Thursday, 29 September 2016

Milestone Cards for Teenagers

Have you seen those milestone cards that people buy when they have babies?  The ones that you photograph with the baby, and then post to Facebook each time the baby reaches a new milestone (and let's face it, there are hundreds of those when babies are all new).

Well, I'm a bit envious.  Not of the babies (I'm totally done there), but of the milestones and the photos.

The thing is, there are all these cool things you can do nowadays to record such moments with a baby, but as children get older there is nothing.  And judging by my photo collection these days there is a distinct lack of photos of my teenagers all of a sudden.

So much so, that I'm going to have forgotten what their beautiful faces look like at this rate.

So, I've concluded that there is a gap in the market.  What if someone made milestone cards for parents of teenagers?  There are hundreds of proud moments for us too, let me tell you.  It's just that nobody thinks to record them. 

So if anyone should decide to take this project further, I've made a small selection of cards for the types of things that us mums and dads of teenagers might like to remember, based on some of the recent events in our household.

You'll have to imagine the teenagers - they aren't keen on posing with these for some reason?  I still think I could bribe them with a fiver but dh won't let me it will catch on eventually.  Give it time.

Here they are.  

1.  Because nobody ever forgets their first time...

2.  No more whiffy feet.  Who knew clean socks were the key?

3.  The stuff dreams are truly made of.

4.  I had forgotten the teenagers could still do this.  You might have to be quick with the camera to capture it though.

5.  It's a shame that teen girl used my tweezers (which she then lost) but I have to agree, the eyebrows did look especially 'on fleek' that day.

6.  This was a proud moment for me. It's usually like a digital tsunami in our house when the WiFi goes wrong.

7.  To paraphrase Adele, 'hello from the inside, I must have text a thousand times'... Replies are an amazing achievement.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are hundreds more exciting achievements just waiting to be recorded all over social media by parents of teens.  What about the day you first meet their boyfriend/girlfriend?  The day they use the washing machine on their own for the first time? The day they do their first GCSE resit after vastly underestimating the importance of the exam score the first time round.  Before you know it you'll have an album on Facebook full of all these special moments to be cherished forever.

As I say this idea is not really a new one.  But I think this particular adaptation is rather unique.  So unique that it will probably be on Kickstarter by the end of the day.  Or there's always Dragon's Den*.

Who knows, I might even make enough money to buy some better WiFi or replace the tweezers that the teen girl lost.

That would be excellent.

*  I bet Deborah Meaden would still be out.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Tips for Parents of Year 7s

An interesting hashtag on Twitter caught my eye this evening.  #TipsForYear7s.

A long list of helpful and not so helpful things for starting out at high school.  Some of them were quite witty actually.  I especially liked "you are already behind on your art coursework". If only my teens had known that three or four years ago.  

But, what about us parents?  I wish someone had come up with some tips for me when my eldest son started high school.  I remember that it was a bit... overwhelming.  To say the very least.

Well, fear not, people with new secondary school starters, for I have been there (twice over!) and my third child is about to start high school with his brother and sister this very week.  Maybe I could be that person with the tips?

So I thought I'd have a stab at writing a list so that anyone about to embark on this very weird and scary time (for you, not them obvs. They will breeze it).  Here we go.

1.  On the morning of their first day, when they put on the uniform that you bought from the school suppliers about 8 weeks ago for fear of them running out, you will hope and pray that your child hasn't suddenly grown 2ft in height during the summer holiday and that the thing still fits.

2.  Even if they have, they will still look too little and scared to be wearing it.  A bit like when Tom Hanks turns back into a child at the end of "Big".

3.  School lunch boxes are for babies.  Under no circumstances must their lunch go anywhere near Tupperware of any kind.  In fact, let them buy their lunch, it's way cooler (although will probably comprise of a chocolate muffin and a plate of chips).

4.  You must not go anywhere near the school gates whatsoever.  If you have to drop them off, best to do that a couple of streets away and let them walk with their mates.  The school gate is no longer your domain *punches air*

5.  Expect them to have done "nothing" and spent time with "no one" for the whole of their first day (and beyond).  It's a lot like they've turned back into a five year old in this respect. Roll with it.  Just like when they were five, it very rarely is true.

6.  They will inhale the contents of your fridge when they return because they are "starving".  Also, their feet will ache from all the walking they've had to do to each lesson.  Despite the fact that the school is only two streets away and didn't look that big to you when you visited it, they will claim to have walked for miles.  In their heads they have (but don't worry, they get used to it quite quickly).

7.  Don't ignore the fact that you need to sign their homework planner and agree to the rules too.  Do it as soon as they shove it under your nose.  If you forget then they are the ones who get the warning/detention not you! *speaks from bitter experience*. Also, don't sign letters without reading them properly first.  Before you know it you'll have signed you child up for an £1100 Home Economics trip to the Ukraine or similar. There are non compulsory trip letters like this every week.

8.  When they get their first piece of homework to do, it is fairly tempting to help them so that theirs is the best (isn't it obvious that they are the cleverest and destined for top set?  Didn't the teacher see the SATs marks?). Don't.  They'll be getting about five pieces of homework a week and it really is best if you let them get on with it themselves rather than relying on your help (you will not be able to do the Maths homework anyway, don't even try!) otherwise you'll be doing GCSE coursework again before you know it. 

9.  They have had a tight knit group of friends all the way through primary school, possibly since preschool even.  By the end of the first month they might not be friends anymore.  They may have fallen out.  Kids change and no matter how shocking this is, they will make new friends.  They will change friends all the time in fact.  It will all level out a bit once their hormones settle down.  In about Year 11.

10.  Oh, one more thing.  You know that uniform list that you carefully went through and bought all of? (Even the really expensive P.E. Kit when you weren't sure that three different types of top and both football and AstroTurf boots were really necessary?). After their first P.E. lesson you discover that you could have avoided all the cost entirely as they only need a polo shirt, a pair of tracksuit bottoms and some trainers.  I still have a micro fleece training top, several pairs of shorts, white sports socks, a never worn pair of football boots and a gum shield that we never got round to fitting.  Thank goodness the sports department never got back to me with a price for a rugby shirt or else we'd own one of those too.  What can I say?  They were on the list!  Another note: schools very rarely update the uniform lists.

fig. 1. Before aftermarket customisations.

So there you are.  A potted guide to being the parent of a secondary school going child.  And the most important thing?  Always snap a picture of them while they look smart in their uniform (because it's going to be the last time they wear it as it's supposed to be worn, without the "aftermarket" customisations, see fig. 1) and have a tissue handy because you will have a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.  Your child is about to embark on the final stages of their school career and it all feels a bit scary.  That bit never really changes.

Good luck and welcome to secondary school!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Nine Circles of Summer Holiday Hell

This blog has totally gone on the backburner this summer, while dealing with five children and the school holidays has pulled me further away from doing the things I'd normally do.

At the start of the holiday this didn't worry me.  I have done this a million times before (OK, about ten or eleven, but who's counting?), and I know how it goes.  Initial euphoria as school breaks up for the next seven weeks, followed by the realisation that seven weeks is a bloody long time to entertain everyone for, and the certainty that once the end is in sight I will be too exhausted and broke to care anymore.

This summer has been a bit of a disaster if I'm being honest.  What is it that people say about the best laid plans?  Well, mine have definitely gone awry and we've settled into a kind of groundhog day-like routine that has become my own kind of hell.

And Dante was right, hell does indeed have nine circles, and this summer holiday has been no exception.  So just in case you have been lucky enough to bypass this yourselves, here they are for you enjoyment.

1.  Children's Television (Limbo)

After the early excitement of having so much time on your hands, followed by a brief interlude of wholesome and worthy parent-led activities, it's normal to turn to the electronic babysitters to facilitate some downtime. Unfortunately what I'd forgotten about this (the luxury of child-free days now my lot are all at school) is that everything is on a loop.  A bloody long, mind-numbingly annoying loop.  Of cartoons.  If this was like watching every series of say, House (Mmm, Hugh Laurie's piercing blue eyes...) back to back, then it would be perfectly acceptable (oh, yes!).  Instead it's more like a box set style assault on the senses. A terrible, colourful, loud assault.  Oh, and it includes Scooby Doo (yes, they still really do show that).

Come, stand in the sweaty pit of balls while taking a photo.

2.  Soft Play and other "fun" days out (Lust)

When you are a parent, you might dream of all the wonderful days out you are going to have with your children "making memories".  What happens when it's raining (usually week two of the holidays) is that in the quest for memory making you'll be tempted to enter the greasy pit of despair known as Soft Play.  All you lust after is some hot coffee and an hour where your kids are jumping all over something that isn't your own soft furnishings at home.  What you get is two hours of being begged for fruit shoots, taking children to the toilet, and chasing them round the pit of stinking balls (you even have to stand in it FFS *boak*).

See, they'd all bogged off here, leaving me behind, shouting.  FML.

What's that?  Oh the weather's better?  Then you best head for a National Trust place and make those memories! (finally).  Except when you get there the kids are all so crazy on sunshine and fresh air that they run off in opposite directions, so you spend a large amount of time shouting for them to return thus destroying the peace and calm that you hoped to enjoy.  You lose your temper and go home.  Never mind. You've never liked their tea shops and homemade cakes anyway (oh, tea, lovely hot tea... *sigh*). You have taken some pictures for the Insta-sham though, so you can pretend it was good.

3.  Food, food and more food (Gluttony)

As the holidays get fully underway you may notice that there is one place that you seem to spend more time in that anywhere else.  Your kitchen.  Why am I always feeding people?  Why is everyone so hungry all the time? Are these Velociraptors or children?  Can walking barefoot over the crumb-ridden floor be classed as a pedicure? These are all the types of questions you may ask yourself. Then, to add insult to injury, the teenagers (who seem to be able to manage to fetch their own food - bonus!) open the fridge, roll their eyes and exclaim "why is there never anything good to eat in this house?".  Yes, it's time to move onto the next circle in your trek to the center of summer holiday hell.

I never usually buy these, except for when six year olds come shopping with me

4.  Supermarket shopping with children (Greed)

Normally supermarket shopping would involve a swift visit, list in hand, for some everyday essentials and would cost less than the annual GDP of a small country.  When you have to take your children shopping in the holidays the following will happen instead.  You'll forget the list.  In fairness you won't need this anyway as six year olds are remarkably good at "reminding" you of what you really need to replenish your kitchen cupboards with.  This includes seven types of biscuits, Pom Bears, cola and an ungodly amount of sweets. Oh, and a comic.  As you wander round the aisles, desperately trying to remember why you came here in the first place while attempting to herd your children away from yet another Shopkins display, you look down at the almost unrecognisable contents of your shopping trolley and consider that it might have been easier (and cheaper) to attempt shopping with a couple of baby goats in tow.  Then, as you finally leave, they all have a meltdown because you won't buy them Pokemon cards.  Aces.

5.  Back to school Shoe Shopping (Wrath)

Almost as soon as the school run becomes a distant memory, you suddenly realise that it's time to replace the school shoes of every one of your children.  Rats.  So off to the shoe shop you trudge, reluctant shoe shop hating offspring following, with only one aim.  A pair of shoes in the correct size and style for at least one child. Let me tell you, the wrath of several mothers all arguing in Clarks over a single pair of Lexie Jo (Inf) in an 11E fitting is not to be underestimated.  Even if you manage to claim your prize, you are bound to discover that the shop has nothing suitable for the other children until their next delivery comes in, either that or there is just this one pair - which happen to cost £48.  That's without V.A.T? (sadly I'm not even kidding). As I say, Wrath.

Boom!  I am the best at shoe shopping.  See my Lexie Jo (Inf) size 11 and weep.

6.  Never ending questions (Heresy)

So seven weeks with five children ranging in ages produces some interesting discussions as the boredom sets in.  From the constant "can I haves" and "can you get me" to teenage disagreements and their complete inability to see things your way (the correct way obvs.) and argue back at any cost.  People talk about loving their houses filled with chatter and laughter in the holidays but my house has just been filled with people asking something of me every minute of the day (usually something I don't like, agree with or want to do). It's not fun, it's just bleeding well NOISE.

7.  Sibling Fighting (Violence)

It's fair to say, where there are siblings there will be fighting.  This is probably one of the most inevitable parts of any school holiday, but with seven weeks filled with rows ranging from "she's looking at me!" to actual hand to hand combat over who's turn it is on the XBox, it can make you feel a bit on the edge.  Options for coping with this include leaving them to it and hiding in the kitchen with a family sized pack of Picnics or you could just use the distraction to get on with some of the other exciting holiday jobs you have to do...

8.  Labelling uniforms (Fraud)

One woman, fifty plus items of uniform and a set of sew in name tapes.  There are more difficult things to deal with, surely?  Well no.  After the first three name tapes take you nearly an hour you realise that your fingers are bleeding (never been very good with needles), your neck hurts and you have a dead leg from kneeling on the floor for so long surrounded by the sea of uniform.  So, out comes the Sharpie.  Your old friend.  This speeds the process up no end, but you know that ultimately you will lose half of the uniform as the pen will wash out eventually, or you'll have to sit down at half term and do it all again.  Oh well, at least you've freed up some time for your final descent into hell...

9.  Holiday homework (Treachery)

Who knew that schools set homework over the holidays these days?  Not only did it come as a bit of a shock to me that there would be no let up from reading schemes, holiday diaries and Spanish vocab practice but it seems that my kids forgot too.  "Have you done your homework?" I ask the teen girl.  "Oh yes mum, in fact I have hardly any this summer" came the reply.  And so I believed her.  Until the tsunami-like bedroom turning over incident, where she couldn't find the actually very important GCSE coursework prep sheet explaining in quite great detail what she needed to do this summer.  With less than a week to go.  It makes me wonder if there is any point in believing anything they tell me at all.

And there we have it.  I've reached the center (or the end?) of hell.  I may be down, but I'm not out.  And the good news is that I can at least escape.

And how did Dante escape from the center of hell?  By climbing down Satan's ragged fur, which sounds a bit grim if you ask me.  Fortunately it's a bit easier to escape holiday hell when you are a mum at the end of her tether.

You just have to wait for the sign.  The universal sign of freedom that signals an end to this madness.

Bingo!  There it is.  The universal sign for parental escape.

For as soon as the Parentmail pings into your inbox you know that you've made it through to the other side. Another year.  Another not so perfect summer holiday.  But, next year will be better.  I'm sure.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Family Walk Fail

Ah, the holidays.  Plenty of family time to be had, and time to use that National Trust membership that we took out in January and haven't bothered with since.

So last week with DH on a few days leave from work we decided to do just that.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love the National Trust and the places around here are particularly picturesque and provide a really good distraction for a few hours here and there.  We are very very lucky to have them.

Except, there never has yet been a visit without someone moaning about something.

You know the kind of scenario I'm talking about, don't you?  The kind where everyone else is having a really great time, bar one child who is moaning and grumbling.  ALL. THE. TIME.

To be quite honest, with five children I'm so used to this now that my hearing has become a little selective.

This is not always a good thing, as I realised when I snapped this picture of Twin Boy half way round Hare Hill near Alderley Edge, where we had mostly been having a lovely walk (apart from his whinging).

The poor child.  I should have never let him put his wellies on by himself.  No wonder he was finding walking a bit tricky...


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

How to #HartleysYourLunchbox

I don't know about you, but for me one of the nicest things about the school holidays is not having to think about making packed lunches for a few weeks.

Having been the family packed lunch maker for the past 11 years, it's all started to get a bit tedious of late, I mean, how many cheese and ham sandwiches can one mum make before she goes totally and utterly insane?

So, as Britmums has teamed up with Hartley's for the #HartleysYourLunchbox Challenge, I decided to get my thinking cap on and share my tips for making back to school lunchboxes* for this coming term.

As I was taking part in the challenge, Hartley's very kindly sent us over a nice new lunchbox complete with stickers, and some samples of their No Added Sugar Jelly Pots to try to make the task a bit easier for me.

Hartley's are also offering consumers a chance to claim their own lunchbox and sticker set by collecting 12 special edition green lids from pots of No Added Sugar Jelly (115g).  Once all 12 have been collected all you have to do is head to their website to claim.  They are such cute lunchboxes and very reminiscent of the one I had when I started school (so retro, not old) and would make the perfect first school lunchbox.

Twin girl set to work with the stickers and lunchbox straight away and did a stirling job personalising the box ready to take to school.

The twins are currently entitled to free school meals still as they are only in Year 2 this year, but having had them for the past two years now they are really looking forward to a packed lunch or two, so I have decided this year that I'll let them take an occasional one every now and again.

This will mean making 5 packed lunches some mornings and so my tips for lunchbox making largely revolve around speed and ease of putting them all together, while trying to keep a healthy balance.

Wraps are much easier to make than sandwiches I find.  Not only can I put their favourite ham/cheese fillings inside but I can sneak a bit of salad in too and then wrap it up so that nobody really notices it - good for fussy children who rarely eat veg.

For the non sandwich eaters I include a tub of crackers/breadsticks and houmous and some carrot and cucumber for dipping.

I always include one portion of fruit in the kids' lunch.  Bananas and apples are easy, but for the children who won't eat those I do wedges of melon (you can slice, wrap and store in the fridge overnight), grapes, or if there is nothing fresh in the house, my cupboard standby of raisin boxes.

I allow one sweet thing in their lunches every day. This can be a prepacked biscuit or cereal bar, a piece of homemade cake/flapjack or a yogurt.  I do worry about the sugar content, which is why I was so pleased that the kids gave the Hartleys No Added Sugar Jelly Pots a big thumbs up when they tried them.  Those are now going on my shopping list for September too!

Lastly, I try to include something savoury.  This could sometimes be crisps or even a small bag of cheese crackers.  These often get eaten at break time when they are running around outside, so it has to be something that is pre-packed which limits my choices somewhat.

Aside from that, they all have a refillable water bottle which they can fill up at school during the day if they need more.

That's it really.  Easy for those of us that are too exhausted and sleep deprived busy in the mornings for anything more complicated, and a bit more exciting than cheese on sliced white bread!

This post is an entry for Britmums #HartleysYourLunchbox Linky Challenge sponsored by Hartley's Jelly 

* my teenagers would like me to note that they in no way shape or form have a lunchbox of any kind, because that is not dank/on fleek/swag or whatever.  The lunch just goes in your schoolbag OK? (but they are quite partial to jelly also)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Teenager In Training

It's been ages since I last joined in with #WickedWednesdays over with Brummy Mummy of 2.  The holidays seem to be going, not quite at a rate of knots, but it is going quite swiftly I suppose, or maybe I'm finally immune to the 6 weeks of kids droning on about how bored they are every five minutes.

Anyway, a few things have been happening in the past month chez Sounding Like My Mother.  In particular boy number two celebrated his 11th birthday and left Primary School all in the space of a couple of weeks! We marked the occasion by giving him his very own smartphone to which he has been glued pretty much ever since.

With it now being the holidays he has also been disappearing out for hours at a time with various school friends which is a bit of a new thing.  Always accompanied by "I'm going out now mum, I've got my phone!". It's all good.

Especially when he texts me to let me know that he's on his way home.  At least, that's what I think he was saying here...

Damn you autocorrect!  Something tells me he needs a little more practise with that phone!


Monday, 8 August 2016

Negative Nora

Have you met Negative Nora?  She's a new friend, who comes out with me when I go running.  Which would be fine, except she doesn't like running much, or rather, she doesn't like me running very much.

Every time I set out just lately she appears with absolutely no warning.  "You can't do this" she shouts.  "You are exhausted, stop!".

Nora makes me wonder why I run.  Why do I bother, when I know I'm not really getting any better at it?

She is also really good at interpreting my parkrun times. "What do you think you are doing here?  See all these people, they have club vests.  They are proper runners.  Not like you.  You can't run fast, just look at your time from last week.  You can't run well.  This is why you are injured.  Maybe you should walk it today instead?  Oh, and start at the back where you belong."

I think she may have a point.  So, every week I position myself somewhere near the back.

Nora doesn't just appear when I run.  Sometimes she visits me at home.  Like a good friend popping in for a cuppa.

"Oh, haven't you done any housework this week?  That's a big pile of laundry, why haven't you ironed it?  What about your children, it's the holidays, shouldn't you be taking them out somewhere?"

Nora likes Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.  She likes all the people there with beautiful homes, people who take their children on fabulous holidays and people who are actually good at their hobbies.

Nora says I'm very selfish for ignoring all my real responsibilities.  I'm also a terrible wife for leaving my family to it while I enjoy my increasingly long training runs.  She says that my husband will be in a bad mood with me if I don't get home quickly, and all my children will remember this for the rest of their lives as the time mum cared more about a 13.1 mile race than she did about them.

Nora makes me feel very guilty indeed.  But what if she's right?

Then, this weekend, something changed in me.  At parkrun I got chatting to a couple of other parkrunners before the start.  One was wearing a club vest and his PB was similar to mine.  We both decided to run with the 31 minute pacer (although Nora mentioned that it would be OK if I just stayed a few places behind, like last time, because I couldn't catch up).

So that's what I did.  All the time not quite catching up.  It was a hot day and I found the run hard.  Nora said I should probably aim for a 32 minute run.  Take it easy.  "You don't want to hurt your foot again do you?"  But, my foot felt fine.  Actually better than fine.  So much so that at the final turn for the finish I could see the 31 minute pacer.  Nora was shouting at me "No! Stay behind the pacer, she is a proper club runner, not a pretends one like you".  "But I've worked hard to get this close," I said, "I can do this!"

So instead of tucking in behind someone with a slower pace like I usually do, I ran past them.  I ran past them all and then...

I sprinted past the pacer.  Me!  Nora had given up.  She couldn't keep up with me.

Afterwards, when Nora had regained her power of speech, she said I should probably go straight home. Before my family missed me.  So off I went.

At home, the teenagers had only just woken up.  The teen girl gave me a (very random) high five and asked me how I'd got on.  DH was mowing the lawn and minding his own business.  Actually, come to think of it, nobody had died and they all seemed pretty happy although there was still a big pile of laundry in the corner of the bedroom. Twin girl asked me when I was going to get her some new trainers "so I can go running with you mum". Then my mum sent me a text, telling me how proud she was of me (more random, but nice all the same).

It was at this moment that I realised what an idiot I had been by listening to Nora.  Nora, who is no more than a voice in my head.  Telling me how I think I ought to behave.

The thing is this has nothing particularly to do with running, I reckon we all have a Negative Nora in our heads from time to time.

It's really easy to get sucked in to what we see on social media, how we think our houses, families and lives should be.  But, life really isn't like that, is it?

Comparison is the thief of joy.  It really is.

And as for Nora?  Well, I suppose this won't be the last I hear from her, it's normal to doubt yourself from time to time (and she's great at school gate mummy guilt as it goes), but I'm glad we've had words.  It's cleared the air.

My post parkrun breakfast, not Nora's.
Probably not Pinterest-worthy but it tasted nice.

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