How to feel like a performance parent

Walking home from school, along the busy bit of pavement where lots of parents are loading children into cars, Lex tells me he’s been reading Shakespeare’s plays. Oh I say, which ones in particular? Julius Caesar he tells me. That’s nice I say, what happens in the play? He gets stabbed mummy – in the head!

Now Lex is not quite seven so this little interaction made me feel like I was about to be the subject of a ‘OMG performance parent alert‘ thread on Mumsnet – ‘AIBU to think that going on about Shakespeare on the school run is a tad pretentious?’. In my defence he brought it up unprompted and I tried not to be too loud about it but this totally validates my Book People addiction – the book he had been reading is from a set of books by Marcia Williams. Not quite Shakespeare unabridged and in the original but clearly accessible to Lex so how very cool is that? I resisted the urge to explain this to the mother just behind us, she probably wasn’t listening and if she was it most likely would only have cemented my place as performance parent of the afternoon (even if there’s a trophy I’d rather not win that – unless of course the prize is chocolate, I could parent really loudly for chocolate).

All the books in the set brilliant introductions to various classic stories – Lex enjoyed the Greek Myths book during his Olympic theme during last term and has, erm, read a bit of the Canterbury Tales recently – but I particularly like the Shakespeare books. They’re each set as a comic strip with an contemporary explanation of what’s happening underneath each panel but the dialogue is all original and there’s a cartoon audience to give additional help to the kids in understanding the plot.

I love that my son enjoys reading as much as he does and he knows about Shakespeare and that he wrote a play called Julius Caesar. He’s not planning on reading the Tempest though. Apparently that looks too romantical and he’s not interested in that sort of thing.

Of baby groups and social bravery

Eli thrilled to have more egg shakers than he could ever hold at our favourite baby group.

I used to be really worried about attending new baby/toddler groups. It seemed too intimidating to walk into a room of people I didn’t know and try to join in (why yes I do have a little social anxiety, how could you tell?). Subsequently, when Lex was a baby we didn’t go to any baby groups. I eventually started taking him to swimming lessons when he was about 5 months old but as I returned to work (3 days a week) when he was 6 months old that was about all I managed to do with him. I feel sad now for not going to groups where I would have met some lovely people – my local LLL group for example – but I was just too worried about not knowing anyone. Of course it’s really hard to meet new friends if you don’t go anywhere to meet them!

When I was pregnant with Tilly I started looking for things that we would be able to do once I was on maternity leave. My lovely SIL took her son to a group that she thought was great, run by (my now friend) L. and so we started doing that – it was fantastic and we still go. I took Eli to L’s baby group today (and the photo of Eli with the treasure basket, that I use everywhere, was taken there when he was about 4/5 months old). In the first year of Tilly’s life we went to a lot of groups – library, toddler group, LLL, swimming and L’s groups. Almost everyday had an activity and it was great fun. When I returned to work I couldn’t attend many but it was fun whilst it lasted.

I know not everybody enjoys baby or toddler groups but I knew that I wanted to find things for Eli and I to do together – I never went to baby groups with the big kids and I really wanted to this time. Toddler groups weren’t really appropriate this time anyway, Tilly didn’t enjoy them anymore – she’s an October baby so, at 4, found most groups too babyish with not many kids her own age. Thankfully my Mum was able to look after her at times – taking her to the zoo or having her to play at her house – to allow Eli and I to find our own groups.

Baby massage at the children’s centre, which I managed to gather up the courage to book by phoning (yup, phone anxiety too dammit) lead to what was a lovely baby group. That group ended today – we were chucked out over a month ago because Eli was crawling (didn’t stop other crawling babies from being allowed…) but due to staffing blah blah they have stopped the group for now. I thought it would be nice to go to the last one (we were there for the first!) and asked yesterday at the Tuesday not-quite-a-group-but-a-chance-to-meet-up (though we have started calling it the see you next Tuesday group…). You’d think it was the most unreasonable request in the world – I received a reply, which I pretty much tuned out as the tone was horrible, about keeping the group rules intact and what if there are new little babies? Firstly, this is the last group do we really need to stick to the rules (especially when you’re breaking them for others)? Secondly, my friends still attended the group (Eli is the eldest) and over the last month there have been no new people at all. I’m rapidly going off my children’s centre (or at least the manager) the atmosphere, once lovely and welcoming, is now more annoyed and bored of us (the clients!) sadly.

To end this long! saga of baby groups, I went to a new group instead, for one year olds at another local children’s centre. I was brave and it paid off. This looks like it will be a lovely group for the next year and whilst I’m looking forward to our friends reaching their first birthdays and joining us I think we’ll also have fun on our own before they get there.

Tales from the toy library

Eli playing with a great toy library borrow.

We have a local toy library. It’s a great idea – for a small fee each year you can borrow up to 5 games and toys each month. There’s a good selection, lots of baby toys as well as games and puzzles for older children.

It’s especially good for borrowing the types of toys – rocking horses, walkers, baby swings – that are expensive but aren’t really used by kids for long enough to justify the expense if you’re watching the pennies. Plus you get to see if your child actually likes a particular toy that you perhaps were thinking of buying to save yourself a costly mistake when it turns out they hate it.

Today was our monthly visit (with some baby group friends). The volunteers were on good form as usual – I’m not sure about other toy libraries but ours is primarily staffed by well-meaning middle-class women of a certain age (and apparently at least one man but I’ve not met him). When you arrive someone eventually notices you are there and demands your name and marks you in the register. All records are paper based and index cards contain all the details of the items you have borrowed along with your contact details. If there are more than one or two people borrowing/returning items chaos begins to descend. At least one volunteer will begin to flap as index cards are sought and names are muddled. I have learnt to stand back and wait because eventually calm will return and once items are returned new items can be sought.

A non-competitive game…

I particularly like to borrow games for the big kids – there’s a handful of Orchard Toys games available and these have generally been good fun (at least the first few times, perhaps not the hundredth). The one month return rule benefits me here as I can return games before they become too annoying to play again and get something new. Today I spotted something that I had to bring home – Snail’s Pace Race bills itself as a ‘non-competitive game. My kids are somewhat competitive – I wanted to see if they would thwart the worthy aims of this game.

The basic idea is that you shake the dice and move the appropriately coloured snails forward depending on the colours you roll. You try to work out which will win and the participating children cannot win nor lose themselves. Lex thought this was fun. Tilly had a tantrum because the pink snail was not winning. I suppose at least they weren’t competing against each other, only Tilly competing against the other snails… Perhaps next time I’ll borrow ‘Pop to the Shops’ again as, despite being competitive, the only tantrums were thrown when I refused to play again (and again and again).

The toys I borrowed for Eli are more successful. He enjoys the ring stacker and a good-sized bead frame. Despite owing a lot of baby toys already, Eli’s interests are slightly different to his older siblings’ and this resource means a range of toys he will love at next to no cost to me – win, win.

So, another month and we’ll be back to the toy library, I wonder what we’ll find then?

Siblings with a bit of rivalry

Obligatory first day of school year photo – Year 2 and Reception.

My big kids like to compete with each other – if they’re not racing each other to the top of the stairs it’s a competition to see who can finish dinner first or hug Eli the most…

Generally we try to discourage the competition because it invariably ends in tears especially considering the amount of cheating that goes on. It doesn’t stop the kids being competitive though, particularly Lex who is driven to be first in everything even if it is a race to the bottom.

The competition is hotting up though in one arena – swimming – where Tilly is gaining quickly on her older brother. It’s always been important to me that my kids learn to swim well – I am half South African after all – and so both big kids have had lessons for a while. Since starting on the ‘proper’ stages (rather than the waterbaby/duckling levels) Lex has taken on average just over 2 terms to move to the next stage (he’s now on his second term of Stage 3). His lessons involve him trying to get to the bottom of the pool (not generally a regular requirement), mucking about with the other kids and trying to be the one who gets to sit on the pool ladder. Needless to say, listening to the teacher is low on his priorities and so, despite lots of early potential (and stern words from his mother), his progress is forwards but slow. Tilly is a bit different.

Tilly likes to please the teacher, listens, copies and observes. I had a bit of a quiet proud mummy moment when she was moved to Stage 1 before she had even started school. When she then passed that and was moved to Stage 2 she proved how hard she had worked over the previous term. Of course now we have an issue (for Lex) in that Tilly (age 4) is only 1 stage behind Lex (age 6).

Today was the first day of the new swimming term. I had forgotten Tilly’s goggles and so she spent most of her lesson trying to scrape the water off her face but was ever so proud that she’d managed to open her eyes under water. Lex swam like a demon. A couple of minor instances of silliness but on the whole a lot of determined swimming. He doesn’t want to end up in the same class as his sister and that is a distinct possibility if he doesn’t pull his finger out. Sometimes a bit of sibling rivalry helps you find your focus (I’m sure his teacher will be relieved).

Sometimes the seaside is lovely and sometimes it’s cold and windy (but the kids had a good time)

We went to the beach today. It seemed like a good idea at the time – the children’s centre were renting a beach hut, there’d be activities for the kids and friends for me to chat to, in theory a lovely day. In reality it turned into a day from which each participant emerged with a different story.

Eli would tell you that he had a good time (mostly). He sat on a picnic blanket near the beach and played with shells, spades and pebbles. He had a box of snacks (but would have preferred the snacks his siblings had). At the café he chatted to the other babies and was most put out at not being allowed to crawl about on the, frankly, very grubby floor. He then enjoyed a lovely cuddly sleep in the sling as we walked down the beach before heading home and singing and chatting to Lex in the car.

Tilly and Lex would also tell you how much fun they had. They dug in the pebbles and collected as many shells as possible (although were somewhat disappointed to be limited to taking home two each). Tilly enjoyed the opportunity for some sticking and drawing in the beach hut. They had hot chocolate with both cream and marshmallows in the café and were allowed to chill out with the iPhones whilst the adults chatted and relaxed out of the wind. They then had a chance to run down the beach and explore the exposed rock pools which was fun even if there weren’t any crabs or fish to be seen. All the fresh air meant heading home, cuddled under coats in the car, was a nice time to rest rather than an end to all joy and fun (as it often is).

I had a reasonably good time, sitting with Eli on the beach, chatting to my friends and watching the big kids have a good time. The wind was annoying but on a pebbly, muddy beach at least there was no sand flying into my eyes (except when toddlers digging in front of us threw it in the air but I blame the parents for that). The most entertaining part was on the drive in when, on a narrow stretch of road on which we had priority, an older woman coming the other direction decided to try to push through. There was nowhere for her to go and no amount of her gesturing and driving at the car in front of us made it possible for her to pass us or us to pass her. The stalemate was only ended by R getting out of the car and pointing out to her the priority sign showing she was in the wrong. At that point, with much unhappiness, she made a complete hash of reversing back through the bollards that marked the start of the narrowing, to allow us to pass. She acknowledged R’s cheery wave with what I can only imagine were words not meant for young ears. The incident is still making me chortle hours later.

R did not have a great time. I don’t think watching the big kids whilst I socialise is his idea of a great time. Tilly spilling his drink and Lex dropping his phone on the floor weren’t happy moments either. He was especially narked when, trying to type in his pin code to pay for drinks, Tilly’s constant chatter flummoxed him and caused him to freeze his card through incorrect pin entry. His only happy moment (aside from unable to read signs lady on the way in) was probably when we left and just missed being soaked by rain. The drive back even annoyed him when a learner driver was sent to try his remaining patience.

So, 9/10 for the kids, 7/10 for me (the wind knocked a few points off) and about 2/10 (if we count the old lady as 2) for R.

How often do you manage a family day out where everybody has a good time? We achieve it occasionally but it often seems that at least one person will have a miserable time despite the activities. I’m guessing as the kids get older and their interests diverge it will become even more tricky. Still, at least kids (unlike grown-ups) are relatively easy to entertain even if it is overcast and windy digging in pebbles is great fun!

Worm sausages and tomato snail ketchup

I just can’t help it, my children ask a perfectly sensible question – e.g. ‘what’s for dinner?’ and I’m compelled to give them a very silly answer like ‘cabbages, snails and frog gravy…’. The kids are somewhat wise to this now and tend to double-check with their dad – I sense in years to come they’ll probably not grace my answers with much more than a shrug but yet I persist.

Cabbages are now code in our family for food you might not like (I managed at least 2 years of claiming chocolate was cabbages before they got suspicious and paid more attention to what I was eating). I’ve added snails and frogs recently as cabbages (no offense to those who eat the foul things) didn’t seem quite, well, gross enough any more.

The silly answers extend to questions about what, exactly, has gone into the food we serve the children. R made some sausage rolls for Eli’s birthday party on the weekend and we had some chipolata sausages left over that we cooked for dinner that night. Tilly took one look at what was on her plate, prodded it with a fork and did a typical kid ‘what. is. this?’. In error she asked me, ‘worms’ I said. ‘From the garden. It’s been raining and you know how they all come to the surface so they don’t get drowned?’ (useful to chuck in a quick science lesson if you can), ‘well Daddy thought they were looking particularly juicy so, ta da!’. ‘Mmm’, says R, ‘it’s worms, enjoy!’.

Lex, full of 6 years of knowledge says, ‘No it isn’t, it’s sausages!’, and starts scoffing his dinner. This reassures Tilly a bit but still, she can’t be 100% sure until I confirm it. ‘Tell the truth Mummy, it’s not really worms?’. ‘Well’, says her compelled to be silly mother, ‘it could be worms or it could just be the sausages left over from the sausage rolls.’. This is apparently not enough reassurance and I put her out of her misery and confirm her brother’s answer (eventually).

Honestly, it’s really entertaining coming up with inventive (and mainly disgusting) descriptions for everyday things – ketchup tonight became squashed tomato snails (Lex will apparently be using Google tomorrow to double-check that I am talking nonsense about the existence of tomato snails). I do try to do it in a way that the kids will find funny – not scary – and encourage them to question and not just accept, without thought, whatever adults tell them. The look on their face before the realisation that it’s just mum being, well mum, is pretty priceless though.

So the Olympics went to London and all we got were these lousy announcements

I sat watching the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics which was one part ‘yay athletes’ and lots of parts ‘wtf, why this music?’ and listened to lots of talk about ‘inspiration’ and ‘legacy’. My son spent the last half-term of school enjoying topic work based on the Olympics and was very enthusiastic about everything to do with the various sports and events. So, what does government propose we do to capitalise on the sporting spirit

Firstly we have an announcement that the compulsory 2 hours of physical education for primary school children was scrapped because ‘non-sports’ like ‘Indian dancing’ were being used to fulfill the requirement. It seems strange to scrap something just because it’s not being done the way you want (surely tighter guidelines would have sufficed) but also to be pretty bold in determining that activities like dance are not sport. I took part in a Bollywood dance class during a friend’s hen do and it was hard work! Not an organised sport of course but that didn’t stop it being physical exercise. I did try to determine what Lex’s PE lessons consist of but apparently he can’t remember except that they get drinks and there are throwing competitions. At least they get to be competitive which leads us neatly on to the next announcement.

Now all primary school children will need to take part in competitive ‘recognised and recognisable sports’ as apparently too few already do (at school at least). I like the fact that Lex’s school manages to have a competitive sports day – each child chooses 2 or 3 events to take part in and can win medals for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place – that also has a team ethos – each child earns points for their team. However, aside from an after-school multi-sports club sponsored by a local football team which is focused on skills not competition, there are almost no after-school sports offerings at the school. I think that there is a netball team in the upper school but there is no football team, cricket team or anything else that would fit the recognised sport criteria that Lex could access. There once was more (a couple of football teams) but the government’s removal of the sports partnership funding ended that. I am interested to see how this proposal actually works in practice – what will be offered and how will they make it possible for all children to take part?

I had accepted that sporting activities would need to be paid for activities away from school – currently swimming and gymnastics, neither cheap – perhaps this announcement will be a good thing but all I expect to happen is possibly more netball and football teams because they’re easy to organise, don’t require particularly skilled staff to oversee them or expensive equipment. Lex would like to play cricket, I’ve been putting off contacting the local club because it will be yet more expense even though I’m sure he’d love it. Dare I hope that this announcement means an opportunity to play at school?

Summer fun with the cousins

Sunday was a fun day at Grandma’s – all the cousins (with Tilly missing) had a great time. Lex and his same age step-cousin T discovered they both are big Lego Ninjago fans – all the better to break the ice when you haven’t seen each other for a year. A game of boules kept the boys entertained in the garden, complete with a measuring tape to check distances and action replay on the camcorder (although they never figured out if T’s ball brushed or not). Finally a game of football in the park and a few runs around the obstacle course completed the day. Lex had a brilliant time but was so tired he was sobbing through most of the bedtime routine. Eli was ok when he was with me, sadly summer events (and lots of people who would like a cuddle with him) and ‘stranger’ and separation anxiety have arrived hand in hand at the same time.

Today SIL and the local cousins came to visit for the afternoon. A trip to ELC after our family dentist appointment yielded a new paddling pool with a shaded area, sprayer and slide which (after I finally worked out how to get the air bed inflater to work) wasn’t too bad to inflate and fill. This, plus the water play table and SIL’s paddling pool enabled us to sit and watch whilst the kids had a great time.

Well, the big kids at least. Eli clearly isn’t feeling 100% and was not impressed by the padding pool, being wet, the grass – pretty much everything. He cheered up at points but really just wanted to have an afternoon of cuddles poor dot. Currently he is in bed but waking up every half-hour or so needing another feed to settle him. The air-con is on so he won’t be too hot at least.

The only hope now is that this won’t be the single decent week during the summer holidays – looks like it’ll change by the weekend sadly.

Now, off to settle the baby once more.

Beginnings and ends – school year 2011/2012

Today was the last day of the 2011/2012 school year. Lex, Eli and I enjoyed the school summer picnic out on the field and took a leisurely stroll home after lunch. Lex then went around to have a water fight with friends who live around the corner.

I think he is relieved that school is finished for summer – the poor kid has a cough that he just can’t shift and is constantly shattered. We’ve bought him a children’s multivitimin to see if we can help him feel better. If the cough doesn’t clear up in a few days I think I’ll be taking him to the doctor just to check what’s up.

Here is Lex the year before – he’s grown up so much since the start of reception!

Today was also Tilly’s last day of nursery. She started in the baby room just before she turned 11 months old (September 2008) and is finishing (after moving through each of their four rooms) at 4 years 9 months so she’s been there for almost 4 years! I’m really sad that she’s finished as we’ve been really happy with the nursery and will miss it. Eli is unlikely to ever attend there as it will probably be much easier to send him to the pre-school attached to the children’s centre next to the kids’ school. We gave them a thank you card and two boxes of chocolates – I’ll take Tilly back on her first day of school so that she can show everybody her school uniform.

Finally we have Eli at the start and end of the school year – it’s hard to believe that this time last year I was very pregnant and still 5 weeks away from meeting my gorgeous little boy.

So now we have 6 weeks of no 7am alarms or nursery runs (in fact no more nursery runs at all!) and we start it with family dentist day tomorrow…

We may yet have a summer

OK, so actually I doubt it but today was nice! Tilly is at the coast with my Mum in order to attend a cousin’s Christening and so it is just my boys and me at home. Much as I love my daughter, she has a raging case of middle-child syndrome at the moment and it has been quite quiet and conflict free at home – I know she’ll be loving the 1-to-1 time with my Mum too.

Lex, Eli and I had a lovely afternoon at a friend of mine’s house – there were a gaggle of kids 0-13 years and enough young boys to keep even my socially awkward lad entertained. I was able to sit and chat whilst cuddling Eli and the food was yum. After lunch we took the kids to the park, definitely a good day.

Tomorrow we get to see R’s step-brother and his family and they get to meet Eli – Lex normally gets on quite well with his step-cousin so it should be another good day. Only having to keep an eye on one child (Eli is easy to keep near me) should reduce the stress I normally suffer at MIL’s house – my two big kids do seem to bounce off the walls there in a fairly hideous fashion!

Fingers crossed I may even have a lie-in tomorrow – no squabbling, or even chatting nicely, siblings at 6.00am would be a relief – I am very tired.