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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tiger Mother

“You are going”. 
My ten year old was incredulous. I hadn’t asked his opinion, we hadn’t had long pep chats about new swimming lessons, we hadn’t even worked out a reward scheme. But I had just finished reading the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and told him, it was Chinese parenting from now on. He was a strong swimmer and coming with the family and splashing with his brothers once a week was not enough. Proper training and an end of year gala was on the cards. Why not? He had always been comfortable in the water. Well, he could think of plenty of reasons. The teacher would be cross, it was after six in the evening and he would be tired, I hadn’t even bothered to ask him, I couldn’t make him, his leg was sore. The list went on. The tears came and voices were raised.

Parked outside the pool I found my inner tiger and got him into the changing room, left him with a classmate and found the viewing gallery. There were chairs for parents and I found one but realised that I couldn’t actually sit. I was so tense, my legs wouldn’t bend. The previous class was finishing and I could see a teacher talk sternly to a little boy who was shivering. Another mother sat beside me and started chatting so I moved to seated position but found my bum didn’t actually touch the chair. I hovered until I saw him line up with the other children and get into the pool. He looked ok.  She was chatty and told me her son was in second class and I said mine was in fourth.

Below me the children were being tested to see what level they were at and I could see him being moved out of the beginner’s class. He didn’t seem to understand though and lined up again with the little kids. I was behind glass and tempted to vault it or bang on it but controlled myself and saw him being put right. I finally breathed out. Then he did another width. Beautiful over arm with great breath control. 
“The boy in the black cap. Move over here.” the teacher said (I was lip reading) but he stood behind his friend and three times the wrong boy stood forward until I saw his little hopeful, tear stained face say “Me?” and he was moved up again, to the next level. I found myself able to turn my head to the mum beside me and we chatted. She was telling me about her son’s second class teacher and I suddenly thought, second class, that sounds familiar? And realised that my eight year old is in second class too. For the previous twenty minutes I had actually forgotten that I had other children!

When the class was over I stood by the door of the changing room and he appeared, looked very pleased. I said, in an unprecedented magnanimous act “what do you want from the machine?” indicating the snack dispenser beside me. Never one to turn down food he acted as if this was perfectly normal, asked how much money I had, I said a euro and he quickly chose something for one fifty. I let the tiger sleep and handed him the money.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Florry and Marina

It’s all churchy stuff this week. On Monday the meeting with Marina, the First Communion coordinator and then this morning, collecting our baptism certificate.

The First Communion meeting was in the church. On the way in I asked a (quite good looking) dad if I was in the right place and we had a quick chat walking up the aisle. For a few seconds I was in secondary school again and going to a rehearsal for The King and I and “nonchalantly” chatting to a boy on the way in (under the deliciously curious gaze of classmates). I felt compelled to say something to the effect that I was so not a mass-goer and then quickly worried that he was.

Marina started by picking up a microphone and then in a really down to earth way announced she didn’t need it as she “talked with her hands”. She told us that she was from the Kildare diocese which is “of course, just down the road!” Trying, I suppose, to say, we are close neighbours. I think most of us knew where Kildare is though, so she failed in that respect. Then she continued to witter on about finding a special place for our First Communion candles, buying a holy water font, attending mass and in short, saying that if we were good parents we would introduce our kids to the boring church stuff now, in payment of sorts for the fun of First Communion Day. She regaled us with “hilarious” anecdotes about children who compete to see who prays the most and therefore has the shortest candle; those who insist on bringing their candle to mass even if they are on holiday and the child who taught her parents to say grace before meals.

As she talks I can see her trying to make eye contact with us all and I cannot resist the urge to deny her, focussing instead on her little black shoes, her gums that need flossing, her chunky talking hands. She tells another story about a little girl whose family were so busy erecting a bouncy castle and organising a party that they decided to skip the church ceremony on the day of the first communion. We all assumed at this stage that another polite titter was expected and delivered it until she said “you may laugh, but what is it all about?” and everyone stopped sniggering and those who had maintained eye contact quickly looked down.

Then, question time. There was only one;
“Where can I buy rosary beads that will match my daughters’ parasol?”

We depart at nine with the news that our kids first communion candles would be given out at the end of mass next Sunday.   

I had to collect our baby’s’ baptism certificate this morning. I knew where to go. Straight down to the back of the church, through a heavy wooden door to a big room with a waxed floor and a Narnia-ish wardrobe where priests robes are hanging. There I found Florry, who “does” for the parish priest. I like Florry. She has a sweet smile and clearly relishes her job in a way that sort of makes me appreciate the Catholic Church a little bit. She’s so purposeful. Taking out a big old fashioned book where we are recorded, she finds a blank baptism certificate and slowly fills our details in; in that careful, old lady writing that mixes capitals and lower case at random.

Around her, other old ladies hover. “I wish I didn’t come in today” she says to them gleefully “do you know what I mean? I’m that snowed under!” Most are watching her, but one little bird-like creature sits at a big, shiny mahogany table counting money. “Seven hundred and ten, seven hundred and twenty..”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ninety nine pounds sterling

 “Don’t forget to check eBay.” he said for oh, the tenth time that morning. The rewards for good behaviour were due. And, to save me a trip to Smyths and a few Euros to boot, the boys had all chosen Lego sets from eBay. Mostly second hand but will all the pieces intact and at a reduced price.

A very bad idea. Do you know how long it takes between bidding, paying, the five day wait for payment clearance and waiting for the toy to arrive? No? Well neither do I, because we are still waiting! It takes forever.

Anyway this morning, my eldest boys Lego Bionicle figure (used, no box) was coming to the end of its bidding time. I checked my emails. No, I had not been outbid. It looked like I was going to get a good deal. 99p for a much wanted toy. Later in the afternoon I had another look, just so I wouldn’t be pipped at the post. Still no email alerts. Then I checked the item. There had been four bids, the highest was now £8.04 and I was the winning bidder. How could that be? But there it was on the screen, only a bid more than £99.00 sterling would beat me. Panic stations.

Two long, fruitless and life shortening phone calls to eBay later, I realised what I had done. Like a complete eegit I had said that the highest I would pay was £99.00 instead of 99p. I actually remembered putting the dot in the wrong place. So now, every time someone else put in a bid, my eBay account automatically outbid them and would keep doing so until the magic number £99.00 was reached.

Yes I tried to cancel it and no that wasn’t possible. Bids cannot be retracted if there are less than twelve hours to go until the end of the auction. Even my rant at customer services was unsatisfying as there was a time-lag on the phone call and every time I said “I made a mistake! Why are you called the help desk if you can’t help?” at exactly the same time a very quiet, distant voice would say “And what is your issue today?”

When I checked again, the top bid was £8.90 and there was twenty two minutes to go. There was nothing to do but wait. Life seemed very unfair. I did the right thing yesterday, and now I was going to pay one hundred pounds (sterling!) for a used toy?

Well no, I didn’t. Bidding ended at £10.53 sterling, plus £4.95 shipping. Not exactly a bargain but a lot better than it could have been. The gods were on my side. Halleluiah.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

what would you do?

It started with the armchairs. They needed new covers and finding fabric and someone who would make them for less than the price of a new car was a long, drawn out project.

Anyway, after weeks of gathering snippets of material and dragging home borrowed heavy, sample books and asking in cleaners and curtain shops, I found an affordable fabric in a colour that would look ok in the sitting room and someone willing to make up the covers.

So, yesterday morning I cycled into town to pick up the fabric and pay the balance of €209.00.  I was heading for a quaint little shop with hundreds of bolts of different materials precariously balanced against the walls. One of those places that makes me want to buy a sewing machine. I waited my turn and the man behind the counter declared my choice “Very fresh. Shabby chic!”  He put it in a bag, got out a calculator and then the phone rang. Answering with one hand, he totted up with the other, chatting all the while.
“That’ll be €109.00” he mouthed to me in a whisper, said goodbye and hung up. I gave him my laser card, trying to be as slow and cool as possible. As I keyed in my number he thoughtfully wrapped up the material in a more compact bundle after noticing my bike helmet. He talked about taking it easy and making sure that the package was well balanced on the back carrier. Then, with my receipt and the docket with all my details on it in hand, I walked out of the shop. Undercharged by €100.00.  

With a feeling that a heavy hand was going to clamp down on my shoulder any second, I walked to my bike, practising a gormless, innocent expression and a surprised “Oh! Did I forget something?” exclamation.

I should be skipping, I thought, I should be tap dancing. But I wasn’t, I felt terrible.  

Cycling home, each push of the pedals said “bad, karma, bad, karma”.

When I collecting the kids from school that afternoon, I was distracted and absent mindedly said yes to requests for Guzzle Puzzles and then got very cross when I realised they had opened the bags and I had to pay for them. By the time we got back to the house I had bitten the nose off everyone. 

The phone number of the shop was on the bag inside the hall door. As I started dialling I already felt better. Although it did gall a bit when the man said “So I undercharged by €50.00? Wow, you are so honest. Thanks for ringing!” and I had to say “No. It was €100.00.”  In a patient, pained voice. The words literally stuck in my throat.

I woke the next morning thinking, good things will happen today.  I am such a nice person! And then .. But that’s another story.

To be continued.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Xenia! I can't breathe!

I do my best. I really do. However, that doesn’t change the fact that three of my children watched Goldeneye yesterday. But what harm in that? Its only 007. There’s nothing wrong with some high jinks and frenetic adventures. Right? Not everything they watch has to be animated, after all. Well, that was my feeling as I drove up to Xtravision and had the inspired idea to get a James Bond movie instead of Rango or Dr Dolittle or something else made for kids. I thought some good, clean action based fun would make a change for my little darlings and, leaving the car on double yellows outside, I ran in and grabbed Goldeneye. I had seen the movie at some stage in the distant past and was pretty sure it was fine. Plenty of breath taking stunts and Indiana Jones style fun. Not long later they were all ensconced on the couch with popcorn and blankets. Pierce Brosnan was bungee jumping and I was emptying the dishwasher.

About half an hour in I heard some panting and “Oh no! Mum! There’s kissing!” I was indisposed at the time (a new plan to take two 1000mg capsules of fish oil a day to give a general feeling of well being plus boosting my heart and vascular health had some urgent side effects.)  Apologies. Too much information. My point is, I absolutely couldn’t move. But surely there was no need to panic? The kids were ok, kissing wasn’t so bad. To be sure, I resentfully put down Now magazine and listened. The panting got louder and then I heard a choking voice stuttering “Xenia! I can’t breathe!” and I flushed the toilet and ran into the sitting room.

 I got there just in time to see Xenia’s shadow as she choked the gullible Admiral with her strong but hard to resist thighs. When I rewound later I could see that my dear little boys had spent not a few minutes watching the Russian temptress and her balding, aged lover thrashing around on a bed, groaning, nibbling and moaning, the Admiral’s eyes rolling in ecstasy and eventually bulging in his shiny, red face as he died in flagrante.

And it was all my idea! They wanted to get Scooby Doo.