The Adventure of Salzburg

I fancied going to Salzburg before we leave Austria in December. There is a direct train from Vienna that takes two and a half hours. It is under €50 for a return ticket and Noah can travel for free. City breaks are never easy with small children (I can only assume based on my own experience) but we were feeling brave…

Getting the 9.38am train out of Vienna should have been simple seeing as Noah rarely wakes up after 6am. Unfortunately, Noah woke up in a terrible mood. It was our own fault (it was mostly my fault). We took him along with us to a retirement party the night before, meaning he went to bed two hours later than usual. It is very rare that we allow him to stay up past his bed time. When you have a sleep demon, it’s best to stick to a strict routine for everyone’s happiness and sanity. However, I decided I didn’t want to spend the night sitting indoors on my own, so I dragged Noah along…

From the moment he opened his eyes at the crack before dawn, he was miserable. Every breakfast suggestion I made was met with wailing and an onslaught of tears. Seeing as we had a schedule to stick to and I needed him to calm the hell down, I told him he could eat his breakfast at his little table and chairs in the lounge, watching Bob the Builder. But he refused to eat his toast and refused to sit in his chair and the wailing started up again. Eventually, the television was switched off, porridge was made, he was transported kicking and screaming into the kitchen and was force fed his breakfast sitting on my lap. After this ordeal, we only had 20 minutes to get washed and dressed.

When we got off the train in Salzburg, we needed to go and dump our bags at the hotel, but we didn’t know how to get there by public transport so we walked. Noah, already dead on his feet, was not happy. I had booked the hotel (as my husband reminded me once or twice as we were walking down a strange, dark and seemingly deserted alley). One of the problems with staying in a hotel with a three year old is that when they go to sleep, you have to either go to bed too or sit silently in the dark for a couple of hours. We needed accommodation with two separate rooms. My husband found us a self-catering apartment with two rooms for €75 for the whole weekend. I considered the price and glanced at the photos of this place and decided it was a dingy, flea-ridden hovel. I found us a suite in a mid-range hotel (at about five times the cost). To my relief (because otherwise I’d never have heard the end of it), our hotel was fine. My husband liked it enough to buy himself a pot of their homemade jam to take home with us. There were only two real issues with the room. Firstly, it stank of stale cigarettes despite the no smoking signs everywhere. Secondly, the curtains were in metre long strips which you had to line up across the window in order the close. In other words, it was broad daylight in the room when I was trying to get Noah asleep.

Our hotel was a five minute bus ride to the old town. I had planned some activities with Noah in mind. We went to the Natural History Museum. I tried to psyche Noah up by telling him we were going to see some dinosaurs. Although Noah claims he wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up, he wasn’t very interested in spending time with his ancestors. In fact, we mainly got him around the museum by playing hide and seek…

Where's Noah?
Where’s Noah?

After the museum, we went to a café for tea and cake. As we were waiting to pay the bill, an Australian couple sat down at the table next to us. I gradually became aware that the man was complaining about something quite strongly. He sounded disgusted and I heard his wife say, “Let’s go somewhere else” so I pricked my ears up and listened in to see what the problem was. The man was complaining about the smell. I sniffed the air. Yes, there was a bit of a pooey whiff. I hadn’t noticed it before…And then I realised that the smell was my very own son. His bottom, to be precise. He had done a “botty pop”. He had farted and it was a stinker. Noah was oblivious, but my heart felt a little bit sore for him because of the man’s reaction. Okay, so he smelled a bit but it’s life. We all do it. (Actually, I don’t…). “Is that Noah that smells?” I asked my husband in a loud stage-voice, hoping to make the man feel ashamed of his over-reaction to a three year old’s fart. Moron.

Who's done a botty pop?
Who’s done a botty pop?

The next day, fortified by a good night’s sleep, we were still feeling brave so we embarked on The Original Sound of Music Tour. My husband has never seen the film but enjoyed the scenic views from the bus. Noah slept for most of it, including when they played the soundtrack CD and the only people singing along were me and an enthusiastic Welsh man sitting behind me. The tour ended at the Mirabell Gardens where the Do-Re-Mi scene was filmed. I couldn’t resist dancing along the pathways singing the song. Oh, I had a great time on that Sound of Music tour.

Doe, a deer, a female deer...
Doe, a deer, a female deer…

Later that day, we went to the Speilzeugmuseum (toy museum). They had lots of different toys out that children could play with. For €4, I’d go there every week if they had one in Vienna. The next day, we went on a Salt Mines tour. We crossed the border into Germany and went into a mountain which has been used to extract salt for hundreds of years. It sounds like a laugh a minute, but actually, it was really good. We had to put mining overalls on (or space suits if you listen to Noah). A little train took us through the dark tunnels into the mountain and then we had to go down a great big slide to get to the next level. I am not a fan of slides. I stood at the top and peered over the edge. “I’m going to take the walkway,” I told my husband. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he replied. I knew that there was a camera set up to take a picture of you half way down and I really, really, really wanted a family photo of us on the slide. So I swallowed my fear. In the photo, I have my eyes closed and I’m gripping my husband so tightly round his neck, it must have felt like I was strangling him.

Do you like my space suit?
Do you like my space suit?

Overall, I really liked Salzburg. It is a lot smaller than Vienna and not as grand. It seems more touristy which is a funny thing to say seeing as in the centre of Vienna, you can’t move for tourists. Vienna is more about museums and Opera and palaces. Salzburg reminded me a bit of a toy town. The mountains and lakes around there are spectacular.

And Noah was a good boy. That’s always puts things in a positive light.

Well done, my Noah.


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Noah’s 10 Strange and Slightly Annoying Habits/Obsessions of the Moment

I don’t want to moan about my son. But I am going to just a little bit. I am fully aware that Noah is a remarkable little person. I am fully aware that for every annoying habit he has, he has an even bigger endearing trait. He is three years old, I tell myself. Most of the time, I am patient. Most of the time, I try to see the world from his perspective. He goes through phases and some of these phases are trying. It’s just a phase, I tell myself. It will pass. He will grow out of it. But still, I’m just a teeny tiny miniscule bit exhausted.

Here are Noah’s top 10 favourite things to do at the moment from the least to the most annoying:

  1. He has taken to sleeping in his slippers. These are blue, slightly too big, and have Mickey Mouse on them. In itself, this habit is quite endearing. When I check on him before I go to bed, all I can usually see of him is his little slippered feet sticking out under the duvet. God love him, I think with a smile. What is annoying about this is the tracking down of the slippers just as he is climbing into bed. One is usually easy to find; the other often proves elusive.
  2. He has started biting his toenails. Surely he will grow out of this as he gets bigger and less supple? Unless he is hypermobile like me*. He then complains his big toe hurts and needs cream on it. If this happened once, or even twice, a day it would be okay…(*Please note – I do not bite my own toenails.)
  3. He insists on wiping his own bum after doing a poo. Bum wiping is not one of the aspects of motherhood that has come easily to me. I’d love it if I didn’t have to wipe his bum for him anymore. But he doesn’t do it properly which means I have to intervene which usually means me chasing him around the flat with the toilet paper. Sorry for talking about poo.
  4. He is obsessed with plasters. Last week, he insisted on wearing a plaster on his finger every day because it “hurt”. At first I indulged him. It was easier than having to suffer one of his tantrums over it. But then he used up a whole packet of plasters and I was a bit worried his finger was going to shrivel up. So I suffered a 45 minute tantrum where the only words were “I want a plaster” over and over and over and over a hundred times until, exhausted, he fell asleep. What were the first words out of his mouth in the morning (at 5am)? “I want a plaaaaaaaaaaaaster!”
  5. He is “afraid” of the Big Bad Mouse. One of his current favourite reads is The Gruffalo’s Child. Every day this week, he has drawn a picture of the Big Bad Mouse when I pick him up from nursery. The Big Bad Mouse is also under his bed. Apparently, this is why he wakes up at night. I have tried to explain to him that the Big Bad Mouse doesn’t exist, it’s really only a little mouse. I remind him of the story of The Gruffalo. But it seems that intertextuality is too difficult a concept for a three year old to grasp.
  6. He watches videos of adults playing with toys on YouTube. One is a man (American) who opens toys with his daughter. He usually opens some sort of plastic egg that has sweets and a toy inside. You can hear him eating the sweets as he gives a running commentary on the toy. Annoying. But he has nothing on the woman (also American) who plays with Paw Patrol toys. Her favourite expression is “Super cool!” In today’s video she had buried the Paw Patrol figures in a sandpit and was digging them back up again. What the duck?
  7. He puts all of his toys in bags. I can only find half of his pirates. Most of his train track has disappeared. Where are the cars for his garage? All in random bags. He often wants to take these bags out with him. Can he carry them? No. This was the conversation we had this morning as he was stuffing Happyland people into his Postman Pat bag:

Noah: Mummy, can I take some toys to nursery?

Me: You can take one toy.

Noah: I want to take lots of toys! (Gets Postman Pat bag and starts to fill it)

Me: That’s enough! You won’t able to carry all that. I’m not going to carry it for you.

Noah: I can carry it because I am Superboy.

Did he take the whole rucksack full of toys? Yes. Who carried it? Me.

  1. He pulls my hairband out of my hair. Seems like an innocent enough thing but this infuriates me. Every mother in the world feels some level of harassment when they are trying to leave the house in the morning. Right? First I have to coax Noah into the bathroom for a wash. Then I have to grapple him into his clothes whilst he won’t stand still for a second. Then I have to find a pair of matching shoes (the pair that he actually wants to wear). It is when I am kneeling down trying to get the shoes on his feet that he makes his move and whips the hairband out. This annoys me because (a) it hurts (b) I have to go back into the bedroom and brush my hair back into a ponytail and (c) he won’t give the hairband back to me and hairbands in my house are like gold dust.
  2. He refuses to scoot on his scooter. He wants to be pulled along by his scooter pull rather than scoot. On the one hand, it is safer because I know he isn’t going to accidentally scoot in front of a car. But it also means he is always bumping into the back of my heels, falling off when we go round corners or ploughing in to things.
  3. He acts like a baby. As in he talks in a baby voice. A lot of the time he doesn’t actually speak at all, just makes whinging baby noises and points at what he wants. He can keep this up all day. I have become one of those mothers in a shop snapping at her child, “Stop acting like a baby!” But when I say it, I don’t mean stop being immature, I really mean stop acting like a baby.

I am not being negative about my Noah. Not really. All threenagers are hard work, right? I know that these habits/mild obsessions mean he is developing his character. And what a little character he is. Whilst these 10 things annoy me, they also make me proud. But not number 10. Or 8 and 9. Or 2…

I’m saving these anecdotes up for when he gets married. And yes, I am planning on doing a Mother of the Groom speech.

Do you remember when Noah was three and wore his Mickey Mouse Slippers to bed? Ha ha ha. Do you remember when he wore a plaster on his finger for a month and the finger fell off? Ha ha ha.

My Noah, you are my treasure.

A few toys to take to kindergarten.
A few toys to take to kindergarten.
The big brown circle with legs is the Big Bad Mouse. The blue things are Darth Vader and his men (last week's obsession). The shadow is my arm taking the picture.
The big brown circle with legs is the Big Bad Mouse. The blue things are Darth Vader and his men (last week’s obsession). The shadow is my arm taking the picture.

You Baby Me Mummy

10 Predictions for Noah’s Future Career Choice

What do you want to be when you grow up? A classic question adults ask children to make conversation. Someone asked Noah this question recently. I awaited his answer with interest. He doesn’t really have a proper concept of what a job is. He knows his dad goes to work; he knows I don’t. He knows that pilots drive planes and that astronauts drive space ships and that teachers look after you at school. If you’re a builder then you’re Bob the Builder and if you’re a fireman you’re obviously Fireman Sam. Anyway, according to Noah, he wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up.

In this day and age, it’s never too early to decide what you want to be when you grow up. There are roads into lots of careers nowadays that weren’t available to my generation. There are qualifications in a vast array of subjects which weren’t available when I was at school. Want to be a famous writer? Do a Creative Writing A Level, a Creative Writing degree, a Creative Writing Masters and even a Creative Writing PHD. Want to be a popstar? Go and audition for the X-Factor.

I was raised with the secure belief that when I grew up, I could be whatever I wanted to be. The world was my oyster. I was given every opportunity a child could possibly be given, but most importantly, I had two parents with an unshakable belief in me and everything I did. If I had said I wanted to be a ballet dancer, they wouldn’t have said “yes, of course you do, darling”, whilst sceptically looking down at my ever-so-slightly chunky legs. They’d have arranged lessons, rigged me out in the best sparkly tutu that money can buy, ferried me there and back and sat through every performance, full of pride. And that’s what I want for my Noah. Although, I’m not sure what I can actually do to help him fulfil his ambition to become a dinosaur…

Taking into account his personality and his interests, here are 10 possible careers that might be suitable for Noah in the future:

1. A baker. The boy loves cake. We make a cake every week. I have to limit them to one a week because of my ever expanding waist-line, but Noah would happily make a cake every day. He has even started telling me what kind of cake he’d like to make. Today we made a strawberry cake. We like to be ambitious.

2. A rugby player. He likes jumping on people, climbing over them and tackling them. My husband (the expert) claims Noah has natural skill in rugby. I must admit, I have concerns about this possible career choice already: my Noah has the most beautiful, delicate, perfect shell-like little ears. The thought of them turning into cauliflower ears hurts my heart.

3. An actor. Before the boy could speak, he could act. He is theatrical. He loves dressing up. He does different voices for different toys. He is also a bit of a straight-faced fabricator.

Me: Why were you calling me in the night? You know it’s naughty.

Noah: I was scared. (Does shivery, scared action. Speaks in small, scared voice.)

Me: What of?

Noah: Darth Vader was in my bed.

To infinity!
To infinity!

4. A librarian. Noah likes playing libraries. He likes the order of stacking books. He also likes reading, which helps. Mind you, libraries might be obsolete by the time Noah grows up. I hope not.

A library on the veranda
A library on the veranda

5. A pilot. Noah is a well-travelled three year old. He’s very used to flying back and forth between Vienna and England. He takes flying in his stride. He’s also been to Spain, Florence, Brussels, Helsinki and California. One of his first words was “plane” (although he pronounced it “ham”, I knew what he was saying). One of his first ever sentences (repeated multiple times) was “draw plane” meaning he wanted the nearest available person to draw him a page full of planes. He loves the Disney Planes films. Look Inside an Airport is also one of his favourite books.

6. Technology/media genius. I can’t really tell what specific jobs technology/media geniuses will do by the time Noah has grown up, but he has a definite interest (obsession) with mobile phones, ipads and television. Maybe, instead of it frying his brain and making him a couch potato like some might suggest, it will make him his millions in the future.

7. A naturist. By this I mean a nudist rather than a lover of nature. He strips off as soon as he gets through the front door, even when it’s freezing and I’m in thick socks and two jumpers. I don’t suppose a naturist is actually a career though, is it? But still.

He is rarely dressed at dinner
He is rarely dressed at dinner

8. A dancer. Noah never can resist getting up and boogying to the hot dog dance on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He likes performing to his piano too.

9. A dinosaur hunter. He has a mild obsession with dinosaurs. At church this week the vicar was talking about favourites and how we shouldn’t be prejudiced against people who don’t fit with our ideas about what is best. The vicar (bravely) put the microphone under Noah’s nose and asked what he thought of when he said the word “favourite”. Noah said dinosaur. When we were at Centre Parcs recently, we went to an activity where the children were shown a few different animals. At the start of the session, the woman leading it, asked the children to put their hands up if they had a pet at home. I almost fell off my chair when I realised Noah’s hand was up because I’m pretty sure we don’t have any pets. It seems like I was forgetting about the pet dinosaur we keep at home.

10. A politician. He switches his ears on and off depending on what he wants to hear. He is asked not to do something but does it anyway. He has an answer for everything. Just please don’t be a Michael Gove, my Noah.


Mums' Days

The Adventure of Sending Your Child to an Ofsted-Free Nursery

As a teacher, I know all about Ofsted. I have been through three Ofsteds and conclude that the pressure an inspection puts on the staff in a school is inhumane. A couple of years ago, the Ofsted criteria was changed to become more challenging. Good is no longer good. Good is as expected; good is satisfactory. Teachers are given target levels for every pupil, targets generated by computers. I worked hard to make sure my pupils were on target. Some were, some weren’t, but for most of my classes, the underachieving and overachieving levelled out. My classes were on target and I was proud of this. Then, one day in a meeting, the head of department told us that according to Ofsted, a class where all pupils were on target was only “satisfactory”. The biggest issue I have with being a teacher, is that I give it my all and my all is only just good enough according to Ofsted. I have never actually been given an official grade by an Ofsted inspector, but if I had been, I’m pretty sure I’d have been given a 2 (a good). The lesson would have taken hours to prepare. They would have seen everything I’d got. I don’t mind the fact that I’m “good”; I mind the fact I have no idea how to be outstanding.

Just before we moved to Vienna, I had a part-time teaching position and worked Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. One Tuesday lunchtime when I was at a soft play with Noah and some of the mothers and babies from our NCT group, I got a text message telling me Ofsted would be in the school the next day. I had five lessons (a full day) and knew I’d have to produce five detailed lesson plans before the morning. Noah was 18 months old. My husband was already in Vienna. My mum and dad were at work and wouldn’t be home until after six o’clock. Noah, with his sixth sense for these things, picked up on my stress and refused to go to sleep that night. I started my lesson plans at 8pm and by 1pm I had only done four of them. Noah had woken up and needed settling six times. By 5am he was awake for the day and so was I. I was already sleep deprived and had a chest infection. It crossed my mind to call in sick. Why not? Why put myself through it? I still hadn’t done my lesson plans and I had another four to do for the next day. I knew I’d be leaving that school in a month’s time. I was stressed out of my mind. What did I owe them? But I went in anyway.

Do I think schools should be monitored? Yes. Do I think that we should expect high standards from the English education system? Of course I do. But surely, there are better ways than this?

The point of this rant is: I am not a fan of Ofsted.

And yet.

When I was going back to work after maternity leave, I wanted Noah to go to an “outstanding” nursery. He ended up going to the nursery which was on the site of my school. I couldn’t fault it. I had a perfect view of the garden from my classroom window. At 10am on Mondays and Fridays, I could usually be found gazing lovingly at Noah as he blundered around below, moving from one toy or activity to another. Meanwhile, if the classroom was in chaos around me, I was oblivious.* It was a brilliant nursery. And yet, a few months after we moved to Vienna, they had an Ofsted inspection and suddenly it is no longer an “outstanding” nursery.

*If any Ofsted inspectors are reading this, then I’m only joking. Ha ha ha…

I often wonder what Ofsted would make of Noah’s kindergarten in Vienna. There are three members of staff to seventeen children. The group is aged 1-3. Noah is the oldest child there with one other girl. The staff are strict with behaviour. They really tell the kids off. There are few structured activities. Sometimes the children make things but Noah has recently decided he doesn’t want to take part in craft activities and they do not press him. Children in Vienna have no official learning until they are 6. In England, Noah would be starting to learn the alphabet and write his name. In no way is he being challenged here. He isn’t really developing his social skills as much either, seeing as the majority of the children are a lot younger than him. There are stairs in the room which lead up to a play area – one year olds who are just learning to walk can make their way up and down. If Noah falls over, no one notices and cleans the cut. There are no incident forms to sign. Before he was toilet trained, he was often there for four hours without his nappy being changed. Or he was put in a nappy two sizes too small. Their support when Noah started toilet training was non-existent. They refused to let me leave his potty and tried putting him on a big toilet on day 1. He was afraid he was going to fall in and decided he was never, ever, under any circumstances going to go to the toilet at kindergarten. And apart from on two occasions in the past year, he hasn’t. I suppose Austrian kindergartens must be subjected to rules and regulations but over here, there is no such thing as Ofsted.

The time has now come for me to find Noah a nursery or pre-school place for January when we come home to England. Some pre-schools have told me to contact them nearer the time. Most are full up for the year. One nursery told me they had a place for him. Great, I thought: I’ll put him down for that one and it’s all sorted. One less thing to worry about. But wait. I’ll just check with a friend who sent her children there to see what she thought of it. And I’d better read the Ofsted report.

Inadequate.

As soon as I saw the 4 at the top of the report, there was no way my Noah was going there.

Why was it inadequate?

  • Because the teaching isn’t consistently good. At Noah’s kindergarten, there is no teaching: there is only supervising.
  • The garden isn’t made full use of. At Noah’s kindergarten, they take them to the park most days (across a road with the kids walking two by two). Noah often comes home with mud in his hair and leaves in his pants. There is also a small balcony for a bit of fresh air.
  • Documentation isn’t up to date and readily available. I have no idea what documents are kept at the kindergarten.

So why am I worried about an inadequate nursery in England, when it would not be of any lesser standard than the kindergarten he currently attends here in Vienna? Because I want the best available for my son.

The kindergarten here leaves a lot to be desired, but it is still good for him. It is important he is left with others, not with me 24/7. He’s enough of a Mummy’s Boy as it is, I dread to think what he’d be like if he was never out of my company. The kindergarten has high expectations for behaviour and the staff aren’t afraid to raise their voices if the children are misbehaving. When we went to the parents’ meeting, they were astounded that Noah was ever naughty at home. At kindergarten, he always does what he is told. So at least we know he can be an angel when he wants to be. He has also made firm friends which he probably wouldn’t have done at such a young age going to nursery twice a week like he did in England. There is also the fact that it is a German-speaking kindergarten. He has been immersed in a culture different from his own. He has learnt about Austrian traditions and been exposed to the German language. He won’t retain any of this but I think his brain has been made receptive to it as a result. It will stand him in good stead.

In England, the best available is something else. Noah will not be milling around in a playtime world of his own imagination until he is 6 years old. He will have to flourish in the hard, cruel world of Ofsted inspections, of KS2 SATS data and a government which is currently talking about implementing an assessment system for 4 year olds. My Noah will not be going to an inadequate nursery or pre-school. Think again.

Noah, his lollypop and the masterpiece he produced at kindergarten this morning.
Noah, his lollypop and the masterpiece he produced at kindergarten this morning.