Into the swing of things

It’s been a while but some things never change. Despite getting up earlier and calling in the scooters to give us a quicker journey to school, making it out of the door is still hampered by last minute dashes to the loo, outfit changes, lost gloves and keys.

As the experience of the twin’s Reception year accumulated under our belts school became less of a novelty for me to blog about. Then along came Year 1. We were moved from our quiet enclosure at the side of the school to the big playground alive with children who look like they’ve outgrown primary school. The kids seemed fine with the change but the parents took a bit longer to adjust. Eventually we were emailed and asked to stop holding their hands while they stood in line and instead wait with the other parents at the gates. ‘But how will my poor baby cope?’ we weeped and wailed. Just fine it turned out.

Shortly after I received the email, Pickle forgot to take his packed lunch from me after the bell. I franctically called him but he didn’t hear. I had no choice. There I was a lone mother, dashing onto no-mans land certain that somewhere from her bunker the head had her sniper trained on me.

Another adjustment this year has been the increase in lost things. In two days so far this week Ladybird has come out of school holding only her reading book, insisting someone had taken her school bag from her feet, when it was actually still in the cloakroom. When we got home I discovered the bag only contained one school shoe and yesterday she left her cardigan behind. Pickle meanwhile forgets to bring home his water bottle most days and yesterday as well as his snow boots he left his lunchbox behind. It’s all too much for a mother who already has to spend an hour a day looking for her door keys.

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The twins get competitive – is it genetic or just part of growing up?

Whether we like it or not; the summer of 2012 is going to be dominated by sport.  The air will be filled with team spirit, the thrill of competition, the elation of winning and of course the disappointment of losing. The twinlings seem to have caught the scent of what’s ahead for the nation and have been displaying their own competitive prowess.

It started with their school reading. I thought I was doing the right thing when I praised them for moving to the next reading level. But no. Ladybird, who as I’ve said before responds well to a smiley face, quickly saw it as a personal mission to work her way through the reading stages. I quickly changed my official line. But I was too late; their minds were already set.

One evening as Pickle read his school book and Ladybird reminded us that she’d done this level such a long time ago, I delved into my stash of parenting clichés to try and put things right:

‘It doesn’t matter what level you’re on,’ I explained, ‘what counts is how hard you try.’

I could have just come straight out with ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ but I was aiming for a point or two for originality. But it really didn’t matter how I phrased it, Ladybird had her own views:

‘No,’ she told me. ‘What matters is being on the highest level. And being the best.’

OK. So what do I say to that? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. Maybe the ‘taking part’ cliché is well worn for a reason. Should I have just stuck with that? It was yet another situation that leaves me wondering where my natural parenting instinct to say the right thing ended up.

And it’s not just the reading anymore. As they sit at the table felt tipping out another picture of me with bright red hair they’ve become a pair of vicious art critics, panning their stick men and giving brutal feedback on spelling. On Friday for the Sport Relief mile at a local athletics track they were both determined they were going to win, even though it wasn’t a race.

So this got me wondering; if I’m telling them it’s all about learning and fun (which releases me from any responsibility of their insensitivities) does this mean a competitive nature is genetic? I found my answer on parent.com, according to psychologists it’s a common phase children go through in their first year at school. Four and five year olds are apparently comparing their progress in a way they hadn’t before and this adds to the pride they feel when they reach a new milestone. Especially if they reach it first.

So we haven’t produced two ruthless competitors. It’s just another phase and probably more pronounced in the twins because they’re doing everything at the same time. But, if in say 40 years’ time we get a lady prime minister who’s joined forces with her twin brother in a bid for world domination; well, I did try to warn you.

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Fun things to do for World Book Day

World Book Day on 1st March is a great excuse for some bookish behaviour.

Chatting to a mum on her way to make a story sack I got just the inspiration I was after. I did switch off when she mentioned sewing I must admit. Sewing on buttons is my limit. But I really liked the idea of using a story as a springboard for other activities.

We started off making a map of Oz. Ladybird declared herself ‘Wizard of Oz mad’ after we read the story in her Usbourne Classics for Girls and she watched the film for the first time at Christmas. She drew a yellow brick road, stretching from Dorothy’s house to the Emerald City and Pickle cut up and glued on straws for the cornfield and made a tin man. Then Ladybird finished off by sticking on some pictures of trees and drawing some poppies.

I made a poppy out of tissue paper I was pretty pleased with. But no-one tells children they should praise their parents’ achievements to boost their self-esteem. OK, the black pom-pom in the middle was Ladybird’s idea. But I did a good job of scrunching up the tissue paper. I thought it was good, even if they were underwhelmed.

So a quick and easy activity and Pickle enjoyed it so much he wants to make an Island of Sodor next.

Our Map of Oz

If you prefer someone to do the creating for you, I discovered from the same mum that the library has a collection of story sacks. I borrowed Peace at Last today, a story we were given last World Book Day. The title containing words I sigh most evenings before parking my bum on the sofa. The sack is packed with cute bears, an owl, a cuckoo whistle, a board game and ideas for word games for parents. All available for free to take home for three weeks. What a great resource. Yet I’m only the third person to take the Peace at Last sack out in two years. It has to be down to a lack of awareness.

I wish I’d recorded them opening the sack, because as soon as Ladybird saw the bears she grabbed her girls’ world head and acted out Goldilocks and the Three Bears with them. Apparently the porridge was too oily – I’m not sure if this was imaginative play or directed at me, because this morning she didn’t finish the stodge I tried to pass off as porridge.

Goldilocks & The Three Bears - Produced by Ladybird

I also read a book about the concept of ‘peace’ to Ladybird, ironic that she should ask me to read it to her when Pickle was at the height of a paddy, he at least provided some contrast. There are loads more to do and I think it will take three weeks to get through it all. OK, I’ll stop enthusing now, as you can probably tell I was pleased with the discovery.

We had a little survey at home and these are our favourite fictional characters:

1. Thomas the Tank Engine (Pickle)

2. Where’s Wally (Wenda, Woof & Wizard Whitebeard) (Pickle)

3. Angelina Ballerina (Ladybird)

4. The Bad Tempered Ladybird (Ladybird, of course)

5. Lola (as in Charlie and)

6. Alfie by Shirley Hughes (All)

7. Slinky Malinki (Mummy)

And don’t forget World Book Day is for parents too – so get yourself off to bed early for a good read (you’re a parent, why else would you be having an early night?)

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Early Friendships

This term the twinlings have been getting into whole ‘play date’ thing. We’d kept things quiet in the first term, but I was noticing some wistful glances at other classmates off to friends’ houses after school – while the twins faced another long winter’s evening at home with me.

Pickle’s pretty gregarious. At pre-school he had a couple of playmates he stuck with, but at school he seems to play with all the boys in his class. Ladybird is very discerning, swathes of girls are dismissed for crimes like ‘talking too fast’. It’s very black and white, they’re either a great friend or they just don’t exist – there’s no middle ground.

Ladybird is also drawn towards the older girls. The juniors are clearly goddesses to be worshipped and they in turn seem to like mothering the Reception girls. And all this love can be intense. After school we get to the end of our road, Pickle and his friend kiss each other good night while the friend’s 8 year old sister hugs Ladybird, telling her she misses her already. It’s hard for me and the other mum to know where to look.

When we’ve had friends over we’ve invited a girl and a boy so no-one feels left out. And sorry to fall into gender stereotypes here, but they do play differently. While Ladybird takes friends off to her room for secretive games of doctors and nurses, Pickle quite often clears off to his room by himself, leaving his guest on his own downstairs.

And then there’s the gooseberry, me, lingering by the girl’s door, desperate for an invite that never comes. But hospitals are notoriously short-staffed, I think, surely their game could do with an extra nurse with experience in administering Calpol. When I do open the door, on some pretence about what they want for tea, they become silent, waiting for me to leave.

Barbie & Spiderman

Barbie & Spidie - could they ever be friends?

The whole friendship thing is confusing enough now and I’m sure it’s only going to get more complicated. They’re so young but already forming their own independent relationships and make their own mistakes. It’s hard to explain why a friend who tells you to go away is still your friend.

I know I only get the edited highlights, what they remember, usually missing out what they’ve said that led to the ‘go away’. I’ve surrendered ever really knowing and understanding what’s going on now. Take the Christmas party – in the first term I’d been surprised when Ladybird told me she’d stopped playing with a friend she’d really loved before starting school, but when I was a fly on the wall at the party the two girls were holding hands, running and dancing together the whole time. I said afterwards ‘oh, so you had fun with x today’ and she looked at me blankly, did I mum, I don’t remember that?

Either I’m going to have to invest in some spy equipment or just leave them to it.

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Is life really as rewarding as a smiley face chart?

On Friday, Ladybird proudly came down the steps waving a ‘star of the week’ certificate, wearing  a shiny sticker and a huge grin. She’s been waiting for her second appointment with the headteacher, rather like Sir Bruce waited for his moment with the queen, for some time.

Pickle came out the same day pulling Jasper, the class bear behind him. This was a reward too, for also trying really hard with his writing.

‘But my star of the week is better isn’t it?’ Ladybird asked, flapping the certificate wildly in the air and accidentally whacking a passing dad in the stomach.

Ladybird really loves the whole rewards thing. There seem to be a few different schemes at school, the mechanics are all unclear , but Ladybird seems to have it sussed. So far she’s filled her smiley face chart and brought the bear home. There was also an unfortunate incident when Pickle was ‘star of the week’ and the headteacher accidentally called Ladybird up in assembly too. Granny managed to dent the disappointment by making her a ‘star of the weekend’ certificate instead.

Ladybird’s always responded well to bribes, let’s call them incentives, at home, with smiley face or sticker charts. At school the stickers seem to be handed out at the teachers’ discretion, which I’m guessing gives them the flexibility to use them as they need them, but as a friend told me this can lead to inconsistencies. Her twins are in different classes, both did the same cooking project at home – one teacher gave one of the twins points, the other teacher didn’t. So my friend had to ask for the points, otherwise how could she explain this one away at home?

I ran into similar problems with my own discretionary ‘beads in a pot’ system, yes it’s  as sophisticated as it sounds. Pickle wasn’t the least bit interested by my revolutionary ideas so I quickly downgraded their target of 20 beads to 10 – getting him beyond negative bead equity seemed impossible at one point. But Ladybird quickly starting working the system, or lack of it. A bead offered for putting their yoghurt pots in the bin, would see Ladybird then putting her lid in the bin, and Pickle’s, and then a random bit of rubbish on the floor. ‘That’s an extra 3 beads isn’t it mummy?’

As another friend pointed out, rewarding children for everything means we’re not bringing children up to do things simply because they need to be done, which leads me on to Pickle. Pickle finally managed to make it up to ten beads, while Ladybird had totted up two sets a while ago, so off we popped to the 99p store where they were let loose to buy any, highly breakable, toy they wanted. But I instantly felt guilty that Pickle was only buying one piece of tat and so let him get two things. Ladybird wasn’t at all happy, she’d earned that extra present and there I was changing the rules.

But for Pickle, a little boy who really doesn’t like carrots, the stick seems to be a stronger motivator. If I promise him a smiley face for tidying up, he politely declines, ‘I’m alright thanks, I’d rather play’, but if I tell him he’ll get a sad face if he doesn’t help, he leaps into action. His teacher tells me he tidies away at school without even having to be asked, so I’m going wrong somewhere, but that’s another story. With Pickle I’m constantly giving him the slow 1-2-3, though I’ve often got no idea what the consequence will be if I reach ‘3’ – usually I don’t need to worry, the threat of the stick works with him.

Although my friend is right, sometimes we do have to do things in life without a reward at the end of it, these carrot and stick systems we have at school and home do reflect life. I mean, a meal out on your boss is a nice way of knowing your hardwork’s been noticed – but there’s no greater motivator than the threat of getting the boot.

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How much effort do you make for the school run? Take part in my poll.

And as for me…..

On a bad morning, at the school gates I look at the parents’ harrassed faces. As they shoo their children through the gates, trying not to trip over the dog’s lead, bash someone with their buggy and stop their toddler doing scooter stunts off the classroom steps, I take comfort.  They look like they’ve had a hellish morning too.

Morning starts so far this year have been hard work for us. Even the twinlings are sleeping in. And once up, they’re refusing to put on underwear, or have their hair brushed unless I can brush out the curls.

I recently read a magazine article advising mothers, when things got really bad in the mornings, to take time out to indulge in some breathing exercises. I laughed when I read it. How could delaying myself even further possibly make me calmer?

The second piece of advice in the article was to get up 15 minutes earlier. This made sense, a totally logical thing to do, to give me more time and be calmer in the mornings. Just get up 15 minutes earlier. I laughed at this advice too. It will never happen.

The magazine overlooked one obvious solution; compromise on my grooming – skip the hair wash, don’t bother about the make-up – and it earns me a fabulous 15 minutes extra time in bed. OK, so that’s not how it’s supposed to work I know, it should mean 15 minutes extra time to get ready, calmly, but I love my bed, what can I say.

So while I’ve been doing the January thing of  swapping green & blacks for green leaf vegetables, my appearance standards are slipping. I do work from home, often the only people I see are school runners and at this time of year I’m usually wearing my hood or hat.

SJP on school run

No, this isn't me on the school run. Yes, I wear a hat and boots, but sadly that's where the similarities end

But I do still have standards I can’t fall below. The make-up doesn’t make it on most days, but I really can’t leave the house without mascara. I have a comfy pair of walking shoes or heeled boots and most days, not all mind, I will opt for the boots. It’s made me wonder about the other school runners, some look so well groomed they must be pinging out of bed at 6:30am, others I suspect have their PJs under their clothes! Not that I’m criticising, because the only people these things should matter to are ourselves, we set out own standards. For me at least, I’ve given my acceptable levels a fully approved downgrade.

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I’ve just got to…..

This year I resolved to reduce how often I say I’ve just got to….  The evenings after school flash past so quickly. By the time we’re home, book bags and lunchbox emptied, it’s not long before I have to start their dinner, do a new packed lunch, hang out the washing, put away yesterday’s washing, read school books, cook our dinner, tidy up the devastation and get bath and bedtime under way. All the while the twinlings are battling for my attention with a barrage of can yous that I deflect with a shield of I’ve just got tos.

On our last day of the Christmas holidays it was just the three of us at home. This was my chance to devote my time to them. But instead of playing, I was responding to requests like ‘can you stick the antennae back on my bug mask’, until at gone 11am I had to make an I’ve just got to plea. To justify it I added in a ‘really’ because really, I did have to have a shower and get dressed before I started on lunch. And of course by the time I was dressed and ready for them, they were so engrossed in a game they were playing together I didn’t like to disturb them.

For me as I’m sure it is for most parents, it’s a guilt thing.  Am I doing as much as I can for them? The answer invariably being no, of course I could be doing more. And it’s a question too of priorities. Sometimes I have to put my priorities over theirs because they benefit them, they just don’t realise it, and also for the sake of my sanity. When it comes down to it, they don’t care about the Weetabix barnacles stuck fast along the dinner table, but I do.

I’m trying to get the balance right. Tonight we got out two different train sets in the lounge before Ladybird decided she’d like to paint. The 2011 ‘School Run Mum’ would have decided it was too close to bedtime to get painting stuff out and dished out an I’ve just got to, but the 2012 me, got the easel out and enjoyed watching them create. And even better they played with the paints for at least as long as it will take me to clear away. Note the use of future tense there, because it’s all still out there. The rest of the evening went awry when the call came from QPR to say his keys, wallet and phone were locked inside the car, while he remained on the outside.

Painting time

So, tired out with the day’s events, looking forlornly at the mess and mentally totting up how long it was going to take to tackle it.  I reminded myself that the rule of tidying everything away by the end of the day is my own invention, no-one will be coming around to check up on me tomorrow (hopefully). So I told myself I’ve just got to sit on the sofa and write my blog, the mess will all be there in the morning.

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