Firm Foundations

The thing about this business of having babies, and bringing up small children, and being with them all the time, is that you have to be everything.  An all-rounder, but with absolutely zilcho all-round training.  You’re a cuddler, a feeder, and a playmate.  You’re an arse-wiper, a 3am-vomit-cleaner, a bosser, and, of course, a teacher.  A teacher of how to be a human being, really, and with (in my case) no teacher training at all.  And although (in my case) there’s another parent who dips in and out and takes them away occasionally, and although there are playgroups and library singing times and the health visitor who pops in now and again with advice that makes you think she has never even met a child under the age of three before, you are for the most part being all those people alone.

For me that time at home with my kids was gorgeous, mind-numbing, rewarding, fucking thankless, joy-filled, lonely and HARD.  At my lowest point, I was drowning and the kids were suffering for my madness.  And if it hadn’t been for Chelwood Nursery School, I dunno but I think we might’ve all been sucked under.

Chelwood Nursery School, The Best Place Ever (says Pickle’s friend Finn, 5).  Chelwood Nursery School, A Shining Oasis Of Sanity In The Lonely Marshes of Child-Rearing (says Vickolah, 41).

Chelwood is a maintained nursery school.  It differs from other nurseries in that every class is led by a qualified teacher.  The leadership team is formed of a qualified Head teacher, Deputy Head teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo).  Every staff member has specialist training and expertise in the development and learning of children from birth to 5.

Ziggler, 8, deep in the tedium of being tested on what an expanded noun phrase is, sighs and says, ‘At Chelwood, we could go anywhere.  And we played all day.’  And they did.  Outside, climbing, running, painting, whatever the weather.  Inside, wherever they fancied.  If you want a chat with Nikki, the head teacher, there’s every chance the minutes of your meeting will be pretend-taken by a three year old.  The children think they are free and they are playing – and they are, but they are playing in a carefully constructed learning environment where their play is teaching them how to write, how things grow, how to read, how to love counting, what things do, what they don’t do, how to take risks.

Indi, 40, says, ‘As parents sometimes its hard not to get caught up in milestones and achievements. Chelwood’s gentle, experienced staff nurtured him and taught me to cherish every stage and have faith in the unique talents of my son. He started his year there with his head down, not communicating much to anyone outside of his immediate family.  I will never forget his last day at Chelwood – parading round the garden with his carnival head dress on, surrounded by his friends and teachers – beaming!’

For me, it was all this – the rigorous pedagogy disguised as playing, the gentle staff, the freedom – and more.  The community and the support.  Yes, I was slowly going insane.  But here was a place that valued my child and understood that we come as a package – the family is the child.  And the child is the future.

I’m telling you all this because maintained nursery schools are under threat due to  ‘Changes in funding’.  You don’t need to be an economist to know what ‘changes in funding’ means.  Cuts.  40 schools are expected to close by the end of July.

A place like Chelwood doesn’t just happen.  Creating a world in which every single activity is fun and a valuable learning experience costs money.   Try it yourself you’ll see where the money goes.  Not just on cornflour and poster paint but on people who know what they’re doing.

Chelwood regularly invites its old students back for a play.  They did it on Friday and they asked us to show our support for nursery schools by showing up and signing this petition.  Vicky Foxcroft, lately the MP and currently the Labour candidate for Lewisham & Deptford was there.  ‘Maintained Nurseries like Chelwood are at the heart of Local Communities,’ She said.  ‘If re-elected I will fight to maintain them.’ I believed her.  And, of course, Labour has promised to fund education properly if elected to government.  Just saying.

If we allow these nurseries to close we are saying our little kids and their education, our struggling families, our communities, are not worth the taxes.  Should nurseries be about educating children and opening their minds to learning or for stopping kids putting their fingers in electrical sockets while their parents go and earn enough money to support The Economy?  Should we be supporting struggling families or allowing them to sink?  Should we be giving all our kids a solid foundation or trusting our futures to the people who already have the money to buy their children the best start?

I know what I think.  Please help.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/171052
https://www.early-education.org.ukwww.savenurseryschools.org

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Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Grandpa didn’t like to talk about the war.   These things I know: He was with a regiment that drank lots of whisky.  He was shot in the bum and sent home.   In, I think, 1994 he and my Grandma went to Holland for an anniversary of something or other and returned bearing orange scarves and tiny little clogs for ‘The Grandchildren of those who liberated us’.

My Grandma, his wife, said her small Yorkshire town didn’t change much during the war apart from an army base of a few thousand training soldiers which was built on the moor.  She was 15 then.

My other Grandma, his future daughter’s future mother-in-law, worked at The Rover Factory in Solihull, making bits of aeroplanes and weapons.  One night her boss hired a coach to take them away from the city and get a rest from the constant air raids.  They drove into the countryside and stopped on a hill with a view of Coventry.  It was November 14th 1940.  They watched as Coventry burned.

My Grandma, the one whose teenage hormones were let loose on a thousand training squaddies, died in 2012.  Along with her, along with her generation, anyway, died the last people who knew what joining the EU was all about.  Yes, the EU’s about economics. Yes, it’s about movement of people.  And yes, joining it was about Britain and her lost Empire.  But it was also about what war is like.  About what seeing your mates bleeding to death is like.  What cowering in a shelter or under the stairs, fearing for your life is like.  What clearing up the debris of someone’s life; their stuff, their blood-stained clothes, their dead children, about what that’s like.  I don’t know what that was like.  My Grandparents wanted it to stay that way.  The EU was about never letting war in Europe happen again.

Today it ends.  The British public, an angry mob, voted for Britain to leave the EU.  I’m still not clear quite why.

It’s difficult to write about this stuff in a public place when you’re not a journalist with a newspaper’s agenda, or politician with a party’s agenda.  Some of my friends disagree with me.  Some of my relatives disagree with me.   Some of them voted to leave – and in any case, it’s too late now.  I still don’t understand why.

Is it about immigration?  Well, I don’t understand.  My brother-in-law is European, and so my nephews are European.  Loads of my kids’ friends’ parents are European, so loads of my kids’ friends are European – and so my kids are European.  It makes for a strong, varied and peaceful place for kids to grow up in.  And these Europeans, they pay tax, and they work: it’s difficult to want to wage war against the person whom you last saw between your stirruped legs as she administered your life-saving smear test.  I’ve lived and worked in other European countries myself.  I’d like it if my kids could too.  When I see immigration as a reason, I read xenophobia.  Ignorance.

Is it the anger?  I do understand the country’s anger towards the wealthy and complacent South.  I’m a Northerner living in the South – and I probably also count as wealthy and complacent.  I agree that the provinces are neglected.  I’d be delighted if more taxes were collected from here and directed there.  That the target of that anger is the EU, who send money to many of the deprived areas that voted to leave, I don’t understand.    I don’t.  I’m angry too, for my children and for myself.  I feel like my future’s been stolen.

Is it about sovereignty and democratic process?  A prime minister the country didn’t elect is withdrawing us from Europe without consultation on the details.  Her mandate is a referendum triggered in self-interest and turned into a lying old-boys’ jizzing contest.  So – nope, I don’t understand that either.  And Brussels ‘red tape’?  That’s given us laws about gender equality, working time and holidays.  Terrible eh.

I can’t believe – I won’t believe – that anyone voted just for a return to blue passports.  I just won’t.

So here we are, an island poised on the rim of an economic bog-flush, deciding to sail off alone.  And the country’s fractured, and we’re all angry with each other. Some of us feel British.  Some feel European.  We can’t, now, be both.  We’ve alienated people who’ve lived here for years and we’re chumming up with rug-headed maniacs.  We’re marching and shouting and letting the hatred of the stranger slip through our civilised front.

And the dream of the grandparents crumbles.  There may not be war.  But there won’t be peace in our time.

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How To Make a Village in the City

I grew up in a small hamlet of a small village on a wide Yorkshire moorside.  As kids we loved lecking out on the moors, free from adults; the world our playground.  We had a little gang of about eight kids.  We built dens which fell in our heads.  We terrorised the local farmers. We fished for minnows in streams and blew home rosy-cheeked whenever we fancied.  Once, there were roadworks in the village.  We rode our bikes down just to use the real-life traffic lights.  

We were suspicious of off cumdens.  We gossiped.  There were two ladies who lived together at the top of the track who loved each other, like that. They once argued so fiercely  that blood came out of their ears. There was one black kid who lived in the village, and her mum was French.  If someone was a bit bookish and strange, people knew it, and mentioned it.  You heard it from someone who’d heard it from someone else, who’d probably been discussing it in the Co-Op.   You never knew the exact words that were said.  It was me, of course, who was a bit bookish and strange.

As teenagers, we had to be driven everywhere.  We didn’t go to the local secondary school.  We were spoilt and entitled and chose one further away that was supposed to be better (it wasn’t) and posher (it thought it was).  So our social lives were suspended between the village kids and the other, posher, rural market-town kids.  I fitted in with neither.

We were older, nearly Uni bound, when our parents divorced.  Our dad loved men, like that, and everybody knew.  You didn’t know the exact words that were said, but they knew.  The talking bonded them all together, as gossip does, and excluded us, as gossip does.  But we were on our way away by then.

We chose to bring our own kids up in London.  No free-range tiddler-catching moor days for them.  But no one black kid in the village, either.  No bother about who loves whom, like what.  We’re all off cumdens here, and bookish and strange is a good thing – or just a thing, and good is relative.

But just as those idyllic free-range days were not so rosy in reality, so the free-and-easy city anonymity is something of a lie.   As a stay at home mum, I feel guilty for staying at home, just as working mums feel guilty for working and part time working mums feel guilty for what they’re not doing at work when they’re at home and what they’re not doing at home when they’re at work.  So because I feel guilty about staying at home, I joined the PTA.

Now, because PTA concerns are by its nature petty, and the details tedious even to those who take them on, I’ll gloss over the details.  There was an event planned, and a fuck-up occurred. And the fuck-up resulted in disappointed children, which will always set the  village tongues wagging (though in a Yorkshire village the children would just have to Think On, or Shurrup Mitherin’ or something).  Anyway – this is important – it created a division between working and stay-at-home parents.  The fuck-up wasn’t mine, and in fact I had tried very hard to avoid just such a division.  There it is.

The School Gate social minefield feels difficult to navigate on the best of mornings.  On the morning after The Grand PTA Fuck Up, somebody came to stand next to me in the class line ‘in solidarity’.  I was grateful, of course, but as a by-nature paranoid person who grew up in a small village, into my heart fear was struck.  Throughout the day, it continued.  People apologising for us getting abuse for something that wasn’t our fault.  People showing support.  Things discussed, debated and mulled over in private groups spewed whispered and deformed into public space.  We didn’t know the exact words that were said, but we knew it was worse than bookish and strange.

It takes a village to raise a child – and if we have children where there is no village, we will make one.  The school is a village.  Our street is.  Somebody was talking about me outside my house yesterday when the windows were open – I couldn’t hear the exact words they said because I covered my ears, but that’s a village, right there.  And then there’s the other, newer, village we’ve created ourselves: the virtual village.  Social Media.  Twitter, the town crier; Facebook the Parish Newsletter, connecting cityfolk to each other in ways reserved for yokels in times past.  And Whatsapp, the chat in the Co-op, where you might hear the rumour later but you don’t know the exact words said.  It bonds groups together, as gossip does, and it excludes, as gossip does.

So two things I’ve learned, and a third my Yorkshire childhood taught me and I’m clinging to.  The first is that villages are made of gossip and children, and that if you have the children you can’t escape the village (or the gossip).  The second that social media may feel intimate but it is about as private as a village Co-Op.  Be careful with the words you say.  And the last that really, it’s just a PTA event, and that one way or another – it’ll be reet.

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And the Greatest Of These

‘I don’t believe in Love as an abstract,’ said 20-year-old me, probably over a pint and a cigarette in the Student Union bar.  After all, I knew everything then.

What I think I meant was I didn’t believe in romantic love as a thing that is fired with an arrow and makes your eyes go all heart-shaped.  What I probably meant was I don’t think anyone will ever love me.   What I definitely meant was I have no idea what I’m talking about but I want to sound grown up and cynical and cool.

Today, the times are interesting.   Every news report, every announcement, every result of every vote, tells something worse.  Alliances drifting.  Barricades building.  Scrote-bags soliloquizing.  The times are interesting and the times are frightening.  War is coming.  I hope it isn’t.  God, I hope it isn’t.  But it feels like it is.

I fear for my girls.  My little, clever, funny girls.  These future women.  For them I don’t accept these boundaries that close in around this tiny, stupid island. These girls will fight – but they will not be canon fodder.    They will not be pussy to be grabbed.  This love is not gentle; this love is not kind.  This love is fierce.  It is war.

And Trulove – a silly, soppy name made up for its initial.  I don’t believe in the magic powers of true love’s kiss.  But I do, really.  This love is a life-raft in roiling seas.  It’s sanity in the madness.

So, what makes us get out of bed these mornings?  What makes us able to do the things that must be done, and must be done again?  What makes one foot move in front of the other?  What fears war and makes it?

It’s Love, of course.  My eyes are all heart-shaped (and, for now, my fingers are in my ears).

 

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6 Ways in which Christmas is already doing my nut (in).

Christmas doing your nut in already?  I’ve decided to speak out after 3 years’ silence in a handy and entertaining listicle.  Because, as every lazy blogger knows, there are a finite number of ways in which anything does anything.  Fortunately.

1. The Shops

I had a moment of epiphany during a zombie shuffle round Intu (Formerly known as The Glades) Bromley.  It struck me, suddenly and forcefully, that neither I nor any of my fellow over-hot and spaced-out shoppers queueing to buy 50 quid boxes of plastic manufactured by 5-year-olds on the other side of the world was enjoying ourselves even a tiny bit.  You know what, Andy Williams On The Loudspeaker?  It just wasn’t the Most Wonderful Time of the Year in Toys R Us Bromley that day.  It wasn’t.

2.  Adverts.

Does anyone seriously, really – seriously, like, actually – give a shit about the Christmas John Lewis/M&S/Sainsbury’s ads?  Or is all the excitement and mystery made up by them to advertise the adverts?  You know it’s not a gender-reveal party for the next Messiah and they just want you to buy stuff, right?

Oh, and, Johnny Depp, you don’t look cool in this ad.  You look like you’ve either lost your glasses or forgotten what you came in the room for.  Senior moments, eh.

sauvage

3. School

Is it Christmas Jumper Day today or Nativity Costume Day?  You have to take a pound in, do you?  You don’t know what for.  OK.  There’s a raffle.  Of course.  Or the Christmas Disco.  Which you needed to have a ticket for three weeks ago and now you can’t go.  Everybody else is sending everybody else Christmas cards, are they?  Stop crying darling, we’ll sort it out (to self in mirror).

4. The snot.

In the last 4 weeks: Pickle got scarlet fever, Trulove got tonsillitis, Pickle got a cold.  I got the cold.  Trulove got the cold.   Pickle got the cold again, Ziggler got the cold.  Pickle got impetigo.  Trulove got the cold again.  I would put a cross on the door but judging by the fanfare of rattling phlegm which daily passes our door, there’d be no point.  December, thou joyous month!

5. The general pissing-in-the-wind pointlessness of it all.

Guys, we do realise there’s an international humanitarian and political shitstorm raging while we’re circling our preferred Christmas telly in the Radio Times, don’t we?  Have we all decided to stick our fingers in our ears and hum until after The Season Of Delight On Small Children’s Faces That’s Soon To Be Wiped Off By The Steam-train Of Global Facism And Scary Unpleasantness As It Thunders Nigh?  Or are we hoping it’s just going to go away?

6. I said six

So there shall be six, and here’s the sixth.  Number six. Yup. Voilà.

Merry Christmas, readers.  And Gor’bless us, every one.

 

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Five.

Ziggler turns five next week.

Our love, these days, is mercurial.  Sometimes, I’m great. I am pretty, kind and I smell nice, and I’m just the right kind of squishy.  Other – I’ll be honest most – times, I am the spawn of Beelzebub. 

On Tuesday, she said between sobs that everything in the whole world was MY FAULT (I wanted her to eat an apple).  On Wednesday, she came downstairs for a cuddle after lights out (she couldn’t sleep and had missed me at school).  On Thursday, I was a schweinhund (she wasn’t invited to Daffodil’s for tea).  And so on, to exhaustion.

Now.  I am not perfect.  I probably don’t let her have enough chocolate biscuits.  It may well be that everything in the word is my fault.  I must admit to feeling quite smug about my incredible power, destructive though it evidently is.

I love my children with my gristle, but you know what? It is a tiny bit difficult to actually like someone at the moment their rage-filled spittle is showering your face because you didn’t bring the car on the eighth-of-a-mile school run.  And as that, no doubt, makes me a terrible mother and a hateful human being, I have decided to dedicate this post to Ziggler, and the wonder of Five.

Ziggler turns five next week.  I remember five.  Roly-poly, wide-eyed, hold-up-all-the-fingers-on-one-hand Five. 

She reads everything. Cereal packets, calendar entries, adverts on bus shelters, and the front of the Viz annual somebody inadvisedly left in the bog.  She writes tiny stories about prinssesess, leaves little notes for Trulove to find when he gets home, and adds ‘a toi for Ziggler’ at the end of my shopping lists.  She knows everything about dinosaurs, and realised the other day that Trulove and I are herbivores.  She doesn’t find things funny, she finds them hilarious.  She’s incredibly proud of the boncano, complete with glittery lava, she made at school.   

She skips everywhere.  Ballet skipping.

She starts a bit of gossip with a scandalised ‘DID YOU KNOW mummy…?’ and then tells me who went on the Thinking Chair that day, and why.  She herself will NEVER, of course, go on the thinking chair.  Unthinkable.  She pretends to be a stripy towel-covered rock after bath time. Pickle and I have to be astounded it has appeared in the living room, and try to sit on it.  It ends in tickles.

She wears one plait and one pony tail in her hair.  “Not bothered,’ said she, when I said people would ask her about it all day.  And she’s not.

And so, lovely, exasperating Ziggler turns wonderful, topsy-turvy five.  She’s embarking on a childhood she’ll remember, and one that will form her grown-up self.  And so, I tell myself, I’ll gloss over the tantrums, and insults, and rage.  Ziggler’s world is getting bigger and more exciting every day.  And I am safe. 

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The Marvellous Secret World of the Day.

Come closer.  Check behind you.  ‘Lean in,’ as the Americans say.  Here’s a secret.  We stay at home parents know it.  Retired people know it.  Freelancers and gas engineers probably know it.  People who’ve taken the day off to move or the morning off for a dentist appointment know it momentarily, but soon forget.

During the day, in London at least, people who are not at work are nice to each other.

There.  I’ve blown it open.

Neighbours greet each other in the street.  People help you on to buses with your buggy, and passengers on the bus stand up for those more in need than themselves.  Passersby smile at your toddler as she sings her way along.  You easily find a table at lunch and waiters and waitresses smile and take an extra five minutes for a chat.  The toddler lunch-rush at 11am is a much more relaxed affair than the actual lunch-rush which begins an hour later, since the point of a toddler’s 11 o’clock lunch is generally to pass as much time as possible with the added bonus of a few crumbs making their way into your kid’s mouth.  Fellow customers smile indulgently at your Cinderella-clad screaming three year old.  Somebody is always available and willing to hold the door as you leave.

Posties really are cheery and they even shout ‘good morning’ as they whistle their way down the road (with the exception of the lady who drives a van delivering parcels round our way.  She beeps her horn and chucks your parcel at you with a grunt before squealing off in a cloud of burnt-rubber smoke.  My mate down the street told me the only time she’s seen her smile was when she – the postwoman – nearly knocked her – my mate – off her bike.  But she’s probably got a lot on). 

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit Januaryish.  The drudgery of the school run, the nursery run, and the drizzly dash from one to the other.  The frustration of food refusals, tantrums and the Heath Robinson nature of the day with small kids.  My feet have been dragging and shoulders hunching, my mood dreary-hearted and filled with ennui.  Also, I think, I really need a job, before my brain is finally devoured by the fearful and self-propagating laundry creature.

But today was Saturday and we were all at home, together.  A walk through the park and lunch out seemed a relaxed way to spend the day.  We fought for a table in the cafe and the waiter was perfectly polite but distant, hurried.  Sharp-elbowed Pickle had found a swing free in the packed playground and was not best pleased at having to get off it.  We’re planning a new bathroom and  thought it a good plan to have a look in the bathroom showroom down the street (yes, I KNOW).  Amongst other horrors that occurred in there, we got told off for letting Pickle open and close a ‘very expensive’ toilet lid (lucky the man didn’t see her other crimes against sanitary ware).  On the bus on the way home everyone studiously ignored my three-year-old as she stood, holding on for dear life as we lurched over speedbumps and round corners.  Then a guy in a car revved his engine aggressively as we crossed the road in front of him.  And we were there FIRST.   Staying at home has its definite down-sides, I thought, as I flipped him the bird in a white flash of rage.  But you would never have a day like this in the Marvellous Secret World of the Day.

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