Sunday, 22 December 2013

Feeling sorry for myself on my birthday.

It's my birthday.

I'm 37 today.

B is not here so I am single-parenting four children. He was working in Milton Keynes on Friday and then at a thing (the sort of thing you only get invited to twice in your life and that you don't, as a result, turn down, wife's birthday or no) in Oxford last night.  He is, I am told, now on the motorway heading home.  I expect him, with a delicious dinner he will have picked up at the motorway services*, probably around five-ish.
I am very tired, having been up 'til gone midnight wrapping presents and making an ice-cream igloo for those who don't like Christmas pudding.

The children are fractious and scrapping like small tigers, all teeth and claws and lots and lots of noise.

It is, in fact, just a normal day.  With the addition of a lovely new shirt, which I am wearing, and the promise of cake later when my sister and her boyfriend get here, the first of the Christmas arrivals.

So better than a normal day really.  And actually with four children under seven, an absent husband, and thirteen people for lunch in three days' time I probably shouldn't have expected anything else.

But it's my birthday so I'll cry if I want to.

Or laugh.  Because it appears that the children have internalised some of what B must have told them; as I type the screaming next door is taking on a topical note:


So near, but yet so far...


*Tebay, so while that is strictly true, it is also much, much better than it sounds.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Read with mother

What's your favourite bit of the day?

Clearly it's the five minutes after they're all in bed.  Isn't it? 
No.  Scratch that, it's the five minutes after they're all in bed and have stopped coming downstairs with spurious excuses about imaginary spiders and empty stomachs.

But apart from that bit, what's your favourite bit of the day?

When I stop to think about it, and am not racing through in the hope of bringing the previously mentioned moment forward by forty-eight seconds, it's the one in the picture.
 That moment, or something a little like it, because actually they each get individual stories (ish, S and A share, as they do a bedroom, but they do get two), happens in our house every day.  It happened every day for me when I was little too; it's just part of our bedtime ritual.  It would never occur to me not to do it, any more than it would occur to me not to clean their teeth.

But apparently that's not true of everyone any more. I hesitate to come out with a statistic, because if you google it, you get numbers varying from only one-fifth to a slightly better but still, to me, surprisingly low one-third, but whatever the true number, many, many parents don't read to their children every night, and many children are turning to screens rather than books to fill their leisure time.
So, to help me read with our children at bedtime, and yes, this is a sponsored post, M&S sent me some new pyjamas, and some lovely books.  The asked, too, why reading to the children was important to me, and what I felt we all got out of it.
 Now, clearly there's an element of preaching to the converted here: they're not getting me to do anything I wasn't already doing after all, but that's why I was happy to take their pjs. 

As I say, though, M&S haven't brilliantly converted a non-reading parent to a reading one with the bribe of a pair of Thomas pyjamas and a book of fairy stories, but what they have done is made me sit and think about why I read to them and what I think it does for all of us. 

And I think it varies as they get older.  For S and A still, and certainly M (who was, if the truth be told, much more chuffed with the pjs than the stories), there is, I suspect, an element of the story serving mainly to stave off the hideous prospect of having to go to bed, and it is their stories I more often race through unthinkingly, but it is also a calm time, a quiet time, a time which can redeem an awful half hour of whinging in the bath and help make the transition into bed just that little bit easier for all of us. 
For L though, it's increasingly about the love of the book.   At six and a half, she is beginning to understand that books can take her places she can never otherwise get to, and for me reading to her (and the fact that I won't let B do it is telling, I feel) is properly precious time.  We cuddle up in bed together and share something as equals, often something I remember from my own childhood: we're reading The Dolls' House at the moment, complete with my (approximately) seven year old handwriting in it, and last week I sobbed my way through the final chapter and a half of Charlotte's Web, while L looked utterly bemused (she's not got the whole loving books that make you cry thing yet, clearly).   She honestly said to me today (and I realise this is going to sound insufferable, but she really did say it): " I think reading is my favourite thing to do".

And there's the rub.  Because reading is my (or one of my) favourite things to do too.  And I couldn't be more delighted that she loves it.  But she's beginning to love reading more than she loves being read to.  She didn't get a story tonight because she said she'd rather read to herself instead.  This may partly be because she's got a Rainbow Fairy book (truly as hideous as it sounds) out of the library and I just can't bring myself to go anywhere near them (hence the library), but I think also she's just beginning to get the pleasure of losing herself in the book of her choice.

I don't think her time of being read to is coming to an end, but I do think, sadly, that it is time limited and I am not, as I had rather hoped to be, going to be the female version of the father who read to his daughter every night until she turned 18.  I hope we'll get to 10, maybe a little longer, but there will come a time when I no longer read to any of them, and I will miss it.

Still, at least I've got three more goes at Charlotte's Web before then.  Who knows, I may not even need tissues when it's M's turn...

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Giving good present.

As I say, it's A and S's birthday tomorrow.

It is also, today my Mum's birthday.  And my sister's boyfriend's.   On Sunday it was my cousin's.  It's my brother's on Saturday.

And eleven days later (with my own birthday in between, though fortunately I'm not responsible for buying the presents for that one) it's You Know What.  For which, not including the ones from You Know Who, I have to buy 49 separate gifts.

I'm doing a lot of shopping at the moment.  Stashed away in my secret cupboard with my highly confidential client files I've got playmobil and lego, cashmere and silk, chopping boards and mixers, games and puzzles.  Literally.

But actually the present I'm most excited by is the one I've just bought.

It's a Deki voucher.  Or three Deki vouchers.  £10 each for each of the girls.

Deki contacted me to tell me about themselves and the vouchers, but they aren't giving me anything to write this post. I am genuinely, boringly (I've told everyone I've seen since) excited by this.

Because Deki do micro-loans.  A small sum loaned by my children to someone in a developing country to help them set up a business, and (hopefully) in due course repaid.  And from my children's point of view, the best bit is that with Deki, you get to choose who the money goes to.  Deki is, I think (from a cursory google search), the only UK-based charity through whom this is possible.

So after Christmas and the consumption has died down, the girls and I can sit round the computer and decide.  Do they want to give their money to Lucy's restaurant in Malawi or do they think that Heleine's shop in Togo is a better place for it? 

Once they've decided, they lend their money, all £10 of it, to the person they've chosen.  And, hopefully, in due course, it comes back into their Deki account.  Once it does, they can, if they wish, cash it in and spend it on sweets, or, I hope, invest it in someone else. 

They will receive no interest on the money, but they should (Deki has a 99% repayment rate) get it all back.  Interest is charged on the loans but this is used by Deki's not-for-profit operating partners in the countries concerned to cover operating costs only.  Deki itself is a charity and its costs are covered by donations.

My children are still very young.  They have very little understanding of money, other than that it has value to other people, so I don't think this is going to teach them much about money or finance or lending, but I do hope that, at the very least, it will encourage them to take an interest in people with very different lives, and I'd like to think that Deki, or micro-lending generally will become a habit.  I certainly intend it to for me.

I don't want to sound smug or sanctimonious, but I genuinely do think that this might be the present we all remember long after the playmobil has been packed back into its box.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Party bags? Bah humbug!

It's S and A's birthday on Wednesday.  They'll be five. 

Pause for disbelieving intake of breath and how did that happen and gosh aren't they big type thoughts...

On Friday fifty-something children will be congregating in the village hall for a disco.   That's both primary 1 classes and a few hangers on... I know, we're mad, but the theory is that at this stage they're still young enough (just about) to be controlled (and I've cunningly invited both teachers too), and we're never going to invite the entirety of both classes ever again.  Ever.

Anyway, there will be cake, and singing, and candles, and gangnam style (heaven help me) and musical bumps and probably a sausage or two.

What there won't be though, whisper it, is any party bags.

No.  Say it loud. I'm stingy and I'm proud:


But actually, it's not just my tight-fisted nature.  Because there will instead be a book (£30 for fify books) and a small packet of haribo each.

But no party bags.

The girls went to Billy's party yesterday afternoon. They came back with this:

Now, I intend no disrespect to Billy's parents, who are hugely generous and put on a fabulous party for thirty children with magician (and real rabbit) and crisps and balloons and everything else you want if you're five. 

But then somehow they're also expected to provide this bunch of, quite frankly, tat.  I have no idea what half that stuff is or does - the little plastic figures for instance, or the things that look like suppositories. They rattle incidentally, but don't open, rather to the girls' disappointment.

The whole lot (chocolate coins, colouring books and the big blue hairbands excepted) went in the bin within ten minutes of bedtime last night.  It has not been missed.

And it's the waste that really gets me.  There are intelligent, committed workers in China or Bangladesh who spend their days and their human energy making this stuff.   It then gets shipped across the world, to get sold (because, as I say, I don't in any way fault Billy's parents' generosity) to people who mostly resent buying it, to get put into little plastic bags (also doubtless made overseas and shipped here in vast containers of more plastic rubbish),  to get given to children who neither need it nor miss it when it's gone, only to get thrown away and then, almost certainly, shipped back to China to get shoved in landfill.

How can any of that possibly be right?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Big numbers for small people

B was in London earlier on this week.  He bumped into my sister on the tube.   They rang me together at the children's supper time and it made me smile.

"Girls", I said after they'd hung up,  "There are seven million people in London and guess who Daddy bumped into?"

They couldn't.  I told them.  They looked underwhelmed by the coincidence (although that sort of thing happens unstatistically often, don't you think?).  But it obviously got L thinking.

"Mummy?"  she said. "How many people are there in London did you say?"
"Seven million."
"Is that counting Daddy or not?"

Monday, 2 December 2013

NaBloPoMo - how did I do(e)?

I set myself a task for National Blog Posting Month (who came up with that one? They should be taken out and sho...).

Read a new blog every day.
Write a new post at least twice a week.

So how did I do?

Well, unlike my children (parents' evenings last week) it turns out I'm better at the writing than the reading.  I've read a grand total of three new blogs, although I am choosing to blame at least some of that on the demise of google reader and the failure of feedly - which I joined only to have it die on me about three days later.

Bad Harriet.

I've done better on the writing - 12 posts in a month working out rather higher than my target rate  - although I will have to admit to cheating.  It's now 2nd December.  I actually wrote this on 27th.  (And clearly I should have published it yesterday but I didn't get round to actually clickin the button.   Hey ho.)   I've done that rather a lot, if the truth be told: written in stits and farts (apologies, can't remember who came up with that one either, but I rather like it, and fits and starts doesn't have the same authenticity at all) two or three posts here, none there, all carefully timed so that it looks like I'm writing twice a week, when actually I'm not. Or not always.

But it's ok.  I set the targets so I can change them.

Which I suppose is rather the conclusion I've reached about blogging as a whole. It's my blog, and I'll cry/post/write/abandon it if I want to.

I'm not going to (abandon it) though, although I thought I might at the beginning of the month. Not yet anyway. I've enjoyed putting fingers to keyboard, and I've realised that it's up to me how and when I do that.  I'm nearly 37 and I'm only just working out that I can (within reason) mostly do what I like and that (within reason) what other people think about it really doesn't matter.

So if you're still reading, thank you.  And if you're not, you'll never see this anyway (but I hope you're enjoying reading whatever you are reading instead).

And I'm all enthused about a Christmas present post I've got brewing so come back for that soon...