Thursday, 21 May 2009

Multiculture club

Tomorrow is multicultural day at my three-year-old's nursery. We have been asked to dress our little darlings in national costume. I am thinking of shaving his head and putting him in a football shirt. It's either that or a morris dancing get up, and I know which one is more likely to see him beaten up by his fellow preschoolers. 

But it got me to thinking about how times of changed. When I was growing up out in the sticks in the 70s our headmaster arranged a special assembly to greet the first black pupil to attend our school. Looking back that must have worked wonders to make her feel included and inconspicuous, poor girl. 

Now my sons attend London schools where English is just one of many languages spoken and skin colours range from milky white to inky black encompassing every shade in between, which begs the question why they need a special multicultural day, as surely every day in these schools is multicultural day? 

But I suspect that the real motivation behind this day is nothing as high falutin' as learning about other cultures, but more an excuse for a good nosh up. You see we have all been asked to bake a national dish and I fear my good old British Victoria sponge won't stand up to the culinary competition from around the world.  

If the food at my eldest's school fetes is anything to go by we are in for a global smorgasbord of treats of satay and spring rolls, Thai curry and Singapore noodles - a far cry from the weak tea and sunken fairy cakes that sustained the parents at my primary school. So whatever else we learn about multiculturalism tomorrow, one thing I already know is that when it comes to food it's a force for good. 


Monday, 18 May 2009

Let them eat cake

When you find yourself eyeing up the cake you are putting into your three-year-old's lunchbox as a viable breakfast option you know things just aren't going your way.

Firstly, you feel guilty for putting such a sinful treat in his packed lunch to start off with, never mind that my childhood was fuelled on Monster Munch, Sherbert Dips and Findus frozen pizzas, I start to feel those maternal twinges of despair if I allow my son so much as white bread for his sandwiches or an indulgent pack of Organix snacks.

But despite such middle class angst I can't help but feel kids are missing out by my demonising the very foods I was addicted to as child. Back in the 70s when I was a young 'un nothing could beat a trip to the sweet shop with is jars filled with glittering treasure of dark purple cough candy twists, with their peculiar aniseed flavour, rough as sandpaper rhubarb and custard lozenges and inky dark Blackjacks that would stay glued to your teeth for hours. A dentist's nightmare, but the highlight of my week.

Secondly, even though the cake is carrot I doubt it would count as one of my five-a-day, unless that would be the five things I tell myself every morning that I will not give in to. Now that's a target I find it easy to meet and by the end of the day I can be pretty sure that I will have hit my daily tally and scoffed the full spectrum of biscuits, cake, chocolate, crisps and wine.

Mind you I will have to break this proud record soon if I am to avoid the embarrassment that accompanied my first son's first day at his school nursery, when one of the kindly teachers asked me when I was due and I had to admit that I wasn't pregnant, just fat. The poor woman couldn't look me in the eye for the rest of the 18 months he was there. As son number two starts there in September I'd better get a wriggle on as the period of grace that allows me to blame my belly on the twins is fast running out.

Come to think of it perhaps it's a good idea I am working hard stopping my sons from following in my footsteps when it comes to my love, love relationship with food. Perhaps I should chase after the three-year-old to wrest that cake out of his lunchbox - it's for his own good after all.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Retail therapy

Just the other day we drove past a hoarding for Westfield shopping centre. My husband pointed out that although it opened sometime last year, we still hadn't visited. Now for some this might be unremarkable, but for me it's tantamount to heresy as I worship at the altar of shopping centres. Malls, hypermarches, retail villages.....Call 'em what you like I can't get enough of them. 

Before I had children there was no better way to kill a Saturday afternoon than a mooch around the shops, window shopping or splurging, depending on the distance from pay day. But it wasn't until I had two babies in the depths of winter that I discovered the true value of the shopping centre. 

I still fondly recall my first post baby outing to Brent Cross. Working on the basis that there is safety in numbers I went with an NCT buddy, in the hope that at least one of us would be able to work out how to unfold and fold our buggies without the assistance of the men who had chosen them and read the handbooks. In her case our hopes were in vain and we had to ram her fully extended buggy into the boot to wait till her husband came home to collapse it again. 

Pushing brand new, monster buggies pushed before us, babies tucked in and asleep as we made our first foray back into the real world, finally pricking the bubble of baby incarceration. To fill my lungs with shop scented air and fill my ears with that tinkling musak, was very heaven as it meant that at last I  had left my house and could speak to someone over the age of three weeks, even if was just to say thank you for my change. 

From that moment onwards almost every waking hour was spent trailing around the shops, learning which changing rooms contained the least biohazards, where you could park your buggy up for a coffee without causing a traffic jam and the unforgettable lesson that if you hang one too many bags off the back of your buggy it will fall down backwards baby and all. 

Any urban mum with a winter baby will understand just what a life saver the shopping centre is, in those days before your baby is old enough to drag you around indoor play areas or be parked indefinitely in front of the TV without the concern that social services might call at any moment. As parks are to summer, it's crowded aisles are to winter, a way to get out of the house, restore your sanity and spend time with your own species - the frazzled mother of preschoolers who is deaf to wails, whines and screams that could shatter the eardrums and shred the patience of other human beings in seconds. 

I don't think it's stretching a point to say that in the days after the birth of son number one a shopping centre saved my life. It's just a shame that now I have four boys aged five and under we'd be as welcome at Westfield as a nasty case of swine flu. 

Friday, 8 May 2009


Those of you who read my blog regularly will know my day didn't start well, but I decided to deploy my fail safe weapon against the baby blues - I baked a cake. Now people have suggested that finding the time to make cakes amidst the chaos of caring for my crowd of children makes me some kind of superwoman. 

Those who know me better understand that the Lycra uniform sported by superheroes would do nothing for me, and that I simply whip out the spatulas and spoons to kid myself that I really am a domestic goddess to counter the mounting evidence that I am anything but. 

I have two friends who still recall with misty eyed fondness visiting me when all our first babies were freshly out of the womb and scoffing down thick slices of cherry and almond cake warm from my oven. The speak of this cake in awed tones as if it were manna from heaven. But I am sure it was more what the cake stood for that made it so special, a touch of indulgence in lives so recently plunged into dark drudgery of by our newborn babies. The chance to stop still and treat yourself in an endless day of breastfeeding, nappy changes and crying babies. 

When each of my subsequent babies were born I had to bake the same cake as some sort of birthing ritual, to prove I could still find the space and time to be me in  a world that is increasingly dominated by my babies. And any day, such as this, which starts sadly can only be improved by the addition of a homemade cheesecake

I am not sure that my brand of baking therapy is to everyone's taste, but it works for me and the best bit is that I get to have my cake and eat it.  

Groundhog day

Today, I concluded at around 5:15am, is not going to be a good one. This feeling was compounded when I found myself choking back tears over a news article about the Gurkhas on the breakfast radio show. Now I am the first to admit that tears do come relatively easily, but even for me this was a weep too far. 

I think my general feeling of melancholy is related to the repetitive nature of my life as a mum of multiples. Every day is unfolding to the same mundane pattern: 

Wake up (too early)
Feed babies, feed boys, clean kitchen, wash bottles, wash clothes, wash self, feed self, feed babies, pick up son number two, feed self, chores, feed babies, pick up son number two, feed boys, bath children, feed babies, watch TV comatose on sofa while consuming too much food and wine, sleep. 
Wake up (too early). 

You get the picture. Now as a seasoned mummy I know this phase doesn't last forever, but I also know I've got a couple more years of it and I'm bored already. 

Boredom alone isn't enough to reduce me to tears though and there are few contributing factors that are making life particularly bleak right now. Firstly, the English spring/summer weather. Now I never used to suffer from SAD - after all what difference did it make if it was rain or shine outside if you were stuck in front of a computer in an office - but now I have children I HATE the rain. 

Wet weather imprisons me in the house as the palaver involved in taking out any configuration of my offspring and keeping they dry just isn't worth the bother. By the time I have struggled the babies into their recalcitrant buggy and enshrouded it in the voluminous rain cover, hooded up boy two and wrested with an umbrella, holding hands and pushing the pram, I am soaked to the skin, everyone is whining and a trip to a wet, windswept park is the last thing any of us wants to do. 

Sadly and aversion to rain doesn't sit well in a country so regularly soaked in the stuff, but I still can't help it that now I have children to entertain and exercise waking up to the pitter patter of torrential raindrops makes my mood as grey as the skies above. 

Second factor that is darkening my horizon is that the second member of my parenting team has been down with a variety of sickness ever since the twins were born and is now due to have an operation that, it is claimed, will make  him well again - but not before a two-week convalescence that will leave me in sole charge of our brood. 

It's amazing  how low it can make you feel when the only other adult with whom you have regular contact and conversation is off message for reasons of their own. My other half has been half the man he usually is thanks to general malaise relating to a bad back, throat and other miscellaneous complaints. I just want my team back on form again with no one out due to injuries or illness, then hopefully I can get back on top of my game. 

Tomorrow is another day and TFI Friday. If both sky and other half wake up in a sunny mood then fingers crossed I won't find myself holding back the tears over the washing up bowl again.