Morning, Noon and Night

Well the children are back at school. I know this because my alarm clock is back, signalling to me that it’s time to a) get up and b) make Herculean efforts not to take my thunderously bad mood out on anyone else. It’s fair to say that I am not a morning person. Everything before 9am annoys me – sunshine, kittens, Mother Teresa, you name it. And by 9am, I mean 2pm.

I can’t even use caffeine as a way out of the morning fog because I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t like either tea or coffee. I draw the line at Diet Coke for breakfast, so my only option is chocolate for that caffeine fix. And it’s not that I haven’t tried that, but at the moment I’ve already bought, eaten and re-bought the kids’ Easter Eggs twice, and I’m seriously considering just giving up any attempts to stop, and investing instead in some lovely stretchy maternity jeans.

In my defence, I have had good reason over the years to be less than thrilled about the prospect of waking. For several months, one of my daughters enjoyed luring me away from sleep by pulling my eyelids apart and asking loudly if I was dead or not. We lurched from that phase into the phase of being woken by the megaphone-decibel level of a small child yelling from the toilet that she was finished, which number she had done, followed by her own carefully considered grade out of 10 according to how much mess needed clearing up.  

Thankfully we’re well past all that now, and these days I’m reasonably good as long as nobody looks at me, speaks to me or thinks things about me.

But even I have been pleased to get up over the last couple of weeks and drive my youngest to school, because they are so absolutely thrilled to be back. They have been isolated for so long, and even though it’s only been a couple of weeks, the difference in them is already enormous. They are happier, they are seeing their friends, learning in groups, interacting with others. It lifts my heart to see it.

And that lighter heart lasts right up until about 4:30pm when the exhaustion of suddenly having to concentrate and be on best behaviour all day kicks in, and the meltdowns sometimes reach epic proportions. For example, did you know that if your child asks for a snack and you say no because it’s ten minutes until dinner, you are in fact starving them to death entirely on purpose, you don’t love them, and may as well accept your position of Satan’s assistant now and have done with it.

In the same vein, if you suggest that your child might be tired in a sympathetic kind of way, she will look at you with a scorn normally reserved for serial killers and inform you of how very little you know of the world and everything in it, because even the thickest person alive knows that if you are tired, you yawn. Then she will yawn, and that will also be your fault because you made that happen just by mentioning it. Your only escape will be to crawl back under the stone you so obviously came from and keep very still indeed until food has been consumed. It might then be safe to come back out, but only (and I can’t emphasise this enough), ONLY if you don’t ask them any questions, don’t smile at them, and come bearing pudding. A bit like me in the mornings really.

Bring on Bedtime!

The Crocus of Hope

I don’t know about you, but we’re allowing ourselves to feel hopeful in a ‘dipping your toe in the freezing water’ kind of way. Yes, every day still feels like thirty-five years long, and yes, we still have a way to go, but it feels like the end is in sight. The girls go back to school on 8th and 10th March and I am already planning how I will celebrate my new freedom.

I can’t go back to work yet, so I will have to settle for wandering from room to room, enjoying the fact that not only is there no Maths I have to pretend to understand, I’m not being asked for food every twenty seconds (by people who are literally still eating the last snack I gave them), nobody is complaining about exactly how many centimetres into their room their sister has put her toe, or whinging that she is breathing too loudly, and generally just existing incorrectly. And of course, nobody is threatening to phone Childline just because I pointed out mildly that after four days of not washing, it might be time to wave some soap in the general direction of the hideous stench.

I can’t wait to hear all their tales of school again. Although to be fair, when I ask about their days, they usually just reply that they did ‘Stuff’. Yet whenever I do press for more information, I often live to regret it. Like the time my then five-year-old daughter said, ‘at school today, Simon showed me his willy’. I gave a pretend dramatic gasp and asked, ‘what did you do?’ She replied, ‘I really laughed a lot’. And the time when my youngest was asked to list items that might be in a Mummy’s handbag, and she answered ‘handcuffs’. I hasten to add that this was entirely made up. I’m not a police officer and I’m not whatever else you’re thinking as well.

Although it’s not always their imagination that leads to trouble. I still vividly remember the time my daughter came up to me in the morning and whispered secretly ‘Mummy, I went through the back of the wardrobe’. I smiled indulgently and said, ‘how exciting’. I spent the rest of the day smiling to myself and thinking about how books fuel kids’ imaginations. Then I remembered that she hadn’t read any of the Narnia books or seen the films, and sure enough upon inspection, the back of the bloody wardrobe had fallen apart.

DIY aside, the other thing I’m looking forward to is getting back to healthier eating. I say that from the position of someone who has barely been able to move since Pancake Day. Although that might be because on that day, I learned the hard way not to put your water bottle down next to the bottle of oil, and then drink thirstily from the wrong one. It took a lot of pancakes to get over that trauma. Still, it was better than the time that I was baking with the girls and trying to make dinner at the same time. It wasn’t until the children were struggling to spread a flour and water paste onto their fairy cakes, that I realised that bubbling away in the oven, was a delicious broccoli pasta bake with cheese sauce made from icing sugar. It was predictably disgusting. Equally predictably, my husband asked for a second helping.

So that’s home schooling, DIY and cookery that I can add to my list of things I’m no good at. Best to stick to what you know, I think. Someone pass me the gin.

Bring on Bedtime!

A new kind of social life

I have hit an all-time low. Why is it that this lockdown is so much harder, even though there is much more hope than before? Is it the weather? The fact that we’ve done it all before? Is it that we’ve now completed Netflix, baked all the bread and would happily go and insert something into Joe Wicks if we a) knew where he lived, and b) were allowed to travel? Or maybe all of the above.

One positive is that this lockdown has dramatically reduced my expectations of what a ‘good day’ looks like. It was a pretty good day when I got to turn the calendar over to February, tell the family we were one month down, then wait for my children to finish beating each other up under the guise of ‘pinch, punch’.
It was a brilliant week when it turned out I had to go to the orthodontist, the supermarket and the doctor ALL IN THE SAME WEEK, instead of spreading out the exotic treats over the month.

The orthodontist was the easiest of the three. My teenager has finally had her braces removed and is now constantly licking her beautifully straight teeth and announcing, at half-hourly intervals, how slimy they feel on a scale of 1 to 10. She’s thrilled with the results. I am less thrilled, because you have not known fear until you have woken at 3am to see a wild-haired teenager standing over you in the dark, making demented sucking and hissing noises, in an attempt to tell you that their retainer is too tight.

The supermarket should really have been the easiest, because I only needed bread and milk, so I walked in rebelliously without a trolley, before spotting seventy-eight items that I also desperately needed, balancing them all in one hand, inexplicably refusing help when it was offered by the lovely assistant, then slowly teetering my way to the check-out, looking as if I was either rehearsing a tightrope act, or desperate for the loo.

The most difficult of my weekly tasks was the visit to the GP, because I was there for the dreaded smear test. Luckily it’s done by a woman because ‘let’s just get it over with’ is not a phrase any man wants to hear from a woman when she’s lying in that position, even if it is for a medical reason.

These days of course, the excitement of leaving the house to go to a doctor’s appointment is the equivalent of a seven course meal followed by a show, so I was relatively happy to go along, and even shaved my legs for the first time since about August. My husband may well have appreciated me doing that sooner, but there’s nothing like the fear of being judged by another woman to spur you on.

The highlights of the month over with, we are left with the delights of home schooling. My youngest has taken to FaceTiming a friend so they can do certain lessons together. The other day she was doing a history lesson, and I was in the kitchen which is underneath her room. I heard an almighty crash, followed by the sound of a herd of wild elephants thundering across the ceiling. I knew she was learning about Dunkirk and wondered briefly if she was attempting some kind of single-handed re-enactment. Of course we don’t have a boat, but she does have a lot of coloured sand inside some ornaments she got from the Isle of Wight, so I wasn’t ruling anything out.

The noise kept coming, so in the end I went to investigate. It turns out there was a perfectly reasonable explanation, which is that she and her friend were playing ‘It’. Over the phone. No, I don’t know how either.

Meanwhile my 14 year old has to make her GCSE choices next week. She has spent weeks moaning like hell about the fact that she is forced to do French. And she has refused point blank to consider Spanish as one of her options because she ‘doesn’t like languages’. Yet three days ago, she began happily teaching herself Korean over the internet, because she fancies the Korean bloke who sings her favourite song. I’m all for it, as long as she can teach me the Korean word for ‘gin’.

Bring on Bedtime!

Happy new year!

Happy new year!

Well that’s a sentence that is immediately contradicted by the news that we are home schooling again. And this time there’s no novelty factor – we know exactly what we’re in for. And more to the point, I have exhausted all my ways in which to pretend an enthusiasm for the art of multiplying mixed fractions. My 11-year-old now sees through my outright lies about how important fronted adverbials are, and both kids know damn well that the sum total of knowledge I’ve managed to retain about electrical circuits from my own school days, amounts to being able to yell down the stairs that the fuse has blown, and can somebody please flip the switch. In short, they know they are dealing with a fake.

The great news is that their schools, who have yet again been incredible at very short notice, are providing as many live lessons as possible. Live lessons mean the children can engage with their teachers and classmates, and can stick to a routine more easily, all of which help dramatically with both their education and their wellbeing.

It also means that the children must remember to keep their cameras and microphones switched off. The danger of not doing this has nothing to do with student safety. It’s so that their poor teacher doesn’t have to witness any wild-haired, oddly-dressed mothers bursting onto the scene, demanding to know whether their child intends to have their January wash at some point before February arrives.

In my defence, I had woken from a deep sleep and was in a great hurry to let the dog out before we both regretted it. So I grabbed the first things I saw, which happened to be knickers, a t-shirt and a pair of child’s earmuffs. The fact that I was still wearing the same things two hours later, is irrelevant. After 90 minutes sleep the previous night, my brain had obviously registered the t-shirt and decided it was a case of ‘job done’.

In addition to camera awareness, the other thing about the girls being at home all the time, is the constant food preparation. I have no new lunch and dinner ideas left. I’ve tried googling recipes, but each new week of lockdown seems to knock five foods off their ‘I will eat this’ list and send them over to the ‘I will vehemently deny that I ever liked this, and brand you a liar for even suggesting it’ list.

Yesterday’s conversation went as follows:

Daughter: ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’

Me: ‘Salmon’Daughter:

‘I don’t like salmon’.

Me: ‘You love salmon! Literally two weeks ago you asked when we could have salmon again because you really love it’.#

Daughter: ‘I know, but will it taste like bum?’

Me: ‘???’

Also me: ‘Why would it?’

Daughter: ‘Because the last two times I’ve had it, it tasted like bum’

Other daughter: ‘How do you know what bum tastes like?’

There was only ever one direction this was going to go in, and sure enough, as I’m sure happens so often in so many households all around the world, a long argument about bums vs salmon ensued.

I managed to keep quiet for an impressive amount of time while I looked longingly at the gin and wondered how that vaccine rollout was coming along. But eventually, I put a stop to it by shouting that they shouldn’t judge salmon by their own standards, and that they were now having beans on toast.

Bring on Bedtime!

An Alternative Christmas

I’m pretty proud of my kids right now. Like half the country, I had to tell them that despite the fact that we’d been isolating in preparation, we wouldn’t be able to see family over Christmas after all, because we are in Tier 4. They were obviously upset, so I made sure to tell them that Christmas wasn’t cancelled, and that we would still do all the normal Christmassy things. My youngest said ‘Mummy, the countdown of days until Christmas that I’ve been doing for weeks, wasn’t a countdown to presents or food. It was a countdown to seeing my grandparents and finally hugging them’. That crushed my heart a little (ok a lot), but also made me feel glad that she has her priorities straight.

I wish I had better news for them, but I’ve been reminding them regularly that the vaccine is coming, it’s just going to take a while to get round to everyone, so we have a few more months of tough times to get through, before we see ‘normal’ coming round the corner again. And they reminded me how lucky we are to have our health and our loved ones. I’m counting their attitude as a win.

In the meantime we’ve been pretty busy. My 13-year-old is now my 14-year-old. We celebrated in traditional lockdown manner by staying in, seeing no one, baking, then desperately searching for a film on Netflix that we hadn’t already seen. But she took it in her stride and we did actually have a lovely dog walk and some cheerful Facetime calls. While we were making a batch of 24 birthday cookies, I told the girls they could have just one before tea. So instead of 24 normal ones, they each made 3 cookies the size of their heads and informed me through the one small corner of their mouths that wasn’t stuffed with biscuit, that it was my own fault for not being specific.

And then with birthdays done and dusted, it was time to prepare for Christmas. It’s been a few years since they’ve been into performing nativity plays, but boredom took over and my youngest has been preparing one for Christmas day. I had a front-row seat for the rehearsal.

I can’t decide whether my favourite part was the donkey moaning that nobody took him seriously, what with him being the ass of the family, or Mary losing her temper over the lack of rooms and telling the innkeeper she was too old for all this nonsense, and if he didn’t make more of an effort to find something decent, she was going to take her business elsewhere. I won’t tell you what she said when offered the stable, but even Joseph thought it was a bit harsh.

It wasn’t long before the play descended into what was basically a rendition of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ with Mary singing ‘Feed the World’ over and over, and Jesus playing Bono. After the fiftieth repetition of the chorus, my teenager came thundering up the stairs shouting that she was TRYING to get her homework done and (in true Christmas spirit) if Mary didn’t shut up right now, she would get a dead leg.

An outraged Mary then informed her sister that if we really did live in biblical times, she’d be within her rights to have her executed, and she was going to find out if that was still the case today. At which point I had to wearily step in and question their knowledge of history, religion and family law. Not to mention issuing my own threats, mainly involving pudding.

So that’s a glimpse into what our Christmas is going to be like. I plan to deal with it by eating cheese and feigning deafness. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, despite what we’re all facing, and here’s to a much improved 2021. I’ll see you all next year.

Lots of love, and Bring on Bedtime!

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!