Little Princess Syndrome

Cinderella (Disney character)

Cinderella (Disney character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a very interesting article in The Times yesterday entitled “Unhappy daughters: how we are raising a troubled generation”.  The article included extracts from a book about to be published , “21st Century Girls”, by Sue Palmer, a former primary school head.

In the book, Sue Palmer writes of three stages of girlhood (as she sees it): From birth (Little Princess Syndrome), From age 8 (The rise of the electronic bedsit), From age 12 (Sex and self-confidence).  It is interesting how all these books on raising girls are suddenly appearing – historically, there seem to have been many more books about raising boys.  Why has this been the case?  Perhaps traditionally boys have been perceived as more “tricky” in the younger stages of life and that problems with girls don’t arise so much until the teenage years. This proliferation of books about raising girls would suggest that there has been a shift and that we should be as concerned about the issues (inherent and imposed) of raising our girls.

The issues raised by the book are far too numerous and complex to discuss in a blog post but the first stage of girlhood – the stage I am currently at with my daughter (and therefore the only one I can really comment on) – the so-called “Little Princess Syndrome” which  the author believes “is now practically endemic across society” –  caused me to stop and think.  Sue Palmer talks about how the aggressive marketing and constant onscreen portrayals of princesses such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to which our daughters are exposed from a very young age have a serious and long-lasting effect on behaviour and create an obsession with appearance from a frighteningly young age.  She goes on to say that “since princesses are traditionally self-obsessed and high-handed, she [daughter] may then start acting like a small, pink potentate.  If, when she starts pre-school, she meets up with other girls who’ve adopted the same persona, the princess culture may begin to threaten parental authority”.

Is this stretching the point too far?  Instinctively I want to say “Yes” – after all, little girls have role-played as princesses for hundreds of years but perhaps she has a valid point.  Everywhere I look, and therefore everywhere my daughter looks, there is “princess” stuff: the TV is constantly spouting it; the toy shops are full of princess regalia; there are “princess” sticker books, “princess” magnetic dolls to dress, ‘princess” secret journals….it is never-ending. Then again, is anyone suggesting that all the Thomas the Tank Engine or Spiderman paraphernalia that is pushed at our young boys is going to create a generation of train-drivers and arachnid obsessed superheroes (and the associated behaviours of both?!).  No, of course not, so what is it about this “princess” pushing that should be any different?

My little girl adores dressing up and indeed most days after pre-school will come home and immediately change into her Sleeping Beauty (current favourite) outfit.  She will clomp around the house in her faux-high heels, wearing a particularly garish tiara, carrying a handbag “just like yours, mummy” (except, to reassure you, I don’t tend to go out with a neon-pink, bejewelled plastic number on an everyday basis).  If Sue Palmer is to be believed, all this pre-occupation with princesses, appearance and dressing up “can effect her capacity to “lose herself” in play of all kinds.”  I don’t really buy into this.  From my limited experience, my daughter is streets ahead of my boys when it comes to creative play and can often be found lost in her imaginary world (admittedly which usually features Sleeping Beauty or the like, but certainly not exclusively).

I shall admit I probably do indulge her “girliness” – although often through sheer attrition – for example, when she has asked me for the millionth time in one afternoon if she can wear nail varnish, I might just find myself saying “OK”!  Am I as bad as the big marketing men and the TV moguls pushing “princess” behaviour on my daughter?

At the heart of this, it seems to me, is that age-old argument of nature vs nurture.  I can only speak personally but right from the second she was born, my daughter has always been so different to her brothers.  If anyone should prove the nature argument, she should.  By rights, she should be a real “tom boy” – with two older brothers, her first experiences of toys were Gordon, Thomas, James, Diesel and the other engines – was she interested? No, not in the slightest. She gravitated towards more stereotypically “female” toys all by herself.  OK, I admit, she wore a lot of pink (I waited a while for a girl!) but she genuinely likes pink things, the boys genuinely do not like pink things – I don’t think I’ve manipulated that. My daughter has always shown a real interest in the way I look, put on make-up, the clothes I choose.  Have I encouraged this? No, not at all – if anything I find it faintly disconcerting having a little person studying me intently while I jam a mascara wand into my eye. It is just the way she is – nature.

It is my responsibility to make sure she grows up with self-confidence and a healthy body-image and I accept that but the worst I think I could be accused of at this age is perhaps indulging some of her more “girly” traits. Yes, sometimes, she can display some “princess” behaviour but I don’t think it is any more than asserting herself as she grows up and finds her place in her world – childhood displays of behaviour common to both sexes.  I don’t disagree with Sue Palmer about the excess of “princess” stuff out there and of course, as parents, we need to be very mindful of all the exposure our children are getting to marketing and consumerism from such a young age.  However, the old adage of “girls will be girls, boys will be boys” is largely true, I think, and if my daughter wants to dress up and be a princess in her creative play, then that’s fine by me and it is my responsibility to ensure her future self-confidence about her appearance is not affected and also to show her who’s boss (for her own good) if she starts to suffer from “little princess syndrome…when I have to start addressing her as HRH or Ma’am, then I shall worry.

My non-skiing skiing holiday

Allalinhorn, Alps (Switzerland). Panoramic vie...

Allalinhorn, Alps (Switzerland). Panoramic view from the top. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Half term ended – tick. Children back at school – tick. All back from skiing holiday in one piece – tick. Relative calm and good humour resumed – tick. General irritation with British weather – high.  Desire to see snow again in the next 9 months – zero.

So I’ve returned from my oxymoronic non-skiing skiing holiday.  The advantage of such a holiday is not to be underestimated, largely as this year I am in one piece, standing on my own two feet and not doing battle with the well-intentioned, woefully underfunded NHS. That said, to guarantee this outcome it did mean giving up an integral part of a skiing holiday, the skiing.  Did I miss the skiing? Yes.  If I’m honest, although I had a lovely time (largely because I had a non-skiing friend there too), there is something a bit odd about choosing to spend a week in freezing temperatures whilst not indulging in the one activity in which everyone else is indulging.

With this in mind, it will come as no surprise to you that much like my faux-exercising (ie dressing up as though I am/have been exercising, remaining dressed as such all day and being mistaken for a member of the “smug women who do actually exercise every day” group), I was attired in full ski gear.  Somehow I didn’t get the same satisfaction out of this duplicity as I do from my pretence at exercise.  I guess that’s because those wearing ski kit were actually doing something I wanted to be doing too.

There is something rather sad and pathetic about coming down a ski lift (especially in full ski regalia) – no-one does that, do they?  Well, I did, every day.  Although I have to admit coming down in glorious isolation is infinitely preferable to being squashed into a transparent box, dangling in mid-air, with an unnatural proximity to total strangers, playing the “avoid the ski-pole in the eye” game all the way up the mountain and worrying whether you will get off the lift in one piece, with all your skiing paraphernalia and pick up your skis (and not someone else’s – are you reading this, Mr Pain in the Backside, who took my husband’s skis?)

So I’ve established that, for me at least, it was not a skiing holiday.  Actually at the risk of being accused of pedantry, “holiday” doesn’t really cover it either.  Certainly there were elements that come under the verbal umbrella of “holiday” – eating too much (not a good plan when you are not skiing to work it off, as the scales screamed at me this morning), drinking too much and laughing (a lot) with friends.  However, there were also elements that transgress any trades description of “holiday”, most obviously “children”. I have long ago stopped calling going away with children a “holiday” because it simply is not a “holiday” in the sense that you might have used the word in those halcyon days of youth and no kids.

No, with children, a holiday is more accurately described as a “change of scenery”. Obviously this “change of scenery” is very welcome although often more challenging than staying at home and never is this more true than on a skiing holiday.  Trying to get three children (four if you count a husband) dressed in 200 layers, fed and out on the slopes before 9am requires a herculean effort. It is not possible to get through this daily trial without at least 3 missing gloves, two full-blown tantrums, serious over-heating (not surprising with thermals and 199 other layers – the timing of layering is crucial), at least 15 mentions of “you don’t know how lucky you are to be skiing at your age, we didn’t do this when I was young”, at best 2 out of the 3 children requiring a loo visit just as you are exiting (which requires removal and replacement of 200 layers X 2 to accomplish) and of course you still have the dubious pleasure of carrying all their skis to the slopes as they walk/slide/fall over alongside whining about how cold it is (whilst trying to stop yourself from shouting, “Well, what the bloody hell did you expect in a country covered in a metre of snow?).

Yes, I definitely missed skiing.  I hope that I shall ski again. However, there is nothing quite like the piercing blue skies in the mountains, the perfect white duvets of snow and the odd glass of wine (medicinal of course) to lift the spirits and the best thing of all, watching the children thoroughly enjoying – for the  most part –  an outdoor activity which doesn’t involve hours glued to a screen or tapping away on a keyboard.  If you’re going to have a “change of scenery”, you can do a lot worse than the mountains – I always find the grand, awe-inspiring scale of the scenery puts everything into perspective and makes you glad to be alive!

Pull a sickie – no chance…

Duvet Dog

Duvet Dog (Photo credit: mrwalker)

Apparently yesterday – Monday 4th February – was the most likely day in the year for Brits to pull a sickie.  I do love these completely meaningless stats that some poor person has to dream up in order to pad out the morning news bulletins. It’s not exactly earth-shattering that Monday 4th February is fairly unpopular with the working population and not one on which we leap out of bed full of the joys – after all it is a Monday in the most god-awful month of the year in the UK.

There is very little to recommend February in the UK.  I know that in January I wrote a defence of January and I stand by that.  However, I’m afraid I find it less easy to defend February.  It’s cold, it’s dark, there’s no bank holidays for ages. In fact, the only positive thing about February is that it is the shortest month.

Unfortunately for those in my line of work, pulling a sickie is not an option. As much as I might like to pull my duvet over my head, hide and only emerge to shout profanities at anyone who dares to approach me, I can’t.  There’s no sick pay in my job.  Actually when I think about it, there is no holiday entitlement, no overtime, no time off in lieu and no bonus either.  Funny really when what I do is one of the most relentless, time-consuming, all-encompassing, unappreciated occupations. When my daughter shouted at me the other day that she wanted a new mummy, I almost felt sorry for her.  She can’t fire me, she can’t even make me redundant.  She’s stuck with me – my contract is for life!  Apart from the obvious joys that parenting brings, there are upsides to this job – no power-crazy boss to report to (if you exclude my children); no office politics; no commute. On balance, I am a fairly satisfied employee of “Motherhood”. Anyway, even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t really go on strike – who would cook dinner?  Who would drive the taxi? Who would do the laundry?

So yesterday, even though I knew that joining the masses in a duvet day was not an option for me, I can’t really say that I leapt out of bed, champing at the bit to get cracking on another fun-filled Monday in February. In fact, yesterday, was one of those days that just passed without any real input from me.  I must have looked fairly shambolic as at least three people on the school run asked if I was feeling OK. One person passed off my neglected appearance by reasoning that since I was wearing tracksuit trousers, I was going to do some exercise.  Obviously this was not the case, I just couldn’t be a**** to get dressed properly – in fact, if my pyjamas hadn’t been pink stripey brushed-cotton obviously pyjamas, I’d have kept them on all day.  Not, of course, that I told her that – I just nodded – just a little head movement that wasn’t a lie as such, more of an acknowledgement.  As I have said before in my blog, I often dress as if I am doing exercise in order for people to think that is what I have done (it’s almost as good as doing the exercise itself, go on try it!) and I am absolutely convinced I am not alone in this little sartorial trick.

So today, well now it’s Tuesday and after “no effort at all” Monday, I decided this morning that I would make some effort with my appearance.  I not only brushed my hair but I also put on make-up.  This is not the normal state of affairs for the school run and it would appear to have unsettled the children somewhat.  My elder son wanted to know where I was going – he was not convinced by my “nowhere special” response.  My younger son was more to the point.  He said “are you feeling ok, mummy, it’s just that your face looks sweaty”. The sweaty look that he was referring to was my very expensive Laura Mercier illuminating tinted moisturiser.  It would appear that its slightly too good at its job – giving more of a perspiration look than a ladylike “glow”.  My daughter was much more interested in the lipstick I was wearing – she looked at it intently before asking me if she could wear lipstick when she’s 4 – I looked at her benignly – I can always rely on my daughter to appreciate how I look.  This solidarity was quickly swept away however when she said that when she wore lipstick (when she’s 4 apparently), she wouldn’t wear a colour anything like the one I had on. Excellent, so before I’ve even got out of the front door, my effort to make an effort has been totally obliterated by my delightful children.

So tomorrow if you see a woman on the school run wearing tracksuit trousers with unbrushed hair and no make-up – it’s me and before you ask, no, I’m not going to do any exercise and yes, I’m feeling fine, thanks.  That is not to say that I wouldn’t rather be hiding under my duvet, emerging only to shout profanities at anyone brave (or stupid) enough to approach me.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Don't worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy (Photo credit: duncan)

If someone were to ask me what emotion, apart from love, has been a constant since you had children, I would be able to answer very quickly – worry. Of course, all the other emotions have been there to varying degrees at different times – joy, frustration, irritation, happiness – but one thing is always gnawing away – worry.  I’ll freely admit that I am one of life’s worriers – I can worry about things which wouldn’t even occur to most rational people as things you could even worry about. I am, as they say, a master at sweating the small stuff. That said, I am actually quite good in a crisis.  So by all means ask me about the big stuff but don’t ask me about the day-to-day stuff.  I am your classic over-thinker and this of course goes hand-in-hand with worry.  Although at least I can rationalise that if I am worrying over something so trivial, I really don’t have very much to worry about – if that makes sense.

Why am I wittering on about worry, you may well ask?  Well, I was thinking about the differences between child-rearing in the 60s/70s and now and as much as technology, media and scientific advances have opened up a whole new exciting world, they have also contributed to a general heightened sense of anxiety in society especially for parents.  For example, thanks to the internet, I can carry out almost every single daily activity – shopping, banking, bill-paying etc – without moving my backside from its best friend, the desk chair. However, the flip side of this is the information that is available to us at the click of a mouse. Say my child has a perfectly harmless rash, a hint of a sniffle and is a bit off his food – back in the day, our mothers would have assumed it was some non-specific virus, kept us off school for a day or two, fed us chicken soup and that staple, Calpol, and that would have been that – no worries. Nowadays, we google the symptoms (even though we know this is not a sensible course of action) and before we know it our child is suffering from some extremely rare flesh-eating virus that you can only pick up (except of course in our child’s case) from the depths of the South American jungle.  Cue – worry. Our mothers only had Dr Benjamin Spock for advice, we have every Tom, Dick and Harry claiming to be medical experts, diagnosing us and our children with things our parents never knew existed.

Every day the media is bombarding us with stories about this and that potential danger. We trust no-one.  We take no risks.  We are obsessed with “health and safety”.  Of course, awful things happen but awful things happened back in the day too.  It’s just that we are so well-informed now, over-informed some might say, and I’m not convinced this is a good or helpful thing.  To my mind, it is being so well-informed that has led to low level anxiety permeating society and nowhere is this more apparent than parenting.

Do you think our mothers worried endlessly about giving us fish fingers, spaghetti hoops and Angel Delight and what the long-term impact would be on our health.  No, they didn’t because they were none the wiser.  I’m not saying a diet that solely consists of the above is ideal nor am I saying before you all get concerned that this is what I feed my children (not every day, at least) but now everything we do or say is so wrapped up in worry and guilt about the long-term impact that it is easy to lose sight of what is really important – just trying to be a good parent who amongst all this media bombardment is still able to relax and enjoy being a parent.

Parents worry endlessly about whether their child is “normal”.  What is “normal”?  I don’t really know except I suspect that I am far from it – something which has been confirmed to me on many occasions by various members of the medical establishment. Our schools are constantly measuring and comparing our children to such an extent that it is easy to forget to embrace each child’s individuality and to accept that you really can’t be good at everything all of the time. Take me and sewing for example – useless is the only word to describe it and back in the day, I’m fairly sure that that is exactly how my teacher described it (this, of course, would never happen in today’s hypersensitive, politically correct environment) – so, I am needle-challenged or whatever. Does this bother me? Did this bother my mother?  Did she worry that perhaps this was a reflection of underdeveloped fine motor skills?  No, of course not, she was probably just annoyed that I got thrown out of the lessons for good after breaking the sewing machine three times in one lesson, before I had completed my very 80s Laura Ashley gathered skirt (the material for which she had bought). Take ballet for example, one of my younger sisters was a very talented dancer, I have two left feet.  Did my mother add my sewing ineptitude to my ballet ineptitude and decide I had real problems?  No, of course, not – that’s just me.  Nowadays, you could probably google those two things and come up with some condition – cue, worry. Before anyone accuses me of trivialising real issues, I am not doing this at all.  Of course there are many children with very genuine issues and concerns for their parents.  I am talking about non-issues, non-worries that we are so susceptible to now in our hyper-vigilant environment.  All too often these non-worries  are just muddying the waters of clear, rational thought and making it more and more difficult to ascertain what is a real issue and what is over-thinking, over-informing, over-speculating.

Of course our parents worried about lots of things – worry is part of the human condition – but I do think that there is a low level anxiety in society now that wasn’t there before and I worry (there I go again!) that this can only increase as we become more and more media and technology savvy.  What’s the answer?  I’ve no idea and I don’t have time to worry about it unduly – too many other things to worry about.  I’m just saying…

A lament for reading…

Florence Nightingale, also known as the Lady w...

Florence Nightingale, also known as the Lady with the Lamp, providing care to wounded and ill soldiers during the Crimean War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently residing in a sick household ( I mean “sick” in its true sense rather than that often used by the” yoof” of today to describe how amazing something is).  Two out of my three children are ill, my other child presumably will succumb in the not too distant future to the same as her brothers and my husband is doing his tax return. The last week in January is the only week in the year when I feel a semblance of pity for accountants because they have to deal with people like my husband who treats preparing and filling in his tax return as some sort of extreme sport – an adrenaline-filled search for paperwork, an exhilarating surge for the finish line up against the clock.  I have, over the years, learnt to ignore the frantic paper chase and while he panics I sit back and take the opportunity to watch all the programmes I have sky +ed that he wouldn’t ever want to watch (One Born Every Minute”,”Big Fat Gypsy Weddings”, “Don’t tell the Bride” – you get the picture).

However, this usually calm (and frankly smug – tax return, tick) time of year for me has been rather less relaxing than I might hope for as I have been forced into that role which is such a natural fit for me (not) – Florence Nightingale.  They say patience is a virtue but as those who know me well will attest, it is not a virtue which I possess in abundance.  That said, this week I have really tried and I think Flo would be proud of my efforts.

Now, when I was a child and I was ill enough to be off school, I spent the day in bed.  I would lie there all day feeling sorry for myself, eating a meagre lunch from a tray and perhaps attempt a little light reading in the late afternoon (violins, please…).  To this generation of children, this would be tantamount to parental neglect.  Being ill seems to be a ticket to an entire day in front of the TV with turning the channels over using the remote control as the only activity indulged in.  So many people have said to me that since they’re ill, it’s guilt-free TV.  I don’t agree and actually it has really been bothering me.  It’s not the TV itself – although after almost a week of one child being off, I would happily hurl it out the window now – it’s the lack of reading that’s bothering me.

To be fair, this is not something that only bothers me when the kids are ill, but it is something that bothers me full stop. I have no idea at this point whether my youngest – a girl – will be the same but the boys are totally disinterested in reading for pleasure. Is this a boy thing?  Is this a generational thing?  I just don’t know. When I was their age I practically inhaled “The Magic Faraway Tree”, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and its ilk.  I loved getting totally lost in those fictional worlds and felt bereft without a book of some sort in my hands or beside my bed.  Not so for the boys.  They are both extremely good readers but they would never choose to read for pleasure.  I have, in fact, in the past endured the agony of my elder son reading “The Magic Faraway Tree” to me, chapter by chapter, over a period of 4 months showing no desire to read more than the minimum he can get away with.  It saddens me that they do not seem interested – I feel they are missing out on something which gave (and continues to give) me so much pleasure.

Before you get the impression that my boys read so little that the only book they’ve ever read cover to cover is “The Gruffalo”, I should say that they do read (of a sort) – largely football annuals and football and cricket statistics books. They are extremely knowledgeable on the intricacies of these sports – they have an admirable recall of every league match, score, penalties etc.  When it comes to their football team, Arsenal, there is literally nothing they don’t know.  Actually, there is very little I don’t know either as every sentence my middle child utters begins, “Mummy, did you know that…?”. In fact, I do believe I could go on Mastermind, specialist subject “The history of Arsenal Football Club” and score 15 points and no passes.

I just wish that they would discover reading for pleasure – by this, I mean fiction.  I feel they are missing out on such a wonderful world and one which I loved so much at their age.  Maybe this lament is just a sign of the times – there was very little competition for reading in my childhood – now there is so much TV, Xbox, DS etc etc.  Maybe reading at this age is less of a “boy” thing – I don’t know, I grew up as one of three girls.

Time for my lament to stop – I must pick up my lamp and attend to my medical duties as I have been summoned (to the TV room) to administer medicine and provide sustenance for those suffering.

Open to Interpretation…

Parenthood

Parenthood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was thinking earlier about how, as parents, what we say and what we think or mean in reality are often two completely different things.  I was wondering if this is a peculiarly British trait as our natural reserve and detached politeness dictate our responses, often masking what we really think. I suspect it is not just the British. Often, when it comes to our children, there is a whole subtext underlying what we actually say both to them and to parents of other children.  What do I mean?  Well, perhaps it is best illustrated with some examples, each with what might be said first, then what is actually thought or meant:

“Horatio Lancelot – what a fabulously interesting and unusual name to call your son” = “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”

“Gosh, doesn’t he look like his dad?” = “Poor sod, only a mother could love him”

“I’ve been so lucky with her, she’s a great little eater and sleeper” = “she eats nothing except toast with marmite and peanut butter and she has never slept for more than 2 hours at a time”

“He’s just a ball of energy” = “Little tyke”

“It’s so lovely, my kids go everywhere with me” = “I can’t even go to the bloody bathroom on my own”

“I’d love it if little Johnny could come over for a play and tea” = “I’d rather stick rusty pins in my eyes”

“Right that’s it, I warned you, no more TV for a month” = “There I go again with a threat I can’t carry out”

“What do you say?  What’s the magic word?” = “What is so complicated about the words please and thank you that you have still not mastered them at nearly 9”

“My kids are just letting off steam” = “I’ve totally lost control again”

“No, you absolutely cannot play on the Xbox today” = “I’m sure I can be persuaded if you ask me again in half an hour”

“Your son is a really good little footballer” = “My son is way better and he should be in the team, not your son – that coach needs his eyes tested”

“We’re really trying to bring our little one up with two languages – English and Spanish – it’s so useful to be bi-lingual” = “She watches far too much Dora the Explorer”

“I love those days when we stay at home painting or clay modelling – all those wonderful messy activities which it is so important for kids to do, such fun” = “That’s the whole point of nurseries, isn’t it? A place to do all those things which I loathe and which leave my house daubed in paint and looking as though it has been burgled ”

“The kids got on brilliantly and your son was an absolute delight” = “That was the playdate from hell and over my dead body will your little darling be stepping over the threshold of my house ever again”

“We’re really very relaxed parents” = “We follow Gina Ford to the letter, every minute of every day is accounted for”

“Every day is different as a stay-at-home mother” = “Every day is a relentless round of cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking and taxi-driving”

“I feel very valued as a mother” = “What did your last slave die of?”

Tongue-in-cheek -yes,  and deliberately exaggerated – perhaps just a little,  but there is some truth in the gap that often exists between what we say and what we are actually thinking. However, to redress the balance, one thing that we do say which is exactly the same as what we think, is when we say to our children”I love you totally” because we do (perhaps I should just add the caveat “even though you can be rather challenging”!).

The New Rules of Parenting…

Fireplace

Fireplace (Photo credit: John.Karakatsanis)

A good start to 2013 for me – it would appear that for the first time I am ahead of the parenting curve.  This is no mean feat – as a fully paid-up member of the Gina Ford generation, this does not often happen, if at all in my case. To what am I referring? “The new rules of parenting” in “The Times 2” today.

Let me explain.  My eldest son has been displaying some ‘interesting’ new pyromaniacal tendencies.  Up until a few weeks ago, he has shown zilch interest in fire except perhaps a certain disdain for it as he wrestles with his brother dangerously close.  However, recently, it is all about the fire.  He wants to light the fire in our sitting room all the time – first thing in the morning, lunchtime, evening and most irritatingly at about 10pm.  He not only seems to enjoy the whole fire-building process (very much a male preserve, rather like barbecuing) but he tends that fire and nurtures it in a way a mother would her baby.  I have watched this new obsession with some bemusement/amusement and a fair amount of anxiety, aware that it could only too quickly go horribly wrong.

We decided to allow him to follow this new obsession and my husband has very patiently built more fires with his son over this Christmas period than the 16 years I have known him.  So imagine the smugness (there is no other word for it, I’m afraid) that swept over me this morning when I turned to my newspaper and “A five-stage guide to bringing up boys and girls” by child development expert Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer. There in black and white, under the section for boys aged 8-10, it says “…Help him to develop practical skills, such as lighting a bonfire (he will do it anyway, so we may as well teach him properly)…” Not only did I feel immediately comforted – my son is perfectly normal for his age and not showing worrying tendencies towards arson – but we, as parents, had responded appropriately – high five!

I have to say that this was about the only area in which we seemed to be succeeding and it would probably be fair to say that I am giving undue attention to one sentence in a long article. In the same section, referring to boys of the same age as my eldest, we are also told not to “go over the top in praising him in an attempt to boost self-esteem: he will feel smothered”. Now, please tell me that I am not the only mother who has days when she finds it very difficult to find anything to praise and I am very rarely in danger of going over the top with my praise.  Some days I am forced to praise him (in desperation) for things which one might normally praise a child of two or three for – eg putting on his shoes (not laces just velcro) or worse still, praising him for most unpraiseworthy things such as getting into the car without smacking or kicking his brother.  This is all part of that balancing out the scolding for bad behaviour (sorry, “boisterous behaviour”) with praise (which all the parenting gurus go on about) and which some days really does result in praise for the most ludicrous things.

As for my other son, he falls into the ages 4-7 boys bracket. In this age bracket we should “encourage his growing sense of humour…Telling a joke is a way that boys can experience some equality with an adult…” For me, one of my most dreaded moments is when one of my children says to me, “Mummy, I’ve got a really good joke to tell you”.  What follows is never a “joke”, as you or I might understand it, but a complete nonsensical string of words which I am expected to laugh at manically once delivered.  Something along the lines of “What did the egg say to the sausage – where’s the baked beans?”  – brilliant, hilarious, hysterical.  Those first jokes are quite excruciating but you do gradually see some comprehension dawning and then the endless round of “knock knock” jokes start.  In fact, currently when one of my boys says to me those dreaded words “Mummy, I’ve got a really good joke to tell you”, I find myself saying “who’s there?” before he’s even started.  Now, however that I know these jokes must be encouraged, I shall do my best to force the laughter and praise (but not over-praise) their attempts at humour.

What about my daughter in all this?  Well, apparently for her age-group, I should be letting her be naughty.  I may have totally misunderstood but I wasn’t aware that I had much say in whether she is naughty or not – she certainly doesn’t ask my permission. I have to agree with Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, though, that “a bit of bad behaviour shows a spark of creativity”.  That’s my excuse anyway!

Family Events Manager and Co-ordinator required

Taxi

Taxi (Photo credit: twicepix)

Campaign update: Day 3 – Operations abandoned due to serious casualty this morning requiring onsite paramedic assistance (middle child sustained nasty gash to head after a skirmish resulted in his head becoming too closely acquainted with a door lock).  This has put an end to his active service for the next couple of days which has inevitably resulted in the reinstatement of TV viewing rights.

So life has returned to normal in this house. I have abandoned my role as commander-in-chief and returned to my civilian duties – cook, cleaner, childcare, taxi driving.  However, I appear to have acquired a new job in addition to my already onerous duties: Family Events Manager and Co-ordinator.  Now I didn’t realise when I signed up to this mothering job that it would involve so many varied skillsets and a quick read of my CV does not reveal any relevant past experience in events management.  Latin – tick, ancient Greek – tick, finance – tick, events management – well, a couple of badly-managed birthday parties for marauding 4/5/6 year olds???

So how did I acquire this new position you may well ask?  Well, I just sort of fell into it.  Over the weekend, my children have asked me upwards of 10 times what I have got planned for them this week (the first week of the school holidays) and when I reply “nothing”, they look utterly horrified and say in a slightly desperate way, “but what are we going to DO all week?” The first couple of times I resorted to my stock answer of “well when I was your age we played games and entertained ourselves…” which was met the first time with a glazed-over expression on their faces (the “here she goes again” expression) and then more insultingly with one of them making that mouth opening and shutting gesture with his hand and mouthing “blah, blah, blah” to his brother.

This got me thinking – am I being a bit unfair?  Did we really play and entertain ourselves all the time when we were young?  Or is that just my rose-tinted glasses view of my childhood? I do believe this generation of children is the most pampered and over-indulged yet but actually I did have some wonderful treats and trips when I was a child and although I maintain that I definitely entertained myself far more than my children seem capable of doing, perhaps I should not begrudge this new job title I have been afforded.  After all, Family Events Manager and Co-ordinator actually does sound rather exciting compared to some of my more mundane duties.  I am going to throw myself into my new role with real energy and commitment and if nothing else I can add it to my CV (2012 – present: Events Manager and Co-ordinator for a team with widely varied and diverse needs and interests).

So, kids, you are in luck – so far I have planned two events for this week:  a trip to John Lewis tomorrow to see how much we can break in the glass department in a 10 minute period and then a mass trip to the optician on Tuesday for back-to-back eye tests.  I think they may regret appointing me to this role but I am sure as I settle into my new job I shall attempt ever more exciting and challenging events – the possibilities are endless.

Time to switch hats again now…time to come down from the elevated heights of Family Events Manager…taxi driver required followed by dinner for five.

Operation Christmas School Holidays

Household Cavalry on Garter Day

Household Cavalry on Garter Day (Photo credit: hmcotterill)

Operation Christmas School Holidays:  Commander-in-chief – me; soldiers under my command – 3

Day 1: injuries sustained – one bruised chin (from scaling the kitchen table during dinner), one  minor knock to head during a skirmish (friendly fire incident (between brothers)). Morale – high; obedience – minimal.  Some issues with chain of command.

Yes, it is that time of year again – my favourite – the school holidays with the added stress of Christmas thrown in too.  So I have decided to adopt a different approach this year and treat the entire holidays as a military campaign.  No doubt there will be victories and defeats along the way but I am determined to instil respect for authority and behaviour fitting of those representing their family on the world stage.

I wouldn’t say the first day has been an unqualified success.  My first hurdle has been a degree of overfamiliarity amongst the ranks – notably, I have been addressed by one soldier as “mate” throughout the day which is not a form of address that I feel befits my status and as “idiot” by another soldier when I suggested that he might like to entertain himself rather than play Fifa 12 on the X-box.

A second issue that has arisen has been the inability of any of the soldiers to sit anywhere near the table when eating or in fact sit at all.  Indeed it has become patently obvious why a “mess” (in military speak) is named thus when you look at my kitchen floor post eating.  I am definitely going to have to crack down on this over the coming few weeks and will need to form a strategy for coping at mealtimes (i.e. me coping with their disregard for the food I’ve cooked, table I’ve laid, floor I’ve cleaned etc).

Perhaps the issue which has raised the most dissent amongst the ranks today has been my (some might say ambitious) decision to spend a day without any TV or electronic devices. In retrospect I am not convinced this was a strategically sound decision for the first day of the holidays and I suspect that the person who suffered the most was in fact, me.  After a rather trying start to the day, I can report that the troops rallied and even attempted a group activity by mid-afternoon (decorating Christmas tree shaped ginger biscuits).  Astonishingly, this activity was completed with minimum destruction to the kitchen and without a single skirmish.

So here we are towards the end of the day.  One soldier has been granted leave to attend a local pantomime; one soldier is watching a division 2 football match from circa 1976 (why?  I have no idea) and the youngest soldier is “learning” Spanish from Dora the Explorer.  I do have to report that the TV has now been switched back on – I do believe it is important for personnel to have down-time before re-entering the fray.

What about me?  Well, I need down-time too – leading is so exhausting – and I am going to reward myself with a glass of wine.  Mission accomplished – Day 1 completed, all troops present and correct.  As for Day 2, we’ll be joined by Field Marshal Husband who shares command – sort of – at weekends. Progress report to follow.

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice…

Male and female gender symbols based upon work...

Male and female gender symbols based upon work by User:Edbrown05 on the English Wikinews project. Original file was/is here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s get one thing straight, I adore my boys – I really adore them but I don’t get them. if I’m perfectly honest, as one of three girls myself, they are like little aliens to me most days. Occasionally I get one of those breakthrough moments when I think I’ve finally understood them and then out of nowhere, one will cross the room and nonchalantly kick his brother for no other reason – that I can fathom – than he can.  I know what you’re thinking – there really isn’t very much to understand: boys are not complex.  There is a lot of truth in this and I have lived the last 9 years of my life according to the maxim that boys are very much like dogs: feed them, water them and exercise them and all will be well with the world.

My two boys are very different in character but they also share common characteristics: the ability to wind the other up incessantly and the ability to wrestle any time, any place (preferably in a supermarket aisle in front of a tutting crowd of people without children and smug MOGs (Mothers of Girls).  For a while I put this insatiable desire to be in physical contact with each other in some way 24/7 (usually in some painful-looking, totally unnatural wrestling hold) down to watching too much TV and particularly the ghastly WWE wrestling to which my elder son appears addicted (no, before you ask, I don’t let him watch it, but he’s clever, he’s cunning and he seems to find a way to outwit me…), but I don’t think this is the case.  This is just the nature of boys.  For the first five years of motherhood, I watched my boys with a growing sense of horror – what had I created?  Rough and Tumble, they call it, no **** – that’s putting it mildly.  Sometimes I can barely bear to watch and I am constantly amazed that they never seem to really hurt each other (well, not too badly). I don’t really intervene much these days, I let them work it out.  I am resigned to the fact that this is how boys operate – it’s King of the Jungle stuff and I am not going to pretend to understand it. The fighting aside, I love my boys totally and I can only hope that the fisticuffs they indulge in now with each other will recede as they mature otherwise I shall be spending an increasing amount of time visiting the local nick.

I have to admit that due to the unruly behaviour of my boys on occasion (NB understatement), I did at times really question my mothering skills.  I had deliberately ignored the Gina Ford route with mine – I realised very early on that I had already failed by her standards by 7am as I had not pulled up the black-out blinds, changed baby, had a shower myself and eaten my toast and marmalade. I didn’t think that feeling a failure so early on every morning would be particularly good for my confidence levels (which we all know are not exactly rocketing in the early days of motherhood). I found myself naturally gravitating to other “MOBs” (Mothers of Boys) because they understood that there was no way my children were going to sit at a table for half an hour, colouring, gluing and sticking (not unless they were able to do all those things to each other or one of my more prized possessions).

Then suddenly three years ago, I found myself with one foot in each camp – I had a little girl. Over the last 3 years, it has become obvious – it’s not about nurture (well at least not largely) but it is nature.  I have done nothing to encourage her in any direction different to the boys but she naturally loves pink, plays with dolls, dresses up, watches me put on make-up in a rather disconcertingly fascinated manner and basically behaves in the stereotypical “girl” way. I have to add that at the moment she is proving an awful lot easier than the boys at that age.  Yesterday, she had a playdate and I did absolutely nothing for 2 hours whilst these two adorable little girls dressed up, tottered around in little heels and played “Mummies and Babies” (where’s the Daddy you may well ask?! Is this a sign of the times?).

The biggest relief to me with a foot in each camp is that it is not my mothering skills that are at fault – they are as good or as bad as the next person. No, the simple fact is that boys and girls are fundamentally very different from birth and I would wager that boys are harder work in the first ten years of life (although enormously rewarding too) but I am under no illusions that come the teenage years, all those hours of my little girl watching me put on make-up and tottering around in my shoes is going towards creating the horror of “teenage girl”.  I know at that point I shall probably be  saying to my boys that they were hard work when they were younger but that their sister’s behaviour now is a whole new ball game and I shall be looking back fondly at the days of my “rough and tumble”, uncomplicated boys.  However, for now, there is truth in the old ditty that girls are “Sugar and spice and all things nice” and boys are, well, fabulous, physical and sometimes just a little frustrating!