Tuesday, 27 April 2010

competitive parenting & the art of lunchboxes

It's fair to say things have been a bit slack domestically of late, given how distracted I've been by the election: slack enough to induce some irrational pangs of guilt. I've fallen, in short, into the competitive lunchbox trap.
Three days a week my son goes to a childminder, which means three packed lunches to make. I used to be fairly inventive about these but lately it's been done on autopilot: sandwich, yoghurt, fruit, zzz....
So this week I resolved guiltily to be more adventurous, cultivate his inner gourmet, all that. The result? Today's offering - a smugly healthy, deeply labour intensive Annabel Karmel-ish thing - was rejected point blank on the grounds that 'it tastes of chairs', apparently
There are two lessons, I think, here:
1. You can overdo this motherhood thing. Other mothers might occasionally be impressed (or more likely irritated) by uberparenting, but your own child will usually be utterly unmoved.
2. Don't knock a cheese sandwich.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

teaching (not very old) dogs new tricks

Day Five of the dog's assertiveness training, and it's not going well. When he was a puppy, we taught him not to bark when someone came to the front door since it woke the baby: handy then, but since we got burgled there's been a rethink. Hence the deeply ludicrous process of trying to teach a dog to, um, bark.
Our dog is what canine behaviour experts call 'food orientated', ie fat. So every time he makes a noise at anything he gets a dog biscuit to encourage him. After a few days of this, a breakthrough: when the postman comes, the dog sort of huffs once embarassedly under his breath and then sits looking pointedly at the biscuit cupboard.
Hmm. Perhaps the problem is too many incentive regimes running in this house. Life with a small child is one long round of bribes/threats, obviously (or is that just me?): and then there's the NHS 'quit kit' that arrived for my husband, who is supposedly giving up smoking. He was unamused by its main component: a toddler-style sticker chart, complete with irritating little symbols of rainbows and sunny days.
I was keeping the sticker chart for my son, but now I'm thinking I might try it on the dog. This morning he enthusiastically welcomed the man fitting the burglar alarm and then, when I took him for a walk, barked furiously at a yoof in the park for no apparent reason.
Which leaves two possibilities:
1. the dog is engaged in a sophisticated form of offender profiling, with potential civil liberties implications
2. the dog is thick.
Either way, we're nearly out of biscuits.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

why freelancers don't take holiday

It has been one of those 'two worlds colliding' weeks, when work has gone crazy (the election) coinciding with my childminder going on holiday (Easter).
My parents are currently here helping out but as we speak, the house is also full of builders drilling things: yesterday, it had all the above plus a BBC film crew setting up in the dining room. We're still househunting, and just to complete the picture, we got burgled at the weekend: hence the builders, busy installing an alarm. The mobile never stops ringing, and my head is exploding.
What I need, I realise, is a holiday. When I was working fulltime, I eked out my time off so that I never went more than three months without some kind of break: often we didn't go away, but it was just a chance to stop and breathe.
Yet now that I'm freelance, and don't have to ask my boss to book holidays any more, I've forgotten to ask myself. It dimly occurs to me that I stopped work one Saturday in November and started a freelance commission two days later. There hasn't been a week since where I didn't do something, workwise.
Which means I've fallen with a thud into the part-timer trap: firstly being too scared to stop (what if the phone never rings again?) and also subconsciously thinking of my non-working days as 'holiday'. Yet despite its charms, even the boldest travel agent would hesitate to sell looking after a two-year-old as a relaxing vacation.
Obviously, the middle of the most important election in 30 years is a bad time for an ex-political hack to down tools. But once it's over, I'm turning the phone off for a week. No really, I am.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

toys for boys

'Knights and castles! with swords!' is what my nephew wanted for his fourth birthday. So there I was rootling through a hundred boxes of Playmobil in our local toyshop looking for suitably armoured horses, when I saw it. Among the assorted pirates, Roman gladiators, cowboys and (thankfully) knights sat Playmobil Office. A little plastic figure in a suit complete with desk, computer, a filing cabinet and even his own lovingly crafted set of folders. I think there was also a wastepaper bin.
I can't imagine a toy the average small boy would less like to play with: it does rather smack of a token gesture designed to placate parents. The vast majority of boys' toys are action heroes, swashbucklers and derrers-do: they live by the sword (or at least the fire hose), and they're intensely physical. They don't do much filing.
Boys' toys are far more exciting and inspiring than the fluffy pink tat aimed at little girls. No wonder parents of daughters worry about the passive role models created by all those fairies, princesses, and ballerinas.
But boys' toys reinforce a stereotype too, even if it is a more empowering one: they're all about physicality, strength, and daring, brawn rather than brain.
Bringing up a boy has changed a lot of my ideas about what's ingrained and what isn't, having watched as the passion for diggers, fire engines and bin lorries emerged early and continued steadfastly regardless of whatever toys we offered. And of course I know toys are about fantasy, not real life: the fact that most of the little boys who grow up playing knights and castles will probably end up working in offices doesn't mean they should be playing with filing cabinets now.
But nerdy as it sounds, I wouldn't mind seeing a few more toys that made the connection between doing well at school (the one thing parents of sons inevitably worry about, as boys fall behind at GCSE, Alevel and university) and doing something exciting in later life. I can't be sure that playing astronauts will make my son more likely to take Physics A-level in 15 years' time. But I doubt the prospect of becoming poor old Mr Playmobil Office would make any self-respecting little boy knuckle down to GCSEs.