The Shopkins Effect

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can you tell that this was not created using a template from the internet?

Back in May I talked about my youngest child’s 2 week abstinence from poohing! As a result, I hastily created a sticker chart. I say a chart, I drew some wobbly lines and wrote Pooh Stickers all over it which amused me because it made me think of Pooh Sticks in Winnie the Pooh. Nobody else seemed to get the joke though.  Oh well.  The rules were as follows: 2 small rabbit pellet poohs get 1 sticker, a medium sized pooh (left to discretion of inspector) gets 2 and a mahoosive log gets 3. Fair enough I thought. When she has filled in one row, she would get a prize up to a certain value.

Anyway, the Pooh Sticker Chart is going very well. There have been leaps and bounds and massive mounds of pooh! And stickers galore. This has resulted in an abundance of Shopkins.

What, I hear you ask are Shopkins?  Good question. I had no idea either. They are very small plastic collectible figures that mainly resemble items of food from celery to doughnuts, but sometimes home appliances like vacuum cleaners. They have little faces and come with tiny shopping baskets that I assume they must live in. They each have a name that relates to what they are like Cheekie Cherry and Pamela Pancake and some are apparently more rare than others.  Having investigated on the internet, I am informed that they have their own Youtube channel and a Twitter account.  They seem to have no provenance like a TV show or cartoon. They are utterly utterly bizarre, useless and I am unable to understand their purpose. Yet, they are truly a victory for the world of marketing as they are advertised mercilessly on the childrens’ tv channels resulting in children like my daughter believing that this is something they really really need.

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the ever increasing Shopkins collection

What does the kid do with them? Well, she mainly tips them out of her bag and lines them up and then she puts them back in her bag. Nice. That’s worth it then!

But actually, on balance, at the moment I am forced to say that yes, it is worth it as it is currently providing the most regular bowel movements of her 5 year existence!

One question I have asked myself is, when will the pooh chart be able to be safely shelved? How many weeks, months, years will the chart be the crutch, the incentive for a regular bowel movement? And, more crucially, how much more money can I justify spending on this stuff that, let’s face it, may well find its way into the bin before the year is out? There is a large part of me that feels guilty for denying my oldest daughter the joy of Silvanian Families or the other odd collectibles that were the rage when she was 5. I happily bought all that stuff for her friends’ birthday presents, delighting in palming off the tiny furry figures and their even tinier accessories.  Ha ha I would chuckle to myself – no child of mine will collect strange little items that will sit gathering dust and silently mocking my errant cleaning skills and chiding my empty bank account.

And yet, here I am in desperate times, bribing the youngest with tiny plastic avocadoes with scary faces. This is not helped by her obsession with Youtube and its abundance of films of what can only be described as saddo (though undoubtedly very shrewd) adults, usually American, who collect these things and film themselves opening the packages and cooing over them in high pitched whiney voices. The most prolific of these is Cookie C Swirl who seems to like Shopkins as well as the miniature My Little Pony toys that come in Kinder Eggs.  She gets hundreds of thousands of views which is just mind-blowing to me and inexplicable really.  But, whilst totally freaky, it is I guess, harmless and is clearly very lucrative for Cookie C Swirl!  And hey, because of it, my daughter is producing body waste every other day and is a whole lot more chirpy. We all have our crosses to bear.

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I’ll have the empty plate with the food ‘on the side’

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This is a picture of my youngest 5 years ago. One of those smug mummy pics that so many of us are guilty of posting on social media. I must apologise for this now! She was 9 months old, in an Indian restaurant, chomping away on a poppadum. How proud I was and how sure that my baby led weaning had been the right decision. Here we were, in a restaurant and everyone was eating the food we had ordered, no complaints! I saw the years stretching in front of me of relaxed family mealtimes full of smiles and squeals of delight as curries, tagines, pulses, complex flavours were paraded in front of us and I only had to cook one meal for the whole family because they would all be happy to tuck in.

What a difference 5 years make, the benefit of hindsight, the realisation that there is no prescribed way to do things with your children that will get the desired result. When number 3 was on the way, I pretty much knew that for the foreseeable future, I would not be returning to work. The oldest was at school, the boy would be starting nursery, and I would have 3 hours a day alone with my baby. I started to create a world in my head where I would be an earth mother and I would implement all of the baby rearing methods that I had not had a chance to indulge in before – baby led weaning being the most notable. I even read a book about it!

When my oldest was born, the big name in weaning was Annabel Karmel. My sister had handed me a puree splattered, well used copy of her book with advice about the best recipes, having religiously mushed and pureed good, healthy meals for her babies. It had worked well by all accounts. My friends in my NCT group were all following her meal plans. It was a rewarding if time consuming business. My oldest loved her nosh and it was rewarding to shovel in the spoons of multi-coloured semi solid mush. The boy loved it too. Never had any trouble with them eating. And yet, and yet… I seemed to think in my baby number 3 fug that I should change a tried and tested formula.

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Oh Annabel, why did I ever doubt you?

So there I was, 6 years on from baby number 1 and there was a new buzz amongst the mummys of suburbia – namely, the mind blowing realisation that you could feed your baby the food you were eating without liquidizing it to an unrecognisable, unappetising beige sludge. Looking back I’m a bit embarrassed. I was guilty of buying into a craze, a new way, because someone wrote a book saying it was ok, and not a terrible, irresponsible or dangerous thing to let your 6 month old put a piece of food in her mouth that hadn’t been pre chewed. I was up for it. My daughter was going to get the best dietary start and would be ‘that’ child who would eat whatever we threw at her!

I know that possibly millions of people have derived nothing but success and pure joy from baby led weaning. I salute them and their very well fed children. I realise that I am definitely substandard and for this I do apologise. But, in my considered opinion, baby led weaning has about as much chance of success as England winning the Euros.

Yes, we had a honeymoon period of my gorgeous, hilarious child smearing chick pea stew all over her high chair, face and floor – some might have gone in. She ate all sorts of vegetables, meat and fish and she gorged on fruit – yes, I learned not to fear the gag reflex and I was fascinated to witness my precious load gagging and then launching a chunk of carrot half way across the kitchen. I learned that babies and small children have absolutely miniscule stomachs and that the portion sizes I gave my other kids were far too big. I learned that my baby would eat until she was full and then she would stop. All good things, all good things.

But then I also learned that for a toddler, choice is BAD! I did not have the wherewithal or the energy to be honest, to create inventive and healthy selections every day and, as a result her main diet turned into what I hope most people will admit to – fishfingers, pasta, the odd pie, chicken korma etc and oh yes, fucking chips. Over the months and the years, her repertoire dwindled quite alarmingly. The beans on toast, boiled egg, pasta pesto options that I guess were acceptable suddenly turned into pasta with nothing and the odd baked bean.

She turned into Sally from ‘When Harry met Sally’ requiring everything ‘on the side’ – spaghetti with bolognese ‘on the side’, baked potato with beans ‘on the side’, empty plate with crumb of food ‘on the fucking side’. We are now in a situation where my brilliant, energetic daughter survives on a diet of oranges, raspberries, wheetos, mini cheddars, the odd mouthful of protein, the odd forced broccoli floret and cheese. I am bemused.

I also read in a book (which clearly means it’s kosher and 100% true) that toddlers are often grazers and THAT’S OK. They might not follow the traditional 3 meals a day rule, but instead enjoy healthy ‘snacks’ throughout the day, chomping on a carrot stick and some cheese and salami whilst playing with their wooden blocks and lego. Fine I thought, my youngest just likes to graze. The problem is, as the toddler years turned into pre-school years, the ‘snacks’ and the ‘grazing’ turned into frubes, mini cheddars, mini biscuits, fruit…. Mea culpa! This is not healthy grazing.

I don’t think I’m a terrible mother. I attempt to cook from scratch most days. The other 2 children eat a varied and mainly healthy diet. But I have to admit that I cannot bear the moment when the 5 year old comes to the table, makes a face like I have put a pile of steaming pooh on the table and declares she doesn’t like it before she even knows what it is. My resolve has gone. I don’t know what to do! I am hoping that one magical day she will wake up with new taste buds, feeling hungry and will devour that chicken pie, the lasagne, the roast dinner. Please, let me dream as I prepare yet another plate of toast with beans ‘on the side’ with as little bean juice as possible!

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“Waiter, I’ll begin with a house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing. I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side.”

 

FEEL IT!

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I had a visit from an old friend last week. Back in my twenties, when I was a bit sad, a bit lost, it was suggested I should find a job for a bit that was more fun than pressure. I had worked in a cool shop when I was back in London doing my Masters Degree. So I went back there. It was the most fun I ever had at work! I survived on very little sleep. I laughed a lot with an eclectic group of people. I met a lot of celebrities who seemed to like buying expensive, American homewares, furniture and electrical items! And most nights after work, we would go to the pub, get a bit tipsy, grab a KFC, maybe go clubbing, maybe go home! And I met a very tall, extremely funny Canadian guy who fancied other guys.

You know, we did what people in their 20’s do with no responsibilities, no dependants, no thoughts about the future, we went to cool clubs in Brixton, frequented the many gay bars of London town, danced a lot and drank vodka based drinks. We were often accompanied by my best friend (flatmate, also known as the wife). We did this kind of hanging out for a couple of years and then things changed a bit. He left the shop, and got a job in another shop, (traitor!) I met someone and started to spend more time doing the social thing with him – same shit really, just with straight clubs and sex!

And then my Canadian friend woke up and realized he should probably go back to Canada and start to be a grown up. It was really fucking sad saying goodbye to him. Whilst I’m not sure I realized it then, it is blindingly obvious now that this was the end of the years of living precariously and hedonistically (not that I would say I was living a life of gay abandon, pardon the pun). I had had a blissful episode in my life of living selfishly and right in the moment. It was something I really needed to do. But I’ll save the reasons for that for another time.

So we kept in touch for a bit. And then life started to happen. I got a slightly more serious job, my boyfriend and I bought a place together, we got married, I got pregnant. And then I lost contact with my friend. It wasn’t something considered, it just kind of happened. I kept thinking, ooh, I must contact my friend and the more time that passed the harder it got. You know that embarrassing feeling, when the time is so far gone that you can’t just drop a little line? And to be honest, I just assumed that this was the end of a beautiful friendship – some great memories, but we were just too far apart to be friends anymore.

So a few more years went by, and baby number 2 appeared. Facebook had suddenly entered our lives. And one evening, a message popped into my inbox. And it was my lovely Canadian friend. Suddenly, after all these years, he was back in my life. It was so fantastic to hear from him.  Seeing his name, reading his words and hearing his voice say them in my head seemed to wake up a bit of my brain that I had assumed was withered and now obsolete! I felt excited. He had been such a big part of my life. It was good to have him and the memories back. And did I mention how funny he was? So funny that sometimes I had to stop walking and cross my legs because I was laughing so much that I thought a bit of wee might actually come out (and we are talking pre baby pelvic floor as tight as anything so he MUST have been seriously fucking funny!)

Since receiving that message, he has visited the UK every year and we have met up for a few hours to catch up and see each other’s faces. It’s great. I think I probably talk too much about children and being a suburban dweller, and then, to compensate, I try to be 20 something Mim, which let’s face it, just doesn’t work. But to be fair, he has stuck with me! Put it this way, if he contacted me and said;

‘Look Mim, it’s been great and all that, but you are one boring bitch and I just don’t have time in my life for you!’

My response would be:

‘Yeah, I don’t blame you. Thanks for letting me know. Sorry about all that time you wasted. Love you, bye!’

This visit, he came to our pad in suburban suburbia. The kids hadn’t seen him since the year before last and they were excited to see him. Well, the 5 year old was unsure. She couldn’t remember that 2 years earlier, aged 3, she had clung desperately onto his 6 ft 6 frame and had regaled us all with stories of nursery including the fascinating subject of what fruit they had at snack time!

This time, she hid at first. Ok, I’ll give her that.   She’s a bit shy of people she doesn’t know (or doesn’t remember). That’s fine. At a push, it might seem quite cute. We all sat down to eat lunch. The monster was still a no show. I have to admit, at this point I had had a couple of glasses of prosecco (mainly for dutch courage) and I had almost stopped caring whether she turned up at the table. As I may have mentioned before, the 5 year old doesn’t eat much and she had already decreed that the dish on offer at lunch was not to her liking. And at this precise moment I wanted to eat my dinner, so her absence from the table was not such a hardship! About 4 mouthfuls into the meal, I noticed a little person peeping round the corner. I ignored it. A few more mouthfuls and she had scuttled under the table. Then I started to get a bit irritated and embarrassed quite frankly, so I tried to prise her from under the table to at least sit at the table and behave like a normal person. I don’t think it worked. Well, no, it didn’t work. I ignored it in my best parenting way. I sipped my prosecco.

In an act of desperation, I started to prepare beans on toast. This seemed to help and she finally took her place at the table.

She was wearing a jumper that I had picked up the day before on the sale rail in H&M. It had gone down well – a black sweatshirt with a furry cat face and some sequins on the front. Mmmm, stylish! I knew that she would love it and I was right – she had spent a good few minutes stroking the front of her jumper and pretending to be curly the kitten!

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ooh look at the nice furry cat on this jumper!

As I walked over to the dinner table with her plate of beans, I witnessed my daughter standing in front of my slightly perplexed, vaguely amused, jetlagged friend sticking her chest out and saying in a rather aggressive voice:

“feel it!”

My friend nodded politely, smiled and tried to finish what he was saying to the husband. Obviously, this was not the desired response.

“FEEL IT!”

This inspired a shocked look from my friend and hysterical laughter from the boy and the oldest child. I froze on the spot. It was funny but it was utterly horrific and embarrassing at the same time.

Not eliciting the correct response, once more she implored him to “FEEL IT”!

By this point we were all laughing. My friend had a little swipe of the cat on the front of the 5 year old’s jumper and this seemed to satisfy her. I was left unable to speak or function for a good minute or so. I think I was crying with laughter for many reasons, but mainly because it was so completely surreal.  The image of my daughter asking a relatively unknown man to feel her chest – yes, not something I would like to see again any time soon.

But don’t worry. I poured another glass of prosecco, pulled myself up and carried on.

Well, this certainly broke the ice.  Whilst painting her Daddy’s nails (purple), the 5 year old covered many subjects – My Little Pony (obviously), interminably long and complex stories about friends and teachers, her pooh sticker chart (the result of the 2 week constipation horror), and so much more. Inbetween her stopping for breath, we managed to do a bit of catching up, a bit of reminiscing and then off she would go again.

It was so good to see my Canadian, stylish, funny, loving friend. I am sure he will agree that we now have nothing left in common except that we shared a couple of years having loads of fun, laughing, dancing, drinking, pretending to do some work, bitching!!! I hope he has not left never to return. I hope he reflects on the 5 year old’s behaviour and is flattered by the attention she paid him. I hope he does not come to the conclusion that I am raising a brood of strange, socially inept misfits who blurt out random monosyllabic words and attack you at the dinner table. I hope the memory of what I once was and what we once had will remind him that if he sticks by me, then one day, I might be that person again!

Just FEEL IT!

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Your mission should you choose to accept it…

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These days, I dread the moment at social gatherings when old friends, family, strangers ask me what I’ve been up to, or what I do. I am left drawing a blank. I stand there gawping like a vacant fish out of water gasping for air. My words do not form. I have nothing to say. There is nothingness! Well, I just assume that there is nothing that they really want to hear. Let’s face it, no one really wants to hear about someone else’s children and their various achievements that I hope I am instrumental in facilitating.  They don’t really want to know that on a Monday I head down to Aldi for my weekly shop or that I brace myself every day at 3.15 for the barrage of information and the bickering and the bundling that comes from 3 children who have been at school and now want to have my full attention.

When I had a legit job, I was very busy. I worked in an industry for a long time where deadlines were key. I worked late, I attended meetings about meetings. I felt like every minute was organised/timetabled and important. That’s not to say that I didn’t have weekends of lolling around on the sofa nursing a hangover watching the Hollyoaks omnibus. I know it’s been said many times. It’s nothing new. The arrival of children opened my eyes to the concept of time and how all of a sudden no time was my own. But it wasn’t until I gave up ‘work’ that I entered a new realm. And it wasn’t until all 3 of the nutters were at school that my world became a truly crazy place.

What happened to me last Friday is a good example of a series of events that is now my normal but looking at it with my pre-parenting eyes, I would probably say that either I am crazy and need locking up soon, or at the very least, I have made it all up and therefore am still mentally unstable and need help!

Pretend you are at one of those work away days and you are given this scenario: You have an important meeting to get 3 clients to.  In that time you will have to deal with unexpected bodily functions, travel delays, a stubborn, argumentative client and the transportation of lots of equipment and important documents that only you are allowed to handle. Then you have to find a way to get them home without encountering obstacles on the way, or killing them or yourself. Oh yes, and do a version of this all over again the next day and the next day and the day after that, and DON’T SWEAR (well, I fail on that one every time)!

I realise this is quite long.  Apologies.  But some things just need to be said in a longish sort of way! (oops, another penny in the sorry box!)

At 2.45 I arrived at my kids’ school to help set up a cake sale. My oldest wanted to help on the stall as it was to raise money for her year group. Cake sales are a thing to behold. The primitive, competitive instincts of parents and their children kick in and it was like a plague of locusts descended on the rickety trestle tables laden with heavily adorned cup cakes and rice crispie creations. The cakes looked good, yes, but they are just that, cakes. It all got a bit feral and a bit scary! But still, I’m sure everyone would agree that they were damned fine cakes! Of course, my other 2 children irritated me enough to encourage me (I mean force here of course) to open my purse and shell out several pounds so they could buy back the very cakes that we had made. Aaaagggghhhhh! This is a very common scenario that I’m sure most parents will attest to which totally negates the concept of the cake sale.

Anyway, as things were winding down at 3.45, I dragged 3 children, more bags and coats than seemed necessary and some half eaten cupcakes and we got in the car to drive 8 miles through stop start traffic to my son’s cricket coaching. I was quite pleased with myself. I think I only swore once, maybe twice, nothing too shocking, maybe the s word, but really I’ve blurted that out so much now that I think we can probably downgrade shit to low-level cursing (can’t we?) We had some good conversations, there wasn’t too much in the way of bickering and whinging. We got there on time which made me feel so good – yay, I was winning.

Whilst attempting to remove the correct bags from the mess in the boot and persuading the 5 year old to get out of the bloody car, the boy asked me what that hissing noise was. So then I found myself on my knees on the gravel surrounded by 3 children, one anxious, one disengaged, one stroppy! Yep, there was definitely a hissing but where was it coming from? The tyre? the engine? I knelt there, bum in the air, ear to the filthy wheel, willing the hissing to stop. It didn’t stop. Bugger. So by now it was 4.50 and the cricket coaching starts at 5.

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The 5 year old had been smelling suspiciously of pooh on the journey. She had not produced a pooh for nearly 2 weeks. I’d tried most things, the Dr had prescribed stuff, I’d bribed her (obviously), I’d lost my temper, and finally, on the advice of others, I had ignored it. I was starting to wonder if touch down would ever be achieved. I have to say, I admire her ability to control what is really an involuntary process so stubbornly and completely.

So, I abandoned the hissing car for now and we headed into the clubhouse so the boy could get changed. My little girl was standing in the corridor in that way that only I could notice as subtly different… the slightly hunched over stance, the look of intense concentration on her face and it suddenly dawned on me that finally her Derren Brown mind control antics could no longer stop the inevitable downward movement of a log that must truly be the same size as her. I picked her up like a rugby ball and barged into the loos. Seconds later (and with a small element of triumphant relief), I realized that I now had a blocked public toilet to deal with.

But first I had to get the prodigal son to his lesson. So, I cleaned the five year old up as best I could with no wet wipes. Luckily I had the obligatory spare pair of pants in my handbag, so pooey pants went in the bin, clean pants went on and the toilet was flushed (I’ll deal with the blockage soon). And miraculously, son was successfully delivered to his lesson.

So, it was now 5.10. I deposited the girls in the clubhouse bar. I had a fleeting and very very strong desire to order a pint and down it. But instead, I called the husband, who is a very busy man, in lots of meetings, looking after lots of people, and wiping lots of metaphorical arses. I’m not sure why I called him because he couldn’t do anything from his office in Tottenham Court Road about the fucking hissing that was coming from the car now parked in Cheam! But hey, it’s nice to share the shitty burden with someone else. Well, an absolute dire necessity at that precise moment. And actually, as usual, he gave me good advice. Of course, I wanted him to do something magic and make it all go away, including the great big smelly blockage in the loos, but alas, he just told me what I already knew, in a nice way, that made me feel like I might be able to get out of this situation and that I might actually get home.

So I drove the car around a bit, I looked at the tyres from lots of angles, I managed to deduce that yes, it was infact the tyre that was hissing – a slow puncture. I’m not gonna lie. I was scared. In half an hour, I would have to attempt to drive 3 precious loads home through rush hour traffic. The advice was to pump up the tyre as much as I could, and drive home slowly. Ok, I started psyching myself up.

I managed to clear the log in the toilet and I went back into the bar. I explained that we would not be stopping for fish and chips on the way home for fear of the tyre going completely flat. For all I knew, I may actually have just said that we had lost our house and would be sleeping on the street that night for the reaction that I got from my oldest child. With the sounds of the best of Prince in the background and some ageing rockers setting up a stage in the corner of the clubhouse bar, I descended to the level of my 11 year old daughter and we had a good old barney, me giving as good as I got, until I checked myself and stopped… And anyway, it was now 5.50 and I needed to go and grab the boy! I downed the apple juice that the now perky and relieved 5 year old had demanded I buy at the usual inflated price and which she now regarded as if it was hemlock. I grabbed the many bags and I marched the girls across the cricket pitch.

We got to the car at 6.10pm which was still hissing malevolently. We drove at a snail’s pace to the nearest garage where I scrabbled around in an almost empty purse for money and pumped up the tyre which was scarily low. I drove in a state of high anxiety with an anxious boy in the back asking me if it was going to be ok. Of course, I told him all would be fine, although the swearing did increase exponentially (low level, I assure you) and I was still in the dog house about dinner. We stopped to pump the tyre again and by this point I’ll admit, I was panicking. But, the thought of waiting for a break down truck at 7.30 on a Friday night with 3 tired, hungry kids (we’d finally settled on Dominos) filled me with more fear than I can describe to you! So we soldiered on… slowly.

We made it to the garage at the end of our road as the warning message came on. ‘tyre pressure dangerously low!’ – no shit! We abandoned the car, grabbed the bags which seemed to have multiplied in the boot, and we trudged up the road, a strange looking crew, walking through the door at 8pm.

And the scary thing is that this was not such a strange afternoon. And the really scary thing is that the next time someone asks me what I’ve been up to, I will still have nothing to say!