15 April, 2013 / General
So, did YOU lose it during the Easter hols?
And, if you did, how did you react? For me, one of the hardest aspects of parenting is knowing how best to react when someone does something annoying. Shrug it off, deciding that a small misdemeanour isn’t worth mentioning? Or launch into a full-scale telling off, with some kind of consequence?
For instance, say one of my kids has been asked to wash up. An hour later, I find dirty dishes still lying in the sink, all stinky with a film of scum on top. Then another of my kids loses the tenner I gave him to go to town with. Do I come down hard on one, or both, or no one at all? ‘All you can do is what feels right at the time,’ says my friend Adele. Fine, but isn’t there a more… scientific way of approaching this? Until someone enlightens me, I’ve decided to make up some guidelines of my own.
1. Best not to start anything when I’m premenstrual and can end up bubbling with fury when someone bites their toast in an annoying way. I’m better off just smiling benignly, as if the goings-on in my household are actually nothing to do with me.
2. Never allow other people to influence how angry I should be. ‘You never used to behave like that!’ my mother use to shriek, whenever my then pre-school boys used to squirt poster paint all over the kitchen table. ‘She’s right,’ I’d think. ‘I should be FURIOUS.’ So, in about 0.5 seconds, I’d go from being calm and rational to completely banshee-like – all because I’d absorbed my mum’s response, and reacted accordingly.
3. Never rake up misdemeanours from the past. Tempting thought it may be, there is nothing to be gained from barking, ‘I’m still annoyed about the time you smashed a hole in the garden wall.’ I should add that this happened in 2002. Get over yourself, woman, I think is the gist here.
4. Remember that overreacting only leads to me to handing out money to make up for being so horrible. So it’s expensive too.
5. If I get it wrong, I will be big enough to apologise.
6. Keep things in proportion. Whenever I’m stressed out, I’ll try to mentally fast-forward to being an older, wiser woman with kids not of sixteen, but of thirty-six, with grown-up lives of their own. A friend says that, when she does this, small misdemeanours suddenly seem unimportant. Of course, by the time they are that age, I will hopefully be too sozzled on sherry to worry about anything.
7. Finally, I shall try to remember that, on the occasions when I’ve really lost it, I have always felt like a complete ninny.
23 January, 2013 / General
Dear parent/guardian, due to severe weather conditions school will not open today
SCHOOL CLOSED DUE TO SEVERE WEATHER CONDITIONS.
There’s a phrase to curdle the blood of any home worker. What should you do? One friend didn’t answer her phone when the school office called to say they were closing early. Reassuring herself that her offspring would be ‘fine’, she got on with her work, trying to blot out the sounds of hoards of kids having fun-filled snowball fights in the streets. Turned out my friend’s children were the only ones left in school, and had sat all doleful in an unheated classroom as the boiler had broken.
When my own children were younger, and the announcement arrived that precisely three flakes of snow had forced the entire county to shut down, we’d usually go sledging. There was no alternative but to ‘go with it’ – it was fun, and I miss those days when my children were not ashamed to be seen whizzing down a snowy hillside with me. If I had a pile of work to get through, I’d sit up and do it when everyone else was asleep – but that’s when I was younger and more sprightly. Although my first novel was written entirely at night, I can no longer cobble together a coherent sentence after 9 pm. I suffered a short-lived bout of insomnia a couple of weeks ago, and spent pretty much all of my daylight hours burning dinners, forgetting appointments and alternating between shouting and crying. So, sleep is kind of necessary these days.
If it was too foul outside for sledging, then I’d resort to the unmentionable and plonk my kids in front of the TV. I know – the very word ‘plonk’ says it all. I should have been drawing, painting, playing interminable games of Monopoly. But sadly, I also needed to earn a living, snow or no snow. Anyway, we scrambled through somehow. It was easier in summer, when school closed for some reason, like a teacher strike – I’d just chuck them in the garden with a packet of biscuits. No lasting harm seems to have been done.
Now they’re all big, rangy teenagers, a snow closure shouldn’t really make much difference to my working day. They don’t need me fussing around with mugs of hot chocolate and plates of toast – only, now, I want to do it. I even buy marshmallows and squirty cream, dammit. I want to hang out in the kitchen, gleefully agreeing that the snow is showing no sign of stopping, and that school will probably be closed tomorrow too. It feels special – like a bonus day together. Only trouble is, I’m getting the distinct impression that my children would actually love me to bugger off back to my workroom and leave them alone.
10 January, 2013 / General
Really handy things about living with teens
I live in a houseful of teenagers. One is twelve (she’s a girl so that counts as a teenager) and the other two are almost sixteen. When they were younger, when my shoulder bag was crammed with breadsticks, raisins and all the other joyless snacks I insisted on carting around (whilst I feasted on a bar of Green & Black’s – yum yum), people would always tell me to savour the moment. ‘You’ll miss these days when they’re gone,’ they’d tell me. ‘Children are adorable, while teenagers – well, they’re not so much.’ They – by whom I mean acquaintances with older offspring – would then detail the perils of living with people who are old enough to roam the streets by themselves, but still can’t wash up effectively.
They drink, smoke and stay out all night, they warned me. All they want is money and lifts, and you’ll never be able to relax in the evening with a glass of wine, because you’ll have to drive to some godforsaken place to pick them up from a party. And, when you do – at midnight – they’ll look disgusted at the very sight of you.
While I don’t want to jinx things by reporting that none of the above has happened to us, I’d like to redress the balance by mentioning a few of the lovely aspects of having teens in the house. Truly – I wouldn’t swap these hormonally-charged days for the nappy/potty/reading-Letterland-books-until-I-was-literally-sobbing stage.
While my teenagers are not, admittedly, especially talented in the hoovering department, there are loads of great things about having them around.
1. Play equipment
When your kids are older, you can take delight in the fact that, not only have you survived your stint as a hands-on parent, but you have done so WITHOUT HAVING A BLOODY CLIMBING FRAME IN THE GARDEN. Ditto swing, slide or trampoline which, judging by friends’ experiences, exist only to be splattered with bird poo and wet leaves.
2. Picture books
Miss your cuddly toddler? Instead, celebrate the fact that you no longer have to read that terrible story about a lost puppy who befriends a slipper. Of course, there are tons of wonderful children’s picture books around, but the fact is, children are likely to fixate on the most terrible story, with no discernable plot, demanding it night after night until the only option is to pronounce it ‘lost.’
Teenagers are no longer obsessed with what’s ‘fair.’ For what felt years – decades, even – my kids squabbled over the most ludicrous things – like who’d been given the ‘best’ piece of toast, or had the biggest verruca. While teens may take a mild interest in the goings-on in each other’s lives, they are no longer obsessed with who’s Mum’s ‘favourite’ – because, in their eyes, the less parental involvement they have to endure, the better.
Hurrah! You longer have to nag them about eating vegetables. Frankly, it would feel ridiculous to beg a towering hairy person – who could be legally married within a year – to ‘eat those yummy green beans.’ So you give up, trying to set a good example by chomping greenery – while they tuck happily into their slimy noodles.
5. Peaceful driving
Whereas once the car reverberated with small people shouting and spraying Ribena and crisp crumbs about, now everyone has their headphones plugged in and sits in silence. I can drive for hours without anyone uttering a word. It’s ruddy marvellous. No, hang on, what am I saying? It’s horrible! Lonely and miserable, like I’m some nameless chauffeur they can’t be bothered to pass the time of day with. Maybe they’re paying me back for not getting a climbing frame.
12 December, 2012 / General
Coming soon – my new canine-inspired novel, Pedigree Mum…
As soon as we acquired Jack from Glasgow Dogs’ Trust, I knew my next book had to have a canine theme. In Pedigree Mum, Kerry gets a dog almost as a way of getting back at her ex-husband Rob – as a sort of act of rebellion. The fact that her children had begged for a dog was based on my daughter Erin, who’d nagged for one for years.
The book is also about leaving the bustle of city life for a small town, and what it says about your lifestage and the person you are. We moved from London to a small rural town in Lanarkshire, Scotland, which isn’t like snooty Shorling in the book. But I still remember the feeling of being ‘new’, wondering how I’d make friends – whilst desperately missing my old ones. I found myself eyeing up prospective new friends in the park, whilst not wanting to come across as a creepy stalking weirdo.
I love writing about motherhood and how it turns your life on its head. When my three kids were younger, I’d write about their antics for magazines and newspapers. These days, I have to be aware of their privacy and rarely write about them at all. However, in fiction, anything goes…
12 December, 2012 / General
Why Every Writer Should Own a Dog… (or perhaps a goldfish)
It took a ton of nagging before I agreed to get a canine companion – but after Jack moved in, I realised I’d been mad not to do it years before. I’m not making light of the huge commitment involved. But if you can offer company, walks, affection and all the things that keep dogs – and humans – perky and happy, then, in my experience it’s a wonderful thing. Here’s why…
– Someone to talk to… who doesn’t talk back. Writing can be a lonely business. I love having Jack plonked at my feet, or nudging my hand off the mouse when walk time is upon us.
Fresh air, exercise and all that health-giving stuff… Writers tend to spend ridiculous amounts of time holed up in gloomy little rooms, hunched over keyboards, often surviving on coffee and random bits grabbed from the fridge. Before I had a dog, ‘taking a break’ meant fiddling about on Facebook and Twitter. But a dog has to go out, which requires the shifting of the butt. Then you remember that the outside world still exists.
A dog helps to write your book… Yes, really. Often, after a brisk forty-minute walk with Jack, an annoying plot problem will have miraculously untangled itself.
All the stroking and cuddling that goes on… What is it about stroking an animal that lifts your mood instantly? I have no idea – but it does. Sometimes I write on my laptop stretched out on the sofa with Jack curled up at my feet as a sort of living, breathing foot-warmer. He’s good like that.