The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

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Banished Blues

img_1776Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve always been a bit shit at January. I view it with a kind of dread, like a blot on the horizon, forever lingering in the shadows of the joy and fun of Christmas. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been a bit ridiculous about it over the years. I’ve been known to start feeling the January Blues creeping into my life before we’ve even finished Boxing Day.

It isn’t just a parenting thing, finding life harder with small kids in tow during the long winter months. I’ve hated it with a passion all my adult life. In my pre-kid days, I had a fantastic job in events which was manically busy in January and February. I bloody loved it! I never had time to slip into the January Blues. I was rushed off my feet and, by the time things started to calm down at the end of February, Spring was just round the corner and the crocuses were popping up all over.

Kids came along. The job was utterly incompatible with a family and it had to go. Back came the winter misery but this time it was worse. When my challenging first baby arrived, we had several winters of extreme snow, too deep to wheel a pushchair through and, with ungritted country roads, driving was often out too. Being housebound for days on end with a foul-tempered small boy did nothing for my anti-January mood.

So, my January misery became even more of a ‘thing’. It was set in concrete, like a slab of annual doom. It got easier after those first few years but the blues just sort of stuck. I’d moan about it ages in advance, tarnishing the fun of December with the background dread of it all.

img_1774We had a fantastic family Christmas this year – our best yet in fact. It’s amazing what a difference it makes not having a baby in the mix. It was brilliant fun and we were all on such a festive high that you would think I’d be prime for a fall from a great height into winter blues. And, true to form, I could feel it sneaking in. I actually felt that slight falling feeling in the pit of my stomach on Christmas morning. The kids had only just opened their presents from Father Christmas and the doom came knocking on the door. That’s when I made a decision to say Fuck You January Blues! How dare it attempt to get in before we’ve even opened the festive bubbles?!

I have always loved the run up to Christmas more than the day itself, with the expectation and excitement. It is all just so full of joy and wonder. And yes, that bit is over after the big man in red has been and gone. But getting the January Blues whilst doing your teeth on Christmas morning really does take the piss.

About a year ago I was having a bit of a moan to my Dad about how much I hate January and I remember his response clearly. My Dad is a wonderful father but he isn’t much of a one for liberally imparting words of wisdom or advice. So when he does, you sort of have to listen. He said ” You really are ridiculous about January, you know. It is just another month like any other”. That’s pretty much all he said. But I listened and knew he was right. And I made a bit of a promise to myself to try harder next year.

So it was more than a bit disappointing to feel the pit forming in my stomach at 10am on Christmas Day. I looked at my scruffy, sleep deprived reflection (H was up for hours with all the excitement) and I said to myself “No, this isn’t going to happen this year”. Just like that. Years of being at the mercy of a month I have imbibed with doom, shut down in the blink of an eye.

And OK, I know it is only 10th January but it is actually bloody working. I dismissed the pit of doom on Christmas morning and the bastard thing hasn’t come back.

We had a hysterically funny New Year’s Eve with our lovely neighbours (much dancing and belting out Whitney as I vaguely recall) before entering the Blues danger-zone: taking down the decorations, back to school, back to work, etc, etc. I’m delighted to report, I’ve nailed it so far. Taking the tree down was fine because oh, look at all the lovely space we have again! T was very sad about it going and snuck off with a reindeer Christmas decoration, which I let him have to soften the blow. But I was totally fine.

Back to school was a little harder as I miss my little monkeys and never relish the return of the school run but even that was OK. I’m not enjoying the early starts again but we have fun things planned in the diary for the coming weeks and Spring isn’t that far off, so what is there is to miserable about really?

I’ve had a couple of slips in my new found January Zen, the most notable being on Saturday when both H and I ended up in tears after a particularly bloody awful homework session. But after a long chat with a good friend, I have a bit of a plan of how to tackle some of the school issues we are coming up against, so I feel more in control again.

img_1775Like anything in life, if you can find a way to remove the emotion to a certain extent – something I’ll freely admit I’m not always that great at – it all just becomes a series of things to try in order to come up with a solution. The emotion makes a few school hiccups into an insurmountable mountain. It makes a return to routine and shorter days a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth at the unfairness of the turn of the seasons. None of this is helpful.

I’m never gonna be one of those smug people who can take decisions based upon emotion-free clear thinking. That just isn’t who I am or who I’d want to be. I’m ruled by my feelings and I admit they can get out of control at times but I wouldn’t change it. I will always wend my way through life, making decisions based on feelings, with a bit of logic and detachment thrown in where I can. My heart is king – my head accepts it takes second place. I hope that makes me a good Mum/friend/wife/sister/daughter. And I fill my life with similar people.

But it pays to have a few key people around you to ground you with sensible, emotion-free advice. Like my husband. And my Dad. They see the problems H has at school for what they are: tiny hiccups in the grand scale of a childhood, of a life. They see that January is just the start of the year, not a harbinger of doom.

All that grand ‘this is how I am’ crap aside, I’m at last beginning to see that there is no point in adding emotional shit when it is pointless, like the January Blues. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s all just a bit too much drama for it’s own sake, something I excel at. As Dad rightly said, it is just another month. Shut up and deal with it, one little thing at a time.

Plan future fun, laugh, see friends, cosy up under blankets. Crucially, don’t do anything stupid like Dry January or kick off a major diet. Don’t put the pressure on. It really isn’t the time. If you treat January right, maybe the cantankerous old git of a month will soften and be a bit of a laugh after all.

See Dad, I’m learning.

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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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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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Being the Baby

imageMy Baby T has been getting a bit of stick lately from his siblings and it makes me really, really mad. I don’t get seriously cross with the kids that often but yesterday some hard words were had, in defence of the baby of the pack.

T is changing fast. He watches the bigger kids and he wants so much to be like his big brother and sister that he fights to reject all signs of babydom. He wants to drink out of open cups, bin his bib and reject his highchair, despite the fact that he can hardly reach the table when he sits on a grown up chair. In short, my baby boy dreams big.

With two older siblings ahead of him, T wants everything sooner than he is ready and he feels a huge sense of injustice when he can’t have what the others have. Being the baby can be hard.

But being the big brother or sister can be hard too. The problem with toddlers is that they can be incredibly annoying. If you are a kid who has a collection of small, precious items that you want to keep safe, or a game set up exactly as you want it, a maurading spit monster is really not going to be your favourite person. I get that, I really do. I’ve been there. But T is part of this family and the kids getting angry with him for simply being a toddler makes my blood boil.

H loves his baby brother but the more active and capable he gets, the more irritating he seems to find him. As the oldest, H has always looked out for the other two and he was positively obsessed with T as a baby. But that obsession has well and truly faded. He now gets so annoyed with his little brother wanting to play that I catch him shouting at him as if he is a badly behaved dog. T blunders in, knocks the Batcave over sucks Superman’s cape and ruins the game. Yes, bloody annoying, but that is life with a toddler.

I sometimes wonder if I should shut T out, keep him away from the big kid games. But I feel so sorry for him and all he wants to do is join in, in his clumsy, over-enthusiastic way. So, mostly I tell them to let him play. All they have to do is give him some random character they don’t want, let him walk it about a bit and he is in heaven. A few knocked over superheroes seems like a small price to pay to me – but then I am not a superhero crazy seven year old boy.

As well as being yelled at by his brother, T has another problem: he has an overbearing sister. M is beyond delighted by T’s improving ability to play and chat. She has endured years of being at the mercy of her big brother’s moods when playing: H has a habit of losing his temper or wandering off bored when he loses interest half way through a game, leaving M bereft. But she now has a very enthusiastic sub on the bench, and one that she can boss about, to boot.

imageFor the most part, M and T play very well together. But M has a tendency to experiment with her baby brother’s mood, to wind him up and let him go, just to see what happens. She can whisk him up into a frenzy in the time it takes me to make a cup of tea. She likes to see just how nuts it is possible to make a two year old just before the bedtime wind down.

But that isn’t all she does. She just can’t stop herself from petting the poor lad. She cuddles him, strokes his hair and tickles his tummy. She loves to help him put his shoes on and do his cardigan up. He is basically an oversized doll to her, but he isn’t very happy about it. Being constantly pawed when you have a busy toddler schedule to keep to is plain annoying.

And sometimes she messes with what he is doing, just because she can, in a sort of tots power play. Yesterday I caught her sitting on the sofa putting her feet on top of T’s toy train, stopping him from moving it and ruining all his fun, just because she could. This came just five minutes after H had been berating the poor lad for daring to want to join his game.

It was time for serious words with them both, in defence of my baby, who only wants to do his thing and be like his siblings.

When you are growing up, you don’t really appreciate the pros and cons of your position in the family. As a rule, you tend to think you are the one who is hard done by, no matter where you sit in the pecking order. I am the second of four kids and I know there were times when I wished I was able to do things sooner, like my big brother, or that I was the cute little one, like my little sister. But right now, more than ever before, I feel sorry for all the family babies out there. Maybe you were right, Sis. Maybe it does suck to be the little one.

Being a toddler can be very hard. Being a toddler who is in turn shouted at and wound up by older children can be doubly hard. I make no apologies for standing up for my baby and really telling the other two off, despite remembering clearly just how irritating little siblings can be.

T is our little boy, the ‘forever baby’ of our small clan. Annoying? Yes. Frustrating? Undoubtably. But he is our baby, our annoying. And they have to put up with him, the good and the bad.

School starts for M tomorrow. If T had any clue what was going on, I think he might be secretly pleased.

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Transition

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We’re back from a really brilliant week in Somerset. Yes, I know I said it was going to be crap (see Expectations: Keeping it Real) but my low expectations really paid off – we had a great time. OK, so it may have rained almost every day but we soldiered on despite the weather, in true British holiday style, and had lots of fun. A memorable open top bus ride through Cheddar Gorge in driving rain is something not to be forgotten.

We are back and so begins the long anticipated transition. It is Back to School time. Change is afoot for all of us. H moves into Key Stage 2, M starts in Reception and T and I become a duo, home alone together. Momentous times that we have talked about and prepared for over months are finally here. M is beyond excited. I am still trying to get my head around my little girl starting school and having just one pre-schooler at home again.

When I say this transition is much anticipated, I don’t mean I’ve been desperate to ship the kids off to school. Far from it. I’ve actually had a really brilliant summer with them this year and definitely the best since H started school three years ago. The first two summers were a challenge with a young baby so the only way was up – I won’t go into details on our first summer break with three kids aged five, two and newborn. Suffice to say I was relieved when September came round.

Not so this year. I’ll actually be a bit sad to pack H off on Thursday because he has been brilliantly behaved and really good company for the most part. But he has missed his mates and will probably go back with a spring in his step. And I dare say I’ll enjoy the slightly quieter days with him back at school too.

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M’s school anticipation madness was reaching fever pitch in May/June and I was genuinely alarmed that spending a summer with her in full manic mode would be hideous and tantrum-filled, but she really calmed down as the summer wore on and the big day came into focus. She is still counting the sleeps but thankfully without punctuating each day with multiple meltdowns.

And finally to my Baby T. His first two summers were tricky but this year he has been a delight. He still has plenty of moments – what two year old doesn’t? But the last couple of months have seen so many significant changes in his behaviour, not least that he is now chatting away with the best of them, which is just adorable and makes life so much easier. I can now see the two of us quite happily whiling away our days home alone together now, discussing the latest Thomas episode as we have post-lunch cuddles on the sofa. And man, does that kid love a cuddle?

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So, big changes are coming. I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way but, after this brilliant week away, where everyone got on really well, I feel happily calm and ready for it all. I also think that everyone else is ready for the transition too. M has been geared up for about a year, and I am finally able to picture my life with just my cheeky T at home (T, incidentally, has no clue what is coming, but takes everything in his stride and will probably be delighted to have me to himself).

If I’m honest, I suppose the one I am still worried about most is H, my eldest. The change from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 (first to middle school) is a big one, even when you stay in the same building. I just hope he is armed with the tools he needs to take it on. Time will tell and I think a relaxing summer is just what he needed to prepare him for the times ahead. He is just still such a baby in his ways and such a gentle soul.

The main thing about these big transitions isn’t so much the event, it is the thinking about it, dwelling on the context. Knowing that it marks an end, as much as a beginning. I’m not one of those parents who wistfully hang on to every ‘last’, wishing my kids younger. I won’t be sobbing over M’s nursery uniform. But it is still worth a moment of reflection.

I’ll never again have my pudgy cheeked baby girl at home. I loved that phase, but my M just isn’t that baby any more. She is a proper little girl, ready to take on the world. She is very smart and her questions are already far bigger than the confines of her currently very small world. She needs so much more, and I will send her off to school next week feeling very proud of the bright and confident girl she is becoming, not full of sadness for what she used to be.

That said, I can’t guarantee I won’t shed the odd tear on the day. It is, after all, a pretty big event.

Tomorrow sees the start of September. So today, 31st August, is the real year end for all those parents and kids out there. Today is a suitably rainy end to the summer. A days of endings, before the big beginnings start.

Good luck to all the kids heading back to school and special good luck to all those dear little new starters. Very big steps ahead for tiny feet.

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