Sleepover

Another rite of passage for R and G: they had their first sleepover on Saturday night. Dh and I had been invited to a wedding and while family children were invited, friends’ children weren’t. We asked one of the girls’ friends’ parents if they could possibly…and amazingly they offered to help us out.

I waited for them to regret their rashness and claim a prior engagement but they were dead set on having the girls over. R and G were whisked away after ballet on Saturday morning. I must have looked slightly tragic when they left as my friend sent me a text to reassure me that the girls had arrived safety and I was to go and have a wonderful time.

Dh and I took them at their word. The wedding was wonderful and it was great for us to catch up with old friends (Dh’s really but I’m the longest standing WAG so it’s nice for me to see them too) and spend some time together without the girls. I haven’t been drinking since my health scares earlier in the year but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a glass or two of fizz and there were – thankfully – no after-effects. I made an absolute show of myself on the dance floor and barely left it all evening. It’s nice to let your hair down once in a while. Dh and I went to bed at the thoroughly dirty stop out time of 2am and woke just after 8am, so it wasn’t exactly restful but it was great fun.

On Sunday lunchtime we went to collect the girls in fear and trepidation. Had they slept? Had they wet their beds? Had the parents run away to Peru in horror? After a few false starts and a couple of logistical bed moves they slept well. They woke once in the night to tell our friends that their daughter was crying (she’s a sleep talker) and their beds were both dry in the morning.

I predicted that R might go a little wobbly at bedtime, but she was absolutely fine (and was described as an angel) and G had a little quiet moment on Saturday afternoon but claimed she was sad because someone was blocking her view of the TV.

We were greeted with excited squeals. G came to me first and R went to Dh. R was more reluctant to give me a hug but when she thought dh’s back was turned she gave me such a tight hug that I swear I stopped breathing for a second.

Whenever I go away for a day or two I find chat I’m fine during the event for which I’m actually away, but the moment it’s over I have to get home. The invisible thread develops a stronger pull. I like having a bit of freedom but I like balancing it with the responsibility of having children.

We have told our friends that we owe them a night away. Someone joked (I think…) that for every night we give the girls to someone, they should get two nights from us in return. It’s easier for us to host sleepovers (in theory – we haven’t actually done it yet) because going from 2 to 3 children doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. For them, going from 1 to 3 children must be more of a challenge.

Now I realise we missed a trick by not nominating any of our friends to be godparents. One of the main functions of godparents is to host sleepovers, right? Is it too late to nominate a few people? 😉

Idyll

The (belated) arrival of the warm weather means that the children can play on the field adjacent to the nursery in the evenings. I love the fact that they can spend nearly an hour leaping around on what is essentially a sandy mound at the edge of a rugby pitch with kids that they’ve spent the last three years with, getting absolutely filthy, while the parents stand in the sunshine and chat. We eventually drag them home after a series of five, four, three, two, one minute warnings and they chuck themselves in the bath, passing out in bed after the requisite amount of bedtime stories are read to them.

At weekends we tend to hang out with the ballet and tap crowd, having children over to play and vice versa. On a couple of occasions we’ve looked after an additional child for an hour or two and the girls love being part of a triplet team. It’s not much of a stretch for dh and I to take on an extra child for a bit. I don’t envy those that, when they take on our two, go from one to three children…

As I’ve become more involved with our local book group the girls have met some of the children. They have fallen hopelessly in love (R particularly) with a six year old girl on our road who they now regard as the COOLEST GIRL IN THE WORLD. She attends the school that the girls will be going to and R is convinced that she’ll be able to play with her every day. Dh has had a fatherly word and intimated that N may not want to play with younger children like R and G, but the girls are having none of it.

We popped round to see N and her parents re: her old playhouse (which now has a new home in our garden) and R got a little chilly so her mum dug out an old hoodie of N’s to wear. R was allowed to keep said hoodie and has regarded it as a precious gift ever since. I’m amazed we’re even permitted to touch it, let alone wash the thing. When R wears the hoodie she transforms, superhero-style into N because, apparently, when you’re six you can do ANYTHING – drive cards, go to school on your own, watch Spongebob Squarepants, cook dinner…the list goes on.

I was chatting to one of the nursery (BIG STARS, silly billy!!) mums the other night and she reflected that the children have a wonderful life. They have a lovely group of friends, they want for nothing, they are loved and cared for and they are comforted by the fact that they have a loving, supportive network around them.

It’s such a change from where Dh and I were when the girls were small. I felt so isolated and looking back, it’s no wonder that I went a bit nutty for a while. We’re a good, self-sufficient team but it’s good to have other people locally that we can call on when we need them.

I have also become more relaxed about the school readiness thing. I don’t need to teach the girls to to read before they start school. Last Friday afternoon the girls and I went to the ice cream parlour in the village (awesome) and ran about on the Heath like loons afterwards until we were breathless and hysterical with laughter. I didn’t ask them to identify numbers or letters. I didn’t make them talk about experiences. I didn’t test their ability to do anything. I just let them be for a bit.

I hope R and G look back on this time in their lives when they are older and remember it as a happy, fun, idyllic stage in their lives. School is going to come quickly enough. For this summer, I just want to let them enjoy themselves.

Channelling Karen

I really, really like all of the girls’ friends (and their parents)…or I have done until recently. I now completely get why my Mum would be very tactful when I spoke about a newly acquired friend at school that she didn’t quite approve of and then quickly change the subject or ask after one of my other friends that she did like.

R is, or has until recently been far more comfortable around boys (G being the notable exception), challenging them to running races (and winning) and not caring a jot about the state of her hair or the fact that her scruffy leggings don’t quite match her top.

Now she wears tights and skirts or dresses every day (she has worn jeans once in the last two months) and quite often pops a princess dressing-up dress over the top. She likes wearing hairbands, which don’t stay in for five seconds in her recently-bobbed, poker straight hair. She pulls a weird little pouty face when I take photos of her and asks me to tell her that she’s pretty and beautiful. R used to want to be Fireman Sam but now she wants to be a princess. When I say ‘Don’t you mean a princess that’s also A DOCTOR?’ she rolls her eyes at me.

To cap it all, R has decided that she doesn’t want to do Sporty Tots (or messes around so she isn’t allowed to do it) because New Best Friend doesn’t want to do it either. R loves (or should I say, loved) sports afternoon on a Thursday. NBF also does mean things to R, like hurl mud at her. R didn’t want to tell a carer so G stepped in and made sure that justice was done, but that’s not really the point.

I miss the real R. I don’t quite know what to do with this imposter. I see glimpses of her occasionally, which gives me hope that this is just a phase. She challenged two boys to a race at a party at the weekend and cackled madly when she beat them. I was practically begging her to find someone else to race with.

Gah. NBF is very pretty and lovely but…basically it’s the situation that Karen was in during the last season of Outnumbered. Hopefully they’ll outgrow each other. R isn’t the first NBF that this girl has had and girls being girls she won’t be the last. I hope R, who pretends to be really confident and bolshy but is actually quite shy and sensitive underneath all the bluff, comes out of it unscathed.

Life is what happens to you…

…while you’re busy making other plans*.

We had no firm plans for today. Dh had mentioned vaguely last night that we should go to the park and it was a good choice because as I ran around it at 7am (I know! Running! Me! I’m surprised at myself) it was apparent that it was going to be a lovely day. As we were getting ready to go out Dh and I discussed what we would do for lunch (our lives basically revolve around meals) and decided that we would go out somewhere after we’d let the girls loose in the playground for an hour or two.

The playground was already heaving with people at 11am, all making the most of the first truly bright and warm day of the year. The girls sat on adjacent swings and suddenly shouted across as they spied one of their friends from nursery trotting into the park with his Mum. We said hellos and chatted briefly before going our separate ways.

We’re lucky to be blessed with lots of places to eat in the area and we happened to choose the museum café today. As we were munching our lunch the same little boy (J) we’d spotted earlier appeared with his Dad. J squeezed himself onto the bench that R and G were sitting on and promptly made himself at home. It was clear that J didn’t want to join his Mum who was sitting outside having five minutes peace while her family fetched her lunch so I said they were welcome to join us. We ended up having lunch with J and his parents and the three children ran riot (almost) around the museum afterwards while us parents chatted and acted as unofficial crowd control.

After an hour or two we parted ways and were just leaving the park when we bumped into another family we know from nursery. They were on their way to meet up with some friends so we chatted for a couple of minutes and parted with an invitation from us to come over for a playdate in a couple of weeks.

R and G were a little fractious by this stage and were getting antsy about the bus ride and walk home so in a moment of ‘Let’s do the show right here’ parenting, I mentioned that we should really return the hair slide that their ballet friend C left at their house after a playdate a few weeks ago. C was very sad to lose the slide because it was a present from her beloved Granny, so we were very pleased when G located it during a tidying up session.

I thought that C and her parents wouldn’t be at home when we knocked on the door but they duly answered and ushered us in. I said we wouldn’t invade and would only stay for a few minutes but they offered Dh a beer and a chance to watch the rugby and then they invited us to stay for tea…which was a full Sunday roast. I protested that we should leave them to enjoy their family Sunday for…ooh…about five seconds before they told me to shut up and peel some potatoes. We all mucked in with the chopping and peeling and the girls helped to make apple and rhubarb crumble. The three girls had a wonderful time and we finally left their house at 7.30pm after rocking up on spec at 3pm to drop a small item off.

As we walked home, I turned to Dh who was carrying a very droopy R and said ‘I love our life’. It sounds terribly smug but I think we’re very lucky to live in a nice area and to have built up a network of friends that we can bump into randomly and have a really nice time with. Living in London, I didn’t ever think I’d get to a point where I could turn up on someone’s doorstep and be invited in for the afternoon. I’m used to making dates and plans with people and it’s so nice that we’re now in a position to drop in and out without anyone raising an eyebrow. I still get a bit jumpy if someone knocks on the door and I’m not expecting anyone, but I’m learning to live with the fact that it might just be someone who’s passing and wants to say hello.

I still think of myself as the gawky, uber geeky, quiet as a mouse teenager with no friends and no life and occasionally sit back and marvel at how far I’ve come. Yes, I’m still a total geek but I’m an awful lot louder these days. It’s yet another thing I’m grateful to R and G for. They have finally given me (and Dh) a happy, friendly, sociable life that I previously could scarcely have dreamed of.

*from Beautiful Boy by John Lennon

Coffee confessions

Every Saturday morning during term-time a small group of four or five people drop their daughters off at ballet and tap class and traipse round to someone’s house for coffee. The coffee sessions only last three-quarters of an hour but the people use the time to swap stories from the front line of parenting.

They even have a motto: ‘What gets said in this house stays within these four walls’.

Of course, I’m referring to Dh and I and a small gang of parents whose children attend the same dance class. They all attended the same nursery until last September when three of the girls went off to prep schools. R and G are the only ones left at nursery, so they started doing Baby Ballet last term as a way of keeping in touch with some of their oldest friends.

All five of the girls moved up to ‘Twinkle Toes’, the combined ballet and tap class for children aged 4-5 in January. The Baby Ballet class was only half an hour so we used to rush through our drinks and head back to the class, which, handily is held in a church hall at the end of our road. Twinkle Toes is slightly longer so we now get to sup our drinks in a relatively languorous manner.

The gang tends to meet at our house because Dh has a rather fancy coffee machine. It’s his third baby, basically. I don’t drink coffee (or tea) but his wonder machine also makes hot chocolate (and cappuccino, espresso and mocha) so that’s my drink of choice. With the exception of one of the Dads who only drinks tea, the other parents nurse their expertly-made coffees.

Our girls were all born between December 2007 and April 2008, so we compare stories and swap parenting tips. We’ve all sat head in hands despairing about the tantrums our strong-willed, larger than life, forces-of-nature daughters continue to have well after the supposed ‘Terrible Twos’. We’ve swapped stories of depression, tablets and CBT therapies. We laugh at the funny things the girls say and compare notes on different education settings. We also weave grown-up topics into the discussion: this morning we discussed sporting allegiances and feisty parents, for example. The other week we talked about Apartheid. Sometimes we discuss rare nights out and the after-effects. It all depends on what we want – or need – to talk about.

I find the coffee chats incredibly reassuring. Dh and I have really been tearing our hair out over G for the last few months (I’ll say more on that in the next few days) and wondered what on earth we were doing wrong. The coffee confessions have revealed that we’re not alone in feeling helpless and that actually some of G’s more outlandish behaviour is pretty normal for a four year old girl (well, that or there’s something in the water round here that makes the girls super-feisty). As a parent, one of the best sentences you can hear is ‘We’re going through that too’. It instantly normalises a situation in which you thought you were totally alone, which is incredibly helpful.

At 10.10am we gather up the empty cups and trot back to the church hall where five little girls, all red-faced and excited, greet us with news of new tap moves, reward stickers and jelly sweets. Sometimes we pop round to the other houses to play for a bit. Sometimes they come to ours. Sometimes we all go our separate ways, but I think that all of the parents carry on with their day safe in the knowledge that their confessions won’t be shared outside the group. Whatever happens that week, they know they can let it all out at the coffee confession session the following Saturday.

4th Birthday Party

Every year, just before the girls’ birthday, I get Party Fear. I fret that no-one will turn up, our car will break down, everyone will be ill and it will just be horrid. It’s utterly ridiculous. You think I would have learnt my lesson by now. Every year I have Party Fear. I’m wrong. I’m always wrong.

R and G had their party today and I can safely say that it was BRILLIANT. Everyone turned up that had RSVPd (apart from one family of four and we got a late RSVP from someone else so it kind-of worked out ok) and there were no dramas on the day.

The venue was perfect – heck, we’ve been there enough for other parties this year so we knew it was a winner –  the children are old enough to chuck themselves around soft play with minimal help* so the parents can chat and everyone goes home fed, watered, tired and happy.

My attempts to induct everyone into The Ways of Twins this year by turning up at each party with a card and present from R and a card and present from G worked and everyone very kindly came along with separate cards and presents from the girls. This hasn’t always been the case…

The girls had a cake each – R had Hello Kitty and G Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – and everyone sang twice, because I’m mean like that. It’s another of my The Ways of Twins things. Everyone’s used to me now.

Once again we are totally bowled over by the generosity of the girls’ friends (and their parents), who gave their time to come to the party and clearly made tremendous efforts to buy incredibly lovely presents. Every present the girls opened (we were going to try and get them to open a couple a day over the next week or so, but once they’d opened a couple they didn’t want to stop) was fantastic and amazingly there were no duplicates, aside from a game that they already had. I have made a note of everything that everyone bought so that I can make thank-you cards…

The really nice thing is that this is only (ONLY!) part 1 of 3 for the girls’ 4th birthday celebrations. Next Sunday we’re all out for a meal with my family and all four of us have the day off next Monday (their actual birthday) so that we can enjoy it as a family.

They’re only going to be 4 once (and this is the only year that Dh can use his Fork ‘Andles jokes, which aren’t getting old AT ALL) and next year they’ll be at school (argh)….

*I chucked myself around it as well. It was GREAT.