Parenting in the apocolypse

Hey Beestonians, I do hope you are doing well and are safe at home. That’s how we start our sentences now isn’t it? Not, ‘what have you been up to?’ or ‘been anywhere nice?’ Now we chat to people like we’re Victorian novelists.

Every communication begins with ‘I sincerely hope this letter finds you and your family in good health.’ Mr Darcy is spinning in his grave with excitement at it all.

Those of us with children at home seem to have fallen into one of three categories.

  1. Diligent home-schooling and regular work sent to school for marking, routines adhered to and alarms set in the morning.
  2. Maybe we do a couple of lessons a week and send a photo of a drawing to assure the school we are still alive, no alarms and very little diligence, a few arguments per day but no throwing things.
  3. The kids are feral/unsure as to location.

We have settled into category 2 at the moment. We do a couple of bits of school work and send a picture when we remember, but mostly do our own thing and try to stay sane. Our daughter’s school topic was Vikings, so instead of scholarly research and reading we built the most amazing Viking settlement out of Lego and had a full on war. No one learnt anything, but we will remember the fun we had. I reckon that’s the goal in a time of our lives when goals are paused. Just getting through the week sane and healthy, and maybe doing a couple of fun bits and bobs that the kiddos will remember.

By far the most memorable part of all of this for me is the sheer relentlessness of being a parent. I know that sounds daft because you sign up for that part when you have kids, but you also send them to nursery and then school and regain your time and head-space. My daughter has been going to some form of education for the last 7 years, and now she is HERE ALL OF THE TIME, AND WOULD LIKE ANOTHER SNACK PLEASE. I’ve taken to faking needing a wee just to get a few minutes alone upstairs. It’s not that I don’t love her company, but if she asks me another question about Roblox I’m moving into the back seat of my car.

I’m hoping her memories of this period of her life will be positive. We have tried to strike a balance between maintaining school contact and allowing her the freedom to make videos about balloon modelling in her room and send us endless edits. I hope that her main memory is that we were all together for a while. Both my husband and I work long hours and the kiddo is foisted upon grandparents a lot, but she will have had months with us, and got to know us a bit more. I hope that this makes us respect each other a little more and look forward to long weekends of doing nothing when this is all over.

I have a feeling that we will miss this little isolation bubble when we can choose to leave it. It’s either that or we go full Category 3 and teach her how to hunt the local cats with her teeth.

DL

Motherhood in a pandemic

WELL. GUYS. What a year we are having. I hope you’re all doing ok, and I really hope you are all reading this at home with the curtains tightly closed in case that creepy neighbour walks past again and waves. If you don’t have one of those, it’s you. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

There are rainbows in windows everywhere, thanking our key workers for their brilliant efforts, and behind each one is a parent who is relieved to have a half an hour activity with their bored offspring. Homeschooling started weeks ago with an enthusiastic bang, parents with well-meaning lesson plans all sat down on that first Monday and smashed through a day of spellings and maths, with some colouring-in for balance. Now, 3 weeks into the lockdown, we rarely know where the kids are and aren’t entirely sure if we’ve fed them today. Lesson plans have been replaced with shrugs and a glass of red. Minecraft is now a STEM activity and Roblox ticks the maths box because, I dunno really, it has numbers in?

“There is a lot of talk of mental health and wellbeing around on the internet at the moment, and for people with kids who are themselves at huge risk of losing their livelihoods (HELLO!) I think it’s for the best that we don’t try to be superhuman through all of this.”

I really thought I’d be fine with homeschooling. Keeping the kid on track, not really teaching but allowing her mind to stay academically active. No. Nope. Not even slightly. Right now she’s sat in a bucket of what I suspect is rainwater, Skyping her best mate on an old phone we’ve agreed she can use and eating what looks like raw frozen chips. I’m indoors watching Bargain Hunt and writing this. We started well, but the Easter Holidays arrived and it felt a bit unfair to force her to do school work, so now every day is a Sunday afternoon and I’m not sure that time exists any more.

There is a lot of talk of mental health and wellbeing around on the internet at the moment, and for people with kids who are themselves at huge risk of losing their livelihoods (HELLO!) I think it’s for the best that we don’t try to be superhuman through all of this. Getting through each day as peacefully as possible is the most we can ask of ourselves. Feel free to learn a new skill, but also feel free not to. It turns out that ‘not having time’ was never the reason I didn’t learn to juggle or learn another language. If you want to clear out your underwear drawer, brilliant. If you want to eat ice lollies for breakfast, also brilliant! Do whatever you and your kids need to and ignore the pressure to do more. This is a pandemic, not The Real Housewives of Beeston.

DL

Everybody panic!

As a nation, we seem to be teetering on the verge of a very middle-class apocalypse, one which is holding eye contact while unflinchingly increasing the price of hand sanitiser between each worried looking person in line at the chemist. An end-of-days parade of wide-eyed, polite folk roaming loose around supermarkets, trying to look nonchalant in their quest to find the last bottle of pineapple scented hand gel. People who wouldn’t WANT to fight, but…

Our daughter’s school has issued warnings and advice, we are singing the prescribed two verses of Happy Birthday while slowly washing our hands, staring forlornly into the bathroom mirror like the ghosts of sad Victorian orphans. My hands are looking like something from Cocoon. We are too British to panic, but we shall tut and huff and encourage our kids to avoid playing with Sneezy Joe at school, all while being grateful that it seems to be happening to other people for now. But, and I don’t say this lightly, kids are filthy. If the end times come soon they shall be heralded not by four horsemen, but by 4 snotty year 2s playing the shared class recorders.

These germ delivery drivers are IN OUR HOUSES and it’s impolite to throw them out when they can’t legally look for alternative accommodation because they are still ‘only 5 mummy, please’.

Short of quarantining them all at Hogwarts or anywhere else which produces smug magical beings while us muggles work our fingers to the bone while they swim in vaults full of gold, we need to take drastic measures. We have to start hosing them down when they get home with the enthusiasm of a gap-year student at an elephant sanctuary.

Spray anti-bac directly into little Jimmy’s eyes, sheep dip the neighbours’ kids in last summer’s paddling pool before they can come inside. Put marigolds on the end of mops and greet them with a long-distance hug when they get home from school. Make them live in a tent in the garden and call it camping, kids love that stuff. Send them on a play date and leave the country while they are out.

Use your heads people, don’t let the kids win.

DL

Eco Friendly Parenting

The phrase ‘eco-friendly parenting’ summons up images of forest schools and vegan lentil puree and sharing circles where mums hang out in wafty kaftans while beardy dads whittle musical pipes to sell at local craft markets, but I have a very vivid and judgemental imagination. As someone with less free time than I used to, I know how hard it can be to actively do my bit for the environment as well as sort out childcare, work full time and remember which charity your kid needs a pound for at school.

There are, however, a few bits of fairly sensible advice I’ve picked up over the years from people who are far more qualified to bring up a child than I am, so I’m going to shamelessly pass these off as my own and gain your immense admiration and respect.

Buy books. Books hold their value for far longer than the latest LOL doll or surprise bag, and can be passed on to your local charity shop or a mate with a younger child when yours gets bigger. They make great personal gifts, you can get them in the pound shop, and they don’t take up too much space in small bedrooms. Buy reusable water bottles and avoid snacks in single-use plastic containers. Baby-Bels are fun but a block of cheese is cheaper and produces less waste. Same with fruit and biscuits. Buy bulk and cheap where you can, and ignore the tiny protestations of the 3-year-old who wants Transformers yoghurt pots. You are bigger than they are. Be strong. Sit on them if necessary.

“Scour charity shops for stocking fillers and remember that it’s fine to buy second hand.”

Shop local; find smaller gift items on your high street from independent retailers and avoid those big chains who avoid their taxes. You’ll be supporting local individuals rather than billionaires. Check out the website Etsy for some brilliant one-off gifts which are more personal than a Frozen 2 lip balm set. Scour charity shops for stocking fillers and remember that it’s fine to buy second hand.

Above all remind your kids about the great outdoors. Parks are free, and if they grow up loving the outdoors they will grow up to want to protect it. That’s really the best thing you can do, and it costs nothing. Chuck on something narrated by David Attenborough and remind them that we share the world, that it’s not ours. (Skip the bit where the baby seals get eaten alive though, our kid hasn’t slept for 7 weeks and we’re all very tired.)

DL

Motherhood: Halloween

In our house, Halloween is as big as Christmas. Costumes are decided during the end of summer sales, our amazing porch (tiny front window directly onto the road in front of our small terraced house) is decked in crunchy burnt-orange leaves, pumpkins and skulls, neighbours avoid us until mid-November.

Previous costumes themes have included Stranger Things, The X Files, The Walking Dead, and weirdly, Parks and Rec. This year we have decided on Fleabag as our muse. I’m Fleabag (of course) my husband, despite being 6’2 and bald, is the sexy priest, and our little girl is Hilary the guinea pig. We pride ourselves on having a 0% success rate for people guessing who we are.

Our little family are all huge horror fans. My favourite film as a child was the 18-rated Troll, which we rented so many times from the video shop that the guy who owned it eventually gave it to us for free because the tracking was wearing out. My daughter loves Goosebumps and is sniffing around my old Point Horror collection. My husband likes anything with fighting and blood in it.

We are natural Halloween enthusiasts. Part of the attraction for me has always been the subversive nature of celebrating a pagan ritual, a two-finger salute at religious holidays and a chance to run around in the dark demanding people give you stuff for free.

My fondest memory as a kid was of my parents unrolling bin bags and my mum getting crafty with scissors and sellotape. I was a witch every year for 8 years. When I was about 6 my dad took me trick or treating and told me to beware of witches lurking around corners, just as two unwitting students came around the bend in our road and through my screams of pure terror I felt that first rush of white-hot fear, and instantly knew that being scared was awesome. My daughter is the same. She will beg me to make her jump or tell her a scary story, to the point that she’s exhausted herself with screams and laughter. I’ll tell her stories of working as a scare actor in attractions around London, and of the people who fainted or threw up or begged to leave. It was the best few years of my 20s.

Whatever you do this Halloween, don’t be a scare-scrooge and avoid the doorbell. Grab a bag of pound shop sweets and tell the kids they look awesome, they will remember it forever. Or do what we did and set up a smoke machine in the hallway, and terrify the living souls out of the local children by answering the door dressed as a dead Mulder and Scully. You’ll remember that forever too.

DL

Motherhood: Spring

‘Spring is sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is’.

My Dad used to recite that line to me when I was a child, and if I replace ‘birdies’ with ‘pinot grigio’ you have exactly my sentiments about the approaching warmer weather. I’m a big fan of a pub garden, of early evenings sat outside while the children play in the paddling pool and run through the wheat fields. Wait, that’s just Theresa May, my bad.

I adore the good weather, I’ve lived and worked in central Europe and being outdoors suits me entirely. My issue with the approaching summer is that my kid is an only child, which means that I am her playmate, which means no wine, no sitting down, and absolutely no relaxing thank you very much. Despite a social life which would make the Kardashians recoil in exhaustion, my kid wants to play with ME. Which is great, because she still thinks I’m cool enough to play with (time is ticking on that front) but it flies in the face of wine-drenched relaxation in the garden. The first green shoots of Spring signal the end of my peaceful hibernations indoors, and the start of my Olympic training regime in such sports as Kick the Ball Loudly into Next Door’s Fence, Help Me Up on to this Swing, and Mum Can I Have an Ice-Lolly. I need to get fit, quick, these are blood sports and I’ve neglected my training.

Having an only child is an absolutely magical thing. They (maybe a tad patronisingly) allow you to become an honorary child again while they set the rules and run you ragged. I adore it. We can’t have any more kiddos, so this girl will be forever thrust into other people’s gardens, picking up neighbourhood waifs and strays to play with while we are out and about. I don’t think this is a negative thing, and I’m grateful that I’m active enough to keep up with her while she shouts rules at me and berates my obvious athletic inadequacies in public. From what I hear from people with more than one kid it seems to be more of a lion-taming situation anyway, more Chris Pratt with the raptors in Jurassic World and less The Waltons. I’ll never know, but sometimes I feel a pang of gratitude in Autumn when the nights draw in and we can legitimately stick a DVD on under a blanket and ignore the outside world completely. Summer is great, but dear sweet baby Jesus I’m shattered already.

DL

Daisy Leverington

Motherhood #10: Technology

A local radio station ran a piece recently on whether not children spend too much time looking at screens and not enough time playing outside, getting ruddy-cheeked and grass-stained.

Their experts (a grandma from Sandiacre and a bloke called Tony who doesn’t have kids) were in fiery agreement, that kids these days are indeed a lazy bunch of lounge-lizards, content only when 15 million megapixels are shining directly into their retinas, content never to leave their child-caves lest they catch a lethal dose of vitamin D waddling to the car for the school run. They are an obese, entitled generation of layabouts who were given phones at birth and wouldn’t hesitate to outbid your Nan on eBay.

WELL. I had some THOUGHTS. Yes, Tony, my daughter can code an entire computer game from scratch and edit homemade animation which she casts to our xBox from my laptop. She can also do her times tables, knows the rules of chess and can bake cupcakes without a recipe. She does indeed play Minecraft after school, but she spends all summer camping around the UK while her dad and I perform at dozens of festivals. She is far better at learning about new technology than I am, and I’m writing this on Microsoft Word 93 so suck it Tony. You too, Sullen from Sandiacre.

My daughter is the generation you sighed about, and you compared her life to your own wistful childhoods full of good old rickets and rationing. Mind you, after Brexit we might have a small glimpse into those halcyon days when antibiotics are being sold for £100 a pop behind the bins at Tesco, so chin up.  She’s also the generation which will be left to sort out the mistakes of mine and yours, and she’ll be using a computer to do it.

How about we all open our minds a little and look at what these fantastic advances mean to our children instead of attributing lazy stereotypes to a group of people you simply don’t know. You have no clue how clever our kids are, what a huge (and daunting, I’m not daft) place the internet is, and what brilliant things are out there to help kids learn and understand. Chill out Tony, the kids are alright.

DL

Daisy Leverington

Motherhood #9: ‘Tis the season

It’s getting close, I can smell it. The faint scent of pleading in the air. The most delicate whiff of peer pressure and hope. The bold claims among school friends about which presents have been requested and which ones they will oh-so-definitely be receiving. It’s Christmas and there’s absolutely no escape.

Every Christmas in our house is a day of firsts and lasts. It’s always bitter-sweet and there is no greater measurement of the passing of too-short childhood years to make me wonder if this year was a few months shorter than usual. We only have one child, so each year we edge closer to losing her belief in Santa, the mystery grows smaller and wonder shrinks like a vacuum-packed tool set. She’s still little enough to believe, but big enough that next year she might not. Each present from Santa is precious and for a second she is tiny again, mystified by the enormity of his night time adventures. The next second she is opening a card with £10 sellotaped inside and a tiny piece of the spell falls away.

Christmas with a child has been the lovliest experience. It was a stressful time growing up with divorced parents and time-share days and two dinners, always two dinners. Now we have our own family and although we still need to try to find balance between 4 different sets of grandparents, we manage and it’s peaceful and we fall asleep after dinner just like our parents did. The hardest part of the day is trying to soak it all up, to take in her face when she opens an unexpected gift or watches her dad try on his inevitable novelty hat. To take photos but not too many, to capture the best moments but also not to miss them trying to switch the camera on.

Firsts and lasts happen simultaneously with an only child and Christmas is such a huge barometer of how little time we actually have that I can’t help but feel a little sad. I’m very lucky, I know. I know that my tiny family is here and safe and loved, and I know that other’s aren’t. So, every year I will love and give and play and argue because there aren’t any promises that we have more to come. I will get annoyed at advertising and buy it anyway, I’ll buy glittery make up for my 7 year old if that make her happy, because one day she will wants £30 lipsticks and I’ll spend the day weeping into my bank statement. It’s the little things, the little lasts. They are my real present.

DL

Read previous Motherhood’ columns

Motherhood #7: SATS…

We’ve reached a small and enormous milestone here at HQ.

The girl child is on the cusp of leaving Infants school and moving up to Junior school. Admittedly, the new place is 20 feet away from the old one and under the same roof, but it’s still a big move for a 6 year old. Change is not her speciality. We recently swapped shampoo and good grief, they really shouldn’t call it No More Tears.

This year has been a tough one for her, and us. She went through her (frankly ridiculous) government-approved SATS. Her school were ace and took the burden of stress away from the kids but the intense workload exhausted her for weeks. I could write about quite how much I object to SATS for 6 year olds, but it’s the same ground and objections which have been banded around for years, except that having lived through it we can speak from experience and not from conjecture. Our little girl is academically bright and very aware of her place in her class, but the competitive nature of the tests made her question her own successes. Her confidence was really shaken and it was hard to see her getting tired and cranky and tearful. Still, I’m sure the government know what’s best for them, and definitely doesn’t profit from the whole enterprise right? Guys??

I really do understand that testing is part of academia and how, done correctly, kids gain a new set of skills by consolidating what they’ve learned so far. But oh my goodness, 6 year olds? Our little one still sucks her thumb in her sleep and curls up on my lap for a cuddle. She cries when I tell her off and farts for fun. (These aren’t linked, I always applaud a good fart.) Her favourite subject is kittens and she can talk about how to do the splits for a good hour if you’re interested. It’s fine if you’re not, I’m not either.

Next year is going to be a super-fun-no-testing-lots-of-trips kinda year, and we’re planning to celebrate all the successes that aren’t measured in class. Kid learns a new move in gymnastics, we’re going out for tea. She stops ‘flossing’ for more than 30 seconds, it’s a trip to Build-a-Bear. She nails the jump off the swing, we’re inviting the Queen round to demonstrate. If well-being and happiness were on the score cards, she is going to ace it.

DL

The Beestonian is: Daisy Leverington – Motherhood

Daisy had a baby in 2011. She’s still trying to get over it. Daisy doesn’t think she’s entirely adult enough yet, despite being on the wrong side of 35. She wrote for Standard Issue Magazine for 3 years before Matt granted her honourary citizenship of the Isle of Beeston. She is currently trying to type this while her 6 year old asks her whether colour exists. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t feel like she knows much anymore. Daisy tries to be funny on Scott Bennett’s pubcast but is mostly just tired.

DL