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

photo 2 (1)

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

girl in garden

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