Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Bilingual children? Erm, not quite

We're still in France and I have ten minutes Internet time, so I thought I'd quickly post about something which has been eating away at me for a while.

My children are crap at French.

Now that may sound harsh coming from their own Mother, especially one, who entering a room full of French people will navigate towards the tiny spattering of English she can hear in the corner, rather than bravely confront the realities of her rusty second language. But then I'm not French, at least not if we don't count the 16 percent handed down to me from a long-dead great-great grandfather.

But my daughters are half French. Fifty-fifty. Neither one thing nor the other. Both things together. Except to listen to them speaking French you'd be forgiven for thinking that they may once have spent the weekend there. Once, a very long time ago.

When I first met my husband and we decided to get married, I couldn't help but be secretly pleased that, amongst other benefits of marrying a French man, my children would be bilingual. They'd be beautiful, sun-kissed, curly-haired, cherub-faced French speakers who would automatically be top-of-the-class in one subject without actually having to work at it. I was thrilled.

Ha. Who was I trying to kid? They speak about as much French as I do Thai, and probably not even as much as that, because at least I know how to say "I'm completely drunk already" and "I have small tits but a big penis". Although on second thoughts I'm glad my children haven't reached this level of expertise in French, but you get my gist.

Once, when I was a student, I shared a house with a boy called Jean-Michel Wu. Now given that name you can probably guess his ancestry, but I'll make it easy for you anyway. He was half-French and half-Chinese. But did he speak either of those languages? Abbsolutely not. The only language he spoke was English and that was with cockney variations. But Jean-Michel Wu's linguistic capabilities were nothing to do with me. What I do remember thinking, though, is what a wasted opportunity it was and how his parents should have made more of an effort with him as a child and if I were ever to marry a non-English speaker, I would never make that mistake. You see, even all those years ago, I had my sights set on someone other than an English man. Poor hubby never stood a chance.

So where has it all gone wrong? Why aren't my two children telling each other to "ferme ta gueule" whilst sipping their citron pressés and munching their croissants?

Well, first thing's first (and this is where I hand over the blame) - I think it helps if it comes from the Mother. If it was I who was French rather than my husband, then they might have stood more of a fighting chance. When Renée was a baby, I did try to speak to her in French, singing nursery rhymes and teaching her parts of the body, but it all became a bit much when I'd call after her in the playground.

"Renée, doucement. Viens ici", only for the proper French mothers (and there were some) to see me as a fraud and for the English mothers to see me as pretentious.

It wasn't that I gave up or even gave two hoots about what the other mothers truly thought. It's just that after speaking to various people about the best way to bring up bilingual children, it was generally agreed that the most successful cases were when one parent spoke exclusively one language and the other parent exclusively the second language. Given this, it was obvious that it should be my husband speaking French and not me.

So he did. For a while. Until he had to go away for a job which would sometimes last three weeks. And in those early days of learning languages, three weeks was a long time. Long enough to forget what had been learnt and to frustrate Papa when he came home.

It wasn't easy.

So apart from reading bedtime stories in French, I also decided to invest in French lessons for Renée once a week. But aside from learning to count up to 20, being proficient with her colours and animals and knowing the words to 'Frère Jacques', she is still far from being bilingual.

My husband insists that they'll pick it up, simply because they're half-French and it's in their blood. But that didn't help Jean-Michel Wu did it?

For the sake of my daughters, I haven't and won't give up on their French. Edie will be starting her weekly lessons in the Autumn and as I sit here typing this I can hear them watching a French cartoon in the next room and it lifts my spirits;

"Papa...the film is fini".

It seems all is not lost.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

What's the perfect present?

In the aftermath of Renée's birthday party we have been left with an overwhelming pile of presents, some which we have yet to open (and yes I know I only have myself to blame because I did invite the whole class), but it really does seem rather a lot for a 5 year old. There are books, colouring books, colouring pens, paints, a computer(!), a paint your own tea set, a make your own bag, purse and cupcake set in felt, fairy wings, water bombs, a bug kaleidescope, make your own bouncy ball set, an enormous array of High School Musical 'stuff', a jigsaw, play dough, a make your own jewellery set. The list goes on. There is really nothing left that she needs (not that she actually 'needs' anything on the list, but you know what I mean).

Slightly digressing, but still on the point, my husband is in France at the moment. He's been working, but has now managed to meet up with his parents who we are off to visit tomorrow. And yesterday I received a text from hubby asking what Renée wanted for her birthday because the grandparents were off to buy a present. After much thought I texted back a really helpful 'There's nothing she needs. Can you think of anything? You decide'.

But during that lengthy thought process which resulted in absolutely nothing, it got me wondering what the perfect present would be. Last year as a 4th birthday present my aunt sent her a 'Grow Your own Butterfly kit'. I actually wrote a post about it, entitling it the Most Memorable Present ever given. Unfortunately I ended up offending the giver of the gift because I think I may have written something along the lines of;

Never buy a child a butterfly rearing kit for their birthday. Seriously. It may seem like a good idea when it's all prettily packaged in the shop, but once you've opened it, it's like a time bomb waiting to go off (or fly away in this instance).

In fact, I wrote exactly that because I've just cut and pasted it. The truth is, it was probably the best present she's ever received - at least it's the one that she's liked the most and a year later she still talks about how she raised a butterfly all by herself. But there's the rub...It wasn't all by herself at all. Oh no. It required rather a lot of parental intervention. And call me lazy (don't worry - you can, I am, and on top of that I also have a two-year-old who likes to disrupt), but my favorite presents are ones where there is no parental intervention at all. Take the bug Kaleidescope for example. It has a viewing window complete with breathing holes at one end where you can drop in any manner of bug and view it in detail through the kaleidescope. So far we've had a worm, a woodlouse, an ant and a snail under examination. And what's even more exciting is that I haven't had to do anything. It has kept Renée amused in the garden for hours and I haven't had to help her or attend to the present even for a second.

BUT. It's not all about me. Is it??

No. (Unfortunately not)!! It's about Renée. And after 3 whole hours in the garden with the bug kaleidescope, she wanted to do something else. What she came to me with filled me with horror. Make your own purse kit. Included in the kit is a needle...

So that'll be parental intervention then.

I looked at the instructions and gulped. A lot. Now if you remember, I'm not exactly a 'crafty' type of person - how could you forget the pom pom??? So to sit down and make a purse with all fiddly buttons and different stitches wasn't exactly my kind of present. But I am nothng if not a loving Mother and I will do anything to put a smile on my child's face. So I put my fears aside and embraced the challenge head on. And do you know what?

I really rather enjoyed it.
Just take a look at this. And don't tell me I don't spoil you with photos.

Have you ever seen blanket stich as good as this? Nope. Didn't think so...

So there you go. It seems that all I need to do is make a little bit of effort and everyone is happy. Next up, it's the make your own bag and cupcake set.

As an aside, we're off to France this afternoon to visit grandparents. I will try, try, try to post and comment, but if I don't, please wait for me. I'll be back...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

What's in your bag?

So I took the girls to a 5-year-old's birthday party yesterday and, as is the norm for children's parties, there were rather a lot of sweeties. Sweeties inside wrappers for Pass the Parcel, sweeties in a bowl as consolation prizes for not winning Musical Statues, sweeties in a bowl as prizes for winning Musical Statues, sweeties as part of the party tea, sweeties in the going home bags. You get the picture. Lots of sweeties. Now I'm not against giving sweeties to children. Far from it, in fact - I'm a huge fan. What I'm not a fan of though is five lolipops in the mouth at any one time, plus a packet of chocolate buttons in one hand and a Milky Way in the other. It's just not a good look. So just as the sweetie situation was about to get out of hand, I swiped the one's they'd 'won', put them in my bag and saved them for later on.

All fine.

That was until later on came and Renée called to me from another room.

'Mummy, what did you do with my lolipops?'

'They're in my bag darling. You can take one if you like.' I figured one would be ok.

Thing is, she couldn't find them.

'Where Mummy?' She called again.

'In my handbag.' I was loath to actually get up from the sofa because it was the first time I'd sat down all day.

'Found them Mummy'.

And that was that.

Except of course it wasn't.

When I later decided to make my way from the sofa to the kitchen, I just so happened to pass by the contents of my bag, in the hallway, strewn everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

I was most displeased.

But as I searched through the contents I remembered a post I had once read, quite a while ago, about the contents of another blogger's handbag. I can't recall who it was, but I do remember thinking what a hilarious post it was and if only I had the energy to empty my bag and go through the contents I could leave a funny comment detailing what I had found in the deepest depths. But I'd never had the energy. Until yesterday when I had absolutely no choice in the matter. But, I thought, I won't get cross with Renée (well not very). Instead I'll make a blog post out of it.

So this is it. The contents of my bag.

7 pens. Only 3 of them working
4 round wooden beads
1 square wooden bead
1 squashed Milky Way
3 hair clips
1 apple stalk
1 child's wooden watch bracelet
2 pieces of red string
1 pink notepad (with only child's scribbles inside)
1 Smint packet
1 eye hospital referral letter
1 hotel room key (whoops - sorry Butlins)
1 plastic harmonica
1 purse (and I won't even tell you the contents of that or else we really would be here all night)
4 cheque books
1 business card for a dog walking company (I do not have a dog)
2 lolipop sweetie wrappers
2 very manky raisins
1 tooth pick with a pirate flag at the end (!)
1 screwed up shopping list
3 random receipts
1 Hello Kitty transfer
1 Nurofen tablets instruction leaflet

No wonder poor Renée couldn't find her lolipops amongst all that. I never realised I was quite such a hoarder.

So that is that. But the question remains. What, oh what is inside your bag? You'll be surprised, I'm sure.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Butlins ain't what it used to be

As I was lying on my hotel bed a few nights ago I decided to update my Facebook status. This is what I wrote...

Emily is having the best time at Butlins...seriously.

It was the end of the first day of our two night stay and despite being without a husband, who had yet again been called away on a job, the two girls and I had had a blast.

When I checked Facebook the following day I was met with a deluge of negative comments.

*Oh sweetheart, you have obviously lost your mind. We took the kids one rainy weekend and I just about lasted without killing myself or the kids. You are a stronger woman than me.

*I'm scared for you Em.

And this one was perhaps the most telling...

*But you're middle class. For God's sake don't let the girls speak French. You'll get lynched.

I can't say I was totally shocked by the reaction - Butlins, (if you're reading this from overseas) is well-known as the destination of choice for the working man and his family. And how many middle-class people holiday in Britain these days anyway?

Well, quite a few it seems. That is, if they even holiday at all. Thanks to the Credit Crunch, middle classes especially, are choosing to holiday on home soil, which is perhaps why Butlins continued to forge ahead with the development of a brand new £20 million Ocean Spa Hotel, when other competitors were making cutbacks.

I knew a while ago that my only hope for a holiday this Summer would be a week in Norfolk visiting the Grandparents, so when I heard that Butlins were inviting all manner of press, including bloggers to come along for the launch of the Ocean Hotel in Bognor Regis, I jumped at the chance. Renée herself had been known to shriek with excitement every time she saw the adverts on television, complete with smiling children and waterslides - asking if one day we'd be able to go there. "Of course, darling", I would say "Of course we'll go there...one day", hoping that she would forget the request and I'd never have to fulfill her dream.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I loaded up the car and headed off. Would we be lynched as my friend had envisaged? Would I be on my knees threatening to kill myself before the two days were up? I sincerely hoped not, especially as I was on my own with the two girls and the responsibility to bring them home safe and sound was solely mine.

But I needn't have worried about a thing. I mean, does this look like the sort of place you'd be lynched?


The Ocean Hotel itself is visually breathtaking, especially in the bright sunshine which we were unbelieveably lucky to have...and once inside it didn't disappoint either. The yellow tub chairs, slightly reminiscent of early series of Big Brother, set the decorative tone, which was continued throughout the hotel, from the very chic and funky Kaleidescope Restaurant and Bar to the different coloured floors of the hotel.

The disco mirrored lifts were a novelty, for perhaps the first five times, but when your child has gone missing and you're frantically trying to reach your bedroom in the vain hope that they might actually have made their own way there, then flashing lights and Bee Gees screeching in your ears is perhaps not the most soothing of atmospheres. I'm not saying that actually happened to us of course...cough... splutter...I'm just saying if it happened.

As with most hotels, there are rooms with fantastic views and rooms with views that are far from fantastic. When we were first given a tour of the hotel we were shown both views, in this case one of the sea and one of the car park, yet unaware of which one we had been assigned. So I was somewhat disappointed to find that we had been given the car park view. Strange thing was, on closer inspection, it wasn't the car park view at all - it was in fact, sea view extraordinaire, only with a car park sandwiched in between the hotel and the sea. Now I hate to bite the hand that feeds me, but surely the car park could have been positioned elsewhere? Just a suggestion mind.

The accommodation was otherwise fantatsic. A main room complete with double bed, green suede sofa, fridge, ample storage, plasma television, huge balcony, twin beds in a separate room and a bathroom.

The two girls were ecstatic to see a flat-screen tv in their room as well, only not quite so ecstatic to find that there was no children's tv...just another suggestion for a family friendly hotel...or was it just me not pressing the right buttons? It has been known...

But the real reason why I think you'd be drawn to this hotel is for the exceptional Spa.

Inside there's a sauna, a snow cave (one of only two in the country), an outdoor hot tub, hydrospa, steam room, relaxation pods, 'disco' showers, plus an inordinate amount of treaments available to book. I'd originally reserved a complimentary spa treatment, but on learning that my husband was unable to make it, I had been forced to cancel, there being no one to look after the children. And as I enviously eyed-up the other bloggers sloping off for their manicures and facials, I made a last-ditch attempt to enquire about creche facilities.

'Oh yes. We have a nursery. Would you like me to make a reservation for your children?'

I think I nearly kissed the woman. Instead, I promptly booked my little ones in for a two-hour nursery session. Now apart from the nursery being as far away from the spa as was geographically possible and unable to reach without passing through the cavernous indoor activity area which was full of every kiddie ride imaginable... which meant I was at least half an hour late for the spa, the experience was unequalled.

I had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of other fabulous bloggers - Elsie Button and MrsOMGWe'rePregnant, in the open-air hot tub and I even managed to sneak in a quick pedicure.

It was bliss.

When I collected the girls from the nursery they too seemed to have had a great time - brandishing, as they were, newly-painted bits of paper to show for their morning's work.

The other rides we tried were the Merry-Go-Round, trampolines, tug boat and climbing frames. But perhaps the best outdoor entertainment were the karts which could be driven around the complex, either solo, as a couple, or as a foursome. Renée and Nixdminx's Miniminx hired one... and off they went...it was a moment of independence which I think Renée will remember forever. As for Edie, she was a tiny bit too small to go on a lot of the rides which her older sister was able to go on which meant me having to pre-empt tantrums with promises of lolipops and ice cream, but they seemed to do the trick nicely...

We even made two appearances at the Splash Waterworld complex - which included waterslides, flumes, rapids, wave machines, paddling pools and water cannons. The children loved it. But for me, as a Mother on her own with two small children, it was probably the most unrelaxing part of the stay. Unrelaxing and just a tiny bit unsanitary too. I did spy rather a lot of floating plasters and the underside of my right foot is starting to tingle just a touch...

As for the famous redcoats and the evening entertainment - we had been promised Eoghan Quigg and Chico from the X-Factor - and although I wasn't completely enthralled by the lineup, the queues were far too long for me to even consider going along with two children. Instead I opted for a few drinks with some other Mummy Bloggers and called it a night.

There are many more stories to tell you, aside from how much fun it was hanging out with all the bloggers and their families, but this post has taken far too long already. So I will just leave you with this instead...

Did I enjoy my stay?
Absolutely. Definitely. I had a blast. And so did the girls.

Has it changed my perception of Butlins?
Yes, without a doubt.

Would I go again?
Yes, for the Ocean Hotel alone.

So that's all for now. Thanks to everyone at Butlins who made our stay so special. I'm sure we'll be back. Maybe next time I'll bring hubby along and I can enjoy the spa for a wee bit longer. And finally, thanks also to the other bloggers who made it even more fun...
NixdMinx, And1MoreMeans4, PerfectlyHappyMum, ZooArchaeologist, DaddaCool, SingleParentDad, Part Mummy, Part Me, Elsie Button, MrsOMGWe'rePregnant, HaveALovelyTime, FunnyWomenMedia.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Happy Birthday my little one

Now I should really be posting about my trip to Butlins, but I can't escape the fact that today my eldest daughter turns 5. So sorry Butlins, but you will have to wait. And just as a quick update, I wanted to let you know that the party for 25 little monsters in my own home turned out to be not quite as hideous as I had imagined. The sun shone for the whole three hours of the party, there were no tears, no accidents and no one actually set foot inside the house, except to use the loo of course...I'm not quite that mean. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say, you can now call me party planner extraordinaire!

But now back to today.

My darling Renée. Happy Birthday little one. I can not believe that you are 5 years old - so grown-up, with your long hair and flawless skin, able to tell me what clothes you want to wear but quick to throw a tantrum when I choose something you don't like. A big girl, but still so small and vulnerable. You are brave beyond words and can hold back your tears when you fall over and scrape your knee, but you can still cry when your balloon bursts (and I'm so sorry about the enormous red one that you saved all the way through Butlins, even rescuing it after it had flown off the balcony, only for me to burst it on the rose bush as I was unloading the car at home). I'm sorry I made you cry - I will buy you another big red balloon and kiss your broken heart better.

I remember when you were first born. Your face was so wise. I seriously thought that you had already lived a thousand lives. Maybe you had. Your name means 're-born', so maybe that says it all. When you cried I sang you Amazing Grace and explained that you had to stop crying or else you'd wake up the whole hospital and I'd look like I didn't know what I was doing. You obliged in an instant and I will be forever grateful.

Thank you for coming into my life and making me smile and cry and feel things that no one, except you could make me feel.

You are unbelievably clever. More so than I ever was, I am sure. And as much as I am able to teach you, you can teach me too. You have taught me a lifetime of lessons already - to be patient, tolerant, kind, loving...all these things I owe to you.

Thank you for being the most amazing daughter. Every day when I look at you I realise just how lucky I am. Happy fifth birthday my little horserider, swimmer, comedian, daughter, sister, grandaughter, friend.

May only good things happen to you in your life. And if for any reason they don't, then I will be here for you, always loving you and remembering the first ever time I fell in love with your little squashed face.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Party preparations

So I think amidst my blogging breakdown (and slight pom pom obsession) I may have forgotten to mention that it's Renée's fifth birthday party tomorrow (which could trigger a real breakdown rather than a mere virtual one...we shall see). She won't actually be five until the end of next week, but what with husband being away on a surf road trip (thinly disguised as a week's work), we've had to bring the party forward. Call me naive, but I decided to invite her whole class of 30, not wanting to exclude anyone and also, hoping that as it's the Summer holidays, most people will be away and only half of those invited will be around.

Trust me to have picked the one weekend when everyone is at home. Well, 25 out of the 30 anyway.

So this morning, in a mild state of panic at the prospect of having to entertain 25 five-year-olds inside my own home, I decided to stock up on party paraphenalia from an out-of-town Supermarket which I've never actually been to, but which I've heard sells not only food and drink but all manner of bits and pieces needed for party games too - sacks for sack races, plastic eggs and spoons, bean bags, bunting. You name it.

The thing is, there's nothing worse than visiting a Supermarket you've never been to, when (a) you're in a hurry, (b) you have an unbelievably enormous amount of items to buy and (c) you have a small child with you who's favourite words are 'I want', followed by everything in the store.

It really isn't all that pleasant.

Add to that the fact that it was a very warm Saturday morning and every other Mother and their screaming child had decided to shop at that precise moment and you can just about imagine the tranquility of the scene.

And this is where I revert to the present tense, just to get you in the mood.

The whining cries of 'I want' are emanating from all four corners of the shop. Everywhere I turn there is a red-faced toddler in the middle of the worst tantrum of their life, and an equally red-faced parent wishing they were anywhere but here, and I CAN NOT, for the life of me, locate one item that I have come in for.

My urge, of course, is to turn around and drive straight back to the comfort of my home, but I am a Mother and I have a Mother's responsibility to throw a fantastic birthday party and I can't succeed in doing that without my sacks and plastic eggs.

So instead, I walk from aisle to aisle, scanning every shelf for at least one item that I can cross off my rather lengthy list, swearing to myself never to set foot inside this hideous place again and soldier on. A toddler in the sweetie aisle has just thrown themselves on the floor in front of me, so I hastily back away, narrowly missing the teetering jelly beans with the edge of my trolley.
And that's when I hear a child being told off by a voice full of hatred and malice. I wonder what this poor little monkey has done to warrant such a verbal battering.

'Get out of my way. Pesky child'.

I turn round expecting to see a small toddler cowering under the onslaught, but instead there's a rather elderly-looking woman in some sort of motorised transport and she's looking straight at me, almost frothing at the mouth with distaste.

'You're in my way, you menace. Move. Can't you walk in a straight line?'

I look around and around and then I realise that it must be me she's talking to.

'Erm, obviously no I can't you bloody old woman', I want to shout. 'I have no idea where I am, what I'm doing here and I wish I'd never come, but thanks for making me feel even better about myself. Now toddle off and leave me alone before I really give you something to moan about.'

Of course I don't actually say that. She does look rather old. And she's probably infirm.

So I just stare incredulously at her, take a deep breath in and continue on my way. As does she, muttering under her breath as she goes.

Should I have been flattered that she had referred to me as a child? Stupidly I felt quite shaken by the whole affair. Violated even. But if that's what I have to go through for my children, then so be it.

Wish me luck for the party. I think I may need it...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A blogging breakdown

So first thing's first....

I'm having a blogging breakdown (image above courtesy of Posh Totty).

My brother called me yesterday from Majorca to inform me that I've posted once in two weeks and can I please sort it out because he's bored of logging on to find the same post on pom poms over and over again.

And then there's my Father who was a tad disappointed (although he'd never admit it of course, bless him) to have hosted us all so warmly in Norfolk only to be rewarded with the same one post on pom poms, despite having taken us on a boat trip on the Broads ('surely you had something witty to say about that?'), horse-riding, to festivals, to the sea-side. The list goes on.

Of course I blamed the slow Internet connection in Norfolk for my lack of posting and even believed it myself for a while, but the fact remains that we've been back a week now and the same post on pom poms is still very much the lead story. The truth of the matter is...well, real life has got in the way of blogging. It's the Summer holidays and I have two small children and well, enough said really.

Just one quick mention of my husband who's been laughing at me all evening as I've been trying to take photos of pom poms. I even threatened to write something mean about him on my blog if he didn't help me, but alas, he laughed again and continued to watch French news.


I'm all alone in this world. Forgive me if I haven't visited you in a while. I promise I haven't fogotten.

BUT, I will be posting and commenting next week because I'm off to Butlins!!!!!!!! Yay. We had planned to go as a family of four, but hubby unfortunately has a week's work (surf road trip to France) lined up, so I'm coming on my own with the two girls. If you see me hovering in the corner desperately looking around for someone to talk to, then please come and say hello. I've already relinquished my Spa Treatment due to no hubby and small children so I may need a bit of cheering up.

Until then, I'm going to leave you with a couple of photos of THE pom pom. Don't say I don't spoil you.

If you're contemplating making a pom pom, then be sure to keep it even all the way round, just like this one.

And of course, don't forget - each thread needs to be exactly the same length.

Never forget who you're making it for.