A Letter to Boys 1 and 2 …

Dear Boys 1 and 2

We’ve “successfully” reached the 6 week mark of the summer holidays…3 more to go and so far we are all largely unscathed.  However, I thought I would just make a few observations which could help the last 3 weeks go even more smoothly (if “smoothly” is the most appropriate adverb)  than the last 6 weeks.

  • If you wish to beat the c*** out of each other, be my guest, but I would appreciate it if all fighting takes places out of sight and out of earshot.  We all know that it will end in one of three ways: Boy 1 injured and crying, Boy 2 injured and crying or Boys 1 and 2 both injured and crying.  Since the outcome is inevitable, I would be grateful if you could only report back to me if life or my property is endangered.
  • Please could you refrain from tormenting your younger sister any more than is necessary.  I understand that baiting her is good sport but over the last 6 weeks she has turned from a fairly well-adjusted individual to someone who screams at the sight of an ant and who becomes a gibbering wreck at the mention of a sha….rk even when we are at least 500 metres inland.
  • Please stop “liking” my pictures on Instagram.  This is frankly narcissistic as most of the photos are of you and secondly, it is not exactly smart to “like” my Instagram photos when you are on an “electronics” ban – I am no technological wizard but even I know that in order to “like” my photos, you have to go on-line, for which you need access to any one of the electronic devices from which you have been expressly banned.
  • Please don’t tell me to “chill” or “stop being so stressy”.  Such vernacular has a polar opposite effect on me.  Those very words make my blood pressure rocket and the probability of rage quadruple.
  • Please don’t ignore my every word all day as if I do not exist and then insist on speaking to me when I am on the phone. I cannot work out why you are completely unable to respond to any of my questions/requests throughout the day but as soon as I am temporarily unavailable, suddenly you wish to speak to me with the utmost urgency about something which is always of very little consequence – along the lines of “can I have a snack?” – why are you asking me now…you don’t normally ask, you normally just help yourself?  Why does the appearance of the phone at my ear suddenly turn you from monosyllabic to positively loquacious?
  • Nothing awful will happen to you if you don’t look at a computer screen or a TV for a whole morning or afternoon, or God forbid, both – I promise you.  It is not, as you maintain, Boy 2, “child cruelty” to keep boy and screen apart.
  • Please please could you brush your teeth…just occasionally.  It literally does take 2 minutes.  I don’t understand your antipathy to such a simple task which takes you so little time but means so much to me.  Boys, you are prepared to spend hours getting the contours of your hair exactly right, so why not your teeth? Believe me, you will thank me in a couple of years time…girls don’t appreciate a lack of oral hygiene.
  • I understand that a bit of competition is healthy but you two take it to a whole new level.  Even the simplest of tasks become a mission for one of you to outdo the other.  What makes it all the more annoying is that you ask me or your father to referee/judge every little “competition” – quite apart from the fact that I don’t care or want to be involved, this is an impossible task as whatever the outcome,  the results mirror those in my first point although sometimes, thankfully, without injury incurred.  Boys, you’ve just got to “chill”….see, how annoying it is???
  • Lastly, this morning you educated me on another of your incomprehensible expressions – giving someone a “shout-out” on Instagram.  Apparently, you give your mates a “shout-out”on Instagram to tell everybody how wonderful they are and how much you appreciate them/their friendship etc.  Lovely sentiment.  Where’s my shout-out? Forget your M8s for one second and tell everyone how gr8 your mother is and then you and everyone else can “like” that to their heart’s content.

I expect you won’t read this – Boy 1 because it is in the form of a letter rather than a text/email and Boy 2 simply because you are yet to appreciate that enjoyment could possibly be gained from reading…but if you chance upon it, then despite the above, you are both wonderful boys with whom there is never a dull moment.

Much love Mum x

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Parlez-vous anglais?

French flag

French flag (Photo credit: Nebel)

8 years – that is how many years I learnt French at school. I got an A in my French O’Level. How have I started every conversation on my holiday in France so far? “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame parlez-vous anglais?”

It is utterly pathetic – no other word covers it. Can you imagine a French man or woman approaching me in England and saying “Good morning, do you speak French?” They’d be laughed out of town! So why is it deemed acceptable for me to expect someone to speak a foreign language in their home country just because my grasp of their language is so utterly feeble?

My memory of French speaking at school is confined to passing the dreaded 5 minute French oral component of the French O’Level. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that my 8 years of learning to speak French came down in the final analysis to the moment in my exam when I discovered whether the role play in my French oral would be buying tickets at a railway station or doing the weekly shop in the supermarket.

The emphasis in schools at this time was not on speaking a language but on reading/writing a language. I’ve lost count of the number of fictional French pen pals I wrote letters to over the years in my French lessons. Suffice to say that in my opinion the emphasis was all wrong. What is the point of being able to write a beautiful letter in exquisite French if you can only do an impression of a mute when actually faced with a Frenchman.

It is of course shameful that we, as a nation, have always expected others to speak English and therefore consider language learning as nothing more than a pleasant pastime, nothing to take too seriously as we can always speak English loudly and slowly (and patronisingly) and be understood.

Are things changing nowadays in our schools and more importantly in our national psyche? I can only hope so. My children are exposed to so many more languages than I was in their curriculum – both my sons are currently learning Mandarin – well, this term at least. I really hope that this does not amount to lip service to a variety of languages but results in a generation of children who do not expect English to be spoken by everyone around the world but who feel comfortable expressing themselves in other languages. After all how can you really understand other cultures without some comprehension of the main communication tool – language?

The world is a much smaller place now and the Internet has provided a whole new universal language and also wonderful opportunities for our children to communicate with others across cultural barriers. At school my sons recently skyped with a class of similarly aged children in a Chinese school – what a fantastic communication experience that beats hands down the endless contrived role plays of my language learning experience of the 1980s.

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…