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.

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Nursery questionnaire

I shouldn’t be allowed to fill questionnaires out unsupervised. Nursery recently sent home a ‘how are we doing’ questionnaire to all parents. I had some fun with it….

Parent questionnaire

The welcome you receive when you arrive at nursery

Most of the time we get a ‘Hello’ as we walk through the toddler room from whoever is on duty that morning, but the turnover of staff is rapid and they rarely wear name badges or introduce themselves.

The friendliness and attitude of the staff

Some of the staff are excellent but most of the others don’t give the impression of wanting to be there.

The overall cleanliness and décor of the nursery

  • The new preschool room is really nice but the rest of the nursery smells pretty bad (of stale milk, bins & dirty nappies).
  • There should be more things on the walls in the preschool room e.g. letters of the alphabet, days of the week, numbers up to 50, etc.
  • I’d like to get more of a sense of activities that the children are doing together e.g. painted murals for the walls.

The general mood and atmosphere in the nursery

The mood is quite downbeat and the staff seem quite depressed and downtrodden.

Do you feel that your child likes the nursery and looks forward to coming here?

Yes they do, but that’s more to do with the fact that they can play with their friends than the activities they do.

Are you adequately informed/consulted about progress in your child’s personal development?

No. I have no idea how they are doing.

  • This is concerning as they are starting school in September and I have no idea if they are being prepared for the transition or not. We are doing everything we can to get them ready for school, but I’d like to work in partnership with nursery on this.
  • Apparently the children are doing Sporty Tots on Thursdays again after a hiatus. We were not informed of this by nursery and only know this anecdotally from the children.

Are you kept adequately informed/consulted about progress in your child’s education and learning skills?

No. I have had one report since they moved up to the preschool room.

  • We do a lot at home with them e.g. flashcards, number and letter books, name and word writing, reading, letter of the week (with associated activities) but I have no idea if they are doing any of this at nursery.  I’d like to know what their strengths and weaknesses are and if there are things we need to focus on at home.
  • I get the impression that it has been decided that they are of average intelligence and therefore not worth bothering with. For example, I felt that they should be moved up to the preschool room much earlier than they did but was told quite categorically on several occasions that they had to wait until September. This completely contradicts the current procedure of moving all of the 3 year olds up to the preschool room, which means that they are no longer divided into school years and that the older children may not be doing age-appropriate work as the carers are having to keep more of an eye on the younger children.

Do you feel encouraged to become involved in nursery activities?

Yes – on the daily sheets and in the newsletters it says that parents are encouraged to stay and play, but for most working parents it’s hard to justify taking time off work to spend at nursery. The ‘Big Events’ (Christmas, Sports Day, Fun Day, etc) are well-publicised and attended by parents.

Do you feel staff listen to you, respect your views and act upon any recommendations you may have?

No. I requested that the preschool children do flashcards but this hasn’t happened. We’re always told to ‘put suggestions in the postbox’ but in my experience they are ignored.

Do you feel comfortable in approaching our staff with any problems or concerns that you have?

I wouldn’t say I feel comfortable, as the last time I complained I was phoned up by the person that I complained about and they spoke to me in an aggressive manner. The matter was resolved and things improved subsequently. I have got to the point now where I feel that if I raise things, it will make life more difficult for the children so I’m trying to be more circumspect. For example, I have tried to keep this document as anonymous as possible so that the child/ren involved can’t be identified as I fear there may be repercussions for them.

How well do you feel that the nursery provides equal opportunities for all children?

I like the fact that they celebrated Chinese New Year and the Christian festivals are always well-recognised, but I’d also like them to learn about other faiths e.g. Judaism and Islam. Also the notion of equal opportunities is wider than just faith-based learning. It also encompasses disability (physical and mental), sexuality and gender and I don’t see how these are represented in nursery activities.

How do you rate the quality of menus for children’s meals in terms of variety and nutritional value?

The quality of food has gone downhill over the last two years. Lunch is usually things like corned beef hash, which is extremely cheap and not very nutritious. Tea is generally just a scone or a crumpet, and we often have to give a snack at home before bathtime now as they aren’t full when they come home. However, they do eat a lot of fruit at nursery which is good to hear (if the daily sheets are actually filled in truthfully).

How well do you feel that you are kept informed of trips and outings that are planned for the children?

They haven’t been on an outing for about eighteen months, so this hasn’t been an issue. It’s a shame that outings don’t take place any more as I’m sure the children would enjoy them. Maybe if they staff were more motivated they would organise exciting trips for the children. The preschoolers would certainly benefit from a trip to the aquarium or even Greenwich Park and the Maritime Museum.

How well do you feel that you are kept informed of nursery events?

We always know about the ‘big’ events e.g. fun day, sports day and the Christmas activities. However, we had no idea that the Big Stars were doing superheroes and fairytales until we spoke to another parent. I’d like to get a planner that outlined activities for the coming term, so that we could reflect the things they’re focusing on in nursery at home.

Our level and quality of response when you telephone the nursery?

I’ve only phoned the nursery a couple of times but on one occasion I phoned to ask how my child was and I was greeted very coldly and my concerns were brushed off. I felt stupid for even phoning.

If you have had cause to make a complaint, what do you feel about the manner in which it was handled?

I have made two complaints in writing. The first complaint was handled very well in writing. The second complaint was handled very badly initially (see earlier answer), but things improved afterwards.

What are your overall impressions of the nursery?

It’s a missed opportunity.

  • The nursery is in a prime location and has the space and potential to become an Outstanding Early Years Setting but it is poorly managed and the staff don’t seem to want to be there or care about their jobs.
  • Little attention is paid to the individual needs of the children. Bright children are not stretched to achieve their full potential.
  • I get the impression that as the nursery is full and there is a waiting list, there is no incentive to improve.
  • I have yet to meet a parent who is totally happy with the nursery.

Would you recommend the nursery to others?

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t for the reasons outlined above.

Do you have any other comments?

No.

————

We all got the same, blanket response sheet back. The meals have improved (although the girls are still scarfing down a snack when they get home) and the staff seem friendlier (apart from the one that now blanks me totally) but I still don’t really have a sense of what they get up to. We were told to look at their learning folders but on past experience I know that they are full of post-its with no sense of cohesion.

Six months to go….

Dr Jekyll and Ms G

Dr Jekyll

You can generally see it coming. G will take something you’ve said the wrong way, or someone will disagree with her, or one of us will refuse to do exactly what she wants and we know that we’re about to be in the eye of the storm.

When G decides to lose it there’s nothing on earth that will distract her. Heading her off at the pass is simply not an option. Anyone foolish enough to attempt to reason with her will be blasted with a stream of fury:

“YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO WHAT I’M SAYING. TALK TO ME NICELY. DON’T LOOK AT ME WITH THAT FACE. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME. WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING TO ME? YOU’RE NOT MY BEST FRIEND!”.

The only thing we can do is silently carry her wriggling, screaming, contorted body upstairs, put her in time out in her bedroom for 4 minutes and cling on to the handle while she flicks the light on and off repeatedly until the bulb blows (Dh has been known to take the bulb out when he senses an outburst coming) with one hand and rattles the handle, desperately trying to get out, with the other.

As I hold on to the handle, my hand going redder with every rattle, I silently watch the clock. G has a hell of a set of lungs on her. She never goes quiet in those four, long minutes. Sometimes she screams louder and louder until she reaches a crescendo of sobbing and shouting.

When the clock ticks over I quietly open the door. G stands there, a red-faced, tear-stained, snotty mess. She breathes heavily, gulping back yet more tears. I get down to her level, look her in the eye and tell her to say sorry. G looks back at me with defiance in her eyes. Finally, when she realises there is no other option, she whispers an apology at me. I take her by the hand and we head downstairs so that she can apologise to whoever was caught in her wake.

After a few minutes everything is calm and it’s like the outburst didn’t happen. I marvel at the fact that I managed to stay in control and didn’t do the one thing that would be so easy to do but extremely hard to take back later – I didn’t hit her*.

Ms G

G and I make cakes together and she loves licking out the bowl, often dipping a finger in before I’ve removed the mixture. She calls herself Mummy’s dancing queen as she throws shapes to Can’t Get You Out of My Head by Kylie. She draws an endless stream of pictures of Mummy, Daddy, R,  her favourite characters, animals and soft toys. She can write her name without help. She can copy words and sentences that I write out for her, her nose almost touching the paper as she scrawls out the letters in her wobbly left-handed writing. She tells us that she dreams of blue and pink puppies, yet has to sleep on her left side so that she can look out for monsters. She’s brilliant at board games and quietly takes the spoils while her hyper-competitive sister sulks about losing yet another game of Guess Who.

G is fantastically bossy and acts like R’s older sister, the one minute between them often feeling like more like a year. She has a tremendous sense of justice. She spotted R’s best friend at nursery (A) kicking mud at her. R didn’t want to tell tales on her friend so G marched up to her keyworker and ensured that A was made to say sorry to R. R worries too much about what other people think of her. G doesn’t care a jot.  She genuinely thinks that she is an additional keyworker at nursery and takes a register each morning (they now print out a list of names for her) and has a little notebook in which she writes everyone’s lunch orders.

G is incredibly confident and believes that everyone in the world is fundamentally good. She is absolutely fearless and doesn’t mind making herself look silly. She is a bit clumsy and falls over quite a lot, but she picks herself up and only makes a fuss if it really hurts. She is brilliant at putting outfits together (we call her Gok) and loves clothes shopping with me. She has excellent taste and selects outfits for R and herself. She’ll even dress R if her sister is in a contrary mood. This morning she laid out a t-shirt, boxers and socks for Dh, all perfectly co-ordinated.

G has a quirky worldview. We do a letter of the week and while we were queueing in the supermarket last week I asked the girls to think of things beginning with D. Without pausing to think she said in an extremely clear voice ‘DEAD’. I thought I’d misheard her so I asked her to repeat what’s she’d said. ‘DEAD’.I stifled a laugh and asked her to think of something else. G thought for a moment: ‘DYING’. I asked her if she meant ‘diving’. Apparently not**. The woman behind us in the queue waving a bunch of daffodils around in an effort to get R to notice an object beginning with D had to hide her face to mask her giggles.

G has a tremendous imagination. She takes R with her to another world, where sealions play with Sleeping Beauty and her toy doggy has a whole life of his own. I asked her once if she wanted to be a sealion trainer when she grew up. She fixed me with a very particular look – a ‘How stupid ARE you?!’ look – and replied: ‘No! I want to be a sealion’. As she colours in, she sings made-up songs to herself. She makes up games for the other children to play at nursery. She has a very slight lisp and people comment on her sweet little voice – when she chooses to use it as opposed to her usual bellow.

We all joke that she’ll probably win an Oscar one day…but will take Aunty J to the ceremony because she’s G’s idol. That, or she’ll be running the country. People underestimate G. They think she’s silly and fluffy but she’s got a mind like a steel trap. It all goes in and bits of information reappear at the oddest moments. I was told about space and flying to the moon over breakfast the other week. When A was our letter of the week she was most insistent that Owl began with an A and got incredibly cross when we kept correcting her.

How do we solve a problem like G?

I joke occasionally that we should just send G to school now, because she seems more than ready for it. While I don’t think she’s a genius I do think that she needs to be stretched a bit more, hence the letter of the week. I’ve also got the Oxford Reading Tree phonics books, which she refers to as her reading books. She’s nowhere near reading yet, but both girls seem to have inherited Dh’s practically photographic memory and can recall whole sections of books on only a second read-through. She also likes flashcards so I’ve bought a couple of sets and she likes (I know!!) me to test her on them.

When G is on-song she’s such a lovely child. A bit Lola-ish at times but basically very sweet. When she’s in Jekyll mode I want to walk out of the house and not come back. I honestly thought that once the terrible twos were out of the way we wouldn’t have to deal with tantrums any more. Yes, I was extremely naïve and stupid. Now the tantrums have context and guilt and wordplay and layers.

G is like this now. What ON EARTH is she going to be like as a teenager? A couple of our friends are also going through this with their preschool-age daughters. One phoned me up the other night and we compared notes. I tried (probably in vain) to offer some crumbs of comfort:

  1. You always take out your frustration on those you love the most
  2. They’re going to be strong, confident women who won’t take any shit from anyone.

I didn’t say it at the time, but there’s a third:

  1. No matter how awful G has been during the day, when she snuggles down in bed with her doggy, she always tells me she loves me.

Little sod.

*I haven’t ever hit R or G. Believe me though, there have been times where I’ve briefly considered it as an option. When the red mist descends I go into a different room to the girls and take out my frustration on an inanimate object.

**We’re waiting for her to become a goth or – heaven forbid – an emo.

Now we are Four

It’s the night before R and G’s 4th Birthday and, once again, I’m in a reflective mood. It’s time for me to catch my breath, review the last year and look forward to year five.

“I think the thing I’m really looking forward to is teaching them more stuff. I actually had a conversation with dh last night about teaching the girls to read. That’s pretty exciting”

Bless. I was so hopeful a year ago. So our little geniuses aren’t reading Shakespeare just yet but I think they’re doing ok. I get milestone e-mails from various parenting websites and I read about 75% of them and think YEE-HA! My children are MARVELLOUS. I then read the other 25% and think BOLLOCKS! They aren’t doing X,Y and Z. I am clearly a terrible parent. I then put down my flagellation branches and remove my hair-shirt and basically get over myself. They can both write their names. They can count to 30. They know their colours and shapes. They can recognise some letters. They use words like ‘ridiculous’ and ‘concentrate’ in everyday conversation (can’t think where they might have heard them). People are kind enough to tell us that the girls are bright and articulate.

“We’ve completed most of the milestone stuff now and the only outstanding thing is night training”.

Moving swiftly on…

 “OHMYJESUSCHRISTGODONASTICK WHEN WILL THESE INFERNAL ‘PHASES’ EVER END? We had a tough time with R a couple of months ago (she still has her moments/breakdowns though) and are currently having a difficult time with G because she lives in Grace-world, which sounds like a lovely place but frequently clashes rather horribly with the real world, where she actually has to DO STUFF.”

The phases don’t really end. R was quite hard work (a little sod) in the Spring and Summer and G took over in the Autumn. They have days where they are absolutely adorable and lovely and parenting them is the easiest job in the world. Just when we think we’ve cracked it, the girls have a few days of being utterly horrid for no apparent reason and we tear our hair out. Their moods are easier to predict now and we’re generally better at dealing with them. Experience brings wisdom, and all that jazz.

Despite that, this is the first time that I’m writing one of these updates and I’m not feeling relieved that we have survived another year in crazy twin-world. I’m actually feeling a little sad that the girls are growing up so quickly and this time next year they’ll be at school. I love their combination of inquisitiveness and innocence. The rite of passage of going to school means that they’ll lose that beautiful innocence very quickly and I’ll mourn it deeply. Although the girls have attended nursery from a very young age and have been exposed to a number of different influences, they have been in a very ‘safe’ environment and aren’t very worldly. Going to school will inevitably change that.

I’m fascinated to see how they deal with school though. They are used to an ‘institution’ with rules and social norms so it won’t be a big leap for them in that sense. It’s very likely that they are going to have to get used to a uniform and also adapt to a different rhythm to their days and weeks. It’s going to be a huge shift for Dh and I as we juggle terms, holidays and after school clubs.

That’s for next September though. I don’t have a ‘plan’ as such for the next nine months. I just want to make the most of R and G while they are still ‘ours’.

Monday morning

BC (Before Children) I hated Monday morning as much as every other person on the planet with a job. Monday morning was God’s way of punishing you for having a life away from the office I used to struggle grumpily out of bed and throw myself in the shower, swearing and grunting until I was awake enough to face the world.

AT (After Twins) I now regard Monday morning as a rather wonderful thing. I adore my children. Honestly I do. However, I love going to work, docking my laptop and settling down in front of my computer, hot chocolate in one hand and a piece of toast in the other. I like the quiet hum of the office, the mumbled greetings and the office gossip. I like flicking through my e-mails, opening my post and checking my electronic diary for meetings and events. I like popping over to the tap to fill up my water bottle and wondering down to the canteen to see what today’s specials are. I like answering enquiries, dealing with requests and thinking, that in some small way, I’m making a difference to someone, somewhere. I like being able to go to the toilet in peace. I like the fact that no-one constantly shouts Mummy Mummy MUMMY at me with increasing urgency for some life-threatening reason like losing a Peppa Pig snap card, completing a drawing or needing yet another snack.

R and G are safely despatched to nursery, after a lovely weekend with Mummy, Daddy or both of us, eager to tell their friends about their adventures and do more of the stuff that pre-schoolers do. Dh is either (depending on his shift pattern) at work or pottering around at home. I get to have some ‘Grown-up’ time, which makes me appreciate my time at home even more.

I think Monday mornings are BRILLIANT.

Newsletter rage

The girls’ nursery produces a when they can be arsed to write it bi-monthly newsletter. It’s full of news and information – the topics they’re focusing on this term, the bad things that SILLY PARENTS DO, the names of staff that have walked out in a rage / been sacked for showing initiative left – but all I really care about are the photos.

The newsletter is littered with pictures of the children doing fun things…but I scroll through like a junkie seeking a fix for pictures of R and G. They feature fairly regularly. There are two of them after all, so they’re more likely to appear in at least one picture.

The latest newsletter doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lovely picture of G ‘mark making’ or ‘trying to write her name’. Only one problem. They’ve given G a name card to copy and it clearly says Gracie, not Grace. Gracie is one of the girls’ friends. It is not Grace’s name. Close, but no cigar. It might be one of her many nicknames, but it’s not the name she should be learning to write.

The bloody annoying thing is that the girls are both getting pretty good at writing their names. They can both pick out the letters from their names (G especially) when they see them written down anyway – road signs, books, graffiti – you name it. It’s something we’ve worked on with them at home. Thank goodness we have or they would be really confused now.

When I picked the girls up from nursery tonight I asked the girls what they had done today. G said that she had been writing ‘Her other name’. I didn’t quite get what she meant at the time. I thought that maybe (stupidly) they had been encouraging her to write her middle name or surname. Now it makes sense. She knows that there shouldn’t be a letter ‘I’ in her name.

I know it sounds like a small thing but I’m really cross. I’m now bracing myself for a little ‘chat’ with someone. Silver lining time: at least it wasn’t a picture of Grace with Ruth’s name card.