Friday, 30 March 2012

The Small Thing(s)

I started this on Tuesday, full of sunshine and light, having read the beautiful post over on the wonderful Knackered Mothers' Wineclub site.  Things were good on Tuesday: spring was in the air, the kids were behaving, I’d had cake for breakfast.  In fact, I really couldn’t find anything to complain about.  It was a short, dull post, and you’ll all be pleased to hear that the sky has since caved in and life is back to its usual chaos and carnage. 

On the bright side, the Boy seems to have turned a corner (cue complete jinxing). He’s been relatively sweet and attentive, occasionally even listening to me, catching me off-guard with his musings (“Mummy, why are you always bothering me and annoying me?”) and sporadically offering me his own nuggets of advice (“Mummy, you just need to CALM DOWN. Why can’t you be calm?”).

He has a point.  I have spent a large portion of the intervening time since Tuesday screeching – at the Girl, unusally.  She is now the exact age the Boy was when she was born, a period which I rather not think about.  There was ALOT of screeching then also, which I put down to his behaviour, and my advanced – and shockingly uncomfortable – pregnancy.  Given how things are now panning out with her, I suspect that I might in fact just have an intolerance towards 20-month-olds. And looking at the only empirical evidence to hand, I can expect this state of affairs to continue for at least 18 months. 

God help us all.  Take today for instance.  Once in my bed this morning, she spurned the proffered bottle of milk (by picking it up and chucking it across the room) and demanded apple juice instead.  By the time I had returned, apple juice in hand, she was sitting stark naked on my bed, and had just pissed on my lovely expensive down pillow.  “Wee wee!” she announced, somewhat unnecessarily, pointing at the sodden mess.  Down in the kitchen, she punched the Boy in the face over breakfast, and then spurned his completely full cup of hot chocolate (a new cup, chosen by him last weekend), by picking it up and – yes – chucking it  across the room, to a smashing demise.  Once on the naughty step, she made to bolt out the front door, which I had, thankfully, had the sense to double lock. On and on and on... The piece de resistance was a total meltdown on the bus this afternoon, twenty long, harrowing, minutes, pausing only to take a deep breath - and vomit down my front.

Once home I chucked them both in the garden, and called a friend to offload.  She tried to calm me down.  According to a parenting course she went on, the trick when dealing with toddlers is to try to see things from their point of view.   In which case, I give you:  The Girl in the Garden.

“Bloody shoes.  Why must they be so haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard to take oooooooooffffffffff.  There!  Ahhhh.  I’ll just – plop! – chuck them into that puddle.  And if I can just reach under to these buttons... excellent.... Ta-Da!  Freedom! Oooh - a poo! Where did THAT come from? My bottom is scratchy.... Aaaahhhhh, much better.  Hmmm.  My fingers smell funny.  And taste... AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHH MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok, ok, that’s enough hugging, thankyouverymuch, I’m not going to stop wriggling so you might as well put me down.  Wipe my hand.  Thank you.  NOT MY ARSE, it’s too coooooooold, WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH-ooooh – what’s that?  Some sand?  Ooooh, I like sand.  Is sand usually this dark?  More sand, over here!  Where is my mother?  What is she doing with him up there?   Why is he LOOOOOOOOOOOOKING AT ME AAAAAAAAAAAARGHHHHH-oooh, a stick.  And a bucket!  With leaves and water!  I am just going to... mix... and stir.... wet black sand!  It feels nice.  My feet LOVE it.  Hahahahahahaha!  There’s SO MUCH of it, hurray! And if I do... this... then I can rub it in my hair like this! And on my fa... Uuugh.   It smells funny.  It smells like the top of the garden where we’re not allowed to go.  What is “fox”? It’s where fox lives.  Uuuuugh, it’s smelly on my haaaaaand... What is that?  ? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH a leaf  ON MY FOOOOOOOOOOOT HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLP! Anyone?? Fuck it, I’m just going to have to deal with this myself.  She is utterly CRAP.

Ooooh, the kitchen floor is cooooooooooooold under my feet.  And slippy...  Oh hello cuddly rocking horse!  I looooooooooooove you.  Let’s have a cuddle.  What?  You want me to climb up on you?  But I’m all dir... oh ok then.  Just a quick one.  Weeeeeeeeehhhh...  Ooops.  Wee-wee! Hahahahaha, it’s fun and wet and slidey.  Uuuugh, smelly hands.  That tap looks very high. I need.... this... (grunt) ... chair, and... this.... (grunt) .... toy box.  Perfect.  Up I go!  Oh look!  If I put my hand on this white bit it goes all dark!  And if I spread it around like this it looks like the ground outside! But it’s NOT the ground, hahahaha, that’s so funny...  Up up up I go.  Which tap....  THIS one ARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH it’s TOOCOLDIT’SSPLASHINGMYFACE, abort abort abort, JUMP!  Ooooh.  What’s that up there in that open cupboard?  I’ll just take.... this... (grunt) ... toybox, and... this.... (grunt) .... chair.  Perfect.  Up I go!  CHOCOLATE EGGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fan-fucking-tastic! 

She is going to stop me.  I must hide.  But where?  I can hear her. QUICK! Stuff them in my mouth. MARMRARMRARMRARM...QUICK!!!!!!!!!! Hide. Under the table, runrunrunrun-ooooh – what is this?  It’s soft and lovely!  What is c-a-s-h-m-e-r-e?  It’s so warm and cosy... Stuffstuffstuffstuffmunchmunchmunchmucnh.... Shhhhhhhhhhhhh, here she is.  Not a sound... GLAAAAAGHHHHH-BLUUUUGH-coughcoughcough-SPIIIIIIT.  Wipe.  So soft!

Oh.  Hello there!  Kiss?”

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Silence of the Teddy Bears

Dear Diary

Friday 16th, 2pm.
Well, it happened.  It was bound to, eventually;  in a class of 26 kids, it was inevitable that someday, I’d be given to the wild blonde kid to bring home. But - for a weekend??  The Gods of Teddy Bears were clearly not looking favourably on me. 

My fears started to come to fruition on the journey home;  is it so hard for a backpack to be kept on the back? Apparently, yes.  When I finally came to a stop I was upended on the ground, along with all my possessions.  Now I know that to some it might seem a bit odd for a small teddy bear to have his own adult-sized bag, filled with clothes and his cuddly friends, but that’s how I roll, ok?   So there we were, strewn across a filthy floor, when the devil-child announced that he wanted to see my bum, and stripped me naked.  I have worked LONG and HARD to get the respect of my peers, and within a matter of minutes all that respect was in tatters.  Not unlike my ripped pantaloons.

However, mustn’t grumble, must try to look on the bright side.  His mother has to fill in a diary of my activities, so she’s bound to step in and take control at some point. This is the part of the home visits I really love – never quite knowing what fun is in store for the afternoons.  I’ve been on farms, in zoos, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, cafes, libraries;  I’ve had my photo taken on boats, horses, tractors, bikes, planes, and prams.  I reckon in fact I’m the most photographed, and stimulated stuffed bear in London.     
Having said that, she doesn’t really strike me as the most organised person I’ve ever come across.  What’s with that witch’s hair?  And the shrieking  - is it really necessary?  Although I concede that she possibly has a point alot of the time.  Those kids like to climb.  It’s as if they’re communicating telepathically – one pegs it up the side of the banisters, and while she’s shrieking and pleading and demanding obedience, the other heads for the mantelpiece.  I’ve been lying naked under the kitchen table – also manky – for a good hour now, and no one has eaten a scrap of food, or indeed sat still for more than five minutes.  Christ, it would do my head in to live here. 

Friday, 7pm.
Still under the table. Still naked.  Beasts have finally been rounded up and kitchen finally calm – albeit still filthy. Horrific shrieking and crying from the bathroom. Sounds like a cat being drowned. 

Have witnessed the most astonishing amounts of faffing about today.  Shoes on, coats on, shoes off, shoes on again, coats off then on again, pram loaded, snacks packed, snacks found and scoffed, shoes on again, pram re-loaded, bums smelt, nappies changed, shoes on again, naughty corner visits... On and on and on, eventually she just gave up and sat on the stairs with her head in her hands. Kids could have cared less, they were off up the banisters kicking their shoes in their wake. 

Friday 10pm.
On the plus side – kitchen floor finally swept.  Downside – I was swept too.  Now discarded into a plastic storage box with semi-clad grime-encrusted dolls, cars, and half-eaten (by foxes, apparently) plastic figures.  The air of toy despondency is tangible.  An action man, naked from the waist down, is eyeing me up in a worrying manner. They might be smooth down below, but those fuckers can still pack a punch.

Saturday 2pm.
Sore.  Violated.  I have quite literally had the stuffing knocked out of me.  WHATSORTOFPLACEISTHIS?? I’d better be taken out of this box soon.

Saturday 7pm.
Freedom! Momentarily.  Then into the washing machine with all my clothes and entourage.  Doesn’t she know that jumper is hand knitted??

Sunday 2pm.
The indignity.  Finally dressed, however squashed into woollen jumper which perverted Action Man now eying up.  Suspect will be bartering for my cherry later on.  Have not yet made it out of the house.  Fuck knows what she’s going to find to write about in my diary. Doesn’t she know that it’s read aloud when he gets back to nursery?

Sunday 6pm.
Salvation of some sort.  Removed from restrictive clothing and invited to partake in dinner.  Not quite sure what it says about a house that “dinner” comprises ice-cream and chocolate, but apparently it was some sort of special occasion.  The crazy witch woman was presented with flowers from the he-child and a card from the she-child.  Mother’s Day??? SHE DOES NOT DESERVE SHIT. Good ice-cream concoction however.  Pity the she-child upended me into a large bowl of it.  Both Action Man and Baby Annabell now looking at me and licking their lips.

Monday 19th, 8am.
Dear Diary –
Well!  What an exciting weekend I’ve had.  I was so happy to be taken home by Freddie, almost as happy as he was!  He skipped home and couldn’t wait to introduce me to all his friends.  After a yummy lunch of rice, fish and broccoli (delicious!) we had some quiet time on the sofa, before heading out for a lovely walk in the park. We played on the slides and the swings, and met all Freddie’s friends. Bathtime was ALOT of fun, and then Freddie’s mummy told us a brilliant story about teddy bears and pirates and sharks, before we snuggled down to sleep.

I was very tired after our fun-packed day on Saturday!  First we went to the zoo, and then, as a special treat, we visited a farm!  In the afternoon we took a boat trip, before gobbling up our dinner in a very grown-up restaurant, where all the children were very well behaved.  Sadly, Mummy’s camera was broken so she couldn’t take any photos of me on the tractor or feeding the horses, or splashing around on the water.  We were all so tired by the end of the day that we were very happy to jump into bed and go to sleep.

On Sunday we all went to church and then fed the ducks in the park.  I didn’t know church could be such fun! We spent the afternoon at home doing arts and crafts, and Freddie helped to teach me a few words in Mandarin while he was taking his online lessons.  That was fun!  As a special treat, he and his sister made their Mummy banana splits to say thank you for being such a fabulous mother, which everyone ate after they’d had their soup and home-made bread for tea.

It’s been the most wonderful weekend and I hope I can come back again soon! 

Love from Nursery Teddy xxx

Banana Splits


Banana Splits are the biz (even if, close up, they look a bit obscene). There’s really no reason for them to be given any special status, because they’re piss-easy to make.  In fact “make” is a bit of an exaggeration - there’s no proper recipe involved, just an assembly of ingredients.  

Having said that, making chocolate sauce can put people off.  Which is ridiculous, because it’s also piss-easy. 

You need:
One banana per person / half for smaller people.

Ice-cream, preferably two or three flavours.  Otherwise stick with vanilla.

Chopped nuts.  I used ready-chopped hazelnuts, because frankly, weekends are long enough without throwing nut-chopping into the mix.  I got a bit fancy and toasted them in a hot frying pan for a couple of minutes (but then again, I had a stuffed visitor to impress).  It gives a nicer flavour, but you’re not missing out if you use them plain.

Chocolate sauce.  Forget all that nonsense about heat-proof bowls and pans of simmering water blahblahblah. This is what you do:  break up a large bar of any type of chocolate you like (I used 70%) and put in any old saucepan.  Add a decent splash of milk – about 4 tablespoons' worth.  Put over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  The milk will stop the chocolate from burning or thickening too much, and you’ll be left with – ta da! – chocolate sauce.  Leave to cool slightly before using.

Split the bananas.  Dollop as much ice-cream on them as demanded.  Ladle over the warm chocolate sauce and sprinkle nuts on top.

You can get fancy with whipped cream and fruit etc, but really:  you have bananas, ice-cream, chocolate  sauce and nuts in one glorious heavenly bowl.  Why mess with it?

Serve with loud, repeated reminders that THIS is what makes you a fantastic mother...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Nursery Tales

The Boy goes to quite a fancy nursery.  Not that you’d know it from talking to him.

“How was school today?” 

“Not school, NURSERY.” 

“Sorry, nursery. What did you do?”

“Nuffing.” 

“Nothing?” 

“Nuffing.” 

“Did you talk to anyone?”

“No.” 

“Not even Jack?”  (His partner in so many crimes I’ve lost count). 

“Yes, maybe.” 

“Did you do any drawing, or singing?” 

“Mummy, that’s ENOUGH! NO MORE QUESTIONS!”

Shards of information leak through however;  the other night he was bobbing up and down in his bed, feet at a funny angle, knees bent.  “Pleeee-ay... pleee-ay” he said, with every bob.  “Plie?” I asked.  He rolled his eyes, and continued to bob. 

“Are you doing dance at school?”

“Not dance, BALLET.” 

See?  Fancy. 

He gets sent home with things they’ve baked (weird, inedible, but cute), and made (weird, inedible, rarely cute, often looking like a turd);  we get invited to parents’ evenings and coffee mornings; we get a weekly newsletter, which shocks me with the extent of their activities.  It’s a great school NURSERY. I love it.

Or rather, loved it.  Until they sent him home last week with a bug. 

I know I know that it’s inevitable, but dammit, we are all SO SO SICK as a result.  High temperature, fever, vomiting, more fever, hacking cough ALL NIGHT LONG... I am on day five, the Boy on day six.  The two of us spent the weekend in my bed in our pyjamas watching Cbeebies, and issuing orders (him, to me:  wipe-my-nose, move-your-leg, more-Octonauts etc).  And then on Sunday night the Girl woke up, scalding hot, and covered in vomit.  Now the three of us are in my bed, which is strewn with used tissues, damp clothes, and sticky Calpol spoons. We haven’t managed to get her addicted to CBeebies yet, so I have had to rouse self from my febrile cocoon and look after her. If I’ve made it sound a bit like a Little House on the Prairie idyll, be assured:  when the sun goes down, the wolves come out. The Boy is awake every ten minutes, coughing himself into hysteria, moaning and groaning and dry-retching;  last night when nobody had raced to him within three seconds of him wakening, he lay there shouting “Somebody? Anybody! HELP ME...”  Meanwhile the Girl is clinging to my chest like a baked, panting mollusc, occasionally screeching in horror and disgust when she happens upon her sticky nose (the whole body-effluent thing is hitting her hard.)

I have no appetite, so this week’s recipe is that which should have been posted last week.   It was very very very tasty, even if the thought of it now has me reaching for my baking sick bowl.


Yes, it’s spaghetti and meat-balls!  Oh alright then, it’s not really.  This started life as baked courgettes balls (polpettes, in fact) a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (yes, him again) recipe I took from Esther at Recipe Rifle, and then tweaked for full pasta-and-tomato-sauce enjoyment.  It really has quite a meaty texture – to my veggified tastebuds at least – and the Man was near delirious with excitement when he tasted them. 

“It’s meat!” he cried. 

“Not meat, COURGETTES”, I responded, disdainfully.

Spaghetti with Courgette “Meat” Balls and Tomato Sauce.
The meatballs in this are baked blobs of courgette-batter – which doesn’t sound terribly appealing, but actually are fabulous.  Hugh (and Esther)’s original recipe calls for lemon zest – which works brilliantly if eating the blobs on their own, but doesn’t really sit well if you’re trying to pass them off as meat.  So, if you’re making the polpettes as a stand alone – or if you like your meatballs with a bit of citrus to them - then add the zest of half a lemon to the ingredients. The original recipe also calls for mozzarella – which works nicely in the meat-balls, but isn’t crucial; if you don’t have any, just add an extra tablespoon each of breadcrumbs and hard cheese.  

Any recipe that calls for three distinct steps – in this case, making the meatballs, making the sauce, and cooking the pasta – is usually dismissed by me as an unnecessary pain in the arse.  However, while somewhat more fiddly than your bog-standard two-step pasta dish, it’s not at all time-consuming:  once assembled, the balls are baked, not fried, freeing you up to make a quick tomato sauce, and put some pasta on to cook.  Honestly, it’s no more than 30 mins from start to finish.  Admittedly tho, it does create a bit more washing up than I’d like.

You Need:  (for 2, with leftovers for hot angry children)

Meatballs:
  • Three courgettes (Hugh says dice them finely; I prefer to grate them directly into the pan.  Easier and quicker.)
  • A dash of oil.
  • A clove of garlic, chopped / crushed
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons hard cheese (cheddar or parmesan)
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • ½ ball of mozzarella, finely diced.

Tomato sauce:  (You mean you don’t have some already in the freezer?  Ppppphhhh....)
  • More oil
  • Another clove of garlic
  • A tin of plum tomatoes

Enough pasta – preferably long (spaghetti, linguini) - for two (or three). 

First make the courgette balls.  Heat the oven to 200c / 400f / 6gas, and either grease a baking sheet or line with parchment.

Heat a couple of glugs of oil in a deep pan, and grate the courgettes directly into it. Add the sliced / crushed garlic. Leave to cook over a medium heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, and leave to cool for a few minutes while you get the rest of the ingredients ready. 

Put all the other meatball ingredients in the pan, adding the egg last.  It should be fairly sticky and gloopy.

Use a tablespoon to measure out whatever size balls you want.  Poy-son-olly, I like my pretend meatballs small and quite crunchy (and got about 15 of such from the above quantities).  However, each to their own.  Place on the baking tray a couple of centimetres apart, and bung in the oven.  Cooking time depends on the size of the balls: give larger ones about 15 mins, smaller only need 10 or so.  

When they’re browned and looking crispy, they’re done.

Now – you can either eat on their own, or dump into the pan of tomato sauce you cleverly just whipped up and serve with pasta. 

(Cleverly-whipped-up tomato sauce:
Place oil and sliced garlic in a pan, and place over a low heat until the garlic starts to sizzle  (and if you’re super anal organised, you can use the courgettes pan which you’ve already washed...) Add a tin of plum tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon (or whatever.  No need to be technical.) Stir, increase heat, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and leave to simmer until you need the sauce.  If you want to get fancy with basil / pesto etc, by all means do.)

Meanwhile, put the pasta on to boil, and assemble all three components in whatever fancy way you like.

Serve with Calpol, sippy-cups full of diluted appul-joooos, and CBeebies. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Shocking Qualities of Art

Back before I had children I had the awful habit – one common to most (if not all) child-free people – of seeing parents deal with their children and thinking:  How hard can it be?  (And worse:  “I would never let my child behave like that”;  as if (a) it’s something parents choose, and (b) I’d have any control whatsoever over it anyway.)

Karma, etc.

Anyway, I thought I’d learnt my lesson the hard way, but no - the old habit of thinking that something I’ve never tried is easy lingers.  I found self at the Hockney exhibition last week and it’s impressive and all the rest, but you know, with the right materials and space etc, I could probably do it just as well.

And so I decided to take a leaf from the blog-book of the ridiculously talented Antonia, who often graces her site with incredible illustrations;  behold this week’s RL which is brought to you THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF ART.

(Art-ish.)

Thankfully it is short.  Nothing worth much comment happened this week.

First we had this:
(That, by the way, is Batboy, giving his feckless mother - who I concede looks more like an angel than possibly she deserves - a well-deserved talking to. What was she thinking going out on a Friday night?)

And then we had this:
(The Girl discovered that poo comes FROM HER BUM....  God knows what she's been thinking all this time, but it seemed to be something of a revelation to her. (She is not eating her hands. Nor did I start to draw an old-fashioned telephone. Sigh.  I am so misunderstood.))

And then, the most noteworthy event  of the week (at least for me, and almost for the kids):
What do you mean what is it?  OBVIOUSLY it’s a middle-aged lady getting the mother of all electric shocks from the bedside lamp her toddler daughter broke.  The facial expression, conveyed using only a few deft ink-strokes, is one of clear horror;  see how cleverly I manage to convey: I think I’m about to die... (In fact I think I DID die for a split second – my brain and vital organs flickered, just like crap electric appliances do during a storm – and I regret to inform you all that there’s nothing out there; no bright light, no long tunnel, just a split-second of blissful nothingness).  Step back and feel my loneliness, sense the absence of a husband buggered off for a few days, leaving me in charge of children and faulty bed-side lighting devices; gaze in pity at the bags under my eyes, and then, almost as an afterthought, see the clock on the Van Gogh-esque bedside table.  It is 9pm.  Realise with horror that I had sought to go bed EARLY so that when I was woken at 2am by a hacking coughing vomiting toddler there’d at least be some chance that I might be sweet and kind and responsive, instead of spitting and snarling and muttering ohforfuck’ssake under my breath (and I wonder where the Boy picks these things up).

Ok, you can take off your art appreciation caps now. Once it was clear that I wasn’t dead - if you can screech then you’re probably still alive – I was faced with a more immediate concern:  making my way through the house down to the cellar IN THE PITCH DARK to reset the fuse box.  Which is no mean feat when (a) you’re shaking like (gelatine-free) jelly and (b) you’re convinced that you’ve somehow turned into Electric Woman and are scared to touch anything which might re-spark you (door handles, steps, carpets, tiles, and-god-the-fear-of-touching-the-fuse-box.)

And so I eventually got into bed at about 11pm (having Googled: “electric shock after-effects” – bad BAD idea) and then lay there for several hours worrying about (a) residual heart failure and (b) seriously tho’, what would have happened if I had died?  The kids would have had 36 hours alone in their respective cots before the Man got home, and frankly I wouldn’t rate their chances of survival, unable as they are to get through an hour without scavenging in my pockets / handbag for snacks.  That’s assuming of course that the Boy didn’t fly out using his bat-wings and start to gnaw at his sister. 

But – hurrah!  - I DIDN’T die (or rather, die permanently), and I lived to tell the Boy the tale of the Naughty Bad Lamp That Tried To Kill Mummy.  To which he replied as follows:
and promptly stuck his fingers in the lamp’s bulb fitting.

UnFortunately, it wasn’t plugged in, and he lived to slag his mother off another day. (Although not about my drawing talent.  Yet.)