Thursday, 16 May 2013

How to get your house cleaned. For free

With 3 kids, a dog, 4 cats, 8 kittens, a husband and a full time job, trying to keep the house clean and tidy is a bit like trying to nail jelly to the wall. Ain't gonna happen!

I recently looked into the possibility of getting a cleaner a couple of days a week, freeing up Sundays to spend some quality time with the small fry, i.e. mooch around in my PJs all day eating rice pudding straight from the can. After extensive research, I found that to get my house cleaned would cost me £10/hour, minimum. That's ten. Pounds. TEN POUNDS! Two hours twice a week= £40!! £10/hour is more than I was earning as a teacher. 

There is, however, a way of getting your house cleaned for free...

Last month, we enjoyed a family holiday abroad. We were away from home for a week. Bobby, who is in the middle of exams, begged to be allowed to stay home- alone- to "study." Although my maternal instincts flinched at such a request, my parents live in the next street and would pop in regularly and unannounced, and Bobby is nearly 18 years old. Trust must be extended, apron strings must be cut, fledglings must be allowed to try their wings. 

Valuables and breakables safely locked away (I trust Bobby, but her friends? Not as far as I can throw them!) hubby, Peter, Phyllis and I set off a week of relaxation...

A week later, we returned to a house that resembled a show home in its gleaming cleanliness.  Yes, Bobby had thrown a party. Yes, the party was gate-crashed. Yes, someone threw up in the sink. Yes, fluids were spilt on the carpet. Bobby and friends, terrified that they might miss a clue that would lead to their antics being revealed, had deep cleaned the house from top to bottom, including drains and patio, to a standard that would impress Kim and Aggie.

I haven't told Bobby yet what all parents know: the very act of a teenager getting the cleaning stuff out alerts us parents to potential misdemeanours. I'm not stupid. I've just booked another holiday. Hey, don't judge- it's cheaper than a cleaner.

Mama Jax

Today: Bobby's deception started young

When Bobby was 3, and Peter still a baby, Bobby graffitied her name in felt tip pen all over her bedroom wall and blamed Peter. 
Top tip: If your child is showing criminal tendencies, make sure they are clever enough not to get caught.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

How to deal with sibling rivalry

If you have more than one child, get your head round the fact now that they will demonstrate an unhealthy amount of sibling rivalry. As your small fry have a full blown fight in public, displaying aggression which would make a seasoned cage fighter glow with pride, you may find people giving you that sympathetic half smile (which really means 'I'm so glad they're not mine') and saying, "They'll be the best of friends when they're older..."

This statement is not true. IF they survive to adulthood without killing each other, and believe me the odds are not good, the best you can hope for is that they live far enough away from each other that they will occasionally don rose-tinted spectacles and remember their childhood semi fondly. Perhaps at Christmas. Or when someone dies. The glasses will be whisked off and jumped on, however, the moment they meet again.

Don't get me wrong, I know some siblings who are incredibly close, but for my brother and I that is a dream which will always be a piped one.

By the time my brother was born, I had been an only child for almost four years, and quite liked it really. The arrival of a screaming bundle of attention-stealing joy was not something I was totally on board with... My inner diva came roaring to the surface as I tried valiantly to manoeuver the spotlight firmly back on the star of the show. Me. Babies are cute if you are a grown up. To a four year old, a baby is just a slightly smaller and less perfect version of themselves, and why would you want one of those when you already have perfection?

A friend of mine was nanny to twins, who also had a six year old sibling. Four years as an only child is one thing, but to have six years to yourself and then be presented with two babies is too much. My friend went to use the bathroom when the twins were about five months old. When she came back the babies were poking out from behind the sofa. Their brother had tipped all his toys down the back of the sofa and was in the process of balancing his bike on the top. Luckily, six year olds don't have the best spacial awareness and babies are short, so no harm done.

I have drummed into my kids how lucky they are to have a brother/sister, but I'm not convinced they believe me. My dad's solution is this:
If you want to have siblings who are close, you have to play the odds. If you have two children, chances are they won't get along as there as no variation in sparring partners. Have six or seven and the odds are good that at least two of them will like each other, given the number of combinations available. It's simple maths really.

So, to summarise, if you want to produce a pair of siblings who get on, breed lots.
"Breed like the wind, Bullseye!" (Toy Story)
"I breed therefore I am." (Descartes)
"Baby we were born to breed!" (Springsteen)
I rest my case.

Today: Bobby plays to her strength
Bobby and Phyllis, fighting over the last remaining seat.
Phyllis (snaking behind Bobby and getting in first): "You snooze, you lose!"
Bobby (nonchalantly tipping her off said chair): "You're small, you fall."

Mama Jax

Sunday, 15 April 2012

How to assuage your children's fears

My three Peapods have all had different fears at different times of their lives. Just saying to a child, "Don't be silly, there's no such thing as monsters/ghosts etc," doesn't work. The fear is real to them, so the solution needs to be real too.

Bobby's fear was monsters. She slept with a plastic sword under her pillow to fight them until we found a better solution. Bobby's fears were imaginary, so we imagined 'friends' who would protect her while she slept. Bobby was a huge fan of Star Wars, so she created imaginary friends who were all Star Wars characters, tougher than any monster and therefore able to defend her. This worked well for a while, then it all started to get out of hand. Luke Skywalker began demanding dinners, Obi Wan wanted a seat next to Bobby on the bus, and Jar Jar Binks had a birthday practically every day. The last straw came when I had nowhere to sit: "Don't sit there, mum, Darth Maul is sitting there." Darth Maul was banished to the shed with the other characters. She was allowed to chose ONE to bring out every night.

Phyllis has a fear of monsters too, but for her it's the fear of being eaten.
Phyllis: "Mummy the monster's coming! What if he eats me?"
Me: "Why would the monster want to eat you? There's not a pick on you. If a monster DID manage to get in the house, he'd go for Daddy for sure. Daddy's fatter."
Phyllis is happy with this.

Peter's fear is much more real. Peter worries about being kidnapped. Now this is a possibility, and I have to say is one of my fears too. It is difficult to open a newspaper these days without being confronted with tales of cruelty to children. However, passing these fears on to my son is not helpful. My kids have been grilled what to do if approached by a stranger, and they know that secrets need to be told if they are making someone unhappy. I want them to feel confident not afraid, as fear makes them more vulnerable.

Now I am sure I have mentioned this before, but just to reiterate, Peter has autism. I call him my Little Weirdo. For those who think this is cruel, read 'Fried Green Tomatoes' and take note of why Issy calls Ruth's little boy Stump. Peter is proud of being different.
With that in mind, this is how the conversation went:
Peter: "Mum, what if someone comes along and kidnaps me?"
Me: "Well, that's possible, but don't worry Peter. You're such a little weirdo they'd soon bring you back."
Peter giggles. No more fear.

Today: My amazing Bobby
Last summer, Bobby and a friend were approached by a man in a car who asked them directions to the nearest field and offered them alcohol. Bobby directed him miles away, took a photo of his car number plate on her 'phone and went into a shop. When they came out, he started following them again. They went to the vicarage where the vicar let them use the 'phone to call me and the police.
Using the information Bobby gave them, the man was caught and imprisoned. He was on the top 10 most wanted paedophile list and had abused countless children. My blood ran cold to think what may have happened if Bobby hadn't been so sensible, calm and strong. I'm so proud of my daughter for fighting the real monster and winning. Well done Bobby! I love you xxxxx

Thursday, 2 February 2012

How to cope with a destructive puppy

Phyllis wanted a dog. Despite trying to coax her off the idea with kittens, hamsters and even a chicken, she still wanted a dog.

Now I like dogs, don't get me wrong, but they are a lot of work and with 3 kids (4 if you count hubby) and a full time job, a dog wasn't something I really wanted to consider. Phyllis begged and pleaded, and hubby- a confirmed dog lover- sided with her. Feeling outnumbered I borrowed a friend's dog for a week to see what would happen. Phyllis and hubby dutifully walked, fed, scooped poop and generally did everything one would expect a responsible dog owner to do. I gave in. Phyllis got her dog.

The dog is the smallest dog in the world ever: the runt of a litter of chihuahua x bischon frisse puppies, and I have to say I fell in love instantly. I am happy to eat my words, he is adorable and no bigger than a guinea pig so doesn't really count as a dog at all.

Much as I love pup, he is messy. We take him for walks, buy him toys and play with him lots, but he still has that puppy instinct of chewing everything he can. We got him to the point where he was perfectly behaved, except for one thing. For some reason, pup could never resist the kitchen bin. If we turned our back on him for a second he would tip the bin over and throw the rubbish all over the kitchen. He knew he was doing wrong as he would immediately go and hide, and give us the puppy eyes, but there was something about the bin that for him that made the telling off worth it.

In the end, I gave up. I went off to work one morning, leaving hubby at home with pup. I 'suggested' (as only a wife can) that hubby clean out the cupboard off the kitchen and store the bin safely in there. Good idea, said hubby.

By the time I got home from work hubby very proudly led me to the kitchen to show me his solution to the bin tipping problem. Rather than carrying out my 'suggestion', which hubby admitted he didn't like because it would require a small amount of effort in opening and then closing the cupboard door, hubby had taken matters into his own hands. As I looked around, I noticed that hubby had NAILED THE BIN HALF WAY UP THE WALL!

Me: What's that supposed to be?
Hubby: He can't reach it now, look. (Baits the dog who indeed can't reach the bin)
Me: But it looks like modern art. It looks like something you would display at Tate Modern.
Hubby: I know! Cool isn't it?!

To be fair, the dog can't get in the bin, it is still handy, and it's a 'talking point'. It's just odd. But then so our we.

Today: Our family motto
This is drummed into my 3 small fry every day, and they recite it on cue:
Remember, as far as anyone knows we are a normal family.
How many families does that apply to I wonder...?

Mama Jax

Friday, 20 January 2012

How to deal with bullying

As a mummy, I had my first encounter with playground bullying when Bobby was at preschool. There was a little girl in Bobby's class called Cinzano (I kid you not). Cinzano was definitely on the 'no' list for potential sleepover buddies. It really wasn't her fault, but she was rude, grubby, crawling with goodness knows what and was nasty to all the other little girls. I say it wasn't her fault because a) she had to live with the name Cinzano, which is enough to drive any girl over the edge, and b) she had an aggressive mother who had a chip on her shoulder so large she could have supplied a well known burger chain with fries for at least 20 years.

Cinzano's mother had so much anger and resentment that it showed on her face, the result being that she looked rather like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Most of the other mothers had been on the receiving end of her temper at one point; consequently, most other mothers avoided her. She was one scary lady- large and manly in figure, tattooed, pierced, grubby- and Cinzano was a miniature version.

Bobby frequently came home from preschool in tears because of something Cinzano had said and, despite much tantruming and complaining on my behalf, the actions of the school had had little effect. One day Bobby again came home in tears; she had been given some pretty hair clips by her auntie and Cinzano had made fun of them. I comforted my small daughter, explaining that Cinzano probably said those things because she was sad that SHE didn't have pretty things, and was jealous of how pretty Bobby looked in her new hair clips. I (perhaps foolishly) added that poor Cinzano didn't have a nice mummy like Bobby did who would cuddle her and brush her hair etc etc and this would make her sad and cross.

The next day, Bobby trotted off to preschool feeling confident and loved. When I picked her up at lunchtime she was, miraculously, all smiles. I asked her how her morning had been and if she'd had any more trouble from Cinzano. She said, "Oh yes, mummy, but I just remembered what you told me. I told Cinzano that you said she only picks on me because she's the fat kid."

Nooooo!!!!!!! No, no, no scary mummy of Cinzano, that's not what I said!

Avoiding Bulldog Wasp Mama we legged it out of the playground. Unfortunate as the choice of wording was, it worked. Bobby and her friends had no more trouble from Cinzano, who evidently didn't want to be proved to be 'The Fat Kid', and I remained safe from her mummy.

Bobby and Peter have both been bullied at some point, especially since starting secondary school. Peter is a prime target as he is so odd, bless him. Thankfully both of them felt comfortable enough to tell someone and the problem was sorted out swiftly, with their dad and I monitoring every step to make sure the problem doesn't resurface.

If you have a child in this position, kick up a screaming fuss until it is sorted, and monitor closely. There is no shame in making sure your child is happy. You are the parent. If you don't do it, no-one else will.

If your child has never been bullied, keep a close eye on them. Chances are that if they are not in with the wrong crowd, or being picked on by the wrong crowd, they ARE the wrong crowd. That's teens for you, sorry and all that. Prepare yourself for a 'phone call...

Today: Where to get help if your child is being bullied
To keep them safe online

Friday, 6 January 2012

How to feed a fussy eater

All kids go through fussy phases. Bobby went through a phase where she would only eat orange food- carrots, baked beans, fish fingers, marmalade (but not toast...) and of course oranges. She also went through a brief vegetarian phase on finding out that meat came from animals:

"Urgh! That's so nasty! I'm never eating meat again! I don't want to eat a cute little animal!"
"Except pigs. I don't like pigs. What can I eat if I eat pigs?"
Ah the morals of the young!

Of all my kids, however, Peter was definitely the fussiest. A fussy tot with autism is a nightmare, and there were times when I seriously doubted that Peter would reach his teens without developing rickets, scurvy or similar. Peter is now 13, and eats pretty much anything, except sprouts (and I have to agree with him there).

To get Peter from fussy to foodie, we used a combination of tactics. First, the paediatrician's suggestion:
To reduce the fear of food, we first had to get Peter to tolerate it in his 'personal space'. Right. A bit nineties therapy, but we'll give it a go.
We had to start by putting a small piece of the new food next to him on a side plate, then moving it in gradual steps onto his plate. Peter was then supposed to touch, smell and play with the new food before trying it. Good advice. Didn't work.

To slip new food past Peter, we realised we had to be wily. We became as cunning as politicians, putting a positive spin on new experiences and lying through our teeth.

When we started, Peter would only eat sandwiches (peanut butter or Marmite), crisps, chips or plain pasta. Peter would refuse all sandwiches unless the bread was perfectly square. We told him that rectangular bread was really square bread that had been squashed in the freezer, and showed him all the loaves squashed in. It worked. When the peanut butter people changed the lid of the peanut butter from blue to yellow, all hell broke loose, but we convinced Peter that peanut butter, like hamsters (see 'How to deal with the death of a pet'), shed their 'skin' in the summer months.

Peter would eat chicken, but no other meat, so we renamed all meat to be chicken. Beef became African chicken which had been out in the sun longer than UK chicken, pork was chewy chicken- chicken which was just a little bit older, fish was flaky chicken, you get the idea.

Peter's autism also meant that he got very stressed if something wasn't quite right, so to get him to eat fruit we labelled all the bananas with the days of the week. Peter was so stressed that the 'Monday' banana wouldn't be eaten until Tuesday that he ate it himself. Job done. His teachers thought we were a bit odd, but it was a small price to pay.

The real turning point came when we took Peter to an 'All you can eat' Chinese buffet. By this time, Peter was eating chips. When he saw chips at the buffet he said, "Oh, I didn't know chips were Chinese. I like Chinese food, then?" This progressed to, "Of course you like prawns/onions/cheese Peter. You eat crisps in those flavours." We've told Peter that he is amazing because he tries anything now, and Peter, ever susceptible to the power of suggestion, believes us to be telling the truth. Thus, another self fulfilling prophesy is brought to fruition.

Phyllis isn't too bad, although she prefers grazing to 'proper' meals. This is fine; she has a tiny giraffe tummy, rather than a whacking great elephant tummy like the teens who trample through my fridge most evenings. She's not the type to waste away, however, and any faddiness soon evens out in the end. We get her to try new things, or things she has already tried and dismissed, by saying, "Ah but you've grown now, so your tongue has grown too and will have more taste buds. Let's see if you've grown enough to like ***** (insert your own food) yet. Wow you have!"

Getting kids to eat is part psychological mind games in which you, as the adult, hold the upper hand, and part relaxing and admitting that it is very rare for a child who is offered food to starve. If they won't eat what you want them to eat, but are growing and healthy, the problem is yours as you have to prepare more food. This is a nuisance, but not life threatening.

Today: A step too far
Trying to persuade Phyllis to eat sprouts (she happily eats cabbage) I told her that sprouts were 'fairy cabbages', small and dainty fairy food.
Phyllis gave me a whithering look. "Mummy I'm 6. Don't be silly."
Ah well, none of us like sprouts anyway. Saves me the cooking.

Mama Jax

Monday, 2 January 2012

How to keep your head when all around are losing theirs

One of the worries of having children is that you are responsible for providing for them, and I'm telling you now they're not cheap! Phyllis isn't too bad. Her school uniform is still small, she doesn't eat a lot, and Santa can fill her stocking for under £10, if he shops wisely.

Teenagers on the other hand are a whole different ballgame. All items on their Christmas list are the size of a 50p piece and cost a gazillion times more. Santa would need to re-mortgage his workshop and redeploy several elves to get even close to the amount of money needed to fill a teenager's stocking.
School trips start from about £250, and they need so much school uniform it's a wonder they have any time for learning at all with all the changing that must go on.

With this worry constantly in the back of my mind, I have always worked. Recently, however, I have joined the growing ranks of the unemployed in the UK, and the once niggling worry is now jumping all over my brain like a child on a bouncy castle. Luckily, the mortgage payments are covered by the insurance, but, my insurance company informs me, my claim is not valid unless I sign on.
"Right," I naively thought, "That should be easy enough."
Oh how wrong I was...

I arrived at the Job Centre, eagerly clutching an envelope full of relevant paperwork, on the first day it opened after Christmas. The Job Centre was empty, apart from a 'yoof' who looked as if she was expecting applause for being out of bed at such an ungodly hour (1.30pm) and two security front men.

Me: I'd like to sign on please.
Security man: You need an appointment.
Me: But there's no-one here.
SM: That's the system. Here's the number to call.
Me (wondering if the proffered number is in fact the number for the 'phone on the desk in front of him): Can I not just see someone now? There's no-one else here.
SM: No. You have to go away, ring the number, get your appointment and come back.
Me: Well, can I ring now?
SM (unnerved by a question not on the card): It's not usually done, but I suppose so.

I get out my 'phone and move to sit on one of the many empty chairs.

SM: You can't ring from in here. You have to go away and ring. That's the rules.
Me: I suppose this system, complicated as it is, is creating jobs...

The irony was lost on the 3 amoebas in the Job Centre. I moved outside and sat in the car, where I rang the number in full view of the Job Centre reception and it's 3 inhabitants. The man on the 'phone offered me an appointment for the following Tuesday.

Me: Can I have an appointment now, please? I'm sitting just outside.
Phone man: Oh. Why are you outside? You're supposed to go home and ring from there.
Phone man: I'm afraid next Tuesday is the first available appointment. They're very busy over the Christmas period.
Me: THEY'RE NOT BUSY!! I CAN SEE THEM!! THEY ARE CHATTING AND DRINKING TEA!! In the two hours it has taken me to reach this point, NO-ONE HAS COME IN OR GONE OUT!!!
Phone man (unknowingly quoting 'Little Britain'): Computer says 'no'.

I'm going back on Tuesday. It is highly likely this post may have a Part 2...

Today: Reasons to start your own business, courtesy of You Tube and Loose Change TV

Mama Jax