School jumpers

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He loves it.

He came out on his first morning, beaming.

‘How did you do?’ I asked.

‘QUITE WEEEELL!’ he shouted back, arms in a victory V.

I see we are raising a classic British child, who uses ‘not bad’ to mean ‘really good’ and ‘quite well’ to mean ‘verily, mother, I have had the best morning of my life so far’.

We are not quite getting to grips with a new routine where half our day is gone with the school run and the other half is taken up by staggered naps. Teddy and my work are getting particularly short-changed. I am also quite terrifyingly awkward at the school gates, as anticipated. But we’re getting there, and we’ll get there better once we’re five minutes’ walk away instead of twenty minutes’ drive (in just a couple of weeks!).

I miss him. I am only just beginning to realise how much of our days will revolve around school from now on. I have lost a time when we invented everything around him, and I’m allowing myself a bit of space to mourn for it. But other things are on the horizon too: library books, history videos, bonkers German nouns, residential trips, PE, maths, piano lessons, friends. Bad days, good days, non-uniform days. I can’t wait to see what he makes of them.

If Les Miserables was performed by my one-year-old

The struggle is real. 

Look Down Teddy

Look down and see
the sweepings of the street
and eat them
they are ambrosia
whatever your mother says

Valjean Arrested Teddy

Tell Her Reverence your story
let us see if she’s impressed
you were splashing in the toilet
you have faeces on your vest

Factory Teddy

At the end of the day you’ll eat nothing for dinner
tomatoes are rank little globules of pus
and you’ll put them on the floor
and the inside of your nostrils
that’s as far as you’re willing to go
where are the cheerios

Who Am I Teddy

Who am I
that other baby in the mirror isn’t your favourite
is he

Do You Hear the People Sing Teddy

DO YOU HEAR THE BABY SING
BELLOWING LOUDER THAN BIG BEN
IT IS THE PROTEST OF A BABY
WHO WILL NOT WEAR SOCKS AGAIN

CLOTHES ARE TOOLS OF THE OPPRESSOR
CLOTHES ARE SATAN’S TOILET ROLL
YOU MUST WEAR ONLY YOUR SELF-RESPECT
AND A CEREAL BOWL

***

A cure for the Monday blues

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When you release a fourteen-month-old into the wild after a morning of Septemberish errands, he cannot believe his luck, and for the next hour he’ll be like OH MY WORD LOLS EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHERE I LOOK.

Then after lunch you’ll give him a spare grape, and he’ll laugh appreciatively, all CLASSIC, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN. Grapes are hysterical.

Once his brother is in bed he’ll want to get in there too, so you’ll pass him your phone for distraction. He likes the photo on your home screen, and every time the screen goes black he’ll pick up your hand, carefully, carefully, and move it over to the button for you to make it light up again. ONLY YOU KNOW THE ANCIENT SECRET OF THE ON SWITCH, he’ll think, and laughs, because you are the best of all humans on this earth.

At some point he’ll stand on your internal organs to better reach the telephone. ‘Teddeeeeee…’ you’ll say, warningly, and he’ll turn around to flash his six teeth in your direction. Then, while holding eye contact, he’ll push the router off the table casually, his eyebrows all YES I DID, WANT TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT? NO? RIGHT THEN.

What I’m saying, I think, is that fourteen-month-olds are pretty great, and if you can get hold of one, you should.

A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.

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We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.

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The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.

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Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

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As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?

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PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.

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We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

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Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.

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This School-Mum-in-Training needs an instruction manual and some Valium

I had a huge panic attack today, when I kept seeing ‘First day of school!’ updates on Twitter.

Does not compute, my brain said, as I looked over and over again at the date on my computer screen.

it’s still August no wait is it September after all have I missed the start of September and lost a week somewhere oh crap

No, brain, it is definitely still August and you are in possession of all of your faculties. Some schools in Scotland go back before September, apparently. But it did make me realise how much I am secretly panicking about the start of Henry’s new term.

Because I am not ready for the pressures of being a School Mum. In my head, School Mums stock up on school uniform over the summer holidays, and they always know exactly what to buy. They monitor homework and stick up flashcards. They chat in the playground. They have noticeboards, probably, and stick things like term dates and school trips on them. They are much older and more impressive and more together than me, sat here at 11pm with regurgitated soup in my hair (YES REALLY).

This is not really school. He is barely three, and school is not a thing he does. Except because he has a summer birthday, and he’s going to a nursery attached to a primary school that also requires a uniform, it kind of feels like it is. I am worried about him being sad or feeling behind or getting laughed at because he’s a whole year younger than some of them. But I am also worried about messing things up myself, and making things worse for him that way.

I went to buy grey trousers earlier this week, feeling like I was playing at being School Mum and would be uncovered as a pretender in the middle of Sainsbury’s. They’re the smallest size possible, and they’re still huge on him.

what if he becomes a clown-trouser outcast because I didn’t trawl all the shops for something that looked better

This is the sort of thing I am thinking about late at night. The possibility of an invisible trouser test that I have already failed on his behalf. Do you know the silliest part of this? He doesn’t care at all, and he’s going to love nursery so much he won’t want to come home. This is all tangled up with him getting older too fast, with a sense of keening loss for his babyhood that overtakes me at unexpected moments, with the nap he doesn’t want and the smell on the top of his head he lost a long time ago.

This isn’t really about nursery at all. I still do not know what I will do when the flashcards come out.

what if his teacher doesn’t love him how can she love him like I do are teachers even allowed to love their kids anyway

Help. I only have four days left, and the trousers still aren’t right.

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One thousand and ninety two

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Dear Henry,

Today you are three. Today has been a good day.

It’s getting harder to write about you properly, because describing you is becoming a challenge. The sweeping generalisations we hold up to babies – he’s loud; he’s busy; he’s a good sleeper – are poor greyscale things when held up to the patterned light of a three-year-old. You are multi-layered and contradictory, full of depths that surface and take us by surprise. You are increasingly a person. This is something we will both have to get used to.

Let’s just write you into this page a little. You talk. And talk and talk. You don’t say ‘I fell down’, you say ‘gosh, that was a tumble’. You don’t say ‘it’s dark’, you say ‘look, Mummy, outside it is dark and werry gloomy’. We laugh at you and with you a lot. Following your thought processes is like trying to catch a spark in blackness. It is difficult, but oh, it illuminates such lovely things.

You are passionate and emotional, as I think all toddlers must be, and we are learning to navigate this together. Not always very well. You love dinosaurs, books, trains, racing cars, Winnie the Pooh (a bit left-field, that one). You still run everywhere and only from the waist down. You whizz so fast on your little balance bike that I have to sprint alongside you with the pushchair, watching your hair stand on end. You can say seven wordless things just by raising your eyebrows. As of this morning, you do not own a single pair of trousers that fit.

I think now that all of my children will be special to me in their own way, and nothing will ever take away from the miraculous firstness of you. You were the moment I heard a jagged newborn cry through my own exhaustion and pain. The point at which everything in my head and heart changed all at once was marked, indelibly, by you.

I watched you open-mouthed, astounded, that first long night. I still do. I think I probably always will.

Today we have ridden trains, conducted serious experiments in the Science Museum, eaten chips in Covent Garden. Today we bought you pick-and-mix, and every time Teddy pulled on your sleeve for a foam banana, you very quietly and kindly passed one over to him. Today has been a good day. I hope you’ll remember some of it.

May three be good to you, little boy.

You are good to us.

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A hairy intermission

Hola.

I have a big deadline coming up this weekend, and working nights is kiiiiiilling me, and my eyes are getting that please for the love of pete don’t look at another screen kind of rawness around the edges. And can we, while we’re here, talk about freelancing with small children? We’ve got a pretty good routine that doesn’t involve them gawping at Netflix all day, but it’s precariously dependent on them taking simultaneous naps, and all of it goes out of the window anyway when it rains. I would like to do a few things well instead of many things adequately. Sometimes I feel like Bilbo Baggins after all his years of Ring-hoarding, like butter scraped over too much bread.

Anyway. Just popping in to say I’m alive, hope you are too, and my baby got a haircut today and broke my heart with it. I mean, he was actually blinking through his fringe like a pit pony, so it was well overdue. I was really worried he wouldn’t sit still at all, but we brought all of the lift-the-flap books he’s normally not allowed to look at by himself, and he was like WHAT IS THIS BEAUTIFUL MADNESS. Then he leapt straight into little-boyhood in the space of fifteen minutes, and I am ill-equipped for that sort of nonsense. Especially in a rugby jersey.

(I don’t especially like rugby, but I could dress my boys in rugby jerseys every day of their little lives, and love it for always. STRIPES.)

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PS, Henry, this afternoon:

H: I need my clicking block.

Me: Your what?

H: My yellow clicking block. Can you help me find it?

Me: I don’t know what a ‘clicking block’ is.

H: It’s a…clicking block. It’s a clicking block that makes my train taller.

Me: Ohhhh. Duplo. Right.

Take care of yourselves, lovely ones. You’ve earned it.