gloves on and move the shelves in the hot oven so that the tin will fit. Leave it there for two and a half hours. 

Go for a walk with your young children. Carry them home when they decide they've walked too far. Get a stitch, and be kicked in the hips trying to carry an ungrateful toddler. Insist it's lovely to your husband, who is being kicked by the other ungrateful toddler. Get home to a house which smells delicious, just in time to remove the cake from the oven. 

Remove it, leave it for five minutes on the side as you de-welly and coat the small people, hand them juice and biscuits and get your cooling rack out of the cupboard. 

Place the cake on the cooling rack. 

When it's cool the recipe says to cut it into four and ice and decorate it, all ready for Christmas. I'm going to pop it in a tin with a lid and repeatedly sneak more booze into it weekly in the lead up to Christmas, and a week before the big day I'll cut it into four, decorate them and distribute them. In the meantime I will make another, tomorrow, for us to keep. I can't wait!