Testing Times

A Disclaimer of Sorts


I would like to say that despite writing about the subject below in a light-hearted way, I do take the pandemic and everything to do with it, extremely seriously. Like many, we have people in our close family who are vulnerable, either physically or mentally. We have stuck to all the rules. Like everyone, we have our personal fears and struggles. I write this blog, not because I think it’s funny or clever to poke fun at a serious situation, but because I believe that laughter is the best distraction, and I love the idea that I might bring a lighter moment into someone’s difficult or tedious day. I hope that continues to be the case, because I read every single lovely comment many of you make, and that in turn brings light into my day. Thank you.

Testing Times

We’ve been extremely lucky so far to have escaped the need for a virus test. But it had to happen eventually I suppose. About ten days ago my younger daughter came down with a cold. After a few days, a relentless, violent and dry cough set in. I still thought it was just a cold, but you have to follow the rules, so we booked her a test, and isolated our little family of four from the rest of the world, as per government guidelines.

While my older daughter was less than thrilled to be back to home schooling, and my husband remained less than thrilled to be working from home, I had the lucky job of taking our youngest to the drive-in test centre, not too far from us. We drove in, and after they had confirmed who we were, they passed us a test kit through the car window, told us to park up, do the test, then put our hazard lights on when finished.

I dutifully parked, opened the test kit and read the instructions. The gist of it was that you take the swab which is basically a cotton bud on a really long stick, swab the tonsils, swab one nostril, then place the swab stick into the vial of liquid provided. Seal it all up then go back home and get back into your pyjamas. Easy!

Or would have been, if I could actually SEE my child’s tonsils. She opened her mouth, I looked inside and saw a lot of tongue, some teeth, some gums, but no tonsils. Much to her increasing disgust, I got her to stick her tongue out further, lift it up, down, in, out, shake it all about, but still nothing. I spent about fifteen seconds wondering wildly if she had somehow had them removed without my knowledge. I eventually came to the conclusion that since I couldn’t even see the gap where the tonsils would have been, that she simply must have the World’s Largest Tongue. So I got her to put the car seat right back and lie down. Hallelujah! Tonsils in sight. Just a glimpse mind you, not much space to play around with.

The difficulty was that under no circumstances are you supposed to touch anything in the mouth with the swab EXCEPT the tonsils, because it voids the test. So with a great deal of trepidation, in I went with the stick. I was millimetres away from the first tonsil, when she coughed (that being the reason we were there in the first place, it was unsurprising). The swab went smack down onto her tongue, so on went the hazard lights, over came the helpful person working there, and they had to bring us another swab.

This happened in exactly the same way a further three times. It got to the point where I was genuinely worried they might just throw the entire box of swabs at my head if I asked again, but luckily they were nothing but lovely and patient. Finally on the fifth try, I did it!! I touched a tonsil with a swab!! For one nanosecond. My daughter gagged violently at the touch of it, voiding the test yet again. On went the hazards again, and again, and again.

Eventually, they took pity on us. Or else realised that without intervention we would still be sitting there at three o’clock in the morning. They said we could just swab both her nostrils instead. All well and good, but by this stage I was sitting next to a sobbing, coughing, gagging child who, in between sobs, coughs and gags, was informing me in no uncertain terms of precisely how much she hated not just me, but everything I stood for. But we did get there in the end.

I then had the simple job of putting the swab stick into the vial of liquid. In it went, at which point you have to snap the top of the stick off so that it fits properly into the vial, and so that the lid will go on. ‘Any fool can do that!’ I thought to myself, and proceeded to confidently snap the stick just ABOVE the right point. This left it just 1mm too tall for the vial, meaning I had to somehow snap off that tiny 1mm with my stupid fat thumbs. Cue some pretty impressive gurning from me, not to mention some inner swearing and plenty of murderous thoughts.

Once managed, all that remained was to seal it in a bag together with an absorbent pad, then put that bag into a larger bag. How could there be a problem with that? Don’t worry, I found a way. The larger bag didn’t open quite wide enough for the smaller bag to fit inside, so I had to spend several minutes trying to squeeze it in, panic rising as every second went by. By the time I’d finished, it looked like it had been happily chewed for a couple of hours by my dog, before going three rounds with Mike Tyson.

When I handed the half-destroyed bag over to the young girl working there, I said I thought we must win a prize for the worst people ever to complete a test. She was understanding and made me feel better by telling me that they had had people who had blown their noses on the absorbent pad, or had used the vial of liquid as hand sanitiser. One person had even drunk it! Armed with that information, I drove home basking in the knowledge that I must in fact have Stephen Hawking-like levels of intelligence. Or more realistically, I may have been in the top ten, but at least I wasn’t the biggest moron in the country.

Two and a half days later, we received the results. Unsurprisingly they were ‘inconclusive’. I won’t bore you with the details, but it actually wasn’t related to the fiasco described above. Nevertheless we had to book another test and go through it all again. This time though, we were three days older, somewhat wiser, and I was sensible enough to bribe my child heavily. We completed the test calmly, sticks snapped in the right place, bags opened correctly and we breezed in and out like pros. Or at least like the rest of the planet manages to do the first time, not to mention all the key workers who do it every day.

I’m very pleased to say that we are now celebrating a negative result, and that my relief about that is second only to the relief I will feel when I am able to pack the kids back off to school in the morning.

Bring on Bedtime!

Lessons Learned

Well my ten year old is now my eleven year old. Normally her birthday falls during the October half term, but this year she was at school for the day. I didn’t realise this, but apparently as a parent, if you insist that your child goes into school on their birthday, you are in fact the Antichrist.  Or so I was reliably informed.

My gentle reminders about how she had missed school so desperately during all those months of home schooling, fell on deaf and slightly annoyed ears. I think she still hadn’t quite forgiven us for not giving her a horse for the fifth year in a row.  There was no excusing it because quite frankly it was obvious to anyone that there was plenty of room to keep it in her bedroom. She’d cleared a space on her bed and everything. In the end she agreed that since we have a dog, a cat and a teenager in the house, there is more than enough wild animal to be getting on with, and she happily agreed that horse posters are the next best thing.  

Birthdays aside, it’s been a busy month.  Our walking stomach, aka the Labrador, moved at lightning speed when my daughter accidentally dropped her slime (that she was supposedly forbidden to use outside her bedroom), and swallowed a small piece of it.  One trip to the vet and £400 later and the slime came out again.  Along with a snail shell, a crayon and a small selection of coloured ribbon.  To get his own back, the following day he rolled in some fox poo, and had to have a bath.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to get a 33kg-and-growing Labrador puppy into a bath and somehow keep it there, but let’s just say it was enlightening. He was thrilled to discover a new skill of thrashing around like a whale whilst simultaneously drinking as much bath water as possible, and I got to see him from angles that will haunt me for years to come.

Apart from the dog-related dramas, we had a lovely half-term, mainly dedicated to seeing as much of the grandparents as possible before lockdown struck again. Staying in again has forced us (well, me) into a period of quiet reflection, and I have realised a few things over these last few days:

  • The solitary hair I have been plucking out of my chin for the last five years, is definitely not going to go away. Worse, it’s brought reinforcements because there is now a new one making a regular appearance on my cheek. Concerns are running high that I am in fact growing a beard. Only time will tell but I’ve been researching electric razors just in case. My Mum did ask me what I’d like for Christmas.
  • I am not a fast learner. After nearly fourteen years of parenthood, I still haven’t cottoned on to the fact that you should never ask your child a question. About anything. The other day for example, when the kids were upstairs and there were muffled screams, I stupidly called up to ask what all the racket was. The reply came back ‘It’s nothing, I’m just trying to force feed her my sock’. Which at least beats the time when I asked my then five year old (who was playing with the cat) if she was ok, and she answered with six words that struck terror into my heart, ‘Mummy, have we got any cement?’
  • I should be careful what I wish for. I’ve been hounding my teenager for months about hanging her clothes up. I’ve made her do the washing and ironing herself in an attempt to teach her how much work is involved. And then one day this week, she actually did it!  She hung up one of her school shirts. I nearly cried with surprise and joy, and briefly considered writing a book on parenting, until I discovered it was the one that was covered in tomato soup from lunchtime. Naturally it was someone else’s fault.
  • You should never let your child make their own lunch. I had a quick peek into my daughter’s lunchbox the other morning, and discovered that she had carefully packed herself one single slice of beef (not in a sandwich box, just loose in the lunchbox), one individual pot of custard and a pack of mini chocolate fingers. The worst part was we were running so late that I only had time to throw in an apple before we left. And the apple came back home again at 4pm after a very enjoyable day at school. Still, I can’t really complain, because they still remember the day that I absent-mindedly packed a can of gin and tonic into my seven year old’s lunchbox. I’m still waiting for the call from social services.

Bring on Bedtime!

A week in the life of…

A couple of weeks ago I had a text message from my teenager, sent during school hours. The gist of it was that she needed me to book an emergency orthodontist appointment, because the wire in her braces had come loose and was digging (slightly painfully) into her cheek.

At least this was the conclusion I arrived at after several minutes of questioning. If I’d taken her actual message literally, I’d have been led to believe that she was experiencing a pain hitherto unknown to mankind, and that her face was starting to resemble the creature from Hellraiser, so could I please get her to the orthodontist before the final breath departs from her body.

A few hours later, all was sorted and the drama was over. Which was a relief because that night I was driving over to the town I grew up in, to meet up with old friends and celebrate thirty years since we all met when we joined the sixth form of the same school. Most of us were planning on staying the night with our parents who mainly still lived locally. It would be like old times, especially as I was going to be dropped off at the restaurant by my Dad. Of course in those days, it would have been the pub, and strictly speaking it would only really be like old times if I’d sneaked open their drinks cabinet before leaving, and swigged some of whatever was at the back and wouldn’t be noticed. Still, it was close enough and I was looking forward to it.

What I didn’t realise, was that there had been an accident on the M25, and part of it was closed. To be fair, my sat nav did try to warn me to go another way. It might seem odd that I had the sat nav on, when I was driving to the home I grew up in. My Dad has always maintained that I couldn’t find my way home if placed at the end of my street, and whilst I will stop short of admitting he is right (why break the habit of a lifetime?), I always have it on just in case.

Yet the one time it would have been genuinely helpful, was the time I picked to swear at it, and tell it that I knew where I was going, I’m not an idiot thank you very much, and continue blindly on into the chaos, adding an extra 90 minutes onto my journey time.

When I was finally almost there, I thought I’d get ahead of the game for tomorrow’s journey home, and fill up with petrol. This was the point that I noticed that the bank card I’d taken out of my purse to pay for parking by the orthodontist, was no longer in my pocket, and I must have dropped it in the car park several hours ago. So not only did I have to cancel my card, I had to borrow money from my parents so I could go out that night. Which made it truly like old times, except that this time they at least had a fighting chance of getting the money back at some point.

When I cancelled the card, I discovered that it had been used multiple times already by whoever found it. Did anybody say ‘Just Eat’? Yes, apparently the people who now owned my card had said it several times, and based on their other purchases, seemed to be enjoying a much better Friday night than I was.

That dealt with, I was ready to hurriedly greet my parents, quickly tell their excited puppy (who happens to be the litter brother of our own puppy), that yes, he was a very, very good boy, and then head to the restaurant. By which time, thanks to the new rules, I had 90 minutes left to enjoy my evening.
But it was really wonderful to see them for the first time since January, and catch up. At 10pm, my Dad was waiting outside the restaurant for me to take me home. Thirty years ago, this would have incited great rage and embarrassment. Now it was pure gratitude, even if he did take it as an opportunity to tell my friends in amazement, how much they look like their mothers did three decades ago.

Once back at my parents, I sat up chatting with them until 2am, relishing the chance to catch up properly without anyone trying to start a row, or refusing to go to bed, or constantly coming in asking for food. I might leave my husband at home every time from now on.

I have to say that my week did not improve after that. The following Monday evening, my teenager had an epic meltdown that would have rivalled Chernobyl. In her defence she was facing a perfect storm of feeling unwell, exhausted from not sleeping, a torrent of hormones and a mother who was not going to back down. With hindsight, backing down might have been preferable to having to text the neighbours to both apologise for the noise, and to reassure them that we were all in fact, alive. We passed less than smoothly through the psychotic anger phase, before moving into the thirty minute sobbing of ‘what’s wrong with me? with just a brief detour into the ‘I wish I was dead’ territory.

The following day did not bring the much-wished for peace either. I had nipped to the loo before taking the dog out, only to discover that my own hormones, which are all over the place as well, had brought me the ‘wrong time of the month’ for the second time in four weeks. A quick glance to the side revealed that one of my wonderful family members had used the last of the loo roll AGAIN, so I sent a graphic text message to my husband (who was on a work call, but can use his headset to move around) explaining exactly why I needed the loo roll, and what would happen if I tried to get it by myself.

Only I didn’t send it to my husband. No, I accidentally sent that gem to the group of neighbours I had texted the previous evening. Needless to say my house is now on the market, and I am never going out without a baseball cap again. And even though it was only 10am, I was definitely saying…

Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown and Aftermath – Week 23

Sorry there’s been a gap of a few weeks this time. We’ve filled some of the time with a lovely week in Dorset, some of the time preparing for the ‘back to school’ extravaganza, and the rest of the time I have been working flat-out in my non-furloughed role, job title ‘Professional Worrier’. It’s a lifelong, unpaid and stressful job, with erratic hours, but the upside is that it pays in wine, so…silver lining and all that.

After almost six months, it’s finally here. Both my children are at school! I have one at primary and one at secondary, and both schools have been utterly fantastic in the lead-up to the first day back. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulties and the work that’s gone into organising the new systems, but they’ve managed it. Even with the last-minute u-turn about face masks. They have communicated everything very clearly and done their utmost to set the kids’ minds at rest. Videos have been sent to us, detailing new routes into and out of school for different year groups, and giving us all the information we need about staggered start and finish times, how they will eat their lunch now, and of course all the new rules relating to hygiene.

Both my girls were excited and nervous in equal measure about going back. They couldn’t wait to see their friends, and do some proper learning. The kind where the teacher doesn’t get defensive about not remembering algebra and mutter under her breath about how nobody needs it anyway. The kind where the room doesn’t have to be vacated for 15 minutes every time the dog does a particularly vicious fart. And the kind where you can have a lunch break without being constantly shushed by the teacher in a furious whisper, because the teacher’s husband is on work call number 593 of the day.

They were therefore very excited to get back to a version of normality and interact with others. I say a version of normality, because of course nothing is ‘normal’ as was. Their fears were all centred around the new rules. What if I go the wrong way down the corridor? What if I forget, and hug my friend in the playground by mistake? What if I touch a door handle and then accidentally touch my face without using gel first? These are questions that no parent thought they would ever have to answer. Of course that’s all very strange and a little sad that these are the realities we are currently faced with. But before I got too carried away with the pathos of it all, I did have to remind myself that answering unexpected or awkward questions is par for the course when you have kids. Some of the classics I’ve had to deal with over the years are:

‘What does the Queen call her vagina? She’s quite posh so she probably calls it her front bottom.’

‘Do you think life would be difficult if Voldemort was an MP?’

‘You know Nana’s parents? Were they Celts or Romans?’

‘If our house is hit by an asteroid and we have to move in with Nana and Popop, will we have to move schools?’

‘Can the man who came to school last week to give us that talk, come to tea? I gave him our address’

‘Can we get a pet pig?’

The list goes on. We therefore got through the back to school questions quite easily, and the preparations continued. I ordered all the school uniform online, because they weren’t allowed to try it on in the shop. I was lucky that everything I ordered fitted, and I was spared the job of having to return things. Given that we’d already had to meet the standard annual seventy billion pound cost of new shoes, new coats, new uniforms etc. I think return postage may have pushed us into remortgaging territory.

One final job remained, which was to get the kids used to wearing the masks. So off we went for an afternoon of window shopping, where the following normally happens. The girls will:

1) Ask to buy almost everything in sight.

2) Lightly sulk when told no.

3) Offer to tidy, clean and redecorate the house in exchange for money to pay for said item.

4) Moderately sulk when told fat chance, given that they can’t even keep their own rooms tidy, and if I were to walk into either bedroom right now, I guarantee there would be at least three items that constitute biohazardous waste, as well as a pile of screwed up clothes.

5) Have a lightbulb moment and ‘add it to their birthday list’. The fact that their birthday might be in 360 days time means nothing, given that the second the clock strikes midnight after one birthday ends, they have already planned next year’s celebration and verbally invited twenty five of their friends to a party you had no idea was happening.

But before we could attempt any of that, the masks had to go on. After fighting with the straps for a minute or two, they were on, and within three seconds, my youngest was dramatically clutching her throat, gasping for breath and telling the world that her oxygen levels were depleting fast.

After very gently pointing out to her that thousands of key workers all over the world manage to wear them for hours on end and still have enough air in their lungs to get their jobs done, she realised that she was probably going to survive after all, and within minutes was chatting animatedly about horse posters.

I realised then that they’re both going to be alright, and they’re going to adapt fast. And I waved them off yesterday and this morning with a happy heart. Partly because they were going off to the place and the people they’ve been desperately missing for what feels like an eternity. But also because I was going to have some time to myself for the first time in nearly six months. FINALLY!

And the first thing I did with that incredible gift of free time, was to wander around the house wondering what to do, and what they were doing, and look forward to end of school time. There’s just no pleasing some people!

Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown and aftermath – Week 19

Well the schools broke up a couple of weeks ago, and despite being at home, we still had the usual outbreak of Endoftermitis. Symptoms include fatigue, overheating, extreme irritability, picking fights over nothing at all, emotional outbursts, and a point-blank refusal to eat anything except chocolate and ice lollies. But enough about me. The girls did all the things they usually do at the end of term –got up later and later each day, displayed less and less enthusiasm for any school work, and made loud and frequent announcements detailing all the ways in which their sibling was failing at life.

Nevertheless, we made it to the end of term! Like everyone else, we made it through four long months of home schooling where we all learnt an incredible amount. Nothing about Maths obviously. But lots about patience, plenty about pulling together as a team, and most importantly, how to accurately convey the message ‘if you do that again, I will kill you’ through the medium of mime, because Daddy is on a work call and we have to be quiet.

Since the end of term, there has been great excitement in our house. As some of you already know, my daughter wrote a poem recently for a homework assignment. She writes a lot of poetry anyway, but this time, one of the teachers sent it to a contact at BBC South East, and the upshot was that they wanted to interview her for a piece about how writing helps her with anxiety. And with visions of suddenly becoming the next Meryl Streep, my daughter agreed to do it.

Because of the current restrictions, we were told that it would have to be done in an outdoor space, and our garden would be ideal. This was clearly mentioned with the optimism of someone who has no idea that our garden is really just a polite word for the dog’s toilet. Officially, there is a place to sit down, but given that it’s on the very decking that my husband put not just his foot, but his entire leg and half a buttock through a few weeks ago, we decided against it, opting to assume that the journalist was not in fact suicidal, and would probably prefer not to take the chance. We chose the local park instead.

They sent through a list of questions they would like to ask. This was the moment my stomach dropped down to my feet (I was going to say knees, but sadly it’s already pretty much there). It dropped because I realised that some of the questions were for me, and that I was expected to be part of the interview as well.

I immediately rang the organiser and tried to get out of it, but was told that they wanted to show the viewer that my daughter had the support of her family. And apparently warm vibes and thumbs up signs from 25 miles behind the camera doesn’t quite cut the mustard, so that was that. Plus, I’d shot myself in the foot by spending ages reassuring my nervous child that there was absolutely nothing to worry about, and nobody would judge her harshly. So I could hardly turn round and tell her I wasn’t setting foot in front of a camera, just because I didn’t want to showcase the very obvious results of my lockdown overeating on local television of all things.

Eventually, the day dawned and we were well prepared. My daughter had spent a long time sensibly preparing her answers and practising saying them out loud. I had carefully spent all my time cursing every single Mars bar I’d eaten over the last four months, and wondering if we could postpone for just a couple of years until I could fit back into even my ‘big’ clothes. Finally I pulled myself together, realised it was her moment, and off we went. Unfortunately my husband was working (that’s his excuse anyway), so it was just me and the girls.

The journalist, who was also the camera operator, was very kind and put us at ease. She carried out a lovely interview with my daughter, and recorded her reading her poetry. I was genuinely blown away by how natural she was, and how articulate she sounded.

Then it was my turn. I took a deep breath, told myself that if a 13 year old can do it, then so can I, and I stepped up. Where I proceeded immediately to act like a deer in headlights, look at the camera despite clear instructions not to, and forget not just my answers, but my name and reason for living as well. And while I’m not 100% certain, I’m reasonably sure that I smiled cheerfully all the way through explaining how anxiety makes my child suffer terribly. All I can do is pray and ask for three words to come true, namely ‘cutting room floor’.

At the end, the girls and I were filmed chatting on a bench, with no sound. We were meant to be chatting animatedly about my daughter’s poetry, portraying a vision of family fun and solidarity. What we were actually doing was pointing at the sheet of paper with the poem on it with a fixed grin on our faces, and arguing over whether the ice cream I’d promised they could have afterwards would be a single or double scoop, and would there be a flake?

So the deed is done, and if you’re in our area, apparently it’s going to be on BBC South East Today on or around 12th August. And as soon as we switch the tv off, I will be looking at houses in Australia.

Or at the very least, saying Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown – Week 15

WEEK 15

I am officially declaring lockdown to be a personal success. I have been making a list of all the things I have managed to achieve during this difficult time. So far, I have:

1) Stuffed my face for three solid months with anything beginning with the letter ‘c’. Ok, not exactly celery and cucumber. More like cake, chocolate, cookies and cheese.

2) Consumed what amounts to a vineyard’s worth of wine. And that’s not even counting the gin.

3) Learnt all the things in Maths that I worked very hard to ignore the first time round.

4) Reached an understanding with my children. I now realise that they can’t compute the words ‘get up’, ‘wash’, ‘stop’, ‘no’, ‘quiet’ or ‘fruit’. In turn, they now know the exact note in my voice that signifies we are about to switch to DEFCON 1.

5) Educated my children about alligators by showing them my skin after three months of excessive hand-washing.

Given the outcome of the first two items in the list, not to mention the fact that the only exercise I get that raises my heart rate, is when I attempt to squeeze into my jeans each day, I realised something had to change. So, I decided the girls and I would begin the Couch to 5km running programme. Two things led me into a false sense of security. First was the fact that I had once run a half-marathon, so I felt reasonably prepared for what was coming, and second was that the girls were actually keen to do it.

So off we went one morning in our cobbled-together running gear, full of enthusiasm for as long as three seconds. That’s the point at which we remembered that we live at the bottom of a hill, and just walking to the post box is normally grounds for needing a lie-down. Nevertheless, we pressed on, and for our warm-up we walked briskly to the park. And by briskly, I simply mean that we walked very slowly indeed, but at least we didn’t stop to untangle ourselves from a dog lead, tie laces, argue, or do any of the other things that normally make up our daily outing.

Once at the park we were supposed to run for one minute, walk for one and a half minutes, then repeat the whole thing seven more times. Easy when you once ran for over thirteen miles, right? Er, no. Because I was a) years younger, b) stones lighter and c) minus two people whose sole purpose in life, is to moan until my remaining hairs turn grey.

The first couple of runs, surprisingly, were not too bad. It was halfway through the third that my lungs began to burn, and by the time we’d reached run number five, I had used up all my water because I was genuinely afraid that I might actually be on fire. All the while, I was shouting what I hoped were inspiring things to the girls. This is easier said than done, when all the breath in your body has made a bid for freedom, and what you say sounds completely distorted. Hence why my cheer of ‘keep going!’ sounded so much like ‘kill me now’. Or at least that’s what I told the girls afterwards.

During the final run, my ten-year-old decided to yell out something very encouraging as well. She shouted that she hated me and that I was trying to destroy her soul. It might seem odd that I would take that as a positive, but I was thrilled that at least she could pant in whole sentences.

But we got there in the end, and we were very pleased with ourselves afterwards. We did our stretches (which are surely God’s way of punishing people who exercise) and walked home, the girls laughing and arguing all the way over whether my face had turned purple, or was just a very deep shade of red.

I was happy to ignore this, smug in the knowledge that they were still unaware that Couch to 5km is a programme that goes on for weeks and weeks. But I thought I’d save that bit of information for when they’ll accept it best. I’ve decided I’ll whisper it to them when they’re asleep.

Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown – Week 13

Over the last couple of weeks, in a bid to raise the kids’ spirits, I have been trying to come up with different things for us to do. One of these things was a ‘spa day’ for me and the girls. Strangely, my husband showed zero interest in taking part. ‘More fool him’ I thought, if he wants to miss out on de-stressing and blissful calm. I had of course, forgotten that I have children.

We began our experience with face masks. I got my selection out for the girls to look at, intending to talk them through what each one was for. I thought I might steer my teenager towards to the tea tree oil one, which is good for anyone who spends 5-7 hours a day picking her spots in the mirror. And I had earmarked the ‘invigorating’ one for my youngest, since she’d spent the last nine weeks moaning about how she’s too tired to do her Maths.

Unfortunately I never got the chance to offer my suggestions, because a nanosecond after the masks hit the bed, my younger daughter grabbed the top one shouting ‘ooh purple’, ripped it open and slapped it onto her face, pleased that within 15 minutes, if the packet were to believed, she would look ten years younger. Even after being reminded that she was born ten years ago, and had looked a bit like a squashed grape, she was undeterred.

Naturally she had it on the wrong way round, and I wanted to help, but because I’d tried to talk her out of the mask, she had decided my intentions were nothing short of nefarious, and proceeded to move as far away from me as possible, using one hand to hold the mask in place, and the other to wave around in front of her, to ward off my advances. I did eventually manage to help her turn it round the right way, but it involved several minutes of my life which I will never get back, and some wrestling.

In the meantime, my teenager had chosen the one which promised to reduce wrinkles. Exactly which wrinkles she thinks she has is something I will never discover, because I chose not to fight that particular battle. I felt it was more important to conserve energy for the upcoming one about whether she is aware she owns a wardrobe, or does she genuinely believe that the true purpose of a carpet is actually a holding area for clothes?

Eventually we were all lying down, wearing our various inappropriate face masks, and I felt myself daring to breathe a little more slowly. This naturally sounded the special alarm that only children can hear, warning my kids that Mummy was beginning to relax. This was the point that they remembered we absolutely must have cucumber slices for our eyes! Given that the number of their combined spa experiences adds up to a big fat zero, I can only blame television for the fact that they knew this was a ‘thing’. So off I trotted to the kitchen to obediently, if wearily, slice up a cucumber, forgetting that I had green paste all over my face, and alarming my Labrador in the process.

When I returned to the bedroom, it was to find them arguing over the Spotify list. One of them wanted to play ‘yoga’ music, but the other one said that made her want to vomit, and she wanted to listen to her audio book about witches. In the end we all agreed that if they didn’t stop fighting immediately, Mummy would not only switch the speakers off, she would personally shove them into places that would make their plans to spend the day relaxing considerably difficult.

Fifteen minutes later, the face masks were a thing of the past, and we had moved on to massages. They both very sweetly decided to treat me to a foot massage. This involved each of them taking one foot, rubbing some moisturiser in for precisely five seconds, before falling about in hysterics over the shape of my toes. This may not sound overly calming, but once they’d finished gulping with laughter, they did at least admit that they weren’t as bad as Daddy’s flat hobbit feet, so I’m counting that as a win.

Our final spa treat was toe and fingernail painting. Normal procedure when painting children’s nails is to hiss at them every five seconds to stop wriggling around, try if possible to get more varnish on the nails than on the rest of their hands, then watch them failing to sit still for the required ten minutes drying time. This leads to eventual outrage about how smudged it all is, and how it’s not their fault they didn’t sit still, because ‘everyone forgets things’.

I was amazed that at the end of the day, both girls declared the spa to be a great success and want to make it a monthly thing. I said absolutely, but it’s not fair that Daddy misses out on all the serenity, so next time he should take part. They were thrilled. Daddy less so. But I didn’t care because by then I was in my happy place – which is anywhere as long as it involves a wine glass.

Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown – Week Eleven

So we’re back to ‘school’ now for the last term of the school year.  My daughter has unfortunately been saddled with a lousy teacher during this home schooling period.  At the beginning I thought that my normal job of teaching adults would be of great benefit during this difficult time.  I generally pride myself on being a patient person, and reasonably good at explaining things, and I was looking forward to the challenge.

I quickly learned that it’s easy to be patient when you haven’t been woken up at 7am by your student accidentally poking you in the eye, and wanting to know if they can have an ice lolly.  It’s also easier if, before the lesson starts, you haven’t had to threaten your pupil with armageddon unless they go and wave a flannel somewhere vaguely near their body, for all our sakes.  Or had to cope with the resulting twenty-minute whinge about how I’m basically a prison guard, and can’t I see how unfair I’m being, since I made them wash YESTERDAY?

Therefore, my standard teaching style has left the building, and I am forging a new path through the wilderness of primary school education.  For Maths, standard procedure is to:

1) watch the assigned video with a look of fascination on my face in case my daughter sneaks a glance over at me. Try not to think about everything else I should be doing

2) read the first question with zero understanding

3) get annoyed

4) Google it

5) not understand a single word of the ‘easy explanations’ Google presents me with

6) wonder how I managed to pass Maths G.C.S.E.

7) ask my daughter what she thinks the answer is

8) say ‘well done’, regardless of accuracy, and move on to the next question

9) repeat, adding an extra 10% annoyance each time

In Science, my ten-year-old is learning about the importance of a balanced diet.  During these lessons I head off to the kitchen to prepare her a suitably healthy snack of fruit, yoghurt, or cheese.  I then proceed straight back to the kitchen to prepare my own snack.  This usually involves hiding behind the tall cupboard door and stuffing a Mars bar into my mouth as fast as is humanly possible, before I’m caught.  

Of course, kids have a radar for this kind of thing, so inevitably one of them will come into the kitchen the second the chocolate hits my taste buds.  I am then limited to two choices (unless you include confessing, which I don’t).  Firstly, I can speedily use my tongue to push the remaining chocolate into the side of my mouth and hope they don’t notice how it makes me speak like Kenneth Williams, not to mention the fact that I look like an oversized and particularly greedy hamster.  Alternatively, I can feign a coughing fit, spit the chocolate out into my hand and hope to God they don’t choose that moment to suggest a high five.

Once that hurdle is cleared, it’s back to school and we plough through the rest of the day’s topics with mutual dread and confusion, with the odd beacon of light thrown in (I was going to say English, but more accurately, lunch)

When the school day is over, it’s time to pack my entire day of work into the remaining couple of hours before dinner.  This leaves me with just enough fuel to fight the thirty or so compulsory battles before bedtime, finishing with the nightly decision over whether ‘she hit me first!’ is in fact, a valid argument.

By which time I’m ready to sink down onto the sofa and I have energy left for two things.  First, watching my puppy bark at the dustpan and brush for ten minutes straight.  And second, a glass of wine.  And by glass, I mean vat.

Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown – Week Nine

Last week we received confirmation that my teenager will not be required to go back to school until at least September. My younger daughter is also unlikely to go back, because she is not in one of the listed years that may return in June.

I’m flitting between huge relief that we don’t have to make a decision about whether to send them in, sympathy for those that do (and for those who have no choice), and frustration and disappointment on behalf of my kids who are facing weeks and weeks more of the same.

They are coping brilliantly, but they miss their grandparents so much it hurts. They miss their friends, their teachers, the classroom environment, and they even miss all the kids that they would normally moan about. In other words, they miss normality, just like we all do.

Instead they have me. In fact, with the amount I’ve been eating they actually have me in double amounts. Well, physically anyway. Mentally I am functioning on significantly less cylinders than pre-lockdown times, but thankfully I only have to remember a handful of phrases these days, which tend to be variations of:

‘You may not be able to smell anything but I can. Get in the shower’
‘You’re not hungry, you’re bored’
‘It’s 7am, I’m not discussing pudding’
‘See if you can do it yourself’

And that’s just to my husband.

As for the kids, I’ve been encouraging them to keep a lockdown diary, hoping it would be a good distraction and also help with their writing skills. I told them all about the diary I kept as a teenager and hoped they would feel inspired. They did. They felt inspired to ask me whether I wrote it on a scroll, with a quill, and wanted to know whether it was now sepia coloured, since it had been written in the olden days.

After I’d reminded them who provided all the snacks around here, they agreed to listen while I told them of my visions of them as adults, reading the diary to their own children, describing all the difficulties and the poignant moments of these historic times. So they gave in and agreed to write one.

A few days later, I checked back in with them. So far, my teenager had written two things. Her name, and the lyrics to her favourite song. She had apparently been planning to write more, but was too tired from all the walks I made her go on, so it’s actually my fault. My ten-year-old however had written a considerable amount. Nothing about the times we’re living in of course, but plenty about how mean and unfair Mummy is for confiscating her slime, because it was obviously an ACCIDENT that she smacked her sister in the face. Although she also made the point that it was mainly down to her sister for putting her face there in the first place.

Based on this outcome, I thought we would go for Plan B instead. We would make a time capsule, filling it with things that would illustrate the life we’re living right now. I had already decided I was putting in a bottle of gin, my therapist’s number and a can of root-concealing hairspray.

The girls quite liked this idea and proceeded to make a list of what they felt should go in. First up was loo roll. I assumed this was a reference to all the panic-buying at the beginning of lockdown, but it turns out it was because my eldest had been caught short at two minutes to eight last Thursday, and had been forced to show her support for the NHS by clapping heartily from the toilet seat. Even when one hand became unavailable for obvious reasons, she insisted on slapping her thigh with the other one so that the neighbours could be sure she was joining in.

They also suggested putting in some dog poo, because of the time last week when Mummy accidentally trod in some and then walked it through the entire house before realising that the smell wasn’t Daddy after all.

Eventually we settled on at least some sensible things like newspaper clippings and photographs and it was complete. We ceremoniously buried the time capsule and went indoors, talking excitedly about when we thought someone might uncover it.

Precisely thirty minutes later we had our answer when our Labrador puppy came bumbling in looking very pleased with himself, with one paw stuck in the toilet roll and a newspaper in his mouth. We never did find the gin.

Bring on Bedtime!

Lockdown – Weeks Six and Seven

I must admit I’ve found the last couple of weeks a bit of a challenge. People I love have lost people they love. Half the country seems to think that 600+ daily deaths is now a cause for celebration and freedom from lockdown. My kids are having more ‘low’ moments than ever, and I’m trying to find more and more new ways in which to lift their spirits.

I watch them every day, looking at kids from different families playing together, and feeling angry that they have to follow the rules while others don’t. They are bright kids, they understand why we are doing this, but it’s hard on them to see other people doing the opposite, right under their noses. And of course these experiences are nothing compared to what many are facing right now. So we take it day by day, and minute by minute if we have to.

We have been back to ‘school’ for the last fortnight, where I have been reminded that year five is the year they learn about sex education. Having already been through this once with my older daughter, I didn’t forsee any problems. What I didn’t bank on was the power of sisters.

Years ago, I had carefully explained all the facts to my daughter, and questions were asked and answered without embarrassment. While I was busy congratulating myself on a job well done, it turns out she was busy imparting a watered down and only partially correct version of the birds and the bees to her seven year old sister, scaring the living daylights out of her. I should have known when I heard them playing in the bath together at the time. One of them had named her doll ‘Vagina’ and the other one was casually wondering whether or not Vagina would like any cake.

So I had to start from scratch. Apparently a few years ago when my older daughter was learning about this subject, the teacher got them to get any giggling and embarrassment out of the way by shouting out the names of certain body parts as loudly as they could. This is a great idea, but given that our windows have been constantly open with all this lovely weather, I couldn’t face explaining to the neighbours why my child was screaming ‘penis’ repeatedly first thing on Monday morning, so we abandoned it in favour of a slightly more traditional approach.

And I did have to try not to laugh at some of the random and unexpected questions. My ten-year-old wanted to know whether it’s important to go to the loo first. At which point my thirteen-year-old sighed, rolled her eyes and said in a don’t be ridiculous tone ‘Mummy has had two children, she won’t be having any more sex’. The look of horror on her face when I suggested otherwise, was worth its weight in gold.

There swiftly followed a lightbulb moment for her, when she realised there was a possibility that we might have another baby. An idea suggested by her and extinguished by me in two seconds flat. This resulted in a tantrum because apparently she ‘really really wants a brother or sister’. Cue outrage from….her actual sister.

With that hurdle cleared, I manoeuvred my way through the sex education topic fielding questions about shape, size, colour (?), and smell (???). One of them wanted to know whether her boobs would eventually drop off, to be replaced by new ones after the ‘boob fairy’ had visited. This led to a discussion about how much money they could expect to receive should this be the case, and the unfairness if it was directly linked to size. Although they did say that it might be great because Mummy’s could make us all millionaires. Bless her for the exaggeration, but even I had a wishful thinking moment at that point. Who needs the lottery?

But we got there in the end and my youngest is now hopefully aware of enough facts, but not too many. We’ve managed to get over the ‘asking your grandparents over video chat whether they still have sex’ phase. Now all I have to do is get through the current phase where every time she leaves the room, she asks me and Daddy if we’re going to ‘do it’. Then it’s my turn for the don’t be ridiculous tone. Doesn’t she know there’s a lockdown on, and I’m far too busy drinking?

Bring on Bedtime!