New year. New term.

The stockings and the twinkly lights are down.

The school shoes are out.

The PE kits are washed (I think).

Going back to school after the Christmas break feels like a big deal. Not only is there the usual trepidation at the thought of getting back into some sort of routine, but it also involves eating fewer mince pies as well as having to say goodbye to all the tinsel and sparkle that has become a normal part of life.

In recent years I have decided that I am actually quite a fan of January. I like the clearer diaries, the calmer feel, the fact that everyone is too cold and/or too broke to want to do anything in the evenings. I even quite like getting everyone back into a routine……sort of. I’m just not such a fan of being in the routine myself.

I have always been grateful to have a job that works around my boys, particularly now that they are all school-aged – not having to think about childcare options during the holidays is an absolute blessing. But, there is also something challenging about being in the same pattern as your children, because it means that everyone is experiencing those peaks and troughs at the same time. Getting into a term-time routine, counting down to the next school holiday, experiencing the back to school wobbles…’s not easy helping your children through it while you’re also going through it yourself. It also makes you feel about 10 years old.

For some reason, the ‘back to school/work’ thing gets worse for me as I get older, and I always find myself starting to feel anxious and getting just a bit snappy as we near the end of the holidays. My boys have spent the last few days playing schools so I am taking this as a sign that they are ready to go back, even if they don’t realise it. But me? Well, I’m quite happy with the lazier mornings. With not needing to get up the minute my children wake. With later breakfasts and time for an extra cuppa.

It is never as bad as I expect once we all get into the swing of things but that initial getting-into-the-swing is hard work. This year I am attempting to conquer my back to school anxiety by focusing on small achievements. It is easy to get overwhelmed these days, simply because there is more coming at us from every angle – activities for us, activities for our children, things we think we should be doing / watching / experiencing / learning. The Christmas holidays are the perfect temporary escape from all of that…..a good excuse to immerse ourselves in lights, tinsel and Mary Poppins and forget about all the pressures from outside.

Getting geared up to re-enter real life is one of the challenges of a new year; and, having failed to tick off very much at all from my Christmas holiday to-do list, I will not be aiming to achieve anything too ambitious this month. There will be no dry January or new year detox for me (there are a lot of biscuits to eat up, after all). My aims for this month are simple – to focus on one task at a time, to keep on top of things as best I can; and mainly, to keep things in perspective.

Happy January everyone – here we go! x

new year, new term.jpg

New year, new term. We’re all feeling a bit like this.


The back to school wobbles (that never really leave us)

“When can we make that cake, mummy?” / “We’ll do that during the holidays.”

“When can we make my clay robots, mummy?” / “We’ll do that during the holidays.”

“When can we see friend A or friend B, have friend C round to play, and go for a picnic with friends X, Y and Z?” / “Oh yes, we’ll do all of those things during the holidays too.”

Apparently we were going to do it all during the holidays. I should have known better than to promise such things – we rarely achieve much of what is on the start-of-holiday to-do list.  We keep our days busy, because staying in the house for too long usually ends up with me crying in a corner. We head to the park with balls, tennis rackets and skateboards; and I listen to my boys squabble outside instead of in. We make the most of the freedom, but we get spectacularly little done.

Back in July, it felt like we had a never-ending stretch of time ahead of us.  We had some plans but we were gloriously free of the school/work routine, and those 6 weeks felt full of possibility. Now, autumn is around the corner and we are in full-on back-to-school mode – labelling uniform, getting feet measured, stocking up on stationery, and doing our optimistic start-of-term ironing.

And with all the back-to-school preparation comes that horrible back-to-school feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach – the Sunday night feeling.

It isn’t really about liking or not liking school – it’s the change, getting back into the normal routine, and that slight apprehension about what might be new or different this year. It is knowing that we’re going back to getting up and out, back to “why haven’t you got your book bag and WHY AREN’T YOUR SHOES ON???”, back to spellings and times tables. It is moving on to a new teacher, new expectations, different classroom dynamics. However much you enjoy school, it all feels like hard work after 6 weeks.

My boys are 8 and 6, but the same will probably be true when they are 15 and 13. The carefree routine which, for the last few weeks has been their life is about to be turned on its head.

And me, well I’m nearly 39 – a proper grown up now. So obviously it feels different for me, because these things get easier as you get older…..Except I’m not really sure that they do. It’s back to work for me too (and yes, I know I’m super lucky to have the holidays off), and I also have that Sunday night feeling – I will have it for the rest of this week, and over the weekend too. As much as I know that a return to routine will be good for all of us, I am dreading it. The morning rush, the after-school tears, keeping up with the school calendar as well as with my own work – the thought of all of that starting again makes me feel properly wobbly. I might look like a grown up, but the back to school dread is very much still there. And I’m not going to pretend that I have loved every minute of the summer holidays – by lunchtime on day one I was in tears and wondering how I would possibly get through a full six weeks (we did not thrive during that heatwave). It’s just that…..well, now we’re nearly at the end, I have settled into a new routine too.

So I fully expect there to be wobbles from you little ones next week and I understand that, because I will be having wobbles too….along with many parents, teachers; and lots of other grown-ups who are getting ready to go back to work after a holiday. Some things don’t change when you’re a grown up, you just get slightly better at hiding them.

Here’s to looking after each other, and a successful school year ahead.

summer freedom 2018


The many faces of mum

The tears are great, huge puddles. Those tears you can see when they land. You can’t look at them, or you’ll start crying them too.

It is 7.45am and you know this mood – this mood that starts shortly after your child gets out of bed. This mood that nothing can calm until it decides it’s ready to calm itself. It might come before a big event – the first day back at school after the holidays, for example. Or, like today, the morning of a sharing assembly.

This morning, everything is wrong. Your already teary child misses his chance to lay the table because he is too busy crying over this morning’s choice of cereal. Then his brothers dare to get their own spoons out even though it is HIS turn to get everyone’s spoons. Then he is the last to get the fruit to go with his cereal, because he has been too busy crying over the spoon situation. Then there aren’t enough raisins in the bowl full of raisins. Then he realises that he won’t have time to play after breakfast because he has spent all of breakfast time and more crying over everything and nothing.

You try your hardest to stay calm – you are marginally better at this in the mornings than you are in the evenings. You try to be calm and firm and sympathetic all at once. You take him away from the situation but he won’t have it – he is wriggling and sobbing and fighting to escape as you try to give him a cuddle. And you sit at the bottom of the stairs struggling with a 5 year old, hoping that your other children will just sort themselves out and wondering whether this will be the morning that you have to phone the school and say I’m sorry, but I am actually incapable of getting my children out of the door.

You give up the struggle and he calms down a fraction, until it starts again over something else. And you try to find out whether there is something worrying him, but he says there’s NOT; it is just MUMMY making everything go wrong with his BREAKFAST. It is just all MUMMY’S fault.

Of course. At least now you know what the problem is.

And you need to get ready for work but you feel like you have done at least a day’s work already and no-one has even gone anywhere yet.

You would love to curl up and get back into bed. But everyone’s got to get to school and there’s the assembly to watch, and then it’s straight to work for you so there is no giving up and definitely no going back to bed.

The upset child drives some toy cars around and calms himself down – once his moment is over he is relatively quick to recover. It’s just that the moment itself lasts quite a long time.

You put on your ‘Morning! Yes we’re fine thanks‘ face as you leave the house; even though you feel like you’ve been put through a spin cycle and hung out to dry. But your children have got their coats, hats, book bags and water bottles; and they are happily walking to school. They are fine, you know that. But you also know that this slightly knotted up feeling right there, in the pit of your stomach, will be with you all day.

And your little ones give you the biggest hugs and say ‘See you at assembly, mummy‘. You see – everything is fine. No-one would even know about the heartache and the upset over a bowl of raisins and not having laid out the spoons.

Then you go into assembly and wear your proud but also slightly teary face, because you are convinced that this is what it was all about. It wasn’t about the raisins at all. And the assembly is joyful and brilliant and your children say their little lines and you just want to wrap them up in the biggest hug.

Then you get in the car and drive to work; and you allow yourself a little cry. Because so far today you’ve worn the I’m-doing-my-best-to-stay-calm face, the sympathetic face, the firm face, the ‘Morning! Yes, we’re fine thanks‘ face; and the proud-mum face and sometimes it just feels like too many faces.

Because you remember those big puddle tears and those angry little limbs.

Because you’ve got 5 minutes to yourself, and you can.

And then you get a tissue, dry the tears; and put on your work face. And you start the day again.

school run boys

Back to school we go

It is back to school today, and the 5 year old twins have been asked to take in something that will remind them of their Christmas holiday.

“I am taking a pompom from New Year”, says Twin 1.

“I am taking a mask from New Year”, says Twin 2.

“But what do I say about my pompom, mummy?” asks Twin 1.

“Well why don’t you get dressed and then we can talk about it?”, mummy suggests.

“But I don’t know what I’m SAYING!!!” says Twin 1 as he rolls around on the floor.

“Just say what the pompom reminds you of, sweetheart. You danced with it at our little new year’s party, and you had your friend to stay – you remember. Now, why don’t you put your pants on?”

“But I can’t REMEMBER that, mummy. I can’t remember ANY of it.”

“I can’t remember how to do my tie up, mummy”, says the eldest boy with tears in his eyes.

“We’ll help you with your tie in just a minute, sweetheart.” says mummy to the eldest boy; before turning to Twin 1 and requesting that for now he concentrates on putting his pants on, and puts the Christmas holiday task out of his head.

Mummy is doing her best to use her most patient new-year-new-voice, voice.

“I’m going to take my finger torch as well” announces Twin 1.

“And I’m taking my finger torch”, says Twin 2.

“That’s not FAIR, he’s COPYING me!”, says Twin 1.

“I’m NOT copying you!” insists Twin 2. “It’s just a really good idea – I like it. It’s not because I’m copying you, I just want to take it.”

“Why are you discussing the Christmas task with them?” booms daddy, who is just about to leave for work. “Why don’t they just get dressed?”

“I am trying to get them to get dressed”, says mummy through gritted teeth and in her slightly less patient new year voice. “I didn’t bring up the Christmas task, they did.”

Mummy returns to the subject of pants with Twin 1, who is on the floor sobbing about pompoms and finger torches. Mummy understands that Twin 1 is feeling anxious about going back to school and that he is expressing this through his outburst about the Christmas task. She would still like him to put his pants on.

Mummy announces that no-one is taking finger torches and adds an imaginary line to the note that came home from school. The imaginary line states that twins must not take in the same item as each other.

Mummy then separates the twin boys in a bid to speed up the getting dressed process.

“But mummy!”, shouts Twin 1. “I can’t remember ANYTHING, mummy! NOTHING is going to remind me of my Christmas holiday!”

“Ok darling. Well just tell your teacher that then. Just say that you’ve forgotten all about your Christmas holiday and nothing will remind you of it” suggests mummy. “Shall we go and have some breakfast?”

“I’m going to take the tiger mask, mummy”, announces Twin 2. “Actually, the elephant. Or what about the lion? I’m putting my tiger mask on now. Do I look like a tiger, mummy?” he asks.

“Yes you do, darling”, says mummy.

“No he DOESN’T!” bellows Twin 1. Because he has BROWN HAIR, and he’s wearing TROUSERS! And he doesn’t have white paws.”

“Did you know that no two tigers are the same?” asks the eldest boy. “Like ladybirds.”

Everyone takes a moment to process this information. Mummy then prepares the breakfast and explains to her children that going back to school or work after a break is sometimes hard and that we all have to be kind to each other to make it easier.

The eldest boy and Twin 1 kick each other under the table and call each other names as mummy is explaining about being kind.

“If I take my tiger mask then I can tell everyone about my tiger onesie, can’t I mummy?” says Twin 2. “I know I can’t take my tiger onesie though”, he adds.

“That’s right, sweetheart”, says mummy.

“Wait a minute!” says Twin 2 urgently.”Or can I take my tiger onesie?”

“No onesies allowed, darling”, says mummy. “Shall we all put our shoes on?”

The children start putting their shoes on after at least 87 requests from mummy. Twin 2 announces that his shoes are too small, and the eldest boy panics about what to do with his playtime trainers – should they be in a bag or not in a bag? Should he take them out of the bag when he gets to school? He doesn’t need the bag as this will just be an extra item on his peg, so how will he get the bag back to mummy?

Mummy and her children leave the house.

“I am just going to say I did dancing with my pompom, mummy.” says Twin 1 as he walks down the path in his bobble hat. “That is all I’m going to say.”

Mummy’s heart breaks a little bit.

back to school


One of those weeks

Sometimes you have one of those weeks.

One of those weeks when the dishwasher is broken and you forget your son’s doctor’s appointment and everyone is getting ill.

One of those weeks when your husband can barely move because of his bad back and then discovers he can no longer work from home on his working from home/doing the school run day, which means you have to leave work early even though though you have a mountain piling up on your desk which you were really hoping to get through.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you’ve left work early to pick up the children, but then get home and realise you’ve locked yourself out. You empty out your handbag and your pockets in a desperate hunt for your keys and you try your neighbours who have a spare; but the neighbours aren’t in and you really need to go and get the children from school….even though you’re not sure where you’re actually going to take them once you’ve got them. So you set off for school ready to break the news and you look around for a friendly face and try to think of a plan. And you try to communicate with your husband to say there’s a little, actually quite a big problem and is there any chance he might be home a little bit earlier like he suggested this morning so that he could let you in the house; but he’s locked away working on high security things with no access to a phone, and the neighbours are out looking after their grandaughters and right now you have no way of getting into your house. Thankfully there are plenty of friendly faces and soon you are sitting down with a cup of tea and the children are on an unexpected playdate; but you’re still not sure how or when you’re going to get back home and you’re running out of answers for your children and your eldest one keeps reminding you that you promised him a new pack of MatchAttax and you try to tell him that MatchAttax aren’t your priority right at this moment.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you have to call your mum-in-law and say I’m-so-sorry-but-we’re-locked-out-and-the-neighbours-aren’t-in-and-your-son-can’t-get-home-and-please-could-you-drive-to-our-house-during-rush-hour-and-let-us-in.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you wonder whether there was some ‘how to be a proper grown-up’ test that you forgot to take because right now it doesn’t really feel like you’re doing a very good job at it.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you forget a doctor’s appointment and your dishwasher is broken and you lock yourself out of your house and work is non-stop…….and then your eldest child sits staring at his breakfast and announces he is too poorly to go to school. Just as you’re about to leave the house for work. And you thought you’d be on time today…..maybe even early. But now you’re in a panic and can your mum-in-law possibly look after him and how much more are you going to ask of your mum-in-law this week?

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you are behind at work and behind at home and then you open the book bags to discover you need to produce two robot costumes for the Christmas play.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when no-one will co-operate and get ready for school and you’ve had enough of hearing ‘He hit me with BATMAN‘ and no-one understands that you really need to leave the house NOW right NOW…..there is actually no more time to be building train tracks. You are shouting ‘SHOES‘ and ‘COATS‘ and ‘HATS‘ and ‘BOOKBAGS‘ but you might as well be shouting into the abyss because no-one is listening. And finally you’re by the door and about to leave when the 5 year old who has just been to the toilet looks at you anxiously and says he really needs to go again right NOW, he’s DESPERATE. So you shout even though you know you shouldn’t because you’re meant to be the calm one in all this craziness, and now you feel bad about shouting as well as feeling bad about running late. And you run to school and the boy who needed the toilet falls over and his brother has a stone in his shoe and you tell him you’re sorry but that will have to wait.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you get home from the manic school run and realise that the zip on your very favourite pair of boots has broken and that really is the last straw. Everyone knows how much you love your comfiest boots in the world ever. You really want to sit down and weep but you can’t because the dishwasher man is at the door ready to fix the broken dishwasher. So you let him in and make the coffee and find out that the dishwasher will cost £220.00 to repair. And as it’s been one of those weeks, this makes total sense.

But the worst thing is still the boots.

It’s been one of those weeks.

one of those weeks

To the new Reception parent

I think I have an idea how you’re feeling, new school parent… much as anyone can have any idea how somebody else is feeling that is. You are probably busy labelling uniform, laying it out for one last look, realising you still need to buy plimsolls, wondering whether you have enough polo shirts……that sort of thing.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be feeling anxious and excited and a little bit heartbroken and….well, like life is about to change hugely. Which it is – but in good ways, honestly. So, as you embark on life as a school parent, here are ten little things I’d like to tell you:

  1. Reception teachers and TAs are some of the kindest, most patient people imaginable. They are full of smiles, encouragement, songs, reassurance and wise words. They are fun but instructive, firm but gentle. They will wipe away children’s tears and, quite possibly at some point, yours too. There is nothing they have not seen, and they won’t make you feel bad for sharing your concerns.  You will want to tell them every day what an amazing job they do…..and you should, because they do.
  2. Reception itself is a wonderful year. It is all about stickle bricks, songs, junk modelling, mud kitchens and dressing up. Yes, it is school but it is gentle and fun and nurturing. It is a period of new friends, broadening horizons, and increased confidence. It is a truly special time, not just for the children but for parents too – developing new routines and getting to know this community of children and parents who will, most likely, be part of your lives for the forseeable future. It will fly by and, as you approach the summer term, you probably won’t want it to end. Having said that……
  3. Learning to read is painful – all of it. The books are painful and the process itself is painful. Hence my point about Reception teachers being angelic miracle workers – they do this all day and every day with 30 children. Helping your child to understand that the sounds C, A and T join together to make the word CAT and not GOAT tests a parent’s patience to the limit; and finding a good time to sit down and do it at home can feel almost impossible – before school is too rushed, and after school everyone is too tired. Be as gentle as you can on everyone, including yourself. It won’t be this hard forever – at some point, something clicks and CAT does start to become recognisable as CAT rather than just looking like a series of symbols. When that happens, it is magical… might just take a bit of time.
  4. You have probably worried about your child since the moment s/he entered the world….possibly before. This doesn’t change once they start school. Sometimes though, you can feel like you’re the only one with worries – everyone else looks like they’re getting on fine, but you’re fretting. Is your child on his/her own too much? Are the other children getting invited on all the playdates? Is it normal how tired your child gets after school? Should you be doing more x, y or z with your child at home? It is only by talking to other parents that you discover that everyone is worrying about something; and if they’re not…….well, I’d be interested to meet them. Find your tribe (don’t worry if not everyone is in it) and share your worries. A good tribe will be your rock over the next few years.
  5. If there is a knack to feeling like you’re on top of everything then I’ve yet to master it. The non-uniform days, the assemblies, the reading mornings, the bake days, the change-reading-book days, the school trips……there is A LOT to keep up with. Everyone has their own way of attempting to manage it, but if you feel like you’re drowning then refer back to your lovely tribe – they probably feel like they’re drowning too. Which is reassuring.
  6. For many children, school is exhausting. Whether your child has been at nursery full-time or just for a few mornings a week; it doesn’t seem to make much difference. A school day might be shorter than a full day at nursery, but it is more structured, more stimulating, and definitely more tiring. Expect your little one to be hideously exhausted. And for this reason…..
  7. After school can be….well, challenging. Most likely, your precious little one will hold it together at school but crumple the moment s/he gets home. If your child decides to take all his/her frustration and exhaustion out on you, try not to take it personally – I know it’s hard. Home is their safe space, you are their safe person – this is how it should be. They need cuddles, loads of food and sometimes just to have a good cry. Structure can be good (I sometimes find an after-school activity helps to take their mind off how exhausted they are) but other times they need to put their pyjamas on and do nothing. Go with it, and try not to worry if you are achieving very little from 3pm onwards.
  8. Don’t expect to get any information from your child about what has happened between the hours of 9 and 3. They have spent six hours at school and they have no intention of talking about it when they get home. Occasionally, I find an ‘opposites’ approach works, ie. if I say ‘Ah, I know who you DIDN’T play with today…..’ and reveal the name of the child they play with every single day, they will be desperate to correct me. But generally, I have to accept that what goes on at school will remain largely a mystery, to be drip-fed to me over the next few months as and when they feel like sharing.
  9. On this note, some of what they share may well break your heart. Things like ‘I sat on the buddy bench today and no-one came to get me‘ / ‘X didn’t want to play with me today‘ / ‘Y said she wasn’t my friend any more‘. Keep in mind that these are little children, and we have absolutely no idea what goes on or what is said in those playgrounds. Children’s words can be cruel; but unless my children seem unhappy or their behaviour changes dramatically, I tend to assume that everything is as it should be.
  10. I know it feels like you are losing something huge. Like a big part of your life has gone. Like their life (and yours) will never be the same. Like they are growing up, moving on. All of that is true. BUT, they are still little, very little – you realise this when you watch them shuffling about awkwardly in the front row of school assemblies. They are tiny and innocent. They still want to hold your hand on the way to school. They still want your cuddles and a goodbye kiss. You are still more important to them than their friends. Than music. Than films. It doesn’t all change just because they’ve started school. This is a magical time when a whole new world will open to your child – you will be amazed at the huge strides forward s/he takes this year, from whatever their starting point. Embrace the good bits, laugh at the funny stories, cry with pride at the assemblies and, during the hard times, just remember that you’re not on your own.

school shoes x 3

Good luck, stay strong…..and don’t forget to buy those plimsolls.

Measuring what matters

One at a time, they came forward and stood on the big white X on the floor. The big white X which meant ‘THIS IS WHERE YOU STAND’. You could see the concentration on their little faces. They looked out to the audience of parents and carefully delivered the lines they had been practising over the last few weeks. They recited poems and held up their art work. They talked about their favourite moments from this year. They stood proudly and spoke clearly. And then…..well, then they got into position for their Africa-inspired dance. They leapt and twirled and weaved around each other whilst waving brightly coloured bits of fabric. They danced their little hearts out and made mums and dads cry.

At the back of the hall, with parents seated either side of her, their teacher danced with them – full of enthusiasm, she leapt, twirled and waved a ribbon; encouraging her little charges along.

This was Year 2’s Leavers’ Assembly, which marked the end of these children’s three years at infant school. And what a long way they have come.

After this wonderful display, parents went into the dining hall where tables were laid with tablecloths and little vases of flowers. Teas, coffees and biscuits were served. ‘Oooh, we didn’t expect this‘, muttered appreciative mums and dads. This all felt like……..well, like a proper occasion. So we drank tea and ate biscuits as our little ones chatted away excitedly; and there was a real feeling of warmth and loveliness in the air. Many of us parents didn’t know each other three years ago, but a solid community and support network has built up around this school and these children. And now this group of parents mingled happily as they drank their tea, delighting not just in the achievements of their own child, but in the achievements of all of these children who have come so far since their first days in Reception.

As I left the school that morning, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s a shame that the people who measure our schools and put together charts and graphs and league tables don’t see more things like this.

It’s a shame they can’t measure the pride these parents feel, the community that has been built, and the good feeling in the air over those teas and coffees.

It’s a shame they didn’t see that teacher, doing everything she could to encourage her class from the back of the hall. Joining in with their dance, leaping and twirling as she waved a ribbon around.

It’s a shame they don’t know about the child who was so shy during Reception that assemblies for parents used to make him freeze. He would never have looked up, looked out, delivered lines, or twirled around with a pink scarf the way he did in that leavers’ assembly.

It’s a shame they can’t see the confidence these children have developed – confidence when dealing with each other, with their teachers, and with other adults. Confidence to try new things, to step out of their comfort zones.

It’s a shame they can’t see how these youngsters have learnt to organise their play, resolve differences, take turns, and bounce back when things don’t go their way.

It’s a shame they don’t know about the little one who, a year ago, desperately wanted to join in with the football at lunchtime but didn’t think he was good enough. Look at him now as he runs off to join in, a huge grin on his face.

It’s a shame they can’t see how these children have gained in independence, maturity and resilience. How some of them used to struggle when they didn’t get the results they wanted, but have begun to learn how to deal with disappointment.

It’s a shame that, while we’re trying to decide how good schools are and whether we are ticking all the right boxes, so much about who our children actually are gets lost.

It’s a shame that so many of the important things don’t seem to get recognised these days. People, community, values. The determination, thoughtfulness, resilience and confidence that our children will take with them as they move onto the next stage.  Because ultimately, it is these things that will be the difference in the world. Not how quickly they can learn their times tables, or their understanding of a split diagraph.

That’s what I think, anyway.

Balancing boys