10 Differences Between Going for a Job Interview Before and After Having Children (and a Career Break)

Until last week, I hadn’t been in a classroom for two years and three months. It’s safe to say, I am not at the top of my (teaching) game. In fact, when you take my maternity leave into consideration, I have only spent eight months out of the past four years teaching.

Before I had Noah, I was responsible for Key Stage 3 in English (that’s years 7-9 for non-teaching folk). At that stage in time, it was exactly where I wanted to be and I gave it everything I could. When I went on maternity leave, I didn’t dream that once I had a child, I would want to abandon my post and work part-time. But once Noah was here, I could not bear the idea of being away from him so many hours of the week, let alone doing a job where I had to give so much of myself. Teaching is a blood, sweat and tears kind of job and I was already bleeding, sweating and crying profusely just being Noah’s mother. So I left. Temporarily.

And now I’m back. I want to pick up where I left off. When I saw a job advertised for second in department at a secondary school that is a mere hundred footsteps away from the primary school Noah will hopefully be going to in September, I decided that was the job for me. Obviously. What could be more perfect? So I went to the interview and the Head came over to introduce himself to me and the other candidate. As he shook our hands, he clearly wanted to acknowledge that he knew something about each of us already. I was “the one who had been abroad for two years” and the other guy was “the one who had achieved ground-breaking GCSE results at a school where he was already second in department”. And I realised, quite calmly (a bit like how I imagine having an epiphany would be with sunshine and soulful music), that this was a one horse race: I was the horse who didn’t even cross the starting line.

The whole experience of applying for a job, preparing to teach a lesson, standing in front of a class for the first time in two years and going through the interview process (as well as the epiphany) was all a bit draining. A lot draining.

Here are ten differences between a job interview before and after having Noah (and a career break):

Difference 1: Location

Before – I’d pretty much have worked at any school within a 45-minute radius of my house. I’d have had a look at the most recent Ofsted report, browsed the school website and if the role was right and the kids weren’t terrors, I’d have gone for the job.

After – I want to be close to my Noah. My husband works in London. My Dad works in London. My Mum works all over the place. I feel that someone has to be close to Noah whilst he is at school and naturally that person should be me. I’m not sure why my conviction is so strong on this point. It’s what I call my Mother’s Random Logic: weird and probably ungrounded, but intense nonetheless. I don’t want to be more than 20 minutes away from his school. And 20 minutes is a push.

Difference 2: First Reference

Before – When applying for a job in teaching, your first reference needs to be your current employer, i.e. the Head. It’s fairly obvious who to put down.

After – In absence of a current employer, your most recent must be approached as first reference. Unfortunately, the head at the school I worked at for four months just before going to Vienna has retired. I had to send several e-mails before I could ascertain who my first reference actually should be and it turns out it was someone who I have never met…

Difference 3: Availability

Before – When a school rang me up and offered me an interview, I could go. All I had to do was ask for the day off.

After – When the school rang me up and offered me an interview, I informed them I was free between 12.30 and 3.30 on that day. When the school informed me the interview process was actually a day-long thing, I had to find someone to look after Noah. My Dad was working, my Mum had a pupil on a driving test, my husband was going to a funeral. The nursery couldn’t take him for the morning because they were at full capacity. My aunt was a possibility but the issue was with the car seat and ferrying Noah to nursery. In the end, my husband missed the funeral.

Difference 4: Interview Attire

Before – I had a wardrobe full of work clothes. For all of my previous interviews in teaching, I wore a black suit with a jazzy accessory to show, you know, I really am quite jazzy. For the interview at my first school I accessorised with hot pink shoes. At my second, I accessorised with a cobalt blue blouse. At my third, I wore a frilly black and white blouse with a slightly Victorian feel about it.

After – I had absolutely nothing to wear. Absolutely nothing. All of my work clothes have spent the past two years festering in my Aunt’s loft. In anticipation of getting an interview, I ordered three dresses from the Oasis sale. When they arrived, every single one of them was too low cut to wear in the vicinity of teenagers. I then had to drag Noah around the high street, buying outfit choices from Next, Marks and Spencers and Dorothy Perkins, none of which I had time to try on until the morning of the interview. Luckily, one thing fit me: a black and white dress. There was nothing jazzy about it.

Difference 5: Level of Polish

Before – I was pretty well polished when I rocked up on the day of the interview. My hair was blow-dried, my make-up was subtle, my black suit was pressed.

After – I only put mascara on one eye because Noah came in and distracted my attention from the other eye by showing me he had put his own vest and socks on.

Difference 6: The Lesson

Before – I would plan the best lesson it was in my power to create. There at the forefront of my brain would be all the things I needed to include in the lesson: engaging but challenging activities, differentiation, SMSC elements (spiritual, moral, social, cultural), progress, learning objectives, assessment criteria…The list goes on. As soon as I found out the topic of my interview lesson, my brain would be buzzing with ideas. I would be nervous about the lesson, but once I got in front of the class, I switched into role and things came naturally.

After – My lesson was distinctly average. Things did not come naturally.

Difference 7: Interview Questions

Before – I could answer the questions. I knew a time when a child hadn’t done what I had asked of them because it had happened just the day before. I knew how the department would be affected by upcoming changes to the curriculum because it had been the topic of department meetings for months. I knew of a time when I had done something in my role which had made a significant change because I had done it last week.

After – I had a hazy notion I could deal with behaviour and had made positive changes in the past, but the details escaped me. When asked about a time a child hadn’t done as I asked, my Noah’s face loomed into my mind. I am yet to meet a teenager as obstinate as Noah. Teenagers at least pretend they are going to do what you have asked.

Difference 8: Truth and Lies

Before – When asked where I see my career going, I said Head of English. That was what I eventually wanted to be.

After – When asked what I want to be in 5 years’ time, I said Head of English. This is a lie. What I want to be in 5 years’ time is semi-retired from the profession. I want to be standing at the school gate as Noah walks into school and to be there again when he comes out. I want to be a professional writer. I want to have had two books published. I wouldn’t mind having a trophy on my bookshelf for best debut novel or something like that.

Difference 9: The proof was in the pudding

Before – I proved myself at the interview for teacher training, therefore I could train to be a teacher. I proved myself whilst training, therefore I could get a real teacher job. I proved myself at my real teacher job, therefore I could get a promotion with responsibility.

After – The pudding was at a banquet eaten two years ago. In fact, because of changing schools and going on maternity leave, the last set of GCSE results I got from a class that was mine from the beginning to the end of the course was in 2010. And those results were okay. But they weren’t ground-breaking.

Difference 10: The Job Offer

Before – I got every teaching job I went for. I am not blowing my own trumpet. First of all, before I was a teacher, I wanted to be an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company. I went for thirteen interviews before I actually became an Editorial Assistant. Secondly, I was the only candidate at one of my teaching interviews and the only sane candidate at another. But still…

After – Nein.


Have my seven years of teaching really been wiped off the slate? Maybe not all of them –  I have had several people contacting me about jobs since I came back. But not jobs that put me right back in the spot where I abandoned my career path. This is all part and parcel of the decision some mothers make to stay at home with their children. It is part and parcel of the decision I made to go to Vienna. For, after all, I was the one with the deciding vote. The hardest thing about being in Vienna (apart from being away from my family), was the feeling of being in limbo: I felt like I had left my life behind in England and had to live in a kind of in-between state of nothingness for two years. I thought we would come back to England and everything would magically be okay. Whilst I thank God every day that I am home, I hadn’t anticipated that settling back in would be so hard. There are so many changes, so many things that have to slot back into place. It will happen. I know it will. But it is taking longer than I thought. And I don’t regret leaving teaching to look after my Noah. I don’t regret it one bit, no matter how much it may have set my career back.

My non-jazzy interview attire. (Excuse the mess behind me – these are rejected interview outfits).

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

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.

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.

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.


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.

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 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.


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)

The Adventure of being a SAHM (Part 1)

For those of you who don’t know, a SAHM is a Stay At Home Mom. I write it the American way, because I am sure it was originally an American term. In December, I am moving back to England with Noah and I have been thinking about what I want to do on my return. As a result, I’ve been contemplating my life as a SAHM quite a lot. It’s something I never thought I would be. But here I am.

It’s not a glamorous job.

I have just looked in the mirror. I don’t do this as much as I used to. I no longer stand in front of the mirror when I brush my teeth: I make use of the time by sorting through the washing basket, wandering into my bedroom to get my clothes ready for the day or completing some other one-minute chore. I no longer give myself a full length once-over before I leave the house; it simply doesn’t enter my head. The only time I usually look in the mirror is when I brush my hair back into its daily ponytail, and even then, I only really look at my hair. When I do happen to look in the mirror for longer than five seconds, I am often horrified by how my eyebrows have overgrown without me noticing or by how dry my lips are or how my eyelashes seem to be growing thinner and fairer with age. Sometimes I pause there and try giving myself a smile. It’s horrific. My eyes have a slightly demonic glint – it’s the desperation in me to see the same reflection I would have four years ago. The skin is thinner around my eyes and puckers with the effort of the smile that quickly slides from my face. I don’t hate my appearance. I don’t fret about it. I am just slightly mystified by it.

So, I have just looked in the mirror (standing quite far away) and what I thought was this: have I become a Mumsy Mum? What does mumsy actually mean? I googled it and I found:

  • A woman who has an old fashioned appearance
  • A traditional mother
  • Dull
  • Unfashionable
  • Dowdy
  • Frumpy
  • Inelegant
  • An insult
  • Anti-feminist

Hmm. Poor Mumsy Mums.

Never have I felt more dowdy and inelegant as I did when I had just had Noah. My real clothes didn’t fit me. I was breastfeeding so clothes had to have easy access whilst at the same time being discreet. I made sure I had a shower every day but that was as far as my grooming progressed. I lived in leggings and baggy tops and UGG boots (so used they grew a shiny sheen). I put on just under two and a half stone when I was pregnant (quite normal I am told). After the birth, I immediately dropped a stone but the rest of it wasn’t going anywhere until Noah started weaning. I felt like a frump. I felt like the definition of Mumsy.

And yet…

I felt like I shouldn’t be a mum. Noah was always (a) distressed or (b) feeding. When guests came around, there were no snuggly newborn cuddles. Instead, I looked on desperately as he was passed around like a hot potato to see who could get him to stop crying. There was only one person and that was me, or more specifically, my boob. Health visitors and “experts” claimed babies should settle into routines of feeding every three hours. I was lucky to get an hour unattached. Despite this, he dropped from the 75th to the 9th percentile. I spent my whole existence, morning and night, feeding my child only for him to hover at the top of the 9th percentile for three months. I felt pressure to stop breastfeeding but I refused. I was failing him*. And then there was the love. The love I felt for my child. The desperation I felt to protect him. The load I carried in my mind of all the imaginings of bad things that could happen to him. I just didn’t know what to do with all that love. What had I been thinking, getting myself pregnant and having a child? I wasn’t cut out to be a mother!

*(Of course, I wasn’t really failing him. As he stayed in the 9th percentile, his weight gain was deemed “satisfactory”. We discovered at 3 months that his jaw was out of line. Once that was fixed, he piled on the pounds.)

So when I was looking my most mumsy, I was feeling my least mumsy. So much for that definition. I shall never use it again.

At my most mumsy...apart from the red boots
At my most mumsy…apart from the red boots

But, my appearance has changed since becoming a SAHM. I hardly ever wear make-up. I am always casually dressed. But what do I expect? I never go anywhere apart from to the shops, to the kindergarten and to the park. When I used to go to work, examining myself in front of the mirror was a vital part of the job. Did I have VPL? Who wants a thirteen year old girl sniggering at knicker lines on their backside? Not me. Was my top too tight? Was I showing any cleavage? Who wants a teenage boy distracted even more distracted from their lesson on Macbeth because he’s ogling their boobs? Most certainly not me!

And yet…

Do I buy less clothes since moving to Vienna and becoming a SAHM? Hell no. I buy clothes all the time to cheer myself up. Just ask my husband. He claims I will need to put some of my clothes in storage once we move back to our shoebox in Essex. Ha. What he doesn’t know is that half my clothes are already in storage – all of my work clothes – and they will be coming back out again when we move home. Clothes in storage? I don’t think so, dear.

When I move back to England, I am contemplating being more glamorous like my Mum and my sister. Maybe I will go for facials, get false eyelashes, get my nails done. I will certainly get my fringe cut more often and keep my roots blonde and shiny. Being a teacher isn’t a particularly glamorous job either, but I was always coordinated. In other words, I always had a necklace on to match my outfit. Now I don’t even know where half my necklaces are.

No, being a SAHM is not at all glamorous. But, it does have its blessings. The biggest blessing is time. Yes, a lot of my time involves the experience of tantrums, the hopeless emotional outpourings of a three year old boy. Here is a list of the tantrums I have lived through today:

5.15am – tantrum because I had taken the fan out of his room

8am – tantrum because I tried to force him to count the spots on the dice when we were playing his dinosaur board game and he couldn’t be bothered

1pm – tantrum because he wanted one of the chocolates my husband gave me for our anniversary last weekend and I had eaten the last one

4pm – tantrum because he didn’t want to wear his shoes to walk back from the park

5pm – tantrum because he wanted to use my iPad (I never even said he couldn’t!)

And when I say tantrum, I mean screaming at the top of his lungs. I mean having to avoid a few slaps and jabs. I mean him being inconsolable for at least 20 minutes. If I had gone to work today, I would have only experienced 40% of his tantrums. If I had gone to work today, I’d probably be feeling less fraught. I probably wouldn’t have just eaten four Oreos (I could have stopped at two). But I wouldn’t have been there on the way home from nursery when he decided to run through the sprinklers in the park. I wouldn’t have heard his squeals of glee and I wouldn’t have seen the delight on his face.

Undoubtedly, I have found being a SAHM hard. It has been that much harder because I am living in a foreign country. But it has been precious.

Who needs necklaces when I have my Noah? My darling boy who runs his hands over my face and says, “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, you’re so beautiful!”

True happiness
True happiness
A great way to cool down in 33 degree heat
A great way to cool down in 33 degree heat

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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 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


Ten Tips for Travelling with a Three Year Old

  1. When packing, don’t leave your suitcase unattended. I made this mistake yesterday. I returned to my half-packed suitcase and discovered two rubber ducks, fresh from the bath, dripping all over the neatly folded, ironed clothes. I also found a photograph of Noah and me in an “I love my Mummy” frame. There wasn’t room for it in his own suitcase, apparently, because he had packed every book on his bookshelf.
  1. Don’t be ready to leave for the airport earlier than necessary as this provides an opportunity for mischief to occur. We were all packed and ready with shoes on at 9.50 a.m., waiting for my husband to arrive to help us to the airport. Five minutes later, when he hadn’t turned up, I checked my phone and discovered he had texted me an hour before telling me we were leaving at 10.30 a.m. instead. What to do with the extra 40 minutes? I let Noah watch television. He claimed he was hungry. The only snack I hadn’t packed for the journey was a chocolate croissant. 30 degrees heat plus chocolate croissant equals an almighty mess on his clean clothes. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise until I was strapping him into his car seat.
  1. Your child will need to go to the toilet at the most inopportune times. I was at the self-check-in booth printing our boarding passes, gripping both passports and a notebook containing the booking reference. I had keyed half the details in, when Noah announced he needed a wee, grabbing his willy to accentuate the point. Every day without fail the boy holds his wee for over three and a half hours whilst at nursery, but that doesn’t mean he will choose to hold it when I really need him to. I abandoned the check-in and proceeded to the toilets. Again, five minutes before boarding, Noah did several stinky “botty pops”.

“Do you need a poo?” I asked.



“I don’t need a poo-poo!” he informed me indignantly, as if I were a simpleton.

Boarding was announced and he needed a poo. We rushed to the toilets. He didn’t do a poo.

  1. Avoid taking your child in the Duty Free Shop. Avoid this at all costs. This is difficult when a bottle of water costs €1.90 in the Duty Free Shop and €3.50 in the café. No matter how hard you try to steer your child away from the sweets, his beady little eye will seek them out. He will pick up a giant Toblerone. You will say no. He will pick up a giant tube of Jelly Belly. You will say no. He will pick up a clear plastic bag full of mini packets of Mentoes. You will say no. He will not take no for an answer and will refuse to put them back. An argument will ensue. He will flee the scene, still clutching the Mentoes. The shop has no walls, therefore your three year old will see no boundaries. You will have to chase him as he flees the scene of the crime, casting worried glances over your shoulder to check if any security guards are running after you, before rugby tackling him to the ground to retrieve the Mentoes.
  1. No matter how many activities you pack for the journey, your child will be fed up within an hour of boarding the plane. We had a colouring book and pencils, a sticker book, story books, a puzzle, his Vtech Innotab and a portable DVD player. The DVD player is the most handy (see point 8) but the volume does not go very high so he gets fed up of straining to hear Peppa on a plane, far sooner than he would if he were sitting indoors.
  1. Accept your child will eat far more sugar than they normally do. What else is there to do between check-in and boarding apart from bribing him to sit in a café and eat cake? On the flight, you will be offered a sweet (i.e. chocolate) or savory snack. If your child is paying attention and you choose the savory option, he will put you right in front of the air hostess, and inform her he will have the chocolate. He will also have undiluted apple juice. Also,if your parents, his loving grandparents, are picking you up from the airport, they will bring some sort of treat food (e.g. a muffin) for your child to snack on. There will also be promises of choc-ices after dinner. Which leads me on to…
  1. If your parents haven’t seen your child for a while, expect excessive behaviour. Yesterday, my mother outdid herself by greeting us in the arrivals hall by shouting our names whilst surrounded in a cloud of bubbles from a bubble gun. The bubble gun was Noah’s, of course, and he was absolutely delighted with it. I didn’t realise it at the time but the bubble gun was actually a godsend (see point 8). Apart from the bubble gun, my parents had bought Noah an array of garden toys: a trampoline, a new tent, a swing ball, a football and goal and a bug catching set (?!). Whilst they didn’t bring all of this to the airport with them, they did describe it to Noah in great detail, making his face a picture of rapture as he imagined it. He won’t miss the park this time we’re in England: he has his very own adventure land in the back garden.
  1. Your child will never fail to surprise you. On the way home from the airport, we got stuck on the M25 for four hours between junctions 24 and 25. When we eventually did get off, we were still miles away from home. Noah occupied himself with his DVD player and the bubble gun. To my delighted dismay, the boy was an absolute angel. He asked, mildly, a few times, why we weren’t moving. My back ached, my legs ached, I was mind-numbingly bored, I was hungry and thirsty and I needed to go to the toilet. I certainly felt like throwing my toys out of the pram, but my Noah completely put me to shame.
  1. Your child will be willing to wee in an empty apple juice bottle but under no circumstances will he poo by the side of the car. Noah took great delight in weeing in a bottle and claimed to need a wee every ten minutes or so until the novelty wore off. Later, he really needed a poo. He was a bit distressed by how much he needed a poo. We pulled out of the traffic, stopped beside a grassy bank and got him out of the car. He was unable to poo. He did wee all over my shoe, though.
  1. Sleep will be disrupted. Even if you set out with all the best intentions, booking flights in the middle of the day so you avoid early starts or late bedtimes as well as rush hour traffic, sleep will be disrupted in some way. Noah finally fell asleep in his car seat at 9pm. That’s 10pm in Veinna, three hours after he would normally be asleep. Then he kept waking up on and off until we got home and I carried him up to bed. He woke up this morning at 4.45am demanding breakfast. Seeing as he’d only had a series of snacks for dinner last night (a goodies bar, a satsuma and half a packet of biscuits), I had to allow him to get up and raid the kitchen cupboards at that unearthly hour.

I’m proud of your behaviour yesterday, my Noah.

Two cartridges were used on the journey home
Two cartridges were used on the journey home
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My Noah and Me

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