Changing Phases

img_1653So, for those of you keen to know how the potty training is going (I’m sure you are all on the edge of your seats), we have had a major breakthrough. T is no longer crapping himself up to three times a day. He is, in fact, not crapping himself at all. He has finally got it.

You can imagine my delight when he started doing number twos on the potty. After months of him pooing in pants, saying I was over the moon is an understatement. No more dealing with the mess and no longer having to add small pants to the weekly shop. Joyous day!

The first few times he was successful tended to be rather epic affairs, getting on and off the potty for literally half a day before he managed to go. He sped up after a week or so and he now has it down to about an hour. So we have an hour of little trousers scooting up and down like yo-yos while he hops up and down on the loo or potty, does a tiny wee, washes hands, repeat to fade. Until, eventually, a small button of poo is produced. Whereupon I applaud and leap about like a deranged loon and reward him with Haribo. Then, in about an hour or so, the process starts again.

Now don’t get me wrong, this rigmarole is far preferable to dealing with dirty pants but, over the last couple of weeks, it has become a tad wearing. Especially as he seems to be able to produce about four or five micro poos a day. I am fully aware that this process is just his dear little head getting used to all the feelings and messages going on his body, but we seem to live in the toilet for the majority of most days. My hands are cracking up from helping him with endless handwashing and my mind is cracking up from the pure repetitive nature of it all.

img_1650And it isn’t just waiting for a poo that is taking up time. He has pretty good bladder capacity but, for some reason, he has become obsessed with the ritual of going for a wee. If we are home, he goes several times and hour, just for fun. When we are out he is far less bothered by it, because he is busy. Not that we haven’t been caught short out and about. We have. Plenty of times. I’m very grateful that he has already mastered the art of peeing standing up. There are few bushes we’ve not anointed on our travels.

Incredibly inconveniently, he always needs to pee at school pick up time, just as the kids are on their way out of the classrooms. We leg it to the loo and T does his 86th wee of the day, while I panic about the older two coming out and fretting over their absent Mother. Such a regular occurance has this school pee become that M’s teacher now just smiles and nods at me as we manically scamper past, reassuring me that she’ll keep hold of my girl for me until we get back from the wee run.

So, in under a month, we have gone from small, soiled pants to endless loo trips. And this change, from one pain the arse to another, has got me thinking about how nothing lasts for long. The phases of parenthood can be so brief, both the good and the bad. Not that they feel that way at the time, of course. One minute, you are ripping your hair out over something, desperate to know how to fix it, and then, almost overnight, that problem has completely evaporated and something new has cropped up to replace it. It might be better, it might be worse, but the main thing is that, just before you feel you are about to lose your mind, it is different. A change is as good as a rest, as they say, and the very fact that the shit you are dealing with (whether literal, as in our case, or metaphorical) is different shit, suddenly makes it bearable again.

I am a tad prone to melodrama in life, I’ll freely admit, but perhaps I’m taking this uncharacteristically grown up view on time passing because I have a new nephew who is just five months old. I’ve watched his rapid change from helpless newborn to entirely engaged little person recently with a sense of amazement. Can my own babies’ early months possibly have passed that quickly when every age, every tricky phase, seemed to last a lifetime?

img_0201With my first especially, my H, I remember each stage feeling endless. It was so difficult and stressful, I felt we had been enduring it for a decade by the time he reached three months. Looking back, I imagine him as a babe in arms, little red face screaming up at me, for painful years on end. But – in real time – that phase was only a matter of weeks. How can time play such tricks?

So, whilst I know I am unlikely to forget the hell of potty training both of my boys, I suspect the pain will seem longer than it actually was when I look back on it. (My girl was a doddle in comparison, by the way, apart from a particularly memorable flood in a little National Trust cafe).

Or perhaps time will mute the misery. You never know with memory. It is a funny thing, especially when it comes to the crazy world of childrearing. So many emotions flying about, so many battles, large and small, lost and won. All compacted down into hazy, vastly inaccurate little glimmers of how things were or might have been.

I’ve never been of the ‘enjoy every moment’ camp. Let’s be honest, there is much of parenting that only an idiot would relish. Does anyone enjoy flushing the contents of a potty and having splashback on their slippers? No, I didn’t think so. I’ll never, ever tell a new mum who looks like she is on the verge of tears while her baby kicks off that she should ‘enjoy every moment’. But I do think it is worth remembering – when you can see beyond the fog of whatever shit you are going through – that nothing lasts for long. With any luck, change will come just before you lose your mind. And you’ll soon be wondering what you were so stressed about.

So, until change comes to release me from this endless round of loo trips, I’m just going to have to grit my teeth, keep the Detttol to hand at all times and remember, nothing lasts forever. And if it feels like it does, then a very large glass of wine usually helps.

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When to Admit Defeat

imageKids really are gross. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I really, really hate potty training. It is, in my eyes, quite possibly the worst, most disgusting parenting experience to date. Which is saying something.

Let’s be honest, kids are pretty foul from day one. They wipe their snot all over your clothes, do explosive poos, even throw up in your hair. But there is something so gross and soul destroying about dealing with poo-filled pants on a daily basis. I think it trumps all the other things hands down. It is the pure, shitty relentlessness of it.

We embarked on our third and final potty training journey about two months ago. It started well and T nailed getting wee on target immediately. OK, so he was still pooing in his pants but it was early days. I even proudly announced that he was the best so far and was sure that my clever boy would work out number twos soon enough.

Days and then weeks passed with daily turds in kecks. We had a couple of memorable craps to deal with: one down the trouser leg and one he tried to clean up himself, mostly by rubbing his arse on the wall.

Still I persevered. After all, my eldest did poos in his pants for about three months before he finally worked it out. T would get it soon, surely. And I didn’t have a little baby to manage as well this time round, so how hard could it be? I just had to endure it for a bit longer and he would hit a turning point and work it out. So, I bought more cheap pants and braced myself for yet more shit.

imageOne thing I didn’t want to do was go backwards. I have always believed that mixing up nappies and pants during potty training just leads to confusion, so the best option seemed like sticking with it.  Besides, I really wanted him out of nappies in time for our holiday at the end of August and time was ticking.

But the strain of dealing with the accidents has really been getting me down. It is one thing coping with it at home but out and about is something else altogether. I no longer carry nappies everywhere, as I have done for over eight years now. Instead I have the Shit Kit, a bag full of numerous pairs of pants and trousers, poo bags and wipes. If anything, it is more cumbersome than the changing bag used to be.

Plus there is the feeling of dread when away from home. A trip to soft play is positively terrifying. What if he has a crap in the ball pit? Wherever you go, you invariably end up trolling about with a bag of poo-smeared trousers stuffed into your bag. And dealing with the fall out in a park or a grubby public loo is just foul. Half a bag of wipes to clean legs, bum and hands later and you still feel like you are both grubby.

I can’t help but get annoyed with T after the third accident of the day and he is now refusing to even try to do it on target, opting for hiding behind the sofa instead and not telling me he has done a poo, leading to dried on disasters to deal with.

I keep beating myself up for not knowing the solution to this. I mean, third time round, I should be able to work this out, right? And I feel really annoyed with T for not even trying to figure it out. I have gone from being really proud of him to really pissed off. He must be confused and he is clearly worried by failing. So I am being horribly unfair but it is just impossible to smile through it sometimes. I do my best to hide my frustration but sometimes it shows.

imageWe are both getting more and more stressed about crap. So I decided to forget my own rule about not going backwards. After all, I made the rule up and, as I have clearly demonstrated three times now, I am in no way an expert on potty training. So the rule is no more.

Yesterday morning T crapped himself and I made the decision that it would be the last pair of binned underpants for a while. The pull ups are back. And do you know what? We both had a lovely day. There was no pressure on T and he behaved like a dream, which for my naughty little lad is a very rare thing indeed. I didn’t even pester him to wee on the loo and he absolutely loved it. He happily reverted to babydom without a backward glance.

So, have we just wasted the last two months of misery by going backwards? Am I just giving up when the going gets tough? Possibly. But I hope not. I hope he remembers what he has learnt and can pick it all up again when we are both in a better place for dealing with it.

imageI do feel a bit annoyed with myself for not allowing T as long as I gave H when he was struggling to poo on target, for running out of patience with it. But my boys are very different creatures and what is right for one isn’t necessarily right for the other. Besides, I only had H and his baby sister to worry about back then. I was on maternity leave and yes, dealing with it when there was a three month old baby in the house was no kind of fun but, on reflection, it was probably easier than it is this time round, with three kids, work, school and various other commitments to juggle.

Even if we are back to square one when we restart in a couple of months, at least we will both have had a break. And boy, do we need a break. Two months is a long time in the life of a not-quite-three year old. Who knows how my funny boy will have developed and changed by then? So I am hopeful. There is no point in being any other way.

For now though, we are both going to chill out and relax about it all. T can merrily crap himself without guilt and I can stop feeling like I am banging my head against a wall of turds. If he is still in nappies by our holiday, so be it. Shit happens. He can happily crap while the sun shines as I drink cocktails without having to run back and forth to the loo with him every five minutes. And we won’t have to worry about a poo in pants on the aeroplane either. Every cloud, and all that.

I dare say I’ll let you know how we get on next time, if you can stand reading any more about shit, that is.

As I said, kids are gross.

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Party Panics

imageI may be nearly 8 years into parenthood but I have to admit that, up until now, I’ve been a party avoider. Sure, my kids have had birthday parties but I’ve run like hell from the the whole invite-the-whole-class-to-a-hall thing. The very idea has made my blood run cold. I know that makes me sound like a bit of a party wimp but I do have good reason. My eldest and parties simply don’t mix.

Kids in their first year at school have the world’s best social life. Pretty much every one of those 30 children has a party and everyone gets invited. When those invites started rolling in for my first it was a bit of a shock. There was hardly a weekend when there wasn’t a party.

Luckily, the invites tail off in Year 1 but I didn’t realise that at the time and was a bit scared. You see, parties were not easy with our H. He couldn’t really cope with them at all. He has always been pretty anxious and the noise of 30 odd 4-year olds running amok in a echoing hall was just too much for him.

So, just don’t go, right? Well, that was the tricky bit. H was desperate to go and I was desperate for him to fit in. So we sucked it down for a while. And boy, did it suck?

We attended quite a few parties with him clinging to me, refusing to get off my lap, not even wanting the party tea. I had to deal with screaming panics over burst balloons and once had to leave after just five minutes because of a bout of intense balloon popping. He was also very wary of the kids’ entertainers and was known to cry desperately when watching Punch and Judy or even magicians if something popped up quickly and made him jump. It was, to put it mildly, a tad challenging – although he always said what fun he’d had afterwards, which I never understood.

After a while I simply hid party invites from H when they came home in his bag and sent an RSVP to say we were busy. If he spotted the invite before I got to it, I claimed we already had plans. Anything to avoid the misery.

So, holding a party for H when his own 5th birthday rolled round was not an option. Besides, not only would I have had H’s extreme anxiety to deal with but I also had a toddler in tow and was six months pregnant. So you can see why I decided against it.

imageWe avoided parties for a year or so and when H’s 6th birthday came round we found he’d calmed down enough to do smaller gatherings (without balloons) so we threw him a pizza-making party at the local Italian restaurant, which was a hit. By the time he was 7, he was a bit beyond the big party age. So, hall parties neatly side-stepped. Phew!

H can do parties now but he still looks like a fish out of water much of the time. It can be OK but it can also be a total disaster and is completely unpredictable, so he keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Then along came M, my confident little social butterfly. She absolutely loves parties. She has attended all of the ones thrown by her classmates so far this year and not only lets me dump her and run but she actively wants me to leave so she can get on with it without Mummy cramping her style.

M’s lovely little best mate is just two weeks younger than her and equally sociable, so holding a party for the two of them together seemed like a perfect fit. I won’t deny that I was still a bit anxious about it but sharing it between us two Mums reassured me a bit. We decided to hire a dance entertainer for our pop-crazy little girls. It would be a walk in the park, right? Besides, it is only two hours of our lives. How bad could it be?

The day before the party, I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t sleep very well. I used to work in event management, for God’s sake. How the hell could a party for 30 small kids be keeping me awake at night?! But there were just so many things that I could see going wrong, and they were all out of my control.

imageMy biggest worry was how my boys were going to behave. I dreaded things going bad for H and him kicking off while I was up to my eyes in yelling kids and party bags. And then there was Baby T, who is 2 so is basically a marauding mini-monster and a total loose canon.

It didn’t start brilliantly. The guy in charge of the hall forgot to let us in and our already tight half-hour set-up time was suddenly reduced to 20 minutes. As a result we were up against it and frantically blowing up balloons to hang up when the first kids arrived. Said kids commandeered the loose balloons while I was busy checking them in on my list and, inevitably, some popped while they were kicked about (OK, I bought cheap balloons so I guess I had it coming). One popped right next to H, who stood in the middle of the hall – towering above the other kids – looking a picture of misery. I clocked that he was doing the lip and I broke out in a cold sweat. Big fat tears were forming and he was on he verge of completely losing it in a loud, embarrassing and very public way.

It is always hit and miss whether you can pull it back when H gets like that and you have to decide whether to go hard or soft. I made a quick decision to skip the sympathetic good cop and go in like nails. A quick firm warning in his ear, followed by swiftly depositing him with my best mate at the edge of the room to calm him down and the disaster was averted. I have never been more relieved, or more glad to have backup.

There were a couple more hairy moments (we all totally forgot to cut the cake for the party bags until the very last moment, which led to a frantic, giggling cake chain-gang in the kitchen) but it went really well in all. My husband was basically on T duty throughout and my cheeky little youngest was pretty good, so long as the party food kept flowing in his direction. Even H pulled it back admirably in the end and I was proud of both of them.

So, it was a success and we all survived. I still don’t think I could do it alone and I’m eternally grateful to my friend for sharing the burden with me. And our beautiful bestie birthday girls had a perfect pop-tastic day and were full of smiles, which made it all so worth it.

Happy Birthday, dear little party girls. I think I can say, from the safe distance of a couple of days, that it was a genuine pleasure and worth all the boy-induced worry to see your funky dance moves and your happy little faces.

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I Need a Hero?

Do I really need a hero? It is a question I’ve found myself asking quite a lot recently. I blame Thomas the Tank Engine. Let me explain.

T is prone to obsession. I’m well aware that he gets that from me but it is bloody annoying. It means that only his current favourite will do and it drives me to distraction. I end up searching the house endlessly when he has absentmindedly put this month’s pride and joy down somewhere random and lost it.

imageRight now, all he wants is his Hiro. Hiro is one of the Thomas the Tank trains but you’d be forgiven for not knowing who the hell he is, even if you have had a small boy at some point in recent years. He is one of the pretty obscure ones. He is a dull and unassuming black and, as far as I can tell, there is nothing particularly special about him. I’ve never seen him in a single TV episode, or noticed him featuring in any of the books. Hiro is clearly an also ran, no matter which way you cut it.

But in this house, he is an idol. He is adored and carried everywhere. He is stared at lovingly and pushed gently back and forth in bed, as T drifts off to sleep. T has very little time for other kids his own age so Hiro is basically the boy’s best friend.

The weird thing about Hiro is that I have literally no idea where he came from. He just appeared one day in the train box, smiling his enigmatic smile. He isn’t a toy we’ve bought or been given and he is a different type of train to the ones that fit our track, so he is a total misfit. I’m guessing a friend’s kid left him here at a play date or he was mistakenly sent home from nursery in T’s bag. However he got here, he was welcomed with open arms and, now that he is flavour of the month, he is going nowhere anytime soon.

I think the love affair started because Hiro has an on switch and could chug along on his own, at least until T decided to put him in the bath that is. He doesn’t chug anywhere now, natch, but the obsession had already taken hold and T doesn’t seem to care. Hiro is still deeply loved.

Hiro gets lost roughly 25 times a day. He is usually stuffed down behind a cushion or under a sofa and only takes a short while to find but, until he turns up, T bombs around the house yelling “I need Hiro! I need Hiro!” He doesn’t go on to say that he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight, sadly. But my brain does. I’ve had bloody Bonnie Tyler as an ear worm for weeks now.

imageAll this yelling for Hiro (and Bonnie’s endless wailing inside my head) has got me pondering the vast quantity of heroes in our house. It is literally stuffed full of them. We have a superhero box packed with the buggers. It contains approximately 8 Spidermen alone, H having been very into Spidey a few years ago. One of them is large and makes little Spidey quips and web noises every time someone so much as breaths on the box. It can be a little unnerving, hearing the web-slinger chatting to himself from a darkened playroom at midnight.

And then there is Superman. Now, he is a tad too big for the box. My husband ordered a Superman for H a few years ago, around the time that Man of Steel came out. I’m pretty sure that T was after a little one that he could hold in his grubby little mitt but my husband made the classic mistake with online ordering and didn’t check the dimensions.

Well, Superman arrived and he was literally bigger than the youngest two kids. I’m not joking. The Man of Steel was over 3 feet high. Utterly useless for playing with basically and only good for tripping over with alarming regularity. H was delighted. I was a bit less so.

This was around two and a half years ago and I’ve been unable to palm old Superman off on anyone yet. Which is odd. I mean, who doesn’t want a weird half-life-size Henry Cavill in full hero garb, right? He is literally never played with but when I recently floated the idea of sending him off to a charity shop, both the older two had a fit. So, here he stays, in our too small house, taking up precious space and not even saving anyone or using his laser vision or anything. Twat.

So, what with all this yelling of “I need Hiro” from T and all these hordes of superheroes in my house, to be tripped over and trodden on painfully, I find that I have come to the conclusion that I don’t need a hero really. No matter how much Bonnie wails about it in my head, I think we are pretty much sorted for heroes/hiros in this house.

In fact, if Bonnie is still as keen on heroes as she was back in the 80s, she is welcome to pop over and take a few home with her. I wonder if she fancies adopting a midget Superman while she is here…..

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Naughtiness is a Boy Called T

imageToddlers are sent to try us. I’m on my third now so I know the drill. They are little buggers and it often feels like their primary goal in life is to make your day harder. Out of my three, I thought the first would be unbeaten in his terrible reign. He was the red-faced Tantrum King. My second gave about the standard level of bad behaviour so was a walk in the park in comparison.

But my final toddler, my Baby T, is taking it to a new level. He is just so incredibly naughty. He certainly knows how to throw in the odd scream-up but that isn’t his forté. He is just so wantonly cheeky, so deliberately defiant. He is a professional piss-taker.

Perhaps it is experience or just indulging the baby but I don’t often get upset or embarrassed by T’s behaviour these days. More often than not it makes me laugh to see this tiny blonde bombshell taking on towering adults with such ferocity, such bare-faced cheek.

We went for a sleepover at the weekend. OK, so four kids aged eight and under in one bedroom was never going to make for a quiet evening but, as the older three were settling down nicely, T was making merry mayhem. He was up and down out of bed, clambering about on top of his big brother, throwing bedding down the stairs and generally taking the micky for hours.

When my girl started school last September, I was looking forward to having time with just one pre-schooler at home, thinking how easy it would be to get things done, to nip into the shops for milk for example, with just one in tow. But T was only just beginning to step it up then. It is almost as if he waited for M to be out of the way at school before unleashing his full onslaught of pure naughtiness.

A trip to the supermarket with T is incredibly daunting. I do it when I have to but I go out of my way to avoid it. I needed to buy three things in Friday. Just three. Easy, right? Wrong. T never agrees to sit in a trolley, of course, and he insisted on bombing about at speed, tripping up pensioners and taking things off shelves. One poor woman had to swerve her trolley into a shelf full of wine bottles to avoid him as he pelted out in front of her.

His favourite thing about supermarkets is being able to run his trains up and down the grills on the inside of the fridges in the chilled aisles, because they make a delightful clattering noise. He then left his train in a fridge and kicked off until we located it, sat on top of a block of Red Leicester. All this was punctuated by frequently losing him down various aisles, although he was usually easy to find if I followed the near continuous yelling about how he wanted a biscuit from the café.

You can see why I avoid it.

Today I took him to get his passport photos done. This is something I’ve been dreading but I was feeling strong so bit the bullet. The only local place that does kid passport photos is a little independent pharmacy, staffed by an incredibly bad-tempered and impatient woman. Always a helpful attitude when dealing with a toddler.

So, the white backdrop was pulled down in readiness and a footstool was produced for T to stand on. Not a bloody chance. He refused to put his feet down and started yelling his head off when I lifted him up. So we went for Option B and I put my foot on the stool, knee up, for T to sit on. Well, that was apparently abhorrent too, cue more screaming and squirming.

Our friendly photographer took a picture of the top of T’s head and tutted loudly, saying it was no good. She took another three or four over the next few minutes, as I attempted to pin him to my knee and calm him down. She eventually got one with him looking at the camera and showed me this shot of a blurred grimace. I think I laughed at how terrible it was, which she seemed to take as confirmation that I was happy with it. She was reaching the point of saying anything to get shot of us and said the passport people “might let a blurry one pass as he is only two”.  Hmmm. I’m not sure ‘might’ is good enough for a passport application so I asked her as nicely as I could to try again.

imageIt was time for the big guns. Lollypop bribery. I grabbed a lolly from the counter and waved it in front of T. He screamed louder and grabbed for it, knocking it out of my hand and sending it skidding across the shop floor under a lady’s wheelchair. I put T down, apologised to the lady and crawled about under her wheelchair to retrieve it. T spotted his chance and legged it out of the shop, carrying a can of deodorant in each fist, swiped from the nearest low shelf.

Skipping on through the next few minutes of mayhem and we were back in position, boy squirming and yelling on my knee, lollypop retrieved and unwrapped, photographer with a face like thunder. I tried holding him with one hand, waving the lolly about in front of him with the other. He was now beetroot and covered in snot from all the yelling, so not exactly photo ready, but I didn’t have a free hand to wipe him with. We had attracted quite a crowd by now and an elderly couple were standing behind our happy photographer waving and cooing to get T to look in the right direction. The screaming and wiggling went on.

I gave him the lolly, out of desperation, to see if the sugar hit would make him shut his face for a moment. It worked, the yelling stopped. But now we had the problem of getting a photo without a lollypop in shot. The Happy Snapper went for another few shots. One was T’s grumpy profile, one had his little pink tongue sticking out reaching for the lolly, and one was perfect apart from him having his eyes shut.

I was on the verge of giving up when my friends, the elderly coo-ing couple, made an inspired last-ditch attempt and started waving rubber ducks they’d grabbed off the shelves behind them. T looked up, I dropped the lollypop out of shot and Happy Snapper clicked at just the right moment. Success! Of sorts. You wouldn’t frame it but the passport people would approve. The coo-ing couple and other onlookers actually started applauding.

I put T down and gave him his lolly. He grinned and started happily chatting to his assembled audience, the entire apparent trauma immediately forgotten. He was all cute smiles for everyone, telling them how having his photo taken was “lots of fun”. Speak for yourself, mate.

One thing I forgot to mention about my third and naughtiest toddler is that he can be incredibly cute when he wants to be. Which works entirely to his advantage, of course. He is as manipulative as they come and could charm the birds out of the trees. Cheeky little git.

Although he didn’t win our photographer over with his post photoshoot smiles. Her parting scowl rivalled his worst angry pouts.

And we forgot to pay for the bloody lollypop.

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The Trouble With Targets

School is hard. I’m finding it a lot harder this time round than I did as a child. When you have a kid that finds it more difficult to do the things that many kids seem to breeze through, who is falling short of the new impossible targets, it can be very hard indeed.

My boy doesn’t worry about it. He enjoys school. He is cheerful and content in class, blissfully unaware – for the most part – that he isn’t measuring up to government standards, or that I am sometimes tied up in knots of worry. But my boy hasn’t read the rules. He hasn’t seen the list of things he is supposed to know by the end of the year. I have. And I know he isn’t going to tick all the right boxes. He may be funny and sweet and clever with a special and original way of looking at the world, but he struggles to join up his letters, so he fails. He can’t tell me what 7 X 8 is, so he misses the mark.

School work didn’t bother me at his age. I found it easy. But that is just because I was lucky. My head happens to work in the way they wanted it to. My boy’s head is a world of different. He doesn’t fit the mould, which makes him both wonderful and worrying. He doesn’t learn by rote. He lets thing wash over him. Some things stick, most don’t.

My boy is bendy too. He is hyper-mobile. Excellent for gymnastics. Not so good for handwriting. The look of concentration on his dear little face while he tries to join an F to an L is adorable. But you don’t get points for adorable. You don’t get points for effort either. These days, you either join up your writing or your writing is deemed to be substandard, no matter how perfect the content.

My boy is incredible. The extra effort he has to put in must make his school day a lot harder than it is for most. But he never wants to miss school. He never feigns illness to have a duvet day. He skips in happily.

My boy is the most loyal friend you could wish for. He gets on with everyone but he is devoted to the special few, his very best mates. He looks out for them, is kind, would never be deliberately hurtful or play them off against each other. He is all wide-eyed innocence and shock in the face of such behaviour from others. But there are no tick boxes for kindness and loyality.

I am a worrier. I always have been. My husband and my parents tell me not to sweat it, that he is only seven, that he will find his niche and it will all fall into place soon enough. They are probably right. I really hope they are right. But I can’t help but worry because I want to protect him. I want to protect him from feeling like he has failed because he hasn’t ticked the right boxes. Because the skills and talents he has are not valued as highly as those others have, so they score zero.

I am on a learning curve that I don’t think the government understands. I am learning that hitting the academic mark isn’t the only measure of a child’s success. My amazing little boy is teaching me that. He has a wonderful attitude, is positive and keen, and I worry about him losing that with the realisation that he is struggling with some of their targets.

Our school is great at supporting kids like H who need a little extra help with things. They see and value the whole child and give him all the help he needs. But so much of it is out of their hands. These tick boxes come from on high, from politicians attempting to woo their aging conservative voters who think that learning the times tables by heart was good enough for them, so should be inflicted upon the youth of today.

imageBut I am overstating things, as I am prone to do. He is doing OK. He is keeping up, just about. I have been so impressed by how he has improved with his reading and writing recently that I was feeling pretty confident. But at a parents’ meeting at school last night all the targets were listed as the new curriculum kicks in. Standards have gone up. Reaching an acceptable level is now that much harder. This is pretty scary when your child wasn’t even hitting the old averages.

I sat through the meeting, biting my lip, trying to keep the bubbling emotion inside me at bay, as I heard about the hoops that have to be jumped through to make my boy ‘secondary ready’ in just three and a half short years. There are targets on the list that he won’t hit this year, no matter what any of us do. He may not hit them at all. Does it really matter in life if he cannot join up his letters and recite his twelve times table? Of course not. But being perceived to have failed to meet the standard might just matter. There may come a point when empty tick boxes matter a lot. Because there may come a time when he will care deeply.

We are certainly not alone. That much I know. There are parents up and down the country worrying about their little ones. The creative ones, the ones who think differently, the ones who have a lot to offer but not necessarily the things on the government’s list. There will be other parents worried in his school, in his class. Us worriers will read the list of targets and our hearts will sink. We will work extra hard, do extra maths and reading at home, work on our kids’ confidence with lots of praise for the small wins.

But no matter what I do, I am certain there will be empty tick boxes come July. There will be empty tick boxes in three and half years too, on the eve of secondary school. Because my wonderful, kind, creative, imaginative little lad does not always fit in the box, let alone know how to tick it. Because one size does not fit all. Because no matter how fantastic your school is, the system of measuring achievement for little ones in this country is too rigid. It does not leave room to appreciate the many talents and incredible facets of the wonderfully varied little people that we are raising.

This makes me sometimes sad and sometimes cross. But mostly it just makes me worry and wish there was a better way.

What we have to do is help him to do his best and make sure he understands that there is more to life than ticking boxes. We have to make damn sure that he knows that we appreciate him for who he is and for what he is good at. Even if the powers that be don’t.

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My brilliant boy.

Parents’ Evening High

imageThis week it was parents’ evening. It isn’t actually called that any more, it’s called ‘Parents’ Consultations’ these days, which is more accurate I guess, but kinda irritating too, if you know what I mean. But old habits and all that, so it is still known as parents’ evening in this house.

Now, last time I went to a parents’ evening I left in tears, and that was with my man as back-up, so there was a little bit of trepidation going on. The husband is away for work in Dusseldorf this week so I’m solo parenting. I spoke to him last night and he was in his crappy little hotel room eating takeaway pizza as the hotel ‘don’t do dinner’. Sounds pretty bleak and I don’t feel too jealous this time (although all that alone time, even with nothing but German TV and a pizza box for company, still sounds pretty good to me).

imageFirst appointment was with M’s teacher. The first parents’ evening for new starters is kinda pointless in a way and once we’d both said how happy she is and how well we think she is doing, there wasn’t a lot left to say. It was good to be reassured that everything is as positive in the classroom as M says it is though, and I was presented of lots of pictures is her getting stuck into everything, with Best Mate glued to her side. M and Best Mate are utterly inseparable but I’ve been reassured they have a very mature relationship for their age and don’t get jealous of other friends muscling in. I’m delighted they have each other to be honest. Best Mate is a really lovely little girl too, which helps.

I was amused to hear the teacher say M was “coming out of her shell now”. I know she can be shy with new people but she is just so full of her little self at home, I can’t imagine her being retiring for the first three weeks, as she apparently was. Mrs Reception sounded a little surprised when she said, “She actually has a bit of a cheeky side, doesn’t she?” Er, yeah. I should say so.

So, all good with our M. Next was the reason for my trepidation, my dear little H. I always have an appointment with the Special Education Needs lady who oversees the extra support H has so I saw her first. She said he was “just about keeping his head above water in class”, which was my only lump in throat moment. She had meant it as a positive but images of my little lad nearly drowning under a sea of spellings and times tables flooded my head.

She went on to tell me about the ‘interventions’ they have in place, to help him out with his spelling, handwriting and maths. He is going to have one afternoon a week of blitz time, to really target the areas he struggles with. Apparently Mrs SEN asked H whether he would like to spread these intervention sessions out over the week or do them all at once and he opted for the latter, saying it would be easier for him to learn that way and more fun. I could just hear him saying that in the adorably earnest little voice he uses when he knows he is being asked something important.

Final appointment was H’s new class teacher. While I waited for her to be free, I chatted and fell about laughing with one of the other Mums about inappropriate crying at these meetings, which I like to think helped ward off any possible repeat performance of tears and snot all over the teacher’s desk.

imageMiss Year 3 is just wonderful. I knew that before I even met her because H fell in love with her on first contact and has raved about her ever since. She is softly spoken and incredibly kind. I suspect she might have given me a big hug if I had started inappropriately snivelling on her. But I didn’t. There was no need.

The first thing she said to me was “Ah, H, he is just lovely“. And I could tell she really meant it. She didn’t start with his spider handwriting or his poor grasp of maths. It was just how damn lovely he is. She went on to say how polite and positive he is too. It was only after telling me how wonderful my boy is that we got to the things he needs to work on and his tendency to daydream, totally failing to take in instructions until the second or third reading, but even that was discussed with affection.

It is incredible how two parents’ evening experiences can be so dramatically different but I left with dry eyes, a smile on my face and a skip in my step. The mountain is still there to be climbed but I felt like we have a great, caring team of climbers around us, pulling on the ropes to help us up.

Being told that the kid you worry about, struggle with daily and work so hard with “has so many good qualities that he is bound to find his niche” is just the best thing ever. Not that I don’t know all this stuff deep down, of course. I know that he is bright and wonderful and unique but that the rigid school system doesn’t suit him too well right now. I know that he will find his place and that we aren’t there just yet. But me feeling all that and being told it by someone teaching him every day are very different things.

Miss Year 3 has only been teaching my boy for a few short weeks and in that time she has really got the measure of him. I left wanting to cry but for all the right reasons this time. I thought about hugging her but that would have been a bit weird so I resisted.

So, we have a plan for H, both at school and at home as we have a new tutor we are starting with after half term. So, we push on but don’t push too hard. He is only seven, after all. Be patient, encouraging and patient some more. Easier said than done much of the time, when his head is elsewhere and you have to ask the same question three times. But I will keep trying really hard to help in a way that works for him, because this is important stuff. And it is all new for both of us.

I dare say H will continue to be the one I worry about and M will continue to breeze through but who knows what will happen in future. And number 3 hasn’t even got started yet. God help us all when that little whirlwind hits the school. I wonder what his teachers will have to say…..

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