we’re more than half-way through the Dadvent Calendar

My husband has been overseas, for work, for nigh on a month. It’s been a busy month, which has been good in some ways – fun, sunny, summery, celebratory – but bad in others, ie : with 3 children in my sole care, each of whom has a packed-out end-of-term calendar, I am exhausted.

To give our children some concept of the time for which he was going to be away, we made what I christened a “Dadvent Calendar” – a series of numbered, decorated envelopes hung with pegs on a string along the length of our hallway. Every evening, the children write on a slip of coloured paper a line or two about what they’ve been up to that day. We kill many birds this way – they get the discipline of regular, journal-style writing, their dad gets a series of off-beat snippets to read when he gets back, so that hopefully he won’t feel that he’s missed out on quite so much and, crucially, I don’t have to answer endless questions of the “When will Daddy be home?” nature, as they are more than capable of counting the un-stuffed envelopes themselves.

Anyway, as I say. We’re on the home stretch. Sorry, did I mention that I was exhausted?

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I asked “Where’s mine?”

Today I attended the end-of-term presentation put on by the gymnastics group that my two eldest children attend every Monday morning. Having been to one of these before, I already kind of knew that it’s something you go to purely for the sake of the happiness of your children; in terms of showcasing the ‘skills’ they’ve supposedly ‘acquired’ over the course of the term, well, let’s just say that I’ve seen them perform more interesting manoeuvres just walking around the supermarket.

Anyway, they enjoy it and there is something in me – I think it’s the bit that is often seen enthusiastically waving an Australian flag – that rejoices in the fact of them starting the week at 8am with an hour of physical activity, however tame that might be.

But their instructor, oh lordy. Whatever ‘skills’ she has ‘acquired’ in the course of her gymnastics career, banter and personableness are not among them. Seriously. Personality of a dial tone, and a voice like an emery board on a garden paving stone.

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After the demonstration (and much enthusiastic clapping) the children were given their medals and certificates. Next, the announcement that there was to be an extra certificate handed out this term: for children who had achieved 100% attendance. Which mine had, and so they were duly called up.

After photos and whatnot, I wandered over to the coach. She regarded my approach warily; last time we spoke, it was because I was insisting that she re-issue their certificates as she’d mis-spelled their surname. She also knows that I’m friends with another parent, a dad, who’s taken her to task about a non-refundable missed (missed by her, not by the child) lesson.

“So that was fun!” I said brightly. “But, um, the certificates … where’s mine?”

Blank look.

“The certificates? For 100% attendance?” I persisted. “Y’know, because like, who’s the one who’s managed to get them here every week? On a Monday? For 8am?”

I’m joking, of course I am. But her complete failure to get it just makes me perverse. She’s still gawping at me.

“Oh! No certificate! I see,” I say. “So – a discount on next term’s fees then, is that it?”

She actually manages to burble something at this point, a fact that is hardly surprising given her refusal to refund my friend the lesson that she’d cancelled.

Finally I laugh. “I’m joking,” I say. “Goodness! Of course I’m joking!”

She’s off the hook, she relaxes, and says something – I could be wrong, because my ears instinctively turn off when confronted with a displeasing voice – about how parents should get certificates ha ha something. I don’t know, something like that. All I know – and I do know that one shouldn’t take pleasure in another’s discomfiture, so shame on me etc etc – but all I know is that, for the rest of the day, whenever I thought of her expressionless, I-totally-don’t-get-your-humour face, it made me chortle.

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their reports were so good

Am I allowed a moment of not-so-quiet maternal pride?

My first and second-born brought their school reports home today.

They were both bloody excellent. Lots of fantastic comments about their strengths and, just as importantly, about their efforts to succeed in areas where they’re not such naturals. Loads of social feedback too, mainly about the fact that they’re both considerate, kind, funny and engaging, with a strong sense of fairness and team-play.

I’m so proud of both of them. Is it okay to say that?

It wasn’t all welling up with tears and swelling up with pride though. There was a laugh to be had; well a quiet smile anyway. On the section of the reports where they’re able to write for themselves what they feel their strengths and favourite things are, there’s a section asking them to say what they feel they’d like to get better at. Reading? Writing? Maths? or Other?

Both of them marked ‘Other’. My son, it seems, would like to get better at football. Fair enough. Lord knows, there’s money enough in it. And I always had a yen to call him Pelé.

My daughter, however, who carries her digital skipping rope with her everywhere, would like to get better at….skipping. Seems that the Skip2Bfit day at school had quite some impact. But once I’d recovered from my quiet chortle, I was rather relieved! I feared I’d put her off skipping for life when I was getting back in to shape after the birth of my third child: without the ability to get out of the house for decent running sessions, I did a lot of Tabata and HIT skipping in the presence of the children. There may have been an instance or two where one of them came too close to me, and consequently to the wildly rotating rope. Hey, I was a house-bound woman on a weight-loss mission. It wasn’t intentional. Honest!

Anyway. Reports. Twirly Toes P and C-Meister-C: I am massively proud of both of you.

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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

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.

he questions fashion, not culture

Children can be mortifying sometimes; of course they can. The open stare, the theatrical point, the loudly voiced question. My daughter had me wishing for the nearest hole several years ago (she was only 2, bless her) when we passed through a supermarket checkout staffed by a rather facially hirsute lady. “Mummy, is that a lady or a man??” she demanded, teeny finger thrusting questioningly in the general direction of the assistant.

They’re better, more polite and more sensitive now that they’re older, of course. Even so, my heart embarked on the start of a little plummet at the airport as my 5 year old son, looking in the direction of a large group of Hasidic Jews, asked loudly: “Mummy, why do people wear stuff like that?”

I launched into a fairly bland explanation about different cultures and customs but was interrupted by “What culture wears pointy shoes?”

I was momentarily stopped in my tracks. “Huh?” I asked, glancing covertly at the shoes the black-robed group of men were wearing.

“There, that guy there,” my son said, with a (I have to say, very subtle) hand gesture towards a big-haired, skinny-jeans clad youth shod in winklepicker-esque shoes. “They look kind of stupid. And uncomfortable. I bet he can’t run fast in them.” He looked down complacently at his own shoes, newly purchased from Gently Elephant. “Not like I can in mine. I’m faster than Usain Bolt in these shoes.”

Curious about sartorial choice yet so accustomed to differences of race and culture that he barely bats an eyelid in their presence. That’s my Town Mouse.

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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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