It wasn’t sofa naps, it was hospital: First Week of Play-Along

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I did warn you last week. I did say that sometimes the Summer Play-Along might be interrupted.

When I wrote that, though, I was thinking more along the lines of being too lazy to do craft activities. I wasn’t expecting it to be interrupted by a two day stay in the Children’s Ward of our favourite hospital. An infection caused an asthma flare up and Tuesday found us in A&E with the Boy on oxygen and hourly nebulisers. We got out two days later, as always feeling tearfully grateful for the wonderful nurses and doctors who looked after him, and the amazing play facilities provided for the children on the ward, while simultaneously being so so very happy to be back home.

Here is a little overview of what we did manage to do at home:

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And there was playing in the hospital as well, even if it wasn’t from The Box. The Boy made Numberjacks and minions out of paper, and The Girl fell in love with her “own little girl piggy”. When she came, supposedly to visit her brother, she ignored my arms held out ready for a big hug, thinking she would have missed me overnight, and searched the room for the pig. The pig got a hug, not me.

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What I have learned from this first week of summer activities is that sometimes just committing to doing something special every day is enough to make it happen, even if it wasn’t what you prepared earlier. Having steeled myself mentally for putting in a bit of effort every day made me more inclined to say yes to other things the children suggested or thinking up extra plans. We made rainbow pancakes from a Peppa Pig magazine and played Chloe’s Closet in the play tent, we made a 4 times table poster (every day is a school day for the Boy!) and played chase in the garden.

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Here’s hoping for a more normal week next week!

Kingston Summer Holiday Play-Along: Getting Started

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So. Summer holidays.

Perhaps you are looking at this endless stretch of time with mixed feelings.

Perhaps, like me, you have an over-active imagination and a brain full of plans, brimming over with fun ideas for games to play and crafts to make – but perhaps your body, like mine, is saying ‘sod off, I just want to veg on the sofa with Nick Jr on all day’. (I’m sorry, CBeebies, we have switched allegiance. It was Peppa who lured us over and Dora who made us stay, that wily minx).

OR perhaps you have the will and the energy to do things with your children, but you have run out of ideas.

Whatever the case may be, I would like to invite you to play along with our Kingston Summer of Fun. Think of it as an online summer camp, where I provide the ideas and you can choose to do them with your children – or not.

This is where we start:

I decided last week that I did not want to get to 2 September, the eve of the Boy’s first day at Big School, and look back with regret at weeks that had flown by too fast, frittered away in front of the TV or in the supermarket getting more bananas. So I sat down with the kids and we made the Summer Fun Box. The idea is that every day, depending on the weather, the kids could pull out one card from the sunny or the rainy side of the box and it would have something fun (or helpful) on it that we would then do.

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I committed in my mind to always saying yes, whatever it said on the card. Therefore, the activities had to meet certain criteria:

1. They must be limited to about half an hour of adult involvement. Free independent play before/during/afterwards is obviously not just okay but encouraged! But they had to be things that I could play-and-walk-away from after an acceptable amount of time, just in case I’d had a very bad night’s sleep.

2. It had to be possible to do them in the house or garden. No outings, because some days are just not suitable for day trips, and then I might have had to say no.

3. All the required materials must already be in the house. If an activity requires a trip to Hobbycraft before it can be completed then it might never happen.

We cut up 24 blue cards and drew rain clouds on them and 24 yellow cards which the Boy decorated with jolly suns. I wrote a different activity on each card. I’d made a list the night before, but the Boy came up with more ideas which we added to the remaining cards.

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Then we took a small empty box, inserted a bit of cardboard in the middle to divide it into two compartments, and did some cutting and sticking to decorate the outside.

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As you can see, we made good use of an IKEA catalogue and stuck “indoor” things on one side (like toys and craft materials) and used some redundant (*sob*) holiday brochures to decorate the other side with sunny outdoorsy things.

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As today was our first official day of the holidays, the first sunny card was selected and it was a big hit with the children. Join me on Facebook for daily activity updates/ideas, or wait for next week for a weekly digest! Come and Play along with us!

DISCLAIMER: Some days I am sure the summer of fun will still be hijacked by Nick Jr and sofa naps… That is okay too. Just make a box for yourself, cut up 24 cards, write “sofa nap” on each one and put them in the box. Draw out a card whenever necessary.

Life Game: Doing School

photo 1 (2)‘Sup gamers?

Hope you’re all enjoying Life Game. I’ve been very busy exploring and only just remembered that I owe you all a walk-through for the:

Great Pre-school Coup

When the Brother was only on Level 3 he somehow gained access to a mysterious cult known as Pre-School. They meet in a building full of toys every morning and share high level skills, forgotten lore and nursery rhymes. They also have access to privileged gear like climbing frames, bouncy castles and plastic sea creatures. For a long time I was only able to get into the building, but I couldn’t work out how you got into the cult itself. There are these five Guardians who are tall enough to bolt and unbolt the doors and it seemed they were the key to getting to stay for the whole morning.

My first breakthrough was when I discovered that there was some kind of feeder group for the cult, called a Toddler Group. You had to turn up at a specific date and time every week, but then you got to play with some of the toys in a separate room. Not quite there, but at least you could get into conversations with one of the guardians to try and win their favour.

Finally, I discovered how to get in for good.

They have passwords.

(I would warn you for spoilers at this point, but let’s face it, you’re not going to Google a walk-through unless you want to know spoilers, right?)

If you want to get in with the Rookies (which I recommend to start off with), the password is ‘Acorn’ and if you want to join the Veterans it’s ‘Chestnut’. Simple really. You just approach one of the guardians, say the password, and the next time you go up to the door there will be a little acorn/chestnut on the board with your name on it. Hey presto! You’re in Pre-School!

Some things you should know about Pre-School:

GOOD

* It comes with a backpack, which increases your inventory. Often you will find scrolls in there with useful information about hats and healthy snacks and concerts and sports days, and any drawings or projects you do will appear in the backpack at the end of the day as well;

* Pre-School also means you get a snack box, which gives your energy levels a boost. Plus having your own box with your name on it is cool.

* There are wonderful new people to meet at Pre-School. I’ve already got my eye on a few classmates that I plan to befriend by blasting them with my Charisma.

BAD

* There seems to be a bit of a bug in Pre-School. Once you have signed up and you are a part of the cult, you then can’t get out of it anymore. There is no way to switch off this automatic re-location to Pre-school every morning. Some days I just want to watch TV or I’ve planned a raid on the Brother’s cuddly toys, so I just don’t have the time to go to Pre-School, but I still keep ending up there. I tried Protest Loudly and Cry and Sulk but the Mummy just puts you in the car anyway and once you are there – dammit – you get distracted by the guardians and their cool toys and you forget to carry on with the crying.

* The only other bad thing about Pre-School is that it limits your wardrobe options. Hats are compulsory in sunny weather, and however much I try to click on the Party Dress option, it is greyed out on pre-school days and your only options are Sensible Clothes and Sensible Shoes. And yes, I tried Cry and Sulk here too but once again, the Mummy seems to have an override.

Well, I’m in now, and working hard to replace the Brother in his position in the cult. I am using a combination of Charm, Wit, Imagination and Hugs to ingratiate myself with the Guardians and make friends with all the other children. I think it must be working, because more and more often now there is talk of the Brother leaving Pre-School and going somewhere else called Big School after the summer. Clearly he has noticed that this is my place now and it ain’t big enough for the both of us.

Although.

Now that he is half out of the door I am a little sad.

Who will protect me from scooters that are about to bump into me now? Who will get my coat and my bag for me? Who will tell me what to play?

Will I have to do all that for myself?

And what is this Big School and how do I get into it?

Let me know if you have any ideas.

Yours with some concern,

The Girl

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Bossy

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The Boy loves racing his sister, as long as he wins.

“Haha, I win!” he sings delightedly as he gets to the end of the garden path first.

“Haha, I lose!” the Girl chants with equal enthusiasm, arriving just behind him.

Most of the time, they play very happily together. That is, as long as the Boy is in charge, or at least on board with the chosen activity.

Things go wrong when The Girl does not comply. This time she has not waited for the Boy. She pelts down the garden path with her doll’s pram, heading for the finish. The Boy is left behind, still trying to turn his bike around, crying and screeching at her: “NOOOO, I need to be in front! It’s not a race this time! STOP!”

It is not okay for the Girl to have her own ideas about what or how to play. He can say that they are racing or not racing, but she cannot.  When they are in the garden, they need to play the Boy’s elaborate games. If his sister is engrossed in some other activity of her own choosing, he gets more and more cross until he is stamping and crying with frustration.

After an incident this morning, I called the Boy into the kitchen. I showed him a bottle of (rather nice balsamic) vinegar and a squeezy bottle of honey.

“Smell,” I said. “Which one do you like better?”

He was still wiping tears of rage from his eyes. His sister had refused to come inside, and I had got cross with him for trying to drag her by her arm. He sniffed the honey and smiled. He sniffed the vinegar and pulled a face.

“I don’t like that one better,” he said.

“So you prefer the honey?”

“Yes. The honey.”

“If you were trying to catch a fly, what would you use to try to get them to come to you? The vinegar or the honey?”

He pointed at the honey.

“And if you want to get your sister to do something, how do you think you could persuade her? Would you say something sweet like the honey, or would you say something sour, like the vinegar?”

“Something sweet,” he said, cottoning on.

“That’s right. If you shout and yell and get cross, she won’t do what you want. But she might if you make it into something nice for her.”

I made a quick mental note that I should heed this advice myself a bit more often. I thought back, blushing, to many occasions this week when I was less than enticing trying to get the kids into the car to go to pre-school. Note to self: Use more metaphorical honey.

It’s not like I haven’t had a lifetime of practice.

As a child, I was an incredibly bossy older sister. Unlike The Boy, I had a very compliant younger sibling, so I did have an easier time of it with far less stamping and crying. But I also developed more effective tactics for getting my little brother to do what I wanted. I used plenty of honey. To entice him into my imaginary worlds, I used to make sure he was the main character. I was everyone else. When we played boarding school, I called it “Crickety Pitches” (my brother is a big cricket fan) and he got to be the protagonist – I played his best friend Ricky, the teachers, the bullies, the dinner ladies and misc ground staff. When we played Enchanted Planet Dnzjnov, he was the son of the ruling wizard and I was the servant girl side kick.

You’d think playing second fiddle would bother me, but I had discovered early on that it is not the main character who is in charge. Besides all the supporting roles and extras, I always played the part of the narrator. I shaped the world, I controlled the action, I was behind the earthquakes, the villains and their crafty plans and the sudden surprise Maths quizzes. I had discovered the power of the writer.

As you can see, I was an expert make up artist. I really thought I'd done a great job on the Easter Bunny facepaint.

As you can see, I was an expert make up artist. I really thought I’d done a great job on the Easter Bunny facepaint. Photo: (c) P.M.Kroonenberg

A case in point, preserved for posterity on a precious cassette tape, was our Easter Play. The story was ostensibly about the Easter Bunny, played by my brother at age 3. All the other credits were mine (Judith, age 6): set design, costumes, make up, supporting character (The Little Mouse) and narrator. Despite my parents’ best efforts at intervention, which can be heard on the tape, the Easter Bunny only got two, grudging lines in the whole play, one to say he was happy it was Easter, the other to say he was going home.

My brother was perfectly happy, even if my parents were not. He was drunk on honey.

Yes, I was a master, even at age 6. Is my son, at 4 1/2, ready to be my apprentice?

This afternoon, the kids have a friend round to play. In the hallway I can hear the Boy getting cross with his friend. “Noooo you need to go upstairs! We are playing with the cuddlies! GET BACK HERE!”

“Are you using honey?” I ask my son.

“No. Vinegar,” he says, ashamed.

“How can you ask nicely, so your friend might want to come upstairs with you?”

The Boy looks promisingly thoughtful, so I leave him to come up with a sensitive, gentle, conflict resolving scheme.

Five minutes later the Boy appears by my side with the bottle of honey. “I tried running upstairs with it, but he didn’t follow the honey,” he tells me. “It didn’t work.”

Hm. Not quite there yet.

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Some Stuff you Need to Know about Working from Home

photo 1 (7)Never content with doing just one thing, I have three jobs. Mostly, they all take place at home. Working from home seemed like a brilliant idea: it’s flexible, you don’t need babysitters and you can take on as much or as little work as you are able to cope with. However, there are a few drawbacks.

Some of the issues with your home also being your office are universal: you can never switch off from work, because it is always around you; the housework suddenly becomes extremely urgent when you are within 24 hours of a deadline and you end up snacking non-stop, as the biscuit tin is never more than a few steps away and nobody bats an eyelid if you pop out to the shops to get a massive chocolate cake just for your own consumption (or is that just me…?). Oh yes, and then there is the self-assessment tax return. “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”, my arse.

But I have found that having small children turns freelancing from a pleasant occupation with a few drawbacks into a farcical game of pinball – every time you manage to re-route a distraction it just comes back to you with more force from an unexpected angle.

Here are five things you need to consider before you decide working from home would be an excellent alternative to paying out for childcare:

1. In most jobs, people don’t mess with your desk.

Okay, maybe I have been known to rifle through the papers on someone’s desk to steal borrow a spare form that I need urgently, or perhaps I might borrow a pair of scissors, but I do always return things. I would certainly never ever start incorporating their important paperwork into an elaborate craft project involving glitter and sequins, or decide it is just the right background for my latest painting of a whale. Never.

2. In most jobs, your colleagues don’t need your help to go to the toilet

One of the most refreshing things I have found about being back in the adult education classroom is that nobody needs me to wipe their bottom. When I am preparing lessons at home, however, it seems like my children are running a relay race to and from the toilet.

3. In most jobs, your colleagues don’t wee on the floor.

Or should some unfortunate soul have an accident, they wouldn’t come and tell you about it, and they certainly wouldn’t be expecting you to clean it up and provide them with clean clothing and then find enough other laundry to run the washing machine.

4. In most jobs, your colleagues don’t need you to sort out their arguments for them

I suppose if you are a manager then this is in fact part of your job. But in the average work place I have found that my colleagues are quite capable of dealing with their own conflicts without me needing to settle who is allowed to play with the pink unicorn now or who had the red car first. Even if they are incapable of resolving their differences, they are happy to delay bitching about each other until you are ready to listen to them and don’t come and interrupt you in the middle of a difficult sentence.

5. In most jobs, your colleagues don’t want to sit on your lap while you work

Nor, I assume, do they start operating your touch screen with their toes and adding extra paragraphs consisting entirely of the letters ‘f’ and ‘l’ while you are distracted by someone else.

In short, trying to work while your small children are at home means it takes you three hours to do 30 minutes’ worth of work. If you very reasonably ask them to wait with their questions and concerns until you have finished your paragraph, then the following will happen – this is a real-time transcript of what is actually going on right next to me while I am trying to finish this post:

“Mummy, I can’t find my other bit of Blu-tack. Mummy. Mummy, I can’t find my other bit of Blu-tack. Where is it? Is it in A’s hair? Is it all in A’s hair? Can you get some more out of the box? Shall I get the box to you so you can get it out? How many seconds until you have finished your work? Are you working in seconds or minutes Mummy? What is a paragraph, Mummy? There are thirty red parrots flying around the house.”

Finally, while my son is turning round and round in circles asking on repeat: “How many more minutes?”, my daughter comes to his rescue and does a poo in her underpants.

I guess I’d better go.

The Fantasy Worlds They Live In

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The Boy

“Mummy, will you play my fruit game? Here, press on a fruit sticker, and it will become REAL.

Mummy, now play my dog game. Which dog would you like? ZIP! Now it’s REAL!

Mummy, The Girl is making LOTS of pups! The dining room is full of pups. There are thirty-four of them now. This house is getting very full. There are not 97, not 98, not 99, but one hundred dogs now! Here, give this one a treat and it will grow even more.

Mummy, I can’t go to bed now, I need to do some more stickers on here. Ah, I’ll use the Easter egg stickers. If you press on an egg, it will come alive.

My house is really busy, because there are one hundred dogs, and one hundred Easter eggs, and one hundred of me as well.”

The Girl

In the car, the Girl suddenly sits up and says in alarm: “Mummy! There’s something behind us!”

Me: “What’s behind us?”

Her: “A fairy pony.”

Me: “Ah.”

Her: “It’s a magical pony. It can make us go super-fast.” Silence. “It’s coming through the seats.”

Another moment’s silence. Then very quietly she says: “Naughty magical pony.”

We drive along.

Her: “Talk to her Mummy.”

Me: “The magic pony can talk?”

Her: “Talk to her.”

Me: “Hi Magic Pony. Where do you live?”

Magic Pony: “Into my story cave.”

Me: “Okay. And do you have a special friend?”photo 1 (6)

Magic Pony: “Yes! It’s the star one. It’s a little star. But I can’t find her! She’s lost! She’s in terrible trouble!”

Her: “Don’t worry, Pony. We’ll help you.”

Pony: “Oh, thank you.”

Her: “Magic Pony, are you make us go super-fast?”

Pony: “Yes, course!”

Her: “Oh great.”

My Own Fantasy World

Me: “Kids, it’s 5.45am. It is not morning. It is the middle of the night. Why don’t you go back to sleep, or read quietly in your bed?”

Five minutes later, there is a sound most like a herd of elephants galloping on the landing, followed by piercing shrieks and sobbing because the Girl has taken one of the Boy’s 25 favourite cuddlies and insists it is hers.

Five minutes after that, Team Umizoomi is on TV and I am making myself a cup of tea, fantasising about when they are teenagers and sleep until midday.

Erasing Memories

As parents we are mostly in the business of making memories.

But often it is as important to get rid of them. Like the memory of rashly made promises that you find yourself unable to keep. Or of the chocolate cake you blithely set about making with the children the night before, forgetting that you are keeping your daughter off dairy for a week.

Cake? What cake?

Cake? What cake?

“The cake needs to cool right down before we can eat some. It needs to cool down overnight,” I said, hoping sleep would induce amnesia.

This morning, as I set about erasing the evidence with a cup of tea in the kitchen, I thought gloomily that my plan was doomed to failure. My son, who has taught himself to read primarily by building up a dizzying sight-vocabulary, has a near-photographic memory. Times this by ten for memories that are inconvenient to you. Times this by a hundred for memories involving snacks.

Just yesterday he asked me about the banana chocolate chip muffins we had made last week, wondering where they were. To his great disappointment, I had to admit that they were all gone now, and he pressed me for a detailed accounting of the fate of each of the twelve muffins.

On occasions when the Fairy Godmother is babysitting I give her a quick rundown of the important information of the day while rushing out the door. “And I did say that before bed he could finish sticking the alphabet land book he was making earlier, but he’s probably forgotten about that by now,” I say dismissively.

“Yeah, all those things you say he has probably forgotten? He never has,” the Fairy Godmother replies gloomily, as I run off to work leaving her in craft-hell.

Sometimes there are things the Boy actually wants to forget, but can’t.

His intense curiosity, lively imagination and sensitivity are a bad combination when it comes to films, books or TV shows that contain what is laughably referred to as ‘mild peril’. (For the record, Disney, to a four year old, an adorable little rat being swept away on a raft by a rushing river and getting separated from his family, while being shot at with a shotgun is not ‘mild peril’. Yes, I am looking at you, Ratatouille.) The Boy will back away from the screen, squeaking in fear, his eyes still glued to the TV, unable to look away. These are memories that he will refer to later and mull over, trying to unpick their meaning.

The images that have haunted him above all else were from a Barbapapa book about pollution and animal cruelty. (I know, not the ideal topic for a children’s book. It has taught me to re-read my childhood favourites before showing them to my children…) He loved the book and wanted to read it all day, asking me questions: why were those people hunting the animals? What did they want to do to the animals? What is coming out of that chimney? Why are the animals sad? What is the dirty stuff in the water? What are those people wearing on their faces? (They were gas masks. Barbapapa doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pushing its idealistic agenda onto the next generation). What are the people doing now? Is the air clean again now? Will the animals come back?

He woke in the night crying bitter tears, his dreams filled with smoke from chimneys and a sky that had gone black and would never be blue again. We talked, I explained, we prayed together, he slept. The next day he woke from a car-nap, again terrified and in tears because people had destroyed the earth and the sky was black.

We had really good conversations about all sorts of important things off the back of this book, but how I wished I could hide the book and erase the memories.

In the end, he worked out a way to do it himself.

“See,” he said, “This is the book all about me. It has lots of pages.”

“What book?” I said. He wasn’t holding anything.

“Here, in the air.”

I looked up. He was pointing proudly at nothing. He told me that the book had pictures, and he could look things up about when he was two or when he was three. I started to understand. The book was imaginary. It was the book of his life, with all his memories.

“But some pages I will take out,” he said very seriously. “Like the pages about the chimney with the smoke and the sky that is black. I will rip those pages out of my book.”

“That is a good idea,” I said. “And we can put nice pictures on the pages instead and fill up your book with good memories.”

“Yes,” the Boy agreed.

“Great,” I said, giving him a hug. “Let’s bake a chocolate cake.”

Life Game: Potty Training Edition

Dearest Gamers,

Sorry for the long silence, but I’ve been very busy navigating my way through all the complex quests in Level 2. I won’t go into all of the stuff I’ve been doing now (the coup I staged on the Brother’s pre-school deserves a post all of its own I think) because right now I want to talk you through the Potty Training quest.

At some point during Level 2 I was given a scroll, signed by the Mummy. It said:

“Congratulations! You are now a Big Girl. I have removed all nappies from your inventory and replaced them with Pants with Cartoon Characters and Anthropomorphised Fruit on. From now on, when you perform Wee or Poo actions on the Potty or Toilet, you will receive 1 Sweet.”onderbroeken

I have to say I was a bit dazzled by this news to begin with, for several reasons:

1. I’d always been a Little Girl. What was involved in being a Big Girl? Would I still get to wrap up in a massive towel and Play Baby? Would I still get hugs?

2. I checked my stats, but I hadn’t gained any height. How was I going to get up onto the toilet? I can’t even get onto the space hopper! Or the balance bike!

3. Sweets had always been a precious commodity, rarely available in the house, and if they were in stock, they were usually enchanted by the Fairy Godmother with a “Mine”-spell. Were they now really freely available? Just by weeing or pooing in the potty? It seemed like there must be a hidden trap somewhere.

So I gave it a go a few times. I weed on the floor – got wet. I weed on my chair – got wet. I weed in the potty – got a sweetie, as promised. I tried the toilet too, which was even better, as it comes not just with sweets but with a whole flushing routine. Finally I was actually allowed, nay, required to press the awesome Button of Rushing Water.

The only trouble is: how do you know when to sit on the potty in order to get a sweetie? I started off trying as often as possible for maximum sweetie-revenue, but sometimes I’d just sit there with no result, getting more and more frustrated. The Mummy would say “Never mind, just try again later. When you feel like you need to do a wee, go straight to the potty, okay?”

I wanted to say: “But I am not yet fully aware of the urge to urinate and my response is therefore often as not, too late.”

Sadly, that was not a conversation option at Level 2.

So, rather than working out this tricky “urge” and knowing just when to go, I have been working on an alternate, subversive strategy for sweet acquisition that I would like to share with you all here.

But shhhhh, this is super-secret.

What you do is: turn the tables on the Mummy and potty train her instead.

The trick is to turn up the pressure on the Mummy to such a degree that she gives up on waiting for you to learn to recognise when you need to go, and just works out when she needs to put you on the potty on time for you to do a wee.

Turning up the pressure is easy:

1. Choose your friends carefully: only associate with fully potty trained model toddlers. They will make the Mummy feel embarrassed that you are still not trained.

2. Puddles: make as many as you can, in as many different places as you can. And be sure to look adorably distressed at the result. This dials up both the Embarrassment and the Sympathy. I can recommend the pharmacy as an excellent place for a puddle, as well as a grown up friend’s new carpet. Puddles that destroy stuff are even better: try weeing on puzzles or library books.

3. Regularity: time your puddles. Make sure it is a pattern that is easy to recognise though, Mummies can be a bit dim. As soon as she notices the pattern she will find it impossible to resist the urge to beat you to it and put you on the potty just before it is puddle-time.

It’s brilliant. I’ve got my Mummy pretty well trained now and the sweets and congratulatory cuddles just keep on coming. I’m just hoping that she doesn’t cotton on it’s actually her that’s doing it, or she might start pocketing the winnings for herself.

Try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

Love & kisses,

The Girl

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Public apology to my son’s plants

Dear Seeds,

Anybody home? No?

Anybody home? No?

I haven’t seen any green shoots appear so I guess you must be dead. When my son brought you home with great excitement, in that little pot with a sticker with his name on it and a hand-written note from the lovely pre-school staff saying “Today the Boy planted sunflower seeds”, you were probably unaware that you were going to be handed over to a serial killer. (That’s me, in case your current state of dehydration and asphyxiation hadn’t tipped you off)

By now, you could have become a lovely tender green plant in the tidy and clean window sill of some other Mum’s home, with a lovely view through the crystal clear windows of the beautifully tended garden where you would soon be able to spread your roots and grow and eventually flower.

But sadly you came home with the Boy and now you are here.

I did remember to water you on the first day. And on the fourth day, I think, or it might have been the seventh, I lost count, and quite frankly, that is my problem right there. Or I guess it is more your problem, as I have not noticeably suffered from your demise.

Some of your fellow seeds were in another pot, with the Girl’s name on it, and that didn’t even make it to the window sill – perhaps that is of some comfort. I stuffed that pot in her school bag, where I accidentally tipped it over as I pulled her lunch box out, and all the soil spilled out, probably with the seeds in, and I shook the whole lot out into the bin.

It wasn’t even the compost bin.

The truth is, I just can’t make myself care enough about you plants. I wish I did. It’s not that I hate nature or anything. I love walking through forests, for instance. And I love the idea of growing plants from seeds. But I’m afraid there is always something more pressing on my mind. You are bottom of the food chain in our house. And unless you learn to somehow draw attention to yourself, like the cats very successfully do, you are going to stay there.

I guess this apology is more of a “sorry not sorry”. Because although I do feel really bad about your death (and the death of the others before you), I don’t see myself changing my ways anytime soon.

After World War Three and the nuclear apocalypse, when the supermarkets have become places to hide from zombies and the farmers have all been eaten by aliens, once peace has been restored and we pick up the pieces and try to build new lives for ourselves, I promise that then I will really and truly dedicate myself to growing a beanstalk. And potatoes and carrots and everything. They will have top priority then.

Though I have to admit I probably still won’t bother with sunflowers.

Sorry again.

The Boy’s Mum.

This could have been you if we'd done the right thing and taken you to Gran's. Gran knows how to look after plants.

This could have been you if we’d done the right thing and taken you to Gran’s. Gran knows how to look after plants.

And then what?

The Boy is 4 and a half.

“Mummy, what happens if you leave your car in the car park?”

“Eventually someone will call the police and they will take it away. Then it will cost you a lot of money to get it back.”

“But what if the police don’t come and take it away?”

“Well, then it will just stay there.”

“And then what?”

“It will just stay there.”

“And then what?”

“Well, eventually, after a very long time, everything falls apart. The car will start to rust and fall to pieces.”

“And then what, Mummy?”

“And then what what?”

“After the car has fallen to pieces, what will happen then? Can they fix it?”

This is the Boy’s new hobby. Anything interesting that comes up, he wants to follow the process through to its ultimate conclusion. What are the eventual consequences? My husband and I promised each other that we would take our children’s questions seriously, and give them a real answer – as long as it was age appropriate of course. So we do this: we answer his “and then”s ad infinitum.

Sometimes, the questions come from scientific curiosity.

Sometimes, from worries. He has recently discovered that there is such a thing as death, and it seems sometimes that he is checking whether a decision could lead to something disappearing from this world, either through death or by breaking beyond repair and Mummy throwing it away. If I warn him not to do or touch something, he wants to know what the consequences might be: if he did step in dog poo, what would happen? Would the shoe need to be thrown away? Would he get sick? How sick? If he dropped his Paw Patrol playset on the floor, would it break? Would Daddy still be able to fix it?

Sometimes you can see that he is assessing the risks and benefits of being naughty. So eating something off the floor might give you a poorly tummy. And then what? You might have a very sore stomach and throw up. And then what? Do you have to go to hospital? No? Do you have to go to the doctor? Not always? You can see the cogs whirring: this doesn’t sound too bad, perhaps a risk I could take if it is a very tasty bit of cake that has dropped on the floor.

Something I always liked about the Numberjacks was how they seemed to exemplify their age. Numberjack 2 is very two: everything is “mine!” This where our Girl is at. 3 wants to do everything herself and 4 likes rules. Numberjack 5 is the one who asks “What if…?” It would seem our four and a half year old has levelled up ahead of time.

While writing this, the Boy has turned up next to me, his head on one side, a proud grin on his face. I notice that he has tucked a small Lego piece into his ear and is balancing it there, waiting for me to notice his clever trick.

“No!” I shout. “Don’t put stuff in your ear! It might get stuck!”

I’m sure you can guess his answer.

numberjack5