Life Game: What’s Cool and What’s Lame

What’s up Gamers?

I’ve done it! I’ve got to Level 3 of Life Game and I’m becoming quite a pro. I’ve got to the stage where I can watch n00bs blundering about the training levels at Toddler Groups, trying to do Walk or Crawl (badly), and I can have a laugh at them or go up and give them some pointers.

I have also got to a point in the game where I have a pretty clear idea about what I like and what I don’t like. And I don’t see why anyone should try to make me do the bits of the game that are Lame. So in this episode of my Life Game Hacks, I thought I’d give you a run down of the bits I like and the bits I don’t like, and some tips on how to get any interfering busy-bodies (read: The Mummy) to butt out and let you get on with painting your underarms purple or whatever it was you were doing.

COOL STUFF

Painting – What could be more glorious than covering a piece of paper in bright colours using a brush? And your hands. And your knees. And then covering the table, the chair, the floor, your clothes, your hair, your arms and whatever you can get to before the Mummy is alerted to what you’re doing (she calls it Making a Mess but I say potato potahto). Painting is photo (9).JPGawesome.

Cake – With icing please. And every day please. And once I’ve licked the icing off you can pick the discarded spongy bit up off the floor yourself because I don’t need it anymore, thanks.

Teefee – Best. Thing. Ever. Princesses, Barbie, doggies, kitties, beautiful girls with starry Manga eyes, and they all go around rescuing people and eating cupcakes. It’s like my imagination has come to life! And you don’t have to make the characters talk for once so you can just sit back and recuperate some health points.

Tip! Teefee also gives you useful updates on what you could buy in the Shops (with your Mummy’s credits of course). When you spot an item from the Teefee, just point at it and shout at the top of your voice LOOK LOOK LOOK Mummy! It gets her to interact with the item, though I’m still working out how to actually move it to my inventory. Will keep you updated.

Role play – Why be yourself when you can so easily pretend to be someone else? When you interact with an NPC and they address you by your name, just give them a blast of your Charisma and say: “Do you mean: Dora?” You can use any TV character name of course. My current favourite is Princess Leia. Insist that all henchman and other players change their screen names to match your new identity, for instance, The Brother has to be Luke, the Daddy has to be Darth Vader and the Fairy Godmother is, obviously, Cheesebacca.

LAME STUFF

Stickers and colouring – The Mummy seems to think that these are somehow just as fun as Painting and should be an acceptable alternative. But she clearly does not understand what is so fun about Painting. How can you make a decent mess with stickers or crayons? Why would you want to colour inside the lines?? (Yuck)

Comics – Once you’ve got the toy off they’re pretty much useless. Juvenile stuff. I much prefer a decent novel: a bit of David Mitchell or Kate Atkinson will do.

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Preferred outfit in sub-zero temperatures

Warm clothes – ZOMG will they quit already with the coats and jumpers? Don’t they know that they cover up my pretty dresses?? I need to wear a dress, pref a summer dress, not trousers because they are for boys. That is stuff you know when you get to Level 3. Also, socks are nasty and unnecessary, just take them off anytime you can and abandon them wherever.

Playing with stuff I am allowed to play with – Where is the fun in that? Sure, I wanted to play with Skye, but once the Brother gave me his big cuddly Skye, I only got half the experience points for holding her. I had to start sneaking over to his Paw Patrol box to get the little Skye out, because that still gave me the triple experience for doing Thief missions.

Lame Stuff Avoidance Techniques

Here are some ways you can make it clear to the Mummy that her suggestions are lame:

1. When offered unacceptable dinner options, shout: “I SAID I not want dis food!!” Then push the bowl away. You can do this with drink as well, of course: “I SAID I want JUICE!” Then push the offending cup of water across the table so it tips over and soaks the Mummy’s supposedly important papers (my paintings look much more beautiful and she puts those in the recycling so I think this is only fair).

2. Cry. Just roll around on the floor or the sofa and do Crying, making as much noise as possible.

3. Hit. If no NPCs are within range, just whack the sofa or a toy. They have fewer hit points and break more easily so that has the added bonus of making a mess (again)

Well, there you go, it was a long one but I hope this points you in the right direction.

Got any requests for my next update? Let me know in the comments if there is a tricky bit of Life Game you are struggling with and I’ll do you a walk-through in my next post.

xoxox

The Girl

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Sinterklaas: Is there any point celebrating a foreign festival?

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I am an immigrant, but my children are not.

“Tomorrow is Christmas!” my daughter cheered in the car.

“No, it’s not Christmas, it’s Sinterklaas,” I explained for the millionth time.

“But Santa is coming,” she said, hopeful, confused, worried.

“Not Santa, Sinterklaas!” I said, struggling to keep a note of exasperation out of my voice. It was meant to be fun, after all. And I wondered whether I should just not have bothered trying to celebrate a Dutch festival in England.

Hands down my favourite day of the year growing up was 5 December, the eve of Sinterklaas’s birthday, the patron saint of children.

That evening it would be dark outside, but inside there would be a happy glow. There were vast quantities of special sweets on the coffee table, sweets that were only available this time of year: marzipan figures, fondant, little spiced biscuits and other stuff I still don’t really have the English vocabulary to accurately describe (banketletter, anyone?).

My mum would play Sinterklaas songs on the piano (distracting us so we wouldn’t notice that one of the adults had mysteriously disappeared for a moment) and we would all sing along until suddenly, there was a loud knock on the door. My brother and I would race to the front door and outside we would find a big basket of presents.

After dragging it inside, we all took turns finding a present, reading out the poem that came with it while everyone listened and then open the present to find out what was inside. Other more artistically and practically gifted families would make elaborate craft projects and hide the present in there.

photo (8)As we are all language freaks, the poems were a big deal for my family and we loved coming up with ingenious rhymes. When my brother and I were old enough to give presents ourselves, our aim every year was to emulate my parents’ poetic style so that no one could guess who the present was from by the quality of the verse.

Coming to the UK, I was a little distressed to find that unwrapping presents at Christmas didn’t seem to have that same reverence for each gift. Rather than taking turns, it seemed to be more of a rip-away free for all to get to the contents, and I realised it was because there was no poetry and no craft involved. Although lovingly chosen and wrapped, nobody had been forced to spend hours sweating blood at a computer trying to find something to rhyme with ‘scarf’.

Before we actually had kids I had always blithely assumed that Sinterklaas was naturally something we would celebrate with them: the ideal children’s festival.

But it has turned out to be harder than I thought it would be.

Santa is everywhere in December. His mythology is rehearsed alongside the Christmas story at school, among friends, in the shops, on TV. Expectations are built up, grotto’s in schools and shopping centres encourage them to express their Christmas wishes to the man in the red suit with the white beard. The Boy’s reception class has an elf, sells Santa stamps, has a postbox for letters.

Who the hell is Sinterklaas? Nobody mentions him.

I hadn’t realised how necessary the context and the build up is for the enjoyment of the day. In the Netherlands, children do Sinterklaas crafts in class, practise the songs, watch the Saint’s arrival in the country on TV mid-November, put their shoe by the chimney with a wish list for Sinterklaas and a carrot for the horse and find sweets in it in the morning, get a visit from Sinterklaas in class, watch the Sinterklaas News on TV. And on the 4th of December, all their friends go home with eager anticipation, looking forward to what is to come the next day, building up each other’s excitement.

We, on the other hand, just had a conversation in the car on Friday.

Me: “Tomorrow you can put your shoe by the chimney, because Sinterklaas is coming!”

Boy (5): “Yay! Will I get my cuddly minion? Oh… no… I asked Santa for that.”

Girl (3): “Yay! It’s Christmas tomorrow! Santa is coming!”

I realised I should have dialled down my expectations and dialled up the preparation for the big day.

I realised I would have to accept that our Sinterklaas would never be more than the briefest of nods towards what I had as a child, and that Christmas would be the big present-event for them. The 5th of December: just day 5 of the advent calendar with bonus, confusing traditions.

I can’t recreate this very precious little bit of my Dutch childhood for them.

Maybe in time, though, it will become something they treasure. They will buy a little present for each other and there will be whispers and sneaking and secrecy on the 4th, as they hide in their rooms with their laptops writing one poem only but huffing and sighing and delighting in equal measure. Then there will be a special evening, with sweets that they don’t get any other time of the year, and songs that none of their friends know but they do. Perhaps one of them will learn to play the piano and accompany us.

And perhaps it will be a special part of our lives anyway.  Different, but special.photo 1 (9).JPG

The Real Reasons I was Cross Today

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I got cross a lot today, kids, and this is why.

It wasn’t because you ran ahead out of sight.

Well, it was because you ran ahead out of sight.

But mostly it was because you tried to justify it, because you tried to absolve yourself, by saying it wasn’t you, it was the choo choo train you were riding, which didn’t have a stop before the bend so you couldn’t get off. I was cross because you kept insisting the train was real and it really wasn’t your choice, your responsibility.

And it wasn’t because you spilled the water.

Well, it was also because you spilled the water.

But mostly it was because you spilled the water and walked away and didn’t tell me, and by the time I noticed, the water had soaked through Mog’s Christmas, an exercise book, the Disney Princess colouring book, a cut out Elsa and Anna and a full set of lidless felt tips.

And I got even more cross because you didn’t seem bothered that all that stuff was ruined or that I was cross with you.

And it wasn’t because you wouldn’t tie your shoelaces.

It was because you didn’t even want to have a go. Because you said you would do it yourself tomorrow or the day after but I ‘had’ to do it today. It was because you wanted to take a day off from the responsibilities of being 5.

To be honest,

I also got cross because I too get tired of taking responsibility for stuff. And sometimes I wish you kids would make all that a bit easier by doing your bit.

And sometimes I am jealous,
and I wish there was someone that I could
hold my foot up to and say:
you do it.
I’m not in the mood today.
Can you please tie my shoelaces?

You can’t marry your sister

LoveThe Boy is really into asking awkward questions at awkward times.

Just as our friends were saying their vows, unamplified at an outdoor wedding, he asks in a piercing voice: “Why did the people want to kill Jesus?”

Or on a ferry, surrounded by bored people with nothing better to do than eavesdrop on the moral and social education of our son, he wants to know the ins and outs of who can marry who. “Why can’t I marry my sister?” he asks, puzzled. I do my best by explaining that there are different kinds of love. Friend love and family love and the special love that you have for the person you marry.

He nods sagely. “You can NEVER marry your friends.”

“Well,” I back-paddle. “You might find that you start to feel that special love for one of your friends.”

He ponders this. “So why can’t I marry my sister?”

I try to give a sanitized child-friendly explanation of the dangers of mating with someone with very similar DNA. He doesn’t get it all but slowly the awareness seems to sink in that you can’t marry people who are already family.

It’s okay though. The Boy isn’t really planning to marry his sister. He has already chosen his future bride. They had been friends since they were very little and when they discovered there was such a thing as marriage they felt the choice was obvious. It is all decided between them: they will live in a big house in Wales with their 100 children and us parents are expected to visit regularly.

It’s very cute and I wonder sometimes how long this will go on for. Perhaps they will find new and different friends now that they are at different schools and their friendship will dull and the dreams of a house packed with children amid the rolling hills will fade until they are forgotten. Or perhaps they will stay close through the years and when hormones stir they will become Boyfriend and Girlfriend. I have seen this too among my friends’ children.

Today, the Boy asked: “Mama, how do you fall in love with someone?”

I braced myself and plunged in, preparing myself to help him work out future feelings for his chosen bride: “Well, when you see them you get butterflies in your tummy and you love spending time with them. You love looking at them and talking to them and hearing their voice and you want to cuddle them and hold them close all the time.”

His eyes shone in recognition.

“Yes!” he said. “That is how I feel about you, Mummy.”

Love. We’re still working on it.

Shock discovery: children are actual people

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One of the strange things about children is that they are real people.

I know it sounds obvious but bear with me.

They start off so totally dependent on you, with such limited methods of communication, that you spend quite a bit of time interpreting them and providing them with a voice that is not their own. “Oh, he’s just tired.” “Look, he looks so grumpy in that top, he obviously doesn’t like it.” “Oswald just adores Beethoven, don’t you Oswald?” I am totally guilty as charged, just read the Life Game posts.

It actually becomes a life long task for a parent to learn to accept your children as independent individuals with thoughts and ideas of their own.

When I started our summer of fun stuff, I had imagined myself in the role of Fun Bringer and Haver of Great Ideas. I filled our box with activities that I had come up with while the kids were asleep, hoping to surprise and delight them.

Instead, over the past two weeks, they have been surprising and delighting me. We have done about 7 or 8 cards since my last post, but our days have been full of fun and good ideas. Their good ideas. In fact, I found myself starting to write them down. And then making new cards, for next year, with the great games they came up with this summer.

There was the puppet show.

photo 2 (6)It came out of nowhere. One minute we were in the car, driving back from a boring supermarket trip. The next they were shouting: “Let’s have a puppet show!” And we were digging up the finger puppets and making a rudimentary theatre (a box lid on a kid’s chair with a quilt draped over it, in case you want to replicate our success), followed by a retelling of Goldilocks and the three bears using a princess, a tiger, an elephant and a lamb.

There was a plane outside, then a plane indoors. The pilot was a massive cuddly koala bear and the destination was, as always, Nediland (The Netherlands).

There were concerts of beautifully ambitious piano concertos, composed on the spot by one child and interrupted by the other. Then they would swap over.

There was Numberland. The floor was absolutely covered in numbers of all shapes and sizes and materials. It was a little traumatic for Mummy and Daddy, who tidied it all away as soon as the Boy was in bed.photo 3 (4)

There were many board games, which the Girl now understood enough to actually be a plausible participant in.

This just scratches the surface. Children have an amazing imagination. They are totally independent, totally new people, never seen before and utterly unique. Who was I to think they needed my ideas to have a great summer? Thank goodness I have them here, to brighten mine.

If you want to follow our summer Play-Along in greater detail, come and join me on Facebook, where I report on our activities as they happen.

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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.