I am making a trip to England on my own with the kids. P is at home doing up the attic. We have grand plans. One day (after we finally get the plasterboards up) it will become an all-new, sleek and stylish boudoir….so we’ll see what 5 days without the interuption of screams, bum wipes, tears and mayhem brings.
The only slight hiccup to preceedings though could be that ambition outweighs common sense. In the previous week everything I have mentioned from the stuffing that’s falling out of the sofa to the ripped chairs to a missing birth certificate has been met with,
“Don’t worry I’ll do that while you’re away”
I know he has set himself an unrealistic list of jobs, but of course there’s still a part of me that hopes that it’s actually true, that we’ll walk through the door and be stunned by a whole new home-makover like they do in all those TV shows.
I’m not a fan of flying but I have enough experience by now to have plenty of grapes, crayons, crackers and stickers to keep two small children happy, with the added bonus that flying KLM offers, nibbly bits and free apple juice. I love this part of the journey. It seems to take so long for the smiling blue ladies to hand out all the snacks that we are almost landing by the time they come back for the empties. S is practically spilling over with joy to have charge of his very own mini can of apple juice. The can and fidling about with the plastic cup it comes with keeps him busy sipping and spilling all down his trousers until we’re on the descent.
The apple juice has been a winner but it’s a few hours before we make it to my dad’s house and I can have a decent cup of tea. What passes for KLM tea is wishy-washy warm swamp water. Crap ‘Dutch,’ tea served in a charming blue and white ‘Royal Dutch’ patterned paper cup. The pictures of clogs and bicyles are there to divert your attention away from the contents.
Apart from this, the journey goes well and we make it to my dad’s house without too much drama. My dad is very pleased with himself. He reaches into his biscuit cupboard and offers me a mince-pie to go with my long awaited perfect English cup of tea.
Bear in mind this trip is taking place at the end of October, we haven’t even had Halloween.
“Wow” I say. “Christmas is two months away, you’ve got them in already?”
“No” he says “These are just for now. Look, sell by date is the 9th of November”
So it seems the shops are milking it a bit, selling a Christmas treat that you have to eat a month before Christmas.
My dad loves mince-pies. For any non-brits who might not know, a mince-pie is a a small pastry filled with a very sweet mix of raisins and candied peel.
While most of us moan about how early the shops are filling their shelves with Christmas cards and festive gift boxes, my dad is getting excited, waiting for the first appearance of the mince-pie. You can see a little glint of mischeivous saturated fat inducing pleasure in his eyes.
“Why not” I reply
We don’t delay to warm them up properly, we just eat them straight out of the pack. I don’t think I even liked mince-pies when I lived in England, but absence makes the heart grow fonder I suppose.
During our 5 day stay we really start to settle into all the English traditions. I’m getting my fill of the BBC listening to Radio 4 all day, the kids are eating cheese on toast for lunch, with cheddar cheese that melts properly instead of turning to rubber like gouda, I’m breaking a sweat pushing a buggy up the steep hills of a northern English town. We go to visit my mum too and she makes cottage pie and apple crumble!
The hoards now desend on my dad’s house, my brother and his two kids, my sister and her boyfriend, and my mother comes round and my two other sisters. This is turning into a family shin-dig. One of my sister’s has even planned to take the Christmas theme further. I have to admit I am a bit ‘bah humbug’ about the idea, but we’re all here I suppose and we won’t be when the real thing comes around in December.
So on our last evening we order a stupendous Indian takeaway with all the trimmings, which is our Chritsmas family tradition. Noone has to cook and luckily for me I love it. We wear paper hats and read out bad jokes. We have steamed Christmas pudding with custard. I think it is my brother who points out the date on the custard powder,
“Wait a minute” He says “Is this the same packet of custard you had before you moved into this house?”
It turns out to pre-date the Millenium, but we have a quick family conflab and decide that it’ll be fine. After our grand dinner, we round off the evening with very silly Christmassy games, and the general level of merry cackling in the room rises as my brother starts handing out the daiquiri’s. Unlike my childless siblings, my other brother and I at this point have to switch to tea again. The combination of cocktails does not work well with 7am loud demands for weetabix.
All in all I would have to admit that I too got into the whole Chritmas theme this year, even though it was only October. It has been a jolly affair evoking all my lost Englishnes. I pack my suitcase with the inevitable stash of PG Tips, but I also add a few boxes of mince-pies.
We are products of our childhoods I guess and my kids are excited about going home. To where they feel they belong.
“Airplane, up in the clouds, see daddy” says S
A long drudge of a journey and we are there. We arrive home. The kids are happy to see their own toys and books. Lego is lego, but somehow it’s comforting to find it in the box just where you left it. They get into bed with the familiar smell of home. Before too long, I am nit picking, inspecting the progress.
P has varnished the work top in the kitchen. He shrugs his shoulders.
“Yeah, you can’t really notice the difference”
He has finished the plasterboards in the attic! Well done, but I can’t see a lot through all the dust. There is no lack of effort. He’s been working flat out, while I’ve been off having Christmas, but my expectations are high. Doing it all on his own has been ambitious. Maybe he could do with some help.
I wonder if the BBC would send their DIY SOS team over to Holland?
I’ve been in the garden scooping slugs and snails out of the sandpit. The slugs have been an on-going problem for a while now. Last summer I must have found hundreds of them. I am not a very keen gardener, or more to the point I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, but we have inherited an oasis of green and even an overzealous grapevine that seems to sprout new shoots on a daily basis. The branches creep down trying to invade the house through the back door.
I remember a time last year that the garden in all its blooming glory almost gave me a heart attack. I was sitting watching a film on the sofa and I kept hearing a scary tapping noise at the window. Luckily it wasn’t a horror film, but we have all seen enough of those film scenes to imagine a light tapping at the window to be the scrape of a scythe or a meat-cleaver. I bravely drew back the curtain to discover that the wind was repeatedly knocking a particularly gnarly shoot of grapevine against the window pane. It just goes to show that I have the mind of a city dweller. I have never really had a proper garden before and I wasn’t aware of the noises they are capable of making.
I am equally naïve when it comes to slugs. Last summer all my pot plants were eaten, and that felt hugely unjust since it took me an enormous effort to even have any pot plants. I had a tiny baby. I didn’t have time for gardening! I just shoved any pretty looking flowers I found into random jars and containers. They were only annuals (my new word) but all the same it is a shame to have your fledgling efforts spoiled by a plague of gluttonous molluscs.
They even started trespassing through our kitchen. I don’t know where they got in but the evidence of their silver trails was there in the early mornings and I wouldn’t risk walking in bare feet. When my sister came to stay, P had warned her about them,
“Don’t be alarmed if you see any naked snails in the kitchen”
“Ok I won’t” she said
In dutch they have one word ‘slak’ . This can mean a snail or a slug, but to clarify when referring to a slug they say that it is naked.
Today I am outside with my daughter and her friend. It is a surprisingly warm day and they want me to open the sandpit. It has been decked in black bin-liners for weeks to guard against the summer rain (?) but now I am peeling it back. There are scores of slugs all over the plastic, both the naked and the clothed variety, and then I discover yet more wiggling through the sand itself. I find a bowl and a spade and I start picking them off. A and her friend stand at a safe distance watching me recoil in disgust.
I also have to spoon up trails of black poo all over the sand toys. I never realised that slugs poo so much. The bowl is starting to get very full. They’re writhing over each other, like one wet mucousy mass of black slime. Their tentacles are wiggling trying to escape. I have to work fast, as with each new slug I scoop up into the bowl I discover several more that have squirmed their way to the rim and I have to push them back down with the back of the spade. Why did I use this shallow bowl? It’s too late now. I have to keep going.
They’re repulsive creatures, but I’m not exactly trying to harm them. When I was about 6 I kept a family of snails in a tupperware box in the kitchen as pets and I fed them on lettuce.
“ooooghhh” I shout when my hand squelches against a runaway on the underside of the bowl.
P is inside with his back to me, head burried in the computer. He’s sniggering.
“What’s the big deal, it’s only a few slugs”
“I know but you’re not the one dealing with them!”
I run in and shove the convulsing bowl under his nose. I go out front and open the green bin. Is it ok to put them in here I wonder? It is supposed to be for all green waste – this counts as garden rubbish doesn’t it? I start throwing the slugs in, but seeing their tentacles reaching out towards me at eye-level is too much so I just throw the whole bowl in. It’s made out of wood anyway. That’s green.
I can see the neighbour looking over. She says she heard me in the garden. Apparently I was using the word ‘slimy’ a lot.
“Don’t worry I throw slugs in the green bin too.”
Well at least she’s admitted to the militant slug abuse act, so we’re in it together. They’ll be fine. They probably love it in there anyway. All dark and moist.
I go back into the garden to find A and her friend picking the leaves off my pot plants to mix up into a soup. They have lost interest in the sandpit.
It starts to get chilly so I poke and prod at the wayward vine to struggle to close the back doors. There’s a blackbird out there on the path nibbling at a slug, probably one that I dropped.
“Go bird! Kill!”
A few days ago I was making my daughter a sandwich for school. It was very early in the morning so I still felt a bit bleary headed. I asked her what she wanted in the sandwich.
“Cream cheese and cucumber?”
“Yes that’s fine” she answers “no no uum I won’t have cucumber”
I find this puzzling since cream cheese and cucumber has always been a winner.
“Why don’t you want cucumber?”
“Because when you’re at school and it’s time to eat the juffie turns this thingy round and it plays a tune on the music box and then you all have to be quiet.”
(Juffie is the generic term for female teacher)
Listening to this I suddenly feel a lot more awake and attentive.
“Ooh” I say “so you mean cucumber is too crunchy and it makes a noise?!”
“I’m sure the juffie doesn’t mind if you crunch a little bit when you’re eating”
“Yeah, but I just don’t want to anyway” she says
I am thinking to myself that this is ridiculous. How did I ever produce such a law-abiding goody-two-shoes? How could a bit of cucumber ever be rebellious?
I make a vow to myself to try to encourage a bit more wild disobedience.
I did recently fail to read the note pinned up on the classroom door so I baked jam tarts for a school trip instead of pancakes as all the other mums had done. I was the only one that did something different but this was more an act of disorganisation than of rebellion. A jam tart is not really a symbol of living life on the edge so I needed a new plan.
I bumped into a friend and her two kids at the farm and while our brood were stepping on the goat poo and stroking the rabbits we managed to have a short conversation about our music tastes. This was a good start, just to talk about something other than the kids. It turned out that she was a reggae DJ and I am a big reggae fan. Talking to her was bringing back memories of wilder days at festivals, being young, dancing all night. She was going to be Dj-ing at the weekend.
Here was the perfect opportunity to liven up an old passion with a few “Irie vibrations.”
So I turn up very keenly at 8pm on the dot. Maybe a bit too keen, the place hasn’t even opened it’s door yet! My friend is the first to play at a whole evening of reggae. I have really built this ‘going out’ thing in my head since it happens so seldom. Things start off very slowly and the place is empty for the first hour apart from us two mums and then a few friends of the DJ start to arrive, one of whom is heavily pregnant. We swap birthing stories and talk about pregnancy yoga. Wait! This is not the wild evening I had planned. Then my friend, the DJ needs to go to the loo and quickly shows me what to do in her absence. I’m standing in the DJ hotspot and I’m switching the faders! My heart beats a bit faster and I feel like I’m very cool…I look up from my brief moment of triumph and remember that I’m playing to an empty dancefloor!
By the time the second band of the night plays and it’s really filling up with the proper late night party crowd, ie. the young people I start nervously looking at the time and I sensibly head back home. I have to retrieve my coat from the backstage area though and typically enough the band members are in there taking a breather – smoking up a cloud of marijuana. The smell from outside is enough to almost knock me off my feet and I’m getting a bit nervy about the idea of going in, but I just hold my breath and make a dash for it. OK so my really reckless days are in the past, but I did get close to the ‘rebel music’, at least I danced to some tunes about the ‘uprising’. And I had four beers! And was home at midnight!
My rebellion might be on the back burner, but I hope my daughter’s is still to come. On Monday I’m planning on slipping carrot sticks into her lunch box.
Why do certain men have this urge to take up precious and valuable time with pointlessness? As I have mentioned to P several times of late I consider hobbies a luxury that I don’t expect to have time for until I’m at least 65. There will be plenty of time for leisure activities when we’re retired and the kids have left home. I’ll join a choir, grow potatoes, make wonky pottery mugs with the best of them, but for now, there are bums to be washed, sandwiches to be made, washing up to be done, tax returns, greasy fingers to wipe, sweetcorn to be swept from the floor etc etc. The list goes on…. By the way these domestic chores are not my idea of a pastime, if there are any men reading this I would like to point out that we women have not invented the concept of laundry, it is just there spoiling our fun too.
As far as having hobbies goes, P doesn’t agree. He has a new one to add to his list.
He is building himself the ultimate fan-daby-dozy racing bike. Apparently it has a rare Japanese frame that someone once won the ‘Tour de France’ using in about 1980….I have definitely got these facts wrong, but I am not a geek so I don’t care.
It is not enough for P that he already has a racing bike in the garden, plus a folding bike, a mountain bike, a city bike and a bakfiets (container bike). This might sound like an affluent collection of transport but showing them off would make a laughable episode of ‘cribs’. They are an assortment of rust and various states of disrepair, so they make up a scene fairly typical in a dutch family’s front garden. And handy for visitors of course.
His new hobby is like the super-duper optimum hobby since it combines other hobbies into one streamlined obsession. One is racing of course, another is spending an inordinate amount of time searching marktplaats (the dutch ebay) for parts, another is general tinkering and the final hobby is photography. Flicking through his camera recently wanting to see his snaps of the kids I found one picture of the chain rings laid out next to the crank set (yes I now know what it’s called) and several shots of the frame without wheels taken from different angles. It’s reminds me of a lover who can’t stop snapping pictures of their sweetheart.
Whether it will ever satisfy him I have no idea, I’m sure that once the bike is finished, he’ll use it of course but the thrill of the challenge will fade and be replaced by the next obsession. No doubt, the flush of new love will lose some of it’s luster, those photos won’t be saved but discarded as the next project begins. I know from experience that there will be a next project.
Meanwhile the laundry. Today I was upstairs with little S just after his nap. We’ve just been on holiday and the suitcases are lying around the hallway not being dealt with so I thought I better get on with it. There are also huge piles of unsorted clothes all wedged in the doorway of our bedroom so I start chucking them vaguely in the direction of the laundry basket. S keeps pointing up to the attic and saying “dada”.
“No dada’s not up there” I say
“Dada” he says again and starts trying to climb the stairs.
“OK I’ll show you” I say and pick him up under the arms and go up.
When I get up there I find the racing bike suspended from the middle of the ceiling, like a sacred centrepiece. The metal parts are gleaming silver and there are several scary looking cleaning products and blackened toothbrushes on the floor.
Apart from that the attic is clear, it has exposed bare wooden walls and no floorboards. P has been up there a fair bit recently. ‘Renovating’. Basically for the last year we’ve been trying to get around to getting it finished and habitable so that it can be our new bedroom.
I go back down the stairs and continue sorting through the heaps of clothing but S keeps on pointing and I have to show him the bike several more times before he’s satisfied.
This evening after dinner I see P is outside talking to the neighbour over the fence. Initially he’s thanking him for watering the plants while we were away and politely listening to him talk about his new job. The conversation quickly moves along and his pet subject comes up, his bike. The neighbour turns out to be a racebike enthusiast as well. P is showing him pictures on his phone. They’re out there a long time and P comes in clutching some brake cables that the neighbour had left over in his shed.
“That’s the chattiest he’s ever been” he says smiling.
The baby has started talking. Well he is a toddler really I suppose. He totters about in his dungarees kicking a ball, chasing balloons, tripping over and banging his head on tables a lot. Maybe from now on I will give him his very own grown up letter – S.
Anyway he is talking, just a few words, like ‘mooo’ for a cow, ‘nose’, ‘ow!’ (when the said bumping and banging happens, he is very dramatic about it). He can also say ‘wow’, often when there’s a large rubbish truck going past or I produce strawberries from the fridge. It is all very cute really and like any parent I coo in wondrous appreciation as his vocabulary grows (even if other people can’t distinguish a moo from a shoe, or a juice from a cheese for that matter) His current favourite word is ‘toast’! He loves the stuff. The only time I am a little less charmed by this new ability to talk is at 6am. When he wakes up in the morning he stands up in his cot and shouts ‘toast!’ at the top of his lungs, he doesn’t stop until I go in and get him. He used to accept a little cuddle in mum and dad’s bed in the morning, but now it is no-nonsense, dead-on target, ‘let’s get down those stairs and get the toaster going mum’ and he will not tolerate a single moment of faff in between. If mum is not properly organised the night before with socks, pyjama bottoms, a handful of nappies at the ready, if I need to go back into my own room to pull on my slippers for instance I am greeted by a full on tantrum. And tantrums at 6am are a whole new kettle of stinking rancid fish that you don’t even want to know about. So I try to minimise the risk and have the necessary clothing/changing equipment piled up on the landing.
Then we run downstairs in the dark, and I slice the bread. He continues saying ‘toast’ until I tell him he needs to wait for the pop. Then he changes his mantra to ‘pop…pop’
P claims that I have already infiltrated little S with my English toast obsession. I have mentioned before in a previous post the Dutch crazy love of bread, and it having an almost holy place in the average Dutch diet, they wouldn’t pollute the pureness of the beloved ‘broodje’ (sandwich) by toasting the stuff.
Once the toast is ready and S is happily in his high chair munching we can relax and chat, as long as we stick mostly to a conversation using one-syllable words that contain the letter ‘O’.
Another new word that I’m not overly keen on is ‘phone’. Typical up-to-the-minute baby that he is, he grabs the phone out of my hand and uses his grubby little teeny weeny index finger to slide through all the various apps looking for something that he can accidentally buy for me. It is amazing how fast things seem to be moving along. A is 4 and a half and when she was his age and she grabbed the phone out of my hand it still had buttons to press.
Unfortunately he also likes throwing things. Yesterday he grabbed the iphone and threw it on the floor. We have a wooden floor and the impact cracked the front panel of the phone. I picked it up and bellowed in that half drill, half ox giving birth like way that P is always telling me off for. (Quick aside: In my opinion if P was a 24 hour parent like I am and didn’t get to escape to ‘work’ he would have developed his own equally annoying noise). It is a noise of utter frustration that I make instead of swearing or hitting anyone.
I am shouting “I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS!!”
I wouldn’t have reacted so severely, if it was not for the fact that this has just happened to me not even a month ago. I had been holding onto my bike with one hand, I had leaned across to pick up the potatoes I was buying at the market and the phone had fallen out of my pocket and onto the ground, where it had royally smashed. I had had to ring a whippersnapper of a young iphone fixing boy to drive over (charging me petrol money by the kilometre) to replace the glass. It cost 80 euros!
How could I be so idiotic? How could I not have bought a cover for it the first time this happened? And why did I let a toddler anywhere near the damn thing? Now I start directing my frustration at the stupid thing itself and those abominable people at Apple for making it. It is clearly a way of fleecing all of us suckers who fall for their ‘must-have’ marketing. How can it be so easy to break that a hock high teeny toddler can smash it by dropping it on a wooden floor?
This is the cycle of thought that I am trapped in for the rest of the afternoon. I stick sellotape across the screen and set about grumpily trying to get dinner ready. S totters about with his bare feet pat-patting on the wooden floor bumping his head on the dinner table. He occasionally runs into the kitchen and climbs up onto a high step to examine the vegetables I am chopping. He fingers the courgette without enthusiasm and shouts ‘toast!’
P and I are arguing, well in point of fact, we both maintain that we are not arguing but that the other is. We are extremely grumpy. The baby has a fever and is awake constantly throughout the night and A has a hacking cough that wakes her up. For the last couple of nights she’s slept in with us. Her coughing wakes the baby when I’ve just got him detached from my boob and back into his cot and likewise his crying wakes her up in between coughing fits. Last night at about 5.30 I finally remove the baby from the bedroom and stumble next door into A’s bedroom so as to stop him waking everyone else. He cries but I force him into a huddle and pat him gently til he stops and gives in to another hour of sleep. I drift off my legs bent up and cramped against the end of my daughters minibed, and I wake up amazingly refreshed! As long as you get to sleep at the end of the night for an hour or so your body tricks you into thinking you’ve had a nights sleep! What a revelation. Worse are the nights when the kids keep you up from 4 and that’s it. Don’t be fooled, no amount of love for your children can override the sleep deprivation and keep you patient and calm on those mornings. We are all bad parents.
Before I had children someone once asked me to predict what would be the biggest challenges about being a parent. I said
“Accepting bad behaviour”
“Allowing my children to be themselves”
Little did I realise that the answer was a lot simpler. The biggest challenge is coping without sleep.
In our house sleep has become like a form of currency between P and I. We have invented a system. I get up on the school mornings, and P gets up on the other mornings. On our morning to get up we both bark and complain looking at the clock. It has never been said in so many words but I’m sure we both have the same thoughts when the kids are wide awake and the clock has just ticked past 6, we secretly direct rage at the other who we are sure had the luck of it being closer to 7 the day before when it was their turn. Today was Saturday and the morning waker was P. When I got up after an amazing lie-in at 8.30 he went back to bed. The baby was also having his first nap of the day and rudely woke up crying so that P was again roused from his sleep. I eventually took the baby downstairs and P continued sleeping til lunchtime. The weekends tend to be basically just a rota of who gets to be asleep. So from 8.30 until almost 12 I am letting him sleep the morning away while I try to keep A busy with the lego with a feverish snotty baby clamped to my leg.
At around 11 I am having a mental conversation with myself,
shall I send the kids in to wake him up?
God I’m so annoyed with him
No I’ll let him sleep, he’ll be so happy and amazed at how long he’s slept, and then we’ll all have a pleasant day being calm and rational with each other
No but this is torture, how dare he still be in bed, I’m sure I never get to do this
Don’t persecute yourself, just go and bloody get him up! It’s about time he came and helped with the weekend
I’ve toed and froed about it all morning and now it’s practically lunch time, so just to show everyone how heroic and good at coping I am I’ve wiped the snot off my legs, plonked the baby in the high chair to stop him climbing up my pyjamas and into the oven and I’ve started making the cheese on toast when P finally comes downstairs.
I’m trying to look all unflustered and cool but I am perplexed when I notice that he still looks grumpy!
“It’s too difficult, I couldn’t really sleep”
Ok so now I think I’m going to punch him in the head, all illusions of a pleasant weekend family day are shattered.
What a luxury it would be to over-worry about “allowing my children to be themselves” and to make mistakes, blah blah, this all sounds like a lot of touchy feely babble. I’ve got a whole ton of books on parenting sitting on my book shelves unopened. My eye suddenly scans over the debris of ketchup, juice and scattered paperwork on the table and rests on a book lying horizontally on top of the shelf.
“How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk”.
Brilliant title anyway.
Now that we live across the road from A’s school my TV anguish is increasing. I dread the day her teacher cycles past and glancing through our front window, which I have come to realise is unusually large sees A slumped infront of some dodgy cartoon. This is a Steiner school as well. TV is practically outlawed! Possibly the worst example would be the animated series about a Chinese girl who looks like manga gone too far, her eyes take up more than half her face. I’ve been putting the telly on every day after school because that’s when the baby has his nap, so A is practically imprisoned, safely held captive while I’m busy upstairs. If any of the other parents or teachers do pass by regularly at that time then they’re bound to think of me as the TV mum.
Anyway today I reached a new level of telly anxiety. I was exposed, found guilty of day-time telly watching. I am embarrassed and now I’ll have no legs to stand on in the busy busy parent stakes. I was eating lunch, which was an exciting cheese and marmite sandwich and now I was having pudding, a cup of tea and wait for it…..a nutella sandwich! A childish diet is sometimes needed to refuel the motivation for more rounds of “she’ll be coming round the mountain.”
I was enormously frustrated that my laptop was not allowing me to listen to radio four. The droning on of those proper British radio voices is reassuringly nostalgic. I am turning rapidly into my dad. I draw the line though at ‘The Archers’. This for anyone who doesn’t know is a stalwart of the BBC. A long running radio soap about farmers. There are west-country accents, probably just so the actors can enjoy the ludicrous and authentic pronunciation of the word ‘tractor’ and there are mooing sound effects in the background. In any case if I hear the well known theme-tune starting I quickly turn off the radio to try and delay the fast approaching onset of middle-agedness. As far as I’m concerned you shouldn’t really be allowed to listen to The Archers until you’ve got time for hobbies and crossword puzzles and you’ve got a shed.
Being away from the UK I can only listen to BBC radio online and for some reason my laptop has a time and calendar that is wrong and won’t match up to the BBC iplayer so it doesn’t work. I tried my phone, but the phone in this out of bounds region. So I turned the telly on for a fix of BBC. As I was standing there in front of the vast front window with the remote in my hand I worried that a neighbour might walk past and it did occur to me to draw the curtains for this illicit act of TV watching but then I thought I was just being weird and paranoid. On BBC 1 it was something to do with some people selling some apparent antique thingy in a box for 35 quid so I continued flicking until I got to a BBC Entertainment, which was a sort of drama/sitcom about 30 somethings getting divorced I think. It was a programme I had never seen before but it had some lovely familiar British TV faces in it, so I sat down on the sofa and balanced my nutella sandwich on my lap. Just as I did this I looked out the window and saw the local council politician walking past my house! He is the father of one of the girls in A’s class and he lives further up the road from us. Now this was too pitiless. I should always listen to that paranoid self, I should have bloody closed the curtains. Now I’m already aware that when this man’s daughter came to play after school that I allowed her and A to watch an episode of Dora the Explorer.
Shall I quickly run outside right now? I think
Shall I tell him the whole story about the radio not working and that I never normally would watch TV in the middle of the day, honest?
Shit, in half an hour from now I will be picking A up from school and I’m sure he’ll be there to pick up his daughter too. Strangely enough a local council politician seems to have a lot of time on his hands for bringing and picking up his kids from school and meandering up and down his street checking up what other people are up to.
Right then, I decide,
When I see him I will have to pull myself together. I will calmy make intelligent polite chit chat. I will pretend that I’m not just a daytime telly addict, but a normal capable fellow parent. I will enthusiastically greet A with a healthy interest in her day at school.
Seriously, what am I going to do? I’m looking down at a half eaten chocolate spread sandwich watching my integrity take a backslide.
My daughter is a daddy’s girl. She is extremely keen on him. Her ears are tuned to the clank of his bike against the front window when he gets home from work and she rushes to wave at him, beaming and hopping about, she whoops for joy when it’s his turn to put her to bed, she won’t even allow him to be alone when he’s in the toilet. She stand outside the door talking, encouraging him on and asking if he’s nearly finished.
A few days ago we were eating breakfast and A was drawing. At the moment she draws the family a lot, daddy, mummy, herself and baby. Maybe a rainbow or some clouds and birds. Familiar childhood themes. A typical 4-year-old’s world. She’s making sense of things. I ask her who the people are in the picture.
She says. “When I am a grown up can I also have two babies?”
“I don’t know” I say “maybe, but first you need to grow up”
“yes, first I’m going to be a child, then a bit bigger child, then a bit bigger child, then a teenager” she giggles, the idea of one day being a teenager always makes her smile. “then I have to choose someone to be the daddy and then I can get a baby in my tummy”
She seems to have got it all worked out…”well” I say “you can be a grown up first, maybe for quite a long time, you might not just go straight from teenager to mummy”
“Yes of course” she laughs
“Where is your daddy?” she asks P
“I don’t know” he says brightly
P has never known his father. He left when P was about 4 and never stayed in touch. A knows that her daddy doesn’t have a daddy.
“But where did he go?”
“We don’t know where he went” P answers
This is a line of questioning that crops up now and again.
“Why did he go away?”
“Maybe he didn’t like it in Nederland. It’s always raining and cold, maybe he wanted to go back to his home.”
“You know that daddy’s daddy came from Croatia?” I say. “That’s quite far away. It’s a different country and it’s sunny there”
“But your daddy’s always going to stay with you. He won’t go away”
“Nooo” she says and she gets down and crosses around to the other side of the table to give her daddy a hug.
My daughter has started school. It is a huge event for us. You can see the school yard from our house so she has already watched the kids coming and going and this has been a point of great excitement for the last year. It was almost too good a fantasy that one day she would be one of those rucksacked children filing in to the building that she has seen so many times from the outside. To me it looks like so many other schools, but to her it has taken on the mystery of a fairytale castle.
Like good responsible parents we read through all the stuff that the school sent us, the structure of the school, the philosophy, learning goals, various celebrations, holidays, staff, bullying protocol etc. I remembered what Dr. Winston had said about preparing your child for school in that programme on the BBC, so I told A that she was going to school because she was going to learn, which was apparently the key word and also there were going to be lots of other children to make friends with. We went out to choose a school bag and a lunch box (actually in Holland it’s called a bread box due to the fact that bread seems to be the top and most important food staple to all Dutch folk and I say all because it transcends class, political leanings, health freaks, food philistines, everyone, if a Dutch person thinks it’s lunchtime they don’t ask, “shall we break for lunch?” they are far more likely to say “shall we eat a sandwich?” and while we’re on the subject a sandwich is a slice of bread topped simply with cheese, ham or chocolate sprinkles, yes even for adults!) So we’ve got the breadbox.
The first day arrives and A is suitably quaffed and neatly plaited. I am very proud. The other parents seem friendly and one mother helpfully introduces herself as Anouk, one of the parent reps and says I can ask her anything I need to. When we leave A smiles and waves goodbye, then turns back into the circle and listens to the teacher, who has achieved a trance-like atmosphere in the classroom by her morning ritual of playing the harp! (I should add at this point for anyone who is wondering whether I am lying that the school is a Steiner school….”ooooh” I hear you say)
When we pick her up A shows us a picture she has drawn and is smiling from ear to ear, so all in all I’d say it’s a good start.
Things continue to be successful for the first few weeks, she has a couple of friends, she’s been baking bread every Thursday, she’s been on a woodland walk to collect conkers, she’s learnt some ancient songs about gnomes and she’s even had a couple of playdates. One minor hiccup was when A turned to me while we were eating our evening pasta and said,
“Mummy, why is the teacher not teaching me things?”
“Ahh” I replied
I had to have a bit of a think about how to answer this and then I tried to explain that all the playing and stories and making stuff was also a form of learning. I think I had, by way of Robert Winston accidentally given her the impression that she would be proficient at reading and maths now that she was already 4 years old and well into her first month of school!
Because we live just across the road I have to admit that I have already quickly pulled yesterday’s jeans on and put my jacket on over my pyjama top to take her to school. For the first few weeks A’s dad and I tried to keep up an element of decency in our attire, but due to the proximity we knew there was always a strong likelihood of going to school in our pyjamas, it was just a surprise how soon. As soon as I open the front door, I see other parents cycle past me smiling always wearing the appropriate rain gear. I’ve usually got the baby on my hip (who’s also got his jacket over his pyjamas) and wild non-brushed hair, but A has got clean clothes and teeth so I don’t mind.
Anouk cycles past me and I call out,
“Hi, I’ve got a question. P gave me this envelope for the class kitty, but I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do with it”
“Oh” she says “You just put €25 in it and pass it to the next parent on the list, it was all explained on parents evening”
This was like a heavy clout and I feel my face drop the smile from my face. SHIT SHIT, parents evening! It was last Wednesday and I forgot it! How could this happen? My first parents evening! Now I vaguely remember reading all the important emails with the attachments that we got in the first week, but what the hell! I didn’t write it down and now we look like negligent fools! This is how I feel at that moment. Deeply ashamed. And mortified. Maybe this sounds a bit extreme but I was trying so hard! I apologise to the teacher and make an excuse about being a scatterbrain because of the baby keeping me up all through the night. This is actually very true. I’ve been up at least 4 times a night for the past week, but it feels like a cop-out, we’ve all had babies that’s why we’re here and looking around I don’t see any other parents in their pyjamas forgetting parents evening.
A is blissfully unaware of my failures, she greets the teacher cheerfully, sits between her 2 new best friends, waves goodbye and turns back to the circle eager to start learning!