The School Run

I’ve been doing the school run for a few years now and it never ceases to amaze me how complex and fascinating a ritual it is. It’s a microcosm of (primarily) female behaviour where the drama and dynamics of modern day motherhood are on full display. A new storyline unfolds every other week as relationships change and judgements are made, all taking place at the precarious school gates.

There are many different types of mums on the school run but I’ve come to the conclusion they largely fall into the following categories:

1)The stressed out mum who has to drag her kids and baby in a buggy down the street as  they scream/sob/moan continuously in the pissing rain. She has to juggle seven different school bags with frizzy hair and feels totally and utterly defeated by 8am. That would be me.

My pile of school bags this morning
Heading out for the school run

2)The immaculately dressed and perfectly manicured mum who      always looks a million dollars with her blow dried hair and perfectly made up face. The morning drop off is an opportunity for her to parade her latest purchases whilst gliding effortlessly down the street as others look on in jealous disbelief.

3)The lycra mum who is forever in her gym gear putting the rest of us to shame with our preference for tea and pastry in the morning. She is completely unrecognisable when, on the odd occasion, she turns up dressed in normal clothes, without the headband, and we all wonder who the hell she is. We also wonder whether she really goes to the gym every day or just heads home and puts her feet up to watch Jeremy Kyle.

4)The schizophrenic mum who acts like your best friend one morning and then completely ignores you the next. You spend half the school year wondering if you’ve done something to offend her and then finally conclude she is just plain weird.

5)The moaner. You casually ask this mum how she is and she proceeds to complain about every single aspect of home, family and school life. At first you think she is just having a bad day but then quickly realise every day is a bad day. You spend the rest of the school term trying to avoid her as it’s not exactly the most uplifting start to your day.

In and amongst all of these contrasting personalities you have the parking issues and cliques to deal with, both of which cause further stress and irritation. Trying to dodge the traffic warden whilst competing for parking spots isn’t exactly fun. Nor is being excluded by a clique of mothers who stop talking every time you approach them.  And let’s not even get into the dynamics of the working mums versus the stay at home mums. The school run is an absolute minefield but a fascinating one at that.

Truth be told, this ritual, although stressful, offers a curious insight into female dynamics and the world of motherhood, whilst occasionally producing some good friendships. Despite the difference and drama, the shared dread and drudgery of the school run unites us. It’s not my favourite part of the day but there’s no denying that what goes on at the school gates makes the morning routine a little less dull, spicing up what would otherwise be an abysmal start to the day.

Car Chaos

I don’t know what it is about family car journeys but lately they have been the stuff of nightmares. I’m not even talking about long road trips. I’m talking about the day to day car journeys we make to school/clubs/friends’ houses etc. The back seat bickering from my offspring is relentless and quite often escalates to full scale screechy hysterics. And it’s no better at the front. At least fifty percent of our shared car journeys result in the Old Git and I having some kind of dispute, ranging from passive aggressive muttering to unrestrained frothing at the mouth. The drama that unfolds in my car is really quite astonishing. This car chaos normally ends with me feeling like a complete and utter wreck all before 9am. Lovely. Thank you very much.

So let me tell you how it all begins. Before we even get to the car, the kids are fighting. They fight over who runs out of the house first, who reaches the car first and who gets into the car first. They then fight over who has more leg room or whose window is rolled down the most. It’s basically one big scrap. Snacks work and silence them for a good few minutes, but once they finish spraying my car with crumbs they resume scrapping. On occasion I’ve shouted so loudly at them I’m sure passing cars have heard my booming voice. I now make sure all the windows are rolled up before I start my angry tirade. Big sigh. The other day I actually had to stop the car to tell them to stop screeching and gave them a blow by blow account of what would happen if mummy crashed the car because of their screaming. Nice. Needless to say it alarmed them sufficiently to keep them quiet for the rest of the car journey.  Effective parenting at its best.

Happier days in the car..
Happier days in the car..

As for the Old Git and I, car conflict is nothing new. If I am driving he finds it physically impossible not to give a running commentary of all my “alleged” driving flaws, normally accompanied by a whole lot of head shaking, gasping and tutting. As you can imagine, this does not go down very well with me.  He then gets an earful, huffs and puffs for the rest of the journey, I get irritated and all the while the kids are in the back scrapping. Family bliss indeed.

So what is it about the car that brings out the worst in us? I suppose it’s similar to road rage. When we are in an enclosed space our senses become heightened and we are more likely to react to provocation.

I’ve already told the Old Git to keep his “driving advice” to himself when I am behind the wheel and he has made me promise to refrain from bringing up any controversial topics that will trigger him whilst he’s driving. Let’s see if this can make for a more harmonious car journey. As for the kids, well, that will require some long term and consistent action. Lecturing them doesn’t work, but stopping the car and refusing to move until the hysteria dies down seems to be a more effective method. Next time though, I won’t go into the gruesome, graphic details of what happens in a road traffic accident. #Notnecessary #Toomuchinformation.

I’m hopeful that the day will come when we will all be able to make witty, pleasant conversation in the car and use that time as enjoyable family time. In the meantime, I will just have to pump up the music (to drown out the screaming), drive very slowly, breathe deeply and remind myself that this too shall pass. I know at some point I will be able to laugh about this. Just not right now.

That Broody Feeling

Shoot me now. Lately I’ve been having the most ridiculous, random, senseless and, quite frankly, alarming thoughts about having another baby. It’s completely crazy and is about as likely as me giving birth to twin Chihuahuas, but it’s causing me considerable anxiety. I have two children and more than my fair share of cuddles, affection, drama and angst. Baby number three has never been on the agenda, especially since turning forty. So why the hell am I getting that broody feeling again?

zaf and baby jenna
The baby days..

Of course it doesn’t help that I have recently visited various friends who have produced the most beautiful newborns, as there’s nothing quite like that familiar smell of talcum powder mixed in with baby vomit to make you feel nostalgic. Their tiny little fingers, silky smooth hair and dreamy eyes gazing up at you is enough to tempt even the most hardened of women, albeit only for a few seconds. In fact, I went as far as to ask the Old Git what his thoughts were on producing another mini-me and he responded by practically choking on his Kit Kat. I had to quickly reassure him that it was just a fleeting thought.

After much analysis and introspection, I’ve realised there are two reasons why I have been having these pangs of emotion. Firstly, my youngest, Ludoo, is about to start full time school in September. The realisation that my needy, obsessive, demanding baby will no longer be a “baby” is a strange one. Whilst Ludoo does, undoubtedly, drive me bonkers most of the day, I know that I will miss him. He is like my shadow, following me around everywhere I go. Sometimes, when he is at nursery, I find myself looking at other women with their young kids, and missing him. Then I SLAP myself and remember that I am hands free, hassle free and completely free to do as I please for a few hours. Hoorah! These sentimental feelings do not, however, equate to a desire to have another baby. Rather, they reflect a wistful acceptance that my youngest is growing up and an idealised affection for the early years spent with him. Feelings of nostalgia are not the same as feelings of broodiness.

The second reason for these unexpected feelings stem from my entry into the forties club. There is an uncomfortable sense of doom about diminishing fertility and a wave of panic that if I do want to have another child I had better do it now before it is too late. But again, this is more about my own sense of womanhood than about wanting another baby. It’s not that I want to be knee deep in nappies and baby puke all over again. No. But the prospect of not being able to have another baby should I want one is a scary one that takes some getting used to.

So there you have it. Panic over. Nostalgia and the aging process have a lot to answer for. Now that I have regained my senses, I can go back to anticipating my imminent freedom from the preschool club and planning my life of (relative) independence. Be gone stinky nappies. Be gone night feeds.  I am not going to be tricked into thinking that’s what I want again. Whilst I will always remember the baby years fondly, I’m ready to reclaim my life.

Kids and iPads

We all do it. When we are feeling harassed and the kids are driving us nuts we dish out the iPads in an attempt to keep them quiet and distracted. It’s the ultimate babysitter and a useful negotiating tool as the mere utterance of a threat to destroy/sell/remove the iPad causes extreme panic and palpitations. Heck, my kids would drink toilet water if it meant they could have more screen time. It definitely makes life easier for parents but are kids and iPads really such a good idea? Are we risking the health and wellbeing of our children by being too lenient with our gadgets?

20161228_115826 (1)
The iPhone trance..

I’ve been to people’s homes where almost all of the kids there have been glued to their own personal iPads for the entire duration of the visit. There is no social interaction or interest whatsoever and the whole afternoon is spent gazing at a screen. It frustrates me as it inevitably means my own kids will end up peering over their shoulders watching them swipe left, right, up and down, mesmerised by the techno games. But what about real play? Running, climbing, making up games together? Exchanging ideas and resolving differences? All pretty critical social and emotional skills, none of which can be developed by sitting on a couch playing on the iPad or iPhone. We are living in an age where screen time is replacing real time activities and that is a worry.

Kids as young as two are addicted to the iPhone and it’s not easy to wean them off.   Many experts suggest that too much screen time can lead to an inactive, unhealthy lifestyle (not ideal bearing in mind current rates of child obesity), sleep disorders and aggression. I’ve seen it myself. When my kids use the iPad for too long their behaviour definitely deteriorates. Not only do they ignore everything I say and refuse to follow instructions, they turn into raging, hysterical bulls when I try to prise the iPad away from them. The techno child can be a very angry child indeed.

“Mummy, don’t even think about taking my iPad away.”

Of course I try to convince myself that the iPad is a great educational tool but in all honesty my kids will play the Maths and English games for about ten minutes before switching to something less cerebral. There’s no doubt it can be an engaging way for a child to learn but it definitely needs to be monitored. Left to their own devices it will be hours of My Little Pony or Sonic the Hedgehog. Shudder. In fact, research from the University of Cambridge suggests too much screen time results in a fall in academic grades amongst 14-16 year olds. Yikes! How the hell is Flump going to become a world class brain surgeon and Ludoo the CEO of a multi-million dollar empire if I let them spend all day on the iPad???

I’m going to be bold/foolish and put it out there. I think allowing our kids to consistently overuse gadgets is lazy parenting. I’ve had days when I’ve let my two spend hours on the iPad and I’ve always felt horrendously guilty about it afterwards. It’s not ideal, although on occasion it has felt necessary for my mental wellbeing! I try to make sure it’s not a regular occurrence as these habits are difficult to break. For me, the key is parental control. As long as we limit the time spent in front of a screen (the US Department of Health recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for those over the age of two- this includes TV, computers, iPads and phones) there’s no reason it can’t be beneficial.

We live in a digital age where children are expected to be tech savvy but it’s a slippery slope towards becoming a tech addict. I’d rather my kids spend their time enjoying and learning from life in the real world than spend endless hours in a virtual world.