World Cup Craft

I hate football.

I hate watching sport.

But there is something about being an ex-pat that suddenly makes you excited about things that at home you would have spurned as you would spurn a rabid dog.

Driving my car around my English town, I put on home-made mix CDs and sing along with unabashed abandon to cheesy Dutch songs from the 80s that my friends over in the Netherlands wouldn’t be caught dead listening to. I don’t even dare name them because my friends read my blog and I’d be able to hear their mocking laughter all the way across the North Sea. Some of these songs have become my son’s firm favourites, it’s that bad.

Similarly, I was not bothered about watching Holland play in the World Cup when I still lived at home. But now that I am abroad, this is a little bit of nationalism that I find myself indulging in. I watched the Netherlands play Spain with only half an eye, not expecting much, but in the aftermath I couldn’t help feeling a little thrill of national pride whenever people commented on the score to me (5-1, btw. For The Netherlands. Just saying).

So when it came to their second match and I discovered it was on at 5pm, I decided to make a thing of it. I told the kids that we were watching “Nederland” play football in the afternoon as a special treat. The Boy was excited, but I realised that he had very little concept as yet of supporting a national team (flags, colours, football songs) or even of football. He wouldn’t know what he was watching out for or when to cheer.

Time for some craft, I decided!



I got out some white paper and some chopsticks to make flags with, some scissors, pritt stick and coloured paper. The kids did all the glueing and I cut the red and blue paper into strips to stick onto their flags in (roughly) the right places.

little crafter


Ready for waving!

Ready for waving!

Then it was time to explain the rules of football. Just in case you are a novice yourself, this is what you need to know: there are two teams. Our team is wearing blue and orange. When they kick the ball into the other team’s goal, you cheer and wave your home-made flag. (You’re welcome)


The kids managed longer than I had expected. The Boy was keen to see the number at the top of the screen change from 0-0 and kept asking me why I “oohed” or “ahhhed” or groaned or tutted. I tried to stay patient and give him the details he craved (“that player was very naughty and pushed the player in the yellow shirt”). I knew the Boy had been needing the toilet for at least half an hour and I had tried suggesting he might see if there was any surprise wee before the match started but he insisted he didn’t need to. Twenty minutes into the game he squeaked: “I need the potty!” He dashed into the kitchen and just as the door swung shut behind him there was a deafening roar from the orange-clad fans in the stadium: Holland had scored the first goal. He stopped himself at the brink and came in, trousers around his ankles, to see what had happened. The numbers had changed! He went back out to finish the job but no sooner had he disappeared from the room or another shout went up, this time from the green and yellow fans. Australia had scored! My poor boy wailed: “I can’t wee if they keep shouting ‘yay!'”

The Girl was not into it. It wasn’t long before she got bored with watching tiny people run up and down a green screen and started wailing that she wanted Dora, Boots and Diego. I asked the Boy what he wanted. He admitted that he wouldn’t mind a bit of Dora, Boots and Diego either. So we switched to Nick Jr and learned to say “por favor” instead. I couldn’t blame them really. Despite my new found patriotism, I still struggle to suppress a yawn when faced with 90 minutes of football and at half time I was starting to long for a rip-roaring adventure with Dora myself. Perhaps for their third match this afternoon I should just stick to waving a paper flag while watching the highlights…



In-flight entertainment for young children


I have already written a philosophical post about our recent holiday and how the children grew up in that one week and all the stuff we learned.

This one is where I give you some Extremely Useful Tips about travelling on a plane with small people. Brace yourselves.

On the plane on the way over, we were sitting opposite a mum travelling solo with four children, ranging in age from 18 months to 7 or 8. Having some experience of taking my two children on an aeroplane by myself, first of all I need to say: my hat off to you, you are one brave lady. Her kids behaved atrociously during the whole flight: bickering, arguing, screaming, crying, kicking against seats, making outrageous demands, not staying in their seat at safety-critical moments etc. Their rather stressed and worn out mother, trapped with the youngest on her lap, made empty threats from across the aisle at her three older kids who were seated together by themselves.

I felt great. My daughter was sitting on my lap munching on some raisins, my son was calmly studying a book about multiplication tables. Suddenly, by comparison, we were doing great and our kids were a credit to us.

I had plenty of time, while my kids were so well-behaved, to study what was going on with the “neighbours from hell” as one cranky old man sitting in front of the unruly threenager called them, and to think of some Points for Improvement to put on their feedback sheet. Combined with some exciting craft ideas, I present to you my:

Tips for travelling with under 5s

1. Do not under any circumstances let them sit by themselves

Keep your small people within easy reach. You need to be able to grab them if they work out how to undo their seatbelts and stage a break out. Also, you want to be able to hiss dire threats into their ear without the whole plane listening in and judging your parenting techniques. Disciplining your child in a foreign language is definitely a bonus here, but beware: people on aeroplanes are 56.7% more likely to speak your language than the average stranger in a soft play place. The best place for parents to sit is so that the children have to get through you to get to each other. Another good option is to flank them, one parent on each side.


2. Pack snacks. Healthy snacks. Without E-numbers.

The rowdy kids on the plane devoured their body weight in Haribo, chomping through their entire supply within the first ten minutes. We hadn’t even taken off yet. The rest of the journey they were high as kites. Whereas food is an excellent way to entertain your small people in flight, make sure the food helps rather than hinders. Good snacks take a long time for your 3 year old to unwrap and an even longer time to eat. They are exciting enough to act as a bribe for sitting quietly during take off, but not so exciting that they prompt tantrums when they are all gone. If you have a child that still naps, good snacks also have plenty of sleepy making carbohydrates in them so that they will nod off for the latter half of the journey. I’d packed brioche (sweet, filling, takes a while to eat, not too crumbly), raisins (take ages, fun to get out of the box), bread sticks (appealingly crunchy) and flavoured rice cakes. Fruit is great but often doesn’t survive long enough.


3. Bring entertainment that doesn’t annoy other passengers and if possible, can’t get lost too easily

The latter is almost impossible, but mostly I bring sticker books and magazines with activities. Also colouring pencils (not felt tips, or they will decorate you and the plane as well), sticker sheets and little books to read/look at. On our last trip I brought pencils but no paper, so we invented a lovely activity that I named “Decorate your own Sick Bag”:



4. Use what is available

If you run out of snacks or your carefully chosen activities are spurned, look in the seat pocket in front of you or the arm rest beside you for inspiration. Besides sick bag decorating, we have played “pull the safety card from where Daddy wedged it under the catch that holds the tray table up while giggling insanely”, we have studied the in-flight magazine with interested and named everything in it, we have looked out of the window and, as my son is completely obsessed with numbers, he spent a happy fifteen minutes changing channels on the armrest radio.



5. Stay calm and engage with your children

Nothing makes a potentially explosive child more likely to explode than you losing your cool. You are stuck in a seat together for a while, so it is best to keep the tone light, the mood up-beat and the snack and hugs coming. If your child finds something that amuses them and wants to do it again and again and again, for goodness sake keep doing it. If you have to read Topsy and Tim have a Birthday Party eight times in a row, do it with feeling. It might even see you through until the plane lands. This is not a time to strike up deep and meaningful conversations with the person next to you (yes, I’m looking at you, solo-travelling-mum-of-four), you are needed to be entertainer, referee, play facilitator, snack provider and conversation partner. This is a time to give your child all the attention s/he asks for.


Finally, if your kids do end up crying inconsolably and all you can do is grin and bear it, just keep in mind that it is in no way my fault and you probably did something wrong by not following my advice to the letter.

Note: if anyone reading this was on a flight to Spain last autumn and thinks they saw me walk up and down the aisle with a screaming baby for an hour, that absolutely categorically was not me.

Note 2: Got any great tips of your own that you’d like to share? Put them in the comments! 

What you can do with a little patience

When I do bad parenting, it is because I have run out of patience. Or perhaps I woke up without any to start with. Impatient Mummy says: “Oh for goodness sake, it’s not that bad, get up off the floor.” She meets tantrums with anger, dawdling with manhandling, reluctance to eat dinner with ultimatums and pestering in the kitchen with “Get out of the way, go sit on the sofa and watch Numberjacks!”

Impatient Mummy often surfaces, I have noticed, when the Baby is providing the background music. Her post-modern minimalist compositions like “Ode to Hunger” and “I am being Ignoooooored” bore into the brain and render me incapable of rational thought. Sadly, the Toddler bears the brunt of my frustration.

This post, however, is about what happens when I approach his obsessions, tantrums and wheedling with a calm and reasonable frame of mind. It is about the moments I am proud of.

Regular readers will know that my son’s number-obsession has found its natural outlet in a love of the Numberjacks. (He’d known it all along: numbers are alive! They go on secret missions and solve ploplems!) For the past month or so I have had the greatest trouble persuading him to play with anything non-number related. One day this past week, determined to do something different, I put out the puzzle pieces of his former favourite Maisie Mouse puzzle out on the floor ready for when he got up from his nap. It has numbers on it as well as pictures, so I thought it would hopefully still catch his interest. I brought him downstairs and he surveyed the pieces on the floor.

maisie puzzleS: Messy Mummy! Puzzle floor.
Me: Mummy wanted to do the puzzle, but she couldn’t without your help.
S: Try Mummy.
Me: I think maybe these go together.
S: Yes, Mummy. Amazing! Try 9, Mummy.
I pick up the puzzle piece that has the number 9 on it.
Me: Ooo, where does it go? Can you help?
S: Nex-a 5, Mummy.

He took over then and finished the puzzle off himself. Then he gleefully described what he saw in a wonderful bilingual Toddler-stream of consciousness: “10 nex-a 9. Maisie eendjes eten. Eendjes hap-a bread. [Maisie ducks feed. Ducks munch bread.] Maisie plant. Glijbaan . Maisie too happy!”

And so I learned Lesson 1: Patronising your Mummy is more fun even than watching Numberjacks.

Another brilliant new game that he loves and will play even if Numberjacks is on offer is ‘Mama poes [cat]’. We discovered it on a day when I managed to unglue myself from the sofa and relinquish my dignity. I crawled over to the Toddler on all fours and gave him a little nudge with my nose. He turned around in delight and exclaimed: “Hello mama poes!”

I meowed and gave him another little nudge. We had a little conversation where he asked me questions and I meowed in reply, which he thought hilarious, and I ended up reading him one of his favourite stories entirely in meows.

A week or so later I was having another good day and became ‘mama hond [dog]’. This turned out to be an even better game. The Toddler clearly knew that dogs like water, so he went into the kitchen with a pot he’d emptied of magnetic numbers and pretended to fill it at the tap.

S: Shhhhhhh. Here you go, mama hond. Drink.
Me: Woof!
I pretend to drink while he sits on the kitchen floor and observes with rapt attention.
S: Very loud, mama hond. Oh! Ding dong! Can that be?
He runs to the front door. I follow on all fours, wondering what is going to happen now.
S: Hello Joanne! [one of my friends] Come and see.
He runs back to the kitchen.
S: Mama hond, drink?
… and the game starts all over again.

And so I learned Lesson 2, which I should have learned in labour really: Get down on all fours. There is no place for dignity in motherhood.

My final bit of model parenting involves dealing with undesirable behaviour. Just so you don’t think I have swallowed Penelope Leach, my normal response to playing with the washing machine/throwing balls indoors/tearing pages out of books is “NOOOO! GRRRRRRRARGH!” followed by me stomping around doing damage control while the Toddler weaves between my legs saying calmly: “Mama cross.”

Today, however, when the Toddler picked up the receiver of our house phone and started dialling, I found myself saying the following: “I understand that you think the telephone is very interesting, but it is not a toy. You must not touch it. Why don’t we make you a telephone to play with? Shall we do that?” I held my breath while he considered this offer. Then he said: “Ah… yes!” We made a telephone out of an empty box with pens and sticky tape and a ribbon to connect the receiver to the phone. He used it to ring me in the kitchen and inform me that he wanted apple juice.

Lesson 3: Patience makes for better parenting. Craft is always fun.

Linking up to Magic Moments.

Things I have done to avoid watching the Numberjacks

The Toddler is obsessed with the Numberjacks. No longer do I get a “Hello Mummy! Nice-a see you!” in the morning. Now it’s “Ah, Mummy. Nummajacks onna way?” All day long he follows me around begging to see our recorded episodes again and again and again. There are only so many times that you can – or should – watch the same four episodes of anything. Sadly, he is in that phase of development where he truly believes that if you just keep asking the same question over and over again, eventually you will get the reply you were hoping for.

Not wanting to relinquish all parental control and have my Toddler sit in front of the TV learning about cylinders all the live long day, I have tried everything I could think of to prise him away. These are all the things I have done to avoid watching the Numberjacks:

1. Re-enact Numberjacks episodes.
This has been quite effective. We have made numbers out of playdough, and the Toddler has gleefully danced them all around the house, ‘looking-a seven, looking-a seven, found a seven!’ Sadly, he has played with them so much that the playdough is going dry and they are starting to crack and fall apart. Every few minutes now he returns to me with a squished handful of playdough: “Mummy, want a three. Make a three Mummy.” It is getting harder and harder to resurrect the numbers, they now crumble in my hand. The result is a very sad Toddler, shrieking “want a threeeeeeee!”

Number 6 supervises a craft activity

Number 6 supervises a craft activity

So I drew him all the Numberjacks on paper. Then we spent quite a bit of time making a house for the Numberjacks in an empty box: gluing on bits of wrapping paper, colouring the inside with felt tips, sticking on glittery number stickers, gluing a picture of a DFS sofa on the inside and then sticking numbers on the sofa. Then we stuck all the paper Numberjacks onto squares of cardboard for durability. This is now a favourite toy and can distract him from the TV for a good fifteen minutes at a time.

Some of his re-enactments are not so great, however, like when Spooky Spoon suddenly turns up in the middle of dinner and there is no longer any eating, just a flying spoon. Sigh.

2. Playing with magnetic numbers.
He hasn’t been in the mood for sticking them on the fridge, but he has spent a happy half hour resting the appropriate magnetic numbers on the cover of his big number book. We have also put them in toy cars and raced them around, and made a miniature ballpool for cuddly toys out of all the magnetic numbers together.

3. Playing Numberjack games on the CBeebies website
This is not my favourite distraction technique, as it means I can’t then use my laptop at all, as he will see it and want to play games instead. But he has in fact learned to use a mouse pad by playing Numberjack games in the space of about twenty minutes.

4. High energy games
While suggestions of nice quiet games are all rejected when he has Numberjacks on the brain – “No, not Duplo. Not Happyland. Not cars. Not drawing.” – running, chasing, racing, football in the garden and dancing are always popular. The trick is not to ask. Just start doing it and he will join in, laughing gleefully. It’s just very tiring for weary parents…

5. A taste of his own medicine
The only time I have managed to get him to actively agree to playing instead of watching the fateful show was when I got incredibly fed up and resorted to acting like, well, a toddler. I threw myself onto the sofa and whined: “I want to play! I want to play!” Requests for Numberjacks stopped instantly. The Toddler rested a very grown up hand on my back and said: “Oh, okay Mummy.”

I had finally spoken to him in a language he understood. Sadly, as this is exactly the kind of behaviour I am trying to discourage in him I won’t be able to use this technique regularly.

Game for a two year old and a five month old baby

Regular readers may have noticed I have started to post regularly on Mondays and Thursdays. I am adding this bonus post because I had to share this lovely moment:

The Toddler announced it was “picpic time”. I sat down next to him. He ceremoniously held his shopping basket with groceries on his lap.

“What are we going to eat?” I ask. “Can I have a green cabbage?”

Yes, yes, I know, not traditional picnic fare, but I panicked, okay?

“Plates, Mummy!” the Toddler said. I went to the kitchen and got three paper plates. “One for you, one for me and one for the Baby,” I said.

I got the Baby and sat her on my lap. She was first offered a plastic lemon, but it rolled onto the floor.

Then, the Toddler invented the Best Game Ever. He took his paper plate and started to go: “Flap flap flap!” I followed suit with my own. “Birds!” he laughed. The birds swooped and flew and bumped into each other with big theatrical bumps.

From my lap, I suddenly heard a new sound. It was giggling. I looked down to find that the Baby was watching the paper-plate-birds, enthralled, beaming – and laughing.


“Look, the Baby is laughing! She likes your game!” I excitedly told the Toddler. “Let’s give her a plate and see if she wants to join in.” I held the third paper plate near her, and she dutifully grabbed it.

The Toddler snatched it back out of her hand and told me sternly: “Very little, Mummy.”

And that was the end of that.


It occurred to me the next day that we could make an actual bird out of the plate.

paper plate bird2paper plate bird1
Made in a minute, yay!