Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Farewell my summer love

To be fair, the last fortnight has felt like borrowed time.

In our little corner of north-east Scotland, we've recently enjoyed some lovely sunny days.  They're not like the genuinely toasty days we experienced in July though.  These early September days have started out with morning haze and shivers in sweatshirts before the sun gets up to speed and we cast off the layers by late morning.

I always feel a little nostalgic at this time of year.  Forgive me then, while I indulge myself by clinging onto the best sights, smells and sounds of summer in this mid-September post.  Because for me, these are what summer's all about...


The sights

Sun sparkling on the sea, gardens at their most colourful, bright clothing contrasting with conker-brown limbs...

The smells

Cocoa butter soaked skin, salty freshness after a day at the beach, mouth watering wafts of early evening chargrilling...

The sounds

Children's al fresco play peppered with giggles and laughter, ice cubes jangling in frosted tumblers, the unmistakeable 'thwack' of flip flops on patios...

*******************

It doesn't do to get too remorseful, however. In the interests of balance, let's not forget about the sad sight of the parched plants you forgot to water, the city's pongy drains in the midday heat and the predictable drone of lawnmowers whenever you attempt to open your paperback...

Suddenly autumn doesn't seem so bad. (I'm thinking golden landscapes, cosy roll-necks and warming fruit crumbles.) Whaddya reckon?

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

An open letter to my child's new teacher

Dear teacher,

The start of the new academic session sees my youngest child move to the upper stages of primary school.

This means a lot to my family.  A lot more than first meets the eye.  It's not just a transition to a larger playground and the opportunity to get involved in new school activities.

For my family, this move means that both my children will now walk themselves to and from school.

It means that they'll take responsibility for getting themselves out of my front door and into your classroom on time.

Sounds simple? Here's what else it means for us...

  • They'll need to grab the packed lunch they helped to make from the fridge.

  • They'll have to remember swimming kits and musical instruments. On the correct day.

  • They'll be responsible for looking the way we both expect them to look as a representative of your school and our family.

  • At the end of a long day, they'll need to transfer the notes and homework from their bag to our kitchen table.

And so I need to apologise now.

I need to say sorry for the potential late arrivals, unkempt appearances, forgotten play pieces and missing homework.  I need to say sorry for the disruption caused if one of them has to sit poolside in their school uniform while the rest of the class swims.

So why am I letting this happen, I hear you ask?  Because we've done the lists.  And I've yelled the reminders.  And now I need to let them learn.  Themselves. The hard way.  It's finally time to hand over the ropes.  I anticipate a period of confusion and frustration for all of us.  But I think it'll be worth it in the end. 

You and me? I believe we have a common goal.  To encourage our children to be responsible, independent and well-organised young people.  If my expectations at home can echo your expectations in the classroom, hopefully we can all reap the rewards.

Meanwhile, I'd like to beg your forgiveness.  I realise, after all, that the start of a new term is a challenging time...

Yours sincerely,

A concerned parent

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Five Reasons To Take The Ice Bucket Challenge

You can hear the trademark noises everywhere. From suburban gardens to Facebook news feeds. 

The splashes. The shrieks. The howls of laughter.  (Usually in that order.)

I'm guessing that most people who read this post will be familiar with the ice bucket challenge for charity. Some of you may have subjected yourself to a soaking, others may have paid out a bit more to avoid the experience.  Others still may be choosing to completely avoid social media in a bid to side-swerve a nomination.

As with any trend that catches on, the ice bucket challenge has attracted some controversy.  It seems possible that, in a tiny percentage of cases, things may have gone horribly and tragically wrong.  There has also been a significant backlash against some charities for piggy-backing on someone else's idea.

I'm not going to explore these issues any further in this post.  I simply don't feel that I have the requisite background knowledge or analytical writing skills to do so.  What's more, this is a very peaceful little blog and I'd love to keep it that way.  

Instead, I'm going to write about my own average 'take' on the ice bucket challenge and why I think it's been an overwhelmingly positive thing.


1. Laughter
There are many days that I feel we simply don't laugh enough.  This challenge has a fun element to it. Yes, we're laughing at our friends' and relatives' expense but not in a cruel way. You can actually hear people guffawing at their laptops as they check out the latest drenchings during their lunch hour.

2. Novelty
In my last post 'Back to School...But What About The Parents?', I touched on the subject of comfort zones. I'm guessing that getting a bucket of ice cold water tipped over you isn't top of anyone's list of new things to try. And yet...Having been through the experience, there's something strangely exhilarating about gritting your teeth and doing something that you're dreading.  Particularly when it's for the greater good.

3. Bonding
Siblings throughout the land have bonded as they've teamed up to gleefully hunt down the largest possible receptacles to fill with icy water for their long-suffering parents.  My son was desolate when he realised that, having emptied his largest Lego box, there were two small holes in the bottom rendering it obsolete for ice bucket purposes.  No prizes for guessing who his lucky victim was.

4. Kudos
Mums and dads have gained new respect in their kids' eyes for doing something fun and, let's face it, something that's completely irrational and ridiculous.  Just because you're a parent doesn't mean you have to be sensible 100% of the time.

5. Charity
Don't worry, I've saved the best until last. By the time you read this, the challenge may well have peaked but it's safe to bet that millions have been raised for worthy causes. It will be a huge bonus if awareness levels receive a boost too.  Because in among the splashes, shrieks and laughter, we all need to take a moment to remember those who are less healthy and happy than ourselves.

Have you participated in the ice bucket challenge yet? Why not post a comment and let me know?

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Back to school...but what about the parents?

The emboldened threat in the shop window displays of the past six weeks has finally come true.  As of yesterday, we are indeed 'Back to school'.

One of my little 'uns couldn't wait to get back; the other was somewhat cautious.  As for me?  I always feel slightly bereft at the end of summer, however I've come to the conclusion that a new academic year represents a great time to make a fresh start for both children and parents.

Many parents take up new work opportunities that coincide with their offspring starting school, or perhaps with them reaching a milestone where all parties are happy with mum (or dad) being away from home more.  

In that sense, it's down to timing.  As children spread their wings, so can parents - and lots do.  New endeavours need not be confined to work-related activities.  Over the last 24 hours, I've lost count of the face-to-face conversations and Facebook posts surrounding new courses, fitness classes and events that parents are planning to undertake. Good on 'em I say! I reckon that late summer is a far better time for fresh challenges than New Year, when all we really want to do is climb under the duvet rather than make resolutions. (Or perhaps that's just me?)


In my average little household, the start of a new term usually features some form of family discussion about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the kiddos.  I'm not sure if my advice reflects that of approved parenting manuals but it tends to run along the following lines:  'Seize all the new experiences that you can. It doesn't matter one jot whether you are the best or worst in the class. Just do your best and - most importantly - have fun in the process.'

As happens so often nowadays, the attitude I expected my children to adopt made me take a long, hard look at my own.  When was the last time I tried something new? Something that was a little outwith my comfort zone? Something that I was doing purely for the experience of trying something different rather than for immediate gratification, like taking on a project to earn extra money or cooking a dish to be devoured that evening?

Awkward pause.

At the end of our holidays, we were lucky enough to enjoy some of Edinburgh's festival activities.  One of my personal highlights was a family event as part of the Book Festival, which was led by Horrible Histories' illustrator, Martin Brown.  He started his very entertaining session by making us a promise:  By the time we left we would either feel that we could draw better, or we'd feel better about our perceived lack of drawing skills.  And do you know what? I reckon he achieved his aim.  My two immediately picked up sketchpads and pencils after grabbing themselves a bench in Charlotte Square gardens.  Me, I was left pondering some of his more challenging questions: Why do we stop doing things that we enjoy just because we think we're not "doing it right?"  Who decides what is wrong or right or good or bad anyway?

On our way home from Edinburgh, with less than 24 hours to go until the first bell rang to mark the new school year, we stopped at IKEA.  I bought myself a sewing machine. (Not very rock 'n' roll but bear with me.) I've always been convinced that I can't sew since my first disastrous tuition in primary school. But I've always secretly wanted to.

And do you know what? This year I'm ruddy well going to learn...

Have you got any exciting plans of your own for the new academic year? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Learning to dance in the rain...

It had been one of those weeks.  

All was not particularly happy at Average Towers.  A couple of bad parenting judgements.  A difficult anniversary to get through. Loved ones grappling with thorny issues that I was unable to help with but persisted in fretting over.

Too many days had been spent sitting indoors hunched over a laptop.  Both brain and body had become sluggish. My relaxed skinny jeans felt anything but.

As the week plodded on, the Scottish weather decided to come out in sympathy.  It was early evening as the four of us drove through the city and, in the words of Winnie the Pooh, the rain rain rain came down down down.

I looked out of the car window bleakly, wondering if I might muster up some negative remark about the conditions.  And then I noticed two things that stopped me in my tracks.  A female runner on the pavement was striding out at full pace, soaked to the skin and beaming.  A bike with a wicker basket was propped up against the gate of a cottage at the road side.  These seemingly everyday sights oozed optimism. There were at least two people in this city who weren't letting the weather get them down.


Which brings me slowly to my point.  We all have to deal with blips and upsets - and not just in terms of the weather.  No matter how idyllic others' lifestyles might seem on social media, everyone has their crosses to bear and their rough patches to cope with.

And so I reached a bit of a crossroads.  It had been a pants week but I could feel sorry for myself and hope for a miracle, or get a grip and deal with it.  And so I did (and I still am).  I found the strength to have some important conversations; I knuckled down and cleared out some of the physical and emotional clutter. And I forced myself out into the fresh air because exercise and the great outdoors are fantastic weapons against malaise.  I also reminded myself to look outward rather than inward.  Compared to those suffering in war-torn countries my life is a dream come true.

The whole scenario - and the onset of our traditional Scottish summertime weather - brought to mind one of my favourite sayings.  (I'm sure you'll have heard it before as it's plastered over many a canvas and pinterest board.)

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain."

I still consider myself a novice but the rain dancing lessons are well underway.

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Friday, 25 July 2014

The tiny things that tip you over the edge...

Maybe it's because it's the school holidays.  Maybe it's the heat (though please don't go away quite yet Scottish sunshine). Maybe it's because I'm working from home more.  Whatever the reason, my tolerance levels are eroding fast and it would seem that I'm not the only one...

In recent conversations with friends who also happen to be mums, we agree that it's often not the big misdemeanours that cause us to lose it.  Instead it's the cumulative effect of all the little ones - especially those petty crimes for which my own two are convicted repeat offenders.

So, while I still have the dregs of a sense of humour, I give you the top five countdown of parenting nerve-shredders here at Average Towers...



1. The pile at the bottom of the stairs

These items are at the bottom of the stairs for a reason.  Because they need taken up.  It's highly unlikely that any of them belong to you.  You have perhaps even performed an act of kindness by placing them there neatly on behalf of whichever junior member of the family they do belong to.  Will they be dutifully carried to their rightful place next time a barefoot child darts up the stairs? Will they heck.  If you don't do anything, by the end of the week this pile will have formed the foundation blocks of a precarious tower of similar items. All of which your offspring will continue to ignore.

2. The open doors

Summer's arrived.  For three consecutive days it has been warm in our little patch of the north-east of Scotland. I love the heat.  So do my children. (It's something of a novelty round here.) They love being outdoors.  And running back in again. And being outdoors.  And running back in again.  The soundtrack of my summer beats to a percussion of slamming doors.  Because no-one ever shuts the dratted things.  I mean - why would you? Breeze? What breeze?

3. What's for tea?

It's bad enough hearing this question on the way home from school.  It's even worse when it comes during the lunchtime clear-up.  What's more, it's the small person who eats the least and who is - ahem - selective about her food who always needs to know.  (I guess it's useful to gauge which level of rejection she will require for tonight's dish.)  Attempts to pre-empt this query by writing up tonight's menu on our kitchen blackboard have not helped - other than to provoke advance protests/sulks.

4. Problems, not solutions

Even as I write, I'm aware that the blame for this one may lie squarely at my feet. "I'm hungry/thirsty/too hot/too cold/can't find my hoodie/sunglasses/library book."  Repeat to fade. Captain Mum, it would seem, is expected to spring to the rescue.  Were my children pre-school age, I like to think I'd be a little more understanding.  At ten and eight, however, the novelty of responding calmly with: "Have a drink of water/piece of fruit/where did you last see it?" is beginning to wear off.  One day, I keep telling myself, they'll solve their own mini dilemmas. Ideally before I'm drawing my pension.

5. The unchanged loo roll

I think I can just leave it there, can't I? After a long hot day dealing with 1-4, the discovery of that innocuous little grey cardboard roll can push you over the brink.  While the rest of the family looks on in horror at your disproportionate and seemingly insane reaction.

But we know the truth, don't we ladies?

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The author would like to point out that she does still possess a sense of perspective.  It's just been temporarily misplaced for the duration of the school holidays.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Holidaying across the generations: Reporting back

My previous post 'Holidaying across the generations' was all about our forthcoming holiday.  It was to be our first week away with both our children and my mum.

Said holiday has now been and gone. I feel, therefore, that it is only fair to report back on how it all went...

I'll spare you from my rusty 'just getting back in the blogging saddle' writing by keeping my thoughts short and to the point:

Holiday highs: Scottish sunshine (a major and unexpected plus); long coastal walks; rock-pooling; self-catering accommodation that surpassed expectations; dining al fresco; tennis tournaments; harbour cafes; evening strolls; leisurely bike runs; views to die for.  My ultimate high - and perhaps the one most closely associated with three generations holidaying together - was the flexibility of this new family arrangement.  The kids bonded with their grandmother.  My mum and I chatted about some of the important stuff we never normally get around to.  Hubby and I squeezed in small but invaluable pockets of time to ourselves without the children.  Having another adult around gave us extra wriggle room. If everyone didn't want to head out to the park, they didn't have to.  We simply broke off into our preferred clusters, then regrouped later with fresh enthusiasm.

Family holidays: Not all plain sailing

And, in the interests of balance...

Holiday lows: Fresh-on-the-scene tween strops; summer colds (all of us); nasty fall from tree rope swing (youngest); tennis induced twisted ankle (me); hayfever sufferers x two (hubby and youngest); two very similar females who both like to be in control (no need to explain who);  small people who, exhausted after the end of term, decided it was their divine right to do as little as possible to help out or tidy up after themselves.

So, would we do it all again? We sure would.  I think the highs definitely outweigh the lows.  To be fair, the weather and our accommodation ensured that we had the ideal conditions for family harmony.  That said, I think both children and adults learned valuable lessons during the week about compromise, biting one's tongue and mucking in.  I'm still plugging away with the kids on that last one though. Perhaps I'll have nailed it by the time they leave home?

Happy holidays, wherever you are and whatever you're up to.