Angry Birds and Flying Cornflakes

© Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, via Wikimedia Commons

© Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, via Wikimedia Commons

An air of evening calm settled over the charming family campsite we were staying at. It was 9pm. Crickets chirped, Cicadas chattered, and Children chuckled their way from toilet-block teeth-brushing into snuggly sleeping bags.

And then. The foghorn sounded. Just as the children were drifting off to sleep …

‘Baptiste!!! Viens-la! Dépêche-toi!’

Which roughly translates from French as ‘Baptiste! Come here! Hurry up!’ It was the first outburst of many in a verbal tirade that lasted twelve minutes. It took place at the play area – just the other side of the hedge from our camping pitch, and about nine metres as the crow flies from the children’s tent. Mercifully the wee ones were so tired from their outdoor day that I could have detonated a kilo of explosives in the tent and they would not have stirred.

But still.

Such disturbance of the peace was surely unwarranted? Not to mention unnecessary. I’ve no idea who Baptiste was, but the poor lad’s only crime seemed to have been playing out and having fun in the designated play area. When Mum had decided it was time for him to return to the bosom of his tent she fired off a machine-gun burst of linguistic abuse that prompted a similar response from her harassed offspring before he reluctantly (and who can blame him?) unpeeled himself from the climbing frame and shuffled, sloth-like back to his canvas abode.

As peace descended once more I sipped my wine and thought what a perfect example this little episode was of the way kids reflect the manner in which we communicate with them. A purposeful, calm approach, sans yelling, would almost certainly have kept the whole interaction on a more relaxed level. Baptiste would doubtless have attempted to negotiate a little extra time at play – it’s what kids do. It’s the parent’s job to manage that. All that shouting achieved was to make both parent and child stressed, and to unsettle the lives of the 70 other individuals in the immediate vicinity.

It’s not always easy to keep your cool with kids. They have a knack for pressing all your most sensitive buttons, and seem to relish winding you up and setting you off to paddle furiously like a bath time turtle, before laughing in your face at the absurdity of it all.

Little tykes.

But an air of calm in the family can only be cultivated if Mum and Dad lead by example.  So next morning, when Joe inadvertently stood on his bowl of cornflakes, catapulting milk and soggy orange shapes all over his Duplo, the cool-box and the camping stove I didn’t shout. I suppressed the feeling of mass irritation that welled in my chest and molded it into something resembling mirth. With a smidgen of careful counselling on the avoidance of future cereal flinging thrown in for good measure.

Joe looked both sorry and relieved, and gave me a big squidgy hug before helping me clean up. I smiled as I silently banished my inner Angry-Bird back to her nest.

 

 

 

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The Art of Pasta

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In a whizz-bang-flash the latest school year came to a close here yesterday.

WhereDidThatGo?!!

The year in which my girl started formal school, and my boy eased gently into full-time nursery. The year in which I remembered what ‘me’ time feels like. But all that was put on hold when the school herded the kids out for the last time yesterday, and Ella bounded into the room at 7am this morning with the curious early-energy that is so mysteriously lacking on school days. The summer holidays have well and truly landed.

I need a large, strong, hot, black coffee.

There. Much better.

Now. How to fill this expanse of time ahead of us? When I’m around I tend to indulge the children on the first few days of holidays. They are endlessly enthusiastic and in dire need of adjusting their stimulation radar to accommodate the slower pace of non-school life. I like to ease them in gently. An arty activity felt right, but I couldn’t face the paints, not on Day One.

Flushed with the success of replenishing my pasta stocks the other day, I had an different idea to satisfy their creative appetites. Pasta Art.

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I couldn’t quite cope with bursting open multiple tubs, so we applied the KISS principle and worked only with Torti (little spiral pasta shapes that are short and versatile enough to be collectively arranged into a variety of easy shapes). I filled a bowl with Torti and arranged us around it, strategically placing myself between the children to minimise any risk of competitive conflict erupting (it happens).

Let the Pasta Art fest begin!

We started with a face, a tree and a star. Nice neutral shapes that are simple to create. Then the inevitable stereotypes that I’ve tried Oh-So-Hard to prevent in my kids crept in:

Ella – ‘Let’s make a girl!’

Joe – ‘No, a car!’

So we made both …

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The opportunities with this activity are endless. When you consider the diversity of pasta shapes available it’s possible for even young kids to be quite intricately creative. If the mood is upon them.

We fiddled and made pictures, shapes and words for about half an hour before crunching alerted me to the fact that Joe was getting bored and had started eating the uncooked shapes. The clean-up is quick and easy, especially if you give each child a tray to work on. You can even create a guessing game where one child starts a pasta-make, and the others have to try to imagine what it will be. Like Pictionary without the cards and pens.

I love the holidays. Juggling work and childcare is always a challenge, but taking the school-run-rush out of the mix somehow seems to bring an air of calm to the house that is the perfect environment for wild imaginations to thrive.

Once the Pasta Art session was complete the children were dispatched for free play while I made lunch. My Mummy ears remained vigilant for sounds of trouble about the house, but were instead assaulted only with the sounds of collaborative industry. Together the children made a pirate boat from the living room chairs, and amused themselves with walking the plank and fighting sea monsters. I smiled to myself – it so often seems to me that creative endeavours stimulate the imagination in more ways than one. The Pasta Art session was half an hour well spent.

Girls can’t play with cars …

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

 

… in the same way as boys do. I have decided that this is one of life’s Universal Truths.

 

Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Daddy:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Daddy: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Again, again!’

Beams and nods. And repeat. Many times.

 

Now.  Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Me:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Me: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Not like THAT Mummy!’

Smashes cars together in frustration. Stomps off in a huff. (Joe, not me. Most of the time.)

 

Eh?

 

As a relatively self-aware Mum I know that I find it easier to relate to what are traditionally considered to be ‘Girl’ games. In the early days I used to try and encourage Joe to make a garage for his cars, and tuck them into bed. Naivety doesn’t even come close. In my simplistic mind it had worked for Ella so surely it was worth a try, right?

At some point it registered that Joe is a BOY. So I watched him playing with Daddy. And I made mental notes. And I tried very very hard to man-up my car-play:

  • I practiced my ‘BBRRRRRUUUUMMM’ in the shower. To amused looks from my other half.
  • I Googled ‘playing with toy cars’. Have you ever done this? Fascinating. And in some cases a bit, well, weird!
  • I watched Toy Story. Again.
  • I even crept into my boy’s room during school-time to have a play on my own in a desperate attempt to jettison any remaining awkwardness around all things mechanical.
  • I made myself available for motor-mania at every opportunity.

Things have improved without a doubt, but there is no getting away from it – Daddy-car-play is still preferable to Mummy-car-massacre in his eyes. Sigh. If Daddy’s not around then my pathetic attempts will generally suffice. Under sufferance, and amid much eye-rolling and fist-clenching from my boy. He’s very patient.

I used to think it was just me, but this weekend an impromptu session of Mum-therapy showed me I’m far from alone.

Dropping Joe off at a friend’s house for a birthday party I was corralled into joining the other Mums in their garden for a glass of the red stuff. Imagine. Relaxing on a Saturday afternoon instead of chipping ice off the freezer or getting tooled-up to do battle with the oven-spray. You know, they really had to twist my arm.

The party was in honour of a little pal of Joe’s who has just turned three (my boy is three-and-a-half). In a perfect reflection of text-book-preschoolers the group, which numbered four, spent a happy time largely ignoring each other. Until one decided it was time to play on the ride-on tractor. At which point cherry-picking, caterpillar-hunting, and random digging were simultaneously abandoned and the little men swarmed around the vehicular honey-pot in a mass of grubby knees and pointy-elbows.

We Mummy-guests offered objective support from a distance in our bubble of relief while the resident Mum exercised her parental muscles to resolve the conflict with a lesson in sharing and a fair degree of small-boy-lifting and re-siting (who needs kettlebells?). Re-filling her wine glass we did the empathy thing and then collectively reflected on boys and their toys.

To a woman we have all experienced the car-play scenario above. Many many many times. And it seems impossible to resolve, despite our best creative attempts.

I’m sure there are Mums out there whose car-play is to the satisfaction of their young male offspring. but now I know I’m not entirely alone I don’t feel so bad. I do my best. In car-play with my boy, in character-play with my girl. And every single time I do anything remotely child-related. That’s what being a parent is about after all. No instructions, no rule book. Just a terrifying fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ride where the only thing you can do with any certainty is – your best. The odd cry of ‘Vive la différence!’ works too.

And so does the odd glass of red.

 

For Granny …

© seyed mustafa zamani, via Wikimedia Commons

My Mum has been visiting this last week, she left for home this morning.  We see her maybe 5 or 6 times each year.  I miss her.  The children love her.  She is awesome.  We’re all feeling a bit low tonight, so here is a little poem to let her, and Grandparents everywhere, know how much they are loved, and the hole they leave behind when they have to go home.  Love you Mum xxx

 Granny, when you come and stay

Our  smiles they spread out wide,

You’re always there to play with us

At the park, on the swing, on the slide.

Granny, you don’t mind if we

Want to cover you in leaves,

You lay down happy as a lamb

If it makes us smile, you’re pleased.

Granny, you will paint and make

And dance and sing and more,

And even when you tell us off

We love you to the core.

Granny, you will always come

With lots of gifts and toys,

We love them all, but to have you here

Is the very best present of all.

Granny, we know that when you’re here

Our Mummy’s happy too,

She loves you lots and when you’re gone

She’s sad, just like we two.

Granny, when you snuggle up

Beside us on the chair,

We hug in tight and treasure it

Tomorrow you won’t be there.

Granny, when you leave for home

Our smiles they shrink, we cry,

We miss you when you’re not around

Please come back soon, do try!