Drastic Plastic

My task for this week is to gather random bits of plastic from around the house, shove them into jars with a few molar-killing sweets and stick a bow on top, for our school Christmas fair. This is a remarkably cleansing experience. It really is the chance to ‘give something back’.

Every celebration seems increasingly associated with two things: sweets & tiny bits of plastic. Sometimes one is even wrapped around the other (thanks, Kinder egg people). So as we head to the end of another fun-packed year, it’s a joy and a pleasure to hunt and gather all of the stocking fillers, party bag toys and Halloween treats lying forlorn and forgotten, and ‘regift’ them via our jam jar tombola.

Obviously, I have to do this while my children are out of the way, otherwise they will suddenly remember the joy of unwrapping the wind-up beetle or the mini wax crayons (another pack! Just what we need!) and I will be forced to hand them back. In the past there have been a few suspicious glances at the jars lined up on the stall: “Hey! I had a monster like that!”…not any more, my love, not any more.

But what this annual exercise teaches me is that I am absolutely complicit in the accumulation of plastic crap in our house. With one hand I’m packing the jars and with the other I’m buying THIS year’s set of stocking fillers. Perhaps less a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, and more that two bits of my brain are failing to communicate. I kind of know as I browse the ‘pocket money’ toys that the children don’t need another stretchy dinosaur, but… it’s better than just chocolate isn’t it? So I shell out another fiver on bits and bobs, enjoy seeing their faces as they unwrap them… then find myself a year later dumping the lot on some other unsuspecting parent.

This, of course, is not the end of the story. Because across the school, there are dozens of parents doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Last year, my kids had a winning streak. I donated four jars. And how many did they win between them? Yup. Four. Maybe this will be the year I manage to stuff their stockings with useful, disposable & edible items. Maybe. But then, what would I put in the jars next year?

Feminism, food & freebies. It can only be Blogfest.

Ok, let’s deal with the biggie first. Once again, Mumsnet managed to sneak a controversial ‘this will get them going’  session in at the end of the day. Last year Caitlin Moran rescued our senses of humour from Liz Jones, this time Jo Brand got the gig. As she made clear, she’s faced worst audiences. But she managed to raise the thermostat from ice queen to tipsy giggler in seconds.

Feminism

I’m not going to get into the ‘she said.. then she said..’ as it’s already been done much better by far superior Mumsnet Bloggers. For me there was just a nostalgic, heady thrill to be in a room full of women TALKING ABOUT FEMINISM. I haven’t done that for about 20 years, and for a long time I didn’t think I’d witness it ever again. For it also to be at a conference dominated by mothers just felt, well, exciting. The heartfelt exchange of views – some of which, it has to be said, were lobbed to and from the stage like live ‘think bombs’ – just shows how many strong articulate women there are whose voices are so often still ignored. Frankly Mumsnet didn’t even need to give the session such a provocative title, “Can you be a Mummy Blogger and still be a Feminist?”. Just “Feminism. Discuss” probably would have been enough to set us all off, especially with a panel that strong. It felt as if feminism was alive and well throughout the day, from Stella Creasy’s rebuttals of Toby Young to Sue Black‘s inspirational claim that educating mothers in technology educates the nation. Powerful, life-enhancing stuff. No one was asked about their favourite biscuit. Jammy Dodgers all round, I expect.

Food

Which leads me on to the next major point of Blogfest. The food. I’d like to consider myself a connoisseur now, having sampled last year’s grub as well as this year’s. And I’m sorry, but I reckon 2012 had the edge. Mini croissants, mini cupcakes, mini lemon drizzle… the sweet offerings were all just a bit… small. To the extent they ran out mid-afternoon. The horror! And I’m not sure whose idea the oodles of cabbage was. Sorry, Mumsnet, but was that an ironic nod to the cabbage diet?

Freebies

Luckily, there were still plenty of freebies to keep us all happy. Mooched around the  beach bar but decided I needed a clear head to find out how to tell a better story with a brilliant panel including AL Kennedy and Lionel Shriver. Wish there had been a non-alcoholic cocktail – Feminista Sista, perhaps? With a dollop of jam? Loved the G&Ts at the end of the day, we were all in need of a drink by then. And when it was finally home time, I have to confess I was the one rifling through all the goody bags to make sure Lionel Shriver was in there… though not literally, sadly. Lovely chocolates, some great kids’ stuff and some rather suspect boob firmer (really, Mumsnet!) all kept me entertained on the train home. My head was absolutely spinning with ideas. I wish I’d recorded the whole day and could tap into it at leisure. Instead I’ve got my tweets to look back on and a sense of righteous indignation, courtesy of Jo Brand.

And finally….family

Or rather, family holidays. Because in a shameless attempt to bag a free Mark Warner trip, I’m crowbarring in a top tip for holiday fun. And it’s this – TRY SOMETHING NEW. Everyone should have a go at something different, whether it’s swimming in the sea, eating a mussel or crazy golf, as the new experiences make the best memories. If your kids see you getting out of your comfort zone, they’ll have a go too. And the day ‘Mum screamed on the mini rollercoaster’ will enter family history. I still haven’t lived it down.

Starting school – a guide for new parents

I bumped into a friend whose son had just started school this weekend. She had a look of shock etched onto her face. “We thought we’d got this parenting thing sussed”, she admitted. “We’d managed the return to work, settling into nursery, even a new baby in the family, but this…..this is something else”. I know how she feels.

When your child begins school, the balance of power shifts. No longer are you calling the shots with the nursery/childminder/preschool, deciding when you will drop off and pick up your child, calling if you’re worried and checking what they’ve been up to at the end of each day. Instead, you hand over your child in a playground or – if you’re lucky – in the classroom, and that’s it.

No one really wants you to stick around, to settle them in, because there’s the business of learning to be getting on with. One friend was told off for hanging her son’s coat up for him. I haven’t even seen where the pegs are, we have to wave them off in the hope that jackets, bags, hats and gloves will somehow make it into class and out again with the right owners.

I now have two at school, so this is less of a shock. But if it’s new to you, here are five things you should know:

1. No one’s going to tell you about your child’s bowel movements anymore. And if they do, it’s bad news, because they’re probably calling to ask you to bring in clean clothes. You just have to guess what’s gone on from the state they’re in by bathtime.

2. Expect to get a letter nearly every day. No one can criticise schools for not trying to keep in touch. The reams of paper which are rescued from bookbags at the end of every day will often contain vital info about trips, what to bring in the next day and school meetings. Unfortunately 4 year olds aren’t very good at holding on to bits of paper so you can be sure you’ll miss one sooner or later (You were supposed to dress up today? Who knew?).

3. Schools love acronyms. I still don’t know what PSHCE really stands for, as no one at school has ever bothered to spell it out. We’re all just supposed to know.

4. Any day now you will be asked to help with the Christmas Fair. Think carefully about this. I threw myself into the PTA to begin with, but now with a child higher up the school I am officially BURNT OUT. I just can’t stand out in the cold anymore dealing with grumpy kids waiting to see ‘Father Christmas’ (looking remarkably like the deputy head). It’s worth calculating exactly how many Fairs you’ll have to be involved in throughout your children’s school careers and keeping your powder dry till you can avoid it no longer.

5. You are about to be amazed by your child. Amazed they can be so independent, amazed they can sound out letters and amazed they know the names of so many kids in the playground. Even if they have a shaky start, by the end of this first year they will have learned so much. Enjoy.

Footloose and child free – once a week

So here I am, a working mother of two, the second of which has just started school, leaving me with… gasp! The luxury!… a whole day a week ‘to myself’. What will I do, I’ve been asked, now I’ve got all this time? Those gapingly empty hours between about 9am and 3pm, once school runs have been taken into account.

What does any woman do in this situation? Write a list of course. Here’s my current to-do list for all those child-free hours (six a week – count ‘em!).

  • Get fit.
  • Cook hearty stews to feed us all week.
  • Sort through everyone’s clothes. All those age 2-3 tops cluttering up the drawers will have to go.
  • Clear out all the kitchen cupboards. The tide of tupperware is threatening to engulf us all.
  • Review all the family finances – because that’s what grown-ups are supposed to do.
  • Write a blog. Ahem.

In my head, of course, all of this will get done with, as I keep being reminded ‘all that spare time’. In reality, of course, what I have actually managed to achieve with my weekly day of freedom so far has been several loads of laundry, quite a lot of dishwasher emptying and filling, lots of surface-wiping and more time than I would admit to pootling around on the interweb. It’s possible I am close to achieving the last point on my list. But guess what? It’s nearly school pick up time again. Blogging, like just about everything else, will have to wait.