The Adventure of being a SAHM … or not

Some months ago, I wrote The Adventure of Being a SAHM (Part 1) which focused on how not going to work has affected my appearance. I had a whole host of blog posts planned on being a SAHM; I had a lot to say about the matter. But after reading Part 1 (which actually only scratched the surface of my feelings), many of my friends and family members were a little bit concerned about me. My Dad found it “depressing”; my husband “had no idea I felt that way”; my Aunt “felt a lump in her throat as she read it”. Friends texted me promising a “big night out” next time I came home from Vienna. Soon after, my husband put a picture on Facebook of me without a smidgen of make-up, a wonky smile and a squinty eye, and I was bombarded by comments from my loyal friends about how fantastic I was looking. So, not wanting to cause any further alarm, I let the subject of being a SAHM lie.

Until now. Because now my SAHM days are numbered. Soon I will be but a part-time SAHM and, not long after that, I won’t be a SAHM at all.

My husband works in London. He sees Noah in the morning for half an hour. He goes in to Noah when he wakes up, has breakfast with him and then goes to work. He gets home ten minutes before Noah goes to bed. This is hard for my husband, especially when he gets home and Noah is in a bad mood (a.k.a. Little Shit Mode). On bad days, when he comes home to find me face down on the sofa wailing about how awful my life is, about how terribly Noah has behaved, about how I can’t cope with this existence for one more day, he informs me that he would “give his right arm” to swap places. Of course, when he says this, I would like to strangle the man. But I refrain, because, actually, if I could only spend forty minutes a day with my Noah, it would break me in half.

Being a SAHM, I find my days are often long. So very, very long. I live quite an isolated existence and it can be mind-numbingly boring (sorry my Noah).

“Shall we all go to the park?” my husband sometimes suggests at the weekend.

“The park?!” I sneer. “The park? I spend my whole bloody life at the park. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than go to the park on a Saturday!”

“Well, I’ll take Noah to the park, then,” he says.

“And leave me here on my own? I spend my bloody life on my own!”

And so on.

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Ah, the park

Sometimes it feels like my days have no purpose. Over the past two years, I have missed using my brain, using my training and skills. I have missed adult conversation. Most of the time, I feel like I have no idea what I am doing. My main responsibility (apart from ensuring Noah is safe and well) is to know where Leo the Lion is at all times so he is not left anywhere or lost, so we know where he is when bedtime finally rolls around. Before, I was responsible for hundreds of teenagers’ exam results. Results which they will write on job application forms for the rest of their lives. It just felt a bit more important.

 

And yet…

Our days are precious.

When I am not with Noah, I feel slightly untethered, like I am missing something. Slightly. Sometimes, when he is asleep, I actually miss him even though he is just upstairs. Every day, a hundred times a day, he makes me smile. In fact, despite everything, despite the fact that I had to move to another country to enable it, I am lucky that I have been able to spend these two years as a SAHM. I haven’t missed a thing.

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I didn’t miss the time when we got caught in a downpour on the way to nursery and Noah’s trousers were soaked so he had to borrow a pair of his g.f.’s leggings.

This is especially important because Noah (like all children) has grown up so fast. Everything is a phase. All those clichés are true. God knows, Noah’s sleep has been a nightmare on and off (mostly on) since the day that he was born. But the time will come when he calls out for me in the night for the very last time. Just like he used his pram for the last time or used a nappy for the last time. His development over the past few months has been staggering. Many of his sentences start with “Mummy, did you know…” – “Mummy, did you know that the sun is a STAR?!” “Mummy, did you know that inside a volcano is LAVA?!” “Mummy, did you know that my shadow gets bigger when I move further from the wall?”

This one is my recent favourite:

“Mummy, did you know that when it’s daytime, the stars don’t disappear, they stay in the sky but you can’t see them because the sun is too bright?”

“How do you know that?!” I asked, aghast. I’m sure I didn’t know this until I was about 10!

“Ben and Holly.”

Of course. Who else?

We live behind a Premier Inn and Noah thinks it is an “astronaut school” because the sign has moon and stars on it. Where did this ability to interpret signs and symbols suddenly come from? His nursery teacher told me his writing is exceptional for a boy of his age. I’m not quite sure what they’re on about with this because, apart from writing his name, he just writes a load of gobbledygook. I suppose it’s the fact he is trying to write at all. My point is that children advance so quickly in these first years of their lives that time together is all the more treasurable.

After Easter, I am going back to work two days a week. It’s definitely time. When Noah is at nursery, I spend a lot of time tidying up after him or shopping or breaking my fingers trying to create roses out of royal icing (don’t ask), or going to the gym. But sometimes, when I am not doing any of these things, I feel a guilty for having nothing to do. Two days of work is ideal because the balance is still tipped in favour of not working. I’m not even working on consecutive days so I get a rest in between. I’d happily work two days a week for the rest of eternity.

But life isn’t like that. In September, Noah will start school and I will have to go back to work full time. I want to be the one dropping Noah off in the morning and to be the one waiting for him at the school gates at the end of the day. I ache for it. But I won’t be there. I’ll be at work. “Welcome to my world,” my husband says. I’ve had my time and soon I will have to give it up.

I have toyed with the idea of a career change. I’d quite like to be an exercise instructor doing aerobics classes and spinning and Body Pump. When I mentioned this to my Mum at dinner last week, she almost choked on her food. “With your education?!” she demanded in a shrill voice. Alternatively, I’d like to be a cake maker (hence the royal icing flowers) but there are plenty of those about, all of them more skilled than my novice self.

The truth is, I am not a cake maker, neither am I an exercise instructor: I am a teacher and to teaching I will return. I will pick up my career where I left it. Once more, I will work hard to be the best teacher I can be. Instead of dragging, the days will whizz by. I will have much to do and not enough time to do it in.

I have made myself a promise. A promise I hope I will keep. I have thought about what I want from my job carefully, about what will make me happy and what will make me unhappy. I have written a list. I have made myself a promise to be guided by my list when going for a job. More and more, I have realised that so many things happen in life that are out of our control. Last year, my Dad was investigated for prostate cancer. It’s the biggest killer of men in the UK. Blood tests and scans indicated it was 50/50 either cancer or simply an enlarged prostrate. It all came down to the results of a biopsy. I remember waiting for these results was like standing at a junction. Looking one way, there was cancer. Looking the other, there wasn’t. And there was nothing anyone could do to make it go the good way. It either was cancer or it wasn’t. It was terrifying. It wasn’t cancer.

A job is just a job. It’s necessary for most of us, but it is something we have control over. Unless I want to go gallivanting off on another foreign posting (which I most certainly do not), I am going to have to give up my SAHM mantle. Teaching gets a lot of bad press at the moment and there is no doubt it is a challenging career, but there was a reason I went into it and there are lots of things I love about it. I intend to find myself a full time job for September that will enable me to focus on the good.

A change is coming my Noah.

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Love the park, really. Don’t know what I’d do without it.

Mami 2 Five
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The Adventure of Being Back

I am in Essex. Noah is in Essex. My husband is in Vienna. This is not an unusual situation. This has happened a lot over the past two years. But this time it’s different. Why? Because this time we are back for good. This time Noah and I are not staying with my Mum and Dad, we are living in our own house. Five days a week, I am a single parent. And don’t I know it.

I had forgotten how stressful it can be living in your own property. Every time we had a problem with our home in Vienna, we phoned my husband’s office and they sorted it out. It makes me wonder why people actually buy houses rather than rent for the rest of their lives. Since we took our house back over from the tenants, we have had it painted, completely replaced the kitchen floor, replaced the kitchen worktop and hob, bought a new washing machine that couldn’t be fitted, replaced the kitchen tap and had Noah’s bedroom door re-attached three times. Is it just me or is it impossible to find reliable, reasonably priced, skilled workmen who actually turn up when they say they will? Is it just me or is it reasonable to expect Currys to be able to fit a washing machine when you pay them £35 for the privilege?

I have become a nervous wreck about the paintwork and the doors. The doors are so old and crooked, I am worried that Noah and I are going to be stuck on opposite sides one of these days. We frequently have this interaction when he fools about running around upstairs trying to shut me out of rooms: “Noah, don’t play with the doors…Please don’t play with the doors…Don’t play with the doors!…STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS!” I brought the wrong kind of paint for the bathroom and it marks and stains when it is splashed with water. It looks a state already and it has only been painted for a month. How was I supposed to know this? What do I know about paint? So when Noah splashes around in the bath, we frequently have the following interaction: “Noah, don’t splash about because you are ruining the walls…Please don’t splash the walls…Stop splashing the walls!…STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS!”

I don’t even want to get started on what it was like unpacking all of our stuff and getting the house straight. Our house is small and we have a lot of stuff. I am never moving house again. Whenever we need more space, we will just have to build upwards. We’ll end up with a twenty storey house by the time we retire. A twenty storey house with a roof garden.

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Nightmare
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I must admit, I did a great job of Noah’s dinosaur bedroom

And then there’s Noah.

Noah is used to my parents’ house. He has five big boxes of toys there and a treehouse. Seventy percent of the Sky Planner is full of his programmes. To Noah, their house is more home to him than our own house. He has never minded leaving my husband in Vienna whilst we came back to England to stay with my Mum and Dad. He accepted that this was what his life was like. If we had moved back from Vienna and chosen to live there whilst my husband was away, things would probably be okay right now. But I made the decision to move back into our house. In no way, shape or form did I want to live on my own. I made the decision because I thought it would be best for Noah to be near his new nursery, surrounded by his things, to settle into his new home and his new life straight away.

What Noah doesn’t get is what the hell his father is playing at coming and going backwards and forwards to Vienna. Initially, I suggested to my husband that we just tell him Daddy was going to work during the week and leave it at that with no mention of Vienna. I quickly realised this wasn’t going to work because Noah would see he was in our old flat when we Skype.

Last week, he painted a dinosaur from one of the craft kits he got for Christmas and presented it to my husband at the weekend. On Monday morning, ten minutes after my husband had left for the week, I came downstairs to find Noah sitting in his armchair crying his little heart out. Clutched in his little paw was the dinosaur. My husband had forgotten it. Noah cried and cried and I couldn’t console him. I phoned my husband to see if he was still at the station but it went straight to voicemail. “I want daddy!” Noah wailed. His little heart was hurting and I couldn’t make it better. So I gave him a chocolate bunny. Yes, it was 8 o’clock in the morning, but it was a desperate situation: my little boy was feeling real, raw emotional pain for the first time in his life and I was helpless. When my husband found out what happened, he was a wreck too.

So Noah is confused. He is frustrated. He is angry. “I’m sad about Daddy,” he says two or three times a week. And what happens when Noah is confused, frustrated, angry and sad? That little strand of demon child which runs through his veins, rises to the surface.

From the moment he wakes up, he is a challenge. He either wakes up during the night or wakes up before dawn. Seeing as the prospect of getting up and getting Noah through breakfast before 6 a.m. makes me want to throw myself from the roof tops, I allow him to watch YouTube on my phone. By the time I have reconciled myself to the fact that the day must begin, Noah won’t get off the phone. Once this struggle is over and we are standing downstairs in the kitchen having a discussion about breakfast, Noah demands pancakes. If pancakes are not on the menu either because (a) we have no eggs (b) he had pancakes yesterday or (c) I really can’t be bothered to make them, a full-on screaming fit ensues. Once he has calmed down, I have to coax him to eat more than 30% of his breakfast. A month ago he was a vitamin addict. He relished the moment when he got to eat his Bassets chewy vitamin every morning. Now, he refuses to eat them. He doesn’t like them. Urgh. Yuck. They are disgusting. I got him a different flavour; the response was the same. I find slightly sweaty, slightly sticky gummy vitamins under the sofa, by the front door, on his train set etc. etc.

The day continues in this vein. Getting washed, getting dressed, putting his coat and shoes on, lunch, dinner, tidying up, bathtime, bedtime. Every time we’re in the car, Noah insists on winding his window down for “fresh air” even when we’re on the motorway. Every time we’re in the car, Noah takes his shoes and socks off and refuses to let me put them back on. We’re late for absolutely everything.

It’s all one big challenge. It’s a battle. And I’m the one that’s losing.

It was the vitamin fiasco that kicked off events last Thursday. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to it as Black Thursday. On Black Thursday, I lost the plot. Noah has had a cough and cold hanging around for over a week so I decided I was going to make him eat his bloody vitamin. He refused. I cut it up and mixed it in his porridge. He refused. I paused the TV and told him I’d turn it off if he didn’t eat his vitamin. He poured his drink all over the floor. He wouldn’t sit on the naughty step. He wouldn’t stay in his room and think about what he had done. I didn’t know where to go next. He was hitting me and pulling my hair. He refused to get washed and dressed for nursery. He took things off of the sides in the kitchen and threw them on the floor. So I lost it. I went berserk. God only knows what the neighbours thought of me, screeching through the walls at my three-year-old like a demented banshee. In the end, he didn’t go to nursery. We sat on the sofa, both of us emotionally exhausted and held each other. All over a vitamin. I never want to be like that again. I have always been one to choose my battles with Noah. I often let things go. Isn’t that better than finding yourself pushed over the edge of your patience?

Noah is not responding well when he doesn’t get his own way. Today, he tried to show the postman his lightsaber and the postman only gave a fleeting response before continuing on his way to deliver the post to the rest of Brentwood. Noah threw himself to the floor, kicking and screaming. Yesterday, I bought him a little packet of Star Wars cupcakes. He had one and asked for another one. I said no. “You’re not the Mummy I love,” he said. My heart stopped dead in my chest. “What?!” I asked, aghast. “Only joking,” he said quickly. “You are the Mummy I love.” But still…

The end is in sight. My husband moves back to England in three weeks’ time. Life will calm down for Noah. For all of us. I am home. I am where I want to be. I repeat this to myself like a mantra.

On the plus side, Noah has taken well to is his new nursery. He has lots of friends and has already been invited to a birthday party (where he was the only boy). I felt sick in the lead up to his first day. I took him in there and had to stay for ten minutes whilst I signed some forms. He was subdued. He stood silently beside me. When it was time for me to kiss him goodbye, he was pale faced and miserable but he didn’t cry. He didn’t tell me not to go. I left and watched through the window as he went to join the others for circle time and sat there quietly whilst they were singing. He would one hundred percent have rather been going back to his old nursery in Vienna with his old friends and familiar surroundings. Being in a situation where you don’t know anyone is hard for adults, let alone three year olds. I hate changing jobs and having to get to know everything and everyone all over again. But sometimes we have to do these things. And as I stood there watching Noah through the window, I realised that he saw this too. He was feeling a little bit apprehensive, a little bit lonely, a little bit lost. And he just got on with it. I have been proud of my Noah since the day he was born – he is mine and he is a marvel – but as I stood and watched him through the window that day, I saw that rod of iron strength inside him that some people have and some people don’t. I admired him. I respected him. People who have this iron strength will be okay, no matter what life throws at them. When they get knocked down, they can get back up again. It’s a gift. My job as Noah’s mother is to make sure he never loses it.

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In his new nursery uniform

P.S. I have not tried to force Noah’s vitamins on him since.

P.P.S. He still isn’t doing a thing he is told.

The Adventure of Saying Goodbye (to Vienna)

Three more sleeps.

On Monday, the packing company came and packed up eighty boxes of our stuff with minimal disaster. It is now half way to England. My main concern is that the new Christmas decorations I bought will be smashed in transit. But they, like most things in life, are replaceable. Noah took the packing up of his toys fairly well. He grasps the fact that his toys are too big to take on the plane and will be at our “little house” in England when he gets there. There was a minor issue that went like this:

9 a.m. Sunday Morning. I am piling up Noah’s toys along one wall of his bedroom.

Me: Noah, do you want to keep Aylan here or do you want him to go in the big lorry with the rest of your toys?

Noah: In the big lorry.

Me: Are you absolutely sure?

Noah: Yes. In the big lorry with the rest of my toys.

Me: You won’t see him until we get back to England.

Noah: That’s okay. I want him to go in the big lorry.

Aylan, in case you were wondering, is a large teddy bear brought for Noah on our last trip home by my Mum and Dad. My Dad named him Aylan after the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned. He liked the idea of Noah looking after a refugee. Anyway, I put Aylan in the pile to be sent back to England with the rest of Noah’s toys (a) because he would take up a lot of room my suitcase, (b) because it’s stressful when Noah is carrying an enormous teddy around the airport, not least because we are always losing toys at airports and (c) because Noah seemed pretty adamant that Aylan should be packed with the rest of his toys…

4.30 p.m. on Monday, 10 minutes after we had waved the lorry off with all our stuff inside (including Aylan)

Noah: Where’s Aylan?

Fifteen minutes of wailing ensued.

 

Moving abroad for two years is many people’s idea of a dream. Usually, when it comes up in conversation that I live in Vienna, I’m met with responses such as “Wow! How exciting!” And I am the miserable cow who shakes her head and says, “Not really.” For me, it was never going to be easy. My husband knew that when he applied for the job. I am a home bird if ever there was one. Back in May 2013, the job came up in Vienna and my husband presented me with a written proposal listing all of the benefits of going for it. It wasn’t the first time he had broached the subject of doing a foreign posting. I phoned my Mum up and read her out the proposal. Because my Mum saw the £££ signs and (reluctantly) said go for it, because I had just gone back to work after maternity leave, because I wanted to work part-time and couldn’t, because it was a good opportunity for us financially, because it was my husband’s heart’s desire, I agreed. We formed a pact: I would try living in Vienna as long as Noah and I could come home for one week every month and stay with my parents. Last year, every single time I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad at the airport, every time I waved goodbye to them here, it was with tears in my eyes. I am not given to public displays of emotion but, quite honestly, I felt like my heart was breaking. My husband’s posting shouldn’t actually end until next October, but I knew with absolute certainty that I couldn’t do another year here. Have I cried myself to sleep every night for two years? Of course I haven’t. Have I been depressed? No. Although I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and drunk a lot of Gruner Veltliner to see me through. Have I made my husband’s life a living hell? Probably. Sometimes. Do I regret agreeing to come here? Actually, no.

Over the past six weeks, I have felt an over-whelming sense of relief every time I thought about how close I was to moving home. I felt as if I was crawling towards 19th December on my knees. I even planned what I would put as my last Vienese Facebook update at some point in August.

And yet…

I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel a sense of loss. And actually, it’s quite a strong sense of loss. How can this be? I’m flabbergasted by it. I should be excited. I should be deliriously happy.

It all comes down to change. I don’t like change. I don’t embrace it.

 

Last week, I was washing Noah’s sand toys in the bidet (what else is it for, after all?), when I had a bit of a moment. I looked at his buckets and spades and diggers lined up to dry on a towel on the bathroom floor and I felt winded, I felt bereft. The sadness I felt surprised me. Where had it come from? I am not sad to be packing up our things and moving back to England. As I took a deep breath, I realised that I was sad about what those sand toys represent. They represent a part of Noah’s childhood. The park that we live on represents a part of Noah’s childhood – all those hours we have spent there being cooked by the sun or being frozen solid in the winter. I felt the same when I got his pram and his highchair out. These things are obsolete. My Noah is done with them. He is not my baby anymore: he is my clever, strong minded, curious little boy. When we moved here, Noah was 20 months old, he spoke in nouns, he beat up any child who came within a mile radius of him, he had a little white rabbit comforter called Booby that he took everywhere, he couldn’t scoot or ride a bike. Now he is nearly 4, he loves Star Wars, he doesn’t know who Booby is, he wants to have conversations about what happens when you die. The fact is, Noah has spent more of his life in Vienna than he has in England. It feels a little bit as if, when I get on that plane on Saturday, I will be leaving a part of Noah’s childhood behind. Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes emotions are.

 

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January 2014, at our park

The other thing which makes me sad about leaving is that I am taking my Noah away from the life he knows. I am taking him away from the kindergarten he is happy at, from the friendships he has formed, from the enormous flat he can ride a bike around. Of course, even if we stayed until the end of my husband’s contract, we would still have to take him away from these things. I think I am seeing this through my own eyes rather than a three year old’s. I know what it feels like to leave your home and I am projecting those feelings on to Noah.

“How do you feel about moving back to England?” I ask him frequently.

“Alright,” he says. “I can’t wait to go to my new nursery! It’s great!”

I realised just how often I must have spoken to him about this when he turned to me yesterday and said, “So, Mummy, how do you feel about moving back to our little house?”

Noah is 3 years old. His language is developing every day but it is by no means advanced. He isn’t capable of telling me how he feels about moving back to England. He isn’t capable of understanding it himself. He pooed in his pants every day last week which is something he never, ever did whilst he was potty training well over a year ago. Is that relevant? Is he channelling his uncertainty about moving back to England by pooing in his pants? Or is he just being a sod? He certainly isn’t doing very much of what he is told at the moment. Even phone calls to Father Christmas and threats of him losing presents doesn’t seem to hold any sway with him. He’ll be okay. I know he’ll be okay. I know this experience won’t damage him in any way. But I still feel sad on his behalf, especially when I see him running home from kindergarten every day, hand in hand with his best friend.

 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “What are the top five things you’ll miss about Vienna?” “There aren’t five. I will miss absolutely nothing about Vienna!” I exclaimed. But that’s not true. I will miss living on the park, I will miss my husband being home in time to play with Noah, I will miss the wine, I will miss the Sachertorte, I will miss the public transport, I will miss that most things are within walking distance, I will miss the space we have in our flat. I will miss the lifestyle we have been able to afford. I will miss my friends.

 

I know I am doing the right thing going home; I couldn’t bear to imagine the alternative. I have had a hard year in lots of ways. We all have them. Going home is faced with its own challenges: unpacking, cramming all of our stuff into a two up, two down cottage, finding myself a job. I am surprised to realise that I will have to adapt, to settle back in. But I am looking forward to starting up my life again in my beloved Essex. I have not liked living in Vienna but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it as a place. There is a grace and a grandeur about it. I respect it. But there’s no place like Essex.

Auf Wiedersehen Vienna, from my Noah and from me. Over and out.

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There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
My Noah and Me

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The 15 Stages of Going Shopping with your 3 Year Old

1.When you originally decide to take your three year old on a shopping trip, your intentions will be good. The afternoons are so very long and there is a nice local shopping centre you can go to which has a little soft play area. This will kill a couple of hours. Your three year old needs some new paints to feed his Arts and Crafts habit and, while you are there, he can choose himself an advent calendar.

 

2.On the way to the shopping centre, after you have picked him up from kindergarten, your three year old will be hungry. He has just had a three course meal at nursery and you bought him a snack when you picked him up but, still, he will be “starving”. He will draw out his most effective weapon, a.k.a. the whinge. You inform him that if he is going to whinge, we will go straight home. There will be no paints. There will be no advent calendar. He stops immediately. Once or twice he forgets himself as you make your way to the shops, but after a stern look, the whinge turns into a pretend coughing fit. “Just coughing, Mummy,” he will enlighten you innocently.

 

3.As you stand in front of the Viennese shelves of advent calendars, you will be filled with jealous longing. There will be Lindt ones, there will be After Eight ones, there will be Ferrero Rocher ones. There will be advent calendars half a metre tall. You would very much like a grown up advent calendar. But you can’t buy one for yourself, can you? That would be ridiculous. As your son debates whether he wants a Smarites one, a Kinder one or a Mickey Mouse one, you will realise that this is the first year your own mother has not bought you yourself an advent calendar. How can I drop a big enough hint to my husband that he will go out and get me one of these advent calendars, you will wonder. Then you will have a brainwave – you will go home and write a blog about it. If that doesn’t do the trick, nothing will.

 

4. As soon as you have put your son’s advent calendar of choice (Kinder chocolate) into the shopping basket and are ready to move on to the stationery aisle to look for some paints, your son will need a poo. First of all you will check, “Do you really need a poo?” To which he will reply, “I really need a poo NOW!” You will have no option but to leave the basket with the advent calendar on top of a display of Playmobil and leave the shop.

 

5.When you return to the shop, you will discover that the poster paints are not in the aisle with the other paints: they are actually in the toy section. This means you will have to steer your three year old past countless shelves of toys before you get to your goal. You probably could have made it without incident, but, unfortunately, you happen to notice that Lightning McQueen (which is on a certain person’s Christmas list) has been reduced to €32 and it is currently £32 on Amazon, making it a significantly better buy over here. No matter that you have already blown the budget for your child’s Christmas presents. No matter that it looks as if you are going to have to pay £30 for a £13 Paw Patrol toy, the last one that you haven’t managed to get yet. You will step up to Lightning McQueen and check him out. Your son will innocently follow and will not be able to help but realise that he is surrounded by toys.

“Can I have a toy?” he will ask.

“No,” you will say firmly. “You’re getting paints and an advent calendar. That’s your treat.”

“But Star Wars!” he points to the Star Wars toys you have inadvertently drawn his attention to.

“Absolutely not.”

Then you will hastily move away to find the paints. It’s too late, of course. The Whinge has started up. It is constant and relentless. You still have to drag him to the supermarket. You are so very tired where you haven’t been sleeping well. You have no protection against The Whinge. Even though your husband will shake his head at you, even though one of your aunts (known as Witch 3) reads your blogs and infers you give in too much, you give in. But, in your defence, you will insist he pays for the extortionate €16.99 lightsaber (which doesn’t even light up) out of his pocket money.

 

6.When you get to the supermarket, you will be so completely loaded down, you will not be able to hold the shopping basket. You are holding your son’s scooter, your son’s hand, and the bag of shopping from the other shop. Your son will refuse to hold anything apart from the lightsaber.

 

7. The Whinge will pursue you the whole way around the supermarket. He wants you to open the lightsaber. There is no way on God’s earth you are letting your son loose in a supermarket with a maximum potential damage causing toy like a lightsaber. This, finally, is when you will lose your patience.

“Mummy, can you open my lightsaber?”

“No!”

“Why?”

“I’m busy!”

“But I want my lightsaber.”

“You’ll have to wait!”

Repeat conversation x 10.

 

8.When you get to the soft play area, there will be nowhere for you to sit. You drag a beanbag over to the wall and plonk yourself down next to a sticky patch. A three year old girl will come and sit next to you and apply her lip-gloss. Do three year olds wear lip-gloss these days, you will wonder in dismay. But no. It’s her sister’s lip-gloss. Said sister will then come over to your beanbag and start to grapple with said three year old for said lip-gloss.

 

9.Once your son has been in the soft play area for one minute and thirty seconds, he will inform you he is hungry. Luckily, you have bought him a kipferl (sweet, horn-shaped bread roll) in the supermarket. He happily takes the kipferl over to the television and watches Donald Duck in German while he enjoys his snack.

 

10.You will realise you haven’t eaten lunch.

 

11.You will smile at your child fondly as he tries to make friends with three older children who are coming down the slide with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists. Your heart will give a little squeeze as your son tries to converse with these children who don’t speak the same language and ignore him. You will feel relieved when your son discovers Lip Gloss Girl is willing to play. You will feel concerned when he chases her and rugby tackles her to the floor. An actual rugby tackle. That his father has taught him. Soft Play is always emotional.

 

12.When you decide it is time to go, you will struggle to get off the beanbag.

 

13.Once you manage to drag your son away from his new playmate and put his shoes back on, he will remember the lightsaber. Despite you shouting after him, he will launch into the (very small) soft play area brandishing this weapon about, whacking the other children and generally pissing them off.

 

14.You will be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Tony from O2 better not ring you to inform you that your mobile phone is eligible for an upgrade, not after you get a phone call telling you this every single day, not after you have told them several million times that you are not living in the country and therefore do not need an upgrade. Tony from O2 is going to get his head bitten off.

 

15.When your husband gets home from work, he will raise his eyebrows at you as your son darts about sweeping his lightsaber across the sky.

“Where did this come from?” he will ask your son but really be asking you.

“The shops. Mummy got it. At first she said no but then I was whingeing and she did say yes.”

Thank you very much for that, my Noah.

20151117_145010[1]
The force is strong in this one

Mums' Days
Mami 2 Five

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.


The Adventure of the Day Trips: Dinosaurs and Dürnstein

This weekend we hired a car and got out and about a bit in Austria. And it was good. It was a good weekend. But since becoming parents, a good weekend inevitably involves a lot of hard work, a little bit of bickering and leaves us absolutely knackered for the week ahead. C’est la vie.

A couple of weeks ago, I went into the local shopping centre and was confronted by four gigantic, green, scaly feet with claw-like toenails. I tilted my head back, craned my neck around and discovered a dinosaur reaching up the entire three floors of the building. But what is this? I wondered excitedly. Is something dinosaur-themed coming to our very doorstep?! Something new to entertain Noah with?! Hooray! I noticed some information on a placard near the dinosaur. It was an advert for something called Dino Live. I snapped a picture of the info on my mobile and hurried home to put it all into Google Translate. I went to the website and discovered it was a dinosaur exhibition, but, alas, it was about 45 minutes outside of Vienna. So when we decided to hire a car for a weekend of excursions, I naturally thought about going to the dinosaurs.

So on Saturday morning, I crammed Noah’s lunch bag full of snacks and Noah duly packed himself some toys in his Postman Pat rucksack and a felt watering can (which is actually mine and is supposed to have Peter Rabbit in it…). I packed Noah the following snacks: a pot of grapes, carrot sticks, a cheese and pickle sandwich, raisins, dried apple chips, a kipferl (sweet, horn-shaped bun), a packet of 3 plain biscuits, a yogurt, a babybell, a peach, a Humzinger, a cereal bar and some cheesy breadsticks. Noah packed everything on the surface of the table which his train set is on apart from the track (several trains, cars, a runway, roadsigns, a crane, a helicopter, a boat…) and odd bits of Playmobil which were so tiny I will probably never be able to find them again. All this would come in very handy at the dinosaur exhibition.

Noah has recently become a bit (okay, a lot) whingey. I very much hope it is a phase because it absolutely does my head in. He started on the way there. Having eaten his grapes, raisins and kipferl within the first ten minutes of the journey, he then wanted one of the choc chip buns that my husband was eating in the front seat. I didn’t have one for him. He couldn’t possibly be hungry. The whinge started up, loud and relentless. “I’m switching my ears off! I don’t listen to whinging!” I declared and pressed an imaginary button on each ear. Noah then took offense to the music on the radio station and started up with, “I don’t like that song. Turn it off. I want another song.” Repeat times 100. Unfortunately, despite having turned my ears off, I could still hear him.

I thought the dinosaur exhibition would be quite good. I surmised this for the following reasons:

  1. The dinosaur I saw in the shopping centre was impressive and, presumably, expensive. Impressive and expensive advertising usually means an impressive and expensive event. Right?
  2. The Arena Nova (where the exhibition is set up) looked gigantic on the website.
  3. The website showed pictures of children inside dinosaur eggs so I imagined it was going to be quite interactive.

When we pulled up to the Arena Nova, we were directed to a small building alongside it which looked like a cheap hotel… nay, it was a cheap hotel, designed by someone who had a liking for corrugated iron. It was in the middle of what looked like an abandoned industrial estate. The exhibition was okay. It consisted of various large models of dinosaurs. It was a bit like a dinosaur Madam Tussauds, but the dinosaurs weren’t made of wax. Not like Madam Tussauds then. There was also a room playing a short film about dinosaurs, some rows of tables where you could colour in a dinosaur (I did) and a tightly packed row of four dinosaur rides (the type you get outside a shop). We paid 5 euros to get our picture taken on a dinosaur but there were no dinosaur eggs for Noah to climb in and create mischief. Within 20 minutes we were done, but we decided to go around another time and eek an hour out in there. Basically, it was okay. Noah enjoyed it well enough. But it was underwhelming.

Noah and the dinosaurs. He wasn't really glowing, I just have no idea how to use the settings on my camera.
Noah and the dinosaurs. He wasn’t really glowing, I just have no idea how to use the settings on my camera.

On Sunday, we drove to Krems, a little town on the Danube, about an hour outside Vienna. From there, we got a boat along the Danube to a picturesque little town called Dürnstein. On the way, my husband showed me a picture of some ruins of an old castle on the hill at the top of the town and informed me there was a pathway leading up to it from the centre. I agreed to have a look, thinking Noah would be interested in looking around an old castle. It was also the castle where Richard the Lionheart was kept prisoner. Unfortunately, as soon as we got off the boat, Noah decided he wanted to go home. He refused to walk or scoot and further. “We’re going to an old castle to look for a dragon,” I told him. He was suddenly much more willing to move.

We walked up the cobbled streets of the town, past various shops selling tacky souvenirs, and eventually happened across the pathway to the top. Except, I really wouldn’t call it a pathway, it was more like one long, uneven, ancient, broken set of continuous stairs. Some of the steps came up to my knee. Noah was having none of these stairs so my husband put him on his shoulders. He also had a rucksack on his back and carried Noah’s scooter. What possessed us to bring the scooter? I have no idea.

When I was 6 months pregnant with Noah, I was diagnosed with a problem with my pelvis called SPD which affects 1% of pregnant women. It was uncomfortable when I walked. I had a couple of sessions with a physio and was assured it would go away once Noah was born. It didn’t. It was far, far worse. The birth also resulted in a small tear in my hip. Noah was 7 months old before I could walk normally, without feeling any pain at all. Three years later, it hardly ever bothers me apart from when I (a) attempt to go for a run (b) do any kind of high impact/high resistance exercise or (c) as I discovered yesterday, climb up an ancient set of stairs for 20 minutes in order to see some old ruins.

Half way up, my left hip had stiffened and that leg decided it wasn’t going to support this adventure up the stairs any more. The top of both legs ached the whole way around my groin (sorry, I hate that word but I put it into the thesaurus and nothing else came up!). I stopped for a little rest on a boulder and rooted around in my bag for my drink. It wasn’t there. I must also mention that it was 30 degrees. The following conversation ensued:

Me: (to husband) Where’s my drink?

Husband: I don’t know.

Me: What do you mean you don’t know? I asked you to put it in my bag.

Husband: You didn’t.

Me: I did! When we were on the boat, I put it in your hand and asked you to put it in my bag which was around your side of the table. You took it and said okay.

Husband: I didn’t hear you!

Me: Well, that’s just typical. What did you do with it?

Husband: I poured it into my water bottle. If you want a drink, have some of mine.

Me: (enraged) I will not! When have you ever known me to drink out of anyone’s water bottle?!

Husband: If you really need a drink, there’s one here. Don’t cause an argument over a bottle of water.

Me: I’m not causing an argument. You are!

Husband: That’s it! Let’s go home! Let’s go and get on the next boat! The day is ruined!

Noah: (voice of calm and reason) No, Daddy. Mummy hasn’t ruined it. We can’t go home, we still haven’t found the dragon! Mummy, have some of Daddy’s drink!

Three years ago, I would have abandoned the quest to get to the ruins and stormed back down the stairs. My husband would have stormed down after me. We would then have spent the next twenty minutes in a stormy silence until I had some wine and/or chocolate and my husband had some food. Then we would have made up. But it was not three years ago, and Noah would have been upset if I stormed off. The boy wanted to see the dragon so I carried on up to the top, walking like a crab (i.e. sideways) with my right leg leading. By the time we eventually got there, Noah’s own mood wasn’t too hot either. In his eagerness to refuse to do anything he was told, he forgot about the dragon entirely, which is fortunate because I’m not sure what story I would have had to concoct in order to explain why the dragon wasn’t there.

Naturally, when we got to the car at 4pm, Noah was knackered and promptly fell asleep. Naturally, the knock on effect of this was that he went to sleep an hour and a half later that night. By the time I was eventually able to extract myself from his toddler bed, my whole body had ceased up.

But, still, it was a good weekend, my Noah.

Being strangled on the boat (just before my bottle of water bit the dust)
Being strangled on the boat (just before my bottle of water bit the dust)


10 Things I Now Know About Taking a Three Year Old to McDonald’s (In Vienna)

Today I took Noah out for his first McDonald’s. Here are 10 things that I learnt:

  1. If you are walking or relying on public transport, a lunchtime McDonald’s is better than a 4 o’clock one. 4pm is the start of Noah’s witching hour (or three), the time when all of his inner demons surface at once. I should always be home by this time, but, somehow, I never learn.
  2. The main appeal of a Happy Meal is the toy. The toy should come inside the box with the food. If the toy is waved in front of the child’s nose by the (un)helpful serving lady before you have even got to the counter to order, then the food has no real appeal.
  3. Think about the reasons you have decided to go to McDonald’s. Does your child like fast food? Does your child desperately need another piece of tat (i.e. the toy) to take home? Do you yourself enjoy McDonalds? If the answer to these questions is no and the only reason you wanted to go to McDonalds in the first place was to get a strawberry milkshake which you haven’t had for about five years but now desperately need, I suggest you find somewhere else that sells milkshakes and go there instead. This is what happened when I attempted to order a strawberry milkshake:

Me: Can I have a strawberry milkshake, please?

Serving Lady: Eh?

Me: A strawberry milkshake, bitte?

Serving Lady: Milk? No. Fanta? Coke?

Me: Coke light, please, bitte.

  1. If you order ketchup because you know your child won’t even contemplate the idea of eating chips without ketchup, make sure the ketchup is given to you before you go and sit down and lay all the food out. When we finally found a seat in a far corner of the restaurant, I opened Noah’s box of nuggets up, tipped some chips in and then discovered there was no ketchup. “Where’s my ketchup?” Noah asked. “They don’t have ketchup,” I replied. A fist full of chips was thrown on the floor along with “I want ketchup!” I had to leave the food out, willing that no one come and clear it up, take Noah and his scooter to the counter, queue up, ask for ketchup, get charged 30 cents for ketchup which I surely must have just paid for 5 minutes ago, and then return to the table to face a now freezing cold chicken burger.
  2. If there is the choice of sitting in a hard and uncomfortable booth, or some large comfy-looking bucket chairs, go for the booth. The bucket chairs are big, therefore optimise the opportunity for lounging and reduce the opportunity for eating. They are also screwed to the ground, making it uncomfortable if you need to keep leaning over to force feed your child unhealthy food.
  3. Even if you took your child to the toilet mere seconds before ordering the food, he will need to go again before the meal is over…in fact, before the meal has really been started. After Noah had eaten one chicken nugget and two chips, he lay across the chair and casually told me he needed a poo. “Are you sure?” I demanded, shoving my chicken sandwich in my mouth as quickly as I could, because there was no way I was taking it to the toilet with me. I sniffed the air: Noah smelt like he needed a poo. I picked up Noah’s food and attempted to put it back in the box with minimal loss of ketchup. I then headed to the toilets. Half way there he had changed his mind about the poo and wanted to go home instead. I found another table and unpacked his food again, telling him we weren’t going home until he had finished his dinner (because there was no way in hell I was going home to cook him another meal after this experience). Five minutes later (i.e. half a chicken nugget and five chips later) he needed a poo again. I repacked the food, took him to the toilets, sat him down and waited. He didn’t do a poo.
  4. Listen to your child when asking him whether he wants chicken nuggets or a cheeseburger. If your three year old is anything like mine, he will know his own mind with 100% confidence. If the boy asks for a cheeseburger, get him a bloody cheeseburger.
  5. Don’t promise your child ice-cream before you get your facts straight. Seeing as I had failed to get my milkshake, I decided a McFlurry would more than make up for it. I coaxed Noah into eating his Happy Meal with the promise of an ice-cream afterwards. I have actually given up chocolate but I decided the pieces of chocolate in McFlurries are too small to actually count as chocolate. After the failure to communicate my desire for a strawberry milkshake at the counter, I decided to opt for the self-service ordering machine for our desserts. I put my card in the machine. I selected the English option. I selected desserts. I selected a Kit Kat McFlurry. I was told it was not possible because the grill was in use. Not to be deterred by such a random obstacle, I selected a Smarties McFlurry instead. Again, not possible because the grill was in use. I dragged Noah to the counter. “McFlurry?” I asked pointing to the blatant McFlurry machine. “No,” the woman said, and turned to the next customer. I was now left with the task of finding Noah his promised ice-cream. Four shops later, he got one.
  6. If you are relying on walking or public transport, check the weather. If that is too organised for you to manage, always carry the umbrella you got for Christmas in your mummy bag with you. What do you mean, you don’t know where it is?
  7. Don’t expect your child to be grateful for this outing. After we had got soaked waiting for the bus, then had an incident getting off the bus because Noah had lost one of his shoes, and I was then dragging Noah home on the scooter in the pouring rain, he announced: “Mummy, this is a DISASTER!”

Any time, my Noah. And, actually, comparing this outing to some of our other adventures (E.g. The Adventure of the Prater on the Boiling Hot Afternoon, The Adventure of the Eurovision Village and the Balloon, The Adventure at Zoom Ocean), it wasn’t a disaster at all.

I need a poo
I need a poo


Mums' Days

The Adventure of Extreme Weather in Vienna

It is so hot in Vienna at the moment, I can hardly function. I have never experienced heat like it. The cold tap runs warm. Sleep is impossible. It’s unbearable to be inside. Outside is worse. According to BBC weather, tomorrow it’s going to be 39 degrees. I am dreading it. Afternoons are mostly spent in front of the television with our wonky wretched fan attempting to circulate cool air. Noah spends all afternoon naked, apart from his Mickey Mouse slippers. I spend most of the afternoon arguing with Noah when he insists on turning the fan off or dragging my friend the fan around after me from room to room.

As Austria is land locked and there are no beaches, it compensates by having outdoor swimming pools. There are lots of them and some of them are beautiful, right on the side of a mountain with miles and miles of countryside around. I have only ever been to one swimming complex, Stadionbad, which is in the Prater (click here to see what the Prater is and what else is there). There is a bus right behind our apartment building which takes us straight there. Stadionbad is the more chavvy outdoor pool but I don’t mind. I’m an Essex Girl. I shop at Lakeside and like it. Stadionbad is the Lakeside of swimming pools, everything you need on your doorstep.

Stadionbad costs 5 euros for the day. Noah is free. It has an Olympic sized swimming pool, which I have never been near. It has a shallow pool which has a wave machine once an hour. It has two water shoots. It has a big curve shaped pool with a shallow end and deep end and it has an ankle-deep kids pool. Surrounding these pools is lots and lots of grass, shaded by numerous trees. People bring their own sunbeds, chairs, umbrellas, tents, plastic tables and they are set up for the day. On Saturday my husband had to work all day. I couldn’t face the thought of the whole day indoors, so I decided to brave Stadionbad on my own with Noah.

Swimming pools really aren’t my thing. In fact, I hate them. I hate getting wet. I hate how your swimming costume bottom stays wet for the rest of the day, no matter how hot it is. And don’t get me started on public pools. I don’t mind proper swimming as there is a purpose and benefit to it, but larking around in a swimming pool is not my idea of fun. If I sound like a misery, when it comes to swimming, I absolutely am. Noah’s swimming education is my husband’s domain. He takes Noah to his swimming lesson every week during his lunch hour. So I was really taking one for the team when I told Noah I’d take him swimming on Saturday.

When I opened my eyes on Saturday morning, I’d changed my mind about swimming. Maybe we could go to the Prater instead? Maybe Noah could go on a few rides and go in the playground? Then Noah came running in and scrambled over me, settling his naked self in the middle of the bed. “Mummy, are we going swimming today?” he asked, bouncing up and down. “Yes,” I sighed, “We are.”

Before he left for work, my husband gave me a lecture. He told me Noah is capable of swimming on his own. I mustn’t hold on to him all of the time. I must let him jump in on his own. I must take him on the slide. I should encourage him to do his “rocket” and his “engine”. He only needs to wear two of the armband floats rather than three. “Maybe I’ll tell him the slide is shut?” I suggested hopefully. “Don’t be ridiculous,” my husband said, looking at me from underneath his lowered eyebrows.

The first challenge of the day was putting sun cream on my own back. I enlisted Noah’s help which resulted in so much sun cream going over my swimming costume that I had to change into a different one.

When we got to Stadionbad, I spread our picnic blanket out under a tree and we were ready for the pool. But wait…I had encouraged Noah to bring his scooter. I was worried about leaving it there for anyone to come along and take it. How could I live in Vienna without it? I draped our towels over it, trying to make it look like a chair rather than a scooter and hoped for the best.

All ready for the pool
All ready for the pool

We went in the big pool and it was cold. It was only ten thirty and the pool hadn’t warmed up yet, despite the heat. Noah clung to me. He refused to show me his rocket or his engine. He refused to jump in. He refused to swim. I was at a loss. My imagination stalled drastically. What do people do in swimming pools with their children? I tried Pop Goes the Weasel, which is all I remember from my own swimming experiences at three years old, but Noah wasn’t a fan.

So we went on the slide. I don’t know if it’s because I have such a flat bottom (I am the direct opposite of Kim Kardashian. She got my share of bottom muscle/flesh, I’m sure of it. No one has a bum that big), but I always find these slides uncomfortable. My sitting bones bomp uncomfortably over each join in the plastic (i.e. every metre). Although Noah is a big fan of the slide, he is not a fan of the steps leading up to the slide, which have soggy bits of grass all over them. He is not a fan of the black rubber mat you stand on whilst getting on the slide. He is not a fan of the water that rushes out of the top of the slide. But still, we went on the slide five times. It was then 11.30 and I could claim it was lunchtime. And my bum was bruised.

A small roll for lunch
A small roll for lunch

After lunch, I wondered what we could do next. Noah made a half-hearted attempt to play in the little playground (two swings, some springy chicken things, a roundabout and a sandpit) but it was too hot and he ended up sitting on the grass gazing at the other children, chewing the ears on his toy lion. I took him to the shop so he could choose himself a swimming pool toy to keep him occupied. He’d seen a boy with one of those long thin float tube things and coveted it, but he didn’t choose that, he chose a water gun. We went to the kids’ pool and he played with the gun happily for ten minutes, taking great delight in squirting me. But then he threw the gun down and sat on the side watching it drift away, elbows on his knees and his chubby fist pressed into his chubby cheek.

What else was there to do? We got an ice cream and went back to pack up our stuff. Noah laid on the picnic rug sleepily and refused to move. I felt his pain. There was nothing I wanted to do more than lie down on that rug and have an afternoon siesta. But if he sleeps at lunch, he is up till nine and I love the boy dearly but I don’t need his company till nine o’clock at night. So I picked up the rug and rolled him off. Then I put him on the scooter, which no one had stolen, attached the scoot n pull and dragged him home.

The moral of this story is, always leave the swimming to my husband. I am much better as a fond observer.

My Noah and I are looking forward to Thursday when it’s going to drop to a chilly 26 degrees.

A much needed new bit of tat
A much needed new bit of tat



The Twinkle Diaries

The Adventure of Being a Mother with an Overactive Imagination

I am inclined to see drama and disaster in everyday things. It’s my vice. Never do my Mum and Dad board a plane home after a visit to Vienna, without me feeling a chill as I consider the fact the plane might fall from the sky. Highly unlikely. But possible. My husband often goes out for a run. Sometimes he is longer than he says he will be. A lot longer. Has he been hit by a car? Has he collapsed? No, he simply decided to do ten miles more than he had planned, but I am scouring the internet for reports of local accidents, or ready to call an ambulance (I don’t know the phone number for the police). My husband fondly calls me “a lunatic”; my mother fondly calls me “a pessimist”. I like to call it having an overactive imagination. Never is my disaster-inclined imagination rifer than when it comes to my Noah.

It’s very hot in Vienna at the moment and Noah has a slight fever. The top windows in his bedroom lift out. I wanted my husband to remove them in time for Noah’s bed, but my husband is AWOL at work. I got the stepladder out but I couldn’t reach them. So I have opened the bottom window, guaranteeing myself a sleepless night tonight even though it is far more likely Noah will suffer in the heat than fall out of the window. This leads me on to the first of the top 10 things I am constantly (irrationally) afraid of:

  1. Noah falling out of the window

We live on the third floor. By third floor, I actually mean fifth floor, because there are two weirdly named floors before the first floor (the names probably aren’t weird at all if you speak German). Anyway, we live a long way up from the ground. Our windows open straight out and if you should accidentally fall out of one, you are a gonner. When we first arrived, we insisted on a lock and chain being put on all of the windows. The locksmiths puzzled over this for weeks, as if the request were previously unheard of. My Mother (the very same one who calls me “a pessimist”) would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about Noah falling out of the window. She hounded me about this like crazy so I hounded my husband and he reluctantly hounded the locksmith and we ended up with windows that only open an inch unless you release the catch which is too stiff and fiddly for three year old thumbs to master. And yet. Tonight I will worry that Noah will get out of bed, drag a climbing device across his room to the window, open the curtains, lift up the blind, master the unmasterable window lock and throw himself out of the window. It’s never going to happen. But I am already imagining it.

  1. Noah throwing himself off the balcony

We have a very small balcony which overlooks the picturesque view of the rubbish bins at the back of the building. I only ever use it to hang washing over the clotheshorse. The balcony has apparently been child-proofed. That means it has had a Perspex sheet fitted around the iron bars, secured with plastic cable ties. In my mind, the balcony is anything but child-proof. Noah is forbidden from going out there but Noah is a child for who rules are made to be broken. We often have the balcony door slightly open because of the heat. I have been known to sit bolt upright in bed, just as my husband is falling asleep, and question whether the balcony door has been closed. Throwing the word “lunatic” over his shoulder, my husband throws the sheets off, stomps across the room and goes to shut the door. Why would Noah get out of bed in the middle of the night, find his way to the balcony, get himself a climbing device and throw himself off? He wouldn’t. But I cannot sleep if I know the balcony door is open.

  1. Running into the road

When we are out and about in Vienna, we always have Noah’s scooter in tow. He knows to stop at the roads and he does stop at the roads. But sometimes he lets go of the scooter and it rolls away. What if it rolled into the road and Noah, unthinking, dived after it and a car was coming? I worry about this every day.

  1. Coughing in the night

Sometimes Noah has a ten second coughing fit in the night and then there is silence. It always wakes me up. He has probably rolled over and gone back to sleep but I long to go in there and check he is okay. I am awake for quite some time, listening carefully for any noise. The reason I don’t go in there is because it is entirely possible that Noah is wide awake and me walking into his room will remind him of my existence resulting in him demanding the pleasure of my company until he falls back to sleep (which could take hours).

  1. Toys in the bed

Noah likes to take his toys to bed with him and he likes to put them in his mouth. He is not allowed to take his die-cast cars to bed with him in case the wheels come off in his mouth and choke him. But what if there is one in the bed and I haven’t noticed? The same applies to coins.

  1. Eating apples

Noah’s preferred way of eating an apple is whole with the core taken out and the skin removed. Sometimes he has an apple while I am getting ready in the mornings. I have been known to get out of the shower half way through washing my hair to check he hasn’t choked. I like to be in the room when he is eating that notoriously dangerous food, the apple.

  1. Sleeping well

Nothing freaks me out quite like Noah sleeping well. It’s so unexpected that I wonder if there is a catch. Is he okay? Has something happened to him? My emotional capacity lasts until seven-thirty and then I send my reluctant husband in to check on him which usually wakes him up.

  1. Something happening to him at kindergarten

Noah’s kindergarten is nothing like the nursery he went to in England. Noah comes home with scratches, bite marks, bruises, bloody knees and the kindergarten staff look confused on the odd occasion I ask them how he came across these injuries. In England, there would be an incident report giving a blow by blow account of the crime which I would have to sign as soon as I arrived to pick Noah up. When they go to the park, there is a member of staff at the front and one at the back. In between the children go marching two by two. That’s seventeen children between the ages of one and three, walking along a main road and crossing it to get to the park. Nothing ever happens to these kids; all the kindergartens here do it. But the UK nursery is my safety benchmark and the kindergarten here falls significantly short of it.

  1. Someone stalking and stealing Noah

For several reasons, I decided to put my Noah’s name and photographs on the World Wide Web and start up this blog. Some mummy bloggers (and there are thousands of us) don’t use their children’s names. Some don’t even use photographs. I made a conscious decision to use Noah’s name and to share facts about our lives. But what if someone starts reading my blog (a real bonafide lunatic rather than a novice one like me) and uses the details to stalk us and becomes obsessed with my Noah and takes him one day whilst I am daydreaming in the park?

  1. Adjusting badly when he starts school

In this instance, I am worried about Noah’s emotional safety rather than the physical. Noah isn’t starting school for another 14 months and already I am worrying about how he will adjust. He has been potty-trained for a year now and he still won’t go to the toilet at nursery. Will this pass by the time he starts school? Or will he hold his wee for seven hours instead of three? Since we moved to Vienna, Noah has not been looked after by anyone but me and my husband. If we get a babysitter for a night out, we cannot start getting ready until Noah is soundo: he somehow sniffs it out and refuses to go to sleep. Will he be one of those children who cry every day when their mother leaves him at the school gate? He cried for a month when he started kindergarten here. But everyone has to start school, don’t they? It’s an important life stage. Of course, what I am really worrying about here is my own emotional safety – my baby starting school? How will I cope?

All this isn’t that crazy is it? All mothers worry about their children, right? I’m not a lunatic or a pessimist really, am I?

Don’t talk to strangers, my Noah.

I wish Noah could wear armour every day
I wish Noah could wear armour every day

The Adventure of Dealing with Playground Bullies

Between the ages of eighteen months and two years, my Noah was the biggest bully around. He could not be in the company of other children without attacking one of them. He would push, smack, bite, pull hair and, most baffling, grab a child’s face in his grubby little paw (usually around the mouth/nose area) and try to pull it off. On playdates, he would invariably pick up the heaviest object he could find and smash the other child on the head with it. In the park, he would casually walk up to a child and push him or her over and then stride off as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

Is this the face that launched a thousand toddlers off their feet?
Is this the face that launched a thousand toddlers off their feet?

He made no allowances for age or size: a new-born baby was as likely to be his prey as an eleven year old boy. Going to a friend’s house was a nightmare. Going to playgroups was a nightmare. Going to the park was a nightmare. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t make him stop. All I could do was permanently hover around him anticipating his next move and launch myself at him if I thought he was about to strike.

And yet, the irony was, he absolutely loved being with other children.

Soon after we got to Vienna, I joined an English speaking toddler group. They would sing, have a story, do a craft activity, have a snack, play with toys and then have more singing. I paid for a block of six sessions. It wasn’t cheap (€14 for a session), but I only ended up going to four. I just couldn’t bear it any more. Before we went go in to the hall, I would crouch in front of Noah and remind him no hitting, no pushing, otherwise we go home. I remember the last session we went to. Noah had taken his little toy giraffe with him, his favourite comforter at the time. A little girl, about eighteen months old, kept coming over and trying to snatch it off him. I told her not to and even found another toy to try to fob her off with, but she was determined to get Noah’s giraffe. Not once did her mother tell her not to try and take it, she just looked on, amused. But I knew what was coming. When she finally got it off him and refused to give it back, Noah finally had enough of her and pushed her hard. She went flying backwards and smashed her head on a table leg. Everyone gasped. I helped the girl back up and then turned to remonstrate with Noah, but I was too late. He grabbed a baby’s face from behind, one hand on each cheek, and just pulled. The baby’s mother screamed. I walked out and never went back.

I hated that other parents would look at my child and dislike him and think he was naughty. I hated that I was so helpless to stop him and that other parents looked at me and thought I was weak and ineffective. I hated the traitorous thought worming its way through the back of my mind: would my son grow up to be a bully? Does he have behaviour problems, I wondered? I thought about all of the teenagers I had taught. Was he going to be one of those? Was I going to be one of those parents constantly called up by teachers and summonsed to the school?

I phoned the health visitor. “They all do it,” she said. But not like Noah. She said it often happened when a child’s speech was underdeveloped, especially if the child was intelligent and had a good comprehension of the world around him. It was often a sign of frustration at not being able to communicate. And Noah’s understanding was far superior to his speech. In fact, it was when he started being able to put words together, just before he was two, that he finally stopped being a bully. Well, stopped being a bully to other children at least. He still lashes out at me and my husband.

Looking back, I also think it had something to do with moving to another country. It started when my husband moved to Vienna. Noah and I moved in with my parents for three months before joining him: I had to work out my notice.

Whatever excuses I am making for him, it was a phase and it passed.

“Would you rather your child was the bully or the bullied?” someone asked me at the time, when we were having a conversation about Noah’s behaviour. “The bullied,” I answered straight away.

And yet.

Twice this week alone, we have encountered playground bullies. The first was in a small soft play area in our local shopping centre. The little boy was about eighteen months old. Noah happily landed at the bottom of the slide and the other little boy lunged at him. He grabbed Noah around the collar and shook him. “Hey!” Noah said, outraged. Then the boy started pummelling his fists in Noah’s face. “Leave it, Noah!” I warned as I leapt across the room. The boy was half Noah’s size. If Noah wanted to, he could have floored him. But Noah didn’t lift a finger. He was simply outraged that the child was allowed to hit him without anyone telling him off. His mother was sitting at the side, looking at her phone. I tried not to judge. I have been that woman, after all. But still…

Then there was a little boy of about five in the park yesterday. He was a skinny thing with a blue checked shirt and a Luke Skywalker hairstyle. His grandmother was supervising him, but she was no match for this evil little Jedi. Noah was climbing up a ladder which leads to a log walkway which leads to a slide. Evil Luke positioned himself at the top of the ladder so Noah couldn’t climb up. “Hey!” Noah said angrily and tried to get around the boy. When Noah eventually got around him, he made his way to the log walkway. He’s a bit nervous of it. It’s a walkway of logs chained together, so it isn’t very secure. Noah likes to crawl under the logs to get across, but yesterday, he decided to be brave and climb over each log. Evil Luke ran over the logs backwards and forwards, making it impossible for Noah to move. Then he jumped up and down making Noah’s log sway dangerously. I went charging over. “Nein!” I shouted at him. “Nein, bitte!” This is as far as my German extends. Evil Luke smirked at me and stood there watching as I helped Noah across the logs. I went to sit down as Noah whizzed down the slide and then ran back to the ladder to start all over again. I wasn’t sitting down for a minute before Evil Luke was back tormenting my son. I glared at him and glared at his grandmother. I didn’t like the boy. He was old enough to know better. But still…how do I know what is going on in that boy’s life to make him behave that way? Are some children just not very nice? And what if my Noah decides to pick up his bullying mantle once more and becomes that boy when he is five?

So would I rather Noah was the bullied or the bully? I still say the bullied. For I have been the mother on both sides and there is nothing worse than someone looking at your small, perfect, beautiful child with disdain.

May your bullying days be fully behind you, my Noah, and may you always stand up to bullies.

May the force be with you, Noah, and not with any bullies
May the force be with you, Noah, and not with any bullies


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