What is childhood?

Artist Raindropmemory from www.wallpaperswide.com

Artist Raindropmemory from http://www.wallpaperswide.com

Reading the comments below this blog post on extra-curricular activities for children has got me thinking – what is childhood?

Are those who say “let children be children” and “XXX is being robbed of his childhood” a bit disillusioned? It’s only in recent decades society has romanticised childhood. Before the war and for hundreds of years (and in many countries even today) children were/are expected to work in factories, not have an education and provide for their family doing laborious, and very dangerous, jobs.

Children now in the Western world have never had it better. Education, toys, technology and more all on their doorstep. No longer are they shoved up a chimney or whipped to fetch a pail of water. Most are privileged to have loving families, a school system to help them succeed and to participate in extra curricular activities, which more often than not, are fun.

A fair number of parents shake their heads disapprovingly at the latter. When a parent is prepared to pour their time and money (not to say it always requires money) into educating and bettering their children, how can that be a bad thing? I see and hear about parents who don’t read to their kids, aren’t fussed about homework and let them play on the streets until dark in the name of childhood. Letting their child fall out of education without a plan in place, because you know, little Timmy is still trying to work out the path he wants to take.

Children get stressed when they have too many choices. Choices should be arbitrary (“would you like a custard cream or a digestive?”) not about serious life decisions. No child will ever volunteer themselves for maths tuition (or anything else that requires effort quite frankly), but that doesn’t mean it’s cruel to enrol them. DS1 started Kumon workbooks I bought from Amazon from aged three and they were a game to him.

At aged five, DS1 has been enrolled onto the Kumon course for three months now. He gets home from school, has a snack, does his 20 page Kumon worksheet in approximately 15 minutes, practises reading with his daily book from school and then he is allowed free play. He understands the routine, there’s no fight, no shouting, no tears. The misconception that a strict routine entails negativity from the parent is wrong. He is praised for his efforts and excited for the sticker at the end. Kumon hasn’t only taught him sums – he’s learnt routine, concentration (even when the task in hand isn’t brightly coloured and flashing to get your attention like most activities – that’s another blog post for another time…), to work autonomously, self-correction, seeing things through to the end, pencil control among many others.

The key to success is to be relentless with everything you do. I try my best to instil good habits from an early age, so as they grow up my children are hungry to achieve for themselves.

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A facepalm situation.

facepalm statueI did something unforgivable yesterday. Although the funny thing is, he forgave me and I kind of knew he would.

Last night I succumbed and purchased tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical for June next year. I had been umming and arring for the past couple of months about whether booking in 2012 for 2013 was actually too far in advance, who knows what plans may arise in the next seven months. But I used my sister’s birthday as an excuse and went ahead with it. I went to bed happily thinking I had ticked another box on my list, and even more chuffed that I received £10 off each ticket because I booked within the month the play was opening.

It was not until this morning whilst I was waiting for my train, I decided to jot down the date of the musical in my diary. At this point, the look of horror spread across my face as I realised I booked the musical on my wedding anniversary. <insert facepalm emoticon>

It took a diary entry to remind me it was my wedding anniversary, and if I hadn’t of checked, I probably would have remained oblivious. I even had a think about what’s happening in June before choosing the tickets, making sure I didn’t book it on the weekend of my FIL’s birthday. Maybe this whole fiasco makes me a terrible wife, but I may possibly score brownie points with the in-laws as a result – silver lining and all that.

I called DH, very apologetic and all, but luckily he didn’t mind too much. He did point out that if the situation was reversed, I would have been furious with him – he’s not wrong. I could have gone into a tirade about how his overly relaxed reaction must actually mean he was the terrible one… But I didn’t.

So I’ve spent all day screaming trying to rectify the situation by sitting on hold to See Tickets. Thankfully, they sympathised and didn’t laugh at my stupidity (at least not that I could hear). They allowed me to rebook the tickets for a different date and refund the original tickets. Eeee.

Hurrah! All is well with the world again.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo..

I wish all our trains were this happy.

In recent weeks I have joined our daily commuters in the not-so-adventurous journey into London. I get the high speed train which takes me into St Pancras in shockingly 25 minutes, which is a very expensive alternative to avoiding a 1.5 hour journey on the slower Charing Cross train, to only get the tube to the other side of London. I must say, commuting has become a rather pleasant and, dare I say it, relaxing experience on the high speed. You rarely find a group of loud obnoxious teenagers hogging up all the seats and drunks are pretty much unheard of. I guess they would rather spend the extra dosh on a few more tins and get the peasant wagon.

Not to be classist or defamatory to people who get the Charing Cross train, I mean, my husband gets it for gods sake. Realistically though, the drunks and yobs are not willing to pay more for the same vandalism they can cause on a ‘cheaper’ train. I use the term ‘cheap’ lightly, because we all know how ridiculously expensive both trains have become. The Charing Cross train takes an hour to reach its destination, and with an annual season ticket, it will set you back £3,380. The St Pancras International high speed train is a comfortable 25 minutes, for an even pricier £4,368 with an annual season ticket. Isn’t it ironic that the longer you are on the train for, the less you pay; for an extra £988 you can pay to not be on the train.

And yet we factor in the losses because our time is so precious to us, we would rather pay to retain few more minutes of our lives. The train has become a rich man’s toy, leaving the rest of us in deficit. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Where’s Dee-Da Gone?

*I am not sure if I have mentioned in previous posts, but DS’ name for Daddy is Dee Da (obviously Daddy reversed!).

I am swarmed with mixed feelings when DS asks where either of us are – His cuteness makes me smile; I become very proud of my little boy and his ability to string three words together at 21 months, but then I become overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow. When I call my mother from work and DS speaks on the phone, he repeatedly says ‘Mummy gone, Dee Da* gone‘ and it is incredibly heartbreaking. I wish he could understand, see the bigger picture, imagine how much better off we will be in a few years. But I know he only lives in the present and when something sad happens it is the end of the world for him.

That’s How I Roll.

When thinking of your favourite typical Chinese food, spring rolls will probably come to mind. However, the Western take on spring rolls is to submerge it in oil and hope for the best. If you have not tried spring rolls in a reputable restaurant (not a Chinese take-away) or from an old Chinese grandma (all old Chinese people are great cooks), you have not come close to the real thing. I have always been a bit snobby when it comes to Chinese food, but I think it is to be expected as I am of Chinese descent.

I hope to one day become a fine cook and connoisseur of Chinese cuisine, so I thought I would tackle my first hurdle and try my hand at making spring rolls.

Ingredients:

 800g of pork mince

20 king prawns

4 spring onions

2 grated carrots

100g cornstarch sticks

40g black fungus

8 seafood sticks

1 clove of garlic

1 tsp of cornflower

A splash of soy sauce

pinch of salt

ground pepper

1 pack of spring roll pastry sheets (usually 30 sheets in a pack)

egg white

vermicelli noodles (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)

Vietnamese fish sauce (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)

shredded little gem lettuce (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)

What’s next?

An hour before you start making the spring rolls, soak the black fungus and cornstarch sticks separately in boiling hot water. This will help them soften and it will be quicker to cook later on.

Prepare the king prawns and add them to the food processor with the pork mince, spring onions, chopped garlic, cornflower, soy sauce, salt and ground pepper. You may have to do this in batches, as I found I had too many ingredients to fit the bowl.

Shred the seafood sticks and grate the carrots, or get your husband to do it… After soaking the cornstarch sticks, boil for a few minutes until they become soft and transparent. The longer they are immersed in water, the better, however I only soaked them for an hour.

Add the cornstarch sticks, black fungus and grated carrots to the prawns/pork mixture and stir well until fully incorporated.

Now you are already to start wrapping. Place the mixture onto a sheet of pastry in a long rectangular shape and fold the bottom corner over the mixture.

Fold in both sides to envelope the mixture.

Roll pastry tightly to ensure the mixture is compact. When you reach the end of the pastry, dab a small amount of egg white to make sure it sticks.

Repeat thirty times until you have used up all of the mixture and pastry sheets…

Cooking the spring rolls requires lots of oil and a big pan, if you do not own a deep fat fryer. My grandma cooks them in a wok but we settled for a large saucepan instead. Do not question the use of the potato masher below, I am only an amateur cook!

If you use a large wok or a deep fat fryer, you will most probably shorten your cooking time. It took us quite a while to get through all thirty!

We ate our spring rolls with vermicelli noodles, little gem lettuce and Vietnamese fish sauce (known as Bún Chả Giò in Vietnam), but of course you can eat them with anything you desire.

Wonton Soup.

I finally invested in a food processor (my previous handheld mixer died) and inevitably this was going to result in another food post. I decided to make Wonton Soup without following a structured recipe, but instructions from my Grandma which is near enough the same thing.

Ingredients:

For the dumplings:

20 king prawns

200g pork mince (half of the small box)

1 clove of garlic

2 spring onions

1 tsp of cornflower

1/2 tbsp of oyster sauce

pinch of salt

ground pepper

1 pack of wonton sheets (usually 30 sheets in a pack)

egg white

For the soup:

Water (use your judgment for how much you need)

Dash of soy sauce

1/2 vegetable stock cube

What’s next?

Start off by preparing the prawns – You will need to de-shell them and remove the intestines (as shown in my previous post). Once this is done, add the prawns, pork mince, spring onions, chopped garlic, cornflower, oyster sauce, salt and ground pepper into the food processor. You can add other ingredients too, so do not feel restricted.

Blend the mixture until it turns into one clump.

Place small scoops of the mixture in the centre of the wonton sheets. Dampen the corners of the sheets with water and bring two of the corners together to a point. Then bring the other two corners together and wrap them around. There are various techniques to folding wonton sheets, the key thing is to make sure the filling is fully concealed and the sheet is wrapped tightly.

Thirty wonton dumplings is an excessive amount for me to eat, so I have stored them in boxes of ten in the freezer.

To cook the dumplings, all you need to do is place them into boiling water for approximately five minutes; they should float to the top once they are done. To make the soup, simply boil the water, add the soy sauce and vegetable stock and simmer for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and wonton dumplings once they are cooked, sprinkle some spring onions as a garnish and there you have your wonton soup!

A Mother’s Guilt.

In a world full of unpredictability, constraints and constant setbacks, decisions have to be made in order for progression. Our decision to both be in full-time employment has not come easy. Weighing up the pros and cons, the now seems almost insignificant amidst the wider picture.

Yet the majority of the time we must live in the present; residing in the past permits life to drift on by and living in the future is merely a daydream. I find it easier to deal with particular circumstances when I set these categories. Sometimes you lose perspective in whichever time frame you find yourself in and it helps to outline goals, reasons, justifications.

I paint the wider picture with images of a big house, fast cars, private schooling and exotic holidays. The prospect of a duel income and security seems more inviting than living on a budget and just getting by until DS goes to a state school. With the long shot in mind, I push aside my anxieties of DS being at nursery three days a week and not having any meals with him Monday to Thursday. Of course these are my fears, not his. He will be absolutely fine playing with the other kids and an endless mountain of toys.

I am playing full-time Mummy this month whilst I await my turn to go to work. DH has already been summoned to the daily grind, rushing in the morning to catch the 6:47AM train and not returning until 7:30PM. He sees DS briefly in the morning in between getting dressed and eating breakfast, and for five minutes in the evening just to say hello. Sometimes DS is so worn out from the day, he is already in bed by the time DH returns. That is when the sadness sets in and work becomes a forlorn attempt to escape. The tough work, long days and late nights hardly feels worth while when an overwhelming sense of the present hits you in the face.

It is easy for individuals without children to disregard this angst we feel, as something we can push aside or just get over. Missing your children is not the same as missing your other half; I dislike not seeing DH, but it is heart breaking knowing my baby is growing up in our absence. Maybe I am being overdramatic, as we will see him at weekends and I will be home on Fridays. It is also inevitable he will go to school full-time and spend the majority of each day without us anyway.

Whatever the reasoning, no matter how many times you justify it to yourself, it does not get easier. We become each others priorities and the weekends are golden. We owe this to the eighteen year old DS going to university and, god forbid, the thirty-nine and forty-one year old parents we will inevitably become.

Let me give the world to you.