Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Bad Day at Grumpy Ranch


Actually, it started quite well: Lily eagerly going back to school, Ollie having a fabulous two-hour morning nap so that Daisy and I could do puzzles and draw each other princess pictures to colour in. It was still going well when Lily flung herself through the front door exclaiming joyfully about how wonderful school was. Daisy was pleased to have chilli con carne for lunch (note to self: I make this far too often. Mince may be a good cheap way to feed a big family but we’ve had spag bol, macaroni pie and the aforementioned chilli once too often this winter. I mince no more.). Lily opted for the rice in a bowl with chopsticks (she’s going through a Chinese phase) and Ollie was none too keen on the mince or the rice. Perhaps the mistake was giving everyone chocolate for pudding – there was a brief interlude of happiness, and then on came the grumps.

Lily developed a headache and had to lie on the sofa and listen to The Twits. Ollie and Daisy joined her; he kept getting stuck in the little corner behind the radiator where all the vital cords and wires live that keep this household permanently tuned to the glory that is the world wide web, I kept getting him out, and he kept kept clambering back in. Daisy lay on the other sofa from Lily, but UNDER the rug that covers the holes in the leather, where she kept putting her toes and fingers and other extremities into the holes, which, along with Ollie’s extreme attraction to electrics, was starting to cause Mama’s nerves to fray.

Then Lily gave up on The Twits and went upstairs to her new desk to do her homework, thumped down again to say she felt sick and thumped up again to have another go. This time she was followed by Ollie, who did his best to climb onto her chair with her, which is endearing but not when you’re trying to write “Ei. Ei. Ei. Eis. Eis. Eis” over and over again in your best German handwriting. She managed to get rid of him, and I told her she was allowed to shut her door.

While all this was going on, I was doing nine loads of laundry, then carrying it up two flights of stairs and packing it away. The laundry is in The Dungeon, so it’s a place to escape when things are getting hairy. Which they were. Daisy was in Lily’s room, scolding her for shutting her door. Lily was screeching that she needed to be left alone. I was screeching up the stairs to say (a) Please leave your sister alone, she’s trying to do her homework, (b) I told her she could shut her door and (c) You are not Lily’s mummy. Shortly afterwards, Daisy mentioned she would like some food, and I said “I am sick to death of food preparation, please help yourself to a piece of fruit” (note to self: when things are escalating, it is important for the grown-up in the house to remain calm and not make dramatic statements). After packing away the next load, I found Daisy at the dining-room table hacking away at a half-loaf of stale pumpkin-seed bread with a butter knife. I relented and made her a piece of toast. During this time, Ollie visited the cords behind the radiator about seven more times, climbed up on his high chair and tried to hug the window-pane and Lily huffed up and down the stairs a few times, the last time to mention that a wheel had fallen off the leg of her new chair and that she was coming downstairs to finish her homework.

The rest of the afternoon’s events are a bit of a blur but involved a fight over a small black Ferrari, Ollie tossing all his crayons onto the floor several times, Lily crumpling up a drawing Daisy had made for her, Daisy and Ollie breathing heavily over my shoulder while I tried to address cards and fill envelopes with photographs of the children for relatives in England (note to self: do jobs like this at night), while I persevered, getting more and more irritable until I flipped and said things like I can’t wait for bedtime, and I’ve had enough, and you three are driving me up the wall, and so on.

This made everyone very sad. Ollie had a big cry. Lily drew a picture of a heart crossed out and sad faces and an arrow showing that she would like to leave this family. Daisy did the same, but upped the ante by going upstairs, packing her penguin roll-on suitcase with some skirts, nighties and drawing materials, clomping downstairs and announcing that she was leaving. Lily cried and I did some crisis management, telling Daisy that, while things were not so wonderful at home today, there was no place in the world where she would be more loved than here. During these negotiations, Ollie also went upstairs, gathered Lily’s crocodile roll-on suitcase and dragged it down again, indicating that wherever Daisy was going, he was going too. We persuaded them both to stay, had a philosophical conversation about how horrible it would be to be “a norphan” and put on the pasta for supper.

Addendum: When I told my husband this story over the phone, he laughed. Later he sent me this:

I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.

Jane Austen


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

28 thoughts on “Bad Day at Grumpy Ranch

  1. I am already in love with your blog. Consider yourself added to my “must-read” list. 🙂
    This post touched me because I have lived it. God, have I lived it. In fact, I’d be living it now if I hadn’t put Nickelodeon on and thrown some banana bread at the kids with instructions to “leave Momma alone for five minutes, please!”


  2. The Jane Austen quote brought tears to my eyes – it’s so true! You’re amazing that you can do everything with three children – I can barely cope with one. (And we had mince a million times last week, even though I don’t even eat it. Mince is handy).

    Please also tell me, why, why, why do little boys always find the dangerous hidey-holes and insist on crawling into them 1000 times a day? (This one does it just so I will haul him out by the ankles and he can shriek in delight). Why do they love climbing up their high chairs? Why do they have a magnetic attraction to all things electrical? This one keeps me on my toes morning, noon and night.

    I also think you are a very nice Mummy because you discussed about how horrible it would be to be an norphan. I remember attempting to run away several times as a kid and my mum saying: “OK, go!” Then once I actually did “run away”, which meant I didn’t come home after a morning piano lesson. I stayed out all day and eventually went home in the evening because I couldn’t think of anything else to do – and nobody had noticed I’d gone.

  3. Yup, me too. Although in our case it’s whatever is on the TV down thre (that they’re not normally allowed to watch, but which my husband seems to have turned on for them) and scones.

  4. You can turn the sour day into fresh, sparkling lemonade! Thanks for the wonderful post.

  5. Posts like these make me wish I lived just down the street from you, so you could pick up the phone, and say, “Help! I need to swap houses for a couple of hours.” You deserve it. Every mother needs someone like that, but especially those of you with three or more children! Oh well…I do the best with the friends I have here and hope Mary Poppins will suddenly appear during the next Bad Day at Grumpy Ranch.

  6. My son recently “found” the space between his dresser and the wall, meaning he can pull on the curtains and block the heater vent with his butt. What is with little boys and spaces like that!!!

    I loved that Austen quote. I think I’ll paste it on my desk so I can remember that it’s a miracle I get anything done each day.

    PS: We’re on day 4 of our own Grumpy Ranch. Your note to self is right on…must stay calm and collected in moments of emotional crisis.

  7. Good luck on that staying calm in moments of crisis thing. I loved this post, but then,I usually do love your posts. Made me think of the time I ran away from home when I was around 4 or so. Went off up the hill to Mrs. Emgies house, and stayed the night. Unfortunately, all the stress and excitement caused me to wet my bed. Mrs. Emgies was very nice and understanding, told me it could happen to anybody. But this was SO embarrassing I had to go home directly after breakfast.

  8. Thanks, Nat and Jen. Why I didn’t resort to the telly, I don’t know. Sometimes it does help to restore equilibrium.

    Helen, thank you! I also ran away once and spent the afternoon under a bush in our front garden. I was seriously peeved when no-one noticed and didn’t bother with big statements after that.

    LK, it was Thomas’s quote that lifted it from a boring catalogue of daily woes into something sweeter. And he sent it just as I was finishing the post, so it was good synchronicity.

    Emily, if you lived down the road I WOULD call you. But not too often I promise. My mother is always lecturing me about asking for help. She raised us in her home town, surrounded by friends and family, with loads of home help, and she always worried that I am isolated. My problem is that my friends who live nearby all have their own gaggle of kids to look after. So Mary Poppins would be good.

    Henitsirk, I am the grown-up in the situation and it really is up to me to demonstrate the good behaviour I require and not screech and throw my toys around and sulk.

    Ms Magic Hands, I think some deep breaths or counting to 2000 would help me in those moments. Act, not react. Sorry to hear your attempt at running away was a little disastrous!

  9. Princess Daisy, Gorgeous Smiler and Darling Lily, never! Are you sure you are talking about the most precious beautiful children? 🙂 Charl I love reading your blog as I’ve told you before you make me feel so normal. Just having this picture of all of you in my head brought a smile to my face. love Tanya. PS Aimee decided on the weekend that she will no longer wear anything that has pockets, despite me having had to buy everything WITH pockets in all of her 3 1/2 years of exsistence. I have NO idea what she will be wearing to school today. I think I will just go and have that chocolate cake for breakfast now…

  10. Aw shit…what a hell of a day. Well done for making sure they all stayed. I am very glad no-one decided to be become a norphan, including you. Hope today is a happy day. I am sure it will be.

  11. and i thought farrell was a bit of a handful

  12. As Jimmy Buffett has said, “There are good days, and bad days, and going half-mad days, Nothing remains quite the same. With all of my running and all of my cunning, If I wasn’t crazy I would go insane.”

    By the way, he is a parent, too.

  13. Thanks Emma and Tanya. I know that you both know that my kids can be delightful. You also know that delightful people, and their mother, can have their off day.

    James, let me tell that the handfulness increases exponentially with the number of children in the house!

    Ms HMM, thanks for coming back and providing me with that comforting quote. It’s always a relief to know that other parents have their mad days too.

  14. I love the Jane Austen quote too – makes me feel a bit better about the little I do get done. And writing when there are a thousand questions in the air around you is well nigh impossible.

    It sounds like a fairly typical day here, except they have never yet thought of packing and leaving – probably due to lack of cute suitcase!

    It’s funny how one day the same things you can handle with calm and humour and other days the short fuse leads to instant explosions.

  15. My dear Charlotte, This is the most wonderful description of a day with children. I sometimes feel I’m not normal because I’m so impatient with my boys and then I say things I wish I hadn’t, mostly because I end up looking truly mad and undignified. It’s hard to boss people around when you appear to have lost your senses. Your three sound really lovely, even when they appear to be anything but. xo, BL

  16. Kit, thanks for coming back. You’re right though, maybe if Daisy didn’t have such a cute suitcase she wouldn’t have thought of moving out!

    Bloglily, I can’t imagine you being impatient, but then you also have three children, and that, from a logistics point of view alone, can be slightly maddening. The best thing is I know I’m not alone and that they will forgive me and the next day I can try to be more adult and more reasoned.

  17. You are a saint, Charlotte, and most of all because you found the patience to turn the situation around. Psychoanalytically speaking, children need to be able to see that mummies and daddies can be good and bad and happy and sad all together in one person, and that the negative bits don’t destroy them. Then they can learn to accept and deal with their own emotions (which they only ever do by example – they never listen to a word we say). The fact that you went through the bad bits and out the other side and included your children in that process is what makes you a wonderful mother.

  18. Aw thanks Litlove. However much I claim I subscribe to the Italian model (we all shout at each other, but we all still love each other), I don’t much like it when I’m there. I do agree though that it’s healthy for children to know that it’s perfectly acceptable to have negative as well as positive emotions. Perhaps by doing this, I’ll be saving on the therapists’ bills later.

  19. Thanks for writing this – it was funny, wise and insightful all at the same time.

    I think it’s a shame that as grown-ups, we aren’t really supposed to make dramatic statements when things are escalating – but you’re right, it’s better not to.

    Neither of mine have threatened to run away from home yet, thankfully it hasn’t occurred to them, I don’t think. However, I shall use your model if it comes to it.

  20. Ouch, what a day! I struggle getting any writing and reading done with a job,so I can’t imagine what it must be like with three children. You are remarkabe. I remember a few days like that from my own childhood…

  21. Wonderful post! Given the same provocation, I think I would have been tempted to let them ‘run away’ (watching them all the way, of course). But that’s just me, a childhood runaway myself.

    By the way, the image of Ollie collecting a suitcase of his own to run away with Daisy made me smile, just a little bit. But, of course, I wasn’t there.

  22. Charl, Tom is so right, and I have always marvelled at how you manage to raise a family, run a household, work for money, all the while inhaling books and filums.. I am getting slightly off topic, but have I ever bored you with my Positive List Keeping? The essence is at the end of every day, write a list of what you did, major and minor, including things like changing a light bulb. I think we tend rather to keep a ‘to do’ list only of important things, and beat ourselves up about not getting as much done as we wanted from it. What such lists fail to do, is acknowledge all the minor and equally necessary chores we accomplish along the way. I also think, you can practically do away with the ‘to do’ list, because the really important things tend to remain uppermost in your mind anyway, and will get done. When I do the positive list keeping I have found that I am often very surprised at how much I accomplished, and it gives me such a positive glow, which the ‘to do’ list never does.

  23. Thanks, Ms Angelfeet. I realise large emotional statements from me don’t make things go smoother, although they do make me feel better for about three seconds.

    Kerryn, by that stage I was laughing. I couldn’t help it. You would have been forgiven for laughing too.

    Thanks, Emma. I just spent five minutes thinking about all the things I’ve achieved today (while unpacking the groceries of course – why do one task when you can do two?) and I felt wonderful. I may have to post on this. Or you could start your own blog and post on it yourself …

  24. Oh…my…God! I remember the electricity phase. The way you write it, though, makes is seem so funny, especially the suitcase packing. Hope things are calmer today. Your husband’s response was also funny, though something I’d definitely send from a safe distance myself…

    Dudelet did once (when he was still crawling) at a work function take hold of the fingers of a manager who I’d lately been having issues with. She thought that was very sweet and made encouraging noises. Then he tried to jam her fingers into the holes in a power socket.

    “You’ve been training him,” she said to me, accusingly.

  25. Charlotte, I remember one time when I decided I had to run away from home. This was when we lived in Colorado in the mountains, and our nearest neighbor was a half mile away. I packed my mother’s makeup case with all the necessities of life, which I seem to recall was enough food for my lunch and my hairbrush and toothbrush and a change of clothes.

    Then I wrapped the latest litter of four kittens up in m blanket and went off down the valley to a spot across the creek where there was a nice grassy bank. I set up housekeeping there.

    After a few hours the Mama cat came along and said “What are you doing with my babies out HERE, they need their lunch you know.” and proceeded to sit down and nurse them. Then she took one of them by the back of the neck and headed off towards the house with it. I felt so bad about making her do all that work to get her babies home that I followed along behind with the rest of the litter and after I delivered them to the house and Mother asked me how I was doing on my new life, I went back and got my stuff and came on home.

    Sometimes you just need a cooling off period, even when you are 8.

  26. This was a priceless blog! Mostly because I had a good laugh and it felt great to be normal. We all deserve to grow up in normal households and know that perfection is NOT normal! You’re a great Mom and you’re children are wonderful.

  27. Forgot to add that you all would have learned more lessons than from a boring old normal day and so did all of us readers.

  28. I have just arrived at your blog, and was about to bookmark it, but this posting puts me off. It sounds like a classic case of a very capable mother who does far too much for her kids. Your job is delivering them to the age of 16 capable of looking after themselves, not creating a bower of sweetness and light by doormatting yourself — especially as it didn’t work on this afternoon!

    Getting them to age 16 with most of their limbs still attached is assisted by teaching that for some things No means No. Ollie and the electrics sounds like a perfect occasion to make this one stick. Your excessive patience seems to have achieved a direct result that he is more likely to be electrocuted and an indirect result that he is more likely to be run over when you shout Stop as he wanders into the road.

    Does it appeal to your doormat instincts to fight the “Don’t interrupt the homework” battle every schoolday for 15 years? Mightn’t it be fairer to to take a proper stand now?

    The sad stories in the comments about running away do point to the circumstances of feeling under-appreciated and possibly having generally low self-esteem. Wouldn’t Daisy have been better in the laundry with you, being praised for helping? (OK, I know that takes heroic patience.)

    You are obviously doing lots of things right, and it sounds as though you managed a harmonious end to a bad afternoon, but to an outsider it looks as though you could lighten your own load and smooth their lives by applying a bit more thought from your undoubtedly good mind, and taking some targeted actions to help them along the way to self-managed behaviour that doesn’t need you to intervene so much.

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