Would You Go Back If You Could?

I’m feeling a bit maudlin this week. This year has flown by, hasn’t it?

DD2 is enjoying her last few days of primary school. Discos, school plays, assemblies and parties instead of lessons and tests.

Y6 disco

I’ve been looking at photos of her starting school, and wondering how much she will change  between now and the end of secondary.

And DD1 has just finished her first year at secondary school.

I worried so much about her going into Y7.  Had we  made the right choice of school? Would she cope with the work? Was the commute going to be too much for her?

It’s all been good. The school is lovely and I feel so lucky that we had it as an option. She’s done really well academically but she has also thrown herself wholeheartedly into all aspects of school life. The commute has been a complete non-issue. I’m anticipating a slightly rockier road with DD2, who is going to the same school, but I remain hopeful that I will be saying similar things about her this time next year.

DD2′s last day at primary isn’t until next Tuesday and while looking at photos of her 7 years ago, I came across this one of her and her sisters on her first day of school.

School starters

DD1 was going into Y1, DD2 was starting reception and DD3 ass about 18 months old but insisted on being in the photo too. I would have been pregnant with DS. Life was mad.

They all look so small, my babies. So cute and dependant on me. These days they are much more independant  and I said goodbye to nappies, daytime naps and buggies a long time ago.

I asked myself if I would go back to those days, if I was miraculously given that chance and decide probably not.  I loved being able to be at home with my kids as babies, toddlers and preschoolers but I really appreciate that they are all at school. I have some me time now.

I’m glad I took loads of photos of them when they were small so I have something to look back on, now life is really complicated, but I’m enjoying my older children at the moment ( most of the time) and never feel broody for the baby days again.

What about you? If you could go back in time to when your children were small, and do it all again. would you?

The Silence Of The Frogs

One of the things you learn to put up with when you have cats is the prey.

Cats are natural predators; they like to catch things , then bring them inside to show you how clever they are. Basically cats consider their owners to be in need of a little hunting practice, so they often maim their victims a bit before presenting it to you and they expect you to finish it off. And if you aren’t home when they bring their spoils through the cat flap, your cat will probably go for the kill itself, then gut or disembowel the poor beast on your kitchen floor.

If you really can’t handle the thought of your pet bring wildlife inside, or taking another creature’s life, then you should consider having a housecat rather than a free-ranging feline.

When you get a new kitten, you have very little idea what kind of hunter your cat will be. There can be some clues; females are often better hunters than males and if the kitten’s mother was a good hunter, and the kittens stayed with her until at least 9 weeks, chances are high your new pet will have gotten some tips from her.

So, some cats grow up to be very efficient hunters, and routinely slaughter dozens of birds and rodents every year. Some just aren’t interested, apart from the odd leaf,  and a few cats ( usually orientals) direct their activity to seemingly inappropriate items such as socks and underwear. And yet others set their sights  low and treat their owners to a stream of insect and frog- shaped presents.

Our cats ( previously referred to as our kittens) fall neatly into this last category. They are frog hunters extraordinaire. Almost every day for the last month or two, they have brought in a frog or two, or three.

They don’t seem to be interested in birds, although we have had one, plus a wing and a load of single feathers, and we’ve had no sign of rodents. Maybe it’s because they are used to rats and hamsters in cages?

But pretty much every time we walk into the house, we find one of these in the lounge.

House frog

Mostly, they are belly up and legs akimbo, but if you pick them up they curl up as small as possible. Most of them are unhurt and I have a special mossy spot out the front where I place them to recover so I’m pretty sure that we are not going to wipe out the area’s entire frog population.

This one actually recovered a bit too quickly and hopped under the sofa before I could rescue it. It was fished out later in the evening by Ginger Cat, and bashed about a bit before I realised what was going on. Hence the cat fur and carpet fibres. I was relieved as I didn’t really fancy having a house-frog.

And of course they aren’t always silent. Some of them scream! I do feel sorry for the poor creatures but prefer the cats bring frogs into the house, rather than birds or mice. And the kids are now excellent frog handlers, which is always a useful life skill, isn’t it?

If you have cats, do they hunt? My biggest fear is that our cats will move onto trickier prey in the future. One of our previous cats used to bring in pigeons and those have a LOT of feathers!





We Need A New Car. Maybe.

Say hello to our present car.

Toyota Previa
It’s a 55 Reg Toyota Previa and we love it. It’s got everything we need, whether we are taxiing kids around town or road tripping around Europe, and up until now the ‘Bus’, as we call it, has been pretty reliable.

It’s usually filthy of course; we have two dogs and four kids, and it’s not cleaned or hoovered nearly often enough. But it’s been a great family car.

However, it’s now 9 years old and it’s getting a bit old. Parts are started to need replacing, there has been the odd weird rattle  and we can tell it’s getting a bit tired. Neither DH or I are mechanically minded, and we only have one car, so it’s important that we have a vehicle that isn’t at the mechanics every couple of weeks.

We like to take road trips for our summer holidays and this year plan to drive  to Denmark and Sweden. Last year the Bus got us to Montenegro but we did have a couple of minor incidents where it wouldn’t start or refused to unlock. Being stranded in a foreign country with a misbehaving vehicle is not fun. We did have RAC European cover but you don’t want to have to  be calling them all the time.

So we have been wondering if our Previa is going to behave itself this summer and are now discussing the possibility of a new car.

We know our car is just a machine, but it’s surprisingly easy to get sentimental about them, isn’t it? I actually feel a bit guilty even thinking about looking at new vehicles; like the Bus is an aged relative that we should be caring for in its dotage, rather than selling off because it ‘might’ break down on us.

Ideally, we’d just buy a new Previa. We know they tick all our boxes; but alas, they don’t make Previas in the UK any more, so we need to look at other makes and models.

We have just over a month before we leave on holiday, so I’m all geared up to go out and drive cars.  Our wish list is enough room for at least 6 adults, a decent amount of boot space when all seats are occupied, sliding rear doors, some parking assistance ( rear backing camera preferred) and an in-car SatNav ( negotiable). We are not looking for a new car, but something that is 1-2 years old.

We need some help, otherwise I’m going to throw my hands in the air and put this task in the ‘too hard’ pile and we’ll just take the Bus on holiday with us instead. It’s no drama, unless it all goes wrong, of course.

Does anyone out there drive an MPV that they would recommend I test drive? Any helpful comments below would be very much appreciated.

The Perfect Pet?

Four and a half years ago, when DD1 turned eight, I set a very stupid precedent. I let my eldest get a pet for her birthday, and when the others complained, I said that they could have a pet when they were eight, too.

My only excuse was that my eldest had everything she wanted already, and I was desperate to get her a good birthday present.

We already had dogs and cats, and we’d also had guinea pigs, so she chose rats. I  know a lot of people out there will be squealing with horror but I didn’t mind. I had them myself as a child and DD was delighted. Rats are intelligent and love to explore, but they only live 2-3 years so we did get a replacement pair when the first two died. One of those has now passed away, and DD1 has had over four years of cleaning out rat cages and I think she wants a break.

Rats as pets

When DD2 turned 8, she asked for a hamster. Coming from NZ, I knew very little about these furry little beasts, except that they can bite hard if that way inclined. Thankfully Hammy was not a biter, although he was quite the escape artist.  He died a couple of months ago and now we have an empty cage. DD2 is reluctant to get a new hamster as she just doesn’t think it will be the same.

Hamsters as pet

DD3 turned eight in January and she set her pet sights high. She wanted a dog or cat of her own. We have two dogs, and three cats already, so this wasn’t an option.

She asked for a bird, but neither DH or I are keen on the idea of caged birds. Then she asked for a reptile, something else I know nothing about, as we don’t have snakes or the lizards popular in the UK as pets in NZ.

The debate has gone on for months and then finally one of the school mums told us that her cornsnakes had laid 16 eggs, and 14 of these had hatched. In the end she had 13 baby snakes needing homes. I really wasn’t that keen but the more I looked into it, the more I realised that snakes were actually very little bother.

So we got two. DD3 wanted one and so did DD1 and it seems that it’s usually okay to keep two together. DD3 is freaking everyone out by telling them we have rattlesnakes.

Corn Snakes are calm and tame easily. They only need feeding once a week, and cleaning out once a month. Yes, you have to feed them baby mice ( bleurgh) but so far we’ve been able to do this without too much of  the yuck factor by just placing the snake and the snack in a separate container, and watching while the inevitable happens. The kids are fascinated and grossed out in equal measures.

The only downside is that these tiny serpents are too wiggly for DD3 and so she doesn’t want to hold hers. I can’t really blame her; they are amazingly quick and she’s worried she might drop them. So here’s DD1 with her little beastie.

snakes as kid's pets

baby cornsnake

baby black and white cornsnake
They are pretty, aren’t they? They are only about 20 cm long at the moment but will grow up to 5 foot over about 7 years.

But they can live for 20-25 years!  I know I will be doing a lot of the husbandry until then, but I’ve told the girls that they will be taking their snakes with them when they leave home.


Brace Watch 16 Months

Last week, DD1 finally went back to get the wire on her braces again.

Almost 4 months previously, the orthodontist had decided her gums were too inflamed and her canines hadn’t come down enough, and had taken off the wire. By the time we managed to get another appointment, her teeth looked like this.
braces month 14
You can see her canines have come down, but her second incisors are way out of line with her front teeth.

We haven’t been impressed with her treatment on the NHS. We’ve found it very hard to get appointments and the orthodontist has not been very helpful with regards to DD’s anxieties. When we found out that there was another orthodontist who would be operating out of  the dental practice we attend, we asked if we could move. Usually, it is very difficult to change orthodontists once you have started NHS treatment, so I had to go through  my complaints with the practice manager, but we got permission to change. Hooray!

Of course, the new orthodontist might not be any better than the old, but I’ve generally heard good things about NHS orthodontics so I remain hopeful.

Last week was the last time we will see the old one, and she  put the wire back on DDs teeth. DD was really uncomfortable for the first few days, but feels better now and you can see that her front teeth have moved back into line pretty quickly. The RHS canine still doesn’t have a bracket on but will hopefully move down to the gap on that side.

Wire on braces 16 months
In a month’s time we have an appointment to see the new orthodontist. so it will be interesting to see what she makes of what has been done so far.

Nerf Guns In The House

Last week I finally gave up on a twelve-and-a-half year gun ban in our family.

Obviously I’m not talking about real guns; we live in the UK, not the USA, after all. But since our children have had been old enough to express an opinion about what kind of toys they’d like to play with, I’ve laid down a strict ‘no guns’ rule. No water pistols or toy guns of any type, for Xmas or birthdays, not ever. Since DS started school, we’ve had a few given as presents from his party, which I found kind of presumptive. They got ‘lost’ immediately.

Yes, the kids sometimes picked up sticks and pretended they were guns, or made weapons out of lego, or while junk modelling, but their creations were never kept as guns for long. They were dismantled and made into something else pretty quickly. My reasoning was that toy guns would stay toy guns for ever.

A couple of weeks ago our primary school held their summer fair and for the first time, we allowed all three girls to free range with a small amount of money. DD3 eventually demonstrated why this was a bad idea by returning  with a cheap and nasty bow and arrow, and DS was consumed with furious jealousy. He ended up with a cross bow and the kids spent a happy afternoon in the garden ‘hunting’ each other. The quality of the weapons was so bad  that there was no danger whatsoever of them hitting, let alone injuring, each other but this blood lust escalated into more frequent requests for nerf guns than usual.

Because there is nothing so coveted by a child as something that has been deemed ‘forbidden’, is there? In the end, I gave in. They promised me they would not shoot each other, or the pets, and they understood that when the darts were gone, they were gone. I bought 4  of the cheapest guns available on Amazon and a pack of extra darts, and handed them over to the kids last Thursday, when the three youngest were off  as their school was being used as a polling station.

I thought the guns would encourage the kids to come out walking the dogs with me, and had visions of them playing a lovely game of hiding behind trees in the woods and shooting at tree trunks etc. The weather was not great and up until that point they had spent too much time on screens.

Of course it didn’t work out like that.

Two things about nerf guns; the little darts travel quite a long way, very quickly and you need to keep your eye on them if you want to be able to retrieve them later. Secondly, they actually sting quite a bit when they hit you, especially from a couple of metres away. Despite their promises, the first thing each child did, when they had removed their gun from the packaging, was shoot each other. So 2 minutes after I had handed the guns out, I was surrounded by 3 sobbing children, all clutching various parts of their anatomy and wailing ‘ he/she shot me’. Yes, yes he/she did.

Lesson learned, shoes and coats on and off we went to nearby woods. DD2 lost her first dart in our front yard as the thrill of ownership overtook her and she fired a dart straight up in the air. Of course it landed on the roof and she was down to 2 darts  for the rest of the outing. ( The guns only come with three each and I kept the extra darts at home).

A couple of darts ‘accidentally’ went off in the car, so all guns were collected and rode shotgun ( see what I did there?) until we got to our destination. And once out of the car DS discharged his weapon unwisely twice in quick succession; once over a wall where it was never seen again, and once into a huge patch of nettles where no one wanted to go and retrieve it. He was now down to only one dart and was very upset. Gun ownership sure is a learning curve!

I suggested everyone hold fire ( ha!) until we got to a clearing at the bottom of the hill we were on. Once there, they spent 10 minutes running around, shooting various targets and losing, finding and fighting over the ownership of darts. DS lost his final dart in a blackberry bush and there was a brief tantrum when he couldn’t persuade his sisters to hand over any of theirs, but soon they’d all had enough, and went off to make a den instead.

nerf guns
And that was pretty much it for the nerf guns in this house.

They had a brief resurgence in popularity when DD1 got home from school; she wanted to know if it was possible to fire the darts over the house and have them land in the back garden. It isn’t, so she lost all three of her darts this way. But we found that if you wait long enough , the wind blows them down into the front garden eventually.

Since then, the guns have hardly been touched. I have three lined up beside me, fully armed with replacement darts and ready for action. DD3 has hers in her room, beside her bed. And the best thing is that when the adverts come on TV,  there is no more nagging or promises to put them on their birthday/ Christmas lists. Bliss.

In this house, the nerf phrase was short and sweet and the kids seem to be over them for now.

I, on the other hand, have enjoyed firing off a few rounds at Nigel Farage’s face every time it has appeared on the TV over the last few days. I like to think I am now a pretty good shot.

Living With A Tweenager

First things first; what exactly is a Tweenager?

A tweenager is a child between the ages of 8-12 years, depending on which definition you go with.  It’s not just a made up word, unfortunately. The tween years have definitely been harder than the ‘school age’ years in our house. Tweens are a wake up call out of  the Golden Years of child raising; just in case you were looking at your 5-8 year olds and feeling slightly smug about your parenting skills.

We now have two tweens- a 12 year old and a 10 year old. Actually the 8 year old may also knocking at the tween door, but I refuse to have three tweenagers in the house. I have decided that DD3 is not allowed to be  a tween until DD1 has moved on to teenagehood.

From what I can tell from my own children, and talking to friends, a lot depends on the child. Some start early, some start late,  but at some point between the age of 8-12 years, your previously cheerful, compliant little darling is likely to start being disrespectful and moody for absolutely no reason at all.  Selective deafness, irresponsibility, selfishness and lack of empathy are all common too.  We’ve even had more serious episodes of  lying and stealing ( from their siblings); these are behaviors that our children know are just not on. But they do them anyway.

Tweens can be downright horrible, but then they flip back to their previous lovely child-like selves for a while. Just to cruelly remind you of what you once had. The suddenness of the change can be bewildering for everyone, including the tween and parents are often left wondering what they have done wrong.

How do you deal with a badly behaved teenager? Well, the temptation is certainly there to come down hard on your errant offspring.

Of course there have to be consequences for bad behaviour but remember , it’s probably not all the tween’s fault. People assume ‘hormones’  are the cause  of  some of this bad behaviour but it’s another explanation/excuse involves large portions of their brains ‘rewiring’ themselves. Tweens ( and teens) find it very hard to think about the consequences of their actions and are naturally impulsive and emotional. Sometimes the tantrums they throw make you think they have reverted to toddlerhood and that’s not too far off the truth.  Try and concentrate on the fact that at least you are probably getting more sleep.

When your tween goes off like a nuclear bomb, try not to take it personally. Give them some space and don’t get in their face, or try and talk to them about what happened, until everyone is calm again. If you were in the wrong in the first place, or you did something that made things worse, then apologise to your child.

Mine seem to have very little control over their anger when they get like this, and even perfectly rational responses to their rage seems to make things worse. I have to chew on my tongue but usually manage to let mine have the last word. It helps. What I’m not so good at is not yelling, which doesn’t.

When the dust has settled, and you dare to poke your head around the corner, you’ll probably find a visibly shaken and slightly dazed young person looking for confirmation that their parents still love them, despite their behaviour.

Listen to what they have to say, and then make sure you let them know what happened made you feel as well. Keep the lines of communication open, even if you have to fake an interest in boy bands or Minecraft to do it. Drag them out to family events and make sure they get some exercise and fresh air. Mine are not too old for cuddling.

family walk

And all of the time remember, tweens are just the warm up act, because teenagers are just around the corner…


My Brownies Are Back

This weekend, thanks to the amazing organisation known as Brownies, DD2 and DD3  stayed away from home for two nights.

A couple of nights away is a big deal in our household as we don’t have obliging grandparents, or other child friendly relatives, living nearby. Even sleepovers are a rare occurrence as we can rarely reciprocate. So our poor deprived kids have to rely on youth organisations and school residentials to get used to staying away from home.

Both the girls have stayed away for two nights before, so I wasn’t too worried about homesickness or how they’d cope. Besides, if things got really desperate, they had each other.

But what did worry me is how far away they were.  They were going by coach from NW Greater London to West Runton, in Norfolk. That’s over 140 miles, or at-least-three-hours-depending-on-the-traffic away. You can’t just pop out and get your child if they are that far away and fall ill, can you?

The last Brownie holiday my girls went on had been at a residential centre 15 minutes down the road, so I admit to getting a bit twitchy with that sort of distance between us, but everything went well.

The coach got there safely and the Brownies had a wonderfully busy weekend. Even the weather behaved, which is a minor miracle on a May Bank Holiday! DH and I enjoyed the novelty of only having two children with a 6 year gap between them. Life was very peaceful, but part of me kept glancing at the empty beds and wishing my Brownies were safely home.

But soon enough Monday evening came, and along with it, the coaches, which started discharging  some very tired looking Brownies. We had our first tears on the way back to the car and the night went downhill from there.

Lack of sleep+ long coach journey+ lost camera+ activity regrets did not make for a happy DD3.  And DD2 hadn’t realised how late it was, and thought she was going to settle in for a nice long YouTube session to make up for three days of no screen time. She wasn’t impressed to be told she’d be having dinner and going straight to bed.

By the time we left the carpark, the tears had evolved into a full-on argument between DD2 and DD3 about who was allowed to tell me what.

I’ll admit to pacifying them by offering McDonalds for dinner, which did calm everyone down a little, and enabled me to hustle them all up to bed pretty smartly. Tantrums and fast food had not featured in my daughters’ imagined homecoming, but as a parent sometimes you just have to do what you can. Soon I was wondering just why I had been so eager to get them home 24 hours ago.

In the end, I was just relieved when everything finally went quiet and I could escape downstairs to my computer and a cup of tea.

Having to get children ready to go to school the day after a sleepover is never fun, and this morning was no exception. Let’s just say that is wasn’t my finest parenting hour. But as I gritted my teeth, bit my tongue, poured drinks and made lunches, I started mentally counting down the days until the next time we only have two children.

Only 6 weeks to go, and this time we have both the older girls going on their respective school residentials during the same week.

I can’t wait!

Happy Brownies