Dear Dave

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Leading by example

Dear Dave,

The boys are negotiating again.

This could take a while...

It's always interesting listening to them work out who has control of the TV. There's usually a lengthy, complicated discussion of who chose what to watch or play the last few times and how long those sessions were. This recap can stretch back over several days. It may involve disagreement. Only once their viewing history is agreed, however, can they determine whose turn it is.

Then they have to work out how long that turn should be.

A convoluted planning process ensues, taking into account the proximity of the next meal, the time of the day, the amount of homework they have and the likelihood of me asking them to do something inconvenient like leave the house ever or give their sister a turn. This allows them to divide up the rest of the day (or sometimes the week) in a fair manner.

After this, some swapping can take place. For instance, it might be Fraser's turn but he wants to watch a recording that's half an hour long and there's only twenty minutes until lunch-time. This leads to ten minutes of further negotiation resulting in Lewis getting a quick shot of one of his games before lunch in return for Fraser getting an extended lease of the TV later.

It's very involved. Goodness knows what it's going to be like if Marie stops bouncing on the trampoline all day and starts demanding her right to slob on the sofa. We may have to draw up an actual rota.

We already have one for TV privileges at the kids' tea-time. The choice of programmes is up to Marie one day, Lewis the next, Fraser the following day and back to Marie the day after that in endless rotation. This settles most arguments, although Fraser is beginning to notice that some tea-times are longer than others. He's started angling to swap his turn if it falls on his bath night to make sure he doesn't get short-changed.

That way lies madness.

Once they start swapping, I'll need to keep track of how many turns they've each had, how long they were and who's owed what. Paperwork will be involved. I can't be doing with that. Nope, we'll stick with the current system - they grumble sometimes but they're willing to accept its simple fairness. (Although all Hell breaks loose if the football's on and I suggest that it's Daddy's turn. That's apparently not fair at all because 'it's always a child that gets to choose at tea-time. That's the rule!'.)

The problem with swapping is keeping it balanced. We've tried hard to teach them that a trade should be equal. Unfortunately, this frequently manifests in demands for what they're due rather than a compassionate desire not to cheat other people. They won't stop arguing if they think they've been hard done by.

I suppose things might go better if I was able to set an example but I'm not very good at it. As it stands, if someone does me a favour, I feel I have to do them a slightly bigger favour in return simply to make sure I'm 'not in their debt'. It doesn't matter whether they're in a stronger position than me to be dishing out favours - that never seems relevant to the equation.

This makes life awkward. If a friend comes round to babysit but doesn't have at least three children of their own, how am I supposed to pay them back? If they do have three or more children, however, the chances of them being available to babysit are slim.

We end up staying in a lot.

On the other hand, when I'm out shopping I'm always on the hunt for a bargain. I buy clothes that are unfeasibly cheap. Someone somewhere is not getting a good deal. I ease my conscience by buying Fair Trade bananas if I see them but I don't actually go out of my way.

None of this probably makes it any easier for the kids to work out what constitutes a just exchange. It also makes me wonder what else I tell the kids to do but disregard myself.

Er, pretty much everything, now I think about it:

Stop before crossing the road. That just gives time for a car to come along. Besides, I'm getting old - I might seize up and never move again.

Don't get dressed at the top of the stairs. Again, it's an age problem - I have to sit on the top step to get my socks on. Once I'm there, I might as well hop around the landing getting my trousers on and then wander about with a t-shirt over my head. What's the worst that could happen?

Don't touch the oven. If only...

Sit down while you're eating. Like I have time for that.

Wear suncream. I hate any kind of skin cream. I put moisturiser on my hands and then immediately feel the need to go wash the oiliness off. Fortunately, a little suncream on the back of my neck on the first sunny day of the year is enough to stop me burning and then I go gently brown over the rest of the summer. Coming from a long line of Norfolk farmers is good for something, it seems. Shame Marie and Fraser haven't inherited my ability to tan. One ray of sun and they turn bright pink and smoulder. I have to cover them with an inch of mud before we can go into the garden. Once I've done that and put a dab of suncream on Lewis' cheeks, I'm too tired to do myself.

Don't talk with your mouth full. Let's face it, I normally say this with my mouth full.

Don't talk while we're crossing a road. Guess where I usually am when I say this.

Hey! Don't tell Lewis off in a grumpy fashion, Fraser! It's not your job, it's mine...

Eat your fruit and veg. I'm very careful to make certain the kids have a balanced diet. I, meanwhile, live on cheese sandwiches and crisps. It saves me having to go to the shops so often to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and I don't have to touch the oven.

Take a coat - it might rain. I spent many years carting round a changing bag, a selection of snacks, a cool-bag with milk, all the kids' coats, a bag of groceries and a cuddly toy. I got used to insufficient luggage capacity for my own rainwear. I now find that I can't always be bothered to take any with me even though I can. I live in Scotland. This maybe isn't such a good plan.

You can only have one packet of crisps a day. Ha, ha, ha! Yeah, right. I'd starve.

Use a plate. Take off your shoes. Don't leave stuff lying around. These go together. I can ignore them all because I'm the one who has to clean up. I'm allowed to give myself extra work. (Anyone else who tries it is in trouble!)

Look where you're going. I'm too busy looking where the kids are going.

Don't fart and pretend it was Marie. Again, that's my job...

Yep, no wonder the kids argue whenever I tell them to do anything. I could go and arbitrate for a fair deal in their latest TV scheduling debate but maybe they'd take me more seriously if I sat down and ate a salad from a plate without telling them off with my mouth full and spitting it on them.

Or maybe it would teach them to be more thankful for what they have if I went and confiscated the remote and then ate some crisps while watching the tennis. I'm pretty sure that would get them working together in a hurry.

I probably shouldn't, though...


Er, do you happen to know if Maria Sharapova is playing?

Yours in woman's world,



Anonymous said...


I do all of those things. Well- I tend to blame the Husband when I fart. It would be difficult to blame Marie. Sometimes I blame the dog.

Have you seen the new spray-on sunscreens? You never have to touch the cream. You just spray a mist of sunscreen and leave it.

DadsDinner said...

Maybe we should both cut down on the cheese sandwiches...

Spray-on sunscreen sounds intriguing. Not sure I'd want to spray it on the kids' faces, though, which are what take the time to cover properly.