What Do You Do With Your 4th Child?

Some time after I had DD2, I read something talking about the different ways you treat your 3rd child compared to your first. The section that stuck in my mind concerned the activities you take your children to.

The exact words escape me but the gist of it was; when you have your first child you take them to music class and toddler group and to swimming class and then throw in gymnastics, just in case they are under stimulated. When your second comes along, you might manage to take them to swimming class and perhaps toddler group, but by the time the third comes along, they are lucky if they get to go to the supermarket with you.

This sounds very familiar but for some families it begs the question; What do you do with your Fourth ( or Fifth or Sixth) child?

In this house, the answer has been ‘not much’. I don’t even take him to the shops if I can help it, Ocado and Amazon reign supreme here. He does get out of the house; I take him to walk the dogs and he rides his scooter on the school run twice a day. He gets to watch his sisters swim and he goes to nursery, but he’s had nothing in the way of specific activities just for him.

And until DD3 started school in September it didn’t occur to me that this was a problem. But since it’s been just me and the boy, I’ve developed a vague sense of guilt about it.  So in January I signed him up to toddler gymnastics with the same club that DD1 started at 6  years ago and I’ve enjoyed watching him become confident enough to walk onto the beam, jump off the box and do roly polys.  He’s stopped crying when we drive into the carpark and started howling when the class finishes instead. He hates the bar though and refuses to go anywhere near it.

The first time Mummies watch the session like hawks and mutter when the instructors don’t pay their offspring enough attention.  I browse Facebook, check my emails and glance up now and again from my phone to see if DS is participating.

He’s often face down on the mat or rearranging the spots on the bench, enjoying himself immensely in whatever little world he’s in. He’s doing his own thing; secure in the knowledge that I’m watching but am too tired to care if I’m getting my money’s worth from the class. I’m just grateful that I can sit down and don’t have to yell at anyone for a whole 45 mins.

That’s what I do with my 4th child.

Testing Times.

I love the UK but I wasn’t born here.

I was born downunder, on an island in the Pacific known to some as Te Ika-a-Maui, and lived there for most of  my first three decades. But when I turned 27, I decided that it might be best for everyone if I just left the country, so I applied for a 2 year Working Visa and headed for London to do my OE.

I flew into LHR one April morning in ’98 and despite the weather, it was like coming home. I didn’t know that I’d end up living here permanently but I knew I  wanted to stay as long as possible. Luckily my job allowed me to gain Right of Residency, then I met and fell in love with an Englishman, and the final nails were put in the coffin of any chance of me returning to NZ.

Skip forward to early 2011. I’m now a mostly-contented, married, 40-something mother-of-4. The UK is my home now but I’m not a citizen. I can work here, live out my days here, I can even vote but I can’t hold a British Passport.

Because they don’t just hand out British Passports;  even if you come from a Commonwealth Country, marry a Pom and produce 4 little future tax payers to help boost the UK’s birth rate.

It used to be a lot easier to become a UK Citizen, you filled out your forms and paid some money, and as long as you had Right of Abode, you were right as rain. These days you have to sit an exam before you get to pay a lot more money; almost £800, not including the elusive passport. But it’s the exam that I objected to.

I’m not opposed to taking tests. I went to university, managed mostly decent grades towards my degree, and I’ve managed to pass a couple of piano exams fairly recently. Sitting an exam to make sure wannabe citizens understand what life in the UK is all about isn’t a stupid idea. But what I do object to, is filling my head with a load of guff that serves no purpose and I’ll never use. I didn’t think there was enough space in my brain for the kind of facts that I was going to have to commit to memory if I wanted to become British.

So, for the last 5 years, I’ve simply ignored the possibility of me joining the rest of my family in the ‘UK Nationals’ line at Heathrow. Mr Mumdom brings it up now and again, and occasionally I read scary stories about families being separated while abroad because they don’t all have the same passports, but generally I manage to sleep at night.

Then a couple of things happened. A friend, who lives in Australia, sat and passed her citizenship test and got me thinking about it again. Then there was ‘Unrest’ in Tunisia and Egypt, both places we’d discussed visiting with the kids. Seeing these events unfold on TV brought home to me that repatriation is a real possibility if things went wrong somewhere we were holidaying. And that could mean DH and the kids heading home to the UK while I had to remain behind and contend with the ‘Unrest’. Or even worse, I could be sent back to NZ.

So, that’s why, at 11.30 this morning, I found myself in front of a computer, in a room with 30 other ‘foreigners’, sitting the Life in the UK Test.

It’s all very official and top-secret and I had to sign things to say I wouldn’t discuss the contents with anyone. So I’d better shut up.

But not before I tell you….. I passed!! Thank god for that.  Now I just have to fill in a form the thickness of a medium-sized paperback and pay the Home Office a small fortune.

Because now there’s a British Passport out there, somewhere, with my name on it.

Losing Our Libraries.

We used to have a local library at the end of our street, less than 5 minutes walk away.  I always felt we should go there more but the truth is we preferred to drive to other libraries in the Borough. It’s easier to take the car when you have books to return for a family of 6, and it’s not easy to park near the local library. Also the kid’s section was pretty small. It felt cramped with just the 4 kids and I in it.  The other libraries have much bigger children’s sections AND one of them has a coffee bar and plenty of tables to sit down at. Room to breathe and coffee vs  shopping local and getting some exercise? Hmmm- that’s a tough one.

What it came down to is that we didn’t use this resource that was right on our doorstep enough, and I felt vaguely guilty about it. The kids couldn’t have cared less, of course.

Then, one icy cold day in December, I remembered I had some library books to return. Our street was an ice rink, so I thought I’d trot down the road, and give my new ice-grippers an outing. I put DS on the sled, the books behind him and off we went.  (Ice grippers are fab by the way, I’d highly recommend them if you hate walking on ice.)

We crossed the horrid road easily, as because of the snow there was very little traffic about, got to the library door and it was CLOSED!!! Peering inside I could see all the books off their shelves so it was obvious that this wasn’t a closure due to inclement weather. It looked not just closed but CLOSED!

I was incensed! How dare they close my local library-yadda, yadda, yadda. I turned around, stomped home, got on the internet to renew the books and there I  learned that they had not closed the library down after all, but are completely refurbishing it. Come April there will be new shelves, new carpets, new kid’s area AND, it’s rumoured, there will be a coffee shop. Mmmmmm…coffee..

Caffeinated beverage or no, I have made a solemn vow to make the most of this valuable resource on my doorstep, especially after reading that 400 public libraries are due to close due to funding cuts.

If we had to buy every book the kids or I wanted to read, we’d be out of money ( and space) in no time. Libraries have been a godsend each time one of the children develops a new interest or my book club’s monthly choice looks less than inspired. They have regular holiday reading schemes for children and the staff have always given us good advice when asked for a recommendation or for help finding a book on a particular topic.

And it’s a cheap outing ( it would even be free if I was more organised and could remember to return my books on time). What more can you ask for?

So come on people, use those libraries. They are going to disappear if you don’t.

I Need A Duvet Day.

I woke this morning with a stinking cold- blocked nose, sore ears and throat, blood shot eyes, the works. I want to call work, tell them I’m ill and crawl back under the duvet for the day.

But of course, I don’t have a real job and my ‘boss’ wont tolerate a replacement so there is no hope of a day off for me. DH was staying late to go to DD1’s school assembly, so he was able to help get the kids dressed, breakfasted and take the girls to school which gave the Boots Cold & Flu time to kick in. I  still needed to make lunches though, DS still needed to go to speech therapy, the dogs need walking and then I have the school run this afternoon. Those are the bare essentials but there are at least 15 other things I really *should* do as well.

Don’t get me wrong, this is only a cold and DH would stay home if I had swine flu or rabies or something potentially terminal.  I have had days when I’ve been unable to get out of bed, and he’s been very good about helping out then. But he has a busy job and is missed if he doesn’t go into the office,  so we have to save this option for emergencies. We can’t squander them on the common cold.

We have no helpful family living within 3 hours of us and no friends available to help today so I just have to soldier on. It’s the weekend tomorrow and I might get a lie in if I look pathetic enough.  The girls’ activities for today continue straight on after school, so I  have another 4 hours before I have to pick them up. If I get out of this chair now and drag myself around the park, I might even be able to dodge the rain and get a couple of hours on the sofa watching Cbeebies with the boy.

I might bring our duvet downstairs and get my Duvet Day after all.

The School Run.

If your children aren’t at school yet, you’ll be wondering  what the big deal is. What can you possibly need to know about the school run? Surely it’s just a matter of getting your children to school and home again so how complicated can it be?

Well, firstly, the School Run has to be done twice a day, for at least 190 days a year; unless you have childcare, or friends or relatives prepared to help you out. It’s worth considering this when you are choosing a school. We live 5 minutes away from our school, so can walk come rain, shine or snow. If your school is in a residential street, you might want to avoid having to drive if at all possible, as it’ll probably be gridlocked for 30 mins at each end of  the school day.

It’s worth making life as simple as possible when it comes to school choices and knowing what I do now, I’d go for a ‘good’ school where I could walk the School Run, over an ‘outstanding’ one where I had to drive to drop off or collect my child.   It’s hard to appreciate this when you are up to your neck in Ofsted reports and league tables but a difficult school run can literally drive you mad.

Your day will revolve around the time of the School Run and you will quickly learn how inflexible it is. The day can drift by deceptively slowly, then suddenly it’ll be time to leave the house NOW! And it’s always when you are taken by surprise by the clock, and are in a rush that you will be delayed by something or someone. If you have younger kids, they’ll want a wee, or have a tantrum or fall over and hurt themselves while you are dragging them out the door in a panic.

The optimum time to get to school for at the end of the school day is 5 minutes before the classroom doors open.  You can  have a chat with other parents and your child will enjoy seeing you waiting for them outside. It can take weeks to get it just right, but eventually you’ll learn exactly when you need to leave home so as to arrive at school just before home time.

It’s horrid the first time you arrive to find your child lined up, feeling abandoned outside the classroom because you weren’t in time to pick them up. It happens to everyone at some stage, so don’t go overboard on the guilt when it does. It won’t scar your child for life, although it may be some weeks before they let you hear the end of it. Try not to let it become a regular occurrence,  although if you are habitually late you will be performing a valuable public service by helping other Mummies feel better about themselves. The general consensus seems to be that it’s better to be late to school for drop off than pick up, and if you persist in being tardy, for gods sake look flustered and apologetic. There is nothing worse than someone strolling in late at either end of the day, looking like they own the school and are doing everyone a favour by simply turning up at all.

On the flip side, don’t turn up too early. If you are always the first one in the playground at pick up time, then it looks like you have nothing else to do. If you make a habit of sitting in your car or hanging around the school gates until you’ve seen a few others head into the playground,  it will also prevent you from getting the times completely wrong and arriving for pick up an hour early.

Oh, and that delivery that you’ve been waiting in for all day. Guess when it’s going to arrive? Yep, that’s right- while you are out of the house, on the school run. I usually spot the delivery van whizzing past us as we cross the street and turn into our road. And when I get home, I find a ‘Sorry we missed you’ card shoved thoughtfully through my postbox with a  premium rate number to call to rearrange delivery.

I get stressed just thinking about the number of times this has happened to me. It’s worthwhile cultivating a good relationship with any regular delivery people, pointing out where they can safely leave parcels when you aren’t home and tipping them well at Christmas.

If you already have children at school, I’m sure you will be able to relate to most, if not every point I’ve made above. The School Run is more than simply an exercise in child delivery or collection. For me it can be a gauntlet to run, a social occasion, an interruption to my  productive day or a good excuse to get away from the hoovering and I’m sure has been, or will be, similar for you at some point.

Last but not least; if it’s going to rain during the day, it’ll be at pick up. If there is the slightest hint of a cloud in the sky, carry an umbrella. I have no idea how it can rain so often on the school run, but it does.

Consider yourself warned.

The Gallery: Queen Anne’s Lace

This week’s Gallery theme over on Sticky Fingers is ‘Shapes’. After you’ve looked at my contribution, head over there and check out the myriad of interpretations on this theme.

Queen Anne’s Lace is  a common wildflower during summer and early autumn but this head had dried out and survived into almost-winter. I spotted it jutting out of a large blackberry patch on a foggy dog walk in late November,  and sustained a few scratches trying to find the right angle to shoot it against the sky.

I think this specimen looks menacing as it looms up against the grey sky, which contrasts well with its delicate appearance in the summer. I also like the shapes of the trees in the fog.

Things I Am Absolutely, Definitely, Probably Going To Do This February

A fellow Mummy Blogger started this linky a couple of days ago, but I decided to wait until January had gone completely before thinking about February. In case you can’t be bothered clicking on the link to check, she’s made a list of 10 things she wants to do in February and is urging others to do the same.

I’m not a hugely organised person and don’t usually find making lists helps me very much. I usually lose the list a couple of days after making it, then feel vaguely guilty about all those those things I’ll never do because I can’t find the list they are on. Some of my more organised friends recommend online lists but after a couple of days I usually stop logging on to check. Then I feel guilty about that. But making a list on a blog that I visit almost every day sounds like it’s worth a try.

So, here we are, it’s the 2nd month of 2011, and the first thing I’m going to do in February is

1/ Make a list detailing things I will almost certainly do in February. Tick!

2/Do some piano practice everyday. I used to practice every day before my exam in November but I’ve got really slack lately. Practising every day might encourage the kids to practice  more as well.

3/ Record my score every day with Moodscope. I’ve been using this tool since last July and it’s enabled me to see how much my mood drops over the winter months. I’ve self diagnosed myself as having mild SAD and now use a light box every day which has helped me feel much better.

4/ Clear out all the cupboards in the kitchen, in an effort to declutter that room. All the rooms in this house need some attention but remember, I like to aim low!

5/ Get the database for my business organised. This only involves sending some information over to my VA but I’m having trouble motivating myself to do this.

6/ Do a Zumba class. I want to move more and there is one at a local high school on Monday nights. I also have a neighbour who will come with me so have no excuses not to!

7/ Go to lunch with a friend. I’m cheating a bit here as I already have a lunch date booked in. Yum.

8/ Have a beauty treatment or massage. Another cheat I’m afraid, as my neighbour and I made an appointment for fish therapy yesterday.  It sounds completely disgusting so I’ll definitely blog about it!

9/ Clean up my buggies and put them on eBay. Another one I’ve been putting off for ages. I dont mind selling on ebay but I hate packing things up and sending them off. I have lots of other things I could sell too- maybe I might get around to listing these as well. Maybe.

10/Visit the Post Office to send away some things I’ve been putting off returning for ages. I hate the Post Office so if I manage to do this, it’ll be a big thing!

That’s really not a very exciting list is it? I hope yours is better!

Family Planning.

First, I want to reassure you that I’m not going to prattle on about contraception. I’d like to think that anyone reading this blog has probably got that sorted. Although, if you pressed me on the subject, I’d have to give male sterilisation a cheeky thumbs up. If your family is complete, of course. Anyhow…

The family planning I’m referring to involves the  timing of  the birthdays we give our children, so of course relates to when they were conceived.  It’s obvious DH and I didn’t give this subject a moment’s thought, because if we had, we wouldn’t have chosen for any of our children to be born a month either side of Christmas.

Christmas is expensive enough with 4 kids, but having a birthday ( and a party) to pay for on the same pay cheque has got to hurt right?  And it’s not wonderful for the birthday child, who has the two most exciting events of the year squeezed into a short space of time. The rest of the year must seem pretty devoid of gift receiving opportunities.

So consider this a warning, when I tell you that due to their parent’s negligence, in the 6 weeks around Christmas, no less than three of our four children were born. DD1 kicks off the festivities with her birthday a mere week before Christmas, and DS celebrates his in very early January. DD3 completes the hat trick at the end of January. Ouch!

This year we managed to talk DD3 into having a joint party with DS, but I can see that’s not going to work in the future.  One small blessing is that DD1 is now old enough to stop inviting the whole class. This means we can accommodate the smaller numbers involved in our house and no longer have to hire out a hall and an entertainer.

When I’ve told my friends about this sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in, a few of them have admitted that they did try to avoid conceiving again in a month that would lead to a clash with a previous child’s birthday. When I hear stories like this at this time of the year, I pause for a moment to admire the superior organisation and restraint of these women.

Then I take a deep breath, thank god that it’s February tomorrow and I don’t have to start thinking about parties and presents again until the start of June, in time for DD2’s birthday.