Some Advice for Exam Parents

Exam season is upon us again.
 
It seems to come around faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?
 
If your little darlings are about to do their Junior or Leaving Certificate Examinations, here are some ideas on how you can help them.
 
1. Sleep: Seems obvious and it’s easier said than done to get teenagers to go to bed at the best of times, and yet sleep is the one thing that we need in order to function properly. Talk to your child and agree a consistent bedtime for the next 3 weeks. Agree on a cut off time for studying, no matter how much they insist that they need to do more. Agree on a cut off time for screens and insist that until the exams are over, screens should not be in bedrooms. Even the simple absence of the phone from the bedroom can do wonders for the sleep that we get.
 
2. Hydrate: Yeah yeah Yadda yadda… but again, vital. Challenge them to drink 2 litres a day. There are loads of cool bottles that help to motivate water intake now. And they all have apps on phones that can help remind them to drink water too. Dehydration leads to headaches and sluggishness; all of the things that they DON’T need at the minute.
 
3.Nutrition: The State Exams can last for up to 2 weeks for some students. If an athlete were going into a 2 week event, they’d be fuelling up their bodies in preparation for months. If your child has a balanced and varied diet already, great. Keep it up. If not, try to introduce more whole foods and more fruit and veg. Convenience snacking is a massive issue when stress and tiredness kick in. Try to have dinners pre-cooked and healthier snacks in the fridge for when they appear from their pit “staaaaaarving”. In fairness to them, the last thing they are thinking about is their food right now. But don’t make a big deal about it. Remember when they were toddlers and you conveniently had lots of healthy snacks and precooked meals in the kitchen? For the next 3 weeks, go back to that! Just maybe ease up on the purees! (AND BREAKFAST is a must. They might not be hungry, but they can’t sit a 2-3 hour exam on an empty tummy. Bananas are great for calming butterflies in the tummy.) 
 
4. Exercise: If your child has a hobby, or goes to a class each week, let them continue with it. As a teacher, I hear parents saying “Oh they’ve stopped that until after the exams”. And while yes, many need to cut back on some activities in order to study, cutting out EVERYTHING is a bad idea. Try to encourage them to do something every day, even if it is simply going for a ten minute walk. Send them to the shop. Throw them a basketball. Dust off the punchbag in the garage. Anything to get them moving for even a few minutes. Times of high stress are the times when we NEED to be able to release, may it be dancing, kicking, running or a gym class. It helps keep energy levels up.
 
5. Keep the stress levels down: And I’m not just talking about THEIRS. State Exams have a way of reducing Mums and Dads to tears. Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, the exams are important, but what is more important is that your child is alive and well and able to do the exams. Don’t dismiss the significance of these exams, but equally, don’t paint them to be the be all and end all. Their best is all that they can do and regardless of what is in the little brown envelopes at the end of the summer, life will go on and they will be ABSOLUTELY FINE!
 
6. Positivity : Rather than constantly “annoying” or “torturing” them, let them hear praise. (Because no matter what we say, they only hear nagging don’t they?) Let them hear you believe in them. Let them hear “You will be fine” or “Do your best” or “I’m proud of you.” Seems silly maybe, but trust me, so many of our teenagers are so skilled at feeling useless and crap all by themselves. Sometimes all it takes is for them to hear someone tell them they can do it.
 
7. Last minute pages: SO this is the teacher talking now. Get them to take an A4 page and for each subject, on which they write down all of the key phrases and ideas and names and keywords, dates etc., all over it, on both sides. If their teacher has things that he or she CONSTANTLY repeated in class, write those down too.
Use different coloured pens and make it bright. Laminate it when they’re done if you like. But have it that THAT PAGE is the ONLY thing they look at on the morning of the exam. I also advise that when they walk into the English paper, before they even read the questions, to jot down as many of the important terms and titles on one of the roughwork boxes or blank pages. That way, they have a go-to wordbank if they get a blank brain AND they won’t forget character names or poem titles in the heat of the exam. (Happens to the best!)
 
8. Ditch the Drama: Warn your kids of the dangers of the Drama Llama on the morning (or afternoon) of the exam. While they’ll want with their friends, so often it is the worst place they can be. Hearing “Oh I only glanced at Chapter 23 last night” or “I haven’t LOOKED at that book!” or “I am so screwed”can cause panic in an anxious child’s mind. They’re already dealing with their own anxiety and nerves. They don’t need JohnJoe or Nancy’s stresses on top of their own. Tell them to politely stay away from groups until after the exam. They are much better served by reading over their last-minute page on their own. They can chat about it as much as they want when it’s over, but being focused and quiet before the exam really does work wonders.
 
9. SPACE it out: If space allows, tell them to skip 2-3 lines between each paragraph. This allows them space to jot down anything that might come to mind as the revise over what they’ve written at the end. (And it makes life easier for the examiner if sentences aren’t written sideways up a margin. With a few subjects being corrected digitally this year, anything written outside the allocated area won’t be scanned. Remind them of this.)
 
10. Believe: While the state exams are possibly THE biggest thing in your whole family’s life right now, it is important to remind the kids that every single person who is older than them, has been through and sat through these exams. They can only do their best. Yes, they’re a huge deal, but they’re also just a bump in the road that you have to drive over to get to summer. They’re well ready and well able.
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Life is a big long dance. We all stumble, sometimes we fall. We have parts of the routine that we’d rather skip, but it’s OUR dance. And each and every one of us has to dance our own steps.
 
I hope that exam season passes with as little stress as possible in your house. And remember that if your kids see you stressed, they stress. So even if you want to scream and tear your hair out, don’t.
 
Or at least wait until they’re in bed and then pour yourself a gin and scream in a pillow.
 
And the very best of luck to your minions.

I’m Sick of all the labels Mum

So what’s the “Perfect Mum”

 

Baby-wearing Mum, Carry her Mum,

Co-sleeping Mum, Cot-sleeping Mum,

Room of his own Mum,

Still in my bed when she’s 4 Mum,

Who cares as long as he sleeps Mum?

A Disposable Nappy Mum,  Cloth-Nappy Mum,

Dodee Mum, Suck the thumb Mum,

A  baby monitor Mum, Check her twenty times Mum,

Camera in the bedroom Mum,

I’ll hear him if he calls Mum,

Baby-lead weaner Mum, Organic food only Mum,

Puree it myself Mum, Buy it off the shelf Mum,

Feed them anything Mum,  He won’t eat it anyway Mum,

Fish finger Freezer Friday Mum,

Leftovers in my tum Mum

Always positive parenting Mum,

Doing it all in heels Mum,

Never tell them No Mum

Child is in control Mum

Boundaries help them Grow Mum

Nurture them and Love Mum

Ask patience from above Mum

Shower him with kisses Mum,

Temper is in pieces Mum,

Cherish every second Mum,

Will bedtime ever come Mum,

Reading her a story Mum

Playing with his toys Mum

Letting her be bored Mum

Cuppa always cold Mum

Helicopter or Lawnmower Mum?

Let them fall and run Mum,

Breastfeeding Mum, Bottlefeeding Mum,

Whatever as long as they’re fed Mum.

Screaming and exhausted Mum,

Need a shower and pee Mum,

Calm and zen and ‘Got this’ Mum

Stay-at-home with kids Mum,

Go to work, Work from home,

Have to pay the Bills Mum,

Married, single, step-mum,

Co-parenting, need some help Mum,

Foster mum, adopting mum,

Holding on to friends Mum.

Trying Mum, Lost one Mum,

Wish with all my heart for one,

Happy mum, Sad Mum,

Frustrated at myself Mum,

Crying mum, Laughing Mum,

Fitting everything in Mum

Mum Buns, Mum Tums,

Stetchmarks, hormones and Bumps Mum

Afterschool, Sports and Pool, Taxi everyone Mum,

Homework Fun, Housework Done

Trying my best every day mum.

Kids come first,  Mum’s the worst,

Will this bubble ever burst?

Give your kids the love they need

And to the labels give no heed…

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Say what now?

 

I could keep going.

Mums are amazing.  We manage to be many of these Mums at once, but NO ONE can be all of them.

If you are putting yourself under pressure to fit a label that doesn’t fit you, cut it off.

As long as your kids are loved and fed and cared for, you’re doing just fine Mum.

It can’t be perfect all the time, neither can you. But remember that usually, the flaws you see in yourself, are only seen by you.

To your kids, YOU are their Perfect Mum.

And I am the perfect Mum for MY kids…even if you don’t agree with how I do things.

I am Schoolbags, Nelly and Polly Mum

Some days are disastrous.

Some days, it’s hard to be Positive Polly.

All it takes is ONE little thing to start a sequence of events that push us down the hill like a big, crazy snowball…gaining momentum and strength as they roll. And it’s so easy for us to suddenly be out of control, losing direction and heading for a crash.

This morning, I snowballed. And I don’t mean a fluffy, fablis, functioning one.

I’m still sick. I know that, and honestly, I should probably stay in bed for few days, but there’s little time to be lying down when life has to keep going on for everyone else in the house, isn’t there? (And I’m sure there’ll be a Blue Peter badge in the post one of these days, won’t there?)

It was one of those mornings where time seemed to go faster than me, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and where my Positive Polly faltered and my Negative Nelly won.

Finally getting into the car and starting our already late journey, I realised that we’d left Mini-Me’s school bag in the house. Now the Positive Polly in me says “Sure at least you realised when you did, only 300 yards down the road.” I hear her now, but at the time, the Negative Nelly in me was screaming ‘FFS’ and ‘FML’ and ‘Are you fecking kidding me’ and all sorts, while trying to do a 3 point turn on a one-car wide laneway.

At that moment, Nelly wanted to fight Polly… And trust me, Nelly would have won. This morning, Nelly would have battered McGregor.

Then as I tried to get us to the bus on time, every dumbass driver in the area pulled out in front of me and of course it was THEIR faults that I was later and later and later.

I cursed some more, genuinely stressed more than I have been in a long time, balancing the need to be cross at Mini-Me for walking PAST her fecking schoolbag on her way to the car again, and the need to make her feel loved and fecking secure before leaving Mammy for the day. I lost at this too.

I tried to start conversations.

“Are you looking forward to PE?”

She refused to answer me. She glared out the window, ignoring me. Positive Polly whispered, ‘Leave her be. She’s upset too’. Nelly however roared “Answer me when I’m speaking to you!” Herself got thicker with every mile and Mammy got more and more upset.

Leaving her off, I got a half-arsed hug. Her usual smiling and repeating “Bye Mammy” and excessive waving off, was replaced by the back of her head storming into the room. Mammy tried to make her smile by sticking out my tongue and winking at her. Nope. Her Negative Nelly was winning too and she glared at me like a teenager who’s just been grounded for a month…

The other one gave me a big tight hug, for all her-not-even-threeness, knowing that Mammy needed a cuddle and making me feel a bit better.

I got back into my car and drove out the gate. Mini-Me always runs out to wave as I pass. I toot the horn and wave back and I always leave for school with a smiling face etched in my mind.

This morning? Well, she came out alright, but only to punish me more by NOT waving.

She then turned her back on me as I tooted and waved like a demented Twatso… at the back of her thick wee head.

Negative Nelly was just bitchslapped into her box and this Mammy drove to work in an absolute state.

The guilt. The anger (at myself). The shame.

My daughter went to school upset. I fucked up royally, all over a school bag and my own general shittiness.

There was no one to make Mammy feel better and Mini-Me certainly didn’t give a damn if Mammy felt loved and secure as she started her day. Why would she? That’s not her job.

But if punishing me and making sure I berate myself all day is her job, she’s CEO there already. A child’s ability to punish and destroy its mother, is a skill that can only be matched by the mother herself.

It lingered in me all day. I had to teach a poem about a mother’s love for her child first thing. I just about got through that. Thankfully, my pal at work could smell that I was stressed and a quick hug and a wee tear later, I was less mental and more able to function. But still. When I think of the emotional wreck I have been today, it makes me worse again as I can’t imagine what she was like.

Negative Nelly doesn’t rear her ugly head much with me in fairness. And after today, she can piss away off. Tomorrow is another day and it’ll be so much nicer with Polly. As will I.

And as it happens, she still loves me and a hot chocolate and a cuddle can solve all the problems of the world, for both Nelly AND Polly.

I am Still That Friday Feeling Mum

Mammy has “That Friday Feeling”.

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Once upon a time, “That Friday Feeling” meant going straight to a licensed establishment with one’s co-workers for a bevvy or beverages. Or it meant finishing work with an air of excitement at the prospect of going home, spending a few hours primping and preening oneself to perfection, trying on 46 different outfits, popping open a bottle of something exciting at 6pm and stepping into high-heels, before going into town with whoever for dinner, or drinks and a boogie.

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It meant not only the excitement of getting out, but also the joy of KNOWING that you could lie on in your bed until whatever time you wished on Saturday morning, before deciding to be very “grown up and sensible” by staying in on Saturday night.

Or you know, getting ready and going out ALL over again!

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Oh, how things have changed.

Now while Mammy does get the odd night out, it is usually prepared for by a spray of dry shampoo, grabbing a top that doesn’t need ironed and a 5 minute slap on of the muck-up; sometimes after the girls have gone to bed, or sometimes my speciality…the one legged Babby-swing, where Princess swings on my leg as I try to apply mascara.

But while I am not going out tonight, Mammy still has “That Friday Feeling”‘; you know the excitement, the relief and the joy? It might be slightly different to what it used to be, but it’s still here… just like me really.

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Me, right now!

Now, “that Friday Feeling” means much more:

  • It means no homework for Mini-Me.
  • It means excitement at the prospect of not having to make lunches for the morning.
  • It means firing the contents of the Freezer into the oven and not feeling one bit bad about it. Call it “Freezer Friday”. They love it!
  • It means no work for 2 and a half days!
  • It means not watching the clock to make sure the girls get to bed before 7.30pm (and some nights, watching the clock to MAKE SURE they are in bed by 7.30pm!)
  • It means a mental switch off from school, where I can allow myself to NOT worry about the notes I need to do, or the copies that need marked.
  • It means knowing that when they are in bed, that I can sit on my arse on the sofa and watch whatever I want, without that feeling of “I should be doing…”
  • It means being able to spend time writing, or reading, or simply scrolling the interweb to watch what other Mammies are doing with their Friday feeling.
  • It means putting on our PJs once we all get home and not feeling one bit bad about it!
  • It means being able to say “yes” if Mini-Me asks to watch a movie at 6pm.
  • It means being able to pour a glass of wine without feeling dreadfully uncouth and Scummy Mummyish for drinking on a school night.
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  • It means pouring a second glass if I so wish.
  • It means not having to plan out what everyone is wearing before bed.
  • It means not setting an alarm clock…
  • It means a generally happier, more relaxed Mammy, because there is a certain celebration and achievement in the fact that I have made it through the week with all of my Minions and myself mostly in one piece.
  • It’s a joy that is difficult to describe, but Friday evening is absolutely my favourite time of the week. And while it might be different now, it’s just as exciting and it’s much more wonderful as when I was young and free.
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Now, I’m old(er) and not so free, but I’m a better me and I’m exactly where I want to be. So bring on the fluffy socks and grapejuice Ladybelles.

It’s Friday and It’s Fablis.

Have a good one.

I am Surviving a Mary-of-the-Poppins Christmas Mum.

 

This week’s Thoroughly Modern Mammy column for Donegal Woman is an updates post on Christmas Survival for the Mary of the Poppins types…

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“Surviving Christmas,” “Christmas Survival Tips for the Working Mum”, “How to Survive Christmas”…

I googled these last night.

Some of the “advice” online is nothing short of HILARIOUS.  I fear most of it may have been written by one of the following:

🎄Mary of the Poppins herself

🎄Someone without kids

🎄A Man… 😂😂😂
Here are some of the best pieces I gleaned, followed by my honest and polite responses: (Buckle up!)

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1.  “Be Prepared.”

No sh*t Sherlock.  As opposed to waking on Christmas Eve and remembering to buy a turkey and gifts? Seriously…  This is a useless piece of advice. It’s like telling a woman to calm down.  When in the history of the world has telling a woman to calm down, resulted in her calming down?  Never. So telling a Mammy to “Be Prepared” for Christmas, is NOT helpful.
2. “Buy gifts throughout the year and wrap them as you go.” 

Now this one I can partially agree with, except S-Mum’s version would read “Buy gifts throughout the year, put them somewhere safe and then forget all about them until the week before Christmas, when you have all the gifts bought and then open a box or bag or suitcase and find all the PawPatrol jigsaws you bought in July.  Or even better, find them when you’re putting the decorations away in January!”

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3. “Choose a theme for your gifts to add that personal magic”. 

Here’s a theme.  Shut.  up.  Most of us just about manage to buy for everyone we have to buy for.  And if you’re anything like me, you’ll remember someone on Christmas Day and freak out with guilt and embarrassment and mumble some crap about it not being delivered on time, before popping to the loo to order on Amazon with next day delivery.

(But if you doooooo want to add a personal touch and be remembered fondly by your loved ones, put glitter🦄 into all of the cards and gifts so that their floors get clattered and you are applauded for spreading the magic of Christmas. Go ahead, I dare you! 😂😂)
4. “Place delicate or expensive ornaments on higher branches.

Ok this one, I can empathise with.  Especially if you have toddlers or dogs. 🐶But in reality, put delicate or expensive decorations in the ATTIC and leave them there until 2026.

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5. “Ice the Christmas Cake 2 weeks before Christmas”

Or in real life, remember on the 23rd that for some reason you need a Christmas cake to have in the kitchen which will never be cut or eaten.  Then you’ll  either pop to Marks of the Spensive or decide not to bother with cake this year. Either way, it doesn’t really matter does it?
6. “Decorating the home should be a family occasion followed by a family meal.”

Oh really? Should it really? If by “family meal” you mean a bottle of wine after the kids have all gone to bed, then yes…yes this is true. 😅

Decorating the home is, for most, a painful and highly stressful process which generally takes more than one afternoon and involves tears, mess and even declarations of divorcing children… and husbands.  If you can get the actual tree up in one go, save yourself the stress and put everything else up by yourself, on your own, without the rest of the family annoying your head.  After bedtime is ideal.😘😉
7. “Keep alcohol locked away.”

Out of the reach of children yes, but keep the key in your frilly fricking apron Mammy Poppins.
8. “Stock up on essentials:  batteries, bread, milk and cream.”

Why there is no gin or wine on this list, is beyond me.

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9. “Go Christmas Shopping without children. Bring a drink and a snack with you.” 

Who the hell wrote this? It is common knowledge that drinking while shopping with your children is frowned upon in civil society.  Oh… they meant for the children?  Ohhhh… I knew that.  Well, here’s an idea.  If you can get someone to mind the minions for an hour, OF COURSE, go Christmas shopping without them. Then, if you really want to follow the Perfect Mammy rule book, have a drink and eat all the snacks… by yourself!
10. “Create a cleaning schedule for your home to keep on top of things this Christmas”.

There aren’t enough swear words for this one. A Cleaning Schedule? Who the hell has time to write a cleaning schedule? In the time it would take me to write a cleaning schedule, I would probably have half the cleaning done.  If you can keep floors lego free and counters salmonella free, you’re doing great! You deserve a treat. 💚

Riddle me this Mammies?  Why would you spend hours cleaning before opening the boxes of decorations that are going to cause the whole place to need hoovered and dusted again in an hour anyway?  Why?

So there were the Top Ten pieces of advice from the various Perfect Mammy websites…

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There were a few little nuggets in fairness.  Some of the better advice included “Scale down your expectations”, “Invent your own traditions”, and “Give yourself a break.”  

Another gem that I completely agree with is “Buy disposable baking trays”: I stock up on aluminium turkey trays every year and everything is cooked in them.  It’s a life saver!

Alos, Yes to shopping lists. And sublists. (Any list!  I do love me alist!)  Plan your meals for Christmas week and do the shopping based on the list.  It will save you from buying piles of stuff that you won’t actually use. Will you actually use that goose fat or are you only buying it because it’s beside the cranberry sauce you’ve lifted…that no one in your house eats.

AND  remember to factor in Christmas Eve Dinner too.  Don’t do my speciality… realise you have a fridge full of food and nothing for the dinner when you finally get back to the house on Christmas Eve.  This will lead to arguments about who is going to the shop AGAIN, or toast for dinner.


The “Preparing for Christmas” articles largely did what they always do however; they put undue pressure on already busy parents to stress themselves to create a Hallmark worthy perfect Christmas card-esque scene that, in reality, is nonsense.

Do what YOU want to do.  Buy what YOU can afford.  Cook what YOU like to eat. If you don’t like mince pies, don’t fricken buy them. If you want to let your kids open all of the presents on Christmas morning, do it!  If you like to wrap all the everything, do so.  If you don’t, DON’T!

It’s that simple.  We don’t need a survival list to survive Christmas, we need to give ourselves a break and enjoy it, because if you take a second to stop and look around you, often in the midst of lost presents and superfluous food shopping, you can see a little bit of magic without having to buy it.

A perfect family Christmas is like a Perfect Parent… all that’s REALLY needed is love and what works for YOU!
What is your favourite “Survival tip” and why?