Join Me in More Parental Confessions

Sign that says "Confessions Booth"

While browsing through some of my past posts I came across one I had written in 2012 – Three Parental Confessions. In there I confessed to three times where I felt I had fallen a bit short of being the perfect mother. I now need to unburden myself of a couple more such incidents, and give you the opportunity to confess too.

French Lessons

When my son started secondary school three years ago, he was doing just fine in all of his lessons except French, where he really struggled. I spent a lot of time trying to help him with his French homework, but he just couldn’t grasp any of it. In the end I was just doing the homework for him and he would copy it into his book. I told him that at the parents’ evening, I would speak to his French teacher, and see if there was any extra help they could give him. He didn’t really want me to do that; he said that he had already decided he was going to drop French after Year 9 when he picked his options, so there was no point. I insisted that there was a point because he still had to do French for two and a half more years until he could drop it.

When the parents’ evening arrived, my son and I walked over to the French teacher’s table. As we approached, she had a huge smile. Before I had a chance to tell her about his struggles, she said “I’m SO pleased you’ve come to see me because I want to tell you how well your son is doing in French!”

Toy of teacher at desk

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and went on to tell me how he was grasping concepts that the rest of the class weren’t, and how he was much more advanced that she would expect from a year 7 student. I sat there lapping it up, a little confused, but delighted.

Finally she pulled out a book. “I’ll show you what I mean,” she said. It was his homework book. She began leafing through it, showing me all the pieces of homework I had done, saying things like “Look at this! 10 out of 10! Nobody ever gets 10 out of 10 for this,” “And look at this, I didn’t expect anyone to understand this so quickly!”

After the discussion we had just had I felt far too awkward to say “Oh I see, no, I did all that.” So I just sat there smiling, saying things like, “Wow, that’s great! I’m so pleased!” and “Wait, why is that one only 9/10? Let me see that.”

As we walked away my son said “Good job mum, telling her how much I’m struggling with it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You’re dropping French after Year 9.”

Raffle Prize

On one occasion when my kids were at primary school, we went to a quiz evening at their school. My son was 8 and my daughter 11. They were also doing a raffle. The raffle tickets were sold at the start of the evening and the draw was at the end of the evening. Those who won were able to go and choose whatever prize they wanted from the prize table.

I bought three strips of tickets, one each for me, my son, and my daughter. When it came to the draw, one of my son’s numbers was drawn. “Ooh, what are you going to pick?” I asked him.

Used raffle tickets

“I’m going to pick the travel game!” he said, and began walking up to the prize table while people applauded him. I tried to let it go, I really did. But I had seen the travel game earlier and it was one of those rubbishy little sets that quite clearly came from the £1 shop. He almost made it to the table when I couldn’t take it any more, I leaped out of my seat, ran up, practically shoved him out of the way and grabbed the case of beer instead. I’m pretty sure there were a few shocked gasps from the other parents who had all witnessed my behaviour.

As we did the walk of shame back to our seats I muttered to my son “I’ll buy you a travel game, it’s just that this is worth much more.” I like to think I was teaching him something about value. In case you’re wondering, yes I did buy him a travel game, and no I didn’t enjoy the beer; it was too tainted with my guilt.

So come on, fess up, what parenting mistakes are you ashamed of? You’ll feel better if you share.

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Photo credits:
Confession booth sign
Toy teacher at desk
Raffle tickets

The Wrong Bowl

Four coloured bowls on a kitchen counter

Our four lovely cereal bowls on the kitchen counter (mine is the red bowl)

I’m rather prone to accidental crockery breakage. The consequence is that our kitchen cupboard is full of random mismatched half-sets. I pretend it’s a style choice. A year or so back, when we were down to two cereal bowls between four of us, I went to buy some replacement bowls. The rather lovely bowls you see above caught my eye in Matalan (for those of you in the US, Matalan is something like the clothing and homewares sections of Target).

I couldn’t decide which colour to go for, and then came up with the fabulous idea of getting four different colours, so that we could each have our own colour bowl. I was thrilled to bits. I arrived home and proudly showed them my purchase. Everyone agreed that they were indeed very lovely cereal bowls.

Right, I said, Who wants which colour? No fighting now!

They looked a little confused, and I’m pretty sure there were some sideways glances between them. Unperturbed, I turned to my son,Ok, well because your special plate when you were little was yellow, I thought you might like the yellow bowl? Yes?

Um, ok,” he said.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm, but carried on. I turned to Neil,I don’t know why, but I just thought of you for the green one, is that ok? I smiled broadly at him.

Fine with me! He said, clearly feigning some enthusiasm to please me.

Just two bowls left, who would end up with which one?Right, I said to my daughter, Do you want the purple one or the red one?

I really don’t mind mum. Ok, there were definitely some sideways glances now.

I ignored the glances. Well I really like the red one, I said, So if you don’t mind, I’ll have the red one, and you have the purple one?

Sure, whatever.”

I was a little perplexed by their reactions. I checked again that they all liked the bowls, and they assured me that they definitely did. Oh well.

The next day I caught Neil eating cereal in the red bowl. MY bowl.Oops! I said, You’ve accidentally got the wrong bowl! Yours is the green one, remember?

Oh, er, yes, sorry.”

Over the next several months, there were many more oopses from me, not just with Neil, with all three of them. Oops, you’ve taken the green bowl out, let me get you the yellow one…, Oops, the red bowl is in the washing-up, but I haven’t had any cereal, who was it?, Oops, yours is the purple one remember? I couldn’t understand it. How hard was it to remember a colour?!

And then one day, after a particularly harrowing morning of three bowl errors, it hit me…

Words saying NOBODY CARES

Nobody cares about the colour allocations! I sought my son out for confirmation, Tell me honestly, do any of you care about the bowl colour allocations?

He shook his head, No.”

Not at all?

Not the tiniest bit.” He hesitated, then took a deep breath, Why does it matter what colour one we use?

There, he had said it. Wow. They weren’t a bunch of numpties who couldn’t remember their colour. I was the numpty for thinking it mattered. I guess they didn’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me outright, so they left it for me to figure out. It just took me a really long time. I was so set on the idea that we each needed to have our own colour bowl that I hadn’t even considered there might be another way of doing it. A random way, where it doesn’t matter which one we use. I had to laugh at myself for being so slow to cotton on. And I’m now laughing at myself for suddenly realising that there is a life lesson in this post; I thought I was just writing about bowls.

I wonder why it might be that allocating colours mattered to me, but not to anyone else. I’ve always felt like my life is fairly chaotic, and I think I try to bring in little bits of order where I can to compensate, so maybe it’s that. Or maybe my head is still in the zone of thinking my kids are little, because I’m pretty sure you’d have a colour allocation with small children. Or maybe something else. Since that moment of revelation I’ve stopped trying to enforce the colour allocations with them, but I can’t get past it for myself. I still always feel a little disappointed when I see them eating out of the wrong bowl, especially if it’s the red bowl, because the red bowl is MY bowl damn it!

Next time I’m buying four bowls of the same colour.

I’m not convinced however that I’m alone here, so please help me by voting in the bowl poll below…

Last Week My Children’s Dad Died

Candle and flower

We married in Las Vegas in 1997, eight days after we met. I was 26, he was 50. Twelve years and two children later he was sentenced to ten years in prison for a violent attack on me. He served half the time and was then deported. He carried out what I can only describe as a hate campaign against me, beginning in prison, and continuing from afar following the deportation. Last week he died.

I finally understand what people mean when they say “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.”  The usual response to that is “There is no supposed,” and of course that’s true, but it’s nevertheless an accurate reflection of where I’m at.

This isn’t a post where I want to say bad things about him – I was just giving the background so that you can understand why I would have conflicting emotions about this. My overriding emotion of course is for my children; I know what to feel for them, but I don’t know what to feel for myself. I’ve tried to focus on the fun times we had during the early years in Vegas, before everything went very bad, because holding on to negative feelings helps nobody. What’s the point in any bitterness now?

My children have been through such a lot. They were 9 and 6 when it happened, they’re 17 and 14 now. While he was in prison here in England they visited him many times, but since he was deported they’ve only seen him once. They still kept a close relationship though – emailing, messaging, speaking, a few times a week. Whatever he did, he was still their Dad and this is incredibly hard for them.

The news came early last Tuesday morning. We spent most of the day just sitting on my daughter’s bed watching the TV, interspersed with me messaging people to tell them the news, and leaping up to do little bits of housework which is my default when I’m not sure what else to do.  Every so often I would ask them a question, or share a memory about their Dad, just to give a prompt if they wanted to talk about him.

During that afternoon my daughter decided she wanted to go out with her boyfriend that evening as a distraction. So I asked my son if he wanted to go out too. He did. He chose the cinema. I took him to Five Guys for a burger first, and we were served by an extremely friendly and enthusiastic young man. After taking our order, he looked at us with a huge grin and asked “So, have you two had a good day?” and then stood there beaming at us, waiting for an answer. My son and I stared blankly at him for a couple of seconds and then both instinctively laughed. In my family we’ve always had the ability to find humour, even in the gloomiest of times, and it was nice to have that lighter moment then.

Saturday was the funeral. He had been living in the Philippines after remarrying a young woman there, so there was no way we were going to be able to travel out there. Instead we lit a candle for him at home.

It was crazy marriage from beginning to end. I wasn’t simply a blameless victim, I made plenty of mistakes too along the way, and at times I behaved badly. But we have two wonderful children out of it, and that’s the most important thing. As you can imagine there’s far more to the story than I’ve summarised here. But right now there is nothing more to say.

 

My Daughter’s Cake on TV, Plus, What the?…Ewwww!!!!

Ewww gif

The reaction GIF relates to the second item on my post today. You’ll see.

Couple of things for you today. First up, last Friday, a cake my daughter made appeared on the BBC’s “The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice”, in their failed bakes section. Yep, our motto is – if you fail at something, don’t hide it away, put it up for public ridicule! We’re highly delighted by the appearance of her cake on the show, as I’m sure you will be too when you watch it. Here’s the clip:

Next up, and let me make it perfectly clear that is second thing is in no way whatsoever, whichsoever, or howsoever, related to the first thing. Have you heard of the UroClub? It’s been around for a few years apparently but I hadn’t heard of it until I was unfortunate enough to encounter it on my Facebook timeline. At first I thought it was a joke, actually I’m still hoping that it is, but I have a horrible feeling it isn’t…

Apparently, not having anywhere to pee while you’re on the golf course is a big problem. It turns out that running off to pee in the woods is frowned upon (well I wish someone had told me sooner, not that I play golf, but I mean in general). And so some bright spark has invented a golf club that you can pee into. Yes really. Or that men can pee into at least, so far there thankfully isn’t a female version. The top half of the club is a hollow tube with a screw cap on the end. It even comes with a handy clip-on privacy towel to cover over your crotch area. They describe it as discreet. Discreet? I don’t think so, it’s bordering on obscene. Here it is in action:

Uroclub being usedAnd here are the instructions from the website:

Uroclub instructions

I can’t help noticing they’ve missed out quite a vital stage in the instructions, the stage that would go in between step 2, and step 3. I’d like to see a golfer doing that part discretely; hands fumbling around under the towel. Well I wouldn’t ACTUALLY like to see it, but you know what I mean.

The website tells us “The UroClub™ is intended to eliminate anxiety and any feeling of uneasiness on the course” Right, because peeing into a tube while people are standing around watching, waiting for you to take your shot and wondering why you’ve just clipped a towel over your crotch, is totally going to make you feel at ease. The website also says “Imagine, giving the appearance of taking a practice swing, while both privately and confidentially, you are able to relieve yourself without any embarrassment” Wait, so now they expect you to be swinging it while you’re peeing too. Really, I would rather see someone go off into the woods to pee than this. To clarify again, I wouldn’t ACTUALLY like to see it.

And here is the link to the website itself in case you can’t quite believe it and want to see it for yourself https://www.uroclub.com/ and if you really want to see more, you can seek out the commercial for it too on YouTube. I did.

Have you seen any surprising inventions lately? Or have you tried to bake a cactus cake that didn’t go to plan and was subsequently shown on national television?

Did You Know That 1 in 113 People in the World is a Refugee?

Gulwali Passarlay and Vanessa Chapman

Gulwali Passarlay with me (read on to find out more!). Photo credit: Ollie Gapper

I’ll say it again, 1 in 113. Pretty shocking right? The numbers are unprecedented. When they talk of a refugee crisis, they ain’t kidding (I’m using the word ‘refugee’ as a catch-all word which also includes asylum seekers and others forcibly displaced through war or persecution. It doesn’t include economic migrants). Around half of those refugees are children, many of whom are alone, either separated from their parents or orphaned.

I haven’t been blogging for a while, and that’s partly because of refugees, let me explain…

I organised a conference at work in June, and I booked Gulwali Passarlay as our keynote speaker. Gulwali is author of ‘The Lightless Sky: My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee’.

The Lightless Sky book cover

Gulwali arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied asylum seeking child at the age of 13, after having spent a perilous year, travelling 12,000 miles alone from Afghanistan. I read his book prior to meeting him, and I’m really struggling to put into words what this book did to me. It was so shocking, and moving, and heartbreaking, but also uplifting and hopeful. How he survived the journey, and made it to the UK is incredible. His strength and determination, which shines through in the book is truly humbling.

Since arriving here nine years ago he has gone on to achieve so much, a Degree in Politics from Manchester University (he barely spoke a few words of English when he arrived), he has done a TEDx talk, he carried the Olympic torch in 2012, he is an activist and campaigner for refugees, and of course the writing of his book. He has appeared widely in the press and on television; if you Google his name you’ll find plenty.

In person he is strong and charismatic, as well as warm, friendly, kind and funny. He is undoubtedly brilliant, and yet underneath it all he is you or me.

“It wasn’t my fault I wasn’t born in Europe. My home was a war zone, did that somehow make me less human?” Gulwali Passarlay, from The Lightless Sky.

Also in June we had the EU Referendum. I’m not going to say much about that right now, but suffice to say I was hugely shocked and upset by the result. And I continue to be hugely shocked and upset by the racism that the result appears to have triggered. It’s frightening. I can’t even articulate how abhorrent I find it.

The combination of those two things – Gulwali’s story, and the Referendum made me feel unable to blog for a while. I mostly write about silly trivial things on here, and a lot of the blogs I follow are fairly lighthearted, and suddenly I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write about significant and important things, and yet I felt dwarfed by the size and importance of the issues and didn’t feel I could really do them justice. I wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how.

I now feel ready to return. I might not be able to change the world, but right now I’ll be happy if I can get a few people to read Gulwali’s book (available on Amazon and in many high street book stores!), and other personal stories like his. Those individual human stories are so important for changing attitudes. Statistics and media headlines are faceless. I fail to see how anyone could read his book, and then still come out with hateful “Send them home” type comments about refugees and asylum seekers. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t want to lose that hope and optimism that things can change.

When No One Is Looking…

Black cat on fence

A few days ago I was eating some chicken wings at home. Before I could say “I love this hot Nando’s sauce”, one of my cats (the one in the picture above – you can see the sneaky look on her face), leaped up from nowhere, seized one of the wings in her mouth and attempted to run off with it. I managed to grab her and extract the wing from her mouth, phew.

I then looked down at my plate of wings, realised that I had put the wing back on the pile, and had no idea which was the one that had been in the cat’s mouth. So what did I do? Well nobody was around to see, so I just shrugged and carried on eating. Had anyone else been around, I may well have made a big dramatic gesture of throwing them all away in disgust, saying “Ugh! Well I can’t eat ANY of them now!”

Truth is I’ve been sharing food with cats ever since that first grubby little fistful of cat food I shoved into my mouth from the cat bowl as a toddler. I’ve never worried too much about that sort of thing. It builds immunity right? Right?! Remember I spent a year living self-sufficiently up a mountain as a child, with no plumbing or electricity, drinking raw milk straight out of goats, and eating goodness-knows-what straight out of the ground. I figure I have a pretty strong stomach. I feel the need to clarify here though, I’m actually very meticulous with food hygiene in my kitchen, so you don’t need to worry if you ever come to eat at my house. I guess I’m careful for other people, but if it’s just something for me (and nobody’s watching), I’m a lot more relaxed.

Are you horrified by my chicken wing story? Or are you thinking – yeah, I’d probably do the same too if nobody was looking…or maybe even if people were looking? What things have you done alone lately that you might not have done if someone was looking?

 

Panda Bears, Bloggers, and Poolside Wisdom

Three unrelated things…

1) Sorting through some photos on my computer I came across this picture I had taken of an article in a newspaper a while back which had given me a good laugh, so I thought you might like to laugh too. I think I shared it on Facebook at the time. It says:

“A Sanctuary worker dresses up as a panda – even smearing himself in real bear poo and wee for authenticity. The unusual uniform is an attempt to stop the pandas seeing a human so they can be released into the wild.”

Now I’m no panda bear, but if I was, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be fooled into thinking that some guy in a cheap, and frankly terrible, panda costume was actually another panda, smeared in bear poo and wee or not. What makes me laugh the most though is the expression on the face of the real panda looking in, he’s clearly thinking “What the…?”

Panda

2)  A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting two fellow bloggers, Mayumi from Even More Bonus Parts, and Beth, who used to run the Limebird Writers site I wrote for, and now does Beauty in Beta, and  The Olive Fox. Mayumi was a regular follower and commenter on Limebird, so it made sense for her to meet myself and Beth at the same time when she took a trip to the UK last month. We had such a lovely afternoon chatting and laughing, well Beth and I did most of the chatting while Mayumi sat sweetly and listened, and then later when I commented that we hadn’t really let her get a word in, she very graciously said that it’s fine because she likes to listen. Phew!

Mayumi, Vanessa and Beth

3)  You may recall back in December I wrote about a conversation I overheard in the swimming pool showers, where a man was talking about how he had taken a decision to give everything 10 minutes more. Remember that? How much we all liked it and said we would think about taking that approach ourselves? Well I’ve recently gleaned more wisdom at the pool. I go three times a week, and on several occasions, I had noticed a woman on the benches, just watching the swimmers. Last week I overheard her talking to someone in the lobby. She said that she had recently had surgery and wasn’t allowed to swim for a couple of months, but she still comes to the pool at the same times as she would have swum, and just watches, so as to keep the habit of coming. I thought that was great, it’s all too easy to break a good habit, and it can be really hard to get back into it again. I decided I would remember that because I’m sure there might be other contexts where I can apply that approach in the future.

Who knew the swimming pool would be such a rich source of wisdom? I shall continue eavesdropping on everyone’s conversations, and report back if I glean anything more worth sharing…

Vanessa in swimming pool

Yes, this is me in the pool, not looking my best!

What unexpected place have you gleaned wisdom from? Have you met any other bloggers recently? Do you think the guy in the panda suit was actually a new, young and naïve, employee, and the others said “Well you’re going to have to dress in a panda suit and smear yourself with bear poo and wee. It’s all about helping reintegrate the pandas into the wild, and not just because we all want a good laugh at your expense”?

RIP Victoria Wood

One week ago today I posted my Victoria Wood challenge skit on here, and today she died. A mere 62 years old. Obviously I’d been thinking a lot about her lately, so I felt more personally affected by the news than I might otherwise have done. I’d been watching a lot of her old sketches over the last few weeks and remembering what a big part of my comedy-appreciation formative years she was!

As a little tribute, I will share this skit of hers from 1988. How many celebs can you spot in the audience?

So long Victoria, thanks for all the laughs…

The Prime Minister’s Wee Wee

Blue dinosaur in snow

This isn’t me, but it could have been if someone had challenged me to dress up as a blue dinosaur and run through the snow (which is no more random that some of the other things you all suggested)

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about the Prime Minister’s tax affairs. No, yet again I’m prepared to make a fool of myself in front of my blogging audience for the sake of…what AM I doing this for the sake of again? I’m sure I had a good reason. Anyway, yes, it’s time for another one of the challenges I was set by you guys at the end of last year. This one came from Pete Denton. He suggested that I vlog a Victoria Wood style skit about recycling…er…sure, that’s a perfectly normal thing to do and..er, really easy…gulp. I actually wrote the skit in my head very soon after he set it, but it’s taken me this long to get up the courage to record and post it.

I’m not sure if Victoria Wood is very well known outside of the UK – she’s a British comedian who has been on TV since the 70s. I was particularly a huge fan of hers in the 80s, but she carried on doing plenty more after that too. She’s done a mixture of sketch shows, stand-up comedy, sitcoms, theatre, as well as drama, and has covered a range of different characters and styles, so it’s quite hard to define what would be a Victoria Wood style skit. One of the things she does in her stand-up routines is become different characters and just tell a story about something as that character, so it’s that kind of thing I’ve gone for. I don’t actually think the end result is anything like any of her stuff, but oh well, you can at least appreciate my bravery in giving it a go right? Especially you fellow introverts. I know I love to do a bit of acting, but this is somewhat out of my comfort zone.

Well here goes…


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photo credit: Loch Ness Monster via photopin (license)

Sunday Sundries – Can You Help?

A few unrelated things…

Stone

Even this picture is unrelated to anything else in the post. It’s just a stone I found on the beach a couple of years ago. Cute isn’t it?

1. Looking for a recommendation here. Does anybody know of a good print-on-demand company who can do reproductions of old books? A friend has a very old, out of copyright, book. He has professionally scanned print-ready pdfs of it, but would ideally like a company to try to replicate the original in terms of the material the cover was made of etc, or at least a semblance of the original, so that it’s an actual reproduction rather than simply a reprint of an old book. He would then like to sell them as reproductions. He doesn’t want to have to bulk buy a load of copies upfront, hence the print-on-demand requirement.

2. I’ve updated my Books by Bloggers page. If you’ve written a book, or books, please see if you’re listed there, and if the details are correct. If your book isn’t there, and you’d like it to be, please contact me using the form on that page.

Empty chairs around a tree

And another completely unrelated to anything picture

3. You may recall in December I mentioned that I had volunteered to have a stall at a craft fair, even though I don’t really do crafts, and so had whipped up a batch of decorated boxes. Doing that gave me the urge to take up knitting again, something I do every now and again. I’ve set up a little site with Big Cartel to sell my knitted items – KnittingNess.com. So far I only have five hats to sell, plus I appreciate this isn’t the most ideal time of year to start selling woolly hats, but there are no costs involved in having this site up (as it currently stands), so no harm in it sitting there. I’m a big-time procrastinator, plus I have a short attention span, so I needed to just get it up there quickly while I was feeling enthused. I also have a Twitter account for it – twitter.com/KnittingNessy (unfortunately @knittingness was already taken on Twitter, by another Vanessa, which I hadn’t thought to check when I set up, so I’ve had to put a ‘y’ on the end, oh well!). And I’ve just set up a Facebook page for it too, which is rather sparse at the moment – facebook.com/knittingness

And that’s my Sunday Sundries over. To recap, I’m hoping you’ll…

1. Let me know of an appropriate print-on-demand company
2. Check my Books by Bloggers page.
3. Follow my knitting twitter account, and like the facebook page

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photo credits –
Stone that looks a little like a Minion: Me!
Chairs around tree: Tuileries via photopin (license)