As you turn 7 and 5 – a birthday post

How many sleeps until our party, mummy? / How many sleeps until our birthday, mummy? / And how many sleeps until MY party, mummy?

This has been the soundtrack in our house for the last couple of weeks at least. Three little boys, with birthdays two days apart – the first being tomorrow.  Piled in the corner of my bedroom are party bags, pass the parcel fillers, presents and cards. There is a giant penguin cake under several sheets of foil in the kitchen, and another cake waiting to be transformed into a space rocket.

Birthday season is well and truly underway – one little boy is approaching 7, and two are approaching 5.

7 and 5.

7 and 5!

I am having a bit of trouble with this one – these ages sound…..well, not grown up; but not really like I still have little ones. In my head, it feels like the baby/toddler years weren’t that long ago, but then when I’m out and I see mums with change bags and prams, mums trying to get babies to sleep, mums heading off to baby massage classes, mums lugging around car seats and mums putting babies in highchairs I realise that yes, we are well and truly in a different stage now.

Part of me still misses the baby and toddler days, but then another part of me loves the ages we are at right now. I feel I spend a lot of time either looking back, feeling apprehensive about the future, or attempting to cling onto the present (only the good bits, obviously).

So this is my attempt to cling onto the right now – little snapshots of you, my three beautiful boys, as you approach 7 and 5.

Eldest boy:

You are: 

Confident in your own quiet way, cautious, determined, hungry for knowledge, routine-loving, easily pleased, inquisitive, uncoordinated; an old-fashioned soul in a fast-moving world.eldest boy reading

You love: 

Books, maps, train timetables, names, lists, dates, football, kings, queens, dates of birth, a family tree, cosy jumpers, a hearty meal, twiddling your hair, school, answers to questions, Christine and the Queens; days at home with a pen in your hand, books and plenty of paper.

You can often be found: 

At a table with a pen and reams of paper, making lists.

Sitting on your bedroom floor surrounded by books.

In the garden playing football with your own running commentary and a list of scores by the door ready to update when necessary.

Likely to say: 

‘I have made up a new train line, mummy. It goes from Chorleywood to Aston Clinton.’

‘I’m going to draw another map of my made up town, North Moor.’

‘How many caps did Luther Blissett get for England, daddy?’

‘I still have quite a bit of my work to do you know, mummy.’ (Your work being your lists, charts, maps and tables – it is never-ending.)

Nightmare scenarios: 

Practising bike-riding. Again.

Not having time to finish your ‘work’.

Special skills: 

Keeping yourself amused.

Plotting train routes.

Inventing towns.

Recalling the dates of birth of family members, the Royal Family, and 85% of Watford FC’s players.

Twin 1:

You are: 

A beautiful, affectionate, eager, sensitive, messy, cuddly whirlwind of emotions. Happy to be looked after, always ready for a cuddle.

Twin 1 climbing

You love: 

Roast potatoes, chipped potatoes, most other potatoes, climbing, dancing, superheroes, big drums, motorbikes, skateboards, funny voices, fast slides, funny faces, cake, biscuits, ice-cream in a cone.

Can often be found: 

Climbing to the top of something.

Likely to say: 

‘Mummy, when can I have a skateboard?……. And what about a surfboard?’

‘I tried peas mummy and I like them. But I am only eating ONE.’

‘Can I have some more roast potatoes, please?’

‘I am NOT tired.’

Nightmare scenarios: 

A grazed knee.

A bowl of greens.

Your very precious skateboard top being in the wash.

Being told there are no more roast potatoes.

Special skills: 

Eating all the roast potatoes.

A continually grubby face, whatever the activity.

Twin 2:

You are:  

Helpful, earnest, observant, loyal, stubborn, growing so so fast, cuddly, affectionate, independent but not keen on being alone, a snazzy dresser; sometimes shy, sometimes a performer…..And absolutely never, ever in any rush. Twin 2 fireman

You love:

Observing your surroundings, parsnips, creepy crawlies, helping with jobs, feeling like a grown up, undivided attention, holding open doors, pulling funny faces, emergency vehicles, fancy dress, dot-to-dots, custard tarts, mummy’s necklaces / watch / rings /  buttons; bow ties, smart hats, flamboyant shirts, doors, locks, hand-dryers, a sensor flush.

Can often be found: 

Still sitting at the table long after everyone else has finished.

Drifting along at the back of a group.

Holding open doors.

Testing out toilet doors / locks / flushing mechanisms and the pedals on sanitary bins.

Likely to say: 

‘But I don’t want to be LAST FOR MY MIIIIILLLLLKKKKK.’

‘Can I help you, mummy?’

‘But I can carry it all by myself!’ 

‘Mummy, do you remember that day when we went to the park and there were three tunnels and we saw a blue bin and two ladybirds and a butterfly?’ 

Nightmare scenarios: 

Being the last one to put milk on your cereal in the mornings.

Being interrupted.

Feeling like you’re not being listened to.

Special skills: 

An incredible eye for detail – you notice everything.

Happily spending an hour over your breakfast.

three boys at the seaside

Happy birthday to you, little ones, as you move into your new, more grown-up sounding ages.

Let’s see what 7 and 5 have in store.

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The Pink Cheetah and the Gazelle – guest post

Last Friday, my three boys were overjoyed to bring home the books which they had been busy making during their week-long performing arts course. The almost-5-year-old twins’ books were extensively decorated on the front, and on the inside contained frantic scribbles and a few stickers. The eldest boy’s book contained a story, entitled The Pink Cheetah and the Gazelle. I am putting it here, just in case anything ever happens to that book. And also because, well sometimes it’s just good to have a glimpse into the world of an almost 7 year old.

I have typed the text entirely as it was written, and have just added a few clarification notes here and there – these are in brackets and not italicised.

The Pink Cheetah and the Gazelle

One day, the cheetah sprayed glitter on himself. He was called Calum. He was playing with Eddie the eagle.

Then he and antelope and whale turned pink within a second. Oh dear! They had the pink chicken pocks (sic). They were ill. 

They went to hospital and they turned bad. They killed the vet and nearly died, with zebra kicking at them for what they did. 

book zebra kicked them

If you find this turn of events upsetting, at least there are some lovely yellow stars on the page.

They were hit by elephant and rhino when Calum and Collie (another cheetah*) were in the car. The result was that zebra and rhino were killed and so were hippo and fish (you will be pleased to hear that elephant survived*).

Ostrich was furious about all this but he didn’t want to have another solution.

Zoe the Zebra (NOT zebra who died in the car accident*) was grief stricken on what had happened. She called Police Colly who was even worse. Harold the Hare refused all this to happen and executed King Norigenkan of Nigeria (Zebra). He became king himself. It was all because of the cheetahs. 

The cheetahs began to act like anglo saxons when they got on to a boat to Paraguay. The route took 5 days.

The route from Kenya to Paraguay took 3 days.

On their last day in Kenya, they asked Karoun to execute everyone they did not like.

The end.

book sailing to Paraguay

What a lovely boat for those Anglo-Saxon cheetahs

* = added by the editor for clarity.

Editor’s note: 

Please don’t ask me about the gazelle – I have no idea. I am also unable to shed any light on what happened to Eddie the eagle, but am confident he has nothing to do with the skier.

And if you are eager to know who Karoun is then the next book in the series is definitely one for you.

 

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

On being a bit of a teary, emotional mess at the end of a school year

We’re nearly there now, the home straight. One week to go.

You’d think I’d have got the hang of this by now…..this is my third year after all. But it’s still exactly the same, and with every end of term event it hits me just a little bit more.

It’s a slightly-teary-but-I-can’t-quite-express-why feeling.

It’s feeling the need to look through baby photos and toddler photos and….well, just all old photos; and tiny shoes and tiny clothes and then wondering how we got to this point. It’s knowing that I’m officially letting go of something that I’ll never get back.

It’s the end of a school year feeling.

Over the last few weeks the letters have kept on coming – discos, end of term assemblies, transition day, class photos, end of year reports. 101 events to remind us that our children are moving on, moving up, leaving this stage behind them. And then there are lists and more lists of what we need for the next school year. Forms to complete and sign and return. Us parents are full of good intentions – we will be organised and get onto this immediately (of course we will…..). In my end of term daze, I am trying my best not to be a walking ball of tears as I come to terms with the thought of the end of a milestone school year for us. No more Reception (this alone is enough to make me weep – I LOVE Reception) and one boy moving onto Juniors (which means a TIE…..if I think about it for too long, this will also make me weep).

It is hard to sum up just how much one school year means in a small person’s life (and in mine too). How far we have come since last September. How many excited stories and over-tired tears. How many milestones, achievements and proud moments. For the little ones down in Reception, getting used to the school day – registers, bells, menu choices, lunches, assemblies. Grazed knees and accident forms (we get a lot of these). New friends and new routines.  Grappling with holding a pen properly. The painful process of learning to read. Biff, Chip and Kipper. Bob Bug. Sounding out C-A-T and putting this together to make ‘GOAT’. And then that magnificent moment when something clicks and suddenly words (or some words at least) become recognisable as actual words and not as impossible puzzles to be solved.

For the bigger ones, overcoming fears, developing new skills, trying things which are way out of their comfort zone. Growing in confidence and maturity. Ready to take on new challenges.

And our teachers and TAs have been there with us through it all. Through the worries, the fears, the tears, and the proudest of proud moments. And I look at the thank you cards sitting in front of me and wonder what words could possibly express our gratitude, or how much this year has meant to us.

I’m not sure that the emotion that comes with the end of a school year will ever go away. It will change, but I suspect it always be there. There are other huge milestones in our children’s lives; but unlike other milestones, this is one that everyone is going through at exactly the same time. Every child, every parent, every teacher – getting ready to say goodbye and then go through it all again in September.

So please ignore me over here in the corner. Blubbing away as I say my thank yous whilst small boys tug on my arm desperate for snacks and more than ready to start their summer holidays.

I’m pretty sure I will be exactly the same again next year.

boys looking out

 

On going properly OUT, when going out just isn’t really what you do anymore

You gain many things when you become a mum, but you lose some things too. For many of us, one of these things is confidence.

Confidence to do all sorts of things……like lunchtime networking at a work conference (AGGGGHHHHHH….. I hate it).

Like meeting new people, and trying to find an interesting version of yourself that has actual things to talk about. Things which aren’t related to children.

Like going out. I don’t mean going out to the pub or going out to eat….. I can do both of these things pretty well. But going out somewhere that is full of people and music and dancing. You know…..going OUT.

Out out.

Properly out.

I used to do it a lot, because that’s what you do in your teens and twenties; but these days…..well no, I don’t. Because I like sitting down, and wearing comfortable clothes, and being able to hear what people are saying to me. So until last Saturday night, I probably hadn’t been out out for about 5 years.

5 whole years.

But on Saturday I did it. With a group of lovely ladies….most of whom I had never met before. The thought of it made me oh-so-nervous, but I did it.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few tips to help you along:

What to wear:

If, like me, your clothes fall broadly into the following categories: 1) mum clothes 2) work clothes 3) wedding outfits; then you might feel you need to buy something new to wear. You probably don’t have time to go to the actual shops, but don’t worry…..the supermarket is a perfectly acceptable place to locate your new outfit. It is altogether less daunting than Top Shop, and you can pick up some tinned tomatoes and a loaf of bread at the same time.

If you’re wondering about suitable footwear, let me recommend wedges. I love a heel, but these days the combination of wearing heels plus staying up way past my bedtime is not a good one. I found wedges to be an excellent compromise – more likely than heels to get you through a whole night without crippling your feet, but you feel less like you’re on the school run than you might do wearing flats.

Other people:

As you look around, you may feel surprised at the number of very young people that appear to be out very late at night. Seriously, they look like children. And then you remember that many of these youngsters could quite feasibly be 20 years younger than you. This is alarming……try not to show it.

If you want to seek out people who are at a similar life-stage to you, look for the cross-body bag. Nothing says proper-grown-up-on-a-night-out like a cross-body bag.

Music:

You probably won’t recognise a large number of the songs, and you may feel mildly shocked at some of the language that is blasting out of the speakers. Do your best not to show your shock, and remember that your children aren’t present so you don’t need to cover anyone’s ears.

A wave of relief will sweep over you when you hear songs from 15 or 20 years ago. In your mind these songs are, and will always be, current.

Keeping going when it is VERY LATE:

Let’s face it, at the time you are venturing out (in our case, 11pm on Saturday night…..11PM!) you would probably usually be tucked up in bed. Keeping going when you have felt tired since the day you became a mum can be a challenge, and at regular intervals you will wonder whether you can keep your eyes open any longer…… 12.30am, 1am, 2am, and definitely by 3am.

When you are hit by the I’m-not-sure-I-can-stand-up-any-longer feeling, just think about all the things you have done and possibly still do that have been so much more challenging than this. Think of the night feeds and the nappy changes. Think of rocking a crying baby and wondering whether you’ll ever be able to sleep again. Think of changing wet sheets in the middle of the night; or of lying on the floor next to your baby hoping that you might, within the next hour, be able to creep back to your own bed again. Think about all the caring and cuddling and feeding and cleaning and changing that you have done at 12.30am, at 1am, at 2am and at 3am.

Think of all the 5am starts.

Think of all of that, and then you’ll realise that this – standing up in your wedges wearing your new Sainsbury’s dress – perhaps isn’t so difficult after all.

wedges

Thank you Tesco sensitive sole wedges.

 

 

Why are we teaching 6 year olds nonsense about exclamation marks?

How are you enjoying your topic at the moment, sweetheart?‘ I asked my increasingly reluctant-to-talk-about-school 6 year old a few weeks ago. Their current topic is Africa, and Africa is right up his street.

Hmmmm‘, he said. ‘I’m not sure we are actually doing Africa any more. We seem to be doing animals instead.

Even so‘, I replied; ‘whether it’s Africa or animals, it sounds like something you’d enjoy?

I think our topic is actually exclamation marks’, he said. ‘Exclamation marks, and a couple of things about animals…..But mainly exclamation marks.

Oh, what have you been learning about exclamation marks?‘ I asked.

I know that sentences with an exclamation mark must start with ‘how’ or ‘what’ and end with a verb. Like “What a cold day it is!” ‘

I felt confused – where had this come from? Is it really seen as a priority for 6 and 7 year olds? Why are these restrictive and probably very daunting rules being foisted upon young children? And what purpose can this one possibly serve?

I decided that my boy had probably exaggerated a bit – perhaps they had had a little focus on exclamation marks but to him it had felt like more than that. However, a chat with his teacher revealed that yes, they have indeed had a drive on exclamation marks recently…..or, as I now know from having done a bit of research, a drive on exclamation sentences. If you are wondering what the difference is between a simple exclamation mark and an exclamation sentence……. well, an exclamation mark can be still used as punctuation in a statement such as ‘How amazing!‘, or ‘Help!‘; whereas an exclamation sentence should adhere to the rules outlined above by my son.  ‘What a beautiful day!’ does not count as an exclamation sentence; whereas ‘What a beautiful day it is!’ does. And of course this is the sort of language we use with each other and our children all the time, isn’t it?! ‘How beautiful you look!‘ / ‘What a wonderful jacket you’re wearing!‘  – you know the sort of thing.

The Department for Education‘s guidelines on the matter tells us this:

The definition of an exclamation should not be confused with the uses of the exclamation mark for punctuation. The exclamation mark can be used in a variety of sentence forms and not just in exclamations.

And yes, if they are to be judged as writing at the ‘expected standard’ then our Year 2 pupils (who are aged 6 and 7) should be able to recognise and write examples of exclamation sentences.

Really?

Really??

And if the answer is yes, then my next question is, why?

Is this going to make them better writers? Better thinkers? Better people? Because I’m not sure that filling young children’s head with this prescriptive nonsense will do any such thing. And if you’re not going to achieve any of those things then why do it? Just so that we can say ‘yippee, look at our 6 and 7 year olds who are now able to pass tests that are much harder than they were before‘ – is that why? Just in the name of ‘raising standards’?

If we really want to encourage our little writers, surely one of the first steps is to get them reading. Get them to the library…..you know, those brilliant places full of books that have had to reduce their opening hours because they have no funding? Get them reading and get them telling stories. Get them creating, writing stories and acting out stories. Encourage them to write and to use language without being restricted by frightening rules which make no sense to them. Let them know that writing is about endless possibilities, not about rules and restrictions.

If anything could sum up the utter ridiculousness of what is happening in our schools in the name of ‘raising standards’, then surely it is this focus on exclamation marks.

What absolute complete and utter nonsense it is!

(and yes, this is an exclamation sentence)

boy-writing

N.B  I am not a teacher. This is how I have understood things from a) my son b) teachers and c) things I have read. If I have got anything wrong then please feel free to correct me 🙂

A Spoonful of Sugar

Are the Sherman Brothers real, mummy?’ / ‘Do they live on our planet, mummy?’ / ‘Do they live on our road?‘ (….because if they lived on our planet, why wouldn’t they live on our road, after all?)

I know quite a lot about the Sherman brothers these days. If you’re wondering who they are and why the obsession with them……well they wrote the soundtrack to Mary Poppins. Yes they did; along with countless other films. And we are very much in a Mary Poppins phase. If, like us, you are lucky enough to own the Mary Poppins soundtrack and if, like us, you listen to it on repeat in the car, then you will know that at the end of the CD there is an interview with the Sherman brothers – yes, we love listening to this too. If you want to know how the song A Spoonful of Sugar came about, just ask us.

Our Mary Poppins obsession has been going on since the beginning of this year and shows no sign of waning. You might think I’d be over it by now but the thing is, well I actually quite like it. It can continue for a while longer as far as I’m concerned. I mean firstly, the songs – they are just so good, aren’t they? Who wouldn’t want to hear a little boy singing Sister Suffragettes with gusto as he goes about his day? Equally joyous is seeing your children attempting to recreate the whole Step in Time dance routine. And I challenge you to try singing along to Let’s Go Fly a Kite without raising a smile….I’m not sure it is possible – it must be one of the most uplifting songs ever written.

It has never been particularly easy to get my three boys to sit down and watch a film together, but Mary Poppins is one of the few films that manages to keep them all gripped. It might be old, and it might not be as flashy as today’s children’s offerings; but I think this might actually be a big part of the reason why we like it so much. I know it makes me sound about 83 but…..well they just don’t make films like Mary Poppins anymore. So many children’s films now seem to be so complicated. I am the first to admit that following a complex plot is not one of my strengths, but if I can’t follow what’s happening in a film then what hope do my four year olds have? Often there are too many characters, everything is moving too fast, the whole thing is too loud, I struggle to understand what anyone is saying; and plots are long and convoluted.

Yes I know, I really do sound about 83. But there is something very comforting and reassuring about Mary Poppins. Yes, there are parts of the plot which might go over the heads of very small children – Mrs Banks the suffragette, for example. But the gist of what’s happening – a flying nanny with a bottomless bag who takes two children on magical adventures in London, and a father who, in the end, fixes a broken kite – well, we can all understand that.

Yes, I know it’s all very saccharine and Julie Andrews actually sings about spoonfuls of sugar, but isn’t the message of that song actually quite a good one for children? Not taken literally, obviously. But isn’t it saying that if we try to make everyday jobs fun then they will be easier to carry out? And isn’t that what we all try and encourage our children to do if we want to encourage them to get on with something? When their little legs get tired on a long walk, or when they don’t want to tidy their room, or when they’re bored sitting in a traffic jam? Try singing a song as you walk……Or making a race out of tidying up to see who can be quickest……Or playing I Spy to help pass the time.

So in these uncertain times when the country frequently feels like it’s falling apart, I’ll happily take a spoonful of sugar. In these days of special effects and flashy superheroes, I’ll take dozens of chimney sweeps stepping in time. I’ll even take Bert’s ridiculous accent. Films these days may be ritzier and louder and flashier. They might have more impressive special effects. But when you’re 4 and 6, nothing can beat those magical opening and closing drawers in Mary Poppins.

Sometimes, less is more. There’s a lot to be said for a plot you can understand. For catchy songs. For dancing on roof-tops. And for Mary Poppins soaring over London with her magical umbrella.

We love you, Mary. You can stay a while longer.

Mary Poppins