Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Posts Tagged ‘children

Cake made with 100 per cent love

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Every year (twice a year), it is the same thing: I have a compulsion to make my children’s birthday cakes.

For me, it is a gift to my children that cannot be measured. It says, “I know I’m often busy, but I love you very much – and I baked a cake to prove it”.

This – as a statement in itself – is pathetic and I know it. (I do do other things to prove my love to my children, like talking to them, hugging them, kissing them and generally looking after them to the best of my ability).

Actually,  it’s probably more to do with compensating for the fact that I am often busy and cannot collect them from school or, on occasion, go to the school assemblies/special productions or workshops.

But it is important to me, and hopefully my children, that this small gesture is carried out each year. My guess is that they don’t care where their cake comes from, so long as there is one, but I love discussing the theme of it and having a go at decorating it.

I’ve done a handbag, Ariel, chocolate explosion, football pitch – or scoured the internet for a topper that they wanted.

It usually ends up costing two or three times the amount of a shop-bought cake. But I don’t mind. I hate the taste of the ready-made supermarket cakes. They are too sweet and I don’t like the jam and buttercream in them.

This year, the (shop-bought – I’m not totally mad) fondant was a disaster: too soft and it wouldn’t mould at all. In a panic, I dashed to the cakemaking supply shop and was told in supercilious tones that I needed gum tragapanth. The assistant might as well have rolled her eyes in disgust when I explained I had no idea what she as talking about.

Anyway, this magic powder, once kneaded into the sticky fondant, transforms it into something mouldable and easy to work with. And, reader, I am delighted to tell you that it worked a dream.

It put me 24 hours behind schedule because you have to allow the time for the alchemy to work. The jewellery box cake had all the hallmarks of a homemade confection: it was slightly wobbly; the fondant cracked on the sides and I rolled it out in such a way that it didn’t quite fit in parts. My cutting skills also leave a lot to be desired.

But it was made with 100 per cent love for my not-so-little girl – and she loved it.


Written by CommonPeople

April 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

Woman returns to work seven hours after giving birth – but is that a good example for us?

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There have been innumerable studies over the past few years about women returning to work after having a baby.

Some focus on the guilt that many women with babies feel when they have to leave their precious bundle for the first time; others look at the support they receive in the workplace.

Then there are the surveys that examine the adequacy or otherwise of maternity/paternity leave; the issue of parental leave and parent-friendly hours when the babies start school.

So, how did it make you feel when you read that the headmistress of private school St Mary’s Calne School, Wiltshire, returned to her desk just SEVEN hours after she had given birth to her third child?

Dr Helen Wright tells The Daily Mail (February 7, 2010) that she believed she was setting a good example by taking her hours-old daughter Jessica to the office with her.

“Most mothers want their daughters to have the exhilarating excitement of a career they love and the joy of a family,” she tells the paper.

“I have that and I want to show the girls at St Mary’s that that is not an impossible dream.”

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=newborn+baby+and+mother&iid=847135″ src=”2/b/5/d/FILE_Changes_Announced_f45f.jpg?adImageId=9999322&imageId=847135″ width=”234″ height=”326″ /]

But what example has she actually shown the girls, by returning to work so soon?

I have to admit to reading the report with a heavy heart, especially when she makes the remark: “Why can’t there be a third way – taking your baby to work with you?”

Now, I appreciate Dr Wright is cosseted in the world of private education, but is she honestly advocating that we all turn up to work with our babies, nappy bags and a truckload of toys?

I wouldn’t even dare ask the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, Chambers of Commerce – or the HSE for that matter – for their opinion on this nugget of wishful thinking.

Women have a difficult enough time anyway when it comes to returning to work after a few months’ away from the office.

A survey by The National Childbirth Trust in November last year revealed that 39 per cent of those questioned admitted they found going back to work after having a baby “difficult” or “very difficult”; 31 per cent claimed their relationship with their manager had deteriorated once their pregnancy had become known.

There is a raft of legislation and policies that protect women back into the workplace, but many of the 1,500 mothers who were surveyed said they still did not receive the support they needed.

There is no easy solution to this: many women are happy to return to work full-time after having a child, while others may want to reduce their office hours or become a stay-at-home mother.

But Dr Wright has done nothing for women who are wracked with guilt over returning to work. We can’t all be super mums. Many of us are torn daily as we drop off our children at the schoolgate or nursery as we troop off to work, relying on others to pick them up at 3pm.

We might want our careers, but many of us (me included) have realised we cannot have it all. Something has to give for a while.

Written by CommonPeople

February 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Should children help with the household chores?

with 21 comments

It’s something I tell myself each time I plough through my children’s bedrooms: they should be doing this themselves.

As I wade through the books, cuddly toys and a plethora of assorted Gormitis, Transformers and Star Wars statues (son, eight) or curling tongs, nail varnish and clothes (daughter, ten), I think back to my childhood.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=chores+children&iid=5512705″ src=”8/5/1/3/A_Good_Boy_cc41.jpg?adImageId=9898478&imageId=5512705″ width=”234″ height=”322″ /]

Unlike many of my peers, I was never forced to carry out household chores. I had friends who had to do the washing-up from nine years old; others had to tidy their rooms to get their 10p a week pocket money (yes, I am showing my age).

But I do vividly recall being asked to help clean the house on occasion – whether this was for pocket money, I have no idea. I remember because my brother thought there was something medically wrong with him after I shoved so much bleach down the toilet, it foamed to the brim when he flushed it (it was summer. He had hayfever, hence absolutely no sense of smell).

I don’t want much from my children when it comes to helping out: I just want them to make their beds – I  don’t think throwing a duvet over is too taxing – and have them tidy their rooms once in a while. Other friends’ children manage it.

Should I pay them for doing it? I’m not so sure I  agree that children should gain financially from doing something they ought to be doing anyway. It sets a bad precedent.

Do you ask your children to do chores? At what age did you get them to do their fair share? Was it picking up their teddies at two? Getting them to fold their clothes and place them in a drawer at four?

Or do you think that as a parent it is your sole responsibility to keep everywhere spick and span?

I’d really love to know your opinion.

Written by CommonPeople

February 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm

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‘But I wanted to be Mary’: the politics of the school nativity

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"I wish mum hadn't complained about me not getting the main role"

It’s that time of year when parents run around like loons, finding last-minute costumes for the school nativity, Christmas production or festive service.

(I dread the letters that emerge out of the school bag a week after they were sent from a stressed teacher, asking for nigh-on impossible costumes. Especially when you realise you have two days’ notice to find a Major General uniform from 1844 or a Tudor-style dress, complete with ruff. And what have they got to do with Christmas, anyway?)

But, for some parents, it isn’t the costume that fills them with dread: it’s looking at the cast list.

Over the past few weeks, you might well have heard the complaints: “I see Tabitha is Mary AGAIN. She was Mary in Reception and took the lead singing role in Oliver last year.” Or: “I see it is the Smith/Jones/Peters [insert appropriate family name here] show again. Why do teachers always pick the same children?”

I certainly have.

I have had conversations with parents whose children are at different primary schools complaining that it was usually the same girls and boys who took the starring roles.

They were not bemoaning the fact their own son or daughter hadn’t been given the main part, but cast doubt on whether the schools offered the same opportunities to all.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=nativity+play&iid=3013096″ src=”9/8/a/d/Pennywell_Farm_Hosts_4ed8.jpg?adImageId=7846866&imageId=3013096″ width=”500″ height=”303″ /]

It was an interesting point: so, armed with neither evidence to support assertions nor an agenda, I asked the question on Twitter: do you think your school always chooses the same children for the lead roles in plays/team captains etc?

I posted the same query on Mummy Bloggers. It was also picked up by Jim Hawkins on Radio Shropshire and he had parents contact him in droves.

The responses were interesting, to say the least.

One caller to Jim claimed that when she was an active member of the PTA, her children were given main roles; when she left, they were no longer considered for major parts. Coincidence? Who knows.

Others were insistent it didn’t happen. A few callers suspected it did.

Here are some responses I received:

Yep, the same girl at my sisters grammar got picked every year. It’s always the kids with the starry names too! At my school it was Antoinette. She got to play Eliza Dolittle-she’d actually left our secondary school, but they brought her back to play it! (Claire)

At our school it’s always the same kids who get the lead roles and while we all moan and groan about it, they are the kids who have charisma on stage and are capable of remembering all those lines! (muummmeee)

I don’t think this goes on at Amy’s school, but I do believe it goes on at another school I know of. It also seemed to be the same kids with the better roles – the ones that have all the best lines and all the best scenes etc. I remember mentioning it once and was hit with excuse after excuse about the fact that some kids are just shy and others really want to be in the limelight. But you could guarantee whatever the play, the “shy” kids were never given a chance. Shame. (Crystal Jigsaw)

I think at my daughter’s school they definitely choose the same children over and over for the big speaking parts. I think that’s because they are the loudest, but that does mean other kids don’t get a crack. Until you know that you can stand up in front of the lower school and say a handful of lines…you don’t know it. (Jennifer Howze)

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+nativity&iid=4586952″ src=”d/7/d/a/Nativity_Play_9ce6.jpg?adImageId=7847112&imageId=4586952″ width=”380″ height=”290″ /]

There are some children who shine on stage. Should we turn it around and say they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do that so a child who doesn’t gets to have the main part? I’ve sat through countless school productions and I’ve noticed the ones who are good in shows are the ones who are most comfortable on stage. Not all children want to be in the spotlight.Our school is excellent at ensuring there are five or six decent parts for the oldest children. They also give solos to the ones who are good at singing. It’s lovely to see someone you perhaps thought of as quite shy singing like an angel. (Deb)

Other comments via Twitter included:

So far, they’ve been really fair at my kids’ school, with kids who don’t have parts in one play getting them in next one … Last year someone was really put out their daughter wasn’t Mary & told us all. Pathetic. (@VWallop)

If they think that is a big ‘problem’ then they need a reality check (@LindaSJones)

It’s a snapshot; it’s not scientific; for me, it is an interesting topic for discussion.

I hate unfairness and hate to think that a school teacher would favour one child over another, although I know/strongly suspect it goes on in SOME schools.

I know that there are a goodly number of children who aren’t interested in the starring role; some prefer to be the giraffe (I know, in a nativity, too. How does that work?) or the third tree on the left, but there are many who want to be given a chance, if only their teachers would offer them encouragement.

Let’s give those shy children – who deep down would love to be given  a chance to shine on stage as Mary, Joseph or the inn keeper – a chance. It might just give them the boost they need.

What do you think?

(two photos of nativity courtesy of PicApp)

Written by CommonPeople

November 26, 2009 at 4:33 am

Glad to meat you

with 4 comments

A few months ago, I posted about a dilemma I was having about whether or not I should allow my children to eat meat. (I can’t find the link – bear with me.)

Traditional Sunday lunch by adactio (http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/10098413/)



I have not eaten meat for about 20 years, having weaned myself slowly off the stuff during my teenage years.
I gave up fish for many years, too, but cravings during pregnancy (and sheer boredom with a purely vegetarian
diet) meant that I now eat fish.
1. I know I am NOT a vegetarian, although I do sometimes say I’m a veggie because I have received too many blank stares when I say “pescetarian”.
2. I know the only reason I gave up meat was because of welfare issues. It had nothing to do with the fact that I don’t think we should slaughter animals for food.
3. I have gone too far down the line now to even contemplate eating meat that is organic, free-range etc.
4. I NEVER preach to meat eaters that they shouldn’t eat flesh (although I do tend to reach for the soapbox when my husband goads me by attempting to choose fois gras or veal at a restaurant).
When I had my first child ten years ago, I insisted that she be brought up on a predominantly vegetarian diet. I believed it to be healthy and thought it would introduce her palate to a number of different tastes.
Obviously the same principle applied when I had my son two and a half years later.
But, I always said that they would be allowed to eat meat when they were old enough to understand where meat came from and the processes that occurred in the production of meat. The link between the cute animal in the field and the slab of meat on the plate had to be made.
This year, that watershed moment came: I was to be tested. Would I be a woman of my word?
The children insisted that they wanted to eat meat.
I admit I faltered, but had to be true to my word.
I decided that at least I could offer good quality – organic – meat once in a while. I don’t cook it; I leave that to my all-too-willing-to-eat-meat partner.


The result?

Bacon – huge thumbs up from one (the other prefers Quorn)
Steak – the bloodier the better (and, yes, it breaks my heart…)
Lamb – one isn’t keen; the other likes it.
Beef – medium rare and the first thing to be eaten.
Saausages – one can’t tell the difference between organic meat sausages and Quorn (which makes me weep for his palate); the other loves them.
Poultry and game – bring it on.


I’m still restricting their meat intake to about once a week because I honestly think that is sufficient. The rest of the week is mainly based on pasta, pulses and rice.
But now meat isn’t considered a forbidden food, it is losing its appeal slightly. It’s no fun for the children to goad me about meat anymore as it now water off a (living) duck’s back.
Equally, I no longer have nightmares of them lusting over a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
It took me months to get round to letting them eat it – but they have made up their minds.
As far as I can see, there’s no turning back now. It’s just little old me who eschews meat in the house.

Written by CommonPeople

November 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Jayne's posts

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Dear tooth fairy, I know you’re busy but…

with 4 comments


tooth fairy

Can I ask you a couple of questions, please?

Children. You’ve got to love them. I love how they exude innocence and how they take matters such as losing a tooth VERY SERIOUSLY.

It is a matter of celebration when a tooth, after weeks of wobbliness and to-ing and fro-ing in the mouth, eventually plops onto their little hand.

Celebration because not only does it mean the delivery of 50p or £1 (or whatever the going rate is in your area) in exchange for the discarded tooth, but it means a VIP will be arriving that evening: the tooth fairy.

For both of my children that has meant great excitement. They love the magic of it all (how does she get in? Where does she take the teeth?), but their curiosity gets the better of them.

They – like many children – want to get to know their visitor. So, each time a tooth has been lost, a questionnaire is left for the tooth fairy to fill in – if she’s not too busy, of course.

We’ve had Tiffany visit a couple of times – and last night it was her friend Pepper, aged 7, from Beech Tree. Her favourite food is a peach and she has brown eyes and hair. Her favourite colour is red.

A new fairy to our house! The excitement was so strong you could taste it.

But there is one final question: what do they do with all those teeth?


Written by CommonPeople

October 30, 2009 at 10:27 am

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“Mum, what’s less than nothing?”

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I asked on Twitter what were the most bizarre/profound and  – frankly – gobsmacking questions your children have asked you.

This was after my seven-year-old son asked me at 6.15am today: Can there be anything less than nothing? Because if there is, nothing must be something.

Here is the list so far:

“If a wizard was reading a book of spells would it be fiction or non-fiction?” (@PeterLisney)

“Mum, what’s genitalia?” (my son)

“Mum…Who invented the magnet?” @LibaLibaLikeIt (check out all the tweets – they are adorable! They include such great questions as: Mum…Why do ninjas wear masks?)

Three-year-old: “What is my voice?” @nickynackynoo

My 6yr old to @tobybarnes “Dad, what if my superpower was Blu-Tac ??”. (via @mrsemilybarnes) courtesy of @katehughes

Luka: What’s in my ears? Mummy: Earwax. Luka: [30 seconds later] Daddy, have you got earwigs in your ears? (@simonapps)

Three-year -old nephew asked where the latest baby in the family had come from and why can’t you just take him back? (@katesull)

Mine didn’t ask where babies came from, they asked where parents came from. As in, “Don’t know where you’re coming from Dad!” (@HarryJA)

Daughter woke me up once with the question: so how *do* they decide what makes a continent anyway? At half five I don’t know. (@soba_girl)

I was once asked “If the planets are magnetic, why don’t they all stick together?” (@genzaichi)

Why does the alphabet ALWAYS have to be in alphabetical order? It’s so boring. (@FionaJoseph).

5-yr-old on loo: “Can I live here forever?” “Darling, you’ll grow up,have your own house.” “Can’t I stay till I’m old, die and go to Jesus?” (@amyrb)

Driving along last week, 11-year-old son asked me what a sex shop was (@tapdiva)

Is it true that you can land on a cloud? (@tapdiva)

Who made God? (@Schoolgate)

6 yr old to their mum: “If I die, will you kill yourself?!” (via @Schoolgate)

“After you’re dead, if you are really sorry (not just the kind of sorry you say to get out of your room), would God forgive you?” (@Bonnygirl)

my hubb’ys fav q fromdaughter is GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TODAY? eeerrrmmm (@mumumumumum)

From son in bath, ‘Why does my willy float?’. Does anyone actually know the answer? (@simonapps)

“Mum, what would happen if the cat saw a monkey?” (@tracey_q)

“If I threw some milk into space, would it turn into cheese?” (@JayneHowarth)

When my parents told me I was having a brother or sister I demanded a twin sister (@FBrotherston)

A friend has reminded me of a question/remark my daughter made when she was very young (about six) because of my repeated refusal to take her to McDonald’s: “Mum, how old do you have to be to drive?” Me: “17. Why?” Her: “Because I’m going to pass my test at 17 and drive to McDonald’s…”

My four-year-old dort asks the best Guess Who? questions – ‘Has your person got happy eyebrows?’ (@jvictor7)

“Does milk come out of cow’s bottoms?” (four-year-old to @LauraAWNTYM) … I said, “There are these things called udders” … “Are they like willies?” he said.

The funny things they say

Not a question, but what the heck – great responses!:

4yo: Why can’t you drive your car when you’ve had beer?” Me: ” Cos beer means u can’t drive well.” 4yo: “Well then u just need to practise more!” @knightys

Child #2: ‘Dad, have you seen Mum’s new glasses? They say ‘fercuck’ on the side’. (They are French Connection. It says FCUK). @EnglishMum

Lilian watching me shave: “this’ll mean it’ll not be spicy (sic) when you kiss me”. Me: “And mummy”. Lil: “Does mummy shave?” (@Hardyduncan)

Me: Oscar, do you know why Daddy shut you in your room? Oscar: Yes, ’cause I swiped Daddy. Me: And have you anything to say for yourself? Oscar: Yes, I… I’ve seen the error of my ways. Sorry! Sorrysorry sorry! (Andrew Davies via Facebook)

Son “I like grapes and I like fruit so I will like grapefruits” sadly this theory did not come true. (@childrensjewell)

Me to husb: I’ll be OK to have 1 glass of wine if I’m driving? 4yo said: “No, it’ll spill. Put it in an empty Fruit Shoot bottle.” (@LesleyS_S)

Brother: We’re going on holiday to wales. 3 yr old: But don’t wales live in the sea? (@petehitchman)

Mum – “uncle Pete & his girlfriend have fallen out” Girl – “fallen out of the door or the window?” (@petehitchman)

Please, keep ’em coming!

Written by CommonPeople

October 23, 2009 at 7:41 am

Posted in Jayne's posts

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