she admired his skills

Sitting in the sun on Peckham Rye with my 5 year old son, I suddenly spy a familiar face nearby. She’s someone I know from a few years ago, from a seemingly endless but happy round of baby groups, toddler gyms and One O’Clock Clubs, places I frequented, especially on wet days, when I had “3 Under 3” children.

My son has scoffed his lunch so as to maximise football time and is practising his ‘skills’. It’s been a recent thing, this passion – and, actually, talent – for sport. Cricket, football, rugby. All of a sudden he’s into, and good at, all three of them.

The woman I recognise is watching him as she walks towards us. I assume it’s because she vaguely recognises him from toddlerhood and is trying to piece his identity together. When she gets closer, I’ll call out to her.

She looks startled when I wave, holding her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun and squinting at me. “Hello! I didn’t see you there!” she says. And then she glances from me to my son. “Is that..? Oh my goodness! He looks so grown up. I was just admiring his footballing. He’s very good, isn’t he?”

I feel a ridiculous swell of pride. He is very good. It’s not just that though; of course it’s nice to have your children admired, but there’s more to it than that. There’s the pleasure I feel in knowing that his dad is a good’un; one who spends time with his children, plays with them and fosters their enthusiasm about a diverse range of things. And there’s the fact that my brother was, or maybe still is, a brilliant sportsman; he’s always lots of fun with the children when we see him but I can’t now help but look forward to when we next visit him (he lives overseas) and the fun he’ll have with them, and they with him. All up, it’s a good feeling. And so nice to see a familiar, friendly face from a time that, despite not being all that long ago, seems to be rapidly receding in the face of the hectic pace of my current state of motherhood.

Master C playing Beat the Goalie at a summer fair

Master C playing Beat the Goalie at a summer fair

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she called me a mensch

“Do you even know what that means?” she asks.

I’m on the phone to one of my good friends, staring blankly at displays of cards: on my way to post my mother’s 70th birthday present, I am suddenly stricken by anxiety over whether she will want a card saying 70 (“Oh god! Did you really need to remind me?!!”) versus cards that don’t say 70 (it’s a special birthday … will keeping it low-key be construed as a being dismissive/ uncaring?)

“It’s like a schmuck, isn’t it?” I ask, absently, picking up and putting down another card. “Or that woman who moved to New York and discovered the power of the pedicure?”

“No,” says my friend, firmly. “It’s a good, solid, dependable person. Someone who’s just there. You’re so there. You’re always there for me.”

I’m slightly stunned. All I’ve done is make sure she has a place to bring her kids for dinner over the course of the next few weeks: she’s having building work done, and her partner is away. And I am a schmuck – I’m still stressing over the frickin’ card.

I found a card eventually. Even made it to the post office. All of that felt good. But someone telling me that they could count on me, hot on the heels of a period of time where, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had to think about who I can count on felt (in the interests of keeping it Germanic) über gut.

 

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we live in the world today

I haven’t posted in a while. Busy, yes. But also not all that happy. There’s been stuff, pretty rubbish stuff, questioning relationships with friends and relatives, and having to make decisions of a ‘moving on’ nature. Bah. Yuk.

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to “Today I smiled because…” Even when I’m not happy, there’s always something that makes me smile. Like the dad at the fair today, proudly bouncing his toddler daughter on the edge of the bouncy castle, gazing Pimmsily around at all and sundry, oblivious to the fact that her poo-filled pull-up had slipped down her legs and was bouncing, revoltingly, hilariously, by her ankles.

But there was a thing last weekend that’s brought a smile to my face every time I’ve thought about it. My daughter and I had some time together in the afternoon and went to meet the boys and my husband later, where they were playing football with two of my eldest son’s classmates and their dads. As we walked across the Rye to them, I was suddenly struck by the fact that, of the three dads, one (the one I’m married to) was (boringly) hetero and married. One, Muslim and unmarried, but cohabiting/ defacto/ whatever the acceptable term is. And the other, gay, in a relationship that’s about to hit the 20-year mark, and married in a civil ceremony 4 years ago.

I have clear memories of the problems I encountered as the child of a mixed race marriage in the 70s. The world is by no means perfect now, but I love that my children are growing up to question some things while accepting others without a flicker. And, of course, that they are growing up with a dad who’s brilliant, and would be, regardless of colour, race or creed.

she ran with me

We had some of our favouritest friends coming over yesterday afternoon. They’ve got three children too, so, with a total of six children to consider, you sort of want to have all of the food prep in hand before they arrive; even if the kids don’t require your undivided attention, it’s nice to just be able swig on a drink and chat, without wielding a chopping knife in one of your hands.

So. I’d made Nigel Slater’s chocolate & beetroot cake the previous day, thus using up some beetroots that were languishing, near death, in the fridge, before we go away on holiday (I am fanatical about ‘using up before going away’, perhaps the more so because of the time that we returned from France to discover the aftermath of a power cut in the fridge. Mon Dieu, the smell…) Since preparation is everything, I was also canny enough to make the cake exactly as Mr Slater decrees, ie no paleo tweaks to make it even vaguely edible for me. Like I said, we are going on holiday. There will be the wearing of swimming costumes.

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

We decided on pulled pork on soft floury baps with coleslaw: again, all easy to do before anyone arrived (and all stuff that I’d not even countenance eating. Do I need to I remind you? Holiday. Sun. Fewer clothes.) So, once the pork was doused in cider and slow cooking in the oven, and the cabbage and carrot were shredded and resting, there was little to do except deal with the children asking “When will they be here? When are they coming?!”

Annoying. So: bikes in the back of the car and off to the park we went. I run pretty much every day: it’s vital to my state of mind. But when you have a family, you have to tailor your runs to whatever else is going on; I can’t, in all fairness, be off on a long run on a weekend when my husband’s been working all week and the kids are desperate for us to ‘all be together’ – even less so when there’s a shoulder of pork on the go in the oven.

I wore my running kit anyway; what the heck, the kids are bike-competent enough now that I’d be able to at least jog, if not run, as they rode. It was better than nothing. And, you know, there’s that holiday thing next week.

We got to Dulwich Park and whaddaya know, a fair was in residence. As fairs go, it didn’t look too bad; certainly not along the lines of the ones that my poor friend Steph was subjected to this weekend but, FFS, I did not go to the park so that my kids could spunk their college funds on rides and hot dogs: I went so that they could get fresh air and exercise, goddamit. I went so that they could bike-ride and I could run! I went so that they’d stop bugging me (When will they be here?) – not bug me more! (Can we go on a ride? can we? can we? CAN WE???!!)

Pushy mother, moi? Well, yes. But I am Australian. So it’s okay, right? Besides, it’s an Ashes year. My competitive juices are already rising.

Compromise: once around the park on bikes and then Daddy will take you to the fair while Mummy runs.

When I got back to them, there was dissatisfaction in the ranks (of course!) They wanted another ride (of course!!) on the Ferris Wheel but it was 3 people per carriage and at least one adult to accompany children required. So they couldn’t go on it without me.

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But then my husband discovered that he’d already pretty much ploughed through the college fund spare change already, and could only afford three of the £2.50 (!!) seats.

Suddenly, my daughter piped up. “I don’t want to go on the ride. I want to run with Mummy.”

Truly, I know it’s a fine line: inflicting my own issues surrounding food, physique and exercise on my daughter on the one hand, and guiding her, joyfully, in the love of health, nutrition and exercise on the other. I am not about to buy her running kit or get her out of bed to do sixty sit-ups before school. She is beautiful and perfect, but I shy away from harping on this because I don’t ever want her to feel that she’ll be unloved when her beauty and perfection starts, as it inevitably will, to change. I tell her she is healthy, she is strong, she is lovely. I tell her she sparkles. She does.

But I was delighted that she wanted to run with me; and that she wanted to do so more than she wanted to ride on the sodding poxy Ferris Wheel.

So, we ran. Or jogged. Whatever. It was a peach of a day, and there was no need to hurry: just me and my girl sucking up the sunshine and the blazing rhododendrons and wondering whether the boys and Daddy could see us from the top of the Ferris Wheel? And still the joy and expectation of friends, and pork, and cake, to look forward to in the afternoon.

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

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I imparted some useful information

I know. Amazing, huh?

Trust me, it doesn’t happen often.

But yesterday, I bought some rhubarb. So pretty. I used to think that it was pink celery when I was younger, but liking how it looked didn’t bring me anywhere near to liking how it tasted. Yech.

Things are different now. I still have the same sweet tooth that I had as a child but it’s under pretty strict control. Sugars are out, including most fruits, although I do break ranks for berries. But since rhubarb is actually a vegetable, it’s low-carb and low in sugar. Which is why, I guess, you usually need to add so much sugar to it to make it more palatable!

But guess what: if you soak it in cold water for about 20 minutes with a tablespoon of baking powder, it neutralises some of the acidity, meaning that you can use far less sweetening agent when you cook it. The water turns greyish: just drain, rinse and add fresh water to stew. I use Nature’s Garden Stevia from Holland & Barrett since sugar is the very devil itself, but I reckon that a vanilla pod and a touch of cinnamon would work well too.

Anyway, I Instagrammed my rhubarb soaking pinkly and prettily in its pot, noting the baking powder tip, and was oddly thrilled when Facebook friends commented on its usefulness. Like I say, it’s not often that I say anything informative or handy, although I’m a little ripper at trivial nonsense.

Truthfully, though, I can’t take credit for the tip, having read it on theKitchn. I also can’t take credit for the photo of the finished-product, stewed rhubarb, which is from the lovely Thousand Threads blog. Mine came out much looking far less rosy; does the baking soda leach out some of the colour, perhaps? If I made this for guests, I might be tempted to add some berry or beetroot juice, just to amp up the hue. As it was, though, I was pretty happy just eating it, pale though it was, with yoghurt and a huge mug of Higher Living’s cinnamon tea. A couple of friends thinking that I’d said something vaguely clever and my sweet tooth satisfied: good feeling.

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I went to bed against a lightening sky

4am. Can’t remember the last time that happened.

4am sky

4am sky

It was a brilliant night. We had a Eurovision party at our place, and although we had the contest showing on two screens, I’m not convinced that anyone actually watched it.

The children had drawn a country for each person from a hat a few weeks ago, and the idea was that you had to bring some food that was vaguely representative of that country. There were waffles from Belgium, Serbian squid salad, Italian tiramisu, Irish soda bread, German meats and French cheeses. There was Hungarian apple cake, Icelandic prawns, Armenian Turlu, Norwegian gravadlax, Greek dolmades and an Ottolenghi cake for Israel. There was so much food that there were scarcely enough surfaces on which to put it; the effort everyone had gone to was sensational.

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The 26 finalists were written on slips of paper and placed inside a Babushka doll for drawing, but no one had brought money for a sweepstake so we decided to make it that the winner – Denmark, as it happened – had to sing the Bonnie Tyler entry on the Playstation Singstar karaoke; an event that spiralled into full Back-to-the-80s silliness with Human League and Spandau Ballet renditions.

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At the very end of the night there were just a handful of us left in our kitchen, surrounded by loads of empties but just enough full ones, picking olives out of the Greek salad and laughing raucously about inappropriate things. There was, I think, an incident involving the donning of wigs and the ‘theft’ of a piece of wood from a neighbourhood skip; something to do with building a shelf. I feel rough today, but it’s the best kind of rough, and it gave my daughter the chance to play her own version of Freaky Friday with me; as I lay, half-dozing on a beanbag in the garden today, she adopted the role of my mummy and covered me lightly in a blanket, spoon fed my feels-like-the-inside-of-a-birdcage mouth sips of water from a cup and – this bit wasn’t so good – tested me on my spellings. I will hold up my hands – I got 2 wrong – but I swear it was nothing to do with my fuggy head. I mean honestly, since when was finnico a word??!!

I packed away the winter coats and shoes

Enough’s enough, right? I don’t deny that we might have several a few more chilly days ahead but by Jove, I’ve had my wintry outers up to the wotsits.

So today, I pulled out the storage bags containing my summer stuff, packed away the coats and boots and rediscovered my last-season sandals. It’s sad but true to say that many of them bear more than a passing resemblance to footwear I’ve already, avidly, bought this season but I’m nothing if not consistent; it’s completely in character for me to wander into a store wearing, say, a grey sweater and to walk out clutching a bag containing an almost identical knit. The worst example ever of this was the day that I stood in Cos swooning over a navy wool dress with leather patch pockets before it gradually dawned on me that not only did I already own the dress in question: I was in fact wearing it at that very moment.

Anyway. The only thing that’s better than having summery shoes to wear is having the weather and the occasion for wearing them. Yesterday morning? Not so much: I did an MCC Promotions-organised 10km run on Peckham Rye with two other mums from school, where footwear of a functional, rather than fabulous, nature was the order of the day, especially since a gait assessment at Runners Need revealed my hideous overpronation. My trainers are practically platforms, yes, but running in heels has never felt so good.

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In the evening, however, we had dinner at The Begging Bowl with some of our friends, and it was bare legs, Sam Edelman Flynn sandals and fantastically flavoursome food. Today, my husband’s uncle and his partner took us out for lunch at Le Querce, for which I wore winged Ancient Greek sandals bought from Net-a-Porter last summer (along with a Zara dress in a good-to-be-alive shade of green)  The monkfish was amazing and the children seated at the next table were fairly hideous, which had an unhappy effect on noise levels and our ability to converse, but a brilliantly positive impact on how we, and the uncles, regarded the behaviour of our three. Now, I don’t know about other mothers out there, but to me this is pretty much the Holy Grail of a day out: eating delicious food, enjoying the company you’re with, feeling proud of your children and not feeling that every stitch you’re wearing has been chosen purely for matters of “I’m with the kids” practicality but also because you a) actually like them and b) the sun is shining after far, far too long of doing anything but that.

Would I be jinxing matters if I booked a pedi for next week, do you think?

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