Grumpy Mummy

imageAfter a great summer of late starts, time off work, sunshine and fun, I’m sorry to admit that I have not handled the first week back to school well. I appear to have turned into Grumpy Mummy. It was our best summer to date, with T being so much older and more manageable and I’ll be honest, I really bloody miss it already.

The kids seem to have settled into their new classes well and I’ve not had any complaints from them about being back in the routine, but I feel a bit like a floundering fish on a river bank, thrashing about pointlessly. I’m just not at all in my groove yet.

The leaves have started to fall too. Usually I love Autumn so much that I don’t care when summer ends, but not this year. Summer rocked and I don’t want to face the fact that it is over.

OK, so the school run gets to me by the end of term but I usually quite like the weekly routine of term time. It works. I know where every kid has to be on any given day of the week and I usually manage to get them there roughly on time without too much stress. But this time term has kicked off, with the clubs starting again next week, and I feel ridiculously behind the curve with it all. It is by some miracle that the older two made it to school every day and I feel totally drained by week one. God knows how I’ll manage with all the clubs starting.

Not only am I feeling that I am still very much in holiday mode in a regimented term-time world, but I have added the pressure on by choosing now as the time to start potty training the little one again. Foolish in the extreme, given that he literally could not give a monkeys about pooing on the loo. He keeps saying he is still a baby and babies wear nappies. That isn’t a great sign, is it?

imageI’ve become even more of an alcoholic too. On holiday we drank every day and I appear to have carried on that trend. I’ve got a bit of a cricked neck at the moment and the osteopath can’t fit me in for ages so it is kinda medicinal. Or so I tell myself. My neck is giving me headaches, which I treat with more booze. It relaxes the muscles, right? So surely it will help. Besides, I need it after a day of cleaning up wee and flicking poo out of pants. And it is either that or seriously lose my shit. Booze is about the only thing keeping Grumpy Mummy at bay some evenings. Sometimes the bedtime routine is just unthinkable without kids TV rolling and a massive glass of wine. Most times, this week. I’m definitely not even contemplating adding up my units.

I’m not going on a big downer here. I know this is just a bad combination of shit. The pain in the neck has a lot to answer for. It is hard to grab life by the balls when you have an neverending headache. And I maybe could have waited a couple of weeks to restart the potty training.

imageI’m almost certain that by this time next week, with a full week of school, work, clubs and all the jazz under my belt, I’ll feel totally on top of it all again. No doom and gloom. Just a bit of grump and groan. But I’m looking forward to feeling less grouchy and more on top of things.

We got our first homework back from school today; our first school newsletter giving dates of things right up to Christmas. There is no escaping it. Term has us in it’s grip. There is nothing to do but suck it down, even if it tastes rubbish.

My biggest concern about being in seriously Grumpy Mummy mode now that the weekend has landed is that I am liable to do something a bit daft. I am going out for dinner and drinks tomorrow with a brilliant mate who listens to all my moans and has a habit of plying me with more wine than I can handle. I can already foresee that Sunday is going to a right off. Part of me dreads the idea of doing homework with the eldest with a stinking headache but another (sadly much bigger) part of me is saying “Do it!! It will make you feel sooo much better about everything!” I have a suspicion I know which voice is going to win.

So, let’s write this weekend off. And then it is time to start scribbling on the calendar, planning the logistics of the every day, the juggling three small social whirls. And muttering under my breath “You can do it, you can do it”. Or, if that doesn’t work, muttering “Fuck fuck fuck fuck” from time to time. Whatever works, right?

Good luck everyone. Let’s beat the shit out of this school run bollocks.

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Dress Up Dramas

imageOh, how I adore a school dress up day! Said no parent ever. OK, so seeing all the excited kids running into class this morning in their little outfits was very cute but behind each one of those little get-ups is a load of effort, time and/or money and almost certainly a good few arguments.

It is World Book Day this week. I think it is actually tomorrow but, for some reason, the school did the dressing up element today. We were, thankfully, given plenty of notice about this one (which is not always the case with these things) and I was feeling pretty smug about being rather well prepared. I had decided to go down the buying and borrowing route, rather than actually making anything this time. Cheap enough, through the power of eBay.

So, I’ve had a little ladybird costume and a Peter Pan outfit in the cupboard for weeks. The ladybird is from Julia Donaldson’s What the Ladybird Heard, a book that M really loves (and you can also buy a ladybird skirt, boppers, wings and wand on eBay for about a fiver so everyone’s a winner). And Peter Pan? Well, it was cheap and easy. OK, so H hasn’t actually read Peter Pan, but he has seen the Disney film lots of times. That must count, right? Besides, after weeks of discussion, with him rejecting all my ideas but not coming up with any suggestions of his own, I gave up and opted for the boy in green.

So, there I was, feeling all smug. Until Friday. H came running out of class saying “Mummy, we have a problem”. H often finds problems where there are none but I could see that he thought this one was serious as he had a very earnest look on his face and his lip was beginning to go. A sure sign that a meltdown was on the way if I didn’t nip it in the bud.

imageI got H to take a deep breath to calm down and explain what was wrong. It seems there had been a pep talk in class from the teacher saying that it was very important that the kids dress up for World Book Day as a character from a book they have read and love, not just any old character. Not only that but each kid would be expected to stand up in class, explain why they chose their character and read an extract from the book.  Oh dear.

A lot of kids wouldn’t have worried about this 11th hour request. Many would shrug it off and go in dressed as Spider-Man or Elsa, just because they wanted to. Not our H. He takes everything he is told in school very seriously. He said there was no way he could go as Peter Pan because he hadn’t read it. He was beginning to get tearful and was clearly very worried about it. He said he simply had to go as his favourite book character, Stick Dog.

imageH isn’t the most widely read 7-year old. Until recently, he was pretty reluctant to pick up a book at all, to be honest. Then along came Stick Dog. He is the star of a series of funny and easy to read books by Tom Watson that H has simply fallen in love with. He has read these books by himself and I’ve read them to him and M as bedtime stories. They roll about laughing at them and love the pictures. The only problem with H wanting to go dressed as Stick Dog is that Stick Dog looks literally as his name suggests. A stick dog. Like a stick man, but a dog. How the hell do you make a costume for that?!

Well, it was either face a weekend of sobbing and misery or relent and say goodbye to Peter Pan and hello to Stick Dog. It is amazing what you can do with an old Shreddies box, a lamb ears headband from last Easter, sticky tape and crayons. Of course H made hardly any of it but, after an hour or so, I had created a sort of Stick Dog headband/hat and dug out some brown clothes. H was utterly delighted with the end result and went in this morning happily wagging his doggy tail (made from one leg of an old pair of my tights, tied to his belt loop) and clutching his Stick Dog book.

I am actually very grateful to Stick Dog and his author Tom, so I wasn’t too upset about having to make him. Before Stick Dog came into our lives, I was pulling my hair out trying to get H to discover the joy of reading. So I suppose it is not only right but also a fitting tribute to this most excellent canine that we made an effigy of him to mark World Book Day. Thank you Stick Dog.

imageSo, both kids happy. All good, right? Wrong. As if getting out the house with three kids wasn’t hard enough, things went particularly sour this morning. All this exciting dressing up led to a massive 2-year old meltdown from little T.

I was prepared for him to be jealous of the costumes so I took him to the dressing up box and helped him pick what he wanted to wear. He opted for a fairy and I duly fitted him out with wings, a wand (slightly bent but fixed with sellotape) and boppers, like his big sister. He was happy with that for about 30 seconds before deciding that he actually had to be exactly like his sister and dress as a ladybird. Well,we only had one ladybird outfit, natch. Cue much screaming and yelling, refusing to get jumper and shoes on, etc, etc.

We finally got to school and were surrounded by excited kids dressed in all sorts of weird and wonderful outfits that their poor parents had created/bought and, for a moment, all the trials suddenly felt like they were worth it. Both my two were full of smiles, delighted to be showing off their costumes to their mates, happily chatting about the books their characters were from. I’d finally got to the point beyond the stress and effort when I could remember what World Book Day dressing up was all supposed to be about.

So, I walked my moany toddler home (minus wings which he had throw off in disgust because they were not red and spotty), had a cuppa and breathed a sigh of relief. It was done. Until the next dress up day, that is. And just think, in a couple of years, when T is at school, I’ll have THREE outfits to put together for World Book Day! My cup runneth over.

Oh, and if anyone needs a Peter Pan costume, I have one going begging.

Happy World Book Day.

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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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