Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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A Few Good Rules

I’ve just finished reading Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult’s version of the American school shooting phenomenon, in which she attributes the shooter’s act of vengeance to years of systematic bullying. Picoult spins a good tale, broad, encompassing, but never deep. Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, deals with the same subject matter – what makes a teenage murderer, how a community responds, how parents of a murderer feel – but far more provocatively and urgently. Her tale of a mother who fails, despite every good intention, to love her unlovable child, is chilling. If I had to choose between the two, I would recommend the latter. I admire Shriver’s brutal honesty and her determination to tackle deeply unpleasant topics.

Shriver’s story posits that Kevin, the teenage murderer, arrives on the planet evil. This alone, without the story’s horrific denouement, is hard to digest. We want to believe that babies are innocent, until we slowly imprint our weaknesses on them. We want to believe that the parents of an amoral child did their best to teach him. And we certainly want to believe that such a child might take revenge his schoolmates but never on his own family.

The murderer in Picoult’s tale starts out as an ordinary child, perhaps one who is more sensitive than most. On his first day of kindergarten, the bullying begins and it never stops. Each day at school is one of humiliation, shame and beatings. One part of the story I found hard to accept is that the adults around him, his parents and his teachers, are never aware of the extent of the bullying. His parents try to make him more acceptable to his peers by forcing him to play soccer, but continually compare him to his brother Josh who is socially competent, academic and sporty. Josh also teases his brother at school, calling him a “freak”, and how this fails to pan out in the family is never addressed.

In comparison to Shriver’s meaty broth, Picoult’s novel is a thin gruel, competent but never entirely satisfying. However, it did make me think a little more about bullying and how children loathe difference. When Lily arrived in her little German school class last year, she was swiftly dumped by the one child from her own kindergarten (they have since reconciled) and was left to face the hordes on her own. After two weeks of hearing that no-one wanted to play with her at break-time, I went on a playdate offensive, inviting children round, baking welcoming muffins and letting them see that while Lily may be a little different from the German norm in that she comes from an English/South African background, she is loved and cherished just like they are. Now she has lovely little friends, from whom she remains slightly independent, as is her way. Had I left it, perhaps she would have managed on her own, but perhaps she would not have. I’m just glad I acted swiftly.

However, with bullying on my mind, it was interesting that she came home today with list of rules for good behaviour at school. The children have cut them out and stuck them in their work books, and they are discussing them in class with their teacher. The rules are:

We listen to each other, and to the teacher

We don’t laugh at anyone when they make a mistake

We don’t blame each other

We help each other

We don’t run in the classroom, only in the playground

We speak politely to each other

We let each other finish our sentences

We keep our desks tidy

We work quietly, so as not to disturb each other

We solve our conflicts without violence

We wait our turn quietly

We put up our hands when we want to speak

I don’t know if this is school policy, or just the policy of Lily’s teacher, but I think they are a great set of principles, ones according to which I’d be happy to raise my children.


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Who Are You Calling A Princess?

Daisy’s sixth birthday is three months away, but she is in the stages of advanced planning. We are talking about the party, the guest list, the cake (chocolate with Smarties) and the presents. Following an intensive workshop with her sister, she presented me with this list of potential gifts:

A Sleeping Beauty crown

A butterfly dressing-up dress

A Barbie Cinderella

A dress of Aneka

A new bike and a new helmet

(At this point, Lily’s hand got sore, so she handed over to a grown-up, K, who could write quicker)

A hairband with shells on

A necklace – purple and pink

Some more pretend wings – not broken

A dress with pictures of shells on

A clip with a rose

A crown with a star twinkling on top

A Swan Lake crown

Some Princess and the Pauper shoes

A Barbie Swan Lake dress

A sparkly dress with the moon and the stars on it

A Disney ball

A bracelet

A watch

A new crayon

A Sleeping Beauty book

A Snow White DVD

A Snow White dress

This is a girl who knows what she wants. Most likely, she’ll be getting a new bike and a new helmet. The budget might also stretch to a new crayon.


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The Fashion Commandments

I am not a fashion victim or slave. Since I was bashed with the blogging mallet, I have almost completely given up my fashion magazine habit – unless I receive them as a gift, in which case, I hyperventilate with excitement. I now tend to get my fashion advice from two online newspapers – The Guardian/Observer and The Times – and those brilliant stylistas at Go Fug Yourself. With forty looming like an overly mascaraed false eyelash, I occasionally give some thought to my own style. Am I showing too much flesh, like a rosemary-scented Easter lamb, or is there a hint of tough-skinned old mutton about me? I recently read the following tips from The Times, which I thought would be important to share with those of you who care. Those of you who couldn’t give a lamb damn, then flick away fast to something less superficial.

Ten commandments, apparently, for mothers with daughters (and all women over 40):

1. Thou shalt resist Abercrombie & Fitch. It’s soft, it’s comfortable. It’s designed for teenagers.

Luckily this is not a problem for me. No A&F in my ‘hood. However there are large sections of H&M I have to avoid.

2. Thou shalt be seen only at the most casual events in hoodies.

Early morning walk? Talking the kids to kindergarten? Apres-ski? Methinks these are all suitable hoody occasions. Otherwise I leave the hood well alone. Of course, the hood on my green boiled wool winter coat doesn’t count here.

3. Thou shalt wear high-tech trainers only in the gym.

Well, what’s a high-tech trainer when it’s home. One that flashes? Or calculates your BMI? I do wear trainers – see above for when.

4. Thou shalt not show thy political awareness by wearing slogan T-shirts. Thou hast the vote. Use it.

I have voted, and I do forswear slogan T-shirts, but I wouldn’t mind a T-shirt that said “Mother. Blogger. Goddess”. That would be good.

5. Thou shalt wear jeans, but not the identical cut and brands as thy teenage daughter.

I do avoid teenage jeans, usually because I can’t get them over my knees. While my jeans do rest slightly below my navel, they also rest quite far above my coccyx, so that I keep my antler tattoo hidden from public view. Some things just have to be kept private.

6. Thou shalt not wear sparkly body powder even in jest. It settles in the wrinkles.

Sparkly body powder, no. Sparkly Dream Mousse Shimmer Porcelain Face Illuminator for special occasions, yes. I am a natural born princess.

7. Thou shalt not wear leggings. Period.

I have lived through two leggings fashion eras. This is not mine. I leave the leggings to the twiglets. Chicken drumstick legs are only for boot-cut pants. Period.

8. Thou shalt not suddenly decide to be edgy, although if one has always been an eccentric dresser, carry on as normal.

Disagree! While I am not edgy, I am cutting-edge for my town (I wear lipstick! and mascara! to kindergarten! with jewellery!) I refuse to stop entertaining the crowds.

9. Thou shalt never do mixy-matchy or themed outfits with one’s daughters.

Absolutely. Too, too tacky.

10. Thou shalt treat thyself to expensive classics. And lock them away.

I’m not good at tailored. Tailored, expensive classics make me feel like an over-upholstered sofa, all puffed-up and full of self-importance. However I have made two investment purchases this year – a beautiful pair of brown leather boots and my Party Dress. Worn together, they are very slightly edgy.

Do any of these rules speak to you? Or do I drop The Times of London as my fashion bible and head elsewhere for tips?