A Visit to Grandma and Grandpa

There used to be a time when visiting my parents’ house was a warm, welcoming, familiar sanctuary where I could unwind, kick back and be fed copious amounts of food. It was a retreat from life’s drama where the Old Git and I would be treated like royalty. The oldies LOVED hosting us but since having the kids this scenario has changed somewhat. Now, a visit to grandma and grandpa is nothing short of stressful, with frequent bouts of drama and hysteria. Oh, how times have changed.

Firstly let’s talk about rules. Basically, there are none. The kids act like they own the joint and ignore everything you tell them, safe in the knowledge that grandma and grandpa will undermine you and accommodate their every whim. Anything goes here… if they want to watch TV all day and night, they can. If they want a meal consisting of cheerios and chocolate buttons, no problem! If mummy says “no more!” you may as well be talking to a brick wall.

Then there’s the hysteria (sugar-induced, no doubt). No more peace, no more retreat. When all the grandkids get together (there are six in total from my siblings and I), the noise levels are brutal. There’s screaming, screeching, fighting and laughter all mixed in with a bit of wailing and sobbing (from Ludoo). And let’s not forget the mess. Crumbs everywhere. Food splattered across the floor and table. Ice lollies dripping over the carpet. Toys and puzzles scattered across the house. Shudder. My poor parents just watch on in a dual state of horror and devotion, as my siblings and I tidy up behind our offspring and/or yell at them to tidy up themselves.

And then there is the drama and misfortune that unfolds all too frequently at my parents’ house. Like when Ludoo locked himself in one of the bedrooms. For a good twenty minutes there was chaos in the Khan residence. Grandma was running around frantically looking for a master key whilst shouting instructions, a panic-stricken grandpa was running up and down the street in his slippers looking for someone to help, the other kids were downstairs fighting and screaming over the iPad (completely oblivious to what was going on) and I was irate at being placed in this predicament, whilst comforting a stressed out Ludoo through the keyhole. It was complete and utter mayhem. Needless to say, Ludoo made it out of the room but I needed a strong cup of tea to recover.

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Relaxing in my own home these days..
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What better way to unwind?

Pre-kids my parental home was a peaceful haven where I could escape and recharge. Now, it’s party central where the kids run riot. They’ve well and truly pissed all over that parade and claimed it as their own. Whilst Khan Headquarters will always occupy a special place in my heart, I have to say, I’m rather fond of my own home now and its creature comforts. I believe a person’s sense of calm, wellbeing and security is intrinsically linked to the home they create. Occasionally though, I will secretly visit my parents’ home, without the children, and experience a little bit of  bliss again.

 

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My Fourth Birthday

Hi, I’m Ludoo and it’s my fourth birthday today. My day began with my mum doing the Running Man into my bedroom whilst belting out “Happy Birthday” to me. She looked like a complete nutter but I had to play along as she seemed so deranged with excitement. We then went downstairs and my dad stuck the video camera in my face as soon as I entered the living room. I was about to teach him a lesson and start howling, full pelt, but then I saw the mountain of presents on the table and refrained. Some of the gifts were pretty naff, like the clothes and the Disney bed linen set, but the Scalextric car racing set saved the day. Crisis averted.

Normally my big sister ignores me and slams her bedroom door in my face, but today she was actually interested in hanging out with me. We played with my birthday gifts, ate chocolate eggs and laughed together. It was pretty cool. She then snatched one of my cars which sent me into a baby rage, resulting in me pinching her and shoving her across the room. She started screaming hysterically, I started wailing inconsolably and we both got sent to time out.

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The coolest Spiderman around..

Next it was my party. People started arriving at 3pm and I was dressed as Spiderman. I was, by far, the best dressed person there. I don’t have many friends yet so it was mainly my cousins and sister’s friends in attendance. There were some people there who I didn’t even know, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was the star attraction and I was getting lots of presents. No gift, no entry.

We ate a lot of cake. My mum thinks I didn’t notice but she actually did not get me a Spiderman cake, as requested. She got me a Star Wars cake with a lame Spiderman figurine and candle stuck on top. Poor show, I say. I still ate it and then proceeded to scoff the chocolate brownies, eclairs and lemon tart that were all on offer.

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A confused cake #lame

I found most of the kids at my party annoying. They were all playing with my stuff and walking around my playroom like they owned it. One kid even thought it was acceptable to touch my Winnie the Pooh teddy. What the hell? Don’t these kids know kiddie protocol? You DON’T touch anyone’s favourite toy….ever. I taught him a lesson and screamed in his face with my full fury. He went running to his mum, the cry baby.

The party finished by about 6.30pm and I was pleased to see the back of my guests. Order was restored in the house and there was peace and quiet. At bedtime my mum got a bit overemotional [eye roll] and started reminiscing about the day I was born ..YAWN. She told me I’d always be her baby in her stupid baby voice and practically suffocated me with her needy kisses and cuddles.  I humoured her for a bit but then got vexed and told her to back off by head butting her.

It was a long day and I’m now ready for bed. I’m not quite sure how I feel about being four. I’m on the cusp of starting school but still act and look like a baby. I have complex emotions and have trouble processing them, often resulting in multiple meltdowns. Maybe this is my time to man up and start acting like a boy and not a baby. I feel a change coming on.

Love Ludoo, age 4.

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Dads on the School Run

The playground has long been a woman’s world but times are changing and there are now an increasing number of dads on the school run. They are no longer viewed as a peculiarity and offer a more varied cast to the weekly drama that unfolds at the school gates. It’s only right that men too should participate in the stress and drudgery of this ritual and experience the full glory of racing down the road in the pissing rain with a screaming/whinging child.

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The Old Git’s turn to do the school run today. Hoorah!

Although they are small in number, there are still certain observations that can be made about dads on the school run. They largely fall into one of the following categories:

1)The dump and run dad. He skids into the playground, deposits his child at the specified place and time, avoids eye contact or conversation with other parents and races off to work. Should you ask him anything about school, e.g “Do the kids need their PE kit today?”  he will just look at you completely bewildered. He knows nothing beyond what time to drop off and pick up. In fact, he doesn’t even know who you are or who your child is, despite your kids being in the same class. Deal with it.

2)The Flash Git of a dad who pulls up in his sports car every day. He normally wears sunglasses, a leather jacket and has the roof down, even if it’s raining. The mums all roll their eyes at him dismissively whilst the dads look on with contempt and/or envy. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing his car get slapped with a parking ticket.

3)The tracksuit dad who is bleary eyed, unshaven and wears stained clothes. He basically doesn’t give a monkey’s, waltzes into school like he’s just woken up after a big night out and has forgotten to wash. He tends to sit on his own, makes occasional inane observations about the weather and then astounds you with some amazingly insightful analysis of Southeast Asian politics or the pound to euro exchange rate. He’s a dark horse.

4)The workaholic dad who is rushing around with his phone glued to his face engrossed in some very important sounding, money making conversation. You wonder if he is the CEO of a big multinational company and whether there has been some family emergency requiring him to attend school pickup/drop off as ordinarily you barely catch a glimpse of him. He is detached and far too busy to converse with you. You wonder how rich he is.

5)The too cool for school dad. He is very trendy and probably works in the creative industry. He knows all the mums’ names, rocks up confidently and is always surrounded by a group of beaming, giggling women. He is the male centrepiece. The object of every mum’s affection. The dad that everyone fancies.

Of course I’m just scratching the surface of the school dad phenomenon. They vary considerably in style and character, but what they appear to have in common is a certain level of discomfort at being thrust into the socially complex world of the school playground.  Apart from the ‘too cool for school dad,’ most look a bit awkward and fumble through the drop off/pickup ritual with stoicism.

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Father and child moment on the school run

But let’s look on the bright side of dads doing the school run. It gives them an insight into the diabolical drama that mums endure every morning, creates an opportunity for them to bond with their children (albeit an intensely stressful one), develops their parenting and crisis management skills when they have to deal with meltdowns at the school gates, and finally but most importantly of all, sets an example to their kids that child rearing is a shared responsibility. Bring on the dads, I say.

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The School Run

I’ve been doing the school run for a few years now and it never ceases to amaze me how complex and fascinating a ritual it is. It’s a microcosm of (primarily) female behaviour where the drama and dynamics of modern day motherhood are on full display. A new storyline unfolds every other week as relationships change and judgements are made, all taking place at the precarious school gates.

There are many different types of mums on the school run but I’ve come to the conclusion they largely fall into the following categories:

1)The stressed out mum who has to drag her kids and baby in a buggy down the street as  they scream/sob/moan continuously in the pissing rain. She has to juggle seven different school bags with frizzy hair and feels totally and utterly defeated by 8am. That would be me.

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My pile of school bags this morning
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Heading out for the school run

2)The immaculately dressed and perfectly manicured mum who      always looks a million dollars with her blow dried hair and perfectly made up face. The morning drop off is an opportunity for her to parade her latest purchases whilst gliding effortlessly down the street as others look on in jealous disbelief.

3)The lycra mum who is forever in her gym gear putting the rest of us to shame with our preference for tea and pastry in the morning. She is completely unrecognisable when, on the odd occasion, she turns up dressed in normal clothes, without the headband, and we all wonder who the hell she is. We also wonder whether she really goes to the gym every day or just heads home and puts her feet up to watch Jeremy Kyle.

4)The schizophrenic mum who acts like your best friend one morning and then completely ignores you the next. You spend half the school year wondering if you’ve done something to offend her and then finally conclude she is just plain weird.

5)The moaner. You casually ask this mum how she is and she proceeds to complain about every single aspect of home, family and school life. At first you think she is just having a bad day but then quickly realise every day is a bad day. You spend the rest of the school term trying to avoid her as it’s not exactly the most uplifting start to your day.

In and amongst all of these contrasting personalities you have the parking issues and cliques to deal with, both of which cause further stress and irritation. Trying to dodge the traffic warden whilst competing for parking spots isn’t exactly fun. Nor is being excluded by a clique of mothers who stop talking every time you approach them.  And let’s not even get into the dynamics of the working mums versus the stay at home mums. The school run is an absolute minefield but a fascinating one at that.

Truth be told, this ritual, although stressful, offers a curious insight into female dynamics and the world of motherhood, whilst occasionally producing some good friendships. Despite the difference and drama, the shared dread and drudgery of the school run unites us. It’s not my favourite part of the day but there’s no denying that what goes on at the school gates makes the morning routine a little less dull, spicing up what would otherwise be an abysmal start to the day.

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Car Chaos

I don’t know what it is about family car journeys but lately they have been the stuff of nightmares. I’m not even talking about long road trips. I’m talking about the day to day car journeys we make to school/clubs/friends’ houses etc. The back seat bickering from my offspring is relentless and quite often escalates to full scale screechy hysterics. And it’s no better at the front. At least fifty percent of our shared car journeys result in the Old Git and I having some kind of dispute, ranging from passive aggressive muttering to unrestrained frothing at the mouth. The drama that unfolds in my car is really quite astonishing. This car chaos normally ends with me feeling like a complete and utter wreck all before 9am. Lovely. Thank you very much.

So let me tell you how it all begins. Before we even get to the car, the kids are fighting. They fight over who runs out of the house first, who reaches the car first and who gets into the car first. They then fight over who has more leg room or whose window is rolled down the most. It’s basically one big scrap. Snacks work and silence them for a good few minutes, but once they finish spraying my car with crumbs they resume scrapping. On occasion I’ve shouted so loudly at them I’m sure passing cars have heard my booming voice. I now make sure all the windows are rolled up before I start my angry tirade. Big sigh. The other day I actually had to stop the car to tell them to stop screeching and gave them a blow by blow account of what would happen if mummy crashed the car because of their screaming. Nice. Needless to say it alarmed them sufficiently to keep them quiet for the rest of the car journey.  Effective parenting at its best.

Happier days in the car..
Happier days in the car..

As for the Old Git and I, car conflict is nothing new. If I am driving he finds it physically impossible not to give a running commentary of all my “alleged” driving flaws, normally accompanied by a whole lot of head shaking, gasping and tutting. As you can imagine, this does not go down very well with me.  He then gets an earful, huffs and puffs for the rest of the journey, I get irritated and all the while the kids are in the back scrapping. Family bliss indeed.

So what is it about the car that brings out the worst in us? I suppose it’s similar to road rage. When we are in an enclosed space our senses become heightened and we are more likely to react to provocation.

I’ve already told the Old Git to keep his “driving advice” to himself when I am behind the wheel and he has made me promise to refrain from bringing up any controversial topics that will trigger him whilst he’s driving. Let’s see if this can make for a more harmonious car journey. As for the kids, well, that will require some long term and consistent action. Lecturing them doesn’t work, but stopping the car and refusing to move until the hysteria dies down seems to be a more effective method. Next time though, I won’t go into the gruesome, graphic details of what happens in a road traffic accident. #Notnecessary #Toomuchinformation.

I’m hopeful that the day will come when we will all be able to make witty, pleasant conversation in the car and use that time as enjoyable family time. In the meantime, I will just have to pump up the music (to drown out the screaming), drive very slowly, breathe deeply and remind myself that this too shall pass. I know at some point I will be able to laugh about this. Just not right now.

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That Broody Feeling

Shoot me now. Lately I’ve been having the most ridiculous, random, senseless and, quite frankly, alarming thoughts about having another baby. It’s completely crazy and is about as likely as me giving birth to twin Chihuahuas, but it’s causing me considerable anxiety. I have two children and more than my fair share of cuddles, affection, drama and angst. Baby number three has never been on the agenda, especially since turning forty. So why the hell am I getting that broody feeling again?

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The baby days..

Of course it doesn’t help that I have recently visited various friends who have produced the most beautiful newborns, as there’s nothing quite like that familiar smell of talcum powder mixed in with baby vomit to make you feel nostalgic. Their tiny little fingers, silky smooth hair and dreamy eyes gazing up at you is enough to tempt even the most hardened of women, albeit only for a few seconds. In fact, I went as far as to ask the Old Git what his thoughts were on producing another mini-me and he responded by practically choking on his Kit Kat. I had to quickly reassure him that it was just a fleeting thought.

After much analysis and introspection, I’ve realised there are two reasons why I have been having these pangs of emotion. Firstly, my youngest, Ludoo, is about to start full time school in September. The realisation that my needy, obsessive, demanding baby will no longer be a “baby” is a strange one. Whilst Ludoo does, undoubtedly, drive me bonkers most of the day, I know that I will miss him. He is like my shadow, following me around everywhere I go. Sometimes, when he is at nursery, I find myself looking at other women with their young kids, and missing him. Then I SLAP myself and remember that I am hands free, hassle free and completely free to do as I please for a few hours. Hoorah! These sentimental feelings do not, however, equate to a desire to have another baby. Rather, they reflect a wistful acceptance that my youngest is growing up and an idealised affection for the early years spent with him. Feelings of nostalgia are not the same as feelings of broodiness.

The second reason for these unexpected feelings stem from my entry into the forties club. There is an uncomfortable sense of doom about diminishing fertility and a wave of panic that if I do want to have another child I had better do it now before it is too late. But again, this is more about my own sense of womanhood than about wanting another baby. It’s not that I want to be knee deep in nappies and baby puke all over again. No. But the prospect of not being able to have another baby should I want one is a scary one that takes some getting used to.

So there you have it. Panic over. Nostalgia and the aging process have a lot to answer for. Now that I have regained my senses, I can go back to anticipating my imminent freedom from the preschool club and planning my life of (relative) independence. Be gone stinky nappies. Be gone night feeds.  I am not going to be tricked into thinking that’s what I want again. Whilst I will always remember the baby years fondly, I’m ready to reclaim my life.

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Kids and iPads

We all do it. When we are feeling harassed and the kids are driving us nuts we dish out the iPads in an attempt to keep them quiet and distracted. It’s the ultimate babysitter and a useful negotiating tool as the mere utterance of a threat to destroy/sell/remove the iPad causes extreme panic and palpitations. Heck, my kids would drink toilet water if it meant they could have more screen time. It definitely makes life easier for parents but are kids and iPads really such a good idea? Are we risking the health and wellbeing of our children by being too lenient with our gadgets?

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The iPhone trance..

I’ve been to people’s homes where almost all of the kids there have been glued to their own personal iPads for the entire duration of the visit. There is no social interaction or interest whatsoever and the whole afternoon is spent gazing at a screen. It frustrates me as it inevitably means my own kids will end up peering over their shoulders watching them swipe left, right, up and down, mesmerised by the techno games. But what about real play? Running, climbing, making up games together? Exchanging ideas and resolving differences? All pretty critical social and emotional skills, none of which can be developed by sitting on a couch playing on the iPad or iPhone. We are living in an age where screen time is replacing real time activities and that is a worry.

Kids as young as two are addicted to the iPhone and it’s not easy to wean them off.   Many experts suggest that too much screen time can lead to an inactive, unhealthy lifestyle (not ideal bearing in mind current rates of child obesity), sleep disorders and aggression. I’ve seen it myself. When my kids use the iPad for too long their behaviour definitely deteriorates. Not only do they ignore everything I say and refuse to follow instructions, they turn into raging, hysterical bulls when I try to prise the iPad away from them. The techno child can be a very angry child indeed.

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“Mummy, don’t even think about taking my iPad away.”

Of course I try to convince myself that the iPad is a great educational tool but in all honesty my kids will play the Maths and English games for about ten minutes before switching to something less cerebral. There’s no doubt it can be an engaging way for a child to learn but it definitely needs to be monitored. Left to their own devices it will be hours of My Little Pony or Sonic the Hedgehog. Shudder. In fact, research from the University of Cambridge suggests too much screen time results in a fall in academic grades amongst 14-16 year olds. Yikes! How the hell is Flump going to become a world class brain surgeon and Ludoo the CEO of a multi-million dollar empire if I let them spend all day on the iPad???

I’m going to be bold/foolish and put it out there. I think allowing our kids to consistently overuse gadgets is lazy parenting. I’ve had days when I’ve let my two spend hours on the iPad and I’ve always felt horrendously guilty about it afterwards. It’s not ideal, although on occasion it has felt necessary for my mental wellbeing! I try to make sure it’s not a regular occurrence as these habits are difficult to break. For me, the key is parental control. As long as we limit the time spent in front of a screen (the US Department of Health recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for those over the age of two- this includes TV, computers, iPads and phones) there’s no reason it can’t be beneficial.

We live in a digital age where children are expected to be tech savvy but it’s a slippery slope towards becoming a tech addict. I’d rather my kids spend their time enjoying and learning from life in the real world than spend endless hours in a virtual world.

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Antisocial Husbands

How many of you have had to drag your other halves along to a friend’s party or wedding using bribery, blackmail, guilt and all other forms of persuasion? How many of you have had to endure continuous grumbling in the car en route to a friend’s house only for it to stop temporarily whilst dinner is being served, after which your partner then promptly announces it’s time to leave? They call it an “eat and run” where I’m from. The Old Git is a serial offender but I’ve come to realise he’s not the only one. Apparently there are many of us with antisocial husbands/partners who would, quite simply, prefer to be at home, given the choice.

Most of the time it works quite well that the Old Git would rather sit at home watching YouTube or Match of the Day as it enables me to have an unrestricted, active social life. There are no babysitting issues to deal with or conflicting social diaries as the Old Git only has about four friends, one of whom is his brother. I used to think it was a bit unfortunate that this was the Old Git’s preferred pastime but I’ve concluded there are far worse things that he could be doing. We are essentially social opposites and he needs his downtime just as much as I need my ‘going out’ time. We know and accept this about each other.

Forever the party girl, in stark contrast to the Old Git.
Forever the party girl, in stark contrast to the Old Git.

However there are times when you would like your partner to accompany you to places. I remember early on in our marriage, I went to a few family weddings without the Old Git and word on the street was that we were getting divorced. It’s true. People assumed that the Old Git was absent because our marriage was in trouble, not because he simply had no interest in attending. Initially it did irritate me. I was annoyed at the gossipmongers for coming up with this nonsense and I was annoyed at the Old Git for putting me in this predicament. That being said, I soon realised that couples can easily put on a facade of marital bliss when things can be very different behind closed doors. Public attendance or appearance is no measure of marital happiness.

There are occasions when I will insist that the Old Git  comes out with me. I normally base this decision on 1) babysitting availability, 2) the importance of the occasion, 3) the football fixtures (the Old Git won’t budge if his team are playing..big sigh) and 4) who else will be there. Recently we have attended lots of fortieth birthday parties together and it has been fun spending time with friends and seeing the Old Git drown in his attempts to make social chit chat. It’s particularly amusing to watch him when he is surrounded by other socially reserved partners and he is then forced to carry the conversation in the most awkward and excruciating way [evil laugh]. But I choose my occasions very carefully and try not to overburden the Old Git with my social demands. It’s no fun for either of us if he spends the entire night moaning about being dragged out and sometimes it’s just better to let him relax in his man cave.

To be fair, the Old Git isn’t the most antisocial of husbands I’ve ever seen. Once he’s out he will generally make an effort (although he has been known to disappear and sit in the car to listen to podcasts or football on occasion). What I have realised is that we all have our own outlets that help us to thrive. Some of us are social creatures that require regular social interaction and others prefer a quieter, more private existence. The two can happily coexist as long as we respect each other’s needs and differences and compromise when we need to. And just sometimes opposites do attract.

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Why didn’t I take my husband’s name?

I’ve been married for over ten years now (crikey) and I’m one of those “rebellious” women that didn’t change her surname after walking down the aisle. Initially it was for professional reasons as I had built up a reputation as a journalist (plus I couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork), but in all honesty it went much deeper than that. So, why didn’t I take my husband’s name?

Firstly let’s talk about culture. The concept of name changing is very common in Western, English speaking countries but in many other cultures such as Arab, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Spanish and Greek culture (to name just a few) this isn’t a traditional practice. Women keep their own surnames after marriage and there is no issue or conflict of interest. Changing one’s name is by no means a universally accepted practice.

Exchanging rings ten years ago

For me, it wasn’t about being a feminist or not liking the Old Git’s surname. It just felt wrong to change such a fundamental part of my identity. My surname is an intrinsic part of who I am and had defined me, at the point of marriage, for thirty years. So why would I just give it up? It connects me to my childhood and to my parents. I am still my father’s daughter, even after marriage.

I see no reason to become immersed into my husband’s identity. He has his own family history, as do I, and I am not defined by his story. Of course my children ask me why I have a different surname to them and this simply gives me the opportunity to remind them that they come from two families, with two different names, both of whom love them very much. It’s not complicated at all. It’s a way for me to remind them of their maternal line and for us to celebrate the origins of our own little family.

Just because I haven’t adopted my husband’s surname doesn’t make us any less of a team or mean  I love him any less.  We make decisions together, share a house together, have children together and are committed to each other in every way. To suggest that sharing the same surname promotes family “unity” is nonsensical as the 42% rate of divorce in the UK demonstrates. A name has no bearing whatsoever on whether a couple stays together.

The day we said “I do”

So how does the Old Git feel about all of this, I hear you ask? If I remember correctly, he grumbled a little bit when I first mentioned it ten years ago but not enough for it to become an issue between us. He would jokingly say I was “doing a Beyonce” on him (a la “Independent Women”) but he never took it personally or as a rejection. His only occasional gripe is when other people describe him as “Mr Khan” on wedding invitations or holiday bookings. That, it seems, is a step too far for him and then he grumbles…A LOT. In a way, these occasional social mishaps are a good thing as they give him an insight into what it feels like to lose the name that you were born with and identify with.

I have my own little family now and am a wife and a mother. Naturally I have evolved over the years with these experiences but my name is still very much at the core of who I am. Shazia Khan, the girl that was. Shazia Khan, the woman that I am.

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Extra- Curricular Club Frenzy

Today the word “education” encompasses a whole lot more than just schooling and academic learning. Great value is placed upon extra-curricular activities and that’s not a bad thing. I’m all for encouraging kids to explore other interests; a bit of sport, music, drama, gardening..whatever floats their boat really. But have we gone too far in our quest to broaden our children’s horizons? Are we overloading them and trying too hard to produce over accomplished little prodigies? I can’t help but think that we are in the midst of an extra-curricular club frenzy.

First piano practice, then violin

Firstly, there seems to be this underlying presumption that the more clubs your child attends, the better parent you are perceived to be. It demonstrates that you are an “active parent” who is willing to ferry your kids around to a million different clubs all week whilst grabbing a latte and babyccino en route. The peer pressure to participate in this ritual is acute as nobody wants to be perceived as lazy or disinterested. There is also the underlying fear that whilst your kids are at home watching Catchup TV or playing with My Little Pony, other children will, in the meantime, be developing superhuman talents that far outweigh the talents of your own children. So you feel compelled to join in with this club frenzy as you don’t want to deprive your child of the opportunity to become the next mini Mozart or leading gymnast, do you? The pressure to keep up is very real.

Enrolling your child into every single possible club is also, almost certainly, a status symbol for some parents. It’s a very visible sign of disposable income, bearing in mind some of these activities are NOT cheap at all. It’s a case of keeping up with the Jones’ and ensuring your child doesn’t miss out on what the child next door is doing. It’s about projecting a certain image of your life.

And don’t get me started on the various different “squads” that exist at school.  There’s swim squad, gym squad, tennis squad, the A team for cricket, the A team for football etc. The list is endless. These squads are ‘by invitation only’ which basically leaves those kids that aren’t invited (and their parents) feeling like rejects. Whilst I understand the importance of developing and nurturing talent in these squads, it seems a bit unfortunate that it is done at such a young age (at five or six) and that kids are categorised as being either “sporty” or “unsporty” at such an early stage of their lives.

Overscheduling our kids
Overscheduling our kids

There is also the very real concern that we are overloading our kids with activities. Some children attend clubs every single day after school and at the weekend. Whilst they might enjoy it initially, at some point they WILL flip out and have the mother of all meltdowns, quite possibly in public, driven primarily by exhaustion. Or worse, they may internalise it and become anxious and stressed out.  Kids unequivocally need down time.  In my experience, they need to recharge their batteries and switch off from the daily grind. They need to enjoy moments of peace and quiet.

There is this false notion that children have to be entertained every moment of every day. That their days must be filled with activity. How about allowing them to be still or even bored? They might surprise you with their creativity and imagination. Being able to manage their own time and create their own sense of enjoyment is also a critical life skill.

We all want well rounded children and extra-curricular activities clearly help promote that. But we have to think about whose needs we are really meeting. Are we sending our kids to a hundred thousand different clubs to enrich their lives or to fulfil our own ambitions and hopes? No parent wants to deprive their kids of opportunities but I wonder if overscheduling deprives them of a free and unburdened childhood? The end goal for all of us is to provide a happy and nurturing childhood and surely the key to that is balance? Kids need stimulation for sure, but they also need space to just be.

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Musings of a Harassed Mum