All my Children Hear is Blah! Blah! Blah!

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As a mother I reckon at least 75% of what I say to my children is either ignored or greeted by an expression of complete bewilderment that I could say something so utterly pointless or incomprehensible. In fact, I’m fairly confident that if I were to stop speaking altogether my children would probably not notice unless I failed to answer one of their requests (which are in themselves pretty academic given that my answer is usually ignored unless it the one my child wanted).

Most worrying of all, I have started to answer my own questions out loud.

Me: “Did you enjoy school today?”
Me: “Yes Mum, thanks for asking. I had a lovely day.”

There is probably only so long I can continue in this vein without risking at best being dismissed as the “Mutter Nutter” by the children or at worst being sectioned.

Let’s take the things that I say which are ignored or “not heard”. Firstly, I must tell my boys to “stop fighting” at least 15 times a day. Do they ever stop fighting? Do they even look up and register that they’ve heard my command? No, of course not. Why do I bother? Asking them to stop fighting is like asking the Kardashians to all get on – it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.

How about “please could you brush your teeth”? A not unreasonable request I feel but it is either totally ignored or met with a reaction you might expect if I had asked them to stick rusty pins in their eyes. As much as I try to convince my children of the advantages of oral hygiene, they remain unmoved. The boys shrug when I tell them that in the future girls won’t come anywhere near them and my daughter who thinks all kissing between men and women is utterly gross is rather relieved that not brushing her teeth will excuse her in the future from such a grotesque activity.

Then there’s “please could you calm down and help me” in the supermarket. In my experience supermarkets do the most bizarre things to our children. A relatively calm, well-behaved individual becomes a monster once faced with strip lighting, shopping trolleys and aisles. The little darlings who trotted in obediently at my side (OK that’s an exaggeration and just one of my insane mother fantasies where I smile benignly at the beautifully behaved children at my side whilst people, from all sides, congratulate me on my offspring’s exemplary conduct and my exceptional mothering skills….and, snap fingers, you’re back in the room…) suddenly have to run and jump and scream and knock old ladies over. Of course, the more I ask them to behave, the more boisterous they become. Then I become “shouty” and “stressy” (to use my daughter’s descriptors) and threaten things I can never carry out – usually along the lines of you are never ever watching any TV again. Inspiring mothering skills, well done me.

Perhaps my most ignored utterance is “could you please turn that off” – referring to one of a million devices which seem to multiply on a monthly basis. My pathetically weak demand is of course ignored and I can often be seen wrestling iPads, smartphones etc off my children in desperation for some real rather than virtual interaction. Once I get their attention, however, I usually manage to blow it by boring them senseless with tales of my childhood when we entertained ourselves, didn’t have any of these devices and only had three TV channels. Again, a total waste of breath. The children look at me with expressions of deep pity and no understanding of how child cruelty on such a grand scale was ever allowed to occur. One of my sons cannot quite believe that we did not have remote controls for the TV and that we actually had to heave ourselves off the sofa and walk the four steps over to the TV to change channels or switch it off. He shakes his head, a look of incredulity on his face – astounded that anyone could suffer such depths of deprivation.

The expression of greatest bewilderment however is reserved for when I go down the self-indulgent path of telling my children that before they were around, I had a job (and a life?) – I worked, I earned money, I even wore clothes other than my tracky bums. Yes, kids, hard to believe I know but I actually worked in a professional capacity before I accepted this long-term, badly paid, long–hours-with-no-time off position as a mother to three extremely demanding bosses.

I’ll end with an observation. The only time I get an immediate response to something I ask is exactly when I do not want an immediate response. For my children, like all children, saying “thank you” is not an instinctive thing. Often I find myself after doing something special saying to the children, “It would be so nice if you could say “thank you” to me after such a treat without being prompted”. To which, of course, they immediately respond in unison with no sincerity at all, “Thank you, Mum”. Not the point at all.

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TV or not TV…that is the question.

Normal service has resumed in our household.  Last week my eldest two were on a TV ban.  It seemed like a good idea at the time – after all, after the Xbox, the TV is really the only thing they genuinely feel affection for – but it became quickly apparent that the real person suffering the punishment was me. They suffered all the symptoms of addiction withdrawal – TV cold turkey – and spent most of the week kicking random objects (more often than not each other) and saying “I’m bored”.  I lost count of the number of times I used those platitudes (which I swore I would never use with my own children as they irritated me so much as a child) – “Only boring people get bored”, “all children have to learn to be bored” and “you have got to learn to entertain yourselves”.  In the end, I was as desperate for the TV ban to end as they were.

My children watch too much TV.  That’s a fact and I’m not proud of it.  I bet if you were honest with yourselves, your children probably watch too much too.  It is so easy to use TV as cheap childcare when you have a million other things you need to do.  My problem with the TV is not just how much they watch but what they watch.  There is so much rubbish out there.  My eldest seems to have a particular penchant for wrestling – I am not even going to pretend to understand the attraction but I am marginally comforted by the knowledge that nearly all his friends seem to share this same fascination – presumably it is a boy thing just as watching “Tangled” 15 times is a girl thing.  I have tried putting pin numbers on various channels so that he can’t access them but actually this is just infuriating because I can’t remember the pin numbers either and as a result I too am condemned to watching some Disney drivel or worse at the end of a long day.

My children look genuinely astounded when I tell them that we only had three TV channels in my childhood and that we never watched TV in the evenings – just watched children’s hour (Newsround, Blue Peter etc) . They look at me with a mixture of disbelief and pity – “What did you do instead, Mummy” – to which inevitably I resort to the old platitude ” we entertained ourselves’ or worse still “we played board games” (which I’m not actually sure we did really but it sounds good).  I think my eldest son thinks that my childhood was actually deprived – he really cannot comprehend such a level of distress and hardship as having only 3 TV channels.

The signs of excessive TV viewing have been there for a while and particularly the effects of advertising.  I was reading a bedtime story to one of the children a while ago and written on one of the pages was the word “bang” (door slamming I think) – I said “bang” with gusto and my son replied, deadpan, “and the dirt is gone”!  More recently, after a particularly long rant on my part about how lucky our children are, how much they have and how money doesn’t grow on trees etc, my eldest son piped up that he had a plan: put my gold necklace (I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was gold-plated) in an envelope, send it off and I would get cash in return – remember the advert?!  If only life was that simple.

One particular gem from my eldest son during coverage of the Royal Wedding last year really made me sit up and consider the impact of excessive TV viewing.  We had watched the marriage service on TV at home and then we were going to some friends for a celebratory lunch.  I told my boys that we could watch the rest of the wedding on the TV at our friends’ house – my eldest was particularly concerned at missing anything.  He turned to me and said in all seriousness,” But Mummy, what about the kiss – will that be in the next episode?”. Now if it hadn’t been quite amusing, I might well have gasped in horror that my son had actually confused real life with TV programmes to the extent that he is unable to distinguish between the two.  To be fair to him, he is not alone and in fact there are many adults who seem incapable of separating fact from fiction, TV from real life.  The curse of the soap opera baddie is the abuse he gets in the street from Joe Public who has failed to make the fairly simple connection that just because the person in front of him “plays”

English: TV receiver

English: TV receiver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

X from Y soap opera, he is not actually X.

So what to do? Well, not watching any TV is not an option and anyway there are positives to watching some things and let’s face it, the TV is an integral part of our existence nowadays.  I would like my children to watch less and I do think their behaviour reflects the amount of and what they have watched on TV.  I think this is particularly true of boys – for example, the wrestling viewing definitely leads to rough and tumble with my sitting room as the wrestling ring (no idea what the terminology should be) and I have to admit to finding it intensely irritating that my son insists on addressing me as “mate” at the moment which I can only assume originated from some trash he has managed to watch on the quiet.  Although my children seem to watch a lot of TV and I am always trying to cut it down, I have to remind myself that for the majority of the day, they are out there with their friends or at school or playing sport and a little bit of downtime is a good thing. Actually one of my major problems with TV is not actually the programmes themselves (although as I said previously there is a lot of trash out there) but the advertising on commercial channels to which children seem particularly susceptible – but that will have to be another blog, another time.