Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What does your child's teacher call you?

Learning the ropes as a parent
And do you care?

If someone from school has to ring you up, who do they as for? Do they ask for so-and-so's mum or do they use your name. Do they always get it right?  If you the kind of family where everyone has the same surname, then you're probably wondering what I'm on about. Of course they call you Mrs X...

But despite two marriages I've never really been a Mrs and never had my husband's name. I like mine too much. 

It's not unusual with modern families as they are, often the kids' second names aren't the same as mum's or as dad's. 

Actually, it's not "modern" at all, in fact, you could argue that to have the same name as your spouse and therefore your kids is, possibly, becoming the old-fashioned option. And then there's that whole thing about why should a woman take a man's name.. why shouldn't he take hers? Or should you hypenate your way into a whole new can of worms? 

In this house we have three surnames between five of us.

If school or nursery rings then I don't expect them to know what my name is, just who I belong to. Good lord, I take my hat off to teachers for remembering the names of all the kids they are responsible for, I certainly couldn't. I don't imagine for a minute that they will know what my name is and if they do, it's probably because we've been drawing attention to ourselves and not in a good way. 

This week my lovely cousin, who is a teacher, married her lovely chap, also a teacher. We chatted at the reception and I wondered if she was taking her name. I don't care if anyone does or doesn't, I'm just nosy that way. 

What she said surprised me. She said she was changing her name to her new husband's because of her experiences with parents of her pupils. 

She told me that when you had to call a parent and if you mistakenly assumed the mother had the same name as the child the error could spark a cross and rude reaction. 

She said: "They expect us to know and even when we look up the records to check the information might not be there. It's just really, really difficult."

I've never been concerned when a teacher has called asking for Mrs S.... or Mrs L.... depending on which child they're interested in. I often don't even bother to correct the mistake, after all it's not about me it's about my kids. 

Do you care what your teachers call you? Would it be enough to make you change your name?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Mother’s Twelve Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas,
My family sent to me
A list of things for under the tree (The first sign of the approaching season, “just watch this advert mum” and “look at this catalogue, mum”. )

On the second day of Christmas,
My family sent to me
Two oven gloves (For all the cooking that’s going to be done over the next few weeks)
And a list of things for under the tree

On the third day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
socks, large men’s, (Bigger, the better to be stuffed with presents)
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the fourth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Four calling cards (Left by delivery people when I wasn’t in so I have to phone to arrange another day for whatever essential gift to be delivered)
Socks, large men’s,
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the fifth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Five old things, (mysterious, crumpled and found at the bottom of the decorations box once we finally remembered where we put it in January.)
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the sixth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Six bills for paying, (if we get away with six, it’ll be a miracle)
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the seventh day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Seven songs we’re singing (you know the ones, in all the shops “I wish it could be, have yourself, stop the cavalry, let it snow, I saw mummy kissing...)
Six bills for paying
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the eighth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Eight children sulking (I know it’s Christmas, but you can’t have it/do it/eat it/stay up to see it)
Seven songs we’re singing
Six bills for paying
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the ninth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Nine hours of dancing, (well it was the office party)
Eight children sulking
Seven songs we’re singing
Six bills for paying
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the tenth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Ten toys a-beeping, (every flipping single one will make an annoying noise)
Nine hours of dancing, 
Eight children sulking
Seven songs we’re singing
Six bills for paying
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Eleven days of wiping, (housework needing done) 
Ten toys a-beeping, 
Nine hours of dancing, 
Eight children sulking
Seven songs we’re singing
Six bills for paying
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas, 
My family sent to me 
Twelve people coming (how are we going to fit them around the table for turkey?), 
Eleven days of wiping, 
Ten toys a-beeping, 
Nine hours of dancing, 
Eight children sulking
Seven songs we’re singing
Six bills for paying
Five old things, 
Four calling cards
Socks, large men’s
Two oven gloves
And a list of things for under the tree

This is part of a piece I wrote for the Christmas edition of Clyde LIfe which you can read on line.

And in a spooky twist of blogging fate, unbeknownst to me, my sister was writing her version over in Edinburgh - The Twelve Days of Christmas at Barnton Pharmacy.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

'Tis the season for great resourcefulness or the sanitary product whiskers and other tales

Isn't it wonderful, the little ones all wide-eyed at the magic of the season?

Boy Three, at two and a half, is just getting his head round the idea that a fat chap in a red suit will bring presents for him. Although I've noticed he is considerably less keen on the notion that he has to wait for Christmas Day for this bounty. 

What he is clear about is the sparkly marvel of the season. His big brothers are helping by spinning an increasingly elaborate yarn about the big fellow. 

"He lives in Lapland with the elves."

"No. He doesn't. It's the North Pole with Mrs Claus."



And however much of a miserable old humbug you are, it is lovely to see the sheer wonderment on the gullible faces of small children. 

I'll never forget the day our local Santa Wagon came up the street one misty night. Boys One and Two were still pre-schoolers. They were in awe at the sight of The Man Himself outside our house dishing out sweeties accompanied by a fleet of elves. Of course, what I saw was a pickup truck with someone sat in a patio chair on the back regally waving in time to amplified Frosty The Snowman and trying not to dislodge his beard. I didn't see any elves at all, only some Scouts rattling collecting tins. 

It's important to work that Father Christmas fairy story for the sake of the little ones as long as they'll have it and even through the year or two when they really can't possibly believe any longer, but pretend to just in case.

When we were little I remember Santa used to get a wee large glass of sherry and a mince pie. Rudolf got some carrots and, once I think, some hay. In the morning the evidence was there in the form of an empty glass, a few pie crumbs and a carrot with teeth marks. 

But then I heard a story this weekend that illustrated true devotion to the cause. 

In this particular family, their Santa was inclined to moult. This may have been something to do with the warmer temperatures he encountered visiting children at more southerly latitudes, or from spending quite a lot of time in chimneys. Whatever. In the morning, the children of the house would find bits of white fluffy beard stuck to the edge of the mince pie and drained glass. More proof. 

However, one particular Christmas Eve everything was going perfectly as the parents were staging the Father Christmas was here scene. Pie crumbs, check; whiskey glass emptied, check; carrots bitten, check; beard fluff positioned ... oh no. The parents searched in vain for cotton wool. Eventually, fearful of the gaff being blown they resourcefully dismembered an unused tampon to yield enough white fluff to convince the kids. 

The girl who told me the story is still not sure she'll ever recover from her mother's confession. 

What lengths do you go to to keep the mythology alive? 

Review: How Happy Hopperz make kids hop happily

Happy Hopperz are like space hoppers only better. They are designed for the under threes, come in animal shapes and bright colours.
We were sent a red cow for Boy Three to have a go on. Now, Boy Three is an energetic and curious individual who is better kept entertained because if he gets bored anything can happen.
Toddlers are particularly bouncy creatures, so to create a toy that runs on bounce but doesn’t cost the earth or require trailing around in the rain seems like a work of genius.
What is it? It’s an inflatable cow designed to be sat on and bounced by small people. They can bounce either in one place or, Boy Three’s preferred option, on the move.
Do kids like it? Oh yes. There were fights over it despite Boy Three’s brothers being far too old and large for it.
Do parents like it? Yup. No bits, no mess and children wearing themselves out. Ideal.
Will they still like it in a week? I reckon so. It’s quite a good toy to chuck in the car for trips to Granny’s as it’s an excellent way to get them to burn off some energy.
Anything that’s not good? Just wondering why they don’t do them in adult sizes. I could see that catching on – in fact ad agencies would be rushing to chuck out the chairs and have their ‘creatives’ sitting on them.
Worth the money? I’d say so. If you’re struggling for gift ideas for little ones that won’t drive the parents potty, Happy Hopperz are perfect.
Happy Hopperz, £22.95
Important info: Due to a small valve, EU law recommends these for use by children age 3+. But with adult supervision younger children can also enjoy the product.
Size: 50cm x 26cm x 26cm.
Stockist name: The Handpicked Collection
Stockist phone: 0844 482 9736
Stockist website:

Disclosure: We were given a Happy Hopperz to review.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

What shape is your family?

That is my family in the picture. Or most of them. The picture was taken after a fantastic family weekend to celebrate my mother’s 70th this summer. 

I’m showing you because just this week a survey shows that British families are no longer ma, pa and the 2.4 weans. 

No shit Sherlock. 

This group that is my family contains divorcees, cohabitees, married couples, couples together but not cohabiting, singles, widows, first marriages, second marriages, civil partnerships, donor insemination kids, out of wedlock kids, siblings, half siblings, step relations and probably a few others I can’t think of. 

The easier bit is to define what this family does. It supports each other, it looks after its children and other folk who need some TLC, it tolerates each other’s funny little ways and it understands that, when the chips are down, family will be there.

However, I have long held the view that the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up with what my version of family really means. 
  • I have frequently been irritated by the fact that my family doesn’t fit neatly into the 2 + 2 “traditional” model. (Family ticket for only four people?)
  • I have become weary of explaining that, yes, there are three different surnames in our five-person family. So what?
  • My husband has been asked on more than one occasion how he can bring up another man’s children. 
  • Eyebrows are still raised that he takes equal responsibility for childcare. 
  • In some circles working mothers are still considered to be a bad thing, or, at best, a necessary evil. Same goes for single parents, like they are somehow delinquent.
So it’s good news that research from a new think tank backs up what many of us have known for a long time. There is no one-size-fits-all family, and, more importantly, neither should there be.

The Centre for the Modern Family, which is funded by Scottish Widows, says only 16 per cent of people consider they are in a “traditional” family, which isn’t very many. 

It also found that almost a quarter do not believe their family is valued by society with, 18 per cent saying they feel judged because of their family set up.

One of the Centre’s experts Professor Tanya Byron, of The House of Tiny Tearaways fame,  said: “Family is the spine of society. Everyone comes from a family, everyone has an opinion on family, and without this vital support network many of us would simply break.

“At a time of continued social change and as the financial squeeze on families gets even tighter, The Centre for the Modern Family aims to improve understanding, and ultimately strengthen families – in all their varied forms – across the country.”

Here are some interesting facts about today’s British family:
84 % of families define themselves as not being traditional
25% of couples are childless 
3% of the population define themselves as being part of a multi-generational household 
25% of people over 60 live alone with no family nearby 
20% of the population now lives alone 
50% of the population believes that society has an outdated view of the family 
57% of people believe that a couple with children do not have to be married to be a proper family 
20% of people feel that their family does not give them enough personal space 
22% of people do not feel their family type is valued by society 
59% of people see gay couples as a family 
77% see single parents as a family 
75% of people say they are religious but only 40% say this impacts upon their way of life or their family life

So, what kind of family have you got? Are you judged or valued because of it? 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Review: Regatta Splosh all-in-one, for the ambitious puddle jumper

Boy Three loves a puddle – one of his favourite things is to leap two-footed into the deepest one he can find.

He also loves playing out with his brothers, keeping up with them as best he can. The natural outcome of this ambition is that he spends much of his time hurtling after them so fast he ends up face-down, usually somewhere wet, cold and muddy. This is noisy and annoying.

The summer was fine, we just let him get grubby, but now it’s turned cold we need to find something to keep him warm and dry. Although he’s only two and a half, he’s a big lad and needs clothes made for older – and less fallyover – children.

So I was delighted when we were offered a Regatta all-in-one Splosh suit to try out. I chose a blue one in size 36 - 48 months.

First look: The suit is padded but not overly thick. It has a zip from throat down to the bottom of the right leg, elastic at leg and wrist and a fleece-lined hood. There are reflective trims round each sleeve.

Putting it on: Getting Boy Three into any garment is always something of a full body experience, so I was slightly trepidatitous about how easy it would be to get him into the Splosh. I needn’t have worried, it’s roomy and the zip isn’t fiddly. He was in it before he knew what was happening.

Is it warm? It seemed to be. He was toasty when everyone else was moaning about how cold it was.

Is it comfy? Once again, it seemed to be. Some all-in-ones are too bumfly (it’s a technical term meaning bulky) for comfort, but this wasn’t.

Any negatives: I wonder if the outer fabric is strong enough to withstand the kind of playing Boy Three will give it, but so far so good. It doesn’t have a tight fastening at the neck so a scarf will be necessary on really cold days.

The ultimate test? During this trip to the park with his brothers, Boy Three did the inevitable face plant. He was fished out pretty quickly, but instead of being soaked to the skin and needing to go straight home, he was quite dry inside.

Is it worth it: I’d say so. I’m also delighted to note that it is available in a bigger size as I don’t suppose Boy Three will have grown out of flinging himself into wet things by next year.

Disclosure: I was given a Regatta Splosh suit to review.

The suit, and a huge range of other kit, is available from outdoor clothing specialists Regatta.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A cautionary tale about making assumptions

Once upon a time there was a nation and that nation was up the proverbial without a paddle. The rulers of the nation had borrowed lots and lots of gold to buy shiny things for the people.

Now, after a while the people had got used to a certain amount of shininess and didn't really see why they should give it up. Especially as - inevitably in matters of shiny things - some people had loads, more than they'd ever need, and others were having their favourite baubles, the ones they were saving for later, snatched from under their noses.

The upshot of all this was that many people in the nation were cheesed off. Some, particularly those who worked directly for the nation and its rulers, reckoned they'd had enough. And so it was decided there would be A Strike. 

Up and down the nation people put down their tools and whatnot in the hope of making A Point.

Strikers included the child-tamers of the nation. This was good news for the children in the land were delighted. They had an extra day off - although some were already due to stay at home down to the benevolence of King Eck the First and it being St Andrew's Day. Their parents were much, much less delighted. Some, especially those who didn't work for the nation, but worked for themselves, were lumbered. 

So up and down the nation, children went to work with their parents - some helped out but more just slumped in the corner playing on their Nintendo DSi and sighing. 

Also in this nation was another Chap. His trade took him into many businesses all across the land. On the day of The Strike he was out and about as usual. Only, being an observant Chap, he noticed that many of the businesses he visited had at least one child hanging around it like a bad smell. 

The genial Chap took to commenting on this, breaking the ice if you will. "I see you've got your little helper in today," he said. 

But then in one business, our bold Chap's comment was met with silence. And in the silence the "little helper" turned round and revealed herself to be a very, very short, but entirely grown-up adult woman. And this woman didn't look happy at all.

Our hero, realising that little good could come of an explanation, fled. 

The moral of this entirely true story is that you must never make assumptions, must look before you leap and when in doubt say nowt. 

Thanks to the Chap for telling me this tale, it fair brightened up my day. And thankfully for him, while his story had similarities to that scene in Don't Look Now, there wasn't a meat cleaver in sight.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Cold comfort: Ten ways I know it really is winter

Obviously a quick glance at the calendar tells me that it's early December and the fact we are at 55 degrees north mean that it's winter. Autumn is over and spring is a very, very long way off.

However, I'm told it was the warmest autumn since warm autumns began meanwhile, shops have been flogging fake snow-covered festive scenes for weeks already.

So I need to use other measures of the passing seasons.

Here are my top ten clues that it's winter:

  • I have blisters on my ankle bones from a close encounter with a hot water bottle.
  • The central heating has needed repaired.
  • The toddler has out grown his winter boots.
  • It is daylight for such short amounts of time that it's hardly worth opening the curtains and certainly not worth cleaning the windows.
  • The vests are out. Boy Three got new ones which prompted this conversation. "Isn't this vest lovely? It feels all cosy.""It doesn't feel cosy. It feels all mummy."
  • I am reminded of how expensive it is to buy tickets for a city centre pantomime. Boo hiss.
  • Sean Batty is overheard saying "snow likely on higher ground".
  • There is a tiny little frost and three people I meet in a morning report falling over.
  • Any pretence at maintaining feet and legs in a respectable ladylike manner is abandoned with glee.
  • I get invited to review a sledge. 
  • Christmas cards arrive.

But this year I am organised. We have anti freeze, a windscreen cosy, a shiny new snow shovel and I'm giving serious thought to some of those snow grips that strap on to your shoes. Mr J Frost, bring it on - I'm ready.

Review: Light Strike the interactive gaming system

Wowee Light Strike Game set
My boys got very excited about this “interactive gaming system” when a whole heap of interesting looking boxes arrived for us. We had been some Light Strike kit to try out. Actually when I say “we” I mean “them”. Shooty games are just not my bag, I hold the coats when we’re at one of those laser tag centres. 

What is Light Strike? It’s an “interactive gaming system”, which, apparently, means guns and targets that talk to each other, have flashy lights and make noise. There are attachments for the guns and other things that look terribly complicated, but a nine-year-old will be able to sort out in no time.

Will the kids like them? Without a doubt, the noises they make are almost enough. This is aggression and violence sanctioned and organised. Plus they look and sound cool. 

Will parents like them? Possibly. The noise could get on your nerves, but then it will have the kids off the sofa and the electronic games put down for a while.

How quickly can you get up and running? It depends. These guns gobble up batteries and you really do need to read the instructions. 

Are they worth it? Laser tag fans will think they are in heaven. 

What does a child say? “They’re fun - you get to shoot each other like real guns. I like the noise they make. It is better playing with more people although you can do target practice on your own.

“It’s hard to get the guns to change teams. And reload time is a little fast because if they were real guns it would be slower.”

What do WowWee (the manufacturers) say?  Light Strike is the first interactive gaming system that brings video games into the real world, live and in colour. Fully customisable with built-in weapon choices and slots to attach accessories, players can make tactical decisions to add new features and functions on the go. Interactive light and sound effects put you in the middle of combat, creating exciting ever-changing battle scenarios! It’s action at the speed of light!

Guns start at £29.99 and accessories from £9.99.

We were given a set of guns and gizmos to review.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Christmas with an Aspie: the present problem

It's a nightmare to pick presents for someone with Asperger's - or at least my someone with Asperger's.

I've spent hours and hundreds of pounds on the very, perfect, ideal thing for him. Something he would go "oh, mum, it's lovely, what a surprise" then use/play/wear/read/watch the thing for at least a day or so. 

But no. this doesn't happen. Expensive things have been largely ignored without even a pretense of interest. Sometimes, even, he's said: "I don't like this, why did you get it for me?"

I did think we'd got it right one year when his eyes lit up at all the battery operated things. Only within days I found them all disemboweled victims of his taking-things-to-bits obsession. 

Yet he's seen the adverts. He knows how it's supposed to be. He understands that you rip open a parcel and find something really exciting and wonderful inside. Except he never does. 

He also knows that Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, but mostly receiving. He spends more time on the phone to his dad and grandmother from mid November than he does for the entire rest of the year. 

There are prolonged discussions about what they are to get him, exactly. It bothers me - he hardly even troubles himself with any niceties before it's straight to the shopping list demands. Clearly, the unspoken rules everyone else follows - that, of course, you'll get presents, but you still have to act as thought that's not what the whole thing is about - are beyond him. 

"You can't just tell Nannie what to buy you?" I try to explain. 

"Why not?" he says. Why not, indeed. 

What's wrong with feeding his current obsession even though he might have moved on within a week or two? But how can we get him the 4D Cityscape Jigsaw of Hong Kong, some Penrith fudge, the fourth Skullduggery Pleasant book and another Lego set but still let him have some Christmas unwrapping surprises on the 25th?

In this month's NAS magazine Communications, Sarah Milne has written a fantastic article about  the difficulty of finding presents for children on the autistic spectrum. She suggests several toys and test drives them on her son and his friends. 

Some of the suggestions look like they might capture my boy's attention, but, then again, how can I be sure he'll engage with something he isn't obsessed with long enough to even see how to switch it on? 

Ho, ho, flipping, ho. 

Review: Blott Shop stationery - pencil case envy resolved

When is a 44-year-old woman not a 44-year-old woman? When she's presented with a package of amazing cute and funky stationery. 

When I was at school I had serious bouts of pencil case envy. There were other girls who had sweet smelling, beautiful stuff theirs while I had a few chewed pencils that said HB on them and a scribbled-on rubber. They seemed to have pencil cases that weren't falling to bits, pens that weren't just blue and rulers that hadn't been used to scoop Nutella out of a jar. I never managed it. 

So when Meg from Blott Shop offered to send me some of her wares to review jumped at the chance. Then, because I'm not 12 any longer, I forgot about it and got on with all the usual things that fill my life. 

But I got home the other day to find an interesting package waiting for me. What's this? The Panther of News, who is on an economy drive, was tutting assuming I'd been at the e-tail therapy again. 

But no. Oh! It was a bubble wrapped parcel of treasures. Pretty scented rubbers, a pen that writes pink (yes, pink!) , zippy pencil cases, badges, notebooks, key rings and a luggage tag. And all beautiful. My 14-year-old self would have fainted with desire at this little lot, and, even better they weren't in some other girl's pencil case. They were all mine. 

Thank you, Meg for the Blott Shop treasures. You have made my inner teenager very happy. And actually the outer 44-year-old is fairly chuffed too. I mean notebooks, pens and labels are necessary bits of kit, so why not have some fun with them. 

Why have an ordinary rubber when you can have one shaped like a motor bike, a dog or, best yet, a motorised rubber to do all that tedious rubbing for you?

So if you've got stocking fillers to get, pressies, the office secret Santa or even just a guilty little indulgence that won't make you fat, get you arrested or bust the bank, go to Blott Shop. I'll see you there. 

And who can look at Elvis the sticky tape dispenser and fail to think "genius"?

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