Every night this week, the four of us have piled onto the bed to watch an episode of Walking With Dinosaurs. Tonight, as we watched a dinosaur tear bloody chunks out of its freshly-killed prey and I worried that it might be too much for Noble Girl, she suddenly said: Mmm mmmmm. That looks tasty!
Noble Girl’s friend was at our house the other day when he picked up a small finger puppet from our toy box. The puppet looks like a black top hat and inside is a white rabbit. When you push your finger inside, up pops the rabbit to complete the ‘magic trick’.
NG’s friend to her: “Hey, guess what’s in this hat!”
NG: “A rabbit.”
NG’s friend: “No, you have to pretend you don’t know. Guess again!”
NG: “A rabbit.”
NG’s friend: “No, pretend. Pretend you don’t know what’s inside.”
NG: “It’s a rabbit.”
NG’s friend, getting a bit upset: “I want to do this magic trick. Now ask me what’s inside the hat properly, please!”
NG, after seeing me silently urging her to comply, looks bored and sighs: “Okay then. What’s inside the hat??”
NG’s friend: “It’s a rabbit!”
NG, completely monotone and unimpressed: “Wow, that’s amazing. I had no idea.”
It is upon us. That time of year when parents across the land look at the calendar and see nothing but late July and all of August yawning across the pages like a giant abyss, the depths of which no man (nor mother) can scientifically measure, for its impact is mental and emotional.
Yes, the summer helladays, err, holidays are here. And it won’t be over until 6th September for me. I’m cream crackered just thinking about it.
In a way, it will be nice. No school run twice a day and the stress that creates. We can do whatever we want in the morning. We can sit in our pyjamas all day. We can eat cereal for dinner and no one will be the wiser (except my husband when my children inevitably tattle on me for not giving them a proper meal). But what else can I do to keep them entertained, and cheaply? I’m not really one for Chessington World of Disappointments Adventures, or Lego Land or any place, really, where I have to be dragged round endless, stinking animal pens and through vast arrays of plastic tat.
So behold: Noble Savage’s ten ideas for keeping your sproglets happy on the cheap.
Take them to a garden centre. Wide aisles, air-conditioning, outdoor furniture to break test out and lovely plants and flowers to destroy look at. Stay for an hour and a half and leave having spent a couple quid on a packet of seeds and a drink from the vending machine. Then when you get home, give the children a spade and a gardening fork and command them to dig up the weeds in the flower bed to ‘prepare the soil’ for the seeds they’re flinging around in the grass and each other’s hair. Open a beer and stare into space while they get covered in muck. This leads me to cheap activity number two…
Baths. Lots and lots of baths. Kids get dirty in the summer. The sand, the dirt, the Cornish ice cream dripping down their grimy faces and onto their hands…baths are the easy fix-all for the mess. Chuck ‘em in the bath once, twice, even three times a day. Not only does it waste 45 minutes each time but your acquaintances and friends will think your children are exceptionally clean, if not well-mannered.
Set up an obstacle course in your garden or living room and change it around every few goes so they don’t get bored. Flip through a magazine or Twitter away while they run themselves ragged crawling through tunnels, running around a designated object several times and jumping as far as they can, as many times as they can.
Go to the library. It’s free, it’s educational and if you walk there, it’s environmentally friendly. If that’s not reason enough to feel smug and self-satisfied, I don’t know what is. Though the smug feeling usually wears off at around the 5 minute mark, when the kids begin tearing around, screeching and throwing books aside, while you run behind them growling through clenched teeth about being quiet and sitting still and ends with you screaming at the errant child who keeps running for the automatic doors that lead directly into the car park. Just keep the ‘free’ bit in mind and it will all be worth it. Sort of
Buy a pack of dried spaghetti for 49 pence. Divide pack evenly amongst your rug rats and show them how to snap them so the pieces go flying. When they get bored of that, sweep the bits up, chuck them in a pan and cook them. Put them outside or in the bathtub and let them ‘swim’ in the pasta or make funny hairdos. When they are bored of that, tell them the spaghetti are sad little worms that miss their mummy and daddy and ask them to help collect the ‘worms’ into a bucket for transport back to their familial home. When they leave the room, dump the contents into the bin. Rinse bucket and pour a glass of wine. Speaking of wine…
If all else fails and it’s a choice between screaming obscenities at the children or having a cocktail or two, always choose the latter wherever and whenever possible. The trauma of watching you dance to ABBA at 4 o’clock in the afternoon will not compare to the trauma that would befall them if you told them to get stuffed in a variety of four letter words and gestures
Stockpile playdate favours. Grit your teeth and have some other people’s little wildebeests over for a few hours at a time. Then, when you are breaking point, text and enquire as to when they “want to get the kids together again” which is code for “Ahem! It is your bloody turn to have my devil spawn cherub over to your place so suck it up and invite her round.” We don’t actually say that though because this is Britain. You must be all subtle and passive-aggressive about it. Naturally
Dump all your clothes (including high heels, hats, hand bags and costume jewellery) onto the bed and let the children dress you. Then let them dress themselves up. Turn a blind eye when they put the cat in a choke hold and force a doll’s hat onto her head. Then, when your partner gets home, let them dress him up, too. Encourage liberal use of the sparkly hand bags and hair clips for him. Smirk while he gets his toe nails painted with a fake good-natured smile plastered on his face. Go downstairs and pour yourself a drink to congratulate yourself on your ingenuity
Go to the best, busiest and most exasperating playground or park you know, the one that makes you tired just speaking its name. Just before you get out of the car or turn the corner, put a fake brace on your foot or sling over your arm. Hobble in with one hand feebly pushing the pram. Struggle with everything. Bring tears to your eyes but do not let them spill just yet. Let your lower lip tremble momentarily but then stand up straighter and throw your shoulders back before crumpling forward again. When someone asks if you need help or if you’re okay, tell them you’re fine. Ten seconds later let one single tear slide down your cheek and choke back a sob as you hobble on your ‘bad’ leg or clutch your ‘sore’ arm to help Susie on the swings or get Johnny down off the fence. When the offers of help come pouring in, whisper “You’d do that for ME?” and look at them as if they are Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Mary Poppins rolled into one. Sit down and have a rest while your new helpers run after your children for you
Bribe them into good behaviour with the promise of an outing to their favourite restaurant. Look for sweet discounts and two-for-one deals on VoucherCodes.co.uk* (Pizza Express perhaps?), a service I have used many times before. Buy some cheap ice cream or biscuits to have for pudding when you get back so you don’t have to splash out on that, too. If your partner is working late and unable to assist you with bedtime, bribe them further by insisting they can have an extra helping of pudding after they’ve gone to sleep. If they are under the age of 5, they may be stupid innocent enough to believe this
*VoucherCodes.co.uk sponsored this post. Though I don’t usually accept these, I did this time because I had used the site before and think it’s a good resource for people looking for a bargain. Saving money for parents is always a bonus!
My sister, who is here visiting from Chicago, had Noble Boy on her lap yesterday, trying to keep him entertained by showing him clips of In The Night Garden on her phone. What she didn’t know, as most parents have already discovered if they’ve searched YouTube for clips of favourite children’s shows, is that some people like to take said clips and mess with them, making them rather dark or, um, adult.
So it was to Noble Sister’s horror when, a few seconds into the clip of Iggle Piggle bouncing around to the soothing music and nonsensical narration, something rather unexpected happened. [Warning: May not be suitable for viewing if young children are present]
Woe betide the therapist coaxing NB through this repressed memory in 30 years.
As I sat breastfeeding Noble Boy while reading blogs on my iPhone (as you do), I briefly averted my eyes to gaze at his nearly-asleep face by the glow of the screen. And it hit me; it’s not a deep desire to nurse my child until he naturally weans himself that keeps me going — it’s Steve Jobs. Without that hand-held miracle device, I may have gotten bored with the whole affair a few months ago. As it is, I’m happy to carry on for as long as he wants, so long as I can look at my iPhone over his head.