Not starting school

An open, honest letter to my child who won’t be starting school this September

Today we’ll take it easy,
No rush, we’ve lots of time.
The whole day lies before us
And the weather’s looking fine.

Perhaps we’ll picnic in the park
Or on the front room floor,
For you are still so little;
You’ve only just turned four.

You choose the clothes you’d like to wear
And bring your teddy too,
Tell me where you’d like to go
And what you’d like to do.

We’ll take our favourite things for lunch,
Lay down and watch the skies
And if you fall and hurt yourself,
I’m here to dry your eyes.

Then we’ll go and see our friends
And share the afternoon.
We’ll talk and listen, play and paint,
The time will go too soon.

Because you’re still so little,
You don’t have to be alone
‘Till you decide the time is right
To branch out on your own.

‘Till then, I’m right beside you
When you need to hold my hand.
We’ll explore and learn together;
The best way to understand.

You’ve been alive for just 4 years,
Your place is here at home,
It’s our job to nurture you
And keep you safe from harm.

You fill my world with happiness,
I love to watch you play.
You’re learning all you need to know,
We’re doing it our way.

So before we go exploring soon,
I’ll kiss you one more time,
Happy that you’ll always be
Forever truly mine.

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I’m sorry

 

Dear Jess,

 

Today I said and did many things I regret.

 

I struggled with some really big feelings, that I found it really hard to deal with, and I took it out on you.

 

I’m so sorry.

 

As I lay here beside you, your sleeping face on the pillow beside me, and your arm reaching out to rest on mine, I want to tell you everything I did wrong today, and how sorry I really am.

 

When we arrived at that new playground, one we’ve never been to before, with climbing frames you’ve never encountered previously and everything unfamiliar, I should not have expected you to just run along and play.

 

I was selfish.

 

I was thinking about me, and I so desperately wanted to sit down and chat with the other mums, friends I’ve not seen in ages, something that every other parent there seemed to be capable of, except for me.

 

It’s something that never seems to happen for me. The two of you keep me on my feet, pacing one to the other, to help you climb, help you get down, help you with a splinter, help you find a footing.

 

But it was unrealistic of me to expect you, at the tender ages of 4 and 2, to be confident enough to just boldly go off and explore.

 

I know you both better than that. But at that moment, I forgot. I didn’t get it.

 

I’m sorry.
Then, when you did need me to do all those things, I was unforgiving. I snapped at you; I chided you; I told you that you were incapable; that this climbing frame is too big for you if you can’t do it yourself; that you’re too small to reach; that you’re not brave enough.

 

Instead of standing beside you and encouraging you, I put you down.

 

I’m so sorry.

 

And I told you to look around at all the other children, and see how none of them had their mummy following them; how they were all trying things out for themselves and climbing up by themselves and solving their own problems.

 

And you saw them and you cried and you said, “I’m sorry mummy”.

 

But I still didn’t get it.

 

I was so caught up in my own selfish desire to go and sit down and be left alone, that I still didn’t get it. I steered you towards the smaller climbing frame, the one you’d already been on and grown tired of. I wish I could have that moment again, and stand with you, and instead of steering you away over there, I’d guide your feet to the footholds, talk you down calmly, show you that you can do it by yourself. And I’d stay there with you while you do it again and again until you told me it was OK to leave you to it.

 

If I could be there with you again, that’s what I would do.

 

But I just didn’t get it. I’m so sorry.

 

And when I left you to it, and you bravely tried to scale that climbing frame one last time, and you got stuck and cried for me again, real tears because you were afraid to move a hand or foot in case you fell, I didn’t come. I was so selfishly annoyed at the thought of rushing over again, that I purposely left you there. It wasn’t for long, but long enough for me to now feel ashamed. You had been trying to be so brave for giving it another go without me; so determined. But I made a conscious choice in that moment, to leave you there crying.

 

Because I didn’t get it.

 

I’m so sorry.
When I came and lifted you down, I was angry. But I shouldn’t have been. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for any angry words that I said to you in that moment, when what you needed most was a cuddle, to know that you were safe and unconditionally loved. But I couldn’t see past my own frustration at being interrupted again.

 

I still didn’t get it.
And when you told me that you wanted to go home, but couldn’t tell me why, I snapped at you for being ungrateful and rude.

 

But you weren’t. And I shouldn’t have said that.

 

You wanted to go home because everything had become so confusing.

This morning you had been so excited about going; counted down the roads to get there.

But now, nothing was going the way it should have gone. Mummy was being awful. Nobody was helping you. Nobody was supporting or encouraging you, rescuing you, or giving you a push on the swings or roundabout. The things I do without question the rest of the time, suddenly today, I was reluctant, and of course, to you, there was no reasonable explanation. For me, it was a rare opportunity to sit with the other mums I know and talk to them, but I should not have expected you to get that.

 

You didn’t get it. I didn’t get it.

 

When you asked me to go home, I shamed you.

 

Instead of sticking up for you and politely making excuses to leave, I belittled your manners and grace in front of the other mums, telling you that you were being rude and ungrateful. You were not.

 

I was the one being rude. And selfish. And thoughtless.

 

I’m so sorry.
And when we reached the car, out of earshot of anybody else, I told you horrible things. I told you that your friend would not want to be friends anymore, because you didn’t want to stay and play. That she wouldn’t ask you to play again. That you were rude for not playing with her.

 

But those horrible things I said were not true at all.

 

And I slammed your car door as you were crying, “But I still love her! I’m sorry for being rude!”

 

I slammed the door because I was letting my anger get on top of me.

 

Because I still didn’t get it.

 

I’m so sorry, my love.
I should not have said or done any of those things. I was being so selfish.
It wasn’t until we were halfway home, after we had both had a good cry, that I began to realise how awful I’d been to you.
But even then, the words I spoke to you weren’t coming out the way the way they should have. I told you that I was cross and disappointed because you weren’t enjoying it and that my feelings were all getting too much.

 

And through your tears you sobbed, “I’m sorry for making you cry mummy!”
Your words hit me and took the wind out of me and I remember gasping.

 

I should have stopped the car. I should have come round to your side and opened your door and given you a big cuddle right then, and we could have cried in each other’s arms and we could have both made things OK.

 

But I didn’t, and I don’t know why I didn’t.

 

I’m so sorry.
You asked me not to tell daddy about all this. You must have felt so terrible because of all the things I’d made you think and feel and believe, all things that weren’t true at all.
Your words sat there in my lap all the way home, weighing me down. You fell asleep, exhausted. I cried as you slept. I could feel your sad words clinging to me all the way.

 

And as I drove, and I thought about everything that happened today, I began to understand. I began to piece it together, and realised that it had all been about me.

 

I was finally getting it.
When we got home, I tried to say sorry to you. But when you woke up, you were happy and you ran out in the garden and played. When I said to you, “I’m sorry I made you sad today” you didn’t respond. You talked about something else. I wondered if perhaps you hadn’t heard me, but later when I tried again, you did it again. You changed the subject.

 

And I finally got it.
I’m so sorry for treating you badly today.

 

I’m so sorry for saying awful things to you, that made you feel terrible about yourself.

 

I’m sorry for changing the rules in such a confusing way.

 

I’m sorry I couldn’t see how selfish I was being.

 

I’m sorry for taking out my big feelings on you.

 

I’m so sorry for making you not want to talk to me about it now.

 

I’m so truly sorry.

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I would lay down my life

Sometimes, as a Mummy, the best things I hear, are those things that are said in the moments before sleep.

I know I have been lucky.

I know I am one of the fortunate few.

Our bedtimes have always (or almost always) been peaceful.

I often hear about other parents’ bedtime battles – arguments, screaming, whatever it takes.

I don’t know how we have managed it, but our bedtimes tend to be, on the whole, peaceful.

That’s not to say I’ve always been the most patient of parents at bedtimes. Oh no! I’ve bribed. I’ve begged. I’ve told the odd little white lie: “I’ll be back in a few minutes, after I have brushed my teeth” – knowing that she will be asleep within minutes anyway.

And of course, as society would have you believe, children should send themselves off to sleep…  in a room…  by themselves…  in the quiet…  and often in the dark… with no-one else nearby…  in a short space of time…..

Now that I write that, it seems ridiculous. But I never really questioned it until recently.

Over the last few months my perception has changed. My bigger monkey will be 4 next month, and I suspect that she may be going through a developmental leap that is leaving her feeling anxious, insecure and in need of reassurance. For the last 3 weeks, she has asked me to sit with her in her room while she falls asleep. Or she has asked, at some point in the night, to come and sleep with me in my room. At bedtime, I am usually happy to sit with her for a while, but of course, I do not go to bed when she does. I have things I need to do. Things I WANT to do. A couple of hours of being me, instead of being Mummy.

So tonight…

Tonight, as usual, Daddy takes her up to bed, tucks her in and comes back downstairs.

Five minutes later, as usual, she calls out for Mummy.

I go up. I don’t begrudge it. I never do really, except for those times when I have had a mountain of planning or marking to do ready for my next day’s (paid) work. Everything else can wait (or be recorded – in the case of TV programs). Plus, I keep telling myself that other families have much worse bedtime battles than this…

So I go up, and I sit with her for a while, and she is calm and quiet… and I think that she is going to sleep, and I hope that I might be able to creep stealthily out of her room…

Suddenly she turns her head over to where I am sitting, beside her bed.

Her voice is like a bell in my ears…

“Mummy, please will you lay down with me and give me a cuddle?”

I freeze.

And in my head, silent to anybody else, but LOUD AND CLEAR to me, as if it were truly spoken aloud, I hear these words…

“My love…. I would lay down my LIFE for you…. my whole LIFE…. of course I will lay down with you and cuddle you!”

It is my inner voice.

My inner voice that so often is silenced, quashed, because other things seem to take priority.

My inner voice that has to shout to be heard  above the clamour and din of every day preconceptions and ideologies.

My inner voice that has been gradually eroded, like everyone else’s since the day we entered adolescence and began to think for ourselves and have our own ideas.

Silently, I pull out the fold-up bed that I have been sitting on, and flatten it onto the floor; no wider than hers, but at least a little longer than a toddler bed – long enough for me to lie comfortably on. I grab the pillow and spare duvet that I keep nearby, and I whisper to her, “Come here, Sweetheart.”

She slides onto the mattress next to me and I wrap the duvet around us both.

For a moment we are both silent: warm, comforted and reassured as we hold each other close.

I breathe in the delicious scent of her, feel her little body in my arms, and I watch her eyelids flutter as she seems to drift into her own little world.

Then her eyes flutter open and she notices me gazing at her…

“Mummy, go to sleep,” she tells me, our roles reversed… or perhaps equalised.

“I was just thinking how much I love you,” I whisper, and the corners of her mouth twitch, almost into a smile.

“You must go to sleep, Mummy!” she urges. So I close my eyes, trying.

A minute later, I open one eye – partly to see if she has her eyes open or closed, and partly to get another look at that beautiful face.

She is wide eyed, and most-definitely awake. I open my other eye and smile at her.

“Mummy, I’m thinking how much I love YOU now,” she says, sincerely.

I pull her closer still, and my heart melts into hers.

“I love you,” I whisper.

“I’d lay down my life for you.”

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Poorly days

Today is a poorly day in our household.

We’ve had a long week of them.

These days, I have discovered, are the longest, hardest, most exhausting days of parenthood.

For the last week or so, my littlest monkey (2 years old) has been ill with croup and a head cold, which is exhausting enough. But it’s never that straightforward: it’s a chain reaction that, with a horrible inevitability, gradually hits everyone in the household.

As a mum to a poorly 2 year old, all sense of my own personal infection-control goes out the window.

It is my job to catch the snotty sneezes, even when they land right in the middle of my face as I’m cuddling her.

It is my job to wipe the tears, dribble and other unmentionable mucus from her nose, her cheeks, her hands, her legs and every object she touches.

It is my job to hold her tight while she wails in between the spluttering cough that hurts her throat and her chest and seems unending.

It is my job to do my best to wash her hair, matted and knotted with all the aforementioned bodily fluids, so that I will not have to go at it in desperation with the scissors later on.

It is my job to try to get calpol into her, which if it were as easy to do as it is to say, would be one less frustration.

And it is my job to lovingly receive all the dribbly, snotty, germ-ridden kisses that she plants on me because, even through all my exhaustion, I am managing to make her feel a little better.

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Of course, with all that comes the inevitability of catching this bug myself. Predictably, 3 days later, I am able to fully appreciate how awful she was feeling through all of that, as I now feel it just as bad. Still I desperately try to keep her comfortable and keep the bigger monkey (3 years old and as yet still surprisingly healthy) entertained as usual. It’s exhausting. Feeling ill, all I really want to do is curl up in bed.

And I know that my older daughter will get it next. In a few days it will start all over again with her.

A week of poorly days is HARD! Really hard!

But like all the other difficult times in this amazing, rewarding, life-changing role of being a parent, it’s all part of the job.

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School doesn’t fit

It is January 2015. My daughter is almost 4 years old. The deadline for primary school applications in our area is in 6 days. I still haven’t chosen a school for her.

I haven’t even visited any schools to look around them.

In fact, come to think of it… I don’t even know anything about any of the primary schools in my town. We moved here 9 months ago, and I just never got around to it.

But I’m not stressing. I won’t be applying.

For some reason, the closing date feels as if it will be a sort of milestone for us. Despite having decided a long time ago that we would not be applying for a reception place for her, it feels like the deadline will be somewhat significant. As if it will somehow confirm our decision. Make it final. Make it definite.

But in reality, next Thursday will come and go just like any other. As will the 2nd September, when most children born in the same academic year as my daughter, will begin a new journey that will continue for the next 13 years. Instead of beginning a new journey for learning, my little girl will simply continue the one she started when she emerged into this world almost 4 years ago (or a little earlier, if you count her time in-utero). Another day learning. Another day growing. Another day living life.

A teacher by profession, and a parent by the grace of God, it wasn’t until I returned to my teaching career after maternity leave, that I realised that there was something that disturbed me about the prospect of sending my little girl to school. I had just spent 12 months with her: nurturing her; cherishing her; and loving (almost) every moment of it. OK, there were difficult parts. There were days I thought I’d never cope with motherhood; days when I desperately needed sleep, or space, or downtime. But on balance, and with the benefit of hindsight (and perhaps some nice rose-tinted specs), there’s not a thing I would have changed. I was parenting instinctively, following my own maternal gut feelings, taking or leaving the advice I was given, depending on what my heart told me to be right.

Although I had no idea at the time, I have since learned that I was practising what some people call “attachment parenting“. I never needed to enrol my daughter at a nursery or childminder; in fact I only ever placed her in the care of very close family members, and even then only ever for an occasional couple of hours, when I couldn’t take her with me somewhere. It wasn’t that I was being over-protective; simply that I never felt the need to leave her. We came as a package. She went where I went. On the few occasions I did leave her with my nearest and dearest, her anxiety (and for ‘anxiety’ read ‘terror’) broke my heart and felt instinctively wrong.

“You should leave her. She needs to get used to it. It will be worse for you than it will be for her. She’ll forget about you as soon as you’re out of sight!”

As if this well-intended advice was meant to somehow make me feel better about walking away from her, leaving her screaming and flushed, with real tears streaming down her hot cheeks. Thank goodness I read somewhere about attachment parenting, otherwise I could have ended up turning my back on my instincts and doubting my parenting choices.

So when the time came for me to return to my job (I was the main earner and we had mortgage payments due, plus I was already expecting number two so I was thinking ahead to another paid maternity leave), my husband gave up work to be with her full time. For 4 years she has been in the sole care of one or both of her parents. In a very stable, very supportive, very nurturing family environment.

And how she has flourished!

Not that children who attend nursery or paid childcare do not flourish. I know from my own experience as a teacher that they do. But I just could not imagine it for my own child. It wasn’t for us. It just didn’t fit.

In those first 12 months I watched her learn to feed, smile, listen, watch people, reach for things, grab at things, roll over, wriggle and crawl, get someone’s attention, eat, communicate with gestures, walk, talk, clap, sing…

And for none of these things, was she sat in a room with a group of other children the same age, being shown how to do it by someone unfamiliar and detached from her. Instead, she learnt by watching; copying; trying things out; failing; trying it out again; finding out what worked best; trying more things; copying a bit more…

More recently, I’ve watched her learn to draw; to solve jigsaws; to construct elaborate buildings with mega blocks; to write; to read; to count to 50; to add using her fingers; to sing Christmas carols by heart; to swing herself higher and higher on the garden swing and to play all manner of games on her tablet. A couple of weeks ago I watched her patiently figuring out the notes for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on her toy piano. All of this was unprompted. All uncoached. All unschooled.

Everything she has learnt has been her own idea.

If she wants to do something – she watches how others do it.

If no-one else is doing it – she will figure it out for herself.

If she wants to be shown – she asks someone to show her: “Can you write the letters in your name please Mummy, for me to copy?”

She picks things up and runs with them.

This is how she learns.

I do not know if this is how all children learn. I do not know if this way of learning is the best way for all children. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on learning. Or teaching. And I do not believe that home-educating is right for all families, or all children. In fact, I feel sure that for a lot of children, school education is the very best choice, the perfect fit, and I have seen in my own career that many children thrive in school and are very successful.

I am not an expert on education.

But I AM an expert on my daughter. Or at least, more of an expert than any other teacher that she would have in a classroom could EVER be. And for us, and for our daughter, I firmly believe that school is not the best way to learn. I have watched how she learns. I have lived it. And I just don’t think school will fit. For us.

This is why, 6 days from now, when the deadline for school admissions comes and goes, I won’t be stressing. I will smile inwardly, knowing beyond doubt that we are making the right choice, before I get reabsorbed in whatever our family are up to on that day.

Yes, it may be a milestone. But when you learn through every-day life, and each day brings new discoveries and revelations, every day is a milestone.

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