Tuesday, 25 October 2011


My baby is going away today. I wish she wasn't. I like to have everyone at home where I can touch them if I need to! It's not like it's the first time or anything. Brownie camp, school trips, a couple of music festivals and endless sleepovers mean that I regularly say goodnight to her in her absence. But this is different and a first for us. She is going on holiday with another family.

This concept is alien to me. I never went away with anyone else when I was a child and I never wanted to. It was the four of us and my brother and I played with whoever we managed to hook up with when we got there. Perhaps going away with your friend's family was less common then - or maybe it was just that no one ever invited me?

Now that I have my own family it would never cross my mind to take anyone else with us on the rare occasions that we all leave Ilkley together. Numbers are obviously an issue but with four children we are also pretty self sufficient. There is always someone to play with and the top two and bottom two are best friends, although they are sometimes reluctant to admit it. Adding someone else into the mix just causes trouble and fights where there weren't any before. With others around we get positioning, showing off and petty jealousies which never surface in the safe surroundings of your siblings.

But now I have to get my head round my child going on holiday with someone else. Will she be safe? How many of my ludicrously long list of dos and don'ts will be flouted? Will she come back slightly different to how she was before? I'd rather she didn't go. It leaves a big hole for the rest of us to try to fill.

And yet I have to say yes. Once I am sure there are no safety concerns then the rest of it is just a problem in my head. Keeping my family at my bosom and never letting go might be what my instincts are telling me to do but it's not in the best interests of my children. They need to explore the world and make discoveries for themselves and that includes seeing how other families function. And other families don't have the safety in numbers that we have. Mixed sex broods, big gaps and missing offspring all mean that sometimes there is room for a stowaway on a trip away. My child is vivacious, entertaining (if not a little loud) and polite. I hope she will make an attractive addition to a holiday grouping.

It's only three days and whilst she is leaving the country, her destination is Wales so I have no concerns about her getting lost. The family that she is going with are lovely and she will no doubt have a wonderful time and return a little bit more independent and worldly wise. And whilst she's gone I will tidy her bedroom and wait bravely for her to come home brimming with laughter and stories of her exploits.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


I love to swear. I know I'm not supposed to. I'm a responsible parent, in control of my faculties and with an extensive vocabulary at my disposal. But sometimes only a swear word will do. Nothing else seems able to capture the moment as eloquently as an obscenity.

There are three main occasions when I feel the need to resort to inappropriate language. For, after all, I wouldn't want you to think that I'm f-ing and blinding at the drop of a hat.

1. In the face of sharp pain or immediate disaster. Into this category I would place stubbing my toe, for example. It really hurts. A nice round swear word is almost akin to morphine for taking away the pain. And surely you would forgive an outburst if a pint of milk were to smash to the floor or I drop the box of hundreds and thousands?

2. Frustration in extremis. Fridays are a good day to catch a frustrated expletive round here as that's the day I clean my house from top to bottom only to have my efforts annihilated within fifteen minutes of the kids getting home. I know it would be more appropriate to say 'For goodness sake' as I chase after them trying to rectify the damage but it just doesn't cut it.

3. Surprise - either good or bad. It doesn't really matter but both are likely to elicit the same response.

Whilst I have a fair few choice options in my armoury, I am not an arbitrary swearer. I only really use variations on two words. They are certainly not the most offensive but neither would I expect to hear them coming from the mouths of my children. My children are not allowed to swear. Oh dear me no. I'm not even happy with the ubiquitous OMG from them. I pick them up on it every time and will tut if their friends swear in my presence too, making light of it but nonetheless making it clear that we don't do that in our house. And that's how I was brought up. We absolutely did not swear. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard my dad use foul language even now.

What a hypocrite I am then as I regularly utter inappropriate expletives in front of my children. They roll their eyes and tick me off. Someone even suggested a swear box which I scoffed at because it's not that I can't control my swearing. Quite the reverse. If I swear in public, other than possibly in case 1 but sometimes even then, I will have made a calculated decision to do so. I will have considered all the ways in which I can express myself and, for whatever reason, have selected the swear word as being the one that most clearly expresses what I wish to convey. And that, I believe, is the way language should be used.

And so, somewhat arrogantly you might quite fairly say, I tell my children that when I am sure that their vocabulary is wide enough to give them as vast a range of possible options as I have, when I can see that they have not just sworn as a lazy response to what has happened or, worse still, out of a sloppy habit and when they completely understand the social effects of the way that they have chosen to express themselves then I might be more forgiving. But they aren't there yet and so they aren't allowed to swear. Until that day however, they are learning from a master!

Saturday, 15 October 2011


I'm trying to make a decision. Should I have laser eye surgery? Or not?

I've been wearing contact lenses all day every day for almost thirty years. First hard ones in the 80s which were like little domes of glass. Solid, unforgiving, frequently lost on pub floors and regularly cleaned with saliva. Yuk! After trying various other types over the years, I now have daily lenses - the ultimate in laziness. No cleaning and you can pop then out wherever you want and throw them away.

But my eyes don't really like them. Shorter wearing times, deteriorating vision as the day progresses and corneal ulcers have all dogged my steps over recent years. But I loathe wearing glasses. You can see and feel them all the time and, with the recent fashion for rectangular lenses, there is always a blurred world around the edges of the clear central picture. And don't get me started on the impact on specs wearers of living in a damp climate.

I looked into laser eye treatment over a decade ago and rejected it as being impossibly expensive. Then in 2006 my husband had his done and again I was tempted. But it was too hard. Ferrying back and forth to appointments with three children in tow was unrealistic and sleeping with plastic cages over my eyes was not on option when I was up in the night feeding babies. So my vision went back on the back burner and on we went.

But this recent bout of steroid eye drops, trips backwards and forwards to hospital for endless checks and of course the risk that if the ulcers continue I might ultimately damage or lose my sight, has brought the whole idea back into focus.

So this week I went to see if laser eye surgery was an option for me. I spent two hours being tested and scanned, pupils dilated and eyes dyed yellow. They explained which operation I should have, how it would work, what results I could expect and what the risks were and they sent me away with a large pile paper and a decision to make.

As ever with me, the decision making process doesn't follow the path you might expect. I think I am pretty sure that the surgery itself is fine. Of course, success is not guaranteed but the odds are pretty highly stacked in my favour. It carries a level of risk but so does stepping out of my house and if I'd never taken any risks, my life would have been far less rich.

But it is going to hurt and recovery will be slow and uncomfortable because of the type of surgery that I have to have. I know pain and inconvenience shouldn't bother me. I've had four children after all. But it's hardly something I relish, especially when it's inessential.

Also, I will need reading glasses at once. Again, this is something that I've been waiting for as, one by one, all my friends have succumbed. Balancing the pros and cons, the better scenario is probably being able to see properly but need reading glasses than not but it does feel a bit like I'm doing a deal with the devil. 'I'll give you the power of sight but don't think you're getting away scot free.'

I think I will probably go ahead and just score a week or so from my diary to allow for recovery. Consistent amongst the numerous people of my acquaintance that have had it done and recommended the surgery to me is the phrase 'I wish I'd done it years ago.'  So, the date is fixed  and whilst I can cancel right up to the moment that I'm in the chair, I think I'll be there. After all, as I recently said, rhetorically and with more than a touch of irony, how wrong can it go?!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


I could never describe myself as computer literate. On the wall above my desk there is a sketch of a PC with the words.

     'Hello. This is your computer speaking.
     You have no idea what you're doing, do you?'

It sums up how I feel pretty accurately.

About three years ago, made nervous by the way my primary school age children were able to run rings round me technologically and fearful of where this gap in our knowledge might lead me, I got myself a laptop. I have been more or less baffled ever since.

I'm not scared by computers. I trust that I can't do too much damage and that if I always read the pop up boxes, especially the ones that ask me if I'm really sure, then I should be OK. But I do find the whole thing terribly exasperating. Because I am self taught, I am sure I always find the most tortuous ways to achieve things. Photos in particular are an issue. I have all my photos in named folders in date order, as you might expect but when I get a new camera load in to be sorted, I have to set aside a good day and a half whilst I laboriously move them all about to where I want them. And the photoshop thing that opens each time is a complete mystery to me. I had a go at a bit of gentle editing but I'm not entirely sure where the computer saved the results to so I just forgot that I'd ever tried.

My computer tells me that its hard drive, a term I've never really got to grips with, is almost full but I have no clue as to what I should be deleting. My husband nearly had heart failure when he realised that three years worth of deleted emails are still there. Well, I clicked 'delete'. How was I supposed to know that all that did was move the redundant message from one folder to another?

You see, that's the trouble. No one has ever shown me this stuff. When I worked in an office I had a secretary to do everything related to computers. Back then, we hadn't even started emailing outside the office. So ask me to set up word document with anything more complicated than a few italics and I'm howling in frustration. Why does my numbering go awry? Why does the type keep returning to bold unbidden? It's all a mystery. It's like trying to understand Chinese without first mastering the alphabet.

I think I may have inadvertently fallen down an abyss between two stools. I am not of my parents' generation who believe the internet to be a bad and dangerous place and a nice, handwritten letter is much the best way to go. Similarly, I have never been educated or worked in an environment where computers are just taken for granted.

I think I would like my life to fall somewhere between the two extremes. Google is great but it's important to be able to use a dictionary. Sat nav is marvellous but maps are sometimes more effective. And if someone can explain iTunes to me, I'll be forever in their debt.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Secrets. What do you do with them? So exciting when first told, they hang around your neck like Bilbo's ring, causing you to double check your every utterance in case you inadvertently give something away.

Nice secrets are hard enough:

                                       'Surprise party!
Don't mention it on pain of death.
 RSVP to this Box Office in Outer Mongolia.' 

I find that I lose the power of speech with the person concerned. Instead of day to day chat, I am reduced to inconsequential small talk which makes me appear at best dull and at worst as if the person concerned  has offended me in some unspecified manner.

Presents - they're another. You plan ahead and choose the most perfect gift for your loved one. But then you have to button your lip. You're dying to share your knowledge so that they too can bask in your cleverness at finding just the right thing. But you can't. Then doubt creeps in. What if they don't like it? Perhaps you ought to check that you've been thinking along the right lines? It's no wonder the kids struggle to keep their mouths shut after they have finished the wrapping.

But what about bad secrets? What do you do with those? Not long since, I told a friend a bad secret involving someone close to them. How did they react? They shot the messenger. Did I say shot? I meant obliterated with a bloody great blunderbuss. I won't be doing that again.

However, what if the secret affected me and mine? Would I want to know then? After my recent experience, I have given this a lot of thought. The people that I have related my story to all looked at me with horrified faces and told me in no uncertain terms that they would want to know whatever it was that I knew. But would they? Really?

One of the disadvantages of living in such a small and inward looking town is that no matter what you do, someone will find out. I tell my children this with great delight. 'I know everyone,' I say. 'You step out of line and someone will tell me.' But would they? Perhaps they, like me now, think it wiser to keep their own counsel rather than risk an adverse response.

After careful consideration, I have decided that I would want to know and I trust my closest friends to tell me. Because, for all the humiliation that it might cause, all the feelings of doubt and disbelief that are likely to rampage around my mind, if I don't know about it I can't sort it. If I continue in blissful ignorance of some fact which, if it came to light, would make me behave differently, then in the long term, I will be poorer. I will have missed the opportunity to try and put right the wrong, straighten the path. I like to think that I am grown up enough to rise above the pain that the revelation might cause and just be grateful that someone had the courage to tell me.

But if you do hear something bad about one of my lot, tell me when I'm sitting down!

Monday, 3 October 2011


When my children were small I remember how those with more experience than me always said the same thing.

"You think it's hard now? Just wait until they're older."

Whenever I heard that, I just used to smile wanly through my veil of exhaustion and hope that they were saying it for effect. After all, it couldn't get any harder than two children under two and a full time job crammed into four days on next to no sleep. Could it?

In my turn, I repeated the adage to those with children younger than mine. I remember almost causing a stand up row at a birthday celebration by asserting that it was, in fact, true. The older they get the harder it becomes.

Now that I have emerged, almost unscathed, from pre-school hell and have two teenage children to boot, I feel able to be more circumspect in my consideration of the issues. Parenting is tricky, whichever stage you're at. It is hard with very young children because they are so demanding of your time and sleep is at such a premium. But it's not challenging. They cry, you work out what is wrong and hopefully sort it. They smile, your heart melts and all is well.

Pre-school years, my own personal nemesis, are hard. Dealing with a child that thinks it can when actually it can't is frustrating to say the least and I found the constant repetition soul-destroyingly dull. 

I look back on my life with four children aged 7 and under and compare it to how it is now. When they were little it was relentless. I had no time to call my own. Even leaving the house was an effort.  I was time poor and would have given my right arm for an uninterrupted cup of coffee. But I now look back at the things I agonised over and laugh. How I fretted about whether I should allow my child a break time snack of jam sandwiches? How I worried about why the teacher wouldn't tell me precisely where in the class my little darling sat in terms of intelligence?

Fast forward to now. By comparison, my days are easy. The children are all gone for hours on end. My evenings are filled with ferrying them backwards and forwards which isn't hard and I no longer have to jam everyone in the car with me every time I go anywhere. But the parenting? That's something else altogether.

Last week alone we encountered exclusion from school for possession of drugs, chemically induced abortion and oblivion due to alcohol. Not the actions of my children as far as I'm aware but children not that far from our lives. Not the children about whom you might knowingly shake your head but nice ones from nice homes with nice parents just like me. 

This is where things get tough. I'm starting to understand what those prophetic parents must have meant. Keeping your children safe from an ever-encroaching adult world, helping them to make grown up decisions when they are nowhere near being grown up and hardest of all doing it without driving them straight into the path of the thing you are seeking to avoid.

When they were little, all  I had to do was say no and stick to my guns. Now the decisions are bigger, more important and may make a difference to how the rest of our lives pan out. I'll confess to being a bit overwhelmed by it all, feeling my way in the dark for a light switch that keeps moving. All I can do is keep on doing what I think is right and hope that it all turns out for the best. Deep breath Imogen.