New school – a week in

We’ve made it through the first week at school! It feels like an achievement. I dropped E off on the first day and felt like I’d done something amazing by even getting her there in one reasonably smart piece. (I mean keep this achievement in perspective, you understand, it’s not like we’ve just made it out of Aleppo or something…)

She’s had a pretty good week, I think, all things considered. We have discovered that her knee high socks are actually thigh high (an Asda problem – she’s shorter than average but not that short) and her skirt is too big to stand up to running without a safety pin to hold it up but her uniform has held up in all other areas. Walking into school on Monday she was amazed by the number of people going but this has eased off now. They also have a complicated lunch system with a choice of three meals and corresponding coloured wristbands (green – meat, purple for potato or pasta and yellow for veggie) and she has to remember which wristband she wants. She’s made two pictures and a cardboard rocket and started doing letters and words, as well as numerous other things she can’t remember.

The teachers like her. I have remembered to pay her milk money. We’ve had an incident and two wobbles, both brought on by excessive tiredness. The incident was on her first day where she was knocked down in the playground and landed on her forehead. She was unclear about what happened when asked so they asked me to collect her. By the time I got there she was fine and ran home but the bump on her head is large. I think this has contributed to her finding the playground a little overwhelming and by Wednesday and Thursday she told me the same thing, that she had told the dinner ladies she wanted to go home.

Talking to me on Thursday about this she had her first wobble, and it was awful. She was visibly shattered and couldn’t stop crying while she told me how much she missed me, how she would tell the dinner ladies this all the time and she wanted to go home when she was in the playground. She was inconsolable and wept on my shoulder for ages. It obviously made me cry too, nothing I could say about being brave and promising to pick her up after school made any difference. Sometimes they just grab hold of your heart and wring it out. We put her to bed early and by the next morning she vowed to be brave “like Rey” (from Star Wars). “I will tell myself Mummy is coming to pick me up as soon as school is finished.”

I felt happier picking her up on Friday, having had my first day to myself, and remembering her happy face that morning. She goes into the classroom and settles in really well. I had a conker, a parcel and a chocolate cake waiting for her at home. She started crying as soon as she saw me. It turned out she’d drawn me a birthday card and it “got lost” according to the teacher, or it “got given to another child because the teacher was too far away to hear my say it was mine” according to E. A small drama, perhaps, but she takes these things to heart and sobbed, clinging to me for half the way home. This was difficult, mainly as carrying her, her school bag, a cardigan, a raincoat and a cardboard rocket is a little too much for me.

By today, of course, she’s forgotten most of it and has made me a new card. I know this all gets easier as she gets used to going to school.

And what of my new routine? Well, I decided as there were changes to how I did things, I may as well really make some changes so as well as a new working time routine, I also have new morning pages and a new running routine. For the first week I dropped E off having done work over breakfast, and did more work in the afternoon at home having picked her up. This worked fairly well, though I was very conscious of making sure my work was absolutely attended to, and as such felt exhausted and burnt out by Wednesday. Next week, E will be picked up on Monday and Wednesday by nursery and S can collect her on his way home. On this week’s evidence, there is a possibility that on a good day on the M1, he will be at nursery before she is. It’s almost worth him faffing about just so we get our money’s worth.

It’s early days but it does feel like this will work out, busy and hectic as these days should be. Fingers crossed.

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A new era

They were putting up football posts on the park playing field today – the true sign of autumn. My favourite season coincides with the annual return to school or, this year for us, E’s first term at school.

E has remained fairly sanguine about the whole thing, accepting quietly that she will be off to school and a new nursery (twice a week for pick up) and looks rather bored whenever some well meaning adult asks her if she’s excited. For her last day at nursery she was more interested in handing over the box of chocolates to the staff than any momentous occasion. And she’s been working diligently on her ‘homework’ for the summer (decorating a shoebox).

I think, despite her being one of the babies in the class, she’s ready to attend school and start more formal learning. She can just about write her name, she knows her letters and numbers but wants to know about reading, and will benefit from structured instruction. I also think she will be better at becoming independent once she’s settled at school, doing things like going to the toilet and getting ready for bed by herself, for example. She can do these things, she just chooses to have us with her.

A friend asked this week if it doesn’t seem 5 minutes since I was pregnant. I know I’m supposed to say “oh yes, how time flies,” but the truth is, those days seem a long way away. Partly because I hated pregnancy so much I was happy to forget them, but also the baby days. I have no idea what to do with a baby now, and dealing with nappies and weaning and potty training seems ancient history. This seems like an exciting milestone to pass, for us as well as her and certainly people are treating me like I’m going to weep and fall about the place at the school gates. (I can’t comment until I’ve done it.) But when it comes down to it, we’re all ready for E to move on, to go out and learn, to come home and tell us about her day. Perhaps it’s easier to transition when you’ve had a child in nursery since 10 months.

Of course, we think of school as a place to learn things but when I think back to my memories of primary school, I mainly remember the milk in blue plastic beakers, children laughing when I wore the same shoes as a boy in my class and Carolyn Fairbrother taunting me for not winning any races at Sports Day while she had several medals. (I loathed sports day ever since. I’m also a terrible loser. I attribute both of these to Carolyn Fairbrother so I hope she’s satisfied.) Other than this, there are few memories so I think it must have been quite a benign experience. The big stressful stuff starts later, or so we’re told.

Reports come out all the time about how girls do well at school, but recently there was one that acknowledged this while pointing out that girls’ experience of school is often negative and can affect mental health. We have so many things to look out for – bullying, sexual harrassment, confidence issues – that I feel we’ve had it so easy up to now. School years are formative. I know few people who don’t bear some scars (and I’m not talking sports day memories but other, more serious stuff.) Perhaps so many of us are coloured more by the teenage years but evidence suggests that some of the problems in school start in primary age. If you’ve not checked out the Everyday Sexism campaign to get strong Sex and Relationships Education in schools, I urge you to do so. It’s shocking.

I can only advise E to enjoy her school days, to stay confident, to be aware of consent issues, harsh words and nasty comments. I can only advise her to be kind to others, to study and find comfort in books. I can only hope she will come to me with any problems and, as long as they don’t involve quadratic equations, I will try to solve them with her.

In the meantime, it feels like a new term for all of us, and I don’t just mean because I’ve treated myself to a new notebook. In order to work out her new school life, I’m having to change my working habits and try a bit more flexi work from home (to be honest, I always get so much more achieved away from the office this could work out v well – we tried it this evening with me on the laptop and E playing with Lego.) I’m also aiming to have regular writing days on Fridays, and have got myself into a new exercise routine. More on how this works out for us to come, but for now we’re all quite excited.

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Gloworm festival: a review

We had an inauspicious start to our day at Gloworm. E woke us far too early and through my groggy eyes I could see it was raining. The tired feeling didn’t go away, and so when S announced he wasn’t feeling up to it, I downed more coffee and me and E set off. 

E has, in the last two weeks, developed some kind of random car sickness. I believe this is a thing that happens. It was warm in the car despite the aircon being on, and we’d nearly got to the site when, sitting in traffic, she announced she didn’t feel well and promptly threw up all her breakfast. I managed to pull into a nearby petrol station where she stood in her pants while I raced around realising I’d come put without wipes and the kitchen roll normally in the car wasn’t. I dressed her in waterproof trousers and a hoodie from my bag and suggested we go home. This did not go down well and I admit, I didn’t want to deal with more upset so on we went. 

The car seat was covered in vomit and E clearly couldn’t sit back in it, so being only a few miles from Clumber Park, I strapped her in the back seat and hoped we didn’t get stopped. It stank so arriving at Clumber in the middle of a gang of HaRkey bikers meant I had to close the windows due to the noise freaking E out. Great. She was tetchy and so was I, so the traffic jam to get in didn’t help our moods and then I missed where we were supposed to turn for the festival car park and ended up in the main car oark instead. It wasn’t much further away but it felt like a big deal so I’m embarrassed to say I was nearly intears by the time we reached the gate.

Luckily, that was where Gloworm did its bit for us. E was immediately enthralled by the flags, fairground and the buses (one was a bar, the other I think a playbus) and didn’t know where to go first. She played by the Gloworm letters, posing for pictures and then ran off to see the buses, the mermaid signing autographs, and then to the food stalls. Her enthusiasm was perfect to kick start me out of my over emotional funk.

We lunched. Locally produced food, and easy to buy for children, if a little unimaginative (lots of burger stalls). And then we roamed. E met Peppa Pig and then Thomas the Tank Engine, before joining in with a performance by Johnny and the Raindrops which she very much enjoyed, especially the superhero song and the air guitars. 

Following that we went up to the White Post Farm bit, animal petting, with goats, ducks, chicks and more goats. E was thrilled to handle a baby chick, and even more when it pecked her. We made a bug hotel from a toilet roll, now pride of place in our garden, and then she discovered the ‘dressing up like a horse and trying to do showjumping’ section. If you ever need cheering up from feeling feeble and alone, this is my recommendation. “Gallop, gallop” she said before throwing herself in her horse outfit over the barrier face and hand first. Hilarious. 

We stopped off at some of the stalls, and made a diplodocus from a balloon and some cardboard, before a doughnut and drink rest by the fairground. I know what you’re thinking, a sick child, doughnuts and a fairground – what could possibly go wrong? Well, E was fine but she insisted on going on the teacup ride. I would’ve been fine had the proprietor not insisted on spinning us extra hard every time we went past and after a while I gave up trying to enjoy it and just prayed for it to end. Then I sat down for about half an hour. I hate rides. Next time, S HAS to come to take part instead. 

There were bands playing but to be honest, we paid little attention to them. The workshops were sporadic so the dinosaur and the junk music man were all we got to do. But this is Gloworm’s first year so allowances can be made and there was much to like. There was a great range of stalls,with a family friendly approach. The sponsors seemed generous and sensibly minded for a festival with so many children – soft play areas, sand pits, baby changing facilities, rest areas for parents and so on. The fairground part seemed the busiest and there were long queues for each ride. I was glad E only wanted to go on one. This is an area where having more than one person in your group must have helped. However, all the rides and workshops etc were free and the cost included in the ticket price so the only extras were the food and drink, and any stall purchases. I did appreciate this. Workshops at Deershed (some were free) may have only been £1-3, but it does make a difference. 

The atmosphere seemed v pleasant, and although we left by about 4.30, so didn’t stay late or overnight, the day rate seemed reasonable. I bought early bird tickets, children under 3 were free and E was only a nominal price to get in. I think there’s much for Gloworm to build on for future years. 

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Golden days

I love the Olympics. I know parts of it are dodgy and there’s all kinds of nastiness going on in Brazil that we’re not seeing but I love it. I’ve always loved it. I remember watching loads of athletics especially when I was a child, an early hero for me was Kathy Cooke, and I danced with joy in 1988 when the men’s hockey team won gold. For us Brits, it’s only in the last 20 years or so that we’ve really been achieving, a lot of what I watched with my dad was disappointing for us. I always remember watching Jonathan Edwards getting his gold and wishing Dad was still alive to watch it, bearing in mind how many times we saw him come 13th together. 

Anyway, E has been interested in sport when we’ve had it on TV, and obviously we took her to the rugby world cup last year which she really enjoyed. But this is the first time she’s properly seen the Olympics, and been able to react to the female athletes. 

I hadn’t really thought about this in advance. The first weekend I had the women’s rugby sevens on so E sat beside me and asked who we should be cheering on. It was our game against Canada at the time, and E took it all very seriously, exclaiming when the Canadians had the ball and calling, “Run! Run for your life!” when we got the ball. 

I showed her some of the gymnastics next. Who wouldn’t be impressed by Simone Biles? E couldn’t work out if she was more impressed with the flips or the sparkly leotards. She loved the swimming but it was the heptathlon that really caught her imagination. 

We sat and watched the high jump and E was fascinated. She watched the efforts of them all, she warmed to Jessica Ennis-Hill, she watched the record breaking pbs from Thiam and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and she saw them all clap and cheer on each other. From then on, her imaginary play involved athletes. She has a band of imaginary friends, mainly Disney characters, but from the weekend Jess and Katarina have joined them. They came to dinner on Saturday night, and they played hide and seek with us on Sunday. 

We’ve watched highlights each morning over breakfast and it’s been so refreshing and positive to be able to easily show her women doing amazing things, achieving cracking physical feats and winning medals. She asks which one is ours, she cheers whenever anyone crosses the line, she is intrigued, and she’s been asking how to do these things. I told her she has to practice and she took this very seriously. “I can practice when I’mngrown.” 

I don’t know what she’ll be like when the games finish but hopefully we’ll be able to find some women’s sports, especially athletics, on TV to keep her interest. We don’t have satellite TV, so no extra sports channels, though I doubt they show much female sport. In the meantime, I’ve been compiling her a collage of pictures from the newspapers which show all the women – Jessica E-H, KJT, Bryony Page, the cycling team, the rowing eight, and now I’ll add Amy Tinkler and more Laura Trott. Then we can hang it on the wall. 

It’s so easy to knock some of this stuff, but we’ve seen all kinds of pictures in the last few days of children who met an Olympian and grew up to win their own medals. But assuming E doesn’t go and bring home a gold medal, the fact that these games have sparked her imagination, that it’s been so easy to show her women doing fabulous things, and that these are not things she sees every day, is important. Real role models, for girls and boys, seem thin on the ground these days and the nastiness of our media and social media make admiring people hard to do. 

Thank you Team GB, and Rio, for inspiring my girl. Bring on Tokyo. 

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School shopping

E starts school next month. She will be one of the youngest there, but somehow despite this I think she’s ready. She’s eager to learn things and is positive about school. Last month she had a morning session there to meet her teacher, new classmates and the buildings and took it all in her stride. She’s also had ‘homework’ (to decorate a shoebox) and has been taking it very seriously, working hard to put her own flair on her box. It’s a riot of Star Wars characters covered in flower stickers, female superheroes cut from wrapping paper, butterfly stickers, dinosaurs, coloured cellophane and glitter glue.

Of course this means we’re stepping into the murkey world of school uniform shopping. The school asks for white tops, grey skirts or trousers and the school’s branded jumper or cardigan. This then comes with additional things like white socks, school shoes, and the PE kit. Black or white shorts, a white tshirt and black plimsolls. Therefore more socks.

High street shops appear to have conceded the supply of most school kit to the supermarkets, most of whom do excellent deals on packs of polo shirts, skirt/ trousers two-packs and the gingham summer dresses. The best high street shop to get a lot of these things used to be BHS, close to my office and relatively inexpensive, but that’s gone.

In the interests of research I stopped in at M&S, somewhere I never go except in desperation. Not even for pants. They had a good range of white socks and grey tights, though hardly any in E’s size, and the polo shirts were twice as expensive as Asda/ Sainsbury’s but in packs of two, not three.

Nothing for PE. Not even packs of white tshirts. I considered buying white boys vests for a moment but had a flashback to my primary years where I had the same pair of shoes as a boy in my class and spent the term being teased for wearing boys’s shoes. The 40-year old me wouldn’t care, the 6-year old did very much.

So supermarkets it was then. Our nearest is Sainsbury’s and I picked up some skirts there but it’s a small store and their clothes selection isn’t vast so there weren’t the right sizes for polo shirts. Their plimsolls also had embroidered pink hearts on the top and I’ve read so many horror stories about pupils being sent home for the wrong shoes that I decided against it.

So we had a special trip to Asda. Their range is massive, and I picked up everything we needed except shies which I will get in Clarks. My only gripe was the gendered packs of polo shirts which I didn’t actually notice till I got home – the girls have scalloped collars and come in pink packaging. I’d inadvertently bought boys crew neck tshirts for PE (blue packaging). Sainsbury’s do gender neutral packs.

We bought 6 tops, 2 lots of socks, grey tights, plimsolls, t shirts, shorts, a new swimming costume and a new anorak plus hair bobbles and clips to match the royal blue uniform and it came to around £40. E pushed the trolley (badly) and then we went for coffee. (This is a mistake. Asda coffee comes from a machine and isn’t drinkable. They even managed to mess up the fruit toast. Shocking.)

In the spirit of the new term, I sewed name tapes on all of them that very afternoon.

And so to shoes. Clarks, obviously. And they measured E’s feet. The girl brought out the only ones they had available in her size – a choice of two. So we return to the stories of children being sent home from school because their shoes weren’t appropriate. I had some doubts about whether the first lot were quite right. I don’t want to be that parent, or at least not yet. The first pair had silver sparkly insoles, lights on the bottom of the shoes (you can turn the lights off when she’s at school, the girl said. And how long would that last, hmmm?) and large jewel flowers on the front. E, of course, loved them. Who can blame her?

I managed to get her to get the other pair, which were more appropriate but still had ballet dancing rabbits on the soles and came with a sheet of stickers. But really, do we want to have a moment to think about why Clarks put such rubbish on shoes? I know school shoes are dull black things but really.

Anyway, we’re now kitted out. I think. I hope.

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Celebrate your lefties!

Happy International Left-handers Day! I hope all you lefties have a great day waving at people and so forth. 

I, like 90% of the population, am a righty. But E is a lefty. I suspected as much a couple of years ago but was told that it might change and tends to be more fixed when she gets to around four. 

Well, she’s four now and she’s a lefty. Like Barack Obama. Other famous lefties include: Leonardo Da Vinci, Kenneth Branagh, Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman, Germaine Greer, Jack the Ripper, Paul McCartney and Martina Navratilova. Though I imagine the one she’ll be most pleasd with is that Chewbacca is left handed too. E loves Chewie.

It doesn’t mean much to us, except that I find it interesting. She can sometimes manage to cut with my scissors, and the only other thing to note is that she is a little more clumsy with utensils, so mealtimes are still quite messy. But that’s all. Research is casting some doubt on old ideas about lefties, like if they’re more creative or not, though we would encourage that in her either way. 

There is some early search that suggests handedness may be related to language, though mainly around areas of mixed handedness. Scientists have not yet managed to pinpoint where handedness comes from, but although S and I are both righties, S’s grandma was a leftie and was forced to use her right hand. So perhaps it skipped a few generations. 

For now, we’re encouraging E to get used to using her hands for dedicated work, such as writing her name or eating with a knife AND fork. Since we’ve moved on from the days when such things were frowned on, I shall celebrate her leftie-ness. And so, I wish you all a good lefty day. 

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Deershed

“It’s fine once you’re past the early stage isn’t it?” said the woman next to me. “When you’ve gone feral.” It sounds worse than it really is; we weren’t in a jungle, merely a music festival. 

I’d been toying with the idea of taking E to a music festival for a while and finally bit the bullet to take her to Deershed in Yorkshire this past weekend. It’s just the right size to be able to transport things easily and have a good time while not intimidating a small person with the size and scale and chaos. E had been primed about camping for a while, trying out her new sleeping bag and sparkly face paints and so off we set on Friday morning leaving S behind. “No boys allowed!” She announced.

Deershed is geared towards families and is very welcoming for folk with small people of all ages. We arrived about an hour after the gates opened, drove straight in and picked up a trolley to move our stuff. Having been used to Glastonbury, this was a novelty – not only did I have a relatively small tent in comparison, but there was enough room to set it up and have loads of space surrounding it. The other important thing to note is that the toilets were clean, mostly fresh smelling and in most cases were well stocked with paper. 

E was very relaxed but excited about the whole weekend and was absurdly pleased with the small things I’d remembered to bring, such as bunting for the tent and fairy lights for nighttime. She helped with pumping up the air mattresses and set everything out in our temporary home with great care. 

We went and had a look around. There’s loads to do for all ages, as well as music and comedy for the adults (plus bars) there were workshops, a sports area, circus skills, film tent, fairgound and a big top. For littlies, there was a NCT feeding tent for support and rest, under five areas with soft play, sand pit and crafts, and welfare areas. They also have Mr Trolley there for trolley hire, which I decided to invest in. I hired E a wagon trolley with roof and padded sides, for her to ride in. I’d seen children sleep in them at other festivals and had a faint hope of E doing the same. Many families there brought their pwn trolley.

E was fascinated by the fairground rides though not enough to go on them, loved the bubble displays at the bubble stall, and was very excited by the green sea monster that sat in the pond. We called it Delia. 

The workshops were a lovely variety of crafts and new things to try out. We went home with more homemade items than a Kirsty Allsopp TV programme, including a lovely willow woven heart and a minion made from a plastic bottle end. But E’s favourite workshop was the Aardman model making. We sat on the first one and made a Shaun the Sheep from plasticine which, while not perfect, does resemble the original enough to make us proud. (We returned to Aardmanfor a Gromit workshop on Sunday to find it sold out but they kindly gave E a ready made one made by the Aardman man himself to make up for the disappointment. I was very excited, and E told the lady she would introduce it to Shaun so they could be friends.) 

The trolley was a great help, and easier to manoeuvre than you might think, and E made great friends with it. Ours was called Bradley, and by the end of the weekend he was covered in ribbon braids. The roof did a basic job of keeping her dry for Sunday’s rain, though there was leakage from drips. 

How about the performances? We didn’t see an enormous amount, though heard several more while out and about. E enjoyed Sam Sam the Bubbleman, once she’d put her ear defenders on to avoid being scared to death by the compere making all the kids shout, and she really enjoyed anything that encouraged her to dance. The air guitar workshop followed by the Matthew Bourne ballet workshop onSunday were big hits. But her favourite was Richard Hawley on Saturday night. We’d gone back to the tent before the performance and got her changed into her pyjamas, leaving Bradley behind. We stopped off to hear a bedtime story, then picked up some hot chocolate, churros and choc dipping sauce, and consumed all on our blanket. Then RH started playing and E started to dance. She didn’t stop till he did, and then called goodbye to him all the way back to the tent. I imagine the novelty was a big factor in her enjoyment, but perhaps she’s inherited her mother’s love of guitars too. 
E is keen to return, so I’ll keep an eye out for next year’s tickets. All in all a great success, and only a bit exhausting.

Deershed festival details can be found on their website

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