How to make Christmas and birthdays an extra-special day - another not-a-Mommy-blogger post

I hate to be immodest, but when it came to Christmas and birthday gifts for our kids, we were the best parents ever.  (Whaddya mean, was there space in the cave for 'gifts'?)

I'd like to pass on the secrets of our success.  You often share with me how much my advice has helped you.  Yeah, maybe it helped some of you to a lawsuit, but c'est la vie, as they probably never even say in France.

Every birthday and Christmas, our kids would come downstairs early to look at their pile of presents.  This didn't take long, because when I say pile, I need you to think 'gentle slope', not 'Everest heights'.  Okay, so forget what I said about being the best parents ever.  We were as mean as ... as mean as ... as mean as a brain which won't come up with a simile when it's asked nicely.

The kids were only allowed to open one present before breakfast, though, and that present was on the breakfast table.  It was shaped like this ...

... only, it was standing up rather than lying down like the one in the above picture, but if you think I'm spending more than twenty-five minutes on Google Images just to find a standing-up rectangular box-shaped Christmas present, you can think again.  I have a life, you know.

The kids knew what was in the box, because the eldest told the middle one about the tradition and then the middle one told the youngest.  Our kids were good at passing things on to each other.  Lice.  Threadworms.  Chickenpox.  Unwanted broccoli.  They were so, so generous.

So, they knew why the present on the table had to be opened before breakfast.

And that was because it was breakfast.  It was a box of cereal, to be ceremonially ripped open that morning.  A box of breakfast cereal with added sugar.  Oh yes, we taught our kids how to party, we did.

Why were they so pleased with this traditional celebratory routine?  How come they fell over their own legs on the way downstairs in order to open the first present of the day?  How come they leapt on the present with teeth and claws, tearing it open as though they hadn't eaten for two weeks?

Well, I guess not having eaten for two weeks may have had something to do with it.  There's nothing as effective as starvation to make a child appreciate a Sugar Puff.

Okay, so I exaggerate.  We didn't starve them.  No, the reason they looked forward to the sugary cereal was because, normally, we only let them eat cereal without sugar.  Like this ........

That's right.  We would send them out into the fields while we had our coffee and bacon and eggs and pain au chocolat and read the papers, and they would head for the nearest farmland and gnaw on raw ears.  Or is that just boxers who do that?  Let me rephrase it.  They would pick the ears of wheat and chew on them.  It was very good for their teeth, and for our peace of mind, and I recommend it.  It's amazing how many crossword clues you can fill in while the kids are out foraging for their meals in the countryside.

Of course, we did bear the weather in mind.  When it rained or snowed or hailed or thunderstormed or tornadoed, instead of sending them out to the fields for breakfast for the usual time, we would send them out for only the first hour, and then they could come back and after rubbing them down with a bit of horsehair flannelling or defrosting them with the hairdryer we would give them a choice of cereals without added sugar.  Like this ...

or maybe this ....

... or if there was a Royal occasion, or perhaps a Bank Holiday, something much more exciting and varied like this ....

Sometimes we even added milk, especially when the repeated visits to hospital after the choking incidents got a little tiresome.  At that time in the morning, when you're trying to get to work, what parent wants to be resuscitating four year olds, for crying out loud?

So, now you can see why our children thought that a box of cereal with added sugar, like Coco Pops or Frosties, was as much a treat as three weeks in Disneyland or a pony plus stables or a personal media suite with games consoles and three widescreen TVs.

The secret is to make them grateful.

Another time, I'll tell you about the way we made them thankful for weak orange squash.  But just as a hint, living near a stagnant pool helps with that one. 


  1. I've just finished this post and would have sent you all my money if only the package in the first image had been standing on end. As it was, I just felt ever so sad and disappointed that a wonderful post should be so marred.

  2. I just tell my five year old that she is a Jehovahs Witness and it is therefore against her religion to get Christmas presents... voila! Instant result!

  3. I think I might wrap up the components of our Christmas meal this year - each one individually and let the kids open them one by one like a certain episode of Bottom. "Oh look! It's... it's... it's another sprout!" Make the celebration last all day.

  4. I assume you are from The North....the last time I heard of such inventive parenting was when my father gave me an old Coca Cola lid to lick for my 13th birthday. Luxury!

  5. Hm, absence makes the heart grow fonder ... Even the absence of sugar-coated cereal :)

  6. Cereal....with sugar....sheer luxury! I used to dream of cereal whilst gnawing the sole of an old leather shoe for breakfast, and that was only on my birthday, the rest of the year I just got a smack with a smelly kipper. Your kids were spoiled.

  7. Ridiculous generosity - that looks like a really big packet.

  8. I couldn't love the cereal idea more. It makes the pair of pants I had as a child seem like a luxury.

    Thanks for visiting mine

    Tina xx

  9. Mise - yes, I'm dreadfully sorry. It won't happen again, that kind of bad service.

    Annie - you have all the good ideas.

    Steve - I wouldn't like to be near your Christmas tree with all those sprouts piled underneath it.

    Domestic G - You got a Coke lid? I got a Coke bottle LABEL! I tell you, a lick of glue isn't enough to get a kid through a school day.

    Joanne - that was the basic principle. It worked a treat.

    Kerryonliving - I know they were spoiled. I often said to my husband, 'You know, I think four Shreddies is too much. We don't want them to get used to luxury.'

    Isabelle - yes, it was a big packet. But we have fifteen children - did I mention that?

  10. Awesome.

    Yeah, we always have cereal with sugar here. That bark stuff makes me gag.

  11. If you think that any one of the fifteen will be the buffer between you and the meanest sort of old people's home come your dotage you have another think coming.

    You'll be lucky if they let you have your teeth back to gnaw the dog's bone.

  12. Well ,given their normal breakfast , they never had to worry about their bowels so could take a yearly bowl of Frosties in their stride .
    And the creative potential of such a large box must have been a heady delight in itself .
    Just as well Christmas comes but once a year ....

  13. WW - stop gnawing on trees, I keep tellin' ya.

    Friko - it's okay. I'll come and live with you. That's okay, isn't it?

    SmitandSon - of course, it being a large box, it took a lot of paper, which then had to be ironed for the following year. Just call me eco-queen.

  14. My dear Fran, You have been coddling these children far too long. It does make for an interesting parable...but get the little boogers a reality show and put their earning in a 401 account for yourself to get you and hubbo through the thin years to come. They sound as tough as nails, so get them an audition and start making money. Stop the coddling!

  15. Count - I know, I know, it's just my natural compassion - I can't help it.

  16. Brilliant!! Who would have thought a post with a picture of bran could be so good??

  17. --now that I've stopped laughing and spewing bits of Grape-Nuts I can say I'll take some of these ideas to heart this xmas....

  18. Just what I needed while I was eating breakfast, a good laugh to start the day, gifts are truly relative........

  19. That is brilliant! However, just so you know, the sugary stuff is now made with whole wheat...well, that's what it says on the box, so I'm going with it!

  20. Really good to meet you yesterday Fran, and I lurve your blog :)

  21. This mid-30s life - you mean, you don't find that picture attractive? How strange!

    Sean - ah! Didn't think of Grape Nuts! Another food the Continentals would probably think we were mad to eat.

    Karen - I'm glad to hear you didn't have to spit it out like Sean did.

    Sandra - That's like saying 'Mars Bars have milk in so I can have three!'. Thanks for your comment and for signing up. Nice to meet you.

    Heather - good to meet you, too - have already looked up the Sozzled Sausage and checked out times etc. May see you next Sunday, if I can wangle getting all my schoolwork done in the daytime...

  22. Yes, utterly, me too. No sugar, no telly, no Mcdonalds. Deprived childhoods, bigtime. But do they hate me? No, they are utterly lovely and still like a stiff drink. QED.

  23. Ha, love it! Especially, 'The secret is to make them grateful.'


  24. Hilarious Fran! Although I secretly suspect you were actually more generous:) There's something to be said for not being overly generous at Christmas though as there's far too much commercialism (or my case 2 kid's birthdays either side of Christmas!) I expect you made good use out of those empty cereal packets though!

  25. Elizabethm - we're the old school, us. Knew how to bring up kids to feel that the remainder of their lives was good.

    Bluestocking - it works every time. Try taking the computers off your teenagers for a week or two and see how thankful they are when you return them ...

    Jane - me, generous? If my kids heard you say that, there would be much bitter laughter.


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