Geek breeding

A friend was telling me her husband is thinking of buying their six year old daughter a kids computer programming thingumijig for Christmas.

“What, you want to turn your daughter into a geek, do you?” I teased.

“Rather than wanting her to be pretty and popular, you mean?” she retorted.

Touche, Mrs L, touché!

Computers and other programmed gadgets are increasingly fundamental to life as we know it.  For our children, they will have no other way of being, will never have known anything else.

So? So…understanding how technology works, being confident with it, and knowing how to manage it will open up a world of possibilities, being able to be a Really Useful Geek. It might even make you a fortune, just look at Mr Microsoft, Mr Apple, Mr IBM, Mr Google, Mr Name-any-other-massive-multi-billion-dollar-techie-enterprise-started-by-a-geek-or-two.

Hang on.  I didn’t see any Miss, Ms or Mrs in that list.  What’s going on?

Now, I’m sure there are some leading light lady geeks out there raking in the profits from their techy-ness, but isn’t it interesting that the ones that trip off my tongue are all of the swinging appendage variety (pendulous boobs excepted of course… then again…)?  Even a quick google search hasn’t given me any comparable world-beating female techie founding… umm… mothers.

In fact, digging into where we actually are in the UK on the first step on that road – girls studying maths and computers – I found a startling statistic in this great article.  Figures show that although in 2011 there was a 60-40 male-female split in those taking A-level maths, the rate was 92-8 in computer science.

Wow.  No wonder there aren’t so many Miss, Ms or Mrs tech geek success stories out there, at least, on this side of the pond.  Is being a geek the new feminist frontier, I wonder?  Women who aren’t frightened of technology and how it works, who make it work for them and do cool stuff with it.  Is that what we should want for our daughters?

I can’t think why not (yes, Mrs L, you are entitled to feel smug here). It doesn’t mean they can’t be good at other stuff, does it.  What it might do is  mean they get further along their educational journey believing they are as capable as their brothers or male peers at technology and, possibly more importantly, finding it fun, interesting and useful.   They can feel in control of it, not vice versa.

And despite my pretty strong maths / engineering education, I wonder if Little H sees enough tech-savvy-ness at home to help her down that road. Well, sees it from me, really, if I’m honest. Because even if you are a girl who got and enjoyed maths at school, even if you studied engineering, even if you went so far as to learn a little bit of C++, you can still be someone who shouts at your phone/ipad/pc/sky box/game console. You can still be helpless after you’ve tried turning said device off and on again.  You can still routinely wonder if throwing or hitting a device would help.  You can still defer demurely to male resilience and enthusiasm in the face of broken technology.  Geek chic might have a way to go, but I think it’s worth a shot.  How about you?


Sobs, splits and super sweet blogs

Tired, snot-filled children, new routines, mountains of ironing, brain-ache logistical juggling. School’s back and don’t I know it.

I was very much looking forward to Littlest H starting nursery school last week. Dare I admit I was desperate for it.  Not only have I survived nine months full-time mum-ing (yay, I can do it), but (wait for it) I’ve actually enjoyed it.  But by the end of the summer holidays, I was definitely ready for a breather; some time-out from being just Mummy and Queen of my Domestic Realm.

Littlest H is so ready for nursery,” I told myself. “And he’ll love it – all his friends are going, he’ll see Little H at playtime, he’ll do cool new stuff, learn social skills away from me, etc. etc.

For someone who is supposedly of reasonable intelligence, I really do a great line in failing to think.  Or, at least, to think through. Usually at the very, very last moment, or, come to think of it, once something has just happened, I suddenly work it through in my head and realise it had consequences I wasn’t ready for.  I honestly try hard to learn from this, yet continually manage not to.

And so it was with nursery.  I rocked up with Littlest H on day 1, ready to drop and run with a cheery ‘see you later, gorgeous’ and a big hug.  Imagine my surprise when he clung like a limpet, had to be prised off me by his teacher, and wailed at top volume as he ran full pelt after me into the playground.  Versions of that have played out every day since – heart-wrenching sobs from him followed by slightly pathetic, trying-to-hide-it sobs from me round the corner.  They don’t make it easy for us, these little people. I know it’s good for him and his social skills / school readiness, I know he is fine a few minutes later, I know his anxiety won’t last forever.  But in the meantime, it’s a bit of a downer on the otherwise miraculous sudden appearance of that most precious parental commodity: Time To Oneself.

Funny how opening that pandora’s box almost makes having a couple of hours a day to myself feel worse than none.  It’s a bit like when you’re hunkered down in a massively busy work period and there’s no option, you just have to get on with it.  Once it’s over, the blinkers fall away and you see what a mess your life is in.  Having some quality me-time seems to have opened up a sealed away part of me and made me want more, almost (but not quite) to the point of resenting the kids once they are back again from midday onwards.  Weird, I know.  That too will pass.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s many years since I could attempt to train with any likelihood of actually achieving my aims.  I dutifully record my running split times and heart rate, noting how little my pace changes, how close to my max heart rate I normally am, and feeling slightly over-awed by trying to do anything about either.  I’m ruefully realising how long it is since I pushed myself out of my comfort zone physically. It’s easy enough to be all gung-ho in theory – talking a good game, signing up for races, downloading training plans, buying kit.  But getting out there and going faster for longer and more often than is enjoyable, hurts.  Really hurts. And my nearly 40 year old body is complaining. The knee support is back on, my feet are sore, my left hip aches.  Mental toughness seems to have seeped away as comfortably active years have sidled on.  I do have a pin up spurring me on though.

Look at those legs! That stomach!  Wow. I know, I know.  Aiming at an Olympic cyclist’s body is a teeny bit unrealistic, but hey, whatever keeps me going. (Picture: Guy Levy/BBC/PA)

And then there’s a gem of a surprise, a nomination from fellow blogger, Mrs D’s Maunderings, for a Super Sweet Blogger award.  Me? Really? Cool :-).  Apparently I, in return, have to answer a few questions and nominate my own bountiful bloggers – a happy virtuous circle of a process.  So see below for more on that, and wishing you happy days till next time.

1. Cookies or Cake – Cake all the way.  Home-made, moist, preferably a big wedge of it with a really good coffee. Often swayed by weird combos – last one was orange, pistachio and polenta.  Yum.

2. Chocolate or Vanilla – Tough call.  Really good vanilla is a total delight.  But then again…

3. What is your favourite sweet treat? – Too many to choose.  Most anticipated and savoured: a sweetly tart lemon tart, a warm, gooey chocolate brownie with ice-cream, crunchy, tart fruit crumble with custard… I’ll stop or I won’t be able to.

4. When do you crave sweet things the most? – 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  A lifetime of tea-time I can’t escape.

5. If you had a sweet nickname what would it be? – Little Miss Variety.  Nothing gets me more ridiculously excited than trying something new and exotic-sounding.

And … drum roll…my Baker’s Dozen super sweet blog nominees are…

Keeping up with the Holsbys for tasty treats and parental / general life chuckles

MrsMcIndoe for cool crafts and how they happen

A Detailed House for a plethora of house do-er up-er ideas, both cute and cool

The Book Sniffer for fab children’s picture book reviews. Find the new stuff before it’s even out there.

Playing by the Book for more cool kids books coupled with crafty fun to complement them

World Moms Blog for wonderfully diverse international takes on motherhood

The Bumble Files for posts that resonate and amuse

Brute Reason for an invariably forthright, often thought-provoking read

ClotildaJamCracker for hilarious, off-the-wall stories

Diapers or Wine, a recent discovery that I’m enjoying very much

Suburbia Interrupted for five kids craziness, and posts unafraid to tackle the underbelly of family life and relationships with humour and candour

From Mouths of Babes another recent find I’m enjoying getting into

Eight legged nemesis

Here’s a picture for you.  A wife is home alone, enjoying a warming cup of peppermint tea on the sofa, feet resting on a soft, white rug, lap heavy and warm with a laptop whirring its way around the blogosphere.  The tv flickers and witters on in the corner to give a feeling of company.

A sudden, low movement near the door catches her eye. A sharp intake of breath, a stifled scream and a startled lurch sends cup and laptop almost flying.

Yes, my friends, it is my most dreaded season of the year.  The season of the Ginormous Spiders.

Now I know I live in England, that green and pleasant land not inhabited by a single one of the world’s deadly species, nor any of its largest creatures.  But come September I couldn’t care less.  These furry, skittering critters Freak. Me. Out.

I don’t care that it won’t kill me, or even do me any harm other than a bit of a tickle. I cannot stop myself squeaking like a complete girl when a spider big enough to create a shadow capers into my living room and perches its two twitching front legs on the edge of the rug while it assesses the room and decides how far it can get before the cowering hulk in the corner grows a backbone.

I managed to get the one in the story, a couple of nights ago.  No kidding its legs were a good 5cm long and it was a good 2cm off the ground although its body wasn’t much to speak of.  I was so proud of myself.  No need to call the RSPCA, I got it out alive.  I assessed the available options within arm’s reach: a yoghurt pot, a glass tumbler and a vat of a mug half full of herbal tea.  No way I was going anywhere knowing that thing might make a home under my sofa and haunt me every time I reached down to switch the light on or off.  So I decanted the herbal tea and made my move.  All praise to anything that might possibly be in heaven, it didn’t move and I didn’t miss. Then I sat there for a good five minutes looking at the cup on the floor.

Could I just go upstairs and leave it to suffocate? How long would that take anyway? Could it find a way out and come and find me?  What if the kids came down in the morning, moved the cup and were attacked by an incensed arachnid that had taken lessons from its Australian cousins overnight?  Just how much mileage could Mr H get from me leaving it for him to deal with? No, I would have to see it through.

I chose the most solid paper thing I had to hand – a magazine.  I gingerly slid it under the cup, hoping to god nothing shot out a leg or indeed a whole being.  It wouldn’t do to wake the children and reveal how pathetic their mother really is.  I took a deep breath, lifted up cup and magazine, freaked as the paper wobbled, opened the front door and narrowly missed throwing all three items through my neighbour’s window on the opposite side of the road, such was the force with which I ejected the beast from my home.  Thankfully I just managed to keep hold of cup and magazine so neighbourly relations were maintained.  Who knows if the spider survived.  Who cares quite frankly. Although perhaps there’s some advantage in it going off to tell its mates there’s a crazy lady in there, so steer clear.

Big sticker on the chart for me I would say.  But goddammit the message doesn’t seem to have to got through.  Another of the blighters has gone and followed the same routine this evening.   And last night I found one sat upstairs on the carpet in the very spot I stood a moment before I popped into Littlest H’s room for a late night duvet check.  I could have stood on it!  It could have crawled on me!

As you can see, me and eight legged creatures do not get on.  And right now, the biggest question I have is how the hell I get off the sofa, given I managed to ruck up the rug while trying to encourage the intruder to disappear back out of the door, but instead it thought I was creating a home for it, so it is currently centimetres from my tucked up feet, between me and the door.

I think the first one survived its ordeal and has in fact told its mates to come and get me.  Maybe next time I’ll just bludgeon the thing, to hell with karma.

Watch out, pushy parent about

My mum and I bumped into my old boss in our local DIY store on Saturday, and we got to talking about schools, as you do.

“Is she a pushy parent?” he asked my mum. “Hmm, moderately,” she replied.

Ouch.  Thanks for that, Mum. Love you too.

Past my touchy harrumphing, the exchange got me thinking.  Was she right?

First question: what exactly is a pushy parent.  Holding off my reflexive reach for Google, I came up with my own definition:

A pushy parent is willing to go to any length to ensure their child is first or best at everything they (the parent) thinks matters.  A pushy parent is one whose own feelings of worth and validation are achieved through their child(ren), irrespective of the child’s own wishes, interests or happiness. 

So what does the lovely Google offer by way of alternative definitions and how do I fare against them, or indeed against my own.

From Mouths of Babes suggests five signs of potential pushy parenthood:

– If your child speaks more than three languages in pre-school

– If they’re reading chapter length books before they even start school

– If they’re learning more than one musical instrument or three kinds of dancing

– If you’ve entered them in a pageant of any kind before they’re five

– If you actually start expecting them to win stuff – whether it’s sports, academic prizes or beauty pageants

Phew, relief all round.  I’m okay on all five: no baby modelling auditions or child genius hothousing Chez H.  I would add to her point about winning that pushy parents probably express disappointment with their children if they don’t deliver a top performance every time.  I imagine taking part or doing your best doesn’t cut the pushy mustard.

What other definitions did I find… well, Joanna Moorhead writing for The Guardian online offers “fighting to give our children opportunities”.   She goes so far as to suggest good parenting requires pushiness, and if more parents fought for their kids the overall result would be good for everyone.  Hmm.  I guess it depends where people draw the line of good for their own child versus recognising the spectrum of needs overall, but I see sense in her sentiment.

I also agree with her that being an ‘actively involved’ parent is part of the job description.  School can’t do it alone, and personally I don’t want them to.  I find the whole education process fascinating.  I want to understand what the goals are, how they are taught and how I can best support that from home.  Perhaps that makes me pushy, but, to be frank, I don’t care, as long as my interest doesn’t tip into interfering or obstructing or anything else that is about me rather than the children.

Similarly I agree with Ms Moorhead that engaged parents can help schools attain or maintain high standards by not accepting anything less and being willing to be part of the solution.  But is that pushy parenting?  Only if it’s to extreme or to the detriment of others.

Great, so far, so good.  I think I’m still doing okay.

Now, how about someone working with families in a professional capacity.  The Kids Coach defines the pushy parent as “…a parent who wants their child to excel in one or more areas of their life and therefore encourages and motivates them in a forceful way to get to the place that the parent wants them to be.”

Bit harder that one.

I would love my children to excel in something they enjoy and are good at.  Who wouldn’t? Feeling you are achieving and seeing others respond to that can be very motivational and satisfying.  So much the better if it’s something society values and, if they choose it for work, pays good money so they don’t have to struggle to make ends meet.  Of course it’s also easier to talk proudly of your progeny if their chosen passion is socially acceptable, but that’s a pretty broad spectrum these days, whichever socio-economic bracket you fit in.  Our family friends had a bit of a sticky wicket when their  lovely middle-class son chose to exploit a legal loophole on importing magic mushrooms (since closed), but I suspect his line of interest is in the minority.



Would I ‘forcefully’ encourage and motivate them?  It depends.  I do believe a good work ethic is a useful life skill, as is learning the lesson that things worth doing take effort and that effort won’t always feel like fun.  So I’m not going to let them give up on things when they start getting a little bit hard. But there’s a limit when you’re only 6 years old.  Pity the kids with no time to play.  How else do they develop their imagination, their social skills?

When they’re older I can see it getting harder.  Study/practise or go out on the town with your mates.  Commit to a more solitary, focused path or be in the in-gang.  Whichever their path, I hope we succeed in balancing when to push them on versus back off and support them in their own choices.

Finally, I found this blog, with a wonderfully balanced, thoughtful viewpoint I thoroughly agree with.  Key pushy signs to look out for: excessive bragging, forgetting it’s not about you, making your kids the source of your own self-worth and esteem.

Is that me?  I bloomin’ well hope not.  I love my kids dearly but I am a person in my own right.  I don’t think I brag or engage in one-upmanship.  Yes, I ferry my kids round gymnastics, ballet, swimming, football, and will add Brownies, Scouts and no doubt tennis, music lessons in the future.  Would I do this if they didn’t want to?  No, I don’t think so, except swimming which I think everyone needs to learn so they’re safe around water.

So in essence, I agree with bits of each of the articles I’ve found. It’s about where you draw the line.  Drugging a child’s tennis opponents is on the extreme end (seriously, check this Independent article out), but fighting for our child’s opportunities, within reason, is a good thing, as long as we’re also realistic about and stay tuned to our child’s character, limits and needs.

That said, not being pushy is easy when your child’s needs are being met and pushier parents aren’t affecting their opportunities or wellbeing.  Perhaps if we go the private route I need to invest in some metal elbow spikes and skin thickeners, given, so hearsay goes, pushy parents are the norm when thousands of pounds are invested in every term of your darling’s education.

So where am I.  Well, totting myself up on the pushy parent scale, I think I’m right to harrumph at my mother’s character assassination.  As usual, no-one presses my buttons as swiftly or deeply as she does.  Take heed, Mrs H, take heed.

Now where did I leave those sleeping tablets.  I’m sure some of Little H’s gym class could do with a bit of slowing down.

And the Bad Daughter-in-law Award goes to…

Dear readers, I hang my head in shame.


Well, firstly, I under-estimated my parents-in-law (see here if you missed the incriminating post).  The courgette soup went down a storm, no unfinished bowls in sight.  Check out the recipe – it’s delicious.  I am particularly chuffed with the number of home-grown ingredients in my own effort – the garlic, onion, herbs, potato and courgette.  All we need is a cow for the cream and cheese and we’d be living ‘The Good Life’ all the way.




Secondly, so what that it took me an hour to find a menu that fit their needs?  Having a reason to do a proper search meant I worked hard to find something suitable and tasty that I wanted to cook.  The pleasure it gave them (and us) was worth it too – as it would be for any guest when they know you’ve made special effort to find something that suits their diet.  I should know – I’m pretty special needs myself, being wheat-free (mostly anyway) and preferrably limited dairy while I’m at it.  I don’t resent my friends who have restricted diets either, so why my parents-in-law, nurturers of my lovely hubbie?  Clearly, I’m just a horrible person.  Ten lashings to me.

Thirdly, grumpy daughter-in-law that I am, I grumpily omitted to reflect on the fact that they do at least try other foods, it’s just they’re not to their taste.  Who am I to judge that, hard though I clearly find it not to?  Yes, their tastes have undoubtedly been created by a lifetime of eating the same things, but that’s more about circumstance than anything else.  Doesn’t stop them being good people, they just are who they are.

Fourthly, I feel particularly mean given my father-in-law brought us such a beautiful sign for our allotment, hand-crafted by him using a rusty metal bird and flower we found in it when we first took the site on. It’s really lovely.  Now I have to get the allotment to live up to it.  (Check out the bounty of raspberries carried by Little H, too – yum!)

To turn my own knife in my own wound, he also spent all morning tearing down a dilapidated shed on the allotment, clearing up the mess and even sorting me out with a bench into the bargain.  My mother-in-law labelled all my daughter’s school clothes (yay, an evening telly job I don’t have to do before Wednesday).  You’d think I’d find it in my heart not to winge on about their food needs.  More lashings for me.

Finally, methinks I committed a cardinal blogging sin. Don’t write something you mind someone you know reading.  As a raised eyebrow-ed Mr H pointed out, I’ve made a pretty big assumption that my parents-in-law, or come to think of it all the other in-laws, don’t find my blog.  Let’s hope for my sake they don’t get lessons from my mum and turn into silver surfers.  Then I’m really in trouble.

Interestingly, I just read Surburbia Interrupted’s latest post musing on the opposite –keeping her blog readership specific so she can spout forth freely.  That made me ponder, but on further reflection I think I feel more comfortable applying one of the lessons of my working life: leave as few enemies as you can, you never know who will be your next boss or HR hiring manager.  Worth testing yourself out on these principles I think – let’s just hope I haven’t lead myself to divorce in the process…