A Primary School Admission

Today, across the country, thousands of parents find out which primary school their three- and four-year-olds will be going to in September.

But not us.

Our girls turn four in July, a month and a half before the August 31st cut off that would put them in Reception from the term starting September 2016.

But they won’t be going.

Initially, we worried that barely four wasn’t old enough to be thrown headfirst into a classroom. And actually a child doesn’t have to be in full-time education until the term after their fifth birthday, which would have given us a full year to delay starting school.

But they won’t be starting school in September 2017 either.

The education system in this country seems to be getting worse and worse, with politicians trying to encourage formal schooling from a younger and younger age, despite the rest of Europe looking at us askance from their classrooms of seven-year-olds who are just starting school.

I have read books about how children learn and studies about the ways in which schools can stifle a child’s natural enthusiasm for learning and it all makes perfect sense. The girls learned to crawl and talk and walk without anyone needing to overtly “teach” them and I see no reason why that instinctive and enthusiastic learning won’t continue throughout their lives.

As a parent, your primary job is to facilitate learning for your child. You teach them how the world works, you give them language to describe it, you help them to communicate and socialise and learn empathy. This is how we plan to continue. We will offer the girls opportunities to experience a range of different things. We will talk to them and share ideas.

We already have a number of friends whose children are also going to be home educated. We have been to museums and soft play, to the woods and into London. And everywhere we go, they play. They play and they learn because play is how children learn. I don’t want them to go to school and be told that “play” is what they do when they’re not learning.

They can already count and recognise numbers, they can recognise letters and are interested in words. But it’s not important to us that they reach a certain target level by a certain age. It’s important to us that they achieve what they can, when they can, without being subject to arbitrarily imposed targets or compared across an age group made up of individual children with individual interests and developmental needs.

Until a point at which this arrangement no longer works for us as a family, we will be asserting our right to educate our children otherwise than at school, as stated in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996.  I am excited for the future and the things we will learn and explore together. The world is full of opportunity and I can’t wait to help them discover it.

Here is just a small snapshot of the sort of things we have got up to over the last few months.

Education Everywhere; Education Otherwise from Becoming Mums on Vimeo.

At Three And A Half

Long, slender limbs flash before me as they climb unaided into the bath. Gone are chubby fists and rotund bellies. Hair is long and requires brushing, parting, plaiting. Words became sentences, formed conversations and posed existential questions.

“I don’t want to grow up.”

“Why not?”

“Because I wouldn’t be able to have my small plate any more. I like my small plate. And I wouldn’t be able to wear my small shoes. I’d have big feet so I’d have to have big shoes.”

Said with such wide-eyed, innocent sorrow that we catch each other’s eyes above her head and want to laugh.

I don’t remember the thought of growing up feeling so scary. All the time they are changing and growing and amazing me and I want to tell them how big they are. But I hold back. Because of the small plate and the small shoes.

The magic of Christmas is alive and kicking now. They understand about presents and can almost keep a surprise. They understand that their desires can be catalogued and requested of a bearded man in a red suit. They talk about leaving out a mince pie and a carrot. They talk about their stockings and elves and flying reindeer. They manage eight days of advent before they eat the remains of their calendars – impulse control and the concept of delayed gratification still beyond their reach.

They love and squeeze and hug and blow you kisses and catch the returns in their hands, putting them in a pocket or sometimes in their mouths.

They burn with anger and injustice – the fire of small people who don’t have the means to regulate their own emotions yet – and they cry when things don’t go their way, when we’re out of red straws, or their banana breaks in half. And they cuddle in close and start to tell me their feelings. They tell me when I forget to use my words – when my temper slips out and I snap and shout. They remind me of my humanity and they accept my apology.

They dance and sing and play. They ask me what that word is, what that letter is, what this says. And I tell them. They ask why, but why, but why and sometimes I say I don’t know.

They light up the world with a fire that burns so brightly. My role is to keep that fire stoked, to feed it dry wood and keep it aflame. It’s a tough job, unrelenting, but the warmth and light from that fire is more than I could ever have dreamed of.

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Halloween and In Between

It’s been a long time since I last updated.  There is so much to say so it seems crazy that I haven’t blogged more frequently in the interim, but time is something I do not seem to have a surplus of.  Since I last blogged, on our wedding anniversary back in August, I have been involved in two plays with the local amateur dramatics company.  The first involved mostly sourcing props and helping out backstage, the second involved me playing the part of Emily Bronte!

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I loved it.  It was completely exhausting but lots of fun and amazing to do something just for me, that didn’t revolve around being a mum.  I am now having a bit of a break, but not a long one, as I start rehearsals for my next show in December and will be performing in February.

Alongside my thespian exploits, I am also now close to finishing my second children’s book.  Of course, I haven’t yet managed to find an agent or publisher for my first children’s book, but these are merely details.  This has, obviously, taken up quite a lot of my time too.  It is hard to justify blogging when it feels like every word needs to count towards the completion of a whole novel.  So consider yourselves lucky I can spare these few words now to share a bit about what we have been up to.

The girls had a Halloween party to go to on the 31st.  When asking them what they wanted to dress up as for Halloween, they answered “Room on the Broom” (a witch) and “her cat”.  Which was just about the cutest thing they could have said.  They looked totally amazing.

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They had an amazing time trick or treating for the first time (my first time too; I was never allowed as a child) with all their little friends and got a pretty amazing haul, which we may have helped them out with a little.

The next day we had a bit of an adventure when Immie sidled up to me to inform me that she didn’t have a pea up her nose!  Yeah.

So after a rather hysterical (in the sense that I just could not stop myself from laughing) call to 111, we ended up at A&E, which was actually the second visit to that hospital in one week for L and me, as I’d had day surgery for an umbilical hernia only 5 days earlier.  (Yeah, apparently if your belly button doesn’t just pop back in after pregnancy it’s a real thing that needs fixing.  You learn something new every day.)

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We rocked up to the hospital looking like we had escaped from a party in a fancy dress shop.  We were actually seen really quickly and were on our way again within an hour.  Imogen didn’t seem too bothered by the whole thing once we were there (she was quite anxious before we went and it took us a while to convince her we really did need to go).

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L was told by the nurse to try and blow the pea out by blowing into Immie’s mouth a la mouth to mouth resuscitation, but it was really wedged up there.  In the end, tweezers were required to remove what turned out to be quite a large pea (and thankfully only one!!).

Since then, things have returned much to normal as I’ve continued to recover from my surgery and the girls have carried on amazing us and surprising us day by day.  Their language and imagination just gets more and more sophisticated and is so entertaining.  The other day we were totally enchanted when Claudia actually started using different voices for the toys she was playing with for the first time.  It was amazing.

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Four Years in the Making…

Four years ago today, we put on gorgeous white dresses, walked down the aisle in front of our family and friends, spoke our vows and exchanged rings.  But at that time we were not allowed to use the words “bride” or “wife” in our vows or refer to the commitment we were making as a “marriage”.  Instead, we entered into a civil partnership, something which closely resembled civil marriage in all but name.  Some people might have waited until full equality had been achieved before taking that step, but we were eager to start a family together and wanted to do so from a place of commitment publically declared and legally bound.

On 29th March 2014, the first same sex marriages finally took place in this country and then on 10th December 2014, it became legal to convert a civil partnership into a civil marriage.

We contemplated having a big party to celebrate finally being able to truly say we were married, but priorities change and – as I’m sure those who were there on the day will agree – nothing could ever begin to match the delight of our wedding day.

Instead, today we have visited our local Registry Office to fill out the paperwork and are headed back to our wedding venue for delicious food and relaxing spa treatments.

The four years we have been civil partnered have been amazing.  We have continued to grow and learn about each other and ourselves.  We have been through the struggles of raising newborn twins and enjoyed first steps, first words and watching our children’s personalities blossom.  It hasn’t always been easy and it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows but I can definitely say that our relationship is stronger now than it has ever been, even whilst it has changed to accommodate the presence of two other people in our lives.

Marriage isn’t stationary; it’s a constantly moving and growing thing.  It ebbs and flows, reaches pinnacles and nadirs.  It is constantly teaching us more about each other and ourselves and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  We are human, we fall, but I wouldn’t want anyone else there to pick me up again.

So, if you would like to, please raise a glass to us and our marriage – four years in the making!

4 Years in the Making from Becoming Mums on Vimeo.

Letters to my Three-Year-Olds

Dear Claudia,

Today, you turn three.  What an amazing year it’s been.  Looking back, I can’t believe how much you have changed.  When you turned two, I was already astounded at your grasp on the English language and how much you could say and understand, but back then you still referred to yourself, in the third person, as “Daudie”  Not only have you mastered the ‘cl’ sound, you quickly mastered the first person too.  Your sentences became more and more complex, the concepts you could understand and talk about became more and more abstract.  Every single day you will come out with something that amazes me either in the way you have expressed something or the complexity of the idea you are expressing.

You still love to sing.  Your repertoire has increased and moved on.  You like to sing in the car, often taking requests or singing a nursery rhyme over the top of my choice of radio station.  You have started putting on shows, which are a real treat.  Whilst I suspect you will never perform except on your own terms, you are now confident enough to stand up in front of a group of family or friends and sing a few songs, which you always approach with massive amounts of enthusiasm.  Even when the audience consists only of me and your sister, you will climb up on a chair and stand there singing your heart out.  You love to dance and will often ask me to put music on for you.  When we visited London Zoo recently, you couldn’t wait to see the penguins and show them your penguin dance, although you assured me that they would already know it, “because they do it, because they are penguins!”

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Your confidence has increased in so many ways.  I remember last summer, not long after your birthday, you becoming upset on the beach at Deal because you couldn’t throw stones far enough for them to hit the water and make a splash.  You fairly calmly but resolutely refused to throw any more stones, asking Mummy to throw them for you instead.  Mummy and I worried that we had done something wrong by you, that we had somehow compared you to your sister or made it seem as though we were only interested in things you could do well.  We needn’t have panicked.  It has taken time and practice (as all things do), but you have slowly learned resilience, determination and persistence.  Not too long ago I watched you trying to climb up a slide at a soft play centre – an activity that your sister mastered quite quickly.  I watched you climb and slip and climb and slip and climb and slip, never giving up until you reached the top with a massive smile on your face.  I couldn’t have been prouder, but, most importantly, I knew that you couldn’t have been prouder of yourself and that was what really mattered.

You are still quite cautious in new situations and can need quite a lot of physical reassurance.  You definitely have a growing group of people whom you trust, however.  You love both your grandmothers with an intensity, often staying superglued to their sides for the duration of a visit.  You surprised us all a few months ago when, after a day with Popsey and Grandad, you asked to stay the night.  We were taken aback but able to oblige, wondering whether we would be summoned back before we even reached the end of the road.  You had a brilliant time and we were able to FaceTime with you the next morning before your grandparents returned you to us by train.

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Your imagination is amazing.  You love to role play.  You often play ‘Red Riding Hood’, roping in your sister or a friend to be Granny.  You like to play shops and you take orders and produce your stock from a range of imaginary drawers in the footstool.  It always makes us laugh though that you never seem to have anything in that Mummy asks you for.  Luckily for me, my orders are always quickly processed!

You love Frozen and Tangled and Hoodwinked and Shrek.  You love Dora the Explorer and totally took me by surprise several months ago when you spontaneously counted to “ocho” (eight).  You have since increased your repertoire of Spanish words and can identify the colours “rojo” (red) and “verde” (green) as well as knowing “ariba” (up), “abajo” (down) and “empujon” (push).  You have an amazing memory – reciting several of your books entirely by heart or correcting us if we miss a word.  You discovered puzzles shortly after Christmas and could instantly see the way in which the pieces needed to fit together in order to match the picture on the box.  Grandma had found a set of Thomas the Tank Engine puzzles in a charity shop and you had enjoyed figuring out where the pieces went, so I bought you a set of Frozen puzzles that ranged from 12-24 pieces.  Within a week you could do the simplest puzzle in less than a minute and the hardest one in only a few minutes.  It is amazing watching you methodically testing the shape of each piece and consulting the picture on the box to check where you think it should go.  You enjoy board games and have a lot of patience and understanding.  You like to follow the rules.

You still love pink, but you are also in a real Disney phase when it comes to your clothing.  You love anything with Minnie Mouse on and you recently picked out a very bright pair of leggings with Cinderella all over them.  You love a stripy navy dress we were given as a hand-me-down and adore getting dressed up for a party.  You are very proud of your hair, having finally grown it enough for it to be considered long.  It is fantastically curly and you like to admire it.  Every evening, after I put your pyjamas on, you look in the mirror and gently pull your hair out of the neck of your pyjama top.  Often, when you put on an outfit, you will ask, “do I look beautiful?” and I tell you that I always think you look beautiful.  We all spend a great deal of time marvelling at how much you look like Mummy and Mummy’s side of the family, when of course there is no genetic link, but when I dug out the photograph we have of your donor at a similar age, we were really astounded at how similar you look to him.  It’s incredible.  I guess it shouldn’t be really because of course you were made with half of his genetics, but because he isn’t a part of our life it is easy to forget that.  It really is amazing to look at his picture and see you looking back at us.

You are a social person and love to spend time with your friends.  You hold their hands and hug them and tell them that you love them.  It has been amazing watching you start to talk to children you don’t know as you have started to learn about social etiquette and how to engage other children in play.  You love to include others in your imaginary world.

You love to help me in the kitchen.  In fact you love to help me, full stop.  You help sort the washing or press the buttons to operate the dishwasher.  You will usually help me tidy your toys away.  You like to make people happy and your mad moments are as entertaining as the small quiet moments when we are snuggled together and chatting about your day.

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I am so excited to see the new and different ways in which you will blossom over the next twelve months.

I love you so much,

Mama x

Claudia Turns 3 from Becoming Mums on Vimeo.

Dear Imogen,

Two has been an amazing age with you.  Your personality has developed and solidified.  Your tenacity, persistence and strength of will have become even more apparent – in ways that delight as well as frustrate us!  You know what you want and you are determined to achieve it.  You are unwavering in your pursuits.  Whilst this can cause us to clash at times, it also shows a fantastic strength of will and an admirable single-mindedness that I want to nurture, rather than diminish.  You can be exasperatingly destructive, but I feel like you are starting to understand the permanence of your actions, even though you can’t always control your impulses.

You are a problem-solver.  You love to figure things out or negotiate a solution.  As your language has developed, your suggestions have become more thoughtful, complex and harder to dismiss!  You also love to share your knowledge and skills.  You like to help people and can often be heard explaining or demonstrating a particular skill or technique to someone.  You are very sensitive to other people’s emotions.  You show concern every time we hear a baby or toddler crying and you want to make sure they are being looked after.

You can be so gentle.  I watch you with your dolls and you cradle them and kiss their faces and talk to them and it takes my breath away because your tenderness is astounding.  You are the same with us, kissing and cuddling, knowing when we need an extra hug or a kiss.  You come and find me when I’m busy cooking or sorting the washing and demand a cuddle on the sofa and I come and snuggle with you for a time.  When you are tired your thumb goes in and what you really want is someone’s arm – not to go around you, but to sit across your body so you can stroke its elbow and press it close to your face.  You need that human contact when you go to sleep.

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In April, I panicked because I realised that you hadn’t breastfed in several days – maybe even a week – and I couldn’t believe your last time had passed without me marking it.  I spent a few days telling people I thought you had weaned and then of course you contradicted me by asking for milky at bedtime a few days later.  Since then you have gone longer and longer without, only latching on for a second or two when you do.  I no longer worry about not knowing the precise date when you will stop (or indeed, whether you already have) because I have accepted that this is how this process works – a gentle, slow cessation that is on your terms, not mine.

When we go to a new place, you are always keen to explore and rarely look back.  We have always thought of you as confident and adventurous.  There are times when you are so keen to investigate a new place or go in a particular direction that I have to actually chase you down, wondering if at any point you would have wondered where I was or if I was still following you.  But we have also discovered this year, that you actually need us more than we think.  You are confident to the extent of parental-fear when you know where we are, but you actually become very distressed if you can’t find us.  You are usually less keen to spend time away from us or away from your sister, although you do have fun with your grandparents.  When a film is scary, you need us to sit with you and with Snow White you needed me to recount the story of the Queen drinking the magic potion over and over again.

You feel all your emotions in a big way.  Your upsets are big and loud and scary but your happiness can be just as huge and your smile couldn’t be bigger or wider if you tried.  However, you are fiercely protective of your own emotions and I have had to teach myself to ignore my instincts when you are upset (all I want to do is sweep you into my arms) and instead allow you the space to express your emotions before you are ready to come to one of us.  You are a complex character, whose feelings aren’t always obvious or easy to name.  You definitely don’t wear your heart on your sleeve, although with a bit of help, you can usually name your emotions and tell us if we’ve upset you.

You love to be thrown around and you’re never happier than when you are climbing or jumping.  Soft play is your Promised Land and you climb to great heights without looking back.  You love the woods.  Now, the mud is dry, but in the wetter months you got as muddy as could be, flooding your wellies with water and silt.  Now it is dryer, you enjoy paddling in the streams and lakes, filling buckets with pebbles and catching tadpoles.  You love the beach.  Frustratingly, we’ve not been as many times as we would have liked so far, but we have plans for the summer to take you a lot more often.  You run into the waves without a glimmer of fear.  You splash and dig and build sandcastles and laugh in the face of British weather that might mean it’s not quite warm enough to enjoy the cold sea.  You love theme parks.  We have visited two now and you never stop talking about them. The first time we went, you mentioned it every day until we visited again a month or so later.  You are a thrill-seeker and we have yet to find a ride you haven’t enjoyed.

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You get frustrated quite easily.  You don’t have a lot of patience with slower activities that require attention to detail, but your favourite game is to care for your dolls.  You will tell me things about your baby and what you’ve been doing together.  Baby comes everywhere with us, more or less.  She’s been to our forest school and helped you catch tadpoles, she’s been to Mummy’s work and played in the playgrounds.

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You are happy playing alone, although you reconnect with your sister from time to time.  You get overwhelmed by crowds of people and take yourself away from the action.  You like us to all be together, the four of us, and miss your sister terribly if you are away from her.  You have a big heart and fire in your soul.  I can’t wait to see what adventures the next year will bring!

Love always,

Mama x

Imogen Turns 3 from Becoming Mums on Vimeo.

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