Tuesday 29 June 2010

One huge step for son, one giant leap for mum

Today is a landmark day. It is my littlest boy's first trial session at big school. He's been ready for this day for a full year to be honest, I certainly have been, but now that it's arrived I find myself in tears.

He woke up this morning, with ants in his pants and brimming with excitement. Displaying no first day nerves, he managed to scoff down three pieces of toast and a bowl of strawberries before shooting upstairs to clean his teeth, make his bed and get himself dressed in his big school uniform - all before 7.30am. With no nagging. Remarkable.

Seeing him in his little grey shorts and school shirt, knobbly knees on show, hair sticking up in all directions, I just wanted to grab hold of him and never let go. There he stood, my baby, tucking his shirt in so that he looked smart, brimming with confidence, ready to take on the world. That feeling right then - that love and pride and sadness and joy - all rolled into one is what it means to be a mother.

As we approached the school to drop off his brother, his confidence gave way as people started to comment on how smart and grown up he looked. The more people looked at him, the more he burrowed into my thigh, blushing furiously and looking as though he wished the ground would swallow him.

Then we had a repeat performance as I dropped him at pre-school. You could tell that he and his little friend were torn between being super proud of their big boy uniforms, wanting to show them off, and not wanting all the attention that was coming their way.

I'll be taking him to school after lunchtime for his first taste of the next 12 years of his life. I know it will be an easier transition than I had for son1, who had to face a complete unknown while suffering from an extreme fear of new situations. You can read about that joyous day here. But it's still a huge step for a little person and I sense there will be some clinging later.

However, while it might be one huge step for son, it's a giant leap for mum. Very, very soon I will officially have two school aged children. I'll no longer be the mum to a baby, toddler or pre-schooler. Life should in theory get easier.

But I still can't help feeling sad. The worst part is that I know these feelings are so utterly unoriginal. Most mothers feel this way when their youngest child heads off to big school. It's just another rite of passage you go through. It's not unusual or earth shattering. It just is. Doesn't make it any easier to deal with though.

So I've tried to think about why it feels so sad. It's not that I wish for another baby. I'm definitely a mother who enjoys her children more as they get older. I didn't do the baby thing well. But watching children grow up really emphasises how fast the years gallop by. You get them for such a fleeting time. This journey of motherhood is short but extremely intense.

Every new step they take is worth celebrating - whether its with tears of happiness or sadness - because it's not just their chance to experience something new or leave behind something old, it's yours too. So to all the mums out there with littlies going off to big school soon, live the experience to the full. Because it's part of your life journey too.

I might just stock up on tissues for the beginning of September. I think I'm going to need them.

Friday 25 June 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Unlike my friend Katyboo who has read everything on the planet and knows more about books and theatre than anyone else on the planet, I don't. Occasionally I have books recommended to me but more often than not I browse the libraray or book shop and grab what I hope is something good. Invariably it's not. But every now and then I luck out.

For example, several months back I spent the day in Cambridge. I'm not sure whether its the academia of the place that results in a more high brow book at the local book shop (I should have realised that high brow wasn't me), but I bought three from the bestsellers range and left feeling optimistic.

The first book I tried was dire. It was called The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton. It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. If it was down to me, it would possibly be her last book. I know that sounds terribly mean and Eleanor, if you happen to read this, I'm sorry. But I just didn't get all the lesbian angst. I'm sure it was very clever and it was probably just me being obtuse but it definitely wasn't my cup of tea. I might sell it to a lesbian book club. They might have more success with it.

The second book had even more critical acclaim. It won the 2009 Man Booker Prize. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This is set in Tudor England and is a rather vast book. It started well, but then got incredibly complicated with many historical characters and complex storylines. I tend to read my books at 10pm - 11.30pm (roughly). It's not when my brain is at its peak performance. I eventually gave up. This no doubt makes me a dunce and I will probably incur the scorn of literary geniuses the world over. But sod it, I tried plodding through 2666 by Roberto Bolano and all that happened was I aged in the process. I wasn't about to repeat the experience.

So I turned to my third and final book purchase, wondering just how dire this last work would be. It is called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.


Honestly, this book is quite possibly the best book I've ever read. It is a series of letters written by the title character (an author) in post war Britain. She discovers a literary society on Guernsey and the book plots her relationship with them. I'm doing it no justice. It is simply brilliant.

I don't want to sound like one of those know-all book critics who dissect the characters with prose of their own so lofty that it sounds like they're trying to outdo the award winning author. So I won't. But take my word for it, this book is something you have to read. It made me laugh out loud and cry just as loudly. It was so incredibly easy to read, yet wasn't fluff. I fell in love with all the characters and Guernsey and made me want to be there.

So this summer, when you are browsing the book stores trying to get a summer read for the beach, choose this one. Then come back and tell me how you found it. So that I can say: 'Told ya so!'

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Another day, another rant

I'm starting to think I should rename this blog Home Office Rant. Because that's all I seem to do of late. And here's another one...

Why is it that children behave so appallingly for their mothers yet behave as though butter wouldn't melt in their mouths when their fathers walk through the door? Why is it that we do 90% of the parenting - all that 'fun' stuff like potty training and weaning and teaching manners - and dads get to do the playing rough and tumble and building dens? Why is it that you can ask your children to clean their teeth 20 times but their fathers just have to say it once and they jump to attention?

And why, why, why when you complain about this to the aforementioned father or mention how shitty the kids have been on a given day, does he try to suggest parenting strategies and point out where you might be going wrong? At what point does he think this is actually helpful?

He might suggest things like: "You just have to be firmer." or "I have a zero tolerance policy." or "I don't let them get away with the little things so they don't try the big things." or "You need to be in the same room with them and spend all your time with them because then they won't misbehave."

I might try this last one. I might just see what happens when I stay in a room with them all day. I won't go to the kitchen to make meals. I won't put any laundry on. I won't take a shower or have a pee. I won't work (god forbid). I won't tidy anything. I will just be with the kids. I can see it working, you?

Is there a point where you can send your husband to the naughty step because he still doesn't get it? Doesn't he know that if I can't rant to him about how the children are driving me insane, that I will have to rant to the internet instead? Doesn't he realise that I'm not looking for answers, I'm looking for sympathy.

Because the bottomline is this: when it comes to little boys, their mother is the person who feeds them, nags them, washes them, carts them around and gives them cuddles when they sit still long enough. Their father is the dominant male in the house. And like a pride of lions, the cubs can either tow the line or get ousted by their father. That's why they do as they're told when he speaks. That's why my roar will never be as loud.

I'm off to have wine.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Pee'd off

I have spent many years moaning about men who leave the toilet seat up. It means I have to touch the filthy thing to put it back down. Or worse, don't notice that it's up, sit down and just about take a swim in the toilet.

However, now that I have two small boys I have a new complaint. It's this:


I know why. They don't want to touch it either. And, more importantly, it falls into the category of 'too much effort'. Particularly as peeing is always left until the absolute final second, when they are forced to perform the pee pee dance, while shimmying their pants down. It's at this point that their pee shoots out of a fully out-of-control willy, like an angry fire hose, covering everything within a three metre radius of the loo.

Obviously being boys, they don't notice this. Or if they do, they applaud how far they can pee, rather than say: Bugger, I'd better clean that up before mum notices.

Which means that now, whenever I go for a pee, instead of falling into the toilet due to a lack of toilet seat, I sit down in a pool of pee. It's usually as I realise that the underside of my thighs are soaked that I notice belatedly that my socks are too....

I might as well take out shares in Dettol wipes as I feel I will be supporting the company for many years to come.

Monday 14 June 2010

Creative writing

Today I spent the afternoon doing homework. Not mine you understand. I don't have homework. Or rather, I do. All of my work is at home - whether it's running my business or running the house. But none of it is the type I have to get marked by a teacher. Thank God, I'd certainly fail on the housework front.

No, today I helped son 1 with a homework assisgnment. We had to turn a shoe box into a scene on which he could tell a story. It could be anything he liked. He was all for creating a football stadium filled with millions of tiny people. My arts and crafts skills are about as lacking as my housework abilities, so I talked him out of that.

In the end we stuck with what we (me) knew: Africa. We managed to transform a R.M. Williams shoe box into the Serengeti, complete with mountain range, setting sun, jungle, water hole (with real rocks), a river, a waterfall, trees, bushveldt, logs, animals and an alien (a gogo). This all sounds very impressive, but really we just stuck some dead shrubbery from the garden on some cardboard that we'd coloured with crayons. And the animals were small plastic ones we had loitering in the toy cupboard after last year's safari birthday for son2. The gogo was a hangover from that particular school craze.

Rather proud of our efforts (I speak in plural because while I tried desperately hard to restrain myself and get him to do it, I knew that the plains of Africa would have high rise buildings on them sooner than the shoebox would be complete if I didn't take an active role), we moved onto the story.

I suggested that he tell me what he wanted the story to be about, and I would be his PA, typing it up as he spoke it out loud. This too was a challenge. You really, really have to hold yourself back and not make suggestions. You have to just let them write their story as they want it to be. Which is why his story goes like this:

Alien in Africa

Once upon a time in Africa, the animals were drinking at the water hole. The lions were stalking the zebras and the giraffe was nibbling on trees. Suddenly, a big bang of fire fell down into the river. Out popped a green horrible looking alien.

The animals lined up (except the zebras and the giraffe) in a big line to fight the alien. But the alien does not get destroyed until the last cheetah. All of the animals hide from the alien (who goes invisible).

The End

It needs work, but I feel JK Rowling needs to watch out.

Monday 7 June 2010

Only twelve more years of cajoling to go

Today marked the start of the last term of the school year. Personally, I was pretty excited about it. It's the summer term. Sports days, school plays, fetes and leavers ceremonies to look forward too, not to mention walking to school in sunshine, rather than blizzards. And only one more term before son 2 goes to big school and I can stop paying
for childcare. Hooray!

But the enthusiasm was not shared by son 1. He reluctantly ate breakfast and even more reluctantly read his school book that he should have read over half term but didn't. (Note for parents of boys: according to child psychologist Nigel Latta, boys don't leave things till the last minute because they are lazy. They do it because, well, you never know. They could get stabbed to death by a pirate or kidnapped by aliens before the due date of whatever the task is. So why bother wasting valuable time doing something that might end up being pointless?)

Anyway, after an excrutiatingly slow rendition of Chip and Biff's latest adventure, it was time to get dressed. It was round about this time that he started complaining of 'not feeling very well'. When I enquired after the nature of his illness, he indicated a general malaise - sore head, sore tummy, cough and possible cold. He definitely felt that he had a temperature.

He looked fine to me, other than a slightly red eye but that was probably due to excess swimming over the weekend.

I made him a deal. I said that if he had a temperature over 39C, he could stay home. If not, he had to go to school. His temperature was 36.5C.

This didn't go down well.

So emphatic were his protestations that I felt that perhaps he really did feel unwell, and how would I feel if someone forced me off somewhere when I genuinely felt rubbish. So I called the childminder and asked her how she'd feel about having him, and she said that there was something going around that caused this general malaise. Feeling like a bad mother, I said that he could go to the childminder for the day. Instantly he seemed to be on the mend.

When I picked him up I asked the childminder how he had been. Fit as a fiddle apparently. She feels he is suffering from stress about going to school.

So I googled 'child not wanting to go to school' and instantly (God bless the internet) found a very useful article that said children who don't want to go to school usually fall into one of three problems:
1. They have social issues (no friends, being picked on, thinking they're not liked etc)
2. They have issues with the schoolwork (find it too hard, feel like they're stupid, can't keep up etc)
3. They have ants in their pants issues (can't sit still and find school a bore)

Now I know that my child is good academically. I'm not saying he's going to be one of the world's top brainiacs, but he can read, and write, and spell (mostly) and is good with maths. In fact I've been told that he's very good at maths. But this seems to be slipping of late. So is it a work related thing?

I know he has had friends issues, but he hasn't mentioned this for some time. And he's definitely not the ants in pants variety.

I attempted to talk to him about this. Gently, calmly, hopefully being caring and understanding. He simply said that he doesn't want to talk about it, but he hates school and doesn't want to go anymore. Apparently, the reason he hates school is he hates 'doing work'. Hmm, could the prognosis be that he's bone idle? But it seems that he falls into category 2.

But once I managed to dig slightly deeper, I discovered that the teachers don't read out the questions to them, they have to read them themselves and then answer them. And because he says he doesn't understand the questions, he doesn't know how to answer them. And if there's one thing my son cannot stand, it's being wrong. Is it wrong for 6 year olds to be expected to read through the questions and answer them on their own? I don't know. They don't teach you this stuff when you give birth do they?

The other issue is that they have to write in linked up writing. His print writing looks fine. His linked up writing looks like a drunk spider has vomited across a page. And because of this, he hates doing any work that requires him to write, not because he doesn't have the ideas, but because he finds the job of putting pen to paper way too hard.

But I still feel that these are surface issues. And that there is more to discover, but he won't (or possibly can't) express what it is. I'm going to have to chat to the teacher about it. I recall at the parent teacher evening, they said that it was a fine line to push children who could do more and not push them too much that they feel overwhelmed by it all. Perhaps there's been too much of the latter.

Sigh. I wish I'd studied child psychology so I could figure out what is going on in his small boy head. But if anyone has any top tips on how to get a reluctant school goer to go to school, please share. Because I'm not sure I can manage another 12-odd years of this.