It's the summer holidays and while I dream of pitching my children out into a sun drenched garden to entertain themselves, I know the reality is more likely to be all of us housebound by torrential rain as I tear out my hair trying to think up ways to entertain us all.
Fortunately my four sons are very resourceful when it comes to dreaming up ways to kill time on a rainy day and here I have compiled a list of their top 10 activities when cooped up indoors. I would just like to add the caveat, whatever you do, don't try these at home.
Oh how my two-year-old twins love this one. Whether it is screaming because I have switched off the television, screaming because I can't instantly tune it into their favourite show, screaming because you have dared to suggest that they might eat something other than bagels or screaming because you think the extent of their screaming signifies it is time for a nap – it doesn't really matter, they just like to scream.
This one is perhaps more popular with my older boys. From the moment they could both speak this one became one of their favourite pastimes. They can argue over what to do, how to do it, who is best at doing it. They can argue over who owns the worthless toy left over from a long forgotten party bag, who failed to flush the toilet, who gets to sit next to mummy at teatime. The list really is endless.
3. Injuring themselves.
This is another favourite and is particularly fun when executed while I am way upstairs sorting the washing as an escape from the screaming and arguing. I will be peacefully putting away the endless supply of pants my sons get through when suddenly a wail will fill the air.
It sounds as one of my sons has mortally wounded himself and has but moments to live. I dash, panicked, downstairs, to find a child lying face down on the floor sobbing. 'What's wrong?' I cry. 'He pushed me. On purpose', comes the petulant answer from the now dry-eyed boy. Oh for the love of God, I mutter as I return upstairs to fold more pants.
Now this one any parent will instantly recognise as it is a skill that all children hone from the moment they can whine independently. Clearly it is my fault that water is falling from the sky and I must be berated appropriately. 'Why can't we go out?' 'Why won't it stop raining?' 'I'm bored' and on and on until I want to dunk them into the rain butt just to shut them up.
Closely related to number 4 this one is more specific. I have slaved over tea, attempting to make a dish that is both nutritious, healthy and that they won't turn their noses up at. Their response? A predictable 'I don't like peas/fishfingers/potatoes'. Then the complaints about having to actually eat a significant amount of their healthy main course before diving into the puddings begin. Which moves us swiftly up to number 6.
I swear my eight-year-old is set to become a top-notch lawyer as he loves nothing more than ruthlessly negotiating a cut-throat deal. Say he can stay up until 8pm and he instantly counters with 8:15, say he can read another page and he will be angling to finish the chapter, offer him another 10 minutes on the Xbox and he will wangle himself 20.
He finds meal times a particularly fertile ground to polish this talent, as when I say he has to finish his broccoli he will hive off several stems and then begin haggling over just how many he has to eat before he can strike a deal over how much chocolate he is allowed for dessert.
7. Being irritating.
Another one that is commonplace amongst children. Why ask a simple question when you can trail around after me saying 'Mummy, mummy, mummy' at increasing volume? Why finish your breakfast quickly so we can leave the house before lunchtime when you can tarry over it so long that steam actually starts to come out of your parents' ears?
Why put your shoes on when you could fanny around looking for an unnecessary toy instead? Why quicken your pace when we are late, when you can stop every 10 seconds to inspect every passing lamp post, scrap of rubbish or neighbours' drive? Why make life easy when it's so much more fun to make it agonising and frustrating?
8. Practising selective deafness.
There is a scientific test for this one. Firstly ask your child in a loud voice to tidy up their room while they are busy watching a DVD and watch for any response. There won't be one of course, but we have to be rigorous in our experiment.
Then whisper in tones so quiet that only dogs can hear you 'Would you like some sweeties?' and watch as they bound over slavering out 'Yes mummy, I'd love some sweeties'. Bob's your uncle and you have empirical proof of the existence of selective deafness.
9. Losing things.
I am not sure if this one is specific to boys, but I know my house of men can't keep track of their most treasured possessions for more than a fleeting moment or two. My eldest has a precious bear who has been with him since birth, and you would think this would make him worth keeping safe. You would be wrong,
I have lost count of the number of times I have had to play hunt Barnabas. He has been located in all kinds of places from the doctor's surgery to miscellaneous play areas, from inside a wellington boot to behind the sofa and all because his owner simply forgot about him.
10. Winding me up.
A combination of numbers 1 through 9 adds up to a mother on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Of course with four sons to contend with they can split the tasks between them to cover all bases. So while one is screaming and whining, another can complain and negotiate, a third then loses track of possessions and time and the fourth member of the quartet hurts himself because he didn't listen to you.
Oh how I love the holidays.