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

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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

 

A festive scene

Let me set the scene.

It is the last day of term, and mummy’s three little boys finished school at 2.15pm. Mummy has seen enough of her boys over the last few weeks to know that it would be foolish of her to have high hopes for this afternoon.

The boys are balanced precariously on their chairs, half-heartedly eating their tea. Boy 2 (aged 4) is attempting to scrape ‘yucky bits’ off his pasta. Boy 1 (aged 6), and Boy 3 (aged 4) have requested half a piece of chocolate cake and half a piece of banana cake each. Boy 2 has requested a whole piece of chocolate cake to himself. Boy 2 quickly decides he is being hard done by. Boy 2 will not accept that there is no more banana cake; and is finding it difficult to understand that two halves make one whole. Mummy is frustrated, but also knows that it is probably a bit much to expect her 4 year old to get his head around fractions on the last day of term.

Boy 2 is hysterical, and finally falls off his chair; smashing his mouth on the table on his way down. Boy 2 has blood pouring from his mouth.

That is where we join the festive scene.

Boy 2: I am bleeeeeeding mummy; and because I am bleeding I need two cakes mummy. Did you hear me, mummy? I said I am BLEEDING! And I neeeeeed two cakes! 

Boy 1: Mummy, what is three quarters of 20?

Boy 2: Listen to me mummy, listen; it is not fair that I don’t have two cakes mummy. I don’t have two cakes, AND I am bleeeding, mummy.

Boy 3: Once at school mummy, when I was standing in my fire drill line, my bottom started tickling. It really did mummy. It was so funny, mummy. Did you know that? 

Boy 2: I want to go to bed mummy. I want bed because I’ve been bleeeeeeding, mummy. But I don’t want to go in MY bed, mummy. I need to go to YOUR bed, mummy. 

Mummy: No, you’re not sleeping in my bed I’m afraid.

Boy 2: But I WANT TO, MUMMY! Just for tonight. I’m not going in my bed mummy, I need a different bed. 

Mummy: Well I’m afraid I don’t have any different beds, sweetheart. Not until we have a bigger house.

Boy 1: In my pretend world mummy, I am 58. I have two children who are 28 and 26. They live near Leighton Buzzard mummy but they don’t often go there. More often they go to Tring. Or Cheddington. The furthest north they’ve ever been is Carlisle. What do you think of that? 

Boy 2: When will that be, mummy? When will our house grow? I need another bed, mummy. I’M NOT GOING IN MY BED! I had bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeding, mummy. 

Boy 1: I’m going to sing my Christmas songs now, mummy. Is that ok?

Boy 3: Can I hold that pot of Vaseline please, mummy? It’s got a good lid.

Boy 1: “Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum”

Boy 2: I need a go with that Vaseline lid. You’ve had it for a long time, it’s my turn. 

Boy 3: Can I have it back now please? I just want one more play with the lid.

Boy 2: But you’ve had MORE TURNS THAN MEEEEEE!

Boy 1: “And all the angels sang for Him, the bells of heaven raaaaaaang for Him”

Mummy: I think it’s time to say night night to the Vaseline now, please.

Boy 3 (kisses tub of Vaseline)*: Night night, Vaseline. Love you.

Boy 1: Did you enjoy my singing, mummy? I did them in a different order to normal. You probably noticed. 

Of course I did, poppet.

 

*Not even joking – he really did kiss the Vaseline.

decorating-tree

Don’t worry, I re-arranged that tinsel.

Thank you so much for reading and for all your lovely comments over this year. I have loved sharing stories and so often have felt reassured to know I am not alone! Merry Christmas x

 

Onwards and upwards

So that’s another year done of school runs, chats at the school gates, reply slips, cake bakes, school trips, show & tells, playdates, violin lessons, assemblies, reading books, spelling lists, birthday parties and everything else that the school year brings.

It doesn’t take much to make me tearful, and the end of the school year always feels like an emotional time. I imagine it will always feel like this – coming to the end of one school year and getting ready for the next is yet another of those moments that make you aware of the passage of time. I have a feeling that whatever the age of your child, each year will be remembered for something – for my eldest one, Reception was all about getting to grips with the school timetable, learning to read, and memorising the school menu. Year 1 has been the year that he has gained in confidence, made his first proper little circle of friends and discovered the joy of chapter books. As he moves up and through the years I know that there will be other milestones I will remember – the year he no longer slips his little hand into mine as we walk to school, the year ‘mummy’ becomes ‘mum’, the year he starts walking to school on his own. Small but significant steps towards independence.

Parenting is a whole series of milestones, but the significance of the end of a school year feels even more marked because their whole little tribe is going through it together. Unlike a birthday which, quite rightly, is your child’s special day; the end of the school year is a huge moment for the whole school community. Whether or not your own child is involved, you can’t help but be aware of leavers’ assemblies, transition days and then, as they get older, leavers’ balls (or ‘proms’, as they have become); and realise what milestones these are for all of the families who are part of your community.

All of these children and young people moving on and up to the next stage.

I love these early years of school – the increased pressures on young children aside, this is such a special a time when friendships are made and learning is a whole world of discovery. At some point, I know this will change. At some point, I know these children will no longer run into school squealing with delight while they cartwheel in the playground. Of course I hope my boys will always love learning, but at some point school is likely to become associated with exams and worry. Those days are not here yet; and for the moment I am grateful that our school experience so far has been a happy one.

And so here we are – the end of term for my eldest boy’s little tribe was today, and that is Year 1 done and dusted for all of them. Out they trotted this afternoon – sweaty little red faces, eyes shining with excitement and t-shirts covered in toffee ice-cream. Some getting ready to go off on exciting holidays and others just full of excitement at the thought of six weeks of freedom.

It will be a new chapter for all of them in September; but in the meantime here’s hoping that the summer holidays are just the right mix of rest, pottering and adventure. With minimal whining. That always helps.

Happy summer holidays folks x

boy with bag.jpg

The very bad day

Last week I had a bad day. When I say a bad day, of course I mean that relative to my life as a mum of three small boys – I know that there are people going through far worse every single day. The low point of my bad day was when I ended up sprawled out on the ground at the entrance to my eldest boy’s school, clutching the distraught three year old I’d been carrying when I fell.

As my bad mum days go, I’d say this one was up there with the worst of them.

On paper, it should have been a lovely day – the eldest boy’s last day of term and the 3 year olds’ Christmas party at playgroup. But the 3 year olds had been simmering away all week and I knew they were about to bubble over. They may not be at school yet, but they definitely had that end of term feeling – they were tearful, tired and tetchy from the minute they woke.

So I knew that at some point it was all going to go wrong, and it did – on our walk to school. Because Twin 2 refused to do that very basic but essential thing you need to do when you’re walking anywhere  – put one foot in front of the other. He was on strike. To make his point, he would just sit or lie down on the pavement. We had 5 minutes to get to school – it felt like I had no choice but to pick him up.

He’s proper boy-sized now though, which makes walking more than a few paces with him almost impossible. And I fell. Fell whilst holding him – something I had never, ever done before. He banged his head, I screamed, kind people hurried to help us. There I was on the ground with three bewildered children, a twisted ankle and proper puddle-like tears rolling down my face.

It was definitely a low point.

I felt terrible for the 5 year old – as I pulled myself together I was desperately trying to claw back a bit of normality for him; but this was definitely not the happy drop off I so wanted it to be on his last day of term.

I did, though, learn a few things from my very bad day:

  1. Photos rarely capture a day – my photos from that day last week Christmas partymake it look pretty good; and whilst the day did, thankfully, improve; it certainly wasn’t the jolly affair that the photos make out it was. There are pictures of the 3 year olds meeting Father Christmas and tucking into party food at their playgroup Christmas party, and pictures of the eldest boy home from school and opening his Christmas cards. If I look through these in 20 years, maybe the memory of the fall, the twisted ankle, the tears and the over-tired children will have faded. If you feel inadequate when looking at friends’ perfect family photos on social media, just know that these rarely tell the whole story. People just don’t tend to photograph the everyone-falling-apart moments.
  2. People are kind, especially other parents. The school run is never easy, everyone is in a rush; and yet so many people stopped to help me. Friends reassured me, made me laugh and offered me tea. Some even offered to take my children off my hands for an hour. It was a bad day, but it reminded me that things are never quite as bad when you’ve got lovely people around you.
  3. Children are fickle little creatures – a bad day can be instantly improved with a chocolate finger.
  4. The end of term can be a huge challenge for everyone. There is no reason why younger siblings won’t be ready for a break just as much as everyone else. Being rushed out of the door twice a day when you don’t really want to go anywhere, then being rushed out of the playground when actually you’re quite enjoying yourself – it all takes its toll.
  5. On a bad day, there is nothing wrong with admitting defeat and getting everyone into pyjamas at 4pm.

And this weekend, I did something I very rarely do – practically nothing. The eldest boy went to his grandparents for the weekend so we were 2 adults to 2 children. Somehow, this felt do-able. I drank a lot of tea. We had fish & chips. I let the boys watch a lot of tv. I dozed on the sofa.

It felt amazing.

My boys and I were obviously tired out, I’m not surprised it all fell apart in spectacular fashion that day.

Christmas is the time when we all feel pressured to do everything isn’t it. We feel pressured to cook and do crafts and go ice-skating and fill our days with festive loveliness.

But this year, I’m trying to remind myself that a few days of nothing is sometimes all we need.

Merry Christmas x

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