BLOOMing Bands

Summer 1967 – the Summer of Love; Summer 2014 – the Summer of the Loom Band.

This is not going to make me popular but I’m going to say it anyway. Loom bands (or Loon Bands when you step back and reflect on the elastic band hysteria which has overtaken the world) are or rather were all very well. Am I the only mother who is secretly sick of this kid-friendly but deliriously-frenzied cottage industry?

Ok – I quite liked the craze at the start. It made me feel all cuddly and warm inside (and a smidgeon smug) to think of all my children crafting together, making stuff, creating stuff. Isn’t this precisely the sort of “Blue Peter” moment that most of us dream of – actually hearing my ten year old son say “here’s one I made earlier”. At the start I didn’t mind wearing a collection of intricately woven (or not so intricately woven in the case of my 5 year old) elastic bands – more smug feelings – “look at me – arty, crafty mother” (which incidentally has always been one of my weaker parenting skill sets). However, enough is enough – I have been totally “loom banded” – no finger, toe, ankle, wrist, neck, ponytail in my family is unadorned. I have turned into one giant loom band – elastic fantastic.

I never thought I’d say this but I almost want my children to go back to playing Minecraft if only to stop the incessant requests to make me a ring, a bracelet, an ankle thingy, followed by an in-depth discussion of the pluses/minuses of a “ladder” loom band pattern as opposed to a “fishtail” and finally the constant measuring to see if it fits. Minecraft has always seemed extraordinarily pointless to me – our recent holiday was dominated by a row of children sitting side by side on the sofa on individual iPads inhabiting their own and each other’s virtual worlds – whatever happened to the real world…try talking to each other – radical concept I know. However, pointless as it is, I am starting to think that loom-banding is even more so.

Hats off to the inventor of this craze and the near-mythical hundreds of millions he has supposedly made from it. It reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes. He has convinced us all to part with our hard-earned cash for a load of elastic bands which are no different to common or garden elastic bands except for their garish colours and most offensive of all in some cases for their smell (reference 80s kids – “scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers were way better – particularly bubblegum).

No doubt, come September and the return to school, the craze will be over. What will be left with? About a trillion elastic bands – too small to be of any practical use but small enough to invade every nook and cranny. Oh yes, and a million broken vacuum cleaners. Hoovers all over the country are going on strike at the extra work pressure. I’m sure some entrepreneurial type will appear on Dragons’ Den next series with some impossibly over-valued business idea for all those trillions of elastic bands. But I can’t wait that long – I’m out – I’m loom-banded out. There I’ve said it…”yes, darling, I would love another ring – fishtail please, pink and purple…”

A recent health study has found…

English: Keeping your family active is the bes...

English: Keeping your family active is the best way to avoid obesity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I the only one who is not only bamboozled by but utterly sick of the plethora of medical/health-related news headlines with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. I decided to look back over the last 2 weeks and see exactly what I am supposed to be doing or not supposed to be doing if I were to follow the advice and findings of various reports and it is quite astounding how much tripe there is out there.

Firstly, let’s take the word of the moment: obesity.  This is undoubtedly an increasingly large (no pun intended) problem for this and future generations but it is this very subject which gives rise to some of the most ridiculous studies and conclusions. My favourite groundbreaking study, the results of which have been recently released, is that which comes to the startling conclusion that those living or working near to ‘clusters’ of takeaway outlets are more likely to eat unhealthy food and become obese.  No s*** Sherlock. How much time and money has been wasted in carrying out such an extraordinarily informative study? Another equally useful study of recent weeks concludes that the activity levels of a mother and her child are directly linked – i.e. the more physically active a mother is, the more active her child will be….wow, that is quite astounding.  Surely there can’t be a link between a mother who sits on her sofa watching daytime TV all day, only moving to switch channels and her equally lazy offspring whose ambitions extend to appearing on Jeremy Kyle.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news to those conducting this study but it does seem blindingly obvious to me that this would be the case. Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs springs to mind.

Apparently according to another study, childhood obesity is partly caused by strict parenting.  How convenient, yet another reason for us to pander to our children and to feel guilty for setting any boundaries.  So as not to appear strict, saying “Yes, darling, of course you can have another 6 packets of crisps and 2 cans of coke,” is clearly going to help prevent the obesity epidemic.

According to the newspapers this week, our 5 a day of fruit and vegetables is not enough and we should be aiming for 10 a day.  I can’t work out if that is one of those reverse psychology tricks that the nanny state is playing on us (after all it was April Fools Day this week) or whether this is a genuine piece of advice.  Perhaps by overstating the amount we should eat it will push us into increasing our intake and therefore move us towards actually achieving our 5 a day ( a bit like when I tell my husband that a party starts at 8pm when actually it starts at 9pm but as he is always late, we have got some chance of being on time if he believes me).  However, if the advice is genuine, I am already hyperventilating at the prospect of providing 50 portions of fruit and vegetables daily to my family of 5.

Other than obesity, the most oft reported ‘breakthrough’ studies seem to refer to exercise. Now I realise that doing exercise is a given (or at least in my case wearing sports clothing to mimic taking exercise) but no-one is able to agree on how much, what type and with what intensity.  Take two health headlines in the last week or so: aerobic exercise in your 20s may protect the brain in middle age and jogging can be harmful if done for more than 2-3 hours a week.  As you can imagine, I have paid scant attention to the first as sadly I am so way past my 20s that protecting my brain is really not an option. Although what I am not sure is whether the study means that aerobic exercise is pointless in your 40s – I suspect not, but I can live in hope.  The second headline is music to my ears.  Not only is running, to my mind, the most boring exercise known to man (I realise that I have now alienated scores of you who are running-obsessed) but I have to admit to a feeling of smugness that all those people who have run religiously for hours every week and made me feel unfit and lazy could in fact being doing more harm than good. Exercise in moderation – always been my motto – although I don’t think my definition of moderation and some others would be commensurate .

These are only a small proportion of the findings reported in the press in the last few weeks. Clearly, many studies are extremely important and represent true medical and health progress.  However it seems to me that far too many are plainly ridiculous, with patently obvious conclusions that only serve to contribute to an already overwhelming degree of health anxiety amongst this generation.  In fact, for me, all this conflicting advice leaves me with no option but to ignore it all.  It is not really feasible for me to eat 10 portions of fruit whilst jogging (not too much) but not outside due to pollution from a Saharan dust storm and certainly not in the vicinity of a ‘cluster’ of takeaway outlets and be nice to my children (not strict in the least) all at the same time.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Yum Yum Moments

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer (Photo credit: Gran Canaria Go)

My middle child and I had a row about “Yum Yums” yesterday.  “Yum Yums” for the unitiated are sugar-covered doughnut-type cakes to die-for from Marks & Spencer. I bought Yum Yums as a snack (before you shout, yes, I am aware of the endless lecturing in the media at the moment about sugar being more dangerous than alcohol, drugs, smoking, skydiving, solo circumnavigating the globe etc) thinking that my son would be pleased. I bought them with him in mind, a sort of bribery to get him to his tennis lesson after school.  His response: “I hate Yum Yums, yuk, disgusting”.

So what you may ask?  In itself, nothing new, same old “never getting it right” I suppose.  Predictably, our interaction degenerated from therein to what can only be described as a right royal dressing-down by child of mother. I could rattle on about lack of respect, a need for firmer boundaries, a lecture on courtesy etc but actually although all of the above is valid what I actually started to think about what something quite different: success and how you measure it.

What has my child’s abject horror at the sight of a harmless Yum Yum got to do with that?  Being a parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent, is a job like all other jobs in some ways but a job unlike any other in many ways. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of parenting is the lack of any sort of reassurance that you are doing well, any external acknowledgement of success.  In fact, many people regard staying at home with your children as the soft option.

Many days with children can feel like an endless critique, an interminable ‘Yum Yum moment’. Conversations with children can become negotiations of the greatest sensitivity, requiring the skills of the United Nations.  However when resolution is reached, there is no-one there to say “hey, you did a good job there” or to high-five you. There is no-one to marvel at your patience and ingenuity.  There are no resolution skills courses, no time management courses, no presentation courses to go on in order to further your professionalism.  All this and you are dealing, on a minute by minute basis, with little people who often defy all logic and all reason whilst throwing in the odd tantrum or left field comment such as “I want to be in another family not ours” (my daughter’s most recent refrain) to sorely test your people management skills.

It is not surprising then that we often question our parenting skills, wonder whether we are failing.  We have no annual appraisal, no slap on the back, certainly no bonus or salary increase.  So how do we measure our success?  Success lies in all those moments which make the ‘Yum Yum moment’ worthwhile – when your child is happy, laughing, doing well at school and when they tell you that they love you.  Those moments far outweigh the ‘Yum Yum moments’, they are precious and to be cherished.

There will not be much external approbation and you will have to put up with the glazed-over look at dinner parties when you say you are a stay-at-home mother.  Your successes will not be shouted from the rooftops (although reassuringly your failings will remain largely unnoticed too!) but you will know when you’ve done well and the highs are incomparable with the highs from the average job. It’s worth remembering that actually you are doing the most difficult, most relentless, job of all even if you sometimes doubt your ability to succeed and your hard work goes largely unrecognised.  It is OK to punch the air sometimes and go “yeah” – anyway, probably no-one will notice and if they do, so what?

Enhanced by Zemanta

No Internal Dialogue…

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know where you are with your children.  Yesterday, I went to the hairdresser and had my hair coloured and cut.  My new appearance generated a favourable response from the mothers at school, from my friends and from my husband (once I had pointed out that I had done something to my hair – I couldn’t expect him to notice without prompting).  My youngest child just stared at my head as if I had suddenly grown an extra ear or nose, no comment made but I felt the disapproval.  My middle child didn’t notice any change at all, he was much more concerned with some never-ending explanation of why he had got one thing wrong in his maths test.  My eldest child was more observant and didn’t hold back.  “Don’t like it” he said, “preferred it as it was”. I suppose I should be grateful that he a) noticed and b) didn’t use one of his incomprehensible descriptors like “sick” (although would have quite liked “epic” as I have noticed everything is “epic” for him except me).

It got me thinking about filters.  Children are largely devoid of filters.  Thinking before speaking is a skill which is mostly definitely learned and not inherent. One of the delights of being a stay-at-home mother (let’s face it there have be to some bonuses to a grossly under-appreciated job) is never quite knowing what your child is going to say next and just how inappropriate it can be at the most inopportune moment.   This ranges from the excruciatingly embarrassing – “Mummy, why has that woman got a moustache?”whilst standing approximately three feet away and pointing directly,to the downright bizarre such as when my son asked me in a crowded supermarket whether babies were born out of a mother’s mouth…I didn’t really know where to go with that one except to comment that he was on the right lines with orifices but wrong location!

Generally speaking, however, we can laugh off whatever our children say – admittedly when my daughter asks me whether I want a glass of wine with my breakfast in front of a whole hotel dining room it can be hard (have to resort to the ‘I’m a mother = functioning alcoholic’ line). For adults without filters, there is less excuse but it seems to be a remarkably common condition – I call it “no internal dialogue”. We all know people like that and somehow when an adult tells you how it is – especially with regard to personal appearance – it is not quite as endearing as a five year old child.

Not that long ago, I turned up to meet someone for the first time wearing my gym kit – (for regular readers, I had actually been exercising as opposed to just wearing…) – this person on introduction to me said “who’s been eating all the chocolates then?” (frankly, gob-smackingly awful on its own and BTW before you picture me as morbidly obese, I think my friends would agree that this was not really a fair description).  He followed up this little gem, when realising that perhaps he had said something at best inappropriate at worst downright rude, with the immortal line, “I’m so sorry, I thought you were pregnant” (which I most definitely am not). As you can imagine the meeting was nothing short of excruciating after that – although I have to admit to enjoying watching him squirm.

So let’s enjoy all the wonderful, bizarre, sometimes inappropriate things our children come out with and for those of you without any “internal dialogue”, engage brain before mouth.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Lost in Translation…

Cover of "Do I Look Fat in This"

Cover of Do I Look Fat in This

Many years ago, in one of my many professional incarnations, I taught English to foreign students.  Some found the English Language fairly easy to learn, others less so.  However one thing that always caused confusion was when I explained that often when an English speaker says something, they actually mean something totally different.  I don’t know how much this is an issue in other languages – my grasp of other languages is so embarrassingly bad that I can barely tussle with the literal meaning let along any subtext.

In English, as spoken by a Brit,  however, subtext and etiquette play a huge part in the language and failing to see the subtext is a minefield which many have accidentally wandered into.

Take the innocuous “You must come for dinner, let’s get a date in the diary” or “I’ll give you a call”.  Woe betide you should think that is what the person actually means.  Don’t make the mistake of fishing out your diary or worse still waiting by the phone for it to ring.  When we say these things what we actually mean is “my diary is full for the next six months” and “I have absolutely no intention of ringing you”. We’re not being rude, it’s just that it is much easier to be faux-polite and to exchange the required formalities than it is to say “Bye then, I’ll see you around” which is what we really mean.

The British are for ever saying “sorry” or “I’m sure it’s my fault”.  This is not because we think we are at fault; confusingly quite the opposite.  Saying “sorry” is an automatic response for us Brits.  “Sorry” in this context is not remotely intended as an apology but again is a form of politeness.  Probably the worst thing you could say in response would be “apology accepted” – be warned, there was no apology intended.  It’s just words.

This politeness is acutely apparent at the British dinner party.  When presented with flowers or a gift by a guest, the hostess will inevitably murmur “Oh you shouldn’t have…”.  This is another example of where what we say is actually the opposite of what we mean.  What your hostess actually means is “Yes you should have bought me something, I’ve been up since 6am cooking your bloody dinner and sweating blood, sweat and tears over Nigella and Jamie Oliver”.

A common mistake that non-British people make when meeting a Brit is in response to the oft-used question “How are you?” or “How are you doing?”.  This question is almost rhetorical in nature.  The person is not remotely interested in how you actually are, but courtesy and greeting formality demand the use of such a question.  The mistake commonly made is to reply with a lengthy account of your current medical status.  This is neither required or indeed desired.

Relationships are another linguistical minefield with some very clear rules.  If a woman asks “Do I look fat in this?” do not hesitate to consider your answer.  Any hesitation will be taken as doubt by the woman.  This question is a stock question which requires a stock answer for reassurance purposes only.  The woman is not actually interested in whether you actually think she does look fat in it, she just wants to hear you say “Of course not, darling”.  Whatever you do, do not try and give a fuller answer – for example, “not at all but I think the red dress looks better” – as this will only serve to antagonise the woman and result in the accusation being levelled at you, “You do think I’m fat, don’t you!”  Take the easy option, you are not required to answer with any more detail, in fact it is actively discouraged.

If you are out with a group of people and you hear someone describe another person as “having a heart of gold” or “such a lovely, kind person”, do not be fooled – this is subtext speak for that person being, how do I put it kindly, “no oil painting”.  In fact, we have a lot of expressions which thinly disguise the brutal truth – my personal favourite is “he/she is not the sharpest knife in the drawer” – sounds so much kinder than “thick as two short planks”.

There is one situation though where you can take what we say at face value.  If your girlfriend/partner/wife says to you, “I’m really sorry but I’ve got a headache” – she means it.  Yes, there is a subtext here, of course, and by all means offer her a paracetamol but don’t dispute it, otherwise the headache will inevitably get worse and recur more often.

Enhanced by Zemanta

HS2 – the end of the line? Politics – who cares?

HS2 Crosses Here

HS2 Crosses Here (Photo credit: R~P~M)

I am going to do something a little bit different today with my blog piece.  Don’t worry, I am not going to stop ranting.  I said a little bit different, not completely out of character. Today I want to drag myself away from the usual preoccupations of a 40 something year old mother of three and write about something which makes me both very cross and also seriously concerned about the future of politics in this country.

What’s got me so worked up?  Yesterday, I did a little bit of work on a briefing for the campaign against HS2 (the High Speed 2 rail link for those who don’t live in the UK and for those who do but don’t think it will affect them in the slightest (more on this later)).  Firstly I have to declare an interest – I live very close to the proposed line in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I can almost hear you all switch off – “oh she’s a NIMBY”. Yes, I am a NIMBY but then isn’t everyone?  If a motorway or a railway line was going to be built through your back garden, you wouldn’t welcome it with open arms, would you? NIMBY is a totally meaningless expression, used as a cheap stock insult thrown at protesters to try and undermine their protests and dismiss the validity of their viewpoint.

So, yes, I am a NIMBY but wake-up everyone else who doesn’t live anywhere near the proposed line, this project will affect you, will cost you and will not benefit you.  This Government is using the word NIMBY to alienate us from you, to pull the wool over your eyes, to convince you that this is a project of huge economic, environmental and business potential.

I am not going to bore you with a mountain of statistics and figures – that would be extremely tedious and I don’t even need to because the arguments in favour of HS2 are so fragile and tenuous that you don’t have to dig very deep to expose its nonsensical foundation. Suffice to say that HS2 will undoubtedly cost way more than is predicted as these projects have a habit of doing and the purported benefits are highly disputable.  The latest strategic case is built on frankly questionable assumptions and flawed projections, many of which the Government has failed to provide evidence to support, and as I suspect happens with so many of these projects, once you look behind the headline figures, the calculations are a moveable feast, open to some quite blatant manipulation to suit purpose.

Forget the numbers.  HS2 does not stack up on any level.  All I keep hearing is how we need this super-duper railway system to rival those in other countries like China, France and Germany.  Hello, why do we? One glance at the map answers that question.  We are not a large country, people do not have to travel huge distances between cities – London to Birmingham cannot be compared to Shanghai to Beijing – that’s patently ridiculous.

Apparently we desperately need more capacity as all our trains are overcrowded and business travel numbers will dramatically increase in the future. I don’t agree. With the exception of some extremely busy commuter routes, most of our trains run half empty and surely a dramatic increase in business travel is unlikely as technology progresses further and the need to meet face-to-face diminishes? Even if it does increase, why does anyone need to get to Birmingham and beyond any quicker? The Government seems to be assuming that all business travellers sit on the train, twiddling their thumbs and playing “Angry Birds” on their phones. Most business travellers work on the train – in fact, many relish the opportunity to get things done which they don’t have time for at other times of the day.  Where’s the economic benefit to shorter journey times? Why not just upgrade current railway lines – way cheaper, just as effective?

So no real economic benefit. What about environmental benefit?  The argument about HS2 providing “green” benefits has been largely abandoned – it just does not.  Instead it will destroy some of our most beautiful ancient woodlands and habitats, something which we have a responsibility to preserve for future generations. Take where I live, for example, in the Chilterns AONB – how ironic that I can’t do anything to my house without jumping through thousands of hoops with planning etc but the Government can authorise a train line which will scythe through the countryside, destroying mile upon mile of both land and housing.

I know what you’re thinking – may be she has got a point but frankly it is not really going to affect me.  Wrong. If you are a tax payer, you will be paying for this. Is this where you want to see your money spent (wasted?). Think about your own local area for a minute – is there perhaps a hospital that is being forced to close, a school that requires some serious investment or public services which require upgrading? Wouldn’t you rather see money spent on these things that actually do affect you, rather than a wasteful, unnecessary rail link which appears to be nothing more than a vanity project, a useless legacy which this Government seems determined to leave for future generations?

Looking more closely at HS2 has left me ever more concerned about politics in this country. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of us believe absolutely nothing which comes out of politicians’ mouthes. HS2 is so clearly, in my mind, one of the most outrageously wasteful projects of recent times and the fact that the Government is still trying to “persuade” us that it is for our benefit only goes to make me mistrust their motivations on all other issues both at home and abroad. The result – well me – I’m  mistrustful, skeptical, cross at the actions of politicians, verging on “giving up” on politics. What about for our children?  What sort of faith can they possibly have in our political system if it is so patently not acting in their best interests, if there is always another agenda? In my mind this can only lead to a generation of young people who are totally apathetic about and disinterested in politics.  This is a serious state of affairs and one which politicians need to address urgently.  Trust has to be rebuilt, respect for the people that politicians serve needs to be regained.  HS2 is a small issue on the world stage, of course I appreciate that, but a generation of young people who are simply not interested in politics is not.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Perceptions

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Ça...

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Çamaşır Makinesi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I was in any doubt as to what my children think of me then my daughter has put me entirely straight on the matter.  Aged 4 she has become rather obsessed with the bigger questions in life – how do we die? When do we die?  Where do we go when we die?  I have tried my best to answer her questions in a way she would understand, reassuring her without looking totally clueless.  However, it would appear that her concerns were slightly more mundane – nodding sagely as I told her about the ins and outs of Heaven, she asked “when you die, who will do the laundry?”  If ever a question could bring one crashing down to earth from the contemplation of the esoteric delights of Heaven, then this is it.  My daughter sees me as a washing machine.  Her concerns about me dying are not about losing a loved one but rather focused on who will ensure she has a clean school uniform for Monday.

I would like to say that my sons who are older (and therefore supposedly wiser) can appreciate the finer points of who I am.  This is not the case.  My elder son seems to think that I do nothing all day and his regular accusation is “Mum, you don’t do anything for us”.  I can honestly say that there is hardly anything that I can imagine that my son could say that annoys me more than that particular accusation.  It is guaranteed to send me into a rant about the usual “you don’t know how lucky you are” stuff and an endless list of examples of my activity on his behalf. Rant over, I always ask myself why on earth I felt it necessary to justify my existence to a 9 year old…but I can’t stop myself. My extreme reaction to his statement always bemuses him and my humiliation is complete when he says “it’s ok, mum, no need to get all stressed, I didn’t mean it”.

My middle son is trying to get his head around the fact that I did have a career before I accepted this long-term, badly paid, hideously long hours position of mother.  He asked what I did before I had children and when I told him that I had worked in an office like his father does now, he looked incredulous.  He asked me what my job is now, “Cleaner, taxi driver, cook, children’s social diary co-ordinator” I replied. Incredulous look again. “But when do you do all those jobs?  Do you do them when we are in bed?” he asked. Clearly my description of my current job status did not ring any bells with him at all and I am slightly concerned that he now thinks that when he is tucked up in bed, I am busy driving around the county with a 2 way radio, taxi-ing random people from here to there before returning to cook 40 covers in a restaurant and finishing off with a few hours cleaning. Perception that I was working those sort of hours would at least explain why my daughter recently asked me if I had been 100 years old yet.

Does it bother me that my children perceive me like this?  No, not really, after all this is what I do at the moment, at this stage in our lives. Yes, it would be nice if just once a week, one child picked up a wet towel abandoned on the floor after a bath, folded it and put it back on the towel rail in the bathroom – but I know this is just a pipe dream. Yes, it would be nice if just once a month, one child attempted the highly difficult and dangerous task of placing a plate in the dishwasher – but I know this is beyond all expectations.

What does bother me a little bit more is my own perception of myself as only the sum of these things.  2014 needs to be the year when I put this to rest and strike off “professional procrastinator” from my CV.  Of course I shall continue to be a fairly average cleaner, taxi driver etc for my children, but also this year is my year to start something for myself.  This blog was the start of it for me – this writing lark, and now I’ve got to get out there and do something with it….if only to see the incredulous look on my children’s faces if I do something that surprises them, something that falls outside of my usual job remit!

Enhanced by Zemanta