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.