Friday, 27 May 2011

Of bunk beds and big brothers

When we were little, my older brother and I shared a room. We had a wooden bunk bed, a deep reddish-brown varnished pine, with streaks of pale yellow where I had gnawed on the rounded bed posts.

I remember the bitter taste of the varnish and the hint of the pine. Bedpost gnawing was a curious obsession for me, satisfying as picking at a scab, or popping bubble wrap, and much more annoying for my mother.

The top bunk had a wooden bar across the side to prevent my brother from falling out, although he was never really the type to wiggle about much. I am a fidgeter to this day, a blanket stealer, a stuck-upside-down-wedged-between-the-wall-and-bed type.

I would have needed a cage to stop me from falling out.

From the comfort of my lower bunk I could stretch my legs up and tuck my feet between the slats, flexing and pointing my feet. The effect for my big brother was a sort of bedtime Chinese water torture as he tried desperately to fall asleep with his mattress moving about and my bony feet digging into his spine. I would think years of tolerating my bedtime antics might be what made him the patient, tolerant man he is today, although he has yet to thank me.

My mother hasn’t thanked me either for the near heart-attacks I gave her with my bunk bed acrobatics. With her over-exuberant grandchildren she is cool as a cucumber, never rising to their attention-seeking tricks. Having watched me turn somersaults and flips on the top bunk as a toddler, she had ample opportunity to practice keeping her calm while quietly working out how to extract me from my brother’s bed and possibly consider (but thankfully reject) tying my leg to a post in the garden. I would have preferred the bed post anyway, purely for the acrid varnishy taste. Anyhow, surely practice makes perfect, so I take full credit for my mum’s success in her career in early childhood education.

It's Yurt Time!

Tonight, I can hear my own kids giggling and sneaking around, overexcited by the bunk beds we have found ourselves with at Nana's cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. I can hear Mads going up and down the ladder, probably choosing more and more books and teddy bears to tuck into bed with them. Danger Boy’s excited pitter patter is so easy to recognise – he is no doubt racing around the room, gathering loose change to put in his pockets for tomorrow.

It’s 8:30, over an hour past their bedtime, and normally they are tucked up in bed with very little fuss. Part of me wants to stomp up the stairs and tell them to hush up and go to sleep…. But this playful, nostalgic side of me tells me not to interfere.

One day, they’ll be all grown up, living on different continents, perhaps with a phone call every 6 months and the occasional card. The more I interfere, the more those phone calls will be stilted conversations about their respective jobs, not like my brother and I who can dive straight into a relaxed banter, laughing at the most mundane of things.

What makes us able to connect even now? It’s shared memories of moments like this, of shared laughter as we clambered up and down the ladder, leaping onto a nest of pillows from halfway up. The delicious feeling of conspiracy as we shut our eyes tightly and pretended to be asleep whenever my mum came into the room.

And so I’ll give them another moment to enjoy it, and then do my job and stomp up the stairs.

Image courtesy of Valentina Powers on Flickr

Friday, 20 May 2011

A girl's imagination runs wild

Four year old Mads has been having trouble getting to sleep lately. She starts drifting off, then explodes into an over-excited state, fidgeting around, rearranging her room, re-aligning all of the stuffed bears who perch atop the battered old red sofabed we keep in her bedroom.

Manon maladeShe selects a different stuffed animal every night, chats away to it, brushes its fur, and tucks it neatly into her bed. She tries to squeeze in beside it, and as it tumbles out she starts the whole process again. Then it’s time for another sip of water, another wee, another book to look at. Then the label on her nightie is “noying” her, then she can’t get her duvet to lie flat on the bed and “it doesn’t look pretty”. Then her pillow needs fluffing.

This fidgeting around only used to take a couple of minutes but these days it is really dragging on.

Just like me, she’s unable to quiet her mind before bed, and I’m sure she is doomed to a lifetime of lying wide awake in bed praying for sleep to come, and cursing her vivid imagination come morning.

I decided to try and give her some hints for quieting her mind. Although what do I know? I think my brain functions best at 2 a.m. and am cursed with living in a society that expects me (needs me) to be up at 7. Well, 7:30 (thanks hubby).

Anyhow, my trick for luring my brain into a state ready for sleep is to hum the intro to the Spiderman cartoon from the 80s while picturing the web spinning around and around just as it did on TV. The effect is that I feel somewhat dizzy and a little bored by the monotony of only ever remembering the first few bars of the music.

But a definite side effect is that I am certainly not trying to work out some bizarre mathematical equation in my head, or trying to think of a Geek Joke to top Dino's annoyingly clever [hip,hip] joke. Or trying to work out the solution to an unknown bug in my amateur PHP code on my main blog about everything child friendly. Or trying to calculate the ideal number of seconds for fade out of the intro music on my video tutorial for British Mummy Bloggers (BritMums). You get the picture.

Weird geeky brain buzzing temporarily blotted out, I occasionally fall asleep. It works at least 10% of the time, so in my books a shining success.

I tried to teach this extremely useful trick to my four year old daughter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually try and make her learn the first few bars of the Spiderman cartoon intro track, nor did I admit my 10% success rate. I shared my Sure (ish) Route to Sound Sleep advice with my little girl, smiling slightly smugly with the knowledge that she would take my advice to heart, and that it would transform her sleep forever.

My four year old girl then looked at me with roll-your-eyes exasperation, and said with the wisdom sometimes only a four year old can have:

“Mummy, my imagination is just too busy. I can’t make it imagine something boring, it just imagines whatever it wants to imagine. So I just have to wait until it’s finished and then I can go to sleep.”

Image courtesy of Spigoo on Flickr.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The one where I tackle the taboo subject of sex after children [video]

Before you watch this video I have to confess that I am terribly embarassed about putting this on my blog. It's a delicate subject, after all. Ever up for a challenge, though, I thought I would give the BritMums "Sex after children" vlog prompt a whirl, and have focused on the very essence of the art of foreplay for parents with young children.

So here it is, in all its glory. Starring Bex as me, and me as a slightly generic Dad. Be warned, there's not much in the way of talking.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How to make Annabel Karmel's Pig Watermelon with sticky fingered toddlers helping

When celebrity chef Annabel Karmel challenged me to create a Pig Watermelon with my children, there was simply no way I was ever going to turn her down. After all, I'm creative and pretty skilled with a melon baller thanks to my experience making 150 perfectly round dark chocolate truffles for my local Women's Institute.

image courtesy Annabel Karmel
In her new book, Annabels' Kitchen: My First Cookbook, the Pig Watermelon looks so summery, scrumptious and fun, and above all easy to make. We didn't have all of the ingredients, but we did have a perfectly ripe watermelon, so thought we could produce a close approximation. Perfect for enjoying the hottest April on record with 3 preschoolers and 2 toddlers as my little helpers, right?

Well, let's just say that with the guidance of our mini helpers, our pig ended up looking more like a vaguely sinister Manga Rabbit... but we thought we could work with that, it being Easter and all.


Most of the irresistably bright pink melon balls had been licked by at least one toddler before being carefully placed back in the watermelon, and the five kids and my entire dining room table were covered in watermelon juice and little sticky pink handprints by the time we were finished.

Incredibly pleased with their independence, our children grinned and chatted all the way through the making of our Pig Watermelon / Creepy Manga Rabbit. I know from Danger Boy's post-war-style butter sandwiches (ugh) how much he loves helping me prepare meals, and I guess the same goes for most children. The older ones helped the littler ones scoop out the melon, and everyone took turns without a fuss. My friend (a local mum) and I took a step back every now and then to just observe and absorb their happiness, their utter contentment.

So while I'm a teensy bit jealous that MummyTips' Pig Watermelon and Thinly Spread's Pig Watermelon both look like they belong in a magazine (they did have much older helpers after all!), I think ours was a great success.

Annabel's Kitchen: My First Cookbook (as seen on ITV) has lots of great recipes and ideas for getting your children involved in the kitchen. 

The toddlers especially liked helping with (and eating) the Bagel Snake, Oriental Plum Chicken Wraps and Far-Too-Easy-Banana-Ice-Cream. The Salmon Lollipops and Animal Cupcakes were a massive hit with the preschoolers.

Click here to buy your own copy of Annabel's Kitchen: My First Cookbook.