Keep calm and carry on (studying)

It’s exam season again and in our household we will be facing several weeks ahead of us that will be interesting, to say the least. As a family, we will get to experience an extended period of exams because we did not have the foresight to realise that having 3 children born 18mths apart from each other meant that we would get to go through all of the fun milestones, each child right after the next, year after year. But milestones like ‘sleeping through the night’, potty training and starting school have gone up a notch in adolescence. We are now trapped in the never-ending stage of puberty and facing the many challenges this brings. Such as when our children take exams.

This week, we have experienced the highs and lows of Yr 9 end of year exams, which will be followed by Yr 11 GCSEs and Yr 12 AS level exams next week. The festivities will continue until July. In other words, we have hopped on board a 1½ month long emotional rollercoaster of stress and angst that can randomly veer towards heights of confidence and invincibility or can come crashing down to a realisation that exams are unfair and unjust. There is no escaping it as we really are all in it together.

Like many other parents whose children are also facing exams, I am sure I am not alone in noticing that in the run up to their exams, when they are spending countless hours preparing and revising, they can be especially ‘tetchy’. As a result, I have to make more of an effort to try and anticipate flare ups among my children to extinguish the flames of potential arguments so they will get back to the business of studying. This doesn’t always go to plan because whenever they have a break, they tend to want to let off a bit of steam. As their breaks often revolve around snacks and mealtimes, the kitchen is often a war zone where the most ridiculous and unpredictable battles are won and lost several times a day. Over the years, I have become a war-weary veteran yet am no wiser about how to avoid kitchen conflicts. Therefore, rather than try to pass on any tiny nuggets of wisdom, I thought I would share two recently fought battles.

A battle of muesli
My children know that breakfast is important but they also devote a lot of time these days to continuing the longstanding mini-battle of ‘who left the oats out’. It begins like this. Every school day morning, the first child comes into the kitchen and gets out the oats to make some muesli for breakfast. However, their serving is so massive that it requires them to sit down at the table so they can adequately stir in the vast quantities of other ingredients to make the champion of all mueslis. The second child then enters the kitchen and looks for the oats. The second child sees that the oats are on the table so they join the first child and make their favourite muesli. Both of them eat in silence with their eyes glued to the telly then clear up and leave the kitchen. The oats, however, are left on the table like a ticking time-bomb.

The third child next enters the kitchen like clockwork and by then, they find me making my breakfast. They start looking for the oats. The cupboard is opened dramatically and scanned for the oats and finding that they are missing, the third child continues to stare very hard into the cupboard. Eventually, the third child decides to check if the oats are on the table, where they routinely are. However, upon discovering this, the third child proceeds to go off like a breakfast grenade and begins a rant of ‘Who left the oats out?! Who left the oats out, again?!’. My attempt to dodge the bullet with ignorance are futile because technically, I am in the kitchen earlier and so should have stopped it. The other two children appear and things quickly escalate into an all-out muesli war as accusations about the of misappropriation of oats fly left and right. Battle lines are drawn and it’s sibling against sibling when justifications are made by the first child who ‘didn’t use them last’ and the second child who ‘didn’t get them out’. The battle continues until finally the threat of missed school buses forces it to be reluctantly abandoned, at least until the following morning.

Pizza Wars 2016
After the Pizza Wars of 2015 which involved the annexation of pizza slices previously held, I knew that attempting to make pizza at this time of the year was risky. However, as it was one of my children’s birthday and they wanted to have it for their celebration meal, there was no way out. But this year I was prepared and produced a master list of the requested pizza toppings without even doubting anyone’s commitment to use them and I bought some extra mozzarella as backup. I also decided to make twice as much pizza dough to avoid past standoffs that were literally all about the base. I even went the extra mile by asking my children how thick they wanted their pizza crust.

To those without children, it may seem to be a customary practice to ask this question and give your children lots of choices when it comes to food. But that is a fool’s game. Unless, of course, you want to spend the rest of your life catering to the differing and wavering palates of each of your children who will also prefer to use different coloured cups, plates and napkins. However, desperate times call for desperate measures so I bit the bullet and asked each of them, ‘Do you want your pizza crust thin, medium or thick?’. The first child fired the first strike by declaring that they wanted ‘the thickest’. Not to be outdone by his sister, the second child counterstruck saying he wanted it ‘as thick and as big as it can be’. But the birthday boy, himself, took out the big guns as I had asked him while he was revising, presumably for his maths exam. Because he proceeded to draw me a graph with the X and Y axis labelled as ‘thickness of crust’ and ‘size of pizza’. He then drew an ascending line on the graph which he now referred to as the ‘Continuum of pizza’ and pointed exactly to the coordinates of his requirements. Boom!

I retreated to the kitchen and attempted to roll out the desired thicknesses but this didn’t entirely guard against the small skirmish that followed when pizza territory was prematurely claimed before I could assign rightful ownership. Pizzas assigned to children, I was pretty confident that being armed with a vast array of toppings on display would serve as a distraction to any further comparisons of thickness. And for a while, it did. Until someone fired a loaded question at me by asking, ‘Are these all the toppings we have?!’ I considered my options and made a pre-emptive strike by replying that I had bought everything that was on the list. The same child fired the same question right back at me again but with a bit more force as if to say, ‘Do you not understand?!’ Again, carefully assessing the situation and trying to gain a bit more intelligence by glancing at the other two children, I lobbed another strike back and asked what ‘other toppings’ did he mean, specifically? There were already all of the pizza toppings from the list out there in front of him including cannellini beans, sweetcorn, pineapple and lettuce. As I had just done a massive shop, I knew we also had reinforcements of a cupboard and fridge full of food. What could I have possibly missed (this time)?

Very quickly I felt the full force of an onslaught of words caused by the lack of peperoni that we get ‘every time’, despite the fact that the consensus had elected for ham instead. This prompted another battle in a repeat of the Pizza Wars 2014, when many battles were fought over the use of appropriate and plain ‘wrong’ pizza toppings. I am surprised that we ever got to eat that night because when the battle finally died down long enough to actually make the pizzas, the extra thick crust took twice as long to cook.

Although the frequency of battles being fought in my kitchen during exam season hasn’t made me any wiser in preventing them, I can at least share what can help you, as a parent, get through it all. First, keep the kitchen well-stocked because you will be feeding what feels like an army. Second, adopt the wartime strategy of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ and arm yourself with humour as you are faced with the biting sarcasm of your children. And third, remember that exam season will end one day. The real fun starts when they get their results…Or you could choose to adopt the strategy of my husband who asked if there was anything he could do to help with the exam stress, as he was leaving for the airport.

In the meantime, it can never hurt to cook something good so I recently baked these Mango muesli muffins to call a truce on the breakfast battles. However, it soon turned into a conflict for the last muffin…

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