Do parents have favourites?

Catching leaves

The Girl is really doing my head in at the moment, and to be honest, I’m kind of relieved.

For the first three years of her life, I cuddled her, carried her everywhere, dressed her, slept in her bed with her if she had nightmares or growing pains or just wanted company in the night, let her off eating the rest of her dinner if she didn’t fancy it. My husband, the Fairy Godmother and I even sing to her in glorious three part harmony if we are all around when she wakes up at night. (As you can imagine, this has done nothing to decrease the frequency of nightwaking.)

In short, I have doted on her. She is simply the cutest, squidgiest, most adorable little person to ever dance around on two legs and then fall flat on her face.

Meanwhile, the Boy was difficult.

When he was two, I had a baby to deal with and I had to push him to be more independent. He got on with it and worked out how to dress and undress, climb into the bath by himself and learned to read himself stories for good measure.

When he was three, he started developing a will of Valyrian steel. It drove me nuts. Mainly, I was just outraged that he would defy me at all. For what seems like ages we locked horns. I would lay down the law – he would pursue his own, clearly superior plan. It took The Husband and I over a year to work out the best ways of challenging his behaviour and leading it down better, more acceptable paths.

It seemed to me, on a daily basis, like my interactions with the Boy were mostly negative and my time with the Girl was full of hugs and delight.

I started to worry that I had let myself develop a knee-jerk, negative response to the Boy.

I started to worry that I had A Favourite.

When I was in my early teens there was a period of a few months when I was convinced, with searing jealousy, that my Mum loved my brother more than me. I would catch her looking at him with an adoring look in her eye that spelled it all out plain as day, to my mind. Meanwhile, I felt I was getting all the jobs, the reprimands, the disapproval.

And you know what – maybe I did, at that time. He was a tween and still had a bit of the cute chubby cheeked look while I had just shot up and sprouted spots everywhere. Not so cute. Also, I was a teenager and did more stuff that deserved reprimanding. Also also, I was older and could handle more jobs.

Perhaps, at 3 and 1, the Girl was my favourite of the two. She said adorably cute things and let me dress her and she (mostly) did as I asked. If she was naughty, it wasn’t deliberate.

Fast forward to present day. The Boy at 5 is a delight. He is actually helpful: he can feed the cats, wash up, set the table, pour milk into the Girl’s cereal and has intelligent comments on multiple choice reading exams. He is fascinated by everything, and you can have amazing conversations with him about science and art and religion and you end up feeling like a genius because you know so much (compared to a 5 year old). His favourite pastimes no longer require my input or much supervision: he will play school by himself, he develops and executes craft projects with minimal help and he builds Lego intended for 7 year olds from the “inconstructions”, as he adorably calls them.

The Girl, on the other hand, clearly thinks Valyrian steel is for wimps and sissies and has developed a will made of diamonds. It sparkles so brightly, endears you with its determination and then BAM: she is on the floor wailing, refusing to move when you are already ten minutes late for school pick up.

When she does not want to do something, she will a) ignore you, then b) go limp on the floor refusing to move and c) start crying like you are taking her to prison. And believe me, there are many, very reasonable things that she does not want to do.

The Husband and I are working on strategies, but it may take a year or more to train this one. This time we are more upbeat though. At the table is a 5 year old building Lego, living proof that the threenager can be defeated.

So: do parents have favourites? Yes, yes we do. But who that favourite is depends entirely on who is the most pleasant to be around at the time – which may be different every day.

IMG_6414 (2)

Advertisements

When your kids should be bilingual – but aren’t

IMG_8258.JPG

Giant Seagull (c) P.M. Kroonenberg

I had high hopes and big dreams.

In my head, my children would, at 3 and 5, be completely fluent in both English and Dutch.

They would speak Dutch to me (grammatical Dutch, with age appropriate vocabulary) and then switch seamlessly to English when talking to Daddy.

They would read Dutch books with me and be card-carrying Annie MG Schmidt fans. They would read Suske & Wiske and excitedly run for the latest Donald Duck magazine in Albert Heijn. Dutch shop assistants would not be able to tell that these children lived in England most of the time.

I was not so aware of the extent and level of detail of my Dream, and the height of my expectations, until I had to face up to the fact that reality was falling far, far short of them.

“Mummy, you dragen me,” was for a long time the sum total of my daughter’s Dutch. (“Dragen” means “carry”). At best, we would get one stray Dutch word in the occasional sentence. On our last visit to the Netherlands she managed to crank this up to two, running up to me crying in the playground to tell me that “those jongetjes didn’t want me to spelen.”

Bringing kids up to be bilingual is hard.

I thought it would just happen, if I spoke Dutch to them all the time.

I hadn’t realised how hard it would be to do that: speak Dutch consistently. How my day to day life meant it would sometimes be rude to (when visiting English speaking friends and their children for a play date), or unwise to (in a city tense from terrorist attacks where guttural languages sound suspicious and it is better not to sound foreign), or just too much like hard work (when you can’t think of the words because you don’t speak Dutch much yourself in daily life).

If you want to be consistent, sometimes you need to switch languages constantly, speaking English to your partner and Dutch to the kids when everyone is in the same room at the same time. It’s hard work. And confusing.

I hadn’t realised that my own Dutch would have got so rusty that it was actually harder work to speak my mother tongue than to default to English.

I hadn’t realised that being consistent would be hindered by the kids’ own choice of language, that they would choose English, and that I would absent-mindedly respond in English too.

I have found it hard to come to terms with the result of this, with the reality. That my own children speak my language like a foreigner, if at all. Living here has been an exciting adventure so far, it has made me feel special to be an immigrant here, but my children not speaking Dutch to me makes me feel suddenly isolated. I realise now that I had imagined sharing with them all the little bits of me that don’t translate into English. And I can’t.

However, on our last visit to Opa and Oma they made me see things differently.

“But you are bilingual,” my Dad said. “And you didn’t learn English until you were seven.”

That is when I saw another hidden assumption I had made. I had assumed that this was it. I had thought: they are not fluent now, and so they will never be. I have missed the boat.

Suddenly, I remembered so many other examples of bilingual friends with messy stories: some who became bilingual at 8 or 11 years old because of a move; some with parents who never did; some with siblings who became bilingual while they lagged behind; some who grew up with two languages but ended up more proficient in a third; some who had spoken another language when they were young, lost it and found it again as an adult.

For all of them, being bilingual to some extent ended up defining the course of their life. I know it did for me.

My children’s experience of growing up with English and Dutch will not be what I had planned for them. But it will have a massive impact on who they are and what they do with their lives. I will just have to be patient and watch their own, individual stories unfold.

Tell me about your experiences of bilingualism, or share your words of wisdom below in the comments!

photo (7)

A little message for Opa and Oma on their mirror: “Eye luv yoo” in Dutch

Sinterklaas: Is there any point celebrating a foreign festival?

2013_12_01_PieterAlsSinterklaas7Els.jpg

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

photo (6)

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?

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

11209360_1010215319002475_1378890113578796447_n

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:

11745800_1011650365525637_8767301217486328614_n captain card bike card card   11705313_1010308355659838_931104380955522485_nphoto 2 (1)11750673_1011194395571234_8607979568620463773_nphoto 1 (1)11218772_1010308482326492_7096384551351554789_n11760151_1011194435571230_7266321737099643408_n11745502_1011650405525633_1905496607245003355_nfamily poolsunglassesbox boatbike

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.

photo 1 (4) photo 2 (4)

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.

10409192_1009296189094388_7227144193045280333_nphoto 1 (3)photo 2 (3)photo 3 (1)

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

Kingston Summer Holiday Play-Along: Getting Started

photo 2 (1)

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.

photo 1 (1)

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.

photo 3 (1)

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.

photo 5

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.

photo 4

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Memories of the best holiday job ever

Today Secrets of the Sandpit is pleased to provide you with a unique glimpse of summers on the beach in Wales in the 1960s. This post was written by my amazing mother in law.

July 2014 208

Whilst recently having a family picnic on a sandy beach in South Wales I was reminded of my favourite summer job when I was a student in the sixties.

I lived in a small seaside town in South Wales and the council employed a number of young college students to work at the seaside. My brother had the job of hiring out deckchairs during the wettest summer for years and after two weeks relentless rain where he had not sold a single deckchair ticket he was laid off and was only employed for the occasional few sunny days during the rest of the season.

I had better luck the year I was employed to care for any lost children on the beach. It was a glorious summer. We were stationed to the rear of the first aid post with an assortment of toys and books and a nice shady area where the children could play until they were claimed by mostly grateful parents. We had a loudspeaker system which broadcast the name and description of each ‘lost’ child along the promenade.

There were a number of other students acting as lifeguards, deckchair hirers, first aiders and a couple of lads who were supposed to empty litter bins and keep the beach clear of rubbish. They spent most of their days riding up and down the promenade in an old land rover trying to look busy.

When I had no lost children to look after I would help out on the first aid post as I had a first aid certificate; we were busy applying sticking plaster to cut knees and grazed elbows one day when a lad came into the room looking rather pale as he had a fish hook stuck in his hand. This was a hospital emergency so the lads in the land rover sprang into action and rushed me and the afflicted lad and his parents to the nearby cottage hospital for the doctors to remove the fish hook.

The lady in charge of the fist aid post had a great fondness for a nice cup of tea and also had an endless supply of home made cake so we all needed reviving by her on our return from the hospital.

July 2014 188Our busiest days at the seaside were the days when coaches of day trippers came down from the valleys for their breath of sea air and a taste of fish and chips. Their children were more likely to get lost as they were not used to being disorientated by the sea and the tide as it crept up and down the sand.

Fortunately the coach drivers always pointed out the place to find lost children or receive first aid so we occasionally had an anxious mother arrive before her offspring had found its way to me in the lost children’s garden.

However we did have a few regular customers who mysteriously got lost just as the pub opened and would remain lost for about an hour while their parents had surreptitiously gone for a drink! I found the best way to flush them out was to announce to the beach at large ‘for the last hour little Johnny Jones and his tiny sister who is crying inconsolably have been waiting at the Lost Children’s Garden.’ Their red faced parents would soon appear to find said Johnny and his little sister enjoying a piece of the first aider’s cake and some orange squash!

It was a happy summer when the sun always seemed to shine, when I did the most enjoyable holiday job of my student days.