Wednesday, 30 September 2009

R.I.P. any rest I still had

We've had to retire the playpen. I found Marie with one leg over the edge and one stuck between the bars.

This means that for the next year or so I will have a lot of company in the bathroom. There will be no more sneaking off for some me-time. With some children, it might be possible to leave them unsupervised for five minutes. Not this one. The world is one big experiment waiting to happen for her. This is a problem as I have issues with observed defecation.
As if to illustrate my point, I just found her opening the front door. She turned the key of the double lock all the way and was nearly out onto the street. Sigh.

On a completely unrelated note, Marie regularly comes home from the creche looking like a complete whore. Two weeks ago, she had been "playing mummy" which apparently involves bright red lipstick, blue eyeshadow and a lot of blusher. I would be offended, only I literally don't own any make-up.
Last Friday, she came home like this:

I find whorishness surprisingly endearing in my children.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

In which I demean my blog by using it to procrastinate

A. Life is too short to iron clothes.
B. Ironing is a loving act, performed in the service of my family.
C. Ironing is a capitulation to bourgeois conformism.
D. Ironing is pointless, but so is everything else, so I may as well.
- What do you think?

(Feel free to pick
E. None of the above
and elaborate.)

Monday, 28 September 2009

I'm so zen it hurts sometimes

So I'm driving along congratulating myself on how mindful I am these days, especially in traffic. This woman - middle aged, blonde coiffed short hair, managerial air, big fat gray BMW - starts driving so close to my butt I'm considering reporting her for sexual assault. Two ticks later I am involved in an arms race of annoying traffic behaviour.

I look around, face wide-eyed. "Hey lady, back off!" She comes a bit closer. I look around again, gesturing she should keep some distance. I come up to a slow truck and have to slow down. She pulls a face, stays just as close. I am checking out the road ahead when I notice her starting to overtake both me and the truck. All my impulses go "not so fast there, lady" and I pull out in front of her at the last second to also overtake the truck. I was first in the queue. "Ha, that will teach you." When she flies past me, I flip her a finger and call her an idiot. She flips me the finger back. "How dare you, you started it!" I flip her another one.

Jack is very happy with his new skill, flipping the lady his finger too, and calling her an idiot. It's like he's holding up a mirror to me and just like that all my aggression is gone. I'm a moron sometimes.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Health and safety: not so Belgian

It's our ten year anniversary today. That's right - ten years. We've been together 15, married 10 and parents 5 this year. It's quite the anniversary. But I've decided not to do birthday posts in general (the pressure! the forced mushiness! I couldn't cope), so I will just tell Babes how wonderful he is (he is, oh yes, he is - I should post on that sometime ;-) ) and get on with setting the world to rights here.


So - another little rant about the supermarket.

The other day I went there, and the year-long revamp of the shop is still under way. They are adding lots of shopping space in what used to be the parking lot, and there is work going on everywhere. The outside work is fine, but all around the shop there are guys on ladders and they are a health and safety disaster waiting to happen.

A few days before, they had been taking out the ceiling panels, dropping dust all over our heads. Now, they were upping the ante. I happened to have my camera with me so I surreptitiously took some pictures.The surreptitiousness compromised the quality, for which I apologize.

Look at this guy! (Click on the picture and you get a better look.) He is at the top of the ladder, using a drill. This drill is in his (hopefully steady) hand, right above those people's heads. Dust and bits of pipe were falling down. I'm still coughing just thinking about it. There were gas bottles sitting underneath the ladder, and I'm so glad I wasn't there when he used them. There was hardly any space for people to get their barrows past. To his right, there are open bags of bread on the shelf. There was another ladder and another guy with a drill just behind him. People were squeezing past the ladders to get to the meat. How many kinds of wrong is that?

This is at the checkouts, where there is usually a queue well beyond where there is now a ladder. See the wires hanging down and the toolbox on the edge of the lightbox?

They also had wires going across some of the isles, at neck height. No warnings or ladders in sight. Just white wires, ready to snap the heads off absentminded or optically challenged customers.

I'm considering upsetting my sacred routine and changing to another shop. I just can't cope with it any more. Shopping with two little kids is hard enough without that kind of obstacle course to contend with.

Crazy ladder climbing idiots with crazy drills and crazy wires showering me in crazy dust... *walks off muttering expletives* ...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Go to sleep, baby

I am posting this for Josie and her wonderful Sleep Deprivation Carnival. I'd been meaning to tell this story for a while, and this was the perfect opportunity. If you are having bad nights yourself, do check out the other posts on her blog later this week.


Jack was the most amazing sleeper. He slept for nine hours the night we got home from the hospital, when he was five days old. After a while, he slept twelve hours. It was absolute bliss. Our idiot health visitor told us to wake him because (according to her) babies needed fed every six hours at least. As if he didn't know best. I nearly laughed her out of the door. He was happy, alert, thriving. Of course I was going to disturb his wonderful sleep pattern. Because I'm a bad girl and I need to be punished. (I know, I know, other post entirely.)

Then when Marie was born, we didn't know what hit us. She never slept. She was fine until she was tired, when she would start to cry. It was horrible. The only way she would get any sleep at all was if we put her on my chest or Babes' and stayed with her. And of course we had two children now, so there was a lot less chance to sneak off for naps for the one not on baby duty during the day. We were exhausted. We bickered. We never shared a bed either, because we always had one person downstairs with Marie while the other was asleep upstairs.

I had told our local baby health place that I did not want anyone to visit (after their great advice with Jack), but now I was desperate. I had read all the books, tried everything and nothing was working. After about a month, I went to the nurse and begged for help. She offered no advice other than what I'd read already and that it would eventually get better.

Then, at home, I finally did what my gut had told me to do in the hospital already: I put Marie in her crib on her stomach. She slept for 24 hours, she was so grateful she finally got to sleep. All the books disagreed. The nurses disagreed. I stayed up and watched her like a hawk for another few days and nights, convinced she would be turning blue, dying, not breathing. A few nights after that she was still alive, happy, a dream of a baby, and I finally, finally, got some sleep.

About a year later, a doctor told us that putting a baby on its stomach is not the major risk factor for cot death, but overheating is. And babies are more likely to overheat on their tummies. As long as you make sure they don't get too hot, babies can sleep on their fronts. In fact, some need to or they never sleep. (I need to as well, and always have since the day I was born.)

I was quite angry at the whole system. It was downright cruel to keep a newborn baby awake for over a month, just because there is a tenuous connection with cot death. We don't smoke, checked the room temperature, breastfed - basically we did everything right, and still we were told by all the "experts" that it would be very dangerous to put her down on her front. When I eventually checked out all the statistics myself, I saw what a small chance they were talking about, and quickly made my own choice. I was surprised and upset that the information we got was so categorical while the data are not. We scared rather than informed.

If I have any message I want to impart with this post, it's this: books and experts hardly ever know better than a well-informed and well-meaning parent. With Jack we were told dummies (binkies?) were evil, but he had such a sucking reflex, he was fused to my little finger whenever he wasn't fused to my boob. A dummy was the right thing. And then with Marie, we were told categorically that we were not allowed to put her to sleep on her front, even though that had been the right thing for generations of children, including myself. "They" were wrong. So if you have a baby around, by all means do your research and find out all the facts. And then use common sense and listen to your baby and your own heart. You'll be just fine.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Isn't she just the bee's knees?

Marie has recently turned from a toddler into a little girl. She is twenty-one months old, only turns two at the end of November. And yet - girl. I give you exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F and G:
  • Exhibit A: She told me this morning that she wanted salami and celeriac salad sandwiches for breakfast. Unprompted, and very clearly.
    She has conversations on the phone. Which make sense.
    In the car the other day she said she wanted to walk on the street, not go in the buggy, but she would be good and hold my hand. She didn't only tell me this, she then did as she said.
  • Exhibit B: She does this without any help:

  • Exhibit C: She tells me what she did during her day at the creche. In detail.
    For example: Went for walk, saw water, see no fish, fish were sleeping, wake fish up, give fish food.
    I love it.
  • Exhibit D: She is shunning this

    in favour of this

    It's positively inspirational watching her go up that rope ladder.

  • Exhibit E: She puts on her own shoes.
  • Exhibit F: She has been quite good on the potty, doing a little poo or pee song and dance each time she comes up with the goods.
  • Exhibit G: She is a little translation dictionary. She will say "Mama says aap, daddy says monkey", "Mama says kaas, daddy says cheese" and so on.
Have I mentioned before that my children are fucking geniuses, and that I am their very objective and not at all boastful mother?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Golf and stars

I'm not feeling too coherent today so here's an incoherent post.
  • Can I just say to anyone out there - if you don't have one already, GET A HOBBY! I was out with someone today (I'm not saying who, but I'll give you a hint - she gave birth to me) and she was a different person. Which she attributed to her taking up golf. I'm now thinking of taking up golf.
  • You know I've been wondering about raising kids, and how praise can be problematic. Today, I saw some evidence at first hand. Jack doesn't want to close his school bag's clasps any more and he also doesn't want to take in a snack for at break time, because that way he may be first to empty his bag in the morning and then he may get another star on his chart. (Fifty stars and he gets to choose a present.)
    That boy is obsessed with those stars, how to get them, and how to lose them. He knows exactly how many stars each of the seventeen children in his class have. Now that is a problematic use of praise. Compared to that, I'm doing fine. Just a shame his teacher is fucking him up now. Maybe I can get her to pay for his therapy.
  • I have a parcel from Amazon on the way. Which makes my whole week scented with delicious anticipation. Because I love books. And books love me.
Goodnight my lovely internet friends. I shall love you and leave you, but still love you during my absence.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Ten step plan update

So I'm coming back from the gym this morning, and I see this bee-ootiful woman, all long blonde hair with highlights, endless legs, big round pregnant belly, cigarette. Que? I don't get it. Priorities, baby.


Remember a little over a month ago, Babes was all "you're depressed" and I was all "I'm not depressed, it's just a blip" and you were all "yeah, what are you gonna do about that" and I was all "well, here's my ten step plan"? I said I'd do an update to say how it was going, and here it is: my ten step plan progress report.
    I've been getting to the gym more, and even when I haven't, my attitude has changed. I'm more likely to walk places or do energetic things, like cleaning. So that worked out well.
  2. Meditate more.
    I plead mother of young children with a louse infestation and an internet addiction, but I know that's not a very good excuse. Must do better.
  3. See An more.
    Have seen her a bit more. Small progress.
  4. See other friends more.
    I've cleverly stopped stressing about who likes me or who doesn't, which makes me less shy about ringing them up and arranging dates. I have also been saying yes to invitations more. All good.
  5. Take up yoga.
    I did, and loved it, and then there was the teacher fiasco. I haven't been back since. Must find out if they finally have a decent teacher again.
  6. More... (furiously bashful blushing.) Yes, Babes, I'm looking at you.
    No comment. Even for me, that's a blogging case of TMI. (Did you even think there was such a thing for me?)
  7. Find out if my stomach ache could be caused by my new-found love of mixed nuts. (More likely culprit being my new-found love of white wine.)
    Have cut out both nuts and white wine for a while. It's doing wonders. May reintroduce nuts once I locate a health food shop. (Belgians are not so hot on health food.)
  8. Drink less alcohol and more water.
    We haven't had beer in the house for about a month. Even though I attributed it all to my choc chip cookies, I think this may have helped my recent (small) weight loss. Bonus!
  9. Sleep more, get up earlier.
    Well, I didn't really have a choice about getting up earlier now school has started again. I am managing to cram a lot more into my day now, including exercise and cooking decent food.
  10. Get hair coloured, embrace curls.
    I am loving my new hair colour. The last time I had it done, I had some rather too-blonde streaks, which have now been covered up with a warm brown, resulting in brown hair with very subtle coppery streaks. Loving it. I've even been getting compliments.
    On embracing the curls, I think I must do a little preaching. It is the most liberating thing in the world, after years of trying to "tame" my hair into lying flatter, and having some kind of fashionable shape, to now go with exactly the way it is. I look different now, and more like myself. I like it. I don't know why I wanted to be "just like everyone else" for a while there. It doesn't suit me. The hair or the urge to blend in. I don't spend lots of time trying desperately to control my out of control hair any more (that's been replaced by the daily insertion of 1 (one) kirby grip (that's a bobby pin to the Americans out there). So I sometimes look a little crazy (especially in the rain or wind), I'm a lot happier so I'm keeping it this way. Even after I was asked at the school gates how come my hair had "exploded" lately. I think my preaching is not going so well. I may give it up and find a different calling.
Of course, my lovely regular readers already knew my ten step plan worked, because I already proclaimed my mojo well and truly back.

Friday, 18 September 2009

What's love got to do with it?

I've been struggling with this post since about fifteen minutes after I hit "publish" on my last one. I just can't get it straight in my mind. So I shall try to be methodical.

1. The hot topic?

I read this article in The New York Times: When a Parent's 'I Love You' Means 'Do as I Say'. Its point seems to be that if you heap praise on a child when they behave or do something really well, you may as well enroll them in therapy now, because they will be fucked up for life, feeling they never got unconditional love. In the author's own words:
praising children for doing something right isn't a meaningful alternative to pulling back or punishing when they do something wrong. Both are examples of conditional parenting, and both are counterproductive.

2. What is my problem with that?

Ehm, if the theory is correct, I would first of all like a refund on all those parenting books I have. Then I would like to ask "What's the alternative?" because while I'm willing to admit I may sometimes be a little on the controlling side, surely part of my job as a mother is to deliver fully functional human beings at the end of this ride. And praise sure does work.

3. How do I parent?

Parenting never came very naturally to me. The only thing I knew was I would do things differently. And in difficult situations, I would not
ignore - say something nasty - shout something nasty - lash out physically - the end.
After a lot of soul searching, therapy, and research, I came up with some rules for myself.
  1. Always be loving.
  2. Never intend to hurt.
I thought I'd best keep it simple.

To start with, these rules sufficed. As soon as the children were able to move themselves around, though, another problem arose: how to steer their behaviour? They must be kept away from the oven, be taught not to overturn the box of Krispies (that took a few attempts), not to hit other children, and so on. Simple love wasn't going to cut it.

I worried and read a lot about how to teach Jack (our poor guinea pig, being the first child) to behave without ever withholding love, for precisely the reason that he should never feel our love depends on what he does. So far, I thought I was doing ok. The main part of the plan is to give the children lots of positive attention all the time, and also to praise them when they're not misbehaving. When they do test the boundaries, I will talk to them and tell them not to. If necessary, I will add why. If they persists, there's a warning. After that, there's a time-out or punishment (like no dessert). I try to be matter-of-fact about it - not shout or get really wound-up (this doesn't always work). I also try to listen to their wishes and negotiate if possible.

This plan? Totally works. Of course, that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

4. Am I "using my love" to get my children to behave?

I think the author of this article confuses attention/praise with love. If you only say "I love you" when your child has just performed a little trick, I suppose you will make them think you only love them for their tricks. But children do see the difference between disapproval of naughty behaviour and not loving them. The other night, the children were testing me rather a lot while I was putting them to bed. Just before Jack jumped into bed he went too far and I told him he was not getting a treat the next day. Less than a minute later, though, we were cuddling and doing the rest of the night routine. He knows the difference.

I don't think love really comes into it. The children know I love them all the time. In fact, half the time I'm telling them what not to do, I will be using terms of endearment in the middle (equivalent to sweetie or dearest or somesuch). Jack tells me at length how much I love him, no matter what, forever, even if he's naughty or dead, and also when he wasn't born yet. (He likes to cover all his bases.)

I suppose time-outs do, in practice, mean that you withhold love. You put a physical distance between you and your child. All of a sudden, I'm not so sure about that one. On the other hand, a time-out is often for my sake as much as theirs. It allows me some cooling-off time as well as them.

5. What does the article say I should do?

Here's a quote:
In practice, [..] unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by "autonomy support": explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child's point of view.
Sure, wonderful, yes to all of the above. Only "encouraging"? How do you do that without praise or positive reinforcement? And also, that's all fine and dandy until they start hitting other children. How far do you go then in your "autonomy support"?

6. My conclusion

I think the author confuses approval/praise with love. As long as your children are clear you love them all the time, and just as much when they misbehave, there is nothing wrong with praise for good actions, and even the odd punishment or time-out for a bad one, if needed.

7. How about you?

I'd really LOVE to get some opinions on all this. What do you think? All this does not sit easily with me. I hated being a child because someone else was always calling the shots. Now I'm in charge, and I have two inmates at my mercy. I try to be fair and listen to their wishes, but ultimately I'm the boss. I'm a reluctant dictator, though, and I think that's why I'm so susceptible when some idiot comes by who tells me that I'm fucking up my children by telling them they're great. Sorry about the length of this post. This has really been on my mind. Please tell me what you're thinking. Especially if you disagree with me.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Princesses do not get lice

That was one fun-packed Wednesday afternoon we had yesterday. Wednesday is a half day in Belgian schools, leaving us free to go to the park, play in the garden, or... delouse all heads in the house.

Yeah, so that worked out well, that time when I ignored all advice and popular wisdom and decided not to repeat the lice treatment. Because surely I got them all and all their eggs the first time. Yeah, that came back to bite me in the arse. (Not literally, that would be a different kind of lice.) Of course, I'm blaming it all on An, because she claimed to have got away with just the one treatment. I should have listened to Ms. Moon. Obviously.

This delousing is not a one person job, especially not when there are three people to treat. Jack got them bad, Marie had a few, and the amount I cuddle them and have been itching lately I was not going to miss out my own hair. Of course this two person job was going to be done by... me. Bum. For those of you not familiar with the process, here are the steps I had to go through, times three, to get rid of these pesky animals:
  1. Put nit shampoo on hair.
  2. Massage and comb shampoo through hair.
  3. Leave to do its magic for 15 minutes. (I found a quicker one than last time's 45 minutes.)
  4. Rinse hair.
  5. Wash hair with normal shampoo.
  6. Rinse hair.
  7. Wash hair with normal shampoo.
  8. Rinse hair.
  9. Towel dry hair.
  10. Put in anti-louse balm.
  11. Leave to work for 5 minutes.
  12. Rinse hair.
  13. Towel dry hair.
  14. Comb hair with special comb soaked in vinegar-water solution, removing lice and eggs from comb after each stroke.
  15. Check each hair for remaining lice/eggs. Yes, that is each individual hair on each individual head.
This for THREE people, one of them being me. And the other two being five and one and a half. Zippitybloodydooda. Actually, Jack was good as gold, only complaining a little about the frequent rinsings. Marie not so much, but that was all my fault, because I cleverly decided to let her sleep after the whole ordeal, because any mother could tell you that substituting hair torture for nap time is a clever idea.

I did like the bonus act. There I was, sitting bent over on my knees, rinsing out my hair after the second wash, with Jack and Marie running around the bathroom with their hair full of anti-nit balm. For my fellow neurotics that would be me on step 8 and Jack and Marie both on step 11. I like to be clear. Both children came to me to tell me to "come have a look". It's lucky I went, because I found this little gem on the bathroom floor:

We don't have a dog. How I laughed.

I had left Marie naked because she needed to go back in the shower five minutes later. Apparently she went a little earlier. In the end, I didn't mind that much. It was pretty easy to clean up - one wet wipe, tossed in the toilet - and I didn't need to deal with a poo caked bum and a dirty nappy. In fact, from now on I may just let her loose naked in the bathroom twice a day.

(Isn't it interesting that in those extreme circumstances I ran downstairs to get the camera?)

During the combing and checking stages (14, 15), I gave the kids little boxes of raisins to eat so they would sit still. All of a sudden, Jack held up a raisin and asked: "Mama, how many lice in a raisin?" Great question.

Afterwards, I put Marie down for a nap. This left me to complete step 14 on myself. (Step 15 is obviously impossible to do on oneself so I miss that out by necessity.) Because I forgot to bring down a mirror and was not going to wake Marie to get one from upstairs, I ended up using the children's princess mirror to check my combing progress.

I've never felt less like a princess. Also I didn't find a single beasty on my own head, so I could have just treated the kids. And I'm still itching.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

My top 10 most satisfying guilty pleasures

(But I'm a lay-dee.)
  1. Eating raw, spiced, ground-up beef.
  2. Saying I'm off to pee (putting smallest child in playpen) but really taking a cup of tea upstairs for fifteen minutes with a good book.
  3. Sneaking pieces of cheese or salami (or both) from the fridge at regular intervals all night.
  4. Excreting a large poo easily, in one movement, being left with nothing to wipe on either butt or toilet bowl.
  5. In the shops, shielded by two clothes racks, finally stopping that awful embarrassing itch I've had for five excruciating minutes.
  6. Picking my nose in the morning and getting that long, connected, nearly dry bogey that starts at the bottom but is lightly attached at the top. (Embarrassing admission: I wrap a tissue around my finger because I'm such a dirtphobe - I can't even secretly pick my nose properly.)
  7. (With permission) slapping someone on the side of thigh so hard it makes a beautiful noise and leaves a red handprint.
  8. Putting one child in bed and one in front of a movie so we can have a Saturday afternoon "nap", in daylight, followed by an actual Saturday afternoon nap.
  9. Peeing in the shower.
  10. Squeezing out a large blackhead, in one go, painlessly. Not necessarily on myself. If not on myself, painlessness is optional.
It seems a lot of my favourite activities involve the removal of bodily substances. I will deny ever having written this.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Europop craziness!

The winter downy has come out of the wardrobe, the heating is back on. Time for some crazy Eurothrashy living room dancing. I've made sure they're all in English. If you're not in the mood for dancing, just have a glance at the craziness that is the first video. It is beyond madness. I love all these.

  1. Army of Lovers, Crucified
    Crazy crazy Swedish band. Special mention for the boobs.

  2. Europe, The Final Countdown
    Swedish. Special mention for the hair.
    This is my definite all time favourite choice to play five minutes before Armageddon. On repeat, just in case.

  3. Brainstorm, My Star
    Latvian. Special mention for crazy eyes, crazy dancing, crazy leg jiggling and stealing my heart. Only third in Eurovision 2000, but should have won that year.

  4. Alexander Rybak, Fairytale
    Norwegian Eurovision 2009 winner. Special mention for the acrobats, and the cute smiley violin playing boy.

  5. Ace of Base, All That She Wants
    Swedish great dancing song. Special mention for eminently catchy beat.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The night I suspected the world might be about to end

When I was at university, I had a little "trouble" with my religion. I was raised as a good little Catholic, with all the guilt that entailed. I sang in church choirs, was an altar girl. We went to church as a family every week.

Cracks started to appear when we moved to Scotland, and a lot of people there turned out to have a (marginally) different religion. Sure, I knew about different religions, but apart from the three Muslims and two Dutch protestants I'd ever known up close, there just wasn't a lot of diversity to be had in small town Belgium. It struck me as rather interesting, all these Scottish Christian factions all claiming to know the "one truth". All slightly different truths, of course.

Then I went to study at Cambridge, and that university sure has some very active religious organisations. Once word got around that I was a good prey for the evangelists, I would get visits from loonies volunteers trying to convert me to their particular cherry-flavoured "truth". I used to get long, hand-written letters full of bible quotations. I was taken to speeches by the prophet du jour. (I find it deliciously ironic that all these eager little overachieving nutcases were the ones that eventually broke what I had left of my faith.)

The main messages I was given through all this were:
  1. You can't be a good Christian if you're a Catholic.
  2. If you don't convert and accept blablabla [insert bubble gum truth], you are most likely going to hell very soon (oh, yes, the end of days is nigh) and it won't probably be all that much of a picnic. (There were graphic descriptions, designed to scare me off. Yes, they were that sick.)
(I have to give the Catholics their due - they are actually a relatively mellow organisation. Not too much hellfire and damnation, and not too much evangelizing going on any more.)

As part of my new religious education, I was given a little guide to how exactly I would be able to tell that the end was very near. I was told there would be complete darkness. Then a false prophet would come and say "hey dude I'm the real thing". I was under no circumstances to fall for this. Then there was some other stuff which I've erased from my memory because it was a) horrible, and b) ridiculous.

I used to sleep with the light on, worried about all kinds of biblical beasts and chariots. As if a lightbulb was going to make a difference. At least it meant that the complete darkness phase had not begun yet. I used to cry a fair bit, and worry about how painful exactly my eternity in hell was going to be.

Now I want to say a little in my defense. Even though I didn't really believe these people, I still listened to them for a while and went to a couple of these meetings. Why the hell did I not tell them to fuck off straightaway? Well, for a start I was seventeen, and indoctrinated plenty as a Catholic, so I was always a bit worried about how saved exactly my soul was. Also, there were some very persuasive, very smart people coming out with very well-researched (if completely wacky) arguments. I've always been a sucker for a new idea. I have a library upstairs with shelves of philosophy, non-fiction, and also religious books (of many kinds). I also want to do everything perfectly, including being a believer, if that's what I'm going to be. It's not much of an excuse, but it's the only one I've got.

Anyway, in the middle of this malarkey Babes and I went off for a holiday with my family. We were in the South of France, in a cottage on a beach, which is part of a bay. We had barbecues and windsurfing lessons - very idyllic. One night, Babes and I were lying in bed, chatting a little, when the lights went off. Because the place was pitch black, and I was scared in the dark, we went outside to the beach. The whole of the bay was also completely dark. The electricity had gone off in the whole town, so there wasn't a single light. Not even a barbecue. I was starting to get a bit nervous now, but I tried to stay calm as we went to find Babes' torch, which was in our room. When he finally found it and turned it on, the bulb blew. This was when I rejoiced in his nerdiness, because he had a spare bulb in his bag. He screwed in this spare bulb, which also blew. Sitting in complete darkness, I panicked. This is when I told him "If a prophet comes and tells you he's Christ come back to save you, promise me you won't believe him. It's probably a false prophet."

Friday, 11 September 2009

Lost in translation (Can you tell he's bilingual?)

Jack came home singing the "cool" playground song. (The Belgian Junior Eurosong entry. Apparently it's not sufficient to ban that kind of drivel at home.)

"Sherrep! Sherrep!
[in Dutch:] Happiness exists but not for us
[in Dutch:] It's over! It's over!
Sherrep! Sherrep!"
Me: Are you sure it's "sherrep"?
J: Yes. I learned it from my friends.
M: What does it mean?
J: [silence]
M: It's "Shut up", it's English. Do you know what it means?
J: Kop dicht? [Very good translation, actually - same level of rudeness, which is hard to achieve.]
M: Very good. That's how the song actually goes. You know not to sing that when your daddy's around, right?
J: Okay.
"Shut up! Sherrep!
[in Dutch:] Happiness exists but not for us
[in Dutch:] It's over! It's over!
Sherrep! Sherrep!"
M: *sighs*

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Feeding the cold

I'm 95% liquid snot today and my throat hurts. First cold of the school year has entered the house. It took more than a week, so I'm not complaining. Pass me the tissues.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Dreaming wild

I woke up with that feeling that my breath is too big for my body. I'm awkward, a bit snappy. It took forever to get ready and out of the door.

I know the reason. You'd think at 32 - no - but there it was again - that dream, about that boy. For good measure, it was even mixed up with that dream about school toilets.

I say that dream but only the theme is constant, the cruel embellishments new every time. Try as it might to disguise itself, I instantly recognise my old foe.

The boy: forever 15, me forever 14. We are in the same class. He doesn't even notice me. I think he is the universe. You can reach out and touch my longing. It hangs heavy in the air. It makes me cumbersome. I behave like an idiot. I get in his way, try to act cool. I fail miserably. There is a deep, deep sense of inferiority. I never once entertain the possibility of returned affections.

The toilets: they are always dirty, they are always multiple. There is no place to hide, I have to go. For once, there was blood involved. For once, they were not school toilets. Away at some camp, they were barn toilets, neatly increasing the filth horror factor.

I am emotional and unstable today.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The ultimate diet tip

I finally this morning cracked that magical barrier of 74 kg. (Shut up, I'm very tall and I have big bones.) I'd been stuck at that weight for many months now. So when I saw the elusive weight of 73.5 kg appear on the scales (babysteps, babysteps), I tried to figure out what I'd changed in my diet in the last few days.

The only thing I could come up with are these:

Nigella's choc chip cookies. They are delicious. And easy to make! And apparently the ultimate diet food. In spite of being half butter, half sugar, half chocolate. (Yes, I have a maths degree. Why do you ask?) They are so heavy, though, and HUGE. I have been scoffing these ever since I made them two days ago.

My second ever time baking and I stumble upon the holy grail of dieting.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Rambling post filled with musings on motherhood, in which I start off pinpointing my perceived failings, and then end up being all mushy

At the school gates, my children are often met with pitying stares and sideways glances. There are so many ways in which I fall short as a mother, it's a miracle those poor mutts have made it this far. (Our recent infestation with head lice didn't help matters, I tell you.)

I shall give you a little list of my main failings as a parent:
  • Baths/showers are given as needed, and otherwise twice a week. I do not get this obsession with daily baths. My kids get their faces, hands, butts washed all the time, but apart from that? NOT NECESSARY, people. It's not like little kids get smelly or anything. In fact, they smell at their best a couple of days after they bathe because that's when you can smell that lovely little kid smell instead of soap.
  • I (gasp) take my youngest to the creche two days a week. So I can do things FOR MYSELF. Like go to the gym. Or take a nap. Or poop without being shouted for all the time. I don't even go out to work! The scandal!
    (Marie loves the creche, gets to see lots of kids, asks to go.)
  • My son takes in packed lunches most days. Has done since he was two and a half. I am at home, one street away, and I do not collect him for lunch. Unfit mother!
    (Jack likes to play with his friends, especially now he has to sit still more the rest of the time. Coming home to mummy is nowhere near as entertaining as the latest Spiderman-inspired role play.)
Actually, I don't know why I'm defending myself, even now. I know I'm doing ok. Other people may look and see me doing things differently, but I haven't done any of these things without serious thought for the children's wellbeing, ... well as my own. I think a lot of the mothers who judge me for these perceived cruelties often forget to think of themselves. I do take some time for myself to work out, go get my hair coloured, see friends. All these things keep me sane. And I'm sure they make me a better mother. When for some reason I get no time for myself for a few weeks, I know I'm a worse mother for it.

It's still a miracle to me, in fact, how this mothering thing is working out. Growing up, I was always told that my sister was "the little mother" and that I was good at studying. The implication was always that I would probably be a career woman, while my sister would end up being much better at taking care of people. My sister did, incidentally, end up very good at taking care of people. But, miraculously, so did I! It was only after I stopped assuming my happiness would lie in some shining career, and I embraced motherhood, that I came into my own.

I really feel motherhood is "my thing". The love, which I was so scared to never be able to even find in myself, nevermind spread around, came so very easily. I often wonder about this. Maybe it's precisely because I was never told I was "a litte mother" and I was never the babysitter or asked to change a nappy, maybe that is exactly the reason why I now love this role so much. There were never any expectations on me, least of all from myself. And then it turns out we all do fine. I've kept them alive so far. I make some mistakes, but then I fix them. They're happy, they're healthy, they're clever and (relatively) well-behaved. I so expected to fuck this up. I suppose there's still plenty of time for that. :-)

I realise I don't write about the kids that much on this blog. It's not that I don't spend that much time with them (I do, a lot) and it's not that I don't like them (I do, a lot). I think it may just be that this is something I do for me, and is therefore more about me than about them. It's what I do when I'm not with them playing, feeding, bathing (ha!) or reading books.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Happy Saturday

Some of the reasons I am very happy this Saturday (as if I needed a reason now I have my mojo back):
  • We went for a long forest walk, just the four of us. Sticks and acorns to play with. Hares running across the fields. The cutest baby pony ever. Really, I'd never seen a baby pony before. I suppose I could have imagined how cute that would be, if I had ever entertained the thought, but I was completely astounded. Shame I didn't take my camera.
  • We all had an afternoon nap. I know I sound like I'm ninety or something, but mass naps always make my day better.
  • I made chicken and sweetcorn (and anything else lying around) chowder, which everyone eats so happily and always compliments me on, which makes it happy food for me.

  • Marie is doing very well potty training.
  • And, last but not least: THAT kiss. Bloody hell! Last night, we were watching the one of the episodes of series seven of the West Wing. I LOVE love LOVE the West Wing, but I haven't got into the final series so much. I was going to watch all of it, though, because of my serious love of the characters. Was I ever rewarded. Josh! Donna! My head is still giving off steam, and it's been nearly twenty-four hours since I saw it. I rewound and watched it again straightaway. We are watching some more tonight. I so hope to get me another fix of that.
Happy Saturday one and all!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Do a little dance with me

People, I finally have my mojo back. It feels delicious. I cleaned a couple of rooms yesterday. I voluntarily bought potatoes this morning. To peel, and cook. I should do a little dance. I will do a little dance as soon as I finish writing this post. I shall sing a little song while I do a little dance.

The cause of all this mojofulness causes me a little guilt, but not enough to lose said mojo again: the holidays are over! We have routine, structure, and, last but not least, I have my precious little time to myself back. For six hours every Monday and Friday I get to do whatever the hell I want. This may well include food shopping and house cleaning, but at least it's on my terms, and in complete solitude.

I know it sounds terrible. All year I bitch and moan about not getting to spend enough time with Babes, having to get up so early in the morning, this country being so bloody grey and cold. Then the holidays are there, and I rejoice, I really do, because I love my family and I love the heat and I love travel and I want to be doing exciting things, but really I feel like climbing the walls a lot of the time. In truth, I think the weekends are for exciting things, and during the week I will have my nice little predictable life, thank you very much. A life which I am, incidentally, in charge of. I call the shots, and me alone, until about seven in the evening, when I'm tired of shot calling anyway so I'm happy to hand over the shot callsheet to Babes.

A lovely side effect of all this mojo is that I am getting more inspired. Today, I had about five topics to pick from for this post. The last couple of weeks I'd been digging for a topic most days, tearing my hair out until I finally had one.

This is four days into the school year. Things can only get better from here. How is your mojo level today?

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Right paw forward

I caught myself doing it again this morning: Marie was eating her cereal with the spoon in her left hand, and even without thinking about it I moved it to her right hand. The whole situation just looked wrong. Now I have nothing against left-handed people, but I so seem to have a deep-seated desire to have right-handed children. Perhaps it's just something like hoping they will like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or that they will never wear shoulder pads. Would this desire be nature of nurture? Do I just want my children to be just like me, on a kind of instinctive level, or have I been subconsciously infected by society's discriminatory behaviour towards left-paws?

I don't know why I'm so keen on my children being right-handed. I always think it looks wrong somehow when someone writes with their left. I have to say, though, I look at this completely differently since I saw Obama writing with his left hand. Because he is my secret boyfriend. He can do no wrong. There is definitely nothing unattractive about him. So ever since, I think left-handed people must have been quite sexy all along.

In my family, nearly everyone is right-handed. Babes and his dad are ambidextrous, but opted to write and use scissors with their right hands because it's just easier. I'd quite like it if the kids were ambidextrous, too, so I suppose I should stop interfering and just let them get on with it. It just looks wrong, though.

What do you think? Are you left-handed? Do you do the same with your kids? Do you think I'm a controlling bitch who should never have been allowed to have children in the first place?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Cherry pie

Our supermarket is being renovated. This is taking about ten months at least. I'm not taking poetic license here. It's been going on for a few months now and will last until at least Christmas. They are doing it in between the shoppers, so half the car park is gone, and there are ladders in the aisles. I cannot imagine a shop revamp taking this long anywhere else in the world. It's not even a big supermarket. But nevermind. That really deserves a rant all of its own, and that's not today's chosen topic.

What is then, Mwa, I hear you ask. And I shall tell you.

They have rearranged the toiletries, and now the "female hygiene products", pregnancy tests and ovulation tests are right opposite the nappies and in between the wet wipes, baby toothbrushes and tiny pajamas.  There should be a law against such inconsiderateness. I am considering writing a letter to the shop management. I would have done so already, had I not thought it may just be a temporary change.

This sheer stupidity brought back to me a lovely little custom at my old school. Some colleague had got it into her tiny neutron size brain that newly pregnant women should bring in cherry pies. These pies were left in the staff room and anyone who came in would (wait for it...) guess (!) who was pregnant. This was such a lovely custom. This being a school, most of the staff were young women. I can't even begin to guess how many of them were trying to conceive. I know I had been for more than a year. I also had an ectopic pregnancy that year which was removed in hospital. I can tell you it was a barrel of laughs, walking in on bloody cherry pie every three weeks or so, and then being asked by several colleagues if I was pregnant. Friggin' hilarious.

Oh, and I hate cherry pie.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


So we dropped Jack off this morning, looking all clean and new in his uniform. We were up far too early so we actually managed to get there on time. He was very quiet and not quite himself.

Most days, he will take in a packed lunch, but today he insisted I collect him for lunch. He was even quieter. Apparently, he was terribly bored. He told me they read the word "ik" ("I") all morning. They wrote only the "i" part. He didn't like that very much. I told him to give it a few days, but I can feel we're in trouble. I'd been expecting trouble.

(Warning: this is where I start to brag a lot about my child. You may want to click away.)

School starts at age two and a half in Belgium. Before Jack went to school in January two and a half years ago, he could count to twenty-five, sing songs comprising several verses, do twenty piece jigsaws. In that first class, they gave him four piece jigsaws and then told me he seemed to not like doing them. They also aimed to be counting to two by the end of the year.

By September, he had been tested and skipped a grade. Socially, this was much better. He loved playing and made a lot of friends. However, he was still bored by most activities on offer. They were counting to six now.

Last year, he taught himself to read and write. He's not fluent at all, but he knows what to do. He knows how to count to a gazillion in principle, but also knows it's not very doable in practice (oh, the long car journeys). He has taught himself the basics of arithmetic. He asks the odd question to fill in the gaps in his knowledge and goes from there.

Now he's sitting in a class, probably being taught 1+1. Yesterday, he told me exactly how much I needed to spend in the shop if he was to get five sets of Pixar cards. He adds and subtracts prices in Euros and cents. He is going to be so BORED.

They do have a program at his school which offers extra activities to those kids who are ahead, but that's only on a Wednesday. There has been some vague talk of offering extra activities in class. I don't want to come across as pushy (even though I am) but I want to speak to his teacher as soon as possible about what's being done for him. Okay, so that will look pushy. So be it. I'm on the case.

So, today I am fretful and worried. But oh so proud of my big boy, going all by himself to his big new school.


Straight after writing that, Marie did her first poo on her potty! She went to the "big class" at creche yesterday, and apparently saw some of the bigger children use the potties and twigged. Between the rain and the worry, good surprise indeed.

(I know I will be writing the same kind of post about Marie in years to come. She's twenty-one months and counts to ten in two languages. Okay, I'm done bragging now. Resume your activities.)