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.

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Wanna be in my gang?

I don’t like gangs. I don’t like cliques. I don’t like ‘Here come the girls’, loose women, hen night whooping and hollering. I think all-female workplaces are a Very Bad Idea and I don’t just mean the syncing of periods. In the immortal words of Frasier Crane, women shouldn’t be allowed to talk to one another. I’ve dabbled in all female-gangs before and it generally Doesn’t End Well.

However, I now find myself in a gang. Moreover, according to dh I am in fact the leader of said gang. As da kidz say WTF?*

As your children get older they have the temerity to start choosing their own friends. I now understand why my parents would occasionally get a bit concerned about me having yet another best friend. Or rather, the ensuing devastation that would be caused by me and said BFF falling out approximately two weeks later.  Luckily the girls have pretty decent taste and have accumulated a nice circle of friends. Though friendship come playdates, through playdates come birthday parties and through parties coms social events with parents but without children. This means that dh and I spend quite a lot of time with people who we wouldn’t have otherwise met if it weren’t for the children.

As I stood at yet another birthday party at the weekend, chatting with the usual crowd of parents and offspring (and very nice they all are too), I was struck by the fact that I’d seen three of four of the families several times at different parties and events over the last few months. It’s got to the point now where the presence of a different family feels a bit….odd. If the girls go to a party and some or all of their core gang aren’t present I feel (my favourite word du jour coming up) discombobulated.

When the girls started nursery I noticed that some of the parents already gravitated towards each other and I felt that we were being (unintentionally) excluded. Now I understand. I’m now a member of the Little Stars clique. We’re the feisty, shouty, rebellious parents that kick up a fuss when we’re not happy. When we mention that our children are meeting up for extra-curricular events you can see carers’ eyes widening and/or rolling (impressive if you can do both at the same time) and they know that Things Will be Discussed.

Dh and I were recently discussing the fact that the girls have added a couple of extra children to their friendship group. “Are you going to let them in our gang?” He asked me. I scoffed for a few seconds and asked in genuine amazement “What do you mean? It’s not our gang?”. He grinned and said “It is so your gang”. I thought about it and I can’t disagree with him really. It’s a terrible burden and one I’ll have to learn to shoulder but I’ll get through it.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and bulk order wine, houmous and carrot sticks for our next round of ‘meet the guinea pigs’ playdates.

*I don’t think da yoof say any of this stuff

Something Special…or something else?

Hello hello

How are you?

Hello hello

It’s good to see you…

If you’re a parent you’ll know exactly which children’s television programme I’m talking about. For the uninitiated, it’s this. It’s aimed at children with disabilities aged 4-7 years and teaches Makaton through simple scenarios and events.

R and G are completely and utterly obsessed with this programme, as are most children of their age, regardless of disability. It’s actually one of the very few programmes that the girls will sit and watch. I’d better point out that the girls have very limited exposure to television and only watch a few hours a week. I’m not comfortable with having the TV on in the background 24/7. We V+ the two ‘Out and About’ series when they were shown on CBeebies recently and the girls watch them on an endless loop. Dh and I know the programmes so well now that we can hold (very) basic conversations in sign language, as long as they involve animals and cake.

The programme, or rather the presenter Justin Fletcher and his alter-ego Mr Tumble (I once jokingly said that I wondered why they looked so similar and someone took great pains to explain very carefully to me that they are in fact the same person…) are the subject of intense debate among parents. ‘He’s so pure!’ cried one when we discussed the programme. ‘He give me the creeps’ said another.  As for my friend that would quite like to do VERY bad things to him (thus relieving him of his perceived purity), the least said the better! I have to say that while he seems like a nice guy, Justin doesn’t exactly float my boat. Now, the teacher in the episode where Justin goes on a bike ride and Mr Tumble delivers the post…well, I’ll leave that sentence right there!

I think it’s a lovely programme that teaches children something interesting and worthwhile (watching R and G copy the signs is very sweet) and doesn’t stigmatise disability. Each programme features two or three children with varying degrees of disability and at no point are their ‘problems’ discussed. Children take them at face value. I wonder how many parents watching the programme (apart from me) sit and try and work out what disability each child has. I know I do. I should probably feel quite ashamed of the fact that I can’t just watch Poppy or Felix or Entesar (can you tell we’ve watched them A LOT?) without wondering what their story is but with my parent head on I become curious.

Although I like SS I’m now trying to wean the girls off it and onto other programmes. There’s a limit to the amount of times I can watch the episode with Aunt Sukey’s spotty dog and I’ve very nearly reached it. They don’t mind an episode or two of Bob the Builder or Fireman Sam. I’ve banned them from watching the new version of Postman Pat (it’s blasphemous) ‘Special Delivery’ and Waybuloo is just weird. As for Penelope K by the Way, I wish there were still convict ships to Australia so that she could be returned from whence she came. We always end up watching Something Special again.

Goodbye goodbye

It’s time to run

Goodbye goodbye

I hope you had good fun

I said goodbye

I’m happy that you came

I said goodbye

Please come back

Again.