We’ve got five on it

Tomorrow I become the joint owner of two five year old girls, which is weird because last time I looked R and G were toddlers and I was wondering if they would ever actually reach school age and if I would be sane enough to appreciate it when they did.

Prior to the girls’ fourth birthday I was wondering whether they would ever actually night train (G managed it in the spring/summer and R in the autumn) and wondering what we’d do in the nine months before they started school. I was determined to just let them be children for a bit before they went on to the full-time education treadmill, with all that entails. I think we managed that and had a fairly amazing summer with a family holiday, the Jubilee celebrations and the whole London 2012 thing.

The girls have been at school since September and as a family we are still adjusting to the changing rhythms of our days and weeks. We were settling into a pattern when they both (separately) had chicken pox and everything got thrown up in the air again. Things will settle down. They generally do.

We attended their first parents’ evening prior to half-term and came out from the meetings with their respective teachers feeling extremely proud and impressed at how well R and G had adapted to school. There have been some teething problems: G’s determination to learn everything and be best friends with everyone at once has impacted on her behaviour at home because she is constantly exhausted (having her at home for the last few days with The Pox has reminded me how sweet she actually is) and R is slowly emerging from her sister’s shadow and learning to tell people how good she actually is at things, instead of hiding her talents and only revealing them when she’s absolutely ready to do so.

They are both fiercely competitive in different ways. G seems quite fluffy and airheaded but she’s got a well-hidden ruthless streak. They both have kindness charts in their respective classrooms and G was very proud when her name went on to the ‘Kindness kite’. R, slightly affronted, asked what she’d done to achieve the accolade. G’s sage reply was ‘Well, you do something REALLY NICE for someone and when you’ve done it, TELL A TEACHER’. R followed her sister’s advice and her name went on to the ‘Kindness tree’ a few days later.  R’s competitiveness is probably summed up best by her reaction to watching GB cyclists ‘only’ winning silver at the Paralympics (even now, when reminded about it, she will berate me for being fair and cheering all of the competitors, not just the ones I wanted to win) and the fact that she finally got the ten achievement stickers she needed to get a prize (a notebook), and promptly giving said prize away to her sister.

I was concerned that the school transition would lead to a rapid loss of innocence, but oddly that hasn’t quite happened yet. They have learned some interesting lessons though. R takes what people tell her extremely literally and was terribly upset when one of her friends said that a party the girls had been invited to had already happened and they’d missed it, when they hadn’t. I had to explain that her friend was joking (not lying – definitely not lying) and that sometimes people did that. We were walking to school one day when one of R’s classmates leapt up to them and said ‘I STOOD ON AN ANT AND IT WAS FARTING’. R and G both giggled uncertainly and R whispered ‘Mummy, what’s farting?’. G lives on her own Lola-like world so I wonder if she’ll ever lose that innocent quality. I think R will become more cynical and less innocent through experience.

I don’t quite know what to expect next. By their sixth birthday they’ll be in Year 1 and Reception will be a distant memory. They might have learnt to swim (every week I watch them at swimming lessons and pray that one day they might actually take their feet off the bottom of the pool) and they may no longer have stabilisers on their bikes. They are already making good headway with learning to read, so I reckon (hope?) they’ll be reasonably fluent by then (there’s only so much phonics one can cope with.)

This will be the last annual update I write on HoT though, as I’m going to end this blog at the end of 2012. There will be a separate post on this so I won’t go into it here but I think R and G’s sixth year is going to be great (although slightly less exciting than 2012.)

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 4 – Swimming

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

We were all feeling quite droopy when the alarm went off on Sunday morning. The girls were perky enough but, on severely reduced sleep, we wondered how long that would last. We needed to get to the Olympic Park slightly early as I had tickets to give to my Mum and sister, but in typical Aunty J style she was running late so I sent Dh and girls through security while I waited for the others.

The Aquatics Centre had become a home from home for me during the Olympics as I had picked up last-minute tickets for swimming and diving events in really decent seats. I had looked up at the upper tiers from my press seats (really) and wondered what the view was like from way up there. On Sunday I found out. We weren’t right at the back but there were an awful lot of stairs to climb before we reached our seats. Every time the girls announced that they needed the toilet we groaned inwardly as they were about a zillion steps away.

Like the Velodrome, the Aquatics Centre is really warm and it was packed, so we were all a bit red-faced by the end of the morning session. I think it was the least interesting event for the girls, partly because they were tired and because there was very little for them to get a handle on, aside from the appearance of a Paralympics GB (“COME ON GREAT BRITAIN!!”) competitor every so often. The fact that we were so far away from the action may not have helped either.

The grown-ups enjoyed it though and it gave me a chance to reflect on the differences in the way that we appreciated the sport and the girls’ approach to para-sport. Beforehand, I had expected to field lots of questions from the girls with regards to the disabilities of the competitor. I had visions of them asking at the tops of their voices WHERE IS THAT MAN’S LEG? WHERE HAVE HIS ARMS GONE? WHY DOES HE WALK WITH A STICK? WHY IS SHE IN A WHEELCHAIR? but actually, I don’t think they asked anything like that all weekend.

We had explained the differences between the Olympics and Paralympics in the days leading up to the events. R and G were aware that the Paralympics were for athletes whose bodies didn’t work in quite the same way as those in the Olympics did. They knew that some people had been born that way and others had acquired their para-status through life events, accidents, wars, etc. They were, quite simply, unbothered by the whole notion of para-sport as distinct from any other. G was more interested in the colour of their outfits and the flag of their country and R was only bothered if someone from Paralympics GB won a gold medal.

I approach everything with a research mind (and basic sheer bloody nosiness) so I wanted to know why the person was a para-athlete and what had led to them competing in the 2012 Games. At the Equestrian the announcer explained each rider’s disability before they entered the arena (many of them acquired their disability through an accident whilst horse riding and I was amazed it hadn’t put them off horses for life.) I think Dh and I now have a pretty good understanding of the classification system (cat and class is bread and butter to me anyway) and the subtleties therein.

It’s hard not to talk about it in a way that doesn’t sound massively patronising but there were moments over the weekend where I watched a competitor do something completely amazing with their body (or what was left of it) with my mouth wide open in shock and awe. The human body – and mind – are extraordinarily adaptable. We watched men in wheelchairs wheeled out by their trainers to the side of the swimming pool, lifted gently into the water by two helpers to compete with a variety of legs and arms (and often both) missing. The athletes in the 150 metre medley weren’t able to do Lochte-style turns (or the back bending butterfly stroke) so they simply stopped swimming at each end, gently manoeuvred their bodies around in the water and set off again.

It sounds like a cliché (and it is) but 95% time I was watching sport, not para-sport. It was only when the cyclists got off their bikes, for example, I realised that they weren’t moving around quite as easily as Chris Hoy or Laura Trott after a race. I can’t even ride a bloody bike!

God, I loved the cycling. I did. I joked with a friend that they should take a leaf out of the divers’ handbook and just wear speedos when they compete but I guess they wouldn’t be quite as aerodynamic then. Also, if they were topless (I have put some thought into this) they would have to shave their chests and I get the impression that a lot of the cyclists are hairy, manly men and I wouldn’t want them to lose that.

I’m digressing hugely here. The main thing to take away from this is that we took the girls to the Paralympics and we survived. More importantly, so did they. Also, I now like cyclists more than divers.

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 3 – Athletics

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

We had a few hours to spare between the Dressage in the morning and the Athletics in the evening (one of the huge advantages of living so near to the Paralympic venues) so we popped home in the hope that the girls would have their first daytime nap in more than two years. R and G insisted on putting their pyjamas on, but we stopped short of reading them a bedtime story. After about half an hour of going backwards and forwards to the toilet, bed-swapping, singing, arguing and chatting the girls settled down and managed to fit in a two hour nap.

They were slightly confused when we woke them up but after some food and a change of clothes we were back out of the door and heading towards the Olympic Park. All week we had been asked the same question by different people: “Will you be seeing Oscar?” and it turned out that we were. We saw him the night before his now infamous wobbler so we saw him in full, majestic, blade running, world-record breaking glory. People keep saying that Oscar (he needs no surname) is one of the most famous Paralympians in the world. I think he’s one of the most famous people in the world, no question about it.

It was our first time in the Olympic Stadium and, like the Velodrome, it blew us away. I was expecting it to be a bit like Twickenham, where the seats in the upper tier are so high up you may as well be watching the rugby version of Sensible Soccer from 1994, where everything looks far away and you can only see the tops of the players’ heads. Again, we were in the cheap seats and still had an excellent view of everything at the athletics. The girls loved staying up late (we’re mean and still have them on a rigid 7pm bedtime normally) and there was enough going on to keep them occupied. I only unleashed the iPad when they started to get a little restless and droopy.

R has been a bit funny about completely dark spaces for a while (she and G used to sleep in complete darkness but now have night-lights) and when Dh went to get drinks she leaned over and whispered in my ear ‘I’m a little bit scared because it’s so dark but I’m ok and don’t tell Daddy’. I asked if she wanted a cuddle and she said no. She’s a funny old thing. G was too busy screaming ‘COME ON GREAT BRITAIN!’ at the top of her (very loud) voice to notice anything.

We left the Stadium at 10.15pm and the whole Olympic Park was lit up. I had seen it at night a couple of times during my Olympic adventures but the others hadn’t. It looks absolutely magical at night. I felt sad that it would all be over in just over a week. We had to carry two tired little girls back from the bus stop to home and they went to sleep straight away. We flopped into bed too; there was more to come in the morning.

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 2 – Equestrian

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

I’m not a fan of horses. Dh most definitely isn’t a fan of horses. He also thinks that dressage is a completely pointless ‘sport’: “Its horses dancing in a square” he moaned when I told him that Para-Equestrian was exclusively dressage (quite how he thought disabled riders would go round a show jumping course I don’t know.) I wanted to watch the dressage to see how our local park had been transformed to host the Olympics and Paralympics and to understand the sport a bit better.

It turns out that the horses actually ‘dance’ in a rectangle, not a square and it’s a bit like figure skating in that there’s a ‘free’ programme and a compulsory or technical programme. In dressage both competitions stand alone, although there is a team competition as well. We watched the more ‘technical’ programme on Saturday morning so everyone was judged on the same set of ‘moves’ and no-one danced to the music from The Great Escape. There was music throughout, but it was all very mellow and the competitors didn’t choose their own music.

The one thing I didn’t realise about dressage is how quiet the spectators have to be for large sections of the competition. R and G don’t ‘do’ quiet. They have two settings: extremely LOUD,  fast asleep and have nothing in-between. Much of the morning went like this:

G: ‘MUMMY? WHY IS EVERYONE SHUSHING?’

Me: (whispering) because we have to be quiet while they do their performance.

G: (whispering) ok! (120 decibels) THAT HORSE IS SWISHING ITS TAIL!!

Me: (puts head in hands in despair)

During one of the breaks in competition we stepped out to get some food and I asked Dh to buy the largest bag of chocolate he could find. For the rest of the competition I bribed the girls with chocolate: ‘If you’re quiet you can have four chocolate buttons at the end of the performance’ and this tactic worked well.

Some of the horses get quite freaked out by the arena and the crowd so for certain performances we were asked to wave rather than clap. Other horses were accompanied by a ‘friendly’ horse and a handler, who stood to one side of the arena while the performance took place. The thought of a horse needing a friend nearby to settle them made me feel quite teary. I’m getting soft in my old age…

Dh was bored rigid by the whole thing so I got him to take lots of photos. R and G liked the horses so we evaluated each one based on its size, colour and shagginess. There was one horse that looked like a miniature shire-horse, with shaggy hooves and a huge tail. He was our favourite. He didn’t win. Natasha Baker for Paralympics GB did, so we actually got to witness a gold medal win and ceremony ‘in the flesh’ as it were…Dh and I belted out the National Anthem (tunelessly) and the girls waved their flags. Heroes by David Bowie played afterwards and I got all emotional again. We’re very good at ‘posh’ sports.

Our Paralympic Adventure Part 1 – Track Cycling

Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.

Our mad weekend started in the Velodrome on Friday morning. We hadn’t managed to get tickets for the track cycling during the Olympics and I was desperate to see some live action of our fantastic para-cyclists. We attended the cycling with my parents and we were all overawed by the venue. The optimum temperature for a velodrome is 28 degrees, so it was really warm in there. We were in the cheapest seats but the building was so well-designed that we had a great view of everything and really got a sense of what was going on, even though we were sitting in the back row.

R and G were hypnotised by the bikes whizzing around the track to start with. Television coverage doesn’t give you a sense of how bloody fast they go and how steep the banks of the track are. 42 degrees, fact fans. We all cheered like nutters when a Paralympics GB cyclist was on track, although R got into a right cob when our tandem cyclists were beaten and ‘only’ got a silver medal. “YOU CHEERED THEM” she berated us. She sat on Dh’s lap and pouted for about half an hour. R will only cheer GB competitors, maybe an Irish athlete at a push and simply can’t understand why we clap someone from another country. She is the most single-minded, competitive four-year-old I have ever met.

G and I played a game when the GB cyclists weren’t competing where we picked a cyclist to cheer, usually based on the colour of their outfit. G would then ask their name and the country for cheering purposes (she’s quite scary when she’s screaming ‘COME ON SPAAAAAIIIIIN’ at top volume) and she also wanted to know the flag for each country. Luckily I’m not too bad on flags, so was able to point out the correct one hanging from the Velodrome ceiling.

I knew that the cycling wouldn’t totally hold their attention for three hours so I took some distractions in the form of colouring books, crayons (of course) and stickers. They set about decorating their little GB flags and when they got a bit too restless I unleashed the iPad, which kept them occupied when the cyclists didn’t.

I was lucky enough to attend several Olympic events but none of them gave me the buzz that the cycling did. We all agreed that the Velodrome was our favourite venue. I liked the cycling at the Olympics. I loved it at the Paralympics. I think it may have even replaced the diving in my affections. Confession: one or two (well, one) of the cyclists have definitely replaced Mr Daley in my affections.

R and G go to the Olympics

We tried in every ballot to get child-priced seats for various Olympic events. We failed miserably. When Olympic tickets were put on general sale at the end of May I snapped up four Olympic Park tickets for the first Wednesday of the Games. We wouldn’t be able to get into any venues but we could take the girls and soak up the atmosphere. Dh was working, so the girls and I went with my Mum.

It was a hard concept to explain to R and G. We were going to the place where the Olympics was happening, but we weren’t seeing anything ‘live’. The weather in the morning was decidedly iffy and I wondered what on earth I had let myself in for as we huddled under umbrellas (it’s only the Union Jack when it’s at sea) eating McDonalds (the girls’ first Happy Meals – I’m not sure they were terribly impressed) and gazing up at the big screen in Park Live.

Things brightened up considerably when, courtesy of the women’s rowing team, we won our first Gold medal. The atmosphere grew and it was electric as we watch Bradley Wiggins (Mum’s a big fan) win the road time trial. At that point the girls finally ‘got it’ and G stopped asking when we were going home. Actually, she remained spectacularly unbothered by it all. R got into the spirit of things and started cheering while G played games on my iPad.

We actually managed to have a really good day, thanks to the strategic use of food, ice cream, temporary tattoos, golden Wenlock’s (don’t ask) and electronic devices. Sunshine and success also helped. By the end of the day the girls were strutting through the Olympic Park wearing the Union Flag as a cape and moaned when I said it was time to go home. We’d been there from 10am and finally left at 5.30pm so we made the most of our day passes.

On our way out of the Olympic Park we passed a man doing live interviews for radio. He finished his piece, stuck the microphone in front of me and asked me a series of questions about our day, the Olympic experience, the effect on London, etc. I think I managed to babble convincingly and some poor saps somewhere were subjected to me saying the word amazing 37 times and sounding like I’d been brainwashed by LOCOG.

Next day, the girls told everyone at nursery about their day at the Olympics with Mummy and Nanny. They are really looking forward to going to the Paralympics and R keeps pointing out that we’re going to be seeing stuff ‘For real’ this time.

On a side note, the success of the Team GB women was wonderful to see and, as someone with two daughters it was great that they got to watch hours of women being really good at sport on TV. The sport that we watch tends to be male-dominated (being rugby and cricket fans doesn’t help) and I don’t think there are many healthy, inspirational female role models for girls outside the sporting realm. At certain points the girls demanded to watch sport with girls in and I was happy to let them. I’d much rather they wanted to be Jessica Ennis than Jessica Simpson.

The girls can’t make up their minds which Olympic sport they’d like to take up. On Friday afternoon G declared, while riding her bike around the garden that she’d like to do indoor cycling. The next Laura Trott or Victoria Pendleton? Maybe when she takes the stabilisers off. They are both into gymnastics at the moment, thanks in no small part to the gym classes they are attending in lieu of ballet over the summer. R quite fancies having a go at diving and she and R are already looking forward to starting swimming lessons in September. I reckon the identical twin thing would give them a nice advantage when it came to synchronised diving.  There has been a lot of talk about legacy and ‘Inspiring a generation’ I’m not sure that R trying to triple-jump across the dining room was quite what Seb Coe had in mind, but it’s a start.

The girls may not fully appreciate their Olympic experience now, but I hope when they grow up they look back on it fondly and realise that they were part of a once in a lifetime event.

House of Groupies, or stalking Tom

For months I moaned to anyone and everyone about not being able to get tickets for the Men’s 10 metre platform diving. At the end of the first week of the Olympics I – more in hope than expectation – clicked on to the ticketing website and additional tickets for the preliminaries the following Friday had been released. Moreover, they were in a price bracket I could afford. I put one in my basket, waited 14 agonising minutes for the website to decide whether I was worthy of the ticket or not (I feared that LOCOG may have blacklisted me) and squeaked with joy when the magic payment screen appeared. My hands actually shook as I confirmed my credit card details.

The reason for my excitement? When I said I was going to watch the diving my friends laughed and said: ‘He’s a CHILD Jo. A child’. I protested my innocence until I was blue in the face: I just wanted to pat him on the head; he’s the sort of boy that I’d like the girls to bring home one day; I’m almost old enough to be his mother, all of which was true. Then I SAW him in the flesh (as t’were) and I became a proper 15 year old Tom Daley groupie. The boy had become A MAN.

Flipping heck.

When I was actually 15 I was a total nerd. Very academic, very geeky, extremely gawky, didn’t follow the crowd, liked to be a bit different. A bit weird. When my friends were drooling over Take That I was listening to Pulp and Blur. Mis-Shapes by Pulp was my anthem. My classmates didn’t understand me; Jarvis Cocker did. I missed out on a whole chunk of my adolescence trying (and mostly failing) to be a grown-up. I didn’t really go through the posters on the wall, screaming, sobbing fangirl thing. I’d liked Bros when I was 8 but by the time New Kids on the Block came along I was, like, so over the whole boyband thing.

On Friday night I became the 13 year old I had missed out on being first time round. Every time Tom stepped up to dive I squealed like a One Direction uber-fan. I watched his dives though my fingers, yelling GOOD BOY! GOOD BOY! as he splashed into the water. He wasn’t diving at his best on Friday (maybe I jinxed him with my presence) and squeaked through the prelims. At the end he went over to the mix zone (I’m up with the lingo, me) and I took the opportunity to get a bit closer and take some photos.

Now, I have this weird thing with celebrities and sporting heroes. I’ll watch them perform, I’ll buy their stuff but the thought of actually meeting them fills me with dread. They do their thing, I do mine but I won’t ever put myself out there and press flesh or exchange words with them. My sister will happily stroll up to any cricketer in the country and have a chat, but I always hide in the background praying not to be noticed. I have an irrational fear that they’ll laugh at me, or be rude and I don’t want to put myself through that. I guess it’s one of the reasons Dh is so secure about it all. I admire from afar but I’d wet myself if I ever actually met any of them.

So, I was hanging over a balcony taking pictures of Tom and I realised that everyone around me doing the same was at least 10 years younger than me. Some of them were wearing glittery t-shirts bearing his name. At one point Tom’s Mum looked up at us with an unfathomable expression on her face. She wasn’t cross, more bemused. I tried to put myself in her place. As a parent, it must be weird for one of your children to be revered and adored by total strangers. I can’t imagine how I would feel if R or G were down there being leered at by a bunch of lusty blokes. Actually, I can and I’d take a shotgun with me…

It felt a bit wrong, so I stopped and went home (not before going to the toilet and practically bumped into Team Daley on my way out as they waited for their boy to finish his media commitments) and resolved to get over myself. Then I got chatting to one of my Mum friends the next day. She’s 45 and when I mentioned that I’d been to watch him dive she went into proper PHWOAR HE’S GAWGUS mode and I calculated that, actually, thanks to being a late developer I’m not old enough to be his mother and that it’s all perfectly fine. As it turns out, there’s quite a cohort of 20, 30 and 40-something women that think he’s rather marvellous so I’m not alone.

My friend and I are already hatching plans to go and watch the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The Games themselves are in Glasgow but the diving competition (sorry, ‘meet’) is taking place in Edinburgh. I quite fancy going up there on the overnight sleeper and making a girlie weekend of it. I just need to get a diamante t-shirt made. Then there’s the British diving championships in 2013…

We asked R and G who their favourite Olympians were. G tends to favour ‘OO-SAIN BOLT’ whilst R likes doing his stance. She’s also fond of doing the Mo-bot, in honour of Mo Farah. They both said that Tom was their favourite tonight as they pretended to dive into the bath. In four years’ time the girls will 8, Tom will be 22 and they can take over the fangirl mantle from me.