Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Why I love having kids, (over dinner):
Charlotte: I bought a poppy at school today.
Amaia: Yuck. Where is it now?
Charlotte: I pinned it on my blazer.
Amaia (somewhat surprised): On your blazer? How did you manage that? Did it let you? What with? (turning to me, wailing) Why do we have to have a dog mummy? - I hate dogs! Make her take the dog back!
Tee hee!

Pumpkins come a poor second

I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that I am going to ditch this namby-pamby American pumpkin nonsense from next year on.

The decorative ones are too bland to eat so that's hopeless. And they are so soft and gooey that barely three days after you carve them, they start sinking in on themselves and oozing smelly green gunk. And that's when you don't leave the lit - heaven forbid you actually try lighting one.

No, from next year, we'll be going back to good old traditional Scottish neeps (aka swedes to the less informed.) If you can get into them to carve them (granted you need a mini chainsaw) they last for weeks without disintegrating and their insides do have some flavour! We might just try combining Halloween and Burns' night next year.

Monday, October 28, 2013

As it should have been since the start

Here's Léon wedged happily between his two little sisters. After recent developments we had reached a strange situation where I partially shared a surname with four of my five children and Thomas partially shared a surname with the two smallest but poor Léon was in limbo - the only one left with the old surname despite never having lived with his father and no longer being accepted by almost every member of that side of the family. I didn't think that was a good place psychologically for my angel to spend the next four years until he went to high school where I knew they were happy for him to use my surname. I decided to put my case to Léon's school for an immediate change. We wanted him to be a full member of the family who have always been there for him.
He, himself had expressed a desire to share the double-barrelled surname of his younger siblings as he sees the Widmann part as a symbolic representation of Danish fluency. Given Léon is the best Danish speaker of the kids, he's always been peeved he doesn't have it.
I got confirmation today that his records have now been updated so he's one of us - one big happy Buchanan, Buchanan-Widmann, Widmann family looking to the future, not the past and honouring the two families who have brought these children up with unconditional love.

A tad melodramatic

Since Anna started school, years in her head have begun to correlate with school years. So there's no 2013 - there's August 2013 to June 2014.

There are seven of us in our family. Two have a birthday in January, two in February, one in July, one in September and Anna in December.

Today I was almost crucified for pointing out that Anna's birthday was the last birthday of the year.

'My birthday is second in the family!' she stated. 'Léon, then me!'

Not being aware of her school-based year system at that point, I stuck to my guns: 'No Anna, you are last. First there's Charlotte, then Amaia, then me, then daddy, then Marcel, the Léon and finally you. January is the first month, December is the twelfth.'

Hair flying like Miss Piggy, tears exiting her eyes almost horizontally, she stormed up the path shouting 'Why couldn't you wait till I was old enough to cope before you told me such awful news, mummy?!'

Oh boy - when that one gets hormones...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Scotland Street School

Last weekend we decided to drop into Scotland Street School with the four youngest. Charlotte had been before but we thought it would be interesting for the little ones to see how schools used to look, not to mention introduce them to Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

I was surprised to find it brought back memories for me too. Although I had gone to a very modern primary school which had only opened in 1973, when I was in my second year at school, I had spent my first year at much older school at the other side of the city. Unlike the modern school, my first one was an old sandstone building, with tiled outhouse toilets and cloakrooms much like (a less elaborate) Scotland Street. The cloakroom in particular took me back. I remember often entering it on a cold, damp morning. The smell of damp woollen coats in the old tiled room came back to me vividly. I also remember the pegs at various heights. Being just four years old, mine had to be hung on one of the lowest pegs and I remember all the big kids' coats dripping on mine from above.

From Scotland Street cloakroom we went on to the 50s and 60s classroom. Of course, my classroom had been from 1972 but it looked the same. It had the same individual wooden desks with the opening tops where we stored our pencil cases and books.

When I'd moved to the modern school in '73 I had really missed my functional wooden desk. The new school smelt pristine but lacked character and quirkiness. Even at five I could tell which felt more alive. I also recalled with some shame how I'd watched several boys fill one child's desk with the sand from the sandpit we'd had in the classroom because we didn't like him as he was the only child who used to wear a lime green shirt as opposed to the prescribed apple green one. Children can be cruel!

I loved the Victorian classroom and the old home economics rooms too but need to go back with my DSLR as my phone camera just doesn't do these things justice.

All in all it was definitely a successful, free afternoon's entertainment.

Babies,an interesting trend

With all this media interest down south about the christening of wee Prince Wotsit this week I happened upon an article about how christenings had changed in the last thirty years. I was very interested to see that the current rate of christening in England and Wales had fallen to less than 10% in the last decade. Now more than 90% of children are not christened. Rules for who can be a godparent, however, have not changed. You are still meant to be have been christened yourself to become a godparent so that suggests to me that the number will fall to almost zero in the next generation because there will be no one left eligible for that position! In just a generation religion seems to have fallen off a cliff in the UK.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

And so it will remain!

As I mentioned on Saturday, Amaia was having her pre-school sight test this week. I was all psyched up for future photos where all three had horrible reflections on their glasses, although I didn't have any concrete evidence she needed glasses, just more a feeling that what can go wrong has tended to in our family over the past few years.

The last twice we have received a letter through the post a month or so after the test so when I went into nursery this morning I wasn't expecting an envelope sitting by the register addressed to me. I only wear glasses for reading, not driving so there I was trying to get far enough away from the tiny pink slip to be able to read what it said. There were three options - pass: no further test needed till late in primary school, fail: a hospital referral will be sent out, inconclusive: the child was not able to cope with the tesst so will be referred to hospital to determine the state of her eyes. The first box was ticked! And better still it was Anna's own opthamologist who had signed it. So it was someone I know, trust and have experience of who had tested Amaia. (Not to mention she's an old school friend's sister and she lives in my street!) So for the first time since Charlotte I have managed to produce a child with eyes that work properly! It is a relief not to have to add to the outpatient appointments, to the mad rushes to the optician after school with broken glasses, to the expense of spares, sunglasses and all the rest. It is wonderful that I won't have to triple check the lighting every time I take a photo and lovely to be able to see her beautiful eyes. I hope one day the other two will be able to join her.

Interestingly, glasses have definitely become cool, rather than the target for bullying they were in my day. When I broke the news to Anna and Léon about Amaia passing the eye test, they both looked disappointed for her and Anna even took her hand in hers and comforted her with the words: It'll be ok, don't worry, not everyone gets glasses - we can get you some nice sun glasses though!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cheese knives

One of my friends uploaded this to facebook recently. Have I ever mentioned how much I love my Danish cheese knife and how I can begin to imagine how I got through the first 37 years of my life without one?
I often wonder if I should bulk-buy them whenever I am over in Denmark and set up a stall with them beside cheese sellers at farmers' markets in my spare time... (if I actually had any spare time, of course!)

Generic English homework

One thing I discovered early on (around 20) is that these generic rhyming games written as English language lessons might as well all be tossed in the bin if you have any kind of Scottish accent. I bought a book called something like the ELT teacher's companion to the English language, trudged overland to France, took up my job as a language assistant and then tried in vain to read the lists of rhyming words out to the kids: Which one of these words rhymes with 'your'? 'Oar' turned out to be the correct answer, but not when I said it!

Anyway, it was one thing when I was abroad with an English book, but why are Scottish school using such exercises? There I was doing homework with the kids last night when we came upon a lesson which consisted of sorting rhyming words into pairs. The six words on offer were port, sort, cork, fork, torn and born! Well, between the three of us we concluded the only pair was cork and fork! This just isn't helpful. We should be writing our own material that rhymes in our accent if we want the kids to learn from it!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Here we go again

Monday sees the beginning of the nursery's pre-school sight-check programme. Gulp...

Marcel has perfect vision, as does Lots. I suspected absolutely nothing when Léon went for his pre-school check so when he failed it and was sent to the hospital I assumed some error had been made. Surely if my child couldn't see properly I would have picked up on something or had concerns? He was writing, drawing, describing fine. He could catch a ball and ride a bike. I figured they were wrong but they weren't. He was unimaginably long-sighted and I was told even at four that his vision would never grow out of glasses. The day they made him his first pair I was holding his hand as they put them on him. We walked out of the shop into the street. He turned around and gazed up and down Byres road and exclaimed 'Wooooow, is this what the world looks like?' He was four and I was already 41. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I wanted to cry. My baby was four and he'd never seen the world and I hadn't noticed. I was heart broken. Since then he hasn't looked back and he loves his glasses. I hate the reflections they give on my photos. I hate that they hide his beautiful eyes. I hate that every day they remind me how I failed him for four years but he is unconcerned.

Of course I then tested Anna up close, at a distance and everything in between from the moment she could talk. There was no sign of a problem with her so I felt no trepidation when her pre-school appointment came through. I had asked for her to be referred earlier but the hospital and optician said it was unnecessary. Of course, when she failed too, I was beside myself. At her hospital appointment it turned out her issue was in no way related to Léon's. She was not long-sighted but astigmatic. She seemed less surprised when her glasses arrived, having been able to see better so I felt less guilt. Still they have all the same issues as Léon's.

So Monday will see whether the majority of my kids have good or poor eyesight. Of course, I won't hear for a few weeks but the thought of more outpatient appointments, more trips for repairs, more bills for spares, for sunglasses, for replacements, more panics when they are misplaced, snapped or lost, more questions about the price of contacts (yes Anna has already started asking for an appointment before she goes to high school, despite only being five!) fill me with fear and loathing. I hope my baby can see ok for her sake and for mine.

Hamster parenting

It's been a difficult couple of weeks on the hamster front. First there was Brock. I found out how looking after someone else's hamster is even more stressful that looking after your own...

Linda had left him here about ten days. We had one day to go. I even walked past his cage and distinctly remember thinking - he's been no trouble at all! He heard my thoughts...

I'm not sure who didn't put the lid on his cage properly - my money is on Léon as he fed him that night, but to be honest it might even have been me as I emptied his toilet. I've been a little distracted and swamped recently. It was 8am and I went into the living room to get the school clothes. I noticed the lid was squint. But Brock would still be in his wee house of course because Brock is timid and wouldn't say boo to a passing child... I took it off, his wee house was empty. I dug aimlessly in the sand and straw. I could see it wasn't deep enough to conceal him but he had to be there because I couldn't lose him 24 hours before pick-up. A two hour hamster hunt began. Of course he had potentially been out for 12 hours. Marcel had been in and out the back door to work. OMG - had he left the building? Was he under the number 4 bus? No sign.

When Rosie goes missing you rattle her food and she's nosy enough to come for a look. You might not manage to catch her but you do catch a glimpse of her so you know she's alive and well and findable, potentially at least. Two hours on, there was no sign of the wee bugger, nothing, nada...

Desperate measures were called for. Our hamster ball is broken but Rosie is a girl and Brock is a boy. Thomas put Rosie in the ball and sellotaped it shut. He let her look for him. No sign in the kitchen, the TV room, the downstairs bathroom. In she came to the living room. Out he strolled from under the couch yawning, stretching and sniffing, not a care in the world. Wee shite! Up he got on his hind legs to smell Rosie through her ball. That was when he found himself promptly back in his cage minus the woman of his dreams... The following 24 hours till his owner turned up were spent checking him at half hour intervals and swearing at him for good measure!

My heart rate had almost returned to normal when, a week later, Thomas was away in Denmark. With all five asleep upstairs, I was woken up at 4am precisely with an almighty crash. What a week to be burgled - there was nothing for it but to jump out of bed and confront the intruder. I stuck on the lights and shot into the hall half naked. Rosie's cage door was open and she was sitting stunned on the floor, covered in sawdust with her hamster ball beside her in two pieces. On inspection she had popped the latch on her cage (which is 5 foot off the ground), pulled herself out, walked along the top of the door and got into her hamster ball which was sitting on the cupboard beside the cage. It had then rolled off and broken in two on impact. So our brain of Britain hamster had spent hours chewing her way out of her cage only to put herself into a hamster ball to investigate the house. you've got to admire the logic in that, don't you?!

I think the problem with hamsters is that they are quite lovable little creatures, but nosy as hell and determined to escape over and over. They are not great on your nerves once you are attached to them, that's for sure!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Seems to me it's a lose-lose situation

I've complained before, and no doubt I will again but I really don't understand the business model of charging kids separately to get into specific attractions. I know I can go and see a castle as Historic Scotland recognizes a family as being a parent with kids but here are just a few examples of places that charge entrance per child: Glasgow Science Centre, Blair Drummond Safari Park and the Scottish Owl Centre. My kids have expressed an interest in going to all of these and they are all off school at the moment but here's the thing. Whether you have one kid or five you still only have the same two incomes to pay for entertainment, your mortgage and everything else. In fact your mortgage is likely to be significantly bigger because more kids need more rooms. So what makes them think we have more disposable income for entertainment? I can see the rationale behind thinking I shouldn't be subsidized but the thing is that I simply cannot afford these prices for a single day's entertainment. I therefore do not go so I lose out, and my kids also lose out but they do too. If there was a family ticket I could use, I would pay and once inside I'd potentially buy things, perhaps coffees, perhaps lunches. I might buy the kids a toy on the way out so they would end up getting money out of me. This way we lose out and they do too. It seems crazy to me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Life lessons

I've been a parent now for sixteen years. I've had five kids. Surely there's nothing I don't know about little kids?... Don't get cocky now!

So there I was working this morning and I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. 'Can you run a bath Anna, for you and Amaia and I'll just finish this work while it's filling?' What could possibly go wrong? I often turn it on and have them supervise it filling. She knew the temperature to make it, which tap to use, and to put in the plug - there was just that tiny matter of the bubble bath. It said on it to use a capful (approx 15ml) so can you even begin to imagine how many bubbles there are all over the bathroom when the five year old takes an educated guess at how much you need and plumps for say 800ml, give or take a capful! The bath was full, the sink was full the floor was covered. And the more you tried to wash it away, the more bubbles were created! Fun, fun, fun! Five minutes more and it would have oozed out from under the door and reached the bedroom.

So much for trying to multitask!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Uniting the family

After Marcel turned 16 he changed his name to Buchanan by deed poll, leaving behind the baggage that went with a father and a family, who for the most part, had decided to ostracise him. Charlotte wanted to join him but at 13 she needs her father's signature on a deed poll. Given he left the country over a year ago without leaving a forwarding address and, moreover, he'd never agree (not through love but through bloodymindedness) we sought legal advice and were told she could change her name on everything except her passport before her 16th birthday and change that then too. I spoke to her year head at school and he has arranged everything to change her to Charlotte Buchanan as of the first day back after the October holiday. He was absolutely lovely and hugely supportive as always.  I know he will keep a daily eye on her over the transition period, as he has done since she started. I have nothing but the highest respect for all the staff at Mearns Castle who have always dealt with all our needs as if we were members of one large, caring family.

She seems calm and happy to finally be sharing one name with her 'bestie' sisters and if I know her, will not be looking back.

A week on Monday I will begin talks with the primary school. I don't think it is anyone's interest that the one child who has never lived with his father, the one who is fluent in Danish, is left in limbo with a different name from the rest of his family indefinitely.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


You've got to love 3 year old language:

Amaia: 'My friend Sahara likes eggs too' 
Me: 'How do you know?' 
Amaia: 'We were disgusting eggs at nursery today.'

21st century education

I've had a traumatic morning, grammatically speaking. First I woke up to this:

There I was sitting on the loo when I spied it, even without my glasses! Sigh.

And then I notice a new shop is opening across the road:

Is it impossible to write anything that is grammatically correct? Has no one heard of proofreaders?

Phrasal verbs

My non-Germanic native friends often say phrasal verbs are amongst the hardest parts of English grammar to grasp. I remember one friend (a French native) marvelling at the fact that even small children seem to be able to get the hang of them when non-natives spend a lifetime trying to master them. (You know who you are!)

On this note Amaia amused me today by taking things to a new level. Not content with her usual 'Léon stop winding me up!' she decided to invent her own with 'Léon, is that you annoying me up again?' I think I'll start using that one - it's very expressive, and so sweet!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The queen of drama

Since Anna was seventeen months old both mummy and daddy have worked from home. Anna feels very safe in the knowledge that both her parents and her four siblings are always on hand.

I was picking her up from Sunbeams on Monday night and she was recounting how wonderful Friday was going to be: 'I get to stay off school for the holiday and in the afternoon Jayden is having his birthday party. After that I am going to have dinner with Alice and our friend Eva is coming too, I'm so happy!'
At this point I took the opportunity to tell her Thomas was nipping over to Denmark for a long weekend conference: 'That'll make up for Daddy being away...'
She looked at me in utter horror: 'Daddy is going away?'
'Yes', I replied 'to Denmark for four days.'
'Without me?' (sob, shriek)
Not convinced she'd done her best to avert his departure, she suddenly flung her arms wildly in the air and proclaimed: 'He just can't! If he abandons me for four nights and you read us our night, night stories I'll forget every single word of Danish I ever knew and then where will I be?'
Talk about over-dramatic! Every single word of Danish you've ever known?! He's spent all day every day for nearly six years speaking only Danish to the kids but she can't be left for four days! Give me strength! Some future partner is going to have their work cut out for them with this one

The digital age is not working for me

I'm quite computer and smart-phone-oriented.

Until this term I have written all school appointments and dates to note on my kitchen calendar but this year I decided to be clever. I opened up my Google calendar and keyed in every single appointment for a year. Now I'm organised...

I am discovering three issues with this however... Having set my calendar to email me half an hour before each appointment (having cunningly upgraded from the recommended 10 minutes) means I find myself in Glasgow and suddenly I get an email that I am meant to be in school with no time to get there. (So half an hour was a bad idea. Any more and I'd forget, mind you!) Also I get so many emails in a day I often ignore them (other than work ones which stream into a different address) till I go to bed after midnight. And finally the rest of the family also use my kitchen calendar system so now it doesn't say 'Marcel Orthodontist' Marcel doesn't remember to go!

So what's inspired this rant this morning? I dropped the wee ones at school. Léon needs a haircut but we're leaving it till the October week when we have more time. He has that' young boy with thick hair who's just woken up' look. (Not unlike Boris Johnson, as a friend pointed out!) He also had mash on his tie from last night so I noted as he went out that we should probably wash that later today. Anna was in a rush so I pulled her hair back rather severely in one bobble and threw them into the playground. So what use was that email at 9-30am saying 'Primary school photograph day 10am-noon'? 

Ho hum.... Think I'll go back to paper.