The Smiths’ Christmas Letter

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Dear Family, Friends and any other random person interested in the minutiae of my life

Happy Christmas! Wow, what a fantastic year 2015 has been for the Smiths! I am sure you are all dying to know all the wonderful things that have happened to us and how successful we have been so here’s a blow-by-blow account…

Little Johnny has had the BEST year! In March he started to CRAWL!   What a superstar! He is still waking every hour during the night and screaming for his mummy but we don’t mind because he is so cute and adorable and we treasure every moment with him. He’s definitely got a powerful set of lungs – we are all sure he is going to be an opera singer when he grows up (after all Aunty Jean was the star of her local operatic society for many years so it’s in the genes…!)

What about our gorgeous little Rosie? Well, she’s had quite a year. She must be the busiest 6 year old in the country! Mondays – gymnastic club (watch out Nadia Comaneci, Rosie is coming!), Tuesdays – swimming lessons (one-to-one, she is learning SO much more with the individual attention), Wednesdays – flute (she’s showing so much promise and her teacher says she’ll be ready for Grade 5 by the summer), Thursdays – ballet (not quite en pointe yet but not long now!) and Fridays – FREE time! Rosie likes to entertain on Fridays with one of her darling little school friends – always such fun and something Mummy looks forward to ALL week.

The only little cloud on the horizon this year for Rosie has been the “biting”. We have spent a lot of time (and money) on getting to the bottom of this with Rosie and her psychologist and we are all sure that for Rosie the “biting” is just a sign of affection for her friends and siblings. Sinking her teeth into their flesh is just her version of a kiss – rather sweet when you think about it. All her friends’ mummies and daddies have been SO understanding and anyway Rosie is just so so sweet that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her instantly.

Just time for a bit of mummy-boasting. Rosie was MARY in the school nativity! We were so so proud. Rosie and I spent months researching the role so she could really get her teeth (ha! ha!) into the part. I also spent days making her the most beautiful Mary costume – I love sewing. Even if I do say it myself, Rosie was the STAR of the play – everyone said so. Joseph was less convincing and picked his nose throughout which upset Rosie no end – I explained to her that it is very difficult to work with animals and children – she totally understood.

As for Archie – he continues to amaze us! He is spending increasing amounts of time in front of a screen and less and less time communicating with humans. We don’t mind though as he seems to have made so many WONDERFUL friends on the Internet – all seem thoroughly nice and normal. He seems to have lost interest in all outside activities and hobbies but we are so proud that he is showing such focus on his computer studies. I have taken to texting him when his supper is ready – we all think this is terribly amusing but I’m not sure Archie really understands the irony!

There was a small incident this year with Archie getting a little carried away with his father’s credit card. Daddy dealt with this so well and with such patience and empathy. All part of life’s rich tapestry eh? No-one said this parenting lark would be a breeze. Anyway it’s all behind us now and Archie will have repaid his debts by the age of 35.

What about Daddy? He’s had another phenomenally successful year at work. He is without doubt the lynchpin of his firm and we are all SO proud of him. It is quite clear that he is regarded as a hero not only at home but at work too. This year he’s managed to juggle the impossible demands of his job with running 15 marathons, raising thousands for charity and he’s still home every evening to read to the kids. Reading to children is SO important and nothing makes me happier than to hear Daddy being Daddy Pig (he’s just so good at the voice) while little Rosie laughs hysterically.

Then there’s little ol’ me! Another blissful year of motherhood and parenting. I can honestly say I’ve loved every minute – don’t miss work, adult company or intellectual stimulation in the slightest. I have to admit to a little “stumble” in the summer when I thought perhaps I might go back to work – part-time of course. The children were very upset and protested so much that I soon gave up on that idea – it’s SO lovely to be so loved, wanted and needed! Anyway, who would take Rosie to ballet – I know that 3 hours drive to a ballet school may seem a bit excessive to some but it is such a good school and she is so talented apparently? Anyway, each day is so different and brings so many new joys that I have on occasion even managed to miss Wine O’Clock!

So Happy Christmas to you all from the Smiths. We hope that 2016 brings as many blessings and joy as 2015 has for us! It would be lovely to see you all this year so please do give us a call – apologies in advance if you get the answerphone but we are all SO busy and SO happy!

Much love xxx

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We’re all going on a school residential trip…

Today my elder son has gone off on his school residential trip to Newquay.  As he set off at 5.30am, I have to admit to a few pangs of anxiety but also excitement for him.  I remember only too well my first school residential trip to Streatley (although I was only 7 at the time) – we ate loads of sweets, wore our cagoules all day despite scorching sunshine and had a field trip song which we sang endlessly on our return – well, until Graham in my class swore at the familiar first strains of the song – “not that b***** song again” – overheard by the headmaster… an error that I am sure Graham has never repeated.

So back to my son’s trip.  The build-up has been going on for weeks – who’s sharing a room with whom; who’s sitting next to whom on the coach; should he buy a KFC or a McDonalds at the service station on the way down; does Lucozade count as an energy drink (banned apparently) and so it goes on.

My role, as usual, has been to ensure that he is provided with suitable clothing and footwear and to pack his Lordship’s bag for him.  I have carried out this task with my normal sunny disposition, a minimal amount of complaint – just the odd muttering under my breath.  Of course, as to be expected, my son has fully appreciated my input and has been unable to stop thanking me for all I have done.

The kit list provided by the school has though presented a few issues.  I have tried to follow the instructions to the letter and hence have packed accordingly 7 pairs of underwear and 7 pairs of socks.  I have done this in the full knowledge that 6 pairs of underwear and 6 pairs of socks will return unworn.  We were asked to pack black bin liners so that the boys can put all their dirty washing in a bag to bring home.  Well, I am fairly certain that I shall be able to use those very black bin liners for their original purpose on his return as I have placed them in a side pocket which since he suffers from that all-male congenital condition “man eyes”, he is very unlikely to see let alone open and use.  I did point the side pocket out to him and the black bin liners and he asked me to write “black bin liners” with a Sharpie on the pocket – I declined on aesthetic grounds and anyway it won’t make a blind bit of difference (I refer you back to congenital “man eyes”).

The kit list also gave rise to Deodorantgate.  I am not thanking the school for this.  The innocuous  “wash bag containing – toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo etc” has unleashed a whole new beast in our house – Lynx “Africa”.  I have so far avoided having to buy deodorant for my son – having judged it not yet necessary but since it was on the kit list my son with an uncharacteristic regard for detail and obedience told me that he had to have some.  I duly bought his first deodorant but forgot to tell him that less is more.  Consequently our house (and its occupants) are now gasping under a cloud of heady (read “headachey”) and intoxicating (read “choking”) eau d’Africa.  Personally “Africa” is not what springs to mind on inhalation unless we’re talking part-hyena with giraffe dung or something.  Anyway, teachers who were mad enough to volunteer to go on this trip with my son, beware the morning (and evening) spray – it’s powerful stuff.

As for the toothbrush and toothpaste, this has become somewhat of an obsession with me – I must have said to him at least 40 times this weekend – “don’t forget to brush your teeth” .  Who am I kidding? There is no way that toothbrush will see the light of day over the next week let alone the meet the toothpaste.  Anyway, it’s not as if my son brushes his teeth religiously when he’s home – if I’m brutally honest, despite my threats, he probably only brushes them on average 2.2 times a week.

Anyway, I hope he and his friends have a wonderful time – I know they will, the trip looks amazing.  He won’t care if he’s wearing the same underwear every day and I’m not there to care and anyway if he does, less washing on his return for me.  Silver linings….

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…”

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?

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