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.)

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Grace Jong Il

The girls are now well into the swing of things, school-wise. They started After-School Club this week (for the 3 days I’m in the office) and their teachers tell us they’re doing really well.

Except…

G. Oh my goodness. We went through a tricky phase with her earlier in the year and in the summer thought we had cracked it as her behaviour was markedly better. How wrong we were. She’s putting so much into school in terms of learning, making friends, etc that she’s being an absolute monster at home. The moment we pick her up she turns. One minute she’s a smiling, bright, sociable, chatty little thing and the next second, once we get home and close the front door, she turns into a screaming, hysterical monster.

A example: I picked the girls up from After School Club for the first time on Monday. Their carers told me how lovely they had been, how they had eaten all of their food and were playing nicely with the other children. I went over to R and G to say hello. G looked at me and said ‘I’m only coming home with you if you let me watch telly’. I said no because it was very late and it was almost bedtime. G kept repeating the TV request, turning up the volume each time. I ignored her. I chatted to R (who was, thankfully, much more amenable) and we made it home despite G’s mulishness.

G launched a full-on attack the moment she took her book bag off. She screamed I WANT TO WATCH TELLY, sank to her knees in the hallway and let out a scream that would have shattered crystal if we had any. It’s tempting to go into uber militant parent at this point and frogmarch her to her bedroom for time-out. We have done this. Instead I went into the dining room, poured the girls a cup of milk each and pulled G onto my lap. I gave her a huge cuddle, stroked her hair, rocked her gently and made soothing noises until she calmed down.

She is actually, properly, stressed. She’s the lone wolf on her class (which she relishes as she gets to boss everyone around) and her efforts to befriend every single one of the 29 other children in her class are clearly wearing her out. I thought she might be telling a little fib about the number of friends she’d made but we took the girls to the school disco on Friday night and lost count of the number of children that came running up to us screeching GRAAAAAACE and hugging her. (R also has quite a few friends but doesn’t make them quite as easily as G.)

It’s hard to get a handle on what they’re up to school-wise and they aren’t exactly forthcoming with details. They’re obviously learning letters and sounds and all the other stuff that Reception class kids do. If I ask, they tell me nothing but G’s letter recognition has come on leaps and bounds and R surprised us both by writing out a whole stream of well-formed letter yesterday. The learning is obviously lodging in there somewhere.

I think we have to be patient with G, which is bloody hard at times. I’ve been warned that it may take a few weeks for her to settle down. There’s definitely a pattern though. Every time G has done something new, or gone through a developmental stage, we’ve suffered. When she was a baby it used to manifest itself as difficulty sleeping, or getting to sleep. Now she takes it out on us. She’s going to be a complete and utter joy when she’s doing exams.

I’m buying a one-way ticket to Peru.

First week at school

The girls have survived their ‘transition week’ and will experience their first full day at school from 8.50am – 3.10pm tomorrow. Last Thursday and Friday they were there until 12pm and left just before lunch. On Monday and Tuesday they had lunch at school and came home at 12.45pm. Yesterday and today they came home at 1.30pm.

I was warned that starting school would make the girls phenomenally tired, and this has proved to be correct. They can do little more than slump on the sofa when they get home. We tried to engage them in activities to start with but they got so ratty that things became impossible so they watch a bit of TV when they first get home and I try to get some sense out of them once they’ve had a chance to unwind for half an hour or so.

They have both coped well with the change, but are dealing with it in different ways. G (in the class on her own) seems to be on a Pokemon-style ‘gotta catch em all’ mission to collect a different new friend every day and add them to her ever-growing gang of ‘best friends’. She’ll be a PR guru (a networker, a facilitator, darlings) when she grows up, mark my words.

R is taking it much more slowly and is (I think) dealing with the fact that her BFF from nursery has decided she only wants to play with boys (hmm, she won’t change) and not with R. To be honest I’m not exactly devastated about this. Let’s just say it was a ‘difficult’ friendship to deal with on lots of levels.

The two Reception classes share a private playground and I get the impression that R leaves her classmates and goes over to play with G during playtime. That said, R has mentioned some children in her class that she wasn’t at nursery with in the course of discussion about her day. I took the girls to the park yesterday afternoon and over a bowl of ice cream with three spoons they told me the gossip.

Despite being a social thing, G is getting quite stressed out at home. We encounter shouty G at 8am ever day and wild with frustration G just after we collect her from school. She’s always been the same though. Every developmental stage has been a trial for G (and, by association, us) and has led to variously, sleep problems, mood swings and general wobblers. She’s going to be an utter joy to live with when she’s doing exams. At least when she’s 16 and ranting like a drama queen I can shut the door and go for a walk. Now I have to face it head-on. My new trick of softly saying ‘You’re the only one shouting’ to her when she’s in rant mode seems to be working (temporarily at least.)

R internalises things much more and is desperate to please both Dh and I. She treats us to lots of eye-rolling and sighing when things aren’t going her way (again, she’s been the same since she was a couple of months old) and she can be very evasive when it comes to events, people, etc. However, yesterday morning she clambered into bed with us (G was in a sulk for no apparent reason in her bedroom) and told Dh all the new things she was learning at school.

A very unexpected bonus is that R decided that she didn’t want to wear a pull-up in bed any more last week and has been dry every night (touch wood) since. G started wetting the bed again over the weekend but things seemed to have improved during the week. We may – finally – have two night-trained children. No chicken counting yet though!

I have been on annual leave since the girls started school but I go back to work (at home) tomorrow and will be back in the office next week, so things will adapt to fit the new routine. I’m still going be working at home two days a week (it’ll be odd to work in such a quiet house), to reduce the cost of wraparound care and to ferry the girls to swimming class and (hopefully) Rainbows.

First day at school

R and G started primary school today

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(R on the left, G on the right)

Their start time was 9.25am. Dh was on a rest day today and I am on annual leave at the moment so we were able to take them in together. I took G into her classroom and she looked really frightened as she doesn’t know anyone in her class. I gave her a quick kiss and hug. G’s teacher took her hand and I left. I waited for Dh to finish dropping R off (who leapt into the classroom shouting the name of her nursery BFF at the top of her voice) and we walked away from the school together.

Dh asked if I was ok. I broke down in big, heaving sobby tears and he gave me a hug. We walked past our friends’ house and she popped her head out of her bedroom window. I think she had been keeping an eye out for us! She invited us in for a quick coffee/water and I calmed down pretty quickly. It was G’s face as I left her…

The children are only doing mornings to start with so we picked up the girls up at 12pm. G told us very proudly that she had already made a ‘school friend’ whereas R had ‘only played with her old friends’ (the Reception classes are separate but they share an outdoor space). They also told us a long and involved tale about someone who punched someone else and had to sit on the ‘thinking chair’…

Basically, they loved it. R was a little bit quiet this afternoon. G was her usual self. They didn’t want to take their uniforms off and they are excited about going back to school tomorrow.

I think we can call their first day at school a success.

Am I ready for school?

We’re taking the girls to meet their Reception teachers tomorrow, as we missed the proper welcome tea party and parents evening last week. The one week of the year we go on holiday…

I have filled out the school forms (endless paperwork and I had to do two sets of course) and Dh has double-checked them. The school sent through two welcome packs last week which included the various blank forms, information about the Early Years Foundation Stage, letters from older children to R and G welcoming them to the school (one of them told R not to be scared and I started crying as i read it out to her) and a booklet of self-portraits by all of the girls’ new classmates (as they’re in separate classes we now know the names of every child in the Reception year), which made me fret approximately 98% less than I had been as the girls can actually write their names and some of their classmates can’t. Naturally, there are some that have better handwriting than me, so you can’t have everything.

The girls and I went to the school fete a couple of weeks ago and picked up some second-hand school uniform. The school colours are yellow and blue, so R is going to wear yellow tops, gingham summer dresses and sweatshirts and G is going to wear the corresponding items in blue. In Winter they’ll swap the summer dresses for grey pinafore dresses. The PE kit is non-branded and consists of white tops and dark shorts or jogging bottoms.

The girls are very excited about meeting their teachers tomorrow. As Dh and I are both on leave until next week, we’re both able to attend. I’m really pleased as we’ll be sharing the pick ups and drop offs as we do now. Dh is keen on becoming a parent helper and reading with the children, so he’s going to ask about doing that. I think he’d be great as he’s extremely patient (let’s face it, in this house he has to be) and it’ll be good for the boys to have a man helping them with their reading as often it’s the mums that go in.

After-school club is sorted, for this year at least. I have already filled in forms to get the logoed bits of the school uniform and will be raiding M&S for the other clothing. Dh and I have bashed diaries and are able to juggle the staggered start dates and finish dates for the first two weeks of term between us (lots of people are complaining about this. I have lost count of the number of times someone has said ‘Just chuck ’em in!!’. It’s certainly a pain in the arse for us working parents.)

The girls are ready. Dh is fine about it all. Me? I feel oddly bereft already and they don’t start until September. That’s the thing with this one-shot parenting lark – once the girls are at school that’s it. They don’t have younger siblings to follow in their footsteps.

So, one phase of the girls’ life is ending and another one is about to begin. I think I’m scared because I didn’t have the easiest time at school. Some of it was of my own making, some of it was just…horrible and even now, 20-odd years later I find it hard to revisit. I can’t bear the thought of R or G going through some of the things that I did. They are their own people of course and they are a million times more confident than I was at their age. It’s that twin thing again…it seems to protect them from certain things but may yet cause other issues. They have also been at nursery since they were 5 months old, so they’re used to interacting and socialising with children of their own age. They won’t be daunted by the other children.

We don’t quite know what the next months and years will bring, but from September life is going to get that little bit more different again.

Class separation – the saga continues

I have been putting off posting this for a couple of days, but I have to do it.

Dh went into the girls’ school on Monday and they had already juggled the classes around so that G is staying put and R is moving to the other Reception class. This means that we have got what we wanted and they will be in separate classes from September.

Over the weekend, and indeed, on this very blog, a lot of people (including close family and friends) commented that it was perhaps best that the girls were in the same class. I have to confess, I started to waver too.  R and G have been together forever. Should we really interfere and socially engineer a separation?

Dh phoned me to let me know and I felt quite wobbly for a moment or two. We’d got what we wanted (and the school listened to us and acted, which bodes well) but were we deliberately being obtuse and defying everyone else just because we could?

As we chatted, my resolve hardened. They’ve put R into the class with the other children from nursery. She is the less confident and more sensitive of the two. She needs G around to give her confidence, but the familiar faces from nursery will give her security. Being apart from G for a few hours a day will – hopefully – give her more confidence and allow her to develop academically in a way that she may not have done had she been in the same class as her sister. G has a tendency to boss R around mother R and act as her mouthpiece. We know that R is bright but she tends to internalise things and will only demonstrate that she can do something when she can do it perfectly. Otherwise she relies on G to do it for her.

G is a Monica. She is the child that will sit at the front of the class, hand shooting up in the air shouting I KNOW! I KNOW! to every single question. She is extremely confident and nothing phases her. She would treat the Pope and a passing tramp in exactly the same manner. She has absolutely no fear of getting something wrong. She doesn’t care what other people think of her. In short, she’s extremely resilient and I’m confident that she will make new friends very quickly.

In any case, it’s not like they’ll be apart for 6-7 hours a day. The two Reception classes share a playground (separated from the older children) and they’ll spend plenty of time together at break and lunch time. If it isn’t working after a term or a year, we’ll work with the school to review the separation.

Hopefully the therapy bills won’t be too large when they grow up.

I hate it when I’m wrong

Reader, I am an enormous arse. I also HATE being wrong.

It is not the end of the world that the girls are going to be in the same class. In fact, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise:

1. Their Reception class teacher is, apparently, amazing and the parents in the other class would kill for their children to be in her class
2. The other children from nursery are in the other class. If we insisted on a split now, we would upset whichever twin was in the other class, by leaving them on their own.

I’d still like to understand the rationale behind the school’s decision keep the girls together when they had been specifically told that they were to be split up. If they’d contacted us beforehand to say that they appreciated our views but wanted to put the girls in the same class for X, Y and Z reasons, I would have understood. It was a shock to find out that our views had been completely ignored, with no explanation.

As it turns out, I’m one of the few people that thought splitting the girls was an absolute necessity. So many people have commented that it would be a shame to split them, that it wouldn’t feel right, that they work well as a team, that they both rely on each in different ways, that they are individuals with different personalities and approaches to life and won’t get mixed up after the inevitable initial confusion.

I sat the girls down individually on Friday and asked them what they thought. They both said, without prompting from the other, that they would rather be in the same class as each other than be with their friends. I can’t argue with that.

Dh is going to speak to the school tomorrow. I wasn’t exactly rational when I spoke to them on Friday so hopefully he’ll make more sense than I did!