The Mystery of Being Abroad

The Mystery of Being Abroad

Holidays with kids are rarely the relaxing, battery recharging affair they were before you had kids. Of course you don’t have to clean, cooking is optional and it’s perfectly acceptable to start drinking just after breakfast brunch. But that’s tempered by the fact that you’re on holiday, in an unfamiliar location, with kids.

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Kids don’t do change very well. Or at least mine don’t.

The first night is usually best approached with the attitude that sooner or later they’ll have to conk out. Trying to get them to bed at a sensible time is nigh on important. The bed will be too hard/soft/cold/warm/dark/light (possibly all six throughout the evening). There will be too much or too little noise from outside (we once stayed on a farm in Scotland and my poor townie kids couldn’t sleep because there was no reassuring hum of traffic, trains and aeroplanes).

Eldest will complain throughout the journey about how cramped he is. At 5ft something-significantly-over-seven-inches-and-counting he’ll have to get used to being cramped. Whether that’s in a car or a plane or a train. Tough.

Middle will angle for her own room. This is despite the fact that she shares with Youngest at home and neither sleep properly if apart. She will attempt to bring her dog with her. The (stuffed) dog is as big as a small toddler and not within Ryanair’s luggage rules, so usually can only accompany us for UK holidays, when it sits on her knee in the car.

Youngest will also bring her comfort toy. Her tiger is somewhat easier to travel with, fitting as it does into a small rucksack. This will cause no end of complaints from Middle.

There will, naturally, be a fight for the best bedroom, and the best bed. Sometimes it all just falls into place perfectly but usually someone feels hard done by (often me).

The next Holiday Arrival Problem is food. Food abroad is never the same as food at home. Even when it’s ostensibly the same item. Sometimes this can be good, as when we discovered Smultron yogurt in Sweden or Schokomuesli in Germany. Venturing into a foreign supermarket can be interesting to say the least.

But that’s part of the whole point of the travelling we do. We like to AirBnB and live a bit more like a local than a tourist (although we probably really suck at being locals). With a weekly season-ticket for the local public transport (probably costing a tenner for transport a million times more effective than anything in the UK) we’re free to find the play parks, lidos, walking routes and hidden gems that you miss if you just pick the Tripadvisor top ten attractions (and we visit some of those too).

Like it or not our little island is part of Europe and part of the World and that makes it important to engage with other cultures. Whether that’s two hours drive west to Wales or two hours flight east to Milan.

The plot thickens…

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The Mystery of Flying

The Mystery of Flying

It’s half-term here. We get two weeks, which means that your chances of finding a primary school age kid in the second week is pretty slim. Almost everyone who can takes the opportunity of reduced prices, but decent weather, to go away.

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Holidays are supposed to be about relaxing and exploring a new place. About allowing yourself to let go and recharge those batteries.

Getting to your holiday is a tricky one. You generally have two choices – fly or drive. For UK holidays we drive and spend 3-4 hours cooped up in a metal box. For foreign holidays we fly and spend 2-3 hours cooped up in a metal box AFTER having spent 1-2 hours in the delight that is the Airport Departure Lounge.

Pre-children the departure lounge was a necessary inconvenience. Somewhere to read your book, and perhaps enjoy a coffee before your flight.

With children it’s boring and expensive. If they look in the shops they want to spend their holiday money before you’ve even left the ground. If you don’t they get bored. There’s only so many aeroplanes landing and taking off that anyone can watch before this impressive feat becomes old hat. Even the arrival of “The Big One” (Airbus 380) pales after a while.

Then there are the queues. Children don’t do queues very well. There’s a queue for security which just serves to highlight their anxieties about passing through the metal detector (or worse going into the rotating scanner). Then there’s a queue to get into the queue to board the plane. Good old Ryanair really know how to make a good queue. Nothing like standing on the stairs with fidgeting children to get your holiday off to a great start.

The best bit of the whole shebang is, of course, the chance to suck lollipops for most of the flight. Whether or not they really do anything to calm pressure in the ears they serve to take small flier’s mind’s off the experience.

And then, before you know it you’re in another queue to be squinted at by passport control before venturing into the foreign wilderness.

The plot thickens…

The Mystery of Marketing

The Mystery of Marketing

Middle can be extremely opinionated about her dietary preferences. For preference she would eat chips, cheesy chips, hot dogs, baked beans and eggs at all meals (well a subset of that obviously). Her “healthy” option is red pesto pasta and she’ll make do with tomato pasta (smothered in cheese) and pizza. You get the idea.

In addition to seemingly not liking any foods in common with the rest of the family, apart from pizza and chips, she expects a dessert with every meal. Not just the evening meal or main meal of the day. Every meal.

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This dessert also needs to be a proper dessert. Desserts that are not proper desserts include yogurt, fruit, fruit with yogurt and yogurt with fruit. Desserts that are proper desserts include ice-cream, waffles, cakes and chocolate mousse.

Now in a desperate attempt to get something resembling a vitamin into her I’ve experimented with offering healthier desserts, including blueberries and yogurt. Despite not being a Proper Dessert blueberries and yogurt has met with some degree of success.

Except now it’s boring. “Not fruit and yogurt again!” comes the cry. “Don’t want stupid dessert if it’s just blueberries again!”

It is important at this point to ensure that tonight’s dessert is not blueberries and yogurt. Otherwise blueberries and yogurt will become Public Health Hazard Number 1 and will never be touched again.

My options are somewhat limited. I could cave and make a cake. I could make a healthy cake. No, that would probably not get eaten by anyone.

Or I could make “Parfait”. What is parfait you ask?

It’s simple. Take a nice drinking glass and put a blob of yogurt in the bottom. Add a few blueberries and repeat until you reach the top of the glass. Finish with a small sprinkle of granola (or cake toppings if you prefer) and serve with a latte spoon.

Success! Only another 4 of the 5 a day to worry about.

The plot thickens…

The Mystery of the Walk of Shame

The Mystery of the Walk of Shame

Friday is a difficult day in our household. Youngest has after school tennis. Middle has during school swimming. And now it’s the summer term both require suncream.

Friday is also a day I usually get out of doing the school run. Sharing duties with another family suits us both. They get Tuesday and Wednesday off and I get Monday, Thursday and Friday off except some weeks when they can’t manage. I still think we get the better deal.

Today however was a different kettle of fish entirely. Today, mainly because the morning started out grey and dull, we Forgot The Suncream.

Now my skin burns before tanning, and my kids have inherited my tendency towards looking like a lobster at the start of the season. So even if suncream weren’t important for protecting against hidden sun damage it would be important against coming out of school looking like a pillar box.

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With a forecast of sun just around lunchtime it meant The Walk of Shame to deliver suncream in the hope it might get applied before playtime.

With parents leaving school devoid of children there’s always plenty of witnesses to your clear inability to remember everything before leaving the house. And of course Sod’s Law applies which means that even if you leave dashing back with swimming kit, PE bag or, indeed, suncream, until well after school has started you will almost certainly bump into a knot of parents chatting away on the street corner. And one of them will almost certainly pipe up with a cheery “forgot something?” to make you feel even worse about the morning.

Ho hum. Weekend tomorrow!

The plot thickens…

The Mystery of Plasters

The Mystery of Plasters

What happens when you cut yourself? I’m not talking a full on gash that oozes blood and clearly needs a dressing to staunch the flow. Neither am I talking about falling off your bike and scraping your knee. No, I’m thinking about those little nicks and abrasions that you barely notice.

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If you are an adult you will probably give it a quick swish under the tap and think no more of it. Perhaps, especially if it is a bit stingy or you’re worried it might get dirt in it, you might put a plaster on it. A plaster which will be quickly discarded when it falls off three hours later due to the fact you actually wash your hands after going to the loo.

If you are a child it becomes a far more serious affair. Any injury, big or small, bleeding or not, visible or virtually microscopic, will require a plaster.

The plaster must not be too small. This goes without saying for a too small plaster will stick to the wound and open it up again when removed. Also, too small plasters are just wrong in the world of Children’s Medicine and will be ripped off to be replaced by one of a more suitable size.

This plaster must not be too big. If it is too big it will interfere with the normal use of digits and limbs and removal will be required instantly. Sometimes parents fantasise about cuts in the facial area requiring such big plasters that they interfere with the normal operation of the mouth, but those are just silly day dreams on our part.

The plaster must be made of the correct material. For some children, and some cuts, this means a fabric plaster. Despite the fact that it will fall off within the hour because it will get wet and wash all the adhesive away. Other cuts, and children, will require a smooth, washable plaster or perhaps a see-through plaster. A few unusual cases will require a microporus paper “sensitive” dressing. These come in all sizes, including extremely large 5cm x 10cm rectangles perfect for knees and elbows. God help you if you have a graze of this magnitude and a child who hates this sort of dressing.

The real tears begin not when the initial accident occurs (remember we may be talking about a tiny pin-prick which is only visible to those with single digit ages who own the affected body part), but when it becomes apparent that you have run out of the correct plaster type. Especially if the correct type involves “Frozen” and you only have “Minions” left.

Whoever invented the character plaster clearly felt they were doing parents a favour. “Here is a product to help keep wounds clean and dry” they must have said “And it has favourite cartoon characters printed on it so that your darling offspring will be happy to wear it whenever they get injured”

He (and I’m sure it was a he) has clearly never met kids. Fickle kids whose favourite cartoon character today is their worst nightmare tomorrow. Kids who, when they get an idea, hook onto it with all the tenacity of a spider reeling in a particularly tasty fly.

There are several possible outcomes.

If you are lucky then your child is unbothered by which plaster they use as long as it hides the cut until they have forgotten about it. You lucky devil you.

Alternatively, your child may only wear a particular type or brand of plaster. As long as it is widely available and you don’t forget to stock up every time you do the Big Shop you’re pretty lucky too.

The final possibility is that only character plasters will do. When a particular character is popular you will be bombarded with requests to cover wounds on a daily or more frequent basis. But as soon as the character loses it’s appeal you will be left with half a box of unusable dressings. Unless you don’t mind sporting “Bugs Bunny” or “Superman” of course.

The plot thickens…

The Mystery of the PTA

The Mystery of the PTA

The summer fair is looming so, naturally, this requires a PTA meeting to organise it. We have a pretty healthy PTA. Typically around 10 people turn up out of a pool of maybe 30 “regulars” and a larger pool of perhaps 50 or so who will put in a shift at a fair or attend an event but don’t want to get more involved.

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Apart from the staff members that attend, I am one of the longest serving members now (if not THE longest serving member). I sometimes feel rather like a great grandmother, having been involved in the PTA since Eldest started in Reception (he’s now year 9!!!), recalling that time, several chairpersons ago, when we had a surfeit of personalised pencils or the problems with year 6 “helpers”.

I have to confess to avoiding responsibility. I enjoy organising on the sidelines. Taking on tasks as they occur such as buying prizes or collecting The Pie Order the day before the fair. I’m happy to lend a hand to erect stalls, fold tombola tickets and bake cakes (my absolute favourite volunteering is taking the last shift on the cake stall and stuffing as many unsold cakes as I can into hungry kids before their parents notice) but I’m quite happy to avoid the heavy work and have a lot of respect for those that can hack being Chair for more than one term.

Being Chair of the PTA is a pretty thankless job. You have hold the reins of numerous different projects and make sure someone turns up to spend money.

One year the Chair was out of action for several weeks which forced greater delegation of tasks, but the Chair is still that driving force that keeps the whole show rolling on. And what do they get in return? A warm fuzzy feeling when they see the new whiteboards or bike sheds (we haven’t actually got around to fundraising for these yet as we’re still paying off the whiteboards)? A bunch of flowers and a clap at the Leaver’s Assembly when they finally hand in their notice?

I suspect they hack it because someone has to do it. Without the PTA we wouldn’t have the garden, the climbing equipment on the field, the School Forest or working smart whiteboards. There would be fewer school trips and less curriculum enhancement from external providers. The school library would doubtless be in an even shabbier condition than it currently is, and the plans to create more bike and scooter parking space would be pushed lower and lower in a list of priorities that include things like “fix roof” and “replace reading books older than headteacher”.

Many people think that the PTA is a clique. I really hope that no one thinks that of our PTA. Yes, we know each other but you can’t meet regularly without getting to know each other. Perhaps we’re a little hasty at accepting offers of help, but to some extent that’s because however many hands we have on deck there always seems to be something we can’t do because there’s not enough hands to go round.

So if you’re reading this and your school is organising a summer fair, or a school picnic, or even just selling ice cream to parents at Sports Day perhaps you could offer half an hour of your time to run a stall or slap some chocolate on some marshmallows (don’t worry about rude shapes – our best seller on the cake stall is usually Poop Emoji Brownies).

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The plot thickens…

The mystery of the missing cat

The mystery of the missing cat

Before I start this story I’ll make it quite clear – it’s not our cat that’s missing. We don’t even own a cat. Or a dog. Or any other small creature that would be technically owned by a child but in reality cared for by the grown-ups in the household (or me to be even more precise).

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No, this cat is one that has been lost by some careless owner in our neighbourhood. I say careless owner because there is a photograph of it and it looks like one of those extremely expensive house cats that are far too expensive to be allowed out to roam around and get splatted by the traffic (which sadly happens far too often round here and is one of numerous reasons why a cat will not be happening to our family).

The other reason I believe it to be an expensive cat that snuck out through a left-open door or something, is that it has a reward of £250 for its safe return.

It is this reward that has piqued Middle’s interest. She has been keeping a keen eye out for the cat (in so far as an eight-year-old keeps a keen eye out for anything) and has been making plans to ensure that she, and she alone, claims the reward money.

I don’t actually know what she’d do if £250 suddenly became hers. Actually I tell a lie. Top of her shopping list would be a phone. She is desperate to have a phone. She has use of the “family” phone – a rugged, waterproof brick of a phone that can last a week on a charge and that we take walking when we don’t want to risk our fancy phones. Her brother, having broken a hand-me-down smartphone, and fed up of having a dumb phone, saved up to buy his own smartphone (a reconditioned one off eBay) so if she ever manages to replicate the feat I suppose we’ll have to allow her to keep it.

Next up on her list would probably be either a tablet (I think she would be shocked to learn what her friend’s iPad would set her back) or an Echo. She’s obsessed with getting a smart speaker so she can play Alexa pranks on us all and call up music whenever she feels like it.

I do not want Alexa in my life. I can do without fire engine impersonations at three in the morning and endless stupid commands (Alexa, make me a sandwich).

I am not looking very hard for this cat. At least, not when my daughter is anywhere nearby…..

The plot thickens…