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Friday, October 28, 2011


In one corner of our kitchen is a cluster of exposed pipes. They culminate in a red handle which controls the heating. Listed on my husband’s to-do list for the past while is the boxing-in of these pipes and last Saturday, he finished the job. Our one year old, who was corralled out of the corner by chairs laid on their side was very interested in the whole operation. And since then has been trying to re-do it. He wants to put markings (like his dad did, to make sure the hinges were lined up) on the freshly painted door of the boxing and also to bang very hard on the new paint with something sharp, to replicate, (I think) the drilling when the screws were put in.

So, since Saturday I have been on high alert. It is killing him that he isn’t allowed near it and it is killing me that I cannot get the dishwasher emptied, the potatos peeled or the clothes folded without taking my eye off him. Despite that fact that there are many other cupboard doors in the kitchen (most of which could take a few scribbles and scrapes without looking any different) it is the new one he wants to get at. My husband will, without a doubt, not smile indulgently if he arrives home, wet off the bike after a long day to find his handiwork ruined.

By Monday I noticed my son had given up on the direct approach - smiling at me and toddling over to the new door with a fork- and has resorted to more surreptitious methods. Just yesterday morning, as I ate my Weetabix he ambled by heading towards the television and then swiftly, like a ninja, took a left and dove for the boxing, pencil in hand. My husband, also like a ninja (literally. He was wearing the Tai Chi shoes!) leaned over and caught him, just before damage was done.

Shortly after, for revenge I suppose, a tiny  hand offered up my MAC cream blusher (ladyblush – a lovely pinky peach, great on blondes or redheads), which he had dug out with little fingers and smeared all over his head. It wasn’t easy to get off but shampoo and elbow grease got rid of most of it.

Although that clean up job was nothing compared to what I faced shortly after, when I looked up from a well deserved browse of Grazia magazine to see a freshly washed toddler sitting in a pool of white gloss paint.

The joys eh?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

roast chicken and chorizo

Seven years ago I gave my husband a six week course of Tai Chi for Christmas. He loved it. Loved the standing, the slow movements, even the flat, black shoes. On his third week he came home from the class wearing a pair. “Was the teacher selling those?” I asked. “No, he just gave me them. He didn’t need them anymore.” “You mean he wore them? They’re used?” I said. “They’re fine.” He answered firmly “and very comfortable.” I eyed them. The insoles were fabric and they were definitely worn without socks. Someone else’s sweat. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Last Saturday he was doing a party drop-off and I watched him walk out the door in shorts with a faded ink stain on the pocket, a gap jumper that has been washed about sixty times and is the colour and texture of a used j cloth and a t shirt we got for three Euros in a supermarket in France when we had only two children. And the tai chi shoes.

Instead of thinking “What a nice husband! Not only has he already put a chicken with roast potatoes and chorizo in the oven (he had! The recipe is on page 216 in the Jamie’s dinners cookbook) but he is also saving me a forty minute trip to NRG in Rathcoole on a sunny Saturday afternoon. No, I’m ashamed to say I just thought “Please, please change your clothes before you go.”

He didn’t of course and rang later to say that the party was an hour and forty minutes long so he was going to wait in the NRG car park and wax the car, thus sealing our fate as the “different” parents in the class. Over the next few days I bided my time, waiting for a good moment to bring up the idea of replacing his wardrobe and binning the current contents. Mornings weren’t good because who needs to wake up to be told they look dreadful? Evenings weren’t either, because he often cooks dinner. It seemed ungracious to mention his appearance when my mouth was full of pasta with spinach, nutmeg and mascarpone or tortilla wraps with salsa(made with actual tomatoes and red chilli peppers), sour cream and chicken that had been marinating in olive oil and lime juice all afternoon. On the evening he did an omelette with feta cheese and patatas bravas on the side with a warm, chunky, spicy tomato sauce I began to think the clothes didn’t really matter at all.

But I did say something in the end. And he did'nt take it to badly. Now the plan is, tomorrow afternoon we each go through the others wardrobes and take out garments we hate. These go in a pile destined for the bin/charity shop unless the owner claims a particular, sentimental attachment. Which means I’ll keep my Weirs Beach, New Hampshire ’89 t-shirt and I’m pretty sure he’s going to keep the shoes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

bikini wax!

I’m not bad at complaining. After decades of saying nothing, regretting saying nothing, saying it all to my husband when I get home, I am finally complaining at the right time to the right person.

For example, last week I noticed my two younger sons being moved to the beginners group at swimming lessons. I sat for a minute (beside a dad reading a kindle, which I found myself hoping would get splashed) and then got up to ask the teacher why they had been moved. He said that there was an instructor missing and he would give them different exercises to do. Then I pointed out that the next class up had one boy in it. Why not put them there instead of with eight little splashers? Anyway, in the heel of the hunt he gave my boys training, swimmish things to do and the rest of the group fun, gamey things to do. They threw daggers at me from the water hissing “what did you say to him?” until the third teacher eventually turned up.

My problem was that after I had said my piece I didn’t know how to finish up the conversation. What came most natural was to walk off in a huff but obviously I couldn’t do that. So I said “thank you” in a prim way. That too seemed pathetic. Then I had to arrange my face as I walked back to the bench where the other parents were sitting. Torn between keeping my head down and concentrating on not tripping and keeping my head up in a haughty don’t-mess-with-me manner, I ended up going for something in between. So I either came across as a mother who is reasonable, firm, no nonsense and nice or a complete oddball.

Usually once the kids are settled in their lessons I have a swim myself. There are three lanes sectioned off so I can do lengths and still keep an eye out to be on call if anyone needs to go to the toilet. This means wearing my navy Speedos, the least flattering item of clothing EVER. But the feel good factor I get from the swim is worth it.

So there I was, Mrs Smug, arguing my case, swimming my lengths. As I climbed out of the pool the instructor came over to me. Dear God, I thought, I’m going to have to talk to him in my togs. I will allow myself be seen in Speedos. I have to, not owning a pool. But usually it’s only a quick run between the shower and the water. The idea is that I move fast enough to be a blur.  

I don’t think he realised how much of an upper hand he had. That I would have agreed for the kids to be put in armbands in a toddler group if only I could get quickly past him and back to the changing rooms and privacy. He just wanted to let me know that he had them in the right class, I think. It was hard to take in the words when the only thing that came into my head was “bikini wax!” which thankfully, I didn’t say out loud.  At least I don’t think I did.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

the doorbell

The doorbell generates great excitement in our house. Once it rings all four kids drop everything and race for the door.  Dinners are forgotten, movies paused, Lego abandoned and anyone who is upstairs thunders down, slipping in socks on the stairs. Anything to get there first. I hang back, acting cool in the kitchen but really, I too am dying to see who it is. I don’t know why really. No I do. About once every six weeks it is the UPS guy with an online order. This brings groans from the kids and joy/guilt for me. (“Why are you always buying things for yourself?” they say bitterly as I race happily upstairs to the full length mirror, leaving the stair gate hanging open in my excitement, to try on my new purchase.)

Nine times out of ten it’s someone from UPC or SKY. Undaunted by our crestfallen faces he launches into his spiel. “Don’t worry! It’s nothing serious!” Immediately playing for time he attempts conversation “How are you today?”

The kids wander back to their dinner/movie/Lego and I stand there, holding the baby in one arm, leaning on the door with the other, trying to be polite.  On the one hand, I feel sorry for him. It’s an awful job. And on the other, it isn’t actually that easy to be rude on the doorstep. I simply can't just slam the door, fixing my face into a dirty look is too aging and giving out about invasion of privacy and interruption of homework is too exhausting. So I stand there looking patient and hope for a crash from the kitchen that could be construed as an emergency(something that happens every time I am having an interesting chat on the phone) and I have to make my excuses.

As the jovial onslaught continues I agree that yes, I am not a SKY customer, yes, I am with UPC. Or I say that yes, I am with UPC and no, I do not currently have an upgrade.  And they are off.

“So! Mrs (look down at clipboard) Mitchell! Would you like a better service at a lower cost?”

I’ve tried saying that I don’t know how much we pay at the moment, that changing service would be too much hassle and that we don’t need more channels. But I have learnt that the less said the better. They have ready answers for all these excuses and it is with glee that they tell me how easy and cheap (although cheap is not a word they use. They say “lower bills”. I don’t think “cheap” is market research approved.)

Soon I have had enough. I adopt my “serious, tired face.” This means nothing to these youngsters. My energy levels are not important. All I need is the strength to hold a pen and sign a dotted line.

I try again, using a strict tone. “As you can see, I am quite busy at the moment.” Then I gesture to the children who, damn them, have disappeared and are amusing themselves quietly elsewhere. But not to worry, they won’t keep me much longer! They just need a few details and I’ll be free to take care of “the kiddies!”

It occurs to me then that I am already free. Free to shut the door and put the kettle on. And eat a hidden Aero. So I say goodbye and see his face begin to protest. “I’ll come back later!” he promises as the latch clicks. I dip the chocolate into my tea. It is delicious.