Friday, September 28, 2007

Things Eleven Year Olds Do When They Are Left To Their Own Devices Part 2

Well it was all going so swimmingly. We have had no tantrums. Most of the homework is getting done, she seems to be getting lots of merits. And most important she is happy.



This week so far we have had:

1) A rainy Monday morning. Did I say rainy? I am too restrained. It was howling a gale here at 7.15 and the driving rain was coming down in sheets. You can't go out in this, I said. Luckily Spouse drives the others in on Mondays, so I had time (though not the inclination, it has to be said,as I was feeling somewhat delicate after a family party on Sunday), to drive her in.

We rang her friend to say I'd give her a lift to, but the answerphone was on. Five minutes later Friend's Mum rings back and says oh she's gone.

No problem I thought, I'll just pick her up on the way.

Oh the best laid plans.

Through the pouring rain I made it to the spot where no 1 and her friend meet. There was no sign of her friend, whom we hadn't seen on the way. No 1 rang Friend up. No reply.

Perhaps she's gone back home, I said (as mooted by her mother). So we drove round there. I went to knock on the door which was well and truly locked. I was flummoxed and feeling guilty. The poor child was tramping the streets getting soaked. I couldn't understand how we'd missed her.

By the time we'd got back to the car no 1 had managed to track down her friend who was already at school (how??? I nearly crashed the car in my surprise). Friend was also (not unsurprisingly perhaps) rather hysterical thanks to the rain and being so wet. I was feeling guiltier then ever, till no 1 told me that her mother had given her a lift. Thank FUCK for that...

2)Friend's leg has been hurting since doing a jazz dance class on Friday. This obviously means she can't walk to school. So on Wednesday having established that her mum couldn't drive them (for some reason no 1 has decided to walk round to Friend's house, which is in the opposite direction from school), they blagged a lift off Friend's very accommodating Granny, a fact of which I was totally unaware until

3) Yesterday. Nos 1& 2 started clattering about at 6am. No 1 is feeling anxious because Friend is worried about being late for school, so although they could happily leave at 7.45 they are leaving at 7.30 and Friend wanted no 1 to meet her at 7.30 till I put my foot down. No 1 therefore decided she had to get up earlier and I have no idea at all why no 2 joined her. I felt obliged to stir myself from my pit around 6.40 (which quite frankly is like the middle of the night for me. I like my bed) to make sure they weren't burning the house down.

Getting up earlier didn't seem to make any difference to no 1's timekeeping mind, as she still left at 7.30 ( funny that - one of the reasons I never get out of bed before I have to is because however early I get up it has no effect whatsoever on the time I leave, so I may as well get some sleep), and that I thought was that.


At 8.17 (the time I am normally chivvying the others out of the door) the phone rang .No 2 answered it which meant when I picked up the phone two seconds later I couldn't hear who she was talking to. No 2 then put the phone down, we lost the connection, No 2 hadn't a clue who it was so I was none the wiser.

Thank the lord for 1471 is all I can say. I rang back and it transpired it was Friend's poor beleagured Granny (who must rue the day she moved into a house en route to school). No 1 and Friend were there, because Friend's leg was still hurting her. Granny had to go to work and couldn't take them in (they had fifteen minutes by now to get to school), could I oblige?

Luckily I could, Thursdays being the other day in the week that Spouse does the school run. Even more luckily all the others were ready to go, so Spouse shoved them in his car and set off and I followed in mine. Part of his route goes past Friend's Granny's so I had a terrible Schadenfreude moment to see the look on no 1's face when he drove straight past them.

Why didn't you ring me:? I asked. My phone's out of credit was the crestfallen response (What? Already? What with that and school dinner money, this secondary school lark is costing me a small fortune).

I dropped them at school. Thanks to Friend's leg I felt obliged to take them right up to the school gate which turned out to be a big big mistake. The school is down a cul de sac and about a thousand other children were also being dropped off. I am never never ever going to do it again. It took me half an hour to get out again, but at least they got to school on time.

In all the stress I had forgotten to remind no 1 to meet me at the tennis club after school. For the last two weeks she's been doing her homework in the library first and coming to find me later. And of course, now she couldn't text me, and I was unsure about the school policy for passing on non urgent messages. Thankfully they seemed quite understanding when I rang in, and no1 managed one last text to let me know she'd got the message. Double Phew.

Last night was spent unpicking the events of the morning to discover a) how it had taken fifty minutes to go a few hundred yards (no 1 had walked back to Friend's house that's how) and to b) after a long conversation with Friend's mum, make sure we are now all singing from the same song sheet to ensure that they are to meet at 7.45, if one of them is late they are to wait no longer then 7.55 and then go on alone, and if there is a crisis they will ring by 8.10am. I have also made it abundantly clear that I am not there to jump every time they cock things up.

Honestly, I said in exasperation. You're causing me more work then the other three put together. (Don't get me STARTED on homework crises).

The message seems to have gone in. This morning went off smoothly with no panicky phone calls (I put some extra credit on last night), so far so good.

Or so I thought till I went to tidy her bedroom and discovered that her pursebelt is still sitting there complete with the dinner money we gave her last night.

Which means I will have one hungry girl at the end of the day. Which is a bit of a bugger as she has a dance class straight after school.

I can feel a frantic phonecall demanding a lift and food coming on...

Friday, September 21, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different....

I've not done this before, and I am not about to make a habit of it, but I really really wanted to post this fab story Mad Twin has written on a subject very dear to our hearts, namely what it's like to be a twin. Though I hasten to add in this story of twinniness gone awry there are no similarities whatsoever to our own relationship. But when I read it I instantly recognised (as idents the world over probably do) that slightly odd feeling that you get when you see your twin and see yourself in a mirror, ever so slightly askew.

So here it is. The only time I'm going to hand over my blog to someone else. I hope you agree with me, she deserves it....


In the throes of an ecstatic embrace, a small egg travels down a fallopian tube. The time being right and the millions of sperm being strong and willing, within 3 days it is surrounded by the thousands that have survived the harsh acidic jelly. Each jockeys for position, until at last one makes the breakthrough and invades. The new union of egg and sperm brings with it a fervour of division. The ball of cells moves down into the womb doubling all the way till it suddenly splits into two identical spheres that bury themselves in the comfort of the rapidly thickening walls. The multiplying and dividing continues apace whilst the host of all this activity (soon to be known as mother) continues life unaware of this miracle occurring within her body. It is not until she misses her period, that she thinks something might be afoot, by which time the cells are differentiating too, into areas that will soon form head, heart and limbs. As the woman begins to make sense of this life changing event, as her body starts altering; breast swelling; constant nausea; unbelievable weariness, the small spheres continue to develop. Brains, eyes, mouths, ears, noses, hearts, bones, limbs form with increasing rapidity. By the time she attends her 12 week antenatal appointment, 2 tiny but perfectly formed little girl babies are floating in the watery darkness. Two children linked by their cords to a shared placenta, dance an embryonic dance, mirroring each others movements as they touch, wave, hug, suck thumbs, kick, burp, urinate and sleep.
The pregnancy progresses, the babies, grow and grow. Their mother moves beyond blooming to elephantine and complains of back ache and swollen feet. The babies begin to fill up their environment till a month to go they face each other across the tightened womb. A week to go and by some invisible sign, the first child turns and dives downwards as if inviting her sister to play a special game of tag. The game involves hours of painstaking struggle through the dark canal that causes their mother unspeakable pain. At last with a large rush and a push, the elder child is out in a world of bright lights and confusing noises. She is removed quickly, and cries an obligatory cry, not for the pain of separation from her mother, but from a deep primeval loss of her sister. The younger child follows 5 minutes later and she too cries inconsolably until, when both babies have been Apgar checked and weighed, they are returned to their mother’s chest. To the amazement of the adults watching, they turn immediately towards each other; hands almost touching, movements almost mirroring each other; as if to say, “there you are then, now everything is alright”
Thus do Celia and Delia Appleby arrive in the world and grow into it. Twins are obviously hard work, but, their mother tells her friends, at least they entertain each other. From the earliest age, they are happiest lying side by side. When they learn to sit, they love to sit opposite each other. They touch and cuddle, laugh at each others faces, gurgle noises only they understand. It is two and half years before they speak to another human being; and although their first words come out in perfect sentences, they seem more entranced with their own secret language. They are politely responsive to their parents and kindly enough when in the company of other children; but in all honesty, their mother admits, by the time they are 5 they appear to want for nothing in the world except each other. Their favourite occupation at this age is to sit opposite each other and copy each others movements, as if recreating their first days in the watery womb.
“Ceely,”Delia says.
“Deely,” her sister replies.
CeelyDeelyDeelyCeely who can tell which is which and who is who? Their parents have difficulty, their few friends struggle, strangers have no chance. When they sit like this looking into the mirror of the other, even they sometimes pause and wonder.

They are bright girls and do well at school, though this is not without problems. Their answers are so similar sometimes, and they seem to often achieve the same mark in tests, that every now and then a new teacher queries whether they have been cheating. But the school is proud of their clever twins and it is quickly explained how their congruence in looks seems matched by a congruence of thought. Concerns are raised from time to time that the twins seem somewhat set apart. They join in games with the other children but only as if they are one. On the rare occasions when one child is off sick, the other sits alone wistfully waiting for her sister’s return. But since they are polite, hardworking and a credit to their school, these worries usually fade away.
To most observers, the twins seem to be in equal control of their relationship, but to their mother’s eye, it seems as if Celia, the older twin, is always in charge. When the girls are eight she is entranced to hear they are mirror image twins. She redesigns their bedroom accordingly, so that each half reflects the other. At ten, she is fascinated when they visit a hall of mirrors. Leading her sister into the centre, she stands them so that they look beyond each other to the mirror behind to see a chain of twin,mirror,reflection that reaches into eternity. And at twelve when they go to secondary school it is Celia who decides that they cannot be separated, even though Delia expresses a half thought that maybe it might be interesting to try it for a change.
The mother who observes this also observes Delia’s occasional forays into independence. Once when Celia is ill for a week, Delia makes a new friend at school. But on Celia’s return, the friendship withers in the older sister’s disapproval. On another occasion, Delia goes swimming with a different girl and does not invite her twin. When she comes home, she finds Celia sobbing inconsolably and so she cannot bring herself to try this again.
These are minor incidents, however. At eighteen, it is inevitable that they will take their three identical A levels ( Chemistry B, Biology A, Maths C) and start a Biochemistry degree in London. They enter the big city with the excitement of any teenagers on their first trip away from home. They enjoy setting up their double room in the image of the one they left behind, the furniture arranged to reflect each other, photographs reproduced in reverse on the other wall.

At first all is well. They settle into their course with satisfactory marks. But London is not their small town and the double life that makes them so quirky at home soon gives them the reputation of being oddities. After a while, a small crack appears between them. Celia begins to find that the roaring traffic, the hustling crowds and the late night parties make her long for that small town. Whereas Delia, thinks this hubbub is full of unexplored possibility and wants them to use this opportunity to look beyond their noses. It is Celia’s will that prevails,however, and Delia finds herself confined more and more to their double room, poring over course work together. Occasionally she voices the opinion that it would be interesting to go out to a show or a nightclub, but Celia is never keen. The younger twin is left wondering in the darkness at bedtime, whether this is all that life has to offer.

Their first year passes quickly. When they return after the summer holidays it is to a small bedsit in the home of an elderly widow who lives in the suburbs. Now their journey to University is twice as long and must be shared with hundreds of sweaty commuters.
“If it wasn’t for the course,” Celia sighs after a long and compressed journey back, “I’d be inclined to move to a smaller city”
Delia sighs for a different reason, if it wasn’t for Celia, she’d be inclined to live here permanently. And that sigh causes the crack to become a small fissure. Autumn passes. The mellow mists being followed by torrential rainfall and leaves on the line. In icy November Celia succumbs to a godawful flu virus, leaving Delia to make the long journey to town alone. Each day she rushes back full of concern, to nurse her sister. But when the initial fever has subsided and Celia is sitting up eating soup and watching daytime TV, Delia relaxes a little. She chats a bit to fellow students after class and finds them warm and friendly. One night she even joins them for a quick drink in the bar. Her conscience does not allow her this treat for long, and she soon makes her excuses and runs for the train.
Celia’s sickness has a strange effect on her for a while. Although she seems better within a week, she complains that she is “too exhausted” to go in to lectures. It takes another fortnight of Delia’s gentle needling before she can be persuaded to undergo the daily ordeal of the tube train to college. Two weeks that transform Delia’s life. After the first tentative meetings with her fellow students, she finds that Jane and Anna have become friends. More surprisingly she realises that if Celia objects, this time she will keep them. But her sister is, at first, too absorbed in catching up on lost work to notice anything amiss. She heads for the library the minute lectures are over, and for over a week, she accepts her sister’s decision to wait for her in the bar. It is as Christmas approaches that she finally catches on. Classes are winding down, she has caught up with the backlog, and one day she wants to head for home straight away. Delia’s refusal surprises and then angers her,
“What’s the problem? There’s nothing going on around here.”
“Well actually,” her sister hesitates, “I wanted to have a drink with my friends”
“Friends? What friends?” Celia is puzzled, “We don’t have any friends here. There’s just us.”
Delia bites her lip.
“That’s not … quite … true. We don’t have friends. But I have now, and I’d like you to meet them properly.”
Delia explains about Anna and Jane, how they got talking and how Celia’s trips to the library have kept the conversation going.
“They’re nice, really they are. Please come and see.”
Celia is about to resist, but when she sees her sister’s stricken face she has no option but to give it a try.
The evening is not a success. Anna and Jane have a livelier temperament than either of the twins, which is why Delia is drawn to them. But to Celia their talk seems loud and vulgar. In her rush to judgement she misses their knowing glances and ironic asides. After an hour and half, during which she has barely said a word, she whispers to Delia that she wants to go home. With a sigh her sister makes their excuses but on the way back is uncharacteristically sharp. At home she faces her Celia across the room and snarls,“Why do you always do this to me?”
“Do what?”
“Immediately dislike anyone I choose to like. And worse, just sit there, not even being prepared to make an effort”
“But—” Celia is overwhelmed by the onslaught. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t. You know I didn’t want to come out but you did. So I tried. And I really did try really. But what could I say to them? I mean all that rubbish about Big Brother and pole dancing. What a waste of an evening.”
“They’re having a laugh,” growls Delia exasperated, “They don’t take it seriously but it’s fun just to chat. Life doesn’t all have to be about molecular structure and optical isomers. There are other conversations.”
“And I don’t want to have them,” shouts Celia.
“But I DO,” cries Delia.
They look at each other horrified by the implications of what they have just said. They are suddenly aware that of the chasm that is opening between them and stand teetering nervously on the edge.
It is Celia on this occasion who pulls back and sighs,
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t get it. But if you want to be friends. Well I’ll give it a try”
Delia is grateful for her sister’s response, she realises what this has cost her. They hug and make up. For the last week of term they agree to compromise. Twice they stay in, twice they go out and once Delia goes out alone. The evening separation is hard but, they agree, it does them good to have a break from each other. They leave for the holidays reconciled, yet conscious of the fragility of the peace that they have made.

Christmas comes, Christmas goes. There are reunions, long walks, too much to eat and drink, presents opened by the fireplace, late nights and lazy lie ins. Their disagreement is forgotten for this short respite with their family. But as they start the train journey back to London, the conditions of their ceasefire hang unspoken in the air between them. The term starts nervously, with each twin trying to make sure the other sees how much they are trying to make it work. But try as they might, Celia cannot like Anna and Jane, and Delia will not give them up.
It is the flood at Anna and Jane’s house that brings about the final crisis. Once Delia’s friends are over the shock, they ask the twins to join them in their next house. Celia wants to say yes, but her sister immediately says no.
Backwards forwards forwards backwards
The argument rages until Delia reaches a cold clarity. Unless she can persuade Celia to make this move, they will be trapped together in their double room in a chain of twin mirror reflection reaching into eternity. In desperation she throws down her final challenge.
“If you won’t – I will.”
Celia freezes. Somewhere inside she knows this is the only path across the canyon that now yawns between them. But she cannot see how to make the first step. Instead she turns her back on her sister and retires to her bed.
Delia tries to rouse Celia but she is ignored. For the first time in their lives they go to sleep without saying good night. All through the next day Delia packs while her sister’s back is firmly turned against her. That night whilst Jane helps bring Delia’s boxes down to the car, she maintains her steadfast pose until the very last minute. Delia makes one last entreaty to her sister,
“Come with me. Please”
Celia turns and coolly says, “You seem alright without me. I’ll stay here thanks,” and turns away to avoid the sight of her sister’s tears, a reflection of her own.
Delia drags herself away. But she rings the minute she arrives in her new home. Celia does not answer. Delia rings again and again. The next day she calls round but the landlady is out and her sister will not come to the door. On Monday she hopes to see Celia at lectures but the older twin does not turn up. On Tuesday, she catches their landlady who reassures her that Celia is upstairs and all is well, so she decides to leave it for a few days. She tries to adjust to her new life as a singleton and finds it wanting. She likes Anna and Jane, but the evenings in their company in their new home seem somehow insubstantial. She misses the twinly end of the day chats, their intuitive responses to the same incidents. She does not want to go back, but she feels as if she has been washed over a cliff and is drifting randomly in the current. A week without speaking to her sister is unbearable. On Saturday morning, she decides to visit Celia one more time, determined to find a way back in.
Meanwhile all week, Celia lies in her bedroom, hugging her duvet. Occasionally she gets up to eat toast or have tea, but then she subsides miserably underneath the covers. Once or twice her landlady knocks to ask if she is alright. She shouts an effort making cheery reply and remains on her bed. In her dreams she wanders through a hall of mirrors calling for her Delia. But she cannot find her sister anywhere, and all she can see is mirror after mirror reflecting each other into an uncertain eternity.
At the very moment Delia turns into her street, Celia awakes. Half asleep still, she looks into the mirror and thinks her sister is back in the bed opposite.
“Deely,” she jumps up to hug her. But all she finds is the cold hard glass of the mirror.
Without thinking she throws herself at the mirror as if it can bring her sister back to her. She hurls and hurls herself at the implacable glass until at last it shatters and the splinters and shards are thrown across the room into her face, her body and her arms. She is dimly aware that she hurts and is bleeding, and there are voices calling her. And Delia is there after all, to staunch the blood and call an ambulance as if she has never left.

Now a locked door separates the inseparable sisters.
Delia visits every day. Her sister seems smaller somehow, still wrapped in bandages, eyes slightly dulled with medication. They never say much, the nurses notice. Instead they sit opposite each other mirroring their arm movements as if performing some strange religious rite.
Which is which and who is who?
There are days when even they wonder.

copyright c Virginia Moffatt, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Scummy Mummy Diaries

Back on the topic again, but I couldn't help but comment on the way that Kate McCann's words written in a private diary (which presumably she had no intention of ever showing anyone) are apparently being used by the Portugese police to prove she is an unfit mother capable of harming her child. (I say apparently as of course, as with everything else in this case, we don't know for sure that's what the police are after, but the media seem to think they are).

Allegedly she refers to her children being "hysterical" and "hyperactive". She sometimes found Madeleine difficult to control and Gerry doesn't always help with the childcare.


This is evidence of a bad mother???

Sheesh. She was dealing with three children under the age of four, including a set of twins. That is enough to send the sanest of people demented.

I don't know a single woman who has had small children who at one time or another hasn't found it hard to cope. And to a woman, my girlfriends ALL complained about their husbands when their children were small. Sorry, boys - I know there are some very devoted dads who read this blog, but the way the world works the majority of you don't get the unenviable task of spending 24/7 with toddlers and babies and just have no real idea of how exhausting and draining it can be. I can remember horrifying Spouse by saying quite vehemently one day, if whichever child it was who was particularly bugging me at that particular moment did it one more time I was cheerfully going to strangle her. (Imagine what the media/police could do with a statement like that!)

Three years ago, when I had four children eight and under I was a woman at the end of my rope physically and emotionally. I had been looking after small children for so long, I had forgotten what it was like to have a life of my own, and frequently felt unequal to the task of caring for my offspring. I can completely relate to Kate McCann's feelings of frustation. I think her honesty in writing about them rather then being a sign of her guilt, is a sign of what a good mum she is.

For many women - particularly capable, career orientated women like Kate McCann, the sudden switch from being at the top your game professionally to being at home in a swirl of chaos and nappies is a huge shock to the system. (To quote Lynnette Scavo, my favourite Desperate Housewife, "I used to run a business and now I can't manage two four year olds". Quite). It takes time to grapple with the changes in your life, and ironically the period in parenting when you get the least time to yourself, is also the period when you probably miss your freedom the most. I think I chafed at the bit far more with regards to my lost social life when the children were small, then I do now, when thankfully I have a bit of time to myself and the sprogs have got a lot more civilised.

But for the record, as I did find that period when my children were small in the main, frustrating, hard work and bloody awful at times, that probably makes me a Scummy Mummy too.

And here are my top five failures from that period to prove it...

1) Letting no 2 climb on a telephone table, from whence she fell thereby breaking her arm in two places and having to have an operation.
2) Going ahead with a planned night out in town (the first time I'd done so in eighteen months) when no 4 wasn't well and getting back to discover she was having a major asthma attack and had to go to hospital. (The memory of that night still fills me with horror.)
3) Dashing upstairs to do some tidying leaving no 3 to play in the hall. Two minutes later she managed to impale a plastic umbrella in her mouth. You should have seen the blood...
4)Shouting at my children on a nearly daily basis (better but still applies).
5) Frequently wishing that I could hand my notice in now and go and do something else...

Just as well I don't have a child missing in the Algarve isn't it?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Good Enough Parent?

I have a very good and wise friend who when I frequently fret about my inadequacies as a mother, says to me, but are you a good enough parent?

I think the answer is, as it is for most of us, probably, yes. We all probably fall down in some areas of parenting, but in general most parents are benign and doing the best for their offspring. That we don't always get it right is part of human nature.

I mention this, because, like I guess the rest of the country I have been transfixed by the Madeleine McCann story this week. I was going to blog about it anyway, when I came back from holiday, but now more then ever, it seems pertinent to do so.

One of the most troubling aspects of this case is the decision the McCanns and their friends took to dine 100m away from their apartment while their children slept.

On balance, I think - I say I think, I don't know as we never took a holiday like that when our lot were that young - I wouldn't have done what they did. But I sure as hell can understand why they did it.

Being a parent means that sometimes, particularly when you have very small children, you need some childfree time, with your partner. We still find that, and nowadays get it less and less as the children stay up later. Being on holiday can add to the frustration you feel about not getting enough adult time (which incidentally has no bearing at all on how much you love your children. To keep a marriage going through the difficult times of coping with small children it is vital you do find time to spend together). I can really see the appeal of a holiday which allows you family time, plus some time away from the kids.

I presume it is those considerations which led the McCanns to make their fateful decision. I also presume that it was something that others did at the resort, which perhaps led them to feel more relaxed about it then they may have been at home. Being abroad can have that effect. When holidaying in paradise no one expects to encounter the snake.

I have no idea why they decided not to go for the babysitting option offered by Mark Warner, but if it is anything like situations we have been in where the babysitting option actually means someone sitting in a room listening to a monitor but never actually checking on the children, I can understand why they might have thought that they'd make a better fist of it. After all, they were the parents. They would know if their children were likely to wake up or not. The worst they can have imagined was that one of the kids might have woken up crying - and hell we've been at home and not heard a child cry and realised they've been yelling for ages.

In the circumstances as they've been described I think they took a reasonable risk. All of us in our daily lives assess situations to see if they are risky or not. I know I am a particularly risk averse individual, but even so, letting my eleven year old walk to and fro from school on her own is a risk. She may get kidnapped/knocked over by a car. She probably won't. But she may.

The trouble with risk of course, is that it is a two way street. How many hundreds of others have passed through that apartment and taken the same risk, and nothing happened to their child? The tragedy for the McCanns is that they were the unlucky ones, so instead of coming back from a happy holiday in May, they have been embroiled in a nightmare ever since.

I find it very hard to blame them for that decision. It probably wasn't one I would have made, but they are going to pay for it for the rest of their lives. What right do I or anyone else for that matter, have to condemn? I can think of at least two situations I know of where a parent has taken a reasonable risk like that and an unforseeable situation occurred that if it had gone the other way could have been catastrophic. Even last night, as I bathed the younger two children, the older two were downstairs playing. I got downstairs to discover the back door was unlocked. A reasonable risk, perhaps. We aren't prone to having strangers wander into our gardens here, but it could happen. And if it did, what kind of incompetent parent might I appear?

What has happened in the last few days to the McCanns beggars belief. I don't think for a minute they are guilty of anything more then inaccurately assessing a situation, and it has cost them dear. To look at the pain in Kate McCann's face, and the deadness in Gerry McCann's eyes is to see two parents who are utterly bereft. I will put my hands up if I am wrong about this, but really, is it credible that two people who up until now have led hitherto blameless lives, would suddenly throw it all away in an act of such wanton madness? Even if Kate McCann, as alleged, accidentally killed her daughter, why bring attention to what has happened by this sustained media campaign? Surely the sensible thing to do in the circumstances would have been to keep your head down and get the hell out of there. It seems clear as mud that the Portugese police haven't had a clue from day one as to who could possibly have taken that poor child.

While I appreciate that in the majority of cases like this it usually is the family who are responsible, I just find it hard to credit a mother who has struggled to have children through IVF (surely that would make them more precious then ever?) could do such a thing, let alone a mother who appears to be such a devout Catholic. Anyone who knows anything about catholicism will know that guilt goes hand in hand with the religion. And if Kate and Gerry McCann did kill their daughter they would be hard pushed not to show their guilt. Perhaps they are incredibly good actors, but is it really likely they killed their daughter and then went out to dinner as normal? I find that hard to believe.

When we were in Menorca, we found ourselves watching Sky News alot. I use the word news advisedly. 24 hours rolling news actually brings you very little that is new. Instead the same stories are repeated over and over again. Inevitably we found ourselves watching the McCanns story unfolding. I had of course been aware of the story before we went on holiday, but found the over sentimentalisation of it in our press rather uncomfortable, and hadn't been paying much attention.

Somehow, being in a quiet resort very similar to Praia de Luz, on holiday with our family, the story became charged with so much more resonance. And every time that picture of Madeleine came up I would look at no 4, who bears a passing resemblance, and is only a year older, and think, what on earth would I do if something similar happened to her?

I think I would have probably done very much what the McCanns have done. In a global age, we have the ability to use the media and internet to reach out to the world. When faced with such a desperate situation, I think I would have been inclined to do anything to find my child. The fear must be that eventually the world will move on, stop looking, and the search will stall. I can completely see why the need to keep Madeleine's story in the news has been paramount.

But of course, if you sup with devil you need a very long spoon, as the McCanns are now finding to their cost. Back then, in August, it was clear that the Portugese press were making some very wild allegations about the couple (perhaps fired by an irritation that the McCanns had granted exclusives to the British press?), which were not being reported by our media. We watched an interview the couple gave to Sky News in which they refuted utterly the (as then unknown) claims being made against them. It was one of the most harrowing things I have ever witnessed. Neither of them appear to me to be the wear your heart on your sleeve sort, but their distress was palpable. Their emotion seemed genuine. Is it really likely that a professional couple who have had no involvement with the media hitherto could manage to put it on like that? I find that hard to believe too.

Now thanks to the events of the last few days, the McCanns are discovering to their cost the consequences of supping on that long spoon. The media from having regarded them as saints (would a working class couple have got away with not being castigated for leaving the children? I don't think so), now seems on the verge of casting them down as sinners. There is an equivocal tone entering into a great deal of the reporting. People are beginning to put caveats in place, and if any more damaging material comes out, no doubt, those who have held them up as tragic figures will be the first to cast them out in the wilderness.

Indeed, on the internet where fierce debate rages as to the guilt or otherwise of this poor benighted couple, in some quarters you'd think their guilt was established as fact. I have never read such pernicious and vile slurs on anyone as I have read about the McCanns in the last couple of days. They are often accused of being unemotional (in these post Diana days of course that is the biggest crime - to me they seem very dignified) and bizarrely, as with Diana, complete strangers somehow feel they have more rights to "Maddy" (not a name her parents call her incidentally) then the McCanns do. Because the McCanns don't act in what is deemed to be an appropriate way - namely tearing their hair out and acting hysterically - they are castigated for it. It's beginning to turn into a witch hunt, with people accusing them of all sorts of terrible things.

And yet, what exactly do we know? Thanks to the secrecy of the Portugese investigation (a good thing in theory - if the press weren't being fed wild tidbits from somewhere), we actually know very little. In fact, all we can say with certainty is that on May 3 Madeleine McCann disappeared from her holiday apartment. No one knows if she is dead or alive, though I have to say, gloomily I tend to lean towards the former. And yet the whole world knows what has happened to her, and according to a lot of the nasty stuff going around half the world appears to know her parents killed her.

It reminds me of a short story I once read (whose name I forget, though I have been bashing my brains trying to remember it), about a man who found his neighbour dead in the bathroom. She is a former actress, and he climbs a ladder to break into her house when it is feared she has met with an accident. Initially his account is believed. He is a good neighbour, worried about the woman he hasn't seen for a few days. She has committed suicide in the bathroom. But then the press start looking for more salacious details and the gossip starts. By the end of the story the neighbour is alleged to have been involved of a love triangle with the actress, and has possibly murdered her. His wife ends up having a nervous breakdown and the couple move away. The last line of the story goes something like this. "They all knew the truth about the actress. But no one knew the truth about me."

I think something of the sort is happening here. None of us knows what happened that night, and I suspect we will never know. But in the meantime Kate and Gerry McCann are innocent until proved guilty. I personally don't think they have done anything wrong. And despite what the press would have us believe, they are neither saints nor sinners, just a normal couple trying to deal with the most horrific of situations. And tragically at a time when they need all the support they can get, they are being villified in some corners.

They are good enough parents.

Just like the rest of us.

Of course....

Mums of eleven year olds aren't immune from stupid behaviour as a result of getting used to a new situation.

Cue me, yesterday at 4.30 pm thinking, Where Is She???? and ringing her up. Only for no 1 to pick up the phone and say, Hi Mum, I'm home.

On the other hand, this morning she rang me five minutes after leaving to say she had forgotten to ask me to sign her planner, and was about to be in Big Trouble. Cue mercy dash in Spouse's car (luckily no 1 is now leaving so early we had time) to go and sign it.

So I think we're even....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Things Eleven Year Olds Do When They Are Left To Their Own Devices For the First Time

1. Arrive home half an hour after expected because said eleven year old has had to stop at their friend's house en route home to use the loo.

2. Forget their school bag so they have to go back for it while their mother is waiting ten minutes away at the local tennis club. En route to getting the bag, they lend their phone to a friend, get sidetracked with two other friends buying ice creams and arrive twenty minutes later....

3. Manage to remember to do maths homework.

4. Forget to bring maths homework to school, thereby earning a caution.

5. Ring their mother on the way to school to say they have found a crow stuck in a hole and what should they do? Biting her lip said mother promises to ring the RSPCA.

6 Twenty minutes later, when Mother is now late for school with her siblings, the eleven year old rings back to ask has Mother rung RSPCA? Cue Mother managing (just) not to swear and telling oldest child she had better get to school and fast...

7. It occurs to Mother that child shouldn't actually be at the place where she found the crow if she is going to the school on the agreed route.

8. Cue Mother spending rest of the day in state of high anxiety....

I just LOVE having an eleven year old walking to school....

Back to School

Well I'm here again, finally...

The last few weeks of the holiday were inevitably busy and I had very little time to blog. And last week I was attempting to catch up on the housework/garden while arranging a fortieth birthday party for a friend which we hosted at the weekend (of which more later).

Last week saw not just the kids back to school but nos 1 & 3 both starting new schools (next year for the first time in five years I won't have a child starting a new school, which will be such a relief...).

No 1 as I may have mentioned before got just a tad stressed at the end of last term about the prospect of going to secondary school. I felt like a worn out dishcloth by the end of it, and was mightily relieved when school finished and we could forget about it all.

As the last week of the holidays wore away, however, she got increasingly anxious. We spent a fabulous weekend at my mother's in Shropshire, where she poured her heart out to her granny (lucky old granny), and when we left she surreptitiously sobbed all the way home.

By the Sunday she was like a cat on hot bricks, but we had a long (and I thought calming) chat in the car on the way home from a day out, and I thought she'd be fine.


Last Monday she started to look teary around lunchtime and by teatime was claiming she wasn't hungry. (A sure sign that something is wrong. No1 is always hungry).

I sent her upstairs to get in the bath, as I could see she was about to lose it big time and thought she might not like an audience. I gave her half an hour and followed her up to discover her sitting rather tragically in her room in floods of tears. I think she probably sobbed for nearly two hours, by the end of which she a) couldn't actually tell me what the problem was and b) was so lacking in oxygen I felt sure she was going to have a panic attack.

In desperation I shoved her in the bath, letting her borrow all my body wash/bubble bath etc and let her soak for about an hour, which seemed to do the trick.

While all this was going on, I of course was busy hiding my own stress about the idea of my baby going off to school on her own without me. I suddenly realised talking to a friend in the week there was a reason I had been waking up early every morning, and that was it...

The thing is though, hard and all as it is to let go, and it is very very hard, I know I have to do it.

In a sense I feel that from the moment you have a child you embark on a series of leave takings.

As women we carry our babies for nine months, and they are physically part of us, until the moment the placenta is cut.

For a while we generally sleep with them, then maybe we move them into a cot next to our bed, before eventually transferring them to a room of their own.

As they grow we start to leave them occasionally with others, and when they're big enough we spend mornings or days apart from them as they progress to nursery, and then on to school.

At each point, our children step away from us and move onwards to a place where they will one hopes have the confidence to leave us and face the world.

Because that really is our job as parents. Our children aren't ours to keep. They are the greatest gift we have for sure, but it is inevitable that one day they will leave us. Which is just as it should be, however hard that is.

So come last Tuesday, when I walked no 1 up to her new school (a measure of her nervousness was that she made me accompany her all the way) although I felt a pang of longing for the little girl I am losing into adolescence (a pang that nearly became a flood when she turned to give me a hug - the first time she's done that at the school gate for years), I couldn't help but be pleased for her as well. Though she doesn't think so, she is more then ready for big school, and it is time she and I both moved on.

No 3 was much more sanguine about her change of circumstance, skipping in happily on the first day and demanding that I left her in the junior playground. Which means I'm down to one in the infant school - another two years and I'll be saying goodbye to that part of my parenting life for good.

Like I say, parenting involves a series of leavetakings, which can sometimes feel rather sad and final.

On the other hand nothing matches the feeling I got at the end of the day, when no 1 sent me a text.

Hi Mum, she said, I had a fab dayxxx

Sometimes it is so fabulous being a parent.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Oh God

I was going to blog about lots of stuff today as I have oodles to catch up on, as kids have just gone back to school. But I've just seen on aol that Jane Tomlinson has died, and it's taken the wind out of my sales a bit. I will be back, but probably tomorrow now.

If you have never heard of her, she was a wonderful, amazing, courageous woman who on being told that she had terminal cancer seven years ago took herself off the gym and started training, first for marathons, then for triathlons, Iron Man and the like, raising millions of pounds for charity along the way.

As a rather crap runner and putative triathloner, I have always found her story immensely inspiring.

My heart goes out to her family, particularly her husband who has been an amazingly stalwart support. He must be feeling so bereft.

Bugger. Isn't life crap sometimes?