The Luck Rollercoaster

Talking of Parenting Fails, we’ve had a recent spate of good luck (I won free tickets to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, a pair of return ferry tickets to Orkney, and a free money purse) followed by a run of bad. Only the bad luck is vaguely interesting – want to hear about it?

Unlucky Number 1

The first of the 3 was when The Boss created for the minxes their very own scene from Frozen when he shattered the rear windscreen of the car over them.

Who needs a windscreen anyway..? Image: Frozen cover by electronic pop duo RKVC; from their website.

We were 8 hours into the long journey from outside London to home after a lovely week’s holiday at The Boss’s parents, and still had 200 miles to drive. We stopped at Annandale Water services for a quick legstretch walk around the wee lake and a coffee for me. The Boss strapped the minxes into their car seats then slammed the door shut. I think this must have been when the gas strut that holds the boot door open sheared off, because he then opened the boot to fetch some sweeties, and then shut it with an almighty BANG. The gas strut poked through the windscreen and the glass shattered into thousands of tiny blue squares. Luckily we drive a saloon-style car so it showered over the parcel shelf and not over the 3 traumatised little screamers in the back seat.

It took a looooong time to calm the kids and reassure them that no-one was hurt and everything was fine and that I wasn’t really going to kill their father…

I swear thunderclouds follow us around, just waiting on a wee bit of bad luck for their opportunity to make things 100 times worse with the addition of heavy rain. Remember the last 2 epic walk fails? Sure enough, as I came up for air after calming down, there was a big, black cloud. Down came the rain through the jagged hole in the back of the car. Thankfully, the 3 fleecy cuddle blankets that happened to be in the back seat worked wonders in propping up glass shards and catching the worst of the rain.

What can I say about the rest? We couldn’t get a repair any time soon (Autoglass sucked their teeth when we told them we were in Scotland, then said they reckoned they could get a new windscreen to us in 11 days) and the sympathetic cleaner at the service station helpfully warned us to buy a £14 parking ticket to avoid an automatic massive fine if the car was going to be there longer than 2 hours. Another helpful cleaner helped me source 5 fantastically thick bin-bags to make impromptu repairs. The Boss was kept busy and out of trouble by ferrying minxes to the toilet, packing up all 10,000 loose items in the car cabin and boot, and phoning the Breakdown Recovery helpline that I suddenly remembered we’d gotten free with my last main dealer service – excellent! A pick-up truck turned up after a few hours and towed us to the garage after swapping banter about overly-strong husbands. The minxes perked up at the adventure of strapping their car seats inside the cab of a real, actual tow truck that was loud and rumbly! They also cackled hysterically at the driver’s ring-tone for calls from his wife (general alarms) and text messages (gunshots). They loved that the courtesy car to get us and half our luggage (the important stuff: Maxi’s birthday presents and the kids’ clothes) was teeny: The Boss had to squeeze in the back with Maxi and Midi, and Mini’s big car seat had to go in the front beside me. It was smelly and dirty, the inside windscreen was smeared with something that wouldn’t wipe off (dog drool?), the tires needed a lot of inflating and it leaked ‘stuff’ from under the bonnet, but I didn’t care: I filled it with petrol, filled ourselves with a celebratory and speedy Da Evul McDonalds Fast Food, pointed it north and got us home the same night. Hooray!

We swapped it for our car and the rest of the luggage when another tow-truck arrived at home the next afternoon. Our Mondeo became the local comedy feature for a week until the new windscreen arrived. It wasn’t that it looked like a chariot: it was more the sight of me painstakingly brushing the ground around the car with a dustpan and brush to pick up every last little bit of glass. I’d have been better hoovering the drive like The Boss.

So: bar one emergency journey to the garage for the new gas strut, with our temporary dustsheet/tarpaulin windscreen billowing in the breeze because it was only held together with a ton of string, sellotape and earwax, we were confined to home for the entire second week of the Easter Holidays. The minxes loved that, spending hours every day pedaling around the cul de sac with their fellow little girl cycle-gang members in one big feral pack, terrorising all the adult commuters, so it wasn’t all terrible.

Unlucky Number 2

The 2nd of the 3 bits of rotten luck happened just one day after we got the new windscreen: Midi was mucking about on her bunk bed, slipped, and bashed her front teeth on the bunk barrier. The Boss was up to his elbows in bright purple hair dye and I was in the bath, having my hair painted (well, it’s less messy that way). After stopping the bleeding and crying, Midi starting spitting out little chunks of tooth. I was pretty sure they were baby tooth fragments, but put them in a bit of milk until I was sure. Paracetamol calmed the pain and I couldn’t see any adult tooth damage, so decided to leave the dentist visit to the next morning.

Well, it took an hour of not getting through to the dentist to realise that it was a local NHS holiday. I spoke to a very helpful (!) person on the emergency dentist line. After explaining what had happened and asking if a dentist could check the bits left in her gum, the telephonist recapped:

Her: “So which tooth has fallen out?”

Me: “No. Both her top front teeth have broken into bits”

Her: “Is that front left or front right?”

Me: “Both. Both.

Her, scolding tone: “Well, at 7 it’s completely normal for her teeth to fall out anyway. And because they’ve come clean out…”

Me, interrupting: “They’ve not fallen out; they’re broken. They’re smashed. They’re both in pieces. She has half a tooth left in one bit and a little shard of the other tooth still in her gum”.

Her: “OK… I can make an appointment for you at 2.10. Please be there 5 minutes beforehand”

Me, after a pause: “… And where’s that appointment at?”

Her: (says name of nearest city)

Me: “…Uh, which surgery will that be at?”

Her: (says name of a street)

Me: “Can you give me an address I can look up? I don’t know (city) – I’m new here”

Her: (starts giving me driving directions from “the barrier” of the city’s hospital. I know of at least 3 barriers I can enter by, all about a mile apart. I’m not sure that her request to “look for the green wall” will be helpful to me or not)

Me, sighing: “Can you say the name of the surgery again slowly?”

So: the city is an hour’s drive away and I won’t get back in time to pick up Maxi from school – I’m going to have to take both girls out of school for the afternoon, and Mini will be with us anyway. Oh me, it’s the first day back at school, but the school staff are wonderfully helpful and sympathetic.

We eventually find the dentist, just as the rest of one tooth fell out in Midi’s hands. The dentist asks me whether I want the other tooth extracted or not. I’m not sure I’m qualified to have an opinion or not, y’know… She beckons me over to look in Midi’s more-sharklike-than-usual little mouth. I admit that I’ve happily carried out emergency first-aid on severed fingers and bashed heads, but anything to do with teeth makes me want to boak. She made me look. I nearly barfed.

All ended well when the rest of the teeth fell out a few days later. The Tooth Fairy showed her sense of humour by giving a coin for every tooth-fragment. It still only totalled £1, despite Midi’s hopes of a gold coin for every piece!

Unlucky Number 3

On the way home from the emergency dentist, the 3rd bit of rubbish luck hit us. Literally. We stopped at a busy roundabout and were shunted. I’d had the amazing good fortune to have put the handbrake on, so we didn’t go rocketing into the path of the lorries and cars thundering round the roundabout. Still, the jolt and the huge BANG made my hands shake and the minxes scream in terror. It took me a few attempts to put the hazard lights on (why won’t my hands work? Why are they hitting the radio button? Why are they now hitting power? Why won’t they go to the hazards? What’s wrong with the link between my brain and my hands?!)

I soothed the kids, checked no-one was hurt, got out the car, and walked round to talk to 2 frightened faces in the car behind. I guess I was a bit stern as I barked: “I’ve got 3 hysterical kids in the backseat. I’m going to calm them down. Then I’m going to drive over there (pointing). You are going to follow me and then we are going to sort this out”. I whirled on my heel, did just that, then the Other Driver and me faced each other. She was very, very pregnant. We immediately established that no-one was hurt and that the bumpers were just scuffed. I gave her a huge hug and said, “Och that’s what bumpers are for”. I think the 2 men in her car were a bit startled at big scary purple-headed me giving the woman an unexpected hug, so they leapt out their car and made reassuring noises. One of them started wiping the dust and grime off my bumper with his hoodie sleeve to show me that the scratches weren’t too bad, bless him, and it took me a while to persuade him to stop.

The woman and I swapped details, frightened hands making our scribbled notes look like they were written by axe-murderers, then I walked the adrenaline off for a bit before driving home.

The bumper didn’t fall off and everything was fine. I admit to hibernating for pretty much the following week. Shields up!

One Month After Maxi and I Finally Had ‘The Talk’

Remember back in September when Maxi first asked me about sex? Well, she never did get back to me about those finer details. She’s in a composite class with kids ranging from 8 to 12 year olds, so I figured they’re probably discussing sex amongst themselves. The subject didn’t come up naturally in conversation at home, and I couldn’t find a non-cringeworthy way to just broach the subject. So I finally pulled my finger out last month and sourced some books from the library to help:

“Let’s talk: about girls, boys, babies, bodies, families and friends”, Harris, Robie H; Emberley, Michael. Walker, 2007. It was listed as being roughly appropriate for ages 4-7 years.


“Let’s talk about where babies come from: a book about eggs, sperm, birth, babies and families” (same authors and publisher, from 2002). This was listed as roughly for ages 6-10.

The Boss and I read through them first to get an idea of what a pair of very well-researched books reckoned was about the right level of detail to explain to our 3 different minxes. I was deeply impressed with their straightforward content, the brilliant illustrations, their lightness of touch and whole approach. It all fitted very well with the no-nonsense way we (ok, I…) have been talking to the girls their whole lives about how their bodies will change at puberty, periods, and where and how babies grow. But I have to admit that The Boss and I still privately giggled over the books like a pair of immature schoolkids. We sniggered here and there, but I really creased up, laughing in shock, dismay and embarrassment, when I saw that the book for younger kids explicitly mentioned that sperm meet the egg because the man and woman get so close that his penis goes inside the woman’s vagina, and that it was called ‘having sex’. Oh… my… word! Yes, that’s a very straightforward explanation. Grand. So therefore we should be explaining in this much detail to Midi and Mini, too?! …Um, y’know, just hold on there a wee minute…

At that moment, I discovered just how old-fashioned and easily embarrassed I truly am. The mere thought of 7 year old Midi curling her lip in disgust at the idea of sex made me blush. Still, I could just about face my kids and give it a great shot of feigning ‘hey, this is no big deal, it’s just information about bodies and how you were made’. But I couldn’t face their friends’ parents hammering on our door, asking us to explain exactly why their little 3 year olds were running about shouting about penises: I absolutely, positively, definitely know that Mini would merrily spend the next 3 years telling the entire world (and his dog) all about what she’d learned. So I bottled it: I gave the first book to Maxi, asked her if she wanted to read it by herself, then said I’d ask her some questions when she’d finished.

The Boss and I stifled more nervous giggles while she read studiously. Putting on a face that was serious-but-nonchalant-and-a-bit-cool (well, it looked like that in the mirror when I practised – it probably just looked constipated), I asked her if there was anything in the book that was new information to her. She said she’d loved the ‘pretend x-rays’ that illustrated what people looked like inside. Hmmm, that’s not what I’d meant… I dived straight in and asked her if she’d known that sex was how sperm and eggs meet? I reminded her that a while ago she’d said that no, she hadn’t wanted me to tell her exactly what sex was. So was this new info to her? No, she said, she’d heard people talking about it ages ago. We chatted about the bits in the book she’d found interesting. Did she have any questions for me? Just one – could she read the second book?

She really enjoyed the older book. It didn’t go into sex in any more detail, other than that it was something only grown-ups did, but I’d already told her that.

I suggested that The Boss read the first book to Midi as a bedtime story. He suggested she read it herself when he was out of the house. I decided to put it all off for a wee while longer and chat about it with her in the summer holidays if the subject didn’t come up by itself in the meantime.

Anyway, fast-forward a month to this afternoon, on the drive home from swimming lessons.

Maxi: “Muuum, you know how babies are made and how sperm meets eggs? Like, exactly how the sperm meets the egg?”

I gripped the steering wheel a whole lot tighter. What timing, Maxi; what timing… “Yeeeeees”, I replied warily.

Maxi: “So you and Dad have done that 4 times?”

Me: “No: lots more times than that. Why?”

She looked at me in the rear view mirror, a look of abject horror contorting that beautiful little face. “Ewwwwwwww!!!!” she gasped.

Predictably, I sniggered. Well, it’s obviously my most eloquent answer to anything to do with sex, it seems.

Maxi: “Why would you ever want to do something like that?!”

Me: “Well, um, er, because actually it feels really nice”, to her disbelief. So I added: “But only when your body is completely mature and you’re a woman, not a girl. Otherwise, yeah, it would be pretty nasty”.

My cheeks burned. So did the back of my head, as my 9 year old stared at me in a strange mix of disgust and bemusement for the rest of the drive home.

I shared her observations with her Daddy later on, when just the 3 of us were in the kitchen. He laughed louder than she did, and agreed with me that every person who ever was, felt yucky about the thought of their parents having sex.

Yeah, right, Mummy. Crack on with those dumb-ass explanations. You're doing grand. I'm so not laughing...

Yeah, right, Mummy. Crack on with those dumb-ass explanations. You’re doing grand. I’m so not laughing…

Oh boy… Oh well, at least that’s now broken the ice for future chats with Maxi about the emotional side of sex. One down, 2 even more disparaging daughters to go.

You’d Think We’d Learned Our Country Walks Lesson By Now

You know how normally I blog about our outdoor pursuits elsewhere and only mention the epic parenting fails here? Well, settle down with a cuppa – this is a long one.

“Let’s go for a little walk”, The Boss and I suggested to the minxes. “Let’s go see what this bit of the map looks like in real life”, pointing to a gorge, a waterfall and a picnic site near the ruined Edzell Castle. We hinted at the possibility of ice-cream in Edzell afterwards, and promised Midi that it was nowhere near Glen Esk – the scene of our last couple of epics. And that’s all it took to persuade the minxes to come out walking on a blustery, chilly Saturday.

Pirners BrigAfter parking at the picnic site, we walked down the steep steps to the River Westwater and spent a while skimming stones and clambering all over the bright red sandstone. We’d have stayed longer but for spotting a little bridge further upstream. “Aha! Adventure beckons! Let’s just go explore the bridge”.

scary brigThe bridge – Pirner’s Brig – did indeed tick all the ‘perilous’ boxes: the floor was a wide-spaced metal grille; the metal sides wobbled and didn’t feel as if they were attached very securely; in fact, I couldn’t see how the bridge was attached to the sides of the gorge at all! Worse, there was a deep gap at the base of the sides that my panicky imagination could foresee one or more minxes slipping under and falling to their doom in the rapids below. (Please tell me I’m not alone in my hysterical inner anxieties?) Still, I put on my Let’s Have An Adventure face and bravely urged the minxes to walk ahead of me (just in case I bottled it at the last minute). As feared, the bridge also wobbled when we walked, so I’d score it a 7/10 on the Britain’s Scariest Bridges scale.

On the other side was a deep, dark wood. We could see 3 thin little tracks heading in different directions. Now, we knew that we only had a single bottle of water with us and a single plastic pot of chocolate snacks – the rest were in the car – but we weren’t going to be long, were we? The sight of mountain goat tracks heading out of sight uphill was just too intriguing – we had to go have a little explore. Oh ok – *I* had to go have a look, dragging the others reluctantly with me: they’d have been quite happy to go back to chucking stones in the river. It was only me who really wanted to see what the waterfall in the middle of nowhere looked like.

One track led straight to the deep, fast-flowing river (eep…!), one to a gate and a lumpy steep field, and the other led up along the side of the gorge. Normally I’d have balked at taking the minxes up such a narrow track with a steep drop on one side and slippery weeds on the other, but I’m still trying to stretch my Over-Protective Parent muscles, so I led the elephant train, Mini clinging tightly to my hand and Midi and Maxi using fallen branches as steadying sticks. Eventually it got too scary for me, so the minxes and The Boss huddled in the dank cold while I trekked on ahead to check out the footing. It looked like a bird track ahead! Halt. About Turn. We picked our way back to the tracks junction and decided to try hopping over the gate in case there was a track on the other side that met up with the gorge track.

easy trekking

Bar the odd fallen tree, the going was easy enough here for The Boss to let go of 2 little Minx hands and take a photo

Now at this point, we probably should have nipped back for more water and snacks. And maybe the map that was decorating the dashboard. But we were all in waterproofs and now all quite keen to find the elusive waterfall to make this un-fun walk worthwhile. It couldn’t be much further, could it?


This is the ‘waterfall’. Sorry, my soul is just too shallow to appreciate this beautiful stretch of water

Maybe 20 minutes of careful foot-placing later, we found the waterfall. I felt cheated: it was more like a stretch of river rapids. Pretty, but no dramatic waterfall. Hmph. We decided to share the chocolate snack and water before heading back and crossing the waterfall off our list of places to return to. Rather than eat in the dark woods, though, we decided to walk a little further to the big empty field past the fenceline we could see and maybe rest for a bit in the sunshine. First we had to clamber over the barbed wire fence. Someone had built a stepover with boulders on either side of the fence and helpfully left a big stick leaning against it. I showed the girls how to use sticks to carefully balance over the wire, then they all had a go. Yes, this probably used up too much time.

bit steepAfter eating the little snack and almost finishing the water, we realised that we were all a bit tired and quite cold. None of us relished walking back the cold, dark, slow way we’d come. The thicker wood that flanked the track didn’t look too deep: perhaps we could walk up the empty field a little, then sling a left and walk around the outside of the wood, left again and back down towards Pirner’s Brig, then to the warmth of the car and hot coffee and lunch? Excellent idea – surelythatt would be much quicker? So off we plodded. In fact, Midi and I had a little race up the lumpy hill.

We go to the edge of the wood. Ah. The wood didn’t end there – just the fully-grown trees. The fenceline stretched on uphill with little saplings dotted everywhere. Explaining to the girls that the Outdoor Access Code meant that it would be wrong of us to trample through the plantation, we decided to plod on further uphill.

When the hill didn’t appear to stop any time soon, I trudged ahead to see just how far the wood extended for, beginning to get worried about how long this ‘short walk’ was taking. Far out of sight of the rest of the family, I finally came to a gate. And a road! Fantastic. With renewed energy, I trotted back to the family and beckoned them on. We got quite excited at the prospect of decent footing and forgot to think about basic things like watching where our feet went…

Midi tripped and fell against the gate as she was opening it. Oh no! Dislocated shoulder or elbow, again? No, thankfully just bruising, which she described as ‘my shoulder’s crumbled!’. Maxi moaned through leg cramp. Then Mini announced that she was cold and tired and wasn’t going to walk any further. Guess where the sling was? Yep, keeping the map, food and water company in the car. “Look!” The Boss pointed, “You can see the end of the wood over there. If we walk quickly we can hang another left there, get to the next gate, cross the bridge and be done. Just another 20 minutes. Not long now.”

Expecting a Tellytubby to pop out at any moment

Expecting a Tellytubby to pop out at any moment

Oh come on, you know us by now – it never works out like that, does it? We got to the end of the wood and discovered that the next field was entirely surrounded by a double electric fence. Could we cross it somehow? Ought we to? No and no. The Boss whipped out his phone and pulled up a satellite image of the area while we shivered in the now-harsh wind. At least the sun was bobbing behind clouds so it didn’t matter that we’d left the sunblock stick with the food and water(!). We could see a chicken farm just ahead and a farm track leading out of it that went roughly in the direction we wanted to go in. The satellite image showed a track leading in from this road, though we couldn’t actually see it because of the hedgerows. Hmmmmm. OK, let’s walk just a bit further. I had huge misgivings, wondering whether I should insist on us just turning back. I bickered with The Boss for a while in frustration and taught the kids some new swear words to horrify their teachers with next week.

We got to the access track. It was gated, and the gate was tightly fenced over so it was un-climbable. I looked around. Then up. I could see that the fluffy cumulus clouds had suddenly turned into thundery clouds with hazy icy edges and that in fact there was a wall of falling rain coming towards us. Oh.You.Are.Kidding.Me.On. Not again! Why does this happen every time we come here?! Sod the Access Code – I needed to get our kids to warmth and safety right now! I was up and over that gate like a skittishly panicky mother, then caught the minxes as The Boss threw them over to me. We strode down the track to the chicken farm. I half-expected to be met by barking dogs or an angry farmer. The smell of chicken poo got stronger and we were stepping in more and more of the stuff, so I suggested we walk along the very edge to minimise disturbing (we assumed) free-range chickens: I’d visions of us causing a stampede and mass chicken death and really being in trouble.

Instead, the chickens were all indoors, gently clucking. Would chickens stampede and panic if they smelled us? Could they smell us? Did they give 2 hoots what we got up to?! We didn’t take any chances and walked around the downwind side of the chicken-house. It was eerily quiet, with no sign of humans. Or dogs. We trotted happily down the exit track to the next field and gate, glad to be closer to the car.

Well, we WERE glad, until the hailstones hit. Big ones. Hurty ones. They stung us along the field to the top of the next hill. I spotted that the direct route to the final gate and Pirner’s Brig was along an exposed ridge, but decided to detour and walk in the shelter of the hill’s deep contours instead. Hoods up and hunched over against rain and hail, we tiptoed around cow-pats, fearful of meeting some overprotective cows and calves.

Finally we spotted the gate, the river and on the other side: the car! Ah, safety! But first, we had to cross some muddy puddles. Could we walk round them? The hill was too steep to walk around uphill; downhill would probably be just as mushy; ah well, it’s only a few minutes to the car – let’s go through them!

I instantly regretted my decision as I sank past my ankles in bog (natural springs, the map described it later). I had a hysterical vision of me sinking under forever leaving an indignant bubble. I subscribe to the belief that if you’re moving fast enough you won’t get wet, so sheer momentum took me across. Luckily Mini, who was still clinging to my hand like a flag in the wind, was too light to sink too far and she just got wet feet. One by one, we all discovered just how icy-cold the bog water was. I could tell by the 3 different tones of wailing that the minxes really weren’t happy at all. Situation Normal at the end of most family walks, then.

the least muddyOnce quickly over the gate, we slithered down the path to the Brig. Who cared about the steep drop to the river? Who cared about the mud? One last big bit of bravery to cross the bridge, then just a few strides more to the car. We giggled euphorically as we stripped off muddy kit in the empty carpark and guzzled chocolate and coffee and water. At least we’d been wearing fleeces and waterproofs so I hadn’t worried about hypothermia! But my biggest Note To Self: there really, honestly, genuinely is no such thing as “Och, we don’t need x, y, z – we’re only going on a teeny wee walk”.

Never again.

End of Term Quick Catch-up

So what’s going on at Trout Towers just now? Well, it’s getting close to the end of term…

She's so cool and she doesn't realise it

She’s so cool and she doesn’t realise it

Every work surface at home is covered in Mini Minx’s finger-painted cards of bunnies and chicks, Midi has been experimenting with hard-boiled eggs and Maxi has started taking the instrument home from school that she’s been learning to play. It’s a double bass. She can barely lift it. I struggle not to use it to corral the kids like a shepherd. I am, yet again, also glad that we live only a short walk from the school…

Scary sight. And the egg's a bit frightening, too

Scary sight. And the egg’s a bit frightening, too

Midi was tasked with decorating a hard-boiled egg like a book character for homework tomorrow. “OOoooh”, I enthused, “You’ve got about a hundred permanent colour Sharpies that Grandma got you – you could use those!” So Midi being Midi, she slouched in her chair for an hour, meticulously colouring in her egg as Toothless, the all-black dragon. I suppose I should be glad that she drew it smiling, which is vaguely normal.

Her second bit of homework was to construct something around the egg that would allow it to be rolled along the playground without it cracking. I’m not sure that covering it in a ton of bubble-wrap is really what the teacher had in mind…

One or 2 chicks...

One or 2 chicks…

Mini, meanwhile, has a blood test later this afternoon to start investigating why she’s now covered head to foot in eczema. It came on overnight in the middle of December, as did mine. It seemed obvious that it therefore was because of something we ate or touched or did. But it’s beaten my analytical skills – I can’t figure it out at all. We didn’t eat anything new that week. We’ve never changed washing powders, fabric conditioners, shower-gels, etc. – I’m really boring and stick to the same ones year in, year out. We didn’t go anywhere special that week. My eczema took ages to clear up. Hers hasn’t. She’s been covered in moisturisers and moderate strength corticosteroids since, glugging antihistamines night and day. The only thing that’s made any difference was taking erythromycin for an infected ingrowing toenail*. Her skin cleared up briefly, but it’s coming back in bright red patches again.

So: because antihistamines seem to have no effect, I don’t think it’s an allergy to anything. You never know, though, so I guess it makes sense to start checking there while we wait for the dermatology referral to come through (crikey, that hospital will be sick of the sight of us Trouts, trouping back and forth…). Today’s drill, then, will be applying ‘Magic Cream’ and taking Mini to the nurse. I fear I’m still a little traumatised from the last time she had a blood test.

I’m starting to plan Maxi’s birthday party. When I asked her what she wanted to do, the poor girl sadly said, “I’d love a birthday party, but I’ve got no friends”. My heart broke. So I’m planning a movie night for just a couple of the kids in her class. I’m not sure that they’ll come, though, because it’s in the Easter holidays and they’re much older than her. I figure that a Movie Night is less like a child’s party and a wee bit more grown-up, would be fun regardless of whether she has 5 guests or just her sisters, and therefore is low pressure for Maxi.

She’s still having a tricky time at school. She decided to quit a pupil-run dance club because she was getting fed up being ordered about by the older girl leading it, hated the music, thought the dance moves were silly, and had had enough of having no say. She said the other kids were fed-up too, but were too frightened to quit because the older girl threatened them with all manner of trouble and ire. I told Maxi just to quit: “No-one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do. I completely endorse your wish to have your lunchtimes outdoors again. Go for it”. The older girl didn’t like this at all, and has been crowing to anyone who’ll listen that she kicked Maxi out, rather than that she quit. Maxi’s very vexed with the lies, but I gave her another coaching session in how to shrug and smirk to devastating effect. “The less bothered you look, the angrier she’ll get, because there’s nothing else she can do”, I advised Maxi. “Smile sweetly at her, shrug and say nothing. And gloat inside”. Oooooo, I’m such a bad mother!!

Finally, my long-haired trio now all sport neat bobs. Maxi started it last year, and her bob has been getting shorter and shorter. It’s now chin-length. Midi had her waist-length blonde locks cut into a chin-skimming sharp cut that makes her look very grown-up. Even Mini’s ginger frizz is now swishable for the first time in her 5 years. Ah, they’re growing up so quickly, now.

Bud 2

I just realised that I never did update on what happened about Maxi Minx being called names at school. Forgive me – I’m in the middle of 5 birthdays and as many teaching workshops, as well as all the standard gubbins, so I’ve not been writing much at all. The school’s response was very heart-warming:

Maxi showed Moore’s quote to her teacher that very morning and asked for it to be discussed at Circle Time* that afternoon. The teacher decided to call Circle Time straight after the immediate admin of registers and school dinner lists. He and a more experienced teacher discussed general name calling with the class. It sounds like they covered some brilliant points: what constitutes name-calling, why it hurts, where it stems from, and what they can all do about it.

*Circle Time is when the class sit in a circle and discuss a sensitive topic. Chatham House Rules apply, though they don’t call it that.

The thing that struck Maxi the most was probably the first and simplest thing:

“Mr S asked everyone who’d ever been called a name that hurt them to put their hand up”, Maxi told me. “And every single person put their hand up! Even the teachers!” she said, eyes huge. “Can you believe that, Mummy? Every single one of the grown-ups, too!” Well, yes, sweetheart, me and your Daddy told you that, but I guess you had to see it for yourself to believe us…

After Circle Time, Mr S pulled Maxi aside and checked how she felt. They agreed a little secret signal they’d use every day at home-time to use as a barometer of how she was feeling: he’d spot her in the line and give her a thumbs-up. If she returned the thumbs-up then that was fine and she could get on with getting ready to go home. If she gave a thumbs-down, she and he would stay behind and have a chat about what was bothering her. Maxi said she felt very reassured about that, as was I when she told me.

The teacher also discussed Maxi with the more experienced teacher of the other class, who then took Maxi aside later that day and sat her down. She told her that she (Maxi) was a very special girl; that she loved her; that the school was better for having a Maxi Minx in it; that there was no-one else in the whole world who was a Maxi Minx, and that she was never, ever to change.

When Maxi related this to me, I welled up. What sensitive, lovely teachers! I caught them both before school a few days later over another matter, and thanked them for the kindness and understanding that they’d shown my little girl. Mrs T gave me a huge hug, but Mr S and I just smiled broadly at each other (hugging a male teacher half my age doesn’t really feel appropriate, no matter how wonderful. And he, and Mrs T, are both wonderful people).

The headteacher told me that he’s planning to have a Special Educational Needs teacher come in at some point, as an intervention, to go through different social scenarios with Maxi. The aim would be to bolster my and Mr S’s attempts to help her become more emotionally resilient.

My favourite - the Gallic shrug. Breton-style stripey top optional. Photo from

My favourite – the Gallic shrug. Breton-style stripey top optional. Photo from

I hear that the name-calling in the school general has gotten worse, though. Perhaps before it gets better? The school sent a letter home to parents asking us to discuss respect for others with our kids. A whole school target of respecting others was made. Closer to home, I taught Maxi 5 or 6 different styles of shrugs so that she’s armed with suitable non-verbal replies to the idiots still trying to get a rise out of her. I know that as an adult she’ll have name-calling and snipes to deal with, that will hurt just as much but will be less overt, so I think that it’s important that she learns to deal with it rather than have the teaching staff lay down a ban and try to enforce it. And that’s why I’m so proud that she managed to discuss the issue with her teachers and then the class by herself, without me wading in with my size 5 feet.

Best Laid Plans Up in Smoke

Today I intended to take up Maxi Minx’s school trousers and spend some good quality time with her – just me and my girl, building complex train tracks in the peace and quiet of a 48hr germ-isolation from school. But you know me and my plans – they never materialise. It’s probably easiest if I just share my Facebook status:

“The silver lining: well, it’s always nice to have a spotlessly clean kitchen: every surface wiped, inside of cupboards clean, all the woodwork (yep ALL of the woodwork, including wooden cooking utensils, skirting board, doors, window frames, table and chairs) and walls scrubbed down, curtains washed and blinds aired… I may even finish by nightfall if I speed up.

“The cloud: leaving a pot of chicken stock on all night to go dry, burn and leave a thick cloud of smoke doesn’t half leave your kitchen pongy.

“The room’s sealed so well it didn’t set off the smoke alarm. So….

“The moral: The Boss is buying and fitting an additional smoke alarm for the kitchen. And we’re double-checking each other when we say the cooker’s turned off at night.


I’m also grateful that we didn’t die of smoke inhalation in our sleep, but y’know, saying that would have taken away from the humour of the status update. The Boss was horrified at how thick the black, acrid smoke was when he staggered into the kitchen this morning. I must retest the smoke alarm tonight before we go to bed. Yet the oil tank leak / theft alarm has been going off constantly (the alarms are bogus – we’ve been checking!)

So I spent from 7am till 3pm with only 2 coffee breaks continuously airing and scrubbing and sniffing everything in the kitchen. I went through an entire bottle of Flash. It’s now 9pm and I still can’t get rid of the smell, despite baking a huge toffee apple cake and a chicken pie. I have nothing left to wash or wipe. I think the smell is in the walls. The now squeaky clean walls.

Poor Maxi was abandoned to play and read all day without me – I kept the kitchen door closed to keep the bitingly cold wind and the terrible smell to that room only. She wasn’t on her own, though – in a wily move, Mini declared this morning that she had a sore tummy: “It’s stinging, Mummy! Can I have chocolate?” Normally I’d have given her short shrift, but with a bunch of newborns, old people and immuno-compromised folk in the community, I will *not* be responsible for killing one of them with a carelessly shared sick bug. So Mini stayed at home. She quickly regretted it. Not only did she not get any chocolate, but she soon realised that ‘alleged sore tummy = having to sit or lie down and no fun’. She was also there to see my dismay when the second highlight of my day happened:

“What else can go wrong? Oh yeah, I just found a nugget of something smelly and horrible that should have been in a toilet (my youngest hiding a little accident?!) lurking instead in the door seal of the washing machine. So that’ll be that wash load rewashed on boil wash. If any of it survives. I guess it’s one way to get grease stains out of The Boss’s workshirts. Every cloud and all that ;-)

The Boss brought a bottle of rum home from work tonight. He knows exactly what kind of day I’ve had!

I've been out-minxed by my mother. Bah!

I’ve been out-minxed by my mother. Bah!


Paint a Red Cross on the Door and Be Done With It!

Nooooo! Not the bleach! Anything but the bleach!

Nooooo! Not the bleach! Anything but the bleach!

Oh, I do love the mingling aromas of bleach and dinner in the evening!

Poor Maxi is ill. She started having smelly eggy burps and raging halitosis again yesterday, so I checked her throat – she’s got tonsilitis again, for the 2nd time this year. Liquid paracetamol seemed to be managing it. I saw her playing rounders outside when I picked Mini up from nursery before lunch. She waved weakly at me, ashen-faced. I hung around to watch, not because I’m interested in the kids’ sports class or their young teacher, but because she looked quite ill. Sure enough, 5 mins later, she asked to be excused back indoors. I agreed with her teacher that she could have lunch and see how she felt, and assured him I’d nip round in 2 minutes flat to pick her up if he called.

I waited for the call. No call. So Mini and I spent a lovely sunny afternoon doing gardening: I’d picked up some dinky metal buckets and herb seeds when I raced round the supermarket this morning (Supermarket! Without Mini? However did I manage without my little shopping buddy?! But it was so I could pick up one of her birthday presents unseen. A pink and purple Furby. It’ll be friends with Midi’s rainbow Furby. Three kids, 1 cat and 2 Furbys… I must be mad). Anyway, Mini had fun dunking the compost tablets in water and watching them whoosh up in seconds to fill the pot. She loved scooping up the compost and twirling the seeds on the top, especially when I said not to worry about the mess. She looked at me like I’d been possessed, then gleefully chucked a bit of compost at the cat.

Then in a fit of bravado, I decided to finally plant the tulip bulbs, outside in the howling gale. Forty of them. Yeah, the ones that should have been planted in autumn. Oops… Well, I’ve been enjoying counting all the little daffodil buds poking through the soil by the fence and in pots every day just as much as the minxes have. And we only planted them last month!

So, to work. Maxi and I had dug out the turf and a round tonne of rocks and boulders from a little 8 x 4ft patch in the back garden at the weekend. It’s one of those annoying patches that are really annoying to mow, and that no-one wants to play on because of the horrible, aggressive, yappy dog next door barking and salivating through the gaps in the fence at us.

I found some weed membrane and fought with 30m of that stuff flagging the air in the blustery gale. Mini and I managed to haul it down from roof-height and lay it roughly over the bare soil. I pinned it down with scrubby pot plants, boulders and a big old hexagon of wood that The Boss had made 2 years ago in a bid to build a climbing frame for the minxes (and that’s stood by the oil tank going grey for the past year). It would make a fine flower bed border. Mini and I dug and planted those bulbs (maybe a third looked ok, a third looked iffy and the remainder had blue mould on them), then shook some creeping thyme seeds over the top. I don’t care that it’s far too early to plant them – the packet said Sow By Year Ending 2009. Oops again… I have plans to plant herbs and strawberries all around the border, through the membrane, but that’ll be when the temperature is high enough for me to take the winter tyres off the car.

We just had time to water the hexagon bed, chuck everything into the wheelbarrow and wash hands before racing off to pick up the other minxes from school. Maxi came out of school looking pale and sad and burst into tears as I hugged her. Her teacher said she’d been complaining of tummy ache and a sore throat. Poor wee mite! She’s rarely ill and even then doesn’t complain much.

So I cancelled swimming classes yet again, parked Midi and Mini in front of the electrical babysitter with hot chocolate and marshmallows, then gave Maxi a big deep bubble bath. I’ve never seen an 8 yo enjoy a bath so much! She played with the bubbles like a toddler, and floated around in the quiet for half an hour while I got on with laundry, picking up discarded jackets and shoes, emptying schoolbags and asking how her day went. (She’d had her second double-bass lesson over lunch break. She’s called the instrument Brian and it’s bigger than she is. She’s so cool and she doesn’t realise it!). I washed and conditioned her beautiful hair, washed and dried her like she was a wee girl, trimmed her toenails, gave her Lovely Strokes (massaged her skin with moisturiser) then blow-dried her hair. She had a bit more colour in her cheeks and sighed with pleasure at all the gentle, quiet pampering. I made her a little nest on the sofa with cushions and blankets, parked a water bottle beside her, shooed away her fussing sisters who suddenly wanted to kiss her, then got on with making the monthly cauldron of bolognaise sauce.

I got as far as chopping onions when I heard a gurgling wail – Maxi had raced to the bathroom, catching her vomit en-route. The poor kid was stood at the sink, holding her Bagpuss in one hand, vomit in the other, balancing on one foot – the hand hadn’t been enough, she’d really needed a bucket, so it was *everywhere*). She was distraught at fragging her Bagpuss and her clean PJs that had been on for 9 whole minutes. I gave her a quick clean up and a hug, parked her back on the sofa with a big bucket, fresh water and different teddy, got Bagpuss into the washing machine and scrubbed the bathroom and hall.

Maxi barfed again later, so I guess that’s her confined to quarters for the next 48 hours and me cancelling a stack of appointments. Och well. So long as no-one else catches it! Midi had the vomiting virus a couple of weeks ago and my washing machine was on without a pause for 36 hours. A whole day and a half. Well, when you projectile vomit from the top of a bunk-bed, there’s an awful, awful lot of collateral damage…

Maxi’s now asleep on the sofa, spooning Killer Cat who is purring away contentedly. I’m fairly sure that the cat’s bucket of nails for a brain works fast enough so she’ll leap away if Maxi throws up in her general direction…?