Christmas is changing…

Every year we buy a Christmas tree from the local Christmas tree farm down the road. The boys like to go to places they know as this in itself creates memories. ‘Mummy, are the elves still there?’, ‘is the horse still there?’ and so many other little things that they remember that I don’t even seem to notice. For them it’s the little things like colours of tinsel, just how much glitter can one bauble hold and whether that Father Christmas is the real Father Christmas. For me it’s; where am I going to park? Have they all got their gloves on? And making sure they don’t run across the muddy car park in a desperate, overexcited way to hunt for the perfect tree.

Hubbie and I always have ‘discussions’ over the choice of tree. He’s looking for the mother ships of all trees and seems to forget the low ceilinged cottage that we actually live in. He strides over to a tree and usually pronounces that ‘This is the tree!!’ and I look at it and wonder (in wonder too sometimes) at how on earth we would even get it through the door let along into the sitting room. He sees himself sawing branches (like a real man –grr!) to make it fit. I see an odd shaped tree that’s pushed up against the corner to hide it’s defects.

This year it seemed we all saw the tree at the same time. I resisted my usual over emotional attachment to the tree and, for once, I didn’t give it a name. It was perfect, the boys faces lit up and Hubbie did shout rather too loudly ‘This is the tree!’ Some things never change it seems. Last year we carried it to pay, this year it was carried for us. It was bagged up and we stuffed it into the boot. One son’s foot was resting on it, another could touch it with his hand to keep it safe. We were on our way home.

We put the tree in the outhouse for the branches to drop –Hubbie has read this and as he is a stickler for ‘the right thing’- and the tree stays overnight. The next day, after rugby and a large roast lunch, he dragged it in, put it in the sitting room and said again ‘This is a fab tree!’ in a self-congratulatory way that announces to the rest of us ‘Look at this tree! It’s a fab tree! Didn’t I choose well??’ The boys were excited but we needed our decorations.

We have a box that we keep in the cellar filled with all the decorations for Christmas. It’s a precious box and one that after the photos we would save from a burning building. Memories can be found anywhere and I’ve written about this before, but especially in a simple plastic box stuffed with lots of glittery things. Hubbie digs in to get the lights out –he insists on checking the light and putting them on first so we tend to leave him to his mission as it makes him happy. The boys grab at the gorgeous glittery things telling me ‘I made this last year!!’, ‘Who made this; was it me?’ and they notice the little details of upside down threads and ‘not quite there’ writing that a year on is now 100 times better. I love to see them so excited in their own memories as there really isn’t any other time when they do this. Life is gathering pace each year and the urge to keep moving forward is ever present but this means there aren’t many chances to stop and think about how things change and have changed. In this box they get to see this and I just give them the time they need to enjoy it.

Once Hubbie has grappled with the lights (it’s always a comedy moment worth seeing) and put them on the tree (not having garrotted a small child in the process or tying anyone to the tree) the boys then decorate. I do feel that using the word ‘decorate’ gives a far too gentile mental picture of what actually happens. Each boy grabs as many decorations as they can and then decorates the tree to their age appropriate height. This has meant in the past lots of decorations on the bottom of the tree and not very many on the middle and top and I have poked and prodded and moved decorations about to get less of a ‘scatter gun’ approach to it. This year though at age 8, 5 and 3 they are really doing a good job. I didn’t feel the need to tinkle with their efforts and actually stood back and looked at just how good a job they’d done. The control freak in me (I don’t have so much of an ‘inner goddess’, rather more of a ‘control freak’ inside me) was calm and, most importantly, the boys seemed very pleased.

The lights flashed (I hate flashing lights) and the colours shone (I hate coloured lights) Hubbie breathed out a sigh of contentment and I walked outside to look into the sitting room and see how cosy it looked.

Christmas is changing for all of us in our house. Ollie no longer believes in Father Christmas so this year he’s moving forward with the meaning of Christmas. Tobias now knows what Christmas is and this is the first one he’s really looking forward to with the build getting him more excited each day (‘Is it nearly Christmas???’ is asked everyday) Henry has written his list for the first time ever and is totally absorbed in the whole myth of Father Christmas.

Christmas eve will mean 2 very excited little boys will struggle to sleep through excitement, 1 will stay up with us for the first time and wrap presents but Hubbie and I will still drink too much port, leave the wrapping a little too late and, no doubt, will run out of selotape just when we needed it most. (Masking tape, parcel tape and ribbon have been used in emergency before making our presents ‘quaint’ in their appearance) But this is our Christmas with our memories the way we do it. And when it’s all over for another year I’ll carefully pack the lights away remembering Hubbie and his manic lights obsession, I’ll gently place the boys’ homemade decorations of the past and put with them this year’s batch of glittering loveliness. I’ll put the lid on and climb down into the cellar and there the box will stay for another year when we take it out and reminisce again about teachers, classes, disasters with glue (and glitter, there’s always a glitter disaster!) and they’ll see how great their writing is and marvel at how brilliant they are. The decorations will make their way slightly higher up the tree but it will still have us all standing silently in awe of just how beautiful it is.

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Wherever you will go…

So lately, been wondering
Who will be there to take my place
When I’m gone, you’ll need love
To light the shadows on your face

If a greater wave shall fall
And fall upon us all
Then between the sand and stone
Could you make it on your own?

If I could, then I would
I’ll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I’ll go wherever you will go

And maybe I’ll find out
A way to make it back someday
To watch you, to guide you
Through the darkest of your days

If a great wave shall fall
And fall upon us all
Well then I hope there’s someone out there
Who can bring me back to you

If I could, then I would
I’ll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I’ll go wherever you will go

Run away with my heart
Run away with my hope
Run away with my love

I know now, just quite how
My life and love might still go on
In your heart, in your mind
I’ll stay with you for all of time

If I could, then I would
I’ll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I’ll go wherever you will go

If I could turn back time
I’ll go wherever you will go
If I could make you mine
I’ll go wherever you will go
I’ll go wherever you will go

Listen to the song click here

I was listening to this song whilst sat at the kitchen table having lunch with hubbie and the boys. I love it as the lyrics are so gentle as is the melody but I’d never paid particular attention to them I just knew I like it and Hubbie turned it up louder because he knew I did. Ollie got off the bench and stretched out his arms to me and just as I tried to take them he slipped backwards away from me all the while keeping eye contact and I just got the feeling of him leaving me so suddenly. It was so painful a feeling that I had to stop myself from crying. My thoughts had run away with me by that point and I knew this could be played at his wedding many years later and he would dance with me and slip away from me to his new life just as the lyrics ‘Run away with my heart, run away with my love’ said…

For that moment I envisaged myself being the first part of this song ‘Who will be there to take my place, when I’m gone you’ll need to love, to take the shadows on your face’ and the next part ‘If a greater wave shall fall, and fall upon us all, then between the sand and stone, could you make it on your own?’ A new mother’s worry for their newborn child. All mothers realise in that instant their immortality that’s never really been thought of before and to think that one day we will leave them rips at our hearts. We learn to live with this and it does get easier…

As mothers we want to be there always and wrap our children up in our cloak of love to keep all the bad things away but we can’t and we have to let them go ‘wherever {they} will go’ however hard and painful that may be. ‘If I could, I would, go wherever he may go’ just so I could protect him and this part of the song filled me with such protective love that crying seemed the very least I could do. ‘And maybe I’ll find out, a way to make it back someday’ hopefully he’ll think of me in those dark moments, of all my love and he’ll feel my cloak around him and he’ll hug himself tighter knowing it really will be okay…

But then the song changes for me and I no longer see myself part of it. I hear a younger voice singing to him ‘If I could, then I would, I’ll go wherever you will go, Way up high or down low, I’ll go wherever you will go’ and she’ll carry on with the lines ‘run away with my heart, run away with my hope, run away with my love’ but this time he’ll hear a different meaning; the meaning of a wife rather than a mother and it will change him into a man.

I see the next verse as my last one ‘I know now, just quite how, My life and love might still go on, In your heart, in your mind, I’ll stay with you for all of time’ this is my acceptance that his life will go on past mine but he will still know my love by his memories of me and his actions, however unconscious, that mirror me. His wife has the rest of the song and I see myself floating away…

I know he won’t be at the kitchen table forever, boogieing with the latest bands as we all eat our lunch. I won’t always feel his arms slip round me to have a quick reassurance cuddle and when I turn I see him skip off to another moment his need having passed. It took me a while to fall for him but now I have, how do I face letting him go?

Tomorrow is another day and I’ll be busy with the school run and thoughts of the future will be far away in the distance. I’ll have washing up and cleaning and he’ll be at school and it probably won’t be for many months that I think of this again. Each time I do I know it will be easier as the first realization that the Sunday lunches at the kitchen table won’t last forever wont’ be as painful. I am imaging the future before we’ve lived the present and as each year passes and he grows that bit more I know I will be ready for him to leave. I just want him to know ‘in your heart, in your mind, I’ll be with you for all of time…’

This morning, after a night’s sleep, I can see that yesterday I was seeing him leave as an 8 year old boy and that’s, I think, what upset me the most. He still needs me and I can’t ever imagine my beautiful 8 year old becoming a man. It will creep up slowly on us both and I don’t think we’ll really notice the passing of time and the growing out of the clothes into new ones. By then I will be ready as the man who towers over me (it’s inevitable I know!) with his smooth skin long gone and his voice a new one of the future -his other one being a memory – will leave with my love. I will be ready for him to go and this is how it should be as I will always be a part of him so I’ll ‘stay with [him] for all of time…’

And I shouldn’t worry because he will come back…

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How I ‘free machine’ embroider…

There are lots of ways of using your machine to free machine embroider so I don’t claim to know everything and be an expert with it but I am happy with the results I get using the technique I use so I thought I’d share how I free machine embroider. Here goes…

The machine
1. Turn on the machine and set everything to zero. This includes the stitch width and length. Once this is done your machine will just move the threaded needle up and down.

2. Turn the feed dogs (the metal teeth that move the fabric through the machine) off. The slide switch for mine is at the back of the sewing arm of the machine (at the back where the bobbin is). This stops your machine passing fabric through meaning you then need to guide your fabric where you would like the stitches to be.

3. Take the foot off the machine. You can then put on a free machine embroidery foot if you have one. I don’t at the moment and am happy with the results that I get but I would add a word of caution that as there is no foot you really need to watch your fingers don’t get stitched on.

The fabric
1. I use a wooden hoop as I have found the plastic ones don’t hold the fabric taught enough. I have seen hoops with a rubber inner ring and these are fabulous but I’m happy with the wooden rings. You can also use these to display your work at the end which looks great.

2. Cut your fabric to just a little larger than the hoop and you need 2 pieces. 2 Pieces of fabric mean you have 1 as the top of the work and the other acts as a stabiliser keeping the fabric and design together. If you don’t use a stabiliser then your thread can become tangled and your fabric can go out of shape.

3. Don’t cut your fabric too large as it can easily become tangled with the sewn design if it comes over the hoop and over hangs where you are sewing.

4. Using a hoop for free machine embroidery is different from hand embroidery as for that you would normally use the ‘drum’ skin bit of the hoop (think of the taught fabric like a drum and you need to use the back of the drum to sew on) this means that it is flat against your machine when you sew. If you use it the ‘right’ way round your hoop will slip and slide on your machine, sewing will be nigh on impossible and this will also be dangerous.

Inserting the hoop under the foot.
1. Make sure your take up lever (the metal hook that goes up and down when you sew) is in the upper most position as this lifts the needle to its highest point.

2. Use the foot lifter as you normally do to lift the foot but press it higher than you normally do and you will see that it lifts higher for you. This is usually to accommodate thicker fabric but this helps you to get your wooden hoop under the needle.

3. Be careful doing this as your needle is unprotected by any foot so you can easily catch your finger.

1. For your first project just be as free as you want remembering that you will need to move the hoop around yourself and decide how long and where you want your stitches to be. This is the ‘free’ part of the free machine embroidery and the hardest to get over at first as we’re normally being told to be precise with our sewing and this certainly isn’t!

2. Hold your hoop as you sew as this gives you more control but also means your fingers are away from the needle.

3. I always set my needle to the down position so when I stop sewing the needle automatically stays in the fabric and this makes the hoop stay where it is rather than slipping about and changing direction is also very easy then.

4. If you can’t manage total freedom draw your design on in pencil and follow the lines.

5. This is rather like painting in that you have to think of your designs in layers so add large blocks of colours first and then add detail afterwards.

6. If your machine protests and churns up the thread try to move your fabric more to help ease the blockages but also this can happen when you make the stitches too large. It really is a trial and error technique to find what works best for your machine and you. I find writing letters incredibly difficult so I don’t tend to do this with the machine but hand sew them instead but I can draw quite easily. It takes practice and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you pick it up.

I hope you have fun and as I say this isn’t the definitive way to do this and others will add many more tips but this is the way I was shown and it’s worked for me.

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I hate the school run…

Actually scrub that as I’d like to state in print, nail my colours to the mast as it were and say outright that I hate school mornings at the moment AND the school run…

Since the change of season and the clocks going back (or forward I can never remember which and the fact that some clocks in the house magically change and some don’t leads me into utter confusion for days. Time can change in the space of a few paces or a change of room it seems) the boys don’t appear to be able to get out of bed anymore. I am now sergeant major extraordinaire as I open their bedroom doors and gently say ‘good morning beautiful boy’ or other suchlike words of mummy loveliness. After the second or third time these words, and their tone, start to change from ‘can you get out of bed now’ to ‘get out of bed!!!!’ to the very desperate ‘for the love of God will you Pleeese get out of bed!!!’ if this fails then the direct threat of ‘Well, if you don’t get out of bed you can just go to school in your pyjamas…’ normally fires them into action as they know with my track record I will follow through. They all go to a boy’s school and the threat of turning up at school in your jammies in front of your mates with a bag of clothes and a harassed mother is a step too far. For extra effect I even threaten them to kiss them goodbye in front of their friends….

There are cries of ‘I don’t have any pants!’

‘He has my pants on!’

‘Muuuuum where’s my trousers????’ -‘On the floor where you left them last night. I’m not your servant you’re nearly 9 now’

‘Mum do you know where my jumper is?’ -‘In your wardrobe like it always is. Please can you think before asking the same question every day!’

Oliver looks smart and Henry does not. No matter what clothes I put Henry in, no matter how clean and how ironed they are as soon as they touch his body he looks like something out of just William with shirt untucked, hair all messy and strange things appear (how does he do that??) in his pockets. I always have to spend a few minutes with him getting him to look like someone actually cares about his appearance.

Once they’re downstairs the breakfast stress begins.

‘Please can you sit on the bench with your legs under the table so you don’t fall off and hurt yourself!’ (Like you did yesterday and the day before…)

‘Please can you stop pushing your brother so he falls off the bench!’ (Like you did yesterday and the day before…)

‘Please can you hurry up –you’ve been eating for half an hour!’ (Like you did yesterday and the day before!!!!!)

Finally they all clear away their bowls and are off upstairs to clean their teeth which, unusually for them, doesn’t usually take long but then they’re back downstairs to get shoes, coats, book bags and any other stuff they need for that day. What they need changes on a daily basis and the second half term of the autumn term –the run up to Christmas- is what I call the silly season as one day they may need a sheep costume, the music to the songs they are learning, a form returned to indicate something of great importance (that I will forget and have to be rung up to be asked –yes Mrs B-L I am thinking of our phone conversation yesterday) we need to remember the judo kit, the ‘cello, the library books, the homework’s, words study folders, the reading books and all this for 3 different children on 3 different days. Yes we have a very organised whiteboard but as only 1 of them can read the darn thing it still falls to me to sort them out.

I then get, ‘Where’s my shoes??’ –’In your cubby hole where you put them last night’, ‘Where’s my other shoe?’ – in your cubby hole where I put them last night’, ‘Is this the right feet?’ ‘Yes!’, ‘Where’s my coat?’ –Hung up like it always is’, ‘Is this my coat?’ –’Yes! It has your ribbon sewn in so you can see that it’s yours!!!!’

No matter how organised I am with shoe cubby holes, whiteboards to tell us what they are doing each day and places to put things so they can be found again my boys still like to ask the same questions every day, lose the same items every day and generally dick about like it’s a holiday every day. I try my best to be organised but I just can’t get it right. Maybe Mother baiting is a new sport that only children know about and, maybe, they get to school each day and whilst we think they’re chatting about what they had for dinner the night before on the playground they are actually awarding each other points for how many questions they asked that morning, how many times their mother shouted and did she actually go blue in the face like she said she would? I think I’m being conned somewhere along the line…

We next get into the car after the usual hunt for books bags, glasses and books to read and after seatbelts are on and the back door is locked we’re off down the lane.

I like to listen to the radio in the car but this proves nigh on impossible with 3 boys arguing, giggling and asking endless questions. ‘Mummy, who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and Buzz light-year?’ and before I can say, after a bemused pause, ‘erm, I don’t know’ I get asked ‘Mummy why did the chicken cross the road?’ Again I look bemused more at this sudden change of conversation direction which just serves to keep me on my toes. ‘I don’t know darling why did the chicken cross the road?’ ‘Because it was stuck to the tiger’s foot!!!’ A medium sized little boy collapses into uncontrollable giggling as his larger elder brother tells him in no uncertain terms that that was a stupid joke that wasn’t funny. The laughter turns to crying and then I’m driving while consoling and telling off. All this whilst trying to listen to the news…

Once we’re at school I just feel like a sheep herder. I am the sheep dog snapping at the heels of 3 boys who do tend to run in all directions to see friends, hit each other with book bags (what else are they for?) or just go and hit random strangers with book bags (I have learned this is boy for ‘hello!’).

I file them in their classrooms –Ollie goes off on his own to sort himself out and after the morning’s fiasco I’m always amazed that he actually manages to get in the right classroom at the right time with all the right things – and then I walk back to the car. I open the door, sit in my driver’s seat close the door and then slowly breath out as yet another morning has been got through and the boys are all dressed with the book bags they should have.

…and I know that tomorrow I’ll get up and do it all again.

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Hubbie and I follow the ‘tag team’ method of parenting…

Parenting today has never been so easy.

That’s what all the parenting experts would have us believe as they write yet another book detailing yet another way of parenting our children. If we just simply follow their strict routines, guidelines and wisdom (largely with no actual child rearing experience I find too) then all will be well but due to the subjective nature of offering generic guidelines and wisdom and applying it to the very individual nature of each child this doesn’t always work. My child doesn’t fit into their box so the answer is that we find another box (book) to latch onto and hope that this will give us that magic answer to sleepless nights, fussy eating and temper tantrums but, invariably, they don’t.

Growth charts and developmental stages are based around the ‘average’ child and if it’s one thing I have now learned about my children it’s that none of them are average. This isn’t a boast about how far on they are in reading, how much they don’t tantrum or even whether we’ve got rid of pull up pants and are having dry nights. No, this is about knowing that no child is the exact average child that all charts and developmental stages are based on. One of my sons was very behind in his physical development, one didn’t talk until he was 2 (he’s made up for it now though and occasionally we even harp back to those pre-verbal days when the house was a lot quieter!) but one has a reading age 3 years above his age, one is ambidextrous (Yeah! Beat that developmental charts!!) and one is way to canny for the age, and size, that he is. My children certainly haven’t been average and I don’t think yours are either…

There are those days though when it all goes wrong. When the noise is just that little too loud, the mess is just that little bit too dangerous and you’ve come to the end of your tether. What strategies do you use? Which parental method do you fall back on? Is it ‘by the skin of your teeth?’ or ‘Shut the door and make a cup of tea and face it after a 10 min break?’ or is it like us, Hubbie and I, what we call (I quote Miranda too much it seems these days) the ‘Tag team’ method.

Hubbie and I realised early on that neither of us have the endless pit of patience that you need for having children. The barrage of repeated questions by monotone little people that never stops actually begins to make your head hurt after a while and what do you do then? The 5th tantrum of the day with your little person lying on the floor shouting ‘I HATE YOU!!!!’ in a local supermarket (and it’s not even lunch time) can have you reaching for the metaphorical gin bottle or at the very least counting 10 and beyond very slowly.

There are those times when you’ve just had enough. When you’ve shouted the wrong thing, when you want 5 minutes peace and when you actually want to throw the parenting books away and have a bit of time out yourself. You may want to visit the naughty step and sit on it for a while just to see if anyone would notice, hey – maybe that’s a new method I could invent. I think I could have a bestseller there…

Hubbie and I have a little secret code. If one of us seems to be losing the plot and is becoming slightly irrational we say ‘can I have a word/ask you something in the kitchen?’ This code is the secret words that gets us both to stop and think a little and then we do go and have a word in the kitchen. We can then talk about what’s happening and form a plan and even if this means we pretend to have the answer it’s better than carrying on the way we were. It gives us a breather too but above all it does help that someone else is regulating me/him that just before the end of the tether is reached, before I/he has jumped off into the deep end that someone stops us both and gently says ‘hey, you need to walk away for 5 minutes’.

On Sunday Henry had whined a little bit too much (4 days of the whinny voice coupled with a snotty nose was enough I found) and I left the breakfast table saying ‘I need to leave the room as I just can’t take it at the moment’ Hubbie was great and said ‘go and write for a bit and I’ll bring you in a cuppa’ The office is as far away from anyone as you can get in the cottage and when I sit behind the computer screen I can block out most things as I get lost in my thoughts and typing. I find parenting hard and I don’t mind admitting it. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t mind admitting that too –sometimes even to the children. In the words of T.S. Elliott I ‘Try harder and fail better’ each time when I come across a new situation that I have to have an opinion on or make a decision to do with the boys. What I hope I do is listen to them, take on board what they think and feel, help them to make the right decisions for themselves and my ultimate goal is that they will make good decisions even when I’m not in the room but judging by how tea went a couple of days ago when I decided to put the washing away I think we’re quite far from that reality! (Food on the floor, the noise was horrendous and each one was complaining about the misdemeanours of the others)

Parenting today has never been so hard.

Generally because too many people are sticking their noses in, writing books to confuse us by giving totally contrasting advice and information. I really think that once you accept you won’t get it perfectly right that your children will eventually sleep, will eat, will get out of nappies and become fabulous human beings if you work with them in your parameters you decide as a family then I think everyone will be a lot happier.

I’m not an attachment parent, I don’t do ‘baby led weaning’, I breastfed for a bit with each of the boys I just simply work with my husband to raise our children the best we can. We are the ones on the side of the parental wrestling ring watching the other one deal with the boys and when it all gets too much will jump off the ropes, high five each other and give each other a break. That seems to be working for us…

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‘You can’t handle the truth!’ (Or is it just me?)

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the difficulties of ‘the secret’ when it comes to Christmas. For a couple of years our eldest son asked questions about Father Christmas and we’ve been able to fob him off but this year he’s 8 and it seemed that he really wanted to know the truth so after a quick conflab (or whispered panic conversation behind the fridge door) in the kitchen we decided to come clean and tell him the truth. Both Hubbie and I were worried that we’d destroyed Christmas for Ollie that he would bear a disappointment routed back to ‘that conversation in the kitchen’ but we’ve actually been pleasantly surprised…

Ollie is a very black and white sort of boy. He likes rules, guidelines, to know where he is in life and all that he does. Ambiguity really upsets him and he’s not one to like a surprise. When we first told him the truth about Father Christmas he was quiet but relived I think as to nearly know something is very frustrating for Ollie as he’s certainly never held back on asking a question and to be fair, he did ask the question, he just never got the truthful answer.

A couple of days after our first chat Henry was talking about his Christmas list and Ollie shot me a look. I could see that he was slightly uncomfortable about how to handle the new information he had. I talked to him afterwards and said that now he knew the secret that he shouldn’t ruin it for his brothers that he had had 8 years of believing in Father Christmas. To be honest I think I laid it on a bit thick as I really didn’t want 2 crying little boys on my hands or angry mums at school asking why Ollie had upset their boys. I should have trusted Ollie more though as when I said he shouldn’t tell anyone else as it would ruin it for them he simply replied ‘Mummy… do you really think I’m that sort of boy?’ I was taken aback by his maturity and do you know what? He really isn’t that sort of boy…

Over the past couple of weeks he’s really got into Christmas again. He’s joined in with the pretence of writing letters to Father Christmas, he’s chatted with his brothers about Father Christmas and has even said he would help Henry write his letter (the sudden attack of brotherly love between those two is also a little unnerving!) He’s winked at me when we’ve talked about leaving carrots out for Rudolph and a mince pie for Father Christmas and he’s hugged me when we said that he could stay up a little later this year to help us sort out the presents. He’s loving being part of a different side of Christmas and although it is different it is none the less magical for him as he’s learning that making something special for other people can also make something special for yourself.

I’ve learned that sometimes when children ask the question, whatever question that might be; the answer needs to be considered carefully. Be it the facts of life, does daddy really eat all the biscuits in the biscuit tin? (‘Does he throw all our drawings away in the recycling bin???’) or ‘is Father Christmas really real?’ if they’ve asked the question then it’s something they actually want to know the answer too. I thought that palming him off each year was what we should do that carrying on the magic for another year was the best thing and that to tell him the truth would simply just ruin it for him and no parent wants to be the one who does that to their child but knowing what I do now I think honesty really is the best policy especially for someone like Ollie. How confusing is it when you just know something isn’t right to have your mother –the one that usually insists on everyone telling the truth – clearly keeps telling you a big fat whopping lie? He’d become quite annoyed, insistent about getting the answer and I should have taken him a bit more seriously.

Knowing that Father Christmas doesn’t exist doesn’t actually ruin a childhood or even Christmas. As adults we all know about Father Christmas so it happens to us all at some stage and some of us can remember that day when we found out and some really can’t. What ruins childhoods is when a child asks for honesty and doesn’t get it and this is really much bigger than just Father Christmas. Ollie is much happier now than he was before he found out despite what I and Hubbie thought. He’s revelling in being part of a large secret and he understands, as we’ve talked about it, why we do what we do in fact when we told him that creating memories for them also creates memories for us as despite how tidy their rooms are for the coming of Father Christmas Hubbie always seems to fall over in their rooms (though this may have something to do with the annual bashing of the port that we both do on Christmas Eve) and for 20 secs we both stifle giggles, stand as still as we can with our hands over our mouths hoping we’ve not woken anyone of them up whilst putting their stockings of presents in their rooms. Ollie, with a glint in his eye, said to us ‘I know, you woke me up last year…’

We are moving towards a more grown up relationship with Ollie, one where we answer questions deeper than just ‘why is the sky blue?’ or ‘Can I dress up as Darth Vader for the Christmas nativity?’ he asks ‘how do I know when I’m grown up?’ and comments on how beautiful someone looks. He is wonderful, thoughtful and a kind boy who needs the truth and as he’s shown in the past few weeks he can handle the truth, it’s just me that has the difficulty…

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‘It was 37 years ago today…’

Did you read the title with the Beatles ‘It was 20 years ago today….’ from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band going round your head? No? Have another read now it’s there and you’ll find my lyrics very nearly fit! It was 37 years ago today that I was born as it’s my birthday today. I don’t really like birthdays not because of the usual not wanting to get older (I know I’m getting older and I accept that) but because birthdays from the age of 14 when my parents got divorced became something special that other people did. Other people got cakes with candles and families that sang ‘happy birthday’ to them and other people got presents and surprises and made to feel well, special. From the age of 14 I certainly didn’t get that…

As a consequence I’ve never really been one to celebrate my birthday. I’m not the ‘it’s my birthday let’s go out!’ kind of person and you’ll certainly never get a text from me arranging drinks in a bar ‘in town’ as others do. I’m happy to slink into my birthday and out the other end quietly and without any fuss and as I’ve done this for quite some years now I’m really very good at it. I love other people’s birthdays and prefer to concentrate on that.

I married a man who wasn’t particularly great at celebrating birthdays either who bought me the most random things I think I’ve ever had. I bought him things such as a day’s sailing on a Whitbread round the world yacht which he loved. (and wasn’t nearly as expensive as you’d imagine) One Christmas I bought him the present of sailing part of a leg of a journey on the same boat where he moored in Dublin and met up with his sister and for his 30th he has the memory of cruising a narrowboat into a lock whilst being serenaded by 20+ walkers singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him and they only had to pause a little to ask his name. I loved buying him presents –when I worked and had the money! His presents to me always confused me a little; a seahorse necklace (he’s the one into diving and loves the underwater not me) but I think the most memorable (and still talked about one today) was the stuffed toy of the very hungry caterpillar (with book) which being a teacher I already had. Yes from the age of 14 birthdays weren’t great and for a while they continued to be even after I married a lovely man.

Last year though he excelled himself. For the first time he planned a surprise and managed to keep it a surprise for a whole 2 months before finally cracking and telling me. (I knew he would he’s rubbish at keeping secrets) He’d planned an amazing trip to New York meeting up with my middle brother and his lovely wife which he knew I would love. My family is very important to me so he struck birthday present bingo with that one and he knew he’d earned many brownie points for years to come. We had a fab time seeing all the sights, having the most amazing dinner in a gorgeous little restaurant and we flew first class so, for that birthday, I felt like a princess. There were surprises, presents and fun and I have to admit I loved it…

This year I took matters into my own hand and planned my birthday. I work hard with my business sewing, teaching and writing and I usually save all the money earned to pay for things the boys need but I took some money out and bought 5 tickets to see Disney’s Fantasia at the Albert Hall. We travelled on the train, took the tube (oh WOW!!! Mummy!!’) and finally arrived at the Albert Hall much to the huge excitement of the boys as they had seen the Horrible Histories Prom and knew all about it. They loved the instruments –Henry got a wave from a double bassist – the power of the orchestra and yes, the chocolate ice-cream in the interval. I’d arranged this for the day before my birthday and it is was a perfect day out. We all enjoyed ourselves.

Today is my actual birthday and I woke up to whisperings of ‘SHHHHHHHH!!! Don’t wake Mummy!!!! We need to go and write cards and wrap her presents’ and I was left in bed giggling at my 3 lovely little boys. Hubbie (the 4th lovely big boy) was already downstairs making me a cup of tea. All 4 then came into the bedroom after clattering and giggling up the stairs trying to be quiet. (Children are a little like drunk people in thinking they are actually much quieter than they really are I’ve found out) I opened my presents whilst being watched by 4 smiling boys and loved them.

Sometimes it’s not the amount spent on you or even the need for a grand gesture of a weekend away in New York (though that was very nice) it’s merely that for one day a year someone actually thinks about what you would like to open on the day. That they’ve spent 5 mins thinking about what would make you happy. I had 3 very excited little boys on my bed this morning all wanting to make their mummy happy and the cards filled with neatest handwriting, wonderful drawings (that you can really tell it’s me!) and the massive cuddles that I got after I opened all the presents (that this year they managed to hold back on telling me what was in them just before I opened them –yay!) really made my day. Hubbie is cooking steak tonight with a garlic mayonnaise that he knows is my favourite and although I didn’t get to spend the day with the friend I had planned as her daughter ate a handful of Vicks Vaporub just before she went on the school run!! I did spend it with an equally lovely friend watching our children go slightly mad at soft play. Birthdays are getting better and not just because the presents are getting better it’s more that I feel that for just one day a year I am thought of in a way I never was when I was younger and do you know what? I’m actually looking forward to my next birthday…

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