Tour preparations – Part 1

The Boy Band is preparing to go on tour! We have been invited to Australia at the end of next week to fill in for the Rolling Stones. (Ok, we’ve actually been invited to a family wedding, but it still feels like we are preparing for a tour…)

Here is how the members of the Boy Band usually prepare: they jump about the furniture screaming hysterically about the idea of (a) staying up past bedtime to get to the airport, and (b) missing a few days of school. This giddiness will escalate, over the next 10 days, to an unacceptably high level of naughtiness. On the WHO scale of bad behaviour (I believe there is an app to measure this), it will reach Dangerously High, followed by Harmful To The Health Of The General Public. This craziness will result in me losing both my cool and my mind, and insanely screeching, “That’s it! You’ve lost all iPad time for a month!”

Big mistake. my friends. HUUUUGE mistake! Who am I punishing here? We’re about to go on a nine-hour flight and I’ve just banned iPads. Quick! Somebody invent a time machine so I can whoosh back and bite my out-of-control tongue! In fact, just pass me a rusty knife and I’ll saw that wagging flesh from my mouth rather than utter those words again.

I have seen the future, and the future is unpleasant. Therefore, I will not – NOT – be provoked into confiscating iPads or other handheld sedatives before a long-haul flight. So, while the hyper behaviour slowly creeps up the scale from “Boys Will Be Boys” to “Let’s See What The Police Have To Say About That”, I am going to practise deep breathing, find my inner zen and mentally prepare for being in a small metal tube for nine hours with my four ‘energetic’ (a euphemism for ‘out of control’) darlings.

To be honest, nine hours will seem like a walk in the park, given that our usual journey from Hong Kong to visit Grandma and Grandad in the north-east of England takes about 22 hours door-to-door. We’ve survived enough long-haul flights with the Boy Band over the years that One World have recently awarded us Medals of Valour (and requested that we switch to Star Alliance for all future flights.)

I am willing to share my top tips for air travel with infants and young children. These, my friends, are the essentials to be packed in your carry-on luggage.

luggage

  • Benadryl. This is not for the Boy Band. Goodness, if I drugged my children every time I felt they were annoying other people, they’d spend their childhood floating in a soporific haze. No, the Benadryl is for the adults in the rows behind and in front of me. They may be grateful for a swig of it by hour five.
  • One thousand small packets of sweeties/candies. Again, not for the Boy Band. Do I look like a rookie? Under cover of darkness, once the cabin lights have dimmed, I distribute these to children sitting in our section of the plane. With a bit of luck, their sugar high will detract from the antics of my own children.
  • Sticky tape. This has a two-fold purpose. When Drummer Boy refuses to stop rhythmically pounding his feet into the spine of the man seated in front of him, I use the tape to secure his errant legs in the brace position. Safety first, folks! And when The Cute One is being less than cute and wailing at a pitch that drowns out all four jet engines, I go all Eastern Bloc orphanage and tape his dummy firmly into his mouth. Sweet, sweet silence.
  • Small toys galore. As soon as the ‘Fasten Seatbelt’ sign has switched off, I fish handfuls of small toys from my bag (e.g., die cast cars, crayons, dice, plastic dinosaurs and the like) and strew them liberally on the floor, making sure to toss most of them far under the seats about 3 rows in front. Then, I stuff the few remaining pieces of Lego or toy soldiers down the sides of the seats, mashing them in with bits of month-old food and other people’s skin flakes. This skips the annoying step of playing with a toy for three minutes before losing it, and goes straight to the more challenging “find a small toy in the dark” game. It’s especially challenging for Drummer Boy when his legs are taped to his chair.
  • iPads. Forget all the above steps if you must – but pack those iPads before you even pack your passports or e-ticket printouts. We like to take an iPad 1 (it has a certain quaint antique value), an iPad 2, an iPad Air and an iPad Mini (did I mention we have four boys, and we are cooped up in a very tight space for a very long time?). All bets are off, all rules are in abeyance. If the one-year-old wants nine hours of Baby Einstein, I am not going to be Amish about it.

One final gem of advice: make sure your iPads are all different (whether it’s the type of iPad, the colour of the cover or the apps you have loaded on them). This invariably sparks a lively argument about who gets which iPad. I am always grateful for these little diversions. The fight over the distribution of iPads occupies at least 15 minutes of the flight, which accounts for a substantial amount* of the journey.

*It’s important to note, minutes in the air work like dog years:- 1 dog year = 7 human years; 1 minute in the air with the Boy Band = 7 minutes on solid ground with the same children. So, a minor tiff about the iPad actually lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes. And the flight to Australia will, in real time, last 63 hours!!! Just make sure you save the last swig of Benadryl for yourself.

 

 

 

Food, glorious food (fights)

We have a lot of food fights in our house. Not in a rock ‘n’ roll, let’s-throw-caviar-and-Cristal-at-each-other kind of way. Just the humdrum, eat-the-food-in-front-of-you, daily battles that most parents have with their children. But we seem to take it to a whole new level of crazy.

I suspect my boys are in training for the day when they get to add riders to their contracts, to ensure the venue they are performing at treats them like the divas stars that they truly are. In show business, these riders are also known as addendums. Firstly, am I right in saying that isn’t too far off “Ah, diddums!” (which is what comes to mind when reading that Katy Perry doesn’t want the chauffeur to engage her in conversation or look at her in the rearview mirror); and secondly, shouldn’t that be addenda? Am I the only Mumager in the business who studied Latin at school?

Van Halen famously added a rider to his contract stating the band wanted a bowl of M&Ms backstage: “Warning: absolutely no brown ones”. He later explained that this was a test to see if the promoter paid attention to detail (though I don’t think it adds up that if a minion was asked to pick out brown M&Ms, the venue will have taken extra special precautions to make sure that the stage doesn’t collapse during a fan invasion). Lead Vocal similarly likes all red and purple Starburst removed from the pack. He is not testing my attention to detail. He’s just weird. (Everyone knows the purple ones are the best.)

Lead Vocal has led us a merry dance across the years with his fussiness over food. He’s now eight years old, and we may have turned a corner. For three consecutive years, the only fruit in the world that he would eat was raspberries. Did he deliberately choose the most expensive imported fruit in the supermarket? But, last year, he began to experiment wildly and will now eat strawberries and pineapple as well. Yee-hah!

raspberries

This is what his contract addendums/oh-diddums will look like:

  • two small bars of Kinder Chocolate. Not the yucky hazelnut kind. And they have to be small bars. Not the Maxi-bar size. Definitely not the Kinder Surprise eggs. That’s just wrong. And NO OTHER CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD. Only small bars of Kinder Chocolate.
  • apple juice – but not the cloudy apple juice, just the clear kind that looks like the urine of a dehydrated person. It can be diluted 40:60 with water. Don’t try for 30:70, because I will know. And don’t ever offer me plain water, because water is disgusting. Just vile. I will never, ever drink water.
  • chips/French fries with ketchup – these can be steak chips, fat chips, crispy coated chips, ABC chips, but they mustn’t have sharp ends on them. And no skinny chips. The only acceptable brands of ketchup are Heinz or Hunts. Del Monte does not cut the mustard, if you’ll excuse a condiment-related pun.

Air Guitar Is just as unreasonable:

  • spiral pasta (aka fusilli) with butter and grated cheese. The pasta has to be ‘twirly’ – no macaroni, linguine, penne, farfalle or other strange shapes are acceptable. No weird colours either. Don’t try to sneak spinach into my diet with green pasta. Two types of grated cheese, please. An orange-coloured cheese and ‘salty cheese”. You may know the latter as Parmesan.
  • slices of cheese – orange-coloured, please. No yellow. No white. No broken corners.(Lady Gaga likes her small plate of cheese to be “non-smelly, non-sweaty”, so I don’t think Air Guitar is being too diva-esque here.)
  • hot dogs with the ends sliced off. End of.
  • no germs. None. Whatsoever. Don’t anyone else touch my food. Don’t sample off my plate. Don’t ask for a bite.

Drummer Boy is a simpler child:

  • Cake with lots of icing (frosting) on it. It doesn’t matter what cake. I’m just going to scrape the icing off with my teeth.
  • More icing, please.
  • Oreos with the biscuit circles removed. Yes, just the icing bit. Thanks.

The Cute One

  • Goldfish crackers. I know I’m too young for them, but I’m the fourth child, so the amount of sodium or sucrose in my diet is irrelevant. I’m just happy to be fed.
  • Cinnamon Graham crackers. You can just leave them in a cupboard low down. I’ll go help myself whenever I feel peckish. Mumager won’t even notice.
  • Plastic food. I love eating it. Can’t get enough of it. Don’t say ‘yum yum’ and do a pretend eating motion in front of me. I am going to stuff that whole plastic potato in my mouth. And then in your mouth.

I hang my head in shame as I read the above riders. What kind of Mumager have I been to have created such monsters? Lead Vocal had a friend once who would request – request – a snack of frozen chopped vegetables. Needless to say, the high-achieving mother of that organically superior child didn’t want much to do with my chemical-ridden children, and the friendship between our sons swiftly waned.

But I’ve given up apologising for my sons’ poor eating habits. You think I’m poisoning them? So sue me!

And venue promoters, you can sue me too, after you stock the backstage area with unbroken slices of orange cheese, the icing from inside Oreos and two small bars of Kinder Chocolate, only to find that the Boy Band have changed their minds. It happens. Every day. We agree on a meal, only to find – two hours later –  promises broken and flat-out denials that anyone ever agreed to eat cheese toasties. So, you want to cry about it? Oh, diddums!!

My boys and other animals…

By the end of last week, this quote from Plato seemed particularly apt:

Slide2

It didn’t spring to mind because they were rampaging like wild beasts through the house, nor because they were constantly hunting down food – it was because my sweet, little one-year-old, The Cute One, had learned to screech like a pterodactyl. (So much so, that I was began to wonder if it was time to rethink his moniker. He really wasn’t living up to his name.) If he didn’t get what he wanted, when he wanted, some atavistic reflex would take over and he would pierce the air with his indignant squawking. My ears were bleeding.

And when The Cute One wasn’t being a prehistoric horror, he was being a parrot: firstly, because he has just discovered that he can mimic sounds, so I was hearing lots of laughably adorable attempts to say “trousers” or “glasses”; secondly, because one of those new words was “cracker” (or “ka-ka” in Cute-speak). So, while his big brothers foraged in the kitchen for a never-ending supply of snacks, he would point at cupboards and yell “KA-KA! KA-KA!” until his needs were met. (And if they weren’t met, then the Jurassic language of the pterodactyl would come loudly into play.)

This primitive behaviour from The Cute One set me thinking about what other animal-like behaviour I witnessed on a daily basis, living among boys like Jane Goodall among a whoop of gorillas. Here are my anthropological thoughts:

Slide1

But despite the kinship my boys share with much of the animal kingdom, ultimately I refute the Plato quote. Boys aren’t that unmanageable, are they? There are means and ways to manage them. But then again, Plato was writing in an era before the invention of tranquilliser darts and iPads. Either one of which will control the most bestial of boys in my household.

FAMILY CARS (or TOUR BUS TIPS)

Getting the Boy Band from one place to another requires a tour bus – and like many other larger-than-average families, we have chosen the ugliest car we could find that met our needs. Actually, given the width of child safety seats, plus the amount of space you typically need in a family car for empty crisp packets, sticky juice boxes and forgotten hoodies, even families with 2.4 children often need to ‘upgrade’ their vehicle. (I’d like to be clear: by ‘upgrade’ I really mean ‘upsize’ – do not for one moment think you’ll be improving your car-owning status by investing in a Multi-Person Vehicle.)

Car-purchasing is dull at the best of times – even duller when buying an ugly big box on wheels. To help you in your decision-making process, here are some pointers:

1. Choose the most depressing colour you can find. As you have given up your dream of ever owning a two-seater Audi TT, manufacturers of MPVs have acknowledged this in an array of colour options: Dust Of Your Dreams Grey, (Financial) Suicide Silver, Got the (Baby) Blues and This Is The Closest You’ll Get To Bordeaux In The Next Twenty Years.

We chose Dust Of Your Dreams Grey. It’s a somewhat sombre colour. Having researched it thoroughly before choosing, I can tell you exactly how the colour was formulated. First, the car manufacturer asked a selection of single ladies in their twenties what their dream car of the future was. With those answers in hand, the manufacturer then took the said purple Lotus Elise, the cerulean blue Mercedes SLK and the sunshine yellow Ferrari 458 Italia and incinerated them until nothing was left but a pile of ash. This ash was then mixed with the tears of loss shed by mothers in their thirties, grieving for their figures, their sleep and those sports cars they would now never own. Et voilà – the colour of our current tour bus was born.

ugly grey tour bus

2. Go for a practical colour for the interior. Forget taupe or silver birch. You are looking for camouflage here (after all, wars will be raged in this vehicle). Tick the box that says Weetabix Grey, Creamy Spit-Up or Cadbury’s Brown. In the long run, this will save you a fortune on car valeting services. If you can’t see the food, it isn’t there.

3. Safety first! In the 1970s, my mother didn’t need an MPV. She could just put 6-8 children (family and friends) in the back of her Ford Cortina Estate – a few of us were on friends’ knees, a couple of us loose in the boot, one or two could stand between the front seats – and she could ferry us to the Wimpy at a moment’s notice. Now, however, I give myself an extra 20 minutes to get the Boy Band strapped into a variety of child safety seats and restraints. These boys are my retirement fund. It’s worth keeping them safe. But given that the tour bus is (I believe I have mentioned this before) U to the G to the L to the Y, I could probably just as well have opted for a Panzer tank. Equally aerodynamic. Similar acceleration. Excellent side impact protection.

4. Sliding doors are a must! You can probably appreciate the importance of a sliding door for the back seat passengers. When you’ve done some shonky parking (and we all have), it’s great that the kids can sidle out without banging a swing door into someone else’s two-seater Audi TT. (It could have been ours! Dammit! It should have been ours!) Our own tour bus bears evidence of the selfishness of other families who didn’t invest in sliding doors. In fact, if I were a CSI tech, I could scrape chips of Dust of Your Dreams Grey from many a car door of a family who didn’t choose the sliding door option and but did choose to cozy up to the tour bus in a car park.

5. Automatic sliding doors are even better!  Remember when you were little and misbehaving in the back of the car (with your seven unseatbelted friends) and your mum used to yell, “Stop fighting or I’m going to put you out and you can walk home!”? Well, an automatic sliding door allows you to escalate that threat. You make that pronouncement, you pull to the side of the road, and you don’t even have to step out of the car to truly terrify your kids. Straight to DEFCON 1, baby. With a simple push of a button, that door will whoosh open and your kids will scream with fear that they are about to be ejected for the long walk home. Believe me, the Boy Band’s screams are shrill!

6. Install toilet facilities! All good tour buses have conveniences, but most family MPVs seem to lack them. A big oversight! I suggest stuffing some nappies, an empty bottle (ah! the blessings of having boys) and a port-a-potty in the boot of your car. Or be prepared to stop before you exit the driveway for a desperately needed toilet-break.

I just wish someone had shared the above tips with me before I went out and bought a second car to use as a little run-around after Drummer Boy (the third child) was born. I chose a racing-red Ferrari with white leather interior. What was I thinking??? It’s been absolutely ruined inside – not to mention all those ugly paint chips of Dust of Your Dreams Grey that adorn the edges of the doors (thanks to poor parking by MPV-owners). May as well burn it now…

The Lyrics of my Life – part 1

“Do NOT put that astronaut from Thailand up your nose!”

Have you ever strung some words together and thought: Since time immemorial, I bet no one else has ever put those particular words in that particular order. Maybe someone else admonished their child for putting an astronaut figurine in his ear? Or perhaps a marble in a nostril? I am even willing to admit the slim possibility of a spaceman from the USA being inserted into a nose… but surely the planets have never aligned to create an identical scenario anywhere, anytime, anywho? Only in my life.

I like to think I have moments of uniqueness, when a jumble of words that aren’t usually found in close proximity are tossed from my mouth to form elegant phrases as they land on the heads of my beautiful boys.

“Please don’t eat the gunk from your eye in public!” (Note the addition of “in public” – am I suggesting this behaviour is perfectly acceptable behind the barricaded doors of our asylum home?)

“Why did you hit your brother so hard on the bottom with the binoculars. Those things cost good money!” (I’m referring to the expense of the binoculars, not the buttocks.)

And sometimes, it’s just: “Wibble, schmibble, bongley-foogle!” This is either when I’m conversing with Drummer Boy in his invented language of Gong-Gong. Or after a particularly testing day when I’m reduced to rocking in a corner while sucking my thumb.

The great poets and lyricists that came before me – namely, Shakespeare, Springsteen and Sandra Boynton – perhaps drew on their own lives to pen unique lines like: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, “You’ve gotta learn to live with what you can’t rise above,” and “I want to be your personal penguin.” That’s what makes them so memorable.

I’m hoping that the songs I write for the Boy Band to sing in the future will also include quotable lines that will transport them back to their idyllic childhood, full of Thai astronauts and conjunctivitis (works in progress include: “One More Wipe Might Block The Toilet”, “No, I’m Not Trying For A Girl, Thank You,” and the traditional lullaby – and I think this one will be a chart-topper – “I’ll Give You Something To Cry About, Baby!”)

Of course, there might be a soppy love song or two on the first album, but I don’t suppose there’s anything original about “I Love You So Much I Don’t Mind The Smell Of Your Vomit!”

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So, what are the lyrics of your life? Those phrases that you make into Facebook status updates as soon as you’ve said them, because they are too good not to share with an audience?