The Idea vs the Reality

Every parent makes plans. And has dreams and aspirations. It’s all so much worse in the era of social media and Pinterest where it’s all too easy to get swept up in the romance and beauty of other people’s picture perfect moments, even when we know deep down that these represent edited highlights and nobody’s life can look that good all the time. But it’s so seductive. And appears so effortless. It takes enormous self-control not to be swept along in to believing that we, too, can create those moments and memories with our own offspring.

And so it was, this week, that we set out on a little fruit picking expedition.

We had guests yesterday, and I had plans for some summer-berry based puddings to serve up. And since we live in the heart of the so-called “Garden of England”, virtually surrounded by fruit fields, it almost feels a little bit wrong to buy pre-packaged fruit, that may well have travelled miles, from the artificially controlled environment of the supermarket when we can go out and get it ourselves, straight from the bush, at a fraction of the cost.

And, you know, maybe have a few Instragram-worthy frolics whilst we’re at it.

You see, it absolutely wasn’t the aim of our trip. I’m not that shallow. I really did need a fruit haul. And I asked Thomas more than once if it was something that he wanted to do. He was actually disappointed when I delayed the trip due to the prediction of an imminent rain shower passing in half an hour (what did we do before forecast.io?!). But it seems that fruit picking is an “activity of the moment” (and why not, given that it is summer), based on the number of blog posts and Instagram photos of people’s idyllic days in the fields, with contented children, willing and able to assist in the harvest.

The sensible part of me worried that Thomas would not be all that keen. Unfortunately he’s a bit of fruit-hater, despite having loved the stuff up until he was a little over eighteen months old. Now, he’ll scream if you so much as suggest that he might want to try a strawberry. But we did take him blackberry picking last year, which he enjoyed despite his refusal to sample any of our harvest. And the strawberries, tomatoes and chills in our garden have provided plenty of amusement, if not any sustenance for the smallest member of our family. And so the not-so-sensible side of me said it would be fine. I let myself get carried away imagining us with thorn scratched arms, fingers lips stained purple from the juices of the ripe treasures we were sure to find.

Um, yeah. Not so much.

Thomas was entirely unimpressed with the rows upon rows of bushes and tress at our large local Pick Your Own. From the moment we set off down the fields he began to whinge about wanting to find the car. He didn’t want to see the fruit on trees, or the berries hiding amongst green foliage. He wasn’t, unusually, even happy just to skip up and down whilst I picked what we had come for.

Fruitpickingfail

“I just want to go and find the car Mummy” he pleaded, with such desolation on his face that to continue would have been cruel.

I did manage to get some blackcurrants. And we picked up more fruit from the farm shop on site. But it was most definitely one of those days where the idea in my head fell far, far short of the reality that ensued.

IMG_8621

IMG_8615

Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.

And we did head to the park once we got home. Which resulted in a much, much happier little boy (and pictures much more worthy of sharing, as it turned out. So much for the plans!)

IMG_8634

IMG_8642

Even if he doesn’t like fruit, or its picking, he does love being outdoors and being active.

So you do win some!

mummy daddy me

The Preschool Express

This post is destined to be a few poorly composed and poorly focused phone-camera snaps that might, on first glance, leave people wondering why on earth I’ve bothered to share them. But to me, they represent something big. They represent a moment of our week that has been an absolute staple, week-in, week-out, but which now, sadly, will be no more. And while it may seem unfathomable now that I could forget, I know that human memories are deeply fallible. So whilst the pictures may not be Pintrest-worthy, or or any way aesthetically pleasing, they and their accompanying story are important to us because they detail something that I don’t want to risk not remembering.

For the last three-and-a-bit years I’ve been walking to work with a little detour, to drop Thomas at his nursery. To begin with, Thomas sat in his pushchair, kicking his legs with glee at all that he could see. Later he’d hop in and out of the pushchair depending on how tired he was (or how much of a hurry I was in). There would be ritual demands to stop as we passed the station, in order to watch the trains. We’d have to wait at the Pelican crossing until Thomas could be the one to push the button, and then he’d jump up and down with excitement at the appearance of the green man. Then, for the last nine months or so, since we’ve ditched our pushchair, Thomas has walked raced at top speed there and back. And predictably we’ve been organised in to a train formation for the journey.

There have been stops off at convenient lamp-posts in order to “fill up” with (imaginary) coal or water. We’ve had to stop at the steam works numerous times to “fix” Thomas. And woe betide us if we aren’t in the right order (Daddy is the tender, Mummy is the coach. Until we lose Daddy at the station, then we become a Southeastern electric train!) And if we aren’t following the “tracks” on the path (the lines where the path has been previously dug up for cabling to everyone else, but definitely “tracks” to Thomas) we’ll be told in no uncertain terms that “trains can’t go on the road”.

IMG_4549

IMG_4562

IMG_4563

The evening walk home was the opposite in reverse. Once I regained my driving licence last year, Thomas took to asking with trepidation when I picked him up if I had the car, and insisting that he wanted to talk, come rain or shine. He gathered a collection of admirers at the pub around the corner from nursery. The same group of people who would often be outside smoking and would cheer as they saw him race around the corner, pumping his “pistons” and tooting his “whistle” with me in hot pursuit, struggling with multiple bags and his latest artwork offerings flapping in my hand.

As of next week, it’s all change.

There will be no more preschool express train.

Thomas’s new preschool is located just under a mile away at the wrong end of town for my work. In order to get him there in time and myself in to work by 8.15, I’ll have no choice but to drive him there (and yes, I know this is neither environmentally friendly, nor particularly healthy for my son, but needs must.)

I will miss these moments in our day, now matter how foolish I may look as the back end of a train, all whilst trying to instill road safety advice and consideration for other pedestrians. I’ll miss the times where I can barely keep up equally as much as the times that I have to keep encouraging a dawdling child to continue moving in the right direction. I’ll miss him popping out of the bus shelter shouting “boo” when I’m lagging behind.

But next year, once Thomas starts full time school, I’ll have the time to walk him there twice a week. Maybe, just maybe, he won’t yet have lost his passion for “being a train”and we’ll once again be able to reinstate this very ordinary moment in our lives.

IMG_4561

mummy daddy me

Are we the Kind of Parents Who…

…Would send our child to a private school?

(tl;dr We’re sending our son to a private school. I hope that you won’t judge me for that, but I know many people will. Below lies an explanation for our choice, and why I feel that calling private education “unfair” is unfair in itself. We’re doing this because it is the right school for our son, and because we’re in the fortunate position – through hard work – to be able to make that choice. I don’t think private education is always “better” nor that there is necessarily anything wrong with a state education, this is just what is right for us.)

IMG_4426

I’ve known, ever since I first tried to write a post about school choices for Thomas, that I was going to find it hard. As hard as the decisions have been to make themselves. Yet whilst it’s obvious that deciding on what is best for at least seven years of our child’s life and their start in education is a tough parenting milestone, sharing those decisions should surely be easier, right?

Yet it turns out than in making choices that have turned out to be far from straightforward, I’ve had to examine myself and my personal beliefs and challenge the pre-determined assumptions I had about this stage of family life. And now I’m afraid to try and share all of that in a way that won’t make people judge me, or think badly of me, or – worst of all – make me doubt myself by challenging these hard thought out plans and my reasons for them. It turns out that whilst I’m very happy in life to be myself and do what I feel is right, I still have lingering issues with sharing the aspects of me and our life and beliefs that I feel may go against the grain, or invite questioning or criticism. I guess that I still, after all this time, care too much what other people think of me. Ironic, for a blogger, no?

But with change so imminently on the horizon – next week to be exact – it’s time I was honest. I know there will be judgement both of me but also, probably throughout his life, of Thomas because of the decision we have made for him. I know that when it comes to private education there are the supporters, the people who are doing the same and will get where I’m coming from plus the ones who will tell me they wish they could do the same, but circumstances prevent it. Then there are the haters. The ones who believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity in education, that it’s elitist, exclusive and detracts from opportunity for all (and that that is just for starters).

But it is the choice we have made for our only son.

I understand so many of the arguments against private education, but I believe that our choice, in our circumstance, is solid. And given that we will likely face ongoing questioning for it, now is the time to try and get comfortable with that.

Believe me, I never saw this coming. I’m from a decidedly middle class background, but I did not go to a prep school despite the availability of good ones locally. I didn’t imagine that we would send a child to a private school. I certainly never saw private education as “better” because I flourished in the state education system. Ian, on the other hand, attended a private school which he did not enjoy and which did not particularly support his natural aptitudes. Hardly a glowing endorsement. Add to that the fact that I’ve been exposed to plenty of the very worst that public schools can turn out and it’s not much wonder I never had a particular burning desire to put my own children in to the system. And “children” it would have been, had life dealt us a different hand. We’re financially secure thanks to hard work, but that almost certainly wouldn’t have stretched to three concurrent sets of school fees per year.

I can’t quite remember now exactly when we began to re-evaluate. I’m sure that it was during our infertility struggles when we began to realise that life was going to look quite different to how we had hoped. That, and the issues with availability of school places in our town being a constant topic of conversation amongst local parents – from the maternity ward onwards – it was hard not to give it some serious thought.

One of the chief arguments that comes up against private education is that it’s wrong to remove your child from the state system just because you don’t like it. It is more politically correct to remain within the system and change it from the inside out whilst preserving its funding. And I can see that can be quite true for areas with poor educational provision and undersubscribed schools whose funding is dependent on getting as many bums on seats as possible.

But what about areas like ours? We live a few hundred yards from a very good primary school and well under half a mile from another outstanding one. Both are horrendously oversubscribed. So let me make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with the schools that are potentially available to us, or with state education in general, it’s just that in all likelihood those schools won’t be available to us. Obviously things change from year to year, but two years ago we would have secured neither of our closest two schools, and this year we would have secured one by virtue of the local authority forcing them to take a “bulge” year – another issue in itself!

I don’t want to be the parent scrabbling around for a place at the last minute, or facing putting my child in a council-funded taxi to go to one of the outlying village schools which has a place. Nor do I want to be the parent that rushes in to a private school place simply because I don’t like what we are allocated. I wanted to go in to this calmly, with eyes wide open. I wanted to feel I was actually making a decision, not having my hand forced.

The bottom line is that removing my child from the state education system will have absolutely no effect on the funding available to any of those schools (because they will be full anyway) and, best case, it may release a place to someone who is not so fortunate to have alternative options. It may prevent one other person having to travel miles to the nearest available school and actually make a positive impact on that child’s, and family’s experience of primary education.

That last point sits at odds with what a lot of people feel about private education. They think that paying for an education is an unfair advantage because it’s not available to all, rather than seeing it as potentially opening up better opportunities for those without a choice. Development in our town continues apace, and alongside a baby-boom, the squeeze in school places shows no signs of abating. I can say in good conscience that not requiring a state funded school place can only be a helpful thing to the overall situation.

But yes, I have to agree that a private education may present advantages over a state education – although, not always, as it didn’t for my husband. It will almost certainly be better resourced with smaller classes and different opportunities, perhaps most importantly free from the rigidity of a government imposed curriculum and incessant assessment. But is it really “unfair” that we can access that?

We’re fortunate that we can afford it because we’ve worked bloody hard ourselves, all of our lives. I find the notion of it being unfair that some children gain advantages simply by virtue of their birth frankly absurd, as well as insulting. What have I been working hard for all this time of not to give my family the best that I can? Why do we talk of social mobility and closing inequality if not for that very reason – to help more people achieve just that. See, it’s not as selfish as it sounds. It’s not about “buying” the best for my child and sod everyone else. A good, appropriate and personalised education sets a person up to potentially contribute well to the world for the rest of their life. Isn’t that what we all want?

People that feel private education is fundamentally unfair are usually those who believe that education should be an absolutely level playing field for all. And in theory, I agree with that too. Everyone should be able to access a good quality education. It would aid social mobility and potentially help end so many inequalities. I know all these things. But sadly we do need to accept that education will never be a level playing field, no matter what we can achieve with “the system”. Because even if all schools were identical, and all lessons taught by clones with outstanding passion and ability there are many things that can never be the same. Most importantly children are not the same. So what suits one will not suit another. And everything that happens outside the door of the classroom is not level. If you hate the idea of variation in education, or streaming or anything that supposedly gives your child an “advantage” then I hope you don’t read with them at home. Or discuss their homework with them. Or support them by taking them to the library. Or on days out to bring their history lessons alive. Because millions of children don’t have that advantage of a supportive environment at home. They can’t get help with their homework. Yes, that’s a tragedy, but I don’t believe for a second that it means we should stop helping our own kids, otherwise who will be there to be the supporters of the next generation? Who will be the thought leaders who just might be able to get us out of the mess we’re currently in? Because if we try to level the playing field, inevitably it will fall to the lowest common denominator, and that does absolutely everybody a disservice, now and in the future.

Of course, you don’t have to go to a private school to end up being a strong contributor to society. Indeed It can be argued that many who go to “public” schools or independent secondaries aren’t the best contributors at all (see also: what got this country into such a mess in the first place). This isn’t as simple as private vs state education. What I’m getting at, and what really, really matters is that kids get the education that is right for them. It won’t – can’t – be the same for every child. And this is actually the single most important factor in our decision to send Thomas where he is going.

It’s also my biggest single criticism of the current state education system in this country. It often tries too hard to make things too level. There is too little room for manoeuvre and individualised targets or even differing learning styles. Children are too often seem as commodities to be pushed through, not as individuals. Living in Kent, a spiritual home of the Grammar School, and having attended one myself, I’m intimately familiar with how devisive their presence can be. And I agree that in the current set up they tend to be elitist and create unnecessary division, but that is simply because it’s a bit of an all-or-nothing affair. The alternatives, if you don’t go to grammar, are often not brilliant. But unlike a lot of detractors, I don’t think this is an argument against selective education. I think it’s an argument against the current system. Grammar schools are absolutely right and appropriate for a sub-section of the population who are academically oriented. What is needed is not “comprehensive” education for all, but selective education for all. There needs to be a variety of different types of schools that are properly focused on the wide variety of children that pass through them, catering for the creative as well as the academic, and for different types of learning style. I firmly believe that no one school can do it all, but each child has a right to attend a school that can cater for them (in order to curb length here, we’ll leave aside the difficult practicalities of such an approach for now, it’s simply a philosophy.)

With all of that in mind, we’ve chosen a school that we believe will suit Thomas. We haven’t picked a private school, as some people do (and others believe everyone does), in order to increase Thomas’s chances of gaining a grammar school place. In fact, we deliberately discounted any schools that assessed three year olds prior to entry. We picked our chosen school partly because it doesn’t enter every child for the 11+ (or Common Entrance). In fact, it’s a school that lost favour with some local parents in recent years because it doesn’t have a 100% 11+ pass rate. I see that as a good thing. It means I can be confident that they will suggest what is actually best for my child, not what is good for their figures (the same cannot be said for certain local state schools!)

We’ve also chosen the school because it’s small, with a real family feel that will absolutely suit him. Thomas is a typical young boy. He is hopeless in large groups, where he runs around and becomes the class clown, preferring to attract attention and laughs rather than concentrate. In a small group he is a different boy. Focused, determined, interested, curious and inquisitive. He seeks out one-to-one interaction however he can. He is a boy that could so easily be lost in a class of thirty children. He could so easily be labelled as a troublemaker or a joker, and slip between the cracks. The environment of his school will – hopefully – guard against that.

The fact that we can move him now, in to their preschool, is also a huge advantage. Thomas is already very ready for the learning aspects of school, despite not being old enough to start reception until next September. He can already read, races through simple mathematical problems and most of all wants to find out about things. He’s eager to learn and excited by it. But socially, and emotionally, he has a way to go. Normal, of course, for a year away from school start, but spending the next year in what will become his school environment will be an enormous help. Playtime will be shared with older children, and lunch will be eaten in the dinner hall. They “borrow” classrooms when older children are away swimming, in order to really get a feel for what “big school” is about and ease that transition. Why would I not want that for my child?

So this is where we are.

I’m not sure who I thought were the “type” of parents to send their children to private schools. I guess I was guilty of stereotyping, assuming it was “rich” people or simply people who are not like us, although I’m not sure why. The impression that I now have is that a huge variety of people make this choice for a huge variety of reasons. I don’t necessarily identify with all the reasons people have, but I’m totally comfortable with ours.

We have, and will only have one child. I want what is right for him. It won’t make him better than anyone else, but hopefully it will help him be the best version of himself that he can. I simply can’t apologise for that.

And so, I guess, it turns out that we are the type of parents who send their child to a private school.

Everything Changes (But You)

Dear Thomas,

I’ve been putting off writing this letter, in much the same way that I’ve kept dithering over talking to you in depth about the changes we’re about to inflict upon your life and your routine. But now, it’s just weeks away and there is no more escaping it.

In a few weeks we’ll be moving you from the only nursery and preschool that you’ve ever known. You’ve been there since a few days shy of six months. When you started you could only just sit up. You couldn’t crawl, let alone stand. You were just days in to your weaning journey and I still had to visit you each day to feed you your milk because you never did get the hang of taking it from a bottle, stubborn as you are. You’ve moved through the rooms there, forming attachments to the staff, who all know you and your (huge) personality now, making friends and making yourself thoroughly at home.

You really are at home there. Confident, sociable, outgoing. You chatter about your days and you friends. You have favourite places, from the window where you wave to me in the morning, to the book corner and the playhouse in the garden. By now you can, of course, run, jump, skip, hop, talk nineteen-to-the-dozen and even read and write, and so many of these developments have been aided by your fantastic nursery and the people there who have watched you grow. People who really know you and genuinely care about you.

So making the decision to move you has been one of the hardest choices we’ve had to make as parents so far. It’s hard, this aspect of parenting: making decisions on behalf of your child, trying to decide what is best for them when you can’t really know how it will all turn out, and all the while being aware that it could have far reaching consequences. We talked for so many hours about the pros and cons. We looked at the option of moving you after another term. We looked at the option of leaving you where you are for one day a week and moving you for two. Believe me when I say, we really thought this through. But in the end, the choice was made.

In my heart, I know this is right. We’re moving you to the preschool at what, all being well, will be your “big school” and where you’ll be until you’re eleven. Eleven! Imagine that? (I can’t.)

No matter how much your current preschool has helped you flourish, I know you are ready for some new challenges. Being an older child in your school year, you’ve already done three terms of “official preschool”. And before that you always moved up a room every few months. I know that staying in the same place again may make you stagnate. You might lose your currently seemingly infinite passion for learning and exploring. And the very last thing I want to do is switch you off education before you’ve even had a chance to properly begin. I firmly believe that you’re someone who benefits from change, and variety. And I want to encourage that.

I know that you will miss your friends. But we picked the timing carefully. So many of your friends are already four, and they’re all off to school in September anyway. It makes sense for you to move at the same time. In fact, I sort of thought you’d think everyone was leaving, but for just a moment I forgot how smart you are. As you told me “I’m too small to go to school”.

Yes, you are kiddo. But then, I’ll probably always think you’re too small to be such a grown up boy. I think we’ve overcome the confusion that panicked me for a while, where I think you believed we were packing you off to “big school” early. You know that this is still preschool. Just different preschool.

So, yes, this is happening. You’ve visited your new preschool over and over. You’ve told us how much you like it there. In three weeks it will be where you go three days a week. It will be a big change. You’ll wear a uniform. We’ll have to leave earlier in the mornings because instead of dropping you off on my walk to work, I’ll have to drive you to the top of town, before turning round, driving home and then walking to work alone. That drive will mean your pick up is a little later too. The routine will be different. And because the preschool is attached to a school, you’ll go from being one of the biggest fish to being one of the teeny tiniest, as you mix with the reception children during playtime.

Such a big change for you, because you know nothing different to what you do now.

But everything changes.

Everything except you. Because no matter what, I know that you’ll still be my bright, bubbly and confident boy. At least, I hope you will. I hope that I’ve made the right decision on your behalf and that this move will help you soar, rather than hold you back.

Everything changes. But you’ll always be my best boy.

IMG_4426(Despite the fact that you’re not going to “big school” just yet, your current nursery are letting you “graduate” with your friends. You look a bit like you’re off to Hogwarts!)

All my love, always

Mummy

Preschool Sport’s Day and “Missing Out” as a Parent

Last Friday was Thomas’s first Preschool Sport’s Day.

And I couldn’t go. Because I had to work.

Yeah, it made me a bit sad when I had to tell Thomas that no, I couldn’t be there to watch him and his friends.

I’m not in a position to moan really. I’ve read lots and lots of pieces about working parents and the balances and compromises they often must strike. Unlike a lot of families out there, we had a great deal of choice about what to do once Thomas was born. I could have given up work altogether if I had wanted. Equally Ian had the option to become a stay-at-home dad. We could have shared working and childcare (and did, for a while) and I could have gone back for any amount of time right up to full time without having to worry about child care fees crippling us or eating away the entirety of my wage. We are in this situation partly because of hard work, but, yes, we’re also extremely lucky.

So going back to work was very definitely a choice for me, and one that I’m currently entirely happy with. Sure, sometimes I moan about work, but that’s because like anything with responsibility for people, it can be extremely stressful. And at the moment anything at the sharp end of the NHS is definitely at least a bit taxing. But for the most part I love my job, and I really like the mix we’ve managed to achieve in our lives.

But on Friday, not being able to be there for an event that Thomas was very excited about was still a little bit heartbreaking. Friday is the only day of the week that I work in that particular practice. Having already taking three Fridays off in the last seven, I just couldn’t justify another one – on the grounds of needing to fulfill my targets for the business as whole and also out of duty to the patients who I don’t want to keep waiting for weeks on end for an opportunity to get an appointment with me.

And it’s that – the tearing of family responsibility against professional responsibility – that will always be hard. I know I’m far from alone. It’s hard for everyone – men and women, parents or not – because we almost all have additional responsibilities or priorities outside of the professional environment. Sadly there just aren’t enough hours, even with the greatest flexibility in working arrangements, to be able to do it all, all of the time. It’s always a compromise, no matter what.

The upside to this story is that Ian is lucky to have a reasonable amount of flexibility in his work. He’s part of a relatively small team and they recognise the importance of family life, so things like leaving early to do the nursery pick up when I have to work late are not a problem. He was able to work from home for the day and slip out for a couple of hours to be there, to Thomas’s immense pleasure. My heart hurts just a little bit thinking about Thomas being the only child there without a family member to cheer him on.

Of course, once again, I know that we are lucky. For some families there are no choices, and no flexibility. Missing out becomes not something they fear, but something that actually happens, and their child becomes that one.

At least I got to see the photos (of which I will only share a few here, in the interests of not sharing pictures of other children) and hear the first hand account of Thomas setting off to run his own race across the field, and how he “won” the potato-and-spoon race with liberal interpretation of the rules that involved holding the potato on the spoon! You’ve got to love preschoolers!

And there will be a next time. Hopefully next time I won’t have to miss out.

 

IMG_8260

IMG_8261

IMG_8264

IMG_8266

IMG_8269

IMG_8272

IMG_8275

IMG_8278

IMG_8305

A Snapshot of Life at Three and a Half

Ignoring completely that it’s a long time since I wrote anything at all here, it feels like forever since I wrote to, or for, or about Thomas specifically. That’s partly for the sake of some degree of privacy, and not wanting this space to just be a blow by blow account of his every milestone as it unfolds. It’s also because I’ve preferred to record aspects of our lives as a whole family. And, of course, not least of all it’s because I’ve been rather wrapped up in my own emotional state in the last couple of years. But whatever I want from this blog and my online presence, a reason to document the things I don’t want to forget about my precious only son is still foremost amongst them.

And so here we are, at three-and-a-half-and-a-bit-more.

IMG_4207

And first and foremost: The kid can read. I’m not plonking this here in any attempt to brag about my son, because I only know that not all three year olds can read with the fluency that Thomas can because other people keep banging on about it, but for all I know, perhaps most of them can. However, it would be wrong to say that I’m not a little bit proud of him. He’s the boy who remains completely obsessed with numbers to the point that I was afraid he wouldn’t find the same joy in the written word. So to have him be so utterly determined to decipher the world around him by reading words, and to be so keen to read books to himself and figure out the story from the symbols on the page is absolutely heart warming.

He’s been trying to read for a long while but fear of being seen as a “pushy” mum, never mind not really knowing anything about phonics or how to go about helping him led me to keep pushing the issue aside, hoping to hold him off until he goes to school at the end of next year. But his frustration at being able to read numbers but not letters soon led to some pretty epic tantrums. I couldn’t blame him. The closest thing to knowing how he felt for me was thinking of visiting countries that don’t use a Roman alphabet, and therefore being unable to even guess what so many words around me said. It’s no wonder kids get overwhelmed. Thomas would look heartbroken as he sat on his bed with a book and said “I want to read. I can’t read the words. Please teach me to read.” It seemed cruel to say no to something he wanted to understand so badly.

So, after a quick crash course for myself, off we went. Within two weeks he’d mastered all of the most common phonemes and the art of both blending and segmenting. Since then he’s raced his way through Julia Donaldson’s Songbirds books and many of the Read Write Inc books. Everywhere we go he points out letters and sounds and reads words he recognises. Every conversation is punctuated by him declaring the sounds that the various objects we are discussing begin with, or segmenting a particular word to figure out how it is spelled. Seeing him decoding so many things in the world around him has been an amazing journey for us too.

All I can hope is that this is just the beginning of a life long love affair with the written word, reading and writing.

The love has numbers has not gone, either. He mastered counting to one hundred earlier in the year, and the idea of one more and one less. he can now recognise a group as being a particular number without the need to count them out, which makes playing dice games much, much easier! He’s currently absorbed in basic addition, subtraction and sharing of numbers. His ability to manipulate numbers, however, far outstrips his drawing and writing ability. So many of the paper based number activities involve drawing more of something. For example, he knows that if you have two buttons and add two more you will have four buttons, but he cannot draw two more buttons next to the ones on the page for love nor money! I’m wondering if writing and drawing will be the next big interest in the same way that reading followed counting!

Just in case anyone is worried that I chain Thomas to a desk to practice reading and number puzzles, don’t worry, he’s still very much an over enthusiastic, boisterous handful of a little boy. He’s still as obsessed with trains as ever and still wants to be one at every opportunity. He makes us line up to be tenders or coaches and race along the “rails” on the pavement, stopping to open our doors and let in passengers, or fill up with coal and water at every other lamp post . We visit rooms in the house picking up and dropping off various toys that stand in as passengers. He will tell anyone that will listen about how stream trains work and we still watch plenty of videos of trains on You Tube. In fact “can I have a video?” is one of the most oft heard phrases in our house right now.

His other absolute favourite game right now is hide and seek. Not that he’s any good at it, mind you. He wriggles and giggles to give the game away long before we’re even in the right room, but that joy he gets from both “hiding” and seeking is immense and evident from the face-splitting smiles. He could also play “snap” for hours and “Can I do an app?” is another frequent refrain.

We get plenty of standard pre-school behaviour too, and some that I’m concerned is not so standard. He’s a deeply particular person who wants things exactly so. What Thomas doesn’t realise is that we aren’t capable of reading his mind and we don’t always understand how he is imagining that something will work. He gets so frustrated if we don’t do or say exactly what he wants, even if he has not made it clear what that is. One middle of the night meltdown involved the order in which we went in to his room and left and what exactly we each needed to say to him. At three in the morning on the fourth wake up call of the night, is was easier and faster to try to comply, but even that took a long time and left me back in bed with my mind wondering to how he will ever cope in the world when people don’t do things exactly as he wants. It is as simple as being bossy (although he is that) or wanting to be in control (ditto) but more that he seems to genuinely believe that something terrible might happen if things don’t happen as he envisages.

On a similar vein, he is very ritual led. He doesn’t have particularly rigid overall routines, but there are certain specific sequences that mustt be played out. Lately we have to pretend to race him to do certain things – such as take his clothes off for the bath, turn the television off, go up the stairs – and then pretend to be upset when we “lose” (which is not helping his competitive “me first” streak at all!) We have a very rigid sequence of things which have to be done at bedtime and any deviation means we have to go right back to the beginning.

I’m telling myself this is all normal, and it, too, shall pass.

After all, his sleep is better. He generally actually stays in bed now, and goes off to sleep well more than half of the time. We’re up at some point in the night pretty much every night, but it’s often only once which is a big improvement. He’s still an early riser and we often see 5am, however we did put some renewed effort in to the Gro-Clock and a sticker chart. he got a sticker each day he stayed in his room until the sun came up and these days it’s often 6am until we hear “Mummy and Daddy come and play with meeee! It’s morning”

Ah yes, sticker charts. there are a lot of “incentives” in Thomas’s life right now. I prefer that term to “bribes”. I see it as teaching him that things can be earned with hard work, and effort, and doing things you don’t necessarily want to. After all, the vast majority of adults go to work primarily to get paid! Whilst Thomas will talk to anyone and soon round up a bunch of kids of all ages at the park and have them under his control in a game of “Shops” or “Postmen” or “Trains” he can be quite physically timid – afraid of climbing or new slides and things like that. We’ve used offers of treats to get him to try the things we know he will actually love, like the water slides at Center Parcs. We’ve also had sticker charts for everything from staying in bed, to dressing himself and trying new foods.

Yeah, that. Eating is still a bit hit and miss. Overall he’s more adventurous than he was. He has now earned a total of three new trains for trying fifteen new foods in the last six months, which I think is pretty amazing! They’ve included things like kidney beans, lamb and green beans. In fact, last month he happily ate first one green bean, then nine more with no fuss at all, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable. It brings the vegetable count to peas, carrots, sweet corn, corn on the cob (his favourite) and green beans. I’ll happily take that. (Fruit is going less well. We’re stuck with apples, tinned peaches and anything pureed. Ah well, perhaps eating pureed fruit from pouches will be a future adult craze!)

Other than all of that, he’s just a rally fantastic little boy. He talks non-stop to anyone and everyone. He has a fantastic sense of humour and really gets jokes now. He runs (or now skips, often hand-in-hand with me) everywhere and I’m unsure if he knows how to walk! He still loves his bike and is a balancing pro now. He’s too smart for his own good at times. (Doing “Stranger Danger” at preschool the staff expressed concerns that he was quite happy to keep going off with “strangers” whilst they were acting it out. On the way home he brought the subject up himself told me all about how you should never go with someone you don’t know, or accept things from them and recited the “rules” perfectly. I asked him why, then, he had gone with the “strangers”. He gave me such a withering look and said “Mummy that wasn’t a stranger, that was ” I had to admit he had a point!”)

On the one had he has a great attention to detail and brilliant memory, remembering things from two years ago with clarity I cannot always match. Sometimes he’ll become engaged in an activity for so long that time seems to stand still. And he can be incredibly patient if waiting for something that neither he, nor we, can control, such as the start of a show. On the other hand, he often has a typical short attention span and cloth ears. Often he wants everything “now” especially if that is my attention.

Of course, I don’t begrudge him that. He’s my only one. My special son. His smile brightens my day and stills my heart all at once. I still love him more than I can find the words for. in fact, I’m not sure the words for it will ever come, even if I should live to be one hundred and one.

IMG_4289

IMG_8193

Me and Mine – February 2015

Yes, we’re so far in to March that it’s almost April. And so no, I couldn’t be much later with this post if I tried. But here it is anyway, in the interests of being better late than never, and because I don’t want to be the blogger -never mind the person – that can never commit to anything, or see anything through.

It’s true that I’m far closer to being that kind of person right now than anything else. I want to be… so many things: more productive, more organised, more efficient, more creative. But more than anything I want to be more motivated to be these things. I want to recapture the enthusiasm and zest that I once had. I don’t want to be floundering in the sea of “can’t be arsed” that threatens to overwhelm me at any minute. It may seem that the reasons for my apathy don’t require genius to deduce, but like so much of life, it isn’t all as straightforward as it appears.

But this. This is definitely the thing that keeps me going: My family.

Small. Different to how I once imagined. But mine. Ours. Us.

We’re good. Even if one of us is bored by the fifth or sixth take it took to get this! Even if my hair is a disaster and my trousers are wrinkled. We fit together.

And I’d be lost without them.

IMG_7510

dear beautiful