The kids are going to wreck my house. HELP.

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Green fingerprints on my lovely yellow wall…

Oh God. Have I made a terrible mistake? It’s only a week, now, till 15, unruly, overexcited, sugar fueled, adrenaline pumped four year olds descend on my house for J’s birthday party. WHY DID I HAVE TO DO A DIY PARTY AT HOME?! WHY DIDN’T I JUST HIRE A VENUE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?!!!! WHY????!!!!!!!

Anyway, while I go away and breathe into a paper bag, it seems like a good time to share this guest post on how to prevent kids from wrecking your home. Notice, they don’t list ‘invite a tribe of them in and feed them cake’ among their suggestions…

Preventing expensive (child-induced) home damage repairs

No matter how much you limit the unnecessary expenses of bringing up a child, avoiding trendy trainers and costly days out, accidents happen. Repairs to the home, from re-painting scribbled walls to replacing a smashed window, are an inevitable drain on funds.

A recent study in the Daily Mail revealed the average amount of money a child costs their parents over £2,000 in domestic repairs by the age of 10. The shocking statistics regarding the most common causes of damage and the reality of the financial burden destructive activity can become really give parents plenty to think about.

Almost 30% of the parents questioned claim to put money aside in case a surprise accident or destructive behaviour resulted in a sudden payout – demonstrating just how prevalent this issue is.

Here are some tips for avoiding expensive damage:

Get covered

If you have a young family and can relate to these new figures, it’s worth looking into More Than home insurance accidental damage cover to protect you against those accidents that can really add up. Accidental damage cover will help cover the cost of any repairs or replacements you need around the home and can be added as part of your home insurance policy.

Keep them occupied

The threat of clumsy breakages, spillages and general destruction is so severe that 22% of parents feel the need to never leave their child alone in a room. Making sure the kids are entertained is the simplest way to ensure you don’t have to resort to such extreme measures and allow yourself to relax when your back is turned.

Set them up with some (washable) pens and paper to get creative, teach them how to make paper planes or dig out the board games.  You’ll be amazed at the simple toys and games which can keep kids entertained.

Put breakables out of reach

It may seem obvious, but with 25% of parents saying they simply can’t buy anything breakable in anticipation of finding them broken within months of purchase, taking extra measures to protect anything fragile is worth the effort.

Vases in cupboards, scissors in drawers and sofas covered in spill-proof blankets could end up saving you a significant sum. Valuable electricals like tablets and phones are common calamities, and so easily left around the house by us adults – just in grabbing distance of small hands.

Try keeping a secured and lidded box somewhere up high to store your gadgets in so that little fingers can’t reach.

A comprehensive (ish) list of 15 foods we all eat

1) Baked potatoes. But sweet ones, not white ones. Unless one particular member of the family is feeling unusually benevolent/tired/distracted (for which read: ‘the TV is on’)

2) Mashed potato. But the white kind, not the sweet kind (even though it is EXACTLY the same in colour, shape, form, consistency, texture, taste and smell as the inside of baked sweet potatoes – see above). Also, prepare for every 30 seconds to be punctuated with the question, “But is there LOTS of butter in it?” and to suffer the consequences if you dare to deviate from the response, “YES.”

3) Risotto. As long as you call it rice not risotto and you serve one family member’s peas on the side, not mixed in.

4) Roasted butternut squash. As long as you call them ‘chips’.

5) Sausages and chicken. But not the ones with bits in/on/near them.

6) Fish pie. See above and wipe thoughts of sneaking small quantities of spinach past the palace taste tester.

7) Beetroot. Relished in juice form, or chocolate cake form. LOATHED in anything remotely resembling its natural form.

8) Porridge. With or without honey, as long as the question “but is there LOTS of honey?” is answered in the affirmative.

10) Greek/natural yoghurt. Doesn’t need to be fruity, or sugary, as long as you follow the rule above.

11) Carrots, peas, avocados. As long as you have previously offered spinach and then backed down into accepting either of these three instead.

12) Omelettes. But not scrambled eggs. And always accompanied by body weight in grated cheese.

13) Pasta and red sauce. On good days, you can grate other vegetables into this, but if you fail to whizz them into total and utter obliteration, on your own head be it.

14) Pancakes. Sweet and savoury. The latter can have cauliflower mixed into the batter but OHMYGODWHATEVERYOUDO remember the rule above.

15) Chocolate and cheese. In all forms. We are extremely flexible and relaxed when it comes to chocolate and cheese.

Any other ideas for foods to simultaneously satisfy adults, a four year old and a one year old?!

Carbon monoxide awareness week (and other catchy blog post titles…)

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(The Cupboard of Domestic Disgrace, aka: where we hide our boiler and shame)

Given the Scrooge-like nature of this blog, you would not believe the number of emails I get from companies who “just wanted to say, hiya! Hope the weather isn’t getting u down! Wondered if you’d be interested in our new line of toys/range of designer handbags/trendy kids clothes/handy microwave meals/educational books/revamped hotel rooms…”

Honestly, their number is only equalled by the amount of time I spend secretly wishing I’d started the kind of blog that would allow me to freeload all this stuff shamelessly, and then feeling dirty about wishing it. So when I got an email from Boiler Juice, the UK’s leading online supplier of heating oil, my finger was hovering over the delete button. And then I saw what it was about. And I remembered what happened to us this time last year. And I stopped. So here it is, a rare interruption from normal services, for a subject that’s, well, how do I put it, not the sexiest. Nor the most glamorous. Nor the most fun. But nonetheless…

It’s Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week. I know, I know. I’m celebrating quietly at home too. But the thing is, while my ‘cynicism override’ button may be so overused it’s practically glued down to the keyboard, if you haven’t checked your boiler in a while, you really, probably should. When we moved house, three years ago, there was so much to do to the house, so much money to be spent, that we just boxed in the old boiler, painted the doors an optimistic blue and forgot about it.

Every so often the hot water would fail and we’d open the cupboard, give it a thump, shudder and then shut it away again. And then, finally, the hot water stopped altogether and since our addiction to scalding hot baths is the only thing more powerful than our denial, we got someone in to look at the boiler. Not only was it so old that we couldn’t buy replacement parts for it anymore, but it had been leaking carbon monoxide. You can’t see it, or smell it, or taste it, so we’d had no idea. It was only a small amount, the guy said, but even low exposure can cause lasting damage and at high levels they call it ‘the silent killer’. Which made it pretty unambiguous, even to a total DIY dunce like me, that it wasn’t the sort of guest I wanted to invite into my children’s home.

So, yes. Check your boiler, please. Normal, cynical services will resume forthwith.

 

Carbon Monoxide Awareness

So we threw a street party (how to meet your neighbours)

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I got an email last week to this effect: it’s all very well you rabbiting on about how getting to know your local community is key to recycling clothes and toys and doing without classes and playgroups and blah blah blah but in God’s name HOW???? (Only it was a really very polite email and not worded like that at all)

She (the woman writing far more politely than the above) had broken into the habit of using local facebook groups and parenting sites to swap stuff. She was doing everything right but she hadn’t really made any friends that way. None that she could sink half a bottle of red with while the kids drew in felt-tip on the walls and tried to ram bits of lego up each others’ noses. Which is sort of the whole point of the Free our Kids exercise, and how I spend most of my later afternoons these days (joking… half joking…)

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Anyway it got me thinking. And I realised I never wrote about the best thing we ever did, which (when you put it like that) seems like a bit of an oversight. I haven’t yet written about the time we threw the street party.

It went like this: we live on a street where a hundred different languages are spoken, a hundred different religions practiced, a hundred different ways of life and sets of values are going on behind closed doors. It’s the archetypal city street: a handful of East Enders who’ve lived here since the beginning of time, remembering when horses pulled carts up and down the street and the road surface was loose; some middle class ‘early adopters’ of the area, preying fervently for the fabled regeneration to arrive and bring flat whites and artisan breads to the front line; eastern european migrants working so hard they’re barely home long enough to turn the key in the front door; immigrants from further afield, sending money to beloved relatives in far flung lands and housing a dozen nephews in the spare room… We live next to each other, but not with each other. In the same community but not of the same community. We sleep separated by thin walls but don’t know each others names. Or that’s how it was, anyway.

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A couple of months ago, we got a few houses together and decided to lobby the council to let us close the street. The plan was pretty unambitious. We’d shut the street to traffic for two hours so that kids could play, out, in their own neighbourhood for the first time in decades. We didn’t hold out much hope. We thought maybe a dozen people would show. We’d make a couple of cakes, meet a couple of people. Start small.

So we filled out the forms, printed out some posters and stuck flyers through everyone’s front door, explaining what it was about and inviting them to make a cake, or something, if they wanted to. On the morning, we swept the road of cigarettes, beer bottles and fried chicken boxes. Big, red, ‘ROAD AHEAD CLOSED’ signs arrived. And then we waited.

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Two hundred people came. With cakes, samosas, thermoses of tea and coffee, boxes of chocolates and baclava. They brought chalk, bicycles, space hoppers and scooters. The council brought a ping pong table. Two boys who were playing realised they’d lived almost next door to one another for five years. It was the first time they’d met.

We met more of our neighbours in those two hours than we had in the three years preceding it. And it turned out that we’re not different at all. We all wanted somewhere nice for our kids to play, for free, without fear and surrounded by familiar faces. Now we just need to make it a regular thing…

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[We got all the info we needed on how to set the party up here - http://playingout.net/ - It's a BRILLIANT website, go and see!]

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In case of emergency…

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I realised in the bath this morning that it might, possibly, say something quite revealing about my character that I used the very first post on this blog to give myself a ‘get out of jail free card’, for use in emergencies. Moments later, of course, I realised that whatever it is, however revealing it might be, it’s unlikely to be flattering, so I launched into my fall-back diversionary tactic of making a shopping list in my head instead.

Recently, though, I have been wondering… what counts as an emergency? Some friends recently applied for schools, only to get a letter explaining that they hadn’t been allocated a single one in their borough. The place they were given was so far away that one of them would have had to ditch their job in order to do the marathon school run each day. Which would mean halving their income, skipping mortgage payments and eventual destitution. So, clearly, a full blown emergency. Black and white. Nothing doing but to sign up for a nearby private school for a year, stick it on a credit card and prey fervantly for a local school place to materialise before the bailiffs do.

But it’s not always so clear. Life as a parent is full of micro-emergencies and it’s these that I’m most frequently tempted to break The Rules for. Standing in a station at the end of a long day, with a murderously overtired toddler who is about to turn the one hour and eight minutes from Euston to Reading into a tortuous, endless Groundhog day for you and the entire commuting community… Is that an emergency? It feels that way, when the entire nightmare could be averted by taking just a few steps into the WHSmiths concession where a whole row of Octonaut magazines await.

Then there’s the trip to meet friends that involves so much  packing (beaker, nappies, change of clothes and other things the boy deems ‘essential’ like swimming goggles, a spanner and length of rope because YOU NEVER CAN TELL what disaster might befall you in the park)… So much bumph that the addition of a homemade lunch – and the resulting extra weight of jam sarnies, flask, mush for the baby – could (almost) literally be the straw that broke the camel’s back. How much easier just to grab an Ella’s pouch and a packet of Organix rice cakes from the nearest Tesco?

Worst of all are the educational micro-emergencies. These are the most toxic kind by far. Because I can give myself a stern talking to when my micro-emergency is about the mere frippery. But when it comes to education….

Should J be taking swimming lessons like his little friends? Might it literally end in an emergency if I try to teach him just by splashing around with him myself in an amateur fashion? Or, if not an actually dramatic lifeguard moment, might it lead to a micro-emergency – falling behind his peers, losing confidence, hating sport and ending up bunking off PE and lurking behind the drama centre smoking menthols and dousing himself in impulse to mask the smell (can you see I’m projecting here?)

The same goes for: word games; learning-to-tell-the-time games; numbers and counting games; games involving the months and the days of the week; books about the world and geography; pencils that help you develop a proper grip; very occasional theatre experiences and musical concerts; football clubs; drama club; pasta in funny shapes (not explicitly educational in themselves but might possibly be a vehicle for coaxing brain food into him?)…

The list goes on. Each of these, individually, I can find creative ways of doing myself. But somehow, now he’s approaching four and school, it’s all hit at once. These things didn’t matter last year. He was definitely just as happy and just as stimulated without them. But now… does he need a little nudge? In all these areas? I’m not talking pushy parenting, just the smallest bit of help along the way to liven up his learning… it all suddenly looks a bit critical. And ALL of it, at once, I cannot DIY. Not while also working and looking after the baby and managing four people who all (myself very much included) suffer from acute cases of chronic untidyitis, oh and a house that has no dish washer or dryer and is constantly, CONSTANTLY falling apart.

None of these things are essentials. I know. None of them are emergencies. But are they micro ones? Is he missing out by missing them? Tanith Carey sent me a copy of her new book Taming the Tiger Parent, which she promises will make me feel better about dumping J in the garden with a twig instead of enrolling him in Mandarin classes. It’s a really good read, so far, but since I’m currently tackling it in the bath, while simultaneously making mental shopping lists and brainstorming free maths activities, it might take me some time to finish it. So in the meantime… answers on a postcard please!