Postcard from a City Break…

 

The kids have been on summer break for 3 weeks now.  It’s going ok on the whole.  Computers are featuring quite heavily.  The boy is obsessed with Fortnite and we are all being graced with the one sided conversations we can hear him having over his call centre head set and microphone combo, shouting things into the ether about meeting at Tilted, locating llamas, asking for med kits, shouting “revive me” and laughing maniacally about the ‘nubies’ (new, inexperienced gamers) who disappear fast! 

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The famous Fortnite llama. Sorry, I have no idea what it does or why it’s so important!

The smallest child is hanging out in the bizarre world of Animal Jam which seems to involve collecting gems and buying furniture for her cave.  The teenager is spending time in Primark mainly, sometimes H&M and New Look – you get the idea.  There have been a few forays into the real world, all of us, together.  There have been picnics.  There have been cinema trips, bike rides, baking, an ongoing family version of Come Dine with Me where varying levels of culinary prowess have been displayed.  And, there have been a couple of overnight trips to distant and exotic places like Bristol and Liverpool, to visit friends or to watch a football match or just to have a look round. 

On our overnight trips, we stay in the finest hotels, by which I mean, Travelodge.  Listen, it’s somewhere to lay our weary heads.  We are developing quite an interest in this budget hotel chain whose sites are clearly selected for their outstanding locations and views.  We have started a little photo collection of the views from our rooms so that we can always remember these special places.  This is the view from the Liverpool Travelodge.  Outstanding, I’m sure you will agree.

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View from my son’s Liverpool Travelodge window.

On one of our recent road trips, we had the obligatory ‘family’ discussion about where to eat.  As parents, we have learned the hard way that there is no point going off script and trying something the children might not like, as this just puts everyone in a bad mood.  So, the usual suspects as always were up for consideration: pizza, curry, pub, Nando’s.  

The smallest child’s eyes lit up as she asserted a strong desire to visit Nando’s.  This was a little surprising to the rest of us.  As some of you may be aware, my youngest offspring is not the biggest fan of eating in general, sweets and ice-cream not withstanding.  She sticks to the staples: pitta bread and hummus, pasta pesto, beans on toast, a very narrow selection of cereals, crackers and peanut butter (which makes my mouth feel dry just writing this).  When we go out to eat, even the pizza (which used to be the safe bet) is problematic, as too much of that unctuous, gorgeous melted cheese is like the devil’s work to her.    

It is for this reason that we were all somewhat surprised by her insistence on this restaurant.  The last time we all went for a cheeky Nando’s, I ordered her a plain chicken burger.  By this I mean, a piece of unseasoned, bland, grilled chicken, sitting between a dry burger bun, adorned with not one thing.  Mmmm, my mouth is watering, isn’t yours?  It arrived with a minute smear of mayonnaise on the bun.  This was a deal breaker.  The poor waitress was summoned and requested to bring a new burger, this time, devoid of any sauce.  She possibly ate one bite?  The chips were also abandoned. 

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Mmm choices, choices!

Recalling this failed attempt to eat anything from the menu which, let’s face it, is chicken heavy, we all, including the older sister and the boy suggested that she might not find anything she wanted to eat at the place that sold chicken that she didn’t really like, and perhaps we should go to the pub that had slightly more than poultry on offer.  But she was adamant and seeing as the rest of us can happily chow down on chicken in all its various and many guises, we headed to the restaurant.  

The slightly harassed looking waitress seated us and we perused the menus.  We all decided what we wanted, feeling quite hungry by this point, and then I turned to the monster child.  I showed her the kids’ menu and read out the possibilities:  plain chicken wings – this was met with a look of disgust.  Ok, how about the chicken wrap, plain, minus all the other stuff they put in it obviously.  Again, the face presented to me indicated she might be about to vomit.  Finally, I suggested the chicken burger – surely this would be met with the nod of approval.  This provoked the most violent reaction, a slight shudder and look of nausea with an eye roll.  I am not proud, but I have to admit that at this point I lost my rag.  

“What do you expect?” I said through clenched teeth.  “It’s a chicken restaurant, this is what you eat here and you wanted to come here.  I don’t understand.”

I was met with a trembling chin and eyes brimming with tears, but no explanation.  After a brief pause, head down, she lifted her arm and pointed to a grey machine standing in the corner of the restaurant – it looked like a drink dispenser.  The oldest child cottoned on first – it’s the frozen yoghurt.  She wants the “bottomless” frozen yoghurt.  Ohhhhh.  That’s what she wanted.  Dessert.  But then it occurred to me that even this had been rejected on the last visit.  She had filled up the bowl only to eat a few spoonfuls and then leave it to melt and separate back into its constituent parts of water, flavouring, food colouring.

So, we left.  Much to the embarrassment of the teenager and the boy, we vacated Nando’s, abandoning our table and the menus and the waitress, a tearful and grumpy monster child trailing behind us and found the pub, where we ordered a pizza (margarita obviously) and watched her scrape lashings of oozy, stringy, satisfying mozarella off it before eating a slice, at which point, we shared the rest out between us.  

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11 things I thought about at the supermarket today…

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Ahh, she looks like she’s having so much fun…
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hmm, choices, choices. What the hell am I going to do with this?What is it anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

1.Why am I in a supermarket again… on a Saturday? I mean, I did a mammoth shop at Aldi on Monday and felt really smug. Yes, I walked out thinking I’d got a load of shopping for much less than had I gone to Sainsburys or Waitrose and it’s Monday, and I won’t have to go shopping again until next Monday. But don’t I ever remember that I find myself in some form of supermarket every single fucking day? And especially on a Saturday because I always think, oh, never mind, the weekend will be chilled and laid back and laissez faire and I have no idea what to make for dinner EVER. But obviously laid back and laissez faire still requires real edible stuff that will sustain and nourish, not just the sodding idea of it.

2.  Mmmmmm, crumpets. Mmmmm bagels. Mmmmmm bread products.   Hmmmm, should have eaten before going to the supermarket in order to avoid craving massive doorstep sandwiches and crisps and doughnuts and other baked items.

3. I’m buying super expensive plastic punnets of fruit AGAIN. I hate buying so much prepackaged stuff, I hate all the plastic and I don’t understand why I have to buy so much fruit. Sudden warm glow comes over me as I realise it’s because my children must have a bit of healthy shit in their diet as they seem to get through a lot of really bloody expensive fruit.

4. There’s so much stuff in the fridge, freezer, cupboards at home. If I was better at this whole stay at home mum thing I would have batch cooked loads of pulse based healthy meals like daal and chick pea stew that everyone would obviously love and derive great nourishment and positive health benefits from and I would be spending my Saturday in the bosom of my family playing rewarding and educational games with my children. They would absolutely not be watching back to back football/my little pony/Netflix whilst demanding sweets and bickering. I would not be pushing a trolley up and down the aisles hoping that inspiration will leap out and grab me, giving me the ability to so something unbelievably exciting and delicious with the same old ingredients.

5. If I was on my own, I would quite happily eat sandwiches or cereal every day for dinner. It’s not that I don’t adore food and all the different ways it can be cooked. It’s just that I really cannot be arsed to be the one to do it.

6. I know I will get to making packed lunches on Monday and there will be NOTHING in the house to put in them.

7. I will get home and realise I have forgotten the one thing I went to the supermarket to get. (I did by the way)

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I love you Pepa Pig, but no-one EVER looks this happy when they take their children to the supermarket!

8. People who take their children to the supermarket are either saints or like to inflict as much damage on their own mental state and those of their fellow shoppers as possible. The last time I was forced to take all 3 children into a supermarket at the same time, I had reached full volume and had used up all of my (ropey) techniques to distract, threaten or blackmail by the end of the vegetable aisle. I literally had nowhere to go emotionally or in a disciplinary sense and I looked like a totally incompetent and sad individual. Respect is due to the parents who manage to get round a supermarket with all their children behaving beautifully.

9. Respect is also due to people who are so organised that they work out meals for the week, check their cupboards first, write a shopping list and stick to it. Happy and fulfilled are the people who achieve this, I am convinced. I have been to a supermarket on average once a week since I was 14, on my own, doing a weekly shop. I hate it. I am no better at it than I was when I was a teenager.

10. LET’S JUST GET A TAKEAWAY EVERY DAY. I DON’T CARE WHAT JAMIE OLIVER SAYS. CHICKEN NUGGETS LOOK FINE TO ME.

11. Why? Why won’t the self service till recognise my bags?! Why am I attempting to converse with the self service till? Why am I fulfilling my destiny to become that embarrassing mother who makes her long suffering children cringe because I am moaning at electronic machines and cooing over random babies that I come across.

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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.”