Motherhood #6: Testing Times

Spring is trying to arrive and our 6 year old is in full swing with her SATS exams at school.

A thoroughly pointless hoop-jumping time of year which does little more than assess how well the school teaches kids remember what >, %, £ and < mean and how phonemes can affect common exception words. (Your guess is as good as mine.) My kid thought the symbols were old fashioned emojis but whatever. As much as my husband and I have little motivation to exhaust our anxious little hard-worker, we have been really surprised with just how competitive she’s become. Seriously, she’s like a Year 2 Terminator. Her teacher commented on how she relishes a difficult test sheet and is super happy when it’s exam time. We’re currently looking into hospital records from 2011 to see if we brought the wrong one home.

Given that she cares so much about her assessment results, we have started to jump on the competitive band wagon and have become her cheerleading squad. She delights in telling us that she got 5 out of 5 on her weekly spelling test or all her homework questions correct, and we make a fuss of her hard work each time. We’ve always held the opinion that rewards are for behaviour and effort, rather than results, so we are still careful not to spoil her when she nails a new maths theory. But I want to, I want to launch glitter-canons in the streets and shout about how clever she is, but it’s wound in and packaged as a ‘that’s great babe, you worked really hard on it’ instead.

As parents we have a couple of degrees and a PhD between us, so we were expecting her to do okay at school. She’s one of the youngest in her class, so we were also aware that she would be almost a year behind her classmates, both socially and academically, but she’s overtaken everything we hoped for and is now an Uber Geek of the highest order, and we are (quietly) really proud.

So, little lady, go and smash those exams. Those silly tests which could be better spent outside digging up worms or making dens. If she’s happy, we’re happy. And if you come top of the class, we might just buy you an ice cream on the way home. If it ever warms up.

DL

Motherhood #5: Life and Death

2016 and 2017 took some of our best loved celebrities, David Bowie, Charles Manson, Tinky Winky, Glenn and Abraham from The Walking Dead. The list is long. The nation has collectively exhaled and wrung their hands at the losses which seemed to dominate the news.

It’s a strange sadness to mourn the loss of someone you didn’t know personally, a grief which must feel something like a child feels when an adult dies who they didn’t know particularly well. Over the last year 3 of my good friends have died, and my daughter has observed my grief from the sidelines, a news report featuring familiar faces but ultimately unconnected to the emotion which I was trying not to display overtly.

Death is such a huge and unknown quantity, forever is a ridiculous idea linked to thoughts of summer while they wait inside on rainy days or how long it will take until they are allowed pudding. Time is elastic and mouldable, an element they can control with enough pleading and wishing. Forever is laughable. Mummy getting upset because she misses a friend is such a remote and strange thing to our daughter.

We’ve always been very honest with our child, she’s very intelligent and knows when we aren’t telling her the whole story. She knows our friends died through illnesses which the doctors couldn’t give them medicine for. She has realised all of us can get these illnesses and that people don’t always die when they are old. We don’t have a faith, so we can’t tell her we believe that they are in any kind of ‘better place’ or that they are happier now that they aren’t suffering. We don’t lie to her about ‘heaven’ or ask her to blindly believe what we do, she knows she’s free to believe in which ever God she chooses. (She’s currently leaning towards Hinduism because the Monkey King is ‘awesome’).

She’s seen the reality of death this year and knows it’s ugly and sad and has given her bad dreams about losing her dad and I. We’ve tried to reassure her that we are healthy and unlikely to be going anywhere soon, but I feel like something has been taken from her with the deaths of my friends. Not ‘innocence’ or anything that profound, but maybe the idea that ‘forever’ is a Thing. Parents can leave one day and not come back, and doctors can’t cure everything. People are fallible and temporary, and time is permanent and can’t be reasoned with. It’s a sad but important lesson, and hopefully she will learn to see that the good parts outweigh the horrid parts and that there’s really no point in being mean when we can choose to be kind. Maybe she’ll grow up with a little more tolerance as a result. Or maybe she’ll just ask for more pudding, because, in the end, why not?

DL

Motherhood #4

Motherhood at Christmas…

Crikey, that swung around as quickly as a toddler with a loaded paintbrush. Christmas is here again, the shops would have you believe that they are selling out of this years craze and school friends are swinging the vote for my daughter’s requests from Santa. This is our 6th Christmas as parents, and here’s my completely serious, helpful guide to a stress-free festive period.

Go abroad. Honestly, leave the country. I’m not talking about taking your partner and kids either, just you. Get on a cheap flight anywhere and even 2 weeks trekking the Gobi desert with no water will be a comparative breeze.

Fake your own death. Only until the January sales, mind. Don’t want to miss out on those 7O% off bargains in Debenhams do you? It’ll be a late Christmas present to your kids when you re-emerge, Lazarus-like, on the 6th. If you time it right the decorations will have put themselves away, too.

“Pop a box of mince pies to a mate or neighbour you haven’t seen in a while and don’t be worried about ignoring social media.”

Adopt an inappropriate wild animal. Accidentally trouser a baby squirrel from your local shelter. The entire family will be so focussed on hourly feeds and instagramming it wearing hats that they won’t notice your absence. You can spend Christmas in the local and by the time it’s all over the animal will be grown up and you can sell it for parts on the dark web.

Create a family treasure hunt which just leads them really far away. Hide clues at service stations up the M6 until they are on the Scottish border and you’ve turned the kid’s bedroom into a games room and are 29 hours deep into Call of Duty. When they inevitably call home just pretend you’ve got amnesia and don’t remember your former lives together.

Introduce the kids to horror films. This serves the duel purpose of keeping them very quiet AND brings up questions about their own mortality. Start with The Exorcist and work backwards. They’ll shore up a huge amount of appreciation for not being possessed by a demon over the festive period that you’re guaranteed to be lathered with gratitude come Christmas morning.

Now obviously I’m being a tad over-dramatic here (except about the baby squirrel – this is just plain sensible) but it’s worth keeping in mind that not everyone loves this time of year as much as they might seem. Pop a box of mince pies to a mate or neighbour you haven’t seen in a while and don’t be worried about ignoring social media, it can be an utterly false picture of how happy everyone else is. Look after yourselves first, and everyone around you will be happier as a result. Take care, kids, and if it all goes wrong I’ll see you in the Gobi desert.

DL

Motherhood #3

Back to school with you.

What’s that odd sensation, the feeling like something is missing, like you’ve left your phone at a mate’s house or forgotten to pick the cat up from the vets? Oh riiiiiight, the kids are back at school, and for a few brief, precious hours you are ALONE. That’s unless you have more kids, in which case I can’t help you, you’ve only done this to yourself.

Our summer was long and full of babysitters, playdates, picnics, boredom, work, boxsets and colouring-in. None of us were sad when September rolled around. This year our daughter has started year 2: she’s just turned 6 and is starting her SATS year where she will be tested and evaluated on her ability to jump through the hoops our government deems appropriate. She doesn’t care – she is a bright little thing and takes it all in her stride for now.

It’s a strange sensation to have your little girl suddenly so influenced by things other than you

The biggest change we’ve seen so far this year has been socially. She came home after her first day and coyly suggested that ‘all the other girls’ are still wearing short sleeves. She’s never really paid much attention to her appearance before, but now her hair must be done correctly in a style fitting with her classmates and her backpack must be from the shop in town where all the others buy theirs. It’s a strange sensation to have your little girl suddenly so influenced by things other than you and your partner It feels like they should have a few more years before the inevitable self-doubt and need for peer validation creeps in, but there we are.

The most jarring moment since she went back to school has been seeing her lose confidence in herself. She decorated a homework folder and it was a glorious, colourful, glittery mix of unicorns and clouds and we all loved and admired it. After taking it to school she came home disheartened after seeing the other kids’ efforts. Now she wishes she has done it differently, and watching her enthusiasm and pride in her work turn to indifference and worry is utterly horrid. How can I maintain her confidence when there are so many factors around her which knock the wind from her little sails?

The next few years of this kid’s life will only expose her to more social  pressures and worries which as adults didn’t even exist when we were younger. The internet wasn’t around when I was growing up, and no one had a mobile phone until university. Hair straighteners didn’t exist, so everyone looked slightly feral in the 80s, whereas our kids will grow up with a sleekness unheard of until 1998. It’s a different set of rules, but as long as we maintain an unwavering confidence in our kids, we just have to trust that they will meet each worry with the knowledge that we are there to set limits and install filters which will sift out the rougher edges of their childhoods. If that fails and they still complain, I suggest showing them your childhood photos and explaining that things could be a heck of a lot worse. Although I do NOT regret my 1989 perm. That bad boy was awesome.

DL

Motherhood #2

Parenting in the modern world

There can be little debate that parenting in 2017 is different to parenting 30 years ago. The advent of new technologies which are increasingly aimed at children have changed the landscape of ‘how to keep the kids entertained’ while also giving parents more options during their weekly 2 minute shower. Peppa Pig episodes on the iPad have replaced drawing in the coal dust with gout-addled fingers, and a phone gallery full of badly framed toddler selfies aren’t uncommon. ‘But how to harness them safely?’ I hear literally no one ask. Here’s my hard-won advice on life with kids in the digital age:

Get an ipod touch. They can’t make calls on it and run up a phone bill, as long as you never give them the password to download paying apps and add-ons. Fill it with their favourite cartoons and music and games, and sit back and enjoy approximately 4 minutes of peaceful respite. Also useful on car journeys and at boring weddings. Turn the sounds off for funerals.

Embrace the filter. Not the ones for the ends of your old-fashioned ciggies, but the snapchat/instagram/facebook camera filters which instantly take 10 years off your haggard face. Leave people’s disappointment and surprise at your premature aging for face to face interactions, which makes it harder for them to tell you that you look like death since having kids.

Use whatsapp to argue with your significant other. It’s free and instant, and doesn’t limit your lengthy explanations of why they are a useless imbecile. You don’t want to run out of data at the pivotal moment when you conclude your rant about staring at your neighbour’s slim, younger wife do you? No. Exactly.

Get a 2 player, age appropriate game for your console. We like anything with Lego, and it saves spending time playing with actual lego which can be dangerous if swallowed. Kids have fairly quick reactions, and their little fingers and inquisitive minds make finding hidden bonus levels a breeze. It’s what your ancestors would have wanted for them.

Encourage children to become multi-millionaires by creating a youtube channel which teaches teens how to apply make up with various household objects. They love stuff like that. 100 years ago we were all interested in the advancement of science, but these days if a 17 year old applies concealer with a dead rabbit’s paw or dyes their hair with their grandma’s ashes we lose our tiny minds with excitement. Grab a camera and talk utter drivel, it’s where the money is.

Raising kids in 2017 need not be as technologically risky as reports staring out from your iPhone tell you. Remember, that phone was most likely made by an orphaned child earning 2p a week. The clothes you are wearing were probably stitched by a 3 year old in noisy factory while they try to pay their way through night classes. Kids and technology mix well, so don’t be afraid to embrace the changes. Remember, it’s much safer to look at Google Earth than it is to go outside. You won’t get stung by a wasp on Google Earth, will you?

DL

 

Motherhood #1

Hey there, kids! No longer shall I be filling your heads with talk of food (although in over a year I never once wrote an actual sensible column on the subject), instead I shall be writing about my Adventures in Motherhood.

This column first appeared in Standard Issue Magazine, which recently turned into a podcast like a mythical beast springing from a glorious fanny. So, here I am, writing for you smashers instead. Just a little heads up, there will be no advice. No judgement shall be passed on your strange and unusual parenting techniques. As long as the kid is safe, happy and fed, I play fast and loose with the Gina Ford generation of do-gooders. You can take your organic quinoa and take a long walk somewhere quiet while I throw potato smiles and frozen veg (purely for show) at my daughter while she asks me what’s for pudding.

My daughter is almost 6, and in year 1. For those of us who grew up in different times before Trump was president and people wanted an end to free healthcare, she’s in the first year of primary school. She’s about this tall *points at the wall* and has zero concept of personal space. Her favourite things are fairies, unicorns and the xBox, and she would like to be a princess ballerina when she grows up. My feminist views are shunned in favour of sparkly dresses and handsome Princes, and good luck to her.

We all make it up as we go along and none of us are any better at it then anyone else

Motherhood hasn’t been the most natural journey to me. 10 years ago I thought I’d be married with 3 kids and a mortgage. But here we are, my husband, daughter and I, living on not a lot of money with no plans for more kids because they are expensive and post-natal depression kicked me into next week for her first 4 years. That’s a long time to feel rubbish, and I don’t plan to repeat the experience.

I used to presume it was just me who didn’t have it together, who found it hard to be around other parents for fear they would see through the charade of normality. 6 years later and I’m convinced we all know absolutely naff all about what we’re doing. We all make it up as we go along and none of us are any better at it then anyone else. And if anyone makes you feel that way then they aren’t the people who you need around you.

Being a parent isn’t the defining feature of ‘me’ any more. It used to be my entire baby-filled life. No job and a husband who worked away meant a very lonely start for my and my little girl. Now we’re surrounded by a huge industry of school and work and childcare and people, each element chipping away at the feeling that we are forever stranded together like 2 survivors with no instincts. We are less dependent and so more free to be ourselves. There is life beyond kids, so this column is intended to explore the balances between being a parent and having the autonomy to claw back some semblance of normality. If I can do it, anyone can. Seriously, I’m rubbish.

DL

Food…And Film!

 

Food scenes in films have always existed to remind the audience that even though the people onscreen are much hotter, richer and more talented than the viewing audience, they still need a decent meal like ordinary folk from time to time.

This month I list my all time favourite food scenes while binge eating a bag of own brand peanuts. Please enjoy.

Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene:

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Until I was 4 years old I didn’t really believe in love, I thought it was a dystopian ideal circulated by a corrupt government to get people to pay more taxes, but then I watched 2 dogs kiss by accident while eating Italian food and I knew love was real. I still think Lady could do better, though.

Jurassic Park jelly wobble:

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This scene still makes me anxious. We learn that raptors can open doors and it still frightens me as much as when my toddler managed it for the first time and caught me plucking my ‘tash.

What We Do in the Shadows:

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Regardless of a hilarious late-night chippie takeaway scene, seek this film out for its sheer hilarity. A bunch of vampires film a mockumentary about the perils of modern life, one of which is not having chips after a mental night out. I definitely could not be a vampire, you couldn’t even have garlic sauce on them.

9 ½ Weeks:

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This entire film marked my transition to womanhood and gave me a lifelong interest in top of the range fridge-freezers. Bet theirs was A+ for energy conservation. Not sure about a blindfolded buffet though, I’d prefer toast and Netflix if I’m honest.

The Martian:

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Matt Damon becomes a farmer on Mars. Stay with me, he does science stuff too and is funny with some actual jokes, but mainly he’s a space farmer. How many crops have YOU grown on Earth? EXACTLY. Impressive stuff if you like extreme farming. Which I do.

Beetlejuice:

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Do yourselves a favour and rewatch The Banana Boat Song scene on Youtube. I’m assuming you know what I mean, and if you don’t then I’m afraid we probably can’t be penpals any more. I once showed this to my daughter and she had nightmares about hands coming out of soup for months. She just really doesn’t like soup.

Daisy Leverington

New Year New Food

It’s a new year and the gyms are full of people blinking like newborn fawns at the flashing dials of unknown machines. Regulars sigh, knowing only the toughest will keep up their new routines. Health food shops sit back; it’s their time to shine. There is a national courgette shortage. Healthy eating adverts are everywhere. People hold their wobbly bits and sigh, knowing that if only they could have the discipline to make 5 days worth of packed lunch on a Sunday evening they would be True Adults.

Food is the cause of so much guilt during the January purge. It feels extra naughty to some people to indulge in a chippy tea or eat out somewhere posh after the extravagance of Christmas. BUT NOT TO ME. This is important, as I guide you through the January blues with a sexy calorie count and a love of my own wobbly bits.

If you find yourself adding lentils or quinoa or couscous to a meal in lieu of delicious pasta, or if you use a can of fizzy drink to make a chicken curry sauce, stop. Pasta is not the enemy here, and neither is a delicious korma. The enemy is the insane amount of marketing designed to make you feel bad about what you eat and how you look, and people are getting richer by the second while you spend your wages on stuff which tastes like the box your crimbo pressies came in. Pasta won’t kill you.

If you’re convinced it’s the work of Satan, just put a bit less in your bowl or buy wholewheat. Likewise if you’re hell bent on a health drive, just chuck a handful of frozen veg into your sauce, you’ll feel virtuous without breaking the bank or your soul. Any veg is better than no veg.

I’ve spent January eating from the 5pm priced-down range at my local supermarket thanks to literally everyone I know having a birthday just after Christmas. Selfish…. Weird recipes involving malt loaf and 9p steak slices have formed the basis of our diets for weeks, and do I feel bad about it? Of course not. My kid has the energy for 3 after school sports clubs and I work night shifts, so we’re doing something right.

No need to spend hours soaking lentils until they transform into edible fart-nuggets, a bowl of spaghetti shapes and some tinned tomatoes keep us flying along nicely without me skimming the back pages of women’s magazines for ‘new fitness regimes’ and feeling awful about every part of my life.

So eat the chips, feed your soul and don’t let the media tell you that any time of year is a time to change. Diet if you want to, but not because you feel you should. Enjoy those carbs and use the time you’d have spent looking at calories to read a book or play outside or take up needlework. New year, same old you. You’re lovely as you are.

 

Christmas Dinner Disasters

It’s the most wonderful time of the cold, miserable, over-priced, consumerist month. The time we buy too much food and spend money on presents for people we don’t like which they don’t need or want. And yet, I bloody love Christmas.

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DINNER

It’s taken me having a child to bring back its magic, and now as soon as Tesco’s start putting their selection boxes out in August I get a lovely feeling of lets-not-be-horrid-to-each-other which usually lasts until Boxing Day. Now, I know I may be in the minority here, so allow me to lay down a few contingency plans for the more Grinchy among us. It’s all going to be ok.

What to do if the dinner is a disaster: I say preparation is key here. Light a fire on Christmas eve, and if you don’t have a wood burning stove just set fire to a pile of old boxes in a shopping trolley outside. Either will do.

The warmth attracts wildlife, and inevitable something will either fall down the chimney/onto your bonfire and provide a lovely leg of venison/cat/hedgehog for your family the following day. If anyone asks, it’s smoked game.

What to do if the Christmas Pudding won’t light: This tradition is puzzling. I’m all for lighting shots of absinthe on a good hen night then having a Maccys at 3am, but why set fire to a perfectly good liquor which may otherwise numb the effects of an entire day with your family? Odd. My suggestion is to make everyone, including Grandma, down a shot of brandy before eating some profiteroles. No one actually likes Christmas Pudding.

Uncle Alan may only ever have enjoyed package holidays to Malaga before, so broaden his horizons with some chorizo or something.

What to do if Uncle Alan has too much to drink and gets a bit racist: If the conversation gets around to Brexit or Trump, here are my suggestions. Firstly, point to the nearest posh bit of food and explain that without the influence of European cuisine (or the actual word cuisine) we would all be sat around eating ham sandwiches or cocktail sticks with cheese and pineapple on.

Everything rich and nutritious has probably come from outside the UK. Uncle Alan may only ever have enjoyed package holidays to Malaga before, so broaden his horizons with some chorizo or something.

How to steer Aunty Dorothy’s dinner table conversation away from awkward personal information: You’re unmarried, and so in Dorothy’s eyes, highly abstract and possibly even ‘alternative’. You are still working in a ‘job’ job and not a ‘career’ job and have yet to put down any money towards a deposit for a house. My suggestion here is to crack open the Terry’s Chocolate Orange and explain that the baby boomers destroyed both the housing and employment market, and that it’s actually her fault that you are so overworked and depressed that no one finds you attractive any more. She’ll come round.

What to do with leftovers: Leave them in the fridge along with your best intentions. Literally no one actually makes turkey soup the next day. Just buy less next year and give the cat a day to remember with a leg or two of roast hedgehog. Your budget will thank me.

That’s it, and just remember folks, I’m not an expert.

Daisy

GBBO…and beefy banana loaves

With the return of GBBO, the nation has thrown down its floury gauntlet and challenged even the most terrible bakers to a flan-off in a marquee.

People the length of the UK have been rolling and kneading, burning and sweating, and inventing all sorts of new and interesting swear words this past couple of weeks. It’s like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine but with less casual racism and more sexy grannies.

In honour of this bonding experience, I have baked absolutely nothing. I’ve never even seen an episode, having not got a telly which plays actual programmes. I have, however, found awesome new DLC for Fallout 4, so the summer hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve got a go-to banana loaf which uses about 4 ingredients (one of which is optimism) so if you’re ever at a loss about what to do with a handful of browning bananas I’m your woman. It’s vegan too, so you can invite your vegan mates round if you have any. If not feel free to chuck some beef in or something, like that episode of Friends where Rachel makes a cake with mash and gravy in. It’ll give you something to laugh about for years to come.

I see some of the Pinterest wedding cakes doing the rounds and wonder who on earth manages to knock these things out

I’m not a cake person. Give me a couple of hours and you’ll have the finest roast you’ve ever tasted, but cakes are not my thing. Given that I can get a perfectly decent, ready made cheesecake for half the price of its actual components I’m happy to support my local, family-run, massive supermarket chain. Honestly, here’s £2 now gimme my cheesecake.

Cakes are best left to people who really want to bake them. They are a luxury rather than a necessity and so if you have the time and inclination, go nuts. My best mate made me an amazing cake for me hen party. It had a mouth on the front and I’ll leave the rest of it for you to think about. It was amazing and I know I could never reproduce such brilliance without either giving up work or putting my child up for adoption, and I’ve seriously considered both. I see some of the Pinterest wedding cakes doing the rounds and wonder who on earth manages to knock these things out. They are works of art! I couldn’t even DRAW a cake that beautiful.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m terrible at baking but I think people who are good at it are maybe some sort of wizard. Blessed with an almighty glucose-based super-power, they are worth of our true respect and admiration. Unlike me, who just suggested putting beef in a banana loaf.

Daisy Leverington