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.

Advertisements

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”!).

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.