Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Parenting "Skills"

Apologies for the blogging lull.  The Girl has just learnt how to crawl – properly crawl, not the double-amputee-drag-herself-across-the-floor she’s been doing until now – and, frankly, it’s taking up ALOT of my time. Added to that, she seems to have all sixteen (or is it twenty?  Twenty-two?) of her teeth coming through at once, and so is like a very very nimble snail whipping about and leaving a trail of slime in her wake.  When I haven’t been catching her teetering at the top of the stairs, I’ve been wiping up puddles of drool.  It’s both time consuming and sweetly lovely, in equal measure.
Anyway. I went for lunch with my old boss last week, ostensibly to chat about the possibility of my brain ever working again and my returning to paid employment, but in reality we just got pissed on delicious wine (in the afternoon!  On a school day!  AND I was wearing vomit-free clothes.  Talk about Grown Up) and talked shite.   
Which is just as well – not the talking shite bit, rather the side-stepping the Going Back To Work issue – because, really and truly, I’m just not qualified for anything much these days.  In fact I was thinking that I might need to update the “skills and experience” section of my cv, to reflect the current state of my life, as follows:
Skill:  Multi-tasking
Example:  at any time of day (or night) I am generally doing three things at once.  Eg – peeing, showering, brushing my teeth (720am);  holding a screaming baby, wiping vomit off my face, stopping a toddler from squashing a lady-bird (1115am);  mashing sweet potatoes, booking an appointment, sweeping the floor (150pm); pushing a swing, see-sawing a see-saw, holding a conversation (430pm);  necking wine, necking dinner, facebooking (820pm);  rolling out of bed, cursing, preparing a bottle (522am).
Skill:  Diplomacy
Example:  Brokering peace agreements between possessive toddlers and toy-snatching babies. (In the interests of candour, I should disclose that to date this has yielded much the same success as all Middle-Eastern talks.)
Skill:   Negotiating
Example:  Toddler imploding, wanting something NOW.  Negotiate terms of the receipt of that something, so that he ends up getting it a few minutes later than he wanted, and screaming for the entire duration of the interim few minutes. (Um, yes, I may need to work on this one a bit).
Skill:  Translating
Example:  "Blugh grrr raghhh aynee RIGHTNOWTHISMINUTE!" = "Please may I have an ice-cream as quickly as possible?" (See “Negotiating”, above, for a hint as to the outcome of this request.)
Skill:  Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (AKA Feeding the 5,000 kilo children)
Example:  Constructing a meal for a toddler and a baby out of one (soft, sprouting) potato, the cracked, dried-out heel of a long-since dead piece of cheese, some green stuff I found in the bottom of the fridge, and a pint of ketchup.
Skill:  Complete and Utter Lack of Vanity, Dignity or Shame
Example:  I had a doctor’s appointment In Town this week, and afterwards spent several (awful) hours traipsing aimlessly up and down Oxford Street.  Before I left the house the baby-sitter appraised me (one of her job descriptions is that she mustn’t let me leave the house looking like a complete tosser).  She pointed out the “mud” on my upper arm (poo, actually) and the strange triangular bruise on my forehead (don’t ask).  What she didn’t point out – and what I didn’t notice until I had been traipsing, traipsing, traipsing, for ooh, about 72 hours, past about 12,00 people, as well as nattering on and on inanely to the very proper doctor -  was that I was wearing my dress INSIDE OUT. But Was I Bovvered?  Not even remotely. I have no sense of decorum or shame.  Or, indeed, dress.
Skill:  Various Basic Medical Proficiencies
Example: Treating a bloody nose, administering gallons of Calpol, and bandaging a cut knee, all at the same time (see “Multitasking”)
Skill:  Physical Endurance
Example:  Subsisting until early evening on crusts of toast discarded from a high chair by a fussy baby.
Skill:  Physical Strength (under duress only)
Example:  Carrying 40lbs of dead (and possibly screeching) weight from the supermarket all the way home.

Which actually isn’t entirely unimpressive.  But as I appear to be qualified only to be a foot-soldier in the First World War, and my old boss doesn’t work in the armed forces (or own a time capsule), for the moment it seems that I shall remain out of the paid work-force, and in parental servitude.
Luckily, you need no skill whatsoever to make the following very lovely summer dinner dish – a Caponata of sorts.  Which is just as well, as I’ve been making it every other day for the past two weeks. (You’ll note that “creativity” and “imagination” did not feature on my new cv.)
You’ll Need (for 4 as a generous main;  halve the quantities if you’re cooking for two – there’ll be plenty left over for hungry offspring)
  • Two medium aubergines
  • Two Onions, roughly choppes
  • Two Cloves of Garlic, sliced
  • Two Peppers (preferably red or yellow), roughly chopped
  • Two Courgettes, sliced fairly thickly – about 1cm
  • Two tins of tomatoes (any type)
  • A handful of raisins
  • A handful of pine-nuts
  • Some fresh basil, if you have it, chopped.
  • A couple of tablespoons of capers, if you have / like them.  I don’t, particularly – generally too salty - so I tend to leave them out.  Include them however, for authenticity. Make sure they’re rinsed well.
  • Salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Chop the aubergines into dice-sized cubes.  Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large frying pan, and add the diced aubergine – all at once, if you can. Keep the heat high-ish, and stir often, to stop them sticking.  Once they start going brown, lower the heat, and leave them to soften through.
While they’re cooking, heat some olive oil (again, be generous) in a deep pan, and add the chopped onions,  leaving them to soften over a medium heat.  Add the garlic and peppers, stir to cover with the oil, and cover the pan, so that the vegs all start to soften – about 5-7 minutes. Add the courgettes, stir well, and cover again for another few minutes. 
Add the tin of tomatoes, breaking up plum tomatoes if using. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat.  Add the raisins and the pine-nuts  (and capers, if you’re using).
Check the aubergines every now and again – you don’t want them to get mushy.  Once they seem cooked / soft, take them off the heat.  Add them to the tomato mixture once you’ve added the raisins and pine-nuts. 
Leave to simmer until the courgettes and peppers are soft. 
Season with salt and pepper, and the basil, if using.
You’re meant to leave this to cool before eating – but patience is most definitely not a skill I possess.  If you were lucky enough to be sitting under the patience-tree at the appropriate time, leave the dish to cool, then serve either on its own, with bread, rice, cous-cous, mashed potatoes – whatever.  Otherwise, eat it scalding hot, burn your tongue, and exercise those basic medical talents you’re getting so good at. 
PS – We’re off to the back-end of Ireland at the weekend for the month.  I’m not sure about the internetedness of the particular pocket of green loveliness we’ll be sheltering from the rain staying in, so apologies in advance for any radio silence during July.  Be sure to check in in  mid-July however, to see if I’ve remembered the Girl’s birthday...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Unhappy Mondays

A belated Happy St Father’s Day to you all.  We had a fantastic day, which started in bed with banana bread and flaming candles (“Happy Father’s Day to yooooooooooooooooooo”) and ended back in the same bed with banana bread-crumbs sticking in our respective arses - but thankfully no flames doing the same.  In between there was hilarious nudity by the Boy (which gave rise to some rather obscene and disturbing willy-rubbing against the back of the Girl’s head - which, almost as disturbingly, she seemed to enjoy just as much as he did), sunshine and newspapers, a visit to Vauxhall City Farm*, and an afternoon at South Bank – which was just brilliant.  More sunshine, roof-top gardens, bars on rooftop gardens, gin cocktails, bumble-bee chasing, scarecrow-teasing, and general infant and toddler merriment.  Every single time I go to South Bank, I remember why it is I love London.  And so it was that we got home late, fuzzy, grimey, but happy (and then, once we were in bed, itchy.)
Monday however was a whole different kettle of fish.  Firstly, the weather was cack – which, as every parent and chief entertainment-provider of toddlers knows, is the main determinant of the day’s stress levels. Secondly, the Boy can now communicate fairly effectively, and understands everything - which is a real bummer if you need to back-track on a promise made several seconds previously.  “I tell you what, if the pool gate is open then we’ll go in.” (Said with the smug knowledge of someone who can read the sign hanging off said pool gate which says “POOL SHUT.”).  Well, I guess such despicable deception deserved an unlocked gate.  And so in he bounded, tore across the manky empty pool to the large puddle of putrid water in the middle, and promptly fell smack on his face, comprehensively drenching himself – impressive, considering the half inch of water he fell in.  So I stripped him down and dressed him in his reserve clothes (ie, what I found underneath the pram – green dinosaur shorts, and a red-checked shirt; he resembled a large and angry garden gnome) and to take the edge off the morning I offered him a trip to Starbucks as a treat.   
It wasn’t much of a treat for the Starbucks staff however.  It’s not that he went bonkers exactly, rather that I suspect they may have inadvertently slipped a shot of espresso in his babyccino.  Hopefully nobody minded too much being given offered a sprinkling of chocolate on whatever they were drinking (latte, tea, juice, etc), but I think the lady with the dog got a bit perplexed when he kept feeding it napkins.  And the staff, patient tho they were to a point, really didn’t enjoy his climbing-onto-the-window-table-and-swinging-from-the-hanging-sign trick.  I meanwhile was employing my new means of survival calming technique, which mainly involves ignoring whatever he’s doing and playing with the Girl (don’t you hate people like me? I certainly do.)  Still, the large angry gnome enjoyed himself, and best of all, the babyccino was free, hurrah!
I can’t even remember what we did on Monday afternoon; now that I think about it, it was only yesterday, so it must have been fairly bad to warrant being wiped from my memory.  I think it may have involved the library, dvds and fish fingers – most disappeared days do – but I couldn’t swear to it.  I do think however that I could have done us all a huge favour by starting the day with flaming banana bread.  That, and a day trip out of the neighbourhood, are clearly the secrets to an enjoyable day. 

Banana Bread
Some of you may have noticed that I don’t bake that much.  I’m actually crap at baking; the precision required annoys – and defeats – me.  This, however, is forgiving and fool-proof, and allows you to be as scatty creative as you want. Throw in nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, orange zest, chocolate pieces – whatever you want, to jazz it up.  A food processor makes this the easiest cake ever to make, but you don’t actually need one.  The basic recipe is as follows:
  • 3 (or 2 large) ripe bananas, mashed well
  • 6 oz sugar (any type)
  • 8oz self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz butter

Grease a loaf tin, and preheat oven to 4/180 / 170 with fan.

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, and add the eggs (if you use a processor, it might separate and look a bit curdled at this stage – don’t worry, it’ll turn out fine).
Add the mashed bananas and mix well.  (If you want a bit of texture to the cake (ie, banana lumps), then do this and the next step by hand.  If you prefer an even texture then continue with the processor).
Mix in the flour.
Put the mixture into the tin and into the oven;  after 45 minutes lower the heat to 2 / 150 / 140 fan, and give it another half an hour.
Turn out onto a wire and leave to cool, before sticking candles in it and presenting it to a sleeping man, accompanied by some blood-curdling singing.

*If any proof is needed that we have to get our children out of London more often, it arose when the Boy ran up to a giant PLASTIC cow in the farm, hugged it, and tried to feed it grass.  Thus, we are spending July in the wilds of Ireland.  Where we probably won’t be able to see any cows, because of the rain.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Temporary Sunshine of the Temporarily Spotless Mind

Four days away, and my brain seems to have been wiped of all (a) stress (hurrah!); and (b) parenting acumen. Which is a combination I’d recommend, especially if you forget the following:
  • The reason she’s humming and not asleep, despite it being 90 mins into her naptime, is that she’s done a poo
  • The reason she’s humming and not asleep, despite it being 120 mins into her naptime (ie, the end of her nap) is that you forgot to turn the light off
  • He should never be given access to a garden hose
  • Or a garden trowel
  • When he responds to “What are you doing out there?” with “Just making a swimming pool, Mummy”,  you need to intervene immediately
  • If he’s tugging his front bits, he DOES need a wee, despite what he might say
  • If he’s tugging his back bits, he DOES need a poo, despite what he might say
  • She shouldn’t be left to chew on a lime
  • Or a lemon
  • Or the discarded garden trowel
  • He pees – standing up - as soon as he gets into the bath
  • She shouldn't be put in the bath first
Other things I forgot were:
How flippin’ BIG they both are.  Seriously.  She looks like a 2 yr old, he looks like a 5 yr old.  It’s frightening.
How funny they are.  She spends the day shrieking with joy (must be the joy of being ignored most of the time, poor thing), while he comes out with the best lines (“Mummy, you came back! I thought I’d lost you in the park...”)   
How much I adore them both. 
It was good to get back.  Although truth be told, slightly better to get away in the first place. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Reasons not to miss your children on a weekend away

I’m discovering – the hard way, natch – that there are down-sides to having kids which I never saw on any “cons” list.  (Actually, the cons list are my own – and a grave omission from all the pregnancy books, if you ask me.)
Now I have two more to add to the list. 
1. They’re so flippin’ beautiful. 
Not just my children – all of them.  Look at their clear glowing skin, their lustrous hair (when they eventually have hair), their plump red lips. The whites of their (shiney, sparkley, clear-as-the-sky) eyes are so white they’re almost blue.  They’re so full of energy, it pours out of them, healing scrapes and scratches in nano-seconds. They wake up, leaping from sleeping to upright, at the crack of dawn and bounce around like Samantha Cameron teenagers at a rave all day long before, suddenly, falling asleep on the spot (the Girl has given up on learning to lie back down and now just sleeps sitting up, her head on her chest;  the Boy falls asleep face down on whatever toy / book / kitchen implement he has demanded join him in his bed. 7-8pm in this house is like an Under-3’s Narcolepsy meeting).
So you spend all day shrieking looking at these gorgeous creatures and their disgusting vitality, and after a while the beauty starts to seem normal, the plump glowing skin and shiny shiny eyes become a benchmark;  and then pffff! they fall asleep and you wander into the bathroom to have your first wee of the day.  Fifteen minutes later Then you make the mistake  – stupid stupid! – of glancing in the mirror... It’s like Dorian Grey when he visits his attic, only worse.  The only thick hair on your head is where your ridiculous eyebrows have started to grow, ivy-like, up your forehead;  someone seems to have transplanted skin from your heels onto the area where your lips once were; and your poor desperate eyes are the cracked weather-worn stained-glass windows into your old lady’s soul. Meanwhile your part-feline daughter scratched your (thin, withered) cheek 5 weeks ago and it’s still blistering and sore, and you’ve just noticed your front tooth is cracked.
Quite frankly, it’s all gone very bloody Pete Tong indeed. And you know what’s worse?  The more beautiful they become, the less you do.  It’s like they’re draining the life force out of you, and using it as their fuel.  Bastards.
2. They steal. (Not just your looks / energy / thunder)
No-one told me of the phase in toddlerhood when they start to lift things.  Usually bright, shiny objects, or things that beep.  Items which have walked recently include:
·         My Rolex*.  Thankfully, the crappy old swatch was left behind.  Phew. (Under relentless interrogation Boy maintains that “it’s in the bushes”.  Only thing I’ve found in the bushes – to date – has been fox shit.  Which I do NOT recommend wearing on your wrist.)
·         The Man’s house keys (found in a drawer;  we’re blaming the Boy but equally it could have been any of us)
·         My house keys (found in a welly after much searching)
·         My tweezers (possibly explaining the fore-head crawling eyebrows)
·         House phone (An easy one to find, this.  How could I have neglected to look in an old toiletries bag on an unused bathroom shelf?)
·         Mobile Phone (also in welly, tho’ not contemporaneously)
·         Corkscrew (which I didn’t realise was missing until I found it in the washing machine)
·         ALL my hairbrushes (found them 2 days later under Boy’s mattress. Also found six toy cars and half a breadstick.)
It’s like living with a three-foot magpie. Albeit a very very beautiful glowing shiney one.
No recipe today.  Sorry sorry.  Because I never quite made it to the gym to get self toned and tucked and lengthened and beautified in time for THIS WEEKEND’S Ibiza trip**, I am pre-toxing.  Never heard of pre-toxing?  It’s when you punish your Lazy Old Slag behaviour by eating only “natural” foods for five days, then going mental on a Balearic island for 4 days, before crawling home and de-toxing***.  “Natural” means no alcohol, sugar, dairy, wheat, or indeed anything fun or tasty.  I could share some of the recipes with you (Banana anyone? Brown rice? Another banana?), but I couldn’t bear for you to all be DYING FROM FOOD BOREDOM as I am, while simultaneously feeling that the chocolate buttons, reserved for successful toddler toilet habits, are eye-fucking you. (Two days, bitches, and you’re mine...) So I’m going to spare you the trauma, which is entirely self-inflicted, and will no doubt have no beneficial effect whatsoever. I promise to have a Spanish-influenced recipe next week.  In the meantime, I have to go pack.  JUST FOR ME.  Yip-flippin’-eee.   

*Since found, down the back of a trunk in the Girl’s room.  She may be responsible, but unlikely – unless her rolling-over trick has recently gained unnoticed acrobatic momentum.
**The good news is that rain is forecast, so there’ll be no lounging about on beaches in my skimpies anyway, hurrah!  I will be sitting at the beach-side bar, behind v. oversized shades, head to toe in swathes of figure-hugginghiding material.  Every cloud has a bright shiny silver lining,  Quite literally, in this case.
***The Man says this is nonsense, and it should in fact be termed “pre-de-toxing”;  I disagree (imagine).  What I’m doing now is being done before  I go and get self all toxed up.  That stage of the process – the toxing – is before the de-toxing, so in fact that is the pre-de-toxing.  This is the sort of shit we argue about conversational foundation of our marriage.