The lies of childhood: Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny et al

First published in The Portsmouth News, 25/02/14

Lying, cheating and manipulation: a sample of the skills of parenthood.

My eldest daughter lost a tooth recently. Long gone are the days when we eagerly awaited a first tooth, and instead we get fleeced for the loss of each pearly whitethat we once created.

My daughter was thrilled that the tooth fairy would be visiting, which led to me considering the vast array of untruths that we feed our children.

Whilst raising our kids to believe that lying is wrong, we gaily impart the erroneous information that compromises childhood. You may have your own family traditions but, as a starter, I give to you the fat man in the red suit: Santa.

We tell our kids that as they sleep, Santa will creep into their bedrooms, complete with bulging sack, to deposit presents. Sounds wrong, no? Furthermore, winged creatures will swipe their teeth from under their pillows, replacing them with currency, and a giant toothsome rabbit swinging a pastel-shaded basket will bounce across the nation, leaving chocolate.

These lies can even be extended in order to bribe certain behaviours; the ‘dummy fairy’ for instance. And then one day, before you know it, you’ve progressed from Partial Lunacy to Fully Fledged Mentalism: letters from the tooth fairy.

That’s right, no longer is it sufficient to put hard cash under a pillow; my girls expect handwritten fairy notes too. This began because their friends were getting them, and is a vicious circle of parental madness. My husband now finds himself writing letters from fairies, in teensy weensy font on tiddly widdly scraps of paper, whilst calling himself ‘Pearl’.

However, last week Pearl went hardcore, and left a note suggesting that India tidy her bedroom before any cash would be distributed. My friend Emma had suggested this radical idea and we were willing to give it a go. India takes pride in cultivating biohazards in her boudoir and on occasion I have sported a tea towel on my face before entering.

Initially, rather than admit the error of her messy ways, India took umbrage at Pearl the Tightwad. However, the next day she conceded, tidied up, and received £1 forthwith.

What next I ask you, rabies shots for the Easter bunny and a DBS for Santa? If India even attempts to convince us that she should be getting the £5 per tooth that some children do (FIVE POUNDS!) then the only thing Pearl will be in receipt of is a swift wing-ectomy.

Longer School Days… or, Michael Gove: The Enemy of Family Time.

The article to which I responded.

The article to which I responded.

First published in Portsmouth News, 18/02/14. I wrote this in response to another columnist whose article was published last week. The version that is in the newspaper today is missing a particular line, but it is a line that I felt was important, so here’s the full version:

Recently, there has been much coverage given to the suggestion that the school day should run until 6pm. I have read several responses to this, none of them favourable, and today I read the opinion of Clive Smith in this paper.

Mr Smith raised the worry that most people have: where is the family time? Where, within that ludicrously long day, will people see their exhausted children? Where will the time be for extra-curricular activities, or cuddles with your youngsters before they’re not so young anymore?

Unfortunately, Mr Smith lost focus by taking the opportunity to have a random dig at teachers. Apparently that’s alright though, because he once ‘worked in a classroom’. This is akin to people that try to pretend they can’t possibly be homophobic because they have ‘lots of friends who are gay’.  He went on to make fun of a child who did not speak English, and who clearly had special educational needs of some kind.

It was an ill-researched piece, which subsequently could not be taken seriously, and that is a shame, because Mr Smith is absolutely right about the effects of the possible new day on our children.

Teachers work long hours, as do many people. By 7.30am most are in their classrooms preparing, and by 6pm most are leaving, ready to kiss their own kids goodnight and to start work again at home.

Which begs the question: how on earth are they going to do the work that is necessary to ensure a high standard of education for our families, if they will not even be leaving their classrooms until approx 9pm?

Everyone is going to suffer: the teachers, the parents, and, crucially, the children. The relationship between parents and teachers is disintegrating because, sometimes understandably, the parents want to shoot the messenger, who happens to be stood at the classroom door. The fault however lies with the government.

They are creating a battleground where once there stood a playground. People like Mr Smith, who waste their privilege of having a public platform from which to air their views, propagate the example that it’s acceptable to blame teachers. As a parent I find this remarkably frustrating.

Teachers don’t expect the parents to roll out a glitter cannon and perform a Mexican Wave each afternoon at 3pm, complete with jazz hands and the National Anthem. However, it would be nice to acknowledge that we are all on the same side, and that our children come first.

Be More Dog!

First published in Portsmouth News, 11th February 2014 

 

You may recall from a previous column that my family and I are the owners of many pets, one of which is Dolly the dog. Dolly is a Shih Tzu (try getting your five year old to say that in polite society), and enjoys many a long walk.

Recently, Dolly and I have been partaking of our longer sojourns with my friend, Leanne, and her dog, Cooper. Dolly and Cooper race off into the distance, ears flapping, paws scampering in wanton abandonment. They experience the purest joy in the smallest things: a walk, some sunshine if they’re lucky, a friend to share it with, and a sniff of one another’s bottoms.

Leaving the latter firmly aside, it is also what Leanne and I gain from these walks. Which led to us discussing the marvelous concept that O2 have recently taken advantage of in their marketing campaigns; be more dog.

As humans, we tend to spend our days wishing half of them away. Even my daughters have cottoned on to the concept of the weekend, and question how many sleeps it is until various events. We lose track of the little things, like showing enjoyment when we see friends, and playing.

As Leanne and I watched our doggies bound across the hill on Castle Field, furry silhouettes of joy with the wind in their ears, it seemed as though this is what life should really be about. Seize the little moments; take pleasure in them. Run or skip if the urge takes you. Show your friends (in an appropriate manner that doesn’t lead to arrest) that you’re happy to see them. Greet your spouse with enthusiasm when they arrive home in the evening, and make your loved ones feel appreciated.

Have a power nap on the rug if the need takes you, and take pleasure in your meals. Drink more water and indulge in occasional treats without guilt. Be demonstrative with your emotions. Jump up and down with glee and, when the situation calls for it, smile so hard that you look slightly demented. Equally, when necessary, do as you’re told and take it on the chin. Explore nature and take a minute to simply adore the world around you.  

I urge you, this week, to make the effort. I advise drawing a line at the eat, regurgitate, repeat action that some canines indulge in with both food and bodily expulsions, but, in general, grab your life by the furry bits and don’t let go: Be more dog!    

The Long-Term Sociological Effects of Kim Kardashian’s Bottom.

First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 4th February 2014.

The older my daughters become, the more I am concerned as to which role models they will be influenced by.

Much as I’d like to imagine them pinning up posters of Emmeline Pankhurst and reading Shakespeare for fun of a Friday evening, I concede that it seems unlikely.

However, it seems that if they are to be influenced by the media, then I can look forward to a future of my kids taking photos of their buttocks and posting them online. Not something I envisaged on the maternity ward.

I can’t open a magazine at the moment without being bombarded by Kim Kardashian’s copious buttocks, and her myriad identikit relatives. It’s like the Manson Family, only with less murderous intent and more eyelashes.

Quite why KK wishes to display a bottom that looks as though she has a small planet suspended to the base of her spine is complete anathema to me. I maintain that if one were to spot Kim parading about in the local pool, scratching her athlete’s foot, then one would pity the poor dear, and wonder what kind of strange deformity the gods of ass-thetics had chosen to smite her with.

But the proportion of KK’s backside isn’t the issue. The issue is why modern celebrities behave in this manner, and what our young will be learning from it. Twenty years ago the Internet was unthinkable to the average citizen. The evolution then of what is acceptable in society is a frightening thing; where will it stop?

Music videos wouldn’t make it on to Top of the Pops nowadays. Miley Cyrus is an example, swinging about, starkers on a wrecking ball, with her cervix hanging out of her pants.

Then of course we have the notorious twerking incident: Miley gyrating all over Robin Thicke, tongue lolling, and Thicke looking all sweaty and demented and out of puff behind her.

So, why the nudity? Miley isn’t half-clothed because she’s feeling a bit toasty. She’s not getting undressed in order to pop on her onesie and climb the wooden hill to Bedfordshire; she’s starkers to make money. And that’s her call, as long as our children aren’t subjected to it, or led to believe that you need to be naked to be successful.

I find solace now in the day my girls told me, in hushed tones of awe and reverence, that I had ‘the biggest bottom in the world’. It is proof that they have not yet clapped eyes on Ms Kardashian.