Friday, 17 October 2014

The Seven Stages of Accepting a New CBeebies Show

Picture credit: BBC

I LOVE CBeebies. But I hate it when they change stuff. Until I come to love it again, that is. Coming to accept a new CBeebies show follows a standard pattern. Here’s the timeline of how I – and maybe you too – move from fear to love.

Day 1: Shock or Disbelief. Kate and Mim-Mim. A show that at first glance, beggars belief. Why is Kate so often left alone? Why does she have an adult’s voice? Why does she never talk below a bellow? When you’re used to Tree Fu Tom following Octonauts like night follows day, it is a terrible shock to have a shake-up to the schedule. An imposter in the midst of your afternoon viewing. One to be treated with hostility and scorn.

Day 2: Denial. Kids are much more adaptable than adults. Never is this made more clear than by the fact that they are actually beginning to like this show. I can deny it as much as I want, but that is what they are asking for when the TV flickers into life.

Day 3: Anger. Why did anything have to change? I remember the days before Tree Fu Tom. Heck, I remember the days before The Octonauts. Yes – and I greeted those little legends as underwater agents of evil. “Gup!” I scoffed. ‘What kind of a word is that?” We now own every single one, obviously. The subtext to this, of course, is: why does my child have to change? Why isn’t he happy watching the same vintage Postman Pats I grew up with? Why does he have to grow up? My baaaaaby!

Day 4: Bargaining. If I let you watch two Kate and Mim-Mims, please please can you then watch a Grandpa in My Pocket (my previous bĂȘte-noir)? These are the kind of pleas I hear myself making.

Day 5: Guilt. My kids love this show – who am I to mutter about it in the background? I’m poisoning their innocent enjoyment of this wonderful programme. I’m not the target audience, anyway.

Day 6: Attrition. By the magic of the I-Player, we have now seen every released episode 18 times. I have come to smile when it comes on. I'm humming the theme tune in the shower. I believe there’s a name for this: Stockholm Syndrome.

Day 7: Acceptance… and Love. How else can you respond to a programme that both delights your children and keeps them quiet while you cook their tea?

Thus, like Statler and Waldorf, the Muppets in the balcony, I move from outright criticism to abundant praise in a volte-face as hilarious as it is predictable. Talking of the Muppets, The Furchester Hotel skipped right from Disbelief to Love for me. It’s hard to believe that The Muppets could be recreated but they had me at “Cooookie”. Those tunes are catchy, man! And the Vegetones – they rock!

Picture credit:
'That was awful! That was really bad! Well, it was OK. It was pretty good. That ROCKED!'

There’s one final stage that I haven’t listed above: Boredom. Like any craze, after a certain time, it dies out. Real stayers, like Octonauts, have a renaissance every few months, and obviously there’s huge excitement when there’s a new series out. And then you realise: the guys at CBeebies are not mixing the schedule up for the children. It’s to keep us parents interested.

Is it just me who struggles with changes to CBeebies?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Accidental Cougar

When being maternal gets misconstrued

It started innocuously enough. After an abs session at the gym, I happened to fall into conversation with the new fitness coach, Tom*. He asked me about my exercise routine and goals, I said I wanted to drink wine and eat chocolate guilt-free. I asked him what he did before joining our gym and he told me a bit about his career, including playing county rugby. He said he had to give it up because…and here I found myself uttering this deathless phrase:

“You don’t want to ruin your beautiful face.”

I don’t know why I said it. It just came out! Of course, I had noticed that he was a total hunk of divinity, but very much in an 'ooh, his mother must be proud' kind of way. I can honestly say when he mentioned the rugby thing that I went off into a reverie about my oldest son’s (aged 6) very recent foray into this sport and was ratcheting through my various feelings on the subject – dreams of World Cup glory, fears of a smashed-up face – which led to my final comment. I can thus excuse what came out of my mouth, to myself. But Tom now backs away whenever he sees me coming. You see, I have become an accidental cougar.

Once I was a flirt; now I am a mother hen. 

This was by no means an isolated incident. It all started when I had my first child.
Once you become a mother, you feel full of such emotion and power that sometimes it feels like you could mother the whole world. Mother to one, mother to all. Now I’ve had three, and am permanently around other people’s children too, I can’t keep my maternal manner at bay. In general, this ought to be good for society – offering a kind, interested and sympathetic face to the general public.

However, when it comes to males young enough to be my son – at a stretch (I’m late-thirties) – it can backfire sometimes, as I’ve discovered. “Good for your muscles!” I’ll call gaily to the young chap pushing the trolleys in the supermarket carpark. He nearly rams them into a car. “Oh, you look a bit tired today,” I recently told one of the baristas at my favourite cafĂ©, as if I were going to proceed to put him down for a nap. He said he was hungover; I asked whether he was out with mates, in a ‘check he got home safe’ type way. He seemed to construe this in an ‘are you single?’ type way and now I can’t order my decaf cappuccino without ducking knowing smiles from him and his pals.

But I can rise above this. I know my intentions are pure. It’s too late with Tom – if I tried to retract the “beautiful face” (still cringing) comment, it will just seem like I’m protesting too much. As long as I limit myself to transactional-based chat and keep my cheery commentary for my own children, I may yet shake off my reputation. Is it just me or do you ever find yourself being an Accidental Cougar?
*Names have been changed.

This piece is also over on The Huffington Post here.

Brilliant blog posts on

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?