Day 233

Level 2 Chi Kung.

A successful guitar lesson for Dash. I have switched the focus of my persuasion to getting Dash to practice for half an hour immediately before his lesson. Seems to work better than the ten minutes a day we used to try for (but not often achieve). Lazy afternoon at home – very nice.

Day 232

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Monique, our talented Italian nanny, returned from singing opera in Thailand yesterday. After weeks of (reasonably diligent!) use of Duolingo, I must have managed a reasonable accent, as she seemed to understand when I said ‘Ben tornata’ (Welcome back). Emboldened, I then tried ‘Bevi l’acqua’, and she said yes, she would like some water. Woohoo!

Day 231

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Well, I was seriously out-manoeuvred today. Regular readers will recall that I am reluctant to have Katie’s friend X for play dates. It is a truth universally acknowledged that most children behave better for other people than they do for their own parents – sensibly choosing to exorcise their wild side in the secure environment of home. X is the opposite – I see her whining around mummy like butter wouldn’t melt, but at my place, she is horrible: incredibly rude and disobedient, lies about what she is and is not allowed to eat, demands food and then doesn’t eat it, and generally trashes the place. And what’s worse, after she has gone home and I am desperate for a bit of normality, Katie tends to copy her bad behaviour.

After last time, I had vowed that there would be no further play dates – at least not at my place. However I was caught on the hop a bit last week when X’s mummy asked if Katie could come to theirs for a play date. She asked at school pick up time, in front of the girls. Katie was jumping up and down and saying ‘Please, please’, Sherlock was pulling on the lead, and we were in a hurry to get home for Dash, so I said something non-committal and off we went. That evening I got a text asking when K could come over. After that, the texts went like this:

J: Well, it’s a bit difficult as Katie now does something every night of the week. I guess after film club and before trampoline on Thursday would work. Or after yoga on Friday?
X’s mummy: No, that won’t work, X isn’t doing any after school clubs this term and it’s awkward to do two pick-ups. Maybe a Saturday after 11:30?
J: Ok, I could drop her round in the afternoon if you like, but are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a quiet weekend?
X’s mummy: We have family time at 3pm, so bring her after 11:50 and pick her up by 3pm.
X’s mummy [a few minutes later]: New plan. Actually tomorrow I am starting a new babysitter to give us a rest on Saturdays. So let’s leave it a few weeks.
J: That sounds much more sensible – you need a break and Katie needs to chill on the weekends.

X’s mummy: [obviously being nagged mercilessly!] Thinking about Thursday, I could get my assistant to pick Katie up from film club and then you could just collect Katie from trampolining.
J: Ok. Sounds fine.

X’s mummy: Morning! A favour please. Any chance you could pick up X and X’s sister and Katie and bring them home to me and I’ll do the rest? Or better still, can you drop X’s sister home to me and then have X at home with you until trampolining?
J: [wondering if there is an emoticon for heart sinking] Ok.

X duly walked home with us, refusing to hold hands as we crossed the busy roads, making personal remarks about my hair, and teasing poor Dash mercilessly all the way. We got in the front door and, although I had heard Katie reminding X on the way home that they would have to play downstairs, X headed straight up the stairs.

J: [firmly] No girls, play downstairs please.
X: Why?
J: [curtly] Because I don’t like the mess you two make when you are out of my sight.
X: [running up the stairs]: Well I’m going up anyway.
J: [thinks longingly of violence, nurturing fantasies involving rolled up magazines and damp tea towels, breathes, counts to 10, counts to 100, gives up bloody counting and goes upstairs] WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
X: [rolling wet play dough on the carpet] It’s called playing. You’ve heard of play haven’t you?
J: [through gritted teeth] Go downstairs please. Now. Right now, please. Now!

Late for trampolining, on account of X refusing to get her coat and boots on, and the only three parent chairs are taken, so spend the next hour perched on a wooden bench eight inches off the ground, fuming.

I’m way too old to still be getting manoeuvred into situations that I know, in advance, are going to be horrible, but even in hindsight, I struggle to see how I could graciously have achieved a better outcome.

Day 230

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Tonight was Katie’s school’s turn to participate in Young Voices, a kind of massive multi-school choir. When we were first told about it, back in December, Katie didn’t seem that interested. So, given that spending three hours listening to 7,000 kids grind tunelessly through a primary school teacher’s idea of what constitutes ‘modern music’, in the soulless environs of the O2 Arena, is about as far from my idea of a good time as it is possible toget, I didn’t buy a ticket. By the time, about a week ago, that Katie started to talk as if Young Voices would be the most important night of her young life, the only available tickets were right at the top, in seats which (seriously!) have a health warning indicating that they are unsuitable for those with vertigo or a fear of heights. Inexplicably, these seats, which are usually heavily discounted, were, for this event, the same exorbitant price as the front row. To be a parent is to be vulnerable to all kinds of scams, the perpetrators of which (including schools… especially schools!) are confident in the efficacy of emotional blackmail.

It was time to throw myself on Nick’s mercy. I sold it to him on the grounds that:

a) he doesn’t suffer from vertigo
b) having no concern with social etiquette, and given that Katie would be unlikely to be able to see him so far away, he would be able to play Scramble on his phone throughout the performance, which would make the time go a bit faster.

I think it was point b that persuaded him! In any case I was grateful and the outcome was very positive:

– I didn’t fall asleep in the steep seats and plunge spectacularly to my death on the stage below (always good)
– Nick got some solid Scramble time in and admitted that the event was at least reasonably well-organised (surprisingly so for something involving the school)
– Katie enjoyed every minute of it – from the coach trip to the venue, through eating her ‘packed dinner’ at the O2, to the triumph of the performance.

Day 229

Level 2 Chi Kung.

After Katie left Stagecoach, I received an email asking me to participate in a focus group about the company. I agreed, partly because I felt that our local Stagecoach had really gone down hill and would enjoy the chance to vent my dissatisfaction, partly because I have paid for this kind of research in the past (on Healthy Start) and wanted to see what it was like from the other side, and partly because the incentive payment (£100) seemed ok for a couple of hours sitting around chatting and drinking tea.

I assumed that they would have lots of people wanting to do it and that I wouldn’t hear back from them but, in fact, they pretty much ripped my arm off and hit me with the wet end. And even after I had said yes they kept phoning to make sure that I was still coming, explaining that my presence was vital as I was ‘the only representative of my demographic’. This intrigued me and I wondered if I would be able to spot, by looking at the other participants, which demographic I was the only representative of.

Tonight was the night and, heading in to the city, I was impressed with the quality of the directions, which not only specified the nearest tube station but which exit to take (crucial) and turn by turn from there. Arrived at Old Street, took exit 4 as instructed, then the first left into Leonard Street. Except the first left isn’t Leonard Street and neither is the second. Arrrgh! I was still trying to work out where the hell I was when I got a call to say that they had screwed up the directions, which should have said exit 2!

Got to the venue and it was immediately clear what demographic I was there to represent: white/female. It was explained that the client would be watching the proceedings through one-way glass (I hope we didn’t do that to our Healthy Start parents!). The big surprise though, was that all the material we were asked to comment on was very much focusing on Stagecoach as a way to kick-start your child’s career in the performing arts! This was weird – none of the parents I talked to at drop off or pick up over the course of two years had any such aspiration, they wanted their wee ones to have a good time, develop confidence, explore their creative side.. Some of the parents made no secret of the fact that the kids were in Stagecoach so that mum and dad could go to the gym or run on the heath.

The participants tried to gently suggest that it was actually the softer skills parents were after: confidence, team work etc. Finally, maddened by the dodgy directions and lack of tea (that’s right: no tea! no coffee! not even a jug of bloody water!) I said ‘Look, parents who want their kids to have a career in the performing arts don’t send them to Stagecoach – they send them to Trinity Laban or somewhere where they know what they’re bloody doing.’ Sadly for the client (did I hear a gasp from behind the one-way glass?) the other participants then pitched in in a similar vein and, though the term ‘washed-up starlets’ wasn’t quite used to describe the Stagecoach staff, it was clearly coming… The facilitator closed the session early, went into the next room to check whether the client had any supplementary questions (No! No!) and we escaped into the night – collecting our two crisp £50 notes a-piece on the way out.

Day 228

Level 2 Chi Kung.

A day of minor frustrations. Dashi’s bus arrived just too late for me to do Chi Kung before the school run. Then I arrived home from school just fractionally too late to do Chi Kung before the cleaner needed to be let in. Except the cleaner then phoned to say she would be late, so I would have had time, but by the time she did arrive, there wasn’t enough time before I had to leave for the re-scheduled parent-teacher meeting at Dash’s school. Really good meeting – though I discovered that Lewisham didn’t pass on any of the paperwork to Dash’s new school, so his teacher has essentially been flying blind – but instead of the scheduled hour, it took two. Stopped to drop off a prescription on the way home but instead of the 15 minutes they promised, it took 35 (to take a tube of cream out of a cupboard and stick a label on it). Which meant that – you guessed it – there wasn’t enough time to do Chi Kung before I had to go pick up Katie! Arrived home, made Katie a snack, and raced straight upstairs to do Chi Kung. Relief!

Katie and I were chatting on the way home from her art class in the evening – happy and relaxed in spite of the cold and dark because, for once, we weren’t needing to be somewhere else by a particular time – when Katie started to list all the things she feels grateful for. This pleased me on several levels. First, we know from research that people who notice and feel grateful for the good things in their lives are happier and healthier, so it’s great to see her developing this mindset so young. Second, most of the things she was talking about were experiences, rather than stuff – which is lovely, and bodes well for her future impact on the planet. And finally, as the person who does most of the organising that enables her to have these neat experiences, its really nice for me to hear that she appreciates them.

K: I’m really lucky you know Mummy.
J: Hmmm.
K: I get to do art classes, and cello, and swimming and film club and trampolining…
J: And yoga.
K: AND YOGA! And I have my own room and on Saturdays, I get to sleep in and have a relaxing day. And you know Mummy, not all children have this.
J: That’s true. We’re very lucky.

So far, so cosy, and then:

K: And I get taken to a fancy hairdresser, far far away, where you get FREE BISCUITS. And you know some children just get taken to a cheap nasty hairdresser in the village.
J: [startled and stalling] How do you know?
K: Well Bobby just got his hair cut and it’s the WORST haircut I’ve EVER SEEN.

Amongst all the little Finns and Russians, and Italians and Czechs and Spanish and Croatians at Katie’s school, actual Sarf Londoners are a bit of a rarity, and often seem disadvantaged in relation to all of us invaders. Bobby is one of only two genuine ‘locals’ in Katie’s class of 30 and seems to have had a rough start in life with serious health problems, so I was immediately alarmed at the thought of him possibly being teased about his haircut.

J: I hope you didn’t say anything to Bobby, about his hair cut.
K: [horrified] Of course not! Bobby’s my friend – I would never say anything to hurt his feelings.

Days 226 & 227

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Cold, short, winter days, on which I ventured outside only to take Dash to guitar and, on Sunday, for Nick to give me a lesson on how to use the shredder. I believe he has fond visions of the large pile of prunings (which has built up over the 14 months or so since we last did any shredding) rapidly disappearing, however activities which require full safety equipment, goggles, hearing protection etc are not really the type of gardening I gravitate towards. Still, hope springs eternal – maybe if we get some slightly warmer days, I’ll get out there and make him proud.

During the process of wresting order from the chaos of the children’s rooms, my intention to de-clutter fairly ruthlessly was derailed somewhat by the constant discovery of very cool stuff. As far as I recall, Katie wrote the attached towards the end of year 1 – when she would have been about 6 and a half. I love it for the eccentric but well thought out spelling, and the prominent role given to parties and the sharing of treats!

Katie's story about Fethers the peacock

Day 225

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Doctor’s appointment this afternoon. The problem the appointment was meant to address (a swollen, painful, septic-looking toe) has spontaneously resolved itself while waiting for the first available non-emergency appointment, so I decide to use the slot to have another go at getting a referral to a dermatologist for the persistent eczema on the backs of my ankles. Different doc this time but sadly the same result – more steroid cream. I feel like saying ‘Look, I ran Action on Dermatology. I know GPs only get half a day of dermatology in their whole training and, because they know it isn’t going to be in the exam, most of them treat it as an afternoon off – the famous derma-holiday, so quit fobbing me off with steroid cream and give me a bloody referral!’. Hey ho.

Collected Katie from the first session of her new after-school yoga class. Of all her many activities, this is the first that I have really encouraged her to do – the rest have all been her idea – so I was relieved when she came out glowing and happy, having absolutely loved it. She told me proudly that the same teacher that takes the kids’ class on Friday, also takes a class for the teachers on Tuesdays. We both had a bit of a giggle at the idea of the short and rather portly (but very dapper!) Glaswegian head teacher, trying to get into downward-facing dog!

Day 224

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Months ago, before Monique went off to Thailand, I got organised and booked theatre and cinema tickets right through the autumn and winter, including for the NT Live screening of Treasure Island this evening. To date we have managed ok for childcare, but then Geni went back to Bulgaria to get married and the beautiful Madalina began studying Kabala on Thursday evenings, Lobna works in the evenings and, sadly she is currently not on speaking termswith her sister Sally, usually our ultimate fall back position! On the point of cancelling the tickets (bizarrely you can get a full refund up until noon on the day of the performance, I thought of Sinniqua, Elias’ mummy, who sometimes supplements her income as an actress by working as a carer for disabled people and, more importantly, is just so amazingly bubbly and lovely that I’m sure Jack will take to her immediately. I suggested that she bring Elias and he can sleep in the spare bed in Dash’s room and I’ll take him to school in the morning. Sinniqua was happy to help and, for a change Katie was very enthusiastic about our night out! Usually it’s ‘Why do you have to go out. I hate it when you go out.’ but this week it has been ‘Is it Thursday yet?’ and ‘Guess what’s happening tomorrow? Elias is coming for a sleepover!’.

I think, in the end, that Katie and Elias had a better time than we did. Treasure Island had the feeling of something that could have been fab but, sadly, just didn’t quite work. Nice dinner at the Rivington afterwards though. Having spotted a pud I fancied, I went for two starters (salmon ceviche and buck rarebit) followed by blueberry creme brulet.