Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Does not going to sports day make me a bad parent?

In Kids on July 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm

The answer is probably ‘yes’, but hear me out.

At this point in the year, there are, depending on your local authority, two weeks left of the school term. Two more weeks of freedom before you are juggling kids and work and daytrips and deadlines and your whole finely tuned routine is thrown into chaos. (Those in the independent system have just finished term and are already staring down the barrel of some eight weeks of school holiday.)

Now I know I shouldn’t think of school as a free childminding service, but – as was brought into sharp relief by the recent public sector one-day strike – I do. And after the succession of school holidays, bank holidays, royal bloody weddings, and yes/no referendums that meant my children were at school for just five days between 8 April and 9 May, you’d forgive me for assuming I was in school/not school credit.

So why so many ominous demands on parents’ (and, to be fair, teachers’) time this month? Is it supposed to be fun?

Read the rest of this entry »

#54 Shoot

In Kids, midlife on August 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm

It’s not every day that a national newspaper wants to shoot me for the cover of its magazine – and there are many, many reasons why, as anyone who has ever seen, or tried to take, a picture of me will testify. Read the rest of this entry »

#52 The best things in life are free, or courtesy of the French tax payer

In Free, Kids, Travel on August 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

This week we have been holidaying sur les Plages of Paris at the expense of the French tax payer.

The Paris Plages , now in their 9th year, have been much envied by London, though just to correct a misconception – they aren’t actually a whole stretch of fake beach (though there are a couple of areas set aside for sand and sun loungers), but a series of activities, kiosks, and entertainments along what would usually be a busy road along the Seine’s right bank, and around the Bassin de la Villette. All laid on by the Mairie de Paris.

We enjoyed badminton, pedaloing, outdoor swimming, pétanque, trampolining, rolling around on the Bassin inside inflatable floating spheres, and – my personal favourite – the forests of very fine spray that is just enough to cool you down without actually getting you wet, while surrounding you with rainbows. But we could also have done table football, kayaking, waterbikes, bmx-ing, fencing… And all for free. Read the rest of this entry »

#46 Kids

In Jobseeking, Kids on May 14, 2010 at 8:42 am

‘I mean I like spending time with you, Mum, but it would be good if you could get a job.’

Great. Not even your children respect you when you’re unemployed. You spend you working life feeling guilty that you aren’t spending enough time with your children, give up your job even, and it turns out they’re not even that bothered.

My eldest (the one, above, who is sick of me kicking around the house) won’t even let me pick her up from school any more now she’s old enough for an Oyster card. She’s already cut her own door key and we’ve given in and got her a mobile phone so we can keep tabs on her. My youngest still holds my hand on the way to school without realising it, but dumps me as soon as he hits the playground. Read the rest of this entry »

#44 Baggage

In Jobseeking, Kids on April 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Phew, just about made it from ripped-jeaned mum to plausibly employable professional in just 72 hours.

But here’s the inventory of what I had to empty out of my bag in order to restock it with grown up things like business cards and make up:

Two packets of colouring pencils from a child-friendly restaurant

Six 2010 season Match Attax trading cards (happy to trade if there are any Hull fans out there)

Two Love Film DVDs that I STILL haven’t had time to watch

a glittery hair tie

a single, child’s sock

five notebooks (have rationalised down to one)

two biros that don’t work

one pencil, minus point

6 Eurocents

a compilation CD

a wrist support

two miniature bodylotions from a hotel bathroom

a nit comb

the timetable for kids classes at the local sports centre

sunglasses (it was rainy)

a wooly mitten (it was warmish though)

four packets of tissues

a Build-a-bear loyalty card

Return family tickets to Manchester for a fortnight ago

an empty bag of Haribo

a tiny booklet of seed sticks

out of date book bag notes

a cheque book with no cheques left

two pots of Vaseline rose flavoured lip balm

an AA battery

a conker

#42-and-a-half: Over to you…

In Homeworking, Jobseeking, Kids, Tales, Tips on April 26, 2010 at 10:56 am

So I’ve been banging on about me, but what about you?

It would be really interesting to hear everyone else’s experiences of being unemployed, under-employed, job searching, home working, being made redundant, feeling bored of looking after children, thinking of going back to work, or thinking of jumping ship.

Do you have any tips to pass on? Any observations to share? Spleen to vent?

Visual entries also welcome.

In the best traditions of the current exploitative jobs market, I can’t actually pay anyone to write anything of course – I just thought it would be fun.

You can remain anonymous, or plug your own websites/Twitter accounts/Facebook groups/CV to your heart’s content.

There’s no way I’m letting you all become administrators of this blog, so I’m thinking you could send me something via this Facebook group, email me if you already know me personally, or put something in the comments below that I’ll cut and paste into a proper blog entry.

[If you are more blog-minded than me and have a better solution as to how to make this work, please let me know!]

#40 No rest for the self-employed

In Homeworking, Kids on April 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

‘Enjoying the Easter break?’

Let us look at this seemingly innocent sentence. Although the people who have asked you this over the past week have probably used the word ‘break’ to mean ‘rest’, as any self-employed homeworker – especially those with children currently on school holidays – knows, the Easter ‘break’ is very rarely restful but more literally experienced as an ‘interruption’. A crack in one’s life.

Or perhaps the speaker means ‘brake’, a thing that slows you down and prevents you from getting on.

While the workaday world carries on bombarding you with emails and issuing deadlines, children demand entertaining and feeding, the house gets filthier, and routine goes to pot. Blackberrys and iPhones have become essential for replying to enquiries while supervising trips to the park – simultaneously pretending to potential employers and clients that you either don’t have children or won’t let them hinder your dedication to the work, and pretending to your children that you are actually paying them attention. Minutes are snatched in between making sandwiches, buying groceries and shouting at people to tidy their rooms.Writing anything longer than a paragraph in one go becomes impossible.

Full-day childcare can be so expensive it wipes out most of one’s wages. That is if you are actually getting paid for what you are doing (which if you are pitching ideas or applying for jobs or studying for a further qualification, you aren’t). Instead we get by on a complex network of child swaps, though I’ve also bitten the bullet and signed mine up for one of those sports day camp (AVP Sports) reasoning that although after taking off fees, income tax and NI, my net profit on a day’s work will be about a tenner, a) it’s good value, including a swimming lesson, bouncy castle, arts and crafts, and sports tuition, b) if I paid for them to do these classes separately, it would cost even more, c) and I would have to go with them, d) it is possible to spend about the same amount on a day trip to town once you’ve been talked into taking them for pizza, e) they have a good time, make friends, and avoid obesity,  f) with freelance work thin on the ground, if you aren’t available 24/7, people aren’t going to call you back.

If you work in an office and need a break, you simply switch on the auto-reply and voicemail, direct the extra workload to an unwitting colleague, collect the holiday pay, and tell everyone to leave you alone for a fortnight. But there’s no rest for the self-employed, no holiday pay, no fallback colleague.

In the mean time:

HTBU is temporarily away from their desk at the moment, but will get back to you as soon as they’ve made lunch, tied football boot laces, hung the washing out, supervised a homework project and practice SATs papers, hoovered the stairs, given in and taken the kids to a playground, broken up a squabble, bought something for supper, made supper, put children to bed, tidied up supper, and poured a large glass of wine. If anyone has bought any.  Thank you for your interest. Hope you’re enjoying the Easter break.

#35 School dinners

In Food & Drink, Gratuitous nostalgia, Kids on March 10, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I wouldn’t exactly say I’d do anything for a free lunch, but this week I have set the bar pretty low.

Our primary school issued an invitation to parents to come and sample the school dinners to see what their children were eating.  It was free. I went. Read the rest of this entry »

#24 Snow, not slow, or Downshift for a Day

In Homeworking, Kids on January 7, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Ah, how much the events, or lack, of the past year have changed me.

For some reason, my son’s school was closed today. There was a blizzard last night and the roads were icy this morning, but 90% of the teachers live within walking distance, and as the fevered rise in popularity of this school lately means catchment is rumoured to be down to 350 yards, I’m assuming most of the children do too. Then again, like most London primary schools, it’s an old Victorian wreck so I imagine the boiler is struggling to keep the temperatures up to the statutory 25 deg C. Plus the headmaster puts an exclusion zone around any snow that falls in the playground in case a pupil is tempted to touch it.

Ironically, this closure had to happen on the one day this month when I actually had some paid work in an actual office for actual money. Inconvenient and costly.

When the snow hit last year it also came during a rare period of employment. That time the snow was so deep and so sudden that London came to standstill – no busses, no trains, no school. The first day I embraced the silent streets (the pockets of air in the snow absorb the sound you know) and compulsory snowball fights; the second I dumped the children with a childminder, pulled on my wellies and walked two miles to the nearest Tube that would take me near the office. While they had a wild time sledging, I had an altogether less wild time sending emails, restructuring other people’s writing, and chasing invoices.

This year, I momentarily considered taking my son into the office with me (his sister still had to struggle up several steep hills to get to her much tougher school), along with a DS, pile of colouring and a list of potential contacts who could pick my daughter up should her school close early or in the event of my being stranded on the other side of town. But then I thought: f*** it. Was their business really going to collapse if I didn’t turn up for a morning to do some admin and have a meeting? (don’t worry, it didn’t)

Snowy days are still a rarity in London. They are the sort of days on which childhood memories are made, and days on which the world looks beautiful and different. My son will have few enough of them, I have few enough of them, so let’s notch some up when we can. I can see that the soft white flakes are already turning to a more familiar cold, hard drizzle.

The relative (not complete) lack of guilt with which I took today’s decision surprised me. Much has already been written on downshifting. Manifestos such as How to be Idle, The 4-Hour Workweek, and a pretty new book I spotted yesterday called The Wonderful Weekend Book – ‘reclaim life’s simple pleasures’. There’s the swift rise of the Slow Movement, rock stars moving to the country to make cheese, national newspaper editors who chuck it in to lose £200,000 running a farm, and ex political editors blogging about the joys of being a (not quite) stay at home mum (see blogroll below).

Thing is, I’ve always thought downshifting a bit overrated.

This may be part of my Presbyterian work ethic, but is more likely because the people most vocal about it tend to have downshifted from a position of success and achievement, not one of studied mediocrity where to do less, more slowly, seems not so much giving up the rat race as giving up hope. As I have yet to experience life in the fast lane, I’m still keen to maintain a bit of speed. Plus downshifting is clearly quite hard work to do properly (just look at the reading list for starters).

But today was fun. We improvised sledges badly, failed to make a snowman (too powdery), and ate fish finger sandwiches and smiley potato faces at someone else’s house. Meanwhile I forced my daughter out to school (well, I wouldn’t want her to grow up to be a malingerer) where she and her friends built a snowman at her school and the headmistress photographed it for the newsletter.

While I have no intention of officially downshifting just yet, I could yet see my priorities finding a more healthy alignment. In the words of Ferris Bueller: ‘Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ Oh yeah!