Sunday 27 January 2008

Still learning, still smiling

With the best part of a recent mid-life crisis firmly consigned to 2007, I'm in a much better frame of mind these days. One ages, considers, panics, gets a whacky new haircut, and, basically, presses on - well, that's what I've decided to do anyway... took me a while to work it out though.

My mum was mainly responsible for the turnaround. On hearing of my trials she was silent, did not say a word, but dispatched three large boxes containing several hundred-weight of books, and quite a bit of chocolate. Bless her. I guessed it was a hasty reaction on her part as she had obviously not read all the blurbs, and some of the books were murderous thrillers... Surprising that, as she and I are much the same - gentle empathetic sort of people who like thought-provoking, amusing kind of books... Naturally I was too polite to mention it, and of course very grateful. It was just the right distraction.

Rather like the butterfly flapping its wings in the jungle that causes a hurricane elsewhere, so her parcels of escapism triggered off a change in old routines, a fresh outlook and - post chocolate consumption - the need to attend er, body sculpting exercise classes. Where I found a new friend who offered me some gardening work. Great fun, paying real money, result! And after the retraining at college is complete, something right is bound to come along, eventually.

I am still reading all those books, with pleasure. This afternoon, at the kitchen table, I am reading again, eyes glued to the page, hardly breathing, when middle son drops in beside me, rifling through his homework sheets. I patted his hand encouragingly without taking my eyes off the page. Yes, a bit selfish of me, I know. From a distance I hear him chortle "18 divided by six - don't be ridiculous..." and after a bit I murmur "Times Tables, think again...".

Over by the cooker, eldest son mocks "Heh- huh THREE TIMES SIX IS EIGHTEEN! You're useless" Then he remodulates his voice to boy-with-manners mode "Can I cook a snack Mum? Please?"

"Yep", I say. He hums with contentment lining up his spice jars and reading aloud from a cookery book. I turn a page. The youngest arrives on his scooter, happy and busy, he parks up over by the compoodah and checks straight into the CBeebies website, singing Jingle Bells, as you do when you're small...

"Oh no, look what he's done now MUM!!" says middle son after a bit, he who is always looking away from the job in hand (he gets that from me I fear). I focus briefly on the compoodah, it's in Dutch, and the youngest is now singing a new song: "I could be brown I could be blue"... "Hmm, don't worry, he always does that, we can change it later" I move my head carefully back to the page, without blinking.

"Right, Robin Hood: first question - What is Sherwood?" reads middle son in an over-loud voice. I wait knowing full well he's been watching the 'Robin of Sherwood' repeats with relish each week. Silence - so I then say "what do you think it is?" There is a long pause before he retorts - "I don't know!, that's why I'm asking you, it's your job to help me, not to sit there reading Harry Potter all day".

I am mildly offended.

"And I could look on Google if he hadn't just broken it" he adds, staring at his beloved three year-old brother who is now also making whoopee in system preferences, clicking away happily..."Don't you care about us Mother!"

I finish a sentence first then turn. His face is an inch from my own, and rather blurred. "Son" I say, "caring for you is not controlling you and your thoughts, you are a free agent, licensed to do your own homework... and actually I can't see very well with you stuck there, so back off, please!" For a short time we sit side by side, in pained silence. A strong smell of curry stuff rises and I note the compoodah screen is having a strange experience - it's glaring black and white and flashing... Never mind, I think hopefully, no harm done, it's his own account, isn't it??... I look down at the homework sheet and say quietly - "There is still no 't' in such by the way...".

"I knew that Mum! I was testing you, see if you'd notice -". We peep at each other and start giggling, "sorry - Well, can I look on Google now then?"

Remembering what happened when he googled his Christmas list and that regrettable 'someone's silly bum' picture appeared, I say "How about reading books instead, that might help more -" and I wave at the shelves "- find out facts by looking them up and checking: books, maps, it's all there -".

"OK, if you help me" he says eagerly and slips down to the bottom shelf from where he starts throwing heavy tomes on to the table in earnest...

We are interrupted just then by a boom from the stove, with urgent sizzling. I drop Harry P and get over there with speed, a white cloud of hot Flora vapour passing around my head.

"Are you OK?" I look for eldest. He is engulfed in the fumes, but gently sliding the smoking frying pan off the heat, his eyes giant but composure intact. He dampens a tea towel wordlessly then stands back ready to use it. "Well handled son, this'll be fine in a minute."

"The pan was too hot" he says, "there was nothing about that in the book!"

"Heh-Huh you nearly blew up the kitchen, ummmmm!" taunts middle son.

"Sherwood is a forest" snaps his brother, eyes flashing, "F-O-R-E-S-T spells - *******!!!"

"Can I cwick dis?" interrupts the smallest, pointing at something unknown on the computer....