Rules

I reckon we’re generally pretty laid-back parents (well Dh is – I’m a nervy nightmare) but occasionally I wonder if we‘re a bit too strict. The girls are I were walking home from nursery tonight with some of their friends and a parent asked the girls if they were going to watch telly when they got home. I did a frantic ‘argh’ face over the girls’ heads toward the parent in question. Luckily he got the ‘parent code’ and changed the subject very quickly. Apparently all of the girls’ friends watch a bit of TV when they get home from nursery. We established a post-nursery routine for the girls very early on – home, snack, bathtime, stories, cuddles, bed – and it’s always worked. It hasn’t ever occurred to the girls that they could watch TV on nursery days as we don’t put it on in the morning either.

The other thing we discussed was bedtime stories. The girls get three stories if they’re really good (they choose one each and we choose one), two stories if it’s late (the girls choose one each), one story if they’re naughty (that Dh or I choose) and none at all if all hell breaks loose. R and G can get pretty boisterous at bath time and they absolutely love being read to so the ‘sliding scale of stories’ approach. I’ve been in charge this week as Dh is working late and the girls have made a big point of telling me that they are going to be really good (and continue to point out as they are doing so) so that they can get three stories.

It’s only when you describe our practices to others that you realise quite how tyrannical we sound. Inevitably I’m going to justify what we do but, quite simply, it works. It wouldn’t necessarily work for other people, but it works for us.

From despair to where

Aside from waking at 5.30am, deciding to read Meg and Mog stories VERY LOUDLY to each other (with accents and everything) and waking me up in the process, the girls have been absolutely brilliant today.

After ballet and tap we went London Zoo with one of the girls’ friends and her family. My two were in super-good mode and I only had to take R to one side once to have a gentle word about not listening to grown-ups. It was a really long day – we finally got home just before 7pm – but they didn’t complain about the large amount of walking that we did, or the multiple train/tube/bus/taxi  journeys that we took (the girls went in a black cab for their first time in their lives and loved it.), or the fact that I couldn’t carry them. In fact, neither of them asked to be carried at any point. They ate their lunch nicely and R only whinged about not getting a biscuit for a couple of minutes before giving up and curling up on my lap for a cuddle.

Today proves that the girls can behave beautifully and that they choose to be wilfully difficult when they want to. I have noticed that their behaviour is generally worse when both Dh and I are around. They are definitely much better behaved when I’m on my own with them, or in a one-to-one situation. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to do the lions share of the parenting on my own all the time. I like having someone here to share the girls and frankly, I need Dh as much as they do.

Interview with dh – deleted scenes

This is the very final part of my Interview with Dh series. When I transcribed the original interviews I noticed that I’d forgotten to ask him a few questions and that other things came up as a result of the first interview. I sat him down with a gin and tonic and recorded the conversation… (p.s. the stuff about boys is his opinion, not mine so you can shoot him if you want to…)

This is the deleted scenes – the extras – the out-takes, if you will. I’m hoping to put the interviews on the blog as an audio file at some point but for now a written transcript will have to do:

Me: Do you ever wish we’d had a boy?

Dh: No. Initially I would’ve liked boys but now I’m really pleased we’ve got girls. Boys are more naughty aren’t they? At this stage at least. More mischievous, especially twin boys. The girls are quite naughty… We’d thought of boys names and didn’t have boys names when we found out. We didn’t get a Tom and a Lewis.

I didn’t get my Freya either.

I really didn’t like Freya.

How do you feel about your wife writing a blog?

I quite like it. I always read it. It often makes me laugh. I know it helps you to talk about things as well. You don’t talk about me very much. It’s always based around the children.

It’s one of my rules. I don’t discuss you with my friends in ‘real life’ so I’m not going to do that on the Internet either. I really like our relationship and I think it should be kept as private as we can keep it. I hope everyone knows how much we love each other but it’s between us. I’ll happily discuss how weird I am but I won’t talk about you and I.

It’s your blog so you talk about what you want. I’m happy with what you write.  I know other people like reading it as well, so it obviously strikes a chord with them.

It’s always going to have quite a niche appeal I think.

I don’t know how many random people that don’t know us read it. Don’t you check your pageviews? It’s quite a lot isn’t it?

The other thing I wanted to talk about was our YouTube sensation. How many views are we up to now?

I checked today actually and it was 320,000 views. It’s just the girls in their playpen [about 8 months old] laughing and making noises at each other. It’s like they’re talking to each other but they aren’t. It’s made £18 in adverts this month so far [on the 16th of the month]. It’s made us £12-15 per month in ad revenue over the last few months.

We posted it up in August 2008 and no-one looked at it really. In the last 3-4 months it’s shot up from 20 views to over 300,000 views. It’s linked to a video that’s had millions of views, of the twin boys wearing nappies in the kitchen.

You can click on the stats for our video and most people discover our video through that one. It’s all through over twin videos. It’s amazing how quickly it’s gone up. I tried adding another video but no-one’s looked at it!

You say that the girls’ generation is the most videoed and photographed generation ever. Their legacy [of content] is going to be enormous.

My Mum sent me some photos to print out for My Dad’s 65th birthday and he’s got 10-20 photos of himself as a kid in total. We take 100 photos of the girls a month, often more. I love all the little videos of them doing stuff as well, especially now they’re chatting and you can hear their voices. It’s amazing…not just how much you record but the fact that it’s online so our parents can look at it and it’s updated pretty often, at least once a month.

How do you think the children will feel when they’re old enough to realise that I wrote about them?

It’s hard to know how they’ll react.

I have thought that maybe I should stop writing it when the hit their fifth birthday but I don’t know…

You were saying that you quite like reading blogs and form posts about teenagers but I guess that’s in secret and they probably don’t know. You don’t have to stop. There’s no need to.

I go through phases of wanting to stop. Especially if I’ve written something and someone has got really hacked off with me.

If you don’t like it, don’t read it! Equally there are people out there that love it.

I have my cheerleaders – two of them! Do you feel that you can offer advice to people now?

I don’t like to. If people ask I will but equally I don’t want to say too much. I’ll give my opinion but every baby is different so I can’t say ‘Oh you should do this…’ Instead I say ‘We did this and it worked..’. There are people that don’t necessarily agree with what we did…

…but they’re wrong!!

How did you feel when I was really involved with that parenting website?

I quite liked the website. It was really useful but there are some strange people on the forums.

I even met some of them!

Yes. Some were fine and some…weren’t…

Some I thought were fine and turned out not to be, which was quite painful. I don’t need it now.

It must be interesting to talk to other twin mums and see what they’re doing.

There are two sides. It connected me to other twin mums when I felt incredibly isolated. The flip side is that I beat myself up about silly things that didn’t matter, especially when I first went back to work, we were all weaning and they were producing beautiful home-cooked meals and purees and I tried to keep up. I judged myself against standards that were almost impossible to live up to. It also pushed me to be a better parent, or to try harder at least. Someone would post that they were deep-cleaning their cupboards and I would think ‘Oh my God! I must go and do that now! I’m a complete slob! It’s terrible and I’m disgusting’! There is more to life than deep-cleaning cupboards

I did find those websites useful to look up stuff, especially the paranoid stuff. The forums could be interesting but they were more haphazard. You had to filter through a lot of crap. I didn’t write anything or contact anyone.

You did once. You got set upon by several million hormonal women!

You get to the stage where you call someone a Nazi and it ends there! Are you still friends with any of them?

Yes. There are 3 or 4 I would regard as friends and the rest as good acquaintances and I’m not going to say who!

That’s fine though. If you meet 10 or 20 random people you will filter it down to the people you really like. It’s useful to know a few people in the same position as you.

I do find myself comparing though, and worrying if their children are doing something that mine aren’t. That’s probably just my competitive nature

Competitive parenting is such a big thing ‘Ooh they can write their name…they can write a sonnet…’

You’re very laid back about it all and I fret, especially in relation to the education stuff.

They’re 3!! There’s nothing they have to be doing at the moment. They should just be playing.

What do you think they’ll do when they grow up?

Ruth’s very serious. I think they’ll both go to university. I can see Grace doing drama classes, although I think she’s fairly typical of kids her age. I think Ruth’s more unusual in that she’s so aware of what people might think of her. She gets so embarrassed about things and worries about other people. I don’t know what Ruth’s going to do.

She’ll either channel all of this and be brilliant, or she’ll be incredibly frustrating and muck about at the back of the class.

She’s quite boisterous and likes being with older kids. She puts a lot less effort into doing things, but is good if she actually tries. She’s a bit of a Ronnie O’Sullivan character. Naturally clever, but can’t be arsed! I read an article where it said that you should praise the effort rather than the achievement and we try to do that, but it’s easy to praise something and say ‘Oh that’s good’. Especially when they’re small. They don’t really understand effort. I keep trying to explain to her that you have to practice to be good at things.

We’re going to look back on the last four years, and probably the next 14/15 years, when we get old and grey I think we’re going to be incredibly proud of what we did.

I hope so.

Do you think that having children is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

I think it’s actually quite easy but because it’s every day for years and years it’s difficult. If you look at an average day it’s easy. You feed them, etc. It’s the pressure of doing it all the time…it’s strange to do such a simple thing but we have to do it permanently. It’s the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to make up your own rules and systems.

It’s like having a piece of flat-pack furniture and not having any instructions or any idea what it’s for.

There’s no way of changing that. People can tell you what it’s like but it doesn’t actually help. That’s why I don’t like to give advice. It’s going to be hard and you have to work it out for yourself.

The thing that struck me about the transcript of the interview we did was that you sounded quite down. There was a lot of stuff about your lack of quiet time, it was hard work, they had a lot of tantrums, you were shouting at them and a lot of it was really downbeat and I felt quite sad.

I’m not sad overall. It’s hard work. I’m happy with the way it’s worked out now. Maybe not initially. It should get easier as they get older. I think it’s the same for everyone.

We chose it. It’s not like we were forced to have them.

I wouldn’t change it, no matter how hard it is. I didn’t mean to sound so down about them. I don’t think many people enjoy having babies to look after. They’re much more fun now. I love taking them out now that they can understand things, like going to the zoo – asking and answering questions.

They love you in a very unconditional way and equally you love them unconditionally. If they were a partner you would have kicked them out years ago! That’s the paradox of parenting.

I watched an episode of Top Gear where they do a silly challenge with rubbish cars [that’s pretty much every episode then] and end up falling in love with them. Jeremy Clarkson said that it’s a bit like a toddler – most of the time they’re quite annoying but if someone tried to take it away you’d kill them. You can be really annoyed with them but if they ran into the road or hurt themselves you’d worry about them. I love them really.

Tribe

If you’re a parent in your twenties or thirties and you have any kind of disposable income, you probably own a piece of Superdry clothing. I own two Superdry hoodies and two t-shirts and wear them constantly as a staple of my ‘pseudo with-it parent’ wardrobe. I bought dh a Superdry polo for his birthday and he wears it all the time. I abandoned ‘trends’ and ‘fashion’ long ago and I’m not normally one for designer labels, but Superdry stuff is cool.

As we wandered around Center Parcs I noticed that tons of parents of a similar age to us wearing Superdry clothing. It was almost a uniform. Anyone that didn’t feel part of the gang could go and buy a Superdry item from the on-site shops.

Trouble is I’m not sure that harassed parent is really the market that they chase. The Bluewater store is always full of teenage kids, pressuring their parents into buying hoodies with faux-Japanese/Americana slogans on them. Their advertising is full of wholesome yet sexy teens and early twentysomethings pouting moodily.

I pout moodily but I’m old and because I’m tired and fed-up of patiently explaining the same concept OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN and refereeing slanging matches between the girls: “YOU’RE NOT  MY BEST FRIEND!” “I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU” “Mummyyyyy G/R’s not talking to meeeee”.

Before we left on Friday afternoon I noticed a subtle change as lots of teenagers turned up wearing Hollister and Jack Wills stuff. I went in the Hollister shop In Bluewater once and thought I’d gone blind. Their shops are designed to look like surf shacks and are dark and moody. They spritz the clothes on display with a distinctive scent every so often. Unable to distinguish a t-shirt from a pair of pants in the gloom, I stumbled out and breathed in the comparatively fresh air of the Starbucks next door. Hollister has a queue outside at weekends and during school holidays and there isn’t even a sale on. Madness. I’m about fifteen years too old for Jack Wills and I don’t talk like a rah. A rah, you ask? What’s a rah? Go to South West London on any given Saturday afternoon and all you’ll hear is this: “RAH RAH RAH. YAH. RAH. YAH. RAH” and they ALL wear Jack Wills.

When the Superdry tribe was replaced with the Hollister/Jack Wills tribe, I knew it was time to go home.

The end of 46 Days

At the beginning of March I had a crazy idea. Instead of giving something up for Lent, I would try to do something every day. The idea for 46 Days came from there. Today is the 46th and last day.

I thought I’d have a look back through the last 45 days and see what’s happened:

0 people offended (that I’m aware of…)

1 holiday booked

1 disastrous week of night training

1 graduation attended

1 Margot Leadbetter moments

2 bouts of nostalgia

2 guinea pigs (Charlie and Lola) arrived

2 fish (Eddie and Bob) bought

3 fish (Maisy, Eddie and Bob) died

3 Easter bonnets made

4 3rd birthday parties attended

4 One Born Every Minute liveblogs

5 separate illnesses (2 for me, 2 for G, 1 for R)

6 twinny observations (I could have written hundreds of posts on this)

7 Friday photos

8 rants (I’m amazed there aren’t many more)

That’s a fairly average seven or so weeks in the HoT. Ok, so you don’t buy guinea pigs and kill off goldfish every day, but everything else was pretty normal…for us at least. It’s a nice little snapshot of our lives.

I only missed one night – when I was away for work – and I made up for it the next night with two long posts.  I have to say, as the weather improved dramatically in April I found it much harder to generate enough enthusiasm to sit down every night and write a blog post. Last night I ‘cheated’ and uploaded the Friday photos from my iphone whilst slumped on the sofa after another busy day. Thank Steve Jobs for the WordPress app!

I speculated at the beginning of all this that a period of sustained creativity might make me want to do some creative writing. It hasn’t, but only because I haven’t had time after writing 46 Days posts. There are a couple of ideas percolating in my brain but I can’t commit them to screen just yet.

Instead I’ve been exploiting my creative mind in different ways. I’m really into card-making at the moment. If there’s an event coming up I’ve probably made a card for it! My cards aren’t going to make me rich and they definitely look ‘home made’ but I hope people appreciate the effort. I attempted my first scrapbook – a graduation present for my Mum. I love getting creative with photos, bit of paper, a stack of embellishments and a ton of pritt stick. I have also made great progress with my latest cross-stitch and am already thinking about the next stitching project. I might do something really challenging this time…

As I get older I can no longer sit in front of the telly of an evening once the girls are in bed. I have to be doing other things, so that I feel my evenings aren’t wasted. That reminds me…I have very strict rules on my ‘me time’ activities. They are all done in the evening in the precious few hours I have when the girls are asleep and before I go to bed. During the day I’m either spending time with the girls or working.

I’m looking forward to having a few nights off (maybe even a week or two) from blogging – or the tyranny of the blank page (which only affected me twice in 46 days) and the feeling that I ‘have’ to write something. I might try something similar later in the year. November is my bogey-month so I might try 30 Days or something like that to ward off the SAD.

That’s all in the future. Now, I’m off to make a Mojito and await our take-away delivery.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Nursery: a collaborative learning environment or a glorified babysitter?

As a result of the complaint I made in December we now have monthly meetings with G’s Keyworker at nursery. Dh and I make sure that we can both attend each meeting and they generally last about half an hour. I instigated them as I wanted to know what the girls were actually up to in the c.28 hours a week they spent away from us.

R and G are going through a stage where we ask them what they did at nursery that day and they say “Nothing”. We ask them who they played with and they say “No-one”. We know this isn’t true because they normally have pen or paint on their tops and mud on their trainers. They also get invited to a lot of parties and playdates and talk about their friends constantly so I’m fairly confident that they’re not sitting in the corner being ignored by everyone.

We get a daily sheet but it’s pretty basic. One of my biggest bugbears is that the activity section of the sheet is already filled in on the computer and printed off. At my request, I’ve asked that a little extra comment is added to the bottom of the sheet each day and G’s keyworker is very good at this, adding a little anecdote to give us an additional insight. They’re also true – not that we’ve tested G on them or anything…

I’m always quite shocked at the parents who ‘drop and run’ each morning and stick their head round the door each evening and beckon their child to follow them home without any interaction with the nursery staff. I understand the morning escape as we all work and have important deadlines to meet and places to be but certain parents seem to treat nursery as a rather expensive babysitter. I accept that they might have different, unseen ways of communicating with nursery about their child but when you speak to a parent and they have no idea what their child is doing or doesn’t even know the name of their keyworker, you begin to wonder.

I wouldn’t describe us as pushy parents but, with my business head on, we’re paying for a service and I’d like to know what we’re all getting out of it. We’re essentially paying for them to have a private pre-school education at this stage and as they’re going to be going to a state primary and we won’t be paying to educate them again until they (possibly) go on to higher education, I want them to get the best start possible.

Plus, we like knowing what they’re up to at nursery so we can reinforce it at home. We were inspired to get Maisy and Eddie by the water topic they were doing recently. They’re currently doing growing and Spring so I was showing the girls photos of their scans and my pregnant bump and explaining that they lived in Mummy and then I gave birth to them (R  looks at me like I’m mental at this point). When we were at the zoo last week we saw some heavily pregnant sheep and explained that it would soon be lambing season. The girls are now obsessed with measuring each other as we did their height and weight last week. They are teaching us new songs: ‘Everyfink (sic) is growing’ is a current favourite.

Dh and I make a point of learning the other children’s names so that we can greet them properly when they say hello and goodbye to us. As a result, we’re sometimes asked to read stories when one of us picks the girls up in the evening and, if we time it right, we get to join in with the late afternoon snack time – the girls refuse to leave until they’ve had their snack.

So, back to the meetings. G’s keyworker is very academic in her focus with her children and she seems to have a strong sense of G’s personality but there isn’t a huge amount of warmth there. Much of the meeting is taken up with discussing the Early Years Foundation Stage and the ‘targets’ (for want of a better word) that they are focusing on. It’s hard not to reference R in the meetings and I have to keep bearing in mind that we’re there to talk about G, although R invariably crops up in conversation. Dh and I feel much happier that we have a bit more knowledge and it seems that G is doing just fine.

We’ve always had a good relationship with R’s keyworker. She’s much less academic in her dealings with the children. So far, we haven’t instigated formal meetings with her as she’s much more available to chat informally, but in the interests of fairness we should have meetings with her too now. We bought R and G’s folders home last week and the different approaches of their respective keyworkers in obvious. Everything in G’s is filled out correctly. R’s is more hit and miss so hopefully the prompt of formal meetings will mean that her folder is also kept up to date.

I know it’s ‘each to their own’ and it’s not healthy to judge the parenting practices of others without knowing the facts – they might think it’s weird that one of us is curled up reading stories or participating in snack time when they come to pick up their child – but I’d feel like I was neglecting my parenting duties if I didn’t get involved in nursery matters.

Education, education, education

Although the girls won’t be starting until September 2012 (it’s a single entry intake round here), our thoughts are already turning to local schools. We live in what can be described as a reasonably affluent area. Although we don’t quite have a <insert name of well-known Seattle coffee chain here> on our local parade of shops just yet (it’s surely coming), we do have the option of a number of different types of school:

1.       State primaries

2.       Prep schools

3.       Catholic schools

We can dismiss option 3 straight away. Neither of us are Catholic and the girls (and I) aren’t even christened. Plus, as a former chemistry scholar and avowed Atheist, Dh wouldn’t entertain it for even a millisecond. We’d be struck down before we even crossed the threshold on an open day. In any case, I’m not the sort of person that would pseudo-‘convert’ and go to church for a set period of time to get the girls into a school and then abandon the whole idea the moment they put the uniform on.

I had a really interesting conversation with someone at work a while back who argued that I’d already entered the private school system by sending the girls to a fee-paying private day nursery, and that I’d find it very difficult to take them out of that environment and put them back into the state system. We’re already used to taking a massive hit from our wages each month to pay the nursery fees, and prep school wouldn’t cost that much more.

I investigated further and looked at the fees for one of the local prep schools. The basic fees are £3,200 per term. Lunch costs an extra £200 per term. Breakfast and after school club are extra, as are all extracurricular activities. You’re looking at fees of around £10,500 per year and if you add in swimming or music classes would be pushing 11 grand a year. 11 grand PER CHILD. Lest we forget, we have two children and you don’t get much of a sibling discount, if there is one at all. Plus there’s the uniform to buy, school trips to fund and general keeping up with the Joneses stuff to consider. We simply don’t have c.£25,000 a year to spend on schooling the girls. That’s just prep level. The average public school fees are £25-30,000 per year. Double that and you’re looking at almost as much as dh and I earn combined. In short, it costs a LOT more than we’re used to.

Putting my Socialist principles and the financial aspects* to one side for a second, I can see the attraction of public school. You pay for better facilities, a better standard of education and teaching (allegedly), and there’s the ‘club’ aspect on consider. Once you’re ‘in’, you’re better connected and that stands you in good stead for the rest of your life. Plus the uniforms for the prep schools are SO CUTE! Little berets and pinafore dresses with shiny black shoes. They look like perfect children from an Edwardian period drama.

That’s the ideal. The reality can (note I said can) be very different. A couple of friends of the girls are probably going to graduate from nursery to prep school and have started going for open days and interviews. One family went to an open day and were so horrified by the attitude of the headmaster (he was rather shocked that the parents weren’t married) that they refused to apply. Another family went for interview and were rejected by the school. I asked the mother why. “They didn’t reject her they rejected us!” she cried. Apparently the school was concerned that, as one of the parents was self-employed, they might have trouble keeping up with the school fees. Via the local jungle telegraph, I subsequently found out that another family had been accepted by the school. The father was a GP and the headmaster told him in hushed tones that ‘they didn’t have to worry about the waiting list’. Talk about storming the barricades and starting a revolution!

Of course, this is just one particular school that I’m referring to, so it isn’t representative of prep schools generally. Back in the dark days of Twins Club, some of the parents were discussing schools and asked me which prep I’d put the girls’ names down for. They were two months old at the time. I replied that they were probably going to go to one of the state primaries and one mother shouted “YOU’RE GOING TO ENTRUST YOUR CHILDREN TO THE STATE SYSTEM?!” at me. Yeah, it’s that sort of area.

Dh and I are proud products of the state system. It’s difficult to argue with the five degrees we hold between the two of us. I went (through choice) to a rather <ahem> ‘colourful’ secondary school (the phrase ‘All human life is here’ pretty much described it) and was lucky enough to be taught by some wonderful, dedicated, nurturing teachers who gave me the confidence to believe I was good enough to go to University and make something of myself. I was also lucky enough to have supportive parents who would read to me and help me with maths as a child. I wasn’t exactly left to flounder and I took the opportunities that were presented to me.

We can now put our education to good use and support the girls’ learning at home. It makes me so mad when I hear a parent whingeing that their child isn’t being taught to do something at school. TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY AND DO IT YOURSELF! If the girls are doing a topic at nursery, we’ll do activities at home to reinforce it. In short, we’ve got the time, funds (ish) and willingness to support their education. I don’t expect school to teach the girls everything. It’s totally unrealistic.

That’s why I’m happy to send the girls to a state school. We’re lucky enough to be in the catchment area for a reasonably nice state primary (not too bad, not amazing) and that’ll be first on the list when we apply in the Autumn.  The second choice isn’t too bad either. The third choice might have to be the Catholic school but I’m confident we won’t need to worry about it. Knowing my luck, I should probably stock up on rosary beads and confessions (not difficult) just in case…

*Would I send the girls to prep school if money were no object? My honest answer is no, although I’d ensure we moved into the catchment area for a shit-hot state primary.