Ladies Only

“It’s MINE!” All about (not) sharing

giant ice cream
Eat your heart out! Photo courtesy of a friend

One of the nice things about being back in the motherland is the large, green park just a short walk away. It’s a firm favourite with the boys: a jungle-themed adventure playground, a cricket pitch, an indoor pool with slides, paths to scoot along, and the best bit (in Son2’s opinion), an ice cream van.

Leaving the house today, Son2 turns to me and says, “Bring money, Mom!” He grins. He checks I’ve remembered every time we go to the park. That old chestnut, “Oh, I’m sorry, no ice cream today, I’ve got NO money!”, no longer works.

And I have to admit that even I listen out for Mr Whippy’s jingle because without a tinny rendition of Greensleeves it feels like there’s something missing.

Ice cream vans conjure up such wonderful images of summer, sticky-faced kids, and days at the beach. Growing up in the UK, summer holidays weren’t complete without the thin, peculiar chime of an ice cream van shooting down a warm, child-cluttered, residential street, a crowd of excited kids in pursuit. Unless you lived in certain parts of the country, in which case they were undercover police.

But as much as Son2 loves indulging in a lolly, he loathes sharing it.

Today, there was thunder and lightning forecast for 1pm (living in a country where there’s very little weather, it amazes me that the British weather people provide such up-to-the minute forecasts.) Sure enough, as 1pm rolls around, dark clouds roll in. A stiff breeze drifts across the park, rustling the rhododendron bushes. Never mind that five minutes previously it was sunny and hot.

“Quick Mom, let’s get the lolly!” Son2 swivels on his heels and runs up the path towards the van, strategically parked just outside the play area.

I follow him, hand over the money and watch as he rips it open.

His eyes widen as he takes those first licks of strawberry ice.

“Can I have some please?” I raise an eyebrow. I’ve already opened my mouth and closed it twice.

“Nope!”

I stare back, then ask him again. My taste buds are being teased.

“I gave you two Hula Hoops, remember?” Son2 says impassively. “Just before we came out.” He puts a protective hand around his lolly, as though I might suddenly launch myself at it, and devours it in a sticky mess.

When he finishes, he hands me the wooden stick.

“Wh– What? NO WAY!” I give him an incredulous-Mom glare. “You didn’t give me any so you can put it in the bin yourself. Look–” I point at a rubbish bin. “Over there.”

“But I did all the hard work of eating it, so it’s your turn to do all the hard work of throwing it away.”

Gah! Kids!

Postscript: He did throw it away himself, and has promised me one bite tomorrow.

Ladies Only

Tooth Fairy BUSTED!

“Don’t tell Mummy!” Son2 glanced at his brother and stifled a laugh as my curiosity grew. He brought his index finger to his mouth. “Shhh.”

“Don’t tell Mummy what?” I asked, deeply suspicious.

Hopeless at keeping a secret, Son2 then proceeded to tell me anyway: he’d lost a tooth. I peered into his mouth, and there was indeed a new gap, next to a huge front tooth that still looks oversized in comparison to his milk teeth.

tooth-fairy
The end of a chapter in our lives

“Tooth fairy tonight,” I said brightly.

“But mum,” said Son1, from the other side of the lounge, where he was playing on his computer. He pulled his headsets off to actually join in the conversation. “THE TOOTH FAIRY IS FAKE!”

I stalled for time, considering whether just to come clean. To be honest, it would have been a relief. My mind was already trying to figure out whether I had any small notes in the house, and I’m over remembering, exhausted, at 2 in the morning that I need to play tooth fairy. But if I admitted she wasn’t real, wouldn’t they then immediately clock that we’ve been lying about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus too? It was a slippery slope I didn’t feel quite ready to go down, so I replied, “Of course she’s real. Why weren’t you going to tell me about the tooth anyway?”

“Because the tooth fairy is daddy,” said Son1, pinning his gaze on DH on the other sofa. “That’s why we weren’t going to tell you – if the tooth was still under the pillow in the morning, then we’d know for sure we’re right. William’s tooth stayed under his pillow for three days before he finally told his parents and then he got money.”

“What makes you think it’s daddy?” I asked, my nose twitching with the effort of staying deadpan.

“Because,” said Son1 as though it was completely obvious, “the last time he forgot. When we came downstairs in the morning and said the tooth fairy hadn’t been, daddy quickly said ‘Here, hold this,’ and gave me his plate while he ran upstairs to put money under the pillow.”

“Ah, yes.” I gave a small cough. I remembered the incident well.

“And,” Son1 continued, rolling his eyes, “daddy left the tooth under the pillow.”

I think that’s us just about rumbled! Best-case scenario now is that the Santa myth is hanging by a single crimson thread.

Ladies Only

Move over Mary Poppins – meet the Granny Aupairs!

Worried about leaving your kids with the housemaid? An older nanny with wisdom and a sense of adventure could be just what you need

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Granny Bobby couldn’t imagine just staying at home after retiring

Bobby’s dream was always – should she be alone after retirement – to spend time abroad with a family as a ‘temporary Granny’. Thanks to an award-winning nanny agency that places women aged 45+ in households all over the world, her dream came true, and a family in Dubai has benefitted enormously from her life experience.

“I was always working between the age of 16 and 65 and couldn’t imagine just spending time at home with my various hobbies,” says Granny Bobby. “Some of my friends could not believe I would do this, others were really supportive. I kept my flat and my car, leaving them in the care of my best friend and neighbour so I could always return if it didn’t work out.”

Granny Bobby’s first placement was in Bangkok with a German/Filipino family, initially for six months which turned into three years. This was followed by six months with a German/French family in Paris with two small girls. “From the beginning of 2016, with a few breaks, I’ve been in Dubai with an expat German family, who have a six-year-old boy, Joel,” she says.

Joel had just started school, with quite a heavy workload already. “After he returns home in the afternoon, I cook for him, read and do homework, and then play outside or go to baseball. When his mother comes home we eat dinner together before Joel goes to bed. At the weekends, we go on trips to the zoo, the beach, or go shopping or travel.”

Granny Bobby says she finds it extremely rewarding that she can support the family, and has built a very friendly relationship with the mother. “Her husband works in Riyadh and is only home irregularly for the weekend, so the three of us spend quite a lot of time together.”

Older women are usually better than younger aupairs because they have more experience of life, says Michaela Hansen, founder of Hamburg’s Granny Aupair agency. “Families like to take them on because they are reliable, serious and know how to be strict.”

Aged between 45 and 75, the women registered with the agency have brought up families of their own and are now keen to travel or learn another language. Many are former teachers, child care workers, secretaries, flight attendants or nurses. The idea of an aupair is based on mutual help. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return.

Following a period with a German/Italian family of five in South Korea, Granny Anni travelled to Dubai last year. “The mother (German) is a single mother with an 18-month-old daughter. On arrival, I got to know the month of Ramadan and the heat (45 degrees!), as it was the start of summer,” she says.

“I am up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, and am also responsible for lunch while Mum is at work. I quickly realised that my presence was really needed which was a good experience for me. At the weekend, we do the food shopping for the week. I also went on a trip to Abu Dhabi, which I found to be a different world altogether.”

Granny Anni says she also has a “wonderful relationship with the Mama”. After her initial stay in 2016, she returned to Dubai in January and is currently finding the heat “not so suffering”.

Hansen points out that lots of mothers stay in contact with their Granny following the aupair stay. “Often she becomes a motherly friend and is a ‘replacement’ if their own family lives far away.”

Another benefit, she says, is that the Grannies often share their secret recipes. “How lovely is it to arrive home with the whole place smelling of freshly baked cake? Many of our Grannies are true masters of the stove.”

Granny Bobby believes her years as a Granny Aupair with small children or adolescent boys have changed her views enormously, above all with regard to dealing with young children. “I was often brought to my limit, as I had to learn to scale back my needs to respond to the needs and wishes of the youngsters, which was not always easy. But it’s worth it when the kids say they love you and want to be taken into your arms. I am getting so much back and will certainly be visiting other countries as a Granny Aupair.”

Find out more about Granny Aupair here.

Ladies Only

The big shop (kill me now!)

Catherine the Great presents me with a list on a square sheet of paper. She’s really good at writing out the shopping list and giving it to me with a hopeful look on her face. “We’re running out of everything,” she says regretfully.

But I only went shopping five days ago. How can this be? I think. I know the answer: it’s living with boys, who storm through the kitchen leaving it as though a plague of locusts have passed through.

Son 2 pipes up, “Mummy, don’t forget the hot dogs and the strawberry milk.”

Son 1 says, “And the rice cakes. You forgot them last time.”

“Cereal bars!” yells Son2.

DH has just left for Thailand, but I picture him opening the fridge door, the fridge light coming on, and his disappointed face as he finds nothing tempting. He’ll do this a few times, as though something might magically appear – but all that happens is the fridge motor starts purring louder as it cranks up after the door shuts.

My eyes scan the list. It’s long, but not as bad as a few months ago when Catherine the Great was annoyed about having to move house to a compound with no shop and set me really complicated lists, requesting items like ‘square-shaped laundry basket’ and ‘bitter gourd’ (a very bitter-tasting vegetable-fruit that looks like a cucumber with a bad case of warts). She’s added a few branded toiletries to the list, even though we give her money for this, but I always turn a blind eye to these and buy them anyway. And there’s a section for the pets, plus items to make ten lunch boxes. There’s no putting it off. I’ve left it too late to order online. I have to go to the supermarket on a Saturday.

“Anyone want to come with me to help?” I ask the boys.

“Naaah.”

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To the woman of today, the grocery store is not a challenge but a relaxing place to spend an hour.” May 1955 issue of Better Living Magazine. As Envisioning the American Dream points out, gosh, why go to the spa when you could just as easily melt those tensions away by pushing a shopping cart down the aisle of a supermarket.

The store is super-busy, of course. Perhaps because I’m trying to get out of there as quickly as possible, there are people and trolleys everywhere I turn. The fluorescent-lit aisles seem brighter and noisier than usual. The pumped-out smell of baked bread wafts over and I remember the special hot dog rolls Son2 likes. In the closed-off pork section, I find some German ham that looks tasty and DH might like.

With gritted teeth (I really wish I was one of those people who enjoy supermarket shopping), I lug the same old groceries from shelf to check-out to car to kitchen, occasionally going off-liste to make it less tedious.

I don’t manage to get everything as my overloaded trolley, which seems to want to veer right all the time, gets too heavy to push. I’ll order the rest online, I decide.

At home, the boys circle the mountain of shopping like hungry scavengers.

“Where’s the long cheese, mummy?” asks Son2. He starts scrabbling through bags. “Where IS IT? And the rice cakes?”

“Did you bring me a sandwich?” says Son1.

“Here,” I say to Son2, and ‘Yes, I got you a sandwich Son1.” He eats it in a flash and asks for another one. And I’m thinking, ““ARGHHHHH! NO, I DIDN’T BUY YOU TWO EXPENSIVE SANDWICHES. MAYBE IF YOU’D COME WITH ME TO HELP, I’D HAVE GOT THE CRISPS. WHY DOES EVERYONE ASSUME MY SOLE PURPOSE IN LIFE NOW IS TO RUN A 24/7 RESTAURANT AND FULLY STOCKED KITCHEN, IN BETWEEN OTHER FUN TASKS LIKE BROW BEATING YOU INTO DOING HOMEWORK LATER TODAY!”

“Are you alright, mummy?” asks Son1. I might have turned a puce colour. The result of all that carrying and the knowledge it’ll soon all be gone and the weekend’s nearly over as the big shop always seems to TAKE HALF A DAY.

“Oh but, mummy,” says Son2. “YOU FORGOT THE CEREAL BARS! Can you go back?”

Ladies Only

Budapest, communism and airline crew hotels

There’s something I’ve learnt about the children of pilots (and I’m talking about youngsters here – please tell me teenagers are different?). A pilot’s offspring might fly before they take their first teetering steps; their school friends might hail from all over the world; and the class photo might resemble a Benetton advert. But when it comes to the countries they’re lucky enough to visit, the hotel we stay in seems to shape their opinion of the entire nation.

Son2’s favourite place is Birmingham. Why? Something he really liked about the hotel when we stayed there a couple of Christmasses ago (he’ll say it was the carpet, but I’m sure there must have been more to it than that). Italy. The best bit, according to Son2: the airport Sheraton hotel in Milan (which, incidentally, was designed to be a car park). South Africa. The crew hotel, the name of which I can’t remember but Son2 liked the sweets at reception.

So this year, we spent Christmas in Budapest.  

It’s the most amazing city, blessed with beautiful architecture on every corner, romantic bridges, good food and an abundance of hot springs. In December, the city’s golden, twinkly lights take on an extra-special meaning against a (freezing cold) seasonal backdrop of brightly lit Christmas markets selling steaming mulled wine, ice skating at Vajdahunyad Castle, and festive decorations all over the city.

Fabulously festive
Fabulously festive but the hotel held all the appeal

At the market, I didn’t for one minute expect my sons to be into the craft stalls offering artisanal items, but I thought the food might interest them. And it did momentarily (while they were hungry). The goulash served in a huge, hollowed-out bread roll, the potato dumplings, the sausages and the fresh flat bread covered with grated cheese – it was all heartening fare on a night so cold your breath came out like a dragon’s puff. The best bit, for Son2, was the bubblegum marzipan. But once their appetites were sated, the calls began: “CAN WE GO BACK TO THE HOTEL NOW?”

On a visit to Buda Castle for a crisp winter walk with views of the city: “Can we go home?”

“Home?” I asked. “Really?”

“I mean the hotel,” replied Son2.

“We haven’t brought you to Hungary just to sit in the hotel room all day, you know … No really, we haven’t.”

At church on Christmas morning (okay so it was all in Hungarian, a beautiful but impenetrable language): “After this, are we going back to the hotel?”

At Heroes’ Square: “I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE HOTEL!” At this point, Son2 bunched his expression up into a question mark and clasped his hands together under his chin. “I want to play with my presents from Santa,” he pleaded. (Santa brought small stockings – because wherever you are, he’ll find you. PHEW!)

The bullet holes and shrapnel pockmarks on the Citadel fortress atop Gellért Hill took their mind off the hotel for a bit (their attention was actually fully engaged), and as we walked on in the footsteps of communism and the cold war and gazed up at the stark Statue of Liberty, the boys were still with us, absorbing DH’s history lesson about the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary during WW2. But it wasn’t long before we heard: “Let’s go back to the hotel! [Imagine a chant, like a woodpecker in your brain.]

“And can we get room service?” At which I rolled my eyes, not just out of their sockets but out of my actual head.

Ladies Only

Ho, ho, ho! The modern Twelve Days of Christmas

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-00-09-43Who knew before having kids that the month of December would leave you feeling like you’re crawling to Christmas?

Even though I swore this year would be different, I found myself yet again facing 12 days of Christmasgeddon in the final weeks of school.

There were no piping pipers, French hens or milking maids – and the only rings were the ones run around me by my children, school and work.

Here’s how it went:

On the first day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the second day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Two hundred dirhams
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the third day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
The school gave to me
A reminder for costumes for the school concert (“and volunteers please to pin stars on 400 t-shirts”); instructions for festive fun-wear; and a shift at the bake sale.

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Seven new midnight leaping-Elf moves,
Six different outfits,
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
My true loves gave to me
A coughing virus that’s been going round and apparently is more contagious than the plague.

On the ninth day of Christmas
Work gave to me
Ninety pages of Yearbook to edit

On the tenth day of Christmas
I gave to myself
A severe reprimand for buying not 10 but ZERO presents

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Eleven packs of crisps,
Ten yet-to-be-bought pressies,
Nine kids to tea,
Eight hours of shopping,
Seven midnight leaping Elf moves
Six different outfits
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My son’s baseball team gave to me
Twelve dirty jerseys, all needing washing…

Then the end of term arrived. We limped over the finish line, and suddenly it’s beginning to feel a lot like the Christmas holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Ladies Only

On finally getting a chic tree (after 11 years)

Christmas pasts in our household have always looked something like this: Haul the dusty box containing our fake tree from the storeroom. Assemble tree, by slotting twenty branches of bashed-up greenery into the right holes. Arrange fronds in a symmetrical fashion, with no help whatsoever from the children (the same children who 30 minutes previously were desperate to put the tree up).

Next, I’d attempt to sort out the spaghetti junction of tangled lights, while stopping the boys from jumping on the tiny bulbs and attempting to create a fuzzy, homely, festive atmosphere with jingles in the background and the sweet, gelatinous smell of mince pies in the oven.

Then (and don’t tell me you haven’t done this too!?) indulge my secret habit of rearranging haphazardly placed baubles later.

Ha! It was all … so stressful!

Now I just have to keep the dog away
Now I just have to keep the dog away

Not only because of the general chaos and mess that ensued, but because Christmas decorating with two small boys involved such terrible colour schemes, and so many bald spots on the tree, smashed decorations and tinsel-tastic explosions.

What on earth’s happened to the lights?” I asked one year, after DH strung up new gaudy, electric bulbs with the boys. “They’re all blue, and flashing … kind of like a police car rushing to a traffic accident.”

“You’ll get used to the neon-blue glow,” DH had laughed, and I’d stared, mesmerised, half expecting to hear the wail of a siren, eventually agreeing that the boys’ handiwork was indeed lovely. And colourful.

This year, thanks to the boys being that much older, it all went a lot more smoothly than usual – and a bigger kitchen in our new house meant there was room for a second white tree, decorated only by moi!

I have to say I’m rather pleased. So it’s not quite the same as when my dad used to take my brother and I to a farm that sold firs in all shapes and sizes, and we’d come back in high spirits with a freshly cut tree smelling of pine resin and the outdoors. But my chic white tree winks away rather cheerfully and casts a lovely warm hue over the kitchen.

Season’s greetings to all!