Friday 31 December 2010

Christmas round-up

The last couple of weeks have been lovely, and despite the snow and ice, thankfully all grandparents managed to visit and share presents and Christmas cheer. My mum got more than she bargained for, and arrived at our house on 14th December for her birthday, got well and truly snowed in, and couldn't leave til the 28th when the snow thawed.

The much anticipated Christmas Day came and went in a flash.  I absolutely love Christmas day; spending a day at home, with just the four of us.  The morning was spent discovering bulging stockings and empty sherry glasses by the fire and then opening them up in our bed together - Tom and I sat back with a cup of tea and watched Betty completely overcome with excitement, and true to form gravitated towards Duckie's stocking first (his orange bath salts were the hit of the day), and Dolly matter-of-factly pulling different items from her stocking, sometimes sighing, and often only half unwrapping them before getting bored and then trying to steal the duck's bath salts, just to wind Betty up.  After a delicious breakfast, we then opened presents from under the tree. Dolly sniffed out some cheese from under the tree and I caught her hiding in another room, her little fingers desperately trying to unwrap it, meanwhile Betty was effortlessly carrying out a challenge set by Tom of bouncing on her new space hopper for a full hour.  We spent the rest of the day eating amazing food, playing with new toys, totally relaxing, and revelling in all the excitement, and carrying out our special little rituals and traditions with our children in our home - it is indeed my favourite day of the year.

I also love the week following Christmas, where visitors come, and the celebrations continue.  Sadly a lot of our visitors were put off this year due to the bad weather.  My dad was one that made it through.  He came laden with beautiful presents, and lots of his own homemade produce, including Victoria plum jam and sausage rolls, and copious amounts of chocolate.

After staying up til 2am with him, chatting and putting the world to rights, and then the girls waking him up early the next morning with their large Christmas cymbals and trumpets, we went for a bracing walk in dense fog down to the ice-ridden river.  It was pretty spectacular.  We then had a lovely lunch at the local farm shop, with Dolly donning a black eye (after falling on to the prong of a wooden boat) and slippers (we forgot to put her shoes on), and then sadly my dad went on his way.  Not before Betty and I went to the cafe loo and Betty exclaimed very loudly: 'MUMMY!!! YOU ARE WEARING ENORMOUS PANTS! - THEY ARE HUGE!'  And you know what four year olds are like, they don't tend to let things go in a hurry.

Last night, I sat down on the sofa in an exhausted heap, with a glass of wine and a pizza, and watched my new yoga dvd (to see what I am up against), given to me by a well-meaning family member, who I think may also have caught sight of my huge pants.

And now we prepare for our New Year's Eve celebrations.  Our pig-rearing friends are bringing their own ham for us to feast on, other friends are joining us with cheeses and puddings, and hopefully, with the kids fast asleep in bed, we can ring in 2011 with gusto.

Happy New Year!

Sunday 19 December 2010

Emotionally blackmailed by a toy duck

As I sat on my bedroom floor yesterday afternoon, wrapping presents, I had Betty's excitable words ringing in my ears: 'I wonder what Duckie will get in his stocking this year'.  Duckie is Betty's comfort toy that she has been inseparable from since she was born, and many a blog post has been written about him.

She is more excited about what her toy duck is going to get from Father Christmas, than what she might get herself.  This sets the tone for what her relationship with Duckie is all about.  He (and sometimes Duckie is a girl, depending on the situation) means the absolute world to Betty. There are times when none of us are allowed to make a sound because Duckie is having a nap, or none of us are allowed to sit down because Betty has made some elaborate bed for him out of ALL the cushions and chairs in the house, or none of us are allowed to enjoy our shepherd's pie in peace because Duckie has decided he doesn't like it. 

Duckie gets to blow Betty's birthday candles out with her, gets stories read to him, gets chocolate fed to him, and basically gets a hell of a lot of love and affection.  I have to be honest, I sometimes find myself resenting that duck - the duck that can do no wrong, the duck that has everything, the duck that is more highly thought of by Betty than her own mum, or dad, or little sister.

Anyway, I sat on my bedroom floor yesterday, wondering what to do about the duck and whether or not he should get a stocking this year - a stocking that I made for him last year, at the same time that I made one for Betty and Dolly.  I thought it would be a nice gesture for him to have a stocking too, but didn't think about the long-term consequences. Having set the precedent, this might have to be a tradition that will be carried through into Betty's adulthood.  And what if Dolly suddenly decides next year (she is thankfully too young this year) that if the duck gets a stocking, then so should her (comfort) rabbit that she has been inseparable from since the day she was born?  Well, it would only be fair (although I suspect that giving a stocking to a cuddly toy would be beneath her)

So what to do?  Risk breaking my little girl's heart, and possibly ruining her entire Christmas, by not facilitating a visit from Father Christmas to her duck? Or accept the fact that I now have not just two lots of presents to buy (which is hard enough), but instead I have three, maybe four?

I finished wrapping the last of the presents for Betty and Dolly, and then reached up into the wardrobe and pulled down a little stocking.  I then wrapped up a little bag of orange bath salts, a rubber duck, a tube of fairy dust, and a duck-shaped bracelet, and put them in Duckie's stocking.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Betty goes to Bethlehem

I was particulary excited about Betty being cast as Mary in the pre-school nativity play, mainly for the reasons mentioned in my last post, but also because when I was a child, I only ever played the part of an Olive Tree, or some other static, non-talking object.

The weeks following the news that Betty was to play Mary, I obsessed over what colour and style Mary's head-dress would have been.  I trawled through google images and finally settled on the right shade of blue.  I fashioned a tunic out of an old sheet, hacked up an old blue pillowcase, and got Betty to try it all on.  She remarked that she looked like a nurse, and Tom remaked that she looked like a nun.  I rectified this by re-styling the head-dress, and subsequently cutting up an old fake pashmina hanging up in my wardrobe.

On the morning of Betty's nativity my stomach was in knots and I couldn't eat.  I tried my damnedness not to let my nerves show in front of Betty, but she is an astute little lady, and after breakfast, as cool as a cucumber, summoned me to the sitting room.  She calmly told me to sit next to her on the sofa, stroked my arm, whilst soothingly telling me the nativity story, asking me questions every so often to check I was listening: 'What were the colour of Joseph's shoes?' or 'How many donkeys were there in Bethlehem?'  'Shall we practice your lines?' I asked her.  'No Mummy' she said 

We arrived at the village hall half an hour early.  It was one of the longest half hours of my life - it felt like I was waiting for a really important job interview.  Betty said: 'Don't worry Mummy' before breezing off to join the rest of the cast on stage. 

The play began and Mary and Joseph belted out their two duets whilst having a bit of a fight over who was going to cuddle baby Jesus.  And the shepherds were having an inpromptu hay fight behind them.  Meanwhile Tom was chasing a wayward Dolly around the hall, and I was taking photos with a suddenly very loud camera (I am sure I saw Betty shaking her head at me at one point). 

Once the (fantastic) performance had finished all the children rejoined their parents. Betty came towards me excitedly wielding a chocolate bar.  'You were brilliant my darling, well done, how do you feel?!'  I said.  But as far as Betty was concerned the play was now done and dusted, and all she wanted to talk about was this blimin bar of chocolate she had been given by her teacher.

Monday 13 December 2010

Meek to Mary

This time last year Betty went to a different pre-school to the one that she goes to now.  At home she was a happy, confident child, who loved to make us laugh with her impersonations, comedy remarks, and theatrical antics - she was life and soul, and would never shut up.

However, I became so concerned about her increasing lack of enthusiasm and defiance about leaving the house in the mornings to go to pre-school (sometimes in tears), that I asked the play manager if I could secretly observe her to see if I could get to the bottom of things.  I was shocked and upset to see a very timid, shy, and unconfident Betty - I didn't recognise her at all.  It broke my heart. 

I agonised for several weeks over what the problem might be, and what I should do.  She was once happy to go, but now she was not.  I thought perhaps it might be related to the birth of Dolly?  Or maybe she was being picked on?  Or she found it too noisy?  Or she didn't like the decor?  Or perhaps it was just her age and she would come out of it?

I spoke to the staff at the pre-school (who told me she was quiet, but happy), I spoke to family and friends, I spoke to fellow bloggers, I trawled different websites, looking for the right thing to do.  Nobody could really give me answers, but the best piece of advice I received was to simply respect and listen to my child, and listen to my gut feeling.  This wasn't rocket science, but these few words helped enormously, and the next day I nervously handed in our notice at this pre-school, knowing that with very limited places, it was highly unlikely I would ever get Betty back in if we were to change our minds.  But as I walked away from there, I felt a sense of overwhelming relief (if a little bit anxious about having both her and Dolly at home with me 24/7).

Shortly after this, we found another pre-school, slightly further away, but immediately Betty fitted in, she was back to her recognisable self, and absolutely loved going.   And fast forward one year, she was given the part of Mary in her first nativity play, and yesterday, she stood on the stage in front of a huge audience, totally unfazed, and belted out two songs with Joseph.  This is something I would never have imagined her doing a year ago, when I peeped through the little square window of her old pre-school, and saw her sitting in the corner, too timid to speak during circle time, and looking a little bit sad.

Saturday 11 December 2010

The do's and don'ts for a fourth birthday party

  • Do not go into meltdown when your child casually drops a bombshell, the night before her birthday party, following three months of meticulous preparation, by informing you she would ‘really really love’ a Peppa Pig theme.

  • Do bake the jam tarts, fairy cakes, chocolate brownies etc. at least two days before the party and then hide them away in an air-tight box. Slightly stale homemade cakes are more impressive than shop-bought ones. Alternatively, drop the supermum/domestic goddess routine and buy a load of cakes from the supermarket.

  • Do not think, after a couple of glasses of wine, that it is a good idea to eat your way through the aforementioned box of cakes during a particularly grueling episode of Eastenders. You will feel a particularly acute type of guilt in the morning.

  • Do hide away anything you would prefer not to get ruined, ie. the birthday child’s new princess fairy playhouse. Any boys attending will get confused and mistake it for a trampoline.

  • If hosting a party during winter, do not stick to the rule of inviting one child per year of the birthday child ie. four years equals four invitees. Half the invitees won’t come due to illness. Instead invite 20 children, and then you might get enough children attending to warrant a party.

  • Do treat yourself to a glass of wine (or, more cunningly, wine hidden in a teacup) during the party chaos. You deserve it.

  • Do not put your husband in charge of the music for Pass the Parcel. He will panic, forget all party etiquette and, amongst lots of eager and excited children, will accidentally stop the parcel with its final wrapping on his own dad.

  • Do put your husband in charge of the hotdog-and-chips party food. Try not to show your fury when he arrives home from the supermarket the night before the party with crinkle cut chips in batter (along with the extra batch of fairy cakes).

  • Do not believe the claim that the ‘Egyptian Mummy’ toilet paper game is suitable for 3-4 year olds.

  • Do not wait until it is raining before herding everyone outside to watch Chinese lanterns (billed as the Grand Finale) struggling to clear a hedge and float up into the sky.

  • Do remember to present the birthday child with her much anticipated hedgehog cake, and sing happy birthday.

  • Do not hold a birthday party next year. Instead, take the child to her favourite restaurant and give her a balloon.