On parenting a mini-me: why similarity is so much harder than difference

11821764_963358007017875_815936537_n

These are some first draft thoughts I think about a lot. Would be interested in hearing yours. 

You know, I thought this would be much easier than it is. I thought that having a child who was very like me would make parenting a breeze. When I imagined the slammed doors and hurtful arguments of the future (still mostly in the future, thank goodness), I pictured an angry teenager whose depths and fathoms I didn’t fully understand, so couldn’t empathise with.

It’s not like that at all.

H and I are cut from the same cloth. When we do the personality tests in my parenting books (more on those later) we come out with the same numbers. We’re not carbon copies of each other, of course, because no two people are. He is only four, and has years of change ahead of him. But when I look at him and see stubbornness, social awkwardness, fear and words and quickness and bossiness and insecurity coupled with an absolute belief in his own authority, I recognise those things in myself. My four-year-old self as well as my grown-up self. The best of me and the worst. Which makes it all rather difficult.

This is what I think it does: it makes parenting a loaded process. It becomes a matter of bias. I’m not seeing his strengths and faults just as they are, in him: they come with a lifetime of feelings already attached. When I find strengths in him that I recognise, I am overly invested in encouraging him in that direction. And that’s not too bad, but when it comes to the weaknesses we share – when I know how much bother they’ve caused me over the years, when I see things in him I would rather not even see in myself – I am desperate for him to cut them loose. I want him to do better than I did. I want this so badly that I am more likely to lose my temper, less likely to be understanding.

Isn’t that strange? Where I should be the most understanding – because these are things I still struggle with myself – I am the most impatient. Because it’s so much harder to be detached about them. Because they mean something to me, outside and apart from what they mean to him.

I am often parenting from a place of fear and anxiety, in other words, not just love.

It’s been interesting to start covering some of the same ground with T, who is a different creature entirely. His energy is all outward and active, his emotions simpler and louder. I find it so much easier to comprehend him, and to be detached about his bad days. His tantrums are exhausting, but they’re not emotional (for me).  They don’t hold the key to a character flaw that will ruin him. They’re just tantrums. He’s two, and they’ll pass.

I’ve never been able to be so blasé with H. Ever. Partly because he’ll always be my learning curve, bless him; that’s the curse of the eldest child. Whatever phase he’s in, it’s the first time I’ve seen it. But partly because I invest every last thing he does with meaning. Which doesn’t tend to be good for either of us.

I would be worried about this pattern (ok, I DO worry), except that patterns can be rewoven, and noticing them is the first step to doing it (right? Right?!).

I think he deserves to make his own mistakes – that aren’t a type of mine, whatever I might think, but his very own. I can’t swoop in and protect him from every difficulty, no matter how much I want to. He needs to grow in his own space, as himself, without the weight of my expectation and anxiety.

I’m going to try harder to let him be himself. If we end up being able to bond over a cheery fondness for semicolons, that’s a good result but not essential. And for T, well: I’m going to buy some earplugs, probably. And hug them both more. And apologise more. And tell them I love them until they get sick of hearing it.

I don’t think it will ever stop being a work-in-progress.

Photo 15-08-2015 10 02 57 am

Five books…to help with starting school

Five books to help with starting school

Thanks to commenter Rachel for this suggestion!

Right, we’re on the countdown now, aren’t we? Two weeks left to buy all of H’s uniform, get his feet measured for shoes, practice writing his name and cry a bit into my pillow at night. We’ve talked a lot about starting school, and he’s been for a practice morning, but we’ve still got a whole avalanche of newness coming towards us.

I think there’s nothing like a picture book to help a preschooler visualise change. It means that when the first day comes, even the new things are a little familiar. Reading about it has helped both of us to get used to – and excited about – the idea. Here are our five best books about starting school.

Lucy and Tom Go to School, by Shirley Hughes

Lucy and Tom

We got this one from the library just the other week. Honestly, is there any better comfort-author than the lovely Hughes? We love the Alfie books, and one of my favourite poem-and-story books of all time is her Out and About. Lucy and Tom Go to School is a brilliant introduction to the change when one sibling is old enough to start school, and the other isn’t. The classroom in the illustrations looks just like the one I remember from my own primary school: peg, ‘home corner’ and all. Gorgeous.

 

Harry and the Dinosaurs Go to School, by Ian Whybrow

harry and the dinosaurs

The Harry and the Dinosaurs series is always a favourite here: the illustrations are colourful and fun, the stories tend to have an undercurrent of sly family humour, and of course anything with dinosaurs in it gets an automatic stamp of approval. We enjoyed this one very much: Harry isn’t sure about his first day at school, especially when he has to go into his classroom without the dinosaurs. But then he makes a new friend, the dinosaurs come to the rescue, and everyone has a jolly old time. I’m impressed by Harry’s four-year-old drawing at the end, by the way. In this house we’re lucky if we get semi-coherent scribbles.

 

Charlie and Lola: I am Too Absolutely Small for School, by Lauren Child

Chalie and Lola

In this book, Lola is finally ready to start school – phew, thinks Charlie, a bit less underage childcare for me – but she’s not convinced she’s big enough. As ever, while she raises objection after objection, good old Charlie talks her out of them with wit and patience. And Lola has a marvellous first day. The usual creative illustrations, fabulous wallpaper, and true-to-life toddler speak from Lauren Child. It’s beautifully produced. Can Charlie come and live at my house?

 

Starting School, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Starting schoolIf you really want to get inside a school-aged child’s head, go to the Ahlbergs. Please Mrs Butler – still on my shelf, and just about in one piece! – was one of the first books that showed me poems can be relevant and fun for children. Some of the first poetry I memorised, too. This one is great too, particularly if you have a detail-oriented child who wants to know the specifics of absolutely everything (*raises hand*). It’s quite methodical and not the most dynamic of reads. But it takes in just about everything a child will encounter in that first year, and is invaluable for that. Lovely illustrations too.

 

First Day, by Andrew Daddo

First Day

I have been trying hard to get hold of this one after it was recommended to me, and so I recommend it to you in turn: if you find a second-hand one on Amazon or eBay, snap it up! From what I’ve been able to see, it’s a book about first day nerves written with humour and warmth, and the illustrations are distinctive and beautiful. And apparently there’s a twist at the end. What is it?! I must know. I’ll keep looking.

 

 

 

Happy reading! And hey, good luck to all of us with new starters this September. Our kids will be fine. And with the judicious application of cake and hot chocolate, so will we.

 

One thousand four hundred and sixty-one

SAM_2315

Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are four. We’ve just got you to bed after a long and thrilling day, and I sort of want to run back upstairs and get you up again. Being four is such a serious thing. Your birthday was the last milestone between you and school. As with most things, you are forging ahead while I keep looking back over my shoulder at how much I’ll miss.

You have such a distinct character, but you keep it under wraps. With most people you are reserved, serious, tongue-tied. With us, with people you trust after a decent half hour has elapsed, you’re funny, fast-talking, spirited and curious. You like to know how things work. You have an over-developed sense of fairness and correctness. You’re our little back-seat driver (‘Mummy, that’s too fast for this road’) and my walking to-do list (‘You said not to forget the pushchair!’). You like your own space, your own things. You feel things very deeply, and often explosively. We work hard on things like ‘I need to spend some time alone right now’, ‘I will share even though sharing is hard’, and ‘will you forgive me’. You’ve come so far this year, with all of it. I want you to be comfortable in your own skin, more than anything, but we are so alike and oh, my love, I still make so many mistakes with both of us.

(‘Aw, Teddy is so cute’, you said last month. ‘Look at his great big head.’)

You love Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain America, bikes, books, being first out of the bath, eating anything that’s not very good for you (sigh) and sleeping longer than your brother allows. We talk about Space and The Animal Kingdom and Vehicles and The Human Body. The last time you had a cold you were tickled pink when I told you about white blood cells. You are fun, did I mention that? You have always been great company. You try hard to be a good and kind brother. We are the best of allies whenever we’re not at loggerheads, which can be some of the day or most of it, depending on the day.

(‘I tell you what’, you told me encouragingly once, when I was sad about something. ‘When we get home, you can have a fried egg.’)

Your nursery teacher told me that you would play with anyone, until they started doing something you knew was wrong, and then you’d quietly walk away until they stopped. I was more proud of that than of anything.

(‘Daddy’s really hairy, like a spider’, you said after a bath. ‘Some of it is called a beard, and that’s very funny.’)

I could go on, trying and trying to get to the essence of you. But it’s no good. You are full of contradictions now, like the rest of us. I love you so fiercely it makes my ribs ache. For your prickly vulnerabilities even more than your blazing strengths. On the days when you’re a beast and I’m a boar I like to remind myself of that: that you are tied to me as I am tied to you, and that love for you goes to the very heart of me, has made me in a lot of ways, and that I will never, ever, ever stop.

Happy fourth, darling boy. I wish you the courage to grab hold of all the wonderful things that come your way this year, and to be your own lovely self while doing it. You never need to be anything else. Let’s smash it.

Much love,

Your mother.

SAM_2486

Sea air

Hello, Friday! Another rainy – torrential – August day, and I am meeting it in shambolic fashion.

We’ve had a wonderful two days away with Tim’s mum this week, and we’re feeling the holiday come-down pretty hard. I’m sat on our saggy sofa, with rained-on fluffy hair the size of a hefty badger, wearing a pair of old glasses with the arm painstakingly taped back on (I left my normal pair in my mother-in-law’s car) and a case of spots with ambitions to pass their Grade 3 Acne exam. In short I am a living embodiment of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Eloise Midgen together, and I really don’t know why we haven’t made a cover feature in Glamour yet.

Something quite miraculous has happened in the past few days. A fog I didn’t even know was there has lifted off my head, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my children. I love them all the time, of course, but they’re hard work, especially 10+ solo hours a day. I think I’ve spent the past few weeks – or even months – in a state of low-level, continuous stress about what the next tantrum might be about or where the next mess will be made. And have forgotten to notice the dimples trying their hardest to make themselves noticed in Son 2’s chubby cheeks. And haven’t appreciated the intricacies of Son 1’s conversation, or the simple pleasure of finally being able to trust him to be safe, to watch out for his brother and himself.

I think the change of scene has helped, and so has having someone there to be a second pair of toddler-restraining hands, someone who loves these boys like I do, and me without judgement. Looking at beautiful things has opened up space in my head, and I’ve let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. There are dimples in this world! My kids are pretty cool and funny! It’s great!

Anyway, none of this is revolutionary – hey, lovely fool, did you know that too much unrelieved slogging away at home will make you insane by degrees? OF COURSE YOU DID – but apparently I have to learn the same parenting lesson over and over before it sticks. It was jolly nice to do it on the beach.

Some photos? I’m glad you asked; I’ve got loads.

Something about little boy t-shirts makes me squeal on the inside. Which is good, because we don’t get to buy any pretty dresses around here.

Photo 11-08-2015 8 31 23 am (800x800)

Temple. There was an afternoon where I got back to our room at about 3.30pm, and the boys weren’t going to be back till SIX, and I had a hot chocolate and fell asleep and read an Agatha Christie. The whole thing made me want to cry with happiness.

Photo 11-08-2015 7 59 19 pm (750x1000)

Photo 11-08-2015 3 16 28 pm (800x800)

The next day we went to Arundel. Having first confused it with the kingdom in Frozen (that’s Arendelle – close!) we were delighted to find the Duke of Norfolk’s castle, a Roman Catholic cathedral and a 14th century church and museum, all on the same road. The rest of the town seemed to be pretty cottages, antique shops, cafes and a river. As town planning goes, I feel this is top-notch.

Photo 12-08-2015 2 05 43 pm (750x1000)

Photo 12-08-2015 2 03 52 pm (800x800)

Photo 12-08-2015 1 59 13 pm (831x1000)

After a couple of hours, we drove a little further down to the beach at Littlehampton. By this time the indifferent weather was brightening. It got lighter and warmer over the afternoon, while the boys paddled in water, dug in the sand, filled buckets with pebbles and generally did not need hands-on assistance. Toddler holy grail. By 6pm we were eating hot fish and chips under a clear blue sky, while I reflected that everything Swallows and Amazons had ever said about sea air was quite correct. Of course, naming one of your main characters ‘Titty’ wasn’t a decision that would stand the test of time, but how was he to know that, poor love?

Photo 12-08-2015 3 19 37 pm (800x800)

Photo 12-08-2015 3 25 11 pm (750x1000)

Photo 12-08-2015 4 33 57 pm (800x800)

This is a terrible photo, but it’s the only evidence I was there, so I’ll take it.

Photo 12-08-2015 4 32 11 pm (800x800)

SAM_2376 (800x639)

SAM_2377 (800x565)

Back here now. But I know where I’m heading the next time I need an insanity prevention break.

Laughs

Photo 10-08-2015 10 26 10 am

 

This morning Tim left for his week helping at boys’ camp. I’ve been pretty tired lately – due to my absolutely tragic inability to stop faffing and get to bed – so a week of solo parenting these tiny feral creatures wasn’t really lighting me up.

But we spent half the morning making jokes about earwax in front of the mirror.

And then I decided we should celebrate getting to the halfway point of the summer break, so we ran off to the cinema, for the first time in T’s life (only the third time for H, and definitely the first time with only one parent wrangler on hand).

We saw Inside Out. The boys had little trays of popcorn and Oreos on their laps. T sagged a bit in the middle, but melting a small chocolate bar onto his hands and then licking it off got us to the end.

We only had to visit the toilet once. I sobbed like an idiot basically from the first scene. It was glorious.

‘Bye, TB!’ Teddy called as we tottered back down the stairs during the closing credits.

‘It’s not a TV, it’s a cinema!’ I told him.

‘Bye cimmerma!’ he said over his shoulder instead.

Out in the light we realised we were all coated in Teddy’s chocolate.

Then we went to the McDonalds drive-thru, because cinema + McDonalds was the ultimate, coveted double whammy when I was a kid.

They both fell asleep on the way home.

My library fine was pretty small, after all.

‘Come on Eileen’ came on the radio at one point, and it’s the most perfect happy-making song. Like the Eighties rose up in denim dungarees and enfolded you in soft shoulder pads of joy.

I started to read a book in the car on our driveway, and then chucked it aside in favour of a nap myself.

H came in voluntarily to apologise for a meltdown he had after dinner.

T tucked himself into his own ‘dubey’ when he finally decided to sleep.

Tomorrow we’re off on a couple of adventure days with Mimi.

It feels good, making things special for them. Appreciating the moments your strategies and routines pay off, for once. I like being the treat-dispenser, and the earwax joke-maker, and the one who knows exactly how many pants to pack for a trip away.

I like these kids.

Motherhood is so much more than your milk

Hey, you.

You there, with the tiny baby. You there, slogging on in a dream-haze between feed and sleep and feed. You, mama, with this terrifying new position as Centre of the Universe for the baby you made.

You there, crying tears of bone-deep exhaustion into your five-day-old pyjamas.

You warrior woman. You lovely thing. Look at you.

We’re in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, something I’m sure you haven’t missed in all your 3am zombie-scrolling on Twitter. Breastfeeding is something that tends to arouse strong emotions in all of us, and especially in you.

Maybe it came easily and joyously to you, and you’re a passionate advocate for a woman’s right to feed her baby.

Maybe you fought for it tooth and nail, latch by latch, and you’re proud of how far you’ve come.

Maybe you’re trying everything, asking everyone, and it’s still not really working, and your baby isn’t gaining weight, and every visit to the children’s clinic turns your stomach into a hard knot of guilt and fear.

Maybe it never worked, and your baby’s been drinking formula from the start, and you still find yourself assembling the bottles at baby group with an apologetic air.

There is nothing more personal than feeding the baby you made with the body you have. No wonder we take breastfeeding personally. We just can’t not.

Well.

I am here to tell you, 3am zombie-woman, that your worth as a mother is not defined by the milk you make. Your motherhood is in a thousand things. It’s the kisses you squeeze onto chubby cheeks, the way you leap up automatically when you hear a particular I’m very hurt cry, the way they quiet themselves on your chest while you soothe them. It’s the floating turds you scoop out of the bath trying not to throw up, and the sick stains on your shoulders, and the way you heave yourself out of bed for the seventeenth time in a single night. And yes, it’s the gathering up of your baby to your breast as he swallows and swallows in rhythm. Or the scoop-tap-scoop-tap of the formula cup into the bottle you just sterilised yet again, before you plop the teat into your baby’s grateful mouth.

Do you know who doesn’t give a damn whether you make milk or not? Your baby. It’s you they want, just you. Most of being a good mother is making sure you are both healthy and happy, yes, both of you together, and you get to decide exactly how that happens.

If breastfeeding works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Spoiler alert: I can’t tell which of my son’s friends were breastfed or bottle-fed. I haven’t really thought seriously about breastfeeding in a while. My motherhood is now in a thousand different things: toilet trips, time-outs, tantrums, responding to the eight-thousandth ‘MUMMY WATCH THIS’ with a smile in my voice and on my face. I think back to the panic-stricken mother I was, sobbing in cupboards about my inadequate milk supply, and I want to gather her up in a fierce hug and tell her that none of that matters a jot.

I promise you, magnificent pyjamaed thing, that one day soon your motherhood won’t be measured in feeds.

But you know it never was, right? It never was.

Mottisfont meets the twos

SAM_2349 (800x639)

DON’T GRAB THE BEES, PLEASE. THEY’RE JUST HAVING LUNCH. THEY DON’T WANT TO BE GRABBED.

Look, I don’t know how I forgot about it. Is it like childbirth, having a two-year-old? You only remember the bits that make you want to have another one?

Ted is now doing what he did for me once before, when the contractions started. Bringing it aaaaaaall back. In technicolour. And in both scenarios there’s a lot of screaming.

Since today was forecast to include some actual sunshine, we took a longer trek than usual down to Mottisfont Abbey, an NT place we’ve been to before and loved, back when only one of our children could move independently. Today there was just me, a pushchair, an almost-four-year-old desperate to complete the Charlie and Lola trail in the gardens, and the Tiny Beast.

Bloggles1 (800x400)

Suuuper good at directing their cheese faces anywhere but the camera

Suuuper good at directing their (admittedly magnificent) cheese faces anywhere but the camera

Photo 30-07-2015 12 52 49 pm (800x800)

No, he’s not a beast, Teddy: he’s a bowling ball. That’s what a two-year-old is: barrelling in one direction no matter how loudly or desperately or sweetly you holler for them to come back. Completely impervious to bribes, disciplines or strategies. On a mission to leap into every large-ish body of water, and climb every high thing, and throw every damn stone within reach. Determined to prove false ye old advice that ‘man cannot live by bread alone’. Oh, but this one can. They are untouchable. And after you’ve cajoled your little heart out and tried every distraction in the book, the only way to make them change course is to pick them up bodily, like a parcel.

(Unfortunately Necessary Internet Disclaimer: of COURSE I don’t let him wander out of sight; of COURSE I don’t let him do whatever he wants; I give him limits and I stick to them as much as I can, completely ignored though they are. None of this changes the fact that two-year-olds are gonna two, and they save most of their twoishness for public places. If you had an angel toddler who stuck to your leg like a limpet, well, tell me more about your wonderful life.)

Today he was in a puckish mood, and ran off gleefully more times than I could count. Some of it was joyous. Watching them make themselves a hideout under a giant tree, far enough away to make them think they were unobserved, felt exactly the way boyhood should be. Once I saw him wandering off the grass section I’d specified, and went to get him. He tipped his head back and laughed too hard to run away. I picked him up and said ‘Ted, you must stay where I can see you. Stay on the grass. It’s not funny’.

‘It IS FUNNY!’ he crowed, legs kicking furiously from under my arm, beaming face flushed with triumph and crusted with bits of cereal bar.

It wasn’t, but in the moment I could see his point.

SAM_2331 (817x1024)

In the walled garden they sat for ten minutes, scooping shale chips onto each other’s heads and stirring them to listen to the shirr-shirr noise they made. We sat side-by-side in the little shelter at the end, pointing out spider webs and interesting flowers.

SAM_2350 (800x799)

SAM_2333 (800x800)

Then there were the moments where he pounced on flower heads when just out of arm’s reach. Or when we spent five minutes in the disabled loo, during which they took it in turns to unlock the door while I was still sat down, and turn on the tap hard enough to splatter us all with water (the group toilet visit – everything dirty! Everything low enough for a child to reach! – is a particular kind of hell). When we came out a polite knot of mothers and teenage daughters were staring at the door, open-mouthed. It probably sounded like we were skinning a cat or dispatching a corrupt city official in there.

I can’t help but feel embarrassed by this sort of thing. Even though I know it’s what kids this age are like, and the people watching are almost certainly sympathetic if they’ve had children themselves. It makes me feel incompetent. Like if I were a better, more engaged mother, it wouldn’t be like this. When T runs, full-tilt, away from my voice – and H is going in the other direction and I need to go back and get the pushchair and THERE IS ONLY ONE OF ME, WHY IS THIS – it makes me feel like it would be better all round if we stayed indoors.

I don’t believe this, not really. There’s a lot of wonderful things to see in this bright world, things that will make their mouths drop open and their chests hurt, and we won’t see any of them from our living room. And I don’t, either, want him to spend his life in the pushchair when we’re in a deliberately child-friendly place full of families, and he’s desperate to use his legs.

SAM_2337 (750x1024)

But, you know, sigh. Just imagine a giant sigh here composed of uneaten sandwiches and attempted scuba-divings and continual soothing and redirecting and much, much sprinting. My legs are tired.

It’s a good job two-year-olds are also so vibrant and adorable you could eat them. And that twoishness passes. And that he wears dinosaur pyjamas like a boss, and that he required seven kisses and three magic blows when he accidentally bit his own finger at dinnertime.

When I was about half an hour past exhausted this afternoon, an old lady smiled at them both, and then me, as they zoomed past her in a cloud of dust. I wasn’t sure whether they should be running in a flower garden, and looked at her anxiously with an apology ready. But she forestalled me.

‘I have two sons too’, she said. ‘Grown up now. They’re wonderful. You’ve done a good thing’.

Honestly, I could’ve cried.

‘Oh!’ I said, so gratefully it was probably weird. ‘Thank you. You give me hope.’

‘There’s always hope’, she said over her shoulder, shuffling on.  (Well-placed fairy godmother? Who says these things to a strange girl covered in yoghurt?)

I crossed absolutely every last one of my digits, and ran.

SAM_2358 (800x640)

Things I want to remember about mornings

Photo 31-05-2015 9 03 28 am

I found this post (and this one) this morning, and they both seem like someone else’s life, as usual. Time for another installment. 

Dear self,

Here are some things you should never forget (even when your eye bags are capacious enough to keep things in):

that the whole street knows when Son 2 has woken up, because he shouts for you louder than a brass band

that Son 1 is curled into your back (all elbows and knees) if he’s been wet in the night, and covering his ears in his own bed if he’s been dry

that they are still putting away adult-sized portions of banana porridge each, while a nation’s oat-farmers tremble

that Son 2 often goes back to the table for a quick punt after getting dressed, to clear up any leftovers

that they both choose a train to set carefully on the bathroom radiator so they’ve got an audience

that their Thomas bubble bath smells like watermelons

that they spend bath time chucking water at each other, making poo jokes and laughing hysterically

that you let the bathtime poo jokes go, because you say ‘no more poo and wee talk, please’ at least 70 000 times a day, and frankly there’s a limit

that Son 1 insists on getting out first, and Son 2 refuses to get out at all because he’s ‘fwimmin, Mummy’

that Son 1 dresses himself for the promise of a sticker, in between claims that he’s ‘feeling a bit delicate this morning’

that Son 2 raises holy hell if you so much as approach him with socks, because he just wants to jump around naked forever

that with all of these shenanigans you have approximately thirteen minutes to get yourself ready

and you spend eleven of them in the shower with the heat whacked up to max

and every morning you stare at the shower tiles, wondering whether you’ve got this

and honestly, some mornings you haven’t

but more often than not, you have.

Photo 26-05-2015 8 01 53 am

 

 

September. July.

Desktop

September. July.

Note the worn-through shoes, the yoghurt-stained jumper, the trousers that barely fit, and the general sense of a boy who has grown in every direction, more than I can fathom.

Yesterday H had his new school visit, and today he went back for a final week at nursery. I came home and had a big ole cry. I remember being a little sad and nervous when he started nursery back in September, but mostly it was exciting: he was ready for something new, and so was I.

In the months since then, he’s made friends, learned to hold a pen and write his name, tramped out to Forest School every Friday,  started going to the loo without my intervention, done projects on polar animals and Chinese New Year and fairy tales, dressed up as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, gone out for a day’s school trip on a coach, sung in school assemblies, thrown bean bags in Sports Day, grown ten times more ornery and twelve times more hilarious, and emptied that basket of cars and train tracks every. single. day.

His teachers know him, and love him. Which is not down to any specialness in him, particularly, but in them. I never got over that: the fact that he’s not theirs, and yet they care about him as though he were. It astonishes me. I love them for it, to a kind of embarrassing extent. And I suppose I don’t want to start all over again. While putting on a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, deep down I’m dreading it horribly.

This morning over breakfast, I had to break the news, when he asked, that I was already married to Daddy, so couldn’t marry him when he grew up. He burst into tears and sobbed, ‘I do not ever want to grow up and leave you!’ So I guess there’s something in the water this week.

On the whole, of course, he does want to grow up. Because that means getting bigger, understanding more, becoming a richer and more complex person. And I want that too. This has been a blazing wonder of a year for him, and I think the year to come will be another.

All the same, I am saying to myself what I said to him this morning, as I pulled him onto my lap (where he only just fits) and rubbed his little shaking back.

‘It’s alright. You’ll grow up and leave one day, and it will be a happy thing. But it’s not for a while. Not for a good long while.’

How to make a birthday balloon wall

Or, what to do when you love decorating for birthdays but don’t have a crafty bone in your sad little body, and also your budget is small-to-non-existent. Balloon walls tick ALL YOUR BOXES, BABY. Bring it on.

How to make (832x1024)

Start with balloons. Obviously. I got five packs of ten from Hobbycraft, at £1 each. And they were the heavy-duty helium kind, which I thought would be more hard-wearing. There’s also a wondrous wealth of snazzy balloons online.

Then blow them up. I would recommend an electric pump: I only had a bicycle pump, and I have to tell you that this pile took 45 pumps EACH, on average. By the time I finished I was a decent facsimile of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, only quite a lot less fabulous.

IMG_0003 (800x800)

Attaching them to the wall was tricky. I tried masking tape at first, but they floated right off again before I’d turned around. So Tim suggested tying the whole row to a piece of thread, and taping the thread to the wall. Unfortunately we only had black thread, which wasn’t the most inconspicuous on our cream walls, but heigh-ho.

SAM_2246 (800x577)

The easiest way we found was to tie a long piece of thread between two chairs, leaving it fairly slack, then knot the balloons on one by one. I’m not going to lie: it was hella fiddly. Make sure you knot them into position so that they’ll sit comfortably alongside each other when the string is taut, just touching. 

SAM_2244 (800x532)

SAM_2250 (800x577)

Then onto the wall! We started at the bottom, over the (switched-off) radiator, so all the others would stack on top of it. They needed tape at each end and then at several points between, but we put the pieces of tape as close to the balloons as possible so they wouldn’t be visible. Once the strings of balloons were up, we did a bit of fiddling: taping some of the balloons together when they were sagging, so that they all sat in a rough grid.

SAM_2239 (819x1024)

SAM_1934 (771x1024)

All done! He was so happy. It made for some great photographs. And it lasted more than a week – in a heatwave! – before some of the balloons deflated. So, I’ll be doing a new one next week then, cool? Cool.

Photo 01-07-2015 07 45 45 am

%d bloggers like this: