Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Case of the Heebie Jeebies

Last week Smallest Boy went to Montessori for the first time ever.  His first week was a lovely and gentle induction process where he went in for one hour on Monday, an hour and a half on Tuesday and two hours every day after that. 

His response?  “Awesome!  I love it!”

And he did.  He does.

As this things tend to go, the novelty wore off after the weekend.  His first week.  He’s nothing if not fickle.

On Monday the first thing he said to me was, “I’m not going to school today.”

The first thing I thought was, “Oh, yes you are!” but instead I asked him to get dressed as he’d need to do that anyway.

“Ok. But I’m not going to school.  Mammy?  You listening to me?  Can I take today off?”

“Would you like your breakfast?”

“Yes, please.  I am super hungry!”

Distraction works!

Soon it was time to go. 

He said.  “Why are we getting in the car?  I’m not going to school today remember?”

I thought,  “Oh, yes you are.”  But instead I told him, “I just need to collect a letter.” 

“Oh that’s ok.  But I’m not getting out of the car.”

Oh yes, you are.

We arrived and I popped my seat belt, got out and opened his door.

“What are you doing?  I’m not going to school today.”

“I’d like it if you came with me to collect the letter.”

At this juncture, one of his lovely, kind, thoughtful I’ve-heard-this-before big brother piped up.  “He doesn’t have to go if he doesn’t want to, you know, Mammy.”

“I’ll handle this one.  He’ll be fine.”  I opened Smallest Boy’s seatbelt.  He drew his knees up to his chest and hugged them.

“Nuh uh.  Not going.”

Shit! Crap! All of the bad words.  I was fully prepared to lift him out of the car and carry him in if necessary but that would only ignite the brewing hissy fit. 

“I know!  Why don’t you show one of your brothers the gold fish!  I bet they’d love to see the fish.”

He dropped his legs and agreed. 

That was easy.

“But I’m coming back to the car with you.”

Shit! Crap!  All of the swear words.

Then the remaining three boys decided they all wanted to go in and see the fish.

Shit!  Crap!  All of the swear words. But Smallest Boy was out of the car and already walking towards the door.

It opened and they all filed in as I made my apologies and explained that the honeymoon period was well and truly over.

Smallest Boy appeared just then and began to push his way past his teacher’s legs, hell bent on getting back to the car.  I grabbed him.

He resisted immediately and I asked what they do when this happens.

“If you’re ok to let us handle this, just go.” 

I lifted my boy up.  His body went long in that way they make it do when they resist being put into their car seat or buggy. 

Or Montessori.

I handed him over and was reassured they would call me in five minutes.

I turned around and was met with three pairs of eyes looking at me like I had just sold their baby brother.

“Right now I bet he thinks you’re the meanest mother in the whole world.” Lovely Liam intoned.

I agreed and said he probably does even though he knows I am not and he will be fine in a few minutes.

We were back at the car.

“I bet you’re not even going to wait.  I bet you’re just going to go!”  

What do they think I am?

“Of course I’m going to stay.  Lookit, I promise you.  He is going to be fine.  I wouldn’t leave him if I thought he was going to stay upset.”

And in less than five minutes I go the go ahead that he was fine.  Like I knew he would be.

“He shouldn’t have to go if he doesn’t want to.”

“Who wants to go for a swim?”  I asked.


“And me!”

“Great!  Are we going now?”

My boys.     

Monday, 24 August 2015

Back to School in 3 Sleeps

Those 8 weeks stretched out in front of us; gloriously long and impossibly decadent.

Then August appeared.  Just like that.  Still loads of time though.  Be grand.  I had a list of about ten things we could do as a family during the weekends over the holidays.  It’s safe to say that list is still perfectly intact.

Then it was two weeks.  The phone started to ring and invites for play dates and birthday parties and sleep overs rained down on us.  Seemed everyone else had the same idea; pack in as much as you can now as it’s about to come to an end.

I was loathe to ruin their last few weeks with talk of a back to school countdown but they did need to be prepared.  So last Monday I told them it was their last week.

I neglected to say “last full week” which led them to believe they were back in school today.  Mini crisis over, the re-reassurance they still have three (two now) days left, all the same, they carry black clouds over them. 

I remember the feeling well so I am sympathetic and empathetic in equal measure.  I hope.

It ain’t easy.  For everyone involved.  The first week is going to be tough as we all adjust to being put back on schedule, new teachers, a different curriculum, unfamiliar classroom and the dreaded lunchboxes.

Here’s a few tips to help ease us all back into the new school year.

In keeping with establishing a semi decent bedtime again, do loads of stuff with them this week.  The intent is twofold.  It will take their minds off Thursday morning and tire them out so there won’t be too many complaints when bedtime arrives half an hour earlier than usual.

Check the lunchboxes.  The last thing you want the night before is to discover the cracked and lidless container you intended to replace, has not been replaced because it was put into the cupboard 8 weeks ago and forgotten about.  Has anyone seen the water bottles?  Anyone? Anyone?  Anyone?

Check the fridge for supplies.  The thing about starting back later in the week could very well mean Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare.  No yogurts.  There is one slice of ham left.  The fruit flies have claimed the apples in the fruit bowl with teeth marks in them.  Two heels of bread in the empty wrapper definitely won’t work.  Would they take dry cereal?

Make sure there’s petrol in the car.  Seems crazy?  Nope.  Crazy is forgetting to fill her up when you are ten months pregnant.  But this one can happen too.  No-one needs that kind of pressure first morning back to school.

Maybe get them to pull on their school jumpers and shoes the week beforehand too.  Kids all over the country are currently eating rings round themselves.  It’s called a summer growth spurt.  Although if the worst does happen and the jumpers don’t fit, chances are there will be a mini Indian summer on the first day and the kids will be fine wearing just shirts.

Get some backup.  This one is for you not the kids. Arrange to go for a coffee after the kids have been dropped off.  Or you could go home and stand in your hallway.  I plan on doing this one.  I am going to stand there, listen to and absorb that blessed silence.  I will also offer up a silent prayer that the phone does not ring with an instruction to collect an hysterical child from somewhere.  Then I intend to strap on my runners and go for a run.

School Daze

Finally.  A question I could get on board with:  “Will you tell me about school?” 

Whenever I saw a magazine displaying the tag line “First Day at School – How to Make it Easier,” I bought it; utterly convinced I was going to read something of worth, believing there would be a nugget of information within I hadn’t read before or thought of myself.  But it was yet another advice piece that didn’t deliver.

More common sense wrapped up as counsel about having the uniform ready the night before, getting everyone up a little bit early to avoid a stressful rush out the door and giving your child a nice piece of fruit to ease them into their new experience.

Come on!  I wanted information on how to deal with the child who makes like an ostrich and sticks his head firmly in the sand and blocks out the New Experience. I was looking for guidance on how to discreetly and politely intercept people before they asked, “are you looking forward to big school?” when I knew the thumb being shoved into his mouth was not only his way of self-soothing but also a stopper; his method of holding everything in. 

What about the playground?  There will be no swings and slides in this one.  How was I going to watch him deal with the disappointment of that? 

I had done everything the magazine article was suggesting; he’d been to the open afternoon and met his teacher.  He had not one but two school bags to choose from.  He also selected his own “easy open” lunch box. 

His new school books would be arriving any day now then we would try on his uniform and purchase those very much coveted runners and new shoes especially for school. 

I wanted my money back! 

So I was thrilled when he asked me to tell him about school.   It was the perfect opportunity to describe everything to him. His older brother was present and all set to offer his two pence worth. 

He had something of great importance to impart, something I neglected to tell him on his big day and this was to wait until teacher tells you it is time to eat.  Don’t just start eating your lunch when you feel like it. “Because you never told me that.”   See how they remember even the tiniest little thing? 

Our third son will be starting school in September.  Even though I’ve bought and worn the t-shirt twice before, I find the same little problems arise each and every time.  The same little niggles and worries for both parent and child.

I have outlined the trouble shooters below.  Hopefully they will help ease your child through the transition that is Big School.

Sometimes it can be as simple as talking about it.  Don’t assume they know what to expect.  There is a big difference between the unstructured play of Montessori and the expectations of a larger classroom setting.  It is an idea to talk casually about school initially and then closer to the time discuss in a little more detail what the first day will entail.  Turn it into a game and encourage a question and answer session at the end.  Take advantage of any interest your child shows and talk about it.

A little prep goes a long way.  What happens if there are three Spiderman/Dora the Explorer school bags?  A key-ring on your child’s bag will solve that problem.  What about their gorgeous new coat with all of those buttons and shoes with laces?  A zipped coat is easier for little hands to operate and maybe Velcro-ed shoes are better kept until they master the art of lace tying.  Also ensure your child’s name is on everything.  It is inevitable mix ups will occur.  Maybe not on the first day but if your child can recognise their belongings it will eliminate stress.

Yogurts.  Yay or nay?  I can still remember spilling the contents of mine.  Does the school have a healthy food policy and encourage fruit and vegetables with a small treat reserved for Fridays only?     What if they are too shy to approach the person they will come to call Teacher when they can’t open their brand new cartoon character emblazoned lunch box?  Water bottles that refuse to open?  Bananas that are difficult to eat?  Of course, your child may opt not to eat anything at all due to utter excitement so a good, nutritious breakfast will stave off hunger pangs and an energy slump mid-morning.

Make sure your child knows where the bathroom is.  Anxiety can prompt them to “hold it” until it’s too late.    These days schools have boy and girl cubicles in the classroom which makes it a lot easier.    

I feel this is an important one particularly if your child is nervous.  Get to the school with plenty of time to spare. Absorb the atmosphere and just relax for a few moments before going into the classroom.  Allow your child to indicate when they are ready.  Most schools operate a staggered start time for the first day but one of the most important pointers is plenty of reassurance you will be back to collect them.  Make sure you are not late. 

Yours that is!  I’ve been there. Your child is nervously looking around, not making eye contact with anyone and their lower lip begins to tremble.  Water filled eyes look up and it is all you can do not to join in.  Don’t join in.  Wait till you are back in your car. Yes, it’s heart breaking.  Yes, it’s hard.  Tears can and will be frequent in the first few weeks but it is important that you keep smiling.  A big hug and a confident reminder that you will see them very soon might not work the first couple of mornings and in the event that your little one doesn’t settle, remember, you have picked a school you believe in for your child.   They will act accordingly and contact you if necessary.    

You weren’t expecting that!  I’m not talking about ghouls, goblins and ghosties, rather the shock to the system that can happen when small people realise they have to return to school after their first mid-term break.  This can be devastating and lots of parents report upsetting refusals to go to school are very common at this juncture.    Sometimes even Monday mornings have the same effect.  Inform your child that they are just on a little rest from school and will be returning after a few sleeps.

There are lots of ways to help ease them into their new environment.

Each child is different.  Our oldest boy had nary a worry about his place of education and indeed has gone on to make a very wide and varied circle of friends. Looking back, I had similar concerns when he started.  

Like every other event I was apprehensive about, the reality of it was easier than the perception and with a little luck, Big School for your child, won’t be any different.   And before you know it, summer holidays will be on the horizon.  You made it!  Congratulations.  

Both of you!     

Previously published in Mums & Tots September 2014

Friday, 21 August 2015

5 Nice Events This Summer

Definition of event.  Noun.  A thing that happens or takes place, especially one of importance.
Sleep.  See above for dictionary explanation.  I think sleep definitely falls under that category.  No, I’m not talking about your regular, run of the mill, night time sleep here.  Although that is very, very nice indeed.  I’m talking more along the lines of a middle of the day nap just for the hell of it.  It might be a middle aged thing so go right ahead and call it middle aged if you feel such a thing needs a label.  I am more than comfortable with that.  See how agreeable I am with sleep under my belt.  I have enjoyed several such siestas with Smallest Boy over the course of the summer.  One or two were even alone albeit sprawled all over an armchair.  Sleep is sleep is sleep.

Wine.  Grape juice.  Lady petrol.  Be it on special offer, at the regular price, with food or without, wine is nice.  And I had some this summer.  Yes, I did.  And guess what?  I’ll probably have some more. I’m good to myself like that.

Free time.  This happened three days in a row.  Three.  From 10am to 1pm, three days one after the other.  All four boys went to Lego Club and it was wonderful.  They enjoyed it too.  I went for runs.  I had solitary cups of coffee with a magazine and once, I even watched some mid-morning television.  Which was dreadful.  Absolutely and utterly dreadful.  I lasted about 15 minutes – the time it took me to finish my food.  But it was only 15 minutes out of the rest of the time.  I’m calling it a practice run for when Smallest Boy goes to Montessori.

Tan Lines.  I got some.  Ok, so they’re on my feet and it could be dirt but I like to think we got enough sun for it to leave its mark on me somewhere.  And not on my face in the form of another freckle.

Hugs.   These I get by the tenfold thanks to three very affectionate boys.    However, over the summer, the quietest of the four grabbed me a few times and in those completely out of the blue, totally genuine and absolutely lovely moments, held on for dear life.  It made me realise that because he isn’t as tactile as his brothers, I in turn, didn’t hug him or ruffle his hair as often as I would the others.  It made me realise that just because he didn’t always make the first gesture, it didn’t mean I couldn’t.      

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Berry Compote

One of the nicest things to have for a summer breakfast is a berry compote. Most mornings I meet Mister Husband for a coffee after the school run and this is what I like to order to go along with it.

It’s simple, cool, refreshingly tasty and I usually have to fight Smallest Boy for it!

Because the school runs will stop in the next couple of weeks, so too will my yummy berry compote breakfasts. 

Unless of course, I make them myself. 

With ingredients including Greek yogurt, stewed berries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds it appeared easy enough but I wanted to do it justice.

First confession:  I have no measurements for this.  I just eyeballed everything.  When I was stewing the fruit, I added in sugar according to my own taste preferences as I went along.  One thing I took from home economics in school (or is it from the countless cookery shows I used to watch) you can always add but it is harder to remove.

So broadly speaking the ingredients I used are:

A bag of frozen raspberries from Lidl.  A tub of Glenisk Greek yogurt.  Some pumpkin and sunflower seeds. 


My method of madness:

A handful of frozen berries.  This was a tester recipe after all and I was loathe to waste them.  I put them, 2 tablespoons of water and a splash of vanilla extract plus 1 teaspoon of caster sugar and onto a low heat until the berries thawed.  It makes a lovely syrupy juice.  Add more sugar to your taste.

Allow to cool completely. 

Assembly has never been so pretty.  Spoon some of the berry mix into a wine glass.  Coz that looks the part.  Spoon over some yogurt, layer on more berries etc.  Sprinkle the seeds on top.  Granola would be gorgeous on top of this as well.

Sit down and enjoy.  Easy peasy.

I love this stuff.  Hopefully you will too.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Swimming with Four Kids. There's No Wine For That.

I swim. 

I don’t like to but I can do it. 

Something weird happened as I got older; I discovered a large body of blue water is purely for dive-bombing into with screams of joy.  That look doesn’t do a person in her early 40’s any favours.

But as I’ve got kids and am of the opinion swimming is kind of important because it could save their lives one day, I take them.  It helps enormously, kind of, that they love it.

We now have three swimmers and the youngest is an inch or two away from standing comfortably on the floor of the pool without his armbands.  Once he can do that with more than half his nose above water level, we will discard his floats one by one and let him find his own feet literally with swimming.

It’s still not easy though. 

Taking them all swimming. 

For instance there’s the sports bags.  Lots of sports bags. 

There’s the towels.  Lots of towels.

There’s the goggles.  Lots of……….

You get the picture.  We also have a smaller bag with shower stuff, extra hats, some dive toys, an empty Toy Story bubble rocket and a fish or two. 

Then I have to get them to the pool.  For kids who love to swim it’s the devils mother trying to get them out of the house and into the car.

We arrive.  I park up the car. Then I issue the usual warnings for them not to open the door and race off without me………………..

“WHAT did I just SAY?  Are you even LISTENING to me?  It’s DANGEROUS!  We are in a BUSY car PARK!”

Seems I still shout and screech at the swimming pool.

Walking in, the demands for their swipe cards start. 

Small kids have no patience and wave their swipe card in front of the laser thingy over and over again. 

“It’s not working.  It’s not beeping.  Why won’t it let me ……?”


They don’t push the turnstile in time and have to swipe again.

Repeat x 4.

Then I get to go through.

Changing rooms next.  The boys are hopping around like cats on a hot tin roof because the door is slightly ajar and they are slightly naked.

“Someone will SEE us.  CLOSE the door.”

“Help me with my goggles.”

“Help me with my trunks.  My foot is stuck.”

“Can I go now?”

“Help me with my armbands.”

“Can I GO now?”

“He has my towel.”

“He’s opening the door.”

“He’s in my SPOT!”

“Can I please GO NOW?”

“He’s sticking his bum into my face!”


I cheat.  I leave all the bags, all the towels, all the clothes, all the shoes, all the other bags in the changing room and submerge myself under the water when the message “please remove all of your belongings from the changing rooms and use lockers provided” plays out over the Tannoy system. 

No, I don’t.

Submerge myself under water I mean. 

I totally do cheat and leave everything in the changing rooms.

I have the fear of being trapped with four kids in a tiny cubicle as one person takes their leisure in the family sized one. 

It’s time to face the water music.  The older three are already in it.  I ask Smallest Boy to sit on the side as I wet his armbands to help them slide onto his arms easily.

The next 20 minutes or so are spent refereeing their water play and asking them to please remember there are other people in the pool.   

Then it’s out of the showers and into the changing room.

“Stop swinging your trunks over your head.  Water is going everywhere!”

“He’s wetting me!”

“He has my towel.”

“Can you help dry me?”

“I’m hungry.”


“Stop dripping water all over my clothes and please rub your hair.  You’re getting your clothes wet.”

“I’m still hungry.”

“I can’t find my shoes.”

“Can I go to the hair dryers?”

“Are we getting something to eat?”

“Why aren’t you DRESSED?  You’ve been standing there for ages and you’re not even dried.  Come on.  Please help me.”

“Can I go to the hair dryers?”

Finally we’re done.  Now I have to get them out of the building and into the car. 

“Please don’t run.  We have to cross a busy car park……………………I SAID don’t RUN!  Is anyone LISTENING to me?”

I’m sweating.  I need a shower.

I swim. 

I don’t like to but I can do it. 

But as I’ve got kids and am of the opinion swimming is kind of important because it could save their lives one day, I take them.  It helps enormously, kind of, that they love it.

But it has almost broken me.


Monday, 10 August 2015

A Teeny Tiny Confession

*whispers* I think I’m ready for them to go back to school.

I know a long long time ago back in June I said I was dying for the summer holidays.  That I love the summer holidays and the break from routine.  I said all of that.  I still stand by it.  But.

*whispers* I think I’m ready for routine again.

The weather has been less than stellar and whilst I do loosely believe that there is no such thing as bad weather just poor choice of clothes, I still don’t like to go out in the pissing rain with four kids.

We have been going to the swimming pool each morning to get out of the house for a while and whilst I kind of sort of like it just get on with it, they love it.  But.

*whispers* I would rather poke my eyes out with blunt cocktail sticks than swim. 

I hear “maaammmyyyy” at least 78 times a day.  Per child.  That word now has the power to make my skin crawl.

Bed time has been stretched out to 9pm and after.  I usually follow an hour later. I spend most of the afternoon longing for some time to myself and when the opportunity finally presents itself, I can’t handle it. 

*whispers* How much is a bottle of Floradix with Magnesium?

They found something I had kept safe for five years and within five minutes, destroyed it.  My boys don’t go around with lump hammers or anything but they have a staggering ability to wreck stuff just by looking at it.

The house is upside down.  Today I managed to dump 332 pairs of random socks, pack away a lot of summer clothes (sob) and chuck bits that never got worn, will never got worn into a recycling bag.  I have actual fantasies about getting into the playroom-that-has-no-toys and clearing it out so nothing except the four walls stand.  I have taken to googling skips!  But.

*whispers* The floors haven’t been washed at all this month.

One of my boys broke out in mouth sores a couple of weeks ago.  The result, I am convinced, of subsisting entirely on chicken curry albeit made from scratch, ham and cheese sandwiches, pancakes and scrambled eggs.  They need proper meals again.  But.
*whispers* they won’t eat proper meals and I am quite enjoying the break from roast dinners.

School is back in a matter of weeks.  The uniforms are ready to go.  The school bags are packed.  New shoes are bought.  The lights need to be turned on most evenings now shortly after 9pm.   Pretty soon I won’t be getting a couple of weeks out of a full tank of diesel thanks to the school runs.  Homework will once again be the bane of mine and the boys’ lives.  School lunches will be made and mostly not eaten.  But Smallest Boy will be going to Montessori.  Trips to the swimming pool will cease and desist. 

And then it will be mid-term break time!

Bring it on.