#51: Host a French exchange student

We have thrown our hats in with the Village Twinning Association, and are taking on a range of rather random experiences as a result.

A bus load of French 10 year olds came last week to visit our village. They were all to be squirrelled away among any families that had failed to make an excuse quickly enough – of which we were one. Volunteers were thin on the ground so the French were placed in twos and threes, rather than singly.

I absolutely take my hat off to all the kids who came. It seems a massive ask of a 10 year old: they were travelling without their families, had no idea what they were coming to, and many had only been learning English for a half hour a week, for a year or two. It was a heroic mission.

I collected our two from the coach, at 9.30pm on Monday. They had been travelling for about 12 hours. We walked back round the corner, approached the driveway to our squalid quarters, and only at that point did I realise what an imbecilic idea it was, to try to accommodate 7 people who couldn’t really converse in a 2 bedroom bungalow. I had imagined the French girls happily bunking in with my 3, for a week-long festival of sleepover madness. As ever, there was a large gulf between fantasy and reality. These two both looked absolutely terrified. Too baffled and shy to accept anything to eat or drink, or to say anything, in any language. Mmm. Difficult.

I suggested they might prefer to sleep together in the lounge, away from the fearsome trio of small English girls. The relief on both faces was unmistakeable. I fashioned 2 beds for them, but when I said goodnight half an hour later, they were both snuggled up in one. For the entire week, I barely saw a sliver of daylight pass between the two of them. They showered together, toileted together, slept together, ate together.

My children have roughly 10 words of French between them. The French girls, if they knew more English, did not reveal the fact. Mealtimes were mildly excruciating. Dave, undaunted, pressed on with cheerful chat. He asked everyone first in English, then in French, about their pets, hobbies, and siblings. 5 young faces stared back at him, featuring disdain, amusement, and total astonishment by turns. Responses were monosyllabic, at best. I have never been so happy to busy myself with housework.

It became clear that we needed to leave the house, a lot. Day trips were already planned for the French class, but we would need some evening entertainment. Soft play was a triumph, as it required no communication, and a play date with another twinning family also ensured safety in numbers for everyone concerned. With those things in place, a good time was had by all!

Our French guests retired early, and since they were sleeping in our only living space, so did we! Dave simply shook his head in my general direction, as we settled for the night at 8pm. The whole thing, his face clearly conveyed, had been my idea. I reminded him we do not like to operate a culture of blame.

And still, the overall experience was worthwhile. We have met other hosting families. We have practised our French, and hugely boosted the children’s enthusiasm for language learning. We have had a new experience! We hopefully offered the French some insights into English life (though I think their main discovery will be of the unimaginable quantity of breakfast consumed by English 5 year olds).

And by the time our young visitors left us, I like to think a degree of fondness had developed on all sides. We exchanged gifts. My kids made them cards saying ‘au revoir’. The French girls hugged and kissed us all. We photographed one another extensively.

They also took photographs of every room in my house, and I now live in fear of French social workers turning up here, to question the keeping of foreign children in a condemned building. On the plus side, the house feels immeasurably bigger since they left!

#50: Do something unique and special with each of my children (part 2)

The eldest had a day off school this week. It is always a hard one to call, she had seemed peaky, but by 9.30 it was hard to see there was very much wrong.

But in any case, it presented a rare opportunity for some one to one time with her. And she could not believe her luck when I suggested we do painting together, at an easel, outside, so that we could copy what we saw in the garden. I envisaged the two of us, passing a happy morning, companionably dunking our brushes, chatting of this and that, assessing the light on the branches… but of course she is 5. What actually happened was that I abandoned my own craft to sit next to her, advising on how to dunk the brush in water without then streaking the whole canvas with too-runny paint. But that was nice too.
painting cakey
Regarding subject matter, I had envisaged replicating the cherry blossom, the willow tree opposite, a cloud bespeckled sky, that kind of thing. Caitlin chose to immortalise the trampoline. Ah well. Who is to say what is art, after all? Perhaps it is indeed this:
caitlin's art
I suppose we will have to put it on the wall now. Heavens.

#48: pick up all the litter on my street AND #49: Be a children’s entertainer

Time is slipping away from me, if 100 challenges are to be done by May. And the only answer is to start doubling up on them. So, I hatched a cunning plan to combine these two in one activity.

My husband and several other gentlemen of the village went away for the weekend. All the abandoned wives and children sought solace in numbers, and gathered together for a marathon 24 hour play date and sleepover. I volunteered to lead the first activity: a village litter pick-up, dressed as superheroes. It was inspired, as it enabled me to a)gain maximum value from the Bananaman investment, and b) create a slightly strange and dare I even say fun event from an activity that might otherwise have met with protest.

But it is marvellous how willingly the children accept such proposals. ‘We’re all going to dress up as superheroes and pick up all the litter in the village’. Of course we are. What else are Saturday afternoons for? 10 children ranging from 3-8 years embraced the prospect, and presented as instructed, variously dressed as Batman, Spiderman, a princess, a pirate, a ballerina, Mrs Incredible… I gave them each a carrier bag for their spoils. And a pep talk about how the village needs us. No litter must remain after our efforts. And off they all ran, in high spirits.

I had been anxious we’d fail to find any litter (for such is the nature of the very community-spirited village we hail from) – but once we started to look we found a surprising amount. They checked around bins, dug about in ditches, scraped up mushy paper. On occasion the refuse was so precariously positioned that only Bananaman could safely go in for it. Between us we filled about 8 carrier bags, enough for everyone to feel proud! And finished up in the park for some well deserved celebratory roundabouting. Happily we only bumped into one other family, and she was very understanding about it!
litter picking party
The hunt was followed by a feast of chicken nuggets, ice cream and cookies, a couple of hours of trampolining, endless table football contests, DVDs and stories.

But at bedtime a couple of the kids were asked what had been the best thing about the day. ‘Litter picking with Bananaman’ came the gratifying reply. Oh yes.

#46: Do a jump on a mountain bike

We had a delicious day in pursuit of this objective. Dave took a day off and we went to the Forest of Dean while the kids were at school, for biking fun together. A rare treat!

I love cycling, but have never quite got into the mindset of proper mountain biking; now we are trying to change that! I’m trying to see all the roots and rocks as a fun challenge, rather than a tedious impediment to an otherwise enjoyable ride!

So, I attempted a red route for the first time, which really should have been the challenge, as the ride overall was harder than the couple of jumps that I did attempt. Uphill and downhill, single track sections, berms and rocks and roots and ditches and all sorts. I did a lot less pushing the bike and a lot less cursing than is normally the case!

The jumps were singularly unimpressive. I promise I did try several, and many were bigger than this, but sadly this is the only footage that was captured. It is quite splendidly rubbish! Indeed you will struggle to see me leave the ground at all. I blame the cameraman, as I am sure it was far more impressive in reality.

I’m afraid that is as good as it is likely to get before May 10th!

But Dave assures me that in general I am getting better. And most importantly, it was fun, which means I will go again, so that is a triumph, albeit of a (very) modest sort.

#45: Put up our roofrack and bicycles without help

This was immensely tedious and fairly difficult, but ultimately a triumph for women’s lib. One of the perils of married life is that this kind of task just never falls into my remit these days. And I get anxious about losing the ability to do stuff like this for myself. So, cue a very tedious morning messing about with keys and fittings and what not, taking an hour to accomplish something Dave can do in 5 minutes. I have no instinct at all for stuff like this, I can only figure it out by doing it wrong, then doing it differently, and only slightly less wrong, then eventually on about the 6th attempt getting it vaguely right. But I did it, and now I know how to do it again. So hurrah.
roofrack
Then there was the lifting of the bikes onto the car. I can just about manage it, though it is far from comfortable, balancing inside the doorway of the back seats, mountain bike wielded aloft, and try to keep it steady to line up with the rack. Then keep it still with one hand while securing all the straps and locks. But again, it was done without injury, or misadventure to the bike. Et voila:
bikes on car
Getting them off again is harder – undo all straps, hold onto bike and somehow leap backwards out of the car, holding bike aloft, without allowing any part of bike or pedals to scratch car paintwork. It was just about done, but it is unlikely to be mishap-free every time!

But it is good that I can do it. It makes it far more possible to sneak in an adventure during school hours.

#44: Take the children to the beach for a day trip, just me and them. Have fun without spending money

I had a vision for this one. I was going to take my brood to Brean Down, and have a lovely day out in nature, running on beaches, fishing in rock pools, taking photos, observing sea birds, picnicking in the dunes.  How delightful.

Within seconds of being left alone with them, it all went massively awry.

I suggested the beach. Massive excitement. I mentioned an hour in the car to get there. Absolute mutiny and utter refusal. No one would go. They are all well aware that there is a fake beach 5 minutes up the road, and that is where they wanted to be. Nothing else would do. Everyone howled. My resolve weakened.

I wondered though. The downside of the local fake beach is the £10 entry fee, hence it involves spending money. But. What if we cycled in the back way, and thus avoided the car parking charge? That would be a triumph for frugality, and also create an adventure, because the beach is 2 miles from home, and the bikes are very small.   I put the plan to the people in charge. They were mad for it! I stressed the need for unwavering sensible behaviour, as the ride would involve real roads. They assured me they were equal to it. No one would make a fuss about not being at the front. No one would cycle into someone else’s wheels and knock them sideways and giggle about it. No one would have a hissy fit because they couldn’t get up the hill. All would be serene, grown up, and responsible. I beamed at them proudly. What could go wrong?

I cycled at the back, to slow approaching traffic. That inevitably put someone at the front who held but a tenuous grasp on the concept of left and right, making directional control difficult. I stressed the need to stop wherever white lines were painted across the road. This led to multiple unnecessary stops, at any and every form of paintwork, but better too careful than the opposite. We got up the hill. We executed 2 junctions. We were on fire!

bikers 

A mile and a half in though, morale was drooping. A head wind was not helping. The road was long. I called a halt in a layby, and dished out the chocolate.
biking break
I had thought this ride took 10 minutes, and we were already nearly an hour into it.   We sat on some rocks. I delivered my most motivational of pep talks. 3 angry faces stared back at me, unmoved. I promised an icecream upon arrival at the beach. That did the trick. (Though it rather undermined the ‘spend no money’ bit.)

Back on our bikes and on we went. An hour and a half after leaving home, we had achieved the beach.  A triumph!

Immediately upon arrival, all their clothes came off, with scant regard for propriety. We were at the beach after all, and would need our swim suits on. Never mind that it is mid-March, cloudy, and the red flag is flying over the water, a clear hint that swimming is discouraged. But the brood got togged up, and in a fit of ingenuity, took their buckets, began gathering water from the lake, and pouring it into a corner of the sandpit to create a pool big enough to splash in. Various other children were recruited to the project, including, thankfully, a family that we are very good friends with. It was already apparent that my cycling party would not be equal to making the journey home. Luckily I was able to leave the children with the friends while I shot home for the car.   The eldest crashed off her bike while I was absent, landing in a bramble bush and soaking one side of herself in the lake. Many tears. We returned home somewhat chastened by the whole escapade!   Mummy solo day care is not what it once was!  I must be out of practice now they are all at school. But at least I only spent £6!