Thursday, 2 October 2014

Tired Of The Park, Tired Of Life?


I used to live in the park. 'Baby's first swing' was a milestone akin to (and many months earlier than) sleeping through the night. I padded my precious firstborn's swing with a specially-brought cushion and drank in the moment. Pushing with both hands - no IPhone in sight. Seven years on, I have to admit it's worn a trifle thin. But for the sake of baby number three, I need to banish my park fatigue. I need to get my park spark back.

New Park: Luckily (or stupidly, depending on how you look at it), I've moved house with every baby. New area = new park. This helps to keep the interest of the jaded mother - for the first 10 visits anyway. As soon as you've worked out the nearest loo and escape hatch cafe, you're set.

New Child: Obviously, I wouldn't deprive my children of the park just because I'm a tad bored of it. And of course, seeing my third baby on his first - and 200th - swing, slide and roundabout is just as much of a delight as it was first and second time round. I've got it all on video to prove it. Most of these videos end abruptly as I lurch to rescue the star of the show from his latest fearless feat. For, like many younger siblings, he is daring beyond his months. 

New Poo: The other day we were just on the way home from a truly lovely park outing - beautiful autumn day, sun glinting off my wee one's little curls, no serious tumbles. Until now - just by the gate, my son fell over, flat on his face. Maybe it was an uneven patch, maybe it was a rogue conker; whatever, he ended up face-planting in a pile of muck. Now, as mentioned, I'm a park veteran. We've had dog poo (obvs). We've had horse poo. We've had rabbit poo and we've had seagull poo (call it guano if you like, it's still well gross). We've even had human poo - the child's own, i hasten to add, in a particularly tumultous standing nappy change situation. But this was a first. My dear boy's face was besmirched with Canadian goose poo. As I wiped it off, I smiled to myself for ever doubting: there is always something new at the park.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Great School Mum Bake-Off: Star Baker Or Waitrose Faker?


There’s nothing like a bake sale to divide mothers. A chance to raise essential funds for a well-deserved cause – and a chance for you to demonstrate how much you care about your school through the medium of cake. Are you a star baker – or a Waitrose faker?

Today is Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, raising money for cancer support. If you have a child at school or nursery, you will probably already know this. And if you are anything like me, you will have been standing by the oven waiting for the cakes to rise at 11pm last night, wishing you’d just bought the ones from Tesco that you were actually holding in your sweaty paw earlier today.

You could see the school bake sale as a microcosm of motherhood. Every emotion of the maternal spectrum is brought into play by those simple words: 
Donations Please! 
Pressure – having to produce baked goods, usually at short notice. Competitiveness – wanting to produce the best cake, despite having no aptitude whatsoever in this arena. Guilt – other mums will be baking with their kids, pinnies on, singing gaily, not minding at all that there is icing sugar everywhere. Desire to please – you just want your kid to be proud of you: to them, bringing in a cake that makes the other kids swoon in the playground is on a par with getting a promotion at work. Desire to conform – everyone else is buying / baking (delete as appropriate), you don’t want to be the one who sticks out for being lazy / pretentiously keen. Slight disbelief – so, wait, you make or buy cakes to bring in on the morning, and, er, buy them back about half an hour later? Love – you want your child and the school at large to know how much you love him via the medium of Rice Krispie cake.

I have run the cake sale gauntlet a few times now. I have gone openly shop-bought, I have allowed people to believe that my mother-in-law’s incredible cupcakes were beaten and sifted by my own fair hand, and I have, quite frankly, just forgotten to bring anything (I had a new baby – sue me!). But this time round, I have my eyes on the prize. I want to be Star Baker.

Star Baker: It’s only a cake, right? Tell that to Mary Berry. My unopened tub of baking powder may expire this month, I may be following the recipe off the flour packet (a new one, because the undisturbed one in the cupboard had suspected weevils), but I am going to pull it out of the mixing bowl tonight. Still don’t own a tablespoon, though.


These will be the “eat at home” batch, then. 
Top tip: always make enough mixture for an emergency re-bake.

Waitrose Faker: This well-known tactic is to buy supermarket baked goods but rough them up a bit and / or embellish them with your own twist and pass them off as your own. I haven’t done this, but I think it’s genius.

Brazen Buyer: There’s no shame in it. Just buy some. As I nearly did today, but something stayed my hand – a mixture of 1) “Oh, I’ll have plenty of time later, wouldn’t it be nice to try for a change?” (It's now past midnight.) and 2) “£1 for 6? I can make them for tuppence at home and they’ll be so much nicer!” (Debatable on both counts, despite my ingredients being from the miraculous Aldi.)

Direct Donator: You haven’t had time to make, fake or buy – but you’ve bought a fiver’s worth of sugary goodness so your job here is done.

In reality, of course, this is about raising money for charity, not about your feelings about parenting or way with a hand-whisk. As I am telling myself as I try to ice warm cakes at midnight while trying to refrain from finishing the packet of Giant Chocolate Buttons I’d bought for decoration.*

*I failed. But my kids much prefer Tangfastics anyway.

You may also like to read How Not to Bake, or Having His Cake and Eating It Is A Child’s Right, where I perform open heart surgery on an aeroplane cake.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Seven Signs You Are Becoming Worryingly Domesticated


I used to think ‘domestic’ was a word that only applied to cats. Now I love the smell of bleach in the morning. What is happening to me? I fear I am becoming worryingly domesticated.

The Worryingly Domesticated (WD) is a breed that used to dry clothes over the door, and now counts the tumble dryer as his or her most prized possession. Not to be confused with the so-called OCD Housewife, whose house makes you want to weep and never visit again, the WD is someone who is becoming house proud in barely perceptible stages.

There comes a time in life when you see your house as less of a place to change between work and the pub, and more of a Home. Whether because you have just got your foot on the housing ladder, have bought your forever home, have had kids or just got a wee bit older, you tend to spend more time at home. And as a side effect of this, you become more house proud. You just can’t help it. It is a slow creep for people like me, but I have finally got to the stage where I would describe myself as becoming domesticated to a level that worries my former self, drinking lager in the back of my mind. Do you recognise yourself in any of the following?

1. You browse the cleaning aisle like you used to browse beauty counters. With that willingness to believe, that hope springing eternal, that thrill of the chase. But it’s not your face that you want to look brighter, fresher, younger, more radiant. It’s your toilet.

2. You love getting your house ready for guests. Even better if they don’t arrive and mess it all up.

3. You love emptying the tumble dryer filter. Rolling that lovely lint between your fingers – mmm! You used to think it was another ridiculous manacle of the home, now you can’t wait for it to fill up again.

4. Your favourite purchase, nay victory, of the last year, was a genuine one-handed kitchen roll dispenser. (Yes, you have to observe the correct angulature of tuggage, but it’s a true one-hander. Life-changing.)

5. If your vacuum cleaner packs up, you treat it with more urgency than you do your cracked IPhone.

6. You like to pre-wash a pan before popping it in the dishwasher. Although I wouldn’t dream of subjecting my favourite Le Creuset frying pan (a solicited recent Christmas present – itself a troubling admission) to its harsh jets.

7. You buy loo roll. Every time you go out. You get the fear if stores run below one roll per household member.

My standards haven’t dropped completely. My life is still too short to iron sheets, although I have to admit I now wholeheartedly see the logic in ironing a table cloth before I put it away. If I’m like this now, what will I be like in 20 years? I already know the answer. My mother-in-law.

This post is also featured on The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Wry Mummy Is One!


I usually get broody when my baby approaches the age of one. This time last year was no exception. But instead of going for number four, I started a blog. Like most hasty decisions I’ve made – with the massive exception of those made in the hairdresser - it turned out to be a good one. It took about 5 minutes tapping on Google (how I wish I’d gone Wordpress!) and at 11.55pm September 10, 2013, Wry Mummy was born.

My first post was Cleaning Up Chunks – A Mother’s Glory. My baby had been sick the previous night, and as I sluiced the cot sheets at 3am my only consolation was the thought that upstairs, the sick bug was silently infiltrating my husband’s pores as he cuddled the baby in bed, “because clearing up sick makes me gag”. Funnily enough, as is so often the case, there was no one around to share this amusing thought with, and lest my world-changing insights go unrecorded forever, I felt compelled to put them on the blog.  

Blogging is so fast-moving, with new blogs and innovations coming out every month, that a calendar year is actually 12 blog years. Like dog years, but with (slightly) less poop-scooping. And, thanks to you, I've enjoyed every one of them.

If you’re celebrating your first year around now:


Happy Blogaversary!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Fantasy Sleep League: The Parent's Fantasy Football?




It’s transfer deadline night. Massive excitement at the other end of the sofa. But it’s not the Falcao coup that is firing up my lifelong Manchester United fan husband. It’s whether he got some random for his Fantasy Football team. I haven’t seen him so animated since, well, Auction Day. As I try to recall when I felt that fired up about anything, I realise the truth: I’ve got Fantasy Football envy.

I know lots of women play Fantasy Football. I'm just not one of them. I like watching a game, but rabidly scrolling through results and player news for ten months of the year – I just don’t care enough. Actually playing footie is drifting away from my husband and his mates with the onset of years, injuries and kids. But luckily for them, they have a readymade Hobby 2.0 to fill the void: Fantasy Football. All the banter, camaraderie and fun of the real thing, but without the “ooh, me knee” moments.

It’s not that I mind being a Fantasy Football widow. It’s just I wish I had something that I was so interested in I would think about it all day, every day, talk to my mates, and indeed, complete strangers, about it and engage in an ongoing, long-term friendly competition about it. Sure, I have interests. I like reading, for example, but log on to boast to my league-mates: “I’ve finished War and Peace – in your face!”? I’m into fitness too, but does Sunday night see me on tenterhooks waiting for banter on the weekend’s slogs round the park? I have lately come to enjoy a spot of gardening, but “I’ve dead-headed my rose bush – eat my mulch!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

But then it came to me. I do have such a thing: sleep.

Sleep is the ultimate commodity of parents with young children. The phrase “transfer window” to me now means that precious 90 seconds you have to get the sleeping baby out of the car and up to his cot, before his next sleep cycle ticks in. Man U paid £59.7 million for Angel Di Maria; about the same, in my Fantasy Sleep League, that I would pay for nine hours’ unbroken sleep.

But that would blow my budget. I’d be left hoping for free transfers of less sought-after players, or “sleep-blocks” of a couple of hours. Would I be better to bid £5 million for a straight five-hour run, or £10 million for an eight-hour lie-time, with two intra-night get-ups? The permutations are endless, and ultimately pointless, as the moving parts are entirely subject to chance. Just like in Fantasy Football: as those who bought Olivier Giroud for £28.5 million know (ruled out injured for three months), children can, and do, wake you up whenever and however often they please.

But however dud your "team" of sleep-blocks is, it’s a talking point. Sometimes I feel it’s all I can talk about, so droopy are my eyelids. Stuck with another new-ish parent, as one so often is once one enters the world of parenthood, it’s a relief to be able to discuss how their night was, what hours their baby keeps, whether either of you will ever, EVER get a proper night’s sleep again. Even if it’s someone you’ve only just met, or haven’t seen for ages, and whether they’re male or female, you can always find common ground in comparing Night Notes. It’s funny, bedroom habits were such a taboo before we became parents; now we think nothing of asking what happened in the night, who was in who’s bed, and whether anyone got any (sleep).

Just like Fantasy Football, where the prize is usually pretty token, it’s the taking part that counts. But if you have a good week in the Fantasy Sleep League, you actually physically feel better. You just have to accept that, as in Fantasy Football, you will be temporarily despised by fellow participants as a result.

What’s your Fantasy Football equivalent?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Lager on the Loo: 7 Habits To Leave on Holiday

I am drinking lager on the loo. My husband is hunched over his pint in the shower. We are waiting for the kids to fall asleep so we can drink like civilized people: sitting on the corridor outside the cabin. The depths to which one sinks as a parent never cease to amaze. We could have just gone to bed at the same time as the children and listened to them not falling asleep. But we are on Holiday! New place, new rules. Not all of which should be brought home.

The rest of this post is over on The Huffington Post - my first piece for them.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Things I Wish I'd Known When My Child Started School

Make a big fuss or pretend it's not a big deal? Collar the teacher and, if possible, the head, or avoid eye contact? And what do you wear on your child's first day at school? Such are the dilemmas of the new school starting mother.

Take The "Starting Big School Photo" At Home

Get that Facebook shot in with your decent camera before you leave home. This is an important photo. I'm pretty sure I got more "Likes" for my son's first day at school than his first day on the planet. Or you could do as I did: be late leaving the house, and hastily snap the poor boy against a scenic fence on the school path, fumbling with my phone as a stream of families jostled behind me. 

What To Wear

Your child's all sorted in his new kit, all with lovingly sewn-in nametapes (top tip: buy a laundry pen, people!). But what do you wear? So many messages you want to convey: to the other parents: "Hi, I'm lovely and approachable!", to the teacher: "I am lovely and approachable but say ONE WORD against my child and you shall know the wrath of Hades", and most importantly, to your child: "Everything is normal! See, I am wearing my cardi that you wiped your nose on last night". Throw in the mixed weather of September and it's a wardrobe quandary and a half. I had the decision taken out of my hands when my eldest started, as I was eight months pregnant, hotter than the sun, and unable to wear anything other than leggings and a vest with stains all over the bump that I could no longer see. In the end, of course, it doesn't matter. Because all the parents are looking at their own child, the teacher is trying to gauge the mass of wonderfulness s/he has to manage this year, and your child will be looking at your face. Which leads us to:

Should You Cry? 

Just try and stop yourself! It's a big day. Feigning nonchalance is going to fool no one. Just maybe hold in the full eye-squirt till they're safely in the door. And don't forget your tissues. Or, in your heavily pregnant state, your other child, who's been standing patiently (slightly gleefully?) waving for ages.  

You Will Know Nothing About Their Day

You know those daysheets you get from nursery, telling you when your baby did a poo and how much treacle tart he ate (always 2x for my children)? That chatty handover when you hear about how brave he was when a nameless child mistook him for a nail in Bob the Builder role play? No more. The teacher is busy. S/he is - quite rightly - prioritising learning the childrens' names and faces. Of course you can speak to the teacher if you have an important question, but on balance, it's advisable to play it cool, at least on the first day. You don't want to mark your - or your child's - card. I'm afraid that unless you have an unusually chatty child, you will know nothing about their school days. The only thing I gleaned from my eldest's entire Reception year is that, for lunch, he enjoyed "poo-poo pie". Every day for a year. (Yep, you never give up asking.)

They Will Come Out Starving

School meals - awesome! That will save me cooking! Good luck with that. Even if they had fish and chips with seconds of cake and custard, they will still want a full meal for tea. And that's just when you get home. I know it's not just my children who bay for snacks the second they see me in the school playground. This is a tricky one, on the first day. You want to spoil them rotten, but beware of setting a precedent. If you start off with a cupcake with two Flakes and a congratulatory Haribo edging, they will be a bit crushed the next day when you turn up with the last apple in the fruit bowl. 

It's Going To Be OK

Even though you don't know all the details, you can be assured that your child will have had a nice, gentle day playing, just for a bit longer than usual. Time doesn't have the same meaning to them as us. They are in good, professional, and (surely I'm not the only one to appreciate this?) someone else's hands. As I send my second baby off into the unknown, at least I have the consolation that he will be well-fed. On poo-poo pie.

Best of luck to everyone with little ones starting school this term!

I'm back to school with the blog after a lovely break 
over the summer. Hope you all had a fab time!