Are we nearly there yet?

The countdown is almost over. Never mind the sleeps, there are only three more drop-offs to go until the summer holidays.

And while six weeks in each other’s company is not always the bliss I imagine, the relief of being released from the nagging, cajoling, comforting and threatening that is needed to drag the boys from their beds to the school gates on time each day is compensation enough.

It is only the knowledge that the term is almost over that prevents our already glacial journey grinding to a halt altogether.

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Hopping to school

Chief holiday cheerleader is Kit, five. Having finally woken, he opens both eyes and sits up.
“Is it the holidays yet?” he asks.

The answer, alas, sets off the first strop of the day.

Ignoring it, I get out his and Alec’s shirts which until a month or so ago had seemed white and rather smart but are suddenly grey, grubby and sporting a yellow sun cream tide around the neck. There is a brief locking of horns over who wears the Friday socks before a relatively civilised descent to the breakfast table where Harry, seven, is already eating his cornflakes.

While I fetch the Weetabix, Kit gets in a sneaky joke (in contravention of a Bomford HQ cardinal rule).

“Why did the cow cross the road?”

“Because it wants to go to the cinema?” asks Alec

“No. To go to the moo-vies,” says Kit

“That’s what I said!” shouts Alec.

Harry intervenes to try to explain, but Alec cuts him off.

“Oh, fine,” he huffs.

Sensing that the rules are up for renegotiation, Alec then starts to demonstrate the school’s Brazilian song that everyone has been learning for assembly. Rather than all sing together, Kit and Harry add their versions on top of Alec’s, each slightly out of time and, of course, tune.

Against this cacophony can be heard a little squeak. It is my voice. I go to the mirror and breathe on it to establish some proof of existence.

“Kit, you’re singing over me!” shrieks Alec, much to Kit’s amusement until he realises Harry is doing the same to him whereupon he shouts, “Stop Harry!,” before running from the room crying.

My husband sounds the 10 minute warning and the boys are herded upstairs to brush their teeth. I accompany them while he waits downstairs ready to slap on sun cream and shoes.

“Five minutes!” he bellows, two minutes later.

To say that the children respond to our order-barking would be an exaggeration. In fact, no one appears to have heard a word. The greater the urgency, it seems, the slower they become.

“Did you know that Minnie Mouse is a girl and Micky Mouse is a boy?” asks Kit between brushes, oblivious to the sound of pacing downstairs.

Alec has poked his toothbrush down the plughole and Harry is brushing his chin. My husband appears in the bathroom looking tense and ushers Kit towards the stairs.

A few seconds later I hear Kit say: “Halt. Password!”.

There is a pause as my husband tries to remember previous ones in order to open Kit’s ‘barrier’ and get down the stairs.

“Please can I get past?”

“No.”

“Kit is King,”

“No.”

“I don’t know. We really need to be putting shoes on now.”

“Just guess!”

“Alright. 1234?”

“No!”

I sense Kit’s barrier may get blown off its hinges shortly. Luckily Harry comes to the rescue.

“Click your fingers,” he shouts and my husband is allowed past. His tread sounds rather heavy on the stairs.

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Kit is unimpressed by the demands of the school run

Alec is missing. I find him in his bedroom sorting out his Pokemon cards.

“I can’t find my best card,” he says wobbily. This is clearly a problem that can’t be hurried.

“One minute!” shouts my husband from below.

Thanking the lord for the fact that none of my sons is capable of finding anything located more than two centimeters from where they are searching, the card is quickly retrieved from under a nearby pile of World Cup stickers.

We rush down the stairs and I try to jam on Alec’s school shoes – not easy as one sole is flapping. The front door is already open and Harry is standing outside.

“Look Mummy, look!” he yells. “I’ve found a crystal.”

“Look!”

“Mummy, look.”

“Mumm-eee!”

I finally get the shoes on and turn round.

“Actually, I think it’s more of a brick than a crystal,” he says, tossing it into the flowerbed.

Kit emerges from the kitchen clutching the packed lunches, prompting Alec to run crying into the dining room.

“It was my turn to carry the lunch bags,” he wails.

By now my husband is quite agitated. One minute is definitely up.

Kit is persuaded to give Alec the lunch bags and they head for the door, trying to trip each other up.

“OUT!” roars my husband, just as one of Harry’s classmates and his family walk past our front gate.

“Hi!” we beam in unison.

My husband hoists the school bags onto his shoulder and trudges off down the path. Squeals, laughter and the sound of a lunch bag being used as a football can be heard all along the road.

I close the door. Silence.

Only three more days to enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

Going downhill

Ever since Alec and Kit learnt to ride their big bikes I have been looking forward to cycling together in the countryside with a picnic in the panniers and maybe a few bottles of ginger beer stashed away for good measure.

For years we have been circling our local park with various combinations of scooters, scoot bikes and big bikes until, finally, a day off and good weather have combined and we are on our first big family cycle ride.

Here's a (flat) cycle ride that happened earlier

Here’s a (flat) cycle ride that happened earlier

But despite the bluebells, sunshine and lovely forest, the Bomford ship is not a happy one.

An hour in, and we are convened around a picnic table in a crisis meeting. My husband is wearing his pained-but-patient look.

“Shall we just go home now?” he asks. “You’re obviously not enjoying yourself.”

The boys are uncharacteristically quiet.

“No,” I squeak. “Let’s carry on.”

Oh dear. Mummy is in a bit of a strop.

Despite almost eight years of parenthood I still haven’t learnt that these much anticipated big days out often don’t quite rise to the occasion. Today I haven’t got to grips with yet another soggy parade – and it’s been spotted.

Our adventure had started so well too, with high hopes and great excitement, especially as I would be hiring my own bike to accompany everyone.

“Don’t worry Mummy, “ said Kit, five. “I’ll help you because you probably aren’t very good.”

After a prolonged toilet trip and 10 minutes fiddling around with Alec’s helmet because apparently the strap makes him look like he has a beard, we are off. Or at least one of us is. Harry, seven, shoots up the path shouting: “I think I’ll try gear two. No, three!” Kit attempts to follow suit but wobbles against the incline while Alec instantly drops his bike to the floor. “I can’t go uphill,” he wails.

And so our ride begins with me trudging up the hill pushing two bikes. Shortly afterwards, my husband is doing the same. Every now and again Harry returns to us. “Why am I the only one cycling?” he asks, and whizzes off again.

At last we reach the top and a flat section beckons. Alec and Kit scramble onto their bikes and are off. This is it!

“Woo-hoo!” shouts Alec. “Our family bike ride!”

It is great – just like the Center Parcs adverts – smiling in the sunshine as we meander along a leafy track. We continue like this for a good two minutes.

I am so happy that we are moving that I fail to notice that Alec and Kit are doing so rather rapidly. As they hurtle downhill I realise that applying the brakes is something we should have discussed in more detail earlier.

“I can’t stop,” shouts Kit, rather unnecessarily. Alec is wobbling all over the path at high speed.

My husband hares after them and manages to throw himself in front of Kit. When I round the bend Alec and his bike are lying in a ditch by the path and a man with a pushchair is looking rather startled.

“He’s fallen off, ” says Harry.

Thankfully, everyone is in one piece. And, much to Alec’s disappointment, there are no wounds to display.

At this point we consult the map and discover that we have progressed along approximately three per cent of the family trail. Clearly it is time to abort the mission.

We push the bikes to the play area and search for a picnic table. The only available one is in the shade, which suddenly feels like the last straw. I sit munching my lunch in chilly silence while my husband retreats to a sunny stump.

“Where are the children?” he asks when he tiptoes back for his crisps.

“No idea,” I reply, somehow conveying that their welfare is no longer my responsibility or concern.

And so it was at this point that he suggested, not unreasonably, that it was time to head for the car.

Of course, we didn’t. Instead, I returned my bike to the hire shop and admitted, rather sheepishly, that I would not be requiring it for the full six hours after all. Armed with my refund, I brightened considerably.

Harry and my husband headed off on the extended family cycle route while Alec, Kit and I explored the woods.

It goes without saying that once we’d abandoned the day’s goal, everyone had a much better time – even me. I vowed that in the interests of enjoyment, expectations would be kept to a minimum on our next trip.

Harry returned exhilarated from his ride and Alec and Kit greeted him with enthusiastic chatter about their woodland adventures. Kit even managed to submerge his entire foot in the forest’s only patch of mud.

So honour, if not my dignity, was more or less satisfied. The boys returned to the car with cola ice lolly smeared across their faces, muddy trousers and tales of near-disaster to boast about. A good day out, by anyone’s standards.

“When are we ever going to go on a proper family bike ride?” asked Harry as we drove away.

Sometime soon, I reply – and it’s going to be brilliant.

My dinnertime dictatorship

It is suppertime at Bomford HQ. The boys have shuffled, protesting, from the television to the dining room. I have broken the news. It is tuna curry.

“Yes! The best meal ever!” says Harry, six, in a surprise development.

Alec’s face crumples. “Pooiest meal in the whole wide world,” he says, climbing despondently onto his chair and assessing his plate.

Economical with his language, he glances over at his twin brother, Kit, four.

“Ugh, Kit?” he inquires.

For once, it is not a double ‘ugh’ as Kit is already tucking into his meal. Two out of three – not a bad strike rate.  We only have one meal that they will all happily eat and I save that for swimming night, for obvious reasons.

Alec, four, immediately leaps off his chair clutching his trousers. “Need a poo!” he splutters before sprinting from the room.

Kit’s fork clatters to the floor. It has gathered a shriveled raisin and a hair clump by the time I retrieve it from the far side of the room. Reluctantly I leave to fetch him a clean one. One potato, two potato…. three –

“Mummy! Kit threw his rice at me!”

“No!”

“You did!”

“Harry nappy baby bum!”

“Please be nice,” I shout pointlessly from the kitchen.

Next, the sound of a chair scraping the floor and rapid patter of footsteps. A wail.

“Mummy, Kit hit me!”

Oh to be Mr Tickle. With those extraordinarily long arms of his I could probably throttle both of them from where I stand.

There is a sound of muffled straining, a gush of water and Alec is back in our midst looking mournfully at his now congealed curry.

Alec before mealtimes got complicated

Alec before mealtimes got complicated

Welcome to my “nursery of democracy” as the family dinnertime was christened by a food writer recently. Yes, that cradle of civilization where my sons learn to socialise and together we develop our family culture while catching up on each other’s news. Presumably all while eating food topped with a smiley face fashioned from a couple of olives and an organic carrot.

In truth, our mealtimes owe more to North Korea than the free world.  Bribery, threats and blackmail are often employed simply to get the boys as far as the dining room table, let alone actually putting food in their mouths.

So while other households grapple articulately with the complexities of modern life over their spaghetti bolognese, my family is stuck in the starting blocks, barely able to transport fork to mouth or bum to seat without encouragement of an official nature. As dictator-in-chief, my job consists of blocking the exits, providing helpful reminders that food is often nicer when it’s hot and confiscating anything which could be fiddled with, broken or used as a weapon. If there is a lull in this role I then crack down on excessive table drumming (Harry), burping (Kit) and repetitive joke telling (Alec). I admit that this approach does not leave much room for discussions of a more philosophical nature, except perhaps to ponder on how quickly bedtime is approaching.

It is no doubt a relief to everyone when I finally leave the dining room, laden with half empty plates, the boys’ food intake quotas eventually met.

Harry follows me into the kitchen in an attempt to get first dibs on the Pretty Peachy yogurt, safe in the knowledge that once selected, both Alec and Kit will want it and therefore refuse to eat anything else.

I would point this out to him, but I am standing by the bin with most of Alec’s tuna curry in my mouth. I motion to him to return to his seat with less authority than I’d hoped for.

When I return to the dining room clutching an apple and some jaffa cakes, Alec’s face brightens.

“Best mummy ever!” he shouts.

“You don’t really know that for certain Alec, ” Harry cautions, sensibly.

“Mummy ever,” repeats Alec, defiantly. He senses there could be a jaffa-related bonus if this loyalty to the leader continues.

Kit’s apple is eaten and he is now dismantling his jaffa cake. Flakes of chocolate litter the floor until all that is left is the orange jelly in the palm of his hand. Finally and joyfully this is stuffed into his mouth.

“Can I get down?” shouts Harry from the lounge.

Dinner is officially over – it must be, the room is empty.

An hour later and I am switching off Harry’s bedroom light and heading down the stairs.

“Mummy?”

I emit a non-committal grunt.

“I’m huuungry..”

The Art of Noise

When a stranger in the street tells my children to keep the noise down, even I have to admit it’s time to take out the earplugs and start fiddling with the family’s volume control.

I was not as affronted as you might think by the lady’s intervention. Humiliation and acute embarrassment being something of a regular feature these days, I was mainly just grateful that somebody had made the noise stop. As, no doubt, was the rest of the street.

The racket in question was a heated discussion between Harry, six, and me about whether or not he was shouting. (“I started off politely and then I worked up to shouting,” he bellowed). At the same time Alec, four, was pawing at my knees babbling excitedly about a hole that British Gas has just dug in our road while Kit had stopped, rolled up his trousers and was trying to get my attention focused on a tiny cut he’d sustained a week ago. In short, it was chaos. I hadn’t really noticed, because that is the norm in our house.

As we returned home, chastened, I realised that in the last six years my noise tolerance has risen dramatically. Admittedly, having twins who between them cried continually for approximately a year hastened that process and no doubt hardened Harry against the more subtle aspects of communication as he spent his formative years attempting to make himself heard over his brothers’ wails. Alec and Kit learnt from an early age to block each other out and rarely disturbed each other with their crying. One night I went into their room after Alec had been repeatedly howling to find Kit fast asleep with his fists clamped over his ears.

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Noisy? Us?

Over the years I have perfected the art of selective deafness –  a common condition amongst parents –  which allows you to function and retain your sanity by blocking out whining, crying and shouting below a certain level.

While most normal people associate white noise with a washing machine, a blank television screen or maybe even a dolphin’s cry, for me, it has become the sound of small voices raised in grumpiness, injustice or tiredness.

I am able to chat pleasantly to a fellow mum, completely ignoring the cacophony of competing voices below me until the level reaches a tipping point (usually when I can’t actually hear the person I’m talking to) at which stage I snap: “Will you be quiet. NOW!” before turning sweetly back to my startled companion and resuming the conversation.

On holiday I blanked it out so successfully that as I read to Alec in his bottom bunk, Harry was actually being strangled by Kit on the top bunk. It was only when his cries turned to splutters that I realised the potentially life threatening nature of his distress and intervened.

Obviously I try not to ignore my children all the time. Although I spend a large portion of the day begging them not to shout and fight, I do also defend their right to shriek and squeal.  Hell, laugh even. They are children, after all.

So when my neighbour requested that the boys relocate from our back garden to the park on the first and possibly only sunny day of last summer I feel my husband was fully justified in pointing her in the direction of our local library. Had they still been yelling at 8pm then maybe she would have had a point. But they were tucked up in bed and our house was silent as it is most nights, which I think buys us quite a lot of daytime shouting tokens.

I don’t pretend to be saintly where other people’s noisy children are concerned either. I was furious when a baby howled through Wreck-It Ralph – only the second film Harry has ever seen at a cinema (that’s if you count Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked) and I was equally dischuffed to be seated next to an eight-month-old at Harry’s first proper classical concert.

Which brings us back to my problem of how to return our noise level to something approaching socially acceptable. It is a point I attempt to discuss with the boys over dinner. Half way through my clearly over-long explanation of why the shouting must stop Harry suddenly leaps from his chair, adopts the pose of a guitar-playing rock star and shouts “Oooo, sexy lay-dee!” before returning to his seat. Alec erupts with laughter and shrieks “Mama Mia!” while Kit resorts to his fallback angry tiger impression for good measure. I pause, waiting for a moment to resume my chat.

I’m still waiting.